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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.

Interview:

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

An Interview With Celesta Rimington, Debut MG Author Of THE ELEPHANT’S GIRL
May 15th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

The Elephant’s Girl is being published on May 19, 2020 by Crown Books for Young Readers

Description From Goodreads:

An elephant never forgets…but Lexington Willow can’t remember her past. When she was a toddler, a tornado swept her away from everyone and everything she knew and landed her near an enclosure in a Nebraska zoo, where an elephant named Nyah protected her from the storm. With no trace of her family, Lex grew up at the zoo with her foster father, Roger; her best friend, Fisher; and the wind whispering in her ear.

Now that she’s twelve, Lex is finally old enough to help with the elephants. But during their first training session, Nyah sends her a telepathic image of the woods outside the zoo. Despite the wind’s protests, Lex decides to investigate Nyah’s message and gets wrapped up in an adventure involving ghosts, lost treasure, and a puzzle that might be the key to finding her family. Can Lex summon the courage to hunt for who she really is–and why the tornado brought her here all those years ago?

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

Interview:

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

While writing THE ELEPHANT’S GIRL, I was surprised by how much research I needed to do about elephants, despite how much I already thought I knew about them. In my author’s note, I share what I learned as I researched elephant communication, behavior, and their plight in our world. I didn’t set out to write a book that teaches about elephants. I began with a desire for my main character Lexington to have a special bond with an elephant. But what I learned in my research definitely helped shape the story and even inspired the magical elements.

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? 

One secret of this novel that is dear to my heart is that I named Lex’s foster dad, Roger, after my grandfather. Roger is similar to my grandfather in his personality and in his talents for home repair and with machinery. Roger is also similar to my husband in his interest in reading biographies and in his love of steam trains. Another novel secret is that the ghost in the story is inspired by my southern grandmother. She had a classy sense of style and refined mannerisms and was a kind hostess to all her guests. Finally, I named the aviary in the zoo after a character in my next book, which is a completely new setting and cast of characters. You’ll have to wait until 2021 to see how that unfolds!

Question: The premise of your novel is so interesting. Was there any particular reason why you chose a zoo, an elephant, a girl and a ghost?

I loved working on this story so much! I was inspired to choose a zoo setting because I once worked for Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium as a teenager. I wasn’t a keeper, but I had the opportunity to see behind the scenes at an AZA accredited zoo and to spend a lot of time around the animals. I worked in the gift shop and on the grounds and even gave the zoo train speech from the caboose on many of my shifts, just like Lexington in THE ELEPHANT’S GIRL. I chose to write about a girl who lives in a zoo, because I used to imagine how amazing and almost magical it would be to have that sort of back-door access to the many wonders found there. I also wrote about a girl searching for family connection because my own father passed away when I was very young, and I spent much of my childhood wondering what it would be like to know him and remember him. Memories and old pictures became very important to me, and that led to the inspiration for the ghost in THE ELEPHANT’S GIRL.

Celesta at the Hogle Zoo

Bonus round:

Coffee tea or hot chocolate? Hot chocolate

Winter, spring, summer or fall: Fall—I love the changing leaves, sweater weather, harvest, and the fall holidays

Fries, onion rings, potato chips, pretzels, popcorn? Popcorn with butter!

Ideal vacation: Beach, major city touring museums and landmarks, national park, skiing, staying at home? The beach! I love the sound of the ocean and sitting on the sand with a good book!

What do you prefer to read in your spare time? Fiction, memoir, romance, young adult, middle grade, fantasy, sci-fi, biography, historical fiction? I enjoy reading fiction for all ages and I usually reach for contemporary fiction, historical fiction, and light fantasy

This has been so much fun! Thank you for interviewing me! 

