Amy Ewing, author of The Jewel, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Amy Ewing

author of The Jewel

Ten Terrifying Questions
____________

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Boston, MA, and raised in a small town called Norwood, just outside Boston. I moved to New York City in 2000 to study theatre at New York University. My acting career didn’t quite pan out, and I ended up going back to school in 2010, this time to The New School, where I received a master’s degree in Writing for Children.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

An actor, an actor, and a writer. I loved performing—I did all the high school plays, and as I said before, I studied theatre in college. I was very shy as a child, and acting helped bring me out of my shell. Writing was always something I did just for me, and I never thought about pursuing it as a career until later in life. I’m certainly glad I did!

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

Author: Amy Ewing

I’m not sure if it was eighteen exactly, but when I was younger I remember thinking that I absolutely had to be married by the time I was thirty. I had this whole idea of what made a “happy” life. At thirty two and single, I’m must say, I’m pretty content with my life just as it is. External factors, like marriage, don’t guarantee happiness.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

My first literary love was Roald Dahl. I devoured his books as a child and I loved the darkness in them. When I was eighteen, I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which made me fall head over heels for high fantasy. And, since acting has truly influenced my writing so much, I’ll say Picasso at the Lapin Agile, a play by Steve Martin. There was a monologue in that play that I loved to read over and over again, about art and freedom and what it means to be a woman. It was the monologue that I performed for my NYU audition.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

Well, I’ve certainly tried many different creative endeavors! Acting, obviously, and I also play guitar and write my own songs. But in the end, I think what drew me to writing books was how all you need is a pen, paper, and your imagination. It’s something that can absolutely be done on your own.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

The Jewel is my debut novel. It’s about a city where young girls are auctioned off as surrogates to royal women who can no longer have children on their own. It’s a world of opulence and cruelty, where surrogates are mistreated, humiliated, and even killed. It explores the idea of choice, and having the freedom to decide what happens to you. And there are some cute boys too :)

Grab a copy of Amy’s debut novel The Jewel here

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

I certainly hope they will think about the importance of having ownership over your own body. That’s an issue I’m deeply passionate about. And I hope they enjoy living in this darkly glamorous world as much as I do.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

Writing a series, I have to give J.K. Rowling all the credit for writing seven, incredibly well-conceived, planned, thought-out books. It’s much harder than I thought, writing a trilogy, and I thought it was going to be hard. I also can’t imagine my life without Harry Potter—there is so much love in those books, and every time I read one, I feel myself slipping away into a world I adore living in.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

My goal was to publish a book, so that got achieved! And now my goal is, quite simply, to keep writing more books. That’s the only part of this process that I can actually control. So that’s what I try to focus on. 

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Don’t give up! This whole publishing thing is really hard, and takes time, and involves a lot of rejection. I failed spectacularly with my first book. Keep writing. Keep pushing through. It’s worth it in the end.

Amy, thank you for playing.


Amy Ewing’s The Jewel is a featured title in Walker Books’ Booktoberfest Showcase, click here for more details

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the-jewelThe Jewel

by Amy Ewing

This is a shocking and compelling new YA series from debut author, Amy Ewing. The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Other Boleyn Girl in a world where beauty and brutality collide.

Violet Lasting is no longer a human being. Tomorrow she becomes Lot 197, auctioned to the highest royal bidder in the Jewel of the Lone City. Tomorrow she becomes the Surrogate of the House of the Lake, her sole purpose to produce a healthy heir for the Duchess.

Imprisoned in the opulent cage of the palace, Violet learns the brutal ways of the Jewel, where the royal women compete to secure their bloodline and the surrogates are treated as disposable commodities. Destined to carry the child of a woman she despises, Violet enters a living death of captivity – until she sets eyes on Ash Lockwood, the royal Companion. Compelled towards each other by a reckless, clandestine passion, Violet and Ash dance like puppets in a deadly game of court politics, until they become each other’s jeopardy – and salvation.

It will appeal to fans of dystopian, dark romance, stepping beyond the paranormal craze. It is perfect for fans of Allie Condie and The Hunger Games. It is a debut novel from a radical new voice in YA.

It is the first book in The Lone City trilogy.

