Monday, September 18, 2017

St Louis Book Fest YA Panel: Spotlight with Nina LaCour, author of We Are Okay and US giveaway!

Dear Readers:
I am so lucky to get to introduce another author who is going to be at the St. Louis Book Fest YA Panel, the wonderful Nina LaCour!

Don't forget:  
Here are some details about the panel:
From 12pm-1:30pm at The McPherson (4715 McPherson Ave.) on September 23, we'll have Sherman Alexie (here for the 10th anniversary edition of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian), Nina LaCour (We Are Okay), and Zac Brewer (Madness) talking about their newest books, and also the role of today's most relevant teen issues in contemporary YA fiction. 

Goodreads Book Description:

We Are OkayYou go through life thinking there’s so much you need…

Until you leave with only your phone, your wallet, and a picture of your mother.

Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend, Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit, and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.

Blurb about the author:

Nina LaCour is the author of the nationally bestselling We Are Okay, as well as Hold Still, The Disenchantments, Everything Leads to You, and You Know Me Well, which she co-wrote with David Levithan. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.

Interview with Nina LaCour 
1.  Marin is in a haze of grief for most of the book, trying to find her way out of it. I know you've had personal experiences with similar grief. What was it like to be able to write this book? Was it therapeutic in some ways? How has writing helped you as a person?
I always write from a place of my own struggles and questions. The events in my books rarely reflect my life, but the feelings behind them almost always do. We Are Okay emerged during a tumultuous time in my life. I had lost my beloved grandfather; one year later, on the anniversary of his death, I had my first child; less than a year after that, my parents separated and eventually divorced. It was a time of lessons about family--beautiful lessons and hard ones--and the wonder of love and family along with the grief over things falling apart were integral to my writing. It was absolutely therapeutic to write it. It helped me learn more about myself and to channel all of my messy feelings into a book that, hopefully, captures some of the complexities of familial relationships.

2. I loved your characters, and in particular loved Marin and Mabel, both who seemed very real to me. Do your characters generally come full-fledged or do they come after the idea of the story comes about? Do you ever notice similarities to people you know (or maybe you purposefully embody them with characteristics from people you know?)?
Thank you! Marin and Mabel hold special places in my heart. Neither of them is based on any specific person, but Ana, Mabel's mother, is taken by a lovely woman I used to work with when I taught high school. It had been a while since I'd worked with her but then she just kind of appeared on the page, and I had to check with the real Ana to make sure it was okay! (I got her blessing.) The tension and love between Marin and Mabel came to me first, and the ways in which they want to be good to each other but are held back by their deep wounds and different life circumstances. And then, from there, the different elements of their personalities emerged as I wrote.

3. Tell us a little about your writing process. Do you usually write a book straight in a few sittings then edit? Does it come gradually chapter by chapter? Is it character driven or plot driven? Do you snack? Listen to music? Have critique partners or beta readers? 
I have an absurd writing process that I would not wish on anyone. I write fragments, in no order, occurring at any point in the plot. These include single-sentence descriptions, a few lines of dialogue, an image, etc. I keep working on them and expand them and add more, until eventually I have something resembling a cryptic outline and the plot begins to form in my mind. At that point I put them in a rough order and determine what scenes need to be added. I then go through all the fragments of scenes in order to make them complete scenes, and fill in all the blanks. I wish I could write from beginning to end, but this is how I've always done it and I don't see it changing. I live in a very small house with my wife and daughter, so unless I have the place to myself, I tend to write at my local cafe. Ever since high school I've written listening to a song on repeat. The song changes, but I find that it helps me to tap into a feeling and get in a trance of sorts. Once I have something that is cohesive enough to share, the first people to see it are the members of my writing group, three wonderful women with whom I went to graduate school. They are invaluable to me. I know I can show them my messiest work and they will help me to find my way.

4. Can you give writing advice to my readers that you wish you had known starting out?
It took me until my senior year of high school to finish a short story and college to get in the habit of always finishing them. In graduate school, I wrote my first full novel which would become Hold Still. It took me a long time to learn that writing is work and often feels like work. The inspiration is only a small part of it. The rest of the process is often a slog. So my biggest piece of advice is to treat your writing like work and make yourself finish your projects (unless you know that the story is not worth telling, at which point, allow yourself to start something new). Also, finding a trusted person or a group of people to exchange work with is such a great way to motivate yourself to work your hardest and to teach yourself so much through reading the works in progress of others.

5. What are some of your all-time favorite books and why?
Jandy Nelson's I'll Give You the Sun. Jandy's writing is something otherworldly to me. It is spectacular. Raymond Carver's short stories have been the most influential works for me. I read them repeatedly when I was in high school and college and they helped me learn how to craft a story. Zora Neal Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God has taught me so much about flawed characters and the vibrancy of messy stories, plus her language is just so beautiful. Virginia Woolf and Edward P. Jones are two other favorites, whose insights into characters and the human condition offer limitless inspiration.

