just a girl trying to find her place

interview: justina chen


Brianna Soloski: A Blind Spot for Boys deals with blindness, something that doesn’t seem to show up too often in novels, especially for young adults. What inspired you to come up with that story line?

Justina Chen: While exploring Machu Picchu, I—being a nosy (I mean, inquisitive) writer—asked our guide about some of his more unusual clients. He immediately told me about a blind man who had hiked the entire Inca Trail. Even with someone at his side at all times, it was harrowing and hard, but ultimately such an accomplishment. That story captivated me, especially since I had been thinking about the different blind spots we all have, whether for boys or our own foibles.

Brianna: What is your writing process like? Are you a plotter or do you wing it?

Justina: I am a devout vision boarder. Before I begin any writing project, I create a collage, which becomes my personal north star for the book. I carve out an entire day or two to find images that call to me, echoing and foreshadowing the novel’s heart, arc, and meaning. The imagery helps me find my way to my character at a deeper level. Only after the vision board is done can I get down to the business of plotting the major scenes in the book. I leave a lot to my imagination as I write, but I know the beginning and the end. Those rarely change from inception to completion.

Brianna: What are you currently working on?

Justina: I have a secret project in the works—another YA contemporary, which I can’t talk about since it’s in that magical dream stage. And I have a fantasy series that’s been gestating quietly over the last five years.

Brianna: What was it like when you got the call or email that your first book was going to be published? Where were you?

Justina: Can you say, excited? My legs got so quivery, I sank to my office floor and stayed there for so long that my legs were imprinted with the texture of the rug. As soon as I got off the phone with my agent, I burst into big, fat, soppy, happy tears.

Brianna: What advice would you offer a budding author?

Justina: Repeat after me: endurance. This business is all about endurance—endurance in writing, rewriting, rewriting again (and again), getting published, rewriting some more, and marketing. The entire process takes so much longer than one would think. But hang in there because readers who need your words and worldview are out there. There’s nothing like getting a message from a reader who says, “For the first time in my life, I feel beautiful looking at myself in the mirror.” Or who says, “I wish I could time travel this book to myself.” Or who says, “Your books make me a better person.” So keep working your story. The world awaits!

Brianna: Just for Fun: If you could travel to any time period, past or future, when would it be and why?

Justina: The future. Absolutely the future! Aren’t you curious to see if we humans can finally get our act together and clean up the world? Make it truly a better place? Yes, I’m an idealist, and proud of it.

Disclaimer: I participated in this interview with BookSparks PR. I was given all the materials, but no other compensation was provided.

spotlight: a blind spot for boys


About the book: Sixteen-year-old Shana Wilde is officially on a Boy Moratorium. After a devastating breakup, she decides it’s time to end the plague of Mr. Wrong, Wrong, and More Wrong. Enter Quattro, the undeniably cute lacrosse player who slams into Shana one morning in Seattle. Sparks don’t just fly; they ignite. And so does Shana’s interest. Right as she’s about to rethink her ban on boys, she receives crushing news: Her dad is going blind. Quattro is quickly forgotten, and Shana and her parents vow to make the most of the time her father has left to see. So they travel to Machu Picchu, and as they begin their trek, they run into none other than Quattro himself. But even as the trip unites them, Quattro pulls away mysteriously… Love and loss, humor and heartbreak collide in this new novel from acclaimed author Justina Chen.

Buy the book: Amazon Kindle | Amazon Hardcover

About the author: Justina Chen is the acclaimed author of young adult novels including A Blind Spot for BoysReturn to MeNorth of Beautiful, and Nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies), which won the Asian Pacific American Award for Youth Literature. She is a co-founder of readergirlz, the online book community for teens, and lives in the Seattle area with her two children.

Connect with Justina: Facebook | Twitter | Website | Goodreads

Disclaimer: I participated in this spotlight with BookSparks PR. I was given all the materials, but no other compensation was provided.

spotlight: no weddings



Synopsis: Award-winning author Kat Bastion teams with her husband, Stone Bastion, in this first book in the No Weddings Series about Cade Michaelson, a successful man with his sights set on a new venture in business, and Hannah Martin, the woman who makes it personal. I think I have my act together as a successful bar owner, my master’s degree within reach, and a list of no-strings-attached women warming my bed. Turns out, I don’t. Hannah believes she has safeguarded her wounded heart by shunning men and focusing on her new baking business. The thing is, she hasn’t. When my three sisters and I form an event-planning business with Hannah as our baker, I have no idea how my life is about to change. As Hannah and I work closely together, the attraction between us becomes irresistible. And complicated. I’ve promised my sisters I wouldn’t mix business with pleasure. But I’ve never been one to follow the rules.

