Interview with KayLynn Flanders, Debut YA Author of SHIELDED
Jul 23rd, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

Buying Links

About Shielded from Goodreads:

For fans of Sorcery of Thorns and Furyborn comes a thrilling new fantasy about a kingdom ravaged by war, and the princess who might be the key to saving not only those closest to her, but the kingdom itself, if she reveals the very secret that could destroy her.

The kingdom of Hálendi is in trouble. It’s losing the war at its borders, and rumors of a new, deadlier threat on the horizon have surfaced. Princess Jennesara knows her skills on the battlefield would make her an asset and wants to help, but her father has other plans.

As the second-born heir to the throne, Jenna lacks the firstborn’s–her brother’s–magical abilities, so the king promises her hand in marriage to the prince of neighboring Turia in exchange for resources Hálendi needs. Jenna must leave behind everything she has ever known if she is to give her people a chance at peace.

Only, on the journey to reach her betrothed and new home, the royal caravan is ambushed, and Jenna realizes the rumors were wrong–the new threat is worse than anyone imagined. Now Jenna must decide if revealing a dangerous secret is worth the cost before it’s too late–for her and for her entire kingdom.


Share with readers a novel secret—something that readers will never know just from picking up the book.

Awesome question! Okay, here are some fun behind-the-scene details for Shielded:

  • I chose Turia’s kingdom colors to be brown and gold because those are the school colors of my husband’s high school. 
  • Jenna’s eye color is based off my daughter’s.
  • Cavolo, a curse used in Turia, means cabbage in Italian.

What drew you to writing a fantasy novel?

I’ve always loved fantasy novels. They were the books that sucked me in when I was a teenager. And while fantasy novels are pretty complicated with worldbuilding and magic systems, etc., it was a lot of fun to put Jenna in some fantastical situations and see what happened next.

What have you enjoyed the most about the publishing process?

The people! My agent is extraordinary, my editor is a complete champion of my book and me, authors and bloggers have reached out and given guidance and support, and it’s all been amazing. Book people are the best.

Bonus round: (Feel free to explain if you would like)

Dancing, walking, sailing, running, ice-skating, snowboarding?

Ice skating! I took lessons when I was little, and can still skate backwards and do a *very* little jump.

Soups: chicken noodle, egg drop, French onion, lentil, split pea, tortilla, other?

Tortilla! I love Latin food (even if it’s not authentic). I used to speak Spanish fluently, but it’s been a lot of years since I spoke the language daily. 

Concert, movie, musical, play?

I’ve been social distancing since Feburary—can I choose all of the above? 

Music: Classical, hard rock, soft rock, hip hop, jazz, country, other?

I listen to a wide variety of music, but my favorites are usually alternative or soft rock—my favorite band is Keane. Since becoming a parent, I mostly listen to Disney soundtracks with my kids. 

About KayLynn Flanders

KayLynn Flanders has a degree in English Language and editing, and has been a freelance editor and book designer for over twelve years. Her debut novel, a YA fantasy, will be published by Delacorte Press (Penguin Random House) July 21, 2020. KayLynn and her family live in Utah between some mountains and a lake, and she is directionally challenged without them. She loves reading, writing, traveling, and volleyball, and thinks there’s
nothing better than a spur-of-the-moment road trip.

Connect with KayLynn on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook

Interview With Claire Swinarski, Debut Middle Grade Author of WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
Jul 17th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

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About WHAT HAPPENS NEXT from Goodreads:

In this heartfelt and accessible middle grade novel perfect for fans of The Thing About Jellyfish, a young girl throws herself into solving a local mystery to keep from missing her older sister, who has been sent to an eating disorder treatment facility.

Astronomy-obsessed Abby McCourt should be thrilled about the solar eclipse her small town of Moose Junction is about to witness, but she’s not. After her older sister Blair was sent away for an eating disorder, Abby has been in a funk.

Desperate to dull the pain her sister’s absence has left, she teams up with a visiting astronomer to help track down his long-lost telescope. Though this is supposed to take Abby’s mind off the distance between her and Blair, what she finds may bring her closer to her sister than she ever thought possible.

Q &A:

1. Was there anything that surprised you while writing this novel? If so, what? 

Something that surprised me was how easily the characters voices were able to come to me. I’ve written plenty of stories, but these characters felt so real to me that this was the easiest writing project I’ve ever done! 

2. Any novel secrets? Something that readers wouldn’t know just from reading your book like special inspirations, places or people you interwove into the text?  

The town of Moose Junction is based heavily off of Boulder Junction, a northwoods resort town that my family has a home in. Many of the small places mentioned, like the Cranberry Patch Gift Shop and the Ice Shanty, are real! Sadly, I’ve never actually been to the library–ha!

3. What do you love about your cover and how does it connect to your story? 

Pascal Campion is the illustrator who made the cover, and I’m absolutely obsessed with it. He drew the main character, Abby, looking at the stars, which makes sense–she’s a total astronomy nerd and there’s a solar eclipse happening during the story. Abby can frequently be found with her telescope, so I love that the cover captures her in her natural habitat, and the feel of a summer night just buzzes through the illustration! I can almost smell the s’mores just looking at it. 

