Category: Interviews

Young Adult Author Panel Interview with Jen Brooks, K.R. Conway, Lori Goldstein, Trisha Leaver, & Jen Malone

Give a warm welcome to these five lovely ladies–all Young Adult authors I had the privilege of sitting down with and interviewing. All five have new YA novels out, and through a series of really fun questions, I was able to learn more about their books, their favorite book universes, writing influences, and more. Trust me, you don’t want to miss their answers! Enjoy, and click on the titles to find out more about their books. You’ll find their full bios at the end of the interview.Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 10.17.44 AM



Lori Goldstein (BECOMING JINN)



And now, for the questions!

Describe your book as “this meets that.”

Jen Brooks: If I Stay meets Every Day (David Leviathan)

K.R. Conway: Goonies meets Jaws

Lori Goldstein: Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants meets Sabrina the Teenage Witch

Trisha Leaver: The Lying Game meets Vanishing Girls

Jen Malone: (Map to the Stars) This is What Happy Looks Like meets Catch a Falling Star

Biggest book or TV show or movie that influenced either your writing or this specific book?

Jen Brooks: Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse and Star Wars (writing)

K.R. Conway: Jaws, The Breakfast Club, and Saving Private Ryan (book)

Lori Goldstein: The Vampire Diaries (book)

Trisha Leaver: The Road by Cormac McCarthy (writing)

Jen Malone: Justin Bieber’s Never Say Never (book)

The Zombie Apocalypse is happening: which character from someone else’s book do you want with you and why?

Jen Brooks: Azra from Lori’s book Becoming Jinn

K.R. Conway: Celaena from Throne of Glass – that girl takes on Skin Walkers, so she sure as heck can deal with Zombies!

Lori Goldstein: Jonathan from Jen’s Book In a World Just Right

Trisha Leaver: Elizabeth Bathory (countess known for being a serial killer)

Jen Malone: Brienne of Tarth from Game of Thrones

What food would be the best accompaniment to your book?

Jen Brooks: Hot chocolate

K.R. Conway: S’mores (made with a  beachside campfire, or course)

Lori Goldstein: Chicken Tagine & Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Trisha Leaver: Pizza with Banana Peppers

Jen Malone: Crepes

What song would be the best accompaniment to your book?

Jen Brooks: Bridge over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel

K.R. Conway: For Undertow – Evanescence, Bring Me to Life
Stormfront – Gin Wigmore, Kill of the Night
Cruel Summer – Ane Brun, All My Tears
True North (upcoming 2016) – Royal Blood, Figure It Out

Lori Goldstein: Hey Ho by The Lumineers (reflects the arc of the story)

Trisha Leaver: Say Something by A Great Big World

Jen Malone: Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen (tone matches book)

Favorite “fandom”?

Jen Brooks: Harry Potter

K.R. Conway: STAR TREK, Battlestar Galactica, The Avengers, X-Files. Did I mention Star Trek???

Lori Goldstein: Game of Thrones

Trisha Leaver: Outlander

Jen Malone: Star Wars

What author would you totally fangirl?

Jen Brooks: J.K. Rowling

K.R. Conway: Sarah Maas!! Mad skills, woman!

Lori Goldstein: Rainbow Rowell

Trisha Leaver: Sarah Dessen

Jen Malone: Meg Cabot

What book universe would you choose to live in?

Jen Brooks: His Dark Materials

K.R. Conway: Harry Potter – I seriously need a Cloak of Invisibility and a snarky Sorting Hat. Like, now. I better not be relegated to a mere muggle though. I’d be pissed. Oh – and the flying car! I need that for tourist season desperately.

Lori Goldstein: Harry Potter

Trisha Leaver: The Cat in the Hat (colorful, fun, & everything cleaned up at the end of the day)

Jen Malone: From the Mixed Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

What ability/characteristic do you have that would help you survive if you were in your main character’s predicament?

Jen Brooks: Learns things quickly

K.R. Conway: Ummm . . . a sharp tongue and a morally compromised psyche???