Author Bio: Award-winning and bestselling romance author Kat Bastion has teamed up with her husband Stone Bastion to create the new contemporary romance series No Weddings. A few factoids about the writing team… Kat enjoys her chocolate rich and dark, her music edgy and soul-filling, and her vacations exotic with toes dug into the sand. And she’s wildly, madly, deeply in love with Stone. Stone likes pounding the trails on a mountain bike, vibrating the sound system with rock music, and down time spent on a stand up paddleboard. And he loves Kat wildly, madly, deeply…and then some. Together, they’re having a blast bringing fun-filled romantic stories to life and hope you’ll join them in the exciting adventure. Kat’s first published work, Utterly Loved, was a twentieth anniversary gift of love poems to Stone that they decided to share with the world to benefit charity. Net proceeds from Utterly Loved, and a portion of net proceeds from all their books, go toward charities involved in the fight against human trafficking. Kat and Stone live amid the beautiful Sonoran Desert of Arizona.

Blog | Website | Twitter: Kat | Stone

Amazon | Goodreads

Disclaimer: I participated in this spotlight with InkSlinger PR. I was given all the materials but no other compensation was provided.

interview: marissa stapley


Brianna Soloski: How did you come up with the idea for Mating for Life?

Marissa Stapley: Mating for Life began as a series of short stories I was writing them because I wanted to explore and process the life stage I had arrived at: married, with children, believing everything was supposed to be perfect but realizing I wasn’t the only one who was struggling to be a good wife, a good mother, a good friend, a good daughter. I started writing about different women in different life stages, and eventually the women became connected and it became a novel about how to love another person—any person: husband, child, parent, sibling, friend—for life. As I wrote I realized how driven humans are by their instincts, and that’s where the short epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter about the mating habits of animals came to be.

Brianna: Telling the story from so many different points of view must have been difficult. How did you keep everything straight?

Marissa: I have to be honest: I’m not the most organized person in the world. Instead of one notebook, I have dozens, all with charts and lists and notes I took during the writing of Mating for Life. I think eventually a book starts to feel familiar and the lives of the characters you’re writing about start to feel real. That’s when it gets easier to keep track of everything, because it’s almost as though you’re living it. You just know it so well.

Brianna: What is your writing process like? Are you a plotter or do you wing it?

Marissa: I used to be a plotter, but sticking closely to a chapter-by-chapter outline started to feel very uninspired. Now, I wing it for the most part. I allow myself a first draft that just flows and allows me to get to know my characters. Then I go in and start editing and layering. It’s fun to have a character surprise you, rather than to know exactly what he or she is going to do or say next.

Brianna: This is your debut. How did it feel when you got the call or email that you were going to be published?

Marissa: I actually spoke on the phone to Sarah Cantin, the woman who would be my editor at Atria Books, a few days before the offers were to come in (more than one publisher was interested; it felt unreal, like a dream come true). Speaking to her and realizing how excited she was about the book (she told me she had spent the preceding weekend sitting in Central Park reading Mating for Life, and that she had been so caught up in it she had neglected everything, including sunscreen, and was now burned to a crisp) made me realize that it was actually going to happen, that my dream of becoming a published author was finally going to be realized. My journey was not an easy one, so knowing that all my hard work was about to pay off was incredibly exciting. The entire process was something I will never forget, and definitely one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

Brianna: Do you have any more books planned?

Marissa: Yes. I hope to write many, many books in my lifetime! I’m working on a novel now which is also a family drama—but there aren’t quite as many characters as there are in Mating for Life, and it started as a novel rather than short stories, so there’s a bit more of an organic feel to it. Plus, I don’t need as many notebooks!

Brianna: Do you have any advice for budding authors?

