Writing Fantasy with Amparo Ortiz {Latinx Heritage Month Series 2020}

For the sixth and final post to wrap up my Latinx Heritage Month Series, today’s feature guest is Amparo Ortiz, an author whose comic appeared in the 2018 Eisner Award-winning anthology titled Puerto Rico Strong and recently released her debut novel, Blazewrath Games.

For today’s post, instead of a full interview we’re doing something a little different to conclude the series and introduce the first ever author-written blog essay here on 24hr.YABookBlog!

However before we delve into her essay, here’s Amparo to introduce a her novel and what it’s all about:

“First of all, thank you for having me on the blog today! As for Blazewrath Games, it’s the story of a seventeen-year-old girl from Puerto Rico who wants to represent her country in the Blazewrath World Cup. The tournament features dragon riders and their steeds, but Lana–my main character–is not a dragon rider and wants to claim the Runner position for her national team. However, there’s a cursed dragon wreaking havoc around the globe, and threatening to unleash more if the Cup isn’t canceled and all dragons are set free from sanctuaries and the Cup itself.”

I then asked Amparo what inspired her debut and whether there was anything in particular she was most excited for readers to discover or see for themselves:

“Sports in general, but soccer in particular! I knew I wanted to write about dragons in our world, but I didn’t know what they would do in our world. It wasn’t until the FIFA World Cup in 2014 that the sport of Blazewrath started to form in my mind. Then it took another year to figure out the “wrath” part of the sport, which also combines martial arts and combat (specifically for Lana’s position).”

“DRAGONS FROM AROUND THE WORLDDDD. Also, a global conspiracy and a magical mystery that was very fun to write!”

· · · ·

Amparo’s piece on fantasy is what she called “more of an encouragement piece” as she discusses her personal journey writing “The Puerto Rican Fantasy Book” and inspiring writers to add to the literary/fantasy canon:

During a recent event for Blazewrath Games promotions, I was told that I’d written The Puerto Rican Fantasy Book. It meant that my debut novel is currently the only contemporary fantasy book for young adults that centers around a Puerto Rican character within a world that blends magical elements and our everyday reality. It meant that whenever other Puerto Rican authors–or Latinx authors in general–want to pitch their stories, they could potentially compare them to mine.

To say that this blows my mind is an UNDERSTATEMENT. Not just because I’m humbled by the thought of helping others find space on shelves for their stories, but because how on Earth is this The Puerto Rican Fantasy Book?? That answer is long and layered. I know. But also, I think it’s worth noting how certain tropes–specifically in fantasy–have been written many times over and lauded as The Best… but they’re quite similar. When I realized I wanted to write about dragons, I knew they would be from my country instead of the myriad of European depictions I’ve grown up with. There was never a moment where I asked myself, “Can I write that?”, but I *did* ask myself, “Do readers want this?”


Then the question changed: “What am I adding to canon fantasy to make it reflect what *I* want to see more of?”

The answer was Blazewrath Games, my unapologetic exploration of a young Puerto Rican girl finding her voice and her power through the world’s deadliest sport. I hope more Latinx magical sports stories hit shelves soon. More Latinx magical stories in general, too, please.

I want my Puerto Rican Fantasy Book to be the worst one out there because everyone else’s stories will level up what readers are looking for, which I have no doubt will happen sooner rather than later. So if you want to write about dragons or witchcraft or any other fantastical thing, go for it. Fantasy is for everyone. The more we can push its boundaries, the better it will be.
” ― Amparo Ortiz, Oct. 16, 2020

To wrap-up today’s post, you can order Blazewrath Games from today’s featured Latinx-owned independent called Kew And Willow Books, located in New York!

Very recently, I also had a fun opportunity joining CW over at The Quiet Pond in my very FIRST INTERVIEW where I talked about book blogging, my 5-year journey, and lots more!! Read my full interview HERE!! 😉📚💞

Thank you so much to Amparo, Lory, and Lilliam for being guests in my first ever Latinx Heritage Month series. Also, a thank you to all you blog readers out there who visited to celebrate and uplift Latine voices, literature, and storytelling during September/October with me! Hoping to plan something again for 2021 because I truly loved this project and sharing it with each one of you means so much. Thank you! 💕

What Latinx books have you read during LHM? & Have you read Blazewrath Games? 🐲✨

Author Interview With Lilliam Rivera Featuring Never Look Back {Latinx Heritage Month Series 2020}

For the second post in my Latinx Heritage Month Series today’s guest is Lilliam Rivera, award-winning author of YA novels such as The Education Of Margot Sanchez and Dealing In Dreams! Her latest novel Never Look Back released just last week and this modern-day retelling follows 2 Afro-Latinx teens navigating love, identity, and much more! 🌿🌺

Here’s Lilliam to introduce what Never Look Back and what its all about:

“Never Look Back is a modern retelling of the Greek myth Orpheus and Eurydice set in New York with Pheus, a wannabe bachata singer who meets and falls in love with Eury, a Puerto Rican displaced from her home by Hurricane Maria and followed by an angry spirit. It is a story about generational trauma, faith, and love.”

Next, I asked Lilliam what inspired her novel and she shared that at its root, this a novel about hope:

“My novel is inspired by Hurricane Maria and how it affected my family living on the island. I needed to find a way to write about the rage I felt during that time while I watched our government do nothing to help those on the island. Never Look Back was my way of searching for hope.”

I also recommend reading Lilliam’s phenomenal essay from Elle titled “One Year After Hurricane Maria, We Are Still Picking Up The Pieces.”

All 3 of Lilliam’s novels have been set in the Bronx, so she delved into what unites these stories:

“My first novel The Education of Margot Sanchez is a contemporary coming of age story. Dealing In Dreams is a dystopian tale set in a world where girl gangs rules the streets. And finally, Never Look Back is my retelling. What unites them is that they are all love letters to the place I was born and raised.”

Never Look Back is told through dual POV, so I then asked Lilliam what inspired this and whose she enjoyed writing the most:

“I wrote them in alternating POV because I wanted to challenge myself. I had a lot of fun writing Pheus. It was the first time writing from the POV of a boy. Eury was harder to write because she was shy and dealing with many difficult emotions.”

Lilliam’s contemporary novel delves into magical realism and is also a retelling! So I then asked her if there was any particular element of these genres she enjoyed writing the most (mini spoiler):

“I didn’t really think about the different craft elements I was introducing. I only thought about the story and what the characters wanted to say. Although I don’t have a favorite, it was a lot of fun to explore the underworld.”

Alongside that, I asked Lilliam what she was most excited for readers to discover about her new novel:

“I just want them to follow the journey Pheus and Eury take and to root for them. I love these characters and I hope readers love them too.”

To conclude our interview, I had to ask Lilliam if there are any Latine/Latinx YA books she recommends:

“These novels are coming out this year and should be on everyone’s radar:

Mark Oshiro’s Each Of Us A Desert

Yamile Saied Méndez’s Furia

Amparo Ortiz’s Blazewrath Games

Zoraida Córdova’s Wayward Witch

Thank you to Lilliam for joining me on the blog today and hope you’ll all join me for next week’s 3rd post in my Latinx Heritage Month Series!

You can order Never Look Back from Rivera’s local independent bookstore Skylight Books or from today’s featured Latinx-owned indie called The Lit Bar located in the Bronx! 💖📚

Blog Tour: Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From by Jennifer De Leon {Q&A}

Don't Ask Me Where I'm From by Jennifer De LeonDon’t Ask Me Where I’m From by Jennifer De Leon

Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books (Simon & Schuster)

Release Date: August 18, 2020

Pages: 336

Available For Pre-Order: The Book DepositoryBookshop 

Cover Artist: Elena Garnu

Summary: First-generation American Latinx Liliana Cruz does what it takes to fit in at her new nearly all-white school. But when family secrets spill out and racism at school ramps up, she must decide what she believes in and take a stand.

Fifteen-year-old Liliana is fine, thank you very much. It’s fine that her best friend, Jade, is all caught up in her new boyfriend lately. It’s fine that her inner-city high school is disorganized and underfunded. It’s fine that her father took off again—okay, maybe that isn’t fine, but what is Liliana supposed to do? She’s fifteen! Being left with her increasingly crazy mom? Fine. Her heathen little brothers? Fine, fine, fine. But it turns out Dad did leave one thing behind besides her crazy family. Before he left, he signed Liliana up for a school desegregation program called METCO. And she’s been accepted.

Being accepted into METCO, however, isn’t the same as being accepted at her new school. In her old school, Liliana—half-Guatemalan and half-Salvadorian—was part of the majority where almost everyone was a person of color. But now at Westburg, where almost everyone is white, the struggles of being a minority are unavoidable. It becomes clear that the only way to survive is to lighten up—whiten up. And if Dad signed her up for this program, he wouldn’t have just wanted Liliana to survive, he would have wanted her to thrive. So what if Liliana is now going by Lili? So what if she’s acting like she thinks she’s better than her old friends? It’s not a big deal. It’s fine.

But then she discovers the gutting truth about her father: He’s not on one of his side trips. And it isn’t that he doesn’t want to come home…he can’t. He’s undocumented and he’s been deported back to Guatemala. Soon, nothing is fine, and Lili has to make a choice: She’s done trying to make her white classmates and teachers feel more comfortable. Done changing who she is, denying her culture and where she came from. They want to know where she’s from, what she’s about? Liliana is ready to tell them.

To celebrate the upcoming August 18th release of Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From, I’ll be sharing a Q&A with Jennifer to chat all about her debut! 📚🎉

1. Hello Jennifer, thank you for joining me on the blog today, ‘Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From’ is weeks away from release! Can you tell us what its all about?

Jennifer: Thank you for having me on the blog! Yes, Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From follows 15- year-old Liliana Cruz, a Latinx teen from Boston, as she transfers to a majority white high school. She’s dealing with so much—best friend troubles, annoying little brothers, her dad traveling (again), and she’s trying to fit in at her new high school in Westburg. As a result, she deals with micro-aggressions and racism and stereotypes—and all the while there’s this cute guy…But yes, the racial tensions in the school come to a boil and Liliana has some difficult choices to make.

2. What inspired your novel and did you find anything about the story, either change or evolve during the writing process?

Jennifer: This is the book I wish I could hand to my younger self. It is the story I wanted—and needed—to hear, but didn’t get a chance to see in literature. Later, when I became a public school teacher I saw that while some progress had been made in the category of Young Adult fiction in terms of diversity, there was still a long way to go. So I became even more inspired to write the book that I could eventually give my students. The story definitely evolved during the writing process! For starters, I had the story originally set in the nineties—but I was told that this is technically “historical fiction” (I know!) and that readers might have an easier time connecting if the story was contemporary. Second, the original draft was told in third-person. But once I started writing in first person, Liliana’s voice took over the mic—I mean, the pen, and she just led me the rest of the way.

3. As an #OwnVoices contemporary what would you say you drew from your own experience that found its way into the novel?

Jennifer: Growing up I often moved between two worlds—physically and metaphorically. I grew up in a suburb of Boston, where most of my friends were white and either middle-class or affluent. My parents were born in Guatemala and worked really hard to get our family to live in a neighborhood with a strong school system. That was their ultimate goal: give my sisters and I a solid education. But every weekend we would drive thirty minutes to Boston and visit with extended family. I loved spending time with my cousins and tías and tíos and grandmother. It felt like a different world. So, in writing Liliana’s character, I tried to draw on my experiences of moving in between worlds because she does this on a daily basis when she takes the METCO bus to Westburg and then back home to Boston.

4. According to the summary we see that Liliana has to navigate a wealthy and white high school which forces her to code switch and create two distinct worlds. What inspired you to incorporate this overarching theme of the book and was it something you felt should be present early on in the writing process?

Jennifer: Absolutely. For me, it was super important to show Liliana navigating two distinct worlds. It was the crux of the story, even in the earlier drafts. Code-switching, from my own experience, can be exhausting. And it can take a mental toll, too. I wanted to show how one character, Liliana, is confronting the need to code-switch for the first time in her life, at least on this level. Up until now she has lived and breathed solely in the bubble of her neighborhood in Jamaica Plain, an area of Boston. But that all changes when she joins the METCO program and begins going to school at a predominantly white school. Although I didn’t have this exact experience of being part of the METCO program, I did feel that I had to constantly code-switch depending on where I was and who was in the room—and this only amplified once I got to college.

4a. Based on the summary, it looks like your debut will discuss various themes from Latin-American identity, race, and immigration to name a few. Which theme or topic did you feel the most inspired to explore and is there a particular message that you wanted to get across to readers?

Jennifer: Such a great question! As I was writing Liliana’s story, I felt inspired to show how Liliana herself is learning so much about her culture and identity and background as she navigates a new world—Westburg. Liliana is not an “expert” on Latinx culture or even Central American culture. She has more questions than answers. I think so many second- generation teens can feel this way. I know I did. On one level, you don’t fit in with the “mainstream culture” but then on another level, you don’t exactly fit in with your parents’ culture either. All the while, people—even well-intentioned ones—ask questions like I’m Wikipedia or something. It took me a long time to learn more about Guatemala, where both my parents are from, and I still have so much to learn. So, yes, I hope this book inspires readers, especially young people, to learn more about their family and their background(s), because we are all from somewhere.

5. What did you enjoy the most writing about Liliana’s character? & Why?

Jennifer: Ooooh, I loved writing Liliana’s voice. She is sassy and smart and has a real funny way of saying things—she doesn’t hold back. And I love that about her.

6. As a Latina reader myself I feel like  ‘Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From’ will make it a point in navigating Latina/Latine identity and I think that’s great. Is that something important you were hoping readers take away from the novel?

Jennifer: Definitely. I hope that this book can shed (more) light on the understanding that the the Latinx community is not a monolithic one. Yes, we share so many commonalities (on levels of language, culture, family traditions, etc.), but just the same, there are as many differences between someone who identifies as Puerto Rican vs. Mexican vs. Guatemalan vs. Venezuelan, and so on and so forth. I also hope that readers—again, especially young people and especially Latinx teens—can close the book and feel proud of where they’re from, that they feel empowered by their history and not burdened by it.

7. Can you share one of your favorite quotes in ‘Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From’?

Jennifer: Sure!

“I’m sick of people asking me where I am from. No—where I am ‘from-from.’ I am sick of people assuming I wasn’t born in this country or that I don’t speak English or that I eat rice and beans every night for dinner.” Two girls laughed. But in an I got you way. I felt lighter and lighter. And I couldn’t stop.

Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From is releasing August 18, 2020! Thank you for joining me on the blog tour today. 

Are you looking forward to reading Jennifer De Leon’s debut? 🎊🌸📚✨

Author Interview With June Hur {The Silence Of Bones}

Hey everyone today’s guest on the blog is debut author June Hur talking about her upcoming debut which releases next week: The Silence Of Bones!

We’ll be chatting about writing inspirations, mystery, and lots more! Her YA Historical Fiction debut is set to be released next week: April 21, 2020!

Here’s June to introduce what The Silence Of Bones is all about:

June Hur Profile with photo credit by Julie Anna Tang

Set 1800 Joseon (Korea), a sixteen-year-old indentured servant named Seol has been tasked with assisting an inspector with the investigation into the politically-charged murder of noblewoman. As they delve deeper into the dead woman’s secrets, Seol forms an unlikely bond of friendship with the inspector. But her loyalty is tested when he becomes the prime suspect, and Seol may be the only one capable of discovering what truly happened on the night of the murder. But in a land where silence and obedience are valued above all else, curiosity can be deadly.

When talking about the inspiration behind TSOB, Hur mentioned that for most of her life she knew very little about Korean history:

“Even though my parents are “very” Korean and I lived in Korean when I was a teen. Then in 2015, out of sheer curiosity, I read further into Korean history – and fell madly in love with it. I was fascinated by everything and was gripped by a terrifying desperation to write a Korean historical mystery. I hesitated for a while, wondering if I, a Korean-Canadian ‘diasporan’, even had the right to write about Korea, and afraid that no one would be interested in a mystery set in a non-western country. It was the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement that finally gave me the courage to write.

At the very heart of this book is a more personal story inspired by my family, a family dispersed. I spent nearly half my life living with my siblings in Canada, far away from my parents, far away from my relatives. And so, while I was writing this book, I found myself wrestling with two questions that always haunted me: What will it cost to keep family together when things are falling apart? And where is home when you live far away from those who have loved you for all of your life?”

The Silence Of Bones by June Hur

There’s a particular detail about her novel, specifically the Damos (female police officers) that intrigued me and I was curious to know if that was the starting point for Hur’s research into the novel, so she mentioned:

“The inspiration for the novel first began with my interest in the Confucian-based moralistic naewoebŏp (a law that prohibited free contact between men and women) that dominated Joseon Korea. It resulted in intense gender segregation, and while researching further into this, I came across the group of women called ‘damo.’ I’d heard of these female police officers before, thanks to a K-Drama called ‘Damo,’ but I’d had no idea they were actual historical figures. These women were servants who worked for the police bureau, and they were in charge of female victims, culprits and corpses.

Damos were apparently the first female police force to ever have actual arresting power in all of world history. But this damo position wasn’t formed because women were respected. The reason for a damos existence was rooted in gender segregation. Damos were needed in the police bureau because of the strict Confucian rule that forbid contact between men with women. So basically, male officers had limited access with women in general, which made investigating nearly impossible for them. That’s why they needed these damo women to do the work they couldn’t do. But despite the deeply patriarchal reason for the existence of ‘damo’, these women were able to subvert their role and prove how capable they were. I was so intrigued by damos that it inspired the bulk of my novel, and that’s why I made the heroine of THE SILENCE OF BONES a 16 year-old damo.”

Since Seol herself is a Damo, Hur then discussed what the research process was like and whether the information was easier or more challenging for her to discover. She stated it was “intense and laborious”:

While there are academic English resources on Joseon Korea, when it came to very niche information (like details about damos, the female police officers my book revolves around), I had to look into Korean resources to provide my imagination with enough facts to get it rolling! But even among Korean articles, there weren’t too many detailed accounts of damos, since they were only briefly mentioned in primary sources. I therefore had to make some educated guesses. Damos were, at the end of the day, lowly servants. And so I studied the role of servants in Joseon Korea, and used this information to fill in the gaps where gaps existed in my research.”

I personally don’t have much knowledge on this historical period, so then I asked her about any specific resources she used to conduct her research and she shared a wonderful list of references:

“For about a year I just read up on Joseon Korea to familiarize myself with the world, and not just what I knew from K-dramas. After that, I continued my research while drafting and polishing my manuscript over the span of two years.

The resources I relied heavily on are the following:

Jahyun Kim Haboush’s Epistolary Korea: Letters in the Communicative Space of the Chosŏn, 1392–1910.

Jahyun Kim Haboush’s The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong: The Autobiographical Writings of a Crown Princess of Eighteenth-Century Korea.

Sun Joo Kim and Jungwon Kim’s Wrongful Deaths: Selected Inquest Records from Nineteenth-Century Korea.

Yungchung Kim’s Women of Korea: A History from Ancient Times to 1945.

Peter H. Lee’s Sources of Korean Tradition, Vol. 2.

Moo-Sook Hanh’s Encounter: A Novel of Nineteenth-Century Korea.”

With TSOB being a historical fiction/mystery novel, I then asked Hur if she had any favorite TV shows/books/etc. in a similar vein:

“Oh, I love this question!

For Historical: The Seven Husband’s of Evelyn Hugo, Pillars of the Earth, The Song of Archilles, A Thousand Splendid Suns.

For Contemporary Mystery: Sadie, and Tana French’s books.

TV Shows: Broadchurch, Mentalist, Signal (a K-drama).”

Seol becomes part of an investigation into the nobelwoman’s politically-charged murder. I then asked what inspired Hur when creating the case and if the mystery was easy to develop:

“The inspiration came from the historical event of a Chinese Catholic priest who smuggled himself into Joseon Korea, which was a dangerous idea, as Catholicism was considered to be ‘Western teaching’ and all things from the West was prohibited by execution. The entire Korean kingdom ended up going on a manhunt for this priest. At the same time, the number of Korean Catholics was also growing exponentially fast. To make things more complicated, the Queen Regent’s rivalling faction tried to use Catholicism to regain power in the government, and so the Regent used Catholicism as a scapegoat to massacre her Catholic rivals. Innocent believers were also swept into this mass persecution.

I wanted to base my book on this event, so I used the murder of the noblewoman as a vehicle to introduce readers to this world of religious and political tension. It wasn’t easy developing the mystery element of my book! The hardest part was figuring out who the killer was. I began writing this book with no idea, so I was always suspicious of every character. And that’s the way I wanted it to be: I wanted to create a killer who wasn’t obvious even to me.”

I can’t wait to meet Seol and follow her journey, so I had to know what Hur enjoyed the most about developing her character:

“I enjoyed writing about her kindness. But nice means to be pleasant and smiling, while kindness means to consider the good of others. And sometimes doing what is best for others is the hardest thing, harder than, for example, wielding a sword against one’s enemy. So I really enjoyed writing about this type of kindness—a loving and gritty, difficult and sacrificial kindness that drove Seol to commit an incredibly difficult act of kindness.”

Alongside that, I asked Hur what inspired TSOB to be set during the Joseon Dynasty:

“The fact that I couldn’t find the book I wanted to read! I grew up watching historical K-dramas set in Joseon and I wanted something as epic and poignant in book form, but I ended up frustrated by my lack of options. I’d never been in this situation before. I read tons of historicals set in England, and whenever I wanted to be swept away in a BBC period drama-like book, I could easily search one up and borrow a copy. But this time my options were super limited. So, for the first time (and I’ve been writing for a while), I decided to write the book I wanted to read.”

There’s a lot of YA Mystery novels set in places like the U.S. and Europe. I had to ask Hur what made this special to her, not only being a Korean author but also having TSOB being set during an era rarely explored in YA Historical Fiction:

“As you mentioned, historical Korea is rarely explored in YA literature, so I grew up knowing almost nothing about Korea’s past. I thought Korean history was irrelevant to me. Then, when I began researching about Korea out of curiosity, I ended up being deeply surprised, shaken to the core, to find that so much of who I am is rooted in Korea’s past. By studying the past, I learned more about myself and realized that I’m not as disconnected from Korea a I imagined myself to be. And so, in the end, the act of writing a Korean historical fiction became my way of reclaiming my roots.”

To conclude this interview, I wanted know if there were any specific quotes from The Silence Of Bones that Hur enjoyed writing and why:

“The opening paragraph of my debut! It opens with a description of Joseon Korea, and that’s one of the few paragraphs that survived several rounds of intense revisions.”

We then finished up the interview with some fun lightning round questions:

1. Recent YA reads? Elizabeth Lim’s Spin the Dawn, and I loved it!

2. If Seol could meet any other YA character who would it be & why? Jo Kuan from The Downstairs Girl. She’s witty and fun and intelligent. I think they’d enjoy solving mysteries together.

3. Pitch TSOB in three words: Rain. Mountain. Revenge.

4. Favorite YA Book (or Books) of 2020 so far? Liz Lawson’s The Lucky Ones.

5.When you were writing TSOB how did you picture it (TV show, movie, etc.)? A Korean Drama!

Thanks so much to June for joining me on the blog today! Are you looking forward to The Silence Of Bones? 🔎📚🦴

If you’re able to support indie bookstores during this time, you can pre-order Here or Here in paperback! It’s also available to add on Goodreads

Author Interview With Isabel Ibañez {Woven In Moonlight}

Hey everyone! Its been over a few months since I attended Yallwest 2019 and I’m thrilled to finally share, that I had the opportunity to interview 2020 YA Fantasy debut author: Isabel Ibañez!! 🎉✨

Her debut Woven In Moonlight is set to be released January 7, 2020 and we chatted all about the inspiration behind her story, its different layers, characters and other parts of her story that she’s looking forward to sharing with readers! (Thanks again Isabel 💕)

This interview was done during Fierce Reads Friday at Yallwest on May 3, 2019!

Here’s Isabel to talk a little more about Woven In Moonlight:

“My debut is a Bolivian political-fantasy and it’s about a decoy Condesa who infiltrates this corrupt monarchy and she sends coded messages back to the rebels through her weaving. So, she uses celestial magic and undergoes an experience unlike any she’s ever been taught or known!”

When talking about the inspiration behind her debut, she mentioned that she never really saw herself represented in any of the books she read―“I mean, [reading about] a South-American character would have been fabulous, but I never did…” 

“I really wanted to write someone that looks like me, understood my culture, the importance of family and so, I wanted someone to share that perspective and worldview that I had while growing up…”

Secondly, she discussed how the political climate in Bolivia is complicated and dangerous, so the antagonist is heavily inspired by the current president/dictator. She “wanted to write and tell this story because it’s not really talked about…”

Next, we discussed the elements of Bolivian culture within her novel and I asked Ibañez if there were any, that while writing, she thought “yes, this has to be in the story!”

“I love food and I love the experiences that are centered around sharing a meal. Bolivia has such wonderful, wonderful dishes and recipes, so all of those foods that I enjoyed eating with my family ended up in Woven In Moonlight!”

Alongside that, Woven In Moonlight is also heavily inspired by the “food, clothing, and the Bolivian history as well. Your going to find snippets of that in the story woven throughout (pun intended 😂✨).”

Ibañez and I then discussed what it meant for her to create this fantasy world inspired by a country that hasn’t really been represented in YA Fantasy before:

“It’s amazing to me that there could be a story that can touch people in this country because growing up Bolivian in the US, I ran into a variety of people from Spanish-speaking countries, but I didn’t often run into a Bolivian. So when I started getting sweet emails from readers who had some sort of relationship with Bolivia (either from there, lived there, or had a relative whose from there), it was astounding that there were people here who had that kind of connection to Bolivia and hopefully, this book reaches them!

I hope they can find and see themselves in this story and that really matters to me.”

Woven In Moonlight is a standalone fantasy novel and it does have a “satisfying ending”  but Ibañez shared that she does leave many threads open! With that said, it was announced on June 21 that Ibañez will be returning to the fantasy kingdom she created  within Woven In Moonlight in 2021 with a spin-off!

If your anticipating Woven In Moonlight, she also discussed some elements of the story that she’s looking forward to see readers explore throughout her story:

“I love YA and I’ve read so many books that center around a revolution, and this idea of fighting for a type of republic/democracy that benefits everyone. We’ve seen those books, I’ve bought those books, read them and loved them. So, I’m looking forward to see readers excited about a revolution story that’s happening in real time, in Bolivia.

If you read the book very closely and do a bit of research with the current Bolivian politics, you might see some parallels.”

Woven In Moonlight by Isabel IbañezNext we talked about her cover! If you didn’t know, it was announced back in March that Isabel would be designing her own book cover and as of June 6, the cover for Woven In Moonlight has been revealed via Hypable!

“My editor reached out to me asking if I knew of any Bolivian artists I could contract for the cover and I happened to be an artist/illustrator + greeting card designer by day! So I sent her my portfolio and I’m excited that they went ahead and trusted me with so much of the book. There was so much support, encouragement, and the fact that they even asked (wanting a Bolivian artist to do the cover) just meant so much to me!

They were doing everything they could to step-up in regards to representation, support, and encouragement for this book!”

Next we talked about the main character of Woven In Moonlight, Ximena, who has the unique ability to spin thread from moonlight. In doing so, she’s able to use this power to help the resistance. Ibañez delved a little more into her inspirations for Ximena’s rare ability.

“In Bolivia, the tradition of weaving tapestries, blankets, pouches, bags, that is a long-standing tradition, its beautiful, bright, and colorful! These women who work the loom are absolutely talented and many of us learn how to weave. Its such a Bolivian art form…I’m a weaver and I wanted to give Ximena something that felt very Bolivian, something I knew intimately well, also as an artist I think there is something so beautiful about being able to create something by hand and have this piece of art you’ve created. Using your imagination and a skill set handed down to you–I really wanted Ximena to have that. Also because I love fantasy, I wanted to infuse her ability with something special. In Bolivia, there are a group of people who still respect and worship different deities, that they’ve inherited from their Incan ancestors, so I wanted to honor that as well!”

“When I was thinking of what kind of ability Ximena could have, I was inspired by Pachamama (Incan goddess of the earth). I also thought about not going downward, but up and that’s how I picked that type of magic…”

I then chatted with Ibañez about the elements of Woven In Moonlight she had the most fun developing!

“I loved creating Ximena! She’s named after my mother and she’s someone who is fierce, loyal, incredibly brave, and outspoken. So, I wanted to create this character out of love and respect for my mother, but also because I’ve always been fascinated by her courage! Ximena came really easily to me because I felt I really knew her–so that was a lot of fun!”

To conclude our interview, Ibañez shared her final thoughts on why readers should check out Woven In Moonlight:

“If you love food, magic, kissing, adventure, stories about girls who are flawed and whose reactions aren’t perfect, are still growing, confronting and called out for their mistakes, I think you should check out Woven In Moonlight! Plus, did I mention there’s lots of good food?”

Also, as part of Isbael’s Inkasisa Street Team for WIM I wanted to share the wonderful pre-order campaign going on! Here’s some of the awesome swag that’ll be included:

Woven In Moonlight bookmark, print, sticker, annotated PDF of Chapter 1, and there’ll be special grand prizes! All the info/details can be found on her Instagram post here!
(*To show support for the street team too, if you find yourself pre-ordering please include this code in your email INKASISA07)

Are you looking forward to Woven In Moonlight? 🌙✨

Author Interview With Lauren Shippen {The Infinite Noise + Being A Podcast Creator}

During Yallwest 2019 which ran from May 3-4, I had the opportunity to interview podcast Lauren Shippen Author Interview Infinite Noisecreator and debut author: Lauren Shippen!

Her upcoming novel The Infinite Noise is the first book in a trilogy, which will focus on different characters based on her science-fiction audio drama podcast, The Bright Sessions!

For those who don’t know, The Bright Sessions can best be described as people with superpowers going to therapy― however it goes much more beyond that, actively discussing/exploring mental health and featuring a diverse cast of characters.

The Infinite Noise is set to be released September 24 and as a big fan of TBS, I’m honored to have had the chance to chat with her all about her upcoming book and of course, podcasts (thanks Lauren💞)!

This interview took place on the last day of Yallwest on May 4! Here’s Lauren sharing The Infinite Noise by Lauren Shippenwhat The Infinite Noise is all about:

“It’s a dual-perspective story about two boys in high school who are grappling with different types of mental health issues. We have Adam who’s a run-of-the-mill kid in a a lot of ways…he’s a little bit nerdy, lonely, struggles with depression, he’s gay and feels a lot like an outcast from the world. Then on the other hand we have Caleb who seems like the sort of classic football jock, but he’s actually dealing with supernatural empathy. He has extreme empathy, which means he can feel the feelings of others around him at all times. [The Infinite Noise] is about the two of them meeting and learning more about each other and themselves…”

In the world of The Bright Sessions, there are everyday people with supernatural abilities called Atypicals. The series focuses on a unique group of therapy patients who are in-fact Atypical. Told via audio recordings (mainly therapy sessions), we learn more about their mysterious therapist Dr. Joan Bright and her patients, who are all trying to better understand themselves and their abilities.

An interesting fact Shippen shared as to why the story was framed that way, was that she was originally the one sound-designing. She felt it would make sense to give an in-world reason as to why the recordings would be “lo-fi.” That set up the narrative framing early on in the show, and added a good sense of mystery as to why Dr. Bright was recording these sessions. However, eventually  Shippen broke off that format around the last few seasons and especially in her spin-off series, The AM Archives.

Its obvious that fans of the podcast are incredibly excited for the release of Shippen’s novel, however we delved into specifics when it came to those who maybe haven’t yet listened to The Bright Sessions and whether they can still get into The Infinite Noise as a standalone. She even went on to discuss a little bit more about the timeline of this novel (with the podcast having already been completed at this point):

“Definitely, yes! There are certain Easter eggs that listeners will find and enjoy, but it very much is intended to be an introduction into the world…”

Shippen also mentioned that the The Infinite Noise “starts a little bit before the podcast…” to build on that introduction for readers who haven’t heard of The Bright Sessions. While listeners will be familiar with the already established world-building, she hopes it’ll be done in a new way that doesn’t necessarily “[retread] old territory” for listeners looking to get into the book.

We even discussed more of the specifics when it came to the timeline of The Infinite Noise and how it compares to that of The Bright Sessions:

“The Infinite Noise is more true to about the first 26 episodes of the show…there are also scenes lifted directly from the podcast and expanded upon, however for future books there’ll definitely be a looser timeline…”

Within this trilogy, she will delve more into the head space of specific Atypicals and this first novel will focus on Caleb Michaels! I then asked what inspired her to delve more into his story and how she knew his story would kick-off the trilogy:

“I actually think that the reason this one was the first book and the one I wanted to tell, was that I wanted to get that non-Atypical side of the world through Adam’s story/perspective…”

Half of the novel (Adam’s perspective) is something listeners never really get to hear in the podcast and this was Lauren’s opportunity to delve more into his character!

Shippen mentioned that the early ideas of this novel actually began getting written in 2015 (when the podcast first aired). She discussed more about what writing this novel meant for her characters as the podcast was still on-going at this time:

“As I was working out Caleb’s story, [I knew] we only heard his voice in the podcast initially. Adam eventually became a character, but he was never intended to be a voiced character in the show. I wanted to do 2 things as an exercise: figure out how Caleb’s empath ability functions and get more into Adam’s head (because Caleb was spending so much of sessions talking about Adam and his connection with him).

Initially, I even shared the first couple of chapters with the actors who play Caleb and Adam (Briggon Snow & Alex Gallner) and since the book tracked closely with the first few seasons of the podcast, it didn’t feel like too much of a departure…”

Next, I asked her what delving more into both Caleb and Adam was like and what she wanted to focus on in this first book. Additionally, how being a big fan of love stories offered her inspiration on how to explore The Infinite Noise:

“The realities of having someone close to you who can feel all your feelings, [what would that be like?] I wanted to explore both the struggles and vulnerabilities in that.

I suppose this isn’t really a spoiler, but I love love stories and reading them! So, being able to tell those 2 sides, their clumsy romance through their perspectives to see what the other is thinking, making assumptions, and all that miscommunication seemed like something super fun to dig into…”

Shippen then discussed her writing process and how she approached this change when going from a script format to prose:

“It was certainly very different! I did find myself getting lost in the prose at times, because when compared to a script format, its all dialogue―for the audio medium you don’t have to worry about setting up visuals. Though I don’t think its actually changed how I approach writing scripts, because in the back of my mind I’d always been thinking about what becomes the prose in a book: how the characters are sitting, standing, looking at one another― I always think about those things when getting into scripts anyways.

I think I became more specific in my imaginings, but I don’t think it actually shifted my script writing too much.

The Bright Sessions

I then asked her how exactly the timeline of The Bright Sessions influenced how she plotted this first book:

“Because this was a meet-cute story in a lot of ways, it had to take place in a specific part of the podcast…”

Shippen really wanted to focus on the Caleb and Adam relationship and through that she knew she wanted to tell the story of them getting to know each other and getting together!

I then asked her about the canon in that of the novel vs. podcast and it was fascinating to hear her discuss them both:

“I would say the “book canon” is sort of separate from that of the official podcast canon, which I would consider the true Bright Sessions universe…”

It was interesting to hear because in reality, through an audio drama (unless its stated within the audio), specifics such as appearance are never defined. So, Shippen discussed what it was like comparing the canons of both stories:

“There are certain elements being defined, like appearance. We’ve never really defined what anyone looks like in the show and I love that―giving people the freedom to imagine what they want to imagine. The fanart that’s come out of this series has been amazing. But, even as the show progressed I had this vision of what these characters look like, their backgrounds, etc. 

Getting more into these specifics was something I could only ever do in the books, because in the show its not something that can be done through dialogue.

However, because people already have established headcanons for what these characters look like, I don’t want people to think “oh, now knowing Caleb’s eyes are this color, I can’t make fan-art of him looking this way anymore”―No, I still want you to do that, you can still imagine however you want to imagine. So, with that I can say that the podcast is the truest form…”

The Bright Sessions podcast is known for its focus on mental health and delving into psychology (which is one of my many favorite aspects). So, I then asked Shippen if she found herself focusing on that in the novel or if she found the specifics in that translation from podcast to book as challenging:

“It’s actually a lot of the novel because throughout it, Caleb is in therapy, but its less of focus I would say. You know, so much of the conflict takes place in the therapy room and Dr. Bright having all these patients. Where for Caleb, its really much is just an element of his life, which is my intention. Because in the show (therapy) is such a driving force, within the novel I explore the idea that “Yes! This can be a part of your life, while you still have all these other things going on.”  So, its something you can use to check on things and figure something out…”

It was important for her to show this positive representation of therapy. Because it can be such an intrinsic part of our lives, she wanted it to be showcased in a different way, but still highlighting that its as much a part of the book as it is the podcast!

I then asked her if she ever found herself re-listening to the show or rereading scripts to get back into the headspace for the novel:

“It’s funny! I actually haven’t relistened to any Bright Sessions episodes since they were released, because by the time their released I’ve listened to hours and hours of them. I don’t sound-design them, but I do edit all the dialogue so I’m listening to the same lines I’ve recorded over and over again.

But, I did go back and re-read some of the scripts, especially since I needed to reference them for certain moments in the book. There’s been an instance where I would go back and listen to Briggon’s character on the podcast (or even call him) to get back into Caleb’s voice. Adam was someone who was very much like me in high school, so his voice was an easy one to hop into. Caleb overtime, has become a little different and increasingly overtime became a blend of Briggon and I…”

Then within the second part of our interview, I chatted with Lauren more about her background as a podcast creator. She’d been listening to 2 audio fiction shows, Welcome To Nightvale (which she mentioned has been many people’s entrance to the audio fiction world) and a BBC Radio For Comedy called Cabin Pressure:

“I  was really enjoying both of these shows a lot and thinking about stories that I wanted to tell, also making something I could have completely my own. So I thought “okay, here’s this [wide] spectrum of different ways of doing audio fiction…” I began thinking about characters, then the idea of including therapy came to me. It made sense for me to have it be 2-person conversations and go from there…”

There was also this one quote that really stuck with me throughout our interview when I asked if she started out wanting to have certain messages or ideas get across through her podcast of The Bright Sessions:

“I more think about the human stories I want to tell and telling them in a way that is interesting and authentic to me…”

Shippen then shared that if there was a message she wanted to get across as she developed the show, it was this:

“I think if there is one thing I wanted to communicate because this was the intention I had in making it is helping people feel less alone. That’s both from a character and audience perspective, what The Bright Sessions is really about is these people who feel very isolated, feel very different, and alone, then finding themselves, others, and realizing they don’t have to lonely…”

I then asked Shippen if there were any episodes in particular that we’re personal or memorable for her:

“Every episode is personal to me in some way, maybe not necessarily because I personally experienced it, but because of the way I approach in writing those scripts is coming from a genuine place. 

As for memorable, we did a musical episode for our 50th episode which was hugely memorable. The writing process was incredibly different for that and I worked with my composer Evan Cunningham on the songs. I also think the Season 3 Finale episodes 39 & 40 were hugely memorable because that was the first time we ever recorded in a professional studio (we’d be moving as the characters would and did 10 hours of straight recording).

Those remain as my favorite episodes of all time because everyone just knocked it out of the park!”

I then asked Shippen who her favorite characters in The Bright Sessions were, if she had to pick:

“That’s so hard, I really do love all of them because they’ve all surprised me in different ways. I think Mark is one of my favorites (& easiest) to write because he’s snarky and charming, very much in the same way that Damien is― and I loved writing their dynamic specifically.

Andrew Nowak and Charlie Ian who play Mark and Damien had such amazing chemistry that it went in directions none of us were expecting and it was wonderful! 

Similarly, Julia Morizawa and Ian McQuown who play Dr. Bright and Agent Green, have brought layers and depth to their characters in ways I didn’t expect, so exploring their characters and dynamic (which is a huge part of The AM Archives) has been so fun! 

In the end though, I really do love them all!”

Next we talked a bit more about any difficulties when it came to developing any part of The Bright Sessions world in particular and Shippen said that the hardest character to write from a mechanical perspective has been Chloe (the mind reader, voiced by Anna Lore):

Your always writing two conversations on top of each other. She’d be having a conversation with someone she’s talking to, but then she’s hearing their thoughts and responding to their thoughts.”

“When it comes to the mechanics of writing someone who’s reading everyone’s thoughts, that was very challenging…”

We then got into theorizing where podcasts would be headed in the future and Shippen shared that this is something the community and creators are often discussing:

“We’re definitely going to see more large studios getting into the medium…”

With the audience of podcasting growing, she shared that it wouldn’t be surprising to see these companies begin to create more of their own original content.

Shippen then explained that what you often see in television or film, can (and already is) finding its way to podcasting, for instance through subscriptions. The most recent example is that of Luminary, a podcast subscription app where listeners can find her continuation to The Bright Sessions world, The AM Archives!

“I’m sure we’ll also see a diversification in the way podcast and their creators are supported from listener support, ads, touring, merchandise because, not any one way is sustainable for all creators…” 

I’m thrilled to have had the chance to chat with Lauren about The Infinite Noise, her wonderful podcast The Bright Sessions and delve more into her work as a podcast creator! Its exciting to see this podcast coming to life in book form and I hope readers will check out her debut!

If you haven’t listened to The Bright Sessions, what are you waiting for? Do you love relatable and complex character-driven stories? An ensemble cast you’ll fall in love with? Superpowers? Then check out Lauren Shippen’s podcast! 

If you are a fan of TBS, also keep an eye out this week for a special giveaway of The Infinite Noise! 💡🎙✨

Are you looking forward to reading The Infinite Noise? Have you listened to The Bright Sessions podcast? 🎙📚❤

Author Interview With Swati Teerdhala {The Tiger At Midnight}

Swati_Headshot_SmallThe Tiger At Midnight is an upcoming YA Fantasy from debut author Swati Teerdhala that follows a cat-and-mouse chase between a soldier & rebel assassin! With the book releasing next week, I have Swati as a guest on the blog to talk more about Tiger! 😄🎉📚

The Tiger At Midnight is the first book in a trilogy, set to be released April 23, 2019!

Q1: For those who haven’t heard of The Tiger At Midnight can you tell us what it’s all about?

Swati: Of course! THE TIGER AT MIDNIGHT is the first book in a young adult trilogy inspired by ancient Indian history and Hindu mythology. It follows the story of Kunal, a dutiful soldier, and Esha, a legendary rebel spy. When their paths cross one night and Esha is accused of the murder of Kunal’s General, a dangerous cat and mouse game starts between them, one which throws everything they’ve known into question.

Q2: How did you come up with the idea for The Tiger At Midnight & has your original idea stayed the same? If not, what has changed?

Swati:I first got the idea for The Tiger at Midnight when I was traveling and visiting an old Fort. It was the first spark of an idea of what would become The Tiger at Midnight and the first time I heard the voice of Kunal, one of the two main characters. I looked out from one of the old window openings and wondered what would be the most odd or startling thing a soldier of old might have seen. A girl. And that’s the opening page of THE TIGER AT MIDNIGHT.

That initial image and my two main characters, Kunal and Esha, have stayed the same, but so much else has changed! Or not changed, but deepened. I always knew this story was going to be about two people on opposing sides of a conflict and how they find their way to reconciling their loyalties and their burgeoning relationship. And that hasn’t changed.

Q3: What books inspire you as a writer? Or any other writing inspirations?

Swati:I’ve always loved mythology and history, since I was a child, and they’re both huge inspirations to me as a writer. As for books, I loved everything Tamora Pierce wrote as a kid and started to read a lot of adult fantasy at a young age–everything from Mercedes Lackey to Jacqueline Carey and Terry Brooks.

The Tiger At Midnight by Swati TeerdhalaQ4: What is it you’re most excited for readers to see in The Tiger At Midnight?

Swati: I wanted to write a story that celebrated my Indian heritage and tackled the issue of finding your own path, even when there’s familial or community pressure, something that I think is really common for second-generation immigrant kids in America. That’s a huge part of what both Kunal and Esha deal with during this book—their duty to themselves vs. others. Esha and Kunal both struggle with this idea in very different ways. I hope that readers are able to read this book and understand that better.