Trisha Leaver : Chronic people watcher (watch what is going on and fill in the blanks)

Lori Goldstein: Organization

Jen Malone: I believe in happy endings (hope, optimism)

What are you reading at the moment? Or planning to read if you aren’t reading something at the moment?

Jen Brooks: Alive by Chandler Baker

K.R. Conway: Kiera Cass – The Heir; Sarah Mass, Heir of Fire; Katie O’Sullivan, Descent; Lance Rubin, Denton Little’s Death Date — My full TBR list can be found on YouTube here.

Lori Goldstein: Cruel Summer & Game of Thrones, Book 4

Trisha Leaver: The Boleyn Reckoning by Laura Anderson

Jen Malone: Judy Blume’s New Adult Novel, In the Unlikely Event; Exit Stage Left by Gail Nall (out in September)

What specialty drink do you like?

Jen Brooks: Water (with lemon)

K.R. Conway: Iced Mocha Latte from Nirvana Coffee in Barnstable, MA

Lori Goldstein: Earl Grey Tea with Vanilla & Sugar (Argo)

Trisha Leaver: Frozen Sangria Margarita

Jen Malone: Strawberry Banana Smoothie

Want to know more? Here are the bios for these five Young Adult Authors:

Jennifer Brooks was born and raised in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. After high school she matriculated at Dartmouth College to become a research scientist, but by the end of her sophomore year she felt a calling to the teaching profession. After graduation and fourteen years of teaching high school English, she answered a second calling to write full time while raising her new son. Her journey began with two theses for an MA and later an MFA in writing popular fiction at Seton Hill University. A competitive hurdler and jumper in high school and college, she coached thirty-one seasons of cross-country and track and field, which is why runners show up so frequently in her stories. Jen has also had a lifelong relationship with books–as a youngster checking out a dozen at a time from the library, and as an adult buying books to build her own personal library. She has always been attracted to the science fiction and fantasy genres and claims Star Wars is the single greatest fiction influence in her life. She also enjoys British literature and says Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse is her favorite book of all time, which is why lighthouses also make appearances in her stories. Running, Hiking, Traveling, and Gardening are Jen’s favorite activities when she’s not writing. She lives with her husband and son on the North Shore of Massachusetts where she writes from her office overlooking their little backyard pond.

K.R. Conway: I have been a journalist for 15 years and serve on the Board of Directors for the Cape Cod Writers Center and is a member of the SCBWI. I also drive a 16-ton school bus because I am ENTIRELY NUTS. In addition to working jobs that should come with a warning label , I hold a BA in Psychos (Forensic Psych), torment the tourists about Jaws, and occasionally jump from the Town Neck bridge in an attempt to reclaim my youth. I live on Cape Cod with two smallish humans who apparently are my kids, my fishing-obsessed husband, two canines (adept at both flatulence and snoring), and a cage-defiant lovebird that sleeps in a miniature tent. Nope – that’s not a type-o. The bird is quite the indoor camper.

Lori Goldstein: My debut novel, the Young Adult Contemporary Fantasy Becoming Jinn, is a modern spin on the traditional tale of wish-granting genies. It will be released on April 21, 2015, by Feiwel and Friends, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s. The sequel will follow in Spring 2016. I am represented by Lucy Carson of The Friedrich Agency. Too much of my day involves chatting books, obsessing over The Vampire Diaries, and perfecting the art of efficient writing through Twitter. Find me at @loriagoldstein and follow my blog at or my Tumblr at Like my author page on Facebook for fun book-related photos, tidbits, and happenings as well as news on Becoming Jinn.

Trisha Leaver lives on Cape Cod with her husband, three children, and one rather irreverent black lab.  She is a chronic daydreamer who prefers the cozy confines of her own imagination to the mundane routine of everyday life.  She writes Young Adult Contemporary fiction, Psychological Horror and Science Fiction and is published with FSG/ Macmillan, Flux/Llewellyn and Merit Press.

