Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Liselle Sambury!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

Today we’re chatting with Liselle Sambury, the author of

BLOOD LIKE MAGIC

After years of waiting for her Calling—a trial every witch must pass in order to come into their powers—the one thing Voya Thomas didn’t expect was to fail. When Voya’s ancestor gives her an unprecedented second chance to complete her Calling, she agrees—and then is horrified when her task is to kill her first love. And this time, failure means every Thomas witch will be stripped of their magic.

Voya is determined to save her family’s magic no matter the cost. The problem is, Voya has never been in love, so for her to succeed, she’ll first have to find the perfect guy—and fast. Fortunately, a genetic matchmaking program has just hit the market. Her plan is to join the program, fall in love, and complete her task before the deadline. What she doesn’t count on is being paired with the infuriating Luc—how can she fall in love with a guy who seemingly wants nothing to do with her?

With mounting pressure from her family, Voya is caught between her morality and her duty to her bloodline. If she wants to save their heritage and Luc, she’ll have to find something her ancestor wants more than blood. And in witchcraft, blood is everything.

Let’s talk to this brilliant author about her fabulous book!
This is Liselle. Everyone say, “Hi, Liselle!”

Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Liselle! Why don’t we start with some introductions – tell us about yourself!

I’m a Trinidadian-Canadian author and describe my brand of writing as “messy Black girls in fantasy situations.” Blood Like Magic is my debut novel.

What was the inspiration behind BLOOD LIKE MAGIC?

I really just wanted to write a fun witch story and thought it would be interesting to set it in Toronto. I was living away from my hometown at the time and felt really homesick, so setting the story in Toronto was a way to feel more connected to my city. Overall, I wanted to create the sort of Black girl led fantasy I would have loved to read as a teen.

What were you doing when you found out there was an offer on your book?

I was at work! I used to do social media marketing at a travel company, and I was just doing my usual thing when my phone lit up from my agent about hopping on a call. I immediately ran off to call her, because I knew we had interest from my now editor Sarah. I thought it was going to be a call saying we were going to second reads aka that more people at the publisher were going to read it first and maybe it could go to an editorial meeting, but it ended up being an offer. So, it was a very happy surprise.

Love that!

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on BLOOD LIKE MAGIC?

I learned a lot about my own family history and how they went from being enslaved in the United States, to being given land in Trinidad and Tobago, to immigrating to Canada. I learned what rotten sugar cane tastes like (I needed to describe it in the book) first from my grandma’s account and then accidentally from personal experience. And finally, I learned quite a bit about slavery practices in Canada that were very much concealed in my education.

How did you tackle the world building with BLOOD LIKE MAGIC? Was there one key aspect that you built everything else around or did it grow organically from the plot or something else entirely?

I initially did not plan any world building which I came to regret later. I had the idea that they needed to use blood to use magic, and that otherwise they would have a gift that didn’t require blood. I basically ran with that, and I added rules as I went, and edited things that didn’t work. It was the same with the DNA modification in the book. I essentially just ran with the idea that there now existed a machine that made simple modification of genes in living humans possible, and like the magic, built things as I went on. I would not recommend this method because I had to do a lot of editing, but that’s how it came together.

Sometimes a book just wants to take a twisty-turny path on its way to being finished, right? 😀

If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?

This is hard because so many fantasy worlds are terrible, and I’m already so mean to my characters. I feel like I owe it to my main character Voya to transport her to the world of Like Home by Louisa Onomé. It’s set in a neighbourhood very near Toronto, and it’s got this wonderful group of friends that I feel like she would love, since her friends are basically just her family members. I also think she would enjoy the break from non-magical conflict and would appreciate helping Chinelo in standing up for her neighbourhood. Like Home very much examines the reputation of certain neighbourhoods and how they can be treated like moveable objects instead of real people. I think that’s definitely something Voya could get behind and that she would be happy to do everything in her power to help out.

Any hints about your next book project?

I am working on the sequel to Blood Like Magic, which I won’t chat much about because there would be so many book one spoilers, but I will say that I’m excited about it. I also have a young adult novel called Butcherbirds coming in 2023 which has a mysterious inherited mansion, family secrets, complicated mother-daughter relationships, and ghosts.

So excited for both of those!

What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?

To me, the most surprising thing has been the genuine and strong connections that I’ve made with other authors along my journey. When I first joined the writing community, I truly didn’t expect that—writing is a solitary activity after all. But the friendships that I’ve made as I’ve gone along on my journey have been the thing that has played the biggest role in me not giving up, in me fighting to get my stories published, and in helping me through bad times and hyping me in good times.

What are you reading right now?

Right now I’m reading the physical book of Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas, which is a spooky Peter Pan inspired fantasy, and on audio I’m listening to Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire because I’ve heard so much about this series and I had to try it out for myself.

What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?

Focus on what you can control—the writing.

In this industry, it’s very easy to get caught up in things like wanting to be on lists, or featured in blogs, or getting into a book box, etc. Almost all of that, you don’t have control over, and so it can be so frustrating or devasting when you don’t get any of those accolades that you wanted. It’s very easy to get consumed by those things. But when you focus on writing the best book possible, that’s something you have full control over. Now, I always say to myself “you wrote the best book you could” and move on, and good things that happen are great, but I can’t freak out if something I wanted doesn’t come because I already did the work. I already did my best. My job from now is to do that on the next book, not obsess over what I did or didn’t achieve with the first. I just find that attitude to be very freeing.

Such good advice and one of the most important things to always try and remember!

Thank you so much for joining us, Liselle!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out BLOOD LIKE MAGIC!
It’s on shelves now!

Add BLOOD LIKE MAGIC on Goodreads!

Connect with Liselle on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, or through her website!

Click here to enter to win a copy of BLOOD LIKE MAGIC!
Contest ends Friday, June 18th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Reem Faruqi!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

Today we’re chatting with Reem Faruqi, the author of

UNSETTLED

When Nurah’s family moves from Karachi, Pakistan, to Peachtree City, Georgia, all she really wants is to blend in, but she stands out for all the wrong reasons. Nurah’s accent, floral-print kurtas, and tea-colored skin make her feel excluded, and she’s left to eat lunch alone under the stairwell, until she meets Stahr at swimming tryouts. Stahr covers her body when in the water, just like Nurah, but for very different reasons.

But in the water Nurah doesn’t want to blend in: She wants to stand out. She wants to win medals like her star athlete brother, Owais—who is going through struggles of his own in America—yet when sibling rivalry gets in the way, she makes a split-second decision of betrayal that changes their fates.

As Nurah slowly begins to sprout wings in the form of strong swimming arms, she gradually gains the courage to stand up to bullies, fight for what she believes in, and find her place.

Let’s talk to this outstanding author about her phenomenal book!
This is Reem. Everyone say, “Hi, Reem!”

Welcome to Kick-butt Kidlit, Reem! Tell us about yourself!

Hi Casey! I’m Reem. I’m Pakistani, live in Atlanta, and have three daughters. My writing career started off with my picture book LAILAH’S LUNCHBOX. I’m honored that it’s gotten awards and done so well. My other books are AMIRA’S PICTURE DAY, my debut middle grade novel UNSETTLED, and an upcoming picture book I CAN HELP. I love writing lyrical stories that reflect my experiences.

What was the inspiration behind UNSETTLED?

Like Nurah, I immigrated to Peachtree, Georgia. Unlike Nurah I moved from Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates whereas Nurah moves from my country of origin, Pakistan. Since this experience was similar to mine, it felt natural to write what I knew. I also wanted to write about an immigrant experience that felt true to me.

