March 31, 2010

Interview with Christina Gonzalez (+Contest)

Christina Gonzalez is the author of the forthcoming THE RED UMBRELLA (May 11). This historical fiction YA novel uses Christina's own family history, as you'll see in the interview. Before becoming an author, Christina worked as a lawyer.


1. Your novel THE RED UMBRELLA is historical fiction, loosely based on your parents' and mother-in-law's experiences leaving Cuba two years after the Communist revolution as part of Operation Pedro Pan. When did you first become interested in their stories? What kinds of research did you do in order to write the novel?

I don’t think there was a specific moment when I became interested in the story it was always part of my life. Ever since I was a little girl, I’d been hearing about how my parents came to the United States … so I guess it was really a part of me, too. As for research, I spoke to my family in great detail, spoke to other members of the Cuban community who were heavily involved with Operation Pedro Pan and I read newspaper accounts ( U.S. and Cuban) to see how the media was reporting the situation. In fact, I incorporated actual American newspaper headlines at the beginning of each chapter to give the reader an understanding of what was truly happening in Cuba (the newspaper dates follow the dates in the story).

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2. Clearly this is a somewhat personal story. What is the hardest part about fictionalizing a true story? How has your family reacted to the book?

I think the hardest part is the worry that you’re not telling the story accurately enough. Since this story also “touched home” with me, I wanted to make sure to convey the pain, desperation and hope the characters felt.

My family’s reaction has been amazing and supportive. Then again, they are a pretty amazing bunch of people.

3. You grew up with a blend of cultures, Cuban and Southern. What are some of your favorite traditions from each?

Well, if we’re talking food (and I love talking about food) a couple of my Southern favorites are chicken fried steak and banana pudding. Cuban yumminess can be found in the basic dish of picadillo, white rice and black beans.

4. Was THE RED UMBRELLA your title? What were some other titles considered, by you or your publisher?

The Red Umbrella was my title and, once the book was written, nothing else was ever considered.

5. Apparently you love peanut butter and jelly with fried egg. How did your sister come up with that combination? What are some of your other favorite foods?

I guess you read that silly blogpost I made a while back, but yes, my sister and I do like dunking a PB&J sandwich into a fried egg. I know it sounds totally gross (we were little when we wanted to “invent” a crazy new sandwich that would slightly disgust our parents), but it’s actually really good. Other favorite foods include Oreos, doughnuts, brownies, chocolate chip muffins…man, I’m getting hungry!

6. I'll probably be guilty of asking this question a lot, since I'm interviewing a number of debut authors and it is such a tempting one to ask. What are your plans once THE RED UMBRELLA debuts? Do you have other novels in the works?

Lots of plans…BIG plans! I have a science fiction novel and historical fiction novel in the works. Hopefully, you’ll be hearing more about them later in the year. After that, who knows? I adore writing and hope to be doing this for a long time to come.


To win a red umbrella and signed bookmarks, leave a relevant comment by April 13. I will only send the umbrella within the US, but if someone international wins I will send them the bookmarks and choose a second winner. You can earn a bonus entry by posting about the contest.

March 29, 2010

Leah Cypess: A Life in Diaries

Leah Cypess is the author of the recently released MISTWOOD, which has earned praise from two of my favorite authors: Tamora Pierce and Megan Whalen Turner. Before becoming a published author, she worked as a lawyer. But as you can see from her guest blog, she's been writing for a long time.


Thanks for having me on your blog! I see from one of your earlier blog entries that you’re a fellow admirer of THE PILLOW BOOK OF SEI SHONAGAN, so I thought I’d talk about diaries. When I was younger, I was always trying to keep a diary. I was very into my identity as “a writer” and all the writers in books seemed to be keeping diaries. Besides, before facebook and twitter there was no other excuse for jotting down my day-to-day observations.

My first diary was written in fourth grade, and was part of a class assignment by one of my favorite teachers. I found it years later, when I was packing to move to Boston, and spent half a day reading it instead of packing. The diary was actually something of a dialogue, since I had my diary write responses to me (“Dear Leah, You’re right. Love, Diary”), an early suggestion that perhaps non-fiction wasn’t going to be my genre.

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We had a diary-writing assignment in fifth grade, too, but that one didn’t go so well. I started one of my diary entries, “I’m not going to write the whole story about this, Ms. X, because I know you’re reading this even though you say you’re not.”

In high school, I wrote one diary during summer camp, focusing on the month-long battle with the girl who had the bunk bed right next to mine. One day toward the end of the summer there was a huge, pitched verbal battle involving our entire bunk, “my” followers vs. “her” followers. I think maybe we won. I was no longer keeping the diary by then; I had ended my last entry with, “Writing in this diary is interfering too much with writing books.”

My last diary was written when I was 18 and backpacking with a group of friends through Europe (if you can call it backpacking when one girl had a suitcase that required all four of us to lug it up and down the steps of the Metro, and another put on makeup Every. Single. Morning. Including the morning we woke up on a sleeper train in our destination-city, Paris, to discover that we had 15 minutes to get off before we’d end up in Germany). That diary was more of a writing exercise, since it consisted mostly of descriptions of the cities and places we saw, along with vignettes like, “I see that I’ll never live the tickets lost/passport forgotten incident down,” and, “I think we’re accidentally sleeping in a nunnery.”

About halfway through that trip, I realized how to make museum visits more fun: by making up stories about what was going on in the paintings. My diary quickly turned into a collection of mostly-unfinished short stories, along with notes like “must research the Medici and write a story about Lorenzo” or “Churchill was really cool, need to read more about him.”

So there you have it: snapshots of my life in diaries and, between the lines, the reason why, since that last attempt, I’ve never kept a diary again. When you write a diary, everything in there is true. More or less. It misses the best part of writing, which is the part where you get to make stuff up.