Bonus round: What do you prefer?

Coffee, Tea, or Hot Chocolate?

Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall

Fries or onion rings? Neither–cheese curds! I’m a Wisconsin gal through and through! 🙂 

Movie at a theater or watch a movie at home?

Ice cream: Chocolate, Strawberry or Vanilla?

About Claire Swinarski:

The short version: Claire Swinarski is the author of multiple books, including What Happens Next (coming in 2020 from HarperCollins) and Girl, Arise: A Catholic Feminist’s Invitation to Live Boldly, Love Your Faith, and Change the World. She’s also the founder of the Catholic Feminist Podcast, a top-ranked spirituality podcast with half a million downloads that discusses the intersection between faith and women’s issues. She has degrees in journalism and political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her writing has been featured in The Washington Post, Seventeen, Milwaukee Magazine, and many other publications. She lives just outside of Milwaukee, WI with her husband and two kids.

Find Claire: Website | Goodreads | Twitter | Instagram

Interview with Ellen Birkett Morris Author of LOST GIRLS: Short Stories
Jul 9th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

Buying Links:

B & N | Carmichael’s Bookstore |Amazon

About Lost Girls: Short Stories, From Goodreads:

“A dazzling collection of stories that showcases Morris’ impressive ability to hide devastating truths within seemingly small moments.” —Jenny Offill

Lost Girls explores the experiences of women and girls as they grieve, find love, face uncertainty, take a stand, find their future, and say goodbye to the past. A young woman creates a ritual to celebrate the life of a kidnapped girl, an unmarried woman wanders into a breast feeder’s support group and stays, a grieving mother finds solace in an unlikely place, a young girl discovers more than she bargained for when she spies on her neighbors. Though they may seem lost, each finds their center as they confront the challenges and expectations of womanhood.


“The stories in Ellen Birkett Morris’s collection, Lost Girls, are memorable for the way they see the lasting truths that reside within the familiar. These stories are full of imaginative leaps that capture the wildness that lies beneath our seemingly ordinary lives. Morris is a writer of extraordinary talent. With elegance and precision, she can turn a story into something luminous and unforgettable.” —Lee Martin, author of Pulitzer Prize Finalist The Bright Forever

“Ellen Birkett Morris is a skillful literary pointillist. In Lost Girls, her debut collection, each spare sentence is as considered as a poem; step back a little way, and you behold a world.” —David Payne, author of Barefoot to Avalon

“This collection of stunning and original stories kept me turning the pages, eager to meet the daughter who eats the sins of others, the 30-year-old virgin who rents a breast pump, the bereft mother drumming away her grief. Ellen Birkett Morris’s Lost Girls draws us so close that before long, we are inhaling the same air, making the same unexpected discoveries, and deeply longing for each of these girls and women to find their private rainbows.” —Masha Hamilton, author of 31 Hours and The Camel Bookmobile


1. Explain why you wanted to write this collection. 

I was working on another collection about a male photographer traveling through the south that was getting interest from publishers, but no bites. I started wondering why I kept writing about this guy. 

I realized then that I had written and published a lot of stories about women. Quirky stories about women finding their way in the world and trying to be seen. The voices of those women wouldn’t leave me alone. The young woman creates a ritual to celebrate the life of a kidnapped girl, an unmarried woman wanders into a breast feeder’s support group and stays, a grieving mother finds solace in an unlikely place, and a young girl discovers more than she bargained for when she spies on her neighbors. 

These women were flawed and wonderful, just like the women in my life. I couldn’t wait to put the stories together and see if they worked as a collection. The stories dealt with struggles but also finding your way, surviving, thriving. Lost Girls was born. 

2. Share a story secret, something readers wouldn’t know about this book just from picking it up. It could be a name you gave to a character, research you did, setting.

There are so many story secrets. The title story “Lost Girls” was inspired by a kidnapping in my community and a desire to honor the memories of girls who have gone missing. 

Inheritance was sparked by my frustration with the politics of the day and the way people without resources are exploited. 

As far as character names go, I often use the names of friends and family for my characters, and it doesn’t mean there is any real connection between them and the way that character behaves. 

Bonus round: What do you prefer?

Brisket, matzoh ball soup, potato kugel, gefilte fish, blintzes, bagels (with or without lox, cream cheese), or other?  Nothing like lox and bagels with cream cheese and tomatoes to get my day started just right. 

Desert, rainforest, beach, marsh, urban park, forest, other?  The forest because it is lush, quiet and full of secrets.

Movies, musical, play, ballet? Movies. I love sitting in the dark watching something moving on the screen. I love the collective nature of it. How alone/together we are. 

Laundry, dishes, dusting, vacuuming? I love to cook, so I’ve grown used to dishes. I think back to when I was a kid and pretended it’s fun to play in the water. 

About Ellen Birkett Morris:

A native of Louisville, Ellen Birkett Morris is the author of LOST GIRLS (June 26, 2020), a short story collection, and SURRENDER, a poetry chapbook. She holds a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction from Queens University – Charlotte. Her short stories have appeared in Antioch ReviewShenandoahSouth Carolina Review, Upstreet, and elsewhere.  

