The Mesmerist! Interview with Ronald L. Smith

I’ve got an irresistibly spooky #FridayReads suggestion for you today! Ronald L. Smith, Winner of the 2016 Coretta Scott King New Author Award for his debut middle-grade novel HOODOO, has a new book out. Cue the fog machine! THE MESMERIST, a thrilling mix of creepy, urban fantasy and historical fiction, released on 2/21/17.

Perfect for fans of the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children series and Lockwood & Co, Ronald L. Smith dazzles us with his latest tale of an unlikely heroine, 13 yo Jessamine, who lives in Victorian England.

Jessamine’s story begins during a time of tension in London. A mysterious plague is spreading rapidly, especially among the poorest and most vulnerable citizens. The rise of the deadly disease has been blamed on immigrants and communists. Jess is mostly isolated from the turmoil, as she lives outside of the city with her mother making a living as sham spiritualists.

But Jess’s life takes a sudden turn when in the midst of her “summoning” of spirits she receives a real message from the dead. Her fear-stricken mother insists they must visit Balthazar, an old family friend in London. During this visit, Jess discovers not only that she’s a mesmerist (someone who is able to read people’s thoughts) but her parents were both active members of the League of Ravens , a group who has been fighting Mephisto, a gang whose purpose is reanimating the dead.

Jess joins forces with other “gifted” children, training to fight the ghouls and monsters wreaking havoc on the already troubled city,  to form a new League of Ravens. But before she’s ready to take on Mephisto in London’s dark supernatural underworld, she must garner the strength to transform from a proper young lady concerned with etiquette/appearance into a brave and dangerous warrior. As she does, she uncovers horrible truths about herself, her family, and the never-ending battle between good and evil.

In THE MESMERIST, Ronald L. Smith weaves the history of the London underground into an creepy, atmospheric plot filled with wonderful twists. Even with the meticulous world-building, which is just as masterful as in HOODOO, THE MESMERIST is a fast-past read, sure to appeal to readers who love spooky fiction.

Run to your favorite indie, the library, or buy it using these links.

Indiebound      Barnes and Noble     Amazon      Goodreads

I was lucky enough to catch up with Ronald L. Smith this week to ask him a few burning questions I had after reading THE MESMERIST.

Congrats on your latest release, Ron. Tell us about your inspiration for THE MESMERIST.

Some of the first books I read as a kid were by British authors such as Alan Garner, C.S. Lewis, Eleanor Cameron and others. I found them in our local library. These books left an indelible mark on my imagination. I wanted to give tribute of a sort to those books while also adding themes that fit our current climate. 

THE MESMERIST includes themes that America is struggling deeply with now, such as racial bias, poverty, and immigration. What do you hope young readers will take away from your story?

It’s interesting how that worked out. I had a feeling that some of the themes in the book were going to be very prescient. I don’t know if I particularly wanted to teach a lesson or impart any wisdom, but if a child finishes the book and sees that all people should be treated equally, regardless of their station in life, then that is a good thing.  

Hear, hear! The cover of THE MESMERIST is outstanding and sets the reader up for the fantastically spooky atmosphere of the book. Did you have any input in the cover or is it the pure genius of Lisa K. Weber?

It is a great cover. We authors usually have some say in the cover design, but ultimately it’s up to the artist and publisher. I think it turned out really well. Her background is in comics. She does a great one called Hex. Her style fits The Mesmerist perfectly. I was very pleased.

Dying to know, will there be more stories about the League of Ravens?

Wow, that would be kind of fun. I’d have to think about it. I’m sure there are some other battles to be fought against supernatural bad guys. We shall see! 

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

Well, one of the projects is Top Secret, so I am sworn to secrecy. I can tell you a little about my next book, which will have to do with scary aliens and a kid who believes he is being visited by them. It’s more contemporary than sci-fi and is quite different for me. I can’t wait to get it in readers’ hands.

What is your work/writing schedule?

Drag myself to computer. Stare at screen. Have anxiety attack. Try to write some words that make sense. Repeat on the hour.  

Do you have any strange writing habits?

See above. Not really. I usually write in cafes. When the weather is nice I try to sit outside at some of my favorite places. If I write at home I sometimes have classical music on very softly in the background to relax. Bach’s Goldberg Variations is a favorite.

And now for the lightning round. Hands Ronald L. Smith a brownie for strength.

If you had a superpower, what would it be? Being able to write novels quickly.

Wooden pencil or mechanical? Hmm. Wooden. Blackwings.

Coffee or tea? Coffee all day.

Sweet or salty? Salty!

Dog, cat, or other? Hmm. Manticore?