Q5: The Tiger At Midnight also draws inspiration from ancient Indian History & Hindu Mythology! What elements did you find yourself most drawn to while creating your world?

Swati: I always loved the epic battles and delicate political maneuverings in both Hindu mythology and ancient Indian history and I incorporated a lot of those elements into the larger story for the trilogy (and for The Tiger at Midnight!). I also drew from specific stories I grew up with, like how the river Ganga was brought down to the earth, to craft the lore and magic of the world.

Q6: Between the two main characters Esha & Kunal, what part of their journeys did you enjoy writing the most & why?

Swati: I loved it all! But if I had to pick one part, it would be the discoveries they make about each other and how it affects how they view the world and their lives.

Q7: With your book releasing very soon (in about 1 week) how are you feeling as a YA Debut author? (Must be incredibly exciting!)

I’m so excited! It’s funny, on average, a book releases about 2 years after the deal is done, so I’ve been sitting on this news and this book for awhile! It’s definitely scary to have it be out in the world, but I’m so excited to share this story and I really hope people love Kunal and Esha.

Q8: Is there a particular quote from The Tiger At Midnight you enjoyed writing & why?

Swati: “Never greet a tiger at midnight, for they are the manifestations of your past misdeeds.”

This line is the basis for a lot of the story between Kunal and Esha and the relationship between them and it hints at the larger, magical world around them that they’re trying to save. It kind of came to me and I knew instantly how important it would be to the book.

Q9: What element of your world within The Tiger At Midnight did you enjoy developing the most?

Swati: I’m a huge history nerd so I really enjoyed creating the history of the world, a lot of which is revealed more throughout the rest of the trilogy.

Q10: Which character are you most excited for readers to meet in The Tiger At Midnight?

Swati: Ah, can I cheat? I can’t wait for everyone to meet Kunal and Esha! No way I’d be able to pick one or the other 😆

Lightning Round Qs.

1.Favorite YA Book? An Ember In The Ashes

2.Current read? Descendant Of The Crane by Joan He

3.Last YA Book that kept you turning the page? Girls Of Paper And Fire by Natasha Ngan 

4.Most anticipated 2019 YA Release? So many! Spin The Dawn by Elizabeth Lim, Wicked Fox by Kat Cho, and There Will Be A Darkness by Katy Pool!

5.Favorite shows and songs your enjoying right now? Game Of Thrones (season 8!!) and i’m so tired… by Troye Sivan & Lauv (there’s something about this song that makes me literally unable to stop listening to it)

6. Go-to writing snack or drink? Tea

7. Can you describe your book in 3 words? Honor. Revenge. Love

8.Favorite YA Character? Nina Zenik

9.If characters from TTAM could meet any other YA characters who would they be & why? I think Kunal and Elias Veturius would have a lot to talk and brood about. As for Esha, she’d probably kill to meet Zoya Nazyalensky (literally haha).

10. When writing TTAM how did you picture it? (As a Movie, Tv Show, etc.) A TV miniseries

The Tiger At Midnight is available to add on Goodreads:

The Tiger at Midnight (The Tiger at Midnight Trilogy, #1)


And you can pre-order TTAM (library requests as well!) to receive Preorder goodies, more info on the bookish swag you can receive
Here! There’s also a book trailer for The Tiger At Midnight!

Thanks again to Swati for this wonderful interview!

Are you looking forward to The Tiger At Midnight? ✨🏹🐅

Author Interview With Janelle Milanes {Analee, In Real Life}

Its been almost a month since Analee, In Real Life by Janelle Milanes has been released! Janelle MilanesSo, I have her as a guest on the blog today to talk about her latest YA Contemporary, writing, YA Books, and so much more!

Analee, In Real Life is Janelle Milanes’s second YA Contemporary with her first novel + debut being, The Victoria In My Head which released last fall!

Thanks again to Janelle for the opportunity to interview you! (´▽`ʃƪ)

And if your interested, you can check out my ARC review of Analee, In Real Life Here!

Q1: For those who haven’t heard of your latest book Analee, In Real Life, can you tell us what its all about?

Janelle: Sure! The book follows Analee Echevarria, a girl who prefers to live her life online rather than deal with the complications of reality. Since the death of her mother, she spends all of her free time playing as Kiri, her night elf alter-ego at the center of her favorite game, and chatting with the love of her life, Harris (whom she’s never actually met). In the meantime, her father is getting remarried to a yogi named Harlow and her best friend has abandoned her to embrace life with the popular crowd. Things change for Analee when she’s paired with the popular Sebastian Matias as lab partners. The two strike an unlikely friendship, and Analee finds herself venturing out of her comfort zone to deal with real life problems.

Q2: How did you come up with the idea for Analee, In Real Life? + What was the writing process like?

Janelle: I loved the idea of someone with social anxiety living a double life online as a kick-ass warrior. I went through a short but intense World Of Warcraft phase years ago, and it was fun to devise a new persona I could live through-someone tough and fearless and powerful. Role playing online can provide such a unique way to connect with people especially if you have difficulty doing it in person. From there, I got to thinking about a girl like Analee and what a relief an alter-ego could provide her. Throw in some fake dating and family drama, and it was my kind of book.

The writing process came together very easily compared to my first novel. With Analee, I had a better idea of how I wanted her story to end and what needed to happen in her emotional journey. I usually wrote a set number of words every day and followed a vague outline, letting the story take me to different places if it felt right.

Analee, In Real Life by Janelle MilanesQ3: There’s so many different elements and to this story, from the Online RPGs, fake relationship, Analee finding her inner strength, to the grief she continues to struggle with after her mother’s death. You tackled so many topics, themes, and plot threads so organically! Were these elements already in your mind as you started drafting or did they develop as you continued writing? Why do you think its important that Analee face all of these in different ways?

Janelle: I definitely threw a lot at poor Analee. Most of these elements were in my mind when I started drafting. Analee’s father’s wedding served as a catalyst for the story and from there, everything begins to unravel. Analee isolates herself to cope with her grief and the only way she’s truly able to pull herself out of it is by connecting with other people. I wasn’t sure how all these pieces would fit together until I started writing!

Q4: Similar to The Victoria In My Head, Analee, In Real Life features a memorable and diverse cast of characters! (With the MC’s Victoria & Analee identifying as Cuban-American). Another one of my favorite aspects to your books is how inclusive the cast is! How exactly did you go about developing the main cast? Who was your favorite character to write about and were there any moments when writing Analee, that characters surprised you?

Janelle: Thank you! I like diversity to be present in my books without taking center stage. Every character’s cultural experience helps form who they are, but their identities don’t revolve around it. When creating the cast of characters, I wanted Analee to be thrown together with people with which she appears to have nothing in common.

The characters went from stereotypes–the zen yogi, the popular friend, the obnoxious jock–to fully-formed characters who make mistakes and have their own ssues underneath the collected exteriors they project.

I think Harlow surprised me the most in terms of how much I grew to love her. I was a little wary of her when I started writing, much like Analee. She’s the person you love to mock because she seems to be so perfect and unshakable. As the story goes on, though, Harlow becomes more open with her vulnerability and you see her trying to fit into a family with their own set of traditions that she doesn’t quite understand.

She is also very much living in Analee’s mother’s shadow. As I got to know Harlow through writing the story, I started to feel sorry for her in a way I didn’t expect!

Q5: Analee is very opinionated in her head, but can’t exactly find the words to say what she means out loud most of the time! I found her to be such a relatable and inspiring characters as she slowly begins to unlock her her inner strength to say what’s on her mind, while also opening herself up to new experiences! Why do you think its important for readers to read about a character like Analee?

Janelle: I needed character like Analee when I was growing up. I had a small, close group of friends, but I could be timid when it came to expressing myself to other people ad getting to know them. found it was easy to get drowned out by louder voices. Speaking your truth and opening yourself up to new experiences involves stepping out of your comfort-zone that was, and sometimes still is difficult for me. I hope those who read this book realize they aren’t alone in those feelings.

Q6: Seb and Analee don’t exactly get along at first, but soon after they find themselves hatching up a plan for a fake relationship to win back really important people in their lives (Seb’s ex, Chloe & Analee’s former friend, Lily). What can you tell us about their dynamic/relationship and what did you love most about developing it?

Janelle: Seb and Analee are total opposites in many ways and that’s always a fun dynamic to explore. He loves being the center of attention, she desperately avoids it. I loved that Seb nudged her into doing things that took courage, but he was never forceful about it. Their relationship begins as a sham but turns into a deeply meaningful friendship. Seb is there for her when nobody else is, and he reminds her what it feels like to connect to someone in a genuine way. I loved writing every scene with them–he brings out a more confident side of Analee, and she brings out a gentleness in him.

Q7: Were there any scenes in particular that you had a lot of fun writing or any memorable moments that come to mind when you were developing the story?

Janelle: I had a lot of fun writing the first kiss between Seb and Analee when they go to the movies. When you really think about it, the mechanics of kissing are so strange, and I love how Analee over-analyzes everything about it. Her character approaches it like a game, with levels and rules, so she thinks she is maintaining some kind of control in the situation. It was interesting to see her go from that to then getting swept up in her emotions and throwing the rulebook out the window. The scene with Harlow and Analee in McDonald’s was another moment I loved to explore. It was nice to see Harlow lose control a bit.

Q8: What I love about your books so much is the focus on family and the growth of the main characters! It’s always great to see those elements explored in YA Contemporary! Why do you think it’s important that your books feature both of those elements & are at the center of the story?

Janelle: I think the focus on family is inevitable, particularly in young adult books! Nobody lives in a bubble and for me, personally, I could never relate to books in which characters live their lives without much family interaction. As a Latina, my family was (and still is) constantly in my business! Part of growing up is finding your own identity and often seeing the world from a different perspective than your family might. It’s such an integral source of conflict and growth that it would be almost impossible not to explore it.

Q9: Are there any elements of Analee, In Real Life that changed while writing it or any interesting facts about some of the main characters that didn’t make it into the book?

Janelle: Yes! Analee was originally names Anais, but my publishing team worried that too many people wouldn’t be able to pronounce it. The end was something that I tinkered with a bit too.

*SPOILER ALERT* I knew I wanted the story to be less of a romance and more of Analee coming to love herself. Initially, I struggled over whether I wanted Seb to initiate the break up, but after giving it some thought, I think it turned out much stronger that Analee made the decision to stop seeing him. I’m glad I allowed her to make that choice for herself. *END OF SPOILER*

Q10: What can readers expect next after Analee, In Real Life?

Janelle: I am working on a few different projects but am currently focused on another YA contemporary about a small town girl fighting off big life changes–the worst of which are her growing feelings for her best friend’s girlfriend.

Lightning Round Qs.

1. Current Read? Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke

2. Describe your book in the 3 words? Growth, family, love

3. If your main characters Analee & Victoria could meet any other YA character, who would it be and why? I would want Victoria to meet Jessica Darling from Megan McCafferty’s Sloppy First series. Both of them are itching to experience life and escape the mundane, and I think they would appreciate each other’s snark. For Analee, I think Lara Jean from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before would be exactly the kind of caring friend she needs. They can both recount their fake dating experiences. Oh, and Dimple from When Dimple Met Rishi since they share a similar cynicism and love of computers.

4. Favorite YA Book (Or Books) of 2018 so far? Leah And The Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

5. Favorite YA Contemporary Book? For pure gooey light romance, Anna And The French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. I swooned so hard.

6.Any upcoming YA Books Your Looking Forward To? So many! At the top of my TBR pile right now is Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno.

7. YA Book you recommend to everyone? I’m not sure I would be writing YA if not for Judy Blume. Just As Long as We’re Together was a huge influence on me, but it’s never talked about as much as Blume’s other books!

8. Other than the Harry Potter Series (which Analee loves) what other books or book series would Analee love to read? I think she’d be into classic fantasy. Maybe His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman? I can also see her getting sucked into the Song of Ice and Fire series eventually! (Analee would never call it Game of Thrones because she would think the books are superior to the show, obviously.)

9. If Analee could play any other video game or RPG, which would she play? Elder Scrolls, Final Fantasy, and some obscure games I’m not cool enough to know.

10. Between both of your books, which character is your favorite? I could never choose! Victoria is my young, sheltered self. Analee is my anxiety x1,000.

Thanks again to Janelle for the awesome interview! 

Analee, In Real Life is out now & its available to add on Goodreads:

Analee, In Real Life

Have you read Analee, In Real Life? If you haven’t yet, do you plan to? ✨🕹📚

Author Interview With Astrid Scholte {Four Dead Queens}

Yallwest 2018 ran from May 4-5 and I had the opportunity to interview 2 upcoming debut authors: Maura Milan for her upcoming YA Sci-Fi Ignite The Stars and Astrid Scholte for her YA Fantasy Four Dead Queens!

Astrid ScholteFour Dead Queens is set to be released February 26, 2019!

Thanks again to Astrid for taking the time to chat with me in line during a Yallwest giveaway and for being my first interview of the day! I can’t wait to read Four Dead Queens!

*The interview also includes qs. post-Yallwest*

Q1: How has your Yallwest experience been so far?

Astrid: This is my first time being here and its been fantastic! I went to the Keynote which was amazing, with Tomi Adeyemi & Tami Pierce!

I went to the Penguin Teen booth, now I’m here, and I have a lot more that I want to see and do!

1a: Would you return again in the future?

Astrid: Absolutely! It’s only been a few hours and already I’m blown away! Its so exciting!

Q3: Are there any authors, books, or panels, you’ve been looking forward to?

Astrid: The Keynote! I was really looking forward to it and anything that’s fantasy based (I love fantasy ^_^), & Sabaa’s PM keynote!

Q4: Have you managed to get any book swag or ARCs?

Astrid: I have! Shout out to fellow Penguin Teen authors, its called Always Never Yours, I also met the authors and they were super nice!

Four Dead Queens/Writing Qs.

Q5: For those who haven’t heard of Four Dead Queens, can you tell us what its about?

Astrid: Four Dead Queens is a murder-mystery set in a fantasy world. Its a nation divided into four very distinct cultures and they are each ruled by a queen.

These queens then start being killed off one by one, so its a murder-mystery as to why they are being killed and what secrets they could possibly be hiding!

So the main character, Keralie, is trying to solve the riddle before its too late.

Q6: What inspired Four Dead Queens and in general, do you have any other writing inspirations?

Astrid: What inspired me, was mostly that I wanted to write and murder-mystery. I’ve always loved them, ever since I was a kid and I love fantasy!

So, I thought it would be unique to blend the two genres together!

I actually had a dream about a futuristic car flying past a carriage and wondered what sort of world would exist where these two very different technologies would be in parallel, so that was also a starting point.

Q7: With Four Dead Queens being YA Fantasy, do you have any favorite YA Fantasy books or authors?

Astrid: Absolutely! YA Fantasy is my favorite genre, I read a lot of it! My favorite is probably Leigh Bardugo (Six Of Crows duology) and Laini Taylor!

Sci-Fi-wise, because I love the blend of fantasy and sci-fi, I love Amie Kaufman!

Any kind of blockbuster sci-f or fantasy is my jam!

Q8: Is there a character from Four Dead Queens your excited for readers to meet?

Astrid: Yeah! I’m excited for readers to meet all the characters, but one that stands out is the character of Mackiel, he is really fun to write and I think readers will love to hate him 😅😂!!

Q9: With the world of Four Dead Queens being separated by four distinct quadrants, which would you say was your favorite to write about or explore?

Astrid: I think my favorite would have to be Ludia which is the entertainment quadrant. They focus on the fun and lightness of life.

I’m a kid at heart, so that one was really great to explore and develop!

Q10: Do you listen to any music when you write? If so, any songs you listened to while writing Four Dead Queens?

Astrid: I wish I could write to music! I’m one of those people who can only write in silence.

However, when I revise I can definitely listen to music. Anything without lyrics though such as movie soundtracks! I like listening to Disney, anything that is just to keep in the background.

Q11: With Four Dead Queens being a 2019 release, can you share a couple 2019 YA releases your looking forward to?

Astrid: I really want to read King Of Scars by Leigh Bardugo! Really looking forward to that one, as well as Tomi Adeyemi’s sequel to Children Of Blood And Bone, Children Of Vengeance And Virtue!

Four Dead Queens by Astrid ScholteQ12: As of June 1, Penguin Teen revealed the Four Dead Queens cover! What were your thoughts on the cover and overall, how did you feel when you first saw it?

Astrid: I absolutely LOVE the cover! I was blown away when I first saw it. You can see my
gobsmacked reaction when I first saw it on Instagram Here!

The cover is so beautiful, dramatic and also mysterious! It’s perfect for my book! I worked
with Penguin to make sure the crowns suited each of the queens and their regions and I
couldn’t be happier.

Q13: Four Dead Queens was also part of a galley drop during BEA/Book Con 2018 that the Penguin Teen booth was keep a secret throughout the day! How did you feel when you saw pictures of your ARC being featured & all the readers excited to get their hands on a copy?

Astrid: It was surreal! Penguin Teen told me about their idea when I visited New York a month earlier, and I thought it was genius! Of course, I wanted to tell everyone it was *my* book, but I had to stay silent.

When they finally revealed it as Four Dead Queens, I was able to share the news on Twitter and Instagram and watch the excitement unfold. I heard the ARC drop got a little intense as people tried to grab a copy, and that there was more security than Bill Clinton’s panel! I’m so lucky that people are excited to read my book and to have such a wonderful team at Penguin Teen supporting it!

Lightning Round Qs.

1.Can you describe your book in 3 words? Murder, Mystery, & Mayhem!

2.Go-to writing snack (or drink)? Peppermint Tea, its a must when I’m writing!

3.Current Read? The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw

5.Most anticipated 2018 YA Release? The sequel to Warcross, Wildcard!

6.Favorite YA Book of 2018 so far? Definitely Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone! I loved how cinematic it was and can’t wait to see the film adaptation! I’m also loving Legendary by Stephanie Garber, which I’m reading right now.

7.Can you describe your favorite kind of book in 3 words? I could say Four Dead Queens, as I put everything that I love about YA in it, but I won’t! 😉 If
I had to boil it down to three things, it would be fantasy, mystery and romance.

8.Plotter or Pantser? Pantser, 100%

Thanks again to Astrid for an awesome interview!

Are you looking forward to reading Four Dead Queens? ✨⚔👑

Author Interview with Maura Milan {Ignite The Stars}

Maura Milan
Maura Milan at Yallwest 2018, with an ARC of her upcoming debut Ignite The Stars

At Yallwest 2018, which ran from May 4-5, I had the chance to chat with upcoming 2018 debut author Maura Milan about her novel, Ignite The Stars!

Her novel is a YA sci-fi debut which releases September 4, 2018!

Thank you again to Maura Milan for giving me the chance to interview you! It was such an incredible interview experience and I can’t wait to read your book!

Q1: How has your Yallwest experience been so far?

Maura: It’s been a lot of fun! I met a lot of great writers, ones I’ve been following for a while and a lot of great debut authors that are coming out in 2018. Our debut group has been so supportive in this whole publishing process, so it’s been great finally meeting a lot of them face to face.

And also, I loved seeing all the readers in the crowd! It always blows my mind seeing how many readers there are and who love the same books that I love and that’s awesome to me!

1a.: Any books you’ve been excited to hear more about or have gotten a chance to get ARCs of here at the festival?

Maura: I sadly didn’t get any ARCs at the festival. But, one book that I’m excited about is Dark Of The West which is Joanna Hathaway’s book!

She was a 2018 debut, but her book is now coming out in 2019 now. 

I’ve had a chance to talk to her about her book and it seems like there’s a lot of really cool parallels between our books!

I’m really excited that her characters are morally grey like my characters in Ignite the Stars. I’m can’t wait to get my hands on a Dark of the West ARC and see how the story pans out. Crossing my fingers that they all survive!! 😭✨♥♥

Ignite The Stars/Writing Qs.

Q2: For those who may not know about your upcoming novel, can you tell us what it’s all about?

Maura: Ignite The Stars is basically about the most notorious criminal in the galaxy who has been hunted for several years. No one knows how he looks like!

But, when the government finally captures him, they realize he is not a he at all, but actually a 17-year old girl.

With the government realizing they can use her as an asset, they decide not to execute her. Instead, they throw her into one of their Star Force academies.

In order to survive, Ia forms unlikely alliances with Brinn Tarver, a cadet with her own set of guarded secrets, and Knives Adams, an arrogant young flight master, and through her interactions with them, she finds herself questioning her own loyalties and everything she was fighting for. 

24hr.YABookBlog: The concept reminds me a lot of Rogue One! ^_^

Maura: Yeah! It’s similar in that the characters in Ignite the Stars shouldn’t be working together and now they are. The big question is can they work as a team? And also do they even want to work as a team?

Q2: What inspired your novel?

Maura: I had a friend who edited this movie called A Faster Horse which is all about the creation of the Ford Mustang and the film had this section all about Lee Iacocca, who had a huge part in Mustang’s history. I always thought that was a cool name!

So, I took that name, and it became Ia Cōcha, the most notorious criminal in the known galaxies!

On the ride home I just ended up brainstorming the whole thing and wrote about maybe 5 chapters that night and it just kept going! Ia became a character who was in my head and I just had to tell her story!

It took on a life of its own.

Q3: Is Ignite The Stars going to be a series, standalone, etc.?

Maura: Its going to be a duology, with Book 2 coming out next year. It’ll wrap up everything that’s developed in Book 1!

Q4: With Ignite The Stars being YA Sci-Fi, is Sci-Fi a genre you’ve always wanted to write in?

Maura: Yeah, I really love science fiction/fantasy and am very influenced by anime! A lot of what I write is like: ‘Wow! This would an awesome anime, so let me write it as a YA Book..’ 

There’s also a lot of easter eggs to a lot of my favorite shows (similar names to characters, etc.). 

Shows like Cowboy Bebop have always been really important to me and is still one of my favorite series. 

Q5: Ia is said to be a “criminal mastermind and unrivaled pilot!”
She sounds like such a fierce and brilliant main character! I ca’t wait to read more about her! What would you say was your favorite part about creating and developing her character?

Maura: Ia is my complete opposite. She will say whatever she wants to say, do whatever she wants to do, and I’m the kind of person who likes to think about what I say before I say it, and I’m very conscious of how I’m perceived.

But, Ia doesn’t care at all! I think it was fun to write a character like that because there’s a part of me that wishes I could be more like her.

Q6: Are there any YA authors that have inspired you?

Maura: Sarah J. Maas! I loved Throne Of Glass and my book was actually pitched as ‘Throne Of Glass is space’ so that was cool to see. 

I love the way she writes very bold, bad-ass, independent, women who can hold their own and I think that’s great!

I’m inspired by her and Maggie Stiefvater. I think everything she writes is beautiful.

Those 2 have been big inspirations in my book!

Q7: What are you most excited to share with readers about Ignite The Stars?

Maura: I’m really excited for people to see the different friendships that occur.

So, there’s a character name Brinn! Brinn & Ia get thrown together early on in the book and they’re not supposed to be friends, but things happen within the book that allows them to reexamine what their relationship is to each other and I think that was really fun for me write!

Female friendship is a very unique and complicated thing and with any friendship you have to work through it and both Brinn + Ia do a lot of that in this book.

So, I can’t wait to for people to see and read more about them.

Q8: As with Ignite The Stars, its always great to see more #OwnVoices in Young Adult and diverse representation as new books are getting released!

Ignite The Stars by Maura MilanAnd of course we also get to see Ia Cōcha on the cover!! What were your thoughts on the cover and overall the importance of having #OwnVoices rep. within your novel, Ignite The Stars?

Maura: I love that there’s an Asian girl on the cover because, I feel I never got to see that. 

I was really into superheroes back then, like Buffy. I wanted to be Buffy, but I never thought I could be, because I didn’t look like her.

The people who looked like me, usually in film & TV were usually the side-kick characters who didn’t really say much.

So, I think its important to have books like these with people on the cover so kids can find themselves, characters, and role models to look up to!

Its something I’ve always wanted to see ad I’m so happy that the next generation of readers will possibly be able to go to a bookstore and see Ia on the cover and go ‘Yes! This is a story that I could see myself in! I can imagine myself in space and be the hero of the story!’

9.Can you share anything else about Ignite The Stars? Maybe a quote or character you can’t wait for readers to meet?

Maura: I am really excited for people to meet Knives, the flight master of the academy! Because he is my book boyfriend ^_^ & his backstory is so tragic, from the reasons he stays at the academy to the things that have happened in his past that have held him back, and all the stuff he needs to work through.

With Ia there, it forces him to re-analyze what he thinks about the system in which he’s grown up in and how he can decide what to do from there!

Its so fun to see Knives & Ia together and I hope people enjoy their dynamic!

10.Best writing tips or advice for those looking to also write YA Sci-Fi?

Maura: Do your research, but don’t get bogged down by the research! Your not going to get everything right or know every physical law that’s out there.

Know what you can and let the story speak for itself, you know?

People are there for the story and not for ‘Am I getting all these facts accurate about this fictional planet?’

And to conclude the interview I also had some lightning round questions! ⚡📚

1.Current Read?

The Dream Thieves

2.Favorite YA Book (or Books) of 2018 so far?

There’s so many I’ve read & loved, especially YA Contemporary! Like Ship It by Britta Lundin & Farah Penn’s Twelve Steps To Normal

3.Most anticipated 2018 YA Release?

I cannot wait for Hullmetal Girls by Emily Skrutskie, its gonna be so AMAZING! And Light Years by Kass Morgan. It’s such a great year for YA Science Fiction. I’m also really excited for Bree Barton’s feminist fantasy, Heart of Thorns.

4.Describe your book in 3 words?

Friendship in space!

5.Favorite YA Character?

Celaena from Throne Of Glass

6.YA Book you wish more people would read?

Fangirl and with that, Carry On by Rainbow Rowell! 

7.Last YA Book that kept your turning the page?

Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

8.YA Book you would recommend to everyone?

Warcross!!

9.Favorite YA Sci-Fi book?

Cinder

10.If your characters from Ignite The Stars could meet any other YA characters who would you pick?

I would love for them to meet the characters from Dark Of The West! Joanna and I are already planning our crossover fanfiction haha.

Thanks again to Maura for such a fun interview!

You can check out more about Ignite The Stars on its official site: Ignite The Stars.com 
& if you pre-order, there’s a limited edition enamel pin you can receive!

Are you looking forward to Ignite The Stars? 🚀🌌💫📚