March 24, 2010

Alexandra Diaz's Inspiration

Alexandra Diaz is a Cuban-American author who splits her time between Bath, England and Sante Fe, NM, which makes me totally jealous as those are both wonderful cities. She wrote the recent release OF ALL THE STUPID THINGS and is here today to share her inspiration.

(Photo by Owen Benson.)


The idea of the book came with the initial statement, “Brent Staple is such a banjo.” Now before you start thinking that the book was heading towards some folk version of High School Musical (hmm, maybe next time...) let me explain what I envisioned a “banjo” to be. A “banjo” was a term my friends and I coined in college and it pretty much referred to someone you would love to hate. My original title was even called The Banjo Diaries. But, sadly, no one other than my college friends knows what a banjo is and even though Pinkie, one of my protagonists, included a Banjo Lexicon with seven different entries for when it's acceptable to call someone a banjo, the idea didn't fly. So even though I think that's a brilliant opening line and it was what inspired the whole book, it was deleted before the book went out to publishers. Fortunately the phrase still worked to inspire the bases of the book. Even though the word was no longer there, the meaning was. Brent had done something wrong, something scandalous, so I had to figure out what, and why, and how the consequences of that action would effect my protagonists, Tara, Pinkie, and Whitney Blaire.

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I knew from the start that I wanted three protagonists. I liked the challenge that would bring and liked how the friendship dynamic would change depending on how they each interpreted the banjo that is Brent. Each girl was going to have a different personality and a storyline as a result of that personality. Tara is the athlete focusing on her running instead of her personal life. Pinkie the worrier who likes to keep all her chicks in line. And Whitney Blaire is the drama queen trying hide the hurt she feels inside.

Trying to figure out how everything is going to work is a bit like playing god, You try out moving your characters in one direction only to realize that doesn't work so you try something else. It's half imagination and half luck. At some point, characters and situations just started moving on their own. Once that happened, I just let them take off, make their own choices, and try not to cringe when they occasionally became banjos themselves. I sometimes think they did most of the work of writing the story themselves. I just hit the computer keys, and came up with the original idea!

March 23, 2010

Holly Nicole Hoxter: You Couldn't Pay Me to be 21 Again

Holly Nicole Hoxter's debut novel, THE SNOWBALL EFFECT, comes out today. I've had my copy for a long time, so I'm excited to finally talk about it! But while this is a day of celebration, Holly's here to talk about some less than fun times. (Keep reading - there is a happy ending.)


When Liviania asked me to write about what I was like at 21, I got excited at the prospect of sharing stories about my younger, carefree days. But then I started to REMEMBER 21. I'll divulge this upfront: It was a bad year.

A week after my birthday, I was fired from my job for insubordination. It would have been the perfect time to finish writing my novel, but then my grandmother died a few days after Christmas and I spent the next two months depressed and crying.

In March I found a job. It paid well and I felt like such a grownup. Unfortunately the job was 60 miles away in Rockville. On a good day, with no traffic and a blatant disregard for the posted speed limit, the drive took an hour. On a normal day it was more like 1.5 to 2 hours--each way.

Before long, my depression and the stress from the new job really killed my immune system. I was sick for an entire month. Some mornings I could barely lift my arms to shampoo my hair. I stopped going to the gym. I lived on convenient food--McDonald’s breakfast, Triscuits and cheese, BK Whoppers, and endless cans of Coke. I gained thirty pounds. Soon I was depressed, stressed out, lazy, and overweight.

That summer, at my parents’ urging, I bought a house. It needed extensive renovations so I spent my weekdays trekking to Rockville and my weekends tearing down walls and making trips to Home Depot with my dad. After a month, I thought I’d go insane if I didn’t take a break from the monotony. On Monday morning, I drove three hours to Ocean City and spent the day with my friend Scott, a volunteer firefighter who lived a block from the ocean. I admired and envied Scott because he was doing exactly what he wanted to do with his life. As I drove home that night, I looked at the gorgeous sunset over the Chesapeake Bay, and I felt optimistic that things would get better.

But they didn't. Every morning when I drove toward Rockville, I felt like I was betraying everything I'd ever believed in. I could feel my dreams shriveling up and dying. Every morning I parked next to the same car with a bumper stick that said, "Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life." I read that quote by Omar Khayyman every single morning and thought, I am not happy for this moment. I am not happy for ANY of my moments. I hated feeling that way. I wanted to feel hopeful again but I didn’t know how. I couldn't call in sick every day and go to the beach. I had a mortgage. I was a grownup.

But secretly I felt like a failure. I’d always dreamed I would be a literary prodigy and travel the world. I couldn’t figure out how I’d ended up with such a mediocre life.

I beat myself up for gaining so much weight, for buying a house I could barely afford, for getting stuck with a job that ate up all my time, for never writing. During my long commute, I would call a friend or my mother to distract myself from the isolation of the empty car. When no one answered, I would cry instead. 120 miles a day, five days a week. That’s a lot of crying.

My 22nd year was more of the same. But at 23, I decided this was no way to live. I gave myself permission to behave badly, and to fail. If I woke up and didn't feel like going to work, I didn’t go. I made no special effort to arrive on time. Once I took a two hour lunch break instead of thirty minutes. Sometimes I ignored my work and wrote query letters instead. It felt SO GOOD to not care anymore. So I decided to quit.

I had two months' worth of mortgage payments in the bank, no new job lined up, and blind faith that it would all work out. And if it didn't, so what? Even if I lost the house, ruined my credit score, and moved back in with my parents, it would be better than Rockville. At least I would have time to write. I already felt like a failure, so the prospect of financial ruin didn’t frighten me.

But after two weeks of blissful unemployment, I found a job in my neighborhood, where I earned about half of my Rockville salary. I still wasn’t exactly living the dream, and I knew that after I depleted my savings account, my salary wouldn't cover my bills. But I liked the low-stress environment and the location. I didn't want to find a "better" job.