Connect with Ellen:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest | LinkedIn | Goodreads

Interview with Anna Solomon, Author of THE BOOK OF V.
Jun 29th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

Buying Links on Anna Solomon’s Website


Anna Solomon’s kaleidoscopic novel intertwines the lives of a Brooklyn mother in 2016, a senator’s wife in 1970s Washington, D.C., and the Bible’s Queen Esther, whose stories of sex, power and desire overlap and ultimately converge—showing how women’s roles have and have not changed over thousands of years.

Lily is a mother and a daughter. And a second wife. And a writer, maybe? Or she was going to be, before she had children. Now, in her rented Brooklyn apartment, she’s grappling with her sexual and intellectual desires while also trying to manage her roles as a mother and a wife.

Vivian Barr seems to be the perfect political wife, dedicated to helping her charismatic and ambitious husband find success in Watergate-era Washington D.C. But one night he demands a humiliating favor, and her refusal to obey changes the course of her life—along with the lives of others.

Esther is a fiercely independent young woman in ancient Persia, where she and her uncle’s tribe live a tenuous existence outside the palace walls. When an innocent mistake results in devastating consequences for her people, she is offered up as a sacrifice to please the king, in the hopes that she will save them all.

Following in the tradition of The Hours and The Red TentThe Book of V. is a bold and contemporary investigation into the enduring expectations and restraints placed on women’s lives.

Q & A:

1. What made you decide to write inspired by The Book of Esther?

I’ve been fascinated by Queen Vashti since I was a girl. She’s banished early on in the The Book of Esther and never mentioned again, and in traditional tellings of the story, during the Jewish holiday of Purim, she’s depicted as being very bad. But it was never clear to me how she was bad. And then as I grew up I became more interested in the question of what bad even means, and whether these categories we often apply to female characters—bad, good; wanton, virtuous; aggressive, meek—reflect actual women, or just our ideas of women. I decided to explore this by playing around with the original Esther story. I wanted to rewrite it, and also to bring it into the heyday of the second wave women’s movement in the 1970s, and then also into the present. So I wound up with these three different timelines, and I made them converge.

2. Please share any novel secrets—something behind-the-scenes that readers won’t know just from picking up the book.

There’s this embroidery sampler that plays kind of a big role in the book. It says, “A Well-Kept House is a Sign of an Ill-Spent Life” and one of my characters, Lily, grew up with it hanging on the back of her bathroom door. Her mother hung it there and the message of it kind of hangs over Lily, who has become, in part, a homemaker. And late in the book the sampler also leads to a plot revelation, which I won’t share here. But I will share this: My mother hung the same sampler on the back of our bathroom door, and like Lily, I must have read it thousands of times. I didn’t know how much I had to say about it, though, until I started writing this novel. 

Bonus round: What do you prefer?

Fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy? Dairy. I mean, I like all these things, but I especially love cheese, ice cream, butter, and whipped cream.

Dancing, walking, ice-skating, skiing, running? Dancing. I don’t dance enough but when I do it makes me so happy.

Movies, musicals, plays, books? Books. All of these things are excellent but there is nothing like entering the private world of a book and losing myself in an alternate reality. 

About Anna:

Anna Solomon is the author of three novels—The Book of V., Leaving Lucy Pear, and The Little Bride—and a two-time winner of the Pushcart Prize. Her short fiction, essays, and reviews have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Ploughshares, One Story, The Boston Globe, Tablet, and elsewhere. Anna is the recipient of awards from MacDowell, Yaddo, Bread Loaf, the Rhode Island State Council for the Arts, and The Missouri Review, among others, and her short story “The Lobster Mafia Story” was chosen as Boston’s One City One Story read. Anna is co-editor with Eleanor Henderson of Labor Day: True Birth Stories by Today’s Best Women Writers. Previously, she worked as an award-winning journalist for National Public Radio’s Living on Earth.

Anna is a graduate of Brown University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and teaches writing at Barnard College, Warren Wilson’s MFA Program in Creative Writing, and the 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center. 

Anna was born and raised in Gloucester, Massachusetts and lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and two children.

Find Anna on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and her website

An Interview With Rocky Callen, Debut YA Author of A BREATH TOO LATE
Jun 26th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

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About A BREATH TOO LATE from Goodreads:

For fans of Girl in Pieces, All the Bright Places, and Girl, Interrupted comes a haunting and breathtaking YA contemporary debut novel that packs a powerful message: hope can be found in the darkness.

Seventeen-year-old Ellie had no hope left. Yet the day after she dies by suicide, she finds herself in the midst of an out-of-body experience. She is a spectator, swaying between past and present, retracing the events that unfolded prior to her death.

But there are gaps in her memory, fractured pieces Ellie is desperate to re-assemble. There’s her mother, a songbird who wanted to break free from her oppressive cage. The boy made of brushstrokes and goofy smiles who brought color into a gray world. Her brooding father, with his sad puppy eyes and clenched fists. Told in epistolary-like style, this deeply moving novel sensitively examines the beautiful and terrible moments that make up a life and the possibilities that live in even the darkest of places. Perfect for fans of the critically-acclaimed SpeakI’ll Give You the Sun, and If I Stay.