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on UNSETTLED?  

  1. The power of memory was one thing that struck me while writing this book since it’s loosely based on my life experiences. I can be scatter minded and forgetful, but lots of my stories that I remembered vividly came back to me. I moved when I was thirteen years old, and those experiences shaped who I am today. Interestingly my brothers read my book and had questions about specific experiences and wanted to clarify who said/who did what! It’s fascinating what experiences stay with you and how each person remembers things differently!
  2. This was my first middle grade book and I had never done copyediting before; it’s so hard and tedious and I celebrated when that stage was over. I also was surprised how many people come together for a middle grade book – cover art designer and illustration, interior art, copy-editing, publicity, marketing, editing, seeing pass pages, going through an arc, aah!
  3. How peaceful and therapeutic swimming can be. Nurah loves to swim and when writing this story, I felt like I connected with her and refreshed my mind by swimming laps, lots of them!

The differences in sibling memories is so funny and so true!

If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?

I feel like Nurah would connect with Jude from OTHER WORDS FOR HOME by Jasmine Warga as they both move to the US. I also think she’d connect with Reha from RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE by Rajani La Rocca as Nurah also has two parts of her, one Pakistani side and one American. I like to think they’d all be friends.

What’s your go-to method to get yourself in the writing mood? Do you have a specific writing spot or special snack? How do you get the words flowing?

I wish I had fun answers for these, but the writing process can be monotonous.

My go-to method is sitting down by my laptop and opening up Microsoft Word. When I get tired of the screen, I try to use a journal and a fancy pen (I like the Sharpie S-Gel 0.7 mm one) if I have one nearby. I love brainstorming with pen and paper although sometimes when I write too fast, I can’t read my writing!

My specific writing spot is my desk nook in the kitchen facing the wall. I like to sit in my usual spot – I find that helps me since I find it hard to write in other places. In the pandemic, I found another writing spot by my upstairs window. I like to write in those two spots in my house. I’ve never been a writer who likes to write in coffee shops. I would get too easily distracted. I also like the smell of coffee but not the taste so I don’t drink coffee. Also, at home I already have too many distractions, but I try to work with my children around.

For a special snack, I don’t really have one, but I’m lucky if I can get a handful of chocolate chips from the freezer. I freeze them because I have really bad self-control. 🙂

Yes! Sometimes taking pen to paper is the best way! I hear you on the trying to decipher your own handwriting problem though, haha!

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

I wasn’t! I did not want to write middle grade for the longest time. I have to credit my two earlier agents Ilse Craane and Kendra Marcus who encouraged me to write middle grade because they thought I had the voice for it.

I was a picture book writer and wanted to write and work with children who are shorter than me:  I’m 5 feet and three quarters. I was an elementary school teacher and taught second graders.

However, I looooved reading middle grade books and that’s what I exclusively read. I was (and still am!) in awe of middle grade writers.

I attempted my book UNSETTLED in prose, then converted it to verse, and loved that format so much more. It felt much less intimidating to me than a prose novel in middle grade. Now, I enjoy writing middle grade!

Any hints about your next book project?

Gold! … and a character who risks everything to help her family.

Ooooh, I think you’re going to have everyone intrigued by that hint!

What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?

  1. How long it takes – Unsettled took me 4 years (I took lots of breaks in between, gave up many times, and had a new baby – who’s now 3 years old!) 
  2. How the right editor and agent can make a difference for your manuscript(s). I’ve loved working with my agent Rena Rossner and HarperCollins editor Alyson Day.
  3. How short it takes – after writing Unsettled, my other novel in verse GOLDEN GIRL took me a few months so that was refreshing. I also recommend having an outline before writing, something I learned the hard way!

What are you reading right now?

Right now, I’m enjoying THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN by Katherine Applegate and TWINTUITION by Tia and Tamera Mowry. Also some bedtime stories by Enid Blyton that I had as a child! I also recently finished and loved STARFISH by debut author Lisa Fipps. I tend to read a few books in a go.

What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?

YOU are your best advocate. Try to speak up when you want something a certain way. It doesn’t hurt to ask for something. Lastly, you only fail when you fail to try.

Absolutely!

Thank you so much for joining us, Reem!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out UNSETTLED!
It’s on shelves now!

Add UNSETTLED on Goodreads!

Connect with Reem on Twitter, Instagram, or through her website!

Click here to enter to win a copy of UNSETTLED!
Contest ends Friday, June 4th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Payal Doshi!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

Today we’re chatting with Payal Doshi, the author of

REA AND THE BLOOD OF THE NECTAR

It all begins on the night Rea turns twelve. After a big fight with her twin brother Rohan on their birthday, Rea’s life in the small village of Darjeeling, India, gets turned on its head. It’s four in the morning and Rohan is nowhere to be found.

It hasn’t even been a day and Amma acts like Rohan’s gone forever. Her grandmother, too, is behaving strangely. Unwilling to give up on her brother, Rea and her friend Leela meet Mishti Daadi, a wrinkly old fortune-teller whose powers of divination set them off on a thrilling and secret quest. In the shade of night, they portal into an otherworldly realm and travel to Astranthia, a land full of magic and whimsy. There with the help of Xeranther, an Astranthian barrow boy, and Flula, a pari, Rea battles serpent-lilies and blood-sucking banshees, encounters a butterfly-faced woman and blue lizard-men, and learns that Rohan has been captured. Rea also discovers that she is a princess with magic. Only she has no idea how to use it.

Struggling with the truth her Amma has kept hidden from her, Rea must solve clues that lead to Rohan, find a way to rescue him and save Astranthia from a potentially deadly fate. But the clock is ticking. Can she rescue Rohan, save Astranthia, and live to see it all?

Let’s talk to this tremendous author about her terrific book!
This is Payal. Everyone say, “Hi, Payal!”

Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Payal! Why don’t we start with some introductions – tell us about yourself!

Hi Casey! Thank you so much for having me! I’m Payal Doshi and I’m from India. I was born and raised in the city of Mumbai where I lived until I was 27 years old before moving to the U.S. to pursue my MFA in Creative Writing from The New School, NY. Prior to that I had studied business management, worked in advertising, then magazine publishing, and only after all that did I realize I was happiest when I was writing stories! I love writing middle grade fantasy books with South Asian protagonists and South Asian inspired settings.

What was the inspiration behind REA AND THE BLOOD OF THE NECTAR?

When I sat to write this book, I wondered if Lyra Belacqua, Harry Potter, and Nancy Drew can have incredible adventures, why can’t a girl from India have them too? As a kid, I loved to read but I never saw myself in books. A girl like me never got to be the hero, have magic, or save a realm. I wanted to change that. So, I decided to write a fantasy story rooted in Indian culture that had kids from India who went off on thrilling adventures and became heroes! It’s a story I would have loved to read as a kid and one in which I saw myself.

Diverse representation, especially South Asian representation, is a mission close to my heart. I believe all kids should see themselves represented in books because each kid should know that they can be the heroes of their own stories. I want South Asian kids to feel seen when they read my book, feel joy and pride for their culture, and know that their stories deserve to be celebrated. At the same time, I wanted to write a story that all kids would enjoy regardless of color, race, nationality, and culture. So, there’s a mystery that needs solving along with an exciting quest, a ticking clock, dark family secrets, unforgettable friendships, a fantastical world, and my favorite, magic!

It sounds like an amazing story!

What were you doing when you found out there was an offer on your book? (We love these stories here at Kick-butt Kidlit!)

I was at the salon getting a manicure! I was new mom at the time. My daughter was a year old, and my manuscript had received rejection after rejection. I was heartbroken, tired, and sleepy, and I told my husband I needed a giant dose of self-care. So, off I went to get my nails done! As the nail technician was working on my hand, my phone buzzed. Having left my husband alone with my daughter, I imagined (insert mom-guilt here!) a catastrophe had taken place. So, I awkwardly reached over, apologized for hitting my manicure-in-process hand and clumsily unlocked my phone. And there it was—an email from the publisher at Mango and Marigold Press saying she loved my book and wanted to set up a call. I gently placed my phone back down and grinned so widely that I’m sure anyone who saw me must have wondered if I was okay! My heart had never beaten that fast before!

What a great moment!

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on REA AND THE BLOOD OF THE NECTAR?

1) My first draft which I wrote nearly ten years ago, all 70,000 words of it, was written with white characters who lived in the English countryside. I hadn’t realized how much the books I read (and loved) as a kid—books with white kids in western countries—had subconsciously trained my mind into thinking that those were the only types of stories people wanted to read, not stories about kids who looked like me.

2) I’m a 80% plotter and 20% panster and I love researching and outlining!

3) I’m not a writer who can successfully do writing sprints or churn out a large chunk of words. I’m a ‘take each day as it comes’ kind of writer and I don’t set word goals. I’m thrilled if I get 500 words or 1500 words in day – it’s not about how many words I can write in a session, it’s about trying my best to write everyday or as often as I can, which sometimes can be only once or twice a week.

If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?

My first thought is to have them transport into The Chronicles of Narnia or His Dark Materials, but I’m thinking my characters have already had a lot of adventures and near fatal quests so maybe I’d have them vacation in the world of Anne of Green Gables! They’d get to visit Canada, meet incredible kids like Anne, Diana, and Gilbert, and enjoy the peaceful and gorgeous countryside. Ultimately though, I would want them to end up in Darjeeling and Astranthia because I know that’s where they will be the happiest!

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

My desire to write for children came instinctively. I believe it’s because I was a young middle schooler when I fell in love with reading. As I writer of fantasy fiction, I love that a child’s mind is free of the constraints and boxes that we, as adults, put ourselves and others into. Kids are ready to suspend belief, be taken on adventures, and are eager for new stories, new worlds, and new perspectives. They have that glorious child-like wonder! And as I mentioned before, I wanted South Asian kids feel seen in books and at the same time I wanted to add to the message that any kid from any part of the world can love and enjoy these stories and relate to the characters. We are unified by the human experience and despite our different backgrounds, we share similar hopes, dreams, and fears.

Any hints about your next book project?

I’m currently writing the sequel to Rea and the Blood of the Nectar which is planned for a Fall 2022 release! I can tell you that there is a new character with many shades of grey, who I hope readers will enjoy reading about!

Oooooh, sounds intriguing!

What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?

The most surprising part of my publishing journey came after 2 years of querying when I’d reached the point where I had accepted that my book was not going to find any takers. I was utterly heartbroken, but I found the courage to come up with a new story idea and write an outline. Three days after, I received an offer from my publisher. The lesson I learnt was that I was so focused on selling REA that it embodied whether I considered myself a success or a failure. And in the glaring light of failure, I realized my passion was writing stories, so if one book didn’t work out, I would try with another and keep going.

What are you reading right now?

A Wolf for a Spell by Karah Sutton.

What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?

My favourite piece of kick-butt advice is to never give up on yourself. And to aspiring writers out there it’s to keep writing until they reach that final period. First drafts are notoriously hard to write and are meant to be terrible but it’s much easier to mold a fully written story than to keep revising and perfecting what has been written only to have an incomplete manuscript by the end of it.

Very wise words!

Thank you so much for joining us, Payal!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out REA AND THE BLOOD OF THE NECTAR!
It hits shelves on June 15th!

Add REA AND THE BLOOD OF THE NECTAR on Goodreads!

Connect with Payal on Twitter, Instagram, or through her website!

Click here to enter to win a copy of REA AND THE BLOOD OF THE NECTAR!
Contest ends Friday, May 21st at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Graci Kim!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

Today we’re chatting with Graci Kim, the author of

THE LAST FALLEN STAR

Riley Oh can’t wait to see her sister get initiated into the Gom clan, a powerful lineage of Korean healing witches their family has belonged to for generations. Her sister, Hattie, will earn her Gi bracelet and finally be able to cast spells without adult supervision. Although Riley is desperate to follow in her sister’s footsteps when she herself turns thirteen, she’s a saram–a person without magic. Riley was adopted, and despite having memorized every healing spell she’s ever heard, she often feels like the odd one out in her family and the gifted community.

Then Hattie gets an idea: what if the two of them could cast a spell that would allow Riley to share Hattie’s magic? Their sleuthing reveals a promising incantation in the family’s old spell book, and the sisters decide to perform it at Hattie’s initiation ceremony. If it works, no one will ever treat Riley as an outsider again. It’s a perfect plan!

Until it isn’t. When the sisters attempt to violate the laws of the Godrealm, Hattie’s life ends up hanging in the balance, and to save her Riley has to fulfill an impossible task: find the last fallen star. But what even is the star, and how can she find it?

As Riley embarks on her search, she finds herself meeting fantastic creatures and collaborating with her worst enemies. And when she uncovers secrets that challenge everything she has been taught to believe, Riley must decide what it means to be a witch, what it means to be family, and what it really means to belong.

Let’s talk to this superb author about her incredible book!
This is Graci. Everyone say, “Hi, Graci!”

Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Graci! Why don’t we start with some introductions – tell us about yourself!

Hi Casey! I’m Graci Kim, the author of THE LAST FALLEN STAR. I’m a Korean-Kiwi author based in Auckland, and I write magic-infused books for magic-infused readers.

What was the inspiration behind THE LAST FALLEN STAR?

There were several things that inspired THE LAST FALLEN STAR, one of which was my love for my two younger sisters. The three of us are wildly different but we are best friends. My relationship with them inspired Riley and Hattie’s unbreakable sisterhood in the book. The folktales and myths that my parents and halmeoni (grandma) told us when we were little also inspired the book. In fact, one of the origin myths about the Korean peoples—about a bear and a tiger who wished to become human—became the foundation for THE LAST FALLEN STAR. Lastly, my experience growing up as an Asian diaspora kid in a Western country, and often feeling stuck between my two identities inspired Riley’s journey of self-discovery in the book.

What were you doing when you found out there was an offer on your book?

I had just gotten my bloods taken (and already feeling a little faint…) and I was literally lying on a clinic bed getting a 12 week scan on my pregnant belly when the message came through. Talk about an emotional moment!!

Oh, wow! Definitely!

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on THE LAST FALLEN STAR?

Three of the realisations I had while working on THE LAST FALLEN STAR:

(1) Wow, work doesn’t feel like work when you’re doing something you love. How did I just sit here for 12 hours straight, just writing? I think this is what I was born to do…

(2) Is this a dream? Someone please pinch me. Argh wait, no! If this is a dream, don’t let anyone wake me up! Let this be for real!

(3) Um, how is Rick Riordan human?

If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?

I have this unusually vivid image of all the characters in the Rick Riordan Presents series getting together and taking a summer camp trip to the Percy Jackson universe. It would be utter chaos. Can you imagine the drama? The monsters? The quests? Riley and the crew would LOVE it. Yes, if only…

That would be AMAZING!!! Where do we sign the petition to make this happen? Such a good idea! 😀

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

I actually fell into writing middle grade, and have counted my lucky stars for it since! The Last Fallen Star started off as a YA book, and Riley was an almost sixteen-year-old girl. Then when my agent took the manuscript out on submission, one editor gave us a Revise & Resubmit request, asking if I’d be willing to age it down to a middle grade. I gave it some thought, and realised it was the best thing I could do for Riley and her story. The rest is history. 🙂

Any hints about your next book project?

There are, of course, the sequels to The Last Fallen Star that are currently in the works. But my very next book project may in fact be in a completely different age category….

Oooh, exciting! Can’t wait until you can share more!

What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?

Just how many incredible people it takes to publish a book. You see a book and you see the one name on the cover, usually. But it takes many teams of people working tirelessly behind the scenes to make a book come to life. I am so much more appreciative of this now than I ever was before, and I’m so grateful for my team over at Disney Hyperion for all the incredible support they have given me.

What are you reading right now?

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong. Just started. Eeek, I think I’m going to be a wreck.

What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?

Never forget that you, too, have a voice. You, too, deserve to be heard. If you have a story to tell, don’t let anyone tell you what you can and cannot share. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. Don’t forget to dream big! The future is ours. 🙂

Absolutely! Love that!

Thank you so much for joining us, Graci!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out THE LAST FALLEN STAR! It’s on shelves now!

Add THE LAST FALLEN STAR on Goodreads!

Connect with Graci on Twitter, Instagram, the Gifted Clans website, or her author site!

Click here to enter to win a copy of THE LAST FALLEN STAR!
Contest ends Friday, May 7th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Kaela Rivera!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

Today we’re chatting with Kaela Rivera, the author of

CECE RIOS AND THE DESERT OF SOULS

Living in the remote town of Tierra del Sol is dangerous, especially in the criatura months, when powerful spirits roam the desert and threaten humankind. But Cecelia Rios has always believed there was more to the criaturas, much to her family’s disapproval. After all, only brujas—humans who capture and control criaturas—consort with the spirits, and brujeria is a terrible crime.

When her older sister, Juana, is kidnapped by El Sombrerón, a powerful dark criatura, Cece is determined to bring Juana back. To get into Devil’s Alley, though, she’ll have to become a bruja herself—while hiding her quest from her parents, her town, and the other brujas. Thankfully, the legendary criatura Coyote has a soft spot for humans and agrees to help her on her journey.

With him at her side, Cece sets out to reunite her family—and maybe even change what it means to be a bruja along the way.

Let’s talk to this terrific author about her splendid book!
This is Kaela. Everyone say, “Hi, Kaela!”

Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Kaela! Why don’t we start with some introductions – tell us about yourself!

Hi, everyone! Thanks for having me. So, I’m Kaela Rivera, author of CECE RIOS AND THE DESERT OF SOULS, and daughter of Mexican-American and British parents. I’ve been a myth, legend, and overall fantasy nerd since I was a child. I started out on books my Nan in England sent me on Celtic and Norse mythology and eventually hunted down more obscure legends and stories from the Americas that I also adore. Growing up, I hunted the woods by my home with a wooden bow and arrow I’d made myself, hoping to find a fantastic adventure. When I grew up, I decided to write them into existence instead. 

What was the inspiration behind CECE RIOS AND THE DESERT OF SOULS?

CECE was inspired by a couple things intersecting at just the right time in my life, around the end of 2016 and early 2017. I’d recently reconnected with my Mexican side of my family, and my abuelo’s stories of growing up in northern Mexico in the 1920s-1930s really inspired me and helped me feel connected to that part of my culture. At the same time, I’d been mulling over an idea–how would we treat people if we could physically hold their souls in our hands?–and I suddenly realized I could pair the two together in a sister-rescue adventure that could double as a love letter to my abuelo’s stories. Soon enough, the earliest draft of CECE was born. 

We love hearing stories about ‘The Call’ here on Kick-butt Kidlit. What were you doing when you found out your book had sold?

Hah! Great question–it’s kind of a funny story. I was at my day job, editing marketing copy like I do, and it was about lunch time. I saw my agent’s call pop up on my phone and dashed to the nearest windowed stairwell (with a wonderful view of a lake, I might add) because I knew we were waiting to hear back about how acquisitions went. I held my breath and accepted the call. It was good news–I started gasping as my agent, Serene, told me the acquisitions loved it and wanted to make an offer–but a caveat quickly followed.

See, originally, CECE RIOS AND THE DESERT OF SOULS was written as a YA. And the HarperChildren’s team loved the story, but they thought they could sell it better in the MG fantasy market. So my agent proposed to me their idea. That quickly sent my excited mind sideways into deliberation mode. I’d always wanted to write middle grade books (and had already written a few), but I had thought publishing one would be farther into the future, and I’d never changed a book from one age group to another like that before. My agent gave me a couple days to think about it, and my editor and I had a call soon thereafter to talk about what MG changes would look like. Fortunately, we landed on a great place, and I started to get excited about what the MG version of CECE would look like. 

So once I accepted, HarperChildren’s made the official offer for a future-MG version of the book, and then I let myself get excited as the contract was finalized. My mom and I went out to dinner, I had some special chocolate desserts (I almost never get desserts out at dinner restaurants, so I assure you, this was a moment of great luxury), and I soaked in all the excitement I’d been storing up. It was a beautiful day, and a beautiful process, and I’m still immensely grateful for every part. 

Oh, wow! What a great story! That sounds like it was an exciting time!

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on CECE RIOS AND THE DESERT OF SOULS?

I learned so many weird and fun facts while researching for Cece’s adventure! Here are some of the most interesting ones I can remember off the top of my head: 

   1. In case you were wondering, hawks do, in fact, eat chickens. The reasons I had to research that were mostly revised out of the book, but I will always have this mostly useless information in my head now.

   2. Most places in the world during the 1920s and 1930s did not have automobiles. In fact, it was really only the USA, England, and a few sparse areas in northwestern Europe that did, and it was only the wealthy who could afford them. So if you’re ever reading historical books set outside the USA during this era, you probably won’t see a lot of the things you associate with the era, like early automobiles, early electric lights, etc. 

   3. Mariachi outfits are actually glamorized and modernized versions of charro outfits, which were worn by Mexican horseman in the seventeenth century (and the inspiration for a lot of American cowboy styles, too). They were originally outfits born out of necessity because the Spanish ruling class had strict rules about what lower classes were allowed to wear, but they transformed into a symbol of national pride and identity centuries later, around the early 1900s. Cool, right?

If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?

My first instinct is to say other books I’ve written because I’d love to see how my main characters all interact together. It would be hilarious! But I realize that’s a little self-indulgent, so I’ll pick something else. It’s hard to narrow down, though! On one hand, I’d love to see how Cece and Coyote got along with Leonora and her sisters from Anna Meriano’s Love, Sugar, Magic series, but then I’d also love to see Cece bond with Eva from Julie Abe’s Eva Evergreen: Semi-Magical Witch because I think the girls would really get each other. I’d even like to see her and her criatura friends interact with characters from a gritty YA because I’d love to see how Cece’s kindness could soften hardened hearts. There are too many fun possibilities!

I guess I’ll just have to satisfy myself with doing a big piece of multi-dimensional fanart depicting Cece hanging out with other witches and brujas. 

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

While CECE wasn’t initially a middle grade book, I’ve always loved writing middle grade stories because there’s greater room in that age group to capture the beautiful place where hope and hardship live together in people’s hearts. I love keeping magic alive and welcomed, and talking about the difficult things kids have to face. As you grow older, and the books get older alongside you, I’ve always felt like we lose a bit of the wonderful, bright hope, as if we think it’s no longer as realistic. But it is. It brilliantly, bravely, still is. Like C.S. Lewis once said, “some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” And he was right. There’s just so much room for magic to breathe alongside rough reality, in middle grade books. It’s perfect for the children of that age who deal with difficulty amid their hopes. And I crave that balance even as an adult.

Beautifully said and very true.

Any hints about your next book project?

Why, yes! So imagine–this is just a hint, right?–another adventure in Cece’s world. But this time, into Devil’s Alley, and this time, the secret entrance will close in just a few days, and this time, the true villain hides in the shadows and pulls all the right strings.

I have another project going on, this one a YA, which will center on blood, flower magic, and an Aztec-inspired fantasy kingdom with a thousand-year secret.

Follow my Instagram or Twitter for more hints and updates!

What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?

Hmm–I think transforming CECE from a YA to an MG was the thing that surprised me the most. At first, I thought I’d have to do the MG revision as a rehaul before HarperChildren’s would make an offer, since they hadn’t read any of my MG work yet. I didn’t know they could just stipulate that in the contract, and I definitely didn’t know they would trust me to do it. But they did, and I did, and I was grateful and excited for the opportunity!

That definitely counts as a pretty big and excellent surprise!

What are you reading right now?

Right now, I’m reading the second book in Anna Meriano’s Love, Sugar Magic series (Loving it! I can’t get enough of the sisters!), an ARC of The Last Windwitch by Jennifer Adams (Storm horses! A hedgewitch! So cool!), and the latest volume of Space Boy by Stephen McCranie (a Sci-fi interstellar love story thriller graphic novel series I can’t say enough good things about). 

What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?

Savor good things. That sounds straightforward, but especially in an industry like publishing, we often get distracted by all that needs to be done, stress over our fears and our inadequacies, and get disappointed or exhausted by things outside our control. But there is so much power in gratitude. It’s not always easy, but it’s one of the best ways to take care of yourself–and even to teach yourself to be a better writer. When you take time to savor the good things in your life, or a quiet moment in your present, or all of that and more, you give yourself inspiration fodder. That fodder can be transformed into beautiful writing, like straw into gold, that can then become a good thing someone else savors. So then it grows. 

Isn’t that a lovely thing to think about? 

It is!

Thank you so much for joining us, Kaela!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out CECE RIOS AND THE DESERT OF SOULS!
It’s on shelves now!

Cover illustration by Mirelle Ortega and cover design by Catherine Lee

Add CECE RIOS AND THE DESERT OF SOULS on Goodreads!

Connect with Kaela on Twitter, Instagram, or through her website!

Click here to enter to win a copy of CECE RIOS AND THE DESERT OF SOULS!
Contest ends Friday, April 23rd at 11:59 pm EST

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Jenn Bishop!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!

Today we’re chatting with Jenn Bishop, the author of

WHERE WE USED TO ROAM

When Emma starts sixth grade, things finally begin to change. She may still be in the shadow of her older brother, Austin, the popular high school quarterback, but she’s made artsy new friends who get her way more than her bookish best friend, Becca.

But things are changing for Austin, too. After undergoing surgery for a football injury, Austin has become addicted to opioid painkillers. By the end of the school year, everything blows up with Austin—and Becca. When their parents decide to send Austin to rehab and Emma to stay with family friends in Wyoming for the summer, Emma seizes the chance to get away.

Wyoming turns out to be a perfect fresh start, especially after Emma makes friends with Tyler, a kindred spirit who doesn’t judge her—then again, he doesn’t know what she did to Becca. Still, Emma can’t hide forever…or go back to the way things were with Austin or with Becca. But can she find a way to confront the truth and move forward?

Let’s talk to this delightful author about her excellent book!
This is Jenn. Everyone say, “Hi, Jenn!”

Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Jenn! Tell us about yourself!

Thanks so much for having me! I’m a middle grade author based in Cincinnati, Ohio. All four of my novels (The Distance to Home, 14 Hollow RoadThings You Can’t Say, and Where We Used to Roam) are contemporary stories about kids with big hearts in tough situations.

What was the inspiration behind WHERE WE USED TO ROAM?

I knew I wanted to write something set in Wyoming, but it took me a while to figure out what the story was. Let’s just say this book looked very different at draft 1, 8, and the finished copy. It’s also inspired by something that was unfolding around me both in New England, which I’d just left, and Ohio, where I had just moved — the opioid epidemic.

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on WHERE WE USED TO ROAM?

A lot of the things I discovered while working on this book were craft-related — as well as lessons about myself. I learned that sometimes setting something aside for a little while is the only way to figure things out. I learned that it’s okay to completely re-write your book after the 9th draft — especially if you have good reasons and a plan. And I learned that some characters can get in the way of what you are trying to do and the only thing you can do is cut them out (and it’s okay because they’re fictional!).

That setting things aside lesson is KEY!

This is your fourth book! For our aspiring authors reading this, what are some tools that you use to help create a different voice with each new book?

This is something I am still actively working on. I think the biggest part is getting to know your character. It can take a while, and it certainly does for me — longer, it seems, with each subsequent book. But if you put in the time to consider the totality of a character–how they fit into their family, their personal history, how their friendships or lack thereof have shaped them, etc. — you will end up with a person. And just like how each person has a unique voice, so will your character.

If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?

Ooh! You know, I’ve recently read a few MGs that have characters who would make great friends for Emma, the protagonist from Where We Used to Roam: Izzy from Jennifer Blecher’s Stick with Me and Georgia from Caroline Gertler’s Many Points of Me. Izzy and Georgia are both artists and would be real kindred spirits with Emma.

That sounds like an excellent crossover!

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

Middle grade books were the books that cemented my status as a reader. I fell in love with reading stories that made me feel big feelings, which is what the middle grade books I read as an upper elementary student did.

Any hints about your next book project?

While nothing’s been officially announced yet, I think it’s safe to say that I will have a fifth book coming out, tentatively in 2023. It’s a return to the sports world for me: a basketball-centered story set in Cincinnati with multiple POVs. I’m deep in the revision cave with it at the moment, just peeking my head out every now and then for fresh air.

Oooh, intriguing! Can’t wait to hear more when you can share!

What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?

This is a hard answer, but in truth, it’s the attrition along the way. I have met so many writers with more talent than me who have given up or simply not had the same opportunities or luck. There’s a lot of failure in publishing, for everyone: so many more no’s than yeses, even many books into a career. Never mind everyone’s on their own journey — some with more luck than others. What looks like a drought can appear to be fertile ground years later. I’ll be curious to see what the middle grade landscape looks like five, ten, twenty years down the road.

What are you reading right now?

I have been on a nonfiction kick lately — right now reading two different grownup books: Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolkar and Sometimes You Have to Lie by Leslie Brody. The latter is a biography of Harriet the Spy author Louise Fitzhugh and the former chronicles an American family with 12 children, 6 of whom develop schizophrenia. I’ve developed a real interest in psychology-related nonfiction in recent years. Up next is Christina Soontornvat’s All Thirteen.