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So I knew that my writing would have to save me. Sadly, word on the street was that the novel I’d worked on for five years was "too quiet" to attract a publisher. I literally couldn't afford to spend five years writing something new. So that summer, I frantically wrote the novel which would become THE SNOWBALL EFFECT. In less than a year, I wrote it, edited it, got an agent, and found a publisher. I’d finally gotten where I’d always wanted to be.

21 was a year of wasted time but if I could go back and do it all again I wouldn’t change a thing. It was the rock-bottom desperation and fear of failure that motivated me to finally GO AFTER my dreams instead of trudging along and waiting to see if they would come true. In a way, I think that I needed to experience the soul-sucking joylessness of a mediocre life. If I hadn’t been so miserable and terrified, I’d probably still be slugging through Draft 27 of that first unpublished novel.

When I think about that Omar Khayyman bumper sticker now, it makes me smile. I am happy for this moment. And now I can appreciate all of those other moments, too.

March 22, 2010

Alisa Libby: Researching Those Crazy Tudors

Today I am kicking off Alisa Libby's Traveling to Teens tour with a guest post on her research for her newest novel, THE KING'S ROSE. Be sure to stop by later today for my review. I was going to add pictures to this post from my own trip to Hampton Court, but my laptop crashed last night. You'll have to imagine it for yourself, but believe me, it is well worth seeing if you're ever in the London area.


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(Clicking on the book cover to go to Amazon is a good idea - THE KING'S ROSE is currently bargain priced.)


There are many different ways to research a historical novel. I spent many hours reading about the Tudor court for my novel The King's Rose, but I'll tell you about something more fun: ghost hunting. My husband(/research partner) and I took a trip to England. We visited Windsor Castle, Hampton Court, Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London, among other places. A highlight of the trip was the night-time “ghost tour” of Hampton Court Palace. We were there to see a specific ghost: Catherine Howard, who supposedly haunts a particular gallery in the Palace.

Catherine Howard was a teenager when she was married to King Henry VIII of England. He was an incredibly powerful king and Catherine was his fifth wife—he had divorced two and beheaded one before her (the other had died shortly after giving birth to his long-awaited heir). Catherine was a youthful, pretty, fun-loving creature, which is perhaps why Henry found her so appealing. Unfortunately, she may have been a bit too fun-loving. After just over a year of marriage, the King was informed that Catherine was having an affair with one of his servants. Upon this revelation, Queen Catherine was imprisoned in her chambers at Hampton Court.

According to legend, Catherine broke free of the guards and ran from her chambers at Hampton, screaming “Henry! Henry! Henry!” It wasn't proper to use the first name of the king in public (even for a queen). She was desperate to see the king; perhaps she hoped that seeing his young, blushing bride would soften his actions against her. Supposedly his advisers thought the same, which is why Catherine never reached her goal. She was caught and dragged back to her apartments, screaming like a crazy person. She never saw Henry again. A few months later she was executed at the Tower of London. The legend follows that her ghost still haunts that gallery at Hampton, screaming Henry's name.

Hampton Court is a gorgeous palace. If you like macabre, gothic stuff like I do, it's even more stunning at night. The entire outside of the palace was lit in spooky, shadowy blue and purple. However, I have to admit that I didn't see Catherine's shrieking ghost in the spooky, “haunted” gallery. Perhaps this is for the best. Ghosts aside, it was amazing to visit the place where she experienced both her greatest triumphs (her first official presentation to the Court as queen was at Hampton) and her terrifying fall from grace.

One of the final stops on our trip was the Tower of London. Because I am a morbid individual, I made sure to schedule this visit on February 13th, the anniversary of Catherine's execution. We visited the site where she was executed (by beheading) and her burial place in the Chapel of Saint Peter ad Vincula. Catherine doesn't get many visitors. All the visitors and the roses go to Henry's infamous second wife, and Catherine's cousin, Anne Boleyn. Catherine is the far less famous beheaded bride—but I found her fascinating. I left a stone on her grave, a sign that I had paid her a visit. I like to think that she understood.

In case you are interested in reading more about those crazy Tudors, here are some titles you may enjoy. For more about The King's Rose and my first book, The Blood Confession, visit my website: You can also visit my blog:

A TUDOR TRAGEDY, the Life and Times of Catherine Howard by Lacey Baldwin Smith

March 19, 2010

Blogiversary Contest, Winners, and Eleventh Grade Burns Review

LiLi of ChicaReader won the HEX HALL T-shirt.

Sharon of Sharon Loves Books and Cats won the Vladimir Tod and Vampire Academy swag.


Blogiversary Contest!

Yesterday was my second blogiversary, which means it's past time to announce the contest!

Contest closes 4/19. Open internationally, but any international winners won't get the full prize. (We'll work out shipping and such depending on who wins.)

The prizes include:
HEX HALL by Rachel Hawkins (ARC)
Vladimir Todd buttons
Penguin Summer 2009 poster
and more to be announced!

To enter, fill out this form:



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By Heather Brewer
Available now from Penguin
Review copy

I enjoy this series, so I'm happy to see that the fourth entry is just as strong as previous ones. Vlad is maturing; I'm particularly impressed by how he handles Snow. Not every teenage guy would act so honorably when faced with a hot girl who was in love with him. He faces his enemies with the same aplomb. I'm excited that we learn more about the Pravus prophecy, because it seems impossible that Vlad could grow up to be a bad guy.

Heather Brewer ends ELEVENTH GRADE BURNS with a truly evil cliffhanger. I rue the day someone got it into his or her head to invent the cliffhanger. But even without the doozy of an ending, I'd be back for Vladimir Tod's senior year. In a genre (urban fantasy) where I'm feeling an increasing distance from the protagonists, Brewer manages to create a monster I'd like to hang out with.