Marissa: Don’t give up. Except in rare cases, getting published involves a huge amount of work, faith, and genuine love of writing. (I wrote two other novels before I came up with Mating for Life! It was discouraging, but I also knew that I was learning and growing as a writer along the way.) As you write, try to do so without focusing on the end result: getting published, getting readers. You can worry about all that later, but you will not do your best work if you’re thinking about anything other than the story you want to tell and how you can tell it in a way that will be the most true to who you are, and the absolute best that you can do.

Brianna: Just for Fun: If you could travel to any time period, past or future, when would it be and why?

Marissa: I’m such a hippie and folkie at heart—I would love to have been at around in the 60s and early 70s, when I could have seen some amazing concerts: Joni Mitchell (who inspired the Helen character) in her prime, Bob Dylan singing with Joan Baez when they were lovers, Led Zeppelin at Madison Square Gardens, stuff like that. I also think it would have been exciting to be a part of women’s suffrage movement in the early 1900s, fighting alongside Emmeline Pankhurst for women to have the right to vote.

Disclaimer: I participated in this interview with BookSparks PR. I was given all the materials but no other compensation was provided.

spotlight: mating for life


About the book: With pitch-perfect honesty and heartwarming humor, this captivating debut explores marriage, motherhood, identity, and what it takes to love someone—family members, friends, or spouses—for life.

Former folk singer Helen Sear was a feminist wild child who proudly disdained monogamy, raising three daughters—each by a different father—largely on her own. Now in her sixties, Helen has fallen in love with a traditional man who desperately wants to marry her. And while she fears losing him, she’s equally afraid of abandoning everything she’s ever stood for if she goes through with it.

Meanwhile, Helen’s youngest daughter, Liane, is in the heady early days of a relationship with her soul mate. But he has an ex-wife and two kids, and her new role as a “step-something” doesn’t come with an instruction manual. Ilsa, an artist, has put her bohemian past behind her and is fervently hoping her second marriage will stick. Yet her world feels like it is slowly shrinking, and her painting is suffering as a result—and she realizes she may need to break free again, even if it means disrupting the lives of her two young children. And then there’s Fiona, the eldest sister, who has worked tirelessly to make her world pristine, yet who still doesn’t feel at peace. When she discovers her husband has been harboring a huge secret, Fiona loses her tenuous grip on happiness and is forced to face some truths about herself that she’d rather keep buried.

Interweaving the alternating perspectives of Helen, her daughters, and the women surrounding them, “each new chapter brings a wise and tender look at single life, dating rituals, and marital unease” (New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Close). In this “absolute feat of storytelling” (bestselling author Grace O’Connell), Marissa Stapley celebrates the many roles modern women play, and shows that even though happy endings aren’t one-size-fits-all, some loves really can last for life.

Praise for the book:

“This is one of the most charming novels I’ve read in years, and I loved every last page.” – Jennifer Close, New York Times bestselling author

Buy the book: Amazon Paperback | Amazon Kindle

About the author: Marissa Stapley is a National Magazine Award nominated writer and former magazine editor whose work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, National Post, Elle Canada, and many others. Mating for Life (Atria Books; Simon & Schuster Canada) is her first novel. When Marissa is not writing, she’s reading. (In fact, she never goes anywhere without a book. Except maybe swimming.) Some of her favourite authors are Meg Wolitzer, Julia Glass, Alice Munro, John Irving, Lauren Groff, Margaret Atwood and James Salter. She lives in Toronto with her husband and two children, where she teaches writing, and is working on another novel.

Connect with Marissa: Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Website

Disclaimer: I participated in this spotlight with BookSparks PR. I was given all the materials but no other compensation was provided. Be sure to stop by tomorrow to check out my interview with Marissa.

guest: mystic thompson


Noble Thorvald: A Character Study from Fighting Kudzu by Mystic Thompson

There are so many things about Noble that make her a unique character. One of her unique qualities is evident early in the story, which is her ability to lose herself in an alternate reality. She creates a multitude of imaginary characters and situations, beginning with the Miami Dolphins, that afford her the opportunity to escape her own reality. In addition to a professional football player, she imagines being a “happy frog,” “another girl in another house across town,” and a Viking explorer. I believe that her unique ability to imagine a better, happier existence makes it possible for her to survive much of the tragedy that she experiences in her real life.

