Freshman Fifteens author Jen Brooks  chatted with fellow Freshman Jenny Martin to find out more about her forthcoming debut, TRACKED (Dial/Penguin, May 5, 2015).

Jenny BW

Phee Van Zant, a wisp of a girl who’s far more Han Solo than Princess Leia, tends to drive her way into trouble. More than reckless, she’s one of the most daring street racers on planet Castra. But Phee transforms from rebel to revolutionary after a taking a no-win deal to race the corporate rally circuit, where she’s catapulted between the boy who’s been running alongside her all her life and the intense, castoff rogue who prepares her all too well for the road. This YA debut is set in the future, yet in a galaxy not so far away.

What was the origin of your idea for Tracked?

I grew up in a sleepy Oklahoma town, watching the cycle of oil boom and bust. For better or worse, “black gold” fueled our tiny city; the industry literally kept it going. So living in that red-dirt, flat-plained world, I became acutely aware of the way commerce and corporations can make or break a society. At the same time, in school, we learned about the way Oklahoma was settled—through breakneck land rushes and wild, claim-staking runs for homesteads on the new frontier. (I think that’s why I enjoy science fiction so much. Interstellar colonists aren’t so different from 18th century pioneers?)

So that history planted the seeds for Phee’s world, a corporately controlled planet in the far future.

But the final inspirations for Tracked came to me from two very different places. I’d watched two things on TV in quick succession: Death Race with Jason Statham and the documentary, Hot Coffee, an eye-opening look at corporate exploitation of the law—forced arbitration, the legalese of contracts, and the slow erosion of civil rights. Add a lifetime of devouring sci fi sagas like Star Wars and there you have it. I asked myself…what if Han Solo’s story were different? What if the “scruffy-looking nerd-herder”—the scoundrel—was a girl, and the roles of rogue and princess were reversed? What would happen if my hero faced down a powerful, corrupt force? How could one girl possibly race against an empire?

Tracked is about a teenager who races cars (on another planet, no less!). I really appreciated the authentic feel of the details surrounding her racing experience. Do you have any experience in the professional car racing circuit? How do you know so much about the subject?

I work in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, not too far from Texas Motor Speedway, and while I’ve never raced a car, I’ve always daydreamed about it. Every time I cruise by the speedway or visit TMS, I imagine the rush of careening around the turns. And when the idea for Tracked came to me, I started researching all kinds of racing—Formula One, Nascar, rally racing. I read like a fiend—technical books, racing magazines (Hello, Red Bulletin. Thanks for all the speed junkie features!), driver memoirs, you name it. I watched footage. I even interviewed an amateur racer. But ultimately, the rally racing in Tracked isn’t modeled on any one contemporary motor-sport. I drew inspiration from many of them, and the “circuit” is one part research, two parts imagination. ;)

My favorite part of your novel is the main character, Phee. She is referred to as a “spitfire” in the book. She pushes the envelope,and can be sarcastic and impulsive, but she is also fiercely loyal. Lots of authors write characters that take their qualities from real-life people, even themselves. Could you tell us a little about Phee’s origin as a character?

I guess you could say that I’m a bit of a Walter Mitty, and Tracked is 84,000 pieces of daydream, strung out and shouting, 250 declarations per page. And as for Phee…on the one hand, she’s the devil-may-care rogue, my polar opposite. Because in truth, behind the extroverted facade, I’m an extremely timid, fearful person. (Seriously. So many phobias. So little confidence.) And you certainly wouldn’t catch me behind the wheel of a race car, pulling death-defying moves. No way!

On the other hand, I do believe there are tiny bits of would-be me buried in Phee. We’re both passionate and emotional—on the inside, more than a little out of control. And like me, Phee’s 100% Gryffindor. She’s not afraid to speak up and stand up for what she believes in. I wish I could borrow that courage! And as you mentioned, she’s headstrong but loyal to the last. Protecting the ones she loves, that’s what drives her. Phee is a spitfire. Flawed, fiery, and fierce; she’s the brave hero I wish I could be.

In addition to being a writer, you are a full-time school librarian. Has your other chosen profession shaped/affected your writing life?

Yes! By day, I am a school librarian, and that means I get to breathe/sleep/eat words and stories. By day, I get to connect kids and adults with good books and resources. Nurturing budding readers…reading, buying, talking up good books…that’s my job description. How fun is that? And at home, I get to spin my own stories. I feel very, very lucky. The only tricky thing is time management. Balancing family and work and writing isn’t easy, but I love being an author and a librarian. I’m grateful to be in a good place, doing what I love.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I nap. You think I’m kidding, right? Totally not kidding. Napping is my favorite hobby. Okay, I have other hobbies, too. I hang out with my family. I read, I watch movies, I go to rock concerts. I play air guitar. I look at my real guitar and pretend I’m going to make time to play again. I run. I work out. I eat pancakes. (I can’t overstate this. So many pancakes.) But napping is the best. It fuels daydreams and gives me the energy to go out and eat more pancakes.

What advice would you give to other writers? Anything specifically for teen writers?

First of all, I don’t know who first said this, but I learned it at DFW Writers’ Workshop. There, I heard it over and over…when it comes to writing, there are really only two rules:

1.) Don’t bore the reader. And 2.) Don’t confuse the reader.

Beyond that, nothing else matters. My other advice is…read and read and read and find your voice. You’re not a news reporter. You’re not making a list of “stuff that happened.” Instead, you’re interpreting an experience. Channel your narrator or character and choose the exact, just right words that get that unique experience across. Forget about passive verbs and adverbs and all the other paint-by-numbers rules. Just get inside. Tell the story from under the skin, from the heart. Tell it the way no one else can, and you’ll make it.


Jenny Martin 2Jenny Martin is the author of TRACKED coming May 5, 2015, from Dial, an imprint of Penguin.

Jenny is a librarian, a book monster, and a certified Beatle-maniac. She lives in Dallas with her husband and son, where she hoards books and regularly blisses out over all kinds of live and recorded rock. She loves to connect with readers and writers (and anyone else) who loves music and words (and anything delicious).

