Category Archives: Author Q&A

Family Magic Blog Tour Q&A + Contest

Today, we’re excited to be hosting a stop on the official blog tour for Family Magic by Patti Larsen. Keep reading for a Q&A with Patti, more about the book, and your chance to win some cool prizes!

Patti-Larsen-200x300Why write paranormal?

I can’t seem to avoid it for some reason. I was raised on fantasy and science fiction by my avid fan father, as well as Dungeons and Dragons. And, my family is known for their interesting intuitive abilities, something I share (I read Tarot and have been told I scare people LOL). So, paranormal characters seem to be the norm for me. I’ve tried writing non-para and have succeeded a few times, but most of my work falls under the supernatural umbrella.

Tell us about an educator who made an impact on your life.

My first grade teacher, Mrs. Redmond. I was ill when they did the first year assessments at the end of kindergarten and was placed in a remedial class when I began school in September. I came home crying every day to my mother because they wouldn’t let me read. When she finally convinced the principal to let me switch classes, Mrs. Redmond handed me books and books and books. I loved her for it and will always be grateful to her for understanding.

Family-Magic-200x300Where do you write?

I can write pretty much anywhere, but typically I’m in my basement office, surrounded by books, or in my kitchen at the breakfast nook with cats curled up on the bench beside me.

What was it like seeing your book cover for the first time?

The blue of Family Magic is now iconic to me and makes me happy every time I see it. I even look for clothes, nail polish, jewelry, anything that matches because I love it so much. The bright yet paranormal feel of the book, paired with the soft feel of the swirly vines and the powerful font is 100% Sydlynn Hayle, the lead character. So, naturally, I adore it. And stare at it, I admit, for long periods of time with a grin on my face.

What book most impacted your life?

It was a Nancy Drew mystery when I was twelve years old, but don’t ask me the title. The book itself isn’t the important part, though I remember enjoying it immensely. Instead, it was the trigger that told me I could be a writer. When I finished reading it, the little voice in my head whispered, “I can do that.” And I’ve been writing ever since.

What is your favorite writing spot?

On the soft, fuzzy bench of my kitchen nook with a couple of my cats curled up beside me, a fresh cup of hot coffee and my pug, Jelly Bean, at my feet. Heaven.

What are your “must-haves” when writing?

Coffee, my computer, post-it notes, my favorite pen, dayplanner to log my wordcount, headphones so I can listen to rain or bioneural beats while I write. And the voices. J

Connect with Patti online: Website | Facebook | Twitter

about the bookHer mom’s a witch, her dad’s a demon and she just wants to be ordinary. But, when an insidious evil comes after her family, Sydlynn Hayle has to choose to be the normal girl she craves or step up, embrace her magic and save her coven from disaster.

about the authorPatti is an award-winning author with a passion for the paranormal. Now with multiple series in happy publication, she lives in Canada with her patient husband and six demanding cats.


The publisher will be giving away 5 paperback copies of Family Magic (US/CA) and a $25 Amazon gift card (INT) to the winners of the Rafflecopter found HERE. The giveaway ends September 6th.

Be sure to check out the rest of the blog tour for more goodies & chances to win!

The Vanishing Island Blog Tour: Flash Questions with Barry Wolverton

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Today, we are so pleased to be hosting a stop — the FINAL stop — on the official blog tour for The Vanishing Island by Barry Wolverton.

For today’s stop, Barry stopped by with his responses to some of our favorite FLASH QUESTIONS! Check out his answers below, then keep reading to learn more about The Vanishing Island, in stores September 1st.

Barry Wolverton Author PhotoFavorite villain?

Montgomery Burns, The Simpsons

Pen or pencil?


Favorite piece of clothing?

A vintage-thrift-store-find Schott NYC leather jacket

Song you can’t get out of your head right now? Autumn Leaves (the Miles Davis recording)

Most recent vacation?

New York, in February, for my girlfriend’s birthday

5 things that are always on your desk or in your backpack?

On my desk: Paper & Clay handmade ceramics; Macbook; Peterson Field Guide to Birds of the Eastern U.S. + binoculars (my office looks out into my wooded backyard); books; Charlie, aka Mr. Grey, my cat who helpfully keeps papers and whatnot from flying off my desk by sprawling all over them.

about the bookvanishing islandDoes  the Vanishing Island really exist? And if so, what treasure—or terrible secret—was hidden by its disappearance?

It’s 1599, the Age of Discovery in Europe. But for Bren Owen, growing up in the small town of Map on the coast of Britannia has meant anything but adventure. Enticed by the tales sailors have brought through Map’s port, and inspired by the arcane maps his father creates as a cartographer for the cruel and charismatic map mogul named Rand McNally, Bren is convinced that fame and fortune await him elsewhere. That is, until his repeated attempts to run away land him a punishment worse than death—cleaning up the town vomitorium.

It is there that Bren meets a dying sailor, who gives him a strange gift that hides a hidden message. Cracking the code could lead Bren to a fabled lost treasure that could change his life forever, and that of his widowed father. But to get there he will have to tie his fate to a mysterious Dutch admiral obsessed with a Chinese legend about an island that long ago disappeared from any map.

