Winter Blogfest: Christine Potter

This post is part of Long and Short Reviews’ Winter Blogfest. Leave a comment for a chance to win an ecopy of What Time is it There? and a Bean-approved piece of tie-dye to a lucky US or Canada winner.

It’s All About the Tree!


It is for us, anyway: two childless (we prefer child-free, although we love kids) retired schoolteachers who met when we were both on the north side of forty. Ken and I have a lot in common. In our days in the classroom, we taught kids the subject we live and die for, and now get to do it full-time ourselves. He’s a musician, and I’m a writer. And we both adore Christmas trees.

We like the lovely-smelling live ones, thank you very much—but in recent years we’ve also developed a fascination with the aluminum trees of the 1950’s and early 6o’s that our parents’ more cosmopolitan friends had in front of their living room picture windows. Ken and I finally broke down and bought an aluminum tree a few years back. It goes in the little room behind my office where we watch TV at night, and has blue lights and blue ornaments. Ken has been known to jump the gun and put that silvery glitter up right after Halloween. Yeah, I know…

Dirty secret: the aluminum tree is only one of three. He puts it up early ‘cause it won’t drop needles.
Live tree number one goes in the living room, the only room in our very old (like mostly from the 1700’s) house that has a high ceiling. Ken’s birthday is December 14th, and that’s the day we usually do the job. Live tree number one gets decorated with his huge collection of glass ornaments from the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. We used to put Ken’s equally huge collection of antique Christmas lights on the living room tree, too—he’d rewired them, and run them through a special circuit box he’d constructed to dim them down a bit and keep them from drying out the tree. Some of the bulbs are Edison era! (Did I mention the man is obsessed?)

These days, we’ve gone the LED route, though, words I never thought I’d type. Important fact: you can buy totally acceptable multi-colored LED lights that will not burn your house down. Not burning your house down—or worrying about doing it, or realizing that you’ve left the tree lit and frantically driving back over the Tappan Zee Bridge—is worth a lot! So we’ve bowed to modern times.

Live tree number two? It goes in our bedroom, of course. Didn’t you always want to fall asleep under a Christmas tree when you were a kid? We do, every night—well, next to it, not UNDER it, from December 14th to January 6th. Note: the bedroom tree has been LED-lit for years. The ornaments on it are the ones from my single-girl decades, and are a bit more hippie-dippy than Ken’s mid-century ones. I made a lot of them myself: cardboard and gesso with water color paints on them, sequined things from India that my high school best friend bought in an import shop. My young adult novels are set in 1970 and 1972 for a reason: I loved those years.

We do other decorations: white LED lights outside, on pine garland hung from our front porch—and last year I put some amazing cobalt-colored LED lights on the bare branches of a trumpet vine over the path from our mailbox. That blue was just stunning. We have two absurd-looking glowing reindeer, too: almost life-sized. They go in front of our house. I love them like crazy. Ken’s still not sure about them, I think.

Could I put in a quick word for The Bean Books, my time traveling trilogy on Evernight Teen? If you like hippies, Christmas trees, time travel, and the oddest Christmas miracle ever, you’re going to love those books, especially Bean 3, What Time Is It There? Good for kids over 16, and good, too, for those of us old enough to have seen the Grateful Dead live.

Merry Christmas from our house to yours! May you not break ANY of your glass ornaments, may all your packages arrive on time, and may your trees drop nary a needle!


Late autumn, 1972. Just over a year ago, Bean and Zak headed for colleges two thousand miles apart, promising to write, but to see other people … until Bean fell for the wrong guy and Zak fell off the planet. Now, Bean’s got two weeks’ worth of Zak’s year-old letters she still can’t bear to open–and a broken heart. Her new best friend, a guy named Amp, wants her to read the letters and be done with it, but he may have his own reasons for that. When Sam shows up at Bean’s school unexpectedly and Bean tumbles into the 19th century from the cellar of a ruined church, things start making a bizarre kind of sense. That is, if she can just fit all the pieces together again…

About the Author: Christine Potter lives in a haunted house–for real. Besides the ghosts that turned up in a recent investigation, she shares her digs with an organist/choir director husband (plus his two pipe organs) and a pair of very spoiled tom cats. She’s been assured that her ghosts are harmless, just “very old spirits who don’t want to leave,” which is understandable. It’s a comfy house.

Christine Potter is the author of the time traveling YA series, The Bean Books, on EVERNIGHT TEEN: Time Runs Away With Her (Book One), In Her Own Time (Book Two)–and the newly-released What Time Is It There? (Book Three). She is also a widely published poet, a choral singer, and a darn good cook.

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Winter Blogfest: C. Lee McKenzie

This post is part of Long and Short Reviews’ Winter Blogfest. Leave a comment for a chance to win one eBook of Double Negative and a bonus Christmas short story ( also eBook).

 Christmas 2017

Gift of the Magi

It’s that time of year. Countdown to Christmas. We’re about to tuck another year away in the archives. This holiday always sends me scurrying to find my favorite stories—the classics that everyone knows, the timeless tales that teach us important life lessons. I have several favorite stories, but there are three that I never fail to pull off the shelf in December.

All I need to read are the opening lines of O’Henry’s The Gift of the Magi, and I enter the world of selfless love that belongs to Della and Jim. Or I read Marley’s name, and Scrooge’s ghosts rise up and make me take account of my deeds, good and bad. Bring on the story of redemption. Hans Christian Andersen’s, The Little Fir Tree helps me set aside my grumbling discontent. Live for the moment the story tells us. Enjoy what you have.

Here are the beginnings of my favorite Christmas stories. Each one is so different and each one bears the signature style of the author and the time they set down the words.

Do you have others you return to when this holiday comes each year?

The Gift of the Magi

ONE DOLLAR AND EIGHTY-SEVEN CENTS. That was all. She had put it aside, one cent and then another and then another, in her careful buying of meat and other food. Della counted it three times. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

A Christmas Carol

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ’Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

The Fir Tree

FAR down in the forest, where the warm sun and the fresh air made a sweet resting-place, grew a pretty little fir-tree; and yet it was not happy, it wished so much to be tall like its companions— the pines and firs which grew around it. The sun shone, and the soft air fluttered its leaves, and the little peasant children passed by, prattling merrily, but the fir-tree heeded them not. Sometimes the children would bring a large basket of raspberries or strawberries, wreathed on a straw, and seat themselves near the fir-tree, and say, “Is it not a pretty little tree?” which made it feel more unhappy than before.

Sixteen. On the path to prison. One last chance.
Will Hutch McQueen take it?
Touching but gritty, this young adult story will grab your heart and hold you in its clutches.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author: C. Lee McKenzie has a background in Linguistics and Inter-Cultural Communication, but these days her greatest passion is writing for young readers. Some Very Messy Medieval Magick is the third book in the time-travel adventures of Pete and Weasel, with Alligators Overhead and The Great Timelock Disaster being the first two. Sign of the Green Dragon, another book for young readers, jumps into ancient Chinese dragon myths and a quest for treasure. She has published four young adult novels: Sliding on the Edge, The Princess of Las Pulgas, Double Negative, and Sudden Secrets. When she’s not writing she’s hiking or traveling or practicing yoga or asking a lot questions about things she still doesn’t understand.

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Winter Blogfest: Pamela Woods-Jackson

 

This post is part of Long and Short Reviews’ Winter Blogfest. Leave a comment for a chance to win one copy, either paperback or ebook, of TEENAGE PSYCHIC ON CAMPUS. . 

Holiday Blog

Yes, I’m an author, but I also work at a living history museum in Fishers, Indiana. (Conner Prairie for any of you that would like to visit!) Holidays are particularly busy, starting in early October as the museum hosts its annual Halloween festival, The Headless Horseman, based on Washington Irving’s story “Sleepy Hollow.”

Thanksgiving and Christmas programming is an exciting time, as well as an opportunity to step back from our hectic 21st century lives and think about holiday celebrations from our country’s early years. The museum sponsors a gingerbread house competition, meals with Santa, lectures and demonstrations on how early Hoosiers prepared for a long winter, and an evening walk through the historical area lit only by lanterns and candlelight. There is nothing like a dark, snowy night, listening to nothing but the crackle of fires and the soothing voices of the actors, to inspire me to be a better writer.

What does all this mean to my writing? It means I have a busy holiday season, true, but I try to incorporate what’s all around me into my novels. My most recent release, TEENAGE PSYCHIC ON CAMPUS, is set in the Indiana county where I live, and elements reminiscent of the museum’s Halloween festival managed to creep into the haunted house Caryn and Gary investigate. I also created a fictionalized version of Conner Prairie and used it in my YA GENIUS SUMMER, in which my POV character volunteers in a living history museum and fantasizes about living in the nineteenth century. And I have an as-yet-to-be-published YA that features a haunted hayride similar to the one the museum offers.

As writers, we tend to write what we know. I can’t say I’m personally psychic, or a genius, or have a degree in marketing like my main character Caroline Benedict in CERTAINLY SENSIBLE, but with a bit of research and talking to friends and co-workers, I can come up with plausible stories. Working in a living history museum has given me not only a love of history but a treasure trove of ideas to blend into my stories, hopefully for the enjoyment of my readers.

Caryn Alderson may be a psychic medium, but she can’t predict her own life. She’s totally blindsided when she discovers her boyfriend has cheated on her. Her best friend Annabeth attempts to jump-start Caryn’s stalled love life by introducing her to Gary Riddell, a fellow college freshman who can talk to ghosts. To paranormal groupie Annabeth, their abilities make them the perfect match. Unfortunately, Gary’s acting career and Caryn’s love of journalism clash when Caryn writes a hatchet piece about Gary’s acting abilities, and then publishes it in the campus newspaper. Dating is definitely out!

Then the two of them are asked to help the campus Ghost Stalkers club investigate a haunting at a local farmhouse. Caryn and Gary must combine their offsetting paranormal skills to locate more than just ghosts.

About the Author: I am the author of TEENAGE PSYCHIC ON CAMPUS which was released April 28, 2017 by The Wild Rose Press. It is a sequel to CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE PSYCHIC (The Wild Rose Press, 2010), which was a 2011 Epic Ebook Contest finalist. My YA novel GENIUS SUMMER was released in November, 2014, by Vinspire Publishing. It was a finalist in the 2013 San Francisco Writers Contest and was awarded the Literary Classics Silver Medal Seal of Approval in 2015. My contemporary romance CERTAINLY SENSIBLE, released December 2, 2015 by The Wild Rose Press, was a Gold Medal winner in the 2016 Literary Classics Award Contest.

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Winter Blogfest: Peggy Rothschild

 

This post is part of Long and Short Reviews’ Winter Blogfest. Leave a comment for a chance to win a Punishment Summer Mug plus paperback copy of the book. Shipping to US residents only. 

The Holiday Season in Southern California

In Southern California, it’s hard to believe the holiday season is almost here. Thankfully, we’ve finally shed the 100 degree weather that hit in late October and now there’s a slight nip in the air. While I don’t think I’d want to live in a snowy climate again, I do love it when the weather turns cool.

A couple years ago, we decided that living in an area without snow was no reason not to build a snowman. That October, we bought a number of white pumpkins in varying sizes and, after Thanksgiving, we assembled our pumpkin snowman and proudly displayed him on our front porch.

This year we’ll have some added holiday excitement; we recently adopted a 2-year-old cat. As cat lovers will tell you, you just don’t know who’s a Christmas-tree climber until the tree actually goes up. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that she’ll be content sleeping under the tree.

Aside from going crazy with the decorations – inside and out – our biggest holiday tradition is sharing Christmas Eve dinner with family friends. The tradition started the first Christmas after my father died. My best friend’s mother invited my family over for dinner and a tradition was born. We’ve gone back and forth to one another’s houses for Christmas Eve every year. Even when I lived in Massachusetts, I made it back to California for our Christmas Eve tradition. This year, my mother’s friend has grown frail and we’re talking about changing it to a Christmas Eve lunch. As our families evolve, so do our traditions. But the one thing that doesn’t change, is the love and joy we share.

Wishing one and all a Happy Holiday Season!