6. Can you tell us a little about what you are writing next?
I'm going to have to hold my cards close to my chest for this one! My next YA is still in its very early stages and I am afraid to say anything out loud about it.

7. Can you give my readers any words of wisdom about working through grief from loss of a loved one?
I am certainly not an expert, but I will offer this. Allow yourself a lot of time. Years and years, or maybe forever. It's okay to be happy and sad and angry all at once. Grief is not neat or linear. Remember to open yourself up to others, because grief is universal, and while we all suffer from it individually, we are never alone in our suffering. 

And now, you get the chance to win this wonderful book!

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Monday, September 11, 2017

Interview with Scott Reintgen, author of NYXIA, and US/Can giveaway of signed ARC of NYXIA

Dear Readers:
So excited to get to promote this wonderful book, NYXIA, by Scott Reintgen, one of my favorite reads of the year!

Nyxia (The Nyxia Triad, #1)
Goodreads Book Description: Emmett Atwater isn't just leaving Detroit; he's leaving Earth. Why the Babel Corporation recruited him is a mystery, but the number of zeroes on their contract has him boarding their lightship and hoping to return to Earth with enough money to take care of his family.


Before long, Emmett discovers that he is one of ten recruits, all of whom have troubled pasts and are a long way from home. Now each recruit must earn the right to travel down to the planet of Eden--a planet that Babel has kept hidden--where they will mine a substance called Nyxia that has quietly become the most valuable material in the universe.

But Babel's ship is full of secrets. And Emmett will face the ultimate choice: win the fortune at any cost, or find a way to fight that won't forever compromise what it means to be human.

My Rating: 5 stars

My Review: I hadn't heard about this book until I delved once again into my YA social media. Boy, I'm glad I did. I'm still in a book hangover from this terrific novel by Scott Reintgen. I describe this book as Ender's Game meets Survivor.

Nyxia stars Emmett, a prickly but likeable main character, who is thrust into a high stakes competition from the Babel company, with a bunch of teammates that he can't help but like, but also are his main competition as not all of them will get to go to space and get the full prize to help their families back on Earth. Emmett's mom has cancer, and this will get her the treatment she needs. While Emmett gets into the competition, he starts realizing there are dark undercurrents to the competition, and there's more at stake than he thinks. Will he be able to figure it out before it's too late and make it through to the next stage?

The pacing was great in this book and I couldn't put it down. The first part was really fun and I liked all the characters a lot. At the same time, it wasn't anything new, and it was very similar to Ender's Game and other such competition books we've seen before, but because of the setup and the characters, I wanted to know more. But once we hit past the halfway mark, it turns from a fun ride to something else; something unexpected happens and a couple of twists hit, and then suddenly it hits a new, unique stride. It was a solid 4 star read up until then and then reached 5 star land once Reintgen turned everything on its head. I'm picky about the sci fi I read, but Reintgen hit every note for me. I cannot wait for the next installment.

Overall, a fast paced, nonstop ride with multiple twists and an appealing backstory, with a unique and diverse cast of characters. I can't wait to see what Reintgen throws at us next! One of my favorite reads this year.

Blurb about Scott:  
Scott Reintgen has spent his career as a teacher of English and Creative Writing in diverse urban communities in North Carolina. The hardest lesson he learned in the classroom was that inspiration isn’t equally accessible for everyone. So he set out to write a novel for the front-row sleepers and back-row dreamers amongst his students. He hopes that his former students see themselves, vibrant and on the page, in characters like Emmett. You can follow him on Facebook, on Instagram, and on Twitter at @Scott_Thought.

Interview with Scott  
1. Name books that helped pave the road for Nyxia.
Red Rising, Across the Universe, Illuminae, Zeroboxer, The Hunger Games, Ender's Game. All of these books played a role in shaping a literary world that was ready for a book like Nyxia.

2. Star Trek or Star Wars?
I enjoy Star Trek, but I live and bleed for Star Wars. 

3. Coffee or tea?
I'm a coffee drinker, but it's totally a convenience thing. The caffeine doesn't affect me one way or another.

4. Hogwarts house for yourself and Emmett (and any side characters you'd like to include)
So I almost always end up in Gryffindor. Emmett tends that way as well, although I do think he has a pretty analytical Ravenclaw side to him as well. I'd place Kaya in Ravenclaw, Bilal in Hufflepuff, and I'm going to throw Marcus Defoe the Slytherin House badge.

