Mike Grosso Introduction


I was the kid who never sat still. Not in the sense that I was productive, or had intelligent things to share with the class, or that I dreamed of traveling to faraway places. I was the kid who sat in a chair and tapped his desk, wiggled his toes, or clucked his tongue in rhythm. Reading was an unlikely hobby for me because I honestly didn’t have the attention span for it. I was more likely to harbor a hidden talent for knocking over science projects or stringing up popsicle sticks with rubber bands so I could strum them like a guitar.

I thought about a lot of things. About cool monsters, and music, and about instruments that didn’t exist because I was going to create them. I was like my main character, Sam Morris, in that way – my imagination was filled with things I couldn’t communicate without a headphone jack for people to plug in and listen.

It wasn’t all fidgeting and music, of course. I somehow settled myself long enough to both read widely and think deeply about books. They were my anchor, really. My chill out activity. A way to keep my brain focused on one thing for an extended period of time. I brought my growing love of books with me through every experience I had, until the day came when I found myself in love with teaching upper elementary school kids. Through them I learned about the world of middle grade books, works of fiction that helped kids understand those mysterious feelings that only imaginary headphone jacks in their head can explain.

When I made the decision to write in the voice of a twelve-year-old girl who literally thought in music, all I really had to do was remember. Sam’s a girl, but I didn’t set out to write a girl character so much as write a character who happens to be a girl. How did this girl feel while she spent hours awake at night with the soundtrack of her imagination playing on repeat? What did it feel like to annoy the kids around her with the patterned collision of eraser against notebook during language arts (try it sometime — it makes a perfect imaginary kickdrum, especially if you press your ear against the desk).

If anything, I hope Sam lets kids know that it’s okay to be passionate about things other people don’t seem to care about. It’s okay to be weird, and laugh at jokes no one else finds funny. And it’s okay to want to rock harder than anyone else, so long as you’re willing to work your heart out getting there.

I truly believe Sam’s story has found a perfect home, with a perfect agent, editor, and publisher. I’m both scared and excited for you to meet her when I AM DRUMS hits shelves in the fall of 2015.

Mike GrossoMike Grosso writes, teaches, parents, and plays a variety of instruments at all hours of the day for all possible reasons in Oak Park, Illinois, where he lives with his wife and two-year-old son. He loves coffee, teaching, writing, reading, and making lots of noise with whatever objects he can find nearby. His debut contemporary middle grade novel, I AM DRUMS, will be released by Egmont USA in Fall 2015. Until then, you can follow his journey to publication at mikegrossoauthor.com or by following him on Twitter.

Introducing Isabel Bandeira


One of my early memories is of sitting on the floor of my bedroom, reading a Little Golden Book about a bunny. Every time the bunny hopped, I’d hop around the room. Or I’d wiggle my nose or shake my imaginary bunny ears. I didn’t just want to read about the bunny, I wanted to become the bunny. There was something magical about getting so immersed in a book that, for a little while, I was the main character.

While other kids were imitating their favorite movie stars, I was writing a diary like Emily Byrd Starr’s or wearing my hair in braids—and then elaborate up-dos—like Anne Shirley. I searched the back of every wardrobe I encountered for Narnia. I dubbed the garden behind my grandparents’ house my “secret garden” and wanted a fingerprinting kit so I could pretend to be Nancy Drew or Trixie Belden or Sherlock Holmes. And, of course, the sweetest, hottest boys in the world were my book boyfriends.

Confession: to this day, if a book character has an awesome outfit, I’ll try my best to find and imitate it.

Drawing on fictional characters for inspiration, I’ve been able to push through difficult situations. I’ve stood at podiums and walked into labs and defended my point of view with a much-braver-than-me fictional character buoying me up. Books have given me strength and empathy and, yes, a killer sense of style. I even have one favorite author to thank for my love of hair tinsel (sparkle. In my hair. YES, please!)

The main character in my debut, BOOKISHLY EVER AFTER, though, takes bookishness to a whole new level when she turns her favorite books into romance advice manuals. When Phoebe tries to catch Dev’s attention by quoting straight from her favorite paranormal romance or acting like a kick-ass fantasy character, things don’t quite go as smoothly for her as it does in her books. Still, what could possibly go wrong with such great reference material?

I call BOOKISHLY EVER AFTER my love story to book nerds, and I can’t wait to share Phoebe, her books, and her friends with everyone in the fall of 2015.


Isabel BandeiraGrowing up, Isabel Bandeira split her time between summers surrounded by castles and Celtic tombs in Portugal and the rest of the year hanging around the lakes and trees of Southern New Jersey, which only fed her fairy-tale and nature obsessions. Even though she tones down her love of all things glittery when she’s engineering medical devices during the day, it all comes out in her writing. Her YA contemporary novel, BOOKISHLY EVER AFTER, releases in Fall 2015 from Spencer Hill Contemporary. You’ll find her at all hours on Twitter @emberchyld.

Anna-Marie McLemore on #MyWritingProcess


AMroadWPHi, all! I’m Anna-Marie McLemore. We haven’t been officially introduced (my introduction is coming soon!), but in the meantime I’m stopping by to join the #MyWritingProcess blog tour. I was tagged by Kelly Loy Gilbert, who’s not only one of my favorite people, but also a fellow Fifteener, and author of the heartbreakingly realistic, startlingly funny debut CONVICTION.

You can find Kelly’s post here. She also tagged fabulous Fifteener Sabaa Tahir, whose post you can find here. And here’s a little about what I’m up to:

What am I working on?

I’m wrapping up revisions on my debut THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS, about two teens from rival families of traveling performers who fall in love despite a longstanding feud.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My stories often involve cultures coming up against each other, how the folklore of one tradition diverges from and entangles with that of another. But writing about cultures meeting isn’t just about clashing, it’s also about overlooked commonalities. In THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS, one family is Latino and the other is Romani. Though in some ways the Mexican-American background I come from contrasts sharply with Romani tradition, in others, they have more common ground than I ever imagined before I started researching for FEATHERS. Those differences and that overlap may not be the center of the plot, but they’re an undercurrent, a kind of steady hum throughout the story.