You can find Jenny online: Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Facebook

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Freshman Fifteens author Jen Brooks  chatted with fellow Freshman Kim Liggett about her forthcoming debut, BLOOD AND SALT (Putnam/Penguin, Fall 2015).


BLOOD AND SALT is Romeo and Juliet meets Children of the Corn.

“When you fall in love, you will carve out your heart and throw it into the deepest ocean. You will be all in—blood and salt.”

These are the last words seventeen year-old Ash Larkin hears before her mother flees their home in New York City to rejoin the spiritual commune she escaped long ago. Determined to get her back, Ash follows her to Quivira, Kansas, to unravel their family legends of alchemy, immortality, and revenge.

But something sinister and ancient waits for Ash among the rustling cornstalks of this small village lost to time. As charming traditions give way to cult ceremonies and a string of gruesome deaths, Ash begins to feel things she never thought possible. A new and seductive power pulses through her veins as her very blood reaches for an achingly beautiful boy she can’t have, harkening back to the town’s centuries-old tales of unrequited love and death.

As the community prepares for a ceremony over five hundred years in the making, Ash must fight not only to save her mother, but herself. She’s desperate to discover the truth about Quivira before it’s too late. Before she’s all in—blood and salt.

What was the origin of your idea for Blood and Salt?

It started with a legend, a scent, a feather, and a ribbon.

The title, which is an integral part of the story, came from something my grandmother said to me on her deathbed. She told me that I would dive into life headfirst — blood and salt. I think she meant to say “body and soul” — it was her favorite song, but the words haunted me.

Blood and Salt is (mostly) set in a Kansas cornfield in the middle of nowhere. I’m remembering you used to live in the rural Midwest? Tell us a little about the development of your setting.

There’s a lot of similarities between my fictional setting and the real place I grew up in. It was a small gated town. I never fit in. I felt trapped. It’s funny, I couldn’t wait to get out of there as a teen, but it’s all I seem to write about now. There’s magic and horror in the landscape itself. I think there’s a part of my soul that never left those fields.

My favorite part of your novel is the intricate plotting. There isn’t a detail in the book that is insignificant, and so many details become essential to the climax of the story. Can you talk about your plotting process? Did you think of the details first and build the plot around them? Did you know where the plot was going and have to make the details up to fit?

All of the above. Plotting is like childbirth — you tend to block it out. I always write the beginning and the ending first. Those elements of Blood and Salt never really changed — it’s everything in between that was up for grabs. I have a tendency to over-plot and under-write, which is an interesting combination. My editor really reined me in — made me accountable for every choice. I’m grateful. I learned so much.

There are references in here to historical figures and events. There is also a Native American language spoken. Plus there’s black magic, strong scents, alchemy, and symbology. Oh yeah, and a real live cult. How much of your story is research and how much is imagination when it comes to these elements of the book?

Coronado really came to Quivira in 1541 searching for the land of gold. I spent my childhood running around the woods like an animal, digging up arrowheads and making up the stories to go with them. I was obsessed with the Quivira tribe — their history and their stories. A lot of research went into this book — most of which I never had the opportunity to use, but I had a blast spending all that time in the Coronado Quivira Museum and the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. This story has been with me for a very long time.

Why do you write in the horror/romance genre?

It’s not because I’m a creepy perf — well, okay, I might be, but I find in all great horror there’s an element of seduction and in all great romance there’s a whiff of death.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I read a ton. I was a late reader — didn’t really start reading for fun until I was around nineteen. I’m dyslexic, so it didn’t come easy for me. I guess I’m making up for lost time. I love films, too. I’m also a pretty badass bowler.

Who are some of your favorite authors? What are some of your favorite books?

I always go back to the books that made a huge impression on me — books that came into my life at the exact right moment: Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. The Deadly Percheron by John Franklin Bardin. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides. I could go on and on.

I will read anything by Stephen King, Clive Barker, Gillian Flynn, Holly Black, and Melissa Marr.

What has been your greatest challenge as you travel the road of traditional publishing? Your greatest reward?

Greatest challenge: Patience. It’s been a long hard treacherous path into murky water. I’m still trying to feel my way around. Greatest reward: the friends I’ve met along the way. My writing friends are the best friends I’ve ever had.

What advice would you give to other writers? Anything specifically for teen writers?

Take risks. Don’t censor yourself. Don’t be afraid to show people who you are through your writing, because I guarantee you there’s someone out there who needs to read it.


twitter-headerKim Liggett is the author of BLOOD AND SALT coming Fall 2015 from Putnam/Penguin.

At sixteen, Kim left her rural Midwestern town for New York City to pursue a career in both music and acting. While attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Kim sang backup for some of the biggest rock bands in the 80s. After settling down to have a family, she became an entrepreneur, creating a children’s art education program and a travel company specializing in tours for musicians.
She’s married to jazz musician Ken Peplowski, has two grotesquely beautiful teens, and a very neurotic dog that drags her through Riverside Park everyday on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

You can find Kim online: Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Facebook 

Posted in Writing, Young Adult | Tagged , 1 Comment

Every so often, I’d estimate maybe once or twice a WIP, I come down with what I call Story Envy.  I’m not sure how many of you have caught Story Envy, but I find the writing disease so troubling, so annoying, that I wanted to touch on it here.

For me, it usually begins fairly innocuously.  I’ll be talking to another writer about a great idea she’s working on.  Then, maybe a couple days later, I’ll read a deal in Publisher’s Marketplace that just sounds so original.  Around the same time, I’ll be reading a book that blows me away, and almost always in a genre or market that’s not really my “thing.”  And then I come down with the fever.  I start thinking….

Maybe I should be writing contemporary YA.

Maybe I should be writing adult thrillers.

Maybe I should be writing something light, and fun, and younger.

Maybe I should be writing a space saga.

And I look at what I’m working on, and it’s none of those things — I can’t even describe what it is except by way of what it isn’t.  Which panics me … and then the panic becomes doubt about the WIP … then hatred … then loathing … and then I just want to bury the WIP-in-question in a locked drawer.

Does any of this sound familiar to anyone else?

