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.

Author Interview–Julie Leung

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We are thrilled to have on the blog today Julie Leung, a debut author whose middle grade novel releases on October 4th. MICE OF THE ROUNDTABLE: A TAIL OF CAMELOT is an epic new middle grade series in the tradition of Redwall and Poppy, based on Arthurian legend and told from the perspective of Camelot’s most humble creatures: mice. Young mouse Calib Christopher dreams of becoming a Knight of the Round Table. For generations, his family has led the mice who live just out of sight of the humans, defending Camelot from enemies both big and small. But when Calib and his friend Cecily discover that a new threat is gathering—one that could catch even the Two-Leggers unaware—it is up to them to unmask the real enemy, unite their forces, and save the castle they all call home. The book has received positive reviews from both Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal!

“A winning new adventure featuring a stalwart warrior mouse, heroic knights, and magical Camelot.” (Kirkus) “Leung employs classic language, with regal terms to re-create the timeless feel of Camelot.” (School Library Journal)

What drew you to this story for a retelling?

I grew up on a steady diet of the Redwall series. I checked out every book from the library and savored every feast scene and battle. And like most fans of fantasy fiction, my first taste of it came from tales of King Arthur and his knights. So when Paper Lantern Lit approached me with the project for Mice of the Round Table, I knew this was the perfect fit for me.  

What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of retelling a story?

My favorite thing about writing an Arthurian retelling is that I can bake in references and literary Easter eggs that will hopefully pay off when the reader continues to explore the legends in their own right. On the flip side, I have to ensure that my story arc follows the trajectory that everyone expects—for the most part at least, I like to throw in some surprises. 😉

How much research did you do?

My research was twofold. I did a lot of digging into Arthurian legends themselves. But I quickly found that the versions we have come to know as canon have also been modified and tweaked through the ages. Different authors left in their own details and flourishes which I found fascinating.

I also refreshed myself on a lot of “rodent-as-hero” stories like Poppy, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, and other classic tales. One of my biggest challenges was to correctly scale mice in a world built by humans.

What are some details you included to evoke the time period?

I tried to place the story in a timeless and familiar fairytale setting. That meant excising any words or terminology that sounded too modern and paying attention to the descriptions food and clothing to make sure they felt grounded within historical reason.

Why do you write middle grade?

The books that truly turned me into an insatiable reader for life were read when I was 8-12 years old. I wanted to write for this age because I could incorporate a sense of innocent wonder and adventure but at the same time introduce more complex themes.

What was your favorite book when you were a kid? 

Ozma of Oz by Frank L. Baum

How about a favorite middle grade that you’ve discovered as an adult?

I read the Tale of Despereaux for a college class and have been craving soup ever since.

What is your favorite piece of writing advice?

Write like you’re running out of time, adapted from the Hamilton musical. To keep myself focused on the goal of finishing a manuscript, I cultivate this sense of urgency in the back of mine: No one can tell your stories but yourself, and you owe it to your stories to see them to realization.   

julie-leung

JULIE LEUNG was raised in the sleepy suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, though it may be more accurate to say she grew up in Oz and came of age in Middle-earth.

By day, she is a senior marketing manager for Random House’s sci-fi/fantasy imprint, Del Rey Books. She is also the mother of FictionToFashion.com, where she interprets her favorite books into outfits.

In her free time, she enjoys furtively sniffing books at used bookstores and winning at obscure board games. Her favorite mode of transportation is the library.

You may accost her in the following formatsTwitterInstagram, and Goodreads.