About Celesta:

Celesta has lived in nearly every region of the United States, and she spent her childhood discovering the delights of Nebraska sunsets, Wyoming rodeos, California beaches, and Alabama southern cooking. Her enthusiasm for writing truly ignited when she was ten years old and living in Tornado Alley, waiting out rainstorms and tornado sirens by writing short stories. Celesta holds a degree in Sociology from Brigham Young University and is a graduate of The Institute of Children’s Literature. She’s a musical theater performer, an elephant advocate, and a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She lives in the Rocky Mountains with her husband and two children, where they have a miniature railroad with a rideable steam train. Celesta loves to visit with students online and in the schools! See links below to learn more!

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

Interview With Nora Shalaway Carpenter, Author Of THE EDGE OF ANYTHING
May 10th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

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

About The Edge of Anything from Goodreads:

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.

Interview:

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

The first name of Sage’s primary care doctor is Nhu-Mai. The character is named after one of my in-real-life best friends. 😊

Question: This is an #ownvoices novel. Can you share how your own experience influenced this book?

Yes, the book is #ownvoices in terms of mental health, because Len’s character suffers from severe (an undiagnosed) obsessive compulsive disorder, a condition that, unfortunately, I have also experienced. While my OCD is much more manageable now, thanks to medicine and lots of hard work in therapy, at one point I thought it would completely destroy me. It came close, I’ll tell you that, especially before I had a diagnosis and didn’t know what was happening to me. 

I’m a writer, so as I began to heal, I knew that in order to process what I’d been through, I had to write about it—not the actual, real life details of my personal situation, but the feelings and emotions the experience brought out: the utter despair that I’d somehow brought this on myself and would never again be okay. That I wasn’t trying hard enough to get better. That despite having loving people around me like my husband, I was totally, horrifyingly alone. 

I also wanted to explore the kind of friendship that could pull a person through such a hellish experience, and how such a friendship is established. 

The Edge of Anything is the book I’d longed for during my own darkest days. No one needs to be told life isn’t fair. But I think we do all need to hear that sometimes we are not okay, and that itself is okay and not something that should shame or devalue a person. We are all loveable and beautiful—just as we are, even if we are undergoing a serious, behavior-altering health condition. And we all need to hear that there’s hope. 

Bonus round:

What do you prefer?

Laundry, dishes, dusting, vacuuming? NONE OF THE ABOVE! LOL. Gosh, I hate cleaning. But I’d choose laundry if I have to pick one.

Flying, sailing, walking, driving? Walking. I love connecting with nature.

Movies at home or movies in a theater? Theater

Peas, carrots, brussels sprouts, spinach? Carrots!

Watch baseball, football, soccer, tennis, ice skating or gymnastics Football, even though I hope my kids never play. But I grew up watching it with my family and so have so many good memories around it. My favorite sport to watch, though, is volleyball.

About Nora:

A graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts’ MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program, Nora Shalaway Carpenter is the author of THE EDGE OF ANYTHING, contributing editor of RURAL VOICES: 15 AUTHORS CHALLENGE ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT SMALL-TOWN AMERICA (Candlewick, Oct 13, 2020), and author of the picture book YOGA FROG (Running Press). Originally from rural West Virginia, she currently lives in Asheville, North Carolina with her husband, three young children, and the world’s most patient dog and cat. Follow her on Instagram @noracarpenterwrites and Twitter @norawritesbooks. Learn more at noracarpenterwrites.com.

An Interview with Jamie Beth Cohen, Author of WASTED PRETTY
May 5th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

Buying Links: For signed copies RIVERBEND COMICS |Book Depository |B&N | Audible | Amazon

About WASTED PRETTY From Goodreads:

Wasted Pretty is a beautiful, touching novel that I wish I had when I was all of the things Alice Burton was: a fierce, strong teenager learning how to navigate her changing body, developing heart, and powerful mind.” –Mayim Bialik, Big Bang Theory, Blossom, and founder of Grok Nation

During junior year of high school, star student and stellar lacrosse player Alice Burton grew four inches, and, thanks to her mom’s experimental health food products, shed twenty pounds. Alice has mixed feelings about her surprising transformation.

On the plus side: Chris Thompson, the hot college guy she has a crush on, talks to her.