(Also, since Brewer fills her books with allusions, I firmly believe Dorian is a reference to Dorian Gray. He may not be a vampire, but he does hang out with one in LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMAN.)

March 18, 2010

Interview with Bree Despain (+ Contest)

Yay! As of yesterday, I am twenty-one years old.

Today's guest is Bree Despain, author of THE DARK DIVINE, which I reviewed in January. This is a stop on The Dark Divine blog tour, so be sure to stop by Parajunkee tomorrow for even more deets on Bree and her impressive debut. The Utah-based author recently revealed the title of the sequel: THE LOST SAINT. I'm already excited about the book and the first one has barely been released!


1. What is the strangest thing that happened at a book signing?

The first thing that comes to mind was when a group of fans brought a life-size cardboard cutout of Taylor Lautner to one of my readings and dressed him a feather boa and a purple “Team Daniel” shirt. Except, the person who made the shirt accidentally wrote “Team David” on it, and everyone in the audience was up in arms about it, shouting, “Who’s David?” She quickly fixed the sign on the shirt, and the Team Daniel Jacob became a crowd favorite for posing for pictures with.

2. What is the most exciting thing that happened to you since THE DARK DIVINE was published?

My launch party was something that I’ve fantasized about for the last 10 years, and surprisingly, it turned out even better than I had imagined. I was truly blown away by how many people came, and I got all choked up while giving my book talk. People were so nice and wonderful and made me feel like a rock star for an afternoon.

3. What 2010 releases are you excited about?

HEX HALL by Rachel Hawkins (This book will be my reward when I finishing writing my sequel.)

CRESCENDO by Becca Fitzpatrick

MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins (Want this one like RIGHT NOW!)

THE SCORCH TRIALS by James Dashner

THE CLOCKWORK THREE by Mathew Kirby (I’ve already read this one because Matt is a good friend, but I can’t wait to own my very own hardcopy in October.)

[Ed: Read my reviews of HEX HALL (and enter the contest ending tomorrow), HUSH HUSH, and CATCHING FIRE.]

4. What are some unsung YA books that you like?

THE WAY HE LIVED by Emily Wing Smith (Excellent writing and explores some tough issues.)

THIS IS WHAT I DID by Ann Dee Ellis (This book haunted me for days after I read it.)

5. Do you have a playlist for The Dark Divine?

Yes! I actually think of it as more of a soundtrack because I arranged all the songs in order to reflect the progression of the mood of the book. You can find it here.

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6. What aspects of your life most affected your novel?

The novel was inspired by three different guy friends who disappeared from my life at different times. In fact, “guys who disappear” is kind of a theme with me. The main inspiration from the book came when I was thinking about the time one of these guys suddenly reappeared at my school for a couple of hours and then vanished again. I always wondered what had happened to him and why he seemed so messed up and troubled. TDD is kind of an exploration of what might have happened if he hadn’t disappeared a second time.

7. If you weren't writing, what would you be doing?

I have a secret desire (okay, it’s not that big of an actual secret) to be an Egyptologist. I someday dream of getting to participate in a dig over there. It’s totally on my “bucket list.”

8. Who do you find inspiring, in your personal life or as a writer?

As a writer, I find Virginia Euwer Wolff to be inspiring. I met her at a time in my life when I was struggling with my confidence as a writer and whether or not I would ever be published. She told me that she went through the same doubts and discouragements in her life, and then she also told me that I was too good of a writer to ever settle for anything less than reaching my dream of becoming a nationally published author.

In my personal life, I find my hubby to be a huge inspiration. He’s hard working and extremely supportive. He always believes in me—even in the moments when I don’t believe in myself.



I have three bottles of THE DARK DIVINE purple nail polish to giveaway. One bottle will be an instant win - the first person to post a comment with their e-mail address gets it. The second two winners will be announced on March 31.

To win, leave a comment answering one of the questions I asked Bree. For a bonus entry, post/tweet/etc. about the contest.

March 16, 2010

Exciting News!

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My blog is listed in the resources section of READ, REMEMBER, RECOMMEND FOR TEENS by Rachelle Rogers Knight, as I learned in an e-mail today.

It feels like my blog has been getting more attention lately, though less people have been linking to it and the number of visitors appears to be holding steady. Perhaps it's just different people dropping by and thus the type of attention is different?

I'm partially curious because I recently read a blog post (no clue where as I was wildly browsing) that put the line between old and new blogs at two years. Since In Bed With Books will be two years old in a few days, I'm wonding if it does qualify as an old blog. I'm certainly no Story Siren or Presenting Lenore. But I also think about blogs that started around the same time as mine, that I can remember visiting when I was new: namely, Book-luver Carol's Reviews and Reviewer X. I never would've suspected that Reviewer X would be defunct while Carol and I are still going strong. I also never would've suspected that Carol lived in the same school district as me. It's a small world. I would call Carol respected, but I have trouble thinking of her blog as an older one since it's the same age as mine and mine isn't that old. Or is it?

How do ya'll feel about IBWB? Am I a resource in the YA lit world? Or am I still a noob? (Of course, there is room in between the two.)

March 15, 2010

Interview with Jaclyn Dolamore

I just wanted to say that I've now passed 400 posts. Pretty exciting, eh?

But onto what you're at this post for - Jaclyn Dolamore. Not only does she have great taste in headgear, she's the author of the recently released YA fantasy novel MAGIC UNDER GLASS. (It's likely you've seen it around the blogosphere lately.) Jackie is currently taking a break from the internet, so I was happy we were still able to do the interview - especially since she gave such interesting answers to my questions!


1. The setting of MAGIC UNDER GLASS uses an amalgation of various real world cultures. What were your biggest breaks from reality to create this fantasy setting?

