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

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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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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