Boskone 55 Schedule

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I’m really excited to have been invited to Boskone 55 as a program participant. This will be my fourth year at “New England’s longest running science fiction and fantasy convention”, and my second taking part in panels. Boskone runs from February 16th to 18th in Boston, MA, so if you’re in the area, stop by. Not only is this a really friendly con, but it has great guests, panel themes, author readings and kaffeeklatsch opportunities. This year, there’s even a Regency Dance! Check out the Boskone 55 website for the full event schedule.

Here’s my own schedule:

Stories Before the Apocalypse

16 Feb 2018, Friday 14:00 – 15:00, Marina 4

We’re familiar with post-apocalyptic futures, from Max’s desert hellscape to Katniss’s dystopic districts. But what about right before the cataclysm — as doom and destruction loom large? How do people live? How do relationships change as we shift into survival mode? Let’s share our few existing “must-read” favorites, and discuss stories we’d like to see.

James Patrick Kelly (M), Juliana Spink Mills,  Julie C. Day, Alan Gordon, John Chu

 

Curse Your Inevitable Romantic Subplot!

16 Feb 2018, Friday 16:00 – 17:00, Burroughs

Just when things are getting good, somebody has to go and fall in love. Are romantic subplots required? And what makes them work or fail in the larger storyline?

Heather Albano (M), Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert, J. Kathleen Cheney, Kevin McLaughlin, Juliana Spink Mills

 

It’s Not Always About Sex

17 Feb 2018, Saturday 12:00 – 13:00, Harbor III

Speculative fiction is filled with friendships that turn into romantic entanglements. Is that all there is? Can’t our characters just have friends, of whatever gender, without hookups and/or heartbreaks? How about we rescue the world from the odd apocalypse or alien invasion, and forget about the sex for a change?

Darlene Marshall (M), Tamora Pierce, Juliana Spink Mills, E.J. Stevens, Steven Popkes

 

Easy as Pie

As I’m sure happens with all authors, I often get asked questions about my writing process. How long did it take you to write your book? How much editing work do you do? Who helps you revise? I thought I’d put together a rough recipe of how Heart Blade and Night Blade (Out soon in November! Shameless plug!) were baked, from pantry to table. Remember, this is how things worked out for me. Every author has their own way of doing things, and their own timelines, and so does each publisher. If you’re a writer, you need to figure out what works for you.

How to bake a novel (Juliana style):

1– First draft. Slow in the beginning, as I play around with ideas during a chapter or two, and then pause for worldbuilding, character development, and plot outlining. Picks up speed after a few chapters. Usually hits a lull at around the midway point, where I pull my hair out for a bit and despair of my writing skills. This ‘wall’ often means I went wrong somewhere, so when the way forward becomes suddenly murky, I find it helps to take a couple of weeks off to do nothing but read other people’s work and binge watch Netflix, while keeping things ‘on the backburner’ until I figure out where I messed up.

The first draft phase would probably take around 2 months condensed, but in reality it’s longer then that because writing gets paused for things like school holidays, day job stuff, other commitments, etc. Much as I love my made up worlds, real life is an actual thing!

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Working on the first draft of Night Blade

2 – Revision notes. While writing the first draft, I’m sending out individual chapters to my critique group and noting feedback. I’m also keeping a list of things I’ve realized will need changing or adding after the first draft is done. I don’t revise much at the initial stage of writing, so I end up with a huge pile of notes in my nearly illegible handwriting. Up to this moment, no one has seen the entire thing yet – there would be no point as the first draft is in part a brainstorming activity in itself, and I make a ton of changes afterward.

3 – First major revision/rewrite. I may have done smaller changes to the first draft along the way, saving each version under a new file name each time. But this is when I do a full read-through and revision. First I organize both my personal notes and the comments from my critique partners. Then I rework the entire thing. Now it’s ready to be seen…

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Organizing Heart Blade edit notes

4 – Beta readers. I send my manuscript to a few writing buddies who are kind enough to beta read the whole thing for me. They send me their feedback, which I consider and work into my manuscript. I dive into another round of edits, fixing things my beta readers have pointed out. Last read through, fixing minor details.

5 – Deliver manuscript. It’s time to hand my manuscript in. The novel is pretty much as tight as I can get it without further eyes on it. Now I wait for feedback from my publisher. Bite nails.