Well, most fantasy worlds are based on places and cultures on this planet. Naturally. Since it's all we know, really! So it's no secret that MAGIC UNDER GLASS is set on an alternate earth of sorts. But there is magic, and many intelligent humanoid species, including mermaids and winged people. So I think the planet would have been settled in a pretty different way. Certainly history on our own planet could have gone very differently if different groups of people had different kinds of magic. So MAGIC UNDER GLASS has cultures that resemble cultures we are familiar with, but the distribution of people and the way politics work in different countries can be pretty different. For instance, I think the winged people, with their increased capacity to travel, would have mapped some far-flung parts of the world and increased communication much earlier on. If I really wanted to think hard, this would probably have bigger ramifications then I convey in the book. But if you get to thinking too hard about alternate histories, your head will just explode!

2. What are your favorite Victorian novels? (If you say TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES by Thomas Hardy, then I will be forced to shun you.)

Wow. People hate TESS. You aren't the first person to say so to me. But I've never read it. Honestly, I am more interested in the nonfiction of the Victorian era than the fiction. I love JANE EYRE, of course, but I'm even more interested in the real Brontë family. I slogged through GREAT EXPECTATIONS, but Dickens himself can be an interesting guy. I don't really "get" poetry (although Kelly Fineman's blog helped...a little) but I am fascinated by the crazy lives of the Romantic poets. JANE EYRE really is the only truly Victorian novel I truly love. I enjoy Jane Austen, but of course she is really before that time.

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3. You recently stated that LM Montgomery's Emily books strongly influenced MAGIC UNDER STONE. Were there any specific works that inspired MAGIC UNDER GLASS? Are there any works that you find inspiring in general?

MAGIC UNDER GLASS was inspired by the intricacy of Lost, the music of the Decemberists, the macabre comics of Dame Darcy, the atmosphere of Sarah Waters' novel FINGERSMITH, semi-Gothic novels like JANE EYRE, THE SECRET GARDEN, REBECCA, and no doubt a bunch of other things I can't recall right now. As for general inspiration, my work was shaped by the things I loved when I was about 12-14 years old... those ages when art can really change you. Xanth books, Elfquest comics, anime and manga and Final Fantasy games, many great and classic children's books... I was a geek. ^_~

4. Based on your lj, you're a bit of a foodie. How did you get into making your own meals and buying local and such? You also seem cost concious - what are some of the easiest ways to cut food costs?

My mom and her whole side of the family are foodies. So I guess it was inevitable that I would be one to when I moved out and had to feed myself. And, since I worked lousy retail jobs, I naturally became very cost conscious! I could probably write a whole book on this topic. But, a few tips:

-- Learn to cook. Sure, that's obvious, but the better a cook you are, the more you can save money and eat better. For me, the best way was to read cooking magazines. They come every month. You don't avoid them like a cookbook because they seem small and monthly, and full of colorful pictures. Then you tear out recipes that sound good and doable, and meanwhile you get tips and ideas from looking at the other things you will never make. You could also try adding food blogs to your blog roll or watching food programs on TV. Whatever gets you always inspired and learning new things.

-- Specifically, learn at least one staple recipe for every cheap cut of meat (or alternate protein source) and vegetable. That way no matter what is cheap that week, you will know what to do with it.

-- Make sure you have some good flavors to make cheap meals exciting. A can of beans is tastier if you fry up just one strip of bacon first, then fry an onion in the bacon grease, then add the beans. For vegetarians, that can of beans is more exciting with a little smoked paprika. Some hard Italian cheese is expensive but just a little shaved into a salad makes it exciting.

-- Go to the grocery store to stock up on staples, sale items, and fresh food in season. Don't even venture down aisles with useless stuff like cereal bars or frozen pizza unless you have a sale item you're looking for.

-- But be realistic about your time and ambition and choose the lesser of two evils. I might go to the store and buy a bunch of vegetables and meat to make fresh meals. But maybe the next day I'm tired and busy, and I know I have nothing that doesn't take work, so I end up at McDonald's. It would've been better if I had bought, say, an organic frozen pizza and thrown a few extra veggies on it in five minutes and cooked it up. Make sure you always have plenty of food that doesn't expire super-fast to allow for the circumstances of your life.

5. I loved your entry tracking your past entries about MAGIC UNDER GLASS. I must say, I'm really curious about the excised Roman. What was he like? What helped you write the characters better?

Roman was a bit boring compared to Erris, really. He was a good guy, kind of quiet and noble and tragic. He did not start out trapped in a frozen automaton, but as a regular looking guy who happens to be clockwork on the inside. He also did not start as a fairy prince. But the parts of him I liked went to Erris, like playing the piano and having the ability to rise to a heroic occasion.

I had a lot of trouble with the characters in this book early on. It took hard work to know them, including filling out little internet surveys in their character, but mostly just thinking and drawing and rewriting the book...

6. Now that I've forced you to answer a lot about writing and a little about food, I wonder: Why David Bowie? Not that I don't think he's awesome, but I want to know what attracted you to his music.

Well, when I was about 20 years old, as I mentioned, I worked in retail. My friends were all at college making friends and doing things that at least *sounded* more important, and I was selling hideous clothes to old ladies for just over six dollars an hour. And I really didn't know what else to do. I didn't want to take out college loans unless I knew the degree was going to be useful, and I didn't know what that would be, and I couldn't move because I was living with my beloved boyfriend, so I just felt lost and plain and like my life was completely unromantic and going nowhere. The only thing I had were the characters in the stories I wrote, and of course they were all well dressed and exciting and cool.

That was when I discovered Bowie. Here was this guy who dressed in crazy outfits and had questionable sexual preferences and reinvented himself constantly and talked and sang about being an outsider and poignant stuff, along with epic sounding fun stuff about making it all worthwhile as a rock 'n roll star. In some weird way, it was like he gave me permission to reinvent myself and dress how I wanted and be exciting myself. I realized an important lesson: you don't become a fabulous person because fabulous things happen to you; fabulous things happen to you because you were already fabulous.

