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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

Interview:

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

BUY LINKS for ALMOST JUST FRIENDS:

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.

Review:

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

ABOUT JILL SHALVIS

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

Website |Facebook |Twitter |Instagram | Pinterest | Tumblr |Goodreads

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

Interview, Reina Luz Alegre, Middle Grade Author of THE DREAM WEAVER
Apr 28th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

The Dream Weaver, an #ownvoices novel by Reina Luz Alegre

Buying Links: IndieBound |Bookstop | Books-A-Million Amazon

From Goodreads:

Twelve-year-old Zoey comes from a family of dreamers. From startup companies to selling motorcycles, her dad is constantly chasing jobs that never seem to work out. As for Zoey, she’s willing to go along with whatever grand plans her dad dreams up—even if it means never staying in one place long enough to make real friends. Her family being together is all that matters to her.

So Zoey’s world is turned upside down when Dad announces that he’s heading to a new job in New York City without her. Instead, Zoey and her older brother José will stay with their Poppy at the Jersey Shore. At first, Zoey feels as lost and alone as she did after her Mami died. But soon she’s distracted by an even bigger problem: the bowling alley that Poppy has owned for decades is in danger of closing!

After befriending a group of kids practicing for a summer bowling tournament, Zoey hatches a grand plan of her own to save the bowling alley. It seems like she’s found the perfect way to weave everyone’s dreams together…until unexpected events turn Zoey’s plan into one giant nightmare. 

Now, with her new friends counting on her and her family’s happiness hanging in the balance, Zoey will have to decide what her dream is—and how hard she’s willing to fight for it. 

Interview:


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

Answer: Yes! I was surprised how much fun I had writing the conflicts, and filling in the characters’ personalities so that everyone—even the bully on the rival bowling team—had some nuance to their personality, reasons for their perspectives, redeeming qualities in addition to flaws. Happily ever afters are my favorite, and the book does end on a positive note, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed writing the drama and bumps in the road along the way too. 
 
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? 

Answer: I wove a lot of my Cuban Latinx heritage into the story in ways that felt meaningful to me—from treating characters to foods like ropa vieja (a shredded beef dish) and pastelitos to pinning Azabache charms to sprinkling in Spanish phrases I grew up hearing to the bigger culture clash between Zoey’s Cuban grandpa and her non-Cuban dad’s attitudes about privilege and family.  

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

Answer: I LOVE the cover so much. Hugest of thanks to Lucy Ruth Cummins and Lizzy Stewart for designing and illustrating such a beautiful, eye-catching cover, that shows a bustling boardwalk and the entrance to grandpa’s beachside bowling alley! I especially love how much motion the cover conveys—from the super fun Ferris Wheel in the background to the ocean waves at the bottom to main character Zoey running off while seemingly calling back to her friends. It really conveys the story’s fun, fast-paced plot and Zoey’s determined, resourceful personality.

Bonus round:

Coffee Tea or Hot Chocolate? Coffee! By the pot or cafetera. 

Winter, spring, summer or fall? Usually winter. I love the holiday season! But as a kid, summer was definitely my fave. And this year, I don’t think I’ve ever thought more about summer! 

Fries or onion rings? Fries—I make fries at home at least once a week (the frozen kind—full disclosure—I’m not whipping them up from scratch). 

Movie at a theater or watch a movie at home? At home! And probably a romcom I’ve already seen 100 times.

Ice cream: chocolate, strawberry or vanilla? All of the above! And also pistachio. Or cookie dough. Or cookies n’ cream. Now that I’m thinking about it, I can’t think of a single ice cream flavor I don’t like!

About Reina Luz Alegre

Reina Luz Alegre lives in the Miami area with her family. She’s dreamed of becoming an author since the second grade, and grew up to work on various other professional dreams–including as a freelance journalist and lawyer–before debuting her first novel, The Dream Weaver. When she’s not writing, Reina loves to read, sing, and salivate over baking shows. Follow her on Twitter at @ReinaLuzAlegre

Interview with Nicole Kronzer, Debut YA Author of UNSCRIPTED
Apr 20th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

Buying Links

About UNSCRIPTED From Goodreads:

A funny and timely debut YA about the toxic masculinity at a famous improv comedy camp

Seventeen-year-old Zelda Bailey-Cho has her future all planned out: improv camp, then Second City, and finally Saturday Night Live. She’s thrilled when she lands a spot on the coveted varsity team at a prestigious improv camp, which means she’ll get to perform for professional scouts—including her hero, Nina Knightley. But even though she’s hardworking and talented, Zelda’s also the only girl on Varsity, so she’s the target for humiliation from her teammates. And her 20-year-old coach, Ben, is cruel to her at practice and way too nice to her when they’re alone. Zelda wants to fight back, but is sacrificing her best shot at her dream too heavy a price to pay? 

