5 Series For Young Readers Who Can’t Wait For Rick Riordan’s Trials of Apollo Series


Rick Riordan knows how to craft an otherworldly adventure that spans space and time, with mythical heroes, and storylines that celebrate the power that comes from learning about who you are and what you are capable of. Riordan’s page turning novels, from his Percy Jackson series to his Magnus Chase series, are essential middle grade reads (and fun for adults, too!). To help keep the adventures going even when you’ve finished his current canon (and while you’re waiting for The Hidden Oracle to drop on May 3!), hook your young reader on a few of these other adventure-filled series and help them welcome in a new year of reading!

Secret of the Forbidden City (B&N Exclusive Edition) (Treasure Hunters Series #3), by James Patterson, Chris Grabenstein, and Juliana Neufeld
In the third and most recent installment of the Treasure Hunters Series, the Kidd siblings continue their rapid around the world adventures to save and find the greatest treasures imaginable. Now they are off to Egypt and China to find priceless art stolen by the Nazis. Fast paced, filled with action, and loaded with cool historical and geographical features from every country, the Treasure Hunters series is a classic, page-turning, highly illustrated adventure that young readers will love.

Kingdom Keepers Boxed Set: Featuring Kingdom Keepers I, II, and III, by Ridley Pearson and Tristan Elwell
This sci-fi Disney themed adventure novel series seriously has something for every reader. Love danger? Wonder how movie villains who have come to life through technology might sound? Ever dream of getting trapped in the park overnight and fighting to save the Magic Kingdom? Each book gives you the sense that this could really happen to you, which just makes the adventure more fun for readers who want to be fully absorbed in the story. Fans who dig this series will definitely want to check out the first novel in the new Return series Disney Lands (Kingdom Keepers: The Return Series #1).

Warriors Box Set: Volumes 1 to 6: The Complete First Series,by Erin Hunter
Hunter’s spellbinding series tells the story of several clans of wild cats who have long shared the forest according to the laws laid down by their ancestors—until a new player, an ordinary house cat, steps in and changes everything. With a richly developed world, unforgettable characters, and tons of imagination, this series is especially perfect for animal lovers.

Wings of Fire Box Set, Books 1-5 (Wings of Fire series), by Tui T. Sutherland
After years of war between dragon tribes, a prophecy tells of five dragonets who will end the bloodshed and choose a new queen. Drama, intrigue and action follow as everyone takes sides and fights for what they believe in. Fans of the mythology and fantasy aspects of Riordan’s books will feel right at home in Sutherland’s world of Pyrrhia. This box set is a great starter for those new to the series, and longtime fans can pick up the newest novel, Escaping Peril (Wings of Fire Series #8), in stores now.

Star Wars The Force Awakens: Before the Awakening, by Greg Rucka and Phil Noto
If you’ve just seen the Star Wars: The Force Awakens, happen to love a thrilling space saga, or just want to get young fans of the film franchise to lose themselves in a book, there are a number of great new middle grade novels that fit the bill perfectly. Each story in the Journey To Star Wars series follows a character who has to deal with their past, live up to their potential, and take on overwhelming odds (like Riordan’s heroes!). The novels Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure,  Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens The Weapon of a Jedi: A Luke Skywalker Adventure, and Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo Adventure, follow the beloved characters from the original trilogy, while the newest book, Star Wars The Force Awakens: Before the Awakening introduces readers to the stars of the new film. Kids and adults alike will want to unwrap any and all of these, no doubt.

What adventure series are also beloved by the Percy Jackson fan in your house?

Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on January 21, 2016.


Leave the Books at Home While on Your Honeymoon

In response to a heated debate on our Facebook page over whether newlyweds should bring books on their honeymoon, we’ve asked two writers—one for honeymoon reading, one against it—to make their case. When you’re done getting convinced to leave your books at home, check out our argument for bringing them along.

Like many of you, I’m a huge fan of books. There is truly a book for every occasion, but that doesn’t mean you must bring a book to every occasion. On many trips we’ve taken, my husband and I bring books to get lost in. But on your honeymoon, instead of reading, why not take the opportunity to get lost in each other’s company, instead? Later on in life you may find these chances few and far between.

One of the best parts of a honeymoon is finding new inside jokes and stories only you and your partner will share. On ours, my husband and I found a rug with the name of our hometown on it. Now, considering we come from a town so small even our fellow SoCal residents can’t find, it’s something we still laugh about. Without our noses in books, we also used our time together to take classes (including ones in cartoon drawing  and napkin folding), and to hit the all-you-can-eat soft serve machine more times than was reasonable.