And of course, it didn't hurt that I have a thing for really skinny pale guys who look good in eyeliner and have nice cheekbones and awkward teeth, apparently. Although I must confess, that when it comes to just music, and not also the trappings of persona, my favorite is actually Roxy Music.

March 10, 2010

Review: The House of Tomorrow

By Peter Bognanni
Available now from Amy Einhorn Books (Penguin)
Review copy

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I find myself at a point where I'm impatient. As a child, I would read a book to the end, no matter what. As a teenager, I read through the first hundred pages, at least. Now? If I'm in the mood to read, I want something that has me clicking along by the first few pages. I don't have time to waste. Peter Bognanni didn't even try to waste my time. Within a few pages, I understood the relationship between Sebastian Prendergast and his grandmother. There's something uncomfortably close about them, but she's controlling and he's growing older and chafing. And then she has a stroke, right when he meets Jared Whitcomb and his mother.

The sheltered Sebastian is an interesting creation. He's been raised like an experiment, but eventually Frankestein's monster has to go out and meet the girl. Punk music is the perfect vehicle for his growth. Punk, despite it's DIY, no-need-to-know-about-music attitude, often isn't for beginners. It's too much a reaction to other stimuli. But I totally believe that a teenager who needs to express something that's his, not his grandmother's, would be seduced as much by punk as by a fellow geek and the fellow geek's hot sister.

I'm a fan of character-driven works. If there are enough convincing relationships going on, the plot becomes a bonus rather than a desparately needed framework. As much as I love unintenionally funny Sebastian (on the character's part, not the author's), I also love the Whitcombs. Janice, Jared, and Meredith have all been through the wringer, but they want their family to be happy. They all try to martyr themselves a little for the sake of the others, but all of their ploys just intersect to make the household tense. Sebastian shakes them up just enough for them to see the ruts they're about to fall into.

But back to the music. I love music and I love reading about it. Some authors write music like they've never seen an instrument. Others, like Stephanie Kuehnert and Maggie Stiefvater, write it like it flows through their veins and drips out from under their fingernails. (For some reason, reading poetry* makes me want to get figurative.) Peter Bognanni can write music. Once Jared and Sebastian form the Rash, they have to figure out something to play. Yet no matter how terrible their lyrics seem, I would love to see them perform. The music reads as fun and consuming.

THE HOUSE OF TOMORROW is a polished story about people with raw edges. There are crushed hopes and living dreams. There are characters straight out of an indie film who act like people you might meet in real life. It's an absorbing book that ends to soon. Everything came to a conclusion, but I could've kept reading. THE HOUSE OF TOMORROW kept me firmly in what I was doing in the present.

*The poetry is William Wordsworth's PRELUDE. THE HOUSE OF TOMORROW is not in verse.

March 9, 2010

Interview with Amy Brecount White

Amy Brecount White is the author of FORGET-HER-NOTS, a novel about high school, emotions running rampant, and flowers. For those who want to see her live, she'll be at the Virginia Festival of the Book on March 20, as will yesterday's guest Jennifer Hubbard. Don't forget to read to the end for a chance to win big at the Spread the Flower Love Blog Tour!


1. Before becoming a novelist, you wrote a number of articles for everything from a health newsletter to The Washington Post. What were some of the differences between the types of writing?

I wrote articles for newspaper and magazines, because I could do my research, write the piece, turn it in, see it in the paper pretty quickly, and get paid, too! Instant gratification was essential while my kids were young. With a novel, it’s more of a gigantic leap of faith. Very few novelists get paid until after they’ve spent years working really hard. Also, journalistic writing is much tighter with a specific word count. I learned economy of phrasing and ruthless editing from my years as a freelancer.

When you started FORGET-HER-NOTS did you know you were writing for a teen audience?

I did. I’d taught high school & middle school for 7 years, so I knew that audience well. I think the teen years are an amazing time of life. Everything’s very vivid, and you get to make real, important choices. You choose who you are then, so I wanted to write to that audience.

2. What kind of flowers would you want in a bouquet from your significant other, based on the meanings you used in FORGET-HER-NOTS?

I’d take anything, but I’d love for it to include gardenias, red tulips, sage, parsley, and a scarlet poppy or two.

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3. Like many high-school novels, the prom figures into FORGET-HER-NOTS. Did you attend your own prom(s)?

Yes, several.

What do you remember most about that night?

I was with a guy who was a good friend, but I’d actually fallen for another guy who was there with one of my best friends. So the evening was a swirl of complicated emotions, as you can imagine. I did end up with guy #2 at our “Beachcomber” dance, the last and most fun of the year.

4. Many magical realist authors object to the term "magical realism." Do you think the term applies to FORGET-HER-NOTS?

Yes, definitely.

What do you like or dislike about the classification?

I actually like it, because I think it’s the best description for FHN. My novel isn’t fantasy, because it’s set in the real world with one element of magic. I do think flowers release a magic into the world, so for my novel, I merely turned the magic up! I also like magic realism, because it encourages us to look at our real world from a new perspective and to consider new possibilities.

For more on FHN and magic realism, check out the post I did for SharonLovesCatsandBooks.

5. Once upon a time, you were an English teacher. What did you enjoy teaching most?

Senior English, usually British Lit or AP English. I’m a total Anglophile.

6. What do you enjoy doing when you aren't writing or researching? I adore being outside – gardening, biking, walking my dog, or inline skating. If I don’t get exercise and fresh air, I get cranky. I’m a huge reader, and I love making muffins, too. Blueberry or banana are my faves.

What do you think you would do if you weren't a writer? I’d probably still be teaching. I love teaching, so I hope to visit lots of classes and libraries to talk about writing, both fiction and non-fiction. :)


My flower is the zinnia, which represents thoughts of absent friends. I chose it because the very things it reminds me of are absent friends. Zinnia was the name of my first guinea pig. (Spelling my pet's name in first grade was a difficult task.) My mother's e-mail address has the word 'zinnia' in it. We grew zinnias at the house I grew up in. Not only is it a lovely flower with much personal meaning, I like to say it.