Another of Noble’s unique qualities is her focused determination to create a better life for herself. Her vivid imagination is actually part of this determination. She is continually imagining what her life will be like after she gets through her trying times. She is driven to work hard and stay on a specific path toward success because she is able to see the possibilities that lie on the other side. She understands that her circumstances are all temporary and that the power to overcome those circumstances lies wholly within her. This understanding gives her that incredible focus and determination to keep working and striving for more.

Noble also has an incredible sense of right and wrong. She is constantly guided by her very strong moral compass. She makes almost every decision in her life based on what she believes to be “right.” When she believes that she has failed to follow the guidance of this inner compass, she is guilt ridden, second guessing her choices. More than anything, she tries always to avoid doing the “wrong” thing.

The one thing that Noble wouldn’t want others to know about her is that she is frequently threatened by being overtaken by complete panic. She is so in tune with her surroundings, that even a slight variation creates a visible panic within her. She develops strategies to keep the panic from being unmanageable, but it is often just below the surface for her.

The most difficult scene for me to write was the scene in which Noble has to say her final goodbye to her mother. Throughout the novel, Noble is constantly being ripped away from her mother. She has to leave her, say goodbye to her, a number of times in a variety of ways. From the time she leaves her mom in the car on Valentine’s Day as a kindergartner, to this final one, Noble is frequently saying difficult goodbyes to her mother. These were all difficult scenes to write, but having the finality of her mother’s final goodbye hit Noble was a very painful thing to have to write. She was devastated, feeling such guilt and loss, and writing those emotions is just really challenging. It’s challenging to write them in a way that really conveys how the character is feeling, and it’s challenging because it is a drain on the writer’s own emotions.

Fighting Kudzu is Mystic Thompson’s first published novel but certainly not the last. It will be released Friday, September 5, 2014 by Musa Publishing.

About the Author: Mystic is a veteran educator currently teaching high school Physical Education in Metropolitan Los Angeles. Although she presently resides in California, she is a native Southerner who grew up in North Georgia. Despite the fact that she is slowly transitioning into a Californian, she is still very proud of her Southern heritage and maintains close ties to Southern culture.

Disclaimer: I participated in this tour with Musa Publishing. I was given all the materials, but no other compensation was provided.

read: writing tools


Writing Tools | Roy Peter Clark | Publisher: Little, Brown and Company | 5 stars

I own a lot of books on the craft of writing, but I’ve only read a tiny handful of them (like 3 or 4). However, now that I’m taking advanced nonfiction, we’ve been assigned four books on the craft, which has inspired me to really dig deeper into the craft of writing. If I am to succeed at this, I need to know as much as possible.

Writing Tools is a great one to keep in your library, even if you don’t read it cover to cover, as I did. Broken into four sections for a total of 50 tools, Clark gives writers of all levels the strategies they need to be successful. I found myself reaching for my purple marking pen often as I read this book and it’s one I’ll return to as the semester goes on.

The thing I like most about Clark is that he is never preachy. He has his way of doing things, but he admits that may not be the way that works for you. The idea behind this book is to use the tools in whatever order you need to so you can get the most benefit from each tool.

With each one, he offers four or five workshop ideas to help you learn how to implement the tools into your writing routine. While I didn’t take the time to do the workshop pieces (I’m a month ahead on reading this book for class), I may return to them when the class is actually reading this book and try some of them in my writer’s notebook.

I’d be hard pressed to choose a favorite tool, but one of the things he emphasizes is that there is no right or wrong way to be a writer. Sometimes, when I see other authors having such major success, I wonder if I’m going about this the wrong way. I don’t sell many books. I don’t take the time to market myself. I don’t allot time every single day of the year to write. I’ve released one novel, despite having more than a dozen WIPs. All of this needs to change and it needs to change right now. I know part of it is having too much on my plate with freelancing, but that shouldn’t matter. Writing is part of my freelance business. I make time to eat everyday, so why shouldn’t I make time to write?

Anyway, I’d highly recommend Writing Tools for any writer’s library. It’s not the sort of book that needs to be read cover to cover, although I did because that’s what the professor wants and I’m too Type A to bounce around.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Amazon. All opinions are my own and I was not compensated in any way.


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