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: Ali Standish

Today we welcome debut middle-grade author Ali Standish to The Winged Pen. Ali is the author of THE ETHAN I WAS BEFORE, which released on January 24th!

Pull up a chair and get comfy, Ali!

Thank you so much, and thanks for having me! 

Congrats on your debut middle-grade novel, THE ETHAN I WAS BEFORE. It has been described as a beautifully written mystery about loss and grief. Tell us about your inspiration for the book.

I was inspired to write the book by a hodgepodge of things (I think this is the case for most books!). I was just leaving a teaching job I loved in Washington, D.C., where I worked with some incredible students. Some of them had been through some really tough stuff, and I remember thinking, “where are all the middle grade books that deal with these things?”

At the same time, I was ruminating about the nature of lying and storytelling, and the gray area that exists between them. I started thinking about a character who told stories that were dishonest on the surface and yet somehow true in a deeper sense. And then I paired her with a character who lied by omission, and bang! There were Coralee and Ethan.

Ah, lying and storytelling. That’s such an important concept to explore, because I’m sure most kids get mixed up in situations like this. Truth is important. Stories are too, as is forgiveness. THE ETHAN I WAS BEFORE would make a great classroom read.

Your main characters, Ethan and Coralee, are of different races. Do you think this is important to the story?

Modeling an interracial friendship is definitely an important aspect of the story to me. I don’t think we see enough of these relationships in children’s literature, and that’s a shame. But it’s also important to note that Coralee was a black character since the moment I dreamed her up (before I had even thought of Ethan). I didn’t write her as black to make a point or to fulfill a quota. I think the reason I thought of her that way had more to do with the essence of her spirit. To elaborate a bit: We know that, because of societal and institutional factors, it is generally harder to be a black child in the U.S. than a white one. But when you look, for instance, at statistics on black women in education, you see that despite these hurtles, they are now the most educated group in the US. Struggle may be part of the black experience, but so is the overcoming of it. So going back and rereading the book now, I think I was trying to write Coralee so that her character would reflect some of the struggles many black children in the U.S. face, but also the joy and humor and triumph and bravery that make up part of their experience, too.

I LOVE Coralee. She’s smart, forthright, and energetic. What do you hope young readers take away from your story?

Hope. Understanding that the world takes things away from us, but it also brings us second chances and new friends.

What is your work/writing schedule?

It changes depending on where I am in the process and how much else I have going on! Right now, I’ve been doing about 4,000 words a day, in two blocks of time—first thing in the morning and then in the late afternoon. But that’s because I’ve set aside a few weeks to do nothing but write. Sometimes I’ll go weeks without writing a word, but during those stretches I’m always working away on my plot in my head.

4000 words a day! Wow, you’ve just raised the bar for me! Do you have any *strange* writing habits?

Possibly the fact that I don’t have a habit at all? I will write in bed, in a coffee shop, on a plane, with music, without music, in the morning, at night. I’m all over the map!

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

Growing up, my inspirations were Sharon Creech, Katherine Paterson, Jerry Spinelli and, of course, J.K. Rowling. They still are! Going back and reading childhood classics like The Secret Garden and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I am kind of in awe at how writers like Burnett and Lewis were able to create such an abundance of magic in so few words. As for recently published books? Lauren Wolk’s Wolf Hollow, which was just named as a Newbery Honor book, is probably the best middle grade book I have read since I was a middle grader. And Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give is worth every ounce of the hype it’s gotten.

We share similar taste in books. Wolf Hollow definitely deserved the Newbery Honor. I can’t wait to get my hands on Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give. It comes out very soon, folks! February 28th!!!

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

More middle grade! Another novel set in the deep south, this one with a magical twist

Sounds perfect, Ali! I can’t wait to read it. Now buckle up for the LIGHTNING ROUND!🌩

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Time travel. (Yes! Take me with you!)

Wooden pencil or mechanical?

Yuck! Pen, please. Better yet, keyboard.

Coffee or tea?

Tea until I die. Or have to get a root canal. (A girl after my heart!)❤️

Sweet or salty?