Amy Ewing’s The Jewel is a featured title in Walker Books’ Booktoberfest Showcase, click here for more details

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Joakim Zander, author of The Swimmer, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Joakim Zander

author of The Swimmer

Ten Terrifying Questions
____________

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Stockholm but I grew up mostly in a small town called Söderköping on the east coast of Sweden. When I was 15 my father got a job working for the United Nations in the Middle East, so we packed our bags and moved to Damascus, Syria and then on to northern Israel for a year. Moving from the sleepy small town where I grew up to the Middle East was transformational in every way. Some of my memories from that time have also found their way into The Swimmer.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

I only ever wanted to be a writer. It just took a long time for me to find a story that was mine to tell.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

I think I had a strong belief that I would be a writer when I was eighteen. But I was not brave enough to give that a go then, so I became a lawyer instead. Now, twenty years later the strongly held belief of the eighteen-year-old has become reality.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

1) John Le Carre’s The Spy Who came in From the Cold

2) William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury

3) J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

I love music and art. But not as much as I love books. Reading and writing have always been natural parts of my life, so it doesn’t feel like I ever made a choice on art form. Also, I am terrible at drawing and cannot carry a tune, so my options were limited.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

The Swimmer is a spy story that is told in multiple voices and which takes place on several continents and in different time periods. The main plot line involves young careerists in Brussles and Sweden that accidentally come into possession of information that finds them chased through a wintery Europe. In parallel, the book tells the story of an ageing American spy who tries to escape his past but finally has no choice but to confront himself and his own choices head on. I have tried very hard to make the story fast paced and filled with action, while at the same time maintaining a reflective or contemplative tone
in certain parts. I hope that I have succeeded…

Grab a copy of Joakim’s latest novel The Swimmer here

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

First of all, I hope that the readers feel entertained and that the story gets their hearts racing. I also hope that it gives an insight to the lives of young, ambitious Europeans in Brussels. If readers leave the book thinking about the larger themes of regret, guilt and redemption that is a huge bonus.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

There are too many… But in the spy field, I would have to mention Le Carre for his characters and intelligence.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

Getting published in Sweden seemed an almost unachievable goal to begin with… And now that The Swimmer gets published all around the world it feels entirely surreal. My goal is to keep writing and I really, really hope that readers will find my books and like them.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Creativity is great. Discipline is greater.

Joakim, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of The Swimmer here


The Swimmer

by Joakim Zander

A lyrical, cinematic thriller that races between Europe’s halls of power, the CIA headquarters in Virginia, Middle Eastern war zones, and the clifftops of the Swedish archipelago.

Klara Walldeen was orphaned as a child and brought up by her grandparents on a remote Swedish archipelago. She is now a political aide in Brussels – and she has just seen something she shouldn’t: something people will kill to keep hidden.

On the other side of the world, an old spy hides from his past. Once, he was a man of action, so dedicated to the cause that he abandoned his baby daughter to keep his cover. Now the only thing he lives for is swimming in the local pool. Then, on Christmas eve, Klara is thrown into a terrifying chase through Europe. Only the Swimmer can save her. But time is running out…

This is an electrifying thriller from a brilliant new talent. Published in twenty-seven countries and already a bestseller in Sweden, The Swimmer is on the cusp of becoming a global phenomenon.

 Grab a copy of The Swimmer here

Gary Gibson, author of Extinction Game, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Gary Gibson

author of Extinction Game, Final Days series and many more…

Ten Terrifying Questions
____________

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

Born in Glasgow, Scotland. Raised in Glasgow, Scotland. Schooled in Glasgow, Scotland. Well, mostly, apart from a few years living in Ayrshire. Or, as I like to think of it, north of the Ice Wall amongst the WIldlings.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

At twelve, I pretty much wanted to be Arthur C. Clarke. Actually, I also wanted to shave my head and wear white robes like the Talosian in the original Star Trek. That’s when I started thinking about writing since I was already sucking up science fiction books like a Roomba in a universe of dust-bunnies. By eighteen, I’d decided I wanted to be Jimmy Page (guitarist in Led Zeppelin) because I’d just moved back to Glasgow from darkest Ayrshire and discovered rock music. The writing took a back seat for a while. But in my mid-twenties, I’d had a kind of Damascene moment and started writing again. By the time I was thirty I’d had a couple of short stories published in pro sf and fantasy magazines.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