Before long, Bren is in greater danger than he ever imagined, and will need the help of an unusual friend named Mouse to survive. Barry Wolverton’s thrilling adventure spans oceans and cultures, brings together the folklore of East and West, and proves that fortune is always a double-edged sword.

about the authorbarry wolvertonBarry Wolverton is the author of Neversink. He has more than fifteen years’ experience creating books, documentary television scripts, and website content for international networks and publishers, including National Geographic,, the Library of Congress, and the Discovery Networks. He lives in Memphis, Tennessee. You can visit him online at

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

WPP Logo_higher resTwitter | Facebook | Website | Pinterest

Be sure to visit the rest of the blog tour stops for more great content & chances to win a signed advanced copy of The Vanishing Island:

6/15/2015 Blue Stocking Thinking        
6/16/2015 The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia
6/17/2015 Small Review                     
6/18/2015 Maria’s Melange               
6/19/2015 Unleashing Readers          
6/19/2015 The Hiding Spot                             ​
6/22/2015 This Kid Reviews Books    
6/23/2015 Mundie Kids                      
6/24/2015 Page in Training              
6/25/2015 Novel Novice                    

Circus Mirandus Blog Tour: Q&A with Cassie Beasley

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Today, we are so pleased to be kicking off the official blog tour for Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley, a charming new middle grade book that’s described as a mix between “Big Fish, The Night Circus, and Roald Dahl.”

We’ll have more about the book later in this post, but first, here is our exclusive Q&A with author Cassie Beasley:

circus mirandusFor readers who haven’t heard about CIRCUS MIRANDUS, can you give us your 140-character “Twitter pitch” for the story?

Micah Tuttle wants to save his grandpa’s life, but first he must find Circus Mirandus and the magician who owes his grandpa a miracle.

Micah and his Grandpa Ephraim believe in magic. Do you believe in magic? Where/how do you see magic in the world?

Of course I believe in magic! Or at least I believe in a certain kind of it. :)

My favorite magic in the book is actually the magic between Micah and Jenny Mendoza because that’s something we can find (and create ourselves) in the real world. It’s a sort of magic when two people who are very different and who disagree on something so important are willing to accept each other and meet in the middle. Jenny doesn’t believe in Circus Mirandus. Micah does. But neither one of them lets that get in the way of their growing friendship.

cassie beasleyWhere did the Circus Mirandus come from? What inspired it?

The Man Who Bends Light—the magician who promised Grandpa Ephraim a miracle when he was a boy—came first, I guess, if only by a millisecond, and the circus built itself around him. I knew I wanted to write about Micah and his grandfather and this magical encounter that changed both of their lives. The circus and the Lightbender go hand in hand. When I started fleshing out the world of the circus even more, I based the setting on the various magicians who inhabit it.

Not all authors set out to write for children and young adults — but you did! What inspires you to write for younger readers?

To some extent, it’s a matter of going along with the story that chooses you. Most of the ideas that come to me when I’m daydreaming are better suited to younger audiences. I also think it’s important to write what you most love, and I happen to love YA and MG novels!

The movie rights for CIRCUS MIRANDUS sold even before the book came out – congrats! We know selling the movie rights doesn’t always mean a movie will be made — but assuming the best, what is one moment from the book you’re most anticipating seeing brought to life?

Thank you! It’s so exciting! The part I’m most looking forward to is too spoilery to share here, but the runner-up has to be the moment when the circus first appears. It’s preceded by a fierce wind, and then the younger version of Ephraim sees it for the first time. I want to see it with him. I want to hear the music calling me toward it. I don’t know what it might feel like to see the circus brought to life on screen, but I can’t imagine it being anything less than purely magical.


Favorite villain?

Cruella de Vil (the book version)

Pen or pencil?

Pen! Preferably blue.


Favorite piece of clothing?

Not to brag or anything, but I have a pajama set covered in Weeping Angels and TARDISes. And if any Doctor Who fans out there know for sure how to pluralize TARDIS, that is information I need in my life.

Song you can’t get out of your head right now?

 “Polaroid” by Imagine Dragons

Most recent vacation?

I went on a writing retreat with my sister to Jekyll Island, Georgia! I’m not much of a beachgoer, so I spent most of the time sitting on the porch under the live oak trees.

5 things that are always in your purse

Hand sanitizer. Cell phone. Lipstick. Ear plugs because I like to go to the movies, but the local theater keeps the volume so high that the seats vibrate. And pens of course. You can never have too many pens.

Thanks, Cassie, for stopping by. Circus Mirandus is in stores tomorrow. Here’s more about it:

Do you believe in magic?
Micah Tuttle does.

Even though his awful Great-Aunt Gertrudis doesn’t approve, Micah believes in the stories his dying Grandpa Ephraim tells him of the magical Circus Mirandus: the invisible tiger guarding the gates, the beautiful flying birdwoman, and the magician more powerful than any other—the Man Who Bends Light. Finally, Grandpa Ephraim offers proof. The Circus is real. And the Lightbender owes Ephraim a miracle. With his friend Jenny Mendoza in tow, Micah sets out to find the Circus and the man he believes will save his grandfather.