Q &A:

1. Share with readers a novel secret—something that readers will never know just from picking up the book. It could be a place you included in the novel, a name you gave to a character inspired by another person, special research you did.

Answer: What a wonderful question! There are lots of little subtle things that are in the book that have significance. Let’s focus on the names! Ellie’s mother’s name (Regina) means Queen. We see Regina’s power get stolen, bit by bit, from her abusive husband. We also see her, bit by bit, take it back. The idea of a throne and crown lost and reclaimed. I think it is important that we always understand that our lives are choices made minute by minute and so many of them are decisions to give our power away or take it back.  Ellie’s name means Light. I gave her a name with that meaning for many reasons. She was a light to her mother. A light to her best friend. A light in her own life. A light in the dark. And ultimately, like the candlelight at a vigil, a person lost who will be remembered. We are all bits of light in this world and I wanted Ellie’s life to be a reminder that even in the darkness, even when we can’t see it, there is hope. 

2. You wrote this book in a unique way. Can you share what inspired you to write it in an epistolary-like style?

Answer: The structure chose me and this story. I really didn’t have much say in it. From the very first page, it tumbled out as letters. Letters to life, to death, to Ellie’s mother and father and best friend, her depression, to so many things/people in her life. I wanted there to be an intimacy with the reader by using “you” and I wanted the reader to understand on a subconscious level that they could be anyone in Ellie’s story–the friend, the bully, the light, the pain–just like they can be anyone in their own. I also feel like last letters embrace all of the words we never get to say. These are Ellie’s final words and even though no one will ever hear them, they matter to us and to her. 

3. Suicide is a tough topic to write about. What message do you want readers to take away?

Answer: Books that grapple with this cannot ever be everything an author wants it to be, but I hope A BREATH TOO LATE is this:a reminder that even on the hardest, most devastating days, there is a life full of possibility worth fighting for. 

Bonus round: What do you prefer?

Type of music: Classical, R&B, hip hop, soft rock, hard rock, punk, jazz, musicals ? ALL of it! Just depends on my mood. 
Banana, orange, kiwi, pomegranate, apple, pineapple, cantaloupe? Toss up between bananas and oranges 🙂
Walking, jogging, ice-skating, sledding, dancing? Walking (it is very meditative to me) and DANCING. I dance every day. In PJs. When no one is looking. 
Potato chips, tortilla chips, popcorn, rice cakes, bean chips? I don’t really eat snack-y things but tortilla chips would be the winner (but only with salsa:).  

A Breath Too Late BOOK CHAT with the Rocky: https://youtu.be/eKzx2OS8oHU

About Rocky Callen:

Rocky Callen, the daughter of an Ecuadorian immigrant, has long lived a life of service ever since she was a 13-year-old advocating for the undocumented immigrants in her community. She interned at NASA at 12 years old, started lobbying congress at 13, and wrote and produced student radio stories at NPR at 14. She was a behavioral therapist for over ten years. She received an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives outside of Washington, DC with her husband, daughter, and baby boy. Rocky founded the Bleed Ink Foundation, a creative hub and resource center for writers, and the HoldOn2Hope Project, which unites creatives in suicide prevention and mental health awareness. A Breath Too Late is her debut novel. Follow her on Twitter and on Instagram or visit her website.

Interview With Barbara Baer, Author of THE ICE PALACE WALTZ
Jun 21st, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

About THE ICE PALACE WALTZ from Goodreads:

In The Ice Palace Waltz, two Jewish immigrant families—the rough and ready Western pioneers and the smooth, “our crowd” New Yorkers—come together in a riveting family saga amid the financial and social tumult of early twentieth century America. Baer’s moving multigenerational novel traces the American Jewish experience and the enduring power of family and love.

1. Why did you want to write a novel about immigrants?

Unless you’re a Native American, everyone is an immigrant. My Jewish family’s story has, I believe, the added interest because of where my paternal half settled, in the hardscrabble, dangerous mining community of Leadville CO where silver promised fortunes…gave to some like the Guggenheims and original May Company. Though my family didn’t get rich, somehow my paternal great grandfather who had a grocery and dry goods store m1. Why did you want to write a novel about immigrants? Unless you’re a Native American, everyone is an immigrant. My anaged to send two sons to medical school and a daughter to get a teaching credential, quite amazing for that time–pre 1900–and that place.

2. Do you have any novel secrets you can share? Something readers would never know just from picking up the book?

I did a lot of research into social and economic history between 1880 and 1930 but “The Ice Palace Waltz” had a ‘plot’ that I didn’t have to invent: family history. I didn’t know 3 of my 4 grandparents so had to invent them as characters from hints my parents gave. I’ve been twice to Leadville and hoped to go this June to present my novel at the shul where my grandparents married, but covid canceled that. I drew on their lives, even incorporated some of their writing–from my paternal grandmother’s wedding book and her entry when her husband died and the poem at the end of the novel. I only included a few stanzas from my mother’s ditty about escaping the German destroyer just outside the port in Columbia but I’d found the whole epic poem, written for fun on the moment when the freighter she was on escaped the German warship.

