Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Interview with Intisar Khanani for Thorn


by Intisar Khanani
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Release Date: March 24th 2020
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Retellings, Romance, Fairy Tales
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A princess with two futures. A destiny all her own

Between her cruel family and the contempt she faces at court, Princess Alyrra has always longed to escape the confines of her royal life. But when she’s betrothed to the powerful prince Kestrin, Alyrra embarks on a journey to his land with little hope for a better future.

When a mysterious and terrifying sorceress robs Alyrra of both her identity and her role as princess, Alyrra seizes the opportunity to start a new life for herself as a goose girl.

But Alyrra soon finds that Kestrin is not what she expected. The more Alyrra learns of this new kingdom, the pain and suffering its people endure, as well as the danger facing Kestrin from the sorceress herself, the more she knows she can’t remain the goose girl forever.

With the fate of the kingdom at stake, Alyrra is caught between two worlds and ultimately must decide who she is, and what she stands for.

Can you briefly describe THORN and its characters?

THORN is a retelling of the Grimm’s tale, “The Goose Girl.” It’s both dark and whimsical, packed with sorrow and hope. It’s a tale of betrayal, and injustice, and sorcery, and learning to be strong in who you are and fight for what you understand to be right. 

At the heart of the story is Princess Alyrra. She’s grown up a victim of abuse, her power and rank protecting her from very little. So, when she is sent off to marry a prince whose family dies with alarming frequency, she has little hope for a better future. Along the way, she’s betrayed by her companion, Valka, who steals her skin and takes her place… leaving Alyrra free to make her own decisions for the first time in her life. And she decides she would much rather live a different life than her own. She has an unexpected ally in a talking horse who witnessed the switch (that’s straight from the fairy tale!), and a much more dangerous enemy in the fae sorceress who has sworn to destroy Prince Kestrin and his family. 

Who would you say is your favourite character from the story and why?

I love Alyrra deeply, and she is by far the character I have wept with and laughed with the most. (I mean, she’s also the point of view character!). But my favorite character is actually a rather ornery, ill-mannered horse named Moonflower who only shows up in the second half of the book or so. Moonflower has her own history, and I love how her response is to bite at people, and glower, and only slowly trust them. I love that she is passionately protective as a horse even if she won’t quite admit it to your face. As ridiculous as this might sound, I intend to keep writing companion novels until I manage to give Moonflower a happy fate. ;)

How did the story occur to you? Did you find inspiration anywhere?

As I mentioned above, THORN is based on “The Goose Girl.” But much of the characters’ struggles with concepts of justice and compassion come from my own experiences growing up and watching nations lash out at each other over perceived wrongs… when a sense of history shows that both sides have been hurting each other for a very long time. How do you break out of that cycle? How do you achieve justice when everyone is wrong? Is it even possible? I still don’t know the answers to these questions, but I explore them and leave them open to the reader in THORN. 

If you could choose one song to describe your book, which one would it be?

Terrible confession: I don’t listen to a lot of music. I can’t while writing, and somehow the rest of my day is busy and filling and I … mostly end up hearing kid-appropriate songs, from albums like Blue Moo by Sandra Boynton. This question therefore takes me back to songs I heard a long time ago, or that have just snuck in an caught me despite my general obliviousness. In this case, I’m going to mention “Beautiful” by Carole King. The music itself isn’t quite where it’s at for me, it’s the lyrics, and they are so much Alyrra. 

If your book was going to be made into a movie, who would play your characters?

*cough cough* Look, I read books, okay? LOL. I do watch movies, but I’m actually really bad with faces. So, while I know I’ve loved most of what I’ve watched in the last year or so (Hidden Figures, Crazy Rich Asians, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, etc.) I’ve got nothing when it comes to actual actors…

I find visuals and sensory detail really challenging, so even when I write my first drafts, I rarely know what my characters look like. That’s something I build in afterward, mostly because my beta readers point out they have no idea what anyone looks like. Go figure. :P

What drink and place do you think will go with your book to have a perfect book date?

