Alicia has a weak spot for happy endings and transformative journeys. She spent her teenage years in Argentina and Europe, speaks several languages and loves to travel.
An eclectic reader, she grew up on a diet ranging from Lucy M. Montgomery and Jane Austen to Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Raymond Chandler, Hermann Hesse, Jorge Luis Borges, and many classics. She's never been cured of reading a bit of everything and is as likely to geek out about Mr. Darcy as Dr. Who.
She is a history and astronomy aficionado, who walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain, completed her Masters in the Netherlands and worked for Google in Ireland. She decided to become a writer at six but took a full, winding road here. Along the way, she learned if there’s one thing that cuts across cultures, one unifying thread that pulls everyone together, it's a good story.
A big-city girl, she now lives in the Midwest, where she occasionally picks apples and pretends witches exist.
Unwritten - Synopsis
Books whisper to Beatrix Alba. But they aren’t the reason she has never fit in. Bullied at home and school, she keeps a secret—a power of violence and darkness.
When the spell that keeps her hidden fails, she’s catapulted into the Zweeshen, a realm where all tales live, and her dream of meeting her favorite characters comes true. But wishes are tricky, and behind its wonder and whimsy, the Zweeshen is under attack. A character is burning bookworlds in pursuit of a weapon to rule both stories and storytellers. To succeed, he needs a riddle in Beatrix’s possession.
Now he’s hunting her down.
Joining forces with William, a cursed conjurer, Beatrix must face an enemy who knows her every weakness in a realm where witches play with time, Egyptian gods roam, and Regency heroines lead covert operations. And with her darkness as the only weapon, she may have to sacrifice everything to save a world that rejects her.
What do you love most about ‘Unwritten?’
I love that Unwritten is magical and fun, but that it also can be read at a deeper level and addresses issues that matter to me, like discrimination and rejecting what’s different.
My favorite part is the Zweeshen, the world of Unwritten. To have all characters ever written in one place opens up so many possibilities. I wanted to write an immersive, whimsical story, a place—because I do think of books as places—where one could go when in need of refuge and adventure. The Zweeshen is such a unique and eclectic place, diverse and wacky and playful. But it can also be dark and a bit oppressive. I enjoyed playing with those contrasts.
What do you feel makes your novel unique?
I think Unwritten has fun with itself. There is an offbeat, tongue-in-cheek element to it. Because it is the world of stories, devices from multiple genres are weaved into the story. Darkness and light are balanced, and there is a hopeful message. The combination of those things makes it different from a lot of what’s out there right now. It is a wild ride, a high-stakes fantasy adventure set in a book lovers world.
If you had to describe Beatrix using her three strongest personality traits, what would they be?
Beatrix’s character was fascinating to write because she has this big dichotomy within her: she is bullied but powerful, strong but insecure. She is loving, but her rage overpowers her. I had to find a way to portray that and make it believable. I needed to connect those opposing reactions to the driving force within her, the one thing that defines her, which is her determination. Beatrix finds her way by being unrelenting in her quest. Her core attributes are her resilience and her willingness to be brave both against violence and danger but also against the hurts and risks of love.
If time were running out for your favorite bookworlds as a reader and you could visit just one, which would it be and why?
Such a difficult question. I change my mind about this depending on the day. That’s the great thing about bookworlds; we can always visit one that fits our mood. Today, I’d say I would visit Tolkien’s Middle Earth, the Rivendell of the elves. I’ve always found it enthralling in a very romantic, evocative way. And I love the idea of beings who’ve had many centuries to learn.
If ‘Unwritten’ had a playlist, what genre would be most prominent? What’s one song that would probably be included?
By force, it would have to be a mix of genres. I think finding a way to combine the old and new, the upbeat with the more soulful, voice with instrumental. One song that really resonates and speaks to some of the underlying themes in Unwritten is Runaway by Aurora.
I read on your blog that your publisher also optioned a sequel. Is that something you’re looking ahead at yet?
Yes, absolutely. Unwritten was created as a series—and while it can be read as a standalone—there is an overarching world arc and pending questions meant to be answered in future installments. I’m busy working on the sequel.
What quality is the most critical for you to enjoy a story?
I need a story to transport me. Some authors accomplish that through amazing settings, others with characters that squeeze our hearts or get under our skin. Others give you a plot so riveting you can’t sit still. I want a writer to guide me away from my life so that when I’m done reading, I will look around and only half-recognize my house.
What’s a book you’ve read that made you take a step back and think differently about fiction?
It was a long time ago, but as a teen, I read The Aleph by Jorge Luis Borges. It is a short story, so not even a novel. But it made me realize stories could be something different from what I had thought. There is a need to have conflict and interesting characters, but beyond that, an author has the freedom to go in many directions, even down a rabbit hole that forces one to think. Stories are a way to make the complex simple, to tell hard truths through make-believe. The concept of the Aleph changed me. It is not a coincidence that a similar idea makes an appearance in Unwritten.
Your author bio says you love history and astronomy. What’s the most obscure history or astronomy fact you can think of?
I don’t know if it’s obscure, but for history, what never stops surprising me is that things we assume are set in stone weren’t always so: In the early middle ages Catholic priests married, people didn’t sleep the night through but had a first sleep and second sleep, and in between they met with neighbors, did chores, and chatted—all in the middle of the night.
As far as astronomy, I love that when we look at the sky, we’re observing the past, like through a time machine. And the idea that every element in our chemical makeup was created in the heart of a supernova. We’re not just stardust; we’re the afterlife of stars. Oh, and scientists believe that in Neptune, it rains diamonds.