If you can’t take a trip without some kind of media, bring something you can share. Bring along a new record, like Adele’s 25 or the Ultimate Sinatra collection. Sharing an old favorite album, or experiencing a new one together, is a great way to bond without a book. If your honeymoon involves a long drive, you can even invest in an audiobook of a romantic novel neither of you has read yet, like the first book in the Outlander series. Enjoying audiobooks together could even become a new tradition; a special “just you two” activity you look forward to. A joint listen, like a record or an audiobook, can inspire hours of conversation, speculation, and connection.

Are you a couple that’s into shared activities? Toss a couple of adult coloring books into your carryon to make the plane ride more fun. A book or a DVD can be isolating on a long trip, but spending time coloring together might help relieve stress from the wedding, and may even provide some unexpected laughs. Another fun idea is to pass the What I Love About You Little Gift Book back and forth over the course of your trip. You can get your reading fix in, while sharing how much you really do love each other’s quirky ways.

The biggest perk of not bringing books with you on your honeymoon? You’ll have plenty of space to buy book souvenirs along the way! Toss a tote bag into your luggage and make it a game to get a new book from every place you visit. Perusing a phrase book or a local guide to the area together can be more fun (and interactive) than staring at your own books in silence. Let serendipity be your guide, not your preplanned reading list. With an open mind, and lighter luggage, you’ll be amazed at all of the ways you and your spouse can have fun on your honeymoon when you leave the books at home.

Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on January 20, 2016.

An Interview with Richard Blanco and Dav Pilkey on Their Picture Book, One Today

At President Obama’s second Inauguration in 2013, Richard Blanco debuted his poem “One Today,” a tribute to America which examines the beauty and heartbreak that are a universal part of the human experience. Around the same time, author and illustrator Dav Pilkey was working on new books for his Captain Underpants and Ricky Ricotta series. In what may seem at first like an unlikely collaboration, the two have crafted a beautiful picture book version of this unforgettable poem. The combination of Blanco’s poignant language with the touching visual world that Pilkey’s illustrations have created, make One Today a book that belongs on every child’s shelf. After reading it with my daughter, I just had to know more about the story behind how these two artists came to collaborate, what each hopes readers will take away from the book, and what we might see from them in the future.

How did you two end up working together? It is quite a unique pairing, a poet and a children’s author and illustrator.

Dav Pilkey: It was all our editor, Susan Rich’s idea. She loved Richard’s poem, and believed I would be a good fit as an illustrator. Susan and I had both worked together at Orchard Books in the early 1990’s when we were both starting our careers, and she remembered the painterly picture books I did back then (ie. The PaperboyGod Bless the Gargoyles, When Cats Dream).

Richard Blanco: Susan Rich shared The Paperboy with me and I immediately fell in love with Dav’s work—so rich, lush, evocative. I knew in an instant he was the right artist for the poem.

I was lucky enough to be among the million people standing on the National Mall to hear the poem’s debut, and it was a truly amazing day. Can you tell us how this went from a poem to a picture book?

DP: Susan acquired the poem from Richard, and approached my agent, Amy Berkower. Amy agreed that Richard’s words and my paintings seemed like a good fit.

I was a huge fan of this poem, but initially I felt I might not be the right person to illustrate these words which were so deeply personal to Richard.  I felt like my background (basically a “Brady Bunch” kid from the Midwest) was too different from Richard’s background, and that my vision might not mesh well with Richard’s vision.

 I spent several weeks reading and re-reading Richard’s other poetry, and it was when I came across a poem he wrote about his grandmother that I began to believe that, perhaps Richard and I might be a good match after all. Even though our childhoods were very different, I think we both grew up feeling like misfits. And for some reason, this seemed like the key to creating images for this poem: America is filled with multitudes of people who may seem very different from one another, but there are still things that make us all the same. That idea made me want to paint this book.

RB: In the poem that Dav mentions about my grandmother, she ridicules me for loving my cat because that wasn’t manly. And so, I love that Dav “gave me” a cat that follows me throughout the entire book! Indeed, Dav and I share a strong connection as “misfits” who turned to the arts as a way of making our way through life and the navigating our worlds. The longing to belong is apparent in our respective work, including the illustrations and the poem, “One Today,” which at its heart is about inviting all of us—the whole nation—to have a place at the table—to understand that each of us is an important part of the collective that is our country.

