Q&A | Shawn Peters

Happy release day to The Unforgettable Logan Foster by Shawn Peters! To celebrate its release I’m excited to bring you all a Q&A I was able to have with Shawn about the book and his writing experience/process. If you haven’t already make sure you check out my review for The Unforgettable Logan Foster. Also, huge thanks to Shawn for answering my questions and thank you to the publisher for reaching out to me about reviewing this title!

Shawn Peters has spent more than two decades writing professionally for television and advertising. Married and a father of two kids, Shawn is by his own description a suburban-dad trope-fest. He enjoys coaching his kid’s teams, playing old-dude softball, and comparing IPAs with other dads. In his spare time, Shawn makes ultra-nerdy Dungeons and Dragons puns on Twitter under the handle @DnDadJokes. 

Social Links | Author Website | Twitter

What inspired this story?

I wish I could say,  “This one thing happened and suddenly I was inspired to write,” but it didn’t. The books really grew out of three different things coming together at the same time. The first was my own personal experiences as a pre-teen. I was a kid with a semi-photographic memory— I could remember fine details of things I’d read and even recall where I’d seen them on the page— and I loved comic books, obsessing over the heroes’ and villains’ powers. So about seven years ago, when all the Marvel and DC movies were coming out months apart, the 12-year-old nerd inside me was in superhero heaven. The second was that around the same time, I was noticing how people’s views of neurodiversity were shifting to a strength-based understanding. My wife was a 5th-grade teacher at the time, and she’d come home with stories of how kids with Asperger’s Syndrome — now known as part of Autism Spectrum Disorder— were thriving when in an environment where everyone wasn’t expected to learn the same way. Our best friends at the time had a son who’d been diagnosed with high-functioning autism and over years of our families spending time together, my conversations with him always sparked my imagination because of the way his mind worked. And the last piece was that at that time, I had one child who was just starting to age out of middle grade books while the other was just entering his tween years. So I was reading so many wonderful stories, both from my own childhood and the new generation, but I wasn’t seeing kids like my friend’s son as the heroes in these adventures. So that’s where the idea of a neurodivergent orphan with a one-in-a-billion memory getting adopted by superheroes all mashed-up and became this book. 

How long did the writing process for this book take?

It’s funny, because the time it took to “write” the book and the time it took to get the book to “done” are sooo different. I outlined the book in less than a month and then I gave myself a year to write a first draft, committing to writing at least one page every day. As a full-time creative director in the marketing world, plus a father of two who was coaching town sports, on the board of my congregation, and a guy who still wanted to occasionally watch a Red Sox game, I felt like that was doable. One year later, I had my first draft, but then spent another six months revising, sharing with a few readers, and then finally tightening it up before I started the querying process. But still, it would take another four years of rejections, revisions, sharing it with my wife’s class full of kids and using their feedback to fuel more changes, plus a whole lot of general perseverance before I signed with my agent in the summer of 2019 and sold the book early in 2020, right before the world and the industry all changed in a big way.

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

The easy answer is I’d love to be able to fly, because I’m afraid of heights and I think that would go away if I had that power. But the deeper answer is that I’d love the ability to make an idea “real” all at once. Somewhere between what Green Lantern can do with his ring and what a lesser-known superhero named Firestorm could do by rearranging atoms. I’m an idea guy, and I come from an improv background. So the ability to go from concept to reality in a snap would certainly be something I’d sign up for. However, I don’t think it would necessarily help with my writing. You still have to create a book by writing words after word. 

Do you have any upcoming books in process?

I’m happy to report there’s a sequel to THE UNFORGETTABLE LOGAN FOSTER that is due out from Harper Collins next year, though there’s no release date yet. The story picks up a month after book one ends, and we get to see the fallout of Logan’s first adventure as he and his found family are adjusting to their new lives together. Logan is in a new school, makes some new friends, and finds out some new information that might lead to unraveling the mystery of how he became an orphan, and who his real parents might be. Plus there’s a cute dog and a ton more awful dad jokes from his foster father. Beyond that, we will have to see if Logan’s story continues, but in the meantime, I’m working on another MG book about a kid who is having an ultra-rough start to a school year that could get a little better or a whole lot worse when he ends up in possession of a very special smartphone. That’s my current work-in-progress, but I’m learning quickly that it’s a writer’s job to always be writing the next thing.

There are a lot of powerful themes in this book that many kids deal with in real life, what would you say to your readers who are neurodivergent and may see themselves in Logan?

Thank you! This means a lot to me, because while this book is a funny and action-packed adventure, I do believe it has an actual emotional core in it. I hope that neurodivergent readers and any other kid who feels that their strengths aren’t appreciated by those around them will relate to Logan. As I mentioned earlier, I was able to have more than 100 fifth-graders — my wife’s students at the time— read the book before I even had an agent. The enthusiasm they had for the book gave me a lot of faith in the story I was telling, but it was the reaction of her students who were on the spectrum that told me this was a book that I needed to get out into the world. They were the kids who kept raising their hands during our Q&A session, always asking the most insightful questions or proposing conspiracy theories about what might happen in future books. All that said, neurodiversity is… diverse. I know that Logan isn’t a fair representation of every kid who identifies as having ASD, let alone ADHD, Dyslexia, Tourette’s and others; that would be impossible. But I do hope any and all readers get the message that everyone is the hero of their own story, and that every person has something in them that is a unique talent or strength, if they just lean into it and surround themselves with people who appreciate it.

What are your favorite writing tools?

I really don’t have any, other than an uninterrupted hour of relative quiet and focus. I outline, draft and rewrite in Microsoft Word, and when I revise, I often make a handwritten list of things I want to address and then put checkmarks— multiple sometimes— as I address them. Truly, I think feedback is my favorite writing tool. The opportunity to share it and hear what other people think is the gift a writer cannot give to themselves. It doesn’t mean I act on every single piece of feedback I get, but I view all of it as a potential source of making the work better. I’m pretty sure that isn’t something every writer feels.

How did you decide on the narrative style of the book?

When I first was outlining this book, I wasn’t sure if I was going to write it in the first or third person, in the present or past tense. That came after the actual story itself. I had recently read PANORAMA CITY, a brilliant novel by one of my oldest friends, Antoine Wilson, and I was struck by how strong the voice of the protagonist came through when it not only came from their own mind, but it was directed to a specific recipient. The more I thought about Logan, the more I realized he would want to relate the facts of his adventure in a very particular way, and the idea that he was catching up a long-lost relative seemed like motivation for why he’d be retelling it. In my first drafts, Logan was sharing the story with the mother he never knew. But it felt cliche, and a little off, and that was confirmed when I shared it with the kids in my wife’s classroom. I asked them if they felt Logan was speaking directly to them in the book and they admitted it didn’t… after all, none of them were possibly his mother. The second they said it, I knew he had to be writing to another kid; someone who could actually be reading the book. That’s when the entire “World’s Best Big Brother”  t-shirt came in, and I wove the idea that Logan was looking for their anonymous younger sibling into the entire book. It was a subtle shift, but it made a huge difference and brought his voice forward in all kinds of new ways.

What takeaways do you want your readers to have from this book?

I sort of hinted at it above, but I hope readers get that Logan is someone who finds people who like him — love him even — exactly how he is, and that the things that make him different are also what make him special, even if not everyone recognizes them. I’m hoping that for kids who relate to Logan, that will be a meaningful message and they’ll feel represented on the page. But I also hope it might open the eyes of kids who aren’t at all like Logan and create some empathy in the middle of all the dad jokes and Superhero action.

Who would you recommend this book to?