Since you’ve lived and explored numerous places around the world, what would you say in your personal experiences might be universal between the cultures you’ve encountered and their approach to storytelling?
The love and need for stories are what’s universal. Nothing connects people as much as stories, and we’re lucky to live in a time with access to tales from many places. I think the differences are in the style. In America, we do a lot of “show, don’t tell.” In other places, the “telling” is still in vogue, and it can be very beautiful because it creates a distance that feels otherworldly. Pacing is something that varies too. Here things are faster. Some stories from other cultures take more time, pay more attention to small things, describe more with a critical eye. It is hard to generalize, and genre plays a role, of course. But in truth, the differences are in the details. Tales unite us because of the human experience we share. Everywhere in the world, from the beginning of civilization, what we want is the same. To be safe, to be accepted, and to be loved.
What’s something memorable you experienced during your travels?
A few years ago, I walked the Way of St. James, a 500-mile pilgrimage road that winds from the Pyrenees in France to Compostela in the North of Spain. I did the journey on foot with just a backpack, staying at hostels. It took me six weeks, and it was such a demanding and wonderful experience.
You get worried you might not hit the next hostel before they run out of room, you get rained on, you get blisters under your toenails. But then you eat at a lady’s living room where she shows you pictures of the husband she lost. You meet a torero and a Japanese Opera singer; you encounter a Dutch guy with cancer who does 20 miles a year but is determined to complete a trip. You sleep in a convent with fifty people, and you participate in an impromptu dance on a cobblestone street. You share tapas with strangers who spill their secrets to you.
That, to me, is what makes traveling memorable, the moments that open you up and show you glimpses of others with very different lives. I tried to capture that surprise and wonder in Unwritten.
Aiden Thomas is a New York Times Bestselling author with an MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College.
Originally from Oakland, California, they now make their home in Portland, Oregon.
As a queer, trans Latinx, Aiden advocates strongly for diverse representation in all media. Aiden’s special talents include: quoting The Office, winning Jenga, finishing sentences with “is my FAVORITE”, and killing spiders. Aiden is notorious for not being able to guess the endings of books and movies, and organizes their bookshelves by color.
Lost in the Never Woods - Synopsis
When children go missing, people want answers. When children go missing in the small coastal town of Astoria, people look to Wendy for answers.
It’s been five years since Wendy and her two brothers went missing in the woods, but when the town’s children start to disappear, the questions surrounding her brothers’ mysterious circumstances are brought back into light. Attempting to flee her past, Wendy almost runs over an unconscious boy lying in the middle of the road, and gets pulled into the mystery haunting the town.
Peter, a boy she thought lived only in her stories, claims that if they don’t do something, the missing children will meet the same fate as her brothers. In order to find them and rescue the missing kids, Wendy must confront what’s waiting for her in the woods.
Several times, you've said that while you decided to debut with Cemetery Boys, the novel you'd originally planned first.. Lost in the Never Woods.. is an incredibly personal story for you too, would you tell us a bit about that connection?
“Cemetery Boys” is so important to me because it’s so much about my identity, but “Lost in the Never Woods” is super personal because, at its core, it’s a story about trauma. I started writing LITNW when I was first diagnosed with C-PTSD, and it was a really cathartic way of me processing my own experiences with mental health, trauma and grief. I wanted to write a book about those experiences and for others who have gone through similar experiences, especially for teens and young adults who were forced to grow up too fast and had adulthood thrust upon them.
I understand while you were an undergrad you wrote about the psychological trauma of Peter Pan and how that affected who he was. Would you mind sharing those thoughts with us?
Oh my gosh, yes! That’s where my obsession with Peter Pan started! When I first watched the 2003 Peter Pan film adaptation, at one point Peter Pan says, “I want always to be a boy, and have fun” and Wendy replies, “You say so, but I think it is your biggest pretend.” That line just STUCK with me, I rewatched the movie and then read the original book by JM Barrie. At this point I already know I wanted to double major in psychology and English so I did this deep dive and tried to figure out Peter as a character.
One of the first things I realized was that he has dissociative amnesia from a line where he states that he forgets people after he kills them. There’s really so many examples of Peter dealing with trauma, which spiraled out into me wondering what would happen to Wendy after her experiences in Neverland, and that’s how the original idea for “Lost in the Never Woods” was sparked!
I know you did a good bit of research on Mesoamerican culture for Cemetery Boys, was there any research involved for Lost in the Never Woods or is it a story purely from the heart?
I think it’s definitely both. I did a lot of literary theory research of the original Peter Pan story, and then I also brought in my personal experiences and academic research about mental health and specifically trauma. I always thought Wendy never got the story she deserved! She’s such a unique and complex character who is often overlooked by Peter’s much more dominating presence, so I wanted to give her her very own story and focus. Peter is cool, but Wendy has a really special place in my heart.
This is probably like asking you to choose between your plant children.. but who's your favorite character to write in Lost in the Never Woods.. and why?
Peter was fun to write because he’s flighty and scatter-brained, but I really enjoy the challenge of writing Wendy! It was definitely like a case study in writing about what fear and anxiety feels and affects us. She’s really complicated and going through a lot, so she’s probably the hardest character I’ve ever written, but I think I did a good job and I hope readers can connect and kind kinship with her.
Since you enjoyed Hill House (created by Mike Flanagan) and Hannibal (created by Bryan Fuller), have you checked out any creepy new shows like Flanagan's The Haunting of Bly Manor?
YES! I thought Bly Manor was absolutely brilliant! I think I’m an outlier when I say that scary TV shows and movies are my comfort media? I’ll put on Hill House to fall asleep to all the time. Talk about a story that really explores trauma and complex characters!
What are three songs on your playlist for Lost in the Never Woods?