Salty. When I was living in the UK, my pet peeve was all the sweet popcorn flavors they kept coming up with. What’s wrong with plain butter?!🍿

Dog, cat, or other?

Dog, of course.

Plotter or pantser?

Pantser. Wait, can I change my answer??? This is why I am a plotter. 🙂

Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there?

Remember that writing takes practice. It’s something that you get better at over time. You can have the best idea in the world, but you’ve got to put in your practice hours before you will have the skill to write it. Rejection does not mean you failed. It means you need more practice. (That also means reading, particularly in the genre you write!)

I hear you! And it’s so true. There are no shortcuts to becoming a great rider. Thank you for stopping by Ali!

Find THE ETHAN I WAS BEFORE at your local Indie or find it online.

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Indiebound.org

Goodreads

Ali Standish grew up in North Carolina and spent several years as an educator. She has a MFA in children’s writing from Hollis University and a MPhil in children’s literature from the University of Cambridge. She lives with her Finnish husband and rescue dog. THE ETHAN I WAS BEFORE is her debut novel. Visit her at www.alistandish.com , on Twitter, or 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.

Happy Release Day to The Outs!

Today, I’m thrilled to welcome my friend and critique partner E. S. Wesley to The Winged Pen to talk about the release of his debut, The Outs.

JA: Congratulations on your debut! Can you tell us a little bit about The Outs’ journey toward publication? 

ESW: Sure thing! The Outs was the culmination of other work I’d done in the past, developing this idea and exploring what a world like this would look like. When I finished it, I threw it into the mix with an online contest called Pitch Wars, and the manuscript landed me an awesome mentor (JA Souders—go read her stuff!). Throughout the process, I got some really great agent interest, but Curiosity Quills saw the pitch as well, and asked to have a look. I’d heard great things about CQ, and when they offered on the book, I was happy to take them up on it.

JA: This story is a great mashup between a psychological thriller and a comic book-style adventure story. Can you talk a little bit about what gave you the idea and what other works from those genres inspire you?

ESW: I love, love, LOVE psychological thrillers. Something about having an author toy with my mind really adds a nice punch. As the story of The Outs began to form, I knew that it was the perfect vehicle for something like this.

As for the comic-booky thing: Kitzi (one of my two main characters) pretty much demanded it. In fact, Kitzi made herself come to life and demanded stage time. When I wrote my first draft of the story, she wasn’t even in there at all, but once she entered the scene she took center stage. And she demanded to be a superhero all her own, with her disability forming the core of her superpowers (can’t say much more about that, because SPOILERS!). From there, it was just a matter of seeing where she took the story, and I couldn’t be happier with her.

I’ve always loved the idea of people whose weaknesses double as their strengths anyway. There’s something so amazing about seeing someone take a rotten deal and turn it into something good that gets me where it counts, you know?

Also, if you love superhero stories and haven’t read Brandon Sanderson’s The Reckoners series (starting with Steelheart), then you’ve got some catching up to do. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

JA: You also write middle grade. How is MG different than writing YA and which do you prefer?

ESW: I totally love both, but for different reasons. Writing YA, I get to explore what it’s like to step into adult decisions for the first time, and take your life into your own hands. Middle grade can get some of that, but only so far. The strength of middle grade writing lies in the freedom to explore EVERYTHING. I think YA readers tend to have certain expectations—romance, angst, sequels—but middle grade readers haven’t come up with those limitations just yet. And besides, who doesn’t love stories about friendship?

The Outs does that, too, though. It shows a grittier version of life, more like what we discover when we see for the first time that our actions can have far-reaching consequences. And Caleb and Kitzi’s actions have really far-reaching implications.

JA: I know you work with children and teens. How does that reflect in your writing, and in the voice of your characters?

ESW: I think a lot of people have this idea that teens don’t have deep thoughts, or they don’t look beyond themselves. Having spent time with them and heard their deepest struggles, I know that’s a load of garbage. Teens think about all the same things adults do, but their thoughts and feelings about those things are heightened because they’re learning to handle life for the first time. Adults are jaded; teens are fresh. They see the world with new eyes. They allow themselves to feel their fears and make mistakes, and there’s something cool and honest about that.