Plotter or pantser? Pantser all the way.

Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there?

Butt in chair.

Finish what you start.

Keep your eyes on your own paper.

Never give up.  

Great advice! Thank so much for chatting with me, and I CAN. NOT. WAIT. to get my hands on the contemporary/sci-fi book!

Thanks so much for thinking of me and reaching out! It was a lot of fun. 
To learn more about Ronald L. Smith, the world-building master and plot twisting author of Hoodoo and The Mesmerist, check out his website or follow him 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.

Brandon Mull’s Creative Juices

Brandon Mull writes for boys using his relentless imagination and his scouting experience.

He has written Beyonders, Fablehaven, and Five Kingdom among others.

Mull says in an interview with Tori Ackerman, “I wanted to go to a world where there was a lot to discover, but still light and fun.”

If Brandon Mull’s series appeal to every demand of one’s imagination, it’s because the author wanted his worlds and characters to be fresh and new.

With so many retellings inspired by legends and folklore, authors who bravely come up with new worlds are harder to find. Kids are drawn by the novelty of his worlds.

For example, Brandon Mull came up with mysterious castles in the air and jumping swords. Even if the sword is a valuable weapon in one world, it is useless in another. Brandon Mull came up with very distinct worlds within worlds. That’s why the books are reminiscent of framed stories like the Arabian Nights. Each episode brings new discoveries and surprises.

The books are movie-driven with episodic adventures, as well as dialogue-driven. Short, snappy episodes do not mean that the plot is less complex. Obviously, there is a lot going on, but each episode is a new adventure bringing on new characters, even late into the story. The ideas are big, but the way things are explained are simple and accessible. Heroes are driven by the moment, by their instincts rather than by their experiences, but they always come up with smart, creative, and resourceful solutions. Yet, in these fast-paced stories, dialogues go on and on for pages without being boring. That’s because dialogues are used to describe the worlds and their mechanics. They are fascinating.

Brandon Mull says in an interview with Book Zones Boy’s Life, “Scouting has significantly helped my career as a professional writer. To create stories, I need details, and my experiences in Scouting helped me learn at least a little about a wide variety of things.”

Mull’s epic fantasies bring to life ordinary kids who survive by their wits in wild worlds. Kids can easily identify to courageous and tenacious heroes. Mull manages a large cast of characters, realistic endeavors, and honest characters with a strong sense of right and wrong. In Fablehaven, Kendra and Seth’s job is to protect magical creatures contained in a reservation. The sense of danger is always present. Characters are sacrificed. Miracles happen too. Treacherous characters make the lives of the heroes difficult. The reader roots for heroes who do not hesitate to take risks, calculated or not. Not only the pace is fast, the adventures constant and the creatures interesting, but also the main characters barter with each other all the time. Their relationship battles between love, hate, and teasing. Many Brandon Mull’s characters challenge each other verbally, adding tension and fun to the chapters. Kendra reflects at the end of a Fablehaven’s adventure, “Many of her experiences here had been dreadful. […] Life would seem so dry after the extraordinary events of the past couple of weeks.”

All in all, Brandon Mull attracts kids by appealing to their sense of adventure and curiosity. The kids want to know what creatures or monsters are in the book. They know they will be surprised. They also appreciate things that blow up, things that get punched, new creatures, cool little guys, things taken from the mythology and from the pop culture, and non-stop action. The quick, dynamic plots sustain little introspection, but they explore new ideas for kids, out loud. Brandon Mull’s stories are a delight because they are full of imagination, conflict, tension, extreme measures, driving motivations with high stakes, and quirky heroes with weaknesses. It’s a new epic that’s tailored for boys and for kids who dream of quests and new worlds.

Resources:

 Brandon Mull’s website. http://brandonmull.com/

Writing Excuses.http://www.writingexcuses.com/2008/10/19/writing-season-2-episode-2-how-to-write-for-children-with-brandon-mull/

Writing Excuses. http://www.writingexcuses.com/2008/10/27/writing-excuses-season-2-episode-3-characters-with-brandon-mull/

20 Thrilling Books for Kids Who Like Percy Jackson. http://www.whatdowedoallday.com/books-for-kids-who-like-percy-jackson/

♥♥♥

If you liked this article, visit Sussu Leclerc at Novel Without Further Ado.

A follow up on Twitter or Pinterest is always appreciated.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

 

Review – How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way To Improve Any Manuscript

In How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way To Improve Any Manuscript, James Scott Bell promises the reader craft secrets to shape great dialogue. As a writer juggling a full life, the phrase “fastest way to improve” catches my eye and I hit Amazon’s buy now button.