What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?

Read! Read in your genre, but read outside of your genre too. Reading enriches us as writers, but it also can help give us some of the raw material we need for our stories. And in times like these, it can be such a comfort to settle into a good book. It doesn’t just feed your mind; it feeds your soul.

Yes, yes, yes! Exactly this. 😀

Thank you so much for joining us, Jenn!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out WHERE WE USED TO ROAM!
It’s on shelves now!

Add WHERE WE USED TO ROAM on Goodreads!

Connect with Jenn on Twitter or through her website!

Click here to enter to win a copy of WHERE WE USED TO ROAM!
Contest ends Friday, April 9th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Lisa Fipps!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!
Today we’re chatting with Lisa Fipps, the author of
STARFISH

Ever since Ellie wore a whale swimsuit and made a big splash at her fifth birthday party, she’s been bullied about her weight. To cope, she tries to live by the Fat Girl Rules–like “no making waves,” “avoid eating in public,” and “don’t move so fast that your body jiggles.” And she’s found her safe space–her swimming pool–where she feels weightless in a fat-obsessed world. In the water, she can stretch herself out like a starfish and take up all the room she wants. It’s also where she can get away from her pushy mom, who thinks criticizing Ellie’s weight will motivate her to diet. Fortunately, Ellie has allies in her dad, her therapist, and her new neighbor, Catalina, who loves Ellie for who she is. With this support buoying her, Ellie might finally be able to cast aside the Fat Girl Rules and starfish in real life–by unapologetically being her own fabulous self.

Let’s talk to this marvelous author about her fantastic book!
This is Lisa. Everyone say, “Hi, Lisa!”

Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Lisa! Why don’t we start with some introductions – tell us about yourself!

I’m so glad to be joining you! I’m a Hoosier. Haven’t heard that word before? It means someone from Indiana. I graduated from Ball State University with a bachelor’s in journalism. Then I was a reporter, editor, and page designer for companies in Indiana and Texas. Being a journalist allowed me to hone my writing and editing skills. It also gave me an ear for authentic dialogue, plenty of ideas for characters, and the skills to design my own flyers, bookmarks, etc., which helps a lot. I transitioned out of journalism and into marketing several years ago. I’m currently the director of marketing for a public library, in addition to being an author of middle-grade novels.

Oh, wow! Very cool that you’re bringing all of those different experiences to your writing!

What was the inspiration behind STARFISH? And what made you decide to write it as a novel-in-verse?

Starfish was the book I needed when I was a kid. I was fat and bullied relentlessly. I wish someone would have told “Little Lisa” that she didn’t deserve to be treated like that, that she could stand up for herself, that she had a right to be seen and heard. I also wish I would have known how to reach out to get help to deal with all the emotions I felt. Since Starfish wasn’t on library and bookstore shelves when I was little, I wrote it. I write in free verse because that’s how stories come to me. It allows me to tell a story packed full of emotion but with few words.

We love hearing stories about “The Call” here on Kick-butt Kidlit. What were you doing when you found out your book had sold?

My “call” moment is a bit different than most. My agent, Liza Fleissig with Liza Royce Agency, pitched Starfish to Editor Nancy Paulsen. I’d written Starfish as a young adult novel. Nancy asked if the three of us could talk on the phone. During the call, Nancy said she thought I should rewrite Starfish as a middle-grade novel. She said if it were middle-grade that I’d be able to reach the kids who are being bullied while they’re being bullied and be able to give them the tools they needed to deal with it. And maybe, just maybe, I’d also reach the bullies and get some of them to stop. Nancy’s a genius that way. She’s such an expert in children’s literature. I’m blessed beyond measure to work with her. I agreed to rewrite it, and she bought the book.

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on STARFISH?

I realized even the tiniest change can have a huge impact. I tend to write tight, because of my years as a journalist. But through Nancy and the copy editors, I found even more ways to tighten, tighten, tighten. I learned a lot about the book publishing industry’s way of editing. It’s different than journalism. Journalists use the Associated Press style guide. A lot of those rules are all about saving space. For example, journalists use numbers when it comes to 10 and up. Publishing uses the word ten, etc. And I learned that there’s always something to learn. And I like that. I have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge about anything and everything.

That’s such a good way to be!

If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?

Wow! Fun question! I think I’d want Ellie, Viv, and Catalina to be in a novel for adults, to see what their lives are like when they’re in their thirties. When I create characters, they live on in my head, in my life. I’d like to know how they’re doing, what they’re up to, how they’ve made their mark in the world.

As someone who always wants to check in with characters and see how they’re doing, I would love that!

Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?

I’m drawn to writing. Period. But what I like about middle-grade, in particular, is that kids don’t tolerate bad writing. An adult might keep reading a book even if it gets boring in spots or doesn’t ring true because they want to see how it ends or they’ve paid good money for the book. Kids won’t. So, you have to up your game as a writer if you want to write for kids.

Any hints about your next book project?

Stay tuned for an exciting announcement. But what I can say is that I’m always working on books. Note the plural. I have several going at one time.

Oooh, exciting! Can’t wait until you can share the details!

What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?

Journalism is incredibly competitive. You keep everything you know a secret. You want to get the scoop. Have the edge. But fellow authors are so willing to share tips that help them with agents, editors, writing, marketing, etc. It’s a community. I love that.

What are you reading right now?

I bought a copy of any ALA Youth Media Award nominee or winner that I didn’t already own, so my to-be-read pile is quite lengthy, at the moment. I’m also going to be a panelist for several upcoming events, so I’m reading books by my fellow panelists. I tend to read primarily middle-grade novels, a smidge of YA, and then some books for adults. When it comes to books for adults, I usually read nonfiction. Right now, I’m reading I Never Said I Loved You by Rhik Samadder, A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby K. Payne, and Art of Memoir by Mary Karr. I choose books based on research I’m doing for middle-grade books, what I’m dealing with as a person, or just because it’s something I don’t know yet. I’m a bit eclectic when it comes to books and music.

What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?

I print or write down every good thing people say about my writing. I place it in a jar. Then, whenever I start to doubt myself or life is kind of crummy, I go through them. I’m inspired. Encouraged. Refueled.

Love that idea!

Thank you so much for joining us, Lisa!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out STARFISH!
It’s on shelves now!

Add STARFISH on Goodreads!

Connect with Lisa on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or through her website!

Click here to enter to win a copy of STARFISH!
Contest ends Friday, March 26th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Angela Ahn!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!
Today we’re chatting with Angela Ahn, the author of
PETER LEE’S NOTES FROM THE FIELD

Eleven year-old Peter Lee has one goal in life: to become a paleontologist. Okay, maybe two: to get his genius kid-sister, L. B., to leave him alone. But his summer falls apart when his real-life dinosaur expedition turns out to be a bust, and he watches his dreams go up in a cloud of asthma-inducing dust.

Even worse, his grandmother, Hammy, is sick, and no one will talk to Peter or L. B. about it. Perhaps his days as a scientist aren’t quite behind him yet. Armed with notebooks and pens, Peter puts his observation and experimental skills to the test to see what he can do for Hammy. If only he can get his sister to be quiet for once—he needs time to sketch out a plan.

Let’s talk to this wonderful author about her delightful book!
This is Angela. Everyone say, “Hi, Angela!”

Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Angela! Why don’t we start with some introductions – tell us about yourself!

Thanks for inviting me, Casey! My name’s Angela Ahn. My family immigrated from Korea to Canada in the early 70’s. I grew up in Richmond, BC and Vancouver, BC and except for 2 years in Hong Kong, and 2 years in Toronto, Vancouver has always been home.

I went to UBC for many, many years and earned many, many degrees, some of which have proven useful. 

I am married with two kids, and probably couldn’t survive without my coffee machine. 

What was the inspiration behind PETER LEE’S NOTES FROM THE FIELD?

I won’t repeat it here, but in the acknowledgments section at the back of the book, I tell a long, potentially tragic, but ultimately uplifting story about a girl (my daughter), and her stuffed dinosaur which was purchased at the gift shop at the Royal Tyrrell Museum. For one long day, we thought the aforementioned dinosaur was lost, but turns out it actually was just unceremoniously jammed into a drawer. I know it sounds crazy, but that dinosaur was the spark for this story. 

Love when ideas come from the most unexpected places!

Your main character, Peter, has dreams of being a paleontologist. What was your dream job when you were a kid?

I’m not trying to elicit sympathy here, but I honestly do not remember dreaming of being anything. Perhaps I had no imagination, or if I’m getting truly introspective here, I suspect it was because as a child of immigrants, I think our family tended to focus on practical ambitions, like “Get a good job!” It was more a question of what on earth am I decent at, and how can this translate into a job? I always did well in social sciences in school, so guess what, I did a double-major in English and History. What can you do with that degree? High school teacher! I only lasted 5 years. Just because you’re a good student in a subject doesn’t mean you can actually teach it. 

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on PETER LEE’S NOTES FROM THE FIELD?

I learned about asthma. I have an acquaintance who had a child with asthma and she didn’t know it at the time, but when she was talking about her son’s health, I listened intently because I knew I was writing this character who had asthma. I ultimately got a writer friend, Sophie Gonzalez, who has asthma herself, to read an almost completed draft so she could offer comments to add more authenticity to Peter’s experience. 

I had to re-learn a lot about dinosaurs. At one point, I’m not bragging here, but I was kind of an armchair expert. My kids were obsessed so we watched a lot of documentaries on dinosaurs, and had a lot of information books. But as their interests changed, those books started to collect dust. I even gave some away! (I regretted that decision, I must say.) So I had to reacquaint myself for the book. 

Lastly, I learned that writing is definitely not a solo effort. It takes, not a village, but maybe a very large family of people helping you along the way. 

If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?

I think L.B. would have her mind blown if she could travel between parallel worlds like in The Golden Compass. Peter would probably fit right in with the trio of boys in Mrs. Bixby’s Last Day as they fumble around together to try and do something sweet for a beloved teacher. 

Why are you drawn to writing middle grade?

I guess I’m not the most mature 40-something mom out there. I love the voice of a tween, what can I say? I’m a kid at heart.  

Any hints about your next book project?

Maybe not realistic contemporary? Wait and see!  

Ooooh, exciting! Looking forward to when you can share more!

What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?

I never realized how hard it would be to actually hear what people think about my books. Reviews are the best and the absolute worst. I’m a Gemini. 

What are you reading right now?

I just finished Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston–amazing. I won’t give away the big twist at the end, but it’s the kind of book that just compelled me to finish it as soon as possible. I am in the middle of a Whale of the Wild  by Rosanne Parry now, and there is this scene that reminded me so much about the real story from, I think 2018, of the orca that kept the body of her dead calf afloat for over 2 weeks that’s just very heartbreaking. 

What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?

 My first book was published when I was 45 years old. It was the first children’s book I had ever attempted. Don’t think there is a straight-line for your own individual creative journey. 

Love that! And it’s so important to remember.

BONUS QUESTION: What is your favourite dinosaur?

Brachiosaurus! (Must read the acknowledgements section of the book to find out why I’m deeply attached to this kind of dinosaur).  

Thank you for joining us, Angela!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out PETER LEE’S NOTES FROM THE FIELD!
It’s on shelves now!

Add PETER LEE’S NOTES FROM THE FIELD on Goodreads!

Connect with Angela on Twitter, Instagram, or through her website!

Click here to enter to win a copy of PETER LEE’S NOTES FROM THE FIELD!
Contest ends Friday, March 12th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Nadia L. Hohn!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!
Today we’re chatting with Nadia L. Hohn, the author of
MALAIKA’S SURPRISE

When Malaika finds out she is going to have a new baby brother or sister, she worries that her mother will forget about her. But a surprise arrives on Malaika’s birthday that gives her reason to celebrate her family’s love.

It’s summertime, and Malaika and Adèle are enjoying playing carnival in their bright costumes, dancing and laughing in the sunshine. But when Mummy announces that they will soon have a new baby brother or sister, Malaika is unsure how to feel about another change in her family. Will Mummy forget about me?

Back at school, Malaika is excited to see her teacher and classmates, and makes friends with a new girl who has recently arrived from a faraway country, just like Malaika. Then on her birthday, a surprise arrives to remind Malaika of the importance of family, and the story ends with a celebration of her family’s love.

Let’s talk to this fantastic author about her lovely book!
This is Nadia. Everyone say, “Hi, Nadia!”

Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Nadia! Why don’t we start with some introductions – tell us about yourself!

I was born and live in Toronto. I am a Black Canadian author and educator of Afro-Jamaican descent. I am an MFA student in Creative Writing at the University of Guelph. I am a vegetarian, musician, aspiring illustrator, and multilingual. I love to watch artsy films, cook, work out, and can’t wait to travel once this quarantine is over.

MALAIKA’S SURPRISE is the third book in the Malaika series. What was the inspiration behind Malaika’s latest adventure?

This book began as two separate stories. Then it became one. And then two. I began to conceive the idea of a third Malaika book during my year of teaching in the UAE in 2016. There, I experienced the hospitality of this Muslim country. As a Christian and a Westerner, it was a shift to a different cultural centre and norm. I was living in the UAE when the Quebec mosque shooting took place and it was upsetting. I wondered how this event might have Malaika and her family have responded to given that they live in Quebec City. Because I had already done some research and interviews among Black people living in Quebec City for Malaika’s Winter Carnival, I had an idea that many new immigrants felt in terms of isolation and I can imagine more so now given Bill 21.

I had also decided that I wanted the new character to be Muslim and Somali given that there was an absence of Somali-Canadian characters in Canadian children’s books. While the illustrations were being completed for Malaika’s Surprise in 2019, the Somali-Canadian journalist Hodan Nalayeh was tragically killed. I had seen Hodan speak and just before I had moved to the UAE, after my going away dinner, we had a short chat. I had just gone through my divorce. At the time, Hodan was both a single mom and divorced but very positive. She basically said I should give her a call and, “We should talk” as she had a lot of advice to share. I saw Hodan as an ally, like the character in my book, who was telling me it would all be okay. Sadly, the conversation never took place. Malaika’s Surprise is partly dedicated to her.

The story also reveals some of the feelings I had about my youngest sister being born (the book is also dedicated to her) and the importance of fathers.

The Malaika books are illustrated by Irene Luxbacher. What’s it like seeing your characters come to life in the illustrations? Did you get to see sketches along the way?

It’s an exciting part of the process. Irene works in mixed media so the advanced sketches I saw were also mixed media, a little less detail than what’s in the final product. I enjoyed it and it’s kind of fun to see how Irene takes my words and interprets them, especially since this book is so full of surprises.

If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?