5. First person or third person?
I love writing in first and reading in third.

6. Favorite read this past year?
I have two of them. Warcross by Marie Lu absolutely blew me away. I've always loved Marie's books, but I felt she leveled up in a big time way with Warcross. I'm thrilled to be sharing a pub date with her, and readers can meet both of us at Changing Hands Book on Monday, September 18th in Tempe for a shared event. I've also loved getting back to reading about Fitz and the Fool from Robin Hobb's brilliant new series.

7. Crit partners or beta readers, yes or no?
Yes to the nth degree. I have a writing group that meets every other week. I've submitted work to them for the last six years and wouldn't be the writer I am today without them. And I absolutely use both beta and sensitivity readers. It's crucial to me for getting the story right.

8. Favorite movie?
Finding Forrester still holds the number one spot. I think I love it even more because most people aren't that familiar with it. The story hits on every level for me, and I never get tired of watching it.

9. Name a character in another book or movie that Emmett would get along with.
I'm going to go way out to left field here and pick Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon. This is just me secretly wanting to see Emmett with a dragon companion, but I really do think they'd be awesome together.

10. Song that reminds you of Nyxia.
Sound and Color by Alabama Shakes is one. There's a specific scene in the book where Emmett is listening to that particular song. Another is Polaroid by Imagine Dragons. I'll confess that most of the fight scenes were written to the tune of an Imagine Dragons song.

Now the moment you've all been waiting for! Win a signed, personalized ARC of NYXIA by Scott Reintgen! Don't miss out!
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Saturday, September 9, 2017

St Louis Book Fest YA Panel: Spotlight with Zac Brewer, author of Madness and US giveaway!

Dear Readers:
Thanks for stopping by today for a great and very moving (I cried!) interview with the amazing Zac Brewer. He wrote the tremendous MADNESS, which was one of the most difficult and yet important books I have ever read. Also, this interview is one of two I'm doing online with a giveaway to promote the St. Louis Book Fest YA panel! 

Here are some details about the panel:
From 12pm-1:30pm at The McPherson (4715 McPherson Ave.) on September 23, we'll have Sherman Alexie (here for the 10th anniversary edition of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian), Nina LaCour (We Are Okay), and Zac Brewer (Madness) talking about their newest books, and also the role of today's most relevant teen issues in contemporary YA fiction.

33630116Goodreads Book description of MADNESS: New York Times bestselling author Zac Brewer delivers his most honest and gripping novel yet, about a girl who believes she’s beyond saving—until she realizes the only person who can save her is herself.

Brooke Danvers is pretending to be fine. She’s gotten so good at pretending that they’re letting her leave inpatient therapy. Now she just has to fake it long enough for her parents and teachers to let their guard down. This time, when she's ready to end her life, there won’t be anyone around to stop her.

Then Brooke meets Derek. Derek is the only person who really gets what Brooke is going through, because he’s going through it too. As they start spending more time together, Brooke suddenly finds herself having something to look forward to every day and maybe even happiness.

But when Derek’s feelings for her intensify, Brooke is forced to accept that the same relationship that is bringing out the best in her might be bringing out the worst in Derek—and that Derek at his worst could be capable of real darkness.

About Zac Brewer:
His name is Zac Brewer...but you can call him Z. Under the name Heather Brewer, Zac is the New York Times bestselling author of The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod, which has sold more than 1.5 million copies around the world, as well as many other books. Zac is a vocal anti-bullying advocate and an inspiration to LGBT+ teens. When he's not writing, he's plotting world domination. He lives in Bridgeton, Missouri, with his husband, two children, and four diabolical overlords that some people refer to as "cats".

Interview with Zac Brewer
1.     Madness is about a teen suffering from severe depression and suicidal tendencies. For me, the first half of the book was very difficult for me to read just because Brooke's mind is a dark place to be. But you had to live in her head for much longer, and I can imagine this process of writing this book was very difficult. Could you tell us a little bit about this process and why this book was so important for you to get out into the world?  
You’re right - Brooke’s mind is a dark place during the first half of the book. But the thing is, it wasn’t so much that I lived inside Brooke’s head, but that I used Brooke as a conduit – a way to express my thoughts and feelings during the deepest depression of my life. At the time I began writing the book, I had decided that I would pour my most private thoughts, my darkest feelings onto the page and then take my life. I had imagined it as an unfinished goodbye letter. 

But then my wonderful, loving husband stepped in and urged me to get help. Because of him, I started down the road to recovery – something that’s lined with the right medications and an intensive therapy program. His prompting saved my life.

I hadn’t planned to finish writing the book, but ultimately decided that Brooke deserved the journey I was finally benefitting from. So, I wrote the last half, as well as all of Brooke’s therapy sessions, to express how it had felt to go from knowing that I couldn’t be saved from myself, to understanding that there is always hope. 