Sixteen-year-old Nicki is sent to stay at her grandfather’s cabin near the town of Punishment in the Mendocino Forest. Soon after arriving, she begins to suspect Grandpa is keeping secrets. From hidden pot farms to human trafficking, she soon discovers nothing in the ‘Mendo’ is what it seems. It’s a good thing Grandpa’s taught her how to shoot.

About the Author: A native Californian, Peggy Rothschild grew up in Los Angeles. Always a mystery-lover, she embraced the tales of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys before moving on to the adult section of the library. An English major in high school, she switched to art – her other passion – in college. Peggy has authored two adult mysteries, CLEMENTINE’S SHADOW and ERASING RAMONA. PUNISHMENT SUMMER is her first young adult novel.

At present, Peggy and her husband live in the beach community of Ventura with their cats – who are always willing to rip apart any pages they feel aren’t up to snuff. In her spare time she can be found drawing and painting, or out in the yard weeding, pruning, and generally getting messy.

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Winter Blogfest: Melody Wiklund

 

This post is part of Long and Short Reviews’ Winter Blogfest. Leave a comment for a chance to win a digital copy of my novel Eleven Dancing Sisters.

Advent Traditions

Lately I’ve been at college during the season leading up to Christmas every year. This creates an odd variation in the way I anticipate Christmas. For one thing, I come to see Christmas as being not December 25, but the day I leave on the airplane to go home. This year that’s December 13, almost two weeks ahead of time. But then there’s also the fact that I’ve come to associate Christmas and the season around it with being home and taking some time for myself between semesters. And that’s a good attitude to have towards a holiday, I think, but it’s not how I used to think of it. Until college, my focus the month before Christmas was on Advent.

My family is Catholic but doesn’t necessarily go to mass more often during Advent or start saying novenas or anything that formal. Instead, we prepare for Christmas by filling a yarn manger. The manger is a shoebox covered with brown masking tape, and as the four weeks of Advent progress, we try to do extra good deeds or acts of religious devotion, and for every act we do that is devoted to Advent, we put a strand of yellow yarn in the manger. It’s meant to look like hay, which it really doesn’t, but it’s softer than hay so perhaps it is all for the best. As for the acts, they’re generally simple enough: praying a decade of the rosary on the way to school or telling a girl you like her shirt. They just have to be extra, something that without keeping Advent in mind you wouldn’t necessarily have done.

On Christmas day in the morning my mother puts a white stone statuette of baby Jesus in the manger. Tiny, eyes closed. My sister and I used to ask permission to pick it up and hold it in our hands, astounded at its fragility. And we would worry throughout Advent that the yarn we earned wouldn’t be enough, and he would sleep on only a thin layer of yarn over bare cardboard.

This tenderness, almost maternal, is what we keep in mind as we work our way through Advent. We are preparing a place in our lives and in our hearts for Jesus—or, if you’re not religious, for love. Although I must admit there’s also a certain element of competition to it. There’s nothing more embarrassing than seeing your sister put four strands of yarn into the manger at the end of the day when you can only put in one. Your good deeds can get a little aggressive when that happens! But maybe that’s not a bad thing. At least a number of girls in your class will get the impression that you really, really like their shirts.

Erin has a good reason for sneaking into a fae castle: her sisters—princesses of Erdhea—have been secretly visiting it for months, and she just knows they’re in trouble. Unfortunately that’s not an excuse she can give fae lord Desmond when she gets caught. Because Erin is a princess too, and whatever schemes Desmond has, Erin wants no part of them. Instead, she tells him she’s a simple war nurse, and offers no excuse at all.

Desmond can’t have humans wandering in and out of his castle, not when the Fae’s presence in Erdhea must remain hidden. He needs to know how and why Erin sneaked in. But before long, his concerns about Erin are blooming into interest, then fascination, then something else altogether. Under the eye of a lovelorn fae lord, can Erin keep her secrets? Will she even want to?

About the Author: Melody Wiklund is a writer and a student. Native to Massachusetts, she spends half the year in Kansas, pining for brighter leaves in the autumn and more snow in the winter. Apart from writing, she enjoys knitting, especially since it makes gifts a lot easier during the Christmas season.

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Winter Blogfest: J.S. Frankel

 

This post is part of Long and Short Reviews’ Winter Blogfest. Leave a comment for a chance to win an ebook copy of Master Fantastic.

New Year’s in Japan

To me, holidays posts are all about family, and no matter where you go or where you live, that concept has been most important to me.

Growing up Toronto, Canada, holidays were all about being with my family. We were neither religious nor Christian, so Christmas held no fascination for me, save for the cartoons I enjoyed as a child. The holidays were for playing in the snow, having fun with my family, and just enjoying life.

As I grew older, though, movies dominated things, so during the holidays I’d catch at least three movies at the local theater and that sustained me. However, when I moved to Japan almost thirty years ago—has it been that long?—I thought I’d be running headfirst into a culture that not only had no idea of what Christmas meant, it also had no idea of what New Year’s meant.

Or so I thought at the time.

My first holiday here was spent with my girlfriend, a lovely woman I’ll call ‘Y’. Short and sweet-faced, she was the first girlfriend I’d ever really loved, and she promised to take me on a traditional Japanese holiday.

What it consisted of was going to a shrine on New Year’s Day. This happened to be my birthday, so it was (and is) considered a good luck day. The Japanese call it ‘hatsumode’ which means the first visit to a Shinto shrine, usually on January first, second, or third. There, one prays at the shrine for good health, love, success, or something else. The shrines usually sell little trinkets called ‘omemori’ which are good luck charms as well as other goods.

Ms. Y then took me to meet her parents, two quiet but very kind people who treated me as their guest. It was a culture shock for them as well, but they served me traditional Japanese food, offered sake (which I drank) and asked me a LOT of questions about Canada.

My girlfriend then took me around the neighborhood to meet her parent’s friends. She’d known these people all her life, and it was necessary for her to pay her respects to them. Lots of bowing, lots of head bobbing, and lots of language I didn’t understand.

The same evening, we went out to see her friends, who were into the eating/drinking thing. While I would have liked to been with my girlfriend in a more private setting, it meant something to her to visit her parents, to catch up on things with her neighbors, and to simply see other people she hadn’t seen in months. Such was and is the busy life of a young, single person in Japan. There is always a sense of obligation and duty. It is not said, so much; it is what one grows up with.