On the minus side: Her dad’s creepy friend, professional athlete Karl Bell, lets his eyes, and his hugs, linger too long.

After a disturbing encounter in a dark hallway, Alice realizes the response some men have to her new body isn’t just disgusting, it’s dangerous. Her life is further complicated by her parents’ crumbling finances and the family’s entanglement with Karl.

Set in Pittsburgh in 1992, Wasted Pretty is about a girl determined to protect her body, her future, and her heart.

Interview:

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

Although Alice, the main character in WASTED PRETTY, is a sixteen-year-old girl in Pittsburgh in 1992, and I was a sixteen-year-old girl in Pittsburgh in 1992, nothing in the book happens the way it did in my life EXCEPT ONE SCENE: Like Alice, I once accidentally locked myself in a bathroom in the apartment of a boy I had a crush on, a boy whose apartment I really shouldn’t have been in in the first place. And he really did say to me, from the other side of the door: “Am I going to have to call your dad and tell him you accidentally got locked in my bathroom?” Mortifying. Also, Alice doesn’t like tea. I also feel that tea is just dirty water.

2. Can you share why it was important to you to show a relationship between your MC, a 16/17 year-old young woman and a 20/21-year-old young man?

Sure. It’s something that comes up a lot when I’m doing WASTED PRETTY book club chats (which I love doing, in person or via Zoom!). I like doing intergenerational ones the best — teens and their parents together — and it’s interesting to see who thinks this relationship is appropriate, even normal or familiar, and who thinks it’s inappropriate. It’s not always what I would expect. 

It was important to me to explore where lines get muddy. Because of Alice’s appearance, she has started to attract attention from guys, both her age and older. She knows the attention from her dad’s friend, Karl, does not feel good, and she also knows that Chris is older than she is, though not as old as Karl. Why does the attention from Chris feel good, while the attention from Karl does not. These are questions I think a lot of people can relate to and are worth thinking about. How does age relate to power? If someone has power and chooses not to abuse it, what does it say about them?

3. Can you tell us anything about the sequel? Where are you in the process?

Well, I can tell you that in July of 2019, I threw out 40,000 words of a draft of the sequel. It was hard, but necessary. I’m currently about 35,000 words back into it and I’m really liking where it’s heading. I can’t tell you much about the plot or characters (both because I don’t want to spoil it or WASTED PRETTY, and because who knows what might change before publication!), but I can say that (right now, at least) it starts the week Alice graduates from college. She has to make some decisions about what comes next for her and she has a lot of competing interests to sort out.

Bonus round: What do you prefer?

Laundry, dishes, dusting, vacuuming? None? But, if I have to choose: Laundry, though I have to admit, I usually lose steam when it comes to putting it away…at least it’s clean and folded!

Reading books on a tablet or a paper copy? PAPER!!!!!!!

Movies at home or movies in a theater? Before kids? Theater! After kids? Home!

Brisket, kugel, chicken soup? BRISKET!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Dancing, yoga, walking, swimming? WALKING, preferably in New York City or a path in the woods. (“I contain multitudes.”)

About Jamie Beth Cohen:

From her website: I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA and currently live in Lancaster County, PA with my husband, our two children and our cat. My seventeen years outside of the Keystone state took me to Fairfax, VA; New York City; College Park, MD, and Los Angeles, CA.

I am a graduate of The Ellis School for Girls and have studied writing at Long Lake Camp for the Arts, the (now, sadly defunct) Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Arts at Mercyhurst College (where I later served as the Assistant Resident Director), and George Mason University where I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English/Writing with a minor in Art History. I have a Master’s Degree in Higher Education Administration from Baruch College – City University of New York.

My non-fiction has appeared in The Baltimore SunThe Washington Post, TeenVogue.com and many other outlets. My poems have been published in Loyalhanna Review and Crossing Limits: African Americans and American Jews.

All I have ever wanted to do is write, but I have done a number of other things in the service of feeding, clothing and sheltering myself and my family. My favorite job was scooping ice cream when I was sixteen years old. I think everything about sixteen was wonderful and amazing, except all the stuff that was horrible.