Author: Gary Gibson

That logic and reason will always win any argument. It took a lot of bumps to work out logic and reason are the last things a lot of people ever want to hear.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

There’s no three things. It’s everything, all at once, poured into a single Gary Gibson-shaped mould. But if you kidnapped my dog – that is, if I had a dog – and showed me a live stream of it held over a bucket of piranhas and demanded I answer, I’d pick: Marooned in Realtime by Vernor Vinge, Roadside Picnic by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, and the Gaia trilogy by John Varley. If I’ve got any influences, it’s those three. Probably.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

It’s a falsity to say there are ‘innumerable’ artistic avenues open to anyone. Well, there are, but whether you’re actually any good at them is another matter. I “chose” to write a novel because it turns out that’s what I’m good at it, it’s fun, and there’s pretty much nothing else I can think of I might possibly want to do with my life.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

My latest is Extinction Game. I couldn’t just sit down and write a straight post-apocalyptic book, because it’s been done so many times. I needed something extra. A classic post-apocalyptic trope is the Last Man on Earth story, so since I’d been reading up on theories regarding the idea we live in a multiverse of infinite parallel realities, it made sense that there must also be an infinite number of universes in which different people are the last man or woman on Earth.

From there it didn’t take much more than a hop or skip to figure out an interesting story lay in bringing those people together through some technology that allows travel from one alternate reality to another. Why write a book about one world-destroying apocalypse, when you can write a book that by definition includes every single possible apocalypse?

Grab a copy of Gary’s latest novel Extinction here

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

An immediate desire to send me the entire contents of their bank accounts and the deeds to their homes. I’m not saying I planted any post-hypnotic suggestions in my books or anything, but…

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

Anyone who writes what they choose to write, regardless of what others think.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

To produce a book a year; to always improve; to maintain a healthy level of self-criticism that allows me to grow as a writer; to be ambitious, in the sense of never resting on my laurels; to surprise, entertain and delight; to be raised to Godhood and worshipped by milli…ok, maybe not that last one.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

To understand that what appears to be failure is instead an opportunity to define and build on your true strengths.

Gary, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of Extinction Game here


Extinction Game

by Gary Gibson

Jerry Beche should be dead. Instead, he’s rescued from a desolate Earth where he was the last man alive. He’s then trained for the toughest conditions imaginable and placed with a crack team of specialists. Every one of them is a survivor, as each withstood the violent ending of their own alternate Earth. And their new specialism? To retrieve weapons and data in missions to other apocalyptic worlds.

But what is ‘the Authority’, the shadowy organization that rescued Beche and his fellow survivors? How does it access other timelines? And why does it need these instruments of death? As Jerry struggles to obey his new masters, he begins to distrust his new companions. A strange bunch, their motivations are less than clear, and accidents start plaguing their missions. Jerry suspects the Authority is feeding them lies, and team members are spying on him. As a dangerous situation spirals into catastrophe, is there anybody he can trust?

 Grab a copy of Extinction Game here

Ananda Braxton-Smith, author of Plenty, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Ananda Braxton-Smith

author of Plenty, Merrow and many more…

Ten Terrifying Questions
____________

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Lichfield, a town in the English midlands, in 1961. It was the year the Berlin Wall went up, and the year poor old Ham the chimp was sent into space. The Wall came down the year my oldest son was born. That’s a neat kind of circle, I think.

My family came to Oz when I was three and I grew up in Perth. I went to Hollywood High School, which wasn’t at all how it sounds. There was a cemetery across the road.

I left school at fifteen! And then I left Perth and came to the eastern states.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

At seven I wanted to be a hippy. They arrived in the streets of Perth like velvet flowers, or gypsies. They were against wars, and they sang songs and had bare feet. A child’s dream.

At twelve I wanted to be an actor, just for a minute. My mum is an actor. But when I tried it I didn’t like it. Everybody looks at you. But I did love the theatre and still do.

At eighteen I wanted to be a writer.

At thirty I wanted to be a writer.

Now I’m fifty-three and I want to be a palaeontologist. I think it might be too late. I’ll just have to be a writer.