The years have passed, and I am much older now, married, with children of my own. Every year, good health or not, I make it a practice to go to the nearest Japanese shrine on my birthday with my wife and children, talk with her parents (mine are long gone) speak to the neighbors, talk about the latest thing happening, and catch up on the doings of others whom I haven’t seen for a long time.

I do this not out of obligation or trying to fit in with everyone else. As a foreigner with decidedly Western features, I can never truly fit in, no matter how well I speak Japanese or know the customs. I do this because it’s something I like, my version of family. And that isn’t a bad thing at all.

I think Ms. Y would have approved of my choices.

“Martin Calder and his girlfriend Dana—no last name given—are back. Their powers are now known to the general public, and their wish is to help out those who need it.

However, those in the law enforcement world aren’t so accepting. Reduced to starring in their own reality show—and messing it up—other, more urgent matters take precedence. The weather has changed, and the sun has started to turn blue. Although it’s a physical impossibility, it has happened. The Earth will freeze in a matter of weeks if nothing is done, and only Martin and Dana can help.

Their journey takes them back to Ardana, Dana’s home world, in search for answers, and subsequent searches send them on a quest across the galaxy where they meet vampires, energy-sapping rays, cat-mole people, and a boy-not-a-boy who may be the answer to everyone’s prayers.

Sometimes, giving everything isn’t enough. Sometimes, you have to give more than that—even your life.”

About the Author: J.S. Frankel was born in Toronto, Canada and grew up there, receiving his tertiary education from the University of Toronto and graduating with a double major in English Literature and Political Science.

After working at Gray Coach Lines for a grand total of three years, he came to Japan at the age of twenty-six and has been there ever since, teaching English to any and all students who enter his hallowed school of learning.

In 1997, he married Akiko Koike. He, his wife and his two children, Kai and Ray, currently reside in Osaka. His hobbies include weight training, watching movies when his writing schedule allows, and listening to various kinds of music.

His novels, all for the YA set, include Twisted, Lindsay Versus the Marauders and it’s sequels, Lindsay, Jo, and the Tree of Forever, and Lindsay, Jo and the Well of Nevermore, all courtesy of Regal Crest Enterprises. He has also written the Catnip series (five novels), Mr. Taxi, The Titans of Ardana and its sequels, The Titans of Ardana 2: Battlefield, and the final novel in the trilogy, The Titans of Ardana 3: Interstellar.

Future projects include Master Fantastic, Outcasts, and two novels yet unnamed.

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Inspiration for the Annabelle and Aiden Series by J.R. Becker – Guest Blog and Giveaway


This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. J.R. Becker will be awarding 2 personally-signed Annabelle & Aiden books, along with 3 limited-edition Annabelle & Aiden bookmarks (US ONLY) to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

This gorgeously-illustrated book takes children on an adventure through the earliest stages of our universe. “How did our universe form?” Annabelle wonders to Aiden. Luckily, the friendly Tardigrade Tom answers by taking the children on their biggest adventure yet! Soaring through space and time, they marvel at the big bang, and learn how each and every one of us is literally made of the same stardust. This book empowers children, who learn how we each hold a part of the universe inside us, and are far more special, interconnected, and ‘larger’ than we may think. Children learn:

Did you know you hold the strength of hydrogen bombs?
Or that there’s parts of different stars in each of your palms?
We’re made of pieces that used to be part
Of dinosaurs, Shakespeare, and Amelia Earhart.
So when you feel small, that you don’t matter much,
Know stars are inside you, whole worlds you can touch.

My inspiration for this book, and in fact, the entire Annabelle & Aiden series, is to show children that our actual reality can be just as exciting as fiction, or more, and can help us change the world.

Annabelle & Aiden is a children’s book series dedicated to inspiring a new generation of scientists, thinkers, and all-around adventurers. Our books are tailored to foster curiosity, wonder, critical thinking skills, and inspiration on the line where science and philosophy meet.

Enjoy an Excerpt:

Aiden says, “Great!
But I do have to say,
all of those stars
seem so far away…”

“Oh, but they’re in us!
Our bones and our skin.
And even those rocks
you’re now sitting in.

You’re feeling the stuff
from the bodies of folks
who lived long ago
and stood like great oaks.

And also the people
who have yet to be.
They’ll come from our bones,
these rocks and those trees.

And all of us come
from the same exact place:
the Earth, which came from
the stars out in space,

who were kind enough
to explode into shards
that joined to make up
everything that we are.

So when you feel small,
that you don’t matter much,
know stars are inside you,
whole worlds you can touch.

About the Author:J. R. holds a B.A. in Philosophy and a Juris Doctorate from Emory University School of Law. When he’s not practicing entertainment law, playing drums, or enjoying the great outdoors, Joseph enjoys all the science and philosophy books and podcasts he can, pondering the bigger questions and dreaming up ideas for future children stories. (Got any? Send them in!)

After publishing his first (philosophical, dystopian) novel The Spider & the Ant, and later becoming a father, Joseph was inspired to found the Annabelle & Aiden series to foster curiosity and scientific awareness in the next generation.

Joseph lives in New Jersey with his wife Leah, and two children, Annabelle & Aiden.

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This book raised over $18,500 in preorders on Kickstarter.

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ILLUSTRATOR: Max lives in a small town just outside Venice, Italy. As an illustrator, she is proficient with multiple mediums (from physical to digital) and can draw in multiple styles, as seen in her portfolio below. Max is especially fond of cats, Game Of Thrones, and Lindsey Stirling. After wandering the cosmos in search of the perfect illustrator, we’re lucky to have found her, just on the other side of our blue planet.

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Where Ideas Come From by Andrew Anzur Clement – Guest Blog and Giveaway


This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Andrew Anzur Clement will be awarding a $10 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

Where Ideas Come From

My ideas come from my characters. While in the process of writing Keepers of the Stone, it was as if the story wasn’t being concocted by me. My fingers typed the words, of course. But, those words were dictated to me from the ether of their voices.