Find Jamie Beth:

Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

Interview With YA Author, Sarah Carson & A Giveaway Of Her New Novel, EVERYTHING’S NOT FINE
May 3rd, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

Scroll down to the bottom for the Rafflecopter #Giveaway!

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

About Everything’s Not Fine From Goodreads:

Seventeen-year-old Rose Hemmersbach aspires to break out of small town Sparta, Wisconsin and achieve her artistic dreams, just like her aunt Colleen. Rose’s love of Frida Kahlo fuels her paint brush and her dreams to attend a prestigious art school. Painting is Rose’s escape from her annoying younger siblings and her family’s one rule: ignore the elephant in the room, because talking about it makes it real. That is, until the day Rose finds her mother dying on the kitchen floor of a heroin overdose. Kneeling beside her, Rose pleads with the universe to find a heartbeat. She does – but when her mother is taken to hospital, the troubles are just beginning. Rose and her dad are left to pick up the pieces: traumatized siblings, a Child Protective Services investigation, eviction. As Rose fights to hold everything together, and her dreams of the future start to slip from her grasp, she must face the question of what happens when – if – her mom comes home again. And if, deep down, Rose even wants her to.

Interview:

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

I started writing Everything’s Not Fine over five years ago while living in Singapore. I was feeling more than a little homesick for Wisconsin, so I decided to set it in my high school hometown. My first novel was set in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It required years of research into history, culture, dialect, and current events, as well as three trips to Belfast. I also extensively studied up on a million other little things related to setting. With Everything’s Not Fine, I decided to treat my old hometown, and my state, with the same anthropological lens, which meant really thinking about my own culture and dialect and history, and also that of rural Wisconsin. I haven’t lived in Sparta for over a decade, so I also took several “research trips” to my own hometown. This process was surprisingly fun. When I was younger, before I knew many people from outside Wisconsin and had the opportunity to travel much, I thought we didn’t have a culture. After living abroad, I realized the Upper Midwest does have a unique culture, and it was so much fun trying to capture that in Everything’s Not Fine.

Question: Any novel secrets?

A few secrets from my novel… In Everything’s Not Fine, Rose and Rafa both work at Walmart as cashiers. This is the exact job I had in high school. In the book, “Wind Beneath My Wings” plays on Walmart radio numerous times and grates on Rose’s nerves. This is based on my actual experience, haha. Also, as Rose trains Rafa to cashier, she gets some customers from Chicago trapped in small-town Sparta for a wedding. They have some rather disparaging things to say about the town. While I never had those exact customers come through my line, I distinctly remember a few big city customers looking down on my small town. Another secret: in one scene Rose goes to a gas station and is greeted by a cashier who knows everyone’s name. This minor character is based on a gas station attendant who remembered my name ten years after I moved away. 

Question: What do you love about your cover and how does it connect to your story?

The thing I love most about my cover are the roses. They capture Rose’s love of art, particularly Frida Kahlo, but it’s more than that. Everything’s Not Fine is ultimately a story about discovering your own resilience in the aftermath of tragedy, and, to me, blooming flowers offer both beauty and hope. 

Bonus round: What do you prefer?

Coffee, tea or hot chocolate? Coffee!!!

Winter, spring, summer or fall? Fall!!

Fries, potato chips, popcorn or onion rings? Hmmm, I don’t super love any of them, but probably fries.

Movie at a theater or watch a movie at home? Theater, especially missing this now in the time of social distancing!

Ice cream: chocolate, strawberry or vanilla? Chocolate

Vacation: Beach, Disney, city with lots of museums, skiing? Not on the list, but I’d pick mountains. To hike, not ski. 

About Sarah Carlson:

Sarah is a YA author focused on exploring contemporary issues facing youth today.  Her debut novel, All the Walls of Belfast, is out now (Turner Publishing Company). Her second novel, Everything’s Not Fine, will be released by Turner Publishing Company on May 26th, 2020.

Find Sarah: Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

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