Thursday, October 31, 2013

Spooky Special Guest Author Marilyn Levinson

Sixth-grader Vannie Taylor’s mom has just died. Her father, completely lost without his wife, brings Vannie and her younger brother to live in a dismal cottage on the estate where he manages craft fairs, dinners, and other events. When strange events start happening around the estate, Vannie decides to investigate, and soon discovers a ghost who wants her to help him make amends for something in his past. Vannie’s life is starting to get back to normal, but  in a way she’s never imagined.

I’ve been fortunate enough to know Marilyn Levinson for several years, during which time she’s always had a smile on her face and a new story on her mind. In her years as an author, Marilyn has written across a variety of genres. But while she is perhaps best known for her timeless children’s books such as No Boys Allowed and And Don’t Bring Jeremy, she’s with us on this Halloween to give us a glimpse into her YA debut, Getting Back to Normal. Why is that pertinent today? Because it’s … well, we’ll get to that : )  Read on…

1. What book spoke to you most during your teen years?

I read adult novels in my teen years. We didn’t have YA novels back then:) I remember coming upon Catcher in the Rye in the library. I took it home to read. It must have struck a note with me, because it prompted me to write an essay afterwards—about teenagers and how they’re often misunderstood. I didn’t show anyone what I’d written. 

2. Do you have a favorite book or author that you re-read regularly?

I have many favorite authors, and try to read their new books as they’re published. I don’t reread books.

3. What YA book are you most looking forward to reading?

Believe it or not, I’ve yet to read The Hunger Games. I’d like to read the series, even though I’ve seen the first movie.

4. You taught high school Spanish for years. How doyou think that impacts your ability or desire to write for teens?

Years ago I probably started writing for kids because my own sons were growing up and I’d taught high school. 

5. But wait. You’ve been writing books for the adult audience. What lured you back to writing for kids/teens?

The sleuth in my [work in progress] is twenty-nine and female. Before that I revised a YA about a 15-year-old boy who’s been orphaned and must combat an evil uncle who wants to take over his body. I’ve even written a short novel about a street cat who finds himself living in a house with a family, a sheepdog and a hamster. I suppose I go with the story in my head, regardless of the protagonist’s gender or age. I’ve recently completed a sequel to Rufus and Magic Run Amok. It was fun writing the story from Rufus’s perspective: coping with his magic, his first boy-girl relationship, rescuing someone with his friends.

6. So here’s the million-dollar topic: why we thought Halloween would be a fun day for your guest interview.  Your YA debut, Getting Back to Normal, features a ghost. eep! What inspired you to add a ghost to your fiction?

Ghosts “haunt” a few of my books. These are friendly, likable ghosts who have remained here on Earth for specific reasons. I think they add a dimension to my novels. (Forgive the pun:) Archie, the ghost in Getting Back to Normal, helps Vannie adjust to her new home on the estate with her father works. He also wants Vannie to help him with his plan concerning his granddaughter, which conflicts with Vannie’s wishes.There is a big Halloween party at the end of the book. 

7.  When your main character, Vannie, first meets the ghost of Archibald Heatherton (the third) she’s a bit disbelieving but not afraid. As an author, what prompted you to make that choice, to allow her to face the ghost bravely? Or was it something in the character herself that made the choice for you?

Archie appears in a friendly and comical way. Vannie wonders aloud what to make her little brother for dinner and Archie gives her sensible, practical advice. Also, his manner is far from threatening. In fact, Vannie is a bit annoyed because she thinks he might be mocking her. 

8. How do you personally feel about ghosts? Are you a believer, a non-believer, or an open-minded skeptic? And how do you think you would react if the specter of a deceased nobleman popped into your kitchen?

I’ve never met a ghost, but from all I’ve read I believe they exist. If one suddenly appeared, I’d be terrified at first. But I’d be curious to find out what he or she wanted.

9. We have a lot of aspiring authors among our readers. What advice would you give to the next generation of authors?

Read a lot, Write a lot. Find a good critique group. Join on-line and in-person writing groups, but always concentrate on your writing. And learn about marketing and promoting, as this is constantly in flux.

10. What’s next for you?

I’m working on a mystery, a proposal for a series. And yes, there’s a ghost in it— an older woman who haunts the library and helps my sleuth, who’s one of the few people who can see her.

Yay! more ghosties! Thanks so much for visiting with us, today, Marilyn!