What was it like to try to bring a visual element to the poem, especially one that was initially read on such a large scale?

DP: I felt both intimidated and unnecessary. Intimidated because of the historical significance of the poem, and unnecessary because Richard’s poem was perfect just the way it was. It didn’t need illustrations, and I knew that adding my paintings to Richard’s words would make his poem into something different than he had intended. Fortunately, Richard was OK with that. It is my hope that the picture book One Today, even though it has become something new, still embodies the same message of hope and humanity that it did when it was first read in 2013.

RB: Dav was very respectful of the poem, but I was more than “OK” with his illustrations—I was ecstatic! They added dimensions to the poem that my words could not do on their own.  The poem came alive in a different way. And that’s truly what collaboration is all about:  creating something that stands stronger together.

While the text speaks of everyone, of the universal elements of life, the illustrations appear to follow a few people in the course of their day. What do you hope kids and their parents are able to take away from the book?

DP: I hope that children will see the larger picture Richard has painted with his words. One Today isn’t just about America—it’s about humanity.

RB: Indeed, although the poem was written in celebration of our nation, I think it also reaches beyond the occasion. That’s the power of poetry—and all the arts, really, which connects us to our common shared humanity—no matter the color of our skin, what language we speak, what gender we are, or what culture we are rooted in.

You both have been open about the challenges you’ve faced. What would you like to say to those kids who maybe feel like they don’t fit in?

DP: I always tell kids what my mom used to say to me when I was a kid—especially on days when my challenges seemed overwhelming. She used to say, “everything happens for a reason.  Maybe something GOOD will come out of all of this”. I think her constant reminders to look for the good in ALL situations helped to shape the life I have today.

 RB: I would say to try and look at it as blessing. If you don’t fit in, that usually means there’s something truly unique, different, special about you. Just be patient…it will blossom in time and everything will make sense. What makes you odd today will someday be exactly what makes you great.

Dav, the style in One Today seems to deviate from your other popular books, namely Captain Underpants; was it tough for you to step out of that mind set? Do you see more books like this, or The Paperboy,  in your future?

DP: I never intended to stop doing picture books. I hope there will be many more painterly picture books in my future. I’m so grateful to Richard and Susan Rich for giving me this opportunity, not just to paint again, but to be reminded of what I loved so much about this genre.

In the ideal world, who else would you want to collaborate with? Any dream books you want to illustrate? Or visual artists you want to see interpret your writing? 

DP: In the “ideal world” and if we could turn back time, I would love to collaborate with Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman.

Do either of you have something new in the works that we can look forward to?

DP: Next year, I have a new graphic novel series debuting. It’s called Dog Man, about a police officer who has the head of a dog and the body of a human. He’s got all the raw materials to be a great cop, but he must constantly fight against his canine nature in order to be a better man.

RB: I’m working on another collaboration with a photographer on the theme of borders—physical, imaginary, cultural, psychological, virtual borders. Or—looking at it another way—pulling about the narratives and fictions about borders and thinking about how the world is becoming borderless.

When you are not writing, doing readings, or illustrating, what do you read just for fun? 

DP: I enjoy reading graphic novels, children’s books and autobiographies. I just finished Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, and Richard Blanco’s autobiography, The Prince of Los Cocuyos. Both books are fantastic, beautiful, and inspiring.  If you’re looking for something hilarious, I highly recommend Kirk Scrogg’s new series, Snoop Troop.

RB: I love taking long walks with my dog, Joey. Or lounging around with my cat, Sammy! But I love reading, too, especially books about science and psychology.  I find they inspire my poetry in unique ways.

One Today is on bookshelves now.

Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on January 5, 2016.

Mike Lupica’s Newest Novel Goes The Extra Yard

The second book in Mike Lupica’s Home Town Series, The Extra Yard, is a fantastic follow up to The Only Game. The first book follows Jack Callahan as he overcomes a family tragedy and leads his Little League team to the World Series. This new book focuses on Teddy Madden, the team’s catcher from the first book, while he tries to make his dream team — the local competitive football squad!