I so badly want to reply, “Anyone with at least one vowel in their first or last name” but that seems greedy and not very helpful. I’d say that this is a book for kids who are reluctant readers, but who do love comic books and graphic novels, as I think THE UNFORGETTABLE LOGAN FOSTER is a bridge for those readers, especially with the wonderful art by Petur Antonsson sprinkled throughout the book. But I’d also say this book is one that teachers and librarians can share with kids who might see themselves as “different”, whether that’s because of neurodivergence or the simple everyday realities of being a tween, as Logan’s story should resonate with them. I also think this is one of those books that parents of those kids might enjoy too, whether they’re reading to their children or just interested in books for that age— because there are a lot of references in it that might speak to them even more than the kids.

Lastly, do you have anything else you want to share with readers regarding this book?

Just that even though this is a fictional book, and I don’t have any valid reason to believe that superheroes are real, I am sure that superpowers are a thing. I mean, just look through TikTok and you see people who can do things that seem impossible: single-armed pull-ups, sketching an entire portrait of a famous person upside down in one minute, solving Rubik’s Cubes while juggling them, playing keyboards hooked up to computers so that when they play a song, it draws a picture on the screen. I tend to think most of us have something at least close to a superpower if we embrace it and work at it and share it with others. So I guess what I’m saying is, don’t keep your superpowers to yourself.

Check out The Unforgettable Logan Foster on Goodreads!

Again I want to give a huge thank you to Shawn for taking the time to answer my questions. I hope you all had as much fun reading his answers as I did. Make sure you check out The Unforgettable Logan Foster!

Happy reading!

Q&A | Rektok Ross

Happy release day to Ski Weeked by Rektok Ross! To celebrate its release I’m excited to bring you all a Q&A I was able to have with Rektok about the book and her writing experience/process. If you haven’t already make sure you check out my review for Ski Weekend. Also, huge thanks to Rektok for answering my questions and thank you to the publisher for reaching out to me about reviewing this title!

REKTOK ROSS is the pen name of Liani Kotcher, a trial attorney turned young adult author and book blogger. An avid reader since childhood, Liani writes exactly the kind of books she loves to escape into herself: exciting thrillers with strong female leads, swoon-worthy love interests, and life-changing moments. She graduated from the University of Florida School of Journalism and obtained her juris doctorate at the University of Miami School of Law. Originally from South Florida, she currently splits her time between San Francisco and Los Angeles with her husband, stepkids, and her dogs. You can find her online just about anywhere at @RektokRoss, as well as on her website, www.RektokRoss.com, where she blogs about books and writing.

Let’s get into the questions!

Where did you draw inspiration from for this story?

I’m a huge John Hughes’s fan and The Breakfast Club has always been one of my favorite 80’s movies because it explores stereotypes and why putting each other into boxes is harmful because we miss out on getting to know some really amazing people based on preconceived notions. In The Breakfast Club there are five characters: a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. There are six characters in SKI WEEKEND (seven if you include Champion the dog). While I wanted to update my own cast to make them relevant for today and more diverse to explore the world we live in now, I still wanted to maintain the essence of these famous stereotypes so I could easily pick them apart. I basically kept a brain (Lily), an athlete/dumb jock (Hunter), a basket case (Sam), a princess (Britney), and a criminal/bad boy (Gavin). Sam’s brother, Stuart, is the sixth character and is a happy-go-lucky, geeky gamer.

How long did the writing process for this book take?

It’s been about ten years from when I first started writing, including the actual writing of the book itself and the business of writing (things like editing, workshopping, querying, and then the publication process).

What are your top five fiction books?

I have been a voracious reader since I was a young girl so I can’t really pick a top five but some favorites that quickly come to mind are: Remember Me by Christopher Pike, Watchers by Dean Koontz, The Night World series by L.J. Smith, Animal Farm by George Orwell, and The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.

Do you have any upcoming books in process?

I’m currently working on a summer thriller that will take place in the same universe as Ski Weekend. I don’t want to say too much as it’s still in the really early stages, but it’s sort of my love letter to the 90’s slasher with some added in romance because I love mixing thrillers with romance.

What are your favorite types of characters to write?

Strong smart females in thrilling, life-changing situations.

What are your favorite writing tools?

My laptop, my Beats headphones, and a cup of green tea.

What do you feel are the important themes in this book?

One of the most important themes of the book is the danger of harmful stereotyping, especially in today’s diverse world. I hope reading Ski Weekend encourages people to explore new friendships and relationships with people from different backgrounds who they don’t think they have anything in common with and learn to appreciate each other’s differences—and commonalities. The book also deeply explores a common theme in “natural” horror stories, which is man versus nature. As human beings, we sometimes become so reliant on the comforts of the modern world and dependent on technology that we forget how deadly and unforgiving Mother Nature can really be.

Who would you recommend this book to?

This book is perfect for both teens and adults who like thrillers that are fast-paced and exciting but also have something to say about the world we live in and our society.

Lastly, do you have anything else you want to share with readers regarding this book?

This is a story that almost didn’t get told. There have been so many ups and downs and the book has faced so much rejection, it’s really kind of a miracle that it’s finally out in the world. I want my readers to know that you should never, ever give up on your dreams. If you believe in yourself and your purpose and just keep going, you’ll eventually wind up where you want to be.

Check out Ski Weekend on Goodreads!

A huge thank you to Rektok/Liani for taking the time to answer my questions so I could share her answers with all of you! Make sure to check out the book if it sounds interesting to you.

Happy reading!

Q&A | Ally Malinenko

Happy release day to Ghost Girl by Ally Malinenko! To celebrate its release I’m excited to bring you all a Q&A I was able to have with Ally about the book and her writing experience/process. If you haven’t already make sure you check out my review for Ghost Girl. Also, huge thanks to Ally for answering my questions and thank you to the publisher for reaching out to me about reviewing this title!

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Ally Malinenko is a poet, novelist, and librarian living in Brooklyn, New 

York, where she pens her tales in a secret writing closet before dawn each day. Connect with Ally on her website at www.allymalinenko.com

Now let’s get to the questions!

It says that this book is based on some of your own experiences, could you share a little bit about that?

Yes! I can see ghosts! Just kidding. Ghost Girl is based a lot on my childhood in the Hudson Valley. My best friend and I would spend a lot of time making up stories and wandering through the woods. Even drawing eyes on trees to mark our favorite spaces as protected. Like Zee I loved spooky stories the most. I practically memorized everything in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Also though I have two sisters and Zee only has one, my sisters and I are very close and I wanted to show that between Abby and Zee. 

How long did the writing process for this book take?

I wrote this book quickly actually. Probably about six months. But I wrote it to nurse a broken heart after the YA science fiction book I spent 7 years on, the one that landed me an agent, was rejected by pretty much all of publishing. I felt like a failure. So I decided to go back to the stories I loved the most. The stories that made me love books and dream about being a writer. All of those stories were middle grade, many of them were spooky. 

Could you tell us a little bit about Monroe and how it inspired the setting of Ghost Girl?

Monroe is a lovely small town nestled in the heart of the Hudson Valley but when you’re a kid and you can’t drive and you live too far to bike to the center of town where the library is, you get a touch bored, much like Zee does. The development I grew up in is surrounded by woods so, my best friend and I definitely spent a lot of time in there, making up stories and pretending. Monroe is a little bit bigger than Knobb’s Ferry but sadly, it is lacking a giant cemetery. 

Do you have any upcoming books in process?

After GHOST GIRL my next book is called THIS APPEARING HOUSE also published by Katherine Tegen Books. It’s the story of a young girl and her best friend who get trapped in a haunted house that is more than it seems. It’s also an exploration of trauma and illness that was compared to A Monster Calls. It’s a very personal story for me so I’m both excited and nervous about it being in the world. 

There are a lot of powerful themes in this book that many kids deal with in real life, what would you say to your readers who are struggling with things such as gender roles and fighting common stereotypes?