Author: Ananda Braxton-Smith

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

At eighteen I believed discipline was a sort of punishment. Now I think learning to be self-disciplined is the road to happiness. But the truth is most of what I believed then, I believe now. Only more so.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

There wasn’t one particular piece of art that inspired me. My childhood was full of books, music, theatre and art so I was always stimulated in that direction. But when I was young I had a pash on T.H. White’s novel Once & Future King, and Gerald Durrell’s memoir My Family & Other Animals. I read them over and over. Also Alice In Wonderland and the Narnia books.

When I was in my twenties I was in love with so many writers for so many reasons. I wanted to write like Dickens and Virginia Woolf and Hunter S Thompson all at once. (And I think I might have, which might explain a lot of things.)

These days I’ve got a bit of a story-crush on Barbara Kingsolver (just for her Poisonwood Bible really), a word-crush on Annie Proulx (for The Shipping News), and am at this very moment busy adoring the writers of the 50s who were writing out of the southern states of the USA. Writers like Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty. And of course, William Faulkner.

As for music, since I started singing I find much inspiration in the lyrics of wacky old folk songs. They are so spooky, so sad, so funny, and in so few words.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

I didn’t really have any number of avenues open to me. I’m not great at visual art though I enjoy it and do it for fun and to work out my novels, and I love music but had no motivation in that direction in my younger days. Now I sing with a bluegrass band called the HillWilliams.

I write because that’s the art form I was drawn to, and the one that keeps me engaged. My strongest responses were always to books and theatre. Language fascinates me. It always seems to be talking about something more than its words and phrases express. I have days when everything that comes out of people’s mouths sounds like poetry.

It’s a very personal and sort of inexplicable relationship I have to words. I have written almost every day of my life since my early teens, mostly short stories and poems. But I loved writing that history book so much and the chance to try a novel was irresistible.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

Plenty is for ten- to twelve-year-olds, but I think adults will like it too. It’s a contemporary realist fiction, set in and around Melbourne. My other books have centred around the medieval world so this was a whole new thing for me. I’ve really enjoyed not having to do quite so much research before I can write one sensible sentence!

It concerns Maddy Frank who has always lived in the same house, in the same street in Fitzroy, a suburb of Melbourne. On Maddy’s tenth birthday her parents tell her they are moving, and then they do so. They move out to the Plenty Valley where Maddy has to start at a new school and do without her lifelong best friend. Her anger and homesickness is intense, until two people she meets help her begin to forgive her parents and settle into her new home. One is her grandmother, Nana Mad, and the other is her new desk-mate, Grace Wek who was born in a refugee camp. Both have stories of leaving home and resettlement to tell. Through their stories Maddy learns more about who she is and where she comes from, what resilient people are and what she herself is capable of. She also learns the reason parents make their children move.

Grab a copy of Ananda’s latest novel Plenty here

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

I hope they will recognise their own attachment to their homes, and will wonder to themselves how they would respond to being displaced from it. I hope they will be moved by the courage in the resettlement stories. But most I hope they’ll enjoy Maddy Frank, and her family and friends. I did.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

I admire writers who write about hard things without sinking into sentimentality or mere pity. I think I admire writers for the same reasons I admire anyone —courage, emotional honesty, warm hearts. I loved Night by Eli Wiesel for that reason.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

I think writers suffer from the same desire as theoretical physicists. Physicists want to discover the Theory of Everything, and writers want to write the Book about Everything. I share that impossible goal. A story that contains everything about human life; about what it’s like to be alive and conscious right now, right here, but with all of history contained in it too. Everything.

It’s too big, of course. But there it is.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Read. Read. Read.

It’s the only advice worth anything, I reckon. It’s almost more important than writing, at first. If you read widely and with passion you will develop an ear for good writing, which means you’ll sense when the work is going bung. You will build up a useful word-hoard, which means when you come to tell your own stories you’ll have a sizable tool-kit. And eventually you’ll learn to recognise the centuries-old conversations writers have engaged in, and maybe even join in. And that’s when it gets really interesting.

And second: love the doing. If you don’t love it, why bother? Art is not compulsory.

Ananda, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of Plenty here


Plenty

by Ananda Braxton-Smith

A place to call home.