Now how about you folks? Ghosts! Exist or don't exist? Afraid or unafraid? Let us know!

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Monday, October 14, 2013

The Dark Underbelly of Writing

Hello, dear readers! 

I'm first up for a new cycle of topics here at Honestly YA, one of which is the dark underbelly of writing. I don't know about you, but the first thing I think of when I consider this topic is my own belly. Unfortunately, due to the stresses of writing, there is nothing "under" about my belly at the moment. "Over" might be a more apt description. Ha. 

You know the drill. Have to eat a nice big breakfast to get the mental juices flowing. What? The words not coming? Maybe a quick snack will help. Anything's better than sitting in front of a blank screen, right? And just when you think you might get through the day being only a little bit bad, an email pops up in your inbox, with less-than-stellar news. Bring on the brownie brittle! 

But not to worry. I was inspired by Jennifer McGowan's fabulous post last week about reaching your dreams. In it, she suggests several methods for accomplishing your goals, including one called "Five Things." In her words, "Essentially, you pick a goal, any goal—and you do five things a day designed specifically to help you achieve that goal." 

I can do that. I think. It's worth a shot, anyway. 

So without further ado, here are five things I will do each day to achieve an under-belly. 

1. Ab crunches. When the urge to snack arises, I will get on the floor and do 25 crunches instead. 

2. Elliptical. I will work out on the elliptical while indulging my taste buds by watching Top Chef. 

3. Water. I will replace calorie-filled beverages with lots and lots of sparkling water. 

4. Breakfast. I still believe breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but I will balance this meal with a relatively light dinner. 

5. No more brownie brittle. Or cookies. Or ice cream. Or chocolate. Hey, no one ever said this was easy.

So there you have it! The things standing between me and my goal. Doesn't seem as daunting, does it, when broken down into five manageable steps? 

Now it's your turn to share! What are your goals, and what five things will you do to achieve them? 


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Welcome Wednesday: Vala Kaye's Teen Friendships Can Last A Lifetime

It's our pleasure to welcome Vala Kaye to our Welcome Wednesday spot this week. She's got a great post on the importance of teen friendships that I know you'll love. So without further ado, take it away Vala....

Teen Friendships Can Last a Lifetime
By Vala Kaye

Not all the people you meet during your teen years will become your BFFs, but if you’re very fortunate, one or two might always be with you to share the ups and downs that happen to us as we go through life.

I have two “lifetime” friends. One I met in junior high and the other in high school. One is similar to me in temperament, while the other couldn’t be more different.  We’ve shared school experiences; engagements, marriages and divorces; the birth of children; and the deaths of grandparents, parents and siblings.

Those are the big things, the huge emotional highs and lows that only time and the love and caring of true friends can help see you through. But we’ve also always been there for one another through the smaller things in life, everything from movie nights and mid-terms to concerts and cooking disasters.

When I was working on my YA paranormal novella, Ghost Writer, I gave my main character, Malden, a friend named Ashley. They go to the same school and I suspect they’re truly BFF’s. When I was writing the scenes where Malden and Ashley, though physically separated by hundreds of miles, are online in their school’s student chat room, I thought about how my friends and I sound when we’re filling each other in on “the latest.” Not only do we talk about what’s happening to us and what we’re feeling, but sometimes we also pick up on what our lifetime friends aren’t saying, what they’re holding inside because they’re afraid of being embarrassed or laughed at.

Because we love them, we have to gently remind them just who they’re talking to. With a “lifetime” friend, they’re safe. And it’s okay to share anything.

People can come into our lives for “a reason, a season or a lifetime.” I believe those who are with us for a lifetime are the most special of all.

Excerpt  from “A Reason, A Season And A Lifetime” by Brian A. "Drew" Chalker
LIFETIME relationships teach you lifetime lessons; those things you must build upon in order to have a solid emotional foundation. Your job is to accept the lesson, love the person/people and put what you have learned to use in all other relationships and areas of your life.

It is said that love is blind but friendship is clairvoyant.