I’m so glad you asked me that because talking about gender, and specifically about breaking gender barriers was really important to me. Zee spends a lot of time aware that she is expected to be quiet and small as a girl and that doesn’t fit how she feels inside. There is even a scene where she smashes mirrors in a symbolic breaking of the glass ceiling. One of the other stereotypes that was important to me is Elijah’s weight and his body positivity. Elijah’s father struggles to connect with his bookish son and instead wants him to do more things with his hands – more things that are stereotypically male. He winds up focusing on Elijah’s weight thinking that if he were fit they would be able to connect more. I wanted kids to see all kinds of bodies in Ghost Girl and it was very important to me that while Elijah was hurt by his father’s actions, it was clear that he himself was not ashamed of who he was. 

So to any of the kids that might be struggling with these kinds of things, I want them to know that they are GREAT the way they are and they, like Zee and Elijah and Nellie, should always stand up for themselves and their friends. There is room in this world for every type of person.

What are your favorite writing tools?

So I know a lot of people love books like Save the Cat but I’m a terrible pantser (the opposite of a plotter) and never really know what a book is really about until I’m halfway through it so to be honest one of my favorite writing tools, outside of my occasionally temperamental laptop, are my feet. I walk five miles to my librarian job and whenever I am stuck on a plot point or a new chapter, it is always on these long walks that things really start to come together for me. I highly recommend to other writers when you’re stuck and you’re done crying on the floor, throw on your sneakers and go for a walk. It really frees your brain up.  

Could you tell us a little more about your secret writing closet?

Yes! So my husband and I are both writers and when we moved to NYC many years ago we could only afford a one bedroom. I figured I would just stick my little desk in the corner of the living room and that would be fine. But while the agent was showing us the apartment, he opened a door to a walk-in closet/storage space and my eyes fell out of my head. It had a bunch of built in bookshelves that the last person crafted and a little spot underneath that fit my desk perfectly. It was wired with electricity and it became my little writing nook where I wrote everything for the last 14 years. I loved it. We recently moved and have since upgraded to a second bedroom so now my little closet is an adorable little room that I also love. But I will always have fond memories of all the poems and stories and novels, including Ghost Girl, that I wrote in my secret writing closet.

What takeaways do you want your readers to have from this book?

Oh that’s a good question. Well ultimately, I hope that kids love it and have a spooky adventure in the realm of what I call “safe-scared.” Meaning, it’s fun because you can always walk away from the scares. But beyond that I hope this book shows kids that the way they are is the way they’re meant to be. That, even thought it’s scary, standing up for your friends is important and that sometimes the kids who are the meanest might also be struggling. So be like Elijah and choose kindness.  

Who would you recommend this book to?

My book was recently reviewed by School Library Journal and they cautioned that this is not a book for a kid who claims to want horror but really wants suspense or an adrenaline rush. And I have to agree with that. I wrote a spooky book, emphasis on the spooky. So the best reader of Ghost Girl would be a kid that loves to get scared, knowing they can always close the book, and loves a good adventure with a lot of heart. If you want to root for some characters, Zee, Elijah and Nellie will definitely give you the chance. 

Lastly, do you have anything else you want to share with readers regarding this book?

I’ve had a few people raise an eyebrow when I tell them that I write horror for children. Something in that expression doesn’t compute. And I get it. But I also worked as a children’s librarian and I know the kids that have read every copy of Goosebumps 1500 times. The thing is kids know that the world is scary. Scary books provide a safe place to navigate that. A place to be the hero. Kids need to explore fear in a safe way because it’s already a part of their lives. Scary books let kids examine their fear and their anxiety. They get to hold it up to the light and understand it. These are valuable lessons and when we shame kids for liking horror we’re just telling them that their fears are something they should be ashamed of. 

Scary books let them defeat the monsters on the page so that they’ll learn how to recognize the ones that will – inevitably – appear in their lives one day.

Check out Ghost Girl on Goodreads!

Again I want to give a huge thank you to Ally for taking the time to answer my questions. I hope you all had as much fun reading her answers as I did. Make sure you check out Ghost Girl!

Happy reading!