A cup of mint tea out on a deck or in a meadow or park sounds like just the thing to me!

Can you recommend your readers any other books in case they are left hungry for more once they finish THORN?

Although very different in tone, I love W.R. Gingell’s Two Monarchies sequence, that begins with Masque (hookline: Beauty met the Beast and there was . . . Bloody murder?) and Kate Stradling’s The Legendary Inge, which takes a seemingly throw-away moment from Beowulf, genderswaps the main character (yay girl power!), and builds a fabulous story from there. Definitely an original fairy tale, and one of the few reads I’ve enjoyed so much I flipped back to start over again the moment I finished.

What would you say is the most difficult part of writing a book?

Letting it go. Seriously. I find most parts of writing a book really challenging – from drafting to revision to line edits. But allowing myself to step back and decide I’ve done everything I can for that story? That’s so hard. I want to keep tinkering, I always know there’s more I can do, and I want to do it. I want to make it the best story that I can. Accepting that I’ve done the best I can in this moment, and that the story is as ready as it will be? That’s hard.

As a reader, what is the “one thing” that a mind-blowing story must have, in your opinion?

All the things. LOL! For me, if there isn’t strong character development, I tend to lose interest even with a fantastic plot. But I really think this is a matter of preference. 

What’s next for you?

I just turned in final edits (ouch! Letting gooooo!) on the first book in a companion duology to Thorn. If you pick up Thorn, you’ll notice a short story at the back of it titled The Bone Knife. It introduces my new heroine, Rae, who takes on a few of the strands left dangling from Thorn. Her book is titled The Theft of Sunlight and is slated to release sometime next year. Now I’ll be toggling back and forth between edits on the third book in my indie series, The Sunbolt Chronicles, and Rae’s second book. Never a dull moment!

Intisar Khanani grew up a nomad and world traveler. Born in Wisconsin, she has lived in five different states as well as in Jeddah on the coast of the Red Sea. She first remembers seeing snow on a wintry street in Zurich, Switzerland, and vaguely recollects having breakfast with the orangutans at the Singapore Zoo when she was five. She currently resides in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her husband and two young daughters. 

Until recently, Intisar wrote grants and developed projects to address community health with the Cincinnati Health Department, which was as close as she could get to saving the world. Now she focuses her time on her two passions: raising her family and writing fantasy. Intisar’s debut novel, Thorn, was picked up by HarperTeen and will be re-released in Winter 2020. In the meantime, she’s hard at work on the remaining books of The Sunbolt Chronicles.

On March 24th Thorn will be releasing from Hot Key (UK) and HarperTeen (US/CA)! To celebrate, the author is offering some amazing Thorn goodies to everyone who …
  • pre-orders/orders a copy of Thorn before March 31st at 23.59.
  • OR requests it from their library (library hold / suggested purchase) before March 31st at 23.59.
Here’s what’s up for grabs:

Physical goodies (US/UK):

  • A Thorn Bookmark
  • A set of Chibi Stickers featuring Thorn characters
  • A Signed Bookplate

PLUS Digital goodies (worldwide):

  • A PDF of Brambles – a Thorn prequel short story so you can jump into Alyrra’s world now!
  • A PDF of The (Annotated) Goose Girl – the original fairytale with annotations from yours truly in the margin
  • A coloring page of three Thorn-themed bookmarks
All you need to do to enter is send a proof of purchase (or screenshot of your library hold), your name and address to khananipreorder@gmail.com. T&Cs apply!

UK entrants: Hot Key Books rocks and can mail you physical goodies as well as the digital. Check it out here: http://hotkeybooks.com/thorn-pre-order/.

For more information, go to Intisar's website: http://booksbyintisar.com/thorn-pre-order/.

