Monthly Archives: February 2016

All Lies and Jest: Saving the World for Fun and Profit by Kate Harrad

All Lies and Jest: Saving the World for Fun and Profit

Kate Harrad

Ghostwoods Books 2011

A fun and freaky jaunt through London’s modern vampire/goth scene with a character who has recently escaped her parents’ home and the clutches of the Resurrected Church that has all but taken over society. Sin and salvation combine when church members whip each other for religiously kinky reasons “climaxing with an impressive image of the post-false-Rapture world.”

Oh, what fun you’ll have with this one! I was provided with a review copy by the publisher…a special thanks to Ghostwoods for that gift!

A sinfully delicious 4 stars

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Michelle Zeitlin and Jane Cowen Hamilton: Agent Perspective

Congrats to More Zap…who reps one of my series!

Kite Tales

JaneMichelleI sat down with agents Michelle Zeitlin and Jane Cowen Hamilton of More Zap Productions and Management to talk about their new literary division, discuss why an author must know their brand, and how children’s literature fits into their multi-media, and currently acquiring, agency. I was curious how an agency that represents dancers, directors, and other specialty talent got into the literary world and what their unique platform had to offer. Turns out, a lot.

TalkingUnionMichelle grew up in a house of writers – most notably her father, award winning writer and UCLA Professor of Sociology, Maurice Zeitlin, co-author of Talking Union. Her mother, Marilyn Zeitlin, was a journalist and taught creative writing. So it’s no surprise Michelle was an award-winning teen journalist for Seventeen Magazine and the Los Angeles Times before she left to pursue a dance career. In 1987 she gathered all her creative interests…

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Author Interview: Kate Harrad

Kate Harrad has noted that, “In 2002,” when she began writing All Lies and Jest, “the idea of a fundamentalist theocratic United States that was trying to impose theocracy on the UK was definitely in the realm of speculative fiction. Now, while I hope it’s still unlikely, it’s a lot closer to the real world than it used to be.”

Her debute novel addresses fundamentalism, “the dangers of being so open-minded that your brain falls out,” vampires, bisexuality and alternative subcultures in a whirlwind of fun. The book will be reviewed here tomorrow; for now, Ms. Harrod offers the following tidbits from her sharp mind and sharper wit.

​–How would your advice for new writers differ from advice you would offer writers who have been in the game for a while?

Mostly they’d differ in the sense that I wouldn’t dare offer advice to writers who’ve been writing for a while! I’m not even sure I’d have the confidence to advise new writers.

But if I were put on the spot? I’d tell new writers that as well as being able to write, they’ll need to be prepared to read their work in public, to promote it endlessly and yet subtly on social media, and to learn when it’s OK to write for free and when it isn’t.

I’d also send them to Tim Clare’s blog on writing, Death of 1000 Cuts, whis has some funny and devastatingly accurate advice on writing techniques. 

–When you take a break from writing, is it a full and total break or is your mind constantly parsing the world for fodder?

I’m only writing a minority of the time, because I also have a job and two children. So the only way to manage that is to always be slightly ‘on’ – to let my mind wander when I’m on public transport or when I’m walking round London, and see what comes to me. Sometimes that’s to do with observing what’s going on around me, and sometimes it’s more about things I’ve read online or conversations I’ve had. It’s often not a conscious process.

–From your perspective as an author, what do you feel is the biggest challenge to the publishing industry today? Is there a way to solve that challenge?

Everything has changed. When I first wanted to be a writer I was five, it was 1980, and books were something you bought at WH Smiths and had to save up for. Now I can read a million books on my Kindle, for free or for almost nothing. How do you stand out in that market? Is it true that good writing will still be recognised? Was it ever true?

That’s the challenge for publishers and for writers – how to get the good stuff seen. But it’s always been the challenge. Maybe now it’s actually easier, because there are more ways to be published. My novel All Lies and Jest was published as an e-book and print-on-demand by Ghostwoods, which is a small press run by people who’ve become my friends. The book I’m currently working on, Purple Prose, is a guide to bisexuality in Britain, and it’s being published by another small press, Thorntree, via crowdfunding. It’ll be in shops by August.

