Event Recap: A Cup of Holiday Fear Release Party

I love hearing about book events that are close enough for me to go to them, but that’s sometimes a challenge as the closest events are usually hours away; however, when I heard that Ellie Alexander was having a release party for the 10th book in her Bakeshop Mystery series in Ashland where the books are set, I had to go. Not only is Ellie on my list of favorite authors, but Ashland is one of my favorite places and is only about an hour from where I live.

Winchester Inn, Ashland, Oregon

The release party was held at the beautiful Winchester Inn which also happens to be the setting for the book that we were celebrating, A Cup of Holiday Fear. It was the perfect cozy and historic location for this gathering and I can only imagine it being an amazing backdrop for the mystery in the book.

Everything was decked out in Christmas decorations and touches and we were treated to delicious treats and custom made drinks. Ellie took some time to discuss the genesis of her writing this book and we also heard from the owner of the inn regarding how the Winchester Inn came to be. We also learned the story of the Dickens Feast, which is an event at the inn every year that plays a part in the book.

It was amazing hearing Ellie talk about her books (as always) she is so personable and passionate about her characters and stories. Many of her characters are based on actual people in real life. For example her father is the inspiration for The Professor in the books and we were treated to meeting him at this event. While all of her books are able to be read as stand alones, I definitely recommend starting at the beginning so you get to know the characters over time.

After the discussion everyone was able to explore a few different areas including buying Torte merchandise, taking a selfie with Santa, getting some of the treats and of course getting books signed by Ellie. It was an amazing time and it was wonderful to see Ellie again! I love being able to support a local author and it’s even better when it’s an author whose books I love.

Be sure to check out Ellie’s books, they are enchanting, hilarious and so enjoyable. Though I’m not completely caught up, I have loved everything I have read from her. Happy reading!

Author Q&A with Tara Gilboy

UNWRITTEN ThumbnailIn 2018 I was given the opportunity to read an e-arc of Unwritten by Tara Gilboy.  Unwritten is a story about Gracie, who knows that she is a character from a story but doesn’t know much more than that.  Frustrated with a lack of information she takes it upon herself to find out more, which sets a number of adventures in motion.  Throughout the story Gracie has to face many facts and situations that teach her who she is.  She gets to learn more about her story and how it lines up (or doesn’t line up) with who she believes she truly is.

Recently I had the opportunity to talk with Tara and ask her some questions about her writing process, Unwritten and its upcoming sequel.  It was lovely to get the opportunity to communicate with her and I’m definitely looking forward to checking out more of her stories in the future.  Check out her answers below and make sure to give Unwritten a read before the sequel comes out!

Q| What do you enjoy about writing children’s books?
A| Everything! Middle grade novels are my favorite books to read, and I think that’s why I am so drawn to writing them. Most of all, I love the playfulness and freedom of writing for children. As children’s book authors, we can write about wizard schools and chocolate factories and talking animals and fairy tales come to life…. As long as we are telling a good story, we are only limited by the bounds of our imaginations. No concept is too far-fetched or magical. I also love how full of hope and wonder children’s books are. As adults, we get a bit more jaded, I think. And I love how children’s books focus, first and foremost, on storytelling. Child readers don’t put up with long passages of purple prose; everything unnecessary must be pared away. Kids want exciting, well-thought-out plots and strong characters they love (or love to hate).

Q| What inspired the concept of Unwritten?
A| Because of the premise of the book, people often assume I must have started with the “story-within-a-story” idea, but that actually wasn’t the case. At the time I started writing Unwritten, I kept having this recurring nightmare where some sort of supernatural entity was coming after me, and I had to pack up whatever I could fit into my car and run away. That dream was initially my starting point in the story; in the early drafts, the story opened with a stranger arriving in the middle of the night and telling Gracie and her mother that they have to flee. (I think my original opening line was “The pounding shook the house” as this stranger knocks on the door.) Later, as I continued working on the novel, I realized that in order for readers to feel invested in that moment, they needed to know more about Gracie first, so the scene got pushed back into what I think is now chapter four or five, and it eventually evolved into something completely different. But the origin of this story was me exploring who Gracie was running from and why. That same summer, I was spending a lot of time at my dad’s cabin in northern Wisconsin, and I would jog every day in the woods up there. I noticed the woods reminded me of a fairy tale setting, and I started thinking: “what if Gracie was trapped in a fairy tale?” In the early drafts of the book, Gracie actually did travel into the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty.