Jen Malone writes books for tweens and teens. Her debut middle grade novel At Your Service (Simon & Schuster) published in 2014. Next up is the co-written series You’re Invited (S&S, 2015 and 2016) and three young adult titles with HarperCollins, beginning with Map To The Stars (Summer 2015). Jen is the Author-in-Residence at a middle school outside Boston and has presented workshops at SCBWI conferences, the Baltimore Book Festival, Girl Scouts of America Adult Learning symposium, the Princeton Children’s Book Festival, the Writer’s Loft, Savvy Authors, and others. She also teaches creative writing to tweens at popular library and school workshops.

Thanks, Jen B., K.R., Lori, Trisha, and Jen M. for taking the time to answer these questions! You can go to each of their websites to see their events, but if you check out Trisha Leaver’s Events page, you’ll see that there are upcoming panels with this group, so plan to go out and see them!

What Katie Read

Interview with Miriam Spitzer Franklin, Author of Extraordinary (2015)

EXTRAORDINARY by Miriam Spitzer Franklin is on my list of top anticipated debuts for 2015, and I’m happy to say she’s visiting the blog today to chat about her book, writing, and as usual, donuts! Miriam’s novel is described on Goodreads as a “heartfelt, occasionally funny, coming-of-age middle grade novel” (that I happen to be reading at the moment!).


ABOUT THE BOOK: Last spring, Pansy chickened out on going to spring break camp, even though she’d promised her best friend, Anna, she’d go. It was just like when they went to get their hair cut for Locks of Love; only one of them walked out with a new hairstyle, and it wasn’t Pansy. But Pansy never got the chance to make it up to Anna. While at camp, Anna contracted meningitis and a dangerously high fever, and she hasn’t been the same since. Now all Pansy wants is her best friend back—not the silent girl in the wheelchair who has to go to a special school and who can’t do all the things Pansy used to chicken out of doing. So when Pansy discovers that Anna is getting a surgery that might cure her, Pansy realizes this is her chance—she’ll become the friend she always should have been. She’ll become the best friend Anna’s ever had—even if it means taking risks, trying new things (like those scary roller skates), and running herself ragged in the process.

Pansy’s chasing extraordinary, hoping she reaches it in time for her friend’s triumphant return. But what lies at the end of Pansy’s journey might not be exactly what she had expected—or wanted.

Extraordinary is a heartfelt, occasionally funny, coming-of-age middle grade novel by debut author Miriam Spitzer Franklin. It’s sure to appeal to fans of Cynthia Lord’s Rules and will inspire young friends to cherish the times they spend together. Every day should be lived like it’s extraordinary.Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 9.44.35 AM

  1. What inspired your story about Pansy’s journey to becoming extraordinary?

My niece, Anna, suffered a brain injury when she was two, after a high fever led to a stroke. I’ve always been amazed and inspired by the way her family accepted the challenges and focused on the joy that Anna brought to everyone. Even though their hopes and dreams for her had changed, they adjusted and learned that living with a child with severe special needs can be a gift that makes you view the world in a different way.

My original story was about a girl who considered herself “hopelessly average” and one morning she wakes up and decides it’s time to become an extraordinary person. In an early draft, Anna was only a minor character but I realized that the girls’ stories needed to be linked, and that Anna needed to be the reason Pansy wanted to become extraordinary.

  1. Pansy is pretty brave to cut off her hair herself in the first chapter of the book! We see pretty early on in the book how devoted she is to her best friend, Anna. This is inspiring and reminds me of how special those friendships in elementary school were! I know writers sometimes include aspects of themselves in their character. Is there any part of yourself as a young person that’s written into Pansy’s character?

For me, it’s pretty hard to create a character without including aspects of myself. I had a very special best friend in elementary school and when I moved away, it was difficult for me to make new friends. I also had a lot of fears, just like Pansy. My family didn’t camp when I was growing up, but if they had, I would have been scared to walk to the bathroom in the dark, same as Pansy. And don’t even mention those fuzzy spiders on the walls!

Another part of my personality that’s similar is that once Pansy set her mind to something, she didn’t give up no matter how difficult it was. I was a figure skater as a teen, and it didn’t come easy to me. I once flunked the same figures test (with judges and everything) NINE times. But I finally passed, with good scores. 🙂

  1. Was there real-life inspiration for Miss Quetzel’s character?

I think Miss Quetzel came from my own experiences as a new fifth grade teacher. I wanted to motivate the students any way I could, and I was always setting up incentives and rewards so students would try their best. I also wanted to make sure the rewards were accessible to all students, especially the ones who struggled with academics and/or behavior.