Could I have got either of those books published 20 years ago? I doubt it. But can I make a living out of writing? No – that’s the disconnect. Probably in another 20 years things will have changed again and settled down a bit. Right now I don’t know the answer to my own questions.

–What books are you currently reading?

I’ve just finished Jeff Noon’s Falling Out Of Cars, which is an even stranger book than I was expecting. It takes the concepts of plot and character development and basically sets fire to them. Wonderful.

I’m also reading The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony by Roberto Calasso, which is another very strange and wonderful book, about classical myths. I’m reading it very slowly. Here’s a quote:

“Alpheus and Arethusa: water with water, the spring that gushes from the earth, the current that rises from the depths of the sea, the meeting of two lymphs that have traveled far, the ultimate erotic convergence, perennial happiness, no bastions against the world, gurgling speech. Between the waves of the Ionion and those of the Alpheus, the difference lies in the taste, and perhaps a slight variation of color. Between the water of Arethusa and the water of Alpheus, the only difference is in the foam on Alpheus’s crest as he rises from the sea. But the taste is much the same: both come from Olympia.”
–Which authors do you think are underappreciated in the current market, and why? 

It’s not so much specific authors for me as types of author. BME (Black and minority ethnic) writers are underpublished, underpromoted, and underappreciated – for example, according to the upcoming Bare Lit Festival, 96% of the writers featured in the UK’s biggest literary festivals are white. I’ve heard numerous accounts of writers told to make main characters white, or having their book covers given images of white people even when the characters aren’t white.  I’m not BME myself but everyone should be fighting this. [Ed. note: check out this Patreon page dedicated to this issue where you can get involved.]

–Which new writers do you find most interesting, and why?

I haven’t read many new writers recently and I’m not sure why not – I reread a lot, and I’m always trying to catch up with writers I haven’t read enough of. I did love Marion Grace Woolley’s Those Rosy Hours At Mazandaran [Ed. note: reviewed on this blog here, author interview on this blog here] – she’s a fellow Ghostwoods writer and I was given a pre-publication copy of the book, and was gripped completely.

I’ve got lists of books I want to get round to reading this year – this for example [a list of 2015 books from diverse authors].

–Which “get writing” techniques are most effective for you?

I do find it very hard, especially with childcare – when I wrote All Lies and Jest I didn’t have children. Now even short stories take ages, because I can’t write unless I’m uninterrupted.

Sometimes I take my laptop to the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank and write there. Or shut myself in my bedroom. Knowing my time is limited can make me more productive, because I know I have to get started with something. Deadlines help too – it’s a lot harder to write something on spec.

Also, to be honest, occasional selfishness is essential. If I’m writing then I’m not spending time with my children or helping with housework, and I need to accept I’ve made that choice and not spend my writing time overcome with guilt, because then nothing useful happens at all.

–Can you give us a sneak peek into your current project?​

I’ve just finished my first collaboration, writing a short story with American SF author Greg Stolze, which was exciting. Now I’m trying to write a story for an anthology, about a mysterious voice that orders people to travel to a Cornish island to have their lives judged.

But my main project is Purple Prose (, which is in the copy editing stage now. There’s no contemporary, accessible book about British bisexuality, and I’m very pleased to have been part of creating one.

If you enjoyed this interview, consider supporting this blog by leaving a tip of any size.

Book Giveaway

This week, I’m giving away 10 signed copies of Seven Sisters: Spiritual Messages from Aboriginal Australia. This has a full-color interior with custom artwork, so even if it’s not the right book for you, it makes a fantastic gift!

Here’s the description:

For readers of The Secret, A Course in Miracles, and Paul Coelho’s works.
Award-winning self-help essays delivered on the print edition’s full-color interior with custom artwork on every page. Makes a great gift!According to Australia’s ancient cultures, all creatures and things emerged from the Dreamtime. The Dreaming is not just a collection of lore or a long-ago time; it is a living energy that flows constantly through the universe. It is then and now, divine and human, spirit and law. Because the energy is as vibrant today as ever, these ancient stories show us how to survive in a harsh world and how to thrive in our souls.

Each Aboriginal story in this collection is enhanced with an essay from award-winning author Laine Cunningham. Our modern perspectives on love and friendship, illness and joy, life and the afterlife can be enriched with this ancient knowledge. Open this book and take your own journey through the eternal Dreamtime. Along the way, you will discover that the ancient connection to god/goddess/the divine still resonates in your soul. You will discover your own truth.