The only problem is, the Lightbender doesn’t want to keep his promise. And now it’s up to Micah to get the miracle he came for.

The Last Good Day of the Year by Jessica Warman: Blog Tour Q&A + Contest

The Last Good Day of the Year blog tour banner
Today, we’re excited to be hosting the final stop on the official blog tour for The Last Good Day of the Year by Jessica Warman, a ripped-from-the-headlines style quiet thriller that’s in stores now. For today’s post, we have an exclusive Q&A with Jessica, plus your chance to win a copy of the book.

last good day of the yearTHE LAST GOOD DAY OF THE YEAR has an almost “ripped from the headlines” feel to it, since there have (sadly) been plenty of similar cases of child abduction & murder that have been highly publicized over the years. Did any real-life cases inspire the book?

I did tons of research into real-life cases throughout the whole process, and I think anyone with even a casual knowledge of the most famous kidnappings in the past thirty years or so will be able to spot those details.  There’s even a minor storyline that lines up chronologically with the date of what is probably this country’s most infamous real-life unsolved murder, although you have to really be paying close attention to spot it. It’s sort of like an Easter Egg.  It’s a creepy little detail that would be easy to miss, but I think it makes the whole story more compelling. So there wasn’t any single influence tied to reality, but it’s undeniably present.

jessica warmanWhat sort of research went into writing THE LAST GOOD DAY OF THE YEAR?

There was a commercial a few years ago where a guy is sitting at his computer and the screen reads “you have reached the end of the internet.  You have seen everything there is to see on the internet.”  I’m not sure what the advertisers were trying to accomplish, because I think most people hope to God they’ll never have to see a majority of what’s available online.  There’s some heinous stuff.  I have a point, though:  I got to a point with my research that I felt like I’d read about every major kidnapping in the past hundred years.  My entire state of mind, for a good year or so, was saturated with a constant barrage of the most heartbreaking details you can imagine.  It got to the point where I’d struggle to find new cases and information, which made me think of the commercial I mentioned earlier.  I’ve always been interested in the macabre, but it’s become much harder for me to consume any true crime-related media now.  These are real people’s lives, and it’s uncomfortable to think about being entertained by their suffering.

I think it’s interesting how the true crime writer plays such a quiet — and yet ultimately critical role in Sam’s uncovering of the truth. Do you think such books/authors — and media coverage in general — can help or hinder investigations, like the one in THE LAST GOOD DAY OF THE YEAR?

I think they can be helpful, sure.   I think most people who write true crime books, folks who maintain websites devoted to unsolved crimes, and other armchair detectives have good intentions for the most part.  The internet has made the world seem much smaller than ever before, and it has never been easier to spread information quickly.  At first it seems like a no-brainer that more information about unsolved crimes or missing people can only help to spread awareness and eventually solve those cases.  But there’s always some inevitable distortion of the facts as they’re spreading, and it can become like an enormous game of telephone; the more notorious a crime, the more garbled the facts can get.  Even if they’re not deliberately warping their version of the story, most people – well-intentioned or not – have an agenda that ends up shaping their interpretation of things.  A big part of what this book is likes to about is the idea that truth is more flexible than anyone admit.  Every one of us is constantly filtering reality through our unique perspective that makes objectivity impossible… the more you think about it (and trust me, I have spent many afternoons and late nights going down the rabbit hole of this in my own head), the more nebulous any kind of “truth” becomes.  But even in that downside, there’s an upside:  it’s kind of why the “ask the audience” lifeline on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? works most of the time.

Obviously this book covers some very difficult subject matter. Tell us about the process of writing about something so dark — and how you balanced it with lighter elements.

Oh man, I hope I managed to balance the darkness with at least a few lighter notes.  I’m proud of this book….  But there’s a reason why it took me two years to complete (which is way longer than it’s ever taken me to finish a book.  Like, way longer; my publisher had to push back the release date more than once, even though it’s my shortest novel.):  It is hella dark.  Sometimes I’d read over my work for the day and I’d end up wracking my brain for hints of a repressed childhood trauma that could have sparked my interest in such bleak stories.   It didn’t help that I moved from Pennsylvania to Texas with my husband and kids right around the time I started working on the first draft.  I didn’t know a soul, so I sort of turned inward and kept my head down as much as possible for the first few months as I tried to finish the manuscript.  There were multiple days in a row when I didn’t leave the house.  Things got a little hairy, emotional health-wise.  There’s humor in the book, but it was hard to gauge how much would make the story bearable by adding moments of breathing room, versus what might seem tone-deaf or jarring to readers.  My real-life sense of humor is sarcastic and dry, and can be unsettlingly dark on my happiest of days, so it was a constant struggle to stay on track and keep myself from spiraling down the drain.


Favorite villain?

Hannibal Lechter

Pen or pencil?


Favorite piece of clothing? 

My Jackie Onassis pink Chanel suit with a pillbox hat.  I’ve never worn it in public (still waiting for an appropriate occasion), but sometimes I wear it while I’m puttering around my house and pretend that I’m Jackie Kennedy, folding laundry and doing dishes or whatever.