Like any flu, I suppose, previously I’ve just let it run its course, and eventually (whether out of compulsion or that writerly itch) I find myself back working on the project I was working on, some days loving it, and some days hating it, only to bide my time until the next bout of the Story Envy bug.  But this time, I’d had it — I wanted relief.

So I made a list of my favorite movies, TV shows, and books of all time and then studied them for common elements, if there were any — I think part of my problem is that I read widely and across genres, and I like a lot of different things, which always makes me wonder if I’ve really found my writing niche, or if my first book was something of a fluke.  But my list of favorites surprised me, as nearly all of them had all of these elements: (1) odd mix of realism and fantasy/sci-fi/some other genre, (2) some kind of pervasive human condition theme, and (3) dark to very dark in tone.  And naturally, that’s what I’d written the first time around, and I think that’s a fair top-down description of my other two WIPs.

And then I thought about what’s happened when I try to write out of that zone: my heartfelt fantasy MG became darker, for an older audience, and sadder.  My “historical fiction” included magic drugs.  Then I thought back to college, when I prayed I was going to be the next Jonathan Safran Foer: tons of abandoned literary Chapter Ones, tons of half-baked sweeping family sagas outlined and discarded.

And I realized, I write what I like and I like what I write.

I’ve saved this list of favorite TV shows, movies, and books on my desktop so that I can pull it up and remind myself that even though I appreciate a lot of stories, I too have preferences — and the best work I’m going to put forth is the kind of work I want to live in for long periods of time.

Now hopefully I’ve nipped this bug for good.

Do you have story envy? How do you deal with it?



Lee Kelly is the author of CITY OF SAVAGES coming February 3, 2015, from Simon & Schuster.

Lee was born and raised in Philadelphia, went to Georgetown University and, with the exception of a couple years spent in glorious Santa Monica on the West Coast, has been buzzing around New York ever since. She’s currently working on AMERICAN SHINE, her next novel with S&S, a magical realism crossover that follows two up-and-coming bootlegging sorcerers through an alternate Prohibition-era America.

You can find Lee online: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Tumblr



Posted in Middle Grade, Writing, Young Adult Comment

Freshman Fifteens author Kim Savage  chatted with fellow Freshman Stacey Lee about her forthcoming debut, UNDER A PAINTED SKY (G.P Putnam Son’s/Penguin, March 17, 2015).


A young adult Western Thelma and Louise, in which a Chinese girl and a house slave disguise themselves as cowboys to run from the law, seek revenge for a murder, and find freedom in the California Gold Rush frontier.

“I cradle the Lady Tin-Yin to me, her warm wood as comforting as the touch of an old friend. Then I pick out Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Father loved any instrument he could strum—banjo of course, guitar, harp, even washboard if that was the only thing available. Lady Tin-Yin understands my sorrow like no one else, singing my pain through mournful triplets, filling my speck of the world with a poem of aching sound.”

UNDER A PAINTED SKY draws on your heritage as a fourth-generation Chinese-American. How much and what kind of research did you do to write your novel?

I spent a lot of time in the children’s section of the library for starters. There are a lot of great videos made for children (which I find entertaining) on the Oregon Trail and pioneer life. Eventually, I graduated to the big kids section, where I read a lot of pioneer diaries. I also spent a lot of time on the National Park Services website where they have a great map of the Oregon Trail, and even spoke to a National Parks Ranger who was an expert on pioneer life.

My favorite part of the novel is the way “big themes”–religion, gender, ethnicity, racism, sisterhood, just to name a few–are woven into a compelling plot so gracefully. It made me wonder where you started, and how the other themes worked their way in.

I knew I wanted to write a book with a Chinese American heroine back when the Chinese were starting to arrive in America in significant numbers. The other themes grew from there as I developed her story. As a Chinese girl in 1849, Samantha would’ve faced overt racism and gender inequality. Annamae the runaway slave was there at the beginning too, and it was a natural process to let the two characters develop each other.

The frontier you describe in UNDER A PAINTED SKY is stunning, and the reader is completely transported. Did you do any locational research?

Yes. I live in Northern California which is steeped in history about the Gold Rush and the western expansion. I took weekend trips up to places like Coloma where gold was discovered, old mining towns now ghost towns, and Carson’s Pass, where the pioneers forged a treacherous stretch of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. Visiting those areas were truly a step back in time.

Sammy’s perspective is shaped by her father’s teachings, many of which are based in Chinese philosophy and lore. How do you think that helps or hinders her throughout the course of the novel?

We each come into our lives with our unique perspectives and Sammy is no different, really. She struggles to reconcile her Chinese beliefs with her Christian upbringing, and since she is constantly facing issues of life and death, those competing philosophies give her much trouble.

I can’t resist. In the vein of Ginger vs. Mary Ann: Cay or West?


You’re a four-time Pitchwars mentor, and a winner besides. What would you say to aspiring authors, especially teens, who are trying to hook an agent?

My father constantly told me when I was growing up, don’t get discouraged. I would always roll my eyeballs, but as I grew older, I see that was pretty good advice. Life will hand you disappointments, rejections and criticism. But don’t get discouraged. Let those things make you stronger.

uapsStacey Lee is the author of UNDER A PAINTED SKY coming March 17, 2015 from G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

Stacey loves papayas, baubles, chocolate peanut butter anything, taking walks, nature shows, Spanish guitar, funky dancing. And if you ever wrote her a letter with pen and paper, she probably still has it.

You can find Stacey online: Website | Twitter | Goodreads | FacebookPinterest

Posted in Debut Authors, Writing, Young Adult | Tagged , , , , Comment

Even before we Freshman Fifteens signed our book contracts and officially entered the KidLit writing world, we were floored by the generosity of this terrific community. We’ve each been helped beyond words by our agents, editors, fellow authors (published and not-yet-published), and each other. It’s made this crazy (and stressful!) journey a much more enjoyable ride. As a group, we wanted to work together on a project that would allow us to pay it forward and help the next generation of authors.

And so on June 26, we kicked off our COMMON ROOM short story teen mentoring contest. We were extremely lucky to find a terrific partner in this contest to mentor teen writers: the 25-million-plus online community of Wattpad.