This is Laine Cunningham’s first inspirational self-help book. Seven Sisters harnesses Dreamtime energy to help modern people address their challenges. In this collection of essays, readers discover that love and friendship, parenting, life and the afterlife can be addressed with the unchanging wisdom of the human heart.

This unique book blends Aboriginal folktales with Laine’s essays; the print version has a beautifully designed full-color interior.

In The Dance, readers are inspired to follow their dreams while staying balanced in their lives.

Trickery and Seven Sisters address the special relationships between men and women.

War provides a new perspective on one of the world’s most important issues.

Excerpts from this book have been published in spiritual, literary, and inspirational magazines and newsletters; one combination received an award.

Laine’s understanding of Aboriginal culture began during a six-month solo journey through the Australian Outback. The same visions that drew her into the red desert also told her that she would die there. A miraculous connection to divine energy saved her life and launched her along the path she follows to this day.

Laine has appeared on TV and radio shows to discuss the metaphysical viewpoint on the swine flu, the real secret of prosperity, relationships, love, women’s empowerment, chronic illness and other topics.

Her first novel, Message Stick, follows an Aboriginal man’s journey through the Outback as he rediscovers his lost heritage. The novel won two prestigious national awards. Her second work, He Drinks Poison, follows a female FBI investigator who must access the dark energy of the Hindu goddess Kali in order to stop a serial killer. Her third novel, Reparation, has a Lakota Sioux man racing to stop the leader of a Native American-style peyote cult before he enacts the largest mass murder on American soil.

Look for Laine’s novels and future nonfiction books as her journey, and yours, continues.

Reviews of the book will be greatly appreciated but are not required to participate in this giveaway. US entrants will receive a hard copy. Others will receive an ebook.
To participate, you must be a follower of this blog. If you are, great! If not, click on the link on the righthand side of the screen.
Then share this post on any of your social media accounts.
Finally, comment on this post providing a link to the place where you shared.
If you are inclined to share this on more than one social media site, you will receive as many entries as sharing links!
Winners will be contacted through the social media on which they shared. If you prefer an email, note that in your comment to this post.

Good luck!

Book Review: Green Island

Green Island by Shawna Yang Ryan, available Feb 23, 2016 from Knopf

A fascinating read for anyone who wants to know more about the backdrop of Taiwan and how the country came to be what it is today. And that is one of the best reasons for historic and literary fiction: to allow us to cross boundaries.
One drawback with this book was that the historical elements are not narrated in a way that can help readers from outside the culture easily enter this time and place. And that is a great shame, because a lot of readers will turn away from this book due to that.
For readers who can keep going, they will find the story of a family that crosses generations. Told primarily from the viewpoint of a daughter (which is an interesting choice in this culture), the novel maintains its intimate focus. That is also important when dealing with such large movements in time and important historical events. That keeps readers grounded throughout.
The other drawback was a voice that felt a little damp. I wondered throughout if we were seeing the author’s true voice or a translation that didn’t quite capture the original sound and emotion the author placed on the page.
But this also could be a good thing. It kept the narrative easy to access, and helped reduce the effort involved in learning the historic details.
4 stars

The Loved Ones by Mary-Beth Hughes

The Loved Ones by Mary-Beth Hughes

Available from Atlantic Monthly Press June 2, 2015

Now, I’m all for a book that asks a bit more of readers. I’m up for a challenge when entering a fictional world. I love to intereact with different voices that trust me to be intelligent, and to care enough about the time I’m spending with a book to pay attention. Deep attention. To become engaged with individual characters as if they were my friends, or people I’d love to know or know about.

This book seems to be reaching for that but doesn’t strike a good balance. It overreaches and in the process, turns into a confusing mess. It flips around quickly between characters remembered and “on stage,” so to speak, and characters that aren’t important to the narrative moment are intrusive rather than rendered seamlessly into the narrative.

It was like having someone tap you on the shoulder repeatedly while reading to ask you unrelated and irritatingly pointless questions. But since the interruptions arise from the text itself, you can’t ignore the tapping.

I couldn’t get far into this book before putting it down. I was very disappointed because the concept is exactly the kind of idea I love to read about. Here, though, the voice is too jumbled to follow. A little guidance from the author would have been appreciated.