Q| What are some of your writing rituals? Do you have certain things you do before sitting down to write or brainstorm?
A| I always need some sort of caffeine: coffee in the morning, or tea in the afternoon. If I am stuck, the best thing I can do before I sit down to write is to read a novel I love for half an hour. It always puts me in the mood to write and gets the creative juices flowing. If I am writing, I am usually on my laptop, and when I’m brainstorming, I do it with pen and paper, on cheap yellow legal pads. I have a nice desk, but I never sit at it. I’m usually writing on my couch, often with my dog, Biscuit, in my lap.

Q| I’ve heard that Unwritten will have a sequel, how long of a series do you hope it will be?
A| At this point, I’m not sure! I just finished a draft of the sequel, which will be titled REWRITTEN, and I know I definitely have ideas for a third book. Based on what happens in REWRITTEN, there are definitely more stories I want to tell about Gracie. Right now, I hope there will be at least three.

Q| Will we be seeing the same characters in the sequel, or will we be introduced to new characters?
A| The main characters are all there, but we meet some new characters as well. Gracie and Walter are the main characters of the sequel, but two new characters also have a large role. I would say more, but I don’t want to spoil anything!

Q| Do you prefer to outline first, or dive right into your first draft?
A|  I used to not outline at all. I am a terrible outliner. When I outline, my writing suffers for it because I find I am always trying to force characters to do things that don’t seem natural for them simply because those actions work for my plot. So I used to write my first drafts without an outline. However, that takes a really long time, because when you write without an outline, you end up throwing A LOT of pages away and having to rewrite a lot. Now I kind of do a combination of writing and outlining. I start writing, then I might stop and outline the next couple scenes, write some more, make changes to my outline, write some more, and so on. I may have a general idea of where I am heading, but I usually don’t know my climax and ending until I get there. The climax of REWRITTEN came as a complete surprise to me up until the day I actually wrote it. There is a quote, I think by E.L. Doctorow, who says “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” That’s how I feel about outlining. It only works for me if I outline a teeny bit at a time. When I proposed REWRITTEN to my editor, I had to create a detailed outline of what the book would be about, and of course, most of it changed by the time I had finished the book. I was a little nervous to break that news to my editor, but thankfully she liked the changes I made!

Q| What are some of your favorite writing tools that you can’t live without?
A| Coffee, legal pads, and purple pens. I don’t know why, but I love writing in pretty colors!

Q| Do you have any other series or stories you are working on?
A| Right now I am focusing on REWRITTEN revisions, but I also have some other story ideas I’ve been playing with. I was working for a while on two stories: one was a YA about these kids who went to a school run by a group of philosopher-scientists, and the other was a historical middle grade about a mermaid. They’ve been sitting in the drawer for a while, but I hope to one day bring them out again. I’d also love to try writing some nonfiction.

Q| Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
A| Read a lot, write a lot, and find a workshop group full of people you trust. It will be your most valuable asset as a writer. They should love your work but also push you to make it better. I have a very difficult time developing a revision plan on my own, and my critique partners are always helping me, by closely reading my work, suggesting what needs to change, and also helping me find the “gems” in my stories – the best parts that I can flesh out more and bring to the forefront. The people in my workshop group have become some of my dearest friends, and we are always cheering one another on, commiserating one another on failures, and chatting for hours about storytelling. They are the best! I don’t think I could have written this book without their support. It can be tough to find the right workshop group, though. My number one rule is this: you should always leave a workshop session feeling energized and excited to get to work on your revisions. If you feel dispirited and discouraged, something may be off about the dynamic of the group. They shouldn’t be giving only praise, but they should definitely be telling you what you are doing WELL along with what needs to change. And that’s not just because of ego or hurt feelings. There is no way a writer can successfully revise without being aware of what parts work well and resonate with readers. Those are the parts we want to expand on and strengthen.