Bonus round: What do you prefer?

Brisket, matzoh ball soup, potato kugel, gefilte fish, blintzes, bagels (with or without lox, cream cheese), or other?

My far ahead favorite bagels with lox and cream cheese, can eat every day while kugels and briskets are for special nights. In Santa Rosa, CA, near where I live, a new Jewish deli/restaurant was just opening when virus happened. Grossman’s. Bagels are said to be out of this world and I can’t wait to try.

Desert, rainforest, beach, marsh, urban park, forest, other? I adore the beach and the forest.

We live in redwoods, and especially on the CA northcoast, Mendocino County where we have property with redwoods and a trailer, the forest is generous with mushrooms and fragrant and beautiful..

Movies, musical, play, ballet?

I’m an inveterate dance lover, ballet first of all (novel “The Ballet Lover” I wrote after witnessing a drama on stage between Nureyev and Makarova) and then Indian dance (“The Last Devadasi”, also a novel, came from the experience of studying bharatanatyam in India.)

Laundry, dishes, dusting, vacuuming?

The only household chore I truly hate is vacuuming. I hardly dust but don’t hate it, laundry is bad if you forget to check pockets and get kleenex everywhere. Dishes, alas, have to be done. 

About Barbara L. Baer:

Barbara grew up in California, got her BA and MA at Stanford University before going to South India to teach, study dance, and have experiences unlike anything in her American life. She taught in Madras (now Chennai) and Tashkent, Uzbekistan, then part of the USSR, which gave her the inspiration and voice for her novella, Grisha the Scrivener. After a decade of encounters and adventures, she returned to the US, taught at Dennison University in Granville, Ohio, worked for newspapers, and wrote fiction and travel pieces.

In India, she’d studied and fallen in love with the culture and classical forms of dance, but in America, her passion for ballet returned. She honed her skills reviewing classical and contemporary dance for newspapers and periodicals in America and France. Back in America, she also wrote political pieces and won a national journalism prize for her reporting on the United Farm Workers. Barbara’s fiction and non-fiction has often been reprinted in anthologies and she has spoken on national and regional public radio and on Voice of America about books as diverse as the life of a dissident Russian to a Soviet Jewish pomegranate botanist who led her to her own amateur horticulturalism. She helped create book festivals and started a small press to publish women writers, as well as one man.

Credits include fiction in RedbookNew American ReviewConfrontationNew Letters, 34th Paralleland other publications; non-fiction in Orion MagazineThe NationThe ProgressiveNarrativeSaisons de la DanseThe Massachusetts ReviewDance MagazinePersimmon Tree and more. Her work appears in collections from To Eat with Grace100 years of Writing from The Nation, Traveler’s TalesWreckage of ReasonAmerica’s Working Women. Her novella, Grisha the Scrivener, was published in 2011.

Barbara has lived many years in Sonoma County, California, where she writes, edits and teaches through the county jail program, tends a garden and an orchard of pomegranates and olives, and is active in environmental and political causes. She lives with her husband, Michael Morey, also a writer and bricoleur, jack of all trades, who keeps things going.

Find Barbara: Website | Facebook

Interview With Niki Lenz, Middle Grade Author of THE STEPMOM SHAKE-UP
Jun 16th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

Buying links

From Goodreads:

After Grace’s mom died, she and her dad grew extra close. They have special nicknames and are always busy with new projects-like building a puppy condo for their dog, Potus- and they love learning random facts about the US presidents. Grace thinks her little family of two is perfect.

Then some committee members at church suggest it’s time for Dad to start dating again. And Dad agrees! Grace knows that adding a new member to the team will end in disaster.

No problem! She and her best friend have a plan: Operation Stepmoom Shake-Up! But what if a little shake-up is exactly what Grace’s family needs?

Reverse PARENT TRAP-like antics offer a hilarious and heartwarming look at what it means to be a family.

Q & A:

  • Was there anything that surprised you while writing this novel? If so, what?

THE STEPMOM SHAKE-UP went through a much bigger transformation than my debut novel, BERNICE BUTTMAN, MODEL CITIZEN. I did a huge round of edits with my agent, then another before acquisitions, and then a big round of edits with my editor. At this point, I thought the manuscript had to be close to its final form. Haha. How wrong I was. The next round of edits involved a whole new outline. I cried every time I opened that thing. It involved several brand-new scenes, and one morning, in a moment of desperation, I grabbed my eleven-year-old daughter by the shoulders and with wild eyes asked her “How would you get two grown-ups to fall in love?” She replied, “I’d give them one milkshake with two straws.” I rushed off to write the scene and later was surprised and delighted that the title changed to THE STEPMOM SHAKE UP, and the cover was also inspired by that scene! I feel like my daughter should get her name on the book.

  • Any novel secrets? Something that readers wouldn’t know just from reading your book like special inspirations, places or people you interwove into the text? 