Vala Kaye grew up in Texas, an avid reader of romance and sci-fi and a history buff. After graduating from college with a double major in Communications and History, she works in advertising sales in southern California. In addition to her first passion, writing, she's addicted to movies, word games and salsa dancing. You can learn more at her website and follow her on twitter.
Sixteen-year-old Malden Montgomery leaves New York City anticipating nothing but boredom when her artist/mother insists she come along on a two week vacation to a family inn in rural Virginia. What Malden doesn't expect is that the owner’s seventeen-year-old son, Jackson, will be totally to-die-for cute or that her room at the inn will be haunted by a young woman named Emily, who died there in 1865. When Emily somehow begins to communicate with Malden via an Internet chat room, she and Jackson have to find a way to help Emily's ghost come back home or risk a spirit’s wrath if they choose to leave her lost in the darkness forever.

Monday, October 7, 2013

How do YOU reach your dreams?

When I’m not crafting tales of murder and mayhem in Elizabethan England, I’ve recently found myself embarking on a series of four New Adult novels that focus on a group of young women achieving their dreams, while falling in love and exploring the world after college. I just delivered the first in the series, DREAM IT, and it has me thinking about achieving dreams and reaching goals.

When I think about systems for getting things done, however, I don’t have to look at my corporate experience, my college years, or even my high school memories for the best model. Nope, I found the system that worked for me all the way back. . .in first grade.

That was when I discovered something my teacher called “Workshop” – a list of to-do’s on the chalkboard that you could accomplish at your own pace. Whenever you got item one completed, you moved on to number two. And so on, and so on. Regardless of whether this was my teacher's insidious tragedy to get out of actually teaching for a half-day and just leave us all to our own devices, I rocked at Workshop. And thus my fascination with To-Do lists was born. Now I make them for just about everything. Heck, I'll write something down on my list after I've already completed it, just for the experience of checking it off. I'm telling you—-it's a sickness. I'm good with that.

But To Do Lists, or writing out the steps that it’ll take to reach whatever successful outcome you desire, are just one tool you can use to achieve your goals. Below are a few others I’ve tried out or considered over the years. Which ones work for you?

Vision Boards

This one is great for the visual people out there—think Pinterest with a Purpose. You collect the images that represent who and what you be, and compile them together in the media of your choice. Those who rock it old school prefer the scrapbook or framed corkboard approach—those who want to move more nimbly have created digital scrapbooks.

Manifestation Meditation

Who needs media of any sort? For this tool, you quiet your mind, focus on the desired outcome, and imagine yourself vividly as having already achieved your goal. In just a few minutes a day (seriously, if you meditate more you are at risk for falling asleep, at least if you’re as sleep deprived as I am) you can send out a powerful pulse to the universe.  For those who are motivated by the written word, just writing out your “mantra” every day can also serve as a powerful meditation exercise.

Five Things Every Day

I read about this in The Success Principles, and I think there’s real merit to the idea, though I’m not sure if I’d have the discipline to stick to it. Essentially, you pick a goal, any goal—and you do five things a day designed specifically to help you achieve that goal. If you are an author, you could: write a scene, edit your manuscript, send an email to an agent, judge a contest, and check out a research book. Boom—that’s five things. Think about how far and fast you could go if you did this every day?

Make it A Game

This takes us back to the Workshop process, which so impressed my seven-year-old brain. Getting to the end of that list was fun. It was a challenge, and both speed and thoroughness counted. So take whatever it is that’s your goal, and make it fun. Make reaching it—and accomplishing the various milestones along the way—more than half the fun. When work becomes play, it’s not only much more interesting, you get competitive about it, even if you're competing with yourself. The choice between two discretionary activities becomes easier, if one makes you feel like a winner. Which is exactly how you feel if you’re doing what you can to reach your dreams.

What about you? What have you done over the years that has helped you achieve a goal—whether it’s finishing a paper or landing a scholarship or getting the job (or date!) of your dreams? I’m always looking for new ideas! 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Interview with Chloe, from Natalie Richards' SIX MONTHS LATER

Dear readers, I am so excited to bring you another interview today, this time with the amazingly talented Natalie Richards and the spunky, irreverent, and lovable heroine of her debut novel, SIX MONTHS LATER, Chloe Spinnaker. I've got to say, though, as excited as I was to meet Chloe, when Natalie told me the venue of our interview, I was a little...nervous.

Pintip: *looks around darkened classroom* Um, guys? Are you absolutely sure it's okay for us to be here?

Natalie:  Oh, Chloe has spent plenty of time in the dark in this classroom.  She should be used to it.