For the first time in his life Teddy is super physically fit, has a great crew of friends, and he is excited to be starting junior high. He has gone from the kid who was constantly picked on at lunch, to the one who stands to be the first player picked for the team. The only hang up to what could be a banner year in Teddy’s life is the return of his dad, who moved away eight years ago. With the help of his friends, Teddy tries to make his football dreams come true and build a relationship with the dad he has never really known. It will be a year fraught with drama, on and off the field.

What makes the Home Team series, especially The Extra Yard, stand out from other sports middle grade novels is the rich, interesting characters and the meaningful family relationships. Not only do you get tons of football facts, games, and play calls, you also get to spend time with characters that you care about. Beyond the main characters Teddy, Jack, and Teddy’s family, you will also find yourself loving Cassie, the softball star who knows more about sports than nearly anyone (and who can probably play them better too), kind-hearted Gus, and Gregg, the owner of a surprising talent. Middle grade readers will surely see themselves in these characters, or at the very least they will find someone they want to be friends with.

For the football fanatic, Lupica does include loads of references to famous games, impossible to forget throws, and modern controversies (Deflatgate, anyone?). Though I’m a football novice, I found myself excited to learn about the art of the slant, the importance of knowing when to hold the ball and when to take a chance, and the family atmosphere that is built within a team. Given Lupica’s career at ESPN, and his many books for readers of all ages, it isn’t surprising that he knows how to craft a detailed sports novel that is also tons of fun to read. You don’t have to be a sports fanatic to love this one.

Readers can come up to the line of scrimmage expecting just a football novel, but Lupica has thrown a welcome audible and presented a fast, fun, meaningful read that everyone can enjoy. Tackle the first two books in this series, and hang on for a long run, since I am sure we will be hearing plenty more from The Home Team.

What sports novels do your middle grade readers sprint through?

Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on January 19, 2016.

Q&A With Stephen Leather, Author of New York Night: The 7th Jack Nightingale Supernatural Thriller

9780956620378_p0_v1_s192x300Thanks to the team at BookBear I am happy to share this Q&A with Stephen Leather, author of the long running Jack Nightingale series. In this new addition to the series teenagers are being possessed but priests and psychiatrists can’t help. Jack Nightingale is called in to investigate, and finds his own soul is on the line.

What inspired you to write the Jack Nightingale series?

I always loved the Black Magic books of Dennis Wheatley when I was a kid and I’m a huge fan of the Constantine character in the Hellblazer comics (graphic novels as they prefer to be called these days). And I just love supernatural films, especially haunted houses and things that go bump in the night. With the Nightingale series I wanted to explore the supernatural world but with a hero who is very much grounded in reality. The first three books – Nightfall, Midnight and Nightmare – really explain his backstory, how he became the man he is. The next two – Nightshade and Lastnight – explain why he had to leave the UK and the subsequent books will be set mainly in the United States, hence San Francisco Night and New York Night.

Do you have a specific writing style?

I try not to have a style. Like most journalists-turned-writers I try to tell my stories simply with uncluttered prose. If I find myself over-writing I tend to hit the delete key and start again. I try to write my books as if I was writing for a newspaper, where it’s the information that is being conveyed that’s important, not the style in which it’s written. I do like to write fast-paced books, with lots of dialogue and not too much descriptions. For me, the story is everything.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Read. Read a lot. Read good books and bad books and learn from them both. Write every day if you can. I think though that real writers don’t need advice, not about writing. Real writers will be constantly reading because they love books. And they will be constantly writing because they love to write. You need to find your own voice, you need to write the books that you want to write, or that you feel you have to write, and I don’t believe anyone else should be telling you what sort of books to write or how to write them. I don’t think real writers need advice because real writers are self-motivated to improve their craft. They know what needs to be done! Self-publishing is a different matter, there you do need advice because you have to take care of covers, blurbs, marketing and so on. Google self-publishing guru Joe Konrath and read everything he has to say about self-publishing and you won’t go far wrong!

What books/authors have influenced your writing?

I read pretty much everything by Jack Higgins and Len Deighton before I started
writing, but I think I modeled my writing most on Gerald Seymour, who was also a journalist before becoming a thriller writer.  I loved all John Le Carre’s books back then, but always felt intimidated by his wonderful prose. I would finish a Le Carre book and feel that I could never write anything as good as that!  At least with Gerald Seymour I would think that I had just read a wonderful novel and that one day I might be able to produce something almost as good!  In terms of influencing my self-publishing, I have been inspired by self-publishing guru Jake Konrath.

What genre do you consider your book(s)?