Oh my gosh this is always one of my favorite questions! I have a whole dedicated playlist for “Lost in the Never Woods” which you can find (below):
But the top three songs I associate with LITNW are:
“Crime” by Grey with Skott
“Out of the Woods” by Taylor Swift
“Cardigan” by Taylor Swift
Marti Leimbach's latest novel is DRAGONFLY GIRL, a YA action/thriller about a high school girl with a gift for science who discovers a "cure" for death and ends up embroiled in an international rivalry. It is published by Harper Collins in February 2021.
Marti Leimbach is known for her bestsellers, Dying Young, made into a film starring Julia Roberts, and Daniel Isn't Talking. She is interested in neurodiversity and has shared the stage with young inventors at the Human Genome Project (Toronto), the National Autistic Society, and the University of Oxford.
She teaches on the Masters Programme in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford. Dragonfly Girl is her eighth novel, but her first for young adults.
Dragonfly Girl - Synopsis
In this spellbinding thriller and YA debut from bestselling author Marti Leimbach, Kira Adams has discovered a cure for death--and it may just cost her life.
Things aren't going well for Kira. At home, she cares for her mother and fends off debt collectors. At school, she's awkward and shy. Plus, she may flunk out if she doesn't stop obsessing about science, her passion and the one thing she's good at . . . very good at.
When she wins a prestigious science contest she draws the attention of the celebrated professor Dr. Gregory Munn (as well as his handsome assistant), leading to a part-time job in a top-secret laboratory.
The job is mostly cleaning floors and equipment, but one night, while running her own experiment, she revives a lab rat that has died in her care.
One minute it is dead, the next it is not.
Suddenly she's the remarkable wunderkind, the girl who can bring back the dead. Everything is going her way. But it turns out that science can be a dangerous business, and Kira is swept up into a world of international rivalry with dark forces that threaten her life.
I read that you participate in the Masters Programme in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford. What motivates you to teach?
I absolutely love the students! These are often young writers at the start of their literary lives and they’ve got such enthusiasm. We teach in “residencies” throughout the academic year and I always come away from a residency fired up and freshly motivated to write, myself!
I understand your interest in neurodiversity was inspired by your experience as a mother. What do you feel is the greatest misconception or misrepresentation about neurodiversity?
People with autism or attention deficit disorder or tourettes, for example, are not massive anomalies but are part of the world, and my family is just another example of this truth. Both the family I was born into as well as my family now make up a very neurodiverse bunch. My son has taught me the most, however, because he can’t easily pass as neurotypical. Also, while he’s terrifically smart and gifted in some ways, he’s very vulnerable both socially and economically due to his autism.
I believe in the necessity of embracing neurodiversity, of pushing for working conditions that make it possible for a much larger range of people, especially those on the autistic spectrum. One misconception is that people with ASD aren’t able to contribute as much as a neurotypical person. That is just not the case for a number of reasons. For example, a diversity of viewpoints from differently-abled people enhance decision making at a corporate level.
What's the most interesting thing you've learned as you've developed your interest in science?
The sheer rate of change is breathtaking. If I think about the speed with which vaccinations for Covid19 were developed, for example, I get a bit teary-eyed knowing I’m witnessing a true medical miracle that will save tens of thousands of people.
On your site, I noticed you broached the subject regarding the demographic gaps between students who enter STEM fields.. the correlations between gender, class, race and ethnicity.. and the theories about how the subconscious mechanism may trigger some students to enter other fields instead due to the persistent masculine imagery we see with science and mathematics. Did this directly influence your work on Dragonfly Girl? And were you hoping to help affect a change through your story or is that just a happy bonus to the story you wanted to tell?
I didn’t set out purposely to challenge the perception that scientific settings are the domain of white men. It was only once Kira was working after school in a laboratory that the question of demographics came up naturally. It’s as though I discovered the incredible bias inside science communities through my character. Having done that, however, I could see the value of a girl like Kira, her friend Lauren, and the women scientists in the novel in providing fictional role models for girls who may wish to study or pursue careers in STEM. Kira, herself, has role models of real life women scientists, her declared favourite being Barbara McClintock, an American scientist and cytogeneticist who was awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
There's a recurring theme across a few of your books that centers in and around a caretaker perspective. Does that come from a personal place, like your relationship with your son or is it just a story you find yourself drawn to?
I will concede to a mild preoccupation with the role of caretakers, whether that be in a traditional manner in which we imagine caretakers, or in the way we care about each other generally. For example, in Dying Young, Hilary is in love with a young man who is foregoing treatment for a terminal condition and for whom she is sole caretaker. In Daniel Isn’t Talking, a young mother is doing her best to serve the needs of her family, especially her young son with autism, to the extent that she often neglects her own self-care. In Dragonfly Girl, Kira’s actions are highly motivated by her physical and financial responsibility to her mother, who is ill. I’ve been in two of these scenarios in my real life, so I suppose it just sticks with me.
Though Dragonfly Girl does seem to have a similar theme to your other work, I see that it's your first foray into YA. Was this your intent or did you happen to find yourself there when the story was done?
I read YA because I like it but I hadn’t imagined writing YA until I happened upon Kira’s story in Dragonfly Girl. It just came to me one day like a fully formed idea implanted in my brain. I am very excited about working in the young adult space!
What's the most important thing you'd hope readers will take with them after finishing Dragonfly Girl?
I want young people to know that they don’t have to be good at everything. You can be good at one thing and make it your life’s work. And you don’t need a million friends to be happy, either. One or two close friends is enough. If you stay true to yourself, you’ll find your tribe. Oh, and it’s from this place that true romantic love might take hold, too!