Katharine Manning has a soft spot in her heart for mouse stories, dating back to third grade when she first read about Ralph and his motorcycle. She writes middle grade stories about brave girls, friendship, and occasionally, magic. She blogs here and at The Mixed-Up Files, and is thrilled to be a 2016 Cybils judge for poetry and novels in verse. You can see her middle grade book recommendations at Kid Book List, and can also find her at www.katharinemanning.com and on Twitter and Instagram

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. EVEN BETTER meet her and many other Algonquin Young Reader Authors like  

Tracey Baptiste, author of The Jumbies

Brian Farrey, author of The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse

Karen Rivers, author of The Girl in the Well Is Me

Adam Shaughnessy, author of The Unbelievable FIB #2: Over the Underworld, releasing in September

Tania Unsworth, author of Brightwood, releasing in September

on their fall #iLoveMG tour.

Check out the #iLoveMG tour listing to see if they’re coming somewhere near you!

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IMG_2370Michelle Leonard is a chocolate biscotti baker, a math/science nerd, and a middle-grade fiction and nonfiction writer. Connect with her on Twitter: @MGYABookJunkie.

 

 

Summer Road Trip Read Alouds

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It’s summer road trip season, and in our family, that means I’m on the lookout for great books for reading out loud. That’s our favorite way to while away the hours speeding down the highways and back roads.

Not all books are great for reading aloud. To me, the key is that the plot has to be relatively straightforward (in case someone zones out for a bit, looking for the world’s largest ball of twine) and it has to move at a good clip (to keep the interest of those who might otherwise start kicking their sisters). Bonus points if it’s exciting, funny, and has silly names.

Here are some we’ve loved recently.

princess bride

The Princess Bride: If you’ve seen the movie, the book, which reads almost verbatim, will crack you right up. Everyone has his or her own favorite lines. In our family, the surest way to make someone laugh is to say, “Anybody want a peanut?” This is one of the rare instances in which I would recommend seeing the movie first, because the fantastic actors and settings make the book come to life as you’re reading.

snow treasure

Snow Treasure: This was one of my wife’s favorite books as a kid, but I’d never heard of it. It’s the fascinating true story of Norwegian children who smuggled $12 million in gold out of their country on sleds after the Nazi occupation in WWII began. We were all on the edges of our seats to find out what happened, and I especially love the kid power message here.

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TumTum and Nutmeg: These are fantastic for younger kids, who may not be able to follow a longer plot yet. It’s a series of long-ish short stories starring a fussy husband and doting wife mouse couple and their trouble-causing, pompous best friend, General Marchmouse. The stories are entertaining, but not too scary, and everyone is polite and trying to be good. It definitely has fun-to-say names.

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Harry Potter: To me, these are the quintessential read alouds. My wife and I actually read these to each other before we had kids, even over the phone when we were long distance. The stories are gripping, and get better as the series progresses. It has the best names of any books out there. Hufflepuff! Dumbledore! Rowena Ravenclaw! Plus you get to try out fun British-isms like “snogging” and “bloody.” You really can’t get better than this.

wizard of oz

The Wizard of Oz: Another one where the fantastic book gets overshadowed by the movie, I like this for a road trip because it’s the story of a journey and trying to get home. The books (there are five of them) read more like a series of connected short stories, so it’s also nice for bedtime stories, or where you can’t read it all at once.

fortunately the milk

Fortunately, the Milk: So silly and funny. A dad goes out for milk, takes too long getting home, and comes back to tell the kids the fantastic tale of where he’s been. It’s a quick read, and will have you all howling with laughter.

Okay, your turn! I’ve got a looong road trip coming up at the end of this month. What do you recommend? What have you loved?

Katharine Manning is a middle grade writer who is working on her British accent. You can see more of her middle grade book recommendations at Kid Book List. You can also find her at www.katharinemanning.com and on Twitter

Book Buying Advice from the Kiddos

Today I’ve teamed up with my eldest daughter, Sylvia , because it’s her 11th birthday. And anyone who knows me knows if it’s your birthday (or any holiday) you’re getting a book from me.

In her earlier days, Sylvia was an easy girl to buy books for. She loved whatever I picked out. Now…. Well, it’s much more difficult. I seriously think it’s easier to buy her clothes than it is to pick out a book that she’ll actually read.