I think the thing readers wouldn’t know about the book just from the flap copy is that it is chocked full of presidential trivia, particularly stuff about the coolest president we have ever had: Teddy Roosevelt. When I first started writing this book, I knew that Grace and her Dad would have a shared love of presidential history. What I didn’t know is that Teddy Roosevelt and his daughter Alice added a stepmother to their duo after Alice’s mother died just like the family in my story! It was one of those very happy accidents that can only happen when the universe is on an author’s side.

  • Writing about a step-mom—step-parents—can be a huge challenge. What was your motivation for writing about this topic?

I am a teacher, and so I know that my students come from all kinds of different family structures. I didn’t feel like I’d seen very many books with blended families. And also, I have been obsessed with The Parent Trap since I was a kid. I always loved the idea of the kids getting involved in the parent’s dating life. I just never liked the part about the parents separating and lying about the twins. So, I thought to myself, what if I wrote something like the Parent Trap but without the creepy twin aspect??? And a story was born.

Bonus round:

Fries, onion rings, potato chips, pretzels, popcorn? Mmmm… Fries, with campfire sauce.

Ideal vacation: Beach, major city touring museums and landmarks, national park, skiing, staying at home? Beach all the way. The more remote and quiet the better.

What do you prefer to read in your spare time? Fiction, memoir, romance, young adult, middle grade, fantasy, sci-fi, biography, historical fiction? I read a lot of middle grade and young adult, and when I do read books for adults, they have to be happy reads. I can’t handle books that make me worried or scared at this point in my life. 

Rock ’n roll, classical, soft-rock, jazz, a cappella, punk, R&B, country, hip-hop, music theater? Oldies music is my jam. We listen to The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Supremes and Johnny Cash at my house.

About Niki:

Niki Lenz lives in Kansas City, Missouri, with her husband and children. She studied elementary education at Southwest Baptist University and taught kindergarten for six years. She enjoys reading, travel, glamping, polka dots, red lipstick, and oldies music. She is the author of BERNICE BUTTMAN, MODEL CITIZEN and THE STEPMOM SHAKE-UP. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or visit her website: nikilenz.com.

Interview With Lisa Braxton, Author of THE TALKING DRUM
Jun 9th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

About The Talking Drum from Goodreads:

Displacement/gentrification has been happening for generations, yet few novels have been written with the themes of gentrification, which makes this book unusual.

It is 1971. The fictional city of Bellport, Massachusetts, is in decline with an urban redevelopment project on the horizon expected to transform this dying factory town into a thriving economic center. This planned transformation has a profound effect on the residents who live in Bellport as their own personal transformations take place.

Sydney Stallworth steps away from her fellowship and law studies at an elite university to support husband Malachi’s dream of opening a business in the heart of the black community of his hometown, Bellport.

For Omar Bassari, an immigrant from Senegal, Bellport is where he will establish his drumming career and the launching pad from which he will spread African culture across the world, while trying to hold onto his marriage.

Della Tolliver has built a fragile sanctuary in Bellport for herself, boyfriend Kwamé Rodriguez, and daughter Jasmine, a troubled child prone to nightmares and outbursts.

Tensions rise as the demolition date moves closer, plans for gentrification are laid out, and the pace of suspicious fires picks up. The residents find themselves at odds with a political system manipulating their lives and question the future of their relationships.

The Talking Drum explores intra-racial, class, and cross-cultural tensions, along with the meaning of community and belonging.

The novel delves into the profound impact gentrification has on people in many neighborhoods, and the way in which being uprooted affects the fabric of their families, friendships, and emotional well-being. The Talking Drum not only explores the immigrant experience, but how the immigrant/African American neighborhood interface leads to friction and tension, a theme also not explored much in current literature involving immigrants. 

The book is a springboard to an important discussion on race and class differences, the treatment of immigrants, as well as the government’s relationship to society. 

Buying Links: IndieBound | Amazon | B & N | Book Depository


Question: Was there anything that surprised you while writing this novel? If so, what?

When I would read through passages of the novel, I would lose myself in the story and start laughing out loud or getting teary-eyed with emotion because I was enjoying it and forgetting momentarily that I was the writer.

Question: Any novel secrets? Something that readers wouldn’t know just from reading your book like special inspirations, places or people you interwove into the text? 

I’ve hidden a few secrets in The Talking Drum that close family members and friends will probably be able to identify. The character, Percy, a Vietnam veteran, owns a German shepherd named Bridgette. Percy is never seen without his dog and the two are regulars in the community. Coincidentally, or not so coincidentally, growing up we had a German shepherd in my household named Bridget. She was very protective of the entire family and my sister and I enjoyed years of her affection and willingness to play fetch and dance with us.

Also in the book is an upscale art gallery named Deborah’s. Deborah happens to be my best buddy from my college days. I’ve already told Deborah she’s in the book and I’d love to see her face when she gets to the page with the reference to her namesake. It is mentioned in the book that my main character Sydney has visited her cousin Jocelyn during the summers when she was growing up. The real-life Jocelyn is college buddy Deborah’s oldest daughter.

There is a mischievous cat in The Talking Drum by the name of Pumpkin. When I was writing scenes involving the cat, I asked my niece, Raven, to suggest a name. She gave me a list of possibilities, including Pumpkin, which I chose, because I felt it corresponded with Pumpkin’s orange, swirly coat. Pumpkin is owned by a husband and wife. She has bonded well with the husband, but simply tolerates the wife and sometimes scratches her. 