Why do I write what I do?

I didn’t realize I was writing magical realism until other people told me I was. I probably had that blind spot because of the cultures I come from. Magical realism feels natural. It feels like the stories I heard as a child and the traditions I grew up in. It feels like home.

How does your writing process work?

I did a lot of traveling with my dad growing up, and for each trip, he always created a dizzyingly detailed itinerary. Right down to what bus we’d catch. What museum opened its rare book room on Monday mornings. What route we’d take when we were walking from one town to the next. But then he wouldn’t stick to them! Let’s get a later train! How about that museum? Why don’t we stop at that other village over there?

It drove me crazy. Why put so much work into a plan if you’re just going to scrap it? But now, in my writing, I do the same thing. It takes me almost as long to plot out a story as to get the first draft down. Yet inevitably, about halfway through, I’ve thrown out the outline. A roadmap can be liberating rather than limiting. My dad’s itineraries gave him the plans he could stick to or stray from. My outlines hold my hand until I find my footing in the story.

Next on the #MyWritingProcess tour, I’m tagging:

Mackenzi Lee, who writes some of the most gorgeous and innovative historical YA I’ve ever read.

Diversity-promoting superhero Kaye of Watercolor Moods, her blog of reviews, book recs, writing updates, and generally wonderful posts.

Thanks for stopping by! Happy writing and reading!

Anna-Marie McLemore writes from her Mexican-American heritage and the love for stories she learned from her family. She lives in California’s Central Valley with a boy from the other side of the Rockies. Her debut novel THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS, a YA contemporary love story with a magical twist, will be released in 2015 from Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press. You can find her on Twitter @laannamarie.

Introducing Diana Gallagher


It’s happening again.

One step – a creak in the ankle.

Two steps – a steady ache.

Three steps – shooting pain.

I grip the stairway banister and look down. It’s going to be a rough one.

Sunburn and a finisher’s medal from yesterday’s half-marathon would have been perfectly adequate parting gifts, but apparently I’ve earned another souvenir.

Four steps – oof.

As a gymnast, I was lucky enough to avoid the chronic, creeping injuries: tendonitis, stress fractures, groaning back pain that tightens over the years. Instead, my body opted for the Big Bang sort of injuries: spontaneous and drastic. Go big or go home.  Just look at the surgical scars, child-sized crutches (still not tall enough for the adult kind), and miscellaneous knee braces I’ve accumulated.

For the body in motion, slamming into that equal opposing force is a shock. And it comes with a choice: do you fight back? Limp around with ice on your body and fire in your eye? Or do you decide that enough’s enough? Move on to less painful pastures?

In WHAT HAPPENS IN WATER, Savannah’s torn ACL is the last straw. She’s done with gymnastics. No more. It’s time to exchange her dream of competing in college for a normal senior year, with her best friend Cassie leading the way.

But as Savannah quickly discovers, “normal” just won’t cut it.

My characters are fractured. Torn ligaments, torn trust. They’re working toward healing, but “wholeness” doesn’t necessarily correlate with happiness and security.

For Savannah, the journey back to gymnastics is lined with figuring out how to be more than a gymnast and more than her best friend’s counterpart. Healing her body comes with restructuring her identity – and making decisions about what’s really holding her back.

I have a choice to make right now: Do I sit down? Promise myself I’ll never run this far again? Yes and yes, but it’s temporary and my cranky ankle knows it. So long as I can walk, I’m going to keep moving.


Diana GallagherDiana Gallagher is a gymnastics coach, writing professor, and country music aficionado. She holds an MFA from Stony Brook University and once had a story published on a candy cigarette box. Her contemporary YA novel, WHAT HAPPENS IN WATER, releases in Fall 2015 from Spencer Hill Contemporary. For deep musings on gymnastics and Game of Thrones puns, follow her on Twitter.

It’s That Time Again


This month’s roundup includes a cover reveal, a new day job, and an agent critique in a bathroom. Read on for all the news!

Book Deals and Rights Sales

Carol Riggs celebrates the sale of THE BODY INSTITUTE.

Isabel Bandeira reveals how BOOKISHLY EVER AFTER sold BEFORE she found her agent.

Interviews and Cool Posts

Jen Klein lands a new day job as a staff writer on Grey’s Anatomy.

Stacey Lee dishes on her first agent critique (and it took place in a bathroom).

To celebrate the launch of her new website, MarcyKate Connolly is giving away pre-orders of two upcoming releases (and you have until tonight to enter!).

The Book Cellar interviews Gail Nall about her writing process and her love of middle grade.

Cover Reveals

Icey Books reveals the latest Fearless cover, Shallee McArthur‘s THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE.



210044_a981a3f8e3a567347a20c2d7e30da578.jpg_srz_p_338_488_75_22_0.50_1.20_0Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Rebecca Petruck whose middle grade novel, STEERING TOWARD NORMAL, releases this week!

About the book:

 Eighth grade is set to be a good year for Diggy Lawson: he’s chosen a great calf to compete at the Minnesota State Fair, he’ll see a lot of the girl he secretly likes at 4-H, and he and his dad Pop have big plans for April Fool’s Day. But everything changes when classmate Wayne Graf’s mother dies, which brings to light that Pop is Wayne’s father, too. Suddenly, Diggy has a half-brother who moves in and messes up his life. Wayne threatens Diggy’s chances to win Grand Champion, horns in on his girl, and rattles his easy relationship with Pop.

Despite his high hopes, eighth grade quickly turns into Diggy’s worst year ever, filled with jealousy, fighting, and several incidents involving cow poop. But as the boys care for their calves, pull pranks, and watch too many B movies, they learn what it means to be brothers and how weird the concept of family can be as they slowly steer toward a new kind of normal.

STEERING TOWARD NORMAL has already been selected for the American Booksellers Association Indies Introduce New Voices and the Spring 2014 Kids’ Indie Next List. Order your copy now from your local independent bookseller. Or visit Amazon or Barnes and Noble to get your copy today!

JCB: Congratulations on your debut, Rebecca! STEERING TOWARD NORMAL is rich with details about raising and competing steers and belonging to 4-H. Do you have a background with 4-H or raising steers? If not, what drew you to this topic and how did you research it?

 RP: In our area in Minnesota, it used to be moderately common for families to buy an animal like a pig or cow in the spring, raise it through the summer, and have it butchered in the fall. Though I was a baby, my parents did that one year with a steer.

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Apparently, we named him Duane after my dad, and I would “ride” his back, and when he escaped we chased him through the fields hollering “Duane! Duane!” to great hilarity (because of how it was my dad’s name, see?). Then “Duane” was just gone. I’m convinced that’s why I’ve never cared for steak.

Other than that summer, my family has never had pets, let alone raised livestock, and though I was a member of 4-H, I did art and sewing. I came to the topic for Steering Toward Normal sideways, which is how I think a lot of us come by our stories. I knew there were two boys about the same age and half-brothers (and the implications of that), and I had my hometown in Dodge Center, MN. I did research and eventually settled on steer competitions because the stakes were both externally and internally high, and the time frame of one year created a natural arc for the story.

It sounds a bit ruthlessly calculated when I write it like that, but it absolutely was not by the time I started attending fairs, interviewing steer competitors, and learning about steers. The competitors, from nine to nineteen years old, are serious, generous, and fun. They love their animals, and who wouldn’t because steers are so smart, empathic, and as varied in personalities as people. But at the end of the day, even show steers are only beef cattle. They must be loaded onto the packer’s truck for slaughter, and it’s heartbreaking every time.

JCB: Diggy is such a memorable character with a great voice. Do you remember how he first came to you? What came to you first, the story or Diggy?

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“River Divers” from The Ogeechee: A River and Its People by Jack Leigh

RP: The story came to me first, from a photo of two boys who looked to be the same age but who I decided were brothers. It was wondering how that might be that led me to Steering Toward Normal. But for a long time, Diggy was a side character. He had another brother, named Modern, who had a much stronger voice. It took me a while to realize Modern had a stronger voice because he was strong. He wasn’t confused about his place in the family, he was confident about his decisions, and he was a natural leader. While he was a nice character to know, he wasn’t an interesting character to follow because he just didn’t have much of a learning curve. Diggy, who had frequently seemed annoying to Modern, had legitimate fears that deserved to be addressed and was rightfully angry. How he learned to cope with the situation was the much more compelling tale. Plus, he was always really funny.

JCB: Congratulations on being an ABA New Voice and Indie Next List pick! Is there a story behind how you first heard this news?

RP: Thanks! I first heard the news via email so I thought it was spam. Like, “You’re a winner! To redeem your prize, send us all your financial information, and we’ll send you a basket of rainbows and unicorns.” But the email was just personal enough that I couldn’t quite dismiss it—because, seriously, I was going to delete it. I sent it to my agent and editor, and it turns out the guys at Amulet had known and were glad they could finally celebrate with me!

JCB: Tell us a bit about your journey as a writer. How long have you been writing?


Can’t you just smell the pathos? (And the hairspray?)

RP: Like so many of us, I have been making up stuff since I was a kid. I was really into that TV show V, the original, not the remake, and I wrote several episodes with me as the spunky new character who saved the day, like, all the time. (Hey, does that mean I was into fanfic decades before it was popular? 🙂 ) I went through the bad-poetry phase in high school, and by college was writing bad plays and screenplays. As an adult, I took some classes at the New School in New York City and started a critique group, and my writing got moderately better. But for me it was really difficult to work full time and write. There are some people who can do it, but I just wasn’t one of them. I thought about entering an MFA program, but I kept getting raises and promotions, so it was really hard to leave that kind of security behind. Then September 11th happened. By the first anniversary, I had left the city and started my MFA.

That was 2002, and my book came out this year. So the journey has been slow and heart-wrenching, full of highs and lows. This is not a profession for the faint of heart. But of course I wouldn’t change any of it because Steering Toward Normal is in the world now, and having a novel published is just as amazing as you think it will be.

JCB: What books have influenced you as a writer?

RP: I think Save the Cat by Blake Snyder and Wired for Story by Lisa Cron have been the most important books for me as a writer, though I’ve appreciated others like Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass and Second Sight by Cheryl Klein.

Personally, the books that will never leave my shelves include Robin McKinley’s early novels, like The Blue Sword and Beauty, Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics, Plainsong by Kent Haruf, A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, and, forever and always, The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly and everything Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson.

JCB: What are you working on now?


Insect Cuisine by Shochi Uchiyama from Eat the Weeds, a web site by Green Deane

RP: The working title is BUGS because I’m crap with titles and the story involves (can you guess?) bugs. I first read about entomophagy, the eating of insects for nutrition, a few years ago in National Geographic and was immediately fascinated. I’m a logic-oriented person, so entomophagy makes perfect sense to me—bugs are a highly nutritious food source that require far fewer resources to produce than our current staples. But I’m also American, so the idea of eating insects on purpose has a high ick factor. Confronting that contradiction seems perfect for middle grade. So far the WIP is about a boy, bug-eating (by someone for some reason), and soccer, but I swear it will get better than that.

JCB: As this community is fearless, we’d like to know something you are afraid of and something you are not afraid of?

RP: My deepest, biggest fear was abandonment. (And, huh. Steering Toward Normal is about two boys who are abandoned—go figure. Seriously—I didn’t make that connection until just now.) That real fear manifested as all sorts of other fears, like people breaking into our house or sneaking up on me and taking me away and then *all the bad things* happening. But then my fear came true when someone I cared about deeply left me on purpose. It was horrible, but totally survivable, and after that I realized I just wasn’t afraid anymore.