Maddy Frank has always lived in Jermyn Street. Always. But now her mum and dad are making her move from the city, far away to some place called Plenty. How will Maddy survive without everything and everyone she knows? Nobody understands. But what about her mysterious new classmate, Grace Wek, who was born in a refugee camp? Could Grace actually understand how Maddy feels?

 

 Grab a copy of Plenty here

P.J. Tierney, author of the Jamie Reign series, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

P.J. Tierney

author of Jamie Reign & Jamie Reign: The Hidden Dragon

Ten Terrifying Questions
____________

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Wollongong, was raised and went to school in the Blue Mountains, firstly at St Thomas Aquinas Primary School, then St Columba’s High School and finally McCarthy Catholic Senior High; are you sensing a theme here? I must have epitomized catholic schoolgirl-hood because I was school captain – twice.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

At twelve I wanted to be Nicole Kidman in BMX Bandits, at eighteen, Nicole Kidman in Vietnam. By thirty I’d come to terms with the fact I would never be a statuesque, elegant, red head and went in search of my own story.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

At eighteen I thought I had a shot at marrying Tom Cruise, (see above) twenty years on I think I can safely say I dodged a bullet there. Although that’s not to say I would rule out a date or possibly even two, if – you know – the opportunity ever presented itself.

So what have I learnt in twenty years? Not much.

4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?

There were three moments in my early career that made me realize I had a story, a really good story.

The first moment was on the set of The Matrix, where I watched the legendary fight director Wu Ping turn Keanu Reeves into a kung fu master. What I saw from Wu Ping and his stunt team was beyond physical it was mystical, and I was in awe.

The second such moment was thanks to Jackie Chan. I met him in Asia where he is revered as a god. It was when I really thought about what makes him so beloved that I stumbled upon the theme that runs through the Jamie Reign series; it is what makes us different that makes us powerful.

The third moment was in Hong Kong where I was working on the 1997 handover celebrations. We spent months on the barges and tugs of Victoria Harbour, going to the bays and villages that people who look like me rarely get to see. It was there I began to hear the stories of a young Eurasian boy who had been abandoned by his Chinese mother and left to the alcohol-fueled rages of his English father. He had been denied school and had to work; salvaging boats, diving for wrecks and outrunning typhoons. I had already fallen for the man that boy grew up to be, now I fell in love with his stories as well.

The first chapter of the Jamie Reign series is very much my James’ childhood but from there it is a kung fu adventure with deference to both Wu Ping and Jackie Chan.

5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? aren’t they obsolete?

First and foremost, I wrote a story. It’s a story I love that I hope others love too.  With all the options available is a book the best medium for Jamie Reign? Absolutely. Jamie’s story is more than a kung fu adventure, it is a study of a young boy learning he is capable of much more than he ever dared imagine. It is an intimate story that invites the reader into Jamie’s hopes, his fears and his dreams. I am an avid consumer of popular culture and for me the most intimate stories are ones that read, so Jamie’s story had to be a book.

6. Please tell us about your latest book…

Jamie Reign; The Hidden Dragon is the second book in the Jamie Reign Series. The first book, Jamie Reign; The Last Spirit Warrior delves into the secret legends of the Spirit Warrior, elite fighters who can heal with their own life-force.

In The Hidden Dragon, Jamie returns to the kung fu academy a hero but he is carrying a terrible secret, one that threatens everything and everyone he holds dear.

Grab a copy of Jamie Reign: The Hidden Dragon here

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

That even the least likely of us is special.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

My admiration is divided in equal measure between Lisa Berryman and Nicola O’Shea; publisher and editor respectively, for not beating me senseless for my continued misuse of the English language.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

Infamy. Although some days my most ambitious goal is to feed my children a meal that hasn’t been delivered in a cardboard box.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Keep your day job. I don’t mean to be flippant, or cruel but my publishing adventures so far have taught me that this is a business, and like all start-ups you have to be prepared to invest in yourself. For me it was a mentorship with Kathryn Heyman, attending writing conferences and a having a social media strategy; none of which came cheaply. However it was having this money set aside so I could seize opportunities when they came up that made the difference between being a writer and becoming an author.

P.J., thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of Jamie Reign: The Hidden Dragon here


Jamie Reign: The Hidden Dragon

by P.J. Tierney

The bestselling novelist of all time.