With Dragonfly Girl releasing February 23rd and the manuscript already finished for the sequel, Academy One.. what's next for you?
While it’s true that Academy One is in a completed form, I always sit on a book for a little while to make sure it’s what I want. I’ve already decided to make two big changes in Academy One, both of which involve the love interest.
Your career is so robust after several books and over 30 years in the publishing industry. What would you tell yourself.. if you could go back to the period prior to your first novel and offer advice?
I would tell myself to do the best with that which is under my control – writing well and consistently. I would celebrate small wins and let go of all losses. I’d insist that I took the time to make more friends with other writers, not just my students but my colleagues out there, somewhere, proofreading their galleys and trying to get noticed in such a crowded marketplace.
The best feeling in the world is when you help another person achieve their dream of publication, or even bestseller status. I would do more of that. I would tell myself not to worry and that your readers will always find you. And some of these readers will give you some seriously excellent advice that may help you as much or more than you can imagine. There is always another book inside you. There is always another day.
Aiden Thomas is a YA author with an MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College. Originally from Oakland, California, they now make their home in Portland, OR. As a queer, trans Latinx, Aiden advocates strongly for diverse representation in all media.
Aiden’s special talents include: quoting The Office, Harry Potter trivia, Jenga, finishing sentences with “is my FAVORITE”, and killing spiders. Aiden is notorious for not being able to guess the endings of books and movies, and organizes their bookshelves by color.
'Cemetery Boys' synopsis
A trans boy determined to prove his gender to his traditional Latinx family summons a ghost who refuses to leave in Aiden Thomas’s paranormal YA debut Cemetery Boys.
Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can’t get rid of him.
When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his true gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.
However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie off some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave.
If you could spend time a character from your book whom would it be? And what would you do during that day?
That’s such a hard question! I love Yadriel and Maritza, but I think I’d have to go with Julian. He’s just so chaotic and ridiculous, I think we’d get along really well! One of the best parts about Julian — though Yadriel may disagree — is how impulsive he is. I don’t think he’d come up with a game plan, I’m pretty sure we’d just randomly decide in the moment but there would definitely be a lot of shenanigans involved!
How did writing this story impact you personally?
I thought there was no way I could ever sell a book with a trans main character, let alone one that was Latinx or gay, on top of it. I honestly didn’t think they would want a story with a main character who was gay, trans, and Latinx. Maybe one, but not all three. Since it was my option book, it was more a conversation with my editor rather than a proper querying process of an agent. The whole pitch was definitely just me nervously asking permission to write this character and this story. I was so convinced it would be too queer, or too Latinx, or too trans. That, itself is so wild — that I thought my marginalizations were so un-marketable that it would be impossible to successfully pitch. The funny part was that my incredible editor at Macmillan, Holly West, was absolutely thrilled and immediately said that was the book she wanted out of all my ideas. My team has been absolutely champions for me and Yadriel from the very beginning and I am so thankful and lucky!
What was the hardest scene to write?
I think the final chapter was definitely the most difficult to write. I wanted to end the book with a really powerful speech from Yadriel’s dad. I put a lot of pressure on myself because that scene was so important to not only Yadriel, but to trans readers who picked up the book. I actually pulled inspiration from traditional speeches made during quinces but gave it a twist fitting the story and the brujx.
Tell me about one of your favorite reader reactions you’ve gotten from this book.
I genuinely love interacting with readers on Twitter! I always crack up when people tag me in memes or funny posts and say stuff like, “This is Yadriel and Julian!” It’s also incredible to see folks really connecting with Yadriel and his story, and I especially get overwhelmed with warm fuzzy feelings when people make fanart! Never in a million years would I have thought I’d actually publish a book like this. It’s totally wild and so rewarding.
What do you hope people take with them from their reading experience with your book?
I really hope readers will find connection and feel seen when they read “Cemetery Boys”. I wanted to create a story for readers to connect with Yadriel on universal truths that are basic to the human experience, things like struggling to fit in, feeling accepted for who you are, and being loved. A lot of queer teens experience their first sense of belonging or affirmation with queer characters in books — like Yadriel. Even if they can’t talk to them personally, seeing people with their identities, seeing themselves reflected in books, or internet stars telling them they’re valid gives them a sense of community and comfort. I really hope Yadriel can be that for some folks.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
That’s a tough question but I’m going to go with HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE by Diane Wynn Jones! I feel like everyone has seen the Studio Ghibli adaptation, but not a lot of folks have actually read the original book. Howl is so dramatic and I love Sophie’s wit! It’s my favorite book to reread when I need a pick-me-up.
Thank you to @Kathreadsya on Instagram for submitting these great questions as well:
If you had the power to summon a ghost like Yadriel, would you do it? And if so, who would you summon?
ABSOLUTELY! I love ghosts and actually spent a lot of time as a teenager hanging out in Mountain View Cemetery, but I’ve never had a paranormal encounter! It’s really disappointing. And it’d be especially handy during quarantine!
Do you write listening to music? If so, what music inspired or accompanied this current book?
Yes, I definitely do Make playlists for all my books and characters that I listen to while writing. For “Cemetery Boys”, songs by Troye Sivan and Khalid inspired my writing for Yadriel, while Julian’s playlist has a lot of reggaeton.
A lifelong resident of Toronto, Ontario.. A.J. Vrana is a Serbian-Canadian academic and writer who often centers her stories in modern settings, while also incorporating surreal, dark fantasy elements and flavoring them with glimpses of existential horror. Her stories tend to dance delicately along the seam between worlds whose sense of time, perception, and reality.. all waver.