In my own life, my husband and I adopted a cat that I named Savannah. That feline was something else! She adored my husband, but tolerated me. When my husband would take naps on the couch, Savannah would perch on the back of the couch like a sentinel guarding a dignitary (I actually used that line in the book). She was quite jealous. If my husband went to hug me, Savannah would bite him on the arm to make him stop. She once stomped on our feet when we hugged standing up. Savannah dug her teeth into the both of us without provocation and drew blood a bunch of times. There’s more to the saga of Savannah, but I’ll save that for another time. It was cathartic expunging the terrorism we experienced with Savannah by writing about her as the cat Pumpkin.

Question: I loved this quote about your book from Stephanie Powell Watts. What does “home” mean to you?

Home is your sanctuary, the place you come to for comfort, stability, and solitude after tackling all of the challenges you face out there in the world. For some of the characters in The Talking Drum, their “home” was being uprooted, taken out from under them because of gentrification and because they didn’t own their home. They were renters. I put the word “home” in quotations because it really wasn’t their home. It was their temporary abode. Other characters are finding their home in the fictional city in the novel, moving into their home to start their adult lives. For them, their home will be a true “home” until they choose to move somewhere else, if they decide to do so.

Question: What did you want to grow up to be as a child? Has that child’s desire appeared in your work?

I wanted to grow up to be a writer. As I got a little older, I became interested in photography. I remember how proud I was when I earned my photography badge in the Girl Scouts. When I went to college my interest went in the direction of print and broadcast journalism and photo journalism. I spent a lot of hours volunteering on the college newspaper and the college radio station. By my senior year I only had time to squeeze in one photography class in which I learned photo composition and black and white development. If it had been feasible, I would have taken more courses and perhaps also pursued a career in photojournalism.

Readers of my novel will be introduced to my main character, Sydney, who has pursued a law degree, but is also interested in newspaper journalism and loves to take and develop her own pictures.

Bonus Round:

Fries, onion rings, potato chips, pretzels, popcorn, other?

Rice cakes. Popcorn rice cakes are low in calorie and low in fat and they’re yummy.

What do you prefer to read in your spare time? Fiction, memoir, romance, young adult, middle grade, fantasy, sci-fi, biography, historical fiction?

Fiction and memoir are my favorites when I have spare time for reading. I love to lose myself in a good story, whether it’s fiction or real.

Rock ’n roll, classical, soft-rock, jazz, a cappella, punk, R&B, country, hip-hop, soul, music theater?

I like Rock ’n roll, classical, soft-rock, jazz, a cappella, R&B, country, and soul. And lately I’ve enjoyed a cappella that some of the college students have been performing for competitions. Those students are talented. They can make their voices sound like instruments.

About Lisa Braxton:

Lisa Braxton is an essayist, short story writer, and novelist. She earned her MFA in creative writing from Southern New Hampshire University, her Master of Science in Journalism Broadcasting from Northwestern University and her Bachelor of Arts in Mass Media from Hampton University. Her debut novel, The Talking Drum, is forthcoming from Inanna Publications in spring 2020. She is a fellow of the Kimbilio Fiction Writers Program and a book reviewer for 2040 Review. Her stories and essays have appeared in Vermont Literary ReviewBlack Lives Have Always MatteredChicken Soup for the Soul and The Book of Hope. She received Honorable Mention in Writer’s Digest magazine’s 84th and 86th annual writing contests in the inspirational essay category.

Author Links: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Goodreads

THE SUMMER DEAL by Jill Shalvis—Review & Giveaway on Facebook or IG
Jun 8th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

To enter my giveaway, like my Facebook post or Instagram – US/Canada only. Ends Friday, June 12, 2020 at 11:59 AM


Amazon |IndieBound | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million |Bookshop.org | iBooks |GooglePlay

ABOUT THE SUMMER DEAL (a standalone Wildstone novel)

Brynn Turner desperately wishes she had it together, but her personal life is like a ping-pong match that’s left her scared and hurt after so many attempts to get it right. In search of a place to lick her wounds and get a fresh start, she heads back home to Wildstone.

And then there’s Kinsey Davis, who after battling serious health issues her entire twenty-nine years of life, is tired of hoping for . . . well, anything. She’s fierce, tough, and she’s keeping more than one bombshell of a secret from Brynn — her long-time frenemy.

But then Brynn runs into Kinsey’s best friend, Eli, renewing her childhood crush. The good news: he’s still easy-going and funny and sexy as hell.

The bad news: when he gets her to agree to a summer-time deal to trust him to do right by her, no matter what, she never dreams it’ll result in finding a piece of herself she didn’t even know was missing. She could have real connections, possibly love, and a future—if she can only learn to let go of the past.

As the long days of summer wind down, the three of them must discover if forgiveness is enough to grasp the unconditional love that’s right in front of them.