The world’s most famous detective.

The literary event of the year.

Since the publication of her first novel in 1920, more than two billion copies of Agatha Christie’s novels have been sold around the world. Now, for the first time ever, the guardians of her legacy have approved a brand-new novel featuring Dame Agatha’s most beloved creation, Hercule Poirot.

In the hands of internationally bestselling author Sophie Hannah, Poirot plunges into a mystery set in 1920s London – a diabolically clever puzzle sure to baffle and delight both Christie’s fans as well as readers who have not yet read her work. Written with the full backing of Christie’s family, and featuring the most iconic detective of all time, this new novel is a major event for mystery lovers the world over.

 Grab a copy of Jamie Reign: The Hidden Dragon here

Kat Spears, author of Sway, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Kat Spears

author of Sway

Ten Terrifying Questions
___________


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in Sweden, moved around a lot as a kid, and did not have an illustrious academic career. In fact, if you were to tell one of my old high school teachers I managed to make it through graduate school they would call you a liar outright. I enjoyed dropping out of school so much that I did it a few times–high school twice, college twice.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

 I wanted to be a writer for just about as long as I can remember, and before I learned to write, I was a storyteller. After I saw Indiana Jones when I was seven or eight years old (which now seems horribly inappropriate that my parents would let me see that movie at that age) I wanted to be an archaeologist, and I do have a fall-back career in the museum field. When I was eighteen I wanted to be a museum curator/archaeologist and I pursued that path for a while. I love to write, I love museums, I love art and history, but strangely I discovered over a long career that the one job that never bored me, never frustrated me, and I never wanted to give up…was bartending. I love everything about it. Every day is different. You meet all kinds of interesting people and never can anticipate what craziness might ensue. I eavesdrop on people’s personal stories (people will say some astonishing things within earshot of a bartender) that later become fodder for my novels. I love the pace, the fact that the work can be very physically demanding, and the intense contact with other people. Finding a way to get along with every human you meet is an interesting challenge, one that never gets old to me.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

That I’m smarter than anyone else.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your
own development as a writer?

Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson had an enormous impact on me as a young reader. And I still cry every time I read that book. I sometimes read the last two chapters just if I want to have a sob fest—seriously, nose running, tears streaming down my face, hiccoughing. Paterson is a brilliant writer and the world is a better place because she wrote books for kids instead of adults.

As far as music is concerned that is an insanely tough question to answer. I listen to music almost constantly—at work, as I write, in the car, whenever I have to walk anywhere. My books all have soundtracks because different music sets different moods for me to write each story. I keep the playlists on Spotify under Spotify/katbooks.com. Each book I have written or am writing has its own playlist. I even do playlists for some of the characters and will listen to their playlists when I am crafting dialogue for them. Carter Goldsmith, a secondary character in Sway, has amazing taste in music. Jesse ,the protagonist in Sway, tends to like music that features a strong or distinctive guitar sound like The Stooges or Django Reinhardt because he plays guitar. I know. Jesse and Carter don’t really exist. I get that. But it helps with the creative process.

 5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?95996243

I didn’t choose to write a novel. It chose me. I have written many things in my life—grants, exhibit text, newsletter articles, term papers (blech), business letters,—that all have some personal or professional purpose. My fiction is very different. Isaac Asimov once said, “I write for the same reason I breathe; if I didn’t, I would die.” (Or something similar to that sentiment but perhaps with better punctuation. I do have a copy editor for my books.) I remember reading that quote when I was in my late teens or early twenties and realizing for the first time that there were other people who felt exactly the way I did about writing. An important revelation.

My ideas for stories hatch fully formed from my brain like Venus from the clam shell. After that it takes me a while to get to know my characters as people, so I can understand their personalities and motivations. They live in my head for a while until I am ready to put them on paper, but they are as real to me as an old friend who lives on the other side of the country who I just don’t see very often.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel

Humans are complicated, always a mixture of good and bad—never all good or all bad. I like characters that are ambiguously heroic and that definitely describes the main character in Sway.