There are certain situations that make one more open to hearing his or her characters in their head. In my case, it was plain simple discontent that allowed their voices to be heard. I wasn’t even expecting to write these books. But, they had other ideas. I was living in Coventry, England at the time. I didn’t know anyone there and was utterly miserable after only a few months. That was when Malka first spoke to me. The inspiration for Keepers of the Stone exploded into my head while I was standing in front of the Lady Godiva Statue in Coventry’s main square. Almost as if in a moment of total clarity, the image of that girl on a horse seemed to ‘download’ the entire opening situation for Keepers into my head. Once it was there I couldn’t unsee it. Before the evening was over, I opened up a new project file and allowed my fingers to type the ‘infamous’ words: “She galloped away from them, studiously refusing to look back.”

That was how the process went. Many of the place descriptions came from my own travels. Mostly, though, my characters spoke to me and my fingers put the words on the computer screen. When starting out, I knew that there were going to be certain broad plot points. These were partially inspired by current events, or real historical elements that occurred during the late 19th century, when the books are set. However my characters’ reactions to them resulted in developments that surprised even me. This was especially the case with Stas, a courageous youth born into exile with no country of his own. Liza, a mysterious felinoid (a shapeshifter that can turn into a cat), who turned out to have a longer history with Stas and Nell, his best friend, than I could have even guessed at when I began writing. And with Bozhena: an unwilling servant of the evil Order of the Urumi, who’s unwavering belief in the birthright of her own aristocratic bloodlines ended up changing the entire endgame of the books, from what I was expecting it would be. The secrets that became apparent in their own back stories ended up having a determining influence on the course the Keepers took in the end.

While finishing up the manuscripts, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t myself who’d written these books. Because my characters become so real to me during the writing process, it’s almost like the adult equivalent of having imaginary friends. To the point, weird as it may sound, that I felt funny putting my own name on what became Keepers of the Stone.

It wasn’t until I was visiting family back in California that I realized why. It came from another apparition of Malka, the same character who’d been the girl on the horse back in Coventry. I was attending a performance of a play about Shakespeare’s supposed process of writing Macbeth. In the final soliloquy the character of the Bard’s daughter speaks about stories; the ones we tell when we think that nobody is looking, relating that the entire play had been her own. Yet, it was as if my own character simultaneously stepped out of the one on stage and imparted the following: “This was never your story. It is mine. You did not tell it. I did.”

As I finished writing Keepers, this is basically what happened. There’s a frame for the main action that gets the audience up to speed on the back-story a bit faster (the books open in the middle of the action). Maybe this is a slight spoiler, but here goes: It turns out that these books are a chronicle. One conjured by one of the characters as a gift for the others as a memento of their unwitting adventures together. The girl on the horse was right. These books were never mine. This is their story. I’m glad I had the privilege of being the one to finally tell it.

Keepers of the Stone. Book One: The Outcasts

In a far corner of the British Empire, a mysterious girl gallops away on a horse, fleeing for her life. Malka has sacrificed everything to protect an all-powerful stone from falling into the hands of the malevolent Urumi. The last in a Sect of thieves, the girl is a trained killer. But will her lethal skills be enough to defeat the Shadow Warriors and their superhuman abilities?

The fate of the stone may depend on Stas, a courageous youth born into exile from a country that is not on any map. Nell, his friend since childhood, has been caught up in the Dark Order’s evil designs. The young outcasts must confront demons, real and imagined, with the help of mystical new allies. Their journey will take them to distant lands and change their lives forever.

 

Keepers of the Stone. Book Two: Exile

Stranded on the American frontier, Malka must stop at nothing to safeguard the all-powerful stone. She has come under the protection of a snarky felinoid – a shape-shifting girl who traces her lineage back to the court of Vlad Dracula. They must rescue with Henry, the American orphan whose thirst for knowledge could help decipher the clues to the next
leg of their journey – if the Urumi don’t kill them first.
Alone in yet another strange land, Stas mourns the unthinkable loss of his friend, Nell. Cryptic messages offer new hope. But the Dark Order has devised another strategy to outwit the band of misfits. Plans are betrayed and alliances are formed as history points to the final objective of their quest.

Keepers of the Stone Book Three: Homecoming
Stas and his companions have made their way to the partitioned homeland he has never visited. He dares to hope that Nell may be alive. The doomed princess Bozhena vows revenge on the Shadow Warriors, who have enlisted Malka’s most bitter enemy in their latest plot to control the powerful stone.
With the help of a streetwise gypsy girl, the unlikely travelers must outwit the Urumi and deliver the stone to its final destination. All they have to do is put aside the differences that threaten to tear them apart. The secrets of the past hold the key to the history of the future.

Enjoy an Excerpt from Book One: The Outcasts

“The firearms,” Malka whispered. “We still have them from the bank.”

“Do you even know how to fire a gun?”

The Thag shook her head.

The felinoid harrumphed. “Figures.” Then she began thinking out loud.

“So, we’re low on ammunition. Only six shots per gun, assuming they’re completely loaded. Okay. They’re in the open. We can use the wagon as cover. Target what shots we have. I’m not very good at aiming, but maybe if Mister Bunny Burglar over there takes….”

She stopped. Looking behind her, to the empty space off to the right side of the wagon’s seating area.

“Where is Henry?”

Malka and Liza looked around. Both of them spotted their erstwhile captive at the same moment.

“Ugh! He’s in front of the wagon running away with one of the cages,” Liza said, as if the situation needed any clarification. “I told you we should have killed that little….”

The gunfire ceased abruptly, replaced in short order with the quick screams of men and horses. Then silence. The escaping youth was forgotten for the moment. Liza quickly poked her head just over the stack of cages.

“Oh, no! Oh, please, no!” For the first time since Malka had known the felinoid, she seemed more genuinely worried than annoyed at their situation; she knew what Liza had seen.

“The Urumi,” she confirmed in a quiet voice.

“All three of them. And they’re moving towards us.”

Malka untied the sash from around her waist and inserted the brass knob into one of its ends. She listened for one of the dark forms, as it approached her side of the wagon.