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Interview with Nora Shalaway Carpenter for The Edge of Anything

The Edge of Anything

by Nora Shalaway Carpenter
Publisher: Running Press Teen
Release Date: 24th March, 2020
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Fiction, Mental Health
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Len is a loner teen photographer haunted by a past that’s stagnated her work and left her terrified she’s losing her mind. Sage is a high school volleyball star desperate to find a way around her sudden medical disqualification. Both girls need college scholarships. After a chance encounter, the two develop an unlikely friendship that enables them to begin facing their inner demons.

But both Len and Sage are keeping secrets that, left hidden, could cost them everything, maybe even their lives.

Set in the North Carolina mountains, this dynamic #ownvoices novel explores grief, mental health, and the transformative power of friendship.

Can you briefly describe THE EDGE OF ANYTHING and its characters?

THE EDGE OF ANYTHING tells the dual narrative of Len, an outcast teen photographer who believes she's slowly losing her mind, and Sage, a popular volleyball star with a devastating secret, and the unexpected friendship that saves them both. 

Who would you say is your favourite character from the story and why?

This is really tough, but if I had to choose, I’d probably say Len. Because I went through a similar mental health ordeal, in order to write her authentically, I had to dive deeply into painful memories and experiences. I definitely cried at the coffee shop where I wrote the book! At the same time, the process of writing her was cathartic, and I’m so grateful for that. Len is incredibly special to me because she shows that a person can experience immense pain and grief, but come through it, hopeful when she once thought she could never hope again. 

How did the story occur to you? Did you find inspiration anywhere?

As I mentioned, Len’s story was inspired by my own experiences with grief and a devastating, trauma-induced mental health issue. I talk more about this in the book’s Author’s Note, but essentially, The Edge of Anything is the book I wish I’d had during that awful time in my life, a time when I doubted if things could ever get better. Unfortunately, there is so much stigma around mental health and a lot of stereotyping (in books as well as real life) of the people who suffer. I wanted to create a book that showed a character struggling authentically and that depicted the hidden internal battles a person goes through daily. Most importantly—I wanted to show that Len (like all real people struggling with mental health) is so much more than this condition that is terrorizing her brain. She is a regular person, worthy of love and respect and dignity.

Sage’s volleyball identity is inspired by my own teenage athlete identity (though to be clear, Sage is on a totally different level than I was!) Her illness was inspired, unfortunately, by the real-life cause of death of my friend’s teenage brother. 

Additionally, I really wanted to examine the transformative and life-saving power of friendship, and how much we all need such connections. The Edge of Anything arose from the combination of those themes. 

If you could choose one song to describe your book, which one would it be?

I’m gonna cheat a little and give one song for each of the main characters. Sage’s would be “The Best” by AWOLNation. Len’s would be “Don’t Look Down” by Ivan B.

What drink and place do you think will go with your book to have a perfect book date?

For coffee lovers: Chai latte at your favourite local coffee shop. 

If coffee’s not your thing, try an ice-cold lemonade while reading on a park bench or a blanket in the grass.

Can you recommend your readers any other books in case they are left hungry for more once they finish THE EDGE OF ANYTHING?

What would you say is the most difficult part of writing a book?

I usually feel like whatever part I’m working on at the moment is the hardest. [laughs] But really, I’d say the most difficult part is writing an entire first draft. Even if you have an outline, it’s still a bit of a murky process. Books evolve and change as you write, as you notice connections your unconscious has put into the text and tease those out into themes and metaphors. Sometimes you end up having to write chapters over and over. Sometimes you have to write the whole dang book over. But you can’t think about that in the moment of drafting. You have to keep going, even while knowing that what you’re writing isn’t “good” or “polished.” It’s simply you telling the story to yourself. You’ll make it great later, during the many rounds of revision. I tend to be a perfectionist, so letting myself have that freedom to just write poorly in the beginning can be really tough, even though it is essential. 

As a reader, what is the “one thing” that a mind-blowing story must have, in your opinion?