The books published by Hodder and Stoughton are thrillers, pure and simple. The Jack Nightingale series – which Hodder and Stoughton originally published but which I now publish myself – are supernatural thrillers, though they sometimes get labelled as occult thrillers, which is fine.

Do you ever experience writer’s block?

You know, I don’t think there is such a thing, not if you mean a writer who simply cannot write. Like all writers I sometimes have trouble with a storyline or a section I’m writing, but if that happens I simply switch to writing something else, either a different part of the same work or even a separate piece. I always have half a dozen or so short stories in mind so if a book starts to give me problems I might take a few days off and write one of those instead. But as I’m writing a book I usually have several sections already planned out so blocking doesn’t become an issue. My advice to anyone who does feel that they are blocked is to start trying to write something else, anything, just to start the words flowing again!

What was the hardest part of writing this book?  1221_leather-bg
Actually New York Night was an easy book to write, partly because Nightingale is such a great character to work with and partly because I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen. It took about two months, from start to finish, and at no point did I hit any real problems. The ending didn’t come to me until the last week or so and I think that was probably the hardest part, coming up with a satisfying ending.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

I just love the Jack Nightingale character. When Hodder and Stoughton decided they didn’t want to continue to publish the series, there was no question that the books would stop. Jack just wouldn’t allow it. I love his sarcasm, his slight air of pessimism, and the fact that he just takes whatever life throws at him. He’s smart and thinks on his feet, yet because the supernatural world is so alien to him it’s constantly catching him off-balance. Having the books set in the United States is fun, because he’s always a fish out of water. It gives me the chance to explore different cities, too, which I enjoy enormously. This one was good fun because I know New York well, it’s one of my favourite cities. The next one will be set in Miami which is also a fun city.

Do you write every single day?

I try to. When I’m finishing a book I’m usually so inspired 200px-Stephen_Leather_Profile-1that I write ten or twelve hours a day, producing maybe 3,000 or 4,000 words. But generally I try to write at least 1,000 words a day and am happier if I manage 1,500. A thousand words a day is a good target, assuming the odd day off that’s 350,000 words a year!  Obviously there are days when you simply don’t have the time to write but if I’m not at the keyboard for a few days I definitely suffer withdrawal symptoms. Writer’s write, that’s all there is to it. I’ve heard some writers complain that producing their latest book was like pulling teeth, with me it’s never like that. I love to write, it’s what I do.

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Review: The Children of Darkness

the-children-of-darkness-coverThe Children of Darkness, the first book in The Seekers trilogy, is an interesting addition to the YA dystopian movement. Published in May of 2015, with the sequel The Stuff of Stars following quickly in November of 2015, there is a lot of to be impressed with in this first venture. Author David Litwack, who has also published the novels Along the Watchtower and The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky, does a capable job of building a grounded world and introducing three layered main characters.

The first book follows the characters Orah, Nathaniel and Thomas as they begin to realize that not only is there something wrong with the organization that controls their lives (the Temple), but also that they may be the ones who have to do something about it. Like so many books in the genre each character is tested in unique way, must learn about their inner strengths, and follow along a lonely and dangerous quest. The first in the series has a little bit of everything a reader could want in a piece of YA fiction.

What does set the book apart is how the style of the writing really does match the world created within the book. The characters are presented with a limited education from either their parents, or a group of men called the vicars. In both cases thing are formal, often stilted and focused on doing what is necessary. Children learn trades, like weaving and farming, and they talk as such. It cam make reading initially a bit more work, but the pay off is worth it. As the characters grow and develop (and uncover some nasty secrete the vicars want to keep hidden) the world-and the way the characters speak- blossoms. These really are teenagers who want to learn, who grow and change, and who strive to find away to change the world.

9780545596275_p0_v5_s192x300Another point that stands out, at least in the first book, is that the main characters often work to find non-violent ways to rebel. Unlike The Hunger Games, the Divergent Series, or even Harry Potter, Orah, Nathaniel, and Thomas initially work to use language, art, science, and technology to lead their society into a rebellion, not fighting and killing. It was pretty refreshing to find dystopian YA that had such a twist to it. Of course, all stories evolve, so you’ll need to read the sequels to see how things turn out!

All and all there were places that felt a bit choppy in the narrative, at least to an adult reader. Having said that, their characters are admirable, they change over the course of the novel, and world is well developed with plenty of room to grow. Teens or adults who are looking for something familiar, but still unique, will surely enjoy these latest offerings to the YA field.