Jesse, the protagonist in Sway, is an antihero. He doesn’t just seem like a complete jerk, he is one (this has made several people very unhappy, I’ve noticed from reviews). At first glance, Jesse has very few redeeming qualities. But he’s a loyal friend, treats everyone exactly the same regardless of race or income level or gender, and is smart.

When we meet Jesse he has closed himself off emotionally from the rest of the world, but an unlikely friendship with a boy who has cerebral palsy, and the experience of Jesse’s first love with a girl, creates serious conflict for him as he tries to maintain his cool and the empire he has built as the go-to guy who deals drugs and fake IDs and term papers in his high school.

I love Jesse. Some of his best qualities are so hidden, many people don’t notice them. For example, his best friend is a girl named Joey who happens to be a lesbian. Throughout the book if Jesse is asked whether he and Joey have a romantic relationship he says no, claiming that Joey is too crazy for any guy to date. Jesse makes a point of never outing Joey because it is no one else’s business that she’s gay. He acts like a jerkwad by calling his best friend crazy and unstable and suggesting that girls like that are impossible to date, but at the same time he does it to protect Joey’s privacy. So? Is he good or bad? Ummmm…both.

Coming out next year from St. Martin’s and in the works now is Flat Back Four. I’m a big football fan, hence the title, and the four main characters all play for the same team. This story is about friendship and how fragile it is. After Jason, the protagonist, experiences the death of his younger sister, he’s left to question the ties that bind him to his three closest friends, who he has always relied on as his surrogate family. I’ve moved many times in my life and some friendships last forever while others fade away. I liked exploring what makes the difference between a lifetime friendship and a friendship that exists only in a specific time and place.

Grab a copy of Kat’s novel Sway here

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

When I was about 20 years old I read A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. It had a profound impact on me because it was the first time in my life I loved a book, couldn’t put it down in fact, when I didn’t like or even sympathize with the main character. Ignatius Reilly was such a reprehensible human being—absolutely repugnant. Yet Toole’s writing was so grand and masterful, his ability to perfectly capture a character and paint him as clearly as an artist does on a canvas just amazed me. And here’s the thing, the fact that I hated Ignatius Reilly as much as I did, was because of Toole’s writing ability. A good writer can evoke strong emotional reactions from readers. It dawned on me then, that even if the main character was a complete jerk, the brilliance of John Kennedy Toole was that his writing was so compelling, so captivating, that I had to keep reading even when it made me sick to my stomach, or angry and frustrated.

I am in no way comparing my writing ability to Toole’s. He was masterful and spent a decade writing Confederacy, but it was one of those light bulb moments in my life I will never forget. I could die happy if someone ever walked away after reading a book of mine and had a huge emotional reaction like I did to A Confederacy of Dunces.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

I have to say that I have a huge amount of respect for Meg Medina (author of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass). The first time I met Meg was at a writers’ group and she was telling everyone that she had finally worked up the courage to tell her mom what the title of her latest book was, though I’m pretty sure you can even say “ass” on television now. (Can I say “ass” in this interview?) Meg is incredibly supportive of the careers of other authors and makes the time to have genuine connections with the people who read her books. Meg spends a lot of time and energy advocating for diversity in children’s literature—diversity of authors and diversity of book characters. After all, everyone needs books, and young adults want to feel as if they can recognize themselves in the pages of the books they read, or find role models in the authors who write them. Diversity isn’t just about race—it can be religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, or a hundred other factors. That’s one of the reasons I love Tom Angleberger’s book The Poop Fountain1) because he entitled it “Poop Fountain” which is awesome, and 2) because he wasn’t afraid to populate the book with unlikely heroes and heroines for middle grade literature. It also helps that he is hilarious. The great thing about this book is that the characters are diverse, but the book isn’t about diversity. It’s about a poop fountain, and that is as it should be.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

 My goal is for each book I write to be better than the last I wrote. Writing is a craft, not a God-given talent. I hope I can learn from the process and develop as an artist. My editor, Sara Goodman, is amazing. She has a great feel for characters and plot development and after working with her on Sway I feel like I am better able to see the shortcomings in my writing while I’m in the process. I may not know how to fix it on my own, but after a conversation with Sara it will help to shake things loose from my brain, help me to see how the story could be better, the characters more three dimensional. And sometimes the changes are very subtle but can have an enormous impact on the story.

