Posted in Interview

Interview of Stephanie Morrill

About:Stephanie Morrill lives in Overland Park, Kansas with her husband and two kids. She is the author of The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series, Go Teen Writers: How to Turn Your First Draft Into a Published Book, and the Ellie Sweet series. She enjoys encouraging and teaching teen writers on her blog, http://www.GoTeenWriters.com. To connect with Stephanie and read samples of her books, check out http://www.StephanieMorrill.com

Thank you for willing to be interviewed!

Thanks for having me! This is one of the most fun interviews I’ve ever done 🙂

1. Ellie Sweet is such a great YA heroine. Who or what inspired her creation?

I had just finished The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series, and I was ready for a heroine who was completely different from Skylar. And I really wanted to write about a socially mismatched couple (Ellie and Palmer, although later Chase decided to throw himself into the mix – more on that in a minute.)

Palmer’s character was inspired by this boy I had a crush on in 7th grade (also named Palmer, also from Kentucky) who I’m pretty sure liked me back, but he was really popular and I wasn’t at all. The opening scene of The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet actually happened to me in 7th grade and in real life, Palmer and I became friends because of it.

2. Which novel was hardest to write: The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet or The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet? And why?

They both came with unique challenges, but it definitely took me longer to figure out how The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet was going to work. In the first draft of that book, Ellie wasn’t a writer. And Chase existed only in the first scene, and his name was Brian. It’s a little crazy to think about now!

The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet was tricky because I was still working on when the first book had come out. So I had readers emailing me about things they loved, and it was hard to not let that influence how I felt the story needed to go.

3. Chase and Palmer. It’s easy to love them both. Do you have a favorite (because I know I do!)?

It depends on the scene I’m writing! Honestly, Ellie was probably so conflicted because I was feeling conflicted! In the first book, neither of them are The Perfect Guy for Ellie. They both have junk they need to work out. In the second book, as the guys faced their personal junk, one became stronger because of it and one caved to his bad habits. I think Ellie ends up with the right one, but I still have a soft spot for the other. I don’t think his story is over yet!

4. One thing I loved about both novels was that you had a heroine who had to deal with real issues and concerns that teens face today, and yet still she managed to stay above it without the novels being narrowed down to a morality tale. Do you ever find it a struggle in your writing to balance “Real Issues” and the “Right way” to deal with them (particularly since you write for YA)?

This is a great question. I’m not sure if I have a great answer, but I’ll try! When I’m writing the book, I never have a message I want to get across. I’m never thinking things like, “I want girls to learn about health self-image or the dangers of dating people who have different religious views than you.” I think this helps me avoid morality-tale syndrome simply because that’s not what I’m going for.

And sometimes I get slammed in reviews for it, to be honest. People want me to address the “real issues” with black and white answers. But writing that way always feels so contrived to me. So I’m more about exploring consequences rather than coming straight out and saying, “This is a bad way to handle this situation and here’s what would have been better.”

5. Can you tell us what you’re working on now and whether or not another Ellie Sweet novel is in production?

I think eventually I’ll be interested in writing another Ellie Sweet book, but I need some “idea gathering” time. Even though the books released just 6 months apart from each other, I wrote the first one a few years ago, so I had LOTS of time to dream up book two. I don’t need a couple years, but I do need some time.

Right now I’m kicking around ideas for a book that would fit in the adult market. It would really stretch me as a writer, which I’m a big fan of. (Until I’m in the middle of writing it, and it’s really hard. Then I’m like, “Why did I want to do this again??”)

If you haven’t checked these novels out yet, you don’t know what you’re missing!

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Melanie Dickerson’s The Captive Maiden

About

Happily Ever After …Or Happily Nevermore? 
Gisela’s childhood was filled with laughter and visits from nobles such as the duke and his young son. But since her father’s death, each day has been filled with nothing but servitude to her stepmother. So when Gisela learns the duke’s son, Valten—the boy she has daydreamed about for years—is throwing a ball in hopes of finding a wife, she vows to find a way to attend, even if it’s only for a taste of a life she’ll never have. To her surprise, she catches Valten’s eye. Though he is rough around the edges, Gisela finds Valten has completely captured her heart. But other forces are bent on keeping the two from falling further in love, putting Gisela in more danger than she ever imagined.

Review

The Captive Maiden picks up about two years later after The Fairest Beauty. Only this time we’re in Valten’s head. I was so glad to see him get his own book. Somehow he managed to capture my attention even though his role was small in the previous novel. He doesn’t disappoint. I really liked Valten and I enjoyed seeing him develop over the course of the novel. His character made complete sense to me and he managed to read as the classic storybook hero without managing to seem silly.

 The Captive Maiden does a beautiful job of capturing the basics of the Cinderella’s story and still showing how Valten and Gisella could manage to fall for each other in a short period of time. The step-mother and step-sisters were cruel, but Gisela never failed to lack spirit. There is also another villain who is introduced and I will say that he wasn’t a very good villain. He just kept messing things up.

If there was anything I didn’t like about the novel, it would have to be some of the grandiose language. I thought the story had that fairytale feel and probably didn’t need language along the lines of ‘I must do away with the villain’ and  she is the “most beautiful, purest, loveliest maiden,” (these are not direct quotes). Sometimes it seemed a bit much. 

Spiritually, I loved the way Valten desired to have a purpose in life an d that he learned to put his faith in God first and himself second. I also liked that Gisela had to learn to care after years of training herself not to care. 

Overall, very good novel. Delicious fairytale. I hope there is another!

Romantic Scale: 9

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Monday Musings….Susan May Warren Giveaway!

I happen to own doubles of two Susan May Warren novels and in the spirit of Christmas, I would love to give them away! I will let you pick the book you want. Just leave a comment below with the name of the novel you want plus your email address. I will pick a random winner. The winner must live in the U.S. and respond within 48 hours of being notified of their win. The contest ends Dec 13th. Here are your choices:

                                  -or-

If no one wins the novel you want in this round, don’t worry there will be another!

Posted in Interview

Interview of Katherine Reay

Thanks for willing to be interviewed!

I, for one, love the story of Daddy Long Legs and all of Austen’s books. How did you come up with the idea of mixing the two together?

 

I was injured and, rather than receive flowers in the hospital, all my friends brought me books. So I left with over thirty new titles, but a desire to spend time in Jane Austen. As I read, a character started to form in my head, complete with struggles and quirks, but no story within which to put her. But when I came to Daddy Long Legs, I found that missing element, a context for her, and the idea rolled from there…

 

Samantha is a great heroine with strengths and weaknesses that are completely relatable. Can you tell us who or what inspired her creation?  

Sam shares no common history with any one I know personally or with me, but I can relate to all her struggles. I think that was the inspiration – the universal struggle, regardless of our circumstances, to define ourselves, face insecurity and fear, seek a place to stand and belong, and search for a family to love. When writing, I worked to make Sam’s life bigger, tougher, and more challenging than many of us face so that we could more easily sneak into her emotional world and relate to her without feeling too exposed ourselves.

Your novel deals with knowledge of the foster care system, Northwestern’s journalism program and lots of Jane Austen. How much research did you have to do?

Quite a bit, but it didn’t feel like research. I loved it! I did attend Northwestern, but not the journalism school.  I’ve read all of Austen, but over so many years that I think it’s all a part of me. I have never studied her – so my knowledge is generated from a love of the literature, not from any great analytical insights. As for the foster care system, I talked to so many people and read a great deal – and that said, any mistakes in the logistics of Sam’s childhood are my own and the details of her personal story are fictional.

What would you consider the major point that you wanted to get across when writing Dear Mr. Knightley?

Love this question. No one has asked this! I think Professor Muir says it best when he talks about Sam’s past: “Never let something so unworthy define you.” Sam is haunted by her past and it’s damaging her future, but she need not be defined by it. It doesn’t need to trap her. Yet, that realization, and forgiving all that happened, is so terribly hard and wrenchingly painful. But Sam can be free. And there is tremendous power and hope in that.

Can you tell us about what you’re working on next?

 

Lizzy and Jane is next and it’s in the editing process right now. It will be out next fall and I’m so excited. Lizzy had more humor and confidence available to her than Sam did. But she’s got some struggles ahead of her as well – can’t make life too easy on her.

This story has all the big guns: sisters, conflict, food, Jane Austen, Hemingway (threw you there, didn’t I?), love, and breast cancer. I know that last one is a bummer, but it’s a reality that so many of us experience either personally or walking the journey with family and friends. Basically Lizzy and Jane is the story of a young woman, Lizzy, who has excised love from her life and, as she helps her sister through chemotherapy, she starts to put it back in – in all its wonderful and varied forms.

Thank you so much for letting me chat here! Great questions and a lot of fun. Thanks!

Check out Dear Mr. Knightley if you haven’t!

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Heather Day Gilbert’s God’s Daughter

One Viking woman. One God. One legendary journey to North America. 

In the tenth century, when pagan holy women rule the Viking lands, Gudrid turns her back on her training as a seeress to embrace Christianity. Clinging to her faith, she joins her husband, Finn, on a journey to North America. 

But even as Gudrid faces down murderous crewmen, raging sickness, and hostile natives, she realizes her greatest enemy is herself–and the secrets she hides might just tear her marriage apart. 

Almost five centuries before Columbus, Viking women sailed to North America with their husbands. God’s Daughter, Book One in the Vikings of the New World Saga, offers an expansive yet intimate look into the world of Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir–daughter-in-law of Eirik the Red, and the first documented European woman to have a child in North America.

Review

I haven’t really read very many books about the Vikings. And frankly, I know even less about their history, but when I finished this novel I felt like I was an expert.  Ms. Day does a fabulous job of weaving history seamlessly throughout her novel. I learned so much about that time and era. Most importantly (at least to me) Gudrid, the main character, was a woman of her times. She was strong and had her own mind, and yet worked within the rules of her system, in spite of the fact that she lived in a time when women were little more than chairs in a room. 

Gudrid is someone to be admired. She’s outlived a couple of husbands, she lives with Vikings, and she’s one of the few Christians in a pagan society. Let’s not forget that she is, apparently, every Viking man’s dream (and I don’t mean that sarcastically). In regards to the romance, I didn’t know who the author wanted me to root for until closer to the end of the novel. I know she’s married in the beginning and I always root for the husband, but they lived in dangerous times. I wasn’t sure if I should expect his death or what. That said, Gudrid is not a fickle woman who makes silly mistakes. She comes across as real, authentic, relatable, and a very trustworthy narrator. I liked Gudrid. And I was sad when her narration ended.

Spiritually, if you think it’s hard to be a Christian in this world, it must have been so hard for those who lived amongst out and out pagan societies and without a Bible. Gudrid’s faith in God is admirable. She never wavers no matter how hard things gets and she continues to trust in spite of the fact that no one else will believe God with her. The novel also portrays just how loving God is. Why would you want to serve another?

This novel isn’t written in the usual formulaic way. In some ways it’s a bit more gritty than most Christian romance (Vikings….that is all). I couldn’t put it down though, and I eagerly want to read more. Recommended!

Romantic scale: 8 (considering who she ends up with at the end)

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Stephanie Morrill’s The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet

About

For once, Ellie Sweet has it all together. Her hair now curls instead of fuzzes, she’s tamed the former bad-boy, Chase Cervantes (she has, right?), and her debut novel will hit shelves in less than a year. Even her ex-friends are leaving her alone. Well, except for Palmer Davis, but it can’t be helped that he works at her grandmother’s nursing home. 

Life should feel perfect. And yet, it’s not that easy. Ellie’s editor loves her, but the rest of the publishing biz? Not so much. And they’re not shy about sharing their distrust over Ellie’s unlikely debut. 

Ellie has always been able to escape reality in the pages of her novel, but with the stress of major edits and rocky relationships, her words dry up. In fiction, everything always comes together, but in real life, it seems to Ellie that hard work isn’t always enough, the people you love can’t always be trusted, and the dream-come-true of publishing her book could be the biggest mistake she’s made yet. 

Review

I so thoroughly enjoyed diving back into Ellie Sweet’s life. I could not put this book down and it stayed with me for days! Ellie Sweet is a fantastic YA heroine. In a world of silly girls who make silly decisions, Ellie Sweet is a breath of fresh air. 

I really enjoyed The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet and wondered what Ms. Morrill would do to keep me interested in her life. Well, wonder no longer. Ellie has a couple things on her plate in this novel: dealing with her boyfriend (and her ex), learning what it’s like to be a published author, and dealing with family and friend drama. She handles it all beautifully. She’s such a likeable character (even more so than book 1) and really handles her problems well. Usually I read these YA novels and I’m like high school was not like that when I went, but reading about Ellie Sweet reminded that not everyone is what the secular world portrays. She was familiar. I knew that girl (to a certain extent I was that girl minus the book deal and the love triangle :)) And I thought she particularly handled the love triangle that is still in this book (bet you thought that was over with book 1). I hate love triangles, but I liked the way Ellie dealt with hers. 

What I didn’t like about this book [possible Spoiler Alert]: the guy Ellie is with in the end! I could not believe who she ended up with. Sure the guy who was rejected had flaws, but he seemed real and authentic in a way that the other guy didn’t. The other guy was boring and predictable. I’ve met him in other books and frankly, I wasn’t convinced Ellie wanted to be with him either. I thought she should have said that she would rather be single then end up with him. Whereas my guy? The one she should have ended up with? Was the one who made the pages sizzle. I loved reading about him because he was different and I felt like he loved her so much, but he just had a lot on the table. He was the guy who would have rocked Ellie’s world. The other guy….yeah.

So, please Ms. Morrill, if you read this write a book three because a) Ellie is awesome and I love reading about her and b) she needs to leave what’s his face and get with what’s his face (you know who I’m talking about!).

Spiritually, this novel has Ellie going to church and she does apologize to a group of people, but honestly this reads as clean YA as opposed to Christian fiction (no overt messages of Christianity). That said, very enjoyable.

Romantic scale: 9 (with my guy)

Romantic scale: 7 (with the guy she ended up with)

 

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Monday Musings…New Covers

Captain Dean Watters keeps his mission and his team in the forefront of his laser-like focus. So when Dean’s mission and team are threatened, his Special Forces training kicks into high gear. Failing to stop hackers from stealing national security secrets from the military’s secure computers and networks isn’t an option. Zahrah Zarrick is a missionary teacher to Afghan children in Mazar-e Sharif. And a target. When Zahrah is captured because of her expertise in quantum cryptology, compromising the US military, Dean is forced to crack the lockbox around his heart—a move that might come at the highest cost.

Gisela Cramer is an American living in eastern Germany with her cousin Ella Reinhardt. When the Red Army invades, they must leave their home to escape to safety in Berlin.

However, Ella is a nurse and refuses to leave, sending her young daughters with Gisela. During their journey, Gisela meets Mitch Edwards, an escaped British POW. She pretends she is his wife in order to preserve his safety among other Germans, especially one wounded German soldier, Kurt, who has suspicions about Mitch’s identity. Kurt also has feelings for Gisela and tries to uncover the truth about her “marriage.”

Their journey to Gisela’s mother in Berlin is riddled with tragedy and hardship, but they strive to keep Ella’s daughters safe so they can reunite with their mother. During the journey Gisela and Mitch begin to develop feelings for one another beyond friendship. They reach Berlin, but their struggles are far from over. Gisela and Mitch must learn to live for the day and find hope in the darkest of circumstances.

In this moving, historically accurate portrayal of WWII Germany, the characters learn that, even with destruction all around them, some things last forever.

Seventeen-year-old slave girl, Nym, should not exist. In a world where Elementals are only born male, and always killed at birth, she is an anomaly at best. At worst, people around her die.

When a court emissary identifies her weather-manipulating ability as a weapon, Nym is purchased and put to work honing her skills. With time running out for the kingdom of Faelen, Nym might be all that stands between it and the technologically-advanced horror racing down upon them—not to mention the rumored reemergence of the monstrous shapeshifter, Draewulf. But some elements even she can’t control.

Nym must decide whom to trust as she’s unleashed into a world of assassins, changelings, and political betrayal surrounding a young king fighting for his throne, a tired nation that has forgotten its calling, and her handsome tutor whose dark secrets could destroy both her people and her heart.

Today. Sera James spends most of her time arranging auctions for the art world’s elite clientele. When her search to uncover an original portrait of an unknown Holocaust victim leads her to William Hanover III, they learn that this painting is much more than it seems.

Vienna, 1942. Adele Von Bron has always known what was expected of her. As a prodigy of Vienna’s vast musical heritage, this concert violinist intends to carry on her family’s tradition and play with the Vienna Philharmonic. But when the Nazis learn that she helped smuggle Jews out of the city, Adele is taken from her promising future and thrust into the horrifying world of Auschwitz.

The veil of innocence is lifted to expose a shuddering presence of evil, and Adele realizes that her God-given gift is her only advantage; she must play. Becoming a member of the Women’s Orchestra of Auschwitz, she fights for survival. Adele’s barbed-wire walls begin to kill her hope as the months drag into nearly two years in the camp. With surprising courage against the backdrop of murder and despair, Adele finally confronts a question that has been tugging at her heart: Even in the midst of evil, can she find hope in worshipping God with her gift?

As Sera and William learn more about the subject of the mysterious portrait—Adele—they are reminded that whatever horrors one might face, God’s faithfulness never falters.

Melanie and Will Connors seem like the perfect couple, but their marriage only looks good on the outside, having withered inside from a lack of intimacy.

The barriers Melanie faces to intimacy are hidden in her past—a misguided tryst with a trusted friend of her father’s, a pattern of promiscuity as a teen, empty relationships in early adulthood. The only way Melanie sees to save herself from herself is to turn off her desires—even in her marriage.

Will insists they either work on the marriage—or work on the divorce. Their attempt at restoration occurs in the midst of a New Hampshire presidential primary that is rocked by violent protests and razor-sharp character assassinations. For the first time, their marriage begins to feel like a safe place.

As Melanie tries to sort through her own past, she sees her 16-year-old daughter’s head turned by a charismatic older man on Will’s campaign team. Can Melanie sift through her own rubble and find the voice to help guide her daughter—and possibly find the joy that God intended for her marriage?

 

Are there any in particular you’re looking forward to? I can’t wait to read the Ronie Kendig and I’m sure the Liz Tolsma novel will be good. The novel by Mary Weber seems really intriguing and I really like Kristy Cambron’s cover. I’m familiar with Shannon Ethridge’s nonfiction, but none of her fiction. Seems like it’s going to be a great year in books next year!