I LOVE this question. For me, it’s definitely fully-developed characters who feel so real I almost feel like they’re going to step out of the pages. They also have to have a deep, unfulfilled need that I want to see them fulfil, despite the many obstacles in their way. That keeps me turning pages. 

What’s next for you?

I’ve got another book coming out Oct 13, 2020 from Candlewick: RURAL VOICES: 15 AUTHORS CHALLENGE STEREOTYPES OF SMALL-TOWN AMERICA. It’s a mixed genre anthology and I’m the contributing editor. I’m also working on my next novel, another contemporary YA, this one set in rural West Virginia.

Nora Shalaway Carpenter holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Before she wrote books, she served as associate editor of Wonderful West Virginia magazine and has been a Certified Yoga Teacher since 2012. Originally from rural West Virginia, she currently lives in Asheville, North Carolina with her husband, three young children, and one not-so-young dog. Learn more at www.noracarpenterwrites.com or follow her on Instagram @noracarpenterwrites and Twitter @norawritesbooks.

Interview with Jessica Brody & Joanna Rendell for Between Burning Worlds

Between Burning Worlds (System Divine #2)

Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: 24th March, 2020
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Retellings, Science Fiction, Dystopia
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Les Misérables meets The Lunar Chronicles in the out-of-this-world sequel to Sky Without Stars that’s an “explosion of emotion, intrigue, romance, and revolution” (Stephanie Garber, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Caraval series).

A thief.
An officer.
A guardian.
All from different backgrounds, but sharing one same destiny…

The planet Laterre is in turmoil. A new militant revolutionary group has emerged calling themselves “The Red Scar” and claiming responsibility for a spate of recent bombings. The infamous rebels known as the Vangarde believe that in order to bring about a peaceful revolution, their charismatic leader, Citizen Rousseau must be freed from prison right away. Otherwise the bloodshed will only escalate.

Soon Marcellus, Chatine, and Alouette all find themselves pulled into battle with extreme consequences.

Marcellus is determined to uncover his corrupt grandfather’s plan to seize Laterre—even if that means joining the Vangarde.

Aloutte, trying to unearth the truth about her past, becomes a captive of Marcellus’s grandfather, the general.

Chatine, who is serving time on Bastille, hopes to escape the brutal and horrifying reality of the prison moon.

But the failed attempt to break Citizen Rousseau out of prison launches Aloutte, Chatine, and Marecellus into the middle of a dangerous war for control of Laterre. And in the midst of it all is the legend of a secret and dangerous weapon that could mean complete and absolute power to any that wields it.

Can you briefly describe THE SYSTEM DIVINE series, its characters and what’s going on in BETWEEN BURNING WORLDS?

The SYSTEM DIVINE series is a reimagining of Victor Hugo’s LES MISERABLES and is set on a very distant and very divided planet called Laterre, where the wealthy live in luxury and the poor live in the rusting and leaking remains of 500-year old spaceships. But in SKY WITHOUT STARS (Book 1 in the series) the rumblings of revolution have begun. Three unlikely heroes from three very different worlds—Chatine, a street-savvy thief; Alouette, a guardian of secret library; and Marcellus, an officer and grandson of the most powerful man on Laterre—are thrown together in a fight against the oppressive and sometimes murderous powers on their planet. 

In BETWEEN BURNING WORLDS (Book 2), their world is teetering on the brink of war and the Regime is brutally quashing any unrest or rebellious activity. A deadly new weapon is rumoured to be emerging, too. Chatine, Marcellus, and Alouette must face challenges, epic journeys, and deep personal struggles like they’ve never faced before, in order to save themselves, Laterre, and its people. Luckily, the trio will meet some new compadres, friends, and fellow rebels along the way—new characters, who we think and hope you’re going to love! Kirkus Reviews, who got a sneak peak of BETWEEN BURNING WORLDS, described the sequel as a “compelling, surprising, and entertaining saga that’s literally out of this world!”