When the book arrives, it’s a slim 135 pages. Was it worth the price? Will it stay on my How To writing shelf or end up in the donate pile? I find my favorite booth at Panera, order an iced tea, and crack it open.

I have my doubts the first few pages. Bell starts with what not to do examples that are so bad my fourth grader would know better. With a sigh, I turn a few pages. Next up is a tip that all characters should bring specific, opposing agendas to a scene. I read an excerpt from Gone With the Wind and jot a note to myself: Identify characters’ opposing agendas at the start of scene to increase conflict and tension. A few fun ideas bubble up.

The next idea sounds crazy, but I try it. Bell’s tip is to take a dialogue heavy section in my story and pick a random line. Then I go to my bookshelf, select a favorite novel, and flip it open. The first line of dialogue on that page will now replace the line of dialogue in my manuscript. Bizarre, but it works! My scene takes a creative twist and the dialogue’s interest shoots up.

Bell’s book includes tips on everything from punctuation to attributions to cursing, but the idea that pulls me in next is bare bones dialogue. I tend to be wordy. So I take a page of my dialogue and snip, snip, snip. My goal is to get each line to five words or less. The page suddenly has more white space and the dialogue more snap.

After applying Bell’s tips, I email my newest scene to my tough love critique partner whose comments tend toward “yawning here” or “this scene matters why?”

Several days later, I’m back at my favorite Panera booth, sipping my iced tea and open my email. My critique partner has responded and I nearly keel over when I read: Engaging and well written scene. Easy, enjoyable read. I wonder if it’s the tea or all the hard work. Nice job!

I write back that it’s not the tea, but the tips from How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way To Improve Any Manuscript.

Worth the cost?

Definitely!

A keeper?

For sure.

10 Epic Muslim Picture Books

The Islamic New Year was October 1st. It came and went and few of us noticed. Well, this list of epic Muslim books for children is there to change that.

Islamic literature has been underrepresented for a long time. It used to be filled with stereotypes and false information, but more and more own voice writers are emerging, and Jee, do their books rock!

 

basraThe Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq (2005), written & illustrated by Jeanette Winter is the story of Alia Muhammad Baker, a chief librarian in Basra, Iraq. When bombs hit her library, in 2003, she and a Muslim friend save 70% of the books by hiding them in their homes. This story shows how the civilians are the ones who suffer the most during armed conflicts because the country’s art, artifacts and knowledge are burned away and destroyed. We also learn that the library of Basra contained books in other languages picturing other people in the world like we have in our own libraries.

 

sahara

Deep in the Sahara (2013) by Kelly Cunnane (illustrated by Hoda Hadadi) is the story of Lalla, a girl who lives in Mauritania. Her dream is to wear the malafa, a beautiful local garment, but she is still too young. The story, beautifully illustrated, gives an inner look at the complex reasons why Muslim women freely wear their veil.

 

kingKing For a Day (2013) by Rukhsana Khan (illustrated by Christiane Krömer) tells the story of Malik, a Pakistani boy, who, despite his handicap, masters the art of kite making and kite wrestling. The story really shows that it’s not enough to become the “king”. A king is not truly one unless he shows compassion and shares from his wealth.

 

 

skyThe Sky of Afghanistan (2012) by Ana A de Eulate (Illustrated by Sonja Wimmer) is a gorgeously illustrated and powerfully written story of an Afghan girl, Malala, and her dreams for peace.

 

 

 

Four Feet, Two Sandals (2016) by Karen Lynn Williams & Khadra Mohammed  (illustrated by Doug Chayka) tells the story of two young Afghani refugees living in a refugee camp in Peshawar, Pakistan. Relief workers bring clothes sandalsand Lina finds a beautiful sandal. Feroza, another refugee, finds the other sandal. They haven’t had shoes in years. They decide to take turns wearing the sandals and from then on a friendship grows between them. This is a moving story that shows the difficulty of living in camps.

 

mosqueThe Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Saved Jews During the Holocaust (2010) by Karen Gray Ruelle (illustrated by Deborah Durland DeSaix) is a historical picture book talking about compassion and empathy. It shows a story few people know about. During the Nazi occupation of France, a group of Muslims took on themselves to give certificates of Muslim identity to Jews so that they could avoid persecution. The Jewish families hid in the mosque that had gardens, apartments, and a library.

 

moonUnder the Ramadan Moon (2011) by Sylvia Whitman. Soft and warm pastel colors along with a lyrical prose introduce us to the month of Ramadan and its rituals. Unlike regular Ramadan stories that emphasize on the fast, this book reminds Muslims that Ramadan is mostly about giving in charity, being kind, praying, and abandoning bad habits.

