ONE FOUR KIDS: AN INTERVIEW WITH LISA MAXWELL, AUTHOR OF SWEET UNREST

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I’m delighted to interview Lisa Maxwell, whose debut SWEET UNREST is out today! If you’re seeking ghostly love stories, rich Southern settings, and a dash of history, look no further.

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Lucy Aimes has always been practical. But try as she might, she can’t come up with a logical explanation for the recurring dreams that have always haunted her. Dark dreams. Dreams of a long-ago place filled with people she shouldn’t know…but does.

When her family moves to a New Orleans plantation, Lucy’s dreams become more intense, and her search for answers draws her reluctantly into the old city’s world of Voodoo and mysticism. There, Lucy finds Alex, a mysterious boy who behaves as if they’ve known each other forever. Lucy knows Alex is hiding something, and her rational side doesn’t want to be drawn to him. But she is.

As she tries to uncover Alex’s secrets, a killer strikes close to home, and Lucy finds herself ensnared in a century-old vendetta. With the lives of everyone she loves in danger, Lucy will have to unravel the mystery of her dreams before it all comes to a deadly finish.

I know — you want it right now. Here’s where you can find it!

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Powell’s | Books A Million | Book Depository

DG: You masterfully balance the contemporary, the historical, and the supernatural to make Lucy’s world come to life. What was the spark that inspired the story?

LM: I’m not sure that there was just one spark, but it kind of started with an idea to write a book where a girl time travels in her dreams. The original idea was a lot different than what SWEET UNREST turned out to be, but that was definitely the starting point. I was also thinking about writing a book about zombies when I started planning the novel, but the more I researched about zombies, the more I learned about Voodoo (which is where we get zombies in the first place), and the more interested I got in New Orleans.

That delta region of Louisiana has such an incredibly complex history—it was really very different (and still is in a lot of ways) than any other part of the country during the 1800s, and I wanted that history and that uniqueness to be an important part of the book.

DG: What kind of research did this story require, and what challenges did you face as you wrote?

LM: I had to learn a lot about Voodoo and a lot about New Orleans—especially sugar plantations and the way that class and race worked historically in New Orleans. When I started writing the book, I’d never actually been to the city, so going there was an important part of my research. We took a rather ill-fated trip (never take a 2 year old to New Orleans) so I could get a better feel for the city and visit the plantation that I based Le Ciel Doux on. I’ve been back to New Orleans since then, and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of the city.

The biggest challenge facing me as I wrote this was the issue of race in the book. I purposely set out to write a book that was as much about race as it was about made up magic. Armantine does what she does in the book because she can’t imagine a world in which her relationship can work out the way she wants it to—all because of her race and the society she lives in. Voodoo is a Diaspora religion—it’s based in traditions from Africa, carried across the Atlantic by slaves, and transformed by the experiences of African descended peoples in different parts of the Americas and Caribbean. And the cast of characters in the book is hugely diverse. The entire time I was writing, editing, and trying to sell the book, I worried about whether I was being respectful and really representing these characters as complex, fully developed people. I also wanted to make sure that I didn’t misrepresent the importance of Voodoo for the people who practice it. I’ve taken a lot of liberties in the book with the magic involved, but I tried to make it clear through the characters that the dark magic (the stuff I made up) wasn’t Voodoo, but something else. That balance between inventing things for the story and being true to what is a very real history and real religion was one of the most difficult challenges i faced. I hope I did it justice.

DG: Without giving away any spoilers, what’s your favorite line or moment from the novel?

LM: I have a real soft spot for Mama Legba. Her scenes are some of my favorite in the book. When she reads Lucy’s cards, you get a real sense that Lucy has met her match.

DG: What can we look forward to from you next?

LM: Next up is the second book in the world of SWEET UNREST. When I planned this book, trilogies were a big deal, so I’d always planned for there to be more to the story. I’m so lucky and happy that Flux agreed to let me write it. THE GATHERING DEEP should be out in Fall of 2015. (DG’s note: YAY!) It picks up where SWEET UNREST leaves off, but it tells a new story from a secondary character’s point-of-view. I know I’ve seen a couple reviews that have hoped for a sequel or that have wondered about some loose threads at the end of book 1, so I’m hoping those readers will be happy with how the story is wrapped up in book 2.

Then, in Spring of 2016 I have my Peter Pan retelling out from Simon Pulse. It’s really dark, kind of twisted, and features a dark, broody pirate boy that puts Hook from Once Upon a Time to shame.

DG: Finally, since we the Fifteeners are fearless, what’s something you’re afraid of and something you’re not afraid of?

LM: I’m usually terrified of walking into a room full of people that I don’t know and having to mingle. There is really nothing worse for me.  But, strangely enough, I’m not at all nervous about public speaking.