  1. Did your own experiences as an elementary and middle school teacher shape the writing of this book?

My own experiences definitely shaped the story. As a teacher, I’ve worked with children who treated others with kindness, persevered despite challenges, and were full of spirit and heart. Although they weren’t the top students or the most talented in the typical ways that get noticed, they had extraordinary gifts that others may not have recognized. Working with these children inspired me to create Pansy’s character.

  1. There seem to be many children’s books being published in the last few years that deal with death of friends/family or serious illness. Some adults say this is good, as it reflects the fact that young people do have to face these topics in their own lives while others might say that it’s better to provide literature for children that is always uplifting and happy. How would you respond to this debate?

I think there’s a place for a wide range of books in children’s literature, from fun and entertaining to serious and thought-provoking. But I think that books with serious topics are important because children facing some of these issues need to know they’re not alone and that their feelings are perfectly normal. I also believe that a story for children can be both sad and uplifting, and I hope readers will laugh during parts of my story and that they’ll be cheering for Pansy by the end of the book.

  1. What was the most difficult aspect of writing Extraordinary?

The most difficult part was immersing myself in Pansy’s feelings while trying to write a book with a positive, upbeat tone. Originally, I wrote the story so that Anna’s brain injury occurred five years before the book begins. I didn’t know if I would be able to write the story from the point of view of a ten-year-old girl whose best friend had just become brain damaged because I knew how heartbreaking that could be. But I realized that if I wanted Pansy’s motivation in the story to make sense, I needed to start where her quest begins. I also knew that Pansy’s acceptance and healing were an important part of the character arc, and that I had to dive in and write the story I was meant to write.

  1. What was something you learned through the process of writing this book?

Since I wrote and rewrote this book over a period of TEN years, I’d say I learned A LOT about characterization, plotting, and voice. One thing I definitely learned is that publishing a book is a slow business and that even though you think the waiting will kill you, somehow you’ll get through it!

8. We often have readers of the blog who are aspiring writers. What are three pieces of advice you would offer to aspiring writers of children’s or young adult fiction?

Read as much as you can in your genre.

Reach out to other writers. Your critique partners are the ones who will truly understand what you’re going through. They’ll be there to offer hugs when you need them and to celebrate with you every step of the way.

As my third grader says, “The only way you fail is if you quit.” You can always put a manuscript aside for awhile, but if you believe in the story, it’s worth getting professional feedback and rewriting for as many times as it takes. There are people- writers who meant well when they told me to put this manuscript in a drawer and move on to something else. But I knew that Pansy’s story needed to be told, and if I’d listened to them, EXTRAORDINARY wouldn’t be headed out into the world today.

  1. Are you working on any future projects at the moment? Can you tell us anything about them?

I have a few middle grade projects, all in various stages of revision. All of the stories are contemporary and character-driven.

  1. One thing I love to ask authors who visit the blog: Favorite kind of donut? Or, if you don’t like donuts, favorite dessert?

Powdered sugar mini-donuts. Though if it were up to me, I’d pick a chocolate chip cookie over any other dessert anytime!

Thank you so much, Miriam, for visiting the blog! EXTRAORDINARY releases on May 5th, and you’ll see my review of the book next week on the blog. You can visit her website here.

You can buy the book here.

Thanks so much, Katie, for the interview!

What Katie Read

Interview with Anne Blankman—Prisoner of Night and Fog and Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke Countdown

I’m excited and honored to host one of my favorite YA authors to work with–Anne Blankman–again on the blog for an Exclusive Interview featuring the NINE MOST INTERESTING FACTS she uncovered during her research for her books that you won’t find anywhere else. Enjoy! (Warning: Tomorrow I’ll be sharing my review of CONSPIRACY OF BLOOD AND SMOKE and I’ll be giving away one copy of the book!!)

conspiracy of blood and smoke

From Anne: One of my favorite parts of writing historical fiction is doing research. Sometimes, though, it’s the most frustrating—especially when I find a fascinating detail I can’t use. Maybe my character wouldn’t know the information, or it’s an event that occurs after my story’s time frame. I ran into this problem a lot while working on Prisoner of Night and Fog and its sequel, Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke (out on April 21st!). So today I’ve decided to share the top nine most interesting facts I uncovered that didn’t make it into the books.