Song you can’t get out of your head right now?

“The Last Good Day of the Year,” by Cousteau!  I listened to it multiple times each day while I was writing the book.

Most recent vacation?

I went to Eleuthera, Bahamas with my husband and kids over Christmas.  It’s a tiny island, less than two miles across at its widest point and about 100 miles long.  We spent the week in near-total seclusion, which is my definition of a dream vacation.  And the sand was pink!

5 things that are always in your purse

Let me take a look.  (Dumps purse onto desk):

  1. At least one book.  Currently I have two: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankel, and The Art of Loving by Erich Fromme
  2. Dental floss.  I floss at least 2-3 times daily.  It’s starting to be kind of a problem.
  3. My wallet
  4. At least a few ponytail holders; usually a dozen or more
  5. My inhaler, for my asthma


Thanks to Bloomsbury, we are giving away one copy of THE LAST GOOD DAY OF THE YEAR. Contest is US only; must be 13 years or older to enter.

Fill out the Rafflecopter form HERE to get started.

about the book

A new powerful thriller from the globally-embraced author of Between.

Ten years ago, in the early hours of New Year’s Day, seven-year-old Samantha and her next door neighbor, Remy, watched as a man broke into Sam’s home and took her younger sister, Turtle, from her sleeping bag. Remy and Sam, too afraid to intervene at the time, later identified the man as Sam’s sister Gretchen’s much older ex-boyfriend, Steven, who was sent to prison for Turtle’s murder.

Now, Sam’s shattered family is returning to her childhood home in an effort to heal. As long-buried memories begin to surface, Sam wonders if she and Remy accurately registered everything they saw. The more they re-examine the events of that fateful night, the more questions they discover about what really happened to Turtle.

Master storyteller Jessica Warman keeps readers guessing in this arresting page-turner.

about the authorJESSICA WARMAN is the author of Breathless, Where the Truth Lies, Between, and Beautiful Lies, which have received seven starred reviews among them. Between was published in a total of twelve countries around the world. Jessica has an MA in creative writing and recently moved to Houston, Texas. Find her online at and on twitter @jkwarman.


The Cage Contest + Blog Tour Q&A with Megan Shepherd

the cage blog tour
Today, we are thrilled to be hosting a stop on the official blog tour for The Cage by Megan Shepherd, in stores next Tuesday. We have an exclusive Q&A with Megan, plus keep reading to learn more about the book & enter for your chance to win!

Megan ShepherdFor readers unfamiliar with the premise, give us your 140-character “Twitter pitch” for THE CAGE.

Six teenagers from around the world are abducted by an all-powerful species and caged in a “human zoo”

This sounds like a major deviation from THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER trilogy. What drew you away from Gothic horror to science fiction?

I will always love Gothic horror, but when I had the idea for THE CAGE, I knew I had to pursue it. It was a challenge to write about contemporary teenagers in a more traditional science fiction setting, but it was really fun.

Each book in THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER trilogy took inspiration from a different classic novel. What inspired THE CAGE?

An author friend was telling me about her spouse’s job as a wildlife biologist at a writing retreat, and that got me thinking about zoos. I knew the “human zoo” concept had been done a little in fiction (like in the TWILIGHT ZONE and SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE), but I didn’t know of anyone who had done it yet in young adult literature.

cage, theWhere do you find the most inspiration for all of your writing, in general?

From day dreaming. It’s tough these days, since we’re all tied to our phones and computers constantly. But I look for those moments of mental silence, like walks with my dog or drives in the car with the radio off, to think.

What are some human “oddities” that you think would confuse and/or fascinate an alien race observing us in a zoo, like in THE CAGE?

I had a lot of fun with this in the book. The alien race in THE CAGE, the Kindred, are able to “cloak” their emotions in public, releasing them only in private. So they’re fascinated by humanity’s wild emotional outbursts: love, anger, but also concepts like forgiveness. They’re interested in human music and art, though they don’t quite understand it. And they think we can be satisfied with distractions like candy, toys, and games, and don’t understand that we have deeper needs.


Favorite villain?


Pen or pencil?


Favorite piece of clothing?

A cozy sweater I wear to write in

Song you can’t get out of your head right now?

CENTURIES by Fall Out Boy

Most recent vacation?

Sailing along the Turkish coast—a lifelong dream!

5 things that are always in your purse?

Phone, book to read, CAGE bookmarks, pen & notebook in case I get inspired, laptop

1 winner will receive a signed ARC of THE CAGE with a CAGE bookmark and sticker sheet. US Only.

Enter by filling out the Rafflecopter form HERE

about the book
The Maze Runner meets Scott Westerfeld in this gripping new series about teens held captive in a human zoo by an otherworldly race. From Megan Shepherd, the acclaimed author of The Madman’s Daughter trilogy.

When Cora Mason wakes in a desert, she doesn’t know where she is or who put her there. As she explores, she finds an impossible mix of environments—tundra next to desert, farm next to jungle, and a strangely empty town cobbled together from different cultures—all watched over by eerie black windows. And she isn’t alone.