JA: What does your writing day look like? Any tips or tricks you’d like to share with our readers?

ESW: For me, it’s all about routine. Getting up at the same time and putting my butt in the chair to work is all it takes to get started, and I won’t let myself whine about writer’s block or anything like that. Always move forward, you know? I typically work from around 7:30/8 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon. Sometimes I go a little longer, but not often. Gotta rest sometime!

JA: Congratulations and thank you for joining us!

E.S. Wesley is an author and advocate for the safety and mental health of young people. A long-time mentor and counselor, Wesley has worked for years to protect, encourage, and empower young adults to navigate a life that rarely makes sense. He believes all people are just waiting for someone to relate to their stories, so he makes up stories in the hope that someone will read and find a home there.
His stories are often strange and twisty.
Wesley lives with his wife in Texas, where he’s always writing. Texas has a lot of things that he likes, but Shelly is the best of them. Second best is his son, who introduced him to his wife. Sometimes we do things out of order—that just makes life more interesting.
Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, or subscribe to his mailing list.

 

Author Interview–Julie Leung

mice-of-the-round-table

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

Jen Malone Book Review Twofer – THE SLEEPOVER and MAP TO THE STARS

I picked up a copy of Jen Malone’s At Your Service at the 2015 New England SCBWI Conference after attending her great talk on middle grade voice. (Find the book review here.) I enjoyed the story and my 11-year-old daughter became a fan. She now knows to ask for Jen Malone books when I’m heading to the conference, so this year she got The Sleepover and Map to the Stars. Here’s what we thought:

Jen Malone’s The Sleepover is billed as The Hangover for the middle grade audience. It the-sleepover-9781481452618doesn’t disappoint! Twelve-year-old Meghan has never made it through the night at a sleepover, but she’s determined to make it through this one. Her two besties, Anna-Marie and Paige, promise it will be EPIC!

It turns out to be a little too epic. The girls wake up to a disaster of a basement and no recollection of what happened the night before. One of Meghan’s eyebrows is missing…and so is Anna-Maria! The girls need to straighten out the hijinks of the night before, all the while collecting clues about what happened to their missing friend, and they have only a couple hours until the parents show up for pick-up.

The Sleepover is great fun! Jen Malone nails the voice of her tween characters as well as their insecurities. The messes that the girls have gotten themselves into and their plans to fix them will make you squirm. The book ends with an invitation to another sleepover. Does this mean there will be a sequel? We hope so!

Find The Sleepover on:
Goodreads
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Indiebound

PrintI couldn’t help but dive right into Map to the Stars. Annie, the main character, gets dragged to L.A.the summer before her senior year of high school following her Mom’s career as a make-up artist/hairstylist. But she can’t spend the summer worrying about new friends and a new school because she’s drafted into assisting her mom on a round-the-world publicity tour for teen-heart throb, Graham Cabot, the boy plastered in posters all over her best friend’s walls and ceiling.

Annie is anything but a star-struck fangirl, but she finds it hard to keep her heartbeat from speeding up when forced into close proximity to Graham  – particularly after he rescues her from an attack by crazed fans at Harrods. Graham’s attention lingers on her, but a relationship between the them is complicated by paparazzi and a publicist set-against Graham having a girlfriend.

Jen Malone pulls you into the hearts and lives of Annie, a very likable and relatable character, and even Graham, who initially comes off as arrogant and annoying. She brings the reader along for a ride through heady emotions of a complicated first love. Map to the Stars is a page-turner, a great summer read.

Mom note: Map to the Stars is a young adult book, but is great for tweens who read up as it’s a step up from the world of middle school but doesn’t get more heavy than a couple kisses.

Find Map to the Stars on:
Goodreads
Amazon
Barnes & Noble

RSA final for blog
Photo by Pam Vaughan.

REBECCA J. ALLEN writes middle grade and young adult stories that blend mystery and adventure. Her best story ideas come from her two crazy kids. She’s on Twitter and her website is here.