 

 

Snow in Jerusalem (200snow1) by Deborah da Costa (illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu) is the poignant story of Hamudi, a Muslim boy and Avi, a Jewish boy, fighting over a street cat they both feed between their houses. They eventually learn to share the cat and its litter.

 

 

eidThe Best Eid Ever (2007) by Mobin-Uddin Asma (illustrated by Laura Jacobsen) is the story of Aneesa who helps refugees. When she receives beautiful clothes for Eid, one of the biggest celebrations of the year for Muslims, she realizes that being Muslim is about sharing what we love the most.

 

 

husseinMy Name Was Hussein (2004) by Hristo Kyuchukov (illustrated by Allan Eitzen) is the story of a Bulgarian Roma boy forced to change his Muslim name to a Christian name when an army invades his village. Based on a true story. This tale shows the tradition of Ramadan and also talks about a boy forced to reconsider and question his identity. 

 

 

Resources:

Leilinh. “Book List: Picture Books about Muslim or Middle Eastern Characters”
http://blog.leeandlow.com/2014/05/15/book-list-picture-books-about-muslim-or-middle-eastern-characters/

 “Muslim Booklist – Contemporary Novels & Short Story Collections.”
http://www.rukhsanakhan.com/muslimbooklist/novels-shortstory.html

“Novels from Muslim Countries.”
http://www.unc.edu/~cernst/novels.htm

Peckinpaugh, Timothy. “Islamic Facts for Kids.” http://peopleof.oureverydaylife.com/islamic-kids-5693.html

 

SussuIf you liked this article, visit Sussu Leclerc in her gothic castle, over the dream waterfall, in Fantasy Land, at Book Riders and A Novel Without Further Ado or follow her on Twitter: @bookriders1.

 

 

 

Interview with Kelly Barnhill: Author of THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON and THE WITCH’s BOY

I had the COMPLETE PLEASURE of chatting with Kelly Barnhill, author of THE WITCH’S BOY, THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON (which I reviewed here last Friday), and many other beloved middle-grade fiction and nonfiction books. THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON is my ✨Favorite Middle-Grade 2016 Read ✨ so far, and I couldn’t think of any better way to celebrate #NationalBookLoversDay AND THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON’s book birthday than to share our hot-off-the-presses interview with you.

 

Kelly, welcome to The Winged Pen and thanks so much for chatting with me! Your prose is like a lullaby, so smooth and lush. When I read your enchanting words, the rest of the world slips away. I don’t get it. How do you do that? Am I truly being enmagicked? Or would you possibly share some of your craft secrets to those of aspiring for the same type of effect? Do you read your work aloud? Do you spend hours making each lovely sentence?

photo credit Bruce Silcox
photo credit Bruce Silcox

So, here’s a thing about me: I’m an aural thinker. I don’t “think in pictures” and if I want to try and get a visual in my head, it is a tremendous amount of work. I think in words and words and pretty words. For me, landing on a sentence that pleases me — that feels good in the ear and the mouth and that resonates in the body when you say it out loud — that’s the fundamental basis of the story. Everything else builds around it. When I’m writing and when I’m editing, I do an embarrassing amount of work out loud — so much so that I can make myself hoarse after a long day. I will read a section over and over and over again out loud — often standing and performing to no one but the guinea pig and the dog — until it feels solid and correct and true. 

Love the visual of you performing for your furry friends! What is your work/writing schedule? 

Typically, I get up, get the kids ready for school, go for a run, and then write until they get home at the end of the day. Assuming my day isn’t disrupted by doctor visits or teacher visits or volunteering or cleaning the house. On a good day, I can get four hours of writing in a row. On a less good day, it will only be fifteen minutes. I do try to do something on the book each day – whether it’s writing, note taking, researching or laying flat on my office floor, just thinking.

It’s inspiring to know that you find a way to make the most of even fifteen minutes!

You’ve published short stories, nonfiction, and middle-grade fiction. Whew! Do you work on multiple projects at a time?

Always. I am restless, impatient and easily bored.

What is your most difficult craft hurdle?

Self doubt. Crippling, nasty, mean, and near-constant self-doubt. It can stop any decent story in its tracks and can send any deadline hurtling into the emptiest reaches of the universe. My third book, The Witch’s Boy, almost didn’t exist at all. I had completely given up hope on it and erased the whole thing – poof! Fortunately, I have a very excellent writing group who are all very bossy, and they just emailed the draft that I had sent them back to me and told me to stop being such a dummy. For those of you who struggle similarly with crushing self-doubt, I suggest getting a critique group — the bossier the better.