I am not sure if you mean putting Malaika into another book but I do imagine Malaika in other genres. I have been working on a play for a few years now and I would love to see it as a short series or film on Netflix, for example. Just putting it out there.

That would be amazing!

What do you love most about writing picture books? What’s the most challenging part?

I love that you can say a lot in 1, 000 words or less with pictures. I have a Masters degree in equity studies and look at the world with an antiracist lens. So, if you look at my articles, I write explicitly about inequities in the children’s book industry, for example. However, in a picture book and even children’s non-fiction, I need to break down big ideas into poetry, music, and ideas that are accessible for the young reader.

Any hints about your next book project?

I just signed a book with Orca. It will be an anthology of sorts. I don’t want to say too much about it yet. I have a few picture books down the pipeline and editing my middle grade novel. Stay tuned!

Oooh! Lots of exciting stuff on the horizon!

Some people like to write while listening to music or when they have a hot beverage in hand or at their favourite spot in a cozy chair. What’s something that always helps you get settled into a writing session?

I tend to write a lot while in my bed while wrapped in my comforter. My secret is out now. I do some of my writing at my desk but usually that’s when there is a deadline. Lol.

Ha!

Are you a pantser or a plotter? What are some of your favourite methods you’ve come up with to tackle writer’s block?

I tend to be a pantser. I admire the plotters though as that seems to be the one I wish I could do more of. I may need to do more plotting for my middle grade book though.

Some of my favourite methods I’ve come up with to tackle writer’s block– just start somewhere. I set a 30 minute timer and sometimes I’ll just read my work. Or, I’ll boldface the title of the chapters. Or I’ll Google search the topic. I just try to do something that will move my story a long further.

What are you reading right now?

I proposed a directed reading course as part of my MFA program, so I am reading all young adult books about Black girls. I am currently reading Facing the Sun by BC based author, Janice Lynn Mather.

What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?

My favourite piece of kick-butt advice is by author Toni Morrison: If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.

Evergreen advice!

Thank you for joining us, Nadia!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out MALAIKA’S SURPRISE!
It’s on shelves now!

Add MALAIKA’S SURPRISE on Goodreads!

Connect with Nadia on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or through her website!

Click here to enter to win a copy of MALAIKA’S SURPRISE!
Contest ends Friday, March 5th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!

Kicking Back with Kick-butt and Louisa Onomé!

Welcome to Kicking Back with Kick-butt!
Today we’re chatting with Louisa Onomé, the author of
LIKE HOME

Chinelo, or Nelo as her best friend Kate calls her, is all about her neighborhood Ginger East. She loves its chill vibe, ride-or-die sense of community, and her memories of growing up there. Ginger East isn’t what it used to be, though. After a deadly incident at the local arcade, all her closest friends moved away, except for Kate. But as long as they have each other, Nelo’s good.

Only, Kate’s parents’ corner store is vandalized, leaving Nelo shaken to her core. The police and the media are quick to point fingers, and soon more of the outside world descends on Ginger East with promises to “fix” it. Suddenly, Nelo finds herself in the middle of a drama unfolding on a national scale.

Worse yet, Kate is acting strange. She’s pushing Nelo away at the exact moment they need each other most. Nelo’s entire world is morphing into something she hates, and she must figure out how to get things back on track or risk losing everything⁠—and everyone⁠—she loves.

Let’s talk to this awesome author about her amazing book!
This is Louisa. Everyone say, “Hi, Louisa!”

Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Louisa! Why don’t we start with some introductions – tell us about yourself!

Hey! I’m Louisa Onome, and I’m a writer based in the Toronto area. My debut young adult contemporary, Like Home, is all about friendship, family, and what it really means to change. When I’m not writing, I moonlight as a therapist (I know, the shock!) and can usually be found hanging with friends (pre-pandemic, anyway) or glued to my PlayStation. 

What was the inspiration behind LIKE HOME?

Like Home was inspired by a slew of things, but first and foremost, I had really wanted to write a story that depicted the kind of childhood closeness I had with friends growing up. I was fortunate enough to live on a street where the kids on my street were all close friends. Each of us were kids of immigrants, so our experiences differed based on where our parents were from, but we had so many similarities trying to navigate our environments. And then, of course, the catalyst for me actually writing the book was this Korean drama I watched called ‘Reply 1988’. It broke me! The relationships on that show reminded me so much of my own upbringing and it made me want to try my hand at writing a story like that.

Love that!

What were you doing when you found out there was an offer on your book? (We always love these stories!)  

Ha! I am notoriously always frying plantain or trying to cook something oily whenever important publishing news comes out. I distinctly remember tweeting something ridiculous (as I normally do) and then, immediately after, my editor emails me with the announcement and I had to tweet that. So both tweets back to back definitely looked like they belonged to different people, but I’m cool with that because it just proves we all contain multitudes!

What were three interesting things you discovered while working on LIKE HOME?

Oh I love this question! The main thing that I discovered while writing Like Home is that I can tell a story that is authentic to my own experience, to a world I am familiar with, and people will still connect with it. Prior to Like Home, I wrote four other manuscripts, none of which anyone will ever see because they just weren’t very good. But something that stuck out to me in those old attempts is that I wasn’t being myself. I was writing protagonists I had no business writing, and I was writing about things I didn’t even truly care about. Once I got rid of the idea of what was acceptable for me to write, and once I really tapped into things that matter to me, it became so much easier to write this story.  I also discovered that I enjoy writing friend fights and I swear a lot more than I thought I did.

What an invaluable discovery! (But also laughing about the swearing thing. 😂)

If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?

I would love to put them in a fantasy setting, so maybe the world that Roseanne A. Brown created in A Song of Wraiths and Ruin! It’s so rich and the folklore feels so real.

Why were you drawn to writing YA?

I love YA because of its freshness. Personally, when I was that age, it was the last time anything was new. You could conceptualize and experience firsts in a way that is hard for me to do the older I get. I think a part of me wants to always remember what that feels like, and reading and writing YA is such a thorough way of reliving those emotions. On another level, I just love how creative YA can be and how we can explore so many difficult themes in a variety of ways.

Any hints about your next book project?

Yes! My next project is also a YA contemporary, currently titled Model Minority. It’s about a Nigerian-Canadian girl who is caught between both aspects of her culture, the Nigerian culture she is born into and the Western culture she was raised in. At its core, it’s a story about identity and how we put these labels on ourselves that may hurt us more than help us. There is also a love triangle, which I’m having a lot of fun writing. It’s scheduled to come out spring 2022 and I’m so excited for readers to experience aspects of my personal culture.

Looking forward to it!

What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?

I shouldn’t be surprised, but I still am every time I meet a new, supportive writer. The community is so cool and I’ve found that there’s always someone willing to help when you need it. 

What are you reading right now?

Right now, I have the immense pleasure of reading Courtney Gould’s The Dead and the Dark. It comes out August 3 and it’s so haunting! Literally hooks you from the first page.

What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?

My favourite piece of advice is pretty simple: Keep going. I know that can mean a lot of things to different people, and truly it all depends on your perspective as well, but when I say keep going, I mean continue writing, continue learning, and continue growing. The journey only stops if you do!

One hundred percent! So true!

Thank you for joining us, Louisa!

Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out LIKE HOME!
It hits shelves on February 23rd!

Add LIKE HOME on Goodreads!

Connect with Louisa on Twitter, Instagram, or through her website!

Click here to enter to win a copy of LIKE HOME!
Contest ends Saturday February 20th at 11:59 pm EST

Thanks for reading!