Four other teenagers have also been taken: a beautiful model, a tattooed smuggler, a secretive genius, and an army brat who seems to know too much about Cora’s past. None of them have a clue as to what happened, and all of them have secrets. As the unlikely group struggles for leadership, they slowly start to trust each other. But when their mysterious jailer—a handsome young guard called Cassian—appears, they realize that their captivity is more terrifying than they could ever imagine: Their captors aren’t from Earth. And they have taken the five teenagers for an otherworldly zoo—where the exhibits are humans.

As a forbidden attraction develops between Cora and Cassian, she realizes that her best chance of escape might be in the arms of her own jailer—though that would mean leaving the others behind. Can Cora manage to save herself and her companions? And if so . . . what world lies beyond the walls of their cage?

Find it: AmazonBarnes & NobleiBooks, Goodreads

about the author
Megan Shepherd grew up in the mountains of Western North Carolina, where her family has owned and operated an independent bookstore for over 35 years. Shepherd attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she majored in international studies and went on to live and work in Costa Rica, Senegal, Scotland, Spain, and many other countries. Now, Shepherd has returned to Western North Carolina and is a full-time writer of young adult novels.

She is represented by Josh Adams of Adams Literary.

Author Photo by Kristi Hedberg Photography


Tour Schedule:

Week One:

Week Two:

Exclusive Q&A with Strays author Jennifer Caloyeras

Strays Feature Banner
Today, I’m pleased to bring you our exclusive Q&A with Strays author Jennifer Caloyeras. Enjoy!

jennifer_caloyeras_high2You write about dogs regularly, but tell us what inspired the story behind STRAYS?

I have been the dog columnist for the Los Feliz Ledger for the past ten years. Many years ago, I wrote a column about an organization in Santa Monica called K9 connection that matches teens in continuation high school with homeless dogs. Through the program, the teens train and bond with the dogs. As I was writing this column, I thought, this would be a great idea for a young adult novel!

STRAYS really highlights the unique bond that can form between people and animals. Tell us about any such bonds in your life.

My home is full of animals! We have our beloved twelve year old rescue mutt named Reba and our new rescue puppy, Dingo. We also have two guinea pigs, Gunther and Cleo and a host of fish and a turtle. All of our animals are family, but none more than our dogs. We love taking them hiking and on walks around the neighborhood. Dogs are such amazing and intuitive creatures and can really sense if you’re having a bad day. I think until you’ve had a bond with an animal, you can’t imagine how special it is.

straysThere are so many great messages in STRAYS — what do you hope readers take away from it the most?

I think the idea that reaching out and helping others, whether it be a person or an animal, is the key to happiness and community. While Iris is “forced” into this animal program, it is she that ends up being on the receiving end of so much growth and love.

You’re a columnist, short story writer, and novelist. What are some of the challenges of writing in these different mediums? What never changes, regardless of what you’re writing?

I love working in different genres. I’ve also written screenplays, plays and I’m working on my first middle grade chapter novel. I think I like serving the story in whatever medium is best to tell my story. I know I’d get restless working in the same genre again and again. What never changes is the importance of what is at the heart of a story.


Favorite villain?


Pen or pencil?


Favorite piece of clothing?


Song you can’t get out of your head right now?

“Just Give Me A Reason” by Pink (and Nate Ruess from F.U.N.) I can’t stop singing it but I need to find someone to sing Nate Ruess’s part.

Most recent vacation?

I had a great girls weekend to San Diego a few weeks ago.

5 things that are always in your purse?

Sunglasses, sunscreen (this is L.A. after all), Chapstick, dog treats, and a book (right now it’s May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes.)

Connect with Jennifer online:

Exclusive Q&A with The Game of Love & Death author Martha Brockenbrough: Part 3

Today, we are pleased to bring you part32 of our exclusive Q&A with The Game of Love & Death author Martha Brockenbrough. If you missed it, catch part 1 here & part 2 here. Today, it’s time for FLASH QUESTIONS!

marthaFavorite villain?

Vizzini in the Princess Bride. It’s true. No one should ever get in a land war in Asia.

Pen or pencil?


Favorite piece of clothing?

Impossible to choose. Probably my Frye harness boots. I wear them everywhere.

Song you can’t get out of your head right now?

Fever by Peggy Lee.

Most recent vacation?

I’m just back from San Francisco and Los Angeles, visiting old and dear friends.

5 things that are always in your purse

I’m not a purse person. I carry a backpack that has my wallet, my laptop, at least one book, my house keys and some form of lipstick or lip gloss to ward off the universe and its chapping ways. Oh, and dental floss. That’s six things. (I don’t carry a calculator, apparently.)

Thanks, Martha! Tune in for part 2 of our Q&A on Wednesday and part 3 on Friday.

Exclusive Q&A with The Game of Love & Death author Martha Brockenbrough: Part 2

Today, we are pleased to bring you part 2 of our exclusive Q&A with The Game of Love & Death author Martha Brockenbrough. If you missed it, catch part 1 here.

marthaIn THE GAME OF LOVE & DEATH, you talk a lot about love and courage and meaning. What, do you think, is the most courageous thing you’ve done in your life?