Thank you, Lisa!

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Lisa Maxwell is the author of Sweet Unrest   (Flux, Fall 2014) and Heartless Things (Simon Pulse, Spring 2016). When she’s not writing books, she’s an English professor at a local college. She lives near DC with her very patient husband and two not-so patient boys. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and her website!

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.
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ALL FOUR KIDS: INTERVIEW WITH RIN CHUPECO, AUTHOR OF THE GIRL FROM THE WELL

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Today we’re celebrating the release of Rin Chupeco’s fantastic debut, THE GIRL FROM THE WELL!

A dead girl walks the streets.
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She hunts murderers. Child killers, much like the man who threw her body down a well three hundred years ago.

And when a strange boy bearing stranger tattoos moves into the neighborhood so, she discovers, does something else. And soon both will be drawn into the world of eerie doll rituals and dark Shinto exorcisms that will take them from American suburbia to the remote valleys and shrines of Aomori, Japan.

Because the boy has a terrifying secret – one that would just kill to get out.

The Girl from the Well is a YA horror novel pitched as “Dexter” meets “The Grudge”, based on a well-loved Japanese ghost story.

Trust me, you need this now — and here are a few places where you can get it!

Amazon | Barnes and Noble  | Indiebound

One mantra, if you will, from the story is Okiku’s musing on “fires that fly.” To that end, what was the spark that inspired the novel? What was it about the Okiku of legend that spoke to you?

There’s a bittersweet taste to a lot of Japanese ghost stories – often enough, the bad guy never gets his comeuppance, and it’s the poor victims that’s doomed to haunt places for the things their murderers are guilty of (call them the Asian equivalent of Henry VIII’s wives). Okiku’s story was especially sad – there are a lot of versions to the legend that makes it hard to determine which is the right one, but she was essentially a kind person considered too insignificant to be treated better than she was, and it cost her her life. The idea to have her killer be inadvertently responsible for giving her the power she didn’t have in life appealed to me.

The first spark came when I was working at an office at a very old building, complete with a rickety elevator. I look like the quintessential Asian ghost, except maybe better dressed, so it was a trial for other people working in the same building when they finished their overtime at the same time I did. Old elevator + ghostly-looking girl inside said elevator when the doors open + night time + barely working lights = a certain amount of screaming and flailing. They eventually called me “good Sadako”, after the character from the original Ringu series.

The second spark was when I was watching an Asian horror movie marathon with a friend, who wondered out loud what we would do had we been in the same situation as the characters in those films. What would we use to fight off a ghost who was apparently unstoppable?

“With another ghost,” I quipped, and then was struck by the novelty of that idea.

You masterfully blend the supernatural with the contemporary, bringing us into a world where spirits are all too real and the rituals to exorcise them are deadly. What kind of research did this story require?

Thank you, that’s very nice of you to say!

I tried to make my research as accurate as I could. (Confession: I have never been to Japan, though I have been a big fan of Japanese culture ever since I was a kid.) For instance, I tried to describe places in the novel as they really are, such as Osorezan and Mutsu and Himeji Castle – sometimes it takes an hour of research to write just a couple of lines of description for them. But I also incorporated a bit of creative license in other areas, to further the plot I had in mind. Dolls did play a role in some Japanese religious ceremonies, but the way they’re used in exorcisms in the book was mostly supplemented by my imagination. I tried to ensure that the locations described in the novel were as authentic as I possibly can, but many aspects of the rituals that take place were also just things I came up with. It was a lot of fun to come up with these unspoken ritual ‘rules’ so I could set certain limitations on my ghosts to keep the balance, but it was also a daunting task to keep them sounding credible.

With multiple characters, intersecting story lines, and a first-person narrator who sometimes pulls back to be omniscient, what was the process of writing the novel like?

I treated the whole writing process as an experiment, first and foremost. I understand that the writing style is a bit different from what most are accustomed to, but given the kind of protagonist the novel had, I felt it worked well with how I wanted to structure the narrative. Okiku is not your everyday heroine, and I wanted to emphasize that – she definitely doesn’t think the way your standard young adult female does, and her sense of detachment throughout the novel was written deliberately. Naturally, being rather different (and, I hope, rather unique), I knew it would be risky because there’s a chance it might come off sounding pretentious – or worse, gimmicky – but I always try to write something in a way that no one else to my knowledge has done. I think it worked out pretty well, considering.

What can we look forward to from you next? (As per your website, I see a sequel?! Or perhaps a companion novel?)

