Musings of Meredith Russo



Advice to Young Writers: You’re a Good Writer Without Your Mental Illness

by Meredith Russo

There is a pervasive idea in artistic and literary circles that mental illness (“madness” if you’re a romantic) is essential to the proper functioning of a creative mind. Dysfunction makes it easier to view systems, cultures, and people from without, to think in lateral ways, to drum up new ideas and new modes of communication. Creativity, when used as an outlet for internal pain, is infinitely more valid and valuable than when it is done for personal fulfillment, political/ethical expression, or (gasp!) money. Or so certain people would have you believe – and since, for whatever reason, creative people all seem to come pre-packaged with at least some form of mental illness, and because those illnesses often find ways to convince us of their necessity, we’re often inclined to believe them.

I’m here to tell you this is wrong.

I’m bipolar, and it’s had as much effect on my life as gender dysphoria ever did. For every day I spent huddled up in my room, unable to function because I hated living as a boy, there was a day I was too burned out by depression to function. For every night I sat up on the verge of tears because I was afraid I could never be a wife, a mother, or a daughter, there was a night I was so manic that sleep was basically impossible. And yet, while I worked on stamping out my dysphoria through transition as soon as I figured out what it was, celebrated my new identity, and even wrote a book about it, I actively resented and occasionally even resisted treatment for my bipolar disorder – all because I thought it made me a better writer.

Mania gave me a work ethic neurotypical people could never achieve, I thought. Psychosis allowed characters to come alive inside me, I thought. Depression kept me true, kept me from buying into pleasant illusions. But you know what? The work I produced when I was manic was rushed and sloppy. The realism of my characters was an illusion, as I was so convinced of their reality that I neglected making them come alive on the page like I should have. And depression? All depression ever did was make it impossible to work when I wasn’t manic and give my work a sort of easy, immature cynicism. True art requires madness though, right? That’s what I’d been told by much older, established, celebrated authors and poets! Why would they lie? The truth is they weren’t lying, just repeating lies their mental illness was telling them. The most insidious thing about mental illness is that it doesn’t want to be cured. It wants you to come up with ways to explain it or, better yet, to justify it – and who is better suited to that task than the writer?

Why is this important, though? Because, young writer, I want you to write well and often. It’s important because, for whatever reason, many of us are prone to these illnesses and I don’t want the flippant words of some older writer who didn’t know any better to drive you into unnecessary suffering. And, finally, it’s important because the literary world doesn’t need more suicides. Imagine how many more books John Kennedy Toole could have written. Imagine if Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath had grown old. Think of David Foster Wallace, John Berryman, Ernest Hemingway, Hunter S. Thompson, Anne Sexton, and so many others. Think of them and get help.

Don’t suffer for your art. Live for it.

About Meredith

Meredith Russo was born, raised, and lives in Tennessee. She started living as her true self in late 2013 and never looked back. If I Was Your Girl was partially inspired by her experiences as a trans woman. Like Amanda, Meredith is a gigantic nerd who spends a lot of her time obsessing over video games and Star Wars.

If I Was Your Girl is her debut novel, but definitely not her last. When she’s not busy writing she can be found reblogging pictures of cats and babies, reading high literature (and definitely not fanfiction and fantasy novels), arguing with strangers about social justice, and, of course, raising her two amazing children, Vivian and Darwin.

You definitely, absolutely should not be shy about contacting her, even if it’s just to talk. She’s always open to new opportunities and chances to speak with new people.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads

If I Was Your Girl

Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school in Lambertville, Tennessee. Like any other girl, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret. There’s a reason why she transferred schools for her senior year, and why she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.

And then she meets Grant Everett. Grant is unlike anyone she’s ever met—open, honest, kind—and Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself…including her past. But she’s terrified that once she tells Grant the truth, he won’t be able to see past it.

Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that she used to be Andrew.

Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Indiebound | Book Depository

I was absolutely thrilled when Meredith agreed to write a post for us back in February. I was really looking forward to If I Was Your Girl. Let me briefly say I was not disappointed one bit! It was well written and I definitely made a strong connection to Amanda. It was raw, real, emotional, and eye opening.

So THANK YOU Meredith for this book and for writing about your personal experiences as an author! I know it’s not always easy talking about something so personal, but I know the young writer who’ll read this will appreciate it. You are truly an inspiration!

As always, a huge thank you to everyone who has and/or will participate in this feature. You’re helping so many writers and authors succeed and follow their dreams. We appreciate it more than you know!

We hope everyone has a great rest of your week and a wonderful weekend!


Waiting on Wednesday: A Shadow Bright and Burning


Breaking the Spine is the host of Waiting on Wednesday!


Title: A Shadow Bright and Burning (Kingdom on Fire #1)

Author: Jessica Cluess

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Hist. Fiction

Page Count: 416

release date: September 20th, 2016


I am Henrietta Howel. The first female sorcerer. The prophesied one. Or am I?

Henrietta Howel can burst into flames. When she’s brought to London to train with Her Majesty’s sorcerers, she meets her fellow sorcerer trainees, young men eager to test her powers and her heart. One will challenge her. One will fight for her. One will betray her. As Henrietta discovers the secrets hiding behind the glamour of sorcerer life, she begins to doubt that she’s the true prophesied one. With battle looming, how much will she risk to save the city—and the one she loves?


TTT Rewind: Characters We’d Name Our Children After

hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

This week we decided to go back and pick a different topic for Top Ten Tuesday.  Here’s a look at the potential names of our future children if we named them after literary characters!


Lauren’s Picks

1. Annabeth (Percy Jackson) I fell in love with this name the first time I heard it. It’s a nice change from the popular Elizabeth.
2. Tessa (Infernal Devices) Something about Tessa just sounds so pretty to me.
3. Violet (A Series of Unfortunate Events) Pretty name and also one of my favorite colors!
4. Elicia ( Air Awakens)- I have always liked the name Alisha, but I know too many girls named that. I like how this is a bit different but sounds similar.
5. Josie (Out of the Easy) Another name I have liked since I was young, but even more after reading this book!

1. Noah (The Raven Boys) Old name, yet still like it! Just something about it, not sure why.
2. Kaden (Kiss of Deception) I don’t know many Kaden’s out there, so at least I know this would be a different name.
3. Jax (Air Awakens) I feel in love with this character while reading the books and I know I would have fun naming my son this!
4. Liam (The Darkest Minds) Liam just sounds like an epic name. i would expect great things from my son with this name!
5. Cas (anna Dressed in Blood) Not only did I like this name in this book, I really like it from the show Supernatural!


Kelly’s Picks:

1. Safiya because I would always want a daughter of mine to be as passionate and independent as Safi is in TRUTHWITCH. Plus, Safi is a pretty awesome name.🙂

2. Aelin (Heir of Fire) because it’s such a powerful name, and she’s seriously my book hero. If I could raise a daughter to be half the woman that Aelin Galanthynius is, I’d be one proud mama bear!

3. Calli (The Short Life of Sparrows) because that is a character that knows how to live her life in a way that’s best for her. No one else determines her fate or her happiness. She made her life her own, and that’s something I would want for my daughter too.

4. Sorcha (Daughter of the Forest) because though she may not be powerful in physical strength, she makes up for it in moral righteousness, determination, and pure love. She barges through her obstacles and tackles them all while still somehow managing to hold herself together.

5.Jane, the sweet and naive sister in Pride and Prejudice, because she values her kindness, sincerity, and sweet heart over all else. Never letting the world carve her into a hardened version of herself, she holds strong to who she is despite heartbreak and despair. I would want my daughter to hold steady too.

6. Akiva (Daughter of Smoke and Bone) the strong, kind, and loving man from Laini Taylor’s books. He’s what any man should aspire to, holding to morals, finding bravery in love, and being true to who he is despite what others may think of him.

7. Elias (An Ember in the Ashes) broken, scarred, and constantly working to heal himself. He redefines power and determination to fit his needs and continues to prove that he is more than what people see him as. He is more than the protector. He is a good man.

8. Rowan (Heir of Fire) how could I ever forget Rowan. Not only do I just adore this name, but his love spurs from friendship, protection, determination, and hard work. This is a man that knows life isn’t easy and works every day to try and make it better for himself. I would want to instill this in my son.

9. Jace (City of Bones) I won’t even lie by pretending that people won’t hold this against me, but I adored his character, even more so than Clary. He’s so flawed, real, and down to earth. I’d want my son to know that he’s not perfect and to be able to work through his problems with bravery and a little bit of help, just like Jace.

10. Daniel (Fallen) because he knows that despite putting up a wall and hitting failure after failure, there’s always hope. Love conquers all. I’d hope my own son would understand something like this deep down.


Melissa’s Picks

(I will come back to this)

1. Alanna (Song of the Lioness) – She is a strong, independent, persistent woman who broke barriers as the first female knight! She had a huge impact on my life and so will my child.

2. Reyna (Heroes of Olympus) – You don’t really get to know the real Reyna until 4 books later, but she is strong willed, loyal, and compasstionate. As a child of Bellona and Praetor at Camp Jupiter she’s great leader.

3. Eleanor (Something Strange and Deadly/ Eleanor and Park) – Both Eleanor’s are independent and loving. Both have gone through many obstacles, but have come out stronger in the end. Both girls  wouldn’t let anything hold her back and wanted something better for themselves even if it came down to defying society or moving away to start over.

4. Felicity (The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue) – Smart, fiesty, and unafraid to speak her mind. Doesn’t take crap from her brother or any other man. Another strong independent woman who wants to defy society’s standards.

5. Amanda (If I Was Your Girl) – If I name my girl after Amanda, I want her to be true to herself and she can overcome anything life throws at her . I want her to understand that she will have my unconditional love and support. Also if she will be a huge nerd like me!


6. Nico (Percy Jackson) – Similar to if I named my child Amanda, I want my son to know hes never alone. I want the very best and I want them be whoever they were meant to be.

7. Corey (The Year We Fell Apart) – The perfect gentleman and boy next door. He’ll learn to respect women and be a loyal friend and confidant.

8. James (The Orphan Queen) – Yes contrary to the books, if I name my son James he’ll be loyal friend and sibling. Respectable, caring, and humorous.

9. Xander (The Distance Between Us) – I want my son to be well rounded and free to make his own choices. He’ll have my support in whatever career he chooses. As long as he is respectable and thoughtful.

10. Max (The Start of Me and You) – If my son grew up to be smart, dorky, and caring then I’ll be over the moon. In TSOMAY he was supportive of Paige’s fear of swimming and tries to help her overcome that fear. I hope my son can be that for someone.

This was a lot of fun to think about, but also super hard to narrow down! Have you guys done this topic yet? Can you pick your Top 5 literary names? Let us know in the comments below!



Books With Friends Challenge!

As any reader could probably tell you, they have one book (or more) that they absolutely love and wish they could get everyone to read. That book you are dying to talk about with others, especially if they’re friends. You need someone to fangirl/fanboy with you.


There is also that moment of enjoyment when a new book is pulled off a shelf to read. What new adventures will I go on? Who are the new people I will fall in love with? Will this book become one of my favorites? Will this book keep me reading all night? All the excitement is there, but there is something that makes reading so much more! Friends!

Knowing these two feelings and wanting to combine them I have decided to create a challenge! So I give to you:

Books With Friends Challenge!  


There are a few reasons I decided to do this challenge:

  1. To tackle my HUGE TBR pile!- I have SO many books just sitting on my shelves waiting to be read. Some are very popular titles, others are some I really hope to get to soon.
  2. Enjoy books my friends have enjoyed.-Yes, I have read books my friends have enjoyed. However, this challenge is going to be slightly different. I want the top books from my friends!
  3. Maybe find new titles. – Some of my friends may recommend a book I have never heard of. Just because a book is not popular doesn’t mean they are not loved.
  4. Expand my reading choices.- I usually have a go-to genre when I read. A few friends I talk to I know read outside my usual area so I’m looking forward to getting out of my comfort zone.
  5. Connect with more friends!- Sometimes it takes a love for something to help build a stronger friendship. What could be better than getting to fangirl/fanboy about a favorite book?

The idea for this challenge started a few months back with the help of my friend Mackayla (@mackayla_hearon) on Twitter. She was my #OTSPSecretSister and she sent me a copy of her favorite book. She left notes throughout Clockwork Angel that I could read. The book was really good, but just getting to experience it with a friend made it 10x better! That was just the initial thought for starting a reading challenge like this one!


My co-bloggers Kelly and Melissa were the final reason for me to create the challenge. After a conversation, Melissa and I decided to read a book Kelly really enjoyed, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. Once again I found myself enjoying a book recommended to me from a friend. That is how this challenge was born!

I really look forward to getting to enjoy new books, and I hope others will join me in the challenge! The challenge will run from September 1st to October 31st.

Not sure what to do? It’s Easy!! Just follow these steps:

  1. Pick a friend who enjoys reading. (It may help to have a list to know who you have already asked.)
  2. Ask the friend to recommend a book they want you to read. (It can be more than one. Up to you if you want to read more than one book from this friend.)
  3. Read the book! (Hopefully you will enjoy it and can talk to the friend while reading.)
  4. Repeat Step 1. (Keep going until the end of the challenge!)

Keep going and see how many books you can read!


I will post a picture of my current read and the name of the friend who recommend it to me on Twitter and Instagram. If you wish to buddy read with me, please let me know!

If you see I am reading, or have read, a book you really enjoyed and want to discuss it, send me a message on Twitter or Instagram!

Are you thinking of joining the challenge? GREAT! You can sign up with your Twitter/Blog  using the linky below. If you already own many of the books , you can create a sign up post with the book and name of the person who recommended it. You can start off with 1 or more and then ask as you go! Be sure to use the hashtag #BooksWithFriends on social media! Just so others can keep up with what everyone is reading!

Best reading to you all and remember to HAVE FUN!!!!



Sign ups close Sept 30th!



Waiting on Wednesday: Empire of Storms


As always, Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine.


Title: Empire of Storms ( Throne of glass #5)

Author: Sarah J. Maas

Genre: YA, Fantasy

Page Count: 704

Release Date: September 6th, 2016


The long path to the throne has only just begun for Aelin Galathynius. Loyalties have been broken and bought, friends have been lost and gained, and those who possess magic find themselves at odds with those don’t.

As the kingdoms of Erilea fracture around her, enemies must become allies if Aelin is to keep those she loves from falling to the dark forces poised to claim her world. With war looming on all horizons, the only chance for salvation lies in a desperate quest that may mark the end of everything Aelin holds dear.

Aelin’s journey from assassin to queen has entranced millions across the globe, and this fifth installment will leave fans breathless. Will Aelin succeed in keeping her world from splintering, or will it all come crashing down?


About the Author:


Sarah J. Maas is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Throne of Glass series (Queen of Shadows, Book 4, will be out in September 2015), as well as the A Court of Thorns and Roses series (out 5/5/15).

Sarah lives in Bucks County, PA, and over the years, she has developed an unhealthy appreciation for Disney movies and bad pop music. She adores fairy tales and ballet, drinks too much tea, and watches an ungodly amount of TV. When she’s not busy writing, she can be found exploring the historic and beautiful Pennsylvania countryside with her husband and canine companion.


TTT: Books with a Desert Setting


It’s time for another Top Ten Tuesday!! This week we were asked to think of 10 books that have similar settings whether it’d be the beach, boarding school, England, etc.  We didn’t want to choose a common setting so I decided to challenge us with the desert. Why? Because I’m crazy that’s why!  Not all the books don’t necessarily take place in the desert 100% of the time, but we still count it!

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman

The Girl Who Rides Like a Man by Tamora Pierce

The Rebel of the Sands by Alywn Hamilton

Strange and Ever After by Susan Dennard

The Star Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury

Bound by Blood and Sand by Becky Allen

Though it’s now out yet! We’re all excited to read this one!

The Assassin and the Desert by Sarah J. Maas

 Are there any books that we’re missing? We had a hard time with this, but managed to get 10!! Let us know in the comments below!


Musings of Kerri Maniscalco


Failure is a Plot Twist in Our Success Story
by Kerri Maniscalco

Whenever I see the word “failure” I automatically jerk back and squint at the screen. “What is this ‘Failure’ thing you speak of?” Is it measured by a certain amount of rejection letters? If so, goodness, have I failed before. As an eternal optimist—who’s faced a bunch of “failure” before getting that elusive publishing contract—I can honestly say that I choose to see failure as an important stepping stone in your career.

After all, what is failure other than an unexpected plot twist? As writers we understand that it’s the challenges our characters overcome that make for a fantastic story. The same is true for us.

Before I signed with my agent I’d queried her with a YA futuristic thriller. I was over the moon excited when she requested the full manuscript, but didn’t stop working on my craft. When I saw a Writer’s Digest webinar she was teaching, I took a chance (hoping she wouldn’t think I was stalker-y) and signed up for it.

Guys? It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Our communication door opened up, allowing us to chat back and forth and get to know each other over a few months…

So when I received a rejection on my manuscript, it was NOT the way I’d envisioned this dream unfolding. However, that “failure” was attached with an invitation to directly submit my next project. I took the positive from the heartbreak, hoarded the bright-spots like a miser with her shiny gold, and wrote the story of my authorly heart. The result? I directly submitted it and signed with Barbara a few weeks later.

Was it fortune and fame from that point on? Er, not exactly. You see publishing has all these hurdles and potential for “failure” that pop up when you least expect it. Editors who love your work get rejected too.

You better believe that I didn’t let that submission failure/plot twist stop me from writing my next work, a YA gothic horror that DID sell. Over a holiday weekend, no less.

There’s no easy way around it: failure sucks. But how you deal with it and what you choose to focus on doesn’t have to. Honestly? I don’t believe there’s EVER failure in trying. You might not succeed with your first project (or your fifth), but you are learning and growing and becoming this ginormous badass in the process. You’re staring Failure down and showing it who’s Top Cat. (I’m a total cat lady.)

If you’re getting similar rejections in the query trenches, then taking time to see what might be wrong in your query or opening pages, is succeeding. Or if you’re polishing up your words until their incandescence blinds you, it’s succeeding. And if you’re taking advice and criticism well and incorporating it into your art…you’re already succeeding.

How, you might ask? Because you’re coming at Failure with your arms open wide, saying, “Come at me, bro.” Like me, you know that failure is only a temporary plot twist on your journey toward success.


About Kerri

Kerri Maniscalco grew up in a small town just outside of New York City where her love of the arts was fostered from an early age. In her spare time she reads everything she can get her hands on, cooks all kinds of food for her family, and drinks entirely too much tea while discussing life’s finer points with her cats.

STALKING JACK THE RIPPER, her debut YA gothic horror, is coming September 20, 2016 from jimmy patterson books/Little, Brown.

Hang out with Kerri online and discuss things like book boyfriends, cat videos, and watch her unapologetically post way too many Sherlock and Stormtrooper gifs.

Author Photo Credit: Kelli Maniscalco @ Dogwood Lane

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Stalking Jack the Ripper

Stalking Jack The Ripper

Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.

Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.

STALKING JACK THE RIPPER was also a 2016 BEA YA Buzz book!

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Thank you so much, Kerri! Your words of wisdom and failure are so important in today’s world. We all feel like failures at one point or another and I see too much of the disappointment and inner turmoil in this business. You’re not failing… you’re growing. =)

A huge thank you to everyone who has participated in this feature! Your posts and words of wisdom help writers around the world find the courage needed to spend another day putting their hearts to paper. You’re appreciated more than you know!

We hope you all have a wonderful rest of your week!


TTT REWIND: Most Unfortunate Character Names

toptentuesdayhosted by The Broke and the Bookish

It’s time for a Top Ten Tuesday REWIND!  This week we’re given the chance to go back and pick from any topic we might have missed in the past 6 years! Which for us is a lot! We had a tough time narrowing it down, but couldn’t resist this one!

  1. Peeta from The Hunger Games – Come on! Really? A play on Pita bread is the best you could come up with?
  2. Four from Divergent – Shame on you Tobias Eaton! You had a chance to rename yourself and you picked a number. We get the reasoning behind it but… *SMH*
  3. Renesmee from Breaking Dawn – Yeaahhh… NO
  4. Lester Papadopoulos from Trials of Apollo – Yeah that’s what happens when you royally piss off the King of the gods.
  5. Cricket Bell from Lola and the Boy Next Door – Even though this is Melissa’s favorite in the trilogy, she really wishes that wasn’t his name.
  6. Albus Severus from Harry Potter – We completely understand the touching decision and reason behind this, but it’s a bad combination in our opinion.Since we’re on the subject of Harry Potter….
  7. Crabbe, Goyle, and Mudungus Fletcher -Perfect evidence that your parents don’t like you.
  8.  Princess Eadlyn from The Heir – Eadlyn… EEEDLINN… What in the world kind of name is this?! I feel like E.T. Seriously, “EEEEEEDLINNN PHONE HOME!”
  9. Wilhelmina & Tobiah from The Orphan Queen – Of course Wilhelmina’s nickname is really Wil, but Wilhelmina is the biggest mouthful of a name. It literally just looks like someone decided to combine William, Helena, and Mina all into one scrambled mess. And don’t even get me started on Tobiah. You’re not as good as Tobias Eaton… You fail by one letter.
  10. Ponyboy from The Outsiders – Ponyboy? Seriously? There really is no good reason for this name. “Stay gold, Ponyboy! Let me go ride off into the sunset on a pony-” wait… that’s not right…
  11. Eustace Clarence Scrubb from the Narnia series – Just, what? The poor soul who has the name Eustace… *moment of silence*
  12. Mare Barrow from The Red Queen – *neighhhhhh*
  13. Pasha & Vika from The Crown’s Game – It’s not a very princely name and just no. Seriously, Pasha kind of sounds like a female name to me. Am I the only one?
  14. Katniss from The Hunger Games – Yes we know she’s named after a plant, but still, what kind of name is Cat-niss?! *meoowwww hisssss*
  15. Luce from Fallen – It’s a terrible nickname for Lucinda. It kind of reminds me of Lucifer… Maybe that’s a sign…
  16. Darrow from Red Rising – It’s just arrow with a D. Maybe Barrow, Carrow, Farrow, Bone Marrow? Nope, still not working.
  17. Clary from The Mortal Instruments – First of all, Clarissa is just a bad name. Don’t name your children Clarissa. Secondly, Clary just reminds me of a clarinet. What am I supposed to do with a clarinet?! Stupid. *throws Clary the clarinet across the room*
  18. Caymen from The Distance Between Us – Loved the book just wasn’t feeling it. Too similar to Cayman Islands.
  19. Sloane from Since You’ve Been Gone – Something about this name just didn’t sit well with Melissa even though she LOVES the book and Morgan! However, Kelly is in love with this name.
  20. Sinjin St. Sinjin from Beauty Queens  – The worst of the worst we believe. Seriously, this is the name of a pirate in a book written as a parody. There’s a reason this name is so bad.



Okay we may have gotten carried away with these here… Is there any character we missed? What are your thoughts about these unfortunate character names?



Rebel Magisters: Interview


Today we’re lucky to have Shanna Swendson on the blog to talk about her sequel Rebel Magisters!

1. What inspired you to start writing Steampunk and the Rebel Mechanics series in general?

I’ve always loved Victorian-type things. I remember being utterly fascinated as a small child by a particular episode of Captain Kangaroo that showcased “olden days” stuff. I’m also fond of adventure stories, so Steampunk seemed like the perfect combination of the Victorian aesthetic and adventure. I wanted to try writing a Steampunk story for a long time before I finally came up with a plot, and that happened largely because of a juxtaposition of two books on my bookcase. My copy of Jane Eyre was next to a romantic adventure story, and I found the basis of my plot in that mix.

2. What kind of research did you have to do in order to write Rebel Mechanics and Rebel Magisters? How much of historical New York is actually in it?

I did a ton of research — reading at least 50 books — to write the first book, and then a bit more for the second book. First, I focused on reading about life in the time of the setting — Gilded Age New York. That was such a crazy era with such immense extravagance set against abject poverty with no protections for workers or poorer people, with technological and cultural change going on all the while. Then I read about the American Revolution and the events that really did happen, so I could see what events might happen in a different time and place. I also read about steam engines and airships, about the early days of electricity and the war between Tesla and Edison (which I ended up not using — I keep trying to write Edison into the books, and his scenes keep getting cut). I read autobiographies and memoirs of people who lived at that time. I read novels written during the time, from classics to obscure dime novels, to get a sense of the language of that era. And I read novels set around that era written by people who lived through it (a lot of Edith Wharton and Henry James).

I tried to keep the Rebel Mechanics version of New York as closely grounded as possible to the real thing, aside from the major alternate history differences. You could find some of the locations even now in the city. For instance, there aren’t a lot of the Gilded Age mansions left along Fifth Avenue across from Central Park, but there are a few still around, serving as museums. The West Battery Fort (what it was called when it was first built for the War of 1812) is now known as Castle Clinton, and is where you buy your ticket if you’re taking the boat to the Statue of Liberty. In the real timeline, it was never really used for military purposes the way it is in the books’ altered timeline. I have a historical atlas of New York that I keep by my side when I’m writing to give me ideas and to look things up.

3. What was your writing process like for writing Rebel Magisters? Did you have any difficulties that you didn’t have while writing Rebel Mechanics?

I had originally plotted out a trilogy and wrote a one-page synopsis of each book when I’d finished the first three chapters of the first book, as part of an overall proposal for the first book. So when it came time to write the sequel, I thought it would be easy. But it had been more than five years between the time I wrote the first book and the time I started working on the sequel, and the process of writing the first book had somewhat altered the way I saw that world and the characters, so a lot ended up changing, and that made it a little more challenging. I almost didn’t know what the book was really about until I finished the first draft, and that meant I had to do a lot of rewriting. I also had a lot of starts and stops, where I’d write something, realize that section was all wrong, do more research, then write something completely different. Once you’ve written the first book in a series, you’re stuck with what you established, and that means you have to be really careful about what you do next that doesn’t contradict anything. Characters also have a habit of taking on a life of their own that doesn’t always fit with my original plans for them.

4. Your covers are probably the most beautiful Steampunk covers I’ve ever seen! Did you have a say in how either of them turned out?

I just gave general input to the designer at the publisher of the first book. They asked me for some ideas, and there were three possible directions I came up with. One was using the Rebel Mechanics gear and ribbon emblem, one was the girl in a ballgown look that’s possibly overdone in YA but that actually applied to this story, and one was maybe using some vintage city photography. They combined all three concepts and created a lovely cover. The second book is independently published, so I worked with a member of my agent’s staff on it, and we wanted to stick with the look of the first book so it would be clear that it was a series. I found the photo of the girl with the teacup that was right out of a scene in the book, as well as images of keys, a vintage photo of the city skyline, and an airship image that we incorporated into the skyline (you have to look carefully for it). The designer put it all together beautifully.

5. The beauty in your main characters is that they’re extremely well rounded, logical, and down to earth people in a series that loves to throw a little science and a little magic into the mix. How would you say your main characters have developed since Rebel Mechanics?

I think both Verity and Henry are feeling more comfortable in their own skin since they’ve revealed their secrets to each other. They now have this one relationship where they don’t have to put on an act or hide anything, and that gives them a confidence that carries over into the rest of their lives. It’s been fun seeing how Verity is growing stronger and more vocal as she gets more devoted to her cause and to the people she cares about. She was kind of meek and naive at the beginning of the first book, and she probably would have fainted then at the very thought of the kind of stuff she’s doing by the end of the second book.

6. Speaking of characters, who is your most fun character to write, and why?

In Rebel Magisters, I have to say that Flora was probably the most fun because she turned out to be such a surprise. I always knew she wasn’t quite what she seemed to be, but then she went even beyond that. She’s not necessarily a favorite character or one I identify with, but seeing her rise to the occasion in ways that none of the other characters ever would have expected has been a lot of fun, and I can’t wait to see where she goes from here.

7. Did you put any of yourself or your life into Rebel Magisters? Are there any characters that you’ve brought in from real people in your life or from yourself?

I think the main thing of myself that shows up in this series, and particularly in Verity, is that sense of not quite fitting in anywhere. I’ve always been the kind of person who can move easily between a lot of different kinds of groups without really being part of any of the groups, so no matter where I go, I’m a bit of an oddball. That’s a major theme of the series, being the person caught in the middle and then finding that to be a useful position, while at the same time not really belonging anywhere.
I also gave her my hair. I have long, curly hair, but I’d never written a heroine with curly hair before. I don’t get into that too much in the story and it doesn’t really show up on the covers, but it’s my hair I picture when I’m thinking about her. I have friends who are kind of like the Mechanics, without the revolutionary tendencies. They’re big into the Maker movement and like inventing things or finding new ways to make things. I think some of the energy and personalities of the Mechanics in general may have been inspired by that aspect of my friends.

8. As you may know, I’m a huge lover of Steampunk, especially in the YA age range and reading your books started that love of Steampunk for me. Do you have any recommendations for other Steampunk books that you love, or authors who have inspired you?

Philip Reeve has a couple of Steampunk-related series for younger readers. There’s the Hungry City (I’ve also seen it called Predator Cities) series, starting with Mortal Engines, that’s YA post-apocalyptic Steampunk (society has rebuilt to a Victorian-like level, but with a lot of twists and differences), and then there’s the more middle-grade Larklight series, which is sort of Steampunk in space and much lighter.
I also really loved the Scott Westerfeld Leviathan series. That one may be more “dieselpunk” because it’s set during World War I, but it has the same sort of spirit as Steampunk.
When I was researching the concept for the series, I read a few Jules Verne novels, which you might call proto-Steampunk — at the time, they were science fiction and were meant to be somewhat futuristic, but now they read to us like Steampunk because they’re an alternate past with different technology.

9. Do you have any advice for other Steampunk authors and writers?

I would suggest really thinking about what the Steampunk elements mean to the story. There’s a funny music video on YouTube about “Just Glue Some Gears on it and Call it Steampunk“, and it’s a sometimes apt criticism of some Steampunk, where the elements are really just set dressing and costume design. If you’re going to create a society that’s different enough to have these changes, you need to do the world building that goes with it and explains the changes and makes the changes matter. You need to do more than just glue a gear on it. Put some thought into it.

10. Last question, and hopefully a more fun one: You named a few of the machines in your books, with my favorite one being Bessie. I have a name for my GPS (Gertie) and my car (Marsha) which gets a few laughs now and again. Do you have any names for any machines in your real life?

Strangely enough, I don’t! I’ve tried to name cars and computers, and the names never quite stick. I just end up calling them “the car” or “the computer.” The closest I come to that is referring to my cell phone as “Mr. Phone.”

About Shanna

Shanna Swendson earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas and used to work in public relations but decided it was more fun to make up the people she wrote about, so now she’s a full-time novelist. She’s the author of the contemporary fantasy Enchanted, Inc. series and Fairy Tale series and the young adult steampunk fantasy Rebel Mechanics. She’s also contributed essays to a number of books on pop culture topics. She’s a frequent guest at writing conferences and science fiction conventions, where she gets to talk about books and television and consider it “work.” She lives in Irving, Texas, with several hardy houseplants and too many books to fit on the shelves.

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Rebel Magisters

Tea, Love … and Revolution!

The Rebel Mechanics aren’t the only group plotting revolution against the magical British Empire. There are rebel magisters, as well, and Verity Newton and her magister employer, Lord Henry, know that the only way for the revolution to succeed is if both groups work together. A diplomatic mission seems like the perfect opportunity for them to meet with rebels in other colonies and gather support—right under the governor’s nose.

From drawing rooms, ballrooms, and the harbor in Boston to the streets of Charleston, Verity and Henry find themselves up against stubborn factions of both magisters and Mechanics and increasingly aware that they can only really count on each other as their relationship deepens. It may take a real crisis to unite the rebel movements and rally them to the cause—but could such a crisis also tear them apart?

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Thank you so much Shanna for taking the time to answer all of my questions! I really appreciate it!


*Giveaway* Musings of Adi Alsaid


Deadline Eve
by Adi Alsaid

It’s three a.m on the day of your deadline. Whatever beverage of choice is powering you through this late night writing session is down to its last swills. An overhead fan casts more noise than breeze, shadows that make you think your phone is calling out for attention. Outside, crickets. This is maybe your twentieth time reading through this book, which is too many times to read the 300 pages in a six month span. You’re wondering if maybe you’d be better off going to sleep for a few hours, trying to finish off those last notes in the morning, clearheaded. You could even send this in by the end of the business day and your editor will be pretty chill about it.

Except you don’t really do clearheaded in the morning, do you. It was the same thing with basketball. Mornings, airballs all of them. Hell, do you even do clearheaded at all? Do you have any idea if this book has improved, or have you simply been rewording sentences, creating new problems? Have you gotten better at all in the last few years, or are you phoning it in?

You click away to Twitter, dead at this hour, thank God. A scroll or two, you click back to your book. Delete something, undo. Then you open your documents and scroll through, thinking maybe an earlier draft has a great line that’ll finally help you nail this scene. You find a short story you wrote a page of three years ago. Man, the writing in this sounds different, no? More like you. Better somehow. You should give this another shot. There’s something to the concept. Two paragraphs in you’re already rooting for this couple and their heartbroken friend, already hooked by the fact that there’s a teacup pig character. There’s no teacup pigs in this book you’re sending in tonight. What a sham.

You sigh, click away from the short story. Look at the draft you’re working on, still three thousand words over your editor’s goal. You get up to use the bathroom, even though you don’t really have to pee all that much. Open the fridge quietly. Imagine what you would do if there was suddenly a building-toppling earthquake, news of an asteroid, a monster waiting for you back on the patio by your computer. You go back to your computer, and apply that same imagination to your doubt.

What if you’ve never been all that good, just lucky? What if you’ve peaked? If you keep on writing the same book over and over again, the same characters? What if you’re lazy, and nothing you’ve ever written has reached its potential? What if you’re too respectful of deadlines, not respectful enough of the art in your craft? You talk about character arcs, but you don’t really know how to frame them. You love nuance in books, but you don’t know how to execute it. What was that lyric you used to sing to yourself? “You want everything to be just like the stories that you read but never write.”

Ugh, get back to Twitter. Anyone Snapchatting at this hour? Maybe start reading this chapter from the start, instead of the muck of this scene. Hey, that’s not so bad. Skip ahead. Okay that paragraph isn’t garbage either. Breathe a little easier, take a sip, wish you were good at cracking your fingers, since you think maybe that’s the trick you’re missing. Like bending your knees at the free throw line. Take a breath, follow through, fingers pointed at the rim. There’s more subtlety in this scene than you thought. You scroll back to the page you were stuck on.

Utter garbage.

This book is garbage.

You are garbage.

That teacup pig story was onto something though.

You go use the bathroom again. Switch the song that’s playing on your headphones, because surely it is to blame. 3:30 a.m. You hit delete on a whole paragraph and pat yourself on the back. You read a line that makes you feel everything is okay again. You belong in this world. You have worked hard. Look at you. It’s three thirty in the morning and you are not giving up. You have faced countless days staring at the screen, trying to shape a story, something representative of life, something that speaks to the human experience, all while dealing with this stupid brain of yours that keeps wanting to complicate everything. It comes up with delusions of grandeur one moment, tears the delusions down the next. And this is all such big picture stuff that you can worry about on another day. When you don’t have a deadline.

You look at your edit letter. Click back to your book. Remember this one moment early in act two that clashes with who the character is the rest of the book. There, gone. Fast forward a few pages, identify a new dent in the manuscript. Set your fingers on the keys and gently push words into their rightful place. Go back and forth. Read. Delete. Reshape. Are you there yet? No? No. None of this works. None of it. Feel the frustration building like boiling water. Shake your fist like a cartoon villain, curse the heavens. Whistle the steam away.

Return to the work. Get on a roll, two chapters down that don’t need to be touched again. Open mother-effing SimCity and blow all your momentum to hell. Throw your phone across the room (but onto the couch, because sanity). Look back at your document. Realize there’s one scene where you can seed in a character’s entire desire for their actions the rest of the book. Feel like a genius. Kind of write what you had in mind. Go get your phone. Open SimCity. 3:45, scene’s done. Scroll up. Delete. Scroll down, add a sentence. Realize you have almost the exact same sentence two lines later. Delete. Rework. Reshape. Pee.

Get back to work. Yawn. Wonder if you’ve addressed everything, if all the little tweaks have incorporated your editor’s thoughts about how to get this stack of words into tip-top shape. Have you juggled all the elements in every scene? Are the emotional beats where they need to be? Is the tone consistent, is there too much of this, too little of that? Is a character nuanced enough? Are they pointless? Are they a sexy lamp, a cliché, a stereotype, boring? Are they well-written? Is any of this well-written?

Four a.m.

You think to yourself: this is what I do. It is insane and difficult. It involves doubt, and delusion, and uncontained imagination in ways that are not helpful. It is repetitive, like the dribble of a basketball on the sideline. It is craft. It is the feel of the empty gym. Scratch this metaphor, because it is introduced too late. Kill the darling. Or do the work and seed it in earlier. Skip this song. Know this is the best book you’ve written. But it’s not quite there yet. Almost.

Write more. Get to work. Do not let these things get in the way. Write more.

Adi Alsaid

About Adi

Adi Alsaid was born and raised in Mexico City. He attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Marketing, Adi moved to Monterey, California. He is the author of several YA books, including Let’s Get Lost, Never Always Sometimes, and the upcoming North of Happy. He now lives and writes in his hometown.

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Never Always Sometimes

Never Always Sometimes

Never date your best friend.

Always be original.

Sometimes rules are meant to be broken.

Best friends Dave and Julia were determined to never be cliché high school kids—the ones who sit at the same lunch table every day, dissecting the drama from homeroom and plotting their campaigns for prom king and queen. They even wrote their own Never List of everything they vowed they’d never, ever do in high school.

Some of the rules have been easy to follow, like #5, never dye your hair a color of the rainbow, or #7, never hook up with a teacher. But Dave has a secret: he’s broken rule #8, never pine silently after someone for the entirety of high school. It’s either that or break rule #10, never date your best friend. Dave has loved Julia for as long as he can remember.

Julia is beautiful, wild and impetuous. So when she suggests they do every Never on the list, Dave is happy to play along. He even dyes his hair an unfortunate shade of green. It starts as a joke, but then a funny thing happens: Dave and Julia discover that by skipping the clichés, they’ve actually been missing out on high school. And maybe even on love.

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Let's Get Lost

Let’s Get Lost

Five strangers. Countless adventures. One epic way to get lost.

Four teens across the country have only one thing in common: a girl named Leila. She crashes into their lives in her absurdly red car at the moment they need someone the most.

Hudson, Bree, Elliot and Sonia find a friend in Leila. And when Leila leaves them, their lives are forever changed. But it is during Leila’s own 4,268-mile journey that she discovers the most important truth—sometimes, what you need most is right where you started. And maybe the only way to find what you’re looking for is to get lost along the way.

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A signed copy of a Never Always Sometimes ARC is available to one lucky winner!

We have the right to disqualify anyone who enters this contest by cheating, or any accounts that are “Giveaway Robots”


Who wants to bet that Adi was writing this on a night when he was missing a deadline for North of Happy and looking for something to procrastinate with? Hehe! By the way, have you all heard of his North of Happy yet?! NO?! Guess what… you’re welcome…

“New from critically acclaimed author of LET’S GET LOST andNEVER ALWAYS SOMETIMES. In the wake of his brother’s untimely death, a teen chef runs away from home to find his true path in life.

Carlos Portillo has always led a privileged and sheltered life. A dual citizen of Mexico and the US, he lives in Mexico City with his wealthy family where he attends an elite international school. His friends and peers-fellow rich kids-have plans to attend college somewhere in the US or Europe and someday take over their parents’ businesses. Always a rule follower and a parent pleaser, Carlos is more than happy to tread the well-worn path in front of him. He has always loved food and cooking, but his parents see it as just a hobby.

When his older brother, Felix–who has dropped out of college to live a life of travel–is tragically killed, Carlos begins hearing his brother’s voice, giving him advice and pushing him to rebel against his father’s plan for him. Worrying about his mental health, but knowing the voice is right, Carlos runs away to the US and manages to secure a job with his favorite celebrity chef. As he works to improve his skills in the kitchen and pursue his dream, he begins to fall for his boss’s daughter–a fact that could end his career before it begins. Finally living for himself, Carlos must decide what’s most important to him and where his true path really lies.” – Goodreads

Adi, thank you SO MUCH for taking the time to write this. I honestly believe that just about every writer goes through this struggle, and if I’m being honest, agents go through similar feelings of doubt as well. Always try to have as much faith in yourself as possible, and if you can’t do that, push through until you find your faith again!

Thank you so much to Adi and all of the other authors of this feature. You’re helping so many writers achieve their dreams every week. Also, if no one has told you yet this week… You’re all amazing writers. =) Keep your chin up!

We hope you have an amazing rest of your week!