TARA GILBOY HEADSHOTTara Gilboy holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of British Columbia, where she specialized in writing for children and young adults. She teaches for San Diego Community College District and is the author of Unwritten and its sequel REWRITTEN, which is forthcoming in spring 2020. You can find out more about her at taragilboy.com.

Once again, a huge thank you to Tara for taking the time to answer my questions. Please make sure to check out her book and future projects! Happy reading!

Author Spotlight: Ellie Alexander

Earlier this year while browsing Booktube I was introduced to the Bakeshop Mystery series by Ellie Alexander.  I was instantly intrigued as this series was set in Ashland, Oregon, which is a place near and dear to my heart.  I have many fond memories of Ashland and the Oregon Shakespeare festival throughout my life, going to the Shakespeare Festival was a tradition for my dad and I. Needless to say, I was both excited and cautious when I picked up the first book in the series, Meet Your Baker.

meet your baker

This series centers around Juliet, who has recently returned home to Ashland, Oregon to help her mother at their bake shop, Torte.  Obviously murder and mayhem ensues and soon Jules is knee deep in the mystery.

I was pleasantly surprised by how vividly Ellie Alexander painted Ashland and how accurate the descriptions of this section of the city were.  After reading this first book I was completely hooked.  Her writing is descriptive and rich, with humor and playfulness woven in. While reading this book I was completely immersed, not just because of the story but because of how perfectly she painted the atmosphere of Ashland itself. It’s one of my favorite places so I readily admit I’m biased, but that may have also made me a harsher critic if it wasn’t as perfect as it is.

I immediately started collecting the next couple books in the series but as of yet hadn’t had a chance to continue (the TBR struggle is real). I added not only the books from the Bakeshop series to my wish list, but also her other series both under Ellie Alexander, but her other name Kate Dyer-Seeley.

This past week I got an email from my favorite local bookstore, Oregon Books, notifying me of an author event they were having. Imagine my surprise (and delight) when it was Ellie Alexander.  My internal fangirl did a little dance and I immediately put it on my calendar. I didn’t know what to expect, but was just excited that I would get to meet a local author whose work I truly enjoy.  The event was amazing, the intimate setting allowed us to have a great discussion about her different series, how they came to be, her writing process and more. If I didn’t already want to read everything she had written, this would have definitely made me want to. It was obvious that she puts some of herself into each story she writes and that serves to make her work more inviting and full of depth.  Listening to her talk about the places she writes about (all of which she has visited) made me want to visit them all, even those I’ve been to many times throughout my life. I was able to get books from a couple of her other series which I can’t wait to pick up.

I would have recommended her books before meeting her, but after meeting her and getting to spend time with her I want to recommend her even more.  If you are looking for a new cozy mystery, definitely check her out.  If a bakeshop/food centered mystery isn’t your thing, she has three other series available that focus on other themes.  There’s the Pacific Northwest Mysteries (her first series) which center around Meg, who wants to be a serious investigative reporter but ends up working for an outdoor magazine – even though she doesn’t know much about outdoor activities. Her Rose City mystery series centers around a floral shop in Portland, Oregon where our main character Britta works with her aunt Elin.  Last (but definitely not least) is the Sloan Krause Mystery series, set in Leavenworth, Washington with a theme of brewing craft beers.
scene of the climbnatural thorn killerdeath on tap

(All cover images link to the Amazon pages for the books)

Be sure to also check out Ellie on her website and her new youtube channel.

Happy Reading!