She currently holds a BA in Psychology and a Masters in Humanities from New York University, and she's also working on her doctoral dissertation at the University of Toronto, exploring the supernatural in modern Japanese and Balkan fiction and its relationship to violence. Additionally, in 2019.. she began the journey to her Masters in Public Health, with the hope of helping shape better policies in mental healthcare for those with chronic illnesses.
As I said.. she's brilliant, funny, and incredibly intuitive. She has two rescue cats, Moonstone and Peanut Butter, though Moonstone seems to be the impish spirit.. either watching on somewhere with an air of disdain.. or trailing shedding piles of hair across the author's work space.
'The Hollow Gods' synopsis
Black Hollow is a town with a dark secret.
For centuries, residents have foretold the return of the Dreamwalker—an ominous figure from local folklore said to lure young women into the woods and possess them. Yet the boundary between fact and fable is blurred by a troubling statistic: occasionally, women do go missing. And after they return, they almost always end up dead.
When Kai wakes up next to the lifeless body of a recently missing girl, his memory blank, he struggles to clear his already threadbare conscience.
Miya, a floundering university student, experiences signs that she may be the Dreamwalker’s next victim. Can she trust Kai as their paths collide, or does he herald her demise?
And after losing a young patient, crestfallen oncologist, Mason, embarks on a quest to debunk the town’s superstitions, only to find his sanity tested.
A maelstrom of ancient grudges, forgotten traumas, and deadly secrets loom in the foggy forests of Black Hollow. Can three unlikely heroes put aside their fears and unite to confront a centuries-old evil? Will they uncover the truth behind the fable, or will the cycle repeat?
What came first with this story.. a character, a scene, a concept, something else?
I’d say it started off as a combination of characters and concept. Miya and Kai have always been very alive in my imagination, and they existed as characters well before I wrote the book. You might say the book was sort of constructed around them. In terms of concepts—and I know I’ve said this in other interviews—I love folklore. I wanted to have an intimate setting, a small town that believes very strongly in their dark lore. Then, I wanted to have a character who considers themselves modern, rational, and level-headed thrown into that world to see how they might react. This is how Mason was born, but he’s really there to help tell Miya and Kai’s story.
Were any of your characters more difficult to write than the others? If so, why?
Yes, absolutely. I find Kai the most challenging character to write. He has such a particular way of thinking, feeling, and expressing himself, so it can be difficult to really capture him with the right language. If I was writing Kai’s experiences through Miya or Mason, I would have a much easier time because Miya and Mason are far closer to me in how they might articulate themselves. But Kai is, well, different. His life experiences and background are quite a departure from mine, so he can be challenging. I often sit there and think, “How would Kai say this?” and 20 minutes later I’ll have an answer. With Miya and Mason, it usually just flows.
What's something interesting about your main characters that only you know?
They have natal charts.
Which character in your book are you least likely to get along with?
Probably Mason. I loathe his certainty about the world.
Are there misconceptions that people have about your book?
Oh, all the time! I do think this is just the reality of being an author. Your readership is going to be very diverse, and you can’t control what people read into your work. That said, I do wish we had more space for authors to share the intended message and meaning of their work. This could open up such interesting discussions about how meaning is made in the act of reading and writing.
I do think some readers struggle with works that blend different genres. I assume this is because genres have well-established tropes, and so when a reader goes into a book expecting those tropes and doesn’t find them, they may end up disappointed. I think one of the biggest misconceptions I see about The Hollow Gods is that it isn’t enough of one genre or another. The people who expect a mystery/thriller find that the mystery/thriller part of the book falls flat, and the people who expect a high fantasy might find that the magic system isn’t cohesive enough. I may get slack for this, but I genuinely don’t think this is a productive way to approach the book. In truth, The Hollow Gods is none of these genres, and the genre it most closely aligns with is magical realism with undertones of horror and dark fantasy. You just aren’t going to find high fantasy tropes or mystery/thriller tropes in magical realism because it is a genre on its own, though not many are familiar with it. There are no clear distinctions between fantasy and reality in MR, and there often isn’t very much cohesion to the fantastical because it’s used more as a device to examine the inner lives of the characters. Someone who reads high fantasy might read an MR book and say, “Wow this is sloppy world-building,” but it’s all quite intentional.
The other misconception I see quite often is that characters who shift into animals = werewolves or other common pop culture creatures. It’s an understandable misconception because people will always reach for explanations that are familiar and easily accessible, but for anyone out there wondering, the character often being called a werewolf isn’t actually a werewolf. Think more along the lines of Medved in The Bear and the Nightingale, or old folktales about people who are simultaneously animal and something else. Werewolves are, in my view, human first, and they are usually cursed to turn into wolves on a full moon. The Hollow Gods character in question emphasizes quite frequently that he is not human and expresses a strong disdain for the human world. If anything, he is more like the opposite of a werewolf: a wolf forced to walk through the world as a human.
If you could implore your readers to ask themselves one question after reading the book, what would it be?
I don’t think I have a specific question I’d want readers to ask, but I do have a question I don’t want them to ask, and that is something along the lines of, “So who was right?” or “Which explanation was right?” I’d much rather they ask, “What does it mean to not have answers?” or “What is the power of storytelling?”
Basically, I want to encourage my readers not to ask questions that will yield a specific answer, but to ask questions that will challenge their own assumptions about how they make sense of the world and how they interact with it.
What is the future for the characters? Will there be a sequel?
Their future looks rather grim! There is a sequel, and it’s a little bit more action-packed than The Hollow Gods. This story will really test the main cast in ways they weren’t tested in the first book. If The Hollow Gods was about the characters finding themselves and coming into their own, the sequel is all about testing their identities, who they think they are, and what they might be capable of becoming.
Does this story have a soundtrack? A playlist that inspired you while writing it?
I feel like the answer to this is both yes and no. I actually don’t listen to music when I write because it distracts me, but I will daydream about my book while listening to music. As to what music… I’ll have to get back to you on that. Probably some ear-shattering mix of industrial rock music, heavy metal, and singer-songwriter tracks.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
Probably the first time someone said something mean to me! I don’t actually remember what that might have been, but I imagine we all learn the power of words the first time they wound us. We live in a culture that constantly evaluates us, from the moment we can make weird, garbled baby noises. Everything from babies’ doctor appointments to kindergarden report cards are a testament to the power of language to impact our self-concepts and how other people might perceive us.
What are some elements you feel are becoming cliché in your genre?
Hmm, honestly, I think the ‘strong female protagonist’ is becoming a bit cliché in how it’s executed. We absolutely need books with strong female leads, but I see a lot of SFF with female leads who are really bull-headed regardless of context, and I think sometimes this overdetermined force of will is mistaken for strength. I understand the impulse; it’s difficult to write female characters because readers tend to be much harsher on them than they are on male characters, and female characters often have to contend with a society telling them what they can/cannot do, which really makes one want to rebel. That said, I don’t think the solution is to just infuse female characters with typically ‘masculine’ traits. I really want to see more SFF female leads that are vulnerable and insecure but find ways to work through and conquer those insecurities. I think that is far more relatable than a character who is just tough 100% of the time. I worry this sets an unrealistic standard of strength for young women and girls. I really believe being emotionally intelligent is better than being tough.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Rather than underappreciated, I just wish North American publishing did a better job of bringing world fiction to the forefront. There are so many amazing classics and contemporary books from other cultures that most people aren’t aware of. I think engaging more with world literature can really broaden the scope of acceptable storytelling and help bring some much-needed diversity to the North American publishing world. Having a greater appreciation of the diversity in storytelling methods and styles can really do wonders for people who love reading and open them up to entirely new worlds. You can find some wonderfully entertaining books too. Want some truly terrifying horror? Pick up some short stories by Akutagawa. The man’s imagination is truly terrifying.
What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
I think my biggest quirk is that I write dialogue first. Like, I imagine all scenes as an interaction between characters, and then I fill in the setting and details afterwards. I pretty much loathe writing descriptions so I save them for last, or I have editors yell at me to add more description so they’re not just floating through empty air in the scene.
If you had the opportunity to live anywhere in the world for a year while writing a book that took place in that same setting, where would you choose?
Kotor or Budva in Montenegro, and Inverness or Edinburgh in Scotland, hands down.
Estelle Laure, the author of This Raging Light and But Then I Came Back believes in love, magic, and the power of facing hard truths.
She has a BA in Theatre Arts and an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults, and she lives in Taos, New Mexico, with her family. Her work is translated widely around the world.
MAYHEM by Estelle Laure; On-sale: July 14th, 2020
The Lost Boys meets Wilder Girls in this supernatural feminist YA novel.
Synopsis: It's 1987 and unfortunately it's not all Madonna and cherry lip balm. Mayhem Brayburn has always known there was something off about her and her mother, Roxy. Maybe it has to do with Roxy's constant physical pain, or maybe with Mayhem's own irresistible pull to water. Either way, she knows they aren't like everyone else.
But when May's stepfather finally goes too far, Roxy and Mayhem flee to Santa Maria, California, the coastal beach town that holds the answers to all of Mayhem's questions about who her mother is, her estranged family, and the mysteries of her own self. There she meets the kids who live with her aunt, and it opens the door to the magic that runs through the female lineage in her family, the very magic Mayhem is next in line to inherit and which will change her life for good.
But when she gets wrapped up in the search for the man who has been kidnapping girls from the beach, her life takes another dangerous turn and she is forced to face the price of vigilante justice and to ask herself whether revenge is worth the cost.
From the acclaimed author of This Raging Light and But Then I Came Back, Estelle Laure offers a riveting and complex story with magical elements about a family of women contending with what appears to be an irreversible destiny, taking control and saying when enough is enough.
☆★☆ Interview with Estelle Laure ☆★☆
If you had to describe Mayhem Brayburn in three words, what would they be?
Furious, curious, perceptive.
Which scene or chapter in the book is your favorite and why?
I honestly have a lot of favorites and many of them are toward the end and would require spoilers, but let’s just say THE ONE WITH THE BIRDS is my very favorite. Earlier on I love when Mayhem first finds her friends, the dynamics and the wildness of the boardwalk and how certain they are that they’re just the coolest. If you’re lucky enough to really bond with a group of people it’s as good as falling in love and just as seductive. I could feel that feeling again as I was writing and it felt wickedly good.
Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with?
I would LOVE to do a second book about Mayhem and her friends and family. I think there’s a huge amount of potential in them all, and they were a thrill to spend time with.
What would you hope readers might take away with them upon reading Mayhem?
I hope they’ll feel invincible and empowered, mostly, but I also hope they’ll feel seen for some essential and possibly hidden piece of themselves. Mostly, I hope they have a really good time reading it.
What books, articles, or authors influenced you the most or made you think differently?
In life in general? Tons. I think overall Stephen King, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, John Steinbeck, Shirley Jackson, Alice Hoffman, Isabel Allende, Sylvia Plath, and a whole slew of poets have had the most effect. In particular Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath (again), and Gwendolyn Brooks. I could write a book just about all the ways in which they’ve influenced me as a person and are responsible for my education. Oh, and I would be remiss if I did not also mention Stephenie Meyer. If there had not been Twilight I don’t know that I ever would have started writing in earnest.
Jamie Webster is an Adult Fantasy writer who recalls writing stories as early as ten. She first began writing fanfiction, though she typically created an original character to follow. In high school, she began to create her own fantasy worlds and roleplayed on Yahoo Groups and AIM.
In her adult years, she has completed four books as well as written for several publications including a blog, Trials and Tribulations, for her local newspaper as well as articles on writing and book reviews for Fantasy-Faction.
Jamie received her B.A. in English with a focus in Creative Writing from UMaine and an MFA in Creative Writing from Full Sail University. She does most of her drafting during NaNoWriMo and fancies herself as the hybrid plantser. Her passion is reading, writing, crocheting and playing video games. She currently lives in Maine with her three children, Corgi, Mini Aussie, and a plethora of other animals that she’d rather not admit to.
M. Dalto is a bestselling New Adult author of adventurous romantic fantasy stories, having won a Watty award for excellence in digital storytelling for her debut novel, Two Thousand Years, in 2016. She spends her days as a full-time residential real estate paralegal, using her evenings to pursue her literary agenda, and when she’s not writing, she enjoys reading fantasy novels, playing video games, and drinking coffee. She currently lives in Massachusetts with her husband, their daughter, and their corgi named Loki.
'Arms of the Ocean' Synopsis:
"Nineteen-year-old Tristaine lived a life of bitterness. When her mother abandoned her family, and her father began drinking, Tris discovered the only thing that truly brought her happiness: the sea.
It called to her like a lover and flowed through her like a life force. When her only peace is threatened to be taken away, Tris realizes there is nothing she wouldn’t do to remain with the ocean.
Even if it means taking her own life to do so.
But the sea isn’t done with her -not yet- and Tris soon finds herself submerged in a world where love, betrayal, and honor stand stronger than any other force of nature."
Interview with Jamie Webster & M. Dalto:
Can you share with us something about the book that isn’t in the blurb?
Jamie: Well there's this party later in the book to celebrate Tris' arrival in Inara. It's one of my favourite parts and one turning point in the story.
MB: There are so many good bits of dialogue between Tris and Imri that I can’t wait for people to read.
Tell me something only you know about Tristaine.
Jamie: Tris is definitely a dog person.
What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing your book?
Jamie: Hidden characters. It's funny how you'll be like ok here's all the characters that are in my book. Then you start writing and someone else pops up and you just have to go with it.
MB: Character relationships seem to develop like this as well.
Do you write listening to music? If so, what music inspired or accompanied Arms of the Ocean?
Jamie: I find that I need music in order to focus on writing. I think the music helps quiet my inner editor. I had recently discovered Hamilton when I started writing this story with M. While writing Arms of the Ocean, I listened to Hamilton and The Astonishing by Dream Theater back to back.
MB: I listen to music as I write, but it can only be songs I already know- anything new and I’ll get too distracted. The title for AOTO was actually inspired by a song.
What is the future for the characters? Will there be a sequel?
Jamie: I suspect this story will end up being a trilogy. I see Imri, Tris, and the gang journeying to The Realm in the next book. What about you M?
MB: We definitely left the end of AOTO open with purpose.
What is the most difficult part about writing for you?
Jamie: Editing. I do not enjoy that process in the slightest. Not because of what I needed to cut, but it changes the way you look at your story. For me, to switch to editing mode, I'm looking at the literal words for the most part and then asking questions about what doesn't make sense.
MB: Editing here, too, but more so because it means I have to almost rewrite my entire draft. I’m a fast-drafter so my writing is always minimalistic at first while I hash out the plot, so it’s the editing process that makes me flesh out those bare bones.
Who is your favorite author and why?
Jamie: Oh man, this is always a loaded question because I love so many books and series that it's hard to say. All time I'd have to say Lloyd Alexander. His stories are what made me even start reading fantasy.
MB: Sarah J. Maas and Cassandra Clare will always have a special place in my heart. George R. R. Martin and Diana Gabaldon as well.
What comes first-- the plot, the characters, or the setting?
This is a harder question than it sounds! I normally start with a snippet from a scene, actually, which might have a few elements of all three. For Half a Soul, I had a very clear picture of the scene where Dora is washing her dress in a fountain and Elias tries to explain to her why that comes off as strange. I don't know that the plot, the characters, or the setting came first there—I just had the fancy that this Regency-era woman was living her life as though she were in a dream, and that was going to be a problem for her.
Who is your favorite character in 'Half a Soul?' Or if that's too much like choosing your favorite child, who's your favorite to write?
I think I ended up really liking many of the characters in Half a Soul—but in the end, my favourite is no contest! I enjoyed writing Dora the most. She has such a unique approach to the world, and her condition made even the most mundane scenes more interesting. Her lack of acute emotion really surprised and confounded everyone around her. The most interesting parts, I found, were when she was trying to pretend at emotions she didn't actually feel. With a more emotionally-normal main character, the conflict in a scary scene would be: I am scared, how do I find my courage? But with Dora, the conflict shifted and became: Oh dear, how do I pretend to be scared? I deeply enjoyed writing that.
If you had to describe your main character in three words, what would they be?
Hm. Dissociative Regency lady, I think.
If this book had a playlist, what genre of music would be most prominent?
This book does have a playlist! I always keep playlists for my writing. Music helps me switch into the mindset of the novel very quickly. In the case of Half a Soul, I had mostly classical music by modern composers—preferably with just a hint of the weird. For a lot of the book, I found myself listening to Agnes Obel's Under Giant Trees, but I also listened to a lot from the composer Ludovico Einaudi. I should add that my husband found all of the above for me, actually—I put together an initial playlist, but he's got a really fantastic ear for music and a kind of encyclopedic knowledge of artists that always floors me. More than once while I was writing, I'd get a message from him with a new song to listen to, with a note that this really reminds me of Elias or this is definitely Dora's song.