And so, my once-unsigned goodbye letter became MADNESS. It’s important for me that it’s out in the world for two reasons, really: 1. Over 350 million people the world over suffer from depression (and those are just the documented cases). It’s such an isolating thing to experience. You feel like no one understands. I want to share with the people who suffer from depression and suicidal ideation to see that I understand and that they – we – are not alone. And 2. Publishing it is like letting go for me. Letting go of the worst period in my life. Understanding that storms may come again, but I’ve weathered it before, and I’m strong enough to do so again.  

2.     What themes do you hope your readers draw from the story? 
I once heard a quote by Jared Padalecki from Supernatural that sums up what I’m trying to drive home with MADNESS:
“There’s no shame in having to fight every day, but fighting every day, and presumably, if you’re still alive to hear these words or read this interview, then you are winning your war. You’re here. You might not win every battle. There are going to be some really tough days. There might be several tough times in any given single day, but hopefully, this will help somebody to think, ‘This isn’t easy; it is a fight, but I’m going to keep fighting.’”  

3.     For those of us who struggle to find the best ways to help someone like Brooke, can you give us any tips? Also, any info like suicide hotlines, or other places for people to find help? 
Please try to remember that you are not alone. You are never alone. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel – you just can’t see it all the time. Keep moving forward. I promise you, it’s there. And if you get stuck, just reach out. There are lots of people in there with you, ready to hold your hand. I know. I’m one of them. J
If you find yourself triggered or if you are suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts, please seek help. 
The American Psychological Association (
The American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s mission is to provide immediate assistance to individuals in suicidal crisis by connecting them to the nearest available suicide prevention and mental health service provider through a toll-free telephone number: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).  

4.     In many families and cultures, therapy has a bad rep. I loved the therapist in Madness. Can you speak to us a little about therapy and how it is important in helping people in depression? 
Therapy has been invaluable to my recovery – and it is an ongoing recovery. But I, like Brooke, was very resistant to it in the beginning. Like her, I thought that therapists were just nosey people who liked to think they know everything, simply because they have a framed diploma on the wall – and I’m sure there are some out there who fit the bill. Fortunately for both Brooke and myself, there are also many good therapists out there who sincerely want to help. Having a safe, validating, non-judgmental place to share all the feelings you’re experiencing is vital to survival. It’s not easy. But it works if you trust the process.

5.     Did you have crit partners or beta readers for this book and if so, in what way were their comments helpful? 
I wrote MADNESS without anyone peeking at a word I was writing until I sent it to my agent, Michael Bourret, and my editor, Andrew Eliopulos. It’s difficult to be so raw, so honest, so vulnerable – even if one is using the plausible deniability of fiction to do so. For that reason, I couldn’t let anyone but them read it once it was finished – that is, until now. Both my agent and editor gave me incredible support and wonderful advice for the best way to get my message to those who need it. I’m very lucky to have them.  

6.     For the characters Brooke, Derek, and Duckie, what Hogwarts houses do you imagine they would be sorted into and why? 
Ooooh, this is such a cool, right-up-my-Diagon-Alley question! If I had to sort Derek into a house, it would be Slytherin. But not because I view him as bad – after all, it’s the decisions of a wizard that determines whether they’re good or evil. Derrick is intelligent, and definitely abides by the house motto “Do what is necessary”.
Brooke is Gryffindor, for sure. She’s courageous, adventurous, and daring. Though she may not see it right away, she’s also incredibly brave. 
As for Duckie – that’s easy. Duckie is so obviously Hufflepuff. He’s loyal, supportive, dedicated, patient, and fair. Duckie is proof that we all need to have that Hufflepuff friend in our life. :)  

7.     Can you give us a hint as to what you are writing next? 
I’m currently working on a YA book that will be released by HarperTeen in 2019. I’m still on the first draft, and at the moment, it’s a challenge for me to label it under a specific genre. However, I can say that it’s my most ambitious novel yet and centers around a Transgender person named Quinn. I don’t want to say too much, but I will say that it was inspired by both Silent Hill and Star Trek TNG.

8.     Do you have any final words for my readers from your personal experiences?
Every day is not sunshine and rainbows. I wouldn’t lie to you and say that they are – that you can go through therapy, get on meds, and rainbows will shoot out of your butt.

I’d only say that if it were true. And I’m almost certain it’s not. Almost.
The truth is, some days, I still have dark thoughts, and wonder if I can bear to keep going. But the answer is yes. I can. Because of you, Minions. I can’t leave you alone to face the darkness. I won’t.
So when you’re there, in that dark place, and you feel like you’re all alone…just reach out and give my hand a squeeze. Because I’m here. And we’ll get through it.
And now... you have a chance to win this great book! Sign up on the rafflecopter to win a book donated by the amazing Left Bank Books!
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