Collect all of the virtual flowers this week and you could win DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS by C.J. Omololu and HEX HALL by Rachel Hawkins, along with a language of flowers booklet and FHN swag. Click on the button to the right or the link in this post in order to get all the deets.

March 8, 2010

Interview with Jennifer Hubbard

Jennifer Hubbard is a Philadelphia area writer, who debuted in January as a YA author with THE SECRET YEAR. Despite being new in the YA scene, she's been published for awhile and frequently shares her writing insights on her lj. So read on and get to know the woman behind the fabulous novel.


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1. THE SECRET YEAR contains a forbidden romance, but not the kind seen in many YA books currently on the shelves. However, the class difference between Colt and Julia is both timely and classic. Why did you decide to write about a secret relationship? Did the story always begin after Julia's death, or did you originally try to tell it in a more conventional manner?

The book always began where it begins now. The situation of a secret relationship, a death, and a notebook left behind was in my head from the beginning. I wrote the book to find out why it had to be secret and what would happen next.

2. Your first publications were literary short stories. What are some of the main differences between writing a literary short and a YA novel? Are there any other forms you'd like to write?

For me, the biggest difference between short stories and novels is the fact that novels need subplots. It’s difficult to manage multiple plot threads, to interweave them without having the subplots take over or distract the reader.

3. In your Nov. 24th blog post, you mentioned the need to know romantic couples' interests outside of each other. It's come up in some of my recent reviews, particularly those for the uber-popular paranormal forbidden romance. What are some of Colt and Julia's interests? What sort of things did you know about the characters that didn't make it into THE SECRET YEAR?

They both like the river; they like spending time outdoors. In fact, that’s how they meet. They have a similar sense of humor. They’re both interested in the world beyond their town, although Julia has traveled more than Colt has.

I know much more about Julia’s family—her parents, how she and Michael get along—than appears in the book. I know much more about Austin—how he felt about Julia, how much he knew (or didn’t know) about her secrets, how he reacted to her death and to the Quill incident. There’s a minor Black Mountain character called Tristan Allen whom we barely see in the finished book, but I know a lot about him. I’d almost like to give him his own book. The same is true of Jackie, Colt’s first girlfriend, who barely appears in the book.

4. What about you? Clearly, you can't spend all of your time writing, blogging, filling out interviews for the adoring masses. What are some of your interests? What do you like to do to relax after a stressful day?

Hiking is my favorite non-writing activity. I also love to read, and I enjoy the occasional concert.

5. In your lj, you often post about the nuts and bolts of writing. You've clearly put thought into how you approach your craft. What is your most annoying weakness as a writer? Not necessarily your worst weakness, but a bad habit that you know you have and can't seem to break.

My first drafts are light on description: characters floating in space, no setting. The characters often don’t reveal their motivations to me in early drafts; it’s a long hard revision process to scrape down to the meaty stuff.

6. THE SECRET YEAR has been out in the wild for more than a month now. Have there been any surprising reactions? What are your plans now that you've made your debut?

It has surprised me how often people comment on the male narrator, and that male narrators have become so uncommon in YA books.

My plans are to keep writing, as I always have. I hope to have more contemporary YA novels come out into the world!

March 5, 2010

Interview Questions for Bree Despain

Remember my review of THE DARK DIVINE? Well, Bree Despain is going to be visiting IBWB during her March 18-April 5 blog tour.

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This tour has a twist: you, dear readers, get to develop the questions. So have at it in the comments! Visit her site, her blog, and check out my past interviews for ideas.

You have until March 12th to submit questions. Anyone who's question(s) are picked will earn an extra entry in my DARK DIVINE giveaway. Believe me, you want an extra entry.

You can also e-mail me the questions.

March 4, 2010

Wendy Wax: Ballroom and Belly Dance

Wendy Wax took ballet once upon a time and worked in radio during and after college. Her books include 7 DAYS AND 7 NIGHTS, THE ACCIDENTAL BESTSELLER, and the just released MAGNOLIA WEDNESDAYS. However, she is no belly dancer like the book's stars.


I took eight years of ballet, performed in local musical theater, and grew up with a mother who loved to dance and could follow anyone’s lead. I fell in love with musicals the first time I watched Gene Kelley, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor in Singin’ in the Rain, and for a time I thought it completely normal that people could be going about their business and just suddenly break into song and dance.

So when I was looking for a setting for my next novel, a place where the characters I’d started to envision could meet and bond, I thought ‘what about a ballroom dance studio?’

I assumed that the research would not only be fun, but easy. I figured I’d take a few classes and brush up on my dancing skills. Maybe I’d find a new pastime or hobby. Who knew, I might be good enough to compete in some way or audition for Dancing with the Stars.

Shockingly (at least to me) this was not the case. In fact, the friend I badgered into attending class with me was far better than I was and the instructor made a big fuss over her. At a practice party I attended on my own, I stepped on a pretty large number of toes and apparently sat in the wrong section. Which meant people kept asking me to dance even though I kept stepping on their toes.

My dreams of personal dancing glory began to fade even as my conviction grew that I’d chosen the perfect environment for my characters to meet and bond and grow.

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I interviewed the owner of Atlanta Dance, the dance studio where I observed and took class and was fascinated with everything she told me about the running of the studio. I watched the diverse group of students and teachers, and started to imagine Vivien, Melanie, Ruth and Angela there. I began to picture Melanie, the suburban widow and mother who owned the studio and her estranged sister Vivien, connecting and better understanding each other in that environment and then bonding with the others.