What one question or thought would you like your readers to consider after they finish the book?
I've always felt that the strength of satire is the ability to reflect and refract your world in such a way that you're forced to reconsider it from an outsider's point of view. The faeries in Half a Soul have really observed the culture of the time with complete naivety and taken it to extremes—but in the end, they aren't entirely wrong about many of their observations. Dora finds herself more than a little taken aback by basic English mores of the era when they're played out before her in that manner: the ideas that being rich makes you virtuous and that poor people must be punished with work for its own sake.
I think the main thing I would ask a reader to consider is what a faerie from this setting might make of their modern-day culture—and whether the reader would be pleased or horrified by the conclusions such a creature would draw from their culture.
What is your most unusual writing quirk or ritual?
I think my strangest quirk is that, when I really get stuck or frustrated, I will sometimes intentionally read or watch something that I know I'll find only so-so. I find that most of my impetus to write comes from the irritation of something not-quite-right. For instance, I might watch a television show with a fantastic premise and quite decent characters who nonetheless make utterly irrational decisions in order to advance the plot; by the end of an episode or two, I'll have that niggling annoyance at the back of my head telling me I need to sit down and do this correctly.
Ironically, I'm not sure that this works very well with truly terrible art. I just end up feeling a bit tired and morose if something is that bad, like I've wasted my evening. Really good art sometimes inspires me too, but it's far more common to find middle-of-the-road art where you think ah, but if you'd only changed one thing, you could have been fantastic!
What do you feel makes a story stand apart from the rest?
I think a good story either makes you think or else makes you feel. I think a truly fantastic story makes you do both.
Is there a book you've read that impacted you more than any other?
That's an exceptionally difficult question! I've read a lot, and I'm sure I've been influenced by all kinds of bits and pieces along the way. But it will probably surprise no one that I have a lot of Terry Pratchett on my shelf. So many of his books are sharp, insightful, and entertaining all at once. It was probably Terry Pratchett who convinced me that my love of fantasy wasn't lesser in any way. But it was also Terry Pratchett who convinced me that I wanted to try my hand at young adult fiction—one of his young adult books, The Wee Free Men, was one of my favourites of all time.
Have you read anything that has influenced your perspective on fiction?
A friend who does scriptwriting recommended Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey to me. It's a dense book, but I did make my way through it, and it crystallized a lot of my instinctive understanding of the elements that make up a classical faerie tale. The structure of the hero's journey is especially relevant to my writing, since I love the literal journey to the Other World. That said, I don't know that I'd recommend the book to anyone unless they've got a decent bit of stamina. It's a bit of a monster.
What life experiences have shaped your writing the most?
Oddly, I think the life experiences that shaped my writing most were not actually my life experiences. I've had the privilege in the last decade or so of meeting and interacting with a lot of people from different walks of life, and observing the way that others treat them. I've led a very comfortable life, on the whole, and I've always had enough money and apparent normalcy that I came to assume that human beings were generally very nice, reasonable, logical creatures. But once I started keeping company with people who were just a little bit poor or not-quite-normal, I quickly saw how awful and irrational human beings can be when they're confronted by something they consider to be an annoyance. It's both saddening and very eye-opening to see someone cross a busy street just to tell another total stranger: "I don't like the way you look, and you better be careful, or else I'll hurt you."
I don't mean to be a downer. But that experience has absolutely been the main thing to shape my writing. I used to write in order to explore human heroism in the face of otherworldly adversity. But now I write in order to explore human heroism in the face of human cruelty and absurdity. I still think there are uplifting ways to do that, but it's important not to look away from the reality of it.
Share an obscure fact with me, anything you found interesting.
Pineapples! During my research into the Regency era, I discovered that pineapples were considered such a rare, expensive commodity that many parties rented a pineapple centrepiece just to show it off, and then returned it afterward uneaten! Some pineapples got passed around so much that they'd eventually rot and require replacing. I gained such a strange appreciation for pineapples after learning about that. I take pictures now whenever I see one while I'm out and about. My favourite brunch place has a whole pile of pineapples on display, and I can't help grinning at it like an idiot every time I go there to eat.
Your bio lists some really interesting past jobs (historical re-enactor, professional witch at a metaphysical supply store, web developer, vending machine repairperson). Besides writing, which of those you've held was your favorite and why?
I took away something special from every odd job I've ever done. But I'll always have a special nostalgia for vending machines. Vending was a family business, growing up, and I spent many summers riding around town in a pickup truck with either my father or my mother, depending on the day. It was very hands-on work, and I'm proud of the fact that, to this day, I can still clear a dollar-bill jam. Because we had to spend so long in the truck, and because we ran jukeboxes and had lots of CDs, we played a lot of music, and spent plenty of time talking to each other. At the time, I was sometimes sad I didn't get to spend my summers slacking off. But now that I look back on it, I got to spend more time with my family than most people, and I really cherish a lot of those memories.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I run tabletop roleplaying games! My husband and I are both habitual gamemasters. I've run Dungeons & Dragons groups for as long as I can remember—though these days, I prefer either Fate or Pathfinder, 1st edition. Running tabletop games is still storytelling, in a sense, but it comes with the unexpected pleasure of having your characters misbehave and take your story in directions you absolutely weren't expecting. My players pride themselves on doing clever things to outwit my plot-line, and I pride myself on accommodating their clever choices on-the-fly and letting them alter the story's course of events.