Common Room CoverIn the contest, the winning teen writers experience the process of having a book published, from the “query” stage where they pitch us their short story idea, to getting their “deal” when a Freshman Fifteens author selects them as their mentee, to working with their author as they would a book editor, going through two rounds of revisions, through the copy edit stage, cover reveal, release date, and—finally!—book launch.

The finished collection of fictional short stories will be published as an anthology, titled COMMON ROOM, on Wattpad, debuting in January 2015. Winners will also receive signed books, swag, and more.

For the past month, our Freshman Fifteens have been reading the entries, and we’re astounded by the talent. The short story pitches submitted to us were so incredibly engaging and the writing so universally strong and vivid that it made choosing our final 15 an extremely difficult challenge. (Check out the entries here.)

Before we announce the winners, we want to congratulate each writer who submitted to us. It is a very brave thing to put your work forward for reading and critique. You should be proud of yourself for entering and, more than that, know how hard you—with your talent—made this decision for us. Please continue writing. Keep entering contests, keep honing your craft, and keep reading to learn and improve. That’s what we all did—and still do.

And now, here are the winners and their Freshman Fifteen mentors!

Rachel W., Wattpad username Chandelier, writer of SOULLESS, to be mentored by contest organizer Lori Goldstein

GracieWacie, Wattpad username Graciewacie73, writer of LOCKED OUT, to be co-mentored by contest organizer Lori Goldstein and Virginia Boecker

Anne Lutz, Wattpad user name AnneLutz, writer of VIOLET, to be mentored by contest coorganizer Jen Brooks

Make Me Swoon, Wattpad username MakeMeSwoon, writer of MIXED MESSAGES, to be mentored by contest co-organizer Jen Brooks

Arminius, Wattpad username Arminius, writer of POISONED PEAR, to be mentored by Chandler Baker

Antara, Wattpad username _coralsky_, writer of MARRIED TREE, to be mentored by Kelly Loy Gilbert

Julia, Wattpad username ceilingflower, writer of ATTACHMENT, to be mentored by Charlotte Huang

Aisha, Wattpad username, Metaphorphosis, writer of IMAGINE, to be mentored by Lee Kelly

Anne Brees, Wattpad username AnneBrees, writer of HONESTLY, to be mentored by Stacey Lee

Christina, Wattpad username wordshipwrecks, writer of DESTINATA, to be mentored by Kim Liggett

Ashley, Wattpad username AshJellison, writer of LEAVE THE LIGHT ON, to be mentored by Jenny Martin

Katie Spektor, Wattpad user name KatieSpektor, writer of VOICES IN MY HEAD, to be mentored by Kim Savage

Coralie, Wattpad username terryco, author of BABYSITTING GRANDMA, to be mentored by Jenn Marie Thorne

Britton, Wattpad user name CutieFlutie, writer of A THOUSAND STARS, to be mentored by Laura Tims

Shelly, Wattpad user name shellyzev, writer of LIBRARY OF OLD GHOST, to be mentored by Jasmine Warga


We will be working with our writers throughout Fall 2014 to revise their stories in anticipation of their January 2015 debut in the COMMON ROOM anthology.

Be sure to follow the Freshman Fifteens on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or right here on our blog to find out more about the winners in the coming months and to read their stories in the COMMON ROOM anthology!

Freshman Fifteens

Web site:
Twitter: @Freshman15s



Posted in Contests and Giveaways | Tagged , Comment

Freshman 15er Lori Goldstein interviewed author Jen Malone about her MG debut, AT YOUR SERVICE, coming August 26, 2014 from Simon & Schuster/Aladdin MIX!


Writing Thesis: AT YOUR SERVICE

Abstract: In this love letter to NYC, tween Chloe longs to follow in her concierge father’s footsteps, and when she’s awarded the role of Junior Concierge (tending to the needs of guests’ children) at the fancy hotel where she lives, she’s well on her way. Right up until the point she loses a visiting royal. She’ll have to race through NYC’s tourist spots in search, but can she find the young princess before the incident becomes international news and dashes both her reputation and her dreams?

Department: Simon & Schuster/Aladdin MIX

Faculty Advisors: Annie Berger and Amy Cloud

Release Date: August 26, 2014

Hometown: Boston, MA

Minor(s): overusing the word “just”, overbooking Future Jen, and (over)pining for a hedgehog.

Most Likely To: fall while walking down (or up) stairs.

Friday Night Whereabouts:

_X_ Library (except why isn’t dueling piano bar an option?)

___ Party

___ Cafeteria

___ Missing in Action

# Books Queried Before AT YOUR SERVICE: #1

Quote from Thesis: “I’m sorry, but does she not have the slightest clue how special this city is? Does she think Frank Sinatra would “start spreading the news” about the worst place ever? Has she not seen all the t-shirts? They don’t say “I FROWNY-FACE NY”. No. They say “I HEART NY”. And anyone who doesn’t heart it themselves must not have a heart to begin with.

AT YOUR SERVICE is a mini love letter to NYC. Whats your connection to the city and what made you set the book there?

As a child, I completely adored every trip we made to NYC and every book I read set there. Still do. I think it really helped to “know” the city as a tourist and write from that perspective, because I can still describe the sights and sounds (and smells!) from a… let’s call it “less jaded”… perspective, which might not be the case if I’d lived in the city for years and years. That said, it was exceedingly helpful to have an editor and critique partner who DO live there and could steer me straight if I got something wrong!

If you were a concierge in a fancy hotel like Chloes dad, what would you be great at recommending and what would be out of your comfort zone?

While I’ve never been a hotel concierge, I have been both a youth hostel manager and a publicist for some major Hollywood celebrities and both came with their fair share of weird requests, trust me. After that, there’s not all that much that’s out of my comfort zone, sadly, but I probably would have to do some major consulting before I could recommend a hopping nightspot these days. :)

You recently sold not one, not two, but FOUR additional books: a two-book MG series, co-authored with Gail Nall, called RSVP (Aladdin, Spring 2015 and Winter 2016), and a two-book deal for your YA debut WANDERLOST (HarperTeen Summer 2016) and a second YA novel. First, congratulations, and second, youve been busy! How does it feel to have the next couple of years planned out, at least in your writing life?