Personally I am intrigued and am looking forward to reading the next two installments. If you want to know more about David Litwack check out this interview too.

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This review was brought to you by the BookBear book tour. Check them out, they’re kind of rad.

Interview with David Litwack

Author David Litwack has published Along the Watchtower in June, 2013 and The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky in May, 2014. The Children of Darkness, the first of the Seekers series, a dystopian trilogy, was published in June, 2015. It’s sequel, The Stuff of Stars, came out in November, 2015.


Tell me a little about your book…
The seed of an idea is a curious thing. I went for a walk along one of my favorite places on Cape Cod. On one side was Vineyard Sound, with Martha’s Vineyard rising from the fog, and on the other a series of inlets of increasing size. The first  is called Little Pond and the next Great Pond. For some reason, I imagined young people growing up in Little Pond and envying those of Great Pond, wanting to find more from life than they had in their small village. From there, the story expanded. What if their limitation was not their small village, but a repressive authority that limited their potential to think and grow?

At the same time as I was developing this plot, the real world was changing. Increasingly, I saw on the news stories of oppression and rigid limits placed on freedom of thought: modifying school curriculum to restrict the sciences; rewriting history; destroying evidence from the past; restrictions on dress and diet; banning music and the arts; and severe punishments like stoning for daring to think differently.

Over time (several years), all these thoughts evolved in the Seekers dystopian trilogy.

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

The urge to write first struck me at age sixteen when working on a newsletter at a youth encampment in the woods of northern Maine. It may have been the wild night when lightning flashed at sunset followed by the northern lights rippling after dark. Or maybe it was the newsletter’s editor, a girl with eyes the color of the ocean. The next day, I had a column published under my byline, and I was hooked.

Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

Of course, everything I write has some basis in my own life. But fiction is less about recording reality than stitching together bits and pieces of things you’ve experienced and combining them with your craft to make a story—one that will hopefully let the reader add their own life experiences to it and be moved in some way. I’m not one to think a writer must only write about what they know (how else do you get alternate worlds?). But you have to write about things you’ve felt.

Out of all the characters in your book, who is your favorite to write? 

I used to say that my favorite was Kailani from The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky. She’s so mysterious, but at the same time wise, naïve and vulnerable. Now that I’m nearly done with the Seekers series, I think I’d say Orah. She smart and passionate in her beliefs, and a natural leader, yet she always doubts herself and questions her decisions—a trait that would be a good thing in some of our real world leaders.

Is your book part of a series, and if so, how many will there be?

The Children of Darkness is Book one of the Seekers dystopian trilogy. The second book, The Stuff of Stars, has just published.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on the finale of the Seekers series, to be titled The Light of Reason. If all goes as planned, it will come out in November 2016.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Writing a novel may be one of the hardest things you can do, so it’s all challenging. But nothing is harder than writing the first draft. I don’t yet know the characters that well and, while I have a general sense of where the story is heading, I can take a wrong turn at any point and have to redo months of work. When I hit that point where I’m terrified the story has gone off the rails, I take a break for a few days. Almost always, it’s not as bad as I feared, and I can fix the problem with a modest bit of work.

Once I’m beyond the first draft, the rest becomes just hard work. I do lots of revisions, but I find it easier to fix the story than to write it from scratch.

There’s a reason why Hemingway once said: “Write drunk, edit sober!”

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

To each and every reader, we’re partners in the story. I use my craft, and you use your imagination to flesh out your own unique version of the story. If I’ve caused you to re-experience some of the most intense moments of your life, then I’ve succeeded as an author.

To quote Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Do you plot your books completely before hand or do you let your imagination flow whilst in the writing process?

I usually conceive of a new book as a series of images and scenes, daydreaming about them while I finish work on the prior novel. I maintain a notes file for the new novel and do a rough draft of these scenes—a  very rough draft, what some people call “scaffolding” or “riff writing” like improvisation in jazz. The file can get pretty chaotic. Every now and then I make a feeble attempt to organize it (when I’m finishing up a novel, I try to avoid distractions and stay focused on getting it out to the publisher). By the time I’m ready to start the new novel, I usually have about 20,000 words of loosely connected prose—20-25% of the eventual novel but probably 80% of its essence. I take a couple of months to read, edit and organize that file into a dense plot outline. Then I start a new file from scratch, cutting and pasting prose as appropriate.

