Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Queens of Renthia series by Sarah Beth Durst

I first featured Sarah Beth Durst here, and her new book, THE RELUCTANT QUEEN, the second in the Queens of Renthia series, came out this month. It's a beautiful story about confronting hard choices. The main character, Daleina, has had her share of trials and tribulations:


An idealistic young student and a banished warrior become allies in a battle to save their realm in this first book of a mesmerizing epic fantasy series, filled with political intrigue, violent magic, malevolent spirits, and thrilling adventure

Everything has a spirit: the willow tree with leaves that kiss the pond, the stream that feeds the river, the wind that exhales fresh snow . . .

But the spirits that reside within this land want to rid it of all humans. One woman stands between these malevolent spirits and the end of humankind: the queen. She alone has the magical power to prevent the spirits from destroying every man, woman, and child. But queens are still just human, and no matter how strong or good, the threat of danger always looms.

With the position so precarious, young women are chosen to train as heirs. Daleina, a seemingly quiet academy student, is under no illusions as to her claim to the throne, but simply wants to right the wrongs that have befallen the land. Ven, a disgraced champion, has spent his exile secretly fighting against the growing number of spirit attacks. Joining forces, these daring partners embark on a treacherous quest to find the source of the spirits’ restlessness—a journey that will test their courage and trust, and force them to stand against both enemies and friends to save their land . . . before it’s bathed in blood.





Everything has a spirit: the willow tree with leaves that kiss the pond, the stream that feeds the river, the wind that exhales fresh snow . . . 
And those spirits want to kill you.
It’s the first lesson that every Renthian learns. 

Not long ago, Daleina used her strength and skill to survive those spirits and assume the royal throne. Since then, the new queen has kept the peace and protected the humans of her land. But now for all her power, she is hiding a terrible secret: she is dying. And if she leaves the world before a new heir is ready, the spirits that inhabit her beloved realm will run wild, destroying her cities and slaughtering her people.

Naelin is one such person, and she couldn’t be further removed from the Queen—and she wouldn’t have it any other way. Her world is her two children, her husband, and the remote village tucked deep in the forest that is her home, and that’s all she needs. But when Ven, the Queens champion, passes through the village, Naelin’s ambitious husband proudly tells him of his wife’s ability to control spirits—magic that Naelin fervently denies. She knows that if the truth of her abilities is known, it will bring only death and separation from those she loves.

But Ven has a single task: to find the best possible candidate to protect the people of Aratay. He did it once when he discovered Daleina, and he’s certain he’s done it again. Yet for all his appeals to duty, Naelin is a mother, and she knows her duty is to her children first and foremost. Only as the Queen’s power begins to wane and the spirits become emboldened—even as ominous rumors trickle down from the north—does she realize that the best way to keep her son and daughter safe is to risk everything.


In our last interview, you said, "Write the kind of book that you want to read, the kind that gets you excited to read, the kind that carries you away into its world, the kind that makes you laugh and cry and think and feel." In what ways have your books done this for you, and which of your books is your favorite?

Every time I start a new novel, I ask myself, "If I were to walk into a library or a bookstore right now, what would I want to find?" and then I try to write that book.  I firmly believe that the old adage "write what you know" should really be "write what you love."

My favorite is usually whatever book I'm currently writing.  :)  Right now, I'm working on THE QUEEN OF SORROW, Book Three of The Queens of Renthia.

These books have been such a joy to write!  It's been a truly immersive experience -- every day when I sit down at my laptop, it feels like walking through a portal.

And I do laugh and cry while I write (which is part of why I don't write in cafes – it's a wee bit embarrassing when you find yourself acting out a fight scene or weeping over a conversation in your head between two imaginary people).  I always fall in love with my characters, whether I intend to or not, and I end up feeling what they're feeling.


And so do we! In what ways do you explore nature in THE RELUCTANT QUEEN, and what kinds of internal conflicts will Daleina be facing?  

Renthia is a world filled with bloodthirsty nature spirits.  So nature... it's rather a big deal in these books because it's constantly trying to kill you in a very direct way.

In book two, Daleina is coping with the challenges of being queen when she begins experiencing these terrible blackouts that cause her to lose control of the spirits.  She has to face the fear of her own mortality, as she scrambles to secure her country's future.

I also introduce a new character, Naelin, who is a middle-age mother of two small children.  Naelin has immense power, but she's unwilling to use it, because if she does, she runs the (very, very real risk) of leaving her children motherless.

At their heart, these books are about power: who has it, who wants it, what you do with it, and what it does to you.


