Students Want to Know Terra Elan McVoy

Photo Credit: Jamie Allen

Photo Credit: Jamie Allen

My students and I love contemporary realistic fiction, especially when authors of this genre write both verse and prose novels.  When Terra Elan McVoy approached me about an interview, I knew my students would be thrilled to interview her.  I have a copy of her book Being Friends With Boys in my class library, and as we came up with questions for the interview, we discovered more of her books that we’re excited to read. :)  Thank you for answering my students’ questions, Terra!


  • What is your favorite YA novel? This is so hard to choose, but I think my very favorite YA novel is GIRL by Blake Nelson, just because it has taught me so much about voice, and the genre in general.

  • At any point did you ever want to quit and begin a different career?
    This is so funny, because it was only this fall that I really tired to approach novel writing as a career at all! I have always had other full-time jobs while writing my books, largely because though the advances are nice, they are not enough for me to live off of just yet!  (And they really aren’t for most people.) Even now, I am working part-time at an independent children’s bookstore, as well as doing as many workshops and teaching engagements as I can, to supplement my novel-writing income. To answer your question though, even when I’ve had other jobs, of course I’ve felt like quitting, because being a writer is HARD!!


  •  Did any of your close family/friends tell you not to become an author? If so, why?
    No, no one ever told me not to do this, except for myself. My family and teachers, friends, my husband, have all been extremely encouraging of my writing. I just never thought it was possible for me to make a living at it, because doing so is so difficult and requires so much work. (Work I wasn’t sure I wanted to do. I just wanted to write because I loved it and had fun with it, and didn’t want to worry about the money part). Sometimes I still think it is indulgent, and a crazy thing to try, but for now it seems to be working out all right.



  •  What is your favorite and least favorite genre?
    The stuff I love to read most is realistic fiction, because I’m so enraptured by the drama of daily life, and interested in how writers articulate this real-life human experience. My second favorite genre though is magical realism (books like The Night Circus, and Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin), because I love it when magic gets worked into real life, too. There isn’t any genre I dislike really, because I think it’s important for there to be a book out there for every kind of reader. I’ll say that I don’t often read a lot of high fantasy or paranormal stuff, though, just because I don’t need a dragon or a vampire to keep me interested in the characters and the plot, so long as the writing is good!


  •  Do your characters reflect yourself?
    Of course they do, but not necessarily on purpose. I’ve heard several times that every person in your dream is really some reflection of your own self (for example: if you have a dream about your best friend, he or she in your dream is really a manifestation of how you see your friend’s energy/personality operating in yourself), and I tend to think that’s how characters are. There are qualities in all of my main characters that I can look at and say, “This is similar to how I am,” but it’s not  intentionally like “Oh I’m going to write a character about me in this situation now.”


  •  Will you ever write another book in verse?
    That is a good question, and the answer is, “I don’t know.” It’s hard for me to imagine how I might do that successfully, since I poured so much of my poetic self into AFTER THE KISS. It’s hard to picture how I could do so without having the poems sound just like Becca’s, or Camille’s vignettes. However,  more than one person has asked about it, so it’s definitely somewhere in there in my mind. Not in the plans right now, but you never know!



  •  What was your favorite book growing up?
    Oh gosh, I had SO many favorite books growing up, and different favorites at different stages in my life. One that really sticks out is Kabumpo in Oz. My mom read all the Oz books to us, and this one is one not many people know about, but it is so good. I was also obsessed with Fridays by Patricia Lee Gauch. I think I checked it out of the library about ten times when I was in 4th and 5th grade.


  •  Do you plan on writing any books in a different genre? (Other than contemporary)
    It’s only very recently that I’ve started to ask myself this question. I didn’t really “set out” to become a contemporary author, or even a YA author–it’s just the way the stories have been coming to me, and for now it’s how they seem to continue to. However, I have had some curiosity about what it might look like if I wrote, say, a horror story. Or maybe something epic and futuristic, since I liked those things a lot when I was in high school. Lots of people ask me about writing adult, too. I guess you’ll just have to stay posted on those! Or tell me what you’d like to see me do next!

***About Terra Elan McVoy***

Terra Elan McVoy has been reading and writing since she first learned how to, and her whole life has been motivated by her passion for those two things. She received her BA in English at St. Andrews Presbyterian College, and an MA in Creative Writing from Florida State University. She has worked as an event coordinator at a major chain bookstore; an editorial assistant at an NYC publisher; as manager of an independent children’s bookstore; and as Program Director of the AJC Decatur Book Festival. She is the author of Pure, After the Kiss, The Summer of Firsts and Lasts, Being Friends with Boys, and Criminal. To learn more about Terra and her books, visit

Students Wants to Know Beck McDowell

Photo courtesy of media kitMy students and I are happy to be part of Beck McDowell’s blog tour for her debut novel This Is Not a Drill.  Many of my students are fans of realistic fiction and aspiring authors, so they always appreciate the opportunity to interview an author.  Thank you so much, Beck, for asking us to be part of your tour!

Summary of This Is Not a Drill (From Goodreads):

Two teens try to save a class of first-graders from a gun-wielding soldier suffering from PTSD

When high school seniors Emery and Jake are taken hostage in the classroom where they tutor, they must work together to calm both the terrified children and the gunman threatening them–a task made even more difficult by their recent break-up. Brian Stutts, a soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Iraq, uses deadly force when he’s denied access to his son because of a custody battle. The children’s fate is in the hands of the two teens, each recovering from great loss, who now must reestablish trust in a relationship damaged by betrayal. Told through Emery and Jake’s alternating viewpoints, this gripping novel features characters teens will identify with and explores the often-hidden damages of war.


** Check out the rest of the tour stops **
** Follow Beck on Twitter **
** Beck’s Website **
** This Is Not a Drill released on October 25th **


  • What made you choose this title for the book?
    You’re the first person who’s asked that. Good question, Felicia. I really don’t think I’m very good at titles, but in this case – we do SO many drills at schools, we always assume it’s another drill when the alarms (especially fire alarms) go off. So the words, “this is not a drill” kinda sent chills through me – like you’re lulled into a sense of false security by all the boring PRACTICES and then – bam – you realize THIS is the REAL thing and your life is in danger.


  • Do you know someone with PTSD?
    Yes, a few who were diagnosed and lots who were undiagnosed. I’ve talked with many students who still suffer from a traumatic event from the past.  I’ve seen how keeping a secret, especially in the case of physical or sexual abuse, can keep you from living a full, happy life – until you’ve said it out loud and dealt with it. And post-traumatic stress can follow a car accident, a serious injury, a natural disaster, the death of a loved one – lots of things other than fighting in a war. What makes it so scary with military victims is that they are reluctant to get help – for fear it will damage their careers in a field where physical and mental toughness are perceived as critical traits for success. And when it goes untreated, it often manifests itself in dangerous ways.

    Right now a lot of my former students are having nightmares and other symptoms of PTSD after surviving the tornadoes that killed a number of University of Alabama students in Tuscaloosa last year. I just want to encourage ANYONE who’s suffering to look up the symptoms and treatment options online and seek out a professional in your community. You are NOT alone and there IS help for you!


  • How long did it take for you to write the book and get it published?
    THIS IS NOT A DRILL took about a year, and then there was a year of revision with my wonderful editor, Nancy Paulsen, at Penguin. I was really lucky to find a terrific agent (Jill Corcoran) and a top-notch publisher within just a few days of sending out the manuscript, but that followed a long process of rejection with my first book and a run of bad luck with my second, a non-fiction called LAST BUS OUT, which I eventually published as an e-book and then a paperback. There’s more information about that process on my blog at if anyone’s interested in the details.


  • Why was his son taken away?
    When there’s a divorce, there’s often a custody battle – one parent who doesn’t want the other to see the kids. In this case it’s obvious that Patrick’s mother has good reason to fear that Patrick won’t be safe with his dad; he’s so emotionally troubled that she assumes he can’t properly care for their son. School administrators are usually alerted when this happens, and they’re generally very careful to make sure any parent who checks out a child has the legal authority to do so. When Stutts goes directly to the classroom, we can assume that he knows the office won’t allow him to take Patrick out of the building. And Patrick’s behavior shows that he’s suffering from his father’s problems and the conflict he’s caused at home – as we see how withdrawn he is in class.


  • How long did you research information on this subject?
    I always take LOTS of notes and do a ton of research before starting a book. Some topics are easy to look up online and, because my next book (now in edits with Penguin) features a New Orleans cemetery, I’ve spent a lot of time at the Williams Research Center in the French Quarter. Since I’m an English major/Journalism minor, research is fun for me (especially right now because I’m researching voo-doo practices!)  Jared, your question made me realize that, in addition to the specific research for each book, writers are ALWAYS researching EVERYTHING. Every conversation, every visit to another place, every book we read is full of ideas that might spark another book or part of a book. It’s a fun way to approach life!


  • Did you find it easier to write from a guy’s point of view or a girl’s?
    It’s very odd, but I actually prefer writing in guy voice. Maybe it’s because of a natural tendency writers have to tune in more to people who are different from us so we can learn more. I love guy humor and in teaching, I found that high school guys are more likely to be brutally honest  – which I prefer to trying to figure out what someone really thinks. No offense to girls. I will be the first to admit I do the “silent-treatment” girl thing now and then of “What’s wrong?” “Nothing.” I try not to generalize, but there are some key differences in the way we’re put together – emotionally as well as physically. To be honest, I might not like that kind of truthfulness in my girlfriends (“Does this dress make my butt look big?” “Yes.”) that I find so charming in guys!
  •  Do you feel that dialogue is important to your character’s development throughout the book?
    Great question! I LOVE writing dialogue. You’ll notice that it’ a BIG part of the book. I just learn more through listening to what people say than through hearing or reading descriptions of their lives and characteristics. I’ve been told my style is a cross between screenplay-writer and news reporter – and I’m fairly happy with that assessment. I think readers would rather “listen” to a character than read about him. Do you agree?

Whole Class:

  • Why did you decide to write about this topic?
    I never worried about violence in my classroom when I taught, but I had nightmares about it several times, so I knew it was a topic my subconscious needed to address – that fear of how I’d react in a crisis and whether I’d be able to keep my students safe. Also, when my nephew was in second grade, he told me the teacher said if they were in the bathroom and heard a “lockdown” over the intercom, they should lock the stall door, sit on the toilet, and pull their feet up so if a bad man came in, he wouldn’t know they were there. It was so heartbreaking, thinking about him – or any little kid – hiding there, alone and terrified. But I knew it was probably a good thing to tell them. It makes me sad to think that now we have to tell kids to drop to the floor and cover their heads if gunfire erupts in a school or a mall or a movie theater. But the reality is that the more we do to prepare them for the kinds of terrible things that we know can happen any day in our crazy world, the safer they are.

Students Want to Know Carrie Arcos

Carrie Arcos’ debut novel, Out of Reach, released on October 16th.  My students and I love contemporary realistic fiction, especially ones dealing with addiction, so I was really excited when Carrie agreed to be interviewed by my students.  They can’t wait to read Carrie’s answers and get their hands on Out of Reach!

Thank you, Carrie! :)

Summary (From Goodreads): How do you find someone who doesn’t want to be found? A girl searches for her missing addict brother while confronting her own secrets in this darkly lyrical novel.

Rachel has always idolized her older brother Micah. He struggles with addiction, but she tells herself that he’s in control. And she almost believes it. Until the night that Micah doesn’t come home.

Rachel’s terrified—and she can’t help but feel responsible. She should have listened when Micah tried to confide in her. And she only feels more guilt when she receives an anonymous note telling her that Micah is nearby and in danger.

With nothing more to go on than hope and a slim lead, Rachel and Micah’s best friend, Tyler, begin the search. Along the way, Rachel will be forced to confront her own dark secrets, her growing attraction to Tyler…and the possibility that Micah may never come home.

** Carrie Arcos’ Website **
** Follow Carrie Arcos on Twitter **
** “Like” Carrie Arcos on Facebook **
** P.S. Did you know that Out of Reach is a National Book Award finalist?! **


  • Do you ever have a hard time coming up with ideas like names, setting, plot, or just an overall story?
    When thinking of a story, I usually begin with a character and setting and something that the character wants or is struggling with. It’s not fully formed, but I have a general sense. So you could say I know the direction. What’s difficult sometimes is the middle. How is character going to get to where I think he or she should?  What obstacles come her way?

    Names can be tricky because I don’t want to use names of people I know or maybe they’ll think I’m writing about them. And names can mean something intentionally or not.

    I love setting in a story. For me it’s almost like another character.

Morgan F:

  • Why did you decide to use the name Micah?
    I once had a student named Micah who was just awesome. I’ve loved the name ever since. I’ve wanted to name every kid of mine Micah at some point, but my husband vetoed it. So naming one of my characters Micah was a given. I finally got my way!

Morgan T:

  • Why did you become an author when you were a teacher?
    I’ve always wanted to write, even before I became a teacher, but I think I was too chicken to try and get it out there. I taught HS for a number of years and wrote here and there. When I started having kids, I decided not to teach full time. I ended up taking my writing a little more seriously. I began teaching on the college level because I could do it on a more part time basis. Honestly, I love both. I miss teaching HS, some of my best memories are with former students, but at this point in my life it would be difficult for me to be a good one with three kids and a writing career.


  • What does it mean that your novel is lyrical?
    Lyrical refers to the style of the prose. I suppose it could also be called poetic or literary. My publisher came up with that phrase. It’s not a novel in verse.
  • How long has Micah had his addiction?
    About three years.


  • Are your characters based on real life people you have met?
    Yes and no.
  • What inspired you to write this novel and to write about someone with addiction?
    The book is inspired by some true events. I have family members who have struggled with addition. I have actually gone looking for someone as well. I thought that might make a good premise for a novel, so I kind of went with it. I also liked looking at addiction from the perspective of a sibling since most books I’ve seen that deal with addiction follow the addict. The story is not so much Micah’s story or a story of addiction, as much as it’s a story about how we deal with the pain that comes when those we love leave or make choices we can’t control. It’s a love story of sorts from a sister to a brother.

    Since I’ve gone through the pain of walking along side someone with addiction, I feel the novel contains emotional truth. The novel isn’t a true story, however, I did take something that happened from my freshman year of high school. When you get to the part about the substitute and the game Risk, yes that really did happen.

Students Want to Know Corrine Jackson

Have you added If I Lie by Corrine Jackson to your TBR piles yet?!  I did as soon as I read the summary because it sounds fantastic!  I’m thrilled that she volunteered to be interviewed by my students because they’re now just as excited to read If I Lie as I am.  I hope you enjoy this interview with Corrine Jackson; I know my students are eager to read her responses.

Summary of If I Lie (From Goodreads): A powerful debut novel about the gray space between truth and perception.

Quinn’s done the unthinkable: she kissed a guy who is not Carey, her boyfriend. And she got caught. Being branded a cheater would be bad enough, but Quinn is deemed a traitor, and shunned by all of her friends. Because Carey’s not just any guy—he’s serving in Afghanistan and revered by everyone in their small, military town.

Quinn could clear her name, but that would mean revealing secrets that she’s vowed to keep—secrets that aren’t hers to share. And when Carey goes MIA, Quinn must decide how far she’ll go to protect her boyfriend…and her promise.

** Corrine Jackson’s Website **
** Follow Corrine Jackson on Twitter **
** If I Lie releases on August 28th, 2012 from Simon Pulse **

Ashley B:

  • Are you from a small town?
    I was born in a town that is hardly a blip on the map. It had one stop light, the population was less than 1,000, and it takes up all of a half mile. My family moved to southern California when I was very young, but I used to go back to Haxtun, Colorado to visit my father. The simplicity of that place has stayed with me. I once rode a lawnmower down the sidewalk at age six, the only restaurant in town gave Dum Dums suckers to all the kids, and a whistle blew at noon every day to tell the grain factory workers that it was lunch time. Everyone knew everyone else, and sometimes I daydreamed about a swimming through the piles of grain. Those are the kinds of things I think about when I write about small towns.
  • Does the military play a role in your life?
    My uncle did two tours in Vietnam. He was mentally ill the rest of his life and spent a lot of time at the VA Hospital. I also have an honorary uncle who fought in Vietnam. The stories I’ve heard from them and my family definitely had an impact on my writing and the inspiration for IF I LIE.

Alexis K.:

  • What goes on with this other guy to make her do what she does?
    Sh. I can’t tell. Honest. It would ruin the book for you if I gave away all the secrets.
  • Does this other guy know her boyfriend?
    Yes, he’s a close friend. In fact, he’s Carey’s BEST friend. Scandalous, right? Things aren’t always what they seem to be, though.


  • When you started writing this book, did you expect it to get published?
    At first, I didn’t know what I had. I couldn’t figure out where to start the story and wrote about six different beginnings to IF I LIE. The problem was that I knew how I wanted to open the book, but it required me to weave flashbacks and memories throughout the story. I was taught that flashbacks are like your mom wearing Crocs – something she should know better than to do. But then something clicked and I figured out how to weave those moments in so they felt natural. After that, the pieces fell together and I thought I had something that might see a bookshelf.


  • As an author, what do you feel is the most important aspect of your work?
    I think it’s important to do my best to get the story “right.” For me, this means doing a lot of research. In IF I LIE, Quinn is from a military town and her father is a Marine. Quinn is also working with a Vietnam Vet on the Veterans History Project, which is a project run by the Library of Congress to record the stories of our soldiers. I was sick that I would do this experience an injustice. My publisher sent IF I LIE to the Veterans History Project, and my greatest fear was that they would tell me I was off base. Thankfully, that didn’t happen, and I’m proud to know that they were very touched by the story.
  • Who’s your favorite author?  What do you like about his/her work?
    Laurie Halse Anderson. Hands down. SPEAK blows me away, and I used to read sections of WINTERGIRLS to inspire me while I was writing IF I LIE. She’s brilliant at symbolism and voice. I also love her willingness to play with structure. For example, SPEAK is told in a journal format and WINTERGIRLS has an awesome use of strikethroughs and repetition that mirrors the internal angst of the narrator. Most of all, I find her use of language to be borderline poetic at times, and I love to sink into some of her lines and reread them. She makes me feel things when I read her work and that is a huge gift.

Sarah W:

  • Do you like the cover?
    I couldn’t imagine what the cover would look like. My main request to my publisher was that we stay away from girls in pretty dresses. I thought that would make light of the story or make it seem like a different kind of book than it is. My editor emailed me the cover while I was at my day job. My coworkers gathered around when I opened it, and I cried like an idiot. I think it’s so beautiful and mirrors the heart of IF I LIE in a way that surprised me. The black-and-white photo is both stark and full of emotion, and I could hug the designer for giving me that cover.
  • Have you ever been cheated on?
    Not that I could prove, but I had strong suspicions once. The fact that I couldn’t trust my boyfriend was enough to wake me up, and I ended up breaking the relationship off. I decided a long time ago that I wouldn’t stay with someone who didn’t respect me. I believe cheating causes a lot of damage. Beyond the pain it unleashes, cheating can break up families and leave kids growing up in a single-parent home. We should make t-shirts that say, “Cheating Sucks. Don’t Do It.”


  • Who would you recommend this book to?
    The reactions from my male and female readers so far are pretty balanced, so I think that both boys and girls will like it. It’s kind of heavy and emotional, but I wouldn’t really call it a “girl” book. I think the topics it covers are pretty universal and not unique to any gender.
  • Who is your favorite character in the book?
    Aside from Quinn, I love George. He’s a Vietnam Vet that Quinn gets forced to work with at the VA Hospital. He’s grouchy, flirts with all the nurses, and cheats at cards. I love the scenes with Quinn and George because they have fun and don’t take any crap each other. He can make Quinn laugh when she feels like crying, and that’s a valuable trait in a friend.


  • Do you think “cheaters” in real life are really abandoned by friends because of what they did/have done?
    It depends on the friends and the community. If you’re in a military family or dating/married to a soldier, cheating is considered deplorable. In all the interviews I did and the research I conducted, everyone agreed that cheating on a deployed soldier makes you the scum of the earth. When a soldier goes to war, they are comforted by the thought of the family waiting for them at home. In that community, it’s considered a betrayal to abandon that person. Outside the military (and maybe some religious communities), though, I think that friends will often choose sides. Some friends will stick by the “cheater,” and others won’t.


  • What does the title have to do with the book?
    Good question! Quinn is keeping a major secret to protect her boyfriend. She can tell the truth and free herself from the town’s condemnation, or she can lie to protect her boyfriend. She is constantly asked to choose between her boyfriend and herself, and she struggles to act with honorable when her sacrifices add up to more than she can take. What would you give up for someone you loved? Would you lie to protect them at great cost to yourself? That’s what the title is about.


Students Want to Know Sarah Tregay

Sarah TregayI have **THIS MUCH** love for Sarah Tregay’s debut Love and Leftovers, so I was beyond excited when she volunteered to be interviewed by my students.  And I may be biased since these are my students, but I think they asked some pretty good questions :)

Summary (From Goodreads):

My wish
is to fall
cranium over Converse
in dizzy, daydream-worthy

(If only it were that easy.)

When her parents split, Marcie is dragged from Idaho to a family summerhouse in New Hampshire. She leaves behind her friends, a group of freaks and geeks called the Leftovers, including her emo-rocker boyfriend, and her father. By the time Labor Day rolls around, Marcie suspects this “vacation” has become permanent. She starts at a new school where a cute boy brings her breakfast and a new romance heats up.

But understanding love, especially when you’ve watched your parents’ affections end, is elusive. What does it feel like, really? Can you even know it until you’ve lost it?

** Sarah Tregay’s Website **
** Like Sarah Tregay on Facebook **
** Love and Leftovers is available in stores! **


  • Was writing in verse difficult or do you prefer it?
    Marcie’s character fit well with the verse format, as did her story, so writing LOVE AND LEFTOVERS in verse felt very natural.
    Verse has some challenges, but that’s what makes it interesting to write. For instance, when I went from 8.5×11 paper (for the manuscript) to the smaller page size (for the book) I had to edit some lines so they’d fit. On the other hand, verse can be easier than prose in the rewriting/revising stages because you change the order of the poems without much editing. I enjoy writing—and reading—novels in verse.


  • Why did you choose to write a long distance love story?
    Before I wrote LOVE AND LEFTOVERS, I had written a handful of manuscripts that didn’t sell. My friends said these stories were “too quiet.” (They were nice enough not to call them boring.) So When I was thinking about LOVE AND LEFTOVERS, I made a list of very bad things that could happen to my main character because I wanted the stakes to be high and the story interesting. Being away from friends was on that list, and Marcie being away from her boyfriend, Linus, added to her loneliness and upped the stakes.

Sarah W:

  • Do you plan on writing more books?  If so, are they going to all be in verse?
    I’m working on another novel or two, but they may not end up in verse. My editor asked for me to try one of them in prose instead. It’s an experiment, so I guess we’ll have to see how it goes.


  • Why are some of the kids called leftovers?  Were you considered a leftover?
    The Leftovers are a group of friends that don’t fit into the usual cliques in their high school, for example, one is an athlete who also gets good grades, another is a girl scout, and three are in a band. My friends at my lunch table in high school didn’t call ourselves “leftovers”, but we were a hodgepodge mix of AP students and students who were scraping by with Cs, field hockey players, photographers, and musicians.


  • How do you manage to say and mean so much with so little written (referring to verse)?
    I think with verse a writer can lean on the reader a little more than in prose. Each reader brings their own feelings and experiences with them when they read a book and an author can tap into these emotions without explaining every minute detail by using word choice, turns of phrase, and even white space. Verse definitely has the “read between the lines” aspect where a reader uses a combination of their own experiences and imagination to fill in the spaces. So in some ways, reading a novel in verse is a collaboration between the author and the reader.

Students Want to Know Robin Bridges

Robin Bridges, author of The Gathering StormNecromancy, historical fiction, tzars, and romance?!  Count me in!  Robin Bridges is the 2012 debut author of The Gathering Storm.  I told my students about the book, showed them the book trailer, and one of them read The Gathering Storm before composing questions for Robin Bridges.  Quite a few of my students were intrigued by the trailer and started asking me lots of questions about necromancy and tzars.  Thankfully my students will get some of their answers today!  Thank you, Robin, for participating with us!

Summary of The Gathering Storm (From Goodreads): St. Petersburg, Russia, 1888. As she attends a whirl of glittering balls, royal debutante Katerina Alexandrovna, Duchess of Oldenburg, tries to hide a dark secret: she can raise the dead. No one knows. Not her family. Not the girls at her finishing school. Not the tsar or anyone in her aristocratic circle. Katerina considers her talent a curse, not a gift. But when she uses her special skill to protect a member of the Imperial Family, she finds herself caught in a web of intrigue.

An evil presence is growing within Europe’s royal bloodlines—and those aligned with the darkness threaten to topple the tsar. Suddenly Katerina’s strength as a necromancer attracts attention from unwelcome sources . . . including two young men—George Alexandrovich, the tsar’s standoffish middle son, who needs Katerina’s help to safeguard Russia, even if he’s repelled by her secret, and the dashing Prince Danilo, heir to the throne of Montenegro, to whom Katerina feels inexplicably drawn.

The time has come for Katerina to embrace her power, but which side will she choose—and to whom will she give her heart?

** Robin Bridges’ Website **
** Follow Robin on Twitter **
** The Gathering Storm released on January 10th **


  • In the beginning, why did you introduce so many characters all at once?
    TGS has a large cast of characters, so I had to introduce them in groups- first Katerina, then her school mates, then the members of the Imperial Courts at the Smolni ball.
  • Between George and Danilo, who do you like better?
    Ha!  I really am fond of each of these boys, for different reasons.  George is stubborn and quiet, but has a strong sense of duty, both to his father and to his country. Danilo is mischievous and suave, but his loyalty is only to himself.  As an eldest son, he’s been spoiled much more by his family than George.
  • What are your top five favorite books?
    Ack, just 5?  The first ones that come to mind are:
    Pride and Prejudice (both with and without zombies),
    Anna Karenina,
    Howl’s Moving Castle,
    The Scorpio Races,
    Good Omens


  • Have you ever been to Russia?
    Not yet!  But hopefully within the next year or two.  I have a long list of palaces and museums that I’d like to see there.
  • Do you enjoy history?
    Definitely.  I’m always interested in learning about different time periods.

Zach H:

  • How did you come up with the idea of blending the supernatural with historical fiction?
    I love reading historical fiction with supernatural or fantastic elements:  Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy, Scott Westerfield’s Leviathan series, and Sorcery and Cecelia (or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot) by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer.


  • How do you become a necromancer?
    In Katerina’s case, it was an ability she was born with.  But there are dark spells and rituals that only the most powerful mages or sorcerers can use.
  • Why is necromancy scorned?
    Katerina hates her ability because she’s afraid it makes her a bad person.  Bringing the dead back to life upsets the balance of nature.  And it’s a nasty, dirty type of magic- something the fashionable fae of Saint Petersburg look down their noses at.  It has nothing to do with glamour or romance. 

Students Want to Know Emily Beaver

Emily Beaver head shotWhen I was told about Emily Beaver and her debut novel Slipping Reality, I knew my students would love interviewing her.  They were touched by her story and amazed that she wrote this book at such a young age (she was 14!).  Thank you, Emily, for answering my students’ questions!

Summary of Slipping Reality (From Goodreads): In a time of hardship and heartbreak, sometimes, reality just isn’t enough. Slipping Reality is the story of fourteen-year-old Katelyn Emerson, who, when faced with the glaring reality of her brother’s illness, rebels against the truth by slipping away into the depths of her own imagination. There, she finds the kind of support and comfort she feels she deserves. There, she does not have to feel so alone. And yet, as Katelyn’s grasp on reality begins to unravel, so too does the story of a girl who grew up too fast and fell apart too soon. Emily Beaver’s debut novel is a coming of age story that deals with the trials of young grief, insight, and growth where it’s least expected.

** Emily’s Website **

** Emily’s Tumblr **

** Follow Emily on Twitter **
Slipping Reality Cover


  • Did your brother ask you to write a book about him or just a normal book?
    Hi, Ethan! Nope, he didn’t ask a single thing of me. I wrote the book on my own, and he just supported it. I never told him it was about him or had anything to do with him – at the time of his death he was still reading my first novel, which was significantly different from the type of book Slipping Reality is. I did tell him about Slipping Reality, though, I just didn’t mention the plot. He told me he hoped it was published, and here we are now!


  • How difficult was it to write while your brother was sick?  Did it encourage you more or make it harder?
    Hi, Chris! It was actually not difficult at all – I needed it like I needed air. To have a place to go outside of my world was just what I needed. It only was difficult when my brother had actually died, and I had to go back and write the book like he was still living. I’ll never forget how it felt to fill out the rest of the dedication page to him – I had left it with his birth date and a dash mark, and waited until his actual dying day to fill the rest of it in with the year of his death. That really put things into perspective for me, about how important the story was and that definitely encouraged me a lot.

Rebecca R.:

  • Do you ever feel like if your book doesn’t become popular, you’ll disappoint your brother?
    Hi, Rebecca! That’s a good question. I like to believe no matter what I do my brother will be proud of me, so long that I continue to live my life the way it was meant to be lived – happily, making smart choices and having a great time. I like to think he’d be happy with the book whether it’s read by one person or the entire world. Success isn’t measured in how many people read (or, by extension, like) my book. It’s measured in what you do with what you love and the feeling that you’ve put yourself out there and made a difference. Even if that difference is only in your life alone.


  • How accurate is this story when it comes to the truth of what you went through?
    Hello, Jessica! There are moments throughout the story that are completely accurate. It would take a while to list them all, but I do have a best friend named Lauren, I do have a dog named Rocket and I used to have one named Anna, and most of what Matthew went through in the book Matthew went through in real life as well, if not all of it (just not necessarily in the same order as my memory went numb from time to time writing it). The scene right before Katelyn finds out Matthew’s going to die and refuses to go to sleep is actually based on a true story, except without the Tristan part. The night before I found out my brother was going to die for certain I refused to go to bed and wouldn’t stop sobbing, and when my dad asked why I told him I didn’t want to face tomorrow, and that I had a really bad feeling about tomorrow. It turned out I was right, and I felt that was important to include in the story. But the visions, Tristan and Cedric, and those sort of things are not true – only the love Katelyn had for her brother, some of the elements about her and her life, and the decline of Matthew’s health is true.      
  •  Did you feel a lot of pressure to write a really good story, considering the circumstances?
    Of course! I don’t think there’s a single writer that wants their story to be bad. I guess I had to prove myself even more, though, because I’m young and because I wanted so badly to honor my brother through this novel. There were times where I felt like giving up completely on my story because I believed I couldn’t get it to the kind of love and emotion I felt. There were times where I felt like my story wasn’t good enough in any aspect. But the beautiful thing about writing, and any kind of art, is that it’s subjective. One person may love my story and another may find it boring and overdramatic. Who knows? It’s all opinion. I try to think about that rather than defining the actual quality of my book.


  • How did you come up with the title?
    Hi, Torey! I came up with the title the second I sat down at my computer to write Slipping Reality. It just came to me. I liked the sound of it, especially the word ‘slipping’, because it made me think of myself and how I was slipping from my comfortable place as a teenage girl into this world and tragedy that no one should ever go through. The title kind of has two meanings to me – one being the literal slipping of reality that Katelyn goes through, and the other of the way that reality kind of slips away from you when things don’t go according to plan. I always consider it a good omen when I can think of titles right away, because it usually means I’ve got a book I can finish.
  •  Being so young, how did you get your book recognized?
    By just that – being so young! And sending it to lots and lots of people. I was very lucky to have been noticed, and even more lucky to have such wonderful people supporting and believing in me. I can’t ever know if my book will amount to anything near a bestseller, but the possibility is unreal to me. My book is definitely not that recognized – yet – but maybe one day it will be!

 Thanks for all of your questions, guys! Very good questions and most of them I haven’t been asked before! What fun for me. :)

Students Want to Know Megan Bostic

After telling my students about Megan Bostic’s debut Never Eighteen, they were looking forward to interviewing her.  Like many teens, my students are drawn to road trip books and stories dealing with cancer.  I’m very happy to add Never Eighteen to my class library.  Thank you for participating with us, Megan!

Summary of Never Eighteen (From Goodreads):

I had the dream again. The one where I’m running. I don’t know what from or where to, but I’m scared, terrified really.

Austin Parker is never going to see his eighteenth birthday. At the rate he’s going, he probably won’t even see the end of the year. But in the short time he has left there’s one thing he can do: He can try to help the people he loves live—even though he never will.

It’s probably hopeless.

But he has to try.

** Megan Bostic’s Website **

** Megan’s Blog: The Angsty Writer **

** Follow Megan on Twitter **

** Never Eighteen released in January, so make sure to get a copy :) **


  • What’s your favorite memory from when you were eighteen?

 So many good memories, it’s hard to pick just one, but I think I will go with a road trip weekend.  Two girlfriends and I drove from Tacoma, Washington to Portland, Oregon to visit my future college, University of Portland.

 My sister attended school there, so we had a place to stay.  We checked out the campus and journeyed through the dorms, meeting people and acting crazy.  On Saturday night, my sister had a party to introduce us to some of our future classmates.

  It was a lot of fun, and was nice to meet some people in advance, so I didn’t feel so overwhelmed starting college the following school year.  And of course, there is nothing like blasting the music and laughing with friends on a three hour drive.

 1987 Road Trip Playlist:

BEASTIE BOYS – (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)
R.E.M. – The One I Love
INXS – Need You Tonight
U2 – Where the Streets Have No Name
ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN – Lips Like Sugar
SMITHS – Girlfriend In a Coma
LOVE AND ROCKETS – Ball of Confusion
THE CURE – Why Can’t I Be You
THE CULT – Love Removal Machine
COMMUNARDS – Don’t Leave Me This Way

 Jessica T.:

  • Was there someone in your life that had a terminal disease that inspired you to write about this topic?

Yes.  Late in 2001, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer.  By the time they found it, it had coursed throughout her body.  At the time, I had a home day care.  My husband and I decided to close up shop, and take her into our home to do hospice for her.  I saw firsthand the effects of the disease, chemo, and radiation on her body.  She’d also had a stroke a couple years earlier, and lost the ability to speak and eat. 

I had to feed her through a tube in her stomach.  I sat and “talked” (I talked, she wrote notes) with her.  I watched movies with her and sang to her.

The doctors gave her 6 months to a year to live, but sadly, she lasted just under three weeks, dying just before her 60th birthday.  Being a witness to the disease made me think about my own mortality, how I would feel, and what I would want to do if I only had a short time left to do it.  So the experience I had taking care of my mother-in-law definitely inspired me to write this story.


  • Did you use any symbolism in your book?

 To be honest, I don’t normally set out to use symbolism when I write, but I suppose subconsciously it just happens.

 At the beginning of the book, Austin can only stomach an apple for breakfast, he then tells Kaylee that’s what she should name her beloved Ford Mustang.  An apple normally suggests wisdom or knowledge.  Austin, though only seventeen has a wisdom beyond his years because of his disease, and he’s hoping to use that over the weekend to show the people he loves the value of life.

 The story takes place in autumn.  Autumn is a symbol for death as the leaves on the trees change, fall, and eventually die.  The cancer has changed Austin, physically, emotionally, mentally, and soon he will be facing death.

 Austin and Kaylee take a hike up Mount Rainier to see Comet Falls.  Mountains are the place where heaven meets earth, the closet we can get to God, so it’s only appropriate that Austin would make a pilgrimage up the mountain.  Water (Comet Falls) many times symbolizes rebirth, or purification.  Austin’s weekend journey is in a sense a cleansing of his soul.  He’s doing everything he can to help his loved ones see the value of life before his own life ends.

  •  What’s your favorite quote?

 So many, I’ll share a couple.

  • “Do or do not. There is no try.” ~Yoda
  • “My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him, all good things–trout as well as eternal salvation–come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy. ” ~ Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It
  • “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”~ Mahatma Gandhi


  • My friend is an amazing writer, but doesn’t know what to do with her books.  Do you have any advice?

My first piece of advice would to get some constructive criticism.  She could join a critique group of like-minded writers and share her work.  Sometimes others are more capable of seeing the problems with our work.  She should also revise and edit make sure it’s to a point where it’s publishable. Perhaps hire an editor.  At that point she can decide whether to self-publish, which many are doing these days, or seek out an agent to help her get published traditionally.  A great resource for finding agents is

Students Want to Know Caroline Starr Rose

My students and I enjoyed getting to know the Class of 2K11 and the Elevensies, so we’re very excited to meet the Class of 2K12!  To kick off the new year of debut authors, my students interview Caroline Starr Rose, the author of May B.  Her book released last month, so make sure to look for a copy!

Summary of May B. (From Goodreads):

I’ve known it since last night:
It’s been too long to expect them to return.
Something’s happened.

May is helping out on a neighbor’s Kansas prairie homestead—just until Christmas, says Pa. She wants to contribute, but it’s hard to be separated from her family by 15 long, unfamiliar miles. Then the unthinkable happens: May is abandoned. Trapped in a tiny snow-covered sod house, isolated from family and neighbors, May must prepare for the oncoming winter. While fighting to survive, May’s memories of her struggles with reading at school come back to haunt her. But she’s determined to find her way home again. Caroline Starr Rose’s fast-paced novel, written in beautiful and riveting verse, gives readers a strong new heroine to love.

** Caroline Starr Rose’s Website **

** Caroline Starr Rose is on Facebook **

** Follow Caroline Starr Rose’s Blog **

Nicole B:

  • Why did you decide to write May B. in verse?

Don’t tell anyone, but I’d only read two verse novels before writing my own. May B. didn’t start as verse. I was very frustrated with the distance between what I wanted to write and what ended up on the page. When I returned to my research, I noticed there were patterns in pioneer women’s writing. Much of it was matter-of-fact and spare. There was a similar tone used whether someone was writing about the laundry or a death in the family. Seeing this really showed me how to write my story.

It was in mimicking the voices of real frontier women that I stumbled into verse and found the most authentic way to speak for May and share her world.


  • How did you feel when you saw your book on shelves for the first time?

My book came out the same day as John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. My local bookstore had dozens of copies of his book on the same shelf as mine! It was completely surreal to see my book in the first place, but to see it next to the likes of John Green? Unbelievable.

Jessica P:

  • Why did you choose the prairie as the setting for the book?

I grew up on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books and have always been struck by how strong and courageous frontier women were in the midst of their everyday lives. I wanted to dig into that world. I also wanted to write about solitude and was curious how to write a story where for most of the story the main character is alone. The prairie is often described in literature as this open, endless, vast place. I thought it would be interesting to examine being closed off — as May is when trapped in her snow-covered soddy — in the middle of this vast expanse. The contrast intrigued me.

Mackenzie B:

  • What’s your most & least favorite ice cream?

I’ve rarely met an ice cream flavor I didn’t like, though I’d have to say the ones with toxic-looking neon colors gross me out. Anything with peanut butter is an instant favorite. I also love peppermint ice cream covered in hot fudge.

May B. with John Green!

Students Want to Know: Kathy McCullough

I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC of Kathy McCullough’s debut, Don’t Expect Magic, this summer and I really enjoyed it.  It’s a cute and humorous novel that I know teens and tweens will enjoy.  If you haven’t had a chance to pick up a copy, I definitely recommend reading it.

Summary of Don’t Expect Magic (From Goodreads): Delaney Collins doesn’t believe in fairy tales. And why should she? Her mom is dead, her best friend is across the country, and she’s stuck in California with “Dr. Hank,” her famous life-coach father—a man she barely knows. Happily ever after? Yeah, right.

Then Dr. Hank tells her an outrageous secret: he’s a fairy godmother—an f.g.—and he can prove it. And by the way? The f.g. gene is hereditary. Meaning there’s a good chance that New Jersey tough girl Delaney is someone’s fairy godmother.

But what happens when a fairy godmother needs a wish of her own?

** Kathy McCullough’s Website **
** Delaney’s Website **
** Find Kathy on Facebook **
** Follow Kathy on Twitter **
** Check out the trailer for Don’t Expect Magic **


  • Why is the title Don’t Expect Magic?  Doesn’t it contradict the plot?
    Great question! It seems like a contradiction, but it’s meant to reflect Delaney Collins’ attitude about having inherited these magic powers. She’s dark and sullen, and therefore the typical image of a sparkly, cheery fairy godmother goes completely against how she views herself. She feels that none of her own wishes in life have come true, so she resents being forced to help others achieve theirs. The title applies in a more literal sense too, because Delaney discovers that she only has limited powers initially and she’s not very good at performing them. Ultimately, she discovers that it’s not magic that makes dreams come true, but accepting who you are—and letting others see the real you.


  • What was your motivation to write a book?
    I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was five years old, when I wrote my first book: an illustrated collection of poems. I wrote stories all through junior high, high school and college, but I loved movies and decided to get my graduate degree in screenwriting. The challenge in writing scripts is that you have to include a lot of other people’s ideas into what you write. You also run the risk of having someone be hired to rewrite you. I decided to go back to writing books so that I could protect my ideas and my words. Not that I didn’t do a lot of revision for my editor! But it was me doing the revising and not someone else.

Jessica P.:

  • Why did you choose to write about a young girl?
    I’ve always gravitated toward family stories and stories about kids of all ages. I tend to identify with younger characters and I also think kids and teens are more interesting and complex than adults. Younger people tend to be more passionate about their beliefs and they also feel things more deeply, whereas adults have learned to tamp down or hide their passions and emotions in order to get along.

Jessica T.:

  • Do you plan on writing more books like Don’t Expect Magic?
    I do! I’ve completed a sequel to Don’t Expect Magic, in which Delaney faces off against a rival teen fairy godmother – an “f.g.” who is the pink, sparkly type. I’ve begun a new book, which, like Don’t Expect Magic, is a mostly comic novel with a touch of fantasy, and which uses the fantasy to propel the protagonist’s emotional journey.


  • Has your family read the book yet?
    I know my mom has read it and she liked it a lot. I’m not sure about Dad (he’s not a big reader; maybe if it comes out on audiotape…) My brother and sister-in-law bought a copy for their sons, but I don’t think any of them have read it yet. My cousin Paula, who is a big inspiration to me, has read it and I know at least one aunt has. Because the book just came out, many members of my family are giving it to other members for Christmas, so by January, everyone will have probably read it.


  • What do you do during your down time?
    I don’t have a lot of down time. Really! I’m trying very hard to juggle writing projects, both books and screenplays, and I also work part-time reading scripts and books for film production companies. I volunteer at the library (I guess that’s down time) and have been trying to keep up on all the promotional work of having my first book come out. Promotional work like this interview! – and also, visiting bookstores and libraries to introduce myself, doing school visits, etc. When I do have a bit of free time, I love going to the movies with friends. And, of course, I love to read for fun.


  • How would you feel if you were put in your character’s situation?
    I probably would be more thrilled with having magic powers than Delaney is initially, although I think I’d also be more nervous about them. Delaney’s not really afraid of screwing up, but I’m always worried about screwing up.
  • Was the publication process different than you thought it would be?
    Yes, in a lot of ways. I expected to do some revisions, but I ended up doing a lot – all of which made the book much better. I learned that there are many more revision steps than I realized, even after copy edits are done. Also, when I wrote the book, I had no idea that there were even book bloggers at all, much less book bloggers who write just about YA books! So that was an amazing discovery. The best thing I learned was that despite all the hard work and challenges involved, I really do enjoy the publication process.

These were excellent questions! Thanks so much for the opportunity to be on your blog.

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