Well, now I’m blushing (in between sending balloons and chocolate to my ninja agent). A few months before I got offers on those books, I remember wailing to that ninja agent about how everyone else in the 2014 debut group was already in copyedits on their second book and I hadn’t sold anything and what if I never, ever did again (of course, her answer was to stop it, stop it, STOP IT with the comparisons!) Be careful what you wish for, right? (Wait, did I just reference wishes to the girl with the jinn book?) It feels great, of course, but also a little strange because until now I’ve had the freedom to work on whichever project I wanted and now I find myself tucking away shiny ideas versus jumping straight into them. Not complaining though, of course!

If you could give one piece of advice to upcoming 2014 and 2015 debuts, what would it be?

I can’t claim this for my own, but someone recently posted in the 2014 message boards and I found her advice to be brilliant amidst all the topsy-turviness of a debut year. I’ll paraphrase: Once a week or so, take out your book (or ARC), slap it on the desk next to you, admire it for a moment, and say, “Hot damn, I wrote a book. Hell yeah, I did!” I also keep reminding myself (though not necessary, so far!) to savor all these first and try hard to never get jaded about any of it.

Do you have a favorite book from your younger years?  

I really, really loved From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I wanted to be Claudia sooo badly.

What is your advice to young writers who have dreams of being published?

While publishing isn’t for the faint of heart, if it’s your dream, it’s your dream, and you should honor that. However, being published is not the only finish line and plenty of people are writers without getting published. You’re a writer the minute you call yourself a writer, so give yourself that respect. However, my advice would also be: for every hour you spend writing, spend at least two reading. There is no better way to learn both the craft and the market!

Enter to win a signed copy of AT YOUR SERVICE, releasing August 26, 2014!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Jen Malone At Your ServiceJen Malone is a middle grade and young adult author. Her debut AT YOUR SERVICE published with Simon & Schuster/Aladdin MIX in August 2014 and her new series, RSVP (Simon & Schuster), co-written with Gail Nall, launches with Book #1 in 2015. Her YA debut WANDERLOST is forthcoming with HarperCollins in 2016.

Jen lives north of Boston with her husband and three children, teaches at Boston University, loves school visits, and has a “thing” for cute hedgehog pictures.

You can find Jen online: Website | Twitter | Pinterest | Facebook

Posted in 2014 Debut Author Yearbook Profile, Contests and Giveaways, Debut Authors, Middle Grade | Tagged , , , , , Comment

Freshman Fifteens author Kelly Loy Gilbert  chatted with fellow Freshman Lee Kelly to find out more about her forthcoming debut, CITY OF SAVAGES (Simon & Schuster Children’s, February 3, 2015).

LeeWhen two sisters attempt to escape war-torn Manhattan, dark well-kept secrets about their family and the city begin to surface from the wreckage.

“I know I have two options.

I can tell her how much I hate the Park, this city, and her and all of the sorry excuses for human beings that do her bidding.

Or I can tell her the bigger truth.  The one that, regardless of how jealous I am, how insignificant I feel, is more a part of me than any limb or organ, whether I like it or not. It rumbles inside of me and bursts through my lips, armed with new ammunition from the whiskey.

‘I would never leave Phee,’ I say, but don’t look at my sister, as my answer is so fundamental I’m scared by it. ‘What she wants, I’ll live with.’”

How did CITY OF SAVAGES come to exist?

Right before I started writing CITY OF SAVAGES, I had moved back from Los Angeles to Manhattan, and was practicing law at a very “New York” firm – hard-to-please partners, long hours, floor-thirty-something offices with almost torturous views of Central Park. Anyway, my mind refused to focus on my morning commute, and I’d spend most subway rides daydreaming instead of reviewing documents. I found myself imagining a prison in Central Park (was I miserable as a lawyer? Nah), ruthless wardens, subway rides that were life and death… one thing led to another, and the construct for the dark world of CITY OF SAVAGES started to take shape.

Your book is set in (a haunting, deliciously terrifying re-imagining of) New York City. What inspired you to set your book here? Will readers recognize any landmarks or parts of the city?

I love that – “deliciously terrifying” – man, I hope so!

Honestly, I think New York serves as inspiration for many writers and artists and professionals who live and work there. It’s a city that’s loved, a city that’s hated – but any way you slice it, it’s a place that’s hard to ignore.

And the city really is, in many ways, a character in this novel. The Manhattan in CITY OF SAVAGES is the ruins of the Manhattan we know now – so current places and well-known locations feature prominently. Landmarks like Belvedere Castle and Sheep Meadow in Central Park are major settings, as are apartments on Wall Street and the Meatpacking District. Even certain hotels like The Carlyle and The Standard are, let’s just say, “re-purposed.”

How do you develop your characters? Do they draw from real-life experiences, or are they opposite of anyone you know, or … ?

Some of mine are definitely drawn from real-life experiences. I’m the oldest of three, and the main characters of CITY OF SAVAGES, Sky and Phee, are modeled after my own two sisters (though if I’m honest, there is a little bit of me in each of them). And as my day job was inspiration for the novel, one of the story’s antiheros is fittingly based on a partner at my firm, which I guess is kind of weird now that I think about it. Then there are others that are composites.

While not every character I write is based on someone from my life, it helps when I do have this real-life “personality compass” that I can check back with every once in a while. So when I get to a scene that I’m unsure about, I can see whether I’m remaining true to the character’s nature, or if I’ve sort of veered off into no man’s land.

What’s on your writing bucket list?

I LOVE this question. The book I’m currently working on is a historical fantasy, which was on my bucket list for a long time, so I’m pumped about finally diving in! But I’ve also been dying to write a ghost story that plays with the boundaries of “haunter” and “haunted”, and have been thinking for a while about a thriller set against the 1960s counterculture (all that Warhol Factory jazz? Just crazy). And if I ever get to the end of that list, I’d love to try a story told in second-person, just to do it.

What are you doing when you aren’t writing?

I have a 14-month old wild-man named Penn, who naturally keeps me very busy. When not hanging with Penn or writing/doing writerly things, my husband and I spend a lot of time with family, try our best to get outdoors (hiking, biking, etc – don’t do enough of it!) and try new restaurants. I read as much as I can, for pleasure and because I think it’s fundamental to good writing. I also have a slightly addictive personality when it comes to good TV (read: HBO and Showtime), but I try my best not to watch more than a couple hours a week.