I look back on Sway now that it has been finished for some time and there are things I wish I could change, though overall I am happy with it. The changes I would make are mostly very minor, but I learned a great deal from the editorial process and it makes me eager to grow in this profession.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

I always say the best advice I can give, is never take any advice from me. But if I had to give advice I would say…write. Write all the time. Write for yourself. Don’t worry whether anyone is ever going to want to read it or if it’s marketable or matches a current trend. Write because you love to write, not because you want to be rich or famous, because you have a better chance of getting hit by lightning than you do of being a famous author (I did not actually conduct any research to verify the accuracy of that statement). But most of all, instead of taking a class in writing, take a job working in a bowling alley, take a long train ride and watch the people around you, listen to the way people talk (really listen), make friends outside your race and socio-economic comfort zone, volunteer in a shelter for the homeless, attend a comic book convention…just do something. A lot of published, well-trained authors have not lived very interesting lives, and it shows in the stories they tell. Anyone can develop writing as a craft through the practice of writing and reading, but not everyone has a good story to tell.

Kat, thank you for playing.


Swaysway

by Kat Spears

In Kat Spears’s hilarious and often poignant debut, high school senior Jesse Alderman, or “Sway,” as he’s known, could sell hell to a bishop. He also specializes in getting things people want – term papers, a date with the prom queen, fake IDs. He has few close friends and he never EVER lets emotions get in the way. For Jesse, life is simply a series of business transactions.

But when Ken Foster, captain of the football team, leading candidate for homecoming king, and all-around jerk, hires Jesse to help him win the heart of the angelic Bridget Smalley, Jesse finds himself feeling all sorts of things. While following Bridget and learning the intimate details of her life, he falls helplessly in love for the very first time. He also finds himself in an accidental friendship with Bridget’s belligerent and self-pitying younger brother who has cerebral palsy. Suddenly, Jesse is visiting old folks at a nursing home in order to run into Bridget, and offering his time to help the less fortunate, all the while developing a bond with this young man who idolizes him. Could the tin man really have a heart after all?

A Cyrano de Bergerac story with a modern twist, Sway is told from Jesse’s point of view with unapologetic truth and biting humor, his observations about the world around him untempered by empathy or compassion – until Bridget’s presence in his life forces him to confront his quiet devastation over a life-changing event a year earlier and maybe, just maybe, feel something again.

Grab a copy of Sway here

Poe Ballantine, author of Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Poe Ballantine

author of Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere and more…

Ten Terrifying Questions
____________

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

Born in Denver, raised in San Diego, schooled in public institutions.  Many colleges but no degree.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

Writer, writer, and writer.  It was the only thing I did that got me notice among my peers.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

That you had to be self-destructive to be an artist.

4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?

Reading The Grapes of Wrath at age eleven and realizing you could use words to change lives, working at a convalescent hospital at age seventeen and seeing those who’d watched the system and the model and the “dream” they’d trusted all their lives fail them, hopping a freight train to New Orleans at age eighteen with no money.

5.Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? aren’t they obsolete?

This is truly a terrifying question, but I’ll say that I’m rather like a blacksmith who’s shoed horses all his life and one day looks up to see the streets filled with automobiles.

6. Please tell us about your latest book…

Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere is about my neighbor, the brilliant and good-natured math professor at our local college, who disappeared one winter day shortly after he arrived and was found three months later burned beyond recognition and bound to a tree in the hinterland south of the campus where he taught.

Grab a copy of Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere here

7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?

The speed of human evolution.

8. Whom do you most admire and why?

George Orwell, who took tremendous risks and wrote about these experiences with depth, wisdom, humor, and style.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

My happiness has always been grounded in simplicity, which is a very complicated thing to achieve.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Don’t forget to live.

Poe, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere here


Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere

by Poe Ballantine

At age forty six years US author Poe Ballantine ends his nomadic lifestyle and brings his beautiful wife from Mexico to Chadron, Nebraska, and becomes a father to a son who may be autistic. His neighbor, a math professor at Chadron State College, disappears and three months later is found burned to death and tied to a tree in the woods. What happened to him? Was it murder? Suicide? Poe and a cast of memorable characters from Chadron aim to find out.

Grab a copy of Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere here

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