I received an ARC from the publisher so I could write this review.

DNF: No star rating available.

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The Marble Orchard by Alex Taylor

The Marble Orchard by Alex Taylor

Available from Ig Publishing Jan 2015

I received an ARC from the publisher so I could write this review…and how lucky I am to have been given a copy!

This is an engrossing literary thriller that has an almost Southern Gothic feel. Beam Sheetmire spends his days operating a small river ferry. The ferry is in its final days as the bridge and industry have all but taken away his family’s source of income. But he continues on, unable in this small Kentucky backwater to do much more.

One day a man asks for a ride across. There is an altercation, a strange encounter that leaves the customer dead. Beam flits away, hoping to evade the law. But the laws of blood and kinship are far more frightening; the man is the son of Loat Duncan, a powerful figure who is as sadistic as he is ugly.

A trucker who gives Beam a ride turns out to be an almost otherworldly figure. Sharply dressed in suits he has stolen from one of his hauls, the trucker is alternately a saving angle and a demonic figure. He presses Beam into confrontations he would rather avoid. But in this world, there is no real escape from your actions or the blood running through your veins.

Written with an eerie voice that captures readers in a stranglehold grip, The Marble Orchard is a meditation on family and a criticism of small-town life that offers vindication and justice in ways the official law never can.

5 stars!

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Author Interview: Alex Taylor

Alex Taylor, whose debut novel will be reviewed in a raving 5-star writeup tomorrow, gives us a slice or two of his brain. Hang on! Like his novel, this interview will blow your mind!

–How would your advice for new writers differ from advice you would offer writers who have been in the game for a while?

I wouldn’t presume to give advice to writers who are already publishing unless they asked for it. As for novitiates, I hope they are aware that there are so many other and more productive ways to spend a life than writing. If they understand this and still feel compelled to write, then I am afraid they are terminal and nothing I say will cure them. All I can do is possibly put a tourniquet on the bleeding so that they suffer less.

Once a writer is diagnosed, the best avenue of treatment is that they recuse themselves, as much as possible, from the contemporary world, particularly contemporary literature. It is a swamp of dross. Occasionally, a work of genius glimmers forth, but this is the exception, not the rule. They should immerse themselves in the classics. Because they are difficult, in every sense of the word. Because they have endured. Because they will continue to endure, if there is any justice, which I have my doubts about.

Secondly, I would advise them to be prepared to live in obscurity. Writing helps no one but the writer. It will not save Syrian refugees, but it may help you to survive and somehow transcend certain problems endemic to 21st Century life and modernity. One must not be adverse to monkritude. One must be able to love a few and hate many.

–When you take a break from writing, is it a full and total break or is your mind constantly parsing the world for fodder? What does that parsing look like? How does it make you feel as an artist? As a human being?

I rarely take a break from writing. When I do, I feel my muscles weakening, my soul diminishing. Lord, the horrors a man may encounter when he is away from the page. But, being chained to the flesh, I must eat and occasionally see other people. When I do, my ear is always open to original and refreshing turns of phrase. I have no qualms about such thievery. The populace is degenerate. Should one break the mold, it is my duty to record their words, lest they be tossed upon the midden of history. As for being a human being, the only moral stance here is one of constant disgust. I know of no other path to salvation. To those ignorant of what I mean, I will refer them to the words of a Jewish carpenter who was crucified by the Romans some two thousand years ago. But the carpenter wasn’t always disgusted, some might say. True. But I am not the carpenter. I am unworthy to tie the laces of his sandals. So I must remain disgusted. Particularly by myself.


–From your perspective as an author, what do you feel is the biggest challenge to the publishing industry today? Is there a way to solve that challenge?

The biggest problem with the publishing industry is to be found in the phrase ‘publishing industry’. Bestsellers are manufactured, major prizes awarded to hackneyed books because they espouse correct politics. Implicit therein is much evil. Not that commerce is bereft of virtue. But it diminishes the artist. His soul is compromised, and thereby so is his ability to speak the truth. The writer can’t concern himself with such. He must write and hope that he will be given bread.

–What books are you currently reading?

I just finished John Fowles‘ The Magus, a tremendous and tremendