LORD of MONSTERS by John Bemis

Do you like books with monsters and magic? Heroes and epic journeys? On June 6th, 2017 at a bookstore near you, one of the most imaginative books I’ve read in a long while will be released into the world. LORD of MONSTERS is the 2nd book in the OUT of ABATON series, and this Pinocchio retelling is sure to please.

Goodreads   |     Amazon     |     Barnes and Noble  |    Indiebound

Those of you who read THE WOODEN PRINCE will remember that it ends with Pinocchio transforming into a real boy. In the LORD of MONSTERS, Pinocchio must learn to adapt to being human at the same time as he’s figuring out his new responsibilities as a ruler (prester) of Abaton, along with his friend Lazuli, daughter of the former leader of Abaton, Prester John.

“But before they can get comfortable in their thrones, a fancy dinner at the palace is interrupted by an unwelcome guest-a monster! And this isn’t just any monster; it’s a manticore, a beast that was imprisoned centuries earlier. Desperate to locate the prison and make sure none of its other monsters were able to escape, Lazuli, Pinocchio, and their Celestial Brigade set out to save Abaton from these ancient beings.

Their journey requires intelligence, strength, and a dash of the magic only presters control. But when Pinocchio tries to use his powers, they have an unintended effect: he is turning back into a wooden automa. And if he’s not careful, he may lose his human form forever.

The second book in the Out of Abaton series continues John Claude Bemis’s reimagining of Pinocchio in an action-packed adventure that celebrates friendship, tolerance, and the power of being yourself.” –Goodreads

Sounds amazing, right? It is!

Two things set this story apart. The incredibly imaginative cast of characters and plot devices are unparalleled.  Also, themes of inclusion and tolerance are crucial to the climax. For me, this is an easy two thumbs up!

And now, it’s my pleasure to welcome John Claude Bemis to the blog!

LORD of MONSTERS has many unique characters (glowing aleya bubbles, a superfluous worm, mushroom men, …) and plot devices (thunderseeds, sleeping sand, an underground forest, …). Could you pick a few of these and tell us what inspired the idea?

John: Thank you! I had so much fun exploring the strange world of Abaton and all its fantastical inhabitants. I like contrast in characters, especially secondary characters. I knew I needed a misfit team of knights for Pinocchio and Lazuli and liked the idea of a pair of them being opposites. One small, one big. One gregarious and the other half comatose. Goliath, who is of a race of diminutive mushroom people, is feisty and fast-talking. While Kataton is a physically intimidating reptilian chimera who’s slow and lethargic. Something about this combo just seemed funny and ripe with possibilities and surprises.

The superfluous worm came about as a plot device honestly. I needed a way for the characters to communicate across long distances in Abaton, but I wanted to do something I hadn’t seen in other fantasy stories. So I invented Riggle, this worm who can be chopped in half and becomes essentially two Riggles. Whatever one Riggle hears, so does the other. So Pinocchio has one Riggle and his father Geppetto has the other and they can pass messages along through Riggle (er…Riggles). It also cracked me up to have a character so amiable about being severed in two. My sense of humor skews weird at times.

One thing that stands out in LORD of MONSTERS is the rich world-building. Will you share a few tips or tricks for creating these well-developed worlds that capture readers and pull them inside?

The trick to fantasy world-building is grounding it in reality. It needs to follow particular rules, even if the reader is unaware of the rules. I think Frank Lloyd Wright said, “Limits are an artist’s best friend.” I established in THE WOODEN PRINCE that the magic of Abaton revolves around the four elements. So in LORD OF MONSTERS, the various cultures needed to reflect how the magic of air, water, fire, and earth would affect cities, transportation, rituals, and everyday life. Also since Abaton is located in the Indian Ocean, I tried to give the world a feel that was connected to south Asia and east Africa with the food, geography, architecture, etc. It’s funny how much research you can do as a fantasy writer. You’d think we could just make it all up from our imaginations, but I find pulling from reality makes the most magical worlds.

In THE WOODEN PRINCE, Pinocchio transforms from an automa into a real boy. In LORD of MONSTERS, Pinocchio explores what it means to be human. What do you hope readers will take away from Pinocchio’s discoveries?

I feel very connected with Pinocchio’s journey. He just wants to understand what it means to be alive in the world—what it means to have friends and family, to handle adversity in an admirable way and to experience all the joys the world has to offer. His discoveries are, in a way, all our discoveries; they’re just amplified a bit because the world is so new to him. In the new book, Pinocchio wrestles with what it means to be given this gift of life and to have it potentially taken away. Once you’ve seen the other side, who wants to go back to being a dull automa? That’s heartbreaking. And breaking hearts makes for good storytelling in my opinion.