Definitely a sequel – although ‘companion novel’ also describes it well. The Girl from the Well was written to be a standalone book with a definite ending, but I also wrote it to accommodate a sequel if needed. As far as I’m concerned, Okiku’s told her story, and she doesn’t feel the need to say more. But I also realized that Tark, my other protagonist, has his own story to tell. And where Okiku will always be the logical, somewhat aloof, brains of the operation, Tark makes up the heart and soul of the two, and if the first book had been told through his eyes, you’ll have seen more of Okiku’s personality than from Okiku herself, who is not the type to divulge much even when knowing things from her point of view. With Tark you’ll get warmth and emotion and empathy amid a lot of self-deprecating snark. The Girl from the Well does have a conclusion, but the sequel will show how the first book’s ending will bring about a lot more complications for him than he expects – or wants. It’s going to give me a chance to show off Tark’s engaging personality, and also a way to showcase Okiku’s more thoroughly as well.

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Despite an unsettling resemblance to Japanese revenants, Rin always maintains her sense of humor. Born and raised in Manila, Philippines, she keeps four pets: a dog, two birds, and a husband. She’s been a travel expert, an events executive, and a technical writer, but now writes weird things for a living. You can learn more about Rin on Twitter, her website, her book’s page, and Goodreads!
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.

Introducing Diana Gallagher

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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.

ONE FOR KIDS: Interview with Philip Siegel, author of THE BREAK-UP ARTIST

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Today, the Fearless Fifteeners are thrilled to host Philip Siegel, whose hilarious and charming debut THE BREAK-UP ARTIST releases today!

About THE BREAK-UP ARTIST:

Some sixteen-year-olds babysit for extra cash. Some work at the Gap. Becca Williamson breaks up couples. 



After watching her sister get left at the altar, Becca knows the true damage that comes when people utter the dreaded L-word. For just $100 via paypal, she can trick and manipulate any couple into smithereens. With relationship zombies overrunning her school, and treating single girls like second class citizens, business is unfortunately booming. Even her best friend Val has resorted to outright lies to snag a boyfriend.

One night, she receives a mysterious offer to break up the homecoming king and queen, the one zombie couple to rule them all: Steve and Huxley. They are a JFK and Jackie O in training, masters of sweeping faux-mantic gestures, but if Becca can split them up, then school will be safe again for singletons. To succeed, she’ll have to plan her most elaborate scheme to date and wiggle her way back into her former BFF Huxley’s life – not to mention start a few rumors, sabotage some cell phones, break into a car, and fend off the inappropriate feelings she’s having about Val’s new boyfriend. All while avoiding a past victim out to expose her true identity.

No one said being the Break-Up Artist was easy.

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AMAZON, BARNES & NOBLE, INDIEBOUND

DG: I’ve had the pleasure of reading THE BREAK-UP ARTIST, and it’s funny and fast-paced with a satisfying conclusion. What inspired Becca’s story?

PS: There are so many stories about matchmakers. I was intrigued by someone who did the opposite. What would that person be like? Then a few years back, I had a few friends in unhealthy relationships. I wanted to say something, but it’s a tricky situation because you don’t want to harm your friendship, especially when you know they wouldn’t heed your advice. It made me think even more about someone who breaks up couples.

DG: How was your experience writing in the female POV? (Side note: Becca’s spirit animal is totally the Amanda Bynes character from SHE’S THE MAN – and I love it!)

PS: I always pictured her spirit animal more like Emma Stone in EASY A! I never consciously thought about writing for a female POV. I never asked myself “what would a girl say?” I just wrote the character as I saw her.

DG: Becca maintains a gossip dossier as part of her work. As you wrote the novel, what strategies did you use to keep all of the pairings and hijinks organized? 

PS: Notecards! I’m a big fan of notecards and blocking out the story. I can physically move the cards around on my table, rearranging scenes and see how/if the story tracks.

DG: Out of all of the relationships in the book, which one resonates with you the most?

PS: I love the friendship between Becca and her best friend Val. On the surface, they seem so different, but their friendship just works. Val’s perkiness and optimism balances out Becca. That’s what I love about friendship. I don’t know how I became friends with my friends, how we found each other in this huge world, but I’m so glad we did. I loved writing Becca and Val’s witty back-and-forth, and some of the best bits were taken from real life conversations.

DG: What can we look forward to from you next? 

PS: Look out for more Becca adventures sometime in 2015.

DG: Since we’re all fearless here, please tell us one thing you’re afraid of and one thing you’re not afraid of.

PS: I am terrified of rats, but spiders don’t phase me.

About Philip Siegel:

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Philip Siegel grew up in New Jersey, which he insists is much nicer than certain TV shows would have you believe. He graduated from Northwestern University and promptly moved out to Los Angeles, where he became an NBC page. He likes to think that the character of Kenneth on 30 Rock is loosely based on his life rights. Currently, he works in downtown Chicago by day while he writes novels at night and during his commute sandwiched in between colorful characters on the El. To learn more, you can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and his website.

 

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.