Sylvia nods her head vigorously here. 

So, I’ve decided to interview her and find out what she looks for in a book and how she decides what to read. And because we did this interview at home, one of her sisters, Surjee (9), joined in the conversation.

I’ll give her a chance to describe the books I’ve selected for her in her own words:

Surjee jumping in straight away: Boring.

Sylvia: Boooring! I don’t care. I just act like, “oh wow”, but I never read it. Then when you say, “I read this when I was your age,” I’m like “Yeah right, I’m not reading it now.”

How do you choose a book at the library or bookstore?

Surjee: I judge a book by its cover.

Sylvia: Yes, the cover is important, but it’s mostly the colors I look at.

Surjee: Like Falling In, boring. I mean come on—it’s boots. I never read past the 1st page.

Sylvia: Be glad you didn’t. It didn’t get any better. I read 3 pages.

So what makes you want to read a book?

Sylvia: If a lot of people have read it.

Surjee: If my friends like it.

Sylvia: The size of the words—if it’s too big it looks like a baby book, if it’s too little it just looks like you have to read the whole thing and it’ll take forever.

Surjee: I’ll only read it if it’s medium-sized words AND thickness.

Sylvia: And the last 3 pages better be interesting or I don’t read them. I’m just like, “Oh, I finished reading this.”

But if you’re in the bookstore or the library, how do you know you want to get that book?

Sylvia: I read the 1st page.

Surjee: Sometimes the 1st chapter.

Sylvia: It has to be funny. That’s most important. But also colorful, but not like pink. Not many kids like pink. And it should have an interesting title. Something cool like Dork Diaries because it sounds funny.

What about KARMA KHULLAR’S MUSTACHE? Is that a good title? (that’s my book btw…)

Sylvia: It sounds okaaaay…. Mustaches are getting old. People will be like that’s so two years ago. Maybe Karma Khullar’s Instagram Account might be better.

Would you read a book your:

Teacher suggested: NO! (both girls in unison)

Mom suggested: NO! (both girls in unison)

Sylvia: The only thing you suggested that was good was Wonder.

Surjee: Harry Potter is the only book I liked you told me to read.

Yia yia suggested: Depends

Aunts suggested:

Sylvia: Might be weird because our cousins like some weird books… I would just look at the cover and decide. Usually if I don’t like it I just read while they’re there and then hide it on bookshelf like I did when Auntie Erica gave me Anne of Green Gables.

I’m going to email this blog post to the family I hope you know…

What’s your advice to adults buying books for a kid?

Sylvia: -The cover should match the personality of the kids.

-Read the 1st page- shouldn’t sound too formal. Diaries are more interesting.

-What’s going to happen must not be like these fairies are on a mission to find something.

-It can be outrageous or real, as long as it’s funny and interesting.

Surjee: Stick to graphic novels only.

You girls have definitely given me a lot to think about. I’m not sure you’ve really made my shopping any easier, but my take aways from this are:

  1. Before you buy a “classic” (Sylvia deems this any book you read as a kid and are trying to get your own child to read), ask yourself: Have I reread the book in the last 2 years? (you might be surprised how much of the book you didn’t really remember or even like any more.)
  1. The best sellers list is an excellent benchmark, but not the books with awards—those are liken to teacher/parent chosen books. Yes, New York Times Bestseller is MUCH more meaningful to your reader than a Caldecott Medal or Printz Award or a Newbery.
  1. Get the child in your life a gift card from the bookstore and save yourself the stress!

FullSizeRenderSylvia is flawless and can be found reading Dork Diaries when not taking selfies or eating tacos or taking selfies while eating tacos.

IMG_1099 Surjee never leaves home without her wand. When she’s not reading or watching Harry Potter she can be found reading Amulet or Zita the Spacegirl.

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Kristi, their mom, endures the tireless mission of putting good books into their hands.