Power is indeed a corruptible force. What keeps you writing? Are there days when your creative well runs dry, and if so, what are some strategies you've used to help get the juices flowing again? 

Chocolate always helps.

And music.

I also take walks.  I give myself pep talks.  My husband gives me pep talks.  I cuddle my cat.  (She doesn't give me pep talks, unless you count the occasional bite.)

But I have found that, for me, the solution to all writing problems is to write more.  Even if you don't end up keeping any of the words you write, often the key to unblocking yourself will show up -- even if it's just a single phrase or a word or a fragment of an idea -- while you're in the middle of the act of stringing words into sentences.

(Note: this doesn't work for everyone.  As with all writing advice, your mileage may vary.)


My cat gives me the same kind of pep talks. What are some of your current projects?

I am currently working on THE QUEEN OF SORROW, Book Three of The Queens of Renthia, for Harper Voyager.  It will be followed by a standalone novel also set in Renthia (in the islands of Belene).  Very happy to be returning to Renthia!

And I am working on my next middle-grade book, THE STONE GIRL'S STORY.  It's about a girl made of stone, forever twelve years old, who has outlasted the father who carved her and gave her life.  But now the magical marks that animate her are fading, and she must leave home and find help, if she wants her story to continue.  It will be out in spring 2018 from HMH/Clarion Books. I'm so excited about it!


Buy: BookPassage ~ Amazon.com Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound




Buy: BookPassage ~ Amazon.com Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

This post can also be viewed here.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

THE WONDER OF US by Kim Culbertson

I met Kim Culbertson last year and interviewed her here. I not only learned a ton from her workshops and panels, I've completely fallen in love with her books. Her newest, THE WONDER OF US, has an incredible voice:

Riya and Abby are: Best friends. Complete opposites. Living on different continents. Currently mad at each other. About to travel around Europe.

Riya moved to Berlin, Germany, with her family for junior year, while Abby stayed behind in their small California town. They thought it would be easy to keep up their friendship—it’s only a year and they’ve been best friends since preschool. But instead, they ended up fighting and not being there for the other. So Riya proposes an epic adventure to fix their friendship. Two weeks, six countries, unimaginable fun. But two small catches:

They haven’t talked in weeks.

They’ve both been keeping secrets.

Can Riya and Abby find their way back to each other among lush countrysides and dazzling cities, or does growing up mean growing apart?

In our last interview, you said your titles change a great deal over the course of writing a novel. Is this still true, and in what ways do the titles tend to adapt?

This has been true for all but one of my novels. Songs for a Teenage Nomad kept its title the whole way through – it was so deeply linked to the structure and heart of that novel that I can’t imagine it with a different title. With my other novels, different considerations went into the title decisions. As I wrote, each book changed shape on me. I discovered things about it, about its characters and tone and overall mood and these shifts changed the titles. Of course, then other important people chimed in: my agent, the editor, the publisher. It’s key that each book ends up with a title that feels like the best fit for the book that’s going out into the world.


Indeed it is. You also mentioned that THE WONDER OF US has multiple points-of-view. What was the most challenging part of weaving different narratives into the same timeline? 

With this novel, my editor and I knew from the start that this book needed both Riya’s and Abby’s perspectives. This is the story of how a life-long friendship started to fall apart and why. It proved more powerful told from both perspectives since the truth rests somewhere in between these two girls and their perceptions of things. Much of this novel explores how our distinct personalities and dreams impact our friendships. It’s obvious, but anytime there are multiple people involved, there can never be only one lens. It’s my favorite part about fiction – all these different world-views chiming in to tell a story. It’s also the biggest challenge as an author because it’s easy to let our own preferences and personalities slip in; you have to be vigilant about remaining true to your characters.


You definitely are--and Abby and Riya have unique, distinct voices. I also love how the WONDER OF US explores rebuilding what's been lost. If there was anything you could rebuild, real or imagined, what would it be and why?

When I allow myself to think about regret, it’s mostly things I haven’t said (although, sure, there are things that have been said that are regrettable, of course. Anyone who knows me well knows my filter misfires sometimes). But mostly, I wish I had said certain things to certain people who mattered to me, who impacted me powerfully in some way. Sometimes we don’t know things have shifted or changed until we deem it too late. That’s tough, because you might not even have an opportunity to remedy something. I think, though, that rebuilding something takes honesty and self-awareness and time –things that aren’t always in wide supply.


Very true. If you were stuck on a desert island with only four books, what would they be and why?

The Complete Works of Shakespeare (is that cheating?), a Richard Russo novel (probably Bridge of Sighs), The Humans by Matt Haig, and some sort of survival manual, preferably with a title like How to Survive on a Desert Island with only Four Books.