As writers with good imaginations, I’m sure we’ve all freaked ourselves out with scenarios that made us wedge chairs under doorknobs, sleep with a heavy and useful Maglite, and wake up every hour to do a quick sweep of the house. But after my fear came true, I forgot to lock doors. I forgot to close doors to the outside when I showered. I walked outside at night without thinking a thing of it, no keys to hold sticking out between my fingers. I talked to unseemly looking strangers, and I even picked up strangers on the side of the road and gave them rides. Craziness, right? I think after all that time having been afraid, not feeling afraid made me reckless and take advantage of the new lightness I was experiencing.


This is me now. (From the web site Tiny Buddha, and the article “Tiny Steps to Overcome the Fear of Judgment” http://tinybuddha.com/blog/tiny-steps-to-overcome-the-fear-of-judgment/)

Of course, none of that behavior was wise, and I’ve since made myself get better about being reasonably cautious, but I do it as a sensible person and not a fearful one. The thing about fear is we give it what power it has. And it turns out that, for me, confronting my fear (even though I didn’t want to and very much against my will) really was the way to end it. (Is that Buddhist or Ninja?) I still have everyday worries about my career as a writer, paying bills, some social anxiety, and things like that. But that deep, visceral fear that could nearly blind me with terror, that doesn’t live inside me anymore. So, in a way, I’m grateful for that person I loved who left me. Though let’s not get carried away—I wouldn’t mind keying his car.

Thank you for inviting me to be on Fearless Fifteeners!

JCB: Thank you for stopping by our blog, Rebecca! Congratulations, again, on STEERING TOWARD NORMAL!

About Rebecca Petruck:

210044_1d5d27d51aee64a0f6009a032d510a8d.jpg_srz_p_268_398_75_22_0.50_1.20_0Rebecca Petruck is a Minnesota girl, though she also has lived in Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, England, Connecticut and, currently, North Carolina. A former member of 4-H, she was also a Girl Scout, a cheerleader, and competed in MathCounts. She reads National Geographic cover to cover. Her first novel, STEERING TOWARD NORMAL, is an American Booksellers Association Indies Introduce New Voices selection and a Spring 2014 Kids’ Indie Next List title. Vanity Fair’s Hollywood dubbed it a “book we’d like to see made into a film.” STEERING TOWARD NORMAL will be released by Abrams/Amulet May 13, 2014. You may visit her online at http://www.rebeccapetruck.com.



Jennifer BertmanJennifer Chambliss Bertman is the author of the forthcoming middle-grade mystery, BOOK SCAVENGER (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt/Macmillan, 2015). BOOK SCAVENGER launches a contemporary mystery series that involves cipher-cracking, book-hunting, and a search for treasure through the streets of San Francisco. Jennifer earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College, Moraga, CA, and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of EMLA.

ONE FOUR KIDS: Interview with Kate Hannigan, Author of CUPCAKE COUSINS


I had the great pleasure of interviewing OneFourKidLit author Kate Hannigan, whose middle grade novel, CUPCAKE COUSINS, debuts today! About the book:

Cupcake Cousins Cover medium file“Meet Willow Sweeney and Delia Dees, cousins who are embarking on their annual summer vacation together to the sleepy beach town of Saugatuck, Michigan, and the old Victorian house called Whispering Pines. Willow and Delia love gathering with the aunts and uncles, grandparents and kids all together for one fantastic week every August. But this year is special. Aunt Rosie is getting married, and she’s asked Willow and Delia to be her flower girls.

“But who ever heard of fourth-grade flower girls? Willow and Delia want to avoid those babyish pink dresses at all costs. They’d much rather beflour girls instead and prove themselves to the whole family – and to the intimidating new caterer at Whispering Pines – by whipping up some amazing dishes in the kitchen. But their cooking plans have a tendency to go awry, and culinary chaos ensues.”

Order Cupcake Cousins now from your local independent bookseller. Or visit Amazon or Barnes & Noble to get your copy today!

CH: When did you first decide to pursue writing? How did you decide on middle grade books? What do you find most appealing about them? Do you write in other genres as well?

KH: I’ve identified myself as a writer since I was in grade school. I think I first became hooked on storytelling and creating my own worlds in Mrs. Tucker’s third-grade class, when we wrote our own Encyclopedia Brown stories complete with surprise endings. I was obsessed!

I write for the reader I was then, attracted to wacky characters and adventures. I think middle-grade is where the truths are. It’s full of heart and honesty and searching. I’ve tried my hand at picture books, but they are so difficult! I find it hard to distill my thoughts down to a few hundred words! I like how we can stretch out in middle-grade and have a bit more room to say what we want.

Dune staircase

Down the bluff staircase to the dunes and Lake Michigan near Saugatuck, Michigan, where the story is set.

CH: The setting of the story really comes alive—I would say it earns a place as honorary character. How did your own childhood vacations/experiences contribute to the story?

KH: It’s funny, there are many really important things in my day-to-day functioning that I should be able to remember but cannot. But I can recall the way our Volare station wagon smelled when I was a kid, and what the green plastic seats felt like in the summertime. I can remember what it was like to run barefoot on crabgrass when we played outside in the evenings in my neighborhood. So many things about summer vacations and being a kid are right there in the front of my mind. These memories do seem to make it into my stories.

I spent a great deal of time outside when I was growing up in Oklahoma. When I think of today’s kids, who spend much of their days indoors and experience the world via screen instead of their five senses, I feel like something is being lost. So when I wrote Cupcake Cousins, I wanted to conjure up those sensations. I want readers to think about watching a sunset or sunrise and maybe feel compelled to go do it themselves. By including a lot of tactile things – picking blueberries, playing on the sand, getting up before the sun rises – I wanted to remind kids that it’s all still out there for them to explore and experience.

malted milkball cake

Kate’s malted milk ball cake at Christmas

CH: Do you cook? If so, what’s your specialty? Are the recipes your own creations? Do you have a favorite dish/type of cuisine? Tell us about your worst kitchen disaster.

KH: I do love to cook! It’s the best time for letting my mind wander and sort of plot out my next project. I am not a big meat-eater, so I tend to cook a lot of Thai, Chinese, and Indian fare. My kids call my various pots “Mom’s veggie concoctions.” I’m more like the Willow character in the book, throwing things into the mix and winging it, rather than like her more precise cousin, Delia, who measures things and plans out.

For Cupcake Cousins, I messed around with recipes and tested them out on my kids, who were willing guinea pigs! They patiently endured having to eat multiple batches of cupcakes and whoopee pies and peach pancakes.

And like the cousins in the book, I’ve had my share of kitchen disasters. So many, in fact, that I don’t even know which to share here. Fires on the stovetop, explosions in the microwave, adding cooking oil instead of water and making a wide hockey puck rather than a chocolate cake. My best cooking disaster is probably the time I poked a wooden spoon into the blender and wound up with woodchips in my batter. That dish was for a young man whose heart I was trying to win, and since he wound up marrying me, I guess it wasn’t a complete disaster!

CH: Do you envision any more adventures for Willow and Delia?

KH: Plenty! And Disney-Hyperion has asked for two more, so Cupcake Cousins is officially a three-book series. Willow and Delia are very clear in my mind, so I feel like I can return to them again and again.

CH: Do you have a writing routine? What’s your favorite place/time of day for writing?

 KH: I am a weirdly superstitious person, so I have a few rituals that are much too embarrassing to share. But I do tend to sit in the same spot at my kitchen table when I write, using the same mug for tea or the occasional decaf (which I put in the same spot near my laptop). I have a desk in a downstairs office that I use to, so I choose one or the other for long stretches.

As an online writer and editor, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to work from home. So I get everything done while my kids are in school, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. When I was working on Cupcake Cousins, that meant getting up sometimes at 4 a.m. to work on the manuscript before sitting down to the day job. Lately I’ve been able to shift to writing books full-time. But I still like writing in the mornings, when the whole house is asleep, even my dog. After 3 p.m., I run a chauffeur service.

CH: Any advice for aspiring writers?

KH: Read. Read everything. Read the books you want to write, and really study how the authors did it. Even take a passage that moves you, and write it down, so it flows from your head, through your fingers, and onto the page. You get a sense of how the author did it, and you can take that feeling and make it your own with your own words.

CH: What did you find most surprising about the process of getting published?

 KH: That. It. Moves. So. Slowly.

I used to work in newspapers, which was thrilling. The work you did in the newsroom was there in the next morning’s paper. You read it over breakfast! But with books, it can be a few years between an editor acquiring a book and the finished product sitting in your hands. The result is still a complete thrill! But the journey is a long one. And my personality is more like, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” So I wound up starting other projects along the way.

CH: Willow dreamed of becoming a chef. What would you tell a real-life 10-year-old who is having doubts or fears about pursuing a dream?

KH: Just stick with it! Sometimes it might seem that the people who are so successful got there quickly and easily. But that’s rarely the case. They were at it every day. And when you’re doing something you love and value, it doesn’t feel like work.

And do not be afraid to make mistakes. How does a baby figure out how to walk? She falls down. A lot. Babies fall down spectacularly. But before long, they get the hang of it, and they move on to skipping and jumping and galloping and running. The same will happen to you.

Kate Hannigan Head Shot smallLearn more about the fabulous and talented Kate Hannigan at katehannigan.com.

Growing up, Christine Hayes loved reading about the creatures that curl your toes, the legends that send a shiver down your spine. Now she loves writing about them, too. Christine lives near Chicago with her family, her dog, Chewie, and a house full of quirky vintage objects that she secretly hopes might be haunted. Her MG suspense novel, MOTHMAN’S CURSE, debuts spring 2015 with Roaring Brook/Macmillan. Follow her on Twitter.

ALL FOUR KIDS: An Interview with Helene Dunbar, author of THESE GENTLE WOUNDS


It’s truly my pleasure today to be interviewing OneFourKidLit author Helene Dunbar. Helene’s YA debut, THESE GENTLE WOUNDS, celebrated its release from Flux yesterday! Here’s the lowdown on this emotional, riveting read:

18187029Sometimes I wish I’d lost a leg or something. Everyone can understand that. They never get it when what’s been broken is inside your head.

Five years after an unspeakable tragedy that changed him forever, Gordie Allen has made a new home with his half-brother Kevin. Their arrangement works since Kevin is the only person who can protect Gordie at school and keep him focused on getting his life back on track.

But just when it seems like things are becoming normal, Gordie’s biological father comes back into the picture, demanding a place in his life. Now there’s nothing to stop Gordie from falling into a tailspin that could cost him everything—including his relationship with Sarah, the first girl he’s trusted with the truth. With his world spinning out of control, the only one who can help Gordie is himself . . . if he can find the strength to confront the past and take back his future.”

Indiebound / Amazon / Barnes & Noble

DG:“These Gentle Wounds” feels like a very personal, close-to-home kind of story. What was your inspiration for the book?

HD: Unfortunately, there have been many cases like this in the news. After a mother in upstate New York drove her car into the river with her four children in it and one survived, I started wondering what that surviving child’s life would be like.

Also, I thought that someone needed to bring more attention to PTSD brought on by childhood trauma. I’m sure that many readers either suffer from similar issues or know someone who does.

DG: You are a female author, but writing from the perspective of a male protagonist. What was most interesting or challenging about writing from that point of view?

HD: Honestly, I’m far more comfortable writing from a male POV than a female one. I’m not completely sure why that is. But I can say that Gordie’s voice was always extremely clear in my head.

DG: This is a very intense, emotional story about trauma and healing, abuse and redemption. Was it an emotional experience to write it? Did you have a hard time keeping an “authorly” distance, or were you right there in the thick of it with your characters? How did you as an artist walk that line?

HD: This wasa very tough book to write in that being in Gordie’s head was a very draining experience. I never worried about keeping my distance, but I have to admit to some relief at having finished the book. Gordie is in a very different place at the end of the book than he is in the beginning, but it was still quite difficult for me.

DG: What drives you to write for the Young Adult market, rather than in another genre?

HD: I’ve always been an obsessive reader, but for a while I just couldn’t find anything that interested me. Melissa Marr’s series, brought me back to reading and opened up a lot of doors. YA didn’t really exist when I was a teen so I’m making up for lost time as a reader. But also, I very much buy into the “write the book you want to read” mentality.

DG: What are some of your very favorite YA authors and books?

HD: I’d list my fav YA books as (in no particular order):

  • Maggie Steifvater’s Raven Boys Series
  • Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely Series
  • Andrew Smith’s The Marbury Lens and Stick
  • David Levithan’s Every You, Every Me
  • Barry Lyga’s Boy Toy

DG: I see that you have a varied writing resume, writing about everything from Irish music to court cases to Native American tribes. Did all this other writing experience help when you sat down to write “These Gentle Wounds?”

HD: I always said that I couldn’t write fiction, but what I really meant was that I couldn’t plot. I still find plotting much more difficult than writing characters and dialogue. That part comes very easily to me.

I’ve always written, mostly journalistic pieces, but I think that regardless of the type of writing you’re doing, it helps to polish your craft.

DG: “These Gentle Wounds” is your debut novel. What was your pre-publication journey like? Was it a long, hard road to publication?

HD: My road was fairly fast, but it still felt difficult. TGW is my debut, but it was the second book I went out on submission with. The first, WHAT REMAINS, will be released 2015 by Flux. I didn’t begin writing fiction until 2009 and I have a couple of trunk novels that I wrote before What Remains.

DG: What advice would you have for someone who is hoping to get published, or struggling hard toward that goal?

HD: Read. Read. Read. Read. And try to build a community around you of people who “get it.” My writing partners keep me sane.

DG: What can we expect to see from you as a writer in the future?

HD: That is up to the gods of publishing, but definitely watch for WHAT REMAINS, which is a love story between three friends and which explores loss, grief, and guilt from an unique angle.

DG: This interview is appearing on the “Fearless 15er” blog of us 2015 debut authors. As someone who is a year ahead of us on this journey, what advice to you have for us for the upcoming year?

HD: My #1 piece of advice would have been to join the Fearless 15ers, so you’re already there. The OneFourKidLit community has been an amazing support system.

DG: Finally, as this community is fearless, we’d like to know something you’re afraid of and something you’re not afraid of.

HD: I’m terrified of public speaking so my book launch should be a barrel of laughs.  I’m not afraid of being emotionally honest. I’m very much a heart-on-my-sleeve kind of person.

DG: Thanks so much for your time, Helene.  It’s a beautiful book (and I’m sure your book launch went great!), and we wish you the best of luck with this and all future endeavors!

Want to learn more about Helene Dunbar and her writing?  Check out her website, and find her on Twitter and Goodreads!

About Helene Dunbar:

Helene Dunbar usually writes7169602 features about fiddles and accordions for Irish Music Magazine, but she’s also been known to write about court cases, theater, and Native American Indian tribes. She’s lived in two countries, six states, and is currently holed up in Nashville with her husband, daughter, two cats, and the world’s friendliest golden retriever.

Dan Gemeinhart is an author and teacher-librarian who lives smack dab in the middle of Washington State with his wife and three daughters. What passes for his website can be found at www.dangemeinhart.com, and he can more frequently be found on Twitter. His contemporary adventure MG novel, THE HONEST TRUTH, will be out from Scholastic Press in January 2015.

ONE FOUR KIDS: Interview with Kathryn Rose, author of CAMELOT BURNING


I have the pleasure of interviewing Kathryn Rose, a fellow Flux author whose YA novel CAMELOT BURNING, releases today!

b2ap3_thumbnail_Camelot-BurningAbout the book:

By day, Vivienne is Guinevere’s lady-in-waiting. By night, she’s Merlin’s secret apprentice, indulging in the new mechanical arts and science of alchemy. It’s a preferred distraction from Camelot’s gossipy nobility, roguish knights, and Lancelot’s athletic new squire, Marcus, who will follow in all knights’ footsteps by taking a rather inconvenient vow of chastity.

More than anything, Vivienne longs to escape Camelot for a future that wouldn’t include needlework or marriage to a boorish lord or dandy. But when King Arthur’s sorceress sister, Morgan le Fay, threatens Camelot, Vivienne must stay to help Merlin build a steam-powered weapon to defeat the dark magic machine Morgan will set upon the castle. Because if Camelot falls, Morgan would be that much closer to finding the elusive Holy Grail. Time is running out and Morgan draws near, and if Vivienne doesn’t have Merlin’s weapon ready soon, lives would pay the price, including that of Marcus, the only one fast enough to activate it on the battlefield.

Fonda Lee: Congratulations on your debut, Kathryn! Tell us about what inspired you to write a fantasy steampunk based on Arthurian legend. (And um, how cool is that?!)

Kathryn Rose: Thank you! A few years ago, I was working on another project, but had ambitions to write steampunk, but I didn’t have a story yet. Then the 1953 film KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE was on TV one Saturday night, and as I watched it, I thought to myself, “Merlin would be such a badass steampunk character.” That night, I started outlining the story.

FL: The legends of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table continue to fascinate and inspire us to this day. Why do you think they are so enduring?

KR: I think what draws us in are the timeless questions that frequently come up in the story in allegorical form. Camelot centers around ideas that humanity has explored on philosophical levels for centuries: What is paradise? Will good always trump evil? Can we live forever? There’s also a lot of mystery. We have so many different versions of this story, and we don’t know who the real “Arthur” would be, if he lived at all. That makes it fascinating.

FL: Did you do a lot of research into Arthurian legend? How did you balance staying faithful to what readers know about Camelot, with writing something new and unexpected?

KR: I did research Arthurian legend, and thankfully, there are a lot of inconsistencies in the canon that allow for poetic license in retelling it. I remained faithful to the story and treated it with integrity, but I did rely on those inconsistencies (for example, in some stories, Galahad is Lancelot’s son; in others, he isn’t. In mine, Galahad is Lancelot’s former squire). It was super important to make sure the reader recognized Camelot, while at the same time seeing that there was something different about it.

FL: CAMELOT BURNING is the perfect example of blending and crossing genres. What was it like to write and sell something that “doesn’t fit in a box” and are there books or authors that you admire, that do this particularly well?

KR: It’s a lot of fun to write Vivienne’s story, but I acknowledge that it’s a pretty bizarre mashup. My agent called it “alternative historical fantasy” so that editors and readers would know right away that this isn’t the Medieval England fantasy they expect. There are elements in CAMELOT BURNING that obviously would never be seen in true Arthurian England (Merlin drinking absinthe, for example), and early on in the writing process, I got great feedback recommending I make Camelot as Camelot-y as possible so that we don’t feel like we’re in a brand new world when it should be familiar. So I think there’s a fine line, and when you write a mashup like this, you have to consider chopping some story elements in order to allow for believability. I think Maggie Stiefvater is insanely brilliant at creating stories and worlds that blend genres. I mean, THE SCORPIO RACES is one of the most beautiful books I’ve read, and it’s about blood-thirsty horses.

FL: Tell us a bit about your journey as an author. How long have you been writing? How has the debut process been for you so far, and do you have any tips for aspiring authors?

KR: I’ve been writing forever, but I became serious about writing and publication in 2009. The debut process has been amazing. Not only is Flux great to work with, but I’m absolutely floored by the support and advice from my fellow OneFours. I’d have no idea what I’m doing if it weren’t for the writing community. My tips for aspiring authors include: write a lot, consistently, and read a lot, consistently (and with the intention of learning craft), and keep doing that forever.

FL: What’s next for you? Will there be a sequel to CAMELOT BURNING? Do you have other projects in the works?

KR: There is a sequel to CAMELOT BURNING. I hope to share more information about it in the next few months! I have other projects in the works, yes, but I can’t talk about them yet.

FL: And finally, as this community is fearless, we’d like to know something you’re afraid of and something you’re not afraid of.

KR: I am afraid of goldfish when they die. Their eyes are weird and bore into my soul and, ugh. Something I’m not afraid of? Hmmm. I’m not afraid of heights. I like them.

FL: Thank you for the interview Kathryn, and congratulations again on CAMELOT BURNING!

Kathryn RoseAbout Kathryn Rose: 

Kathryn Rose was born in Toronto, Canada, and grew up in the Kitchener-Waterloo region of Southern Ontario. After graduating from York University, where she studied literature and philosophy, she relocated to Los Angeles, California. When she isn’t breaking up fights between her cat and dog, she reads and writes speculative fiction, cooks with her husband, and listens to rock music.


FJLee HeadshotFonda Lee is an author and recovering corporate strategist who was born and raised in Calgary, Canada (land of hockey, rodeo, and oil reserves) and now lives with her family in Portland, Oregon (land of rain, hipsters, and Powell’s books). When she is not writing she can be found training in kung fu or searching out tasty breakfasts. Her debut upper YA science fiction novel, ZEROBOXER, will be published by Flux in April 2015. You can find Fonda at www.fondalee.com and on Twitter @fondajlee.

ALL FOUR KIDS: An interview with Meredith McCardle, author of THE EIGHTH GUARDIAN (ANNUM GUARD BOOK 1)


Today I have the privilege of interviewing  OneFourKidLit author Meredith McCardle, whose young adult novel, THE EIGHTH GUARDIAN (ANNUM GUARD, Book 1), released yesterday!

Here’s a little bit about her spectacular story:

The-Eighth-Guardian-final-coverAmanda Obermann. Code name Iris.

 It’s Testing Day. The day that comes without warning, the day when all juniors and seniors at The Peel Academy undergo a series of intense physical and psychological tests to see if they’re ready to graduate and become government operatives. Amanda and her boyfriend Abe are top students, and they’ve just endured thirty-six hours of testing. But they’re juniors and don’t expect to graduate. That’ll happen next year, when they plan to join the CIA—together.

But when the graduates are announced, the results are shocking. Amanda has been chosen—the first junior in decades. And she receives the opportunity of a lifetime: to join a secret government organization called the Annum Guard and travel through time to change the course of history. But in order to become the Eighth Guardian in this exclusive group, Amanda must say good-bye to everything—her name, her family, and even Abe—forever.

Who is really behind the Annum Guard? And can she trust them with her life?

 Amazon /  IndieBound / Barnes and Noble / Books A Million / Powell’s Books / Book Depository

So flipping cool, right? Okay, confession: Meredith and I are critique partners so I got to see this book go from idea to an actual hold-it-in-my-hands-and-love-it-book, which has been incredibly fun. And, let me tell you, Meredith’s writing is brilliant. It’s page-turning. And, it’s twist-y in the best of ways. So, yeah, as a member of the Fearless Fifteeners, I’m excited to able to interview Meredith so you can learn more about her and fall in love, too!

KOC: Hi, Meredith! As authors, we’re always told the best thing we can do to keep up with our profession is to read, read, read. So, my first question is: Do you agree with this? And if so, we’d love to hear what you’re reading now?

MM: Oh, absolutely! You can’t be a writer unless you’re a reader. I’ve learned so much about writing from reading widely—YA, MG, adult, every genre imaginable. You can’t beat that kind of education. As for what I’m currently reading, I’m knee deep in historical research, so I have a stack of books on my nightstand about Prohibition, which is really a fascinating chapter in our nation’s history.

KOC: As a former high school history teacher, you can imagine how I am envying your research right now. The 1920’s are one of my favorite time periods to immerse myself in. Previously, you worked as a lawyer. What sparked your career change to full time writing? Was there a single moment where the light bulb went off and you just thought, I’m doing the wrong thing with my life? Or was it more subtle and spread out over time?

MM: Honestly, it was having a baby four-ish years ago. Once I had my first daughter, I knew I wanted to stay at home with her, and I figured it would be a good time to get serious about writing. I’d dabbled before, but working the kind of litigation career I was working didn’t allow much time for serious writing. And while caring for a baby is certainly time intensive, I suddenly found myself with the time to devote to writing. The rest is history! And I can’t say I’ll never go back to law or that I’ll never use my law degree in some way again. Who knows what the future holds!

KOC: Your book is filled with some pretty awesome elements like time-travel, history, and governmental corruption. Does the last one tie back in to your love of law in any way? Where did the general idea of this first book come from?

MM: Well, thanks to my law degree, I at least understand that the premise of my book is completely unconstitutional, so no one can call me out for that! The actual idea for the book was actually inspired by a song title—IRIS WAS A PUPIL by Auchtre—but I definitely think my love of all things history and my upbringing on James Bond and Jack Ryan spun this book into what it is.

KOC: Unconstitutional as it may be, it would surely make a great screenplay! I can already see the cast in my head. But, back to your book….your main character, Iris, doesn’t like to ask for help, which makes her seem almost fearless at times. Additionally, trust is a constant theme throughout the book and Iris—though desperate for answers—doesn’t know who she can rely on even if she were tempted to reach out to someone. The way it all plays out is fascinating and I’d love to know if this was a theme you set out to explore when you first began writing the book? Is trust something that comes easily for you in you personal life?

MM: I wouldn’t say it’s a deliberate theme per se, but I definitely thought it made sense for Iris as a character. She’s been through a lot in her few years, so, to me, there’s be no question that she’d have trust issues with just about everyone she encounters. And while Iris is very different from me, we do share a few characteristics—not liking to ask for help being at the top of both lists.

KOC: I love to hear authors talk about how elements of themselves end up in books. It’s probably one of my favorite reasons to read interviews. Weird, but true. And speaking of characters, you have a great cast in your book—I especially love how you named the members of the Annum Guard after colors (Iris, Yellow, Indigo, Red, etc…)! Overall, which character was the easiest for you to write? Hardest? Which is your favorite?

MM: Yellow was both the easiest and my favorite to write. I understood her from page 1, and I knew going in exactly what her story arc was going to be. The hardest to write, hands down, was Iris, at least in the beginning. It’s funny that I knew so much about the supporting characters but couldn’t get my main character right at all. It took about three drafts before I finally figured her out. But now I feel like I know her in and out—almost like she’s a part of me.

KOC: I think you and I are alike in that way. Supporting characters come easy for me but main characters, not so much! Let’s talk about your cover. They say not to judge a book by its cover, but yours is pretty amazing. Readers will have to look closely because there’s a lot to see in the background. Can you tell us a little bit about it and, most importantly, do you love it?

MM: I do love it! In the book, Iris travels back in time to a number of historical events, but Skyscape’s art department focused right in on the Boston Massacre because it was the most instantly recognizable. The whole concept behind the cover was to show a little flash of what Iris would have seen the second before she traveled back in time, hence the bursts of light and all the swirling colors. The cover was illustrated by the legendary Cliff Nielsen, and I think it’s just perfect. Everything about it is perfect.

KOC: You got that right. I could never have pictured anything more perfect for your book. The artist totally nailed it! And the colors are just a huge, huge bonus. Okay, so I know you have a second book coming out in this series. When will it hit shelves? Will there be a third?

MM: The second book will be out January 2015, and I certainly hope there will be a third! Stay tuned, I guess.

KOC: You know I will. Since you’re in writing mode on the second book, I admit I’m fascinated to hear the writing rituals of authors. Do you outline first? Have to write at a certain time of day? Have to have jellybeans or some other pertinent item to produce words?

MM: I wish I had the luxury of writing rituals, but the truth of it is that I’m a full-time mom to two young daughters, so I take whatever writing time I can get!

KOC: I remember those days well. Before we end, since our 2015’ers are fearless, we’d love to know something you’re afraid of and something that doesn’t scare you at all.

MM: Ok, so this is weird, but I’m terrified of balloons. And since I have young kids, I come into contact with people who make balloon animals quite frequently, so I straight up can’t deal with a lot of birthday parties. As for what doesn’t scare me, I like that the older I get, the less afraid I am of failure. I’m realizing that the only real failure is in not trying in the first place.

KOC: Oh, I really like that part about not trying. It’s so true. As for the balloons, that’s got to be crazy-hard to avoid with the little ones. Too funny! Thanks for joining us, Meredith. If our readers would like to learn more about Meredith, check out her website. You can also find her Twitter, Goodreads, and Facebook.

About Meredith:


Meredith McCardle is a recovered lawyer who lives in South Florida with her husband and two young daughters. Like her main character, she has a fondness for strong coffee, comfortable pants, and jumping to the wrong conclusions. Unlike her main character, she cannot travel through time. Sadly. Her debut, THE EIGHTH GUARDIAN, was published by Skyscape/Amazon Children’s May 6, 2014.

Kerry_Official_Author_PhotoKerry O’Malley Cerra’s career as an author began at age five when she wrote her first story using crayons on the back wall of her family’s house. She later graduated with a Social Science Education degree from the University of South Florida—GO BULLS!—and taught high school history. After meeting her most awesome critique pals, she joined SCBWI, helped launch Whatcha’ Reading Now?, got an agent, sold a book, and the rest is history—which is her favorite subject ya’ know! Her middle grade novel, JUST A DROP OF WATER, debuts on September 2, 2014 from Sky Pony Press. You can follow her on Twitter at @kerryocerra. The book is available for pre-order at Indiebound, Powell’s Books, Amazon, Books-A-Million, and Barnes & Noble.