Today, 9781595147400_ZodiacI’m excited to chat with fellow author Romina Russell about her debut YA science fiction novel ZODIAC. Before we get to the questions, here’s more about the book:

At the dawn of time, there were 13 Houses in the Zodiac Galaxy. Now only 12 remain….

In a galaxy where your astrological sign determines which planet you call home, Rho, the 16-year-old Guardian of House Cancer, must find a way to unite the divided worlds of the ZODIAC before an ancient evil once believed to be mere myth returns to destroy them all. Embark on a dazzling journey with ZODIAC, the first novel in an epic sci-fi-meets-high-fantasy series set in Space that combines astrology, romance, and adventure!

Goodreads / Author WebsiteZODIAC Website / Twitter /Tumblr / Instagram / Author Facebook / ZODIAC Facebook 

Now to the questions! You created a world where your characters are (at least partly) defined by their Zodiac house. What made you decide that your main character Rho would be a Cancrian? Did you toy with the idea of giving her a different house or was she always firmly a crab?

What was awesome about creating the worlds of the Zodiac Universe was having a cheat sheet: I basically took the traditional horoscopes for each astrological sign and built out planets populated with people that fit each personality type. As for Rho being Cancrian, I was curious to explore the kind of hero whose strength was in her heart and not her body. I wanted to take a girl who wasn’t a traditional warrior and discover what weapon she would use to fight a war. I wondered how she would save the world(s)…and whether or not she could.

Hysan was one of my favorite characters.  When I mentioned ZODIAC on twitter, people immediately chimed in with “He’s our man!”.  He seems popular. Do you think Librans are just generally attractive or is there something special about Hysan?

Thank you! Yes, I’ve witnessed some Team Hysan v Team Mathias throw-downs on Twitter and thoroughly, evilly enjoyed myself. I know the proper book-parent thing to say is probably “I don’t have a favorite,” but I totally do secretly Ship a Ship in this series. (I’m a YA fangirl first, author second!)

Speaking specifically of Hysan, I think part of his appeal is certainly his Libran nature—after all, they’re the most charming and graceful creatures of the ZODIAC. Not to mention that House Libra’s number one focus is on education, so Librans are often more worldly and open-minded than others, making them amazing friends. Yet in Hysan’s case, he’s not the typical Libran, just as Rho isn’t your average Cancrian.

Hysan is fun because he hasn’t been raised by humans (I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but this sounds weird, I know!), and his whole life, he’s had to work harder than everyone else at simply putting up the façade of being normal—he fakes his parents, his identity, his averageness (a genius masquerading as an average guy). So I think there’s just a really intriguing element to his character that makes Rho (and hopefully at least a few readers) want to learn more about him.

Which we will in book two….

Being a debut author is such an exciting experience. What has been the most thrilling part of the experience so far? What has been the most surprising?

I thought the most thrilling part of being an author was writing the worlds of ZODIAC, until I held the published book in my fingers and had the chance to hand copies to my family—even my grandparents in Argentina—realizing a dream I’d been journeying toward since age nine.

Then the book went on sale. And holy crap, I had no idea how much better this ride could get.

I’ve been having the absolute time of my life getting to know ZODIAC’s readers on Twitter and Instagram and so on. I’m kind of a social hermit, so I had no idea how amazingly cool it would be to actually invite people over to hear the made-up stories in my head rather than guarding them fearsomely. The readers I’ve been talking to have blown me away with their insights and kindness and enthusiasm and theories and all-around YA scholarship…it’s also nice to get the chance to fangirl over all my favorite series with these bookish new friends.

This whole experience has helped me open up as a person and face some of my deepest fears (my first time public speaking happened this summer at Comic Con!), and I’m so, so, SO grateful for this opportunity…and I can’t wait to continue growing and evolving with Rho.

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

I’m afraid of ignorance, and I’m not afraid to be alone. Thank you for this awesome interview—I ❤ being a Fearless Fifteener.


Romina Russell (pen name for Romina Garber) is a Los Angeles based author who originally hails from Buenos Aires, Argentina. As a teen, Romina landed her first writing gig—College She Wrote, a weekly Sunday column for the Miami Herald that was later picked up for national syndication—and she hasn’t stopped writing since. When she’s not working on the ZODIAC series, Romina can be found producing movie trailers, taking photographs, or daydreaming about buying a new drum set. She is a graduate of Harvard College and a Virgo to the core.