The Summer Deal (Wildstone, #5)

The Summer Deal by Jill Shalvis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am a Jill Shalvis fan, so when I was given the opportunity to be a part of the blog tour for THE SUMMER DEAL, I jumped on the chance. This is the fifth novel in the Wildstone series, and like all the rest, I was sucked into the story and swept away to the California coast.
What I loved:
Brynn, the MC, has two moms. Delving into the family dynamics and the tight bond and protectiveness that they have for each other was heartwarming.
Brynn and Kinsey’s frenemies relationship. There’s a lot of history between them. Their unique relationship is not like any I’ve ever read in a novel.
Brynn and Eli = SWOON! Love them together.
Kinsey and Deck = Major Swoon!!!

What makes this book fascinating to read are all the interconnected relationships. The theme of family is also an important part, and we all know how messed up families can be.

In these difficult times, taking a break and getting lost in a wonderful summer romance is the perfect temporary escape. I highly recommend THE SUMMER DEAL for that along with any of Jill Shalvis’s other books!

View all my reviews


New York Times bestselling author Jill Shalvis lives in a small town in the Sierras full of quirky characters. Any resemblance to the quirky characters in her books is, um, mostly coincidental. Look for Jill’s bestselling, award-winning books wherever romances are sold and visit her website, www.jillshalvis.com, for a complete book list and daily blog detailing her city-girl-living-in-the-mountains adventures.

Connect with Jill

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Interview with Clarissa Goenawan, YA Author of Rainbirds and The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida
May 25th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

Buy Links + Link to excerpt

About Rainbirds:

Clarissa Goenawan’s dark, spellbinding literary debut opens with a murder and shines a spotlight onto life in fictional small-town Japan.

Ren Ishida is nearly finished with graduate school when he receives news of his sister Keiko’s sudden death. She was viciously stabbed one rainy night on her way home, and there are no leads. Ren heads to Akakawa to conclude his sister’s affairs, still failing to understand why she chose to abandon the family and Tokyo for this desolate town years ago.

But Ren soon finds himself picking up where Keiko left off, accepting both her teaching position at a local cram school and the bizarre arrangement of free lodging at a wealthy politician’s mansion in exchange for reading to the man’s catatonic wife.

As he comes to know the figures in Akakawa, from the enigmatic politician to his fellow teachers and a rebellious, alluring student named Rio, Ren delves into his shared childhood with Keiko and what followed, trying to piece together what happened the night of her death. Haunted in his dreams by a young girl who is desperately trying to tell him something, Ren struggles to find solace in the void his sister has left behind. 

About The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida

From the critically acclaimed author of Rainbirds comes a novel of tragedy and dark histories set in Japan.

University sophomore Miwako Sumida has hanged herself, leaving those closest to her reeling. In the months before her suicide, she was hiding away in a remote mountainside village, but what, or whom, was she running from?

To Ryusei, a fellow student at Waseda; Chie, Miwako’s best friend; and Fumi, Ryusei’s older sister, Miwako was more than the blunt, no-nonsense person she projected to the world. Heartbroken, Ryusei begs Chie to take him to the village where Miwako spent her final days. While he is away, Fumi receives an unexpected guest at their shared apartment in Tokyo, distracting her from her fear that Miwako’s death may ruin what is left of her brother’s life.

Expanding on the beautifully crafted world of Rainbirds, Clarissa Goenawan gradually pierces through a young woman’s careful façade, unmasking her most painful secrets.


Share with readers a novel secret—something that readers will never know just from picking up the book.

Rainbirds (my debut novel) and The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida are part of a series of interrelated novels. So do keep a lookout for the side characters, because they might be the main characters for the next book.

We need more diverse books. What advice do you have for writers unsure about how to get their voices heard?

Believe in yourself. Write the kind of book would love to read.

Be patient.  For most of us, the path to publication is full of rejections. Always work hard and never give up. 

Last but not least, get a good literary agent who embraces and celebrates diversity. I’m proud and honored to be represented by Pontas Agency. Anna, the founder, is very passionate about promoting women writers and diverse voices. 

Bonus round. What do you prefer?

Dancing, walking, sailing, running, ice-skating, snowboarding? Walking. When you slow down, you’ll start to notice small, beautiful everyday moments that dazzle, like the glistening young buds coated in morning dew, or the smell of earth after the rain.

Soups: chicken noodle, egg drop, French onion, lentil, split pea, tortilla, other? Rawon, a rich-tasting black beef soup. The dish originally came from my hometown, Surabaya. Don’t let the dark color turn you off, because it’s super delicious.

Concert, movie, musical, play? Movie. I seldom go to the cinema, so it’s always a special treat for me.

Music: Classical, hard rock, soft rock, hip hop, jazz, country, other? Nothing in particular. It depends on what am I doing. But if I’m writing, I’d pick instrumental music or songs in a foreign language so the lyrics would not distract me. 

About Clarissa:

Clarissa Goenawan is an Indonesian-born Singaporean writer. Her award-winning short fiction has appeared in literary magazines and anthologies in Singapore, Australia, Japan, Indonesia, the UK, and the US. Rainbirds, her first novel, has been published in eleven different languages.

Find Clarissa: Website | Twitter Instagram | Facebook | Goodreads

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