In addition to being an author, you also teach writing at various workshops and retreats. Where can we sign up?

I love getting to work with writers of all ages to help them deepen their craft and create stories that are singular to their artistic vision. My favorite writing workshop that I lead is at Table Rock Writers Workshop every August. The attendees are so talented, and we have plenty of time to dig in deep to what makes powerful stories for young readers. Also students get lots of individual feedback on their writing, so that makes it fun to see writers walk away at the end of the week with a whole host of new ideas for what to do with their characters and stories.

What can you tell us about what you’re working on now?

I’ve been developing a couple of new stories, which I’m sorry to say I’m real hush-hush about. But one is a middle-grade novel being shopped to publishers. The other is a YA sci-fi that I’m in the thick of revising. They’ve both been so much fun and are different from what I’ve done in the past. I promise I’ll be getting back to Abaton soon.

Lightning round (*hands John a brownie for strength):

If you had a superpower, what would it be? Teleportation, for sure. I’d pop over to Venice after dinner every night for a cup of gelato on the Strada Nova.

Wooden pencil or mechanical? Mechanical. I’m practical that way. But honestly, I’m most partial to the Pilot G-2 pen. I buy them by the dozens.

Coffee or tea? Tea first. Then midmorning, coffee.

Sweet or salty? I’m salty for sure.

Dog, cat, or other? Cats

Plotter or pantser? Unapologetically, a plotter

Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there? Don’t just think of writing as sitting in front of your laptop. Just as important is the time you spend thinking. So discover where you do your best creative thinking. For me, it’s taking long walks in the woods with a backpocket notebook. I call it my thinking walks. (It took my wife forever to believe that this was real work.) Having time on the trails to be deep in my imagination is where I hatch all my best character, plot, and setting ideas. Make time for it—wherever you can—ever single day. You’ll be rewarded with surprising story insights.

An inspiring speaker and entertaining performer, John Claude Bemis is the author of Out of Abaton: The Wooden Prince and Lord of Monsters, the Clockwork Dark trilogy, The Prince Who Fell from the Sky, and Flora and the Runaway Rooster. He received the Excellence in Teaching Award from UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Education for his work in the schools as an author-educator and served as North Carolina’s Piedmont Laureate in 2013. John lives with his wife and daughter in Hillsborough, NC. You can find him at his author website, on Instagram, and on Facebook.

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, a chocolate biscotti baker, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT will be published in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME releasing August 2017. Connect with her on Twitter.

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Book Recommendation: Willow Born

Willow Born, by Shanna Miles, is a young adult story filled with magic, witches, angels, and demons. Add in a girl who comes back from the dead, attempts to navigate contemporary society, and a murder mystery, and you have the recipe for a great adventure.

Goodreads

Years ago, witch hunters came to Carolina and devoured the Willows. Sixteen-year-old Collette, a powerful empath, was one of them. A part of a long line of witches that stretches back as far as the slave auctions of Charleston, she was especially gifted.

Decades later, a series of strange kidnappings prompts a member of her secret coven to make a plea for help and Collette is chosen to answer the call. But things have changed. Angels have come out of the divine closet and everyone is on the lookout for the supernatural.

Snatched from the Void, she has to choose between a normal life and following the warrior path of the Willows, a coven she didn’t know she belonged to. Soon, problems pile sky-high as she struggles to keep the boy who could blow her cover at arm’s length and her sanity as family secrets come to light in the midst of a serial killer.

In the end it all comes down to destiny, death and the grey places between good and evil. But then again, when you’re Willow Born death can be just the beginning. (Goodreads)

I was hooked from the beginning when we learned Collette died and came back to life. I wanted to know what happened as much as she did and was thrilled to follow her on the journey. As well as learning about her past, we struggle along with Collette as she navigates high school, friends, and her crush.

Miles’s strengths are clearly in writing and descriptions, such as her use of color and movement to describe the emotions Collette sees in others. For example: “a milky-green anxiety is buzzing around him.” In addition, each character was fully developed with their own strengths, weaknesses, motivations, and unique voices. And she did not disappoint when it came to secondary characters.

If you love stories about witches, magic, and the past and present clashing, this is definitely the one for you!

Shanna Miles lives in Georgia and works as a librarian. She reads and writes young adult fiction and has a passion for paranormal romance. Check out her website for more of her work including flash fiction and short stories.

Willow Born will be available June 1st at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

HALLI GOMEZ teaches martial arts and writes for children and young adults because those voices flow through her brain. She enjoys family, outdoors, reading, and is addicted to superhero movies. You can find her on Twitter.

 

Recommended: SONG OF THE CURRENT by Sarah Tolcser

I requested an advanced reader copy of Song of the Current in exchange for an unbiased review.

An immersive fantasy debut set along the waterways of a magical world. Caroline Oresteia is destined for the river. Her father is a wherryman, as was her grandmother. All Caro needs is for the river god to whisper her name, and her fate is sealed. But at seventeen, Caro may be too late.

So when pirates burn ships and her father is arrested, Caro volunteers to transport mysterious cargo in exchange for his release. Secretly, Caro hopes that by piloting her own wherry, the river god will finally speak her name.

But when the cargo becomes more than Caro expected, she finds herself caught in a web of politics and lies. With much more than her father’s life at stake, Caro must choose between the future she knows, and the one she could have never imagined.
From Netgalley.com

I loved this watery world! The reader slips easily onto Caro’s small boat, feeling the wind in the sails and the current of the water carry them through the story. Caro’s careful listening for the voice of the river god, a voice her father says she will hear in the language of small things, the quiet whispers of animals and plants along the river, and the motion of the water itself, makes the world feel real.

The story moves quickly and the plot has plenty of twists.  Romance and pirates, sword fights and quick escapes. Even a sea monster. It took me some time to get pulled into the characters, but sticking with them pays off. I’d recommend this for action-adventure and fantasy lovers.

Song of the Current will be released on June 6th. You can pre-order or find out more on the sites below.
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound
Goodreads

Need more book suggestions? If Song of the Current sounds good to you, you might also like these recent young adult contemporary, mystery and fantasy releases:

Follow Me Back by A.V. Geiger
The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti
The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy
Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Photo by Pam Vaughan

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes middle grade stories that blend mystery and adventure and young adult science fiction with heroines much braver than she is. She’s on Twitter and her website is here.

Book Birthday and Giveaway: Fakespeare by M.E. Castle

Today we’re joined by M.E. Castle, author of Fakespeare: Something Stinks in Hamlet.

Q: M.E., welcome to The Winged Pen! I can’t wait to share the details of the book giveaway (and fun bonus content) with our readers, but first, tell us more about your story.

A: In this silly middle school series, three kids get lost inside Shakespeare’s book and must help Hamlet finish his story in order to return home! 

Q: Sounds fun! Any chance you can give us a sneak peek?

A: Sure! Here’s an excerpt:

Dear Reader,

You are reading this because you expressed interest in the Get Lost Book Club.

Get ready to take a journey through time to a really smelly place known as Denmark. There, an evil uncle is trying to dethrone a prince who sees ghosts. Moat serpents will try to eat you. There may be a few sword fights, and a haunted graveyard. Your only allies are the world’s most reluctant reader, Kyle Word, his annoying neighbor, Halley, and his baby brother, Gross Gabe. Help them defeat Uncle Claudius and make it to the end of the story, or you’ll be trapped in Hamlet forever! 

Intrigued? Worried? Downright terrified? You should be. But if you’re ready for an adventure, step right up and follow me. It’s time to get lost.

Sincerely,
The Narrator

Q: What made you want to bring Shakespeare’s works to kids?

A: People don’t realize how much enjoyment kids can get out of Shakespeare. The thing is that they need to go see it performed rather than reading it. This is true of everybody’s enjoyment of Shakespeare but it’s particularly true for kids. These plays can captivate anybody when they’re well done, as I’ve seen many times in audiences with members as little as 4. You don’t need to catch every line to follow the story and feel the emotions it conveys. I suppose with these books I’m reminding people of the universal appeal of these works, and that anybody can understand and love them if they’re done right.

Q: How did you decide to bring a sense of humor to two such notoriously dark stories?

A: I cannot claim credit for Mr. Shakespeare’s idea. Even in his tragedies, he balanced out the somber stuff and the blood and the darkness with wit, jokes and gags. Hamlet’s constantly cracking jokes and mocking everyone around him. Juliet and the Nurse have a playful back and forth full of bawdy jibes. In the tragedies, characters often deal with their unpleasant situations the same way real people often do, with gallows humor. Then there are clownish characters like the Porter in Macbeth that serve to truly break up the ongoing gloom with a bright splash of comic relief. All I did was take that humor and broaden it to the whole situation. 

Q: I heard you’re an actor, as well as an author! How has this influenced your writing process?