What’s the most important part of every story for you?

I think the thing that I strive for in each of my stories is a big focus on the interior journey of the main character(s), with the exterior setting playing a prominent role, or even serving as a metaphor, for that interior journey. Naturally, I’m a sucker for these types of books as a reader (Bridge to Terabithia, Phantom Tollbooth, The Road, and the list goes on).

In CITY OF SAVAGES, I wanted the burned-out husk of Manhattan to serve as a backdrop for two sisters’ understanding of what love and sacrifice ultimately mean, and how far one will (and should) go for a second chance. In the current book I’m working on, I’m playing with the notions of identity versus family and loyalty, and wanted to set the story during the 1920s: that frenetic, tumultuous period of America redefining itself, and struggling with its own identity. So I think that interplay, of interior and exterior, is what keeps me writing and interested in my stories, and really sings to me as a reader. Unfortunately, it also results in many, many drafts to get the right balance between them… but at this point, I’ve kind of just accepted that I’m a writer that needs to work through many drafts!

 LeeLee Kelly has wanted to write since she was old enough to hold a pencil, but it wasn’t until she began studying for the California Bar Exam that she conveniently started putting pen to paper. An entertainment lawyer by trade, Lee has practiced law in Los Angeles and New York.

She lives with her husband and son in Millburn, New Jersey, though after a decade in Manhattan, she can’t help but still call herself a New Yorker. City of Savages is her first novel.

You can find Lee online: WebsiteTwitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram

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The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) hosted its 43rd Annual Summer Conference in Los Angeles this past weekend. It’s an amazing event with some of the biggest names in children’s publishing gathering for four days to inspire, advise and teach writers and illustrators at all stages of career development.

A few of the Freshman attended and we put together some of our favorite tips for you. We think these will be particularly helpful for those of you who are in the querying/submitting/just-about-to-debut stages. If you want more, there’s lots of great advice from the conference on Twitter under the hashtag #LA14SCBWI and also here:

Charlotte Huang, Virginia Boecker, and Stacey Lee, having fun!

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1. Treasure your faults. Be bad, take risks, embrace what’s difficult. (Meg Rosoff)

2. Become a collector of experiences. (Judy Schachner)

3. Your individual voice is the biggest capital you have in this business. (Justin Chanda)

4. Being a writer is the greatest journey. Sometimes I feel like I died and went to heaven, sometimes I feel like I’m just dead. (Sharon G. Flake)

5. Your creativity is not a genie in a bottle that you can just pull up whenever you think you want to. Sometimes blood is required. (Sharon G. Flake)

6. You don’t have to get it right the first time. You just have to get something right. (Tim Federle)

7. Everyone is always starting over. All of us face the same blank page. (Tim Federle)

8. Have the courage to create. Modern society almost doesn’t appreciate the creative act but we have to have the courage to do it anyway. (Tomie dePaola)

9. I never have plots. I just wait for the reviewers to tell me what my book’s about. (Judy Blume)

10. I know a lot of people who are good writers but they stop because they don’t have that determination. (Judy Blume)

The incomparable Judy Blume.

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  1. Try intuitive collaging: cut things out and put them together with no rhyme or reason and see what ideas it sparks. (Judy Schachner)
  1. There’s no such thing as writers’ block. It’s just you’re editing too early. (Stephen Chbosky)
  1. In writing other cultures, research has to be intensive and extensive. You have to spend months, years immersed in that culture. Spend time to get it right. (Linda Sue Park)
  1. You don’t create voice. Your characters reveal themselves through voice. (Sharon G. Flake)
  1. Don’t spend time on things that don’t matter. (Sharon G. Flake)
  1. Don’t bore the editor. (Linda Sue Park)
  1. Characters must want something. It’s never enough for them to not want something. (Maggie Stiefvater)
  1. Voice is about finding out who you are, about how your reaction to life is different. (Meg Rosoff)
  1. Don’t use subplots as a crutch. Don’t toss additional things into the story to give it an engine. If you take something out, will the book still stand? (Julie Strauss-Gabel)
  1. Craft equals making choices. What belongs in the story you’re trying to tell? (Dinah Stevenson)

Sharon G. Flake, who made us all cry.

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  1. Don’t be weird with your submissions. Don’t use gimmicks to get attention. (Allyn Johnson)
  1. Don’t submit a revision before an editor has a chance to evaluate your first submission. (Wendy Loggia)
  1. Pick up the phone. Don’t rely on email. (Allyn Johnson)
  1. If only submitting to one editor in a house, shows that agent believes in a strong fit between editor and project. These manuscripts get earlier reads. (Wendy Loggia)
  1. Bring your publishers good news. Only 15% of your communications should be requests. The other 85% should be gratitude and good news. (Tim Federle)
  1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. (Mary Lee Donovan)
  1. Send handwritten cards to assistants, interns and blurbers. (Tim Federle)

The Golden Kite Luncheon

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  1. Start your marketing blitz when your book has been published. (Erin Murphy)
  1. Include your book’s ISBN # on any printed promotional material. (Erin Murphy)
  1. Remember to write characters and story. Marketing doesn’t trump storytelling. (Justin Chanda)
  1. What’s your backstory? What inspired you to write this book? Knowing this helps publicity department to come up with the pitch for your book. (Shanta Newlin)
  1. Develop a good two-sentence pitch. (Shanta Newlin)
  1. Develop an email list and send a newsletter once or twice a year. (Erin Murphy)
  1. Book trailers can be used if part of a larger campaign, only if there’s a real way to distribute it. (Emily Romero)
  1. Write your next book. Nothing sells backlist like frontlist. (Everyone)

The amazing Tim Federle, making everyone laugh.

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Posted in Publishing, SCBWI, Writing Comment

Freshman Fifteens author Chandler Baker  chatted with fellow Freshman Charlotte Huang to find out more about her forthcoming debut, FOR THE RECORD (Delacorte, Fall 2015).


“The curtain dropped and I went on autopilot. It was still light enough that I could make out every person in the audience.

They were so very close. Barricades created a moat between us and them, where security stood, screaming fans draped over with their phones. It stressed me out so much that I backpedaled and bumped right into Beckett. I would have stayed there, frozen, but Pem scowled and I knew I had to work more of the stage.

I sang the verse, stalking to the front, and held my mike out for the crowd to sing the chorus, which they actually did. It was like one of those trust exercises, like I’d fallen backward off a chair and they were actually there to catch me.

I knew then that I’d never get enough.”

It’s no secret how excited I am for FOR THE RECORD to be out into the world. And I love to hear writers’ origin stories. Can you tell us a bit about your inspiration behind the book?

FOR THE RECORD is a book I’ve been wanting to write for a long time. My husband works in the music business, as do many of our close friends, so often times I’ll be at a dinner or something with them, just absorbing stories about the industry. When you get music people together, it can be all they want to talk about. It actually used to annoy me but I finally surrendered and I’m thrilled that I’ve been able to put all those hours of listening to good use.

Also, I see a lot of shows with my husband and get to be a fly on the wall in the backstage areas. What goes on there is still completely fascinating to me. The best part is watching the fans. Music fans are seriously dedicated. They will wait in interminable lines, until all hours, to be able to meet the artists and maybe give them a present. It’s pretty amazing. I thought it might be fun for them to get a closer peek behind the scenes.

I know you are fortunate enough to have an awesome agent (Adriann Ranta) and an equally awesome editor (Wendy Loggia at Delacorte). Can you tell us how you connected and wound up getting your “yes” from each of them?

Upon the advice of someone really brilliant and wonderful [note: it was Chandler] I entered an online pitch contest last summer run by Michelle Krys and Ruth Lauren Steven. Michelle picked my entry (which was for a different book) to feature on her blog. Adriann was one of the agents in the contest. She requested the full manuscript and eventually offered me representation! When we had our first conversation, she asked me what I was working on at the time. I told her about FOR THE RECORD. That ended up being the book we went on submission with first and Wendy was one of the first editors Adriann submitted to! I’ve had such a great experience working with these two ladies and I feel very lucky to have landed where I did.

Like me, you’ve been living in your revision cave as you work on fine-tuning your novel with your editor. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned through that process so far?

Well, through you and some of the other Freshman Fifteens, I learned about breaking the editorial letter down into manageable tasks and assigning due dates to each. Just the process of organizing the work in that way made it feel less overwhelming.

Something I learned even before the process started really helped me as well. Eoin Colfer spoke on a panel at the LA Times Festival of Books this year. He said that we should trust our editors and that if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll see that it’s a much better book post-editing. I’m paraphrasing and there are probably exceptions but it stuck with me and helped me not give into temptations to hold onto any darlings (well, mostly). In my case, I can attest that what he said holds true!

You have so many great characters in FOR THE RECORD. Who was your favorite to write and why?

Chelsea, the main character, is an obvious choice but since she was the newbie in the band and on tour, it was really fun to write everything from her POV. I enjoyed writing all the characters to be honest. I love writing boys so writing this world full of boys, was a treat.

Finally, what is your writing process like? Which parts do you enjoy most of the process and which do you dread?

For me the most challenging part is getting down an idea that’s really enough to carry a whole book. Which is not to say that I dread it, but just… it’s difficult. At this point, I’m fairly sure that everything else can be accomplished with hard work. Don’t remind me I said this the next time I’m swearing at my revisions. The idea stage is hard work too but not so much in a way that you can control, and it doesn’t always feel active. You have to be patient, which I’m not great at. I love the freedom of drafting. That’s when I feel the most lost in the world of the book.


Charlotte Huang is a graduate of Smith College and received an MBA from Columbia Business School, which is clearly something every aspiring writer should do.

Charlotte lives in Los Angeles and when not glued to her computer, she cheers her two sons on at sporting events and sometimes manages to stay up late enough to check out bands with her music agent husband. Charlotte is represented by Adriann Ranta of Wolf Literary.

You can find Charlotte online: Website | Twitter | Instragram | Goodreads


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Freshman Fifteens author Jasmine Warga  chatted with fellow Freshman Lori Goldstein to find out more about her forthcoming debut, BECOMING JINN (Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan, Spring 2015).

Lori Goldstein AuthorWishing doesn’t make it so, Azra does. When the silver bangle snaps around her wrist on her sixteenth birthday, Azra becomes the latest in the long line of Jinn from which she descends. But as she begins to grant wishes, she uncovers the darker world of becoming Jinn and realizes when genies and wishes are involved, there’s always a trick.

“A chisel, a hammer, a wrench. A sander, a drill, a power saw. A laser, a heat gun, a flaming torch. Nothing cuts through the bangle. Nothing I conjure even makes a scratch.

I had to try, just to be sure. But the silver bangle encircling my wrist can’t be removed. It was smart of my mother to secure it in the middle of the night while I was asleep, unable to protest.

Though my Jinn ancestry means magic has always been inside me, the rules don’t allow me to begin drawing upon it until the day I turn sixteen. The day I receive my silver bangle. The day I officially become a genie.


BECOMING JINN has such a spot-on YA voice. Did you specifically set out to write YA novels?

Yes, but I didn’t know it. My first manuscript was an “adult” manuscript about a man-boy, almost 30-year-old who, after getting carjacked at a fast-food drive-thru, is forced to reconsider his meandering life. Though Max was 29, he acted 16. So I guess I was writing YA masked as adult. When I began to consider my next project, it was a conscious decision to try my hand at YA. Considering my addiction to reading YA books and watching “teen” shows (flag-flying, card-carrying, die-hard Vampire Diaries addict here), I should have known from the start that YA was what I was meant to be writing. But I guess sometimes it takes a bit of time before the wand chooses you . . .

How did you come up with the concept for BECOMING JINN? Jinn, I know, have a really storied mythology in the Middle East, but you don’t see their occurrence too much in YA, or even in American literature.