Laurie McKay is an author and biology instructor who lives in Durham, NC. When she’s not working, she spends time with her family and her two elderly dogs. You can find out more and see pictures of her dogs at or by following her on twitter. Her debut MG fantasy novel, VILLAIN KEEPER, will be available from HarperCollins on Feb 3rd, 2015.



Hi everyone!  Sandra Waugh, here, interviewing the YA fantasy author Vicki L. Weavil for the Fifteeners blog today! Here’s the summary of her awesome CROWN OF ICE, which released from Month9Books in September:

VWeavil_CrownofIce_M9B_eCover_900x1350Thyra Winther’s seventeen, the Snow Queen, and immortal, but if she can’t reassemble a shattered mirror by her eighteenth birthday, she’s doomed to spend eternity as a wraith.

Armed with magic granted by a ruthless wizard, Thyra schemes to survive with her mind and body intact. Unencumbered by kindness, she kidnaps local boy Kai Thorsen, whose mathematical skills rival her own. Two logical minds, Thyra calculates, are better than one. With time rapidly melting away she needs all the help she can steal.

A cruel lie ensnares Kai in her plan, but three missing mirror shards and Kai’s childhood friend, Gerda, present more formidable obstacles. Thyra’s willing to do anything–venture into uncharted lands, outwit sorcerers, or battle enchanted beasts to reconstruct the mirror, yet her most dangerous journey lies within her breast.  Touched by the warmth of a wolf pup’s devotion and the fire of a young man’s desire, the thawing of Thyra’s frozen heart could be her ultimate undoing.

Here is where you can find this wonderful fantasy:

Amazon     Barnes & Noble     Indie Bound

Now to the interview!

SW: Tell us about the inspiration to re-imagine Hans Christian Andersen’s THE SNOW QUEEN.  In particular, I’m wondering if this story has long been a favorite of yours and why?

VW: THE SNOW QUEEN was one of my favorite fairly tales when I was young (and I read a LOT of fairy tales).  Something about it always intrigued me–looking back, I think it was the fact that the supposed antagonist wasn’t really evil.  In Andersen’s tale, the Snow Queen’s actions harm humans (including the protagonists Kai and Gerda) abut she is really more of a force of nature than a true villain.  She has her own, self-absorbed, reasons for her actions, and they do cause damage, but she isn’t actively seeking to destroy the protagonists.  As a child, I found this concept of a character who was neither good nor evil fascinating. I guess I enjoyed the concept of a “gray” character even then.

One thing I would like to make clear–I had no inkling of the existence of any film based on THE SNOW QUEEN when I wrote my book.  In fact I didn’t hear about FROZEN until I was already querying CROWN OF ICE. So the popularity of that film had no influence on my choice because of the subject matter.  Ironically, one of the key phrases in my book–“Let it go”–became the anthem of the movie.  I promise there was no connection! (Unless it was one of those “collective unconsciousness” things).

SW: You chose the Snow Queen’s story rather than the fairy tale’s heroine, Gerda.  Please talk about that. 

VW: Actually, that was sparked by a discussion on Twitter.  I was following a Twitter exchange where several literary agents said they’d like to see more stories told from the villain’s point-of-view.  I’d been considering a fairy tale retelling, so when I read these tweets, THE SNOW QUEEN immediately popped into my mind–primarily because I love that fairy tale, but also because I feel the Snow Queen’s perspective could be an interesting “villain” POV.

As I developed the book, a major theme emerged–whether someone who has “frozen” their heart and emotions in order to survive can ever learn to love again.  This theme is very dear to me, because I believe there is always hope, even for those who feel they have no love in their life and never will.

When I created Thyra, in my mind were images of all the young people who deal with war, illness, family problems, abuse, mental illness, poverty, or other tragedies and challenges.  I believe those who survive often have to fight their way back to a sense of happiness and an ability to love, but I also believe it is possible for them to do so.

I always describe my protagonist, Thyra, as a survivor.  She isn’t a warm, fuzzy, character and she sometimes does things that aren’t particularly nice. But she’s still human and, beneath her “frozen” exterior, she still feels as deeply as others.  Having known the struggles of several friends–and having dealt with my own battles with depression–I really wanted to explore the growth arc of a character whose story begins in isolation and despair.  How does such an individual learn to embrace life again?

I realize Thyra is a very divisive character for some readers, and that’s okay.  I truly wanted to present a character who’s not particularly “loveable” in the beginning–a person who has become self-absorbed in order to survive.  I know such characters (and people) are not always easy to relate to.  I actually don’t expect readers to like such a “difficult” character at the beginning of the book.  I do hope, as they follow her journey to self-awareness, they learn to respect and care about her.