A: Acting helps my writing by giving me a greater ability to put myself in a particular character’s shoes. Figuring out what a character wants at any particular time, how they might go about getting it, and what all the factors affecting them are is a complicated process, and it helps that I have so much training and experience in doing exactly that. 

Q: What’s your favorite Shakespeare play and why?

A: Oooooh, tough. Always tough, no matter how many times I’m asked. I’m going to have to name more than one. My ready go-to is Macbeth. I love that the main character is a celebrated hero that we get to watch descend into the depths of evil and madness. I love the element of the witches and the question of prophecy(and self-fulfillment). And Lady Macbeth is one of the best characters Shakespeare ever wrote, period. Second I’m going to say Othello, both because of a truly remarkable discussion of race and racism for a 500 year old work, and because Iago is the best villain ever put to paper and is the big dream role I’ve never gotten to play. Third, I have to say I think Romeo & Juliet is underrated. People like to dismiss it as Shakespeare 101, everybody does it, everybody’s sick of it, but I think it’s an amazing play, even by Shakespeare’s standards. It’s all of the side characters, like Mercutio, one of the most fascinating characters in the whole canon, that elevate the play so much. It’s more than just the balcony scene.

Q: The Fakespeare series features a mysterious book club that transports members into the plays of William Shakespeare. What books would you love to be transported in to?

A: Maybe an even more difficult question. Definitely some classic sci fi, any number of Asimov’s books or Le Guin’s short stories. I would love to romp around in the high adventure works of Robert E. Howard, who’s one of my favorites. I also have a great fondness for the British navy in the age of sail, and I’d love to pop into one of Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey novels and see life on a prowling frigate in Napoleonic times up close. 

And finally, the details our readers have been waiting for!

GIVEAWAY: To enter to win a copy of Fakespeare, simply tweet a link to this post by noon on Thursday, May 25th AND leave a comment below. The lucky winner will be contacted via Twitter. Good luck!

BONUS CONTENT: Download these fun (free) activities designed to engage young readers! FakespeareMadLibs FakespeareNames

And M.E., thanks for dropping by!

 M.E. Castle is a New York City-raised writer and actor currently living in Washington, DC. He is the author of the beloved Clone Chronicles, which introduced the world to Fisher Bas, his clones, a flying pig, and a large supporting cast of robots, aliens, and a very proper talking toaster. When not writing, he can be found performing the works of Shakespeare onstage, which has given him the expertise necessary to create the utterly scholarly and serious work, Fakespeare. You can find him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/mecastlebooks

To learn more about M.E. and his work, check out his interview over at Novel Novice.

Posted by: Jessica Vitalis

 A jack of all trades, JESSICA VITALIS worked for a private investigator, owned a modeling and talent agency, dabbled in television production, and obtained her MBA at Columbia Business School before embracing her passion for middle grade literature. She now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where she divides her time between chasing children and wrangling words. She also volunteers as a Pitch Wars mentor, with the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and eats copious amounts of chocolate. She’s represented by Saba Sulaiman at Talcott Notch and would love to connect on Twitter or at www.jessicavitalis.com.

Leah Henderson’s ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL

This March, I had the pleasure of meeting author Leah Henderson at a writing workshop. When she described her debut middle-grade book set in contemporary Senegal, ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL, I couldn’t wait to read it.

Eleven-year-old orphan, Mor, struggles to keep the promise he made to his dying father to keep his young sisters safe and to keep their family together. His aunt comes to take them away from the village they call home, and Mor begs for the opportunity to prove that he can care for himself and his sisters. But finding work and food for his family isn’t easy. To make matters more complicated, a gang of boys from a nearby village, the Danka boys, threaten to take the little bit he’s saved and his opportunity to keep his promise to his father. Mor is faced with a tough decision: do whatever it takes, even if it goes against his principles, to keep the family together or do what is right.

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Indiebound

In ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL, the sights, culture, and customs of Senegal are delicately woven into the story, giving the reader the unique experience of understanding what present-day life is like in Senegal. ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL beautifully shows the power of determination and the importance of family, friendship, and community. It would make a great classroom read for grades 4-8, ages 10 and up.

I invited Leah to chat with us about her story. Welcome to The Winged Pen, Leah!

Thank you so much for hosting me today. I’m excited to be here.

ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL is a story about family, resilience, and determination. It feels lushly intimate, especially the scene where Mor recalls the happy memory of playing soccer with his baay (father). Do bits of the story come from your own life?