About the Author:Andrew Anzur Clement departed his native Los Angeles at the age of nineteen, with a curiosity for far-off lands. He quickly discovered an insatiable wonderlust that has led him to live, work and study in many fascinating places around the globe. Now in his late-twenties the unabashed opera fan is based in Europe. He continues to travel and read widely, finding new inspiration in the places he discovers. In his ‘other’ life Andrew is an academic researcher, focusing on nationalism and identity formation. He enjoys including insights from his research in his books and the characters he inhabits.

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Which Characters are Based on Val Muller? – Guest Blog and Giveaway

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Val Muller will be awarding a $10 Amazon/BN GC and a download code for The Girl Who Flew Away, a download code for The Scarred Letter, a print copy (US only) of The Man with the Crystal Ankh, and an ebook of Corgi Capers: Deceit on Dorset Drive, to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

Pieces of Me: Character Creation
Val Muller

A question that frequently comes up in interviews is: which (if any) characters are based on you?

The short answer? All of them. In each character, there is a little tiny piece of me, even a piece that happened only in passing. Maybe it was that angsty moment in middle school when a teacher yelled at me for standing on the tape instead of behind it. I came home and wrote a journal about how she made me want to be a horrible student. I had all these plans to sabotage my grade just to make her feel terrible. She was a science teacher, and I vowed to hate science for the rest of my life. I outlined what it would be like to be a bad student, how I would end up with a disappointing career that I could pinpoint on her. Rage practically jumped off the page. Later that week, I forgot about it and continued my status quo of getting mostly As and enjoying science class. But for a moment, I was filled with the motivation to teach her a lesson by sabotaging my grade just to make her fail as a teacher. Several minor characters in my works are based on that experience. A tiny seed motivated them to stop caring about their work as students—and in many cases, they actively didn’t care, working hard to tend to their image as a rebel.

In The Man with the Crystal Ankh, one of the friendships becomes embroiled in anger. While I never had that serious of a falling out, I certainly had little fights with my friends, and the emotions were real. So in that sense, both sides of the fight are little pieces of me.

While some characters are based on little bits of me, others are inspired by a sense of wonder. In Faulkner’s Apprentice, protagonist Lorelei goes down a dark path. I have never gone down one, but like most teens I’d been exposed to the potential to do so, and I can’t say my mind didn’t wonder what it would like to simply scrap the rules of wholesome living and be bad. Lorelei was based on that sense of wonder, and the fact that she is torn about it mirrors how I might feel as I headed down that path.

When it comes to character creation, this is one way to go about it. I think of each character as a tangent to me (uh oh, I used a math analogy. That’s not like me at all—must be one of the characters speaking!). I tap into that minor experience or thought, and build a character around it. I find that the creation is authentic, and the character thus feels real.

The other way I create characters is to base them off of people I know—friends, family, enemies, coworkers. But there’s a big catch there. Of course I don’t want them to know they’re muses or models. I don’t know who originally suggested this term, but a piece of writing advice I’ve been given is to create characters the way Frankenstein created his monster: take pieces of other people, and mix them up to such an extent that it’s no longer clear who inspired what.

For instance, for every story I write, my mother asks me if “such and such” trait displayed by the mother figure in the book is based on her. She’s intentionally reading into the work, looking for pieces of herself. She’ll sometimes say things like, “I wasn’t that crazy, was I?” I’ve had to recently tell her that that isn’t the case: perhaps the obsessive nature of the character in question came from a teacher or guidance counsellor I had in high school. Perhaps the way the character squints when she reads came from a middle school math teacher. But maybe one quality, perhaps the way the mother in the book is concerned about her daughter, perhaps that comes from my mother. There’s always a sense of relief when she realizes that she isn’t all of the character.

So the “Frankenstein” method is another way to create characters: brainstorm a list of traits from people you’ve encountered over the years. Think about how the “connotation” of those people or traits might fit into one of your characters. For instance, I’ve always hated going to the doctor, so I used some of my angst about my pediatrician and combined that with a less-than-effective administrator I once encountered and a power-hungry teacher. They all combined into the character of a high school principal. Someone asked me, “Who in the world did you have as a principal who was that slimy?” The answer: no one. He was a compilation of many people, and there’s no way those who inspired his character could pick out one trait from the next.

Sometimes, to make sure my characters are authentic—and to make sure I know them—I will throw them into a scene together that has nothing to do with the novel I’m writing. They might all go on a shopping trip to Wal-mart or meet for coffee. Throwing them in that scene together allows me to see how they might interact, who might gravitate together. More importantly, the quiet character sitting in the corner tells me that he needs more development because I don’t really understand his personality. In such a practice scene, when all the characters insist on their next lines and actions, I know my characters are ready for the page.

Everyone’s heard the legend of the hollow oak—the four-hundred year curse of Sarah Willoughby and Preston Grymes. Few realize how true it is.

Sarah Durante awakens to find herself haunted by the spirit of her high school’s late custodian. After the death of his granddaughter, Custodian Carlton Gray is not at peace. He suspects a sanguisuga is involved—an ancient force that prolongs its own life by consuming the spirits of others. Now, the sanguisuga needs another life to feed its rotten existence, and Carlton wants to spare others from the suffering his granddaughter endured. That’s where Sarah comes in. Carlton helps her understand that she comes from a lineage of ancestors with the ability to communicate with the dead. As Sarah hones her skill through music, she discovers that the bloodlines of Hollow Oak run deep. The sanguisuga is someone close, and only she has the power to stop it.

No good deed goes unpunished when freshman Steffie Brenner offers to give her awkward new neighbor a ride home after her first day at school. When her older sister Ali stops at a local park to apply for a job, Steffie and Madison slip out of the car to explore the park—and Madison vanishes.

Already in trouble for a speeding ticket, Ali insists that Steffie say nothing about Madison’s disappearance. Even when Madison’s mother comes looking for her. Even when the police question them.

Some secrets are hard to hide, though—especially with Madison’s life on the line. As she struggles between coming clean or going along with her manipulative sister’s plan, Steffie begins to question if she or anyone else is really who she thought they were. After all, the Steffie she used to know would never lie about being the last person to see Madison alive—nor would she abandon a friend in the woods: alone, cold, injured, or even worse.

But when Steffie learns an even deeper secret about her own past, a missing person seems like the least of her worries…

Enjoy an excerpt from The Man with the Crystal Ankh

She picked up the instrument and set it onto her shoulder. A calmness passed into her, as if the violin exuded energy—as if it had a soul. The varnish had faded and dulled. Its life force did not come from its appearance. She brought the bow to the strings, which was still rosined and ready to play. Dragging the bow across the four strings, she found the instrument perfectly in tune.

Sarah took a deep breath and imagined the song, the way the notes melted into each other in nostalgic slides, the way her spirit seemed to pour from her soul that day.

And then it was happening again.

She had started playing without realizing it. Warm, resonant notes poured from the instrument and spilled into the room. They were stronger, and much more powerful, than those she was used to. This instrument was different than the factory-made one her parents had bought for her. Rosemary’s violin was singing to the world from its very soul. And it was happening just as before. Sarah’s energy flowed from her body, causing her to lose consciousness and gain perspective all at once. She rode the air on a lofty run of eighth notes. She echoed off the ceiling with a rich and resonant vibrato. She flew past the guests, who had all quieted to listen to her music; flew past the table of cold cuts and appetizers and up the darkened staircase, where she resonated against the walls and found her way into the guest room. There, she crept along a whole note and slid into the closet.

As the song repeated, she twirled around in the closet, spinning in a torrent of passionate notes. She searched through the notebooks and books on the floor and on the shelves, searched for an open notebook, for something she could read, something that might make her feel tied to the place. Otherwise, she might spin out of control and evaporate out the window and into the sky. She found her anchor on the floor in the darkest corner of the closet, a large parchment—maybe a poster. The notes spun around her in a dizzying way as she tried to stay still enough to read what was on the paper. It was a difficult task; now, with every beat her body downstairs tried to reclaim its energy.

About the Author:www.CorgiCapers.com.

Val’s young adult works include The Scarred Letter, The Man with the Crystal Ankh, and The Girl Who Flew Away and feature her observations as a high school teacher as well as her own haunted New England past.

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Welcome to Sortilege Falls by Libby Heily – Spotlight and Giveaway


This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Libby will be awarding a $10 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour. This book is currently FREE on Nook and Kindle! See below for links.

Welcome to Sortilege Falls Blurb:

Sixteen-year-old Grape Merriweather moved to Sortilege Falls expecting a fresh start and new friends. But things are never quite what they seem in this sleepy Missouri town. Her math teacher looks like a witch, her school is being stalked by a vampire, and Grape could swear the town’s garden gnomes are moving. None of that compares to the small group of teenage models, blessed with otherworldly beauty, who rule Sortilege Falls. Even the adults are powerless to tell them no. When the models fall ill from a mysterious disease, all of the town’s secrets start leaking out. Grape is determined to help her new friends, but searching for the cure might just get her killed.

Enjoy an Excerpt:

Grape Meets the Models

Grape’s entire body stiffened as she looked up from her phone. Five of the most beautiful people to ever walk the earth stood scattered around two Porsches. Did I walk into a photo shoot?

“I mean, gross.”

The words came from an impossibly beautiful girl. Loose, raven-black locks fell over her shoulders, the tips lingering above her full bosom. Grape could almost hear the sizzle and static of her electric blue eyes. The sun had kissed the girl’s skin lightly, leaving a glow that made the air around her shimmer. Her pouty, pink, full lips begged to be kissed, though the guy standing behind her, his arm draped over her shoulder protectively, warned off all who would be so bold.

The boy behind her, if anything, was even more handsome than she was beautiful. Muscle stacked upon muscle until his clothes had no choice but to hug every inch of his body. His dark eyebrows and strong jaw lent him a tough look, one that was backed up by the playful anger in his eyes.

The raven-haired goddess turned and embraced her beau, her face tucked away into the heat of his chest. He sat propped up on the hood of a yellow Porsche, the sleek lines of the car offset by the disdain on his face. They were so incredibly, delightfully gorgeous that even though he looked as if he had seen a cockroach instead of a human being, Grape’s heart still melted at the sight of them.

“I think she’s in love.”

Grape snapped her gaze away from the Adonis with the nasty temperament and turned toward the twin boys standing in front of a black Porsche. Her eyes bounced between the two, taking in every perfect feature. Flawless, rich, dark brown skin. Sparkling hazel eyes. Muscles so tight that you could bounce a quarter off their abs, or arms, or anywhere on their bodies, really. They looked as perfectly engineered as the cars they stood by. But it was their lusciously long eyelashes that sent Grape swooning. Men were not meant to be this pretty.

“Leave her alone, guys.”

Grape’s head spun. Each person she saw was more beautiful than the last, and the redheaded girl standing off to the side was no exception. The baggy jeans and generic T-shirt she wore did not detract from her creamy skin and full lips. Her large brown eyes fascinated Grape—red flakes glimmered from inside each caramel-colored orb.

The air felt charged with a million volts. Her thinking grew cloudy. Were these angels? Was she daydreaming? How did anyone get to be this beautiful? She could sense their hostility, but something inside her felt warm and gooey. Snap to, Grape, she told herself. They want to hurt you.

“Awww, look. It likes us,” the twin with the goatee said. The clean-shaven twin’s face softened. Was that pity she saw in his hazel eyes?

“Stop being mean,” the redhead said, sounding more bored than angry.

“I’m not being mean. Where’d you buy that shirt?” Goatee asked. His quiet tone was laced with thorny edges.

Grape swallowed hard. The fuzz inside her head abated. Focus, she told herself, feeling like an idiot. “I don’t know. Kohl’s maybe.” She glanced down at her blouse. The shirt was a birthday present from her mother, and she wasn’t sure where it came from, but since her mother did most of her own shopping at Kohl’s, it seemed like a pretty safe guess.

Goatee turned toward his brother and smiled. “Pay up.”

Clean-Shaven shook his head at her as if she’d named the wrong store on purpose. He pulled a thick wad of cash from his pocket, peeled off a twenty, and handed it to Goatee. “I was sure it came from Kmart.”

“Why does it matter where I bought my shirt?”