I was sitting here, trying to figure out how I knew what a Jinn was; I feel like I always did. I’d say “Jinn,” surprised other people didn’t know the term. (Why I would have been talking about Jinn years before I started writing this book, I have no idea, but I digress . . . ) Anyway, I just looked it up, and indeed there was a Jinn episode of the X-Files so maybe that’s where it came from. Or Charmed? Was there a Jinn on Charmed?

Clearly, this is not the highbrow answer you were looking for, but it’s the truth. Anyway, when I started thinking about a new concept for a book, I realized that, at the time, there were no modern-day tellings, aside from Aladdin, of genies. Certainly not in books. My genie book would be a Jinn book and my Jinn book would be a genie book, because, to me, they went hand-in-hand. My brother-in-law is an avid traveler, and his photographs of Morocco and Jordan and Turkey inspired me. The second I hit on my Jinn story, I knew I would tell it with those places as inspiration, being true to the Middle Eastern origin of the Jinn. And I knew exactly who my main character would be: Azra. It was a name just waiting to come alive in my pages.

I had been waiting to use it since 2011. That year, there was a horrible earthquake in Turkey. Two days after the quake, a mother and baby were found trapped under the rubble, both miraculously alive. That baby was named Azra. From the moment I heard the name, I knew it was going to be my main character — one day.

I had saved the article, but the name was always in the back of my mind, waiting for the story to go with it.

I loved diving into the Middle Eastern mythology surrounding Jinn, and it forms the backbone of my Jinn world. While the book is set in the contemporary New England world, the Jinn and their lives, from their clothes to their furnishings to the terms they use, are drawn from the Middle East, and I love the richness it gives to the characters and their ancestry. And I hope it encourages readers to want to read about, learn about, and visit these places the same way it does for me.

I know humor is something you really enjoy in books and strive for in your own writing. Can you talk more about why you think it’s important and how you go about giving your writing those humorous touches?

One thing I’ve learned about myself as a writer is that I’m incapable of writing without humor. For me, humor flows naturally onto the page. So much so that even in the most heartbreaking moments in my original draft, my main character would find some way to make a joke. While humor in these types of moments is a perfect way to show a character’s defense mechanisms, what I learned through my editor’s extremely diplomatic version of “hmm…would she really be doing standup right now?” is restraint.

The books I like to write are the ones I like to read, and humor is a core element of that. It doesn’t have to be a laugh-a-minute, but I think infusing writing with some degree of lightness adds another layer to your work. If your book is very dark, and then you hit the reader with some humor, you let them breathe, you highlight the torture you are putting your characters through by showing the barest glimpse of what life would be like if things weren’t so dire. And the opposite is just as true: if there’s an overall lightness and sense of fun and humor and then you whack someone (metaphorically and literally), the severity and the heartache is felt that much more strongly. Contrast is key, and humor is a great way to achieve that.

Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process? Your books have a lot of layers, so I’m guessing plotting can be an ordeal. How do you keep it all straight? Do you plan ahead of time?

Do I plan? Does a Jinn like sweets? (They do.) I’m an over-the-top, 70+ page outline plotter. It takes me anywhere from two weeks to six weeks to plot. I learned this the hard way. My first novel was a complete pantsing disaster. That book ultimately ended up being a manuscript I still adore, but it took me three, long, hard, painful years to get there. I essentially wrote three novels to get to the last one. While it was also due to my inexperience as a writer, the majority of the problems stemmed from my inability to plot. Apparently characters need to do more than just sit in a room and talk. Who knew? I wasn’t going to make that mistake again. When I wrote Becoming Jinn I plotted every which way, and I wrote the initial draft in two months, did one month of revision, and then signed with my agent. We worked together for a couple of months, and the book sold in less than two weeks. Superstition or not, I am a plotter for life.

And strangely, though I often think of character development as being my strong suit as a writer, my books do seem to have a lot more plot than I like to admit/realize. Despite all the time plotting, keeping everything straight is no easy feat. When one thread changes, it unravels the entire thing, and I have to build it all back up, one painful stitch as a time. An interwoven, intricately plotted book is not what I set out to write, but it is what my Jinn books have become. Even though things change from outline to page, without plotting, I’d still be writing book one—my twentieth version of book one.

If you could give one piece of advice to other writers, what would it be?

Find an honest cheerleader—someone who will raise their pom-poms to celebrate with you on your best days and hoist you on their back and lift you to the top of the pyramid on your worst. Notice I said “honest.” Because a constant “yes-man” (or yes-woman as the case may be) will not help you get better. And we all need to get better. Writing is a continuing-education profession. If we aren’t improving, we aren’t writing. After your cheerleader dries your tears, he or she better be ready to tell it like it is. Tell you if that scene needs fixing, if that story idea stinks, if that line of dialogue is as stiff as a politician’s. Because if everything you put on the page is perfect, than why aren’t you selling books like J.K. Rowling?

Then, when everything you put on the page is perfect, and your cheerleader tells you, you can believe them. And when you still aren’t selling books like J.K. Rowling and your cheerleader promises that you will, one day, you can believe that too.

For me, that person is and always has been my husband (and yes, we are a few years into this writing gig and style wearing our wedding rings). If it weren’t for his criticism and encouragement, I’d be back to editing technology journals. And there isn’t a lotta humor in those, let me tell ya.

What’s next for you? What are you working on now?

Jinn, Jinn, and more Jinn! I’m in the middle of revisions on the sequel to Becoming Jinn, which will be released in Spring 2016, one year after Becoming Jinn debuts. I’ve been in the Jinn world for more than two years, and though I still can’t levitate worth a damn, I’ve had many wishes granted in that time (okay, come on, you knew that was coming). I’d love to return to my adult manuscript, perhaps even turning in into an upper YA, and I have at least three other ideas whose characters keep speaking to me. I have to get at least one of them out of my head and soon—it’s getting crowded up there.


Lori Goldstein Author 2_small Lori Goldstein is the author of BECOMING JINN. Born into an Italian-Irish family (hence the short temper and the freckles), Lori grew up on the Jersey Shore and now makes her makes her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a place close enough to the ocean that on the right day, she can smell the sea from her back deck, and yet it still takes an hour to get to the beach.


You can find Lori online: Twitter | Goodreads  | Tumblr | Facebook



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