Compared to Bessie Coleman, who faced outright discrimination in the states, and worked her way to flight school in Paris as a manicurist, I am a chicken. But, it was a big deal for me to become a writer. I’d always wanted to, but people kept telling me to “have something to fall back on.” I put all my time and energy into failing, and did quite well! I won awards as a journalist and went on to be the editor of, which was at the time one of the largest websites in the world.

When I was 30, I had my first child, and I couldn’t bear to have her live that way—that our dreams were unimportant, and that fear of failure should be our ruling force. I didn’t want to set that kind of example. After being told I couldn’t manage a team part time, I quit my corporate job altogether and started working for myself, freelancing and building websites and doing other things that would give me the flexibility in my schedule that writing seems to demand. I gave up as secure a financial future as you can have for the life I always wanted, and while it has not been easy or predictable, I have no regrets.

Game of Love and DeathChanging topics a little bit, you’re also the founder of National Grammar Day. First of all, thank you. Secondly, how did that come about?

 Ha! You are most welcome. One of the part-time jobs I’ve had along the way is as a teacher. My high school students, who were wonderful and inspirational, sometimes struggled with basic grammar. I’d written a column for the now-defunct online encyclopedia Encarta about secret societies, and the two things came together with an organization called SPOGG: the society for the promotion of good grammar. I was its unnamed head, and in the voice of SPOGG, I would offer authoritative, funny, but firm corrections. I also made lunch boxes and other swag, because who doesn’t love lunch boxes? It was so enjoyable that I started thinking about how to make it bigger. National Grammar Day was the result of that, and the first one took place a few months before my grammar book, Things That Make Us [Sic], hit the shelves. For me, it’s been about loving language and showing people how the effective use of it—very often but not always by following convention—can be an advantage in life.

You’ve written such a diverse body of work already – YA, children’s picture books, children’s nonfiction, trivia questions, etc. – what’s next?

More of the same, I hope! My ambitions know no bounds. I’d also love to write a television show for children. And a screenplay. And probably greeting cards, even though no one seems to send those anymore.

I absolutely love writing. Letters, status updates, tweets, books. This is how I love the world and the people in it, and I’m OK with that. (It’s much better than if I tried to do the same by singing.)

Thanks, Martha! Tune in for part 2 of our Q&A on Wednesday and part 3 on Friday.

Exclusive Q&A with The Game of Love & Death author Martha Brockenbrough: Part 1

Today, we are pleased to bring you part 1 of our exclusive Q&A with The Game of Love & Death author Martha Brockenbrough. Thanks for stopping by, Martha!

Game of Love and DeathWhich pair came first for you – Love and Death, or Henry and Flora?

Love came first. And then Henry and Flora, although they had different names because their first appearances were in contemporary times, and when I moved the story back to 1937, I wanted their names to feel of the age.

I had to get to know each character individually, though. They existed first as individuals. And then I had to figure out how they would fit together, which took quite awhile and then suddenly felt inevitable in the way the click of a door unlocking after you’ve struggled with the key is satisfying, relieving (and maybe thrilling if you’ve been standing outside in the rain).

Death was the last of my characters to find me, but she does answer the question: Who is Love’s antagonist? The obvious answer would be Hate, but as we know from real life, that isn’t actually the case. Love and Death have so much more power than something as petty, transient, and unnecessary as Hate. And even though this is fiction, I wanted the book to ring with the human truth that death is our true heartbreak, and that grief is the price of love (and a price worth paying, but oh!). Hate’s a sideshow, and one for a book I most likely wouldn’t write.

marthaYou mentioned to me that in many ways, Death is your favorite character. What do you love so much about her?

As a reader, my favorite villains are the ones with some texture. You know how sometimes people are just Evil because they want to Rule the World? I don’t understand that motivation myself. I have no desire for global domination. It’s hard enough for me to keep my desk under control.

Death, if she wanted to, could rule the world. She could kill everyone in it at any moment. And she must kill. This is how she was made by whatever mysterious force in the universe that summoned her from the stars.

Her hunger to feed on humans is like an incurable addiction. As she feeds, she experiences memories of the lives of the humans she’s consuming, and—although she wouldn’t admit it—she falls in love with them and keeps their stories inside her forever.

As much as she sees of humanity, loving and despising them for their foolishness, she doesn’t see herself clearly at all. And this is where I really came to love this character. It’s so hard to see ourselves with any clarity. We are often all too critical of how we are made, without appreciating the things that make us lovable and uniquely beautiful. We all have things about ourselves that we would change if we could, but we can’t—and maybe even shouldn’t. Death is as clear an example of that as I could make. Even with her grotesque purpose and her flaws, there is something worth loving in her. We read to discover what this is complex characters, just as when we are living well, we discover this about ourselves.

There is SO much historical context in this book. Where did you even begin your research? Did you learn anything surprising during the process?

I did not set out to write a historical book originally. I have the greatest respect for authors who do this well. Think Elizabeth Wein. Judy Blundell. Robin LaFevers. (And so many more!) As much that can go wrong with a story set in contemporary times, even more can go wrong with a historical novel. When you don’t know what you don’t know, you can’t know that you need to research it. So it’s a scary prospect.