The raven-haired girl glanced out from her hiding place in her boyfriend’s embrace. “It just looked familiar. I wore the same shirt. Three years ago.” She smiled, but there was no kindness when she bared her teeth. “Before it was a knockoff.” The girl hid her face against her boyfriend’s pecs. Their chests rose and fell at the same time, breathing as one.

“Okay. Well, I don’t really buy designer clothes.” Grape wanted to have a witty comeback, but she still wasn’t sure where the insult lay. Did they or did they not like the shirt?

What the hell is wrong with me? Of course they’re making fun of me. Why aren’t I angrier?

“She means she modeled the design,” the redheaded girl said, cutting her eyes to the couple.

“You’re a model?”

The brothers snickered. “Pretending she doesn’t know who we are, that’s so cute. Is that the new fad amongst the Normals?” Clean-Shaven asked.

“I don’t understand anything you just said.” Grape felt completely out of her depth. This was the school parking lot, but she might as well have been on Jupiter.

The redhead took a step toward Grape, shooting a nasty glance to the others crowded around the cars. “Don’t worry about it. They’re just teasing.”

“I thought about modeling.” Grape hadn’t meant to say that, but no one else spoke, and she felt like she had to say something. Her skin grew hot. She knew she was was blushing beyond red and into crimson mode. She’d practiced runway shows off and on in her bedroom since she was twelve, but she had never told anyone she wanted to be a model. Ever.

“Ow,” Grape cried, only then noticing that she had twisted her ring so hard it was actually cutting into her finger. A tiny drop of blood oozed out and fell to the pavement below.

“Aren’t you a little fat to be a model?” the boyfriend asked. His voice sounded like pure honey even when he spoke acid.

“You think I’m fat?” Grape stared down at her flat tummy. No one had ever called her fat before. There was still a bit of room in the waistband of her size four skirt.

“I’m just saying you could stand to lose a few pounds, unless you want the runway to collapse.”

“Ouch, Adam.” Clean-Shaven punched the boyfriend playfully on the arm.

Goatee winked at Adam. “My boy calls it like he sees it, and he sees a chunky monkey.”

“I’m well within my weight range.” She could feel her voice growing high-pitched. Damn nerves. These people were jerks.

“Of course you are, you look great,” the redhead told her. “These guys just don’t how to joke around without being completely mean.”

“We aren’t joking,” Adam said, giving his girlfriend a quick kiss on the top of her head.

Goatee pulled out his car keys. He turned his back on Grape, tired of their new toy.

“Whatever. Class is about to start. Are we skipping or staying?”

“Skipping,” the raven-haired girl peeked out to say.

Adam looked Grape over and made a face as if he’d smelled something terrible. “Yeah, I think I’m done for the day, too. I feel the need to hit the gym.”

She rubbed her hands over her stomach but it still felt flat like normal. What were they seeing that she wasn’t?

“The shirt looks nice on you,” Clean-Shaven said before climbing into the driver’s seat of the black Porsche.

“Like a muumuu on a water buffalo,” Goatee added and hopped into the driver’s seat of the yellow Porsche. The couple got into the back of his car and huddled close together.

“Mandy, you coming?” Goatee asked.

“No, I have a test,” Mandy, the redhead, said. “I’ll see you later.”

“Suit yourself.”

Grape waved stupidly at the drivers as the engines revved. You look like a goober, she told herself, but she could not stop waving.

“Move.” Mandy grabbed Grape by the arm and pulled her toward the sidewalk.

Grape tried to shake her arm free, but Mandy’s grip was surprisingly strong. “Let go of me.”

Mandy stared at her with an I-told-you-so look as the Porsches sped off, right through where Grape had been standing.

“Oh my God, were they going to run me over?”

“Not on purpose. I’m sure they just forgot you were there once they started their cars.”

“How?”

Mandy shook her head. She stared after the Porsches as they pulled into traffic and sped away. Finally, she turned back to Grape and offered her an apologetic smile. “Sorry about that.”

“Which part?”

“All of it, I guess.”

About the Author:I was born during a blizzard. I’m told it was pretty cool but I have no memory of that time. I grew up in two tiny towns in Virginia and spent most of my twenties moving around the US. I’ve lived in Virginia, Florida, Missouri, and Washington. I’ve settled down, for now, in Raleigh, North Carolina.

I’m a writer and improviser. I studied acting in college but spent more time rewriting lines than memorizing them. My first play, Fourth Wall, was produced my junior year. Since then, I’ve written several full length plays, one acts and screenplays. I started writing fiction in my late twenties. Now, I focus mainly on novels but still dabble in theater.

Fun facts about me: There are none. I’m sorry to disappoint you so soon. But, I do love to read, write, and run. My hubby is my favorite person on earth. Dogs are my second favorite. All dogs. I love orange juice, especially when it’s mixed with club soda. Carbonation is better than alcohol. Jaws is my favorite movie. Everything I’ve said so far is true.

Awards:

Puschcart Prize Nomination for “Grow Your Own Dad” – Published by Mixer Publishing
Semi-finalist Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference – “STUFF”
Honorable Mention The Ohio State Newark New Play Contest – “The Last Day”

Contacting Libby:
Email: libbyheilyauthor@gmail.com
Snail Mail:
PO Box 58251
Raleigh, NC 27616

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Behind the Scenes Info:
“Welcome to Sortilege Falls” is my second novel. My first, “Tough Girl” was about an eleven-year-old who is slowly starving to death and loses herself in an imaginary world to combat the misery of her life. I wanted to write something happy after that and WTSF is about as “happy” as my writing gets. The idea was to come up with a main character whose very name sounds like a smile, thus Grape Merriweather was born. Stories grow and writers hardly ever end up writing the book they intended. That is definitely true with WTSF. My “happy” story grew to encompass the themes of beauty worship, celebrity, as well as delving into the mysterious relationships between child stars and their parents. In the beginning of the novel, Grape is new at school and eager to impress. She was popular back home and has never had trouble making friends. She spends over an hour the night before trying on outfits and picking the perfect one for her first day. But she is ignored by students and teachers alike. Everyone is too caught up with the beyond gorgeous models to bother with one new student. We discover this weird world along with Grape and I tried to stay true to her voice. It was very important to me that Grape wasn’t perfect, that she partially fell under the Models’ spell as well.

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