It’s a messy process in the early going, but unlike those who start with a more organized outline, I need that amount of writing to get to know the characters and live in the story.

How long did it take to get from the ideas stage of the Seekers series, to the publication of all three books?

The Seeker series started out as a standalone novel called There Comes a Prophet. The initial idea came to me about eight years ago, and it was published in 2011. After producing two other novels, I decided at the urging of readers to go back and turn this standalone dystopian story into a trilogy. Prophet became The Children of Darkness(with a changed title, cover and publisher) and I’ve just published the second book, The Stuff of Stars. I’m hard at work on the third and final offering, to be called The Light of Reason.

Did you suffer from writer’s block at any stage? How did you overcome it?

I sometimes think writer’s block is just another way of saying that writing a novel is really hard. I try to keep writing, even if I think it’s going poorly. Then I see how it looks the next day. I remind myself that I can always revise or just throw it away. Nothing’s worse than staring at a blank page.

Long walks are another good way to get the creative juices going. Whatever the case, I try to avoid just sitting there and staring at the screen. Write, read or go for a walk.

How did you come up with the name(s) for your lead character(s)?

Names matter, especially for a SciFi/Fantasy writer building new worlds. The names need to be consistent and reflect that culture. For the Seekers trilogy, where the people have been forcibly returned to something like our 15th century, I found the passenger manifest for the Mayflower, and borrowed names, mixing up first and last names to get ones like Nathaniel Rush or Thomas Bradford. All except for Orah. I wanted her to be different, a rebellious throwback to an earlier time. So rather than picking from the Anglo-Saxon, I chose a name with Hebrew roots. As an added subtlety, the name Orah means light.


Issue Ten For the Holidays

Straight Forward

Thomas_GILLASPY-astoriaIssue Ten of Straight Forward Poetry is now live and ready for reading. This time around we are featuring poets Jason Dean Arnold, Gary Beck, Michael Carrino, Darren Demaree, Robert Fillman, George Freek, Ann Huang, A.J. Huffman, Faith Kearns, Andy Macera, Oscar Montes, Eileen Murphy, Nikhil Nath, Ellen Noonan, DM O’Connor, Scott Thomas Outlar, Sonya Plenefisch, Matt Prater, M. Protacio-De Guzman, Hannah Rogers, Whitney Schultz, Marian Shapiro, Karen Vande Bossche, and Guinotte Wise. This issue also includes photographers Thomas Gillaspy, Nick Romeo and Colton Adrian. Please visit any of these poets websites for more details on each, and continue to support indie presses and writers in the new year.

Thank for a wonderful year, filled with wonderful poetry, photography and friends.

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More Essential Books that Almost Never Saw the Light of Day

The best, most beloved books often have one thing in common: a struggle to be published. Some of our most important stories, from Anne Frank’s unforgettable diary, to the wanderlust classic On the Road, and even early books by childhood idol Dr. Seuss, were passed over by multiple agents and publishers. Yet sometimes it’s those books that break rules, the ones labeled “too different” for a mainstream audience, that become the ones we really needed. Check out some of the books below, (or some from our earlier poston books that almost never were), and fall in love with something a little “different.”

The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath
Plath, the Pulitzer Prize-winning idol of many poets and readers in search of a coming of age story, had to publish her novel The Bell Jar under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. The novel faced rejection because the publishing house saw it as “disappointing, juvenile and overwrought.” Now it’s compared to The Catcher in the Rye, (another frequently rejected title, ahem).

Animal Farm, by George Orwell
When T.S. Eliot was the editing director of Faber & Faber, he rejected Animal Farm because he “did not want to upset the Soviets in those fraught years of World War II.” There was no mention of a problem with Orwell’s writing, and he was already a household name with five other books in print. In this case, in contrast to other rejected writers, politics — not style — almost stopped this required reading staple from ever hitting bookshelves.

The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank
Anne Frank’s dairy faced unusual hurdles on the road to publication. After her hiding place was discovered, the remnants of her notebooks left behind by the Nazis were kept hidden for years. Eventually her father reclaimed them and worked to bring her voice to light. Under his watchful eye, though, many of the teenage struggles he thought might offend more conservative readers were edited out of the book. A text with fewer edits was later released, giving readers more insight into this vibrant, inspirational young girl.