6 – Final revision. By now, I’ve received the official editorial notes. Anytime I get major feedback, I always read through it all and then give things a few days to sink in, and to come up with solutions to problems. Criticism is hard, but very, very necessary. No one wants to rip your work apart; they want to help take out the wobbly bits and build it stronger so the building soars. (And now I seem to have strayed from baking analogies to architecture. Oops.) Heart Blade, my first Blade Hunt novel, needed a full rewrite. My editor didn’t ask me for this, just for revisions, but I felt the changes I wanted to make went deeper than simple edits could handle. There was a lot of character building I wanted to work on. So it was easier to rewrite the entire thing from scratch, using the previous version as a reference, which I did over six manic weeks of non-stop work. With Night Blade, though I did rewrite a few sections entirely and added a chapter or two (and deleted another), I was on firmer ground, having all of the work I’d done on the precious book to guide me. This stage might include a few back-and-forths; Heart Blade went through three rounds with my editor before it was declared fit for consumption.

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Checking notes during final Night Blade edits

7 – Copyedits. Now the whole thing goes to the copyeditor, that saintly person who will make sure I haven’t done ridiculous things with commas, or named my Space Council different things on different pages. (Spoiler alert: there are no actual Space Councils in the Blade Hunt Chronicles. Or actual space. I mean, space is there, I haven’t erased it or anything.) After the copyeditor has had their say, the manuscript comes back to me so I can go over all the suggested changes and approve them. I thought this was going to be boring, but it was rather fun. And eye-opening! Once copyedits are approved, the almost-baked-book goes to my proofreader, who acts as a final set of (very sharp) eyes on the whole thing. Again, the manuscript returns to me for approval of changes.

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Going through Heart Blade copyedits

8 – Dish and serve. It’s ready! There’s nothing else for me to do, in production terms. Now it’s all up to my publisher, and next time I set eyes on my story it’ll be a shiny new ARC, and then an actual-factual book, fresh from the oven and piping hot. It’s time to relax, and enjoy. Easy as pie. A really, REALLY long-baked and complicated pie…

(I don’t actually have a book-pie image. So please enjoy a cup of tea and some sweet treats instead.)

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Night Blade, book 2 of the Blade Hunt Chronicles, will be out on November 7th. Cover reveal coming soon!

Buy book 1, Heart Blade, here.

Summer 2017 Updates

Summer is here, bringing all the joys and challenges of kids on school vacation. It’s a lot harder to get writing-related things done when my not-so-little ones are around, but by mixing up the carrots (“we can go to the beach tomorrow if you let me work today”) and the sticks (“HALP! Leave me alone or I swear I’ll block your YouTube access”), I’m slowly getting to the end of my Night Blade revisions.

By next week, I’ll be ready to send my fight scenes to my sword instructor, Christopher Valli from Laurel City Sword. Chris revised all my sword and fight scenes for Heart Blade, and I’m hoping he’ll be pleased with the ones I’ve written for Night Blade. My climbing scenes also need a stern revision, since my only rock climbing experience was years ago, in my teens. I’m counting on my brother Simon, an enthusiastic climber, to look those over for me. The internet is a great resource for many things, but if you have access to someone who can revise sections that require a certain level of expertise, I thoroughly recommend it.

After incorporating any new suggestions from my experts, the next step will be a final reread of all the rewrites and edits I’ve made to Night Blade, before it goes back to my publisher for a last look. Once we’re all happy, the book will be ready for the copyeditor to get her teeth into.

Very soon, I’ll be able to share the gorgeous cover art for Night Blade. I’m lucky enough to have been given the chance to work with not just one, but two extremely talented cover artists. Merilliza Chan was in charge of the beautiful cover for Heart Blade. For Night Blade, my publisher changed direction slightly, and handed the cover over to Tom Edwards, who does some truly amazing SF/F book cover work. The result is very different from Heart Blade, but just as fabulous. I can’t wait to share it, and see what you all think.

Screen Shot 2017-07-14 at 7.39.33 PM  A teeny tiny teaser… Cover reveal coming soon!

And speaking of art, Corinna Marie, who did the adorable character art for Heart Blade, is working on a brand new set of character pictures for Night Blade. There are a couple of familiar names among them, and a couple of new names, too – I hope you’ll enjoy meeting them as much as I enjoyed writing them! And yes, I’ll definitely be doing some character art postcard giveaways closer to launch date.

Don’t forget to sign up for my monthly newsletter for exclusive mini interviews – in July, my guest is fantasy author Kerry Buchanan, talking about horses in fiction.

Happy summer to those in the Northern Hemisphere! Here’s to beachside reading, lazy days in the shade, and a chance to recharge those batteries.

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Character Intro: Meet Alex

Thank you for following my character intro week! Over the past few days I’ve introduced some of my characters from Heart Blade, Book 1 of the Blade Hunt Chronicles. The gorgeous art work is by Corinna Marie and used with permission.

Alexander of York

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Alex by Corinna Marie

Alexander of York, also known as Brother Alexander, is a monk and former knight of the Crusades. Yes, Alex has been around for a while. The young English nobleman became a vampire almost a thousand years ago while he fought for King Richard the Lionheart. His sword Redemption has been his constant companion over the centuries.

 

PAPERBACK PROMO:

At the moment only the e-book is up for pre-order. Once the paperbacks go up for sale (probably on or near release date, February 14th), I’ll be running a special giveaway. The first 30 people to order a paperback copy and email me proof of purchase will win a set of four postcards with Heart Blade character art by Corinna Marie. More on this soon!

Find Heart Blade on Amazon

Add to Goodreads

Character Intro: Meet Camille

It’s character intro week! Over the next few days I’ll be introducing some of my characters from Heart Blade, Book 1 of the Blade Hunt Chronicles. The gorgeous art work is by Corinna Marie and used with permission.

Camille Darkwing

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Camille by Corinna Marie

Camille Darkwing is a French Canadian half-demon. Gifted a full demon’s blood in 1932, the petite immortal teen is often underestimated, and that’s just the way she likes it. Most half-demons feed off darker emotions, such as anger, or fear. But Camille’s Immortal Hunger is a little…unusual. Fitting: after all, Camille has always preferred to do things her own way.

 

PAPERBACK PROMO:

At the moment only the e-book is up for pre-order. Once the paperbacks go up for sale (probably on or near release date, February 14th), I’ll be running a special giveaway. The first 30 people to order a paperback copy and email me proof of purchase will win a set of four postcards with Heart Blade character art by Corinna Marie. More on this later!

Find Heart Blade on Amazon

Add to Goodreads

Character Intro: Meet Ash

It’s character intro week! Over the next few days I’ll be introducing some of my characters from Heart Blade, Book 1 of the Blade Hunt Chronicles. The gorgeous art work is by Corinna Marie and used with permission.

James Asher Deacon

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Ash by Corinna Marie

James Asher Deacon, or Ash as he’s known to his family and friends, is a seventeen-year-old sentinel, a descendant of angels. His father leads the New England Chapter of sentinels, and fully expects Ash to take over when he grows up. Ash isn’t sure he wants to serve the archaic system of laws that turned a blind eye to his mother’s death, but what else is a Scion’s son supposed to do?

 

PAPERBACK PROMO:

At the moment only the e-book is up for pre-order. Once the paperbacks go up for sale (probably on or near release date, February 14th), I’ll be running a special giveaway. The first 30 people to order a paperback copy and email me proof of purchase will win a set of four postcards with Heart Blade character art by Corinna Marie. More on this later!

Find Heart Blade on Amazon

Add to Goodreads

Writing Girls

The second round of revisions for Heart Blade is safely back in the hands of my editor, and now I’m at that it’s-getting-closer stage that’s half panic and half extreme excitement. Some of the hardest work during the editing stage went into my female characters, especially my main protagonist Adeline ‘Del’ Raven. Originally I wanted to write one of those snarky, feisty girls that other authors do so well. But it turns out I don’t really do snark (seriously, I’m rubbish at it!), and halfway through my first ever draft Del changed into someone sweeter, fiercer, and more determined than I ever imagined she would be. During the revision process, I had to make sure Del was that person I knew she should be, rather than the one I had originally imagined.