Chloe:  Used to it?  I can think of dumpsters I like better than this classroom.  *squirms in her chair*

Pintip: *winces* Sorry to bring up bad memories, Chloe. This was where you fell asleep in study hall, right? 

Chloe: Yeah. When I woke up, it was several months later, but I wasn't really sleeping.  I just couldn't remember.  It was like I hit fast forward.  For six months. And before anyone gets the wrong idea, yes I did fall asleep, but it was Study Hall.  Who doesn't fall asleep in Study Hall? Though after what happened to me the last time, you'd better believe I won't be doing it again.  *shudder* I don't even like to blink in here.

Pintip: Ha. I don't know how long you can go without blinking, but I'll try to get you out of here soon. What was the craziest thing about losing six months of your life? Were there any advantages at all?

Chloe: Well, there's the distinct advantage of not remembering the dozens of extra credit assignments I cranked out.  Seriously, I did a paper on the molecular properties of table salt.  Who wants to read that, let alone write it?

As for the craziest thing?  My whole brain was totally blank when it came to those six months.  Just empty, you know?  Except... *looks down with a smile* Except when I was with Adam.  Every time I touched him, I remembered things.  It was crazy.  Crazy and good.

Pintip: Ah, Adam. Yes, I can see that. *sighs dreamily and then realizing she's speaking to his girlfriend, straightens abruptly* So Natalie. Any six-month-period you'd like to lose?

Natalie: I've had some very tragic things happen that I sure wanted to skip.  Hard times bring that out, I think.  You just want whatever it is (sickness, a bad teacher, a painful breakup) to be over.  But honestly, I think skipping the hard things would be a terrible idea.  The heartbreaking things in life have to be endured, because they shape us.  I think we need them.

Pintip: You're absolutely right, Natalie. I'll have to remember that next time I wish I could skip out on heartbreak. 

Natalie, there were some really creepy moments in this book. One of my favorite lines is: "Boyfriend is my job, not yours." I still get chills just thinking about it! Did you ever scare yourself writing this book?

Natalie: I didn't exactly scare myself, but I did get goose-bumps in a few places and I did feel tense writing a lot of the book.  I really dragged Chloe through some eerie stuff, so I guess that makes sense.

Pintip: Yes, you certainly did! Poor Chloe! 

Chloe: It's not like I have anything against eerie stuff. I love scary movies.  Once, I even took a dare to watch The Ring alone in my basement in pitch dark.  It was awesome! But being dragged through one in real life?  *pointed look at Natalie*  Less than awesome.

Pintip: *grins* See, this is one of the reasons I love this book. Chloe's voice is so natural and effortless. Natalie, was Chloe a difficult character to write? How does she compare with your other heroines?

Natalie: Well, Chloe's always difficult.

Chloe: I prefer the word spirited.

Natalie: Like I said--difficult.  It took me a few writes of the first couple of chapters before I felt like I found my feet in her voice.  Once I knew her a little better, it got easier.  Relatively speaking.  Chloe was very scattered and frantic compared to my other heroines--

Chloe: Well, did your other heroines wake up with dirt under their fingernails and six months of their lives just gone?  Did they?

Natalie: No, they didn't.  So, as I said, Chloe was frantic, but understandably so.

Chloe: Thank you!

Pintip: I love not only your voice, Chloe, but also the voices of the secondary characters. In fact, one of the most endearing things about this book is your friendship with Maggie. What do you value most about her?

Chloe: Mags is a wild card.  Everybody underestimates her.  See, she has a minor stutter.  Because of that, some idio--*stops and clears throat* I mean, some people--think she's slow or shy, but she's totally not.  Mags is wicked smart and a shameless flirt.  And I guess I love her for snowing them all over, you know?  

Pintip: I totally agree. So now that we're on the subject of boys... Chloe, you had two hot guys within arm's reach during most of this story. *** lowers voice *** Just between us. And the Honestly YA readers. Who was the better kisser?

Chloe: *sinks low in chair* Can we not talk about this?  Because Adam will read this.  He reads everything.  I once caught him reading the user instruction manual in my car.

Natalie: It's not like he doesn't know all of this anyway.

Chloe: Still.  There's knowing and then there's knowing. *grimaces* But, okay, fine.  From a technical standpoint, Blake is perfectly qualified in the kissing department.  But kissing Adam...yeah.  Well, there's kissing.  And then there's kissing.