Equal parts funny and righteous, Unscripted is a moving debut novel that Printz Award winner Nina LaCour calls “a truly special book, written at exactly the right time.”

INTERVIEW:

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.

When I wrote the acknowledgments for Unscripted, they were 2500 words. My editor (very sweetly) wrote me back and said there were only 3 pages allotted in the book for thank-yous, and did I think I could maybe cut them back to 1000 words? As a result, if you flip back to the acknowledgments, the font is much smaller and the spacing narrower compared to the rest of the book, and they’re kind of choppy flow-wise. But I had so many people to thank! 

2. What did you find most unexpected when you were writing this novel?

I had no idea how charmed I would be by copy editing! If folks don’t know, copy editors are the geniuses who not only check your punctuation and grammar (turns out, I’m an idiot when it comes to hyphens), but also make sure details are consistent throughout the book. For example, there’s a CD that I called “Pacific Coast Whale Sounds” at the beginning of the book, but then apparently had a change of heart halfway through and switched it to “West Coast Whale Sounds.” 

If you make an allusion (like I did when some kids at the camp in my book are playing the muggle version of Quidditch from the Harry Potter universe), they cite the original source and page number where it’s first mentioned. 

They also make a style sheet, which is basically a guide to my particular voice. For example, no distinguishing between who/whom, I spell “dillhole” and “asshat” as one word, and “eye-daggers” gets a hyphen. It might seem really dorky, but I cooed and cooed when my copy edits arrived. Maybe it’s the English teacher in me that appreciated all that work!  

3. Was this your first book you wrote or do you have others that didn’t sell? If so, share something you learned through the process of getting published.

A writer friend of mine gave me great advice as I started to query my first novel. She said, “Start writing your next book right away.” I was surprised, but she was absolutely right. A number of agents requested to read my first book, but as the passes started rolling in, I was disappointed, but not devastated because I had another iron in the fire that I was really excited about. I wrote the agents back who had requested my first novel but passed and asked if I could query them with my next project when it was done. Most of them wrote back right away saying, “Absolutely!” After passing on my first book, Sara Crowe, my dream agent, offered on Unscripted only six days after I sent it to her. 

The biggest thing I learned was not to treat my first project like a precious, singular work of art. In this business, the best thing you can do is to keep moving forward. 

Bonus round: What do you prefer?

Laundry, dishes, dusting, vacuuming?

Laundry! I did the family laundry growing up as soon as I was tall enough to reach the bottom of the washer and dryer. My mom told me I could watch TV as I folded and ironed, so that’s why it’s my favorite chore. I still watch TV as I fold and iron clothes as an adult. 

Flying, sailing, walking, driving?

As Mel and Sue on Bake-off would say, I’m a keen walker. I like to envision myself as Elizabeth Bennet, traversing the English countryside. But also, I’m a big environmentalist, and a lover of efficiency. Walking is non-carbon-emitting transportation as well as physical exercise and good for my mental health. Bam! It’s a three-fer. Love a walk.

Movies at home or movies in a theater?

Movies at home. I love knitting as I watch TV and movies, and movie theaters are just too dark to knit in. 😉 

Peas, carrots, brussels sprouts, spinach?

All of the above, please. I love vegetables. But if I had to pick one, it would be brussel sprouts. (Roasted in olive oil with a little salt and pepper for the win!)

Broadway play, Broadway musical, TV show, or movie?

Broadway play. I love musicals, but they make me weep. The first Broadway musical I saw was Les Misérables as a junior on my high school band trip to New York. I ugly cried through the entire second act. Lion King, Hamilton, Urine Town—all of it. Music plus story? Sob city. I can hold it together more easily in a play. But really, all of them—play, musical, TV, movie—I love them all. 

Feel free to share anything else you would like. I’m flexible! 

I narrated my own audiobook! I was a professional actor before I was a teacher and author. I also had a lot of practice during the two-and-a-half-year span when I read all seven Harry Potter books out loud to my daughters! 

The first time Nicole saw a finished copy!

About Nicole:

In addition to writing books for teenagers, her favorite people, Nicole Kronzer is a high school English teacher and former professional actor. She loves to knit and run (usually not at the same time), and has named all the plants in her classroom. She lives with her family in Minneapolis.

Find Nicole: Website | Twitter | Instagram

Diary of a 5th Grade Outlaw Series, Interview with Middle Grade Author, Gina Loveless
Apr 17th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

From Goodreads: (Book 1)

Robin Loxley, the 5th grade outlaw of Nottingham Elementary, tells all! From Epic! Originals comes a comic-inspired illustrated novel series that treats growing up as an adventure.