SW: I’m still brushing off ice crystals–Thyra’s world was so real!  What was it like immersing yourself in this frigid landscape? 

VW: Honestly, at one point, I wondered if I could find enough different ways to describe ice and snow!  It definitely was a challenge to create Thyra’s world, but I was able to draw on my own experiences a little bit.  I grew up at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains and when I was a child we did get significant snowfalls. I also spent a little time living in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which taught me a great deal about the effects–and dangers–of cold weather.

SW: Your secondary characters are all as richly alive as Thyra, human and animal, so I’m wondering which secondary character was your favorite to write?  

VW: Oh, I love all my characters (even the villains) but one of my favorite secondary characters is Sephia.  I actually based her on the old woman with the magical garden from Andersen’s original tale However, as I was creating CROWN OF ICE, I embraced her as a more significant character and a true foil for Thyra–someone who’s also neither absolutely evil nor perfectly good.  Sophia has power over green and growing things, in direct contrast to Thyra’s power over ice, snow, and cold, but they are very much alike in other ways.  Like Thyra, Sephia has her own agenda, and isn’t about to let anyone or anything stand in her way.  But Sephia–whose name is a combination of “Persephone” and “Sophia” (or “Wisdom”) is much older than Thyra and has acquired knowledge and understanding over the years.  Even though she opposes Thyra at many points in the book, she also sees elements of her own younger self in this Snow Queen.

Of course I also loved writing the two animal characters, Bae and Luki.  Bae is actually based on a talking reindeer in Andersen’s original story, but Luki is my creation. I included animals as primary characters because I believe they’re an essential part of life.  We share our lives and our world with animals, and I think they can have a great influence over human beings.  (Just consider the joy of snuggling up with your dog or cat at the end of a long, hard day!) Luki is really the first creature in a long, long time to show Thyra affection.  His unconditional love and loyalty are a lynchpin in the plot–Thyra’s growth arc would not be the same without him.

SW: My heart always catches hold of certain details an author chooses to explore–in this case the fabrics in Mael Voss’s chambers.  What were you thinking as you were describing them?  

VW: I have a “secret” past as a costume designer, so fabrics are something that speak to me in a special way.  The materials a character chooses to surround themselves with, as well as wear, can tell the reader a lot about their personality and their inner feelings.  Voss has greatly extended his life through his use of magic, but he hasn’t really grown over all that time.  He’s still stuck in the past, which is reflected in the clothes he wears and the items he keeps in his chambers.  In one scene, he even wears a garment that reflects his long ago connection to another character–not certain how obvious that detail is to readers, but Thyra does notice!

SW: I understand you write poetry! How did that influence CROWN OF ICE? Writing in general?

VW: When I was younger, poetry was pretty much all I wrote.  I played around with short stories and started a few novels, but never finished one.  Poetry was my main writing outlet (and I did actually win a few awards for it).

Once I finally sat down and completed a novel (an adult sci-fi that is currently being revised) I discovered that certain aspects of poetry writing had crept into my prose.  For one thing, I’m very conscious of rhythm–how using certain patterns in sentences, paragraphs, and so on can create atmosphere or change the tone and (sometimes) meaning of what I write.  Also, because poetry is such a condensed medium, it requires to choose words very carefully.  This helps with writing descriptions–it makes me strive to convey the most potent image with the fewest words.  I haven’t perfected this yet by a long shot, but it’s something that’s always on my mind.

SW:  Without spoilers (!), I’m sensing your passion for learning.  Did you anticipate this as a theme in your story?

VW: The love of learning is so much a part of my life, I think it tends to just appear in whatever I write.  For CROWN OF ICE, this theme is essential because it shows a side of Thyra that hasn’t been “frozen” by her choices and circumstances.  The fact that she still has a passion for learning is the one thing that first connects her to another human, the equally education-obsessed Kai. It also raises the stakes.  Since Thyra values her intellect above all things, the threat of losing her mental abilities if she fails to reconstruct the mirror and becomes a mindless wraith is truly a fate worse than death.

SW: Speaking of fates worse than death, and because this community is fearless, what is something you are afraid of and something you’re not afraid of?

VW: Following up on my answer to the previous question, one thing I truly fear is the loss of my own mental faculties.  I sincerely fear that more than the threat of any physical disability or illness.  When he was older my father, a brilliant scientist, suffered a brain injury from a fall and lost much of his mental acumen.  I think somewhere deep down he knew, and was frustrated and saddened by this loss throughout the last years of his life.  That was a tragedy, and something I hope never happens to me.