I watched videos and looked at diagrams in books. And when I wanted to find a way for the protagonists to get to know each other better, I changed the weekly class to a belly dance class. Which I decided to observe and not try myself. (I don’t think my stomach muscles have it in them anymore!)

I’m really thrilled with how the ballroom dance environment contributed to Magnolia Wednesdays and the growth of my characters. I also discovered in my brief, if embarrassing, foray into class that it’s virtually impossible to worry about work or obsess over other details of your life while learning how to tango. Or bellydance.

You have to concentrate fully if you’re going to learn the steps without falling on your face. Or maiming someone unfortunate enough to be partnered with you.
It’s kind of like writing. When you put yourself completely into the story and your character’s lives, everything else just kind of disappears. And you hardly ever step on anyone’s toes.

March 3, 2010

Rachel Hawkins' Hex Hall Playlist

Rachel Hawkins is the author of the just released HEX HALL. (Note: That link to my review also links to a contest.) This debut author likes tacos, cheesecake, and James Dean (who doesn't?), and currently lives in a college town. HEX HALL, her novel, is set in Georgia and features a new girl whose roommate just might've killed her own roommate. (You thought your roommate situation was complicated.)


I'm one of those writers who has to have music to write. Putting my earbuds in and cranking up the tunes is just as essential for me as a comfy chair and a giant cup of coffee! So I thought I'd share some of my Hexy tunes with you today!

Now, I should start by saying that I have the uncoolest taste in music EVER. When I see authors with their super sweet indie-band playlists, I'm always like, "Ooh, I so wish I were that person! And not someone who writes to Richard Marx songs!"

Not that I write to Richard Marx songs. Because I don't. WHO TOLD YOU THAT?

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Sometimes I make playlists for the book I'm writing while I writing it, but more often than not, I have to wait until the book is finished to create its "soundtrack." It was definitely that way with HEX HALL. There were some songs that I listened to over and over again writing it (Travis's "Luv" springs to mind), but a lot of the time, I listened to movie soundtracks or classical music. Anything that matched the emotions I was trying to hit. Only once the book was finished- and I mean, finished finished- could I make the following playlist! So here it is!

Natural Is Not In It- Gang of Four

Little Plastic Castles- Ani diFranco
Running Up That Hill- Placebo
Sally's Song- Fiona Apple

He Could Be The One- Josie Cotton
Pain- Jimmy Eat World
Lachrymosa- Evanesence
My Alomst Lover- A Fine Frenzy

Seat Out- The Guillemots


I think Rachel is way too hard on her musical taste. Any playlist that starts with a Gang of Four song that isn't "To Hell With Poverty" is cool. (Not that that isn't a good song; it just always gets associated with Gang of Four despite the fact they've got an incredible backlist.)

Review: Hex Hall (+ Contest)

By Rachel Hawkins
Available now from Disney-Hyperion; Review Copy

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Sophie Mercer was an ordinary girl until her witchy powers began to develop. Her mom had to tell her about her true heritage though Ms. Mercer kept some secrets. But Sophie couldn't keep her spells under wraps, and now she's at Hecate Hall (aka Hex Hall) until she turns eighteen. (I'm not sure how she began the book at her senior prom without being eighteen, but I'll go with it.)

I liked Sophie's open mind and inner strength. She doesn't go along with the other witches to fit in because she knows what they are doing is wrong. She befriends her roommate Jenna, even though she's a vampire, wears too much pink, and is suspected of a fellow student's death. But she does have her faults: she falls for bad boy Archer and allows Elodie to push her too far. (Luckily, they both know how to forgive.)

Rachel Hawkins lets the mysteries unfold at a good pace - including some surprise reveals. (There's nothing better than when an author hides a secret so well that you don't even know to look for it, yet it still flows with everything that came before.) The prose is simple, but Sophie's voice is funny and engaging. She's the kind of character you want to spend time with, which makes even the slower parts enjoyable.

I'm a little tired of obvious sequel-bait endings, but at least Hawkins resolved the major mystery. I'm not sure if I'll reread HEX HALL - it felt a touch below my reading level - but I'll happily return for the second book in the series to see where the characters go next. I can see why people were excited by Hawkins' debut - it's a charming take on the new-student-at-magic-school plot.

I have one fitted T-shirt to give away, printed on a Bella tee in S, M, or L. To win, comment with your size and what you would do to get sentenced to Hex Hall, reform school for wayward Prodigium. Contest ends March 19.

Don't forget to read Rachel's guest blog.

My HEX HALL ARC will be one of the blogiversary contest prizes.

March 2, 2010

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

That's right, it's my second blogiversary and twenty-first birthday month-long celebration. Unfortunately, I've been a little distracted this year. Fortunately, I've still got a great line-up!

March 3 - Rachel Hawkins
March 4 - Wendy Wax
March 5 - Blog questions for Bree Despain (until March 12)
March 8 - Jennifer Hubbard
March 9 - Amy Brecount White
March 11 - Bonnie Doerr
March 22 - Alisa Libby
March 23 - Holly Nicole Hoxter
March 26 - Leah Cypress
March 31 - Christina Gonzalez
Not yet scheduled - Bree Despain
Not yet scheduled - Alexandra Diaz

Unconfirmed (My fault, I'm working on sending questions and topics to everybody):
Naheed Hasnat
Judith Graves
Kristin Walker
Mindi Scott
Jacqueline Houtman
Kimberly Derting
Rhonda Hayter
Margaret Gelbwasser
Cynthia Jaynes
Jen Nadol
Mara Purnhagen
Jackie Dolamore

As a bonus, Daisy Whitney is going to write a super-secret column for IBWB. It's gonna be awesome ya'll.

You can start earning bonus entries for the big blogiversary contest by making buttons and e-mailing them to me. Nope, prizes are not going to be announced yet!

Featured reviews this month:
Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
The House of Tomorrow by Peter Bognanni
Birthmarked by Caragh M. O'Brien
Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken
Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith


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