Q&A | Alexandria Rizik

Happy release day to 21 Questions by Alexandria Rizik! To celebrate its release I’m excited to bring you all a Q&A I was able to have with Alexandria about the book and her writing experience/process. If you haven’t already make sure you check out my review for 21 Questions. Also, huge thanks to Alexandria for answering my questions and thank you to Sparkpress for reaching out to me about reviewing this title!

Alexandria Rizik is an award-winning filmmaker and the author of two books, the poetry collection Words Written in the Dark and the children’s book Chocolate Milk. She was born and raised in Scottsdale, Arizona, where she was brought up by a large Armenian family. She received her bachelor of arts in English literature from Arizona State University. Alexandria’s love for writing began when she was a young child: her aunt bought her a journal and told her to write her a story, and the rest is history. Her favorite part about writing is being able to write the happily ever after that doesn’t always happen in real life. Besides writing, Alexandria loves yoga, wine, and family time. She lives in Scottsdale, AZ. Learn more at https://www.alexandriarizik.com.

Now, let’s get to the questions!

It says that this book is based on some of your own experiences, could you share a little bit about that?

Yes, this story was inspired by my first real relationship and breakup when I was seventeen. The only way I could get through it was by writing. It started as a screenplay that I wrote. I love film and cinema and was just getting into screenwriting when I was going through this breakup. But eventually I adapted it into a book. A lot of the scenes, like the haunted house scene, movie theater, the drive-in theater are based off of real events (obviously I exaggerated them to an extent). My ex-boyfriend’s family was kind of odd and being a writer with a very vivid imagination, I concocted this story that they were drug dealers and using him to deal to a high school clientele. Looking back, I sound crazy and they were probably just reserved, private people (as opposed to my crazy Armenian family). But that’s where the plot of the story stemmed from. 

How long did the writing process for this book take?

So, I started writing the screenplay at seventeen. I even submitted it to a few contests. But, a few years later I adapted it into a novel. It’s evolved so much since the first draft. So overall, it’s been a ten year process from beginning to end. 

What are your five must haves while writing?

My five must haves while writing are either coffee or wine, (depending on the time of day), a nice fall-scented candle, obviously my computer to write on, sometimes headphones to listen to music, and I also love using Pinterest. It draws inspiration. 

Do you have any upcoming books in process?

Yes! I’m always writing something but what I’m focusing on mostly right now is the sequel to 21 Questions, titled 21 Confessions and also another book I’ve been working on for a while titled Mi Amor. I also just finished a screenplay titled, Cigarettes & Other Toxic Loves. 

What is your dream project?

Oh my gosh, this is a hard one. My dream project would be adapting 21 Questions and its sequel into a Netflix series. It’s going to happen, I’m manifesting it. 

What are your favorite writing tools?

My favorite writing tools are my iPad or computer (or my typewriter if I’m working on poetry) and my copy of The Emotion Thesaurus

If you could describe Kendra and Brock in 5 words each, what would they be?

Five words to describe Kendra would be independent, determined, forgiving, awkward, and innocent. For Brock, I would say fearless, misunderstood, hot, charismatic, and infamous. 

How do you deal with writer’s block?

I don’t really believe in writer’s block. I believe that whenever we struggle to write it’s due to our own inner self critic judging our words. To avoid “writer’s block,” it’s important to just keep writing, even if what you think you’re writing sucks, it can always be edited. But writing something is better than nothing. 

Who would you recommend this book to?

I’d recommend this book to any girl who knows what it’s like to be in love for the first time and how your heart shatters when it ends because you never thought it would. And to any girl whose ever known what it’s like to try and fix a person they care about. Sometimes people don’t want to be fixed and sometimes it’s just the wrong timing. 

Lastly, do you have anything you want to share with readers regarding this book? 

21 Questions is a story of two teenagers with young hearts and old souls. They’re beautifully flawed and I hope everyone enjoys reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. 

Check out 21 Questions on Goodreads!

Again I want to give a huge thank you to Alexandria for taking the time to answer my questions. I hope you all had as much fun reading her answers as I did. Make sure you check out 21 Questions!

Happy reading!