One thing I’m not afraid of is change.  A lot of people have trouble with that, but I’m not one of them. I love to travel, to embrace challenges, and to continue to learn new things.  I think I could happily move to a new location every five years or so, just to experience different environments and cultures.  Certainly one reason I love writing is because I can create new characters and new worlds with every book!

We’re so glad to have you share this on our post! Thank you, Vicki!


Vicki Weavil 11

Raised in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Vicki L. Weevil turned her early obsession with reading into a career as a librarian and author.  She holds a B.A. in Theatre, a Masters in Library Science, and a M.A. in Liberal Studies.  Currently she’s the library director for a performing and visual arts university.

An avid reader who appreciates good writing in all genres, Vicki has been known to read seven books in as many days.  When not writing or reading, she likes to spend time watching films, listening to music, gardening, or traveling.  Vicki lives in North Carolina with her husband and some very spoiled cats.

Vicki is a member of SCBWI.  She is represented by Jennifer Mishler at Literary Counsel, NY, NY.

You can connect with Vicki here:

Website/Blog  Twitter  Tumblr 1 or  Tumblr 2  Goodreads  Pinterest  Facebook  Amazon


Sandra Waugh cropped final.Sandra Waugh grew up in an old house with crowded bookshelves, in walking distance of an old library with even more crowded bookshelves. It goes without saying that she fell in love with the old house in Litchfield County, CT because of its bookshelves and she lives there now with her husband, two sons, and Daisy the snoring goldendoodle. Her debut fantasy, LARK RISING, is out from Random House. SILVER EVE follows 9/15. Follow Sandra on Twitter at @sandrajwaugh.

Happy Fifteenth Day!


It’s been a quiet month for news, probably because we’re gearing up for 2015, but we did celebrate two more of our early releases, Shallee McArthur’s THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE and Romina Russell’s ZODIAC. Congratulations, Shallee and Romina!

Interviews and Cool Posts

Sandra Waugh shares some great tips for overcoming self-doubt.

Cover Reveals

RT Book Reviews reveals the cover of Valynne E. Maetani‘s INK AND ASHES.

Sharpread has the cover of Jennifer Chambliss Bertman‘s BOOK SCAVENGER (and it includes a bonus interview!).

Kidliterati reveals the cover of Mike Grosso‘s I AM DRUMS (and you can still enter the ARC giveaway for another day or two!).

ALL FOUR KIDS: An Interview with Jaye Robin Brown, Author of NO PLACE TO FALL


No Place To Fall cover image

On our blog today, we have Jaye Robin Brown, author of NO PLACE TO FALL (Harper Teen). Here’s a synopsis of the book:

Amber Vaughn is a good girl. She sings solos at church, babysits her nephew after school, and spends every Friday night hanging out at her best friend Devon’s house. It’s only when Amber goes exploring in the woods near her home, singing camp songs with the hikers she meets on the Appalachian Trail, that she feels free—and when the bigger world feels just a little bit more in reach.

When Amber learns about an audition at the North Carolina School of the Arts, she decides that her dream—to sing on bigger stages—could also be her ticket to a new life. Devon’s older (and unavailable) brother, Will, helps Amber prepare for her one chance to try out for the hypercompetitive arts school. But the more time Will and Amber spend together, the more complicated their relationship becomes . . . and Amber starts to wonder if she’s such a good girl, after all.

Then, in an afternoon, the bottom drops out of her family’s world—and Amber is faced with an impossible choice between her promise as an artist and the people she loves. Amber always thought she knew what a good girl would do. But between “right” and “wrong,” there’s a whole world of possibilities.

Hi and welcome! Congrats on your debut! Now onto our questions…

Amber is an empathetic character who makes some questionable choices. Was it hard for you to write the moments where Amber makes mistakes?

Not really. I wasn’t perfect as a teen. The students I teach aren’t perfect. Things happen and you either sink or grow stronger from your mistakes. Amber was actually much more flawed and manipulative in early drafts, so she seems almost angelic to me in the final version!

Amber is a singer. As a reader, I longed to be able to hear her on stage. Did you listen to music a lot while writing this novel? Is there a famous musician who sounds like Amber does? Are you a singer yourself?