Last month I wrote a blog piece on Writing Boys, with some of my favorite YA men in the fictional world. Since then, I’ve had my Heart Blade girls on my mind – Del, Rose, Camille, and Diana. So I thought it was about time for a follow-up with a few of my favorite young women in speculative fiction…

*Note: not all the books mentioned below are YA, but all the characters are in the young adult range of teens to early twenties and share that ‘coming of age’ vibe. Feel free to add your own faves in the comments!*

 

Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins) – When I first read this series, my immediate reaction was, ‘Where the hell was Katniss when I was growing up?’ Seriously. The books I read in the 80’s had no one like her, and I desperately wish I could time travel and hand twelve-year-old me this book. A talented archer and hunter, Katniss has a ferocity to her that’s both chilling and mesmerizing.

Nessa Doherty (The Call, Peadar Ó Guilín) – Nessa is smart, focused, and a quick thinker. She’s determined to survive in this post-fairy-apocalypse version of Ireland, despite the physical limitations of her polio-induced disability and the disdain of many of her classmates at the training academy she attends. The Call is a brand new release, and already Nessa has made it to my list of all-time favorite female characters.

Beth Bradley (The City’s Son, Tom Pollock) – Graffiti artist Beth is as dark and edgy as the urban fantasy trilogy she dwells in. In the Skyscraper Throne series, she meets London’s gritty magical underbelly head on with a smile and a challenge, and never, ever shies away from a fight. Bonus points for goddess powers!

Delilah Bard (A Darker Shade of Magic, V.E. Schwab) – Oh, Lila… Another one who never backs away from danger, preferring instead to court it without shame. Thief, adventurer, pirate, magician… There is nothing that impulsive Lila won’t try her hand at if she gets the urge. No matter how perilous, or who gets swept up in her path.

Annabeth Chase (The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan) – Although only twelve in the beginning of the saga, Annabeth totally counts as she is now seventeen and preparing to head off to college. And how could I not include the daughter of Athena? One of the main characters in Rick’s Greek gods books (she even has a cameo in his new Norse gods series), Annabeth is cool logic under fire, and a master tactician who prefers to think her way out of trouble. But when the going gets tough, she’s not afraid to engage, getting up close and personal with her preferred weapon: a knife.

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Writing Boys

For the last month and a half I’ve been working on edits for my young adult novel, Heart Blade. A good part of the process included digging deeper into my characters. I spent a lot of time on my main male protagonist, seventeen-year-old Ash. James Asher Deacon is a complicated bundle of anger, fear, sorrow, sweetness, and sense of duty, and I hope that when Heart Blade comes out next year my readers will like him as much as I do.

I handed in the first big round of revisions to my editor yesterday, and since then I’ve been thinking about some of the fictional boys I’ve enjoyed reading about and what makes them appealing as characters. By ‘boys’, I mean that interval between late teens and early twenties; the ‘growing-up’ years, the defining years, the years when life is so full of urgent questions and – well – urgent everything. You find them all over YA, and a good bit of regular ‘adult’ SF/F too. They fuel fan art, and fanfics, and heated debates. They can be lovely, and frustrating, and stubborn, and inspiring. Here are a few of my favorites.

*Note: not all the books mentioned below are YA, but all the characters are in the YA range and share that ‘coming of age’ vibe. Feel free to add your own faves in the comments!*

 

Han Alister (The Demon King, Cinda Williams Chima) – Heartless streetlord, loyal friend, waif, leader, lover, healer, mage. The blond and blue-eyed hero of the Seven Realms series wears many different faces for many different people, and Chima does a spectacular job of showing him to us through different lenses as she builds on all these facets. Han is a compelling character who is not afraid to fight and suffer for what he believes in, and who will go to extraordinary lengths to defeat the villains and save the girl.

Darrow of Lykos (Red Rising, Pierce Brown) – What’s not to like about Darrow? Fiercely determined to do the right thing, free his people, and avenge the love of his life, the Helldiver of Lykos can be hard-hearted and unforgiving when necessary. But the talented military leader in Brown’s trilogy never loses the ability to love those who surround and follow him, and this faith in his friends is ultimately what saves him, time after time.

August Flynn (This Savage Song, Victoria Schwab) – August is sweetness personified. A beautifully gentle soul – who just happens to also be a monster who needs to kill in order to survive – he’s one of the prettiest characters I’ve seen in a long time. He’s brave, loving, and utterly committed to doing the right thing, even if everyone else is against it. He’s a bright candle flame in the dark world that Schwab has created in her new series, Monsters of Verity.

The Raven Boys (The Raven Boys, Maggie Stiefvater) – I’m totally cheating here, but how am I supposed to choose just one? In the first book of the Raven Cycle series we’re introduced to the loyal and eccentric leader, Gansey; to Adam, handsome and broken; shy and mysterious Noah; and prickly Ronan, whose tough exterior hides a caring heart. The four ‘Raven Boys’ from Aglionby Academy come as a package deal, complementing each other and weaving their personal stories into one rich tapestry.

Jorg Ancrath (Prince of Thorns, Mark Lawrence) – Jorg is definitely the bad boy of this bunch. Cruel, ruthless, very often unfeeling, and damaged beyond belief, Jorg is also brilliant, determined, and an inspired leader to his equally damaged men. The dazzlingly dark hero of the Broken Empire trilogy may be one of those love-him-or-hate-him characters, but there’s no doubt he makes for an extremely exciting read.

Martris Drayke (The Summoner, Gail Z. Martin) – I’m only halfway through the first book in Martin’s Chronicles of the Necromancer series, and already Tris has made it onto my faves list. Tall, slender, and handsome, Tris is also sweet and loyal, always trying to protect his friends and loved ones from harm. When tragedy strikes, Tris is forced brutally into a coming-of-age journey that brings out his still-nascent summoning magic. But even with everything he loves ripped away from him, he still retains an essential niceness that’s very endearing.

Spotlight on Writing YA with Carrie Firestone and Cindy Rodriguez

Young adult fiction has grown immensely in popularity over the past few decades, with media adaptations that include blockbuster movies and popular TV shows. But what exactly is this phenomenon called YA? Often referred to as ‘coming-of-age’ novels, YA books span a vast range of fiction genres and tend to focus on storylines pertinent to the age group of their teenage main characters.

The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) of the American Library Association (ALA) defines a young adult as someone between the ages of 12 and 18. However, YA readers range from preteens to adults of all ages. Frequently fast-paced and urgent in tone, YA fiction brings the rollercoaster of teen emotions to bookshelves everywhere.

I’ve invited two talented authors to give us some insight on young adult fiction and help dig a little deeper into this fluid genre-crossing publishing segment with its age-bending appeal.

Cindy Rodriguez is the author of When Reason Breaks (Bloomsbury, 2015), a hauntingly beautiful contemporary YA that deals with the thorny topics of teen depression and suicide, guided by the poetry of Emily Dickinson. A Crystal Kite finalist, Cindy is an active blogger at Latinxs in Kid Lit, which aims to explore the world of books for children and teens by and about Latinxs. She is also a member of We Need Diverse Books.

Carrie Firestone is the author of The Loose Ends List (Little, Brown, out on June 7th 2016), a tale of endings and beginnings. Following Maddie and her family as they travel the world on a cruise ship and come to terms with her grandmother’s terminal illness, this contemporary YA novel is a story of snow globe scenes of love, life and death, and is full of both laugh-out-loud and weep-your-eyes-out moments.

Juliana: Welcome Carrie and Cindy. Tell me, why choose to write YA? What do you find intriguing about writing for teen readers?

Cindy: I write YA because it’s such an important time of transition marked with joy, pain, and discovery. As a teacher, I’m able to watch my students struggle with and enjoy these transformative years. As a writer, I like to explore and represent their experiences with authenticity and respect.

Carrie: I think I write YA because I have a nineteen year old trapped inside me. I write books that I would have enjoyed when I was a teen.

Juliana: Having a young protagonist is not a prerogative of YA. Fantasy as a genre, for instance, is full of teen characters in books written for adults. So what, in your opinion, makes a book ‘YA’? What are those special ingredients?

Carrie: It seems that certain themes run through contemporary YA books. Many young adults are trying to figure out who they are, who they want to hang out with, who they want to fall in love with, and what their purpose is on this planet. Those are universal questions that can be approached in so many ways in YA fiction.

Cindy: I agree with Carrie. Also, I think the answer lies in your question. Other books with young protagonists are written for adults. Young adult fiction is written for teens. Even though it’s read a lot by adults, younger readers are our target audience, so as writers we have to be sure to make them act, look, and sound like teens.

Juliana: I’ve heard YA referred to as ‘first kiss fiction’. What’s the role of romance in YA and why does it seem to be so prevalent?

Carrie: That question made me laugh because I’ve just poured over my own diaries and romance was pretty prevalent on those pages! It’s developmentally appropriate for teens to explore sex and sexuality and whatever that means for them. My books include first kisses (and MORE) because I see YA fiction as a safe place to learn about sex and sexuality.  

Cindy: Right. A lot of firsts happen in the teen years since it’s such a time of exploration and discovery, so it should be represented in YA fiction. And romance has lots of levels, so some YA has tamer experiences dealing with crushes and first kisses, while others go all the way…see what I did there…but seriously, readers have a variety of experiences, which are represented in YA. Readers have choices depending on where they are in their own development.  

Juliana: Why do you think YA fiction appeals to such a broad range of ages?

Carrie: We were all teens once. We all remember those intense emotional peaks and valleys. Sometimes, as adults, we become cynical or tired or bored. It’s fun to relive the teen years, or to live vicariously through characters who are very different than we were.

Cindy: Yes, sometimes YA lets us remember because we see our young selves in the characters. Other times, we see different experiences which lets us learn and empathize. I also think a trademark of most YA is a sense of hope. No matter how dark or difficult the protagonist’s experiences are, most YA includes elements of hope and optimism as the characters grow and change. This isn’t always true in adult books, which can be a downer if that’s all you read.

Juliana: What do you begin with when starting a new novel – a mood, a setting, a character? What inspires you, and how do you maintain that inspiration while writing?

Carrie: I begin with a random flash that snowballs into a story. The Loose Ends List began with a vivid image of a person sitting in a wheelchair on the deck of a ship. I’m inspired by the energy of people and places I’ve encountered over the years. That energy spills out onto the page in weird manifestations. If I’m stuck, I go out and walk around and try to take in the energy around me. I know I’m saying “energy” a lot, but it’s how I process creative ideas.

Cindy: I also “see” flashes of scenes in my head. When Reason Breaks started with an image of the teacher running through the woods. I knew someone was out there and that the teacher was racing to help her. That’s all I knew at the time, but that was the beginning of my process. I’m inspired by people and places, too. I soak up images, phrases, moments wherever I am and eventually use them in my writing. I have limited time to write, so I’m usually focused and inspired when I get the time. I’m motivated by the clock during school vacations!

Juliana: What are some of the common errors you tend to notice in YA novels, the biggest pitfalls to avoid in writing stories for teens?

Cindy: I’ll go back to what I said earlier: teens should sound, look, and act like teens. Many writers who write for younger readers for the first time can fall into sounding like an adult delivering “messages.” I did this, too, at first. When I mentally shifted from writing as an adult to writing for young people, my writing changed. 

Carrie: I’m very careful not to be critical of other people’s novels. What might seem like a pitfall to me, is very powerful to somebody else. I try to stay true to the story in my head and respect the stories of other authors.

Juliana: A last one, just for fun. If you could be any YA character for a day, who would you choose, and why?

Carrie: Hmmmm. I just read Summer of Sloane by Erin Schneider. I would be Sloane because OMG her love interest is very adorable. (I told you I was nineteen).

Cindy: I loved Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee and would be either Sammy or Andy for a day. Both are smart, bold girls of color fighting for survival and falling in love on the Oregon Trail.

Juliana: Thank you very much Cindy and Carrie for joining me. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to decide which YA character I’d like to be for a day! 

Check out Cindy Rodriguez’s website – www.cindylrodriguez.com – for further information on her work, as well as blog posts, interviews, and news. You can find Cindy on Twitter @RodriguezCindyL and Facebook.

For more on Carrie Firestone, visit www.carriefirestoneauthor.com and check out her blog for sweet haikus of ‘snow globe moments’. Carrie tweets as @CLLFirestone and you can find her on Facebook. 

The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone will be out soon, on June 7th 2016!

Spotlight is a monthly blog feature. Check out April’s Spotlight on SFF Forums with Brian Turner and Damaris Browne. Next up in June: Spotlight on Urban Fantasy.