Ha, I love it! And Shakespeare definitely isn't cheating.


Buy: BookPassage ~ Amazon.com Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

This post can also be viewed here.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

THE LAST MAGICIAN by Lisa Maxwell

I met Lisa Maxwell at the Bay Area Book Festival, where I found out about her novel, THE LAST MAGICIAN. It debuts July 18, and the premise is knock-your-socks-off amazing:

Stop the Magician.
Steal the book.
Save the future.

In modern day New York, magic is all but extinct. The remaining few who have an affinity for magic—the Mageus—live in the shadows, hiding who they are. Any Mageus who enters Manhattan becomes trapped by the Brink, a dark energy barrier that confines them to the island. Crossing it means losing their power—and often their lives.

Esta is a talented thief, and she's been raised to steal magical artifacts from the sinister Order that created the Brink. With her innate ability to manipulate time, Esta can pilfer from the past, collecting these artifacts before the Order even realizes she’s there. And all of Esta's training has been for one final job: traveling back to 1902 to steal an ancient book containing the secrets of the Order—and the Brink—before the Magician can destroy it and doom the Mageus to a hopeless future.

But Old New York is a dangerous world ruled by ruthless gangs and secret societies, a world where the very air crackles with magic. Nothing is as it seems, including the Magician himself. And for Esta to save her future, she may have to betray everyone in the past.

According to your website bio, you are represented by Kathleen Rushall at the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. How did you know Kathleen was the right agent for you?

I knew that Kathleen was the right agent because I’d already had two other wrong ones. Kathleen is actually my third agent. I’d been represented by someone else for SWEET UNREST and then left him to find a new agent for UNHOOKED. Kathleen had offered for UNHOOKED, and when I talked to her about it, I had this gut feeling that she would be an amazing agent…and I picked someone else instead. At the time, she was still a newer agent and the other agent who offered was an agent known for making really big sales. I went with business instead of my gut instinct and I was so, so wrong. The other agent was great, but she ultimately decided not to take UNHOOKED on submission, even after multiple rounds of edits. So I left her and emailed Kathleen…hoping that she would still love the book.

Looking back, I should have gone with my gut instinct the first time around. When I talked with Kathleen on the phone for the first time those many years ago, it just felt right. She was completely professional, but she also felt like someone I could talk to and work with easily. More importantly, she loved my writing…not just the single story, but my writing as a whole. I remember her saying that from reading the first 50 pages of UNHOOKED, she knew I could write anything I wanted. And she knew she could sell it.

Kathleen is the best combination of completely supportive and optimistic, and a tough business woman who knows how to get me the best deal for my books. I wouldn’t want anyone else in my corner.

I'm glad you followed your gut! It offers a great reminder to the rest of us to do the same. THE LAST MAGICIAN weaves a beautiful story within a complex world. In what ways did it surprise you as you wrote it?

The thing that surprised me the most was how difficult it was to write. I know…from your question, anyone can tell this is an ambitious and complex story. But I’d been planning it for ages, I had written a 10 page, detailed synopsis of everything that would happen, and I’d done enough research so that I *knew* what Old New York was like. I knew the world, I knew my characters…I should have been able to just sit down and write it. But it didn’t work that way.

This book ate time. I would sit down to fix three pages and five hours later, I was still on the first page. There was something about it that was really difficult to nail down, right up until nearly the final draft. I’d never really had that experience writing a book. My first three (and another one I have shelved) wrote themselves pretty easily once I knew where I was going. This one? Not so much.

Some books take longer to get into the light from the darkness, and that often makes me want to read them even more. 
All your books have such great covers. What, in your opinion, are necessary elements a cover should have?

Oh wow. That’s a really hard question, and it makes me *really* glad that I’m not the one in charge of designing the covers for my own books :)

I think covers have to be visually striking in some way. I think they have to be something that people would want to pick up and then place on their shelves. I’m not sure I have any idea what components make that work—good colors or awesome images? I know that when I saw the cover for THE LAST MAGICIAN, I literally screamed. It felt so alive. I think that’s a big part of what makes a good cover—it intrigues the reader and makes them want to know more about what’s between the pages.

Definitely. What are some of your current projects?

I am hard at work on the sequel to THE LAST MAGICIAN. It has a name and a cover (!!!) that I cannot wait to share, because I think it’s even better than the one for TLM.

I’m also tinkering with a MG fantasy. I need to revise the beginning a bit so we can take it out on another round of submissions.


Pre-order/Buy: BookPassage ~ Amazon.com Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound





Buy: BookPassage ~ Amazon.com Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

This post can also be viewed here.