Fifth grade has just started, and the school bully, Nadia, already rules recess with an unfair Playground Tax. Robin refuses to be pushed around, but all she can think about is winning back her best friend, Mary Ann, after a disastrous fallout over the summer. To do so, she will have to stand up to Nadia, face the wrath of Assistant Principal Johnson, and become a legendary outlaw at Nottingham Elementary—all while forming a merry band of new friends along the way.

From Goodreads: Book 2

In Book 2 of the Diary of a 5th Grade Outlaw series, life is going great for Robin Loxley—until a friend thief comes along and threatens to ruin everything!

After her victory over Nadia, the playground bully, Robin has her old best friend back, plus a whole gang of new friends! But when that Nadia tries to steal away all of the people she holds dear, will Robin be able to keep her band of merry misfits together? Find out in Robin’s second illustrated diary—a tell-all about growing up, dealing with bullies, and trying to do what’s right.

Interview:

Question: 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: When I imagine a fictionalized world’s location, I always take a real world’s location and then tweak a thing here or there about it. So while Nottingham Elementary school’s playground can’t be found at any real school, it shares a lot of similarities to Lehigh Parkway Elementary School, where I went to K-5. 
Question: What is it about your book that you think will have MG readers hooked?
Answer: I hope there are many things that will hook a kid into the Diary of a 5th Grade Outlaw series! One thing would be the hybrid nature of the book. Kids will feel like this isn’t a totally normal “book” because they’ll get breaks from reading traditional text every few pages, thanks to the awesome comic pages and illustrations by Andrea Bell. 
It’s my hope that Robin’s tough girl attitude, humor, confidence, and belief in doing what’s right are all reasons kids will be drawn to her as a protagonist. 
Question: Why did you want to write for MG kids?
Answer: That middle grade age range – from eight to twelve years old – was some of the hardest time for me, as a kid. But I always had a positive perspective on life, even if I wasn’t well liked because kids thought I was strange. My goal as an author is to help every kid–no matter how different they feel they are because of the way they see the world–to feel like it’s okay to be that way. 

Bonus round: What do you prefer?

Laundry, dishes, dusting, vacuuming? None? Haha! Cooking is the main chore I do in my house, and I love it because it lets me creative at something other than writing. 
Flying, sailing, walking, driving? Walking for sure. Walking through parks, walking my rescue dog Gerdie around my neighborhood, and walking along the rails trails and in the woods are all my favorites!
Movies at home or movies in a theater? Well, I love going to the theater, but right now, social distancing is a must, so all my movies will be watched at home for quite awhile.
Peas, carrots, Brussels sprouts, spinach? All of them, please! I’m a big veggie head. In fact I grow all of those (except carrots) in my vegetable garden.
Watch baseball, football, soccer, tennis, ice skating or gymnastics? I don’t have cable, so sadly I haven’t watched any sports in awhile. But I’m a big soccer and tennis fan. 

About Gina Loveless:

It was five years after Gina Loveless earned an MFA from California Institute of the Arts that she realized her mission as an author was to write books that helped all the weird kids of the world feel less alone. When she’s not writing or reading, Gina can be found in Eastern PA, boogying at concerts with her husband, tending to their awesome produce garden, or snuggling with her rescue dog Gerdie.
Diary of a 5th Grade Outlaw series, The Friend Thief, came out on April 14th. Please consider going to Let’s Play Books, the Indie bookstore that hosted a virtual launch party for Gina’s book!

Note from the author:

The second book in the Diary of a 5th Grade Outlaw series, The Friend Thief, came out April 14th. I hosted a virtual launch event with the independent book store Let’s Play Books! Seven incredible debut and established authors and illustrators joined me for a whole day of activities. You can find all of the videos, including my live reading and Q&A, on my Facebook page (facebook.com/lovelesswriting), and all of the videos with the other authors on my Instagram (@lovelesswriting) Find me on Twitter.


This pandemic has upended the lives and businesses of so many people. Personally, all of my in-person launch events were cancelled. It’s also hit my local indie book store especially hard. I live in a state with shelter-in-place happening right now, which has made it difficult for so many local businesses. Because I’m such a champion for in-person book stories, and because my local indie, Let’s Play Books, is such a champion for me, I would like to encourage orders of my book to go through them. If you are local to the eastern PA/ Lehigh Valley area, you can order the newest book on their website here: https://www.letsplaybooks.com/book/9781524855741 and here for the first book: https://www.letsplaybooks.com/book/9781524855482. If you’re not local, they created a wonderful list of all the authors that participated in my event, along with my books, which can be ordered here: https://bookshop.org/lists/gina-loveless-book-launch-list

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