I guess I’d say I began my research without even knowing. I was just following things that fascinated me. Many moons ago, when I was in college, I was lucky enough to read some fantastic books that made me think about this time in history (more or less), as well as characters who might have been like mine. One I loved was called Passing, by Nella Larsen. One of the characters, who is black, passes as white and marries a white man. And in this book, “passing” wasn’t just about concealing your race. There are other ways to pass. That notion influenced me deeply—the way the world sometimes demands for us to appear as someone we aren’t. There might be good reasons to do so, but the cost is extraordinary.

This is more about the emotional impact of that than specific details of the historical period, of course. But to me, the emotional truths are just as important, if not more so. So one thing I was thinking about with this book is the world’s expectations of us, and how sometimes those are at odds with the truth of our hearts. We will all die someday (spoiler alert!). But maybe we should not fail to live before then.

In terms of other research, I read books by jazz musicians, chief among them Milt Hinton’s Playing the Changes, which spans far more than the era and is full of photos and really showed me what music meant to the performers of that era. Seattle also had a thriving jazz scene, which I read about in a number of places. The epicenter of it is just a couple of miles from my house, so I drove the stretch and thought about what it must have been like back in that day. I also benefited from the rich trove of photographs of Seattle taken in 1937, the year the book is set. I saw houses, cars, people walking the streets in their hats and gloves.

One scene involves the crash of the Hindenburg. I encountered an audio recording of this when I was in a sixth-grade science class, so my emotional reaction was already there. But I did study the video online so I could describe what it looked like for a zeppelin to catch fire.

I visited places that I wrote about: Venice and San Francisco, for example (I didn’t make it to New Jersey, though). There was a lot of picky little research, too. I can’t remember if this detail survived revision, but I did have Flora putting on a real shade of 1937 lipstick. I made sure the cable car fare was correct. And every moon phase in the book is accurate, and so are the days of the week. The types of tennis balls, the color of the box that holds the tire-patch kit. These things emerged as details in the writing, and I researched the accuracy of them afterward. I could have made this stuff up, but I enjoy that sort of thing and think for any reader who discovers the accuracy, it gives a little thrill of pleasure.

The most surprising thing I learned, though, was that a character like Flora was entirely possible. We all know about Amelia Earhart, but before Amelia, there was Bessie Coleman, the first black female pilot, and the first black pilot to hold an international aviator’s license. Her story is remarkable, and more people should know it.

Thanks, Martha! Tune in for part 2 of our Q&A on Wednesday and part 3 on Friday.

The Descendants: Isle of the Lost by Melissa de la Cruz: Exclusive Q&A + Giveaway

Last week, we had the chance — along with a few other select bloggers — to chat with best-selling author Melissa de la Cruz about her newest project, Disney’s The Descendants: Isle of the Lost, a prequel to Disney Channel’s upcoming original movie about the children of classic villains. (In stores now!)

Check out our conversation with Melissa below, then keep reading to learn more about The Descendants: Isle of the Lost and enter to win an AMAZING prize pack!

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IsleoftheLostCoverSara: I wanted to talk to you a little bit about villains and why we love them so much.

I mean Disney villains have had a fan following for a long time. And then you have franchises like The Avengers. And everyone’s in love with Loki, even though he kills people. So I wanted to sort of get your take on what makes bad guys so appealing?

Melissa de la Cruz: Oh. They are appealing. You know, people who don’t follow the rules, who break them, who are larger than life. And I think what’s appealing about them is that they really know what they want, you know?

So their motivations and their desires are kind of naked and grasping. And, you know, it’s out there. Maleficent, she wants to get revenge for not being invited to the party. Jafar wants to rule Agrabah. The Evil Queen wants to be the fairest of them all.

So it’s kind of like we know them really well because we know what they want. And even though what they want isn’t very good or noble, having that desire is very human, and that ambition.

So I think we really relate to that. And I think we’re kind of drawn to people who can really say without apology this is what I want. I’m going to get it, and I’m going try.

And the funny thing is when I was watching all the movies again of course they’re all happy endings, but unhappy endings for all of my characters. I mean I didn’t realize how many of them had been destroyed.

You know, Maleficent is like in a puddle of green. The Evil Queen falls off a cliff. Cruella falls off–there’s a lot of cliff falling. So, I was like, oh, my God. They’re all destroyed! How do I bring them back? So I had this line that being on the island without magic is worse than death.

And some of them were brought back from death.

Sara: Yes, I chuckled when I saw that part.

Melissa de la Cruz: Right? I was like, oh, my God. I’ve got to bring them all back. No, but, they are completely defeated. I mean they’re all failures. And I think that’s the other thing that we find really appealing about them.

We relate to that because they don’t get what they want. They try and they fail. And what’s more human than that?

Sara: I think that’s probably what’s so fascinating about Isle of the Lost, is it focuses on the children. But, at the same time it’s like okay, villains, you had these grand schemes, and they failed. So, now it’s time for the rest of your wicked life.