Pintip: Yeah, I bet! Now, Chloe, you've known Adam for years. What was the moment that made you realize he's not who you thought?

Chloe: Adam was like an urban legend -- all hot and troubled or whatever.  I mostly avoided him.  *goes quiet*  But there was this night outside of Maggie's house when I was trying to figure out what had happened to me.  I was still so freaked out and I was yelling at him, and he just--he kept me calm.  He somehow slowed the world down so I could breathe again.  I guess I sort of knew how wrong I'd been about him.

Pintip: Oooh, I love that! Slowed the world down, huh? Now that's a great description of love! Okay, Natalie, 'fess up. Who was more fun to write, Blake or Adam? 

Natalie: Blake was easier to write, but Adam was more interesting.

Pintip: Pretend for a moment that you don't know what you know. Which one is more your type?

Natalie: I've always been a sucker for the hot and troubled type.

Pintip: Me, too! Imagine that. Well, girls, this has been so much fun, but Chloe's eyes are getting watery from not blinking. Adam's going to think we made his girlfriend cry, and we don't want that. So, one last question. Natalie, what's next for you?

I have another YA thriller in the works, but sadly I can't talk too much about it because it's in edits now.  I can tell you I'm beyond excited about this project.  It deals with an amazing heroine who discovers a couple of really disturbing things.  When she gets the chance to set things right, it ends up costing her more than she ever dreamed.  It's really just intense, and I can't wait to say more.

Pintip: Oh wow. That sounds so amazing. I can't wait to read it. Thanks so much for being here, Natalie and Chloe!

Natalie: Thanks so much for having me here today!!  I'm super excited to be a part of the blog and I know Chloe was, too, even if she is looking longingly at the door letting her out of this classroom.

She Has Everything She Ever Wanted. But Not Her Memory...
When Chloe fell asleep in study hall, it was the middle of May. When she wakes up, snow is on the ground and she can't remember the last six months of her life.
Before, she'd been a mediocre student. Now, she's on track for valedictorian and being recruited by Ivy League schools. Before, she never had a chance with super jock Blake. Now he's her boyfriend. Before, she and Maggie were inseparable. Now her best friend won't speak to her.
What happened to her? Remembering the truth could be more dangerous than she knows...

Lost for years in a maze of cubicles and file rooms, Natalie found her way back to her love of writing. Natalie lives in Ohio (Go Bucks!) with her husband, their three amazing kids, and a giant dust-mop who swears he's the family dog.  Follow her on Twitter @natdrichards or visit her at

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Happy Release Day to Allure (Hoodoo Apprentice #2) and Awesome Giveaway!

Today's the day! Allure, the second book in The Hoodoo Apprentice is here! Yippee!!!!

I'm so stinkin' excited, I feel like dancing like my favorite Flight of the Conchords guys. 
Or maybe I should try one of these moves...
Who am I kidding? No matter how smooth I try to be, I'll inevitably end up looking like this... 
But you know what? That's TOTALLY okay because my second book is HERE!!!! 
Which one is that? Why it's....
Worst. Summer. Ever. 
Emma Guthrie races to learn the hoodoo magic needed to break The Beaumont Curse before her marked boyfriend Cooper’s sixteenth birthday. But deep in the South Carolina Lowcountry, dark, mysterious forces encroach, conspiring to separate Emma and Cooper forever. When Cooper starts to change, turning cold and indifferent, Emma discovers that both his heart and body are marked for possession by competing but equally powerful adversaries. 
Desperate to save him, Emma and her twin brother, Jack, risk their lives to uncover the source of the black magic that has allured Cooper and holds him in its grip. Faced with the horror of a soul-eating boohag, Emma and Jack must fight to resist its fiendish power to free Cooper long enough to join their strengths and face it together, before it destroys them all.
To celebrate I've got a super awesome giveaway. To enter, click through the Rafflecopter thingee below.
So get to clicking and bust a move with me!

Lea Nolan writes the kinds of stories she sought as a teen—smart paranormals with bright heroines, crazy-hot heroes, diabolical plot twists, plus a dose of magic, a draft of romance, and a sprinkle of history. She holds degrees in history and women’s studies concentrating in public policy and has spent nearly twenty years as a health policy analyst and researcher. She lives in Maryland with her heroically supportive husband and three clever children. You can learn more about her on her website, on Facebook, Twitter and on Goodreads

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