I can’t listen while I write, because I get sucked into lyrics, but I definitely listened to a lot of music to and from my day job. When I think of Amber’s voice, I think of great singers like Gillian Welch, Allison Krauss, and in particular, Emmy Rossum in the movie Songcatcher. That was probably the voice I heard most in my head. Though the version of Amazing Grace that I listened to over and over is Patsy Cline’s. Absolutely gorgeous. Sadly, I am not a singer. Correction. I sing all the time, but there aren’t many who would want to listen. I think writing Amber was my chance to finally belt it out and live that imaginary dream.

You do a great job of creating a complex family dynamic. They are all relatable and flawed in their own ways. Did you ever do any free writing from the perspectives of Amber’s family members? If not, how did you get to know them so well?

Oh, thank you so much! You know, I definitely have done free writing for other manuscripts, but with No Place To Fall, these characters were so ingrained inside of me already. As a transplant to the Appalachian Mountains, I’m always watching and listening and soaking situations in. Though none of the family was directly modeled on any one person I know, they were definitely stitched out of some pretty special cloth. Plus, with this being my first published novel, I probably had more time with it than people do with later novels and through each revision I got to know the characters on deeper levels. But mostly, they came to me pretty fully formed. I sure wish it was always like that.

The relationship between Amber and Will starts in a controversial way, although you also feel the deep connection between them as a reader. Did you know when you began the book that Will would be the central romantic relationship?

I’m so glad you asked this question! Actually no. When I first started the book, I thought Kush was going to be the love interest. I had a picture of the actor, Avan Jogia, that I’d pulled for inspiration and I even thought there might be a bit of Devon versus Amber stuff going on. I quickly realized that would be a terrible set up in a book. In another version, when Sean was pretty different from who he is now – a foster boy with totally different foster parents, Amber dates Sean but as a more manipulative move to piss off her father. But with each draft, the heartbeat of Will took over and it was like Amber was telling me, “Um, author lady, he’s the one I want.” (Best news…there’s going to be a Will’s perspective novella that follows some of the same timeline as the novel – his side of the story!)

That sounds awesome! 

What was your writing process like for this book? Are you a “plotter” or a “pantser?” When you began, did you know what you wanted the book to say?

I’m a plantser? I have major beats in my head but the rest is the muse and intuition. Unfortunately, that meant a bunch of major revisions, but my process is my process. I can’t say I knew exactly what I wanted the book to say, but the word longing was always attached to it. As was family and loyalty. Mostly I wanted to write a story about the area I’ve adopted as home, and show the strength of family in the face of flaws and ugly humanity. I’m also attracted to that moment as teens when we realize we are not our parents and we don’t have to be like them when we grow up. I think that’s one of the real revelations of entering that time of your life. It tends to show up in most of my stories. And of course the sweet simplicity of friends that get you, no matter what. Those friendships were important in the book.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about No Place to Fall?

Um. It’s awesome. You should read it. I can’t believe I just typed that. But you know what, I’ll keep it 🙂

Do you have any other writing projects in the works? I noticed that you are an art teacher. Do you have any dreams of illustrating one of your books?

I’ve been working on a couple of contemporaries and my agent, editor, and I are trying to figure out which one will be the follow up to No Place To Fall. You can be sure it will have a largish cast of characters, themes of family, finding one’s way in the world, and kissing. Because kissing is good.

As for illustration, no. I’m a doodler of ARCs, but the mediums I’ve dabbled in for money have all been of the three dimensional variety. Clay, silversmithing, a little bit of silk screening. Being a high school art teacher is a bit like being a jack of all trades and true master of none.

Lastly, as this community is fearless, what is something you are afraid of and something you are not afraid of?

It is? That’s good to know because I often think writing is about the scariest profession on the planet. Okay. I am not afraid of speaking my mind. It took me years to get here but if I have a problem, I will go to the source and work it out directly. I am scared of ignorance and those who choose not to do the research to find out the big picture and make well-educated decisions about the world. That, and snakes. Ugh.

Thanks so much, Cordelia for the great questions!

Jaye Robin Brown author photo

Jaye Robin Brown, Jro to her friends, lives on a fourteen acre farm in the mountains north of Asheville, North Carolina. She is fond of dogs, horses, the absurd and the ironic. She truly believes laughter and music are the best medicine. When not writing you can find her in the art room of the high school where she teaches.





CordeliaJensenAuthorPhotoCordelia Allen Jensen was Poet Laureate of Perry County, PA in 2006 and 2007. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and teaches creative writing in Philadelphia, where she lives with her husband and children. Cordelia’s YA Novel in Verse, SKYSCRAPING, is forthcoming from Philomel/Penguin in June 2015. Cordelia is represented by Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, Inc. You can find her at and on Twitter @cordeliajensen