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!

Tactical Crime Division | Author Q&A with Nichole Severn

Perfect for fans of Criminal Minds and Blacklist…

Uncover the lives and loves of the FBI elite as they take on the toughest assignments. This is a new four-book miniseries featuring an ensemble cast of characters spread across 4 books, featuring 4 urgent cases, with one stellar team of crime solving experts. 

The Tactical Crime Division—TCD—is a specialized unit of the FBI. Because of the growing concerns and need for ever increasing response time to criminal events, the FBI created a specialized tech and tactical team combing specialists from several active divisions that include: weapons, crime scene investigation, protection, negotiation and IT. 

Midnight Abduction by Nichole Severn – For the Tactical Crime Division, no case is left cold. When Benning Reeves’s twins are kidnapped, the frantic father knows who can help: the Tactical Crime Division and Ana Ramirez. Even though Ana once shattered Benning’s heart, the special agent is the only one he can trust. But Ana is still tormented by the unresolved case that brought them together years before—a case somehow entangled with Benning’s children. It’s up to the TCD and Ana to discover why…before it’s too late.

Purchase links | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Harlequin.com

  1. The Tactical Crime Division is a specialized unit of the FBI. Did you do any research before writing about this type of fast-paced, high-adrenaline lifestyle? 

A: I’ve written a few FBI characters throughout my career (one of my favorite kinds of novels to write!), but for Midnight Abduction, I really had to look into missing persons statistics and break that data down into manageable chunks.

As an agent trained in missing persons, my heroine has to know the probabilities of a parent being involved in the abduction (or someone the child knew), the child’s daily habits, schedule, and so much more than age, weight, height and a recent photo. It’s unbelievable how the smallest detail could contribute to her bringing home a missing child, and how quickly evidence can change the course of an entire investigation.

I also found the more attention I put into reviewing actual missing persons from the FBI’s website, the more conflict and mystery I was able to add to this book.

  1. The Tactical Crime Division series includes four books written by four different authors; what was it like to collaborate with other authors and how did you decide who got to write each storyline?

A: Thankfully deciding who wrote which book was completely up to our editors, but collaborating with three other authors really was a huge change of pace for me. Up to this point, I’ve been in control of every minute detail throughout my books and have never had to rely on another author for the story I’m writing. 

But the TCD series features multiple points of view in each book, including main characters from the other three. I’d say the most difficult part of working together was just trying to get each other’s characters right. We didn’t want to overstep, make these side characters do something out of character or get the details of their past wrong, but every author involved in the series was great about answering questions and updating our shared series bible. 

  1. Can you share a recent book you have read that you would like to recommend?

A: I’ve just finished Loreth Anne White’s IN THE DARK and could not put it down! The use of setting to add to the psychological mystery she’s created was so well done, I’m still thinking about it weeks later. 

Nichole Severn writes romantic suspense with strong heroines, heroes who dare challenge them, and a hell of a lot of guns. When she’s not writing, she’s injuring herself running and practicing yoga.

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!