Melissa de la Cruz: Exactly.

Sara: So, we talked about why villains are so popular. I thought maybe let’s talk about why fairy tales are still so popular and why there’s been so many different ways of telling fairy tales.

I feel, especially lately, we have TV shows like Grimm and Once Upon a Time, and then you have books like Isle of the Lost. And there’s countless others, especially in YA, of ways that fairy tales are being retold and turned upside down and told from the villain’s perspective or modernized.

MelissadelaCruzWhat do you think is so perennially appealing about fairy tales that we’re still finding new ways to tell them even years later?

Melissa de la Cruz: Yeah. I think that somebody said there’s, like, three plots in the world, you just kind of rewrite them, you know? I think it was Shakespeare or something.

And I think it’s because we know the stories, the timeless stories so well. So you have to use that when you’re doing your retelling. Like the kids know this is the story of Cinderella. This is the story of Swan Lake. This is the story of Sleeping Beauty.

And then you kind of twist it a little bit. So I think knowing what the original story is and how timeless.

And I think it’s because they’re kind of dark, you know? Like, they do have real villains. And it’s not this gray story. It is black and white. The villains are really bad and really want terrible things to happen.

And I think as kids you’re kind of sugar coated and you’re kind of sheltered. When you read these stories it’s like there’s evil in the world.

There’re parents who abandon their children. There are witches and fairies. There’s Cinderella, you know, her parents died, and she’s been really abused by her stepmother and made to work as a servant.

So I think those resonate because they’re the first stories we hear that are kind of dark. And then this resurgence of wanting to play with them and trying to tell other stories within them, I do think it’s still–it begins from Harry Potter and Twilight and the trends toward myth and towards these bigger than life stories that we’re into, fantasy.

And I think it is this fantasy, part of the fantasy resurgence, which is really fun, you know? And I think those were the books that I was drawn to as a kid. And I’m still really interested in them as an adult, you know?

I like reading all the retellings. I like watching Once Upon a Time. It’s really fun to still kind of play that world.

Sara: Well, thank you. I, obviously, am a big fan of them as well.

Melissa de la Cruz: Yeah, I know, and when you find an interesting one, I remember the Robin McKinley ones. There’s a retelling of… I think it’s Sleeping Beauty. And it’s very interesting.

It’s like the girl, the Princess Aurora, is raised in a cottage. And she actually doesn’t even want to go back to being a princess. She likes being a girl out in the meadow and working, you know?

So the magic becomes when her friend, who was not born as a princess, but more of like a princess-like person kind of takes that role. So, I thought that was kind of interesting.

Sara: So, my last question is I know writing Isle of the Lost you had to fit sort of within certain parameters because of the script and the movie and what Disney had already kind of made plans for.

So, my question is, if you had been able to incorporate, like, another villain or another villain’s kid into the story more, whose–which villain’s kid would you have wanted to include more?

Melissa de la Cruz: I think I’ve put in that I like the stepmother’s grandnephew in. He’s very handsome and very evil. So I kind of wanted to play with him a little bit more. I think we are going to have Captain Hook’s daughter have a bigger role in the next book. So that’s going to be really fun, sort of like an evil girl pirate.

So, I think both of those, I wanted to see a little bit more from the stepmother’s and the evil stepsister’s kids having kind of like a mean lord. I like a mean lord. And then I like an evil girl pirate. So, I’m excited.

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Enter to win a MEET THE DESCENDANTS prize pack

DescendantsPrizePackOne (1) winner will receive:

  • copy of The Isle of the Lost;
  • branded tank top, water bottle and temporary tattoos;
  • and a GadgetGrip smartphone home button sticker.

Giveaway open to US addresses only. Contest runs through midnight (PT) on Wednesday, May 13th.

Prizing and samples provided by Disney Publishing.

Enter by completing the Rafflecopter form HERE, and tell us in the comments who is YOUR favorite Disney villain, and why.

about the bookEvil tree. Bad Apple?

Twenty years ago, all the evil villains were banished from the kingdom of Auradon to the Isle of the Lost–a dark and dreary place protected by a force field that makes it impossible for them to leave. Stripped of their magical powers, the villains now live in total isolation, forgotten by the world.

Mal learns from her mother, Maleficent, that the key to true darkness, the Dragon’s Eye, is located inside her scepter in the forbidden fortress on the far side of the island. The eye is cursed, and whoever retrieves it will be knocked into a deep sleep for a thousand years. But Mal has a plan to capture it. She’ll just need a little help from her “friends.” In their quest for the Dragon’s Eye, these four kids begin to realize that just because you come from an evil family tree, being good ain’t so bad.

Isle of the Lost is the spell-binding prequel to Disney Descendants, A Disney Channel Original Movie Event this summer!

Learn more:

about the authorMelissa de la Cruz is the author of many best-selling novels, including all the books in the Blue Bloods series: Blue Bloods, Masquerade, Revelations, The Van Alen Legacy, Keys to the Repository, Misguided Angel, Bloody Valentine, Lost in Time, and Gates of Paradise. She lives in Los Angeles, California with her husband and daughter.