Who would you say is your favourite character from the story and why?

Ooh, this is always such a hard question for us. It’s like trying to decide who is your favorite child! But in BETWEEN BURNING WORLDS, we have introduced a number of fabulous new characters to the cast. We both particularly love Cerise Chevalier. We can’t give too much away about her, except she’s one of the planet’s elite who lives in luxury in Laterre’s bio-controlled dome. But she’s going to surprise you with her chutzpah, her smarts, and her sparkly berets!

If you could choose one song to describe this book, which one would it be?

We discussed this at great lengths and decided we would pick “The Revolution will Not be Televised” by Gil Scott Heron. We can’t exactly say why, because it would be a big spoiler for BETWEEN BURNING WORLDS. All we will say is the revolution won’t be televised on the TéléSkin devices implanted in the arm of every member of the Third Estate (95% of the population.) 

What drink and place do you think will go with your book to have a perfect book date?

Jo is a Brit so she does love her tea. She particularly loves to read at places where they serve a proper tea with a teapot, cup, and saucer – and if there is a scone with jam thrown in, she’s in heaven!

Jess loves tea too but she’s particularly fond of reading on her deck with a glass of wine. 

Can you recommend your readers any other books in case they are left hungry for more once they finish BETWEEN BURNING WORLDS?

Well, we always have to give a shout out to Victor Hugo’s LES MISERABLES! It’s a monster of a book, we know, but it is just such a fabulous story with incredible characters. It’s so fun to live in the world of book for such a long time, too!

What would you say is the most difficult part of writing a book?

Just the concept of writing a sequel (which is also the middle of the trilogy) is extremely challenging—mostly because in a sequel you have to keep the story exciting and interesting after book 1, but you’re also setting up for book 3. Juggling these things was quite the challenge, to say the least! There were many rewrites and many plot lines and scenes that eventually would get cut and completely reworked. We persevered, though, and we’re now SO happy with the final book – even if it did nearly spin us in to outer space and back again!

What’s next for you?

Book 3 (title to be announced!). Yup, we’re now deep into writing the third and final part of the SYSTEM DIVINE series. Touch wood, but already it’s feeling a lot less challenging than Book 2 because we really have a clear idea of where we want this series to end! I’m sure there will be bumps along the road though. But we have a wonderful friendship and working process, so even with the bumps, it’s always so much fun!

Jessica Brody

Jessica Brody knew from a young age that she wanted to be a writer. She started self “publishing” her own books when she was seven years old, binding the pages together with cardboard, wallpaper samples, and electrical tape.

After graduating from Smith College in 2001 where she double majored in Economics and French and minored in Japanese, Jessica later went on to work for MGM Studios as a Manager of Acquisitions and Business Development. In May of 2005, Jessica quit her job to follow her dream of becoming a published author.

Since then, Jessica has sold over twelve novels for teens, tweens, and adults including 52 Reasons to Hate My Father, The Karma Club, My Life Undecided, and the three books in the Unremembered trilogy, the first of which is currently in development as a major motion picture by the producers of The Vampire Academy, Zero Dark Thirty, Life of Pi, and Slumdog Millionaire. In 2016, she will release two new contemporary novels, A Week of Mondays (August) and Boys of Summer (April), and in 2017, her debut middle grade novel entitled, Addie Bell’s Shortcut to Growing Up, will hit bookstore shelves.

Jessica also writes books for the Descendants: “School of Secrets” series, based on the hit Disney Channel Original movie, Descendants!

Jessica’s books are published and translated in over twenty foreign countries. She currently splits her time between California and Colorado.

Joanne Rendell

Joanne Rendell is the author of four novels and holds a PhD in English Literature. She teaches fiction writing to teens and kids, as well as online writing classes at Udemy.com and Lynda.com. Joanne is a board member for the youth Shakespeare company, New Genesis Productions. With her husband and son, she divides her time between New York City and New Paltz, New York.