I hesitate to say no because in many ways I think I draw from my own life experiences in everything I do, but the scenes in this story are completely fictitious. Though I will say growing up I always loved playing soccer with my dad and watching him compete and coach. And there are definite glimpses of people I’ve met sprinkled within many of my characters. I think that is what helped bring Mor and the individuals populating his world to life for me—a smile I remember, the gut punch of an unkind word, the sunshine behind someone’s laughter—you know, the kinds of moments that fill our days. These experiences can’t help but find their way into my stories.

What do you hope young readers will learn from Mor and his sisters?

I hope they will learn about a tiny fraction of the beauty Senegal possesses and that they will want to discover more about this country and many others around the world that they are unfamiliar with. I also want young readers to consider that when faced with what they might believe are insurmountable obstacles that there is almost always a way to the other side. It may not be easy, but with hope, determination, and help, they can attempt to overcome the difficulties set before them.

In this interview with The Brown Bookshelf, you mentioned your inspiration for ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL came from seeing a boy sitting on a low beach wall while you were traveling in St. Louis, Senegal. His story came to you as that image replayed in your head while you wrote a short story for a MFA class. With encouragement, it developed into a full novel, but you were hesitant to write this story. Many writers struggle with the question “Is this my story to tell?” How did you overcome your internal resistance? How do you feel about the story now that it’s about to be shared with the world?

Honestly, I’m not even sure I’m completely over my “internal resistance”. My hope at this point is that I haven’t done harm and that a story like mine will not only be an enjoyable read, but that it will make people more curious about the larger world we live in and the varied lives that inhabit it.

I think my true turning point came when my father reminded me that this was possibly one of the first opportunities a cast of characters like mine might be seen by a wider audience or more importantly, by kids that mirror these experiences. And was I really going to deny them the chance to see themselves? A question like that left no room for turning back. There was nothing left to do but keep going. I tried to forget about myself and my apprehensions and focus on the characters and the people I modeled them after. I tried to tell the most heartfelt story I could.

As far as how I feel about sharing this book with the world, I am both nervous and excited (mostly nervous) that in a matter of weeks it will be taking a journey that I no longer have any control over (not that I ever really did)! But mainly I wonder if the little boy on the beach wall saw it would he be able to see glimpses of himself in my writing, and if so, would he smile . . .

After reading ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL, I have a greater appreciation for Senegal and its people and, thanks to the rich imagery, I can almost image what life might be like there. Did you do much research as you wrote, or were the details about life in Senegal active in your mind from your travels there?

So the story I tried to tell in my book only captures a small piece of the complexity, richness, and hospitality of that country. The majority of my time in Senegal is spent in cities, in marbled-floored homes with striking courtyards with entrancing scents and gorgeously attired friends and acquaintances, so this side of Senegal, the side I assumed the young boy was from, was a huge departure for me, and cause for much worry. So I tried to do as much research as I could. I was really starting from a place of not knowing.

At first, I could only assume what the life of that boy might be like, and we all know how simple assumptions can quickly turn into stereotypes and untruths if we aren’t careful. So I took trips, watched, listened, tasted, touched, and breathed in everything around me. I asked tons of questions of those who knew this world. I did not pretend to know anything and hesitated to make things up when I didn’t know the answers. I was open to learning and tried to remember every moment I experienced. As an avid traveler who loves to traverse unfamiliar, less trodden paths, I was open, curious, and excited about it all.

Nice! What can you tell us about what you’re working on now?

I have a great love for middle grade, so I am busy working on two new stories which are both very different from this, but still center around determination, family, and discovery.

Okay, Leah. Buck up your seat belt for the Lightning Round! *hands Leah a cookie Fun!

If you had a superpower, what would it be? The power to heal (or the power to truly understand motivations, desires, and dreams).

Wooden pencil or mechanical? Wooden pencil

Coffee or tea? Tea, definitely tea!

Sweet or salty? Depends on the day or minute and the possible sweet or salty option. =)

Dog, cat, or other? Dogs are my heart, especially mine.

Plotter or pantser? I’m a bit of both.

Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there? Sure, if this is truly what you love to do, don’t give up. Keep writing the stories you want to share with the world, not just because you hope someone will see them, but because you have to get them out of you. Write because you love it. Everything else is simply a brighter sunshine!

Thanks again for having me. It’s been fun to share a little more of my story!

Thanks so much to Leah for joining us!

The artwork by John Jay Cabuay for ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL is absolutely gorgeous. Find him on Twitter and more details about it here.

You can find out more about Leah Henderson at http://www.leahhendersonbooks.com and on Twitter.

 

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, a chocolate biscotti baker, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT will be published in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME releasing August 2017. Connect with her on Twitter.