So glad that your writing group saved THE WITCH’S BOY from the emptiest reaches of the universe! You are so right about bossy critique partners. Here at THE WINGED PEN we often peel each other off the floor, dust each other off, and give a swift pat on the you-know-what when necessary. I couldn’t imagine trying to write without a community of supporters. (Sending out love to all my CPs right now. ❤️)

Which writers inspire you? Is there a recently published book you’d heartily recommend?

My reading tastes are all over the map. I recently read A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab, which was fantastic, and The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli was mind-blowing. I finally forced myself to read The Shepherd’s Crown, Terry Pratchett’s last book, and it broke my heart just as I thought it would — and mended it right back up again. Good old Pratchett. The world is a gloomier place since he left us. And I am re-reading Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, just because.

Oooh! Just hopped on Goodreads and added those to my TBR! Thanks!

Do you have any strange writing habits?

Not really. I think my writing life is actually very dull. I wake up early, get my kids ready for school, walk the dog (his name is Sirius Black), and then get to work. If I get stuck, I do push-ups until I can’t stand it anymore and then return to the page. Sometimes I go for a run, and write in my head, stringing sentence after sentence like beads on a string, writing it all down when I get back. Mostly, though, it’s just banker’s hours, every day, me and the page, sentence after sentence until the thing is done.

❤️Sirius Black. Don’t love push-ups! Wow oh wow! Push-ups ’til you drop. *flexes bicep, sighs* You’ve inspired me. I’ll try to learn to love them.

Why do you write for children?

I write for kids because the world is strange, and children like strange things. I write for kids because I like kids, and I like how they think. I write for kids because childhood is, by its very nature, expansive, exploratory, and utterly wild.

You just did it again. My heart did this weird wiggle thing that felt so good. ❤️ Kids are…the best. Your books truly read like a love story to kids and kids at heart.

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

A couple of things. I am finishing up a book called The Sugar House, which is a modern re-telling of Hansel and Gretel — with a little bit of the old Mother Hulda tales added in for good measure. Also it takes place in Minneapolis with a main character who can’t seem to do anything right, and who has been expelled after he accidentally almost blew up the school — not really, but that’s how it played in the media. Anyway, it’s a story about a kid who can’t seem to escape his own narrative — people always see him as a screw-up and a “bad kid.” And when he discovers something truly terrifying in his neighborhood, he has to decide what he’s going to do about it — since people will continue to see him as a bad boy, even when he’s trying to do something good.

I’m also working on a new story that is requiring me to do research into alchemy, poisons, the Holy Roman Empire, ship building, piracy, Euclid’s Elements, Euler’s Mechanica, and a particularly devilish composition for the mandolin. Also the nature of death.

Both of those sound amazing. CAN. NOT. WAIT. to hold those books! And I’m a geek girl, so Euclid/Euler…whoa, be still my heart!

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

I already have one. I have the ability to make people feel completely amazing about themselves. This is true. I can send GIANT LOVE BEAMS inducing feelings of well-being and hopefulness and general efficaciousness to anyone I choose. I do it all the time. I’m basically Other-People’s-Self-Esteem-Man. Or Woman, I mean.

GIANT LOVE BEAMS! *soul melts  You wield your power so well. We can feel it in your stories, like a megaphone right to the heart.

Here comes the lightning round. *hands you a slice of warm blackberry pie*

Wooden pencil or mechanical?

Wood. Always.

Coffee or tea?

Tea. Now, then, tomorrow, yesterday, one minute ago, one hour from now, and forever.

Sweet or salty?

Salt. Unless it’s sweet. And then later, salt.

Dog, cat, or other?

I love cats but my husband can’t stand them, as his heart is, alas, a cinder. We have dogs. I love dogs. I miss cats.

Plotter or pantser?

Pants. All the way. Mostly because pants is a funny word.

Whew! Alright, last question. Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there?

Don’t be afraid to write lousy words. Don’t be afraid to write lousy pages. Don’t be afraid to write lousy stories. Sometimes we have to write the lousy stuff in order to get to the good stuff. It works. I promise. (Also you are amazing. Amazing. Every single beautiful sexy genius one of you. What you’re doing is important and wonderful. Keep being amazing.)

Swoon. Aww…thanks so much for the encouragement! We hope all our blog readers take that advice to heart.

THANK YOU so much for taking the time to chat with us, Kelly! We can’t wait to devour your next book!

For more info and links related to Kelly Barnhill’s latest release THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON, please click here.Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 9.46.28 PM

Connect with Kelly Barnhill at www.kellybarnhill.com

IMG_2370MICHELLE 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.