On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
The jewel in the Beat generation’s literary crown, One the Road was initially said to be too provocative and nontraditional. In one very harsh rejection letter Kerouac was told, “this is a badly misdirected talent and…this huge sprawling and inconclusive novel would probably have small sales and sardonic indignant reviews from every side.” The passionate fanbase that exists to this day might disagree with that sentiment.


East Wind: West Wind, by Pearl S. Buck
Pearl S. Buck struggled to find an American publishing house for her debut. As one of the few Americans living in China, and one who had close relationships with Chinese writers, Buck was positioned better than anyone to bring China to America with her epic, cross-cultural coming of age story. She was told in a rejection letter that American readers “aren’t interested in China,” but clearly this proved to be untrue. Buck became the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize for literature.


And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, by Dr. Seuss
Pretty much everything Dr. Seuss wrote in his early career faced rejection. His first book was passed over 27 times before finally finding a home. Rumor is, he was told his books were “too different” to be published. The Cat in the Hat, Horton, and the Grinch may have never been, just for being different, though ultimately that’s what made them great. Considering the way Dr. Seuss has become a cornerstone of early literacy, a world without him in it would be one with fewer people whose passion for reading began with his giddy, rhyming tales.

What books do you love that were once overlooked by publishers?

Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on December 9, 2015.

6 Books to Help Your Toddler Say Goodbye to the Pacifier

Toddlerhood is a time of big and amazing transitions. Parents get that first sentence, the first public tantrum, the joys of potty training and eventually the grand farewell to the pacifier (not the Vin Diesel kind). Part of making the transition as easy as possible is to have the right supplies, and to stock with house with books that show kids that life without the binky is a beautiful thing.

Bye-Bye Binky: Big Kid Powerby Maria van Lieshout All little kids want to be big, to go on big adventures, and do what the big kids do. With that in mind, the Big Kid series is designed to help tackle the hard stuff that little kids have to go through. Show your little one, in a super positive way, that as they get bigger they do have to say good-bye to the binky. Being a big kid does come with its advantages though, and highlighting that might just be incentive enough for some.

Chupie: The Binky That Returned Homeby Thalia and Ana Martin Larranga With this witty, slightly quirky bedtime story, you can encourage your kids to send their binky off to a special Binkies-Only Land. Told from the point of view of a binky who just wants to go live with the rest of his friends in a place designed just for him, this story might encourage little kids who love the pacifier to set it free. This book is unique among binky books, in that it also helps promote a bit of empathy. As an added bonus, you can pick it up in Spanish as well.

Binkyby Leslie Patricelli One of many by the ever-popular and prolific Leslie PatricelliBinky helps kids deal with their emotions about losing their favorite nap time pal. As adults we can underestimate how important a pacifier is to little ones, but parents and kids can get through the difficult times by reading together. Patricelli’s art is also bright, welcoming, and always attractive to even the youngest readers. This might be the best first step in easing that binky out of your babe’s life.

No More Pacifier for Piggy!, by Bernette Ford and Sam Williams Instead of utilizing peer pressure, which is a common tactic in putting the paci aside, No More Pacifier for Piggy helps to show little kids that sometimes the pacifier just gets in their way. How can you yell, chat, or play hide and seek with a mouth full of pacifier? What is more important — and more fun: walking around with a pacifier, or having a great play date? Use Piggy’s tale to help encourage kids to make the decision themselves to move on from the binky lifestyle.

The Paci Fairy, by Melissa Burnett and Chrisann Zaubi The Paci Fairy, and the similar book, The Paci Pixieboth play with the Tooth Fairy model of moving on. The Paci Fairy helps kids prepare emotionally for the day that their beloved friend will be picked up by the fairy and replaced by a gift. The Pixie helps teach older kids (would be a great choice for older siblings) to pass their paci on to someone younger. Both books have sweet drawings and positive messages that add some magic to what could be a really tough time. Plus, everything is better with a little glitter.

Pacifiers Are Not Foreverby Elizabeth Verdick and Marieka Heinlen Instead of focusing on not having a pacifier, the characters in this Best Behaviors Series book help kids see all the positives associated with moving on. The pictures are gentle and the words are kind and understanding. Toddlers, who often struggle with expressing themselves, will like the tone that validates their feelings and the pictures that show great paci-free activities. Another perk? This series can follow kids through other milestones, becoming a familiar voice as they grow up.

What books have helped your little one kick the paci habit?

Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on December 1, 2015.