  1. In Prisoner of Night and Fog, Gretchen, the main character, learns that Adolf Hitler lived in Vienna when he was a teenager, but she can’t find out anything about his time there. The reason Hitler shrouded his Vienna years in secrecy? For part of them, he was homeless.

  2. Hitler’s father was born Alois Schicklgruber. When he was forty, he took on his adoptive father’s last name, Hiedler, which somehow ended up as Hitler.

  3. Hitler’s half-nephew, Patrick, loathed his uncle and immigrated to the United States in the late 1930s. During World War Two, he fought for the U.S. Navy.

  4. Patrick’s younger half-brother was Hans Hitler (they had the same father, Hitler’s older half-brother, Alois, Jr.) Hans fought for Germany. He was captured by Russian forces and allegedly tortured to death.

  5. Currently, Patrick’s sons live under new names in the United States. As young men, they vowed not to have children, believing the Hitler line should die out with them.

  6. During the 1920s, Germany suddenly experienced a surge in serial killers. Infamous examples include Carl Grossmann, Fritz Haarmann, aka the “Butcher of Hanover,” and Peter Kürten, the “Vampire of Düsseldorf.”

  7. A minor character in Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke is “Iron Fist” Friedrich Walter, the head of a Ringverein, the gangs in Berlin’s organized criminal underworld. Iron Fist may be fictitious, but he was inspired by a real-life gangster, “Muscle Adolf” Lieb. Muscle Adolf spent about a decade in various concentration camps and, amazingly, managed to survive the war. By the 1950s, he was once again committing crimes, such as robbery and fraud schemes.

  8. Hitler’s favorite movie was King Kong.

  9. This isn’t a historical fact, but it is a secret that was never revealed in either Prisoner or Conspiracy: In both of these books, there’s a hidden meaning behind each of the fictional characters’ names. For example, remember Gretchen’s sadistic Nazi brother, Reinhard? His name means “fox.” And Adolf means “sacred wolf.” I wanted to tie these two predatory characters together. Think you can figure out the secrets behind the other fictional characters’ names?

Did any of you know that Hitler’s favorite movie was King Kong?

And imagine that the sons of Hiter’s nephews live in the U.S. under new names?!? Fascinating!

So we have some of our own “research” we can dive into with the names of the characters. I love that Anne infused such significance into the character names.

Thank you for sharing these interesting facts you uncovered, Anne! As usual, it’s a pleasure to host you on the blog.

If you missed the first time Anne visited Bookish Illuminations, you can see that post here.

You can also read my review of Prisoner of Night and Fog here.

anne blankman

BIO: Anne Blankman may have been meant to be a writer because her parents named her for Anne of Green Gables. She grew up in an old house with gables (gray, unfortunately) in upstate New York. When she wasn’t writing or reading, she was rowing on the crew team, taking ballet lessons, fencing and swimming. She graduated from Union College with degrees in English and history, which comes in handy when she writes historical fiction.

After earning a master’s degree in information science, Anne began working as a youth services librarian. Currently, she lives in southeastern Virginia with her family. When she’s not writing young adult fiction, she’s playing with her daughter, training for races with her husband, working at her amazing library branch, learning to knit (badly), and reading.

Anne Blankman is the author of PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG, the first in a three-book deal slated for publication on April 22, 2014 from Balzer + Bray | HarperCollins. The sequel, CONSPIRACY OF BLOOD AND SMOKE, comes out on April 21, 2015, and a standalone novel will be released in 2016. Anne is represented by Tracey Adams of Adams Literary.

You can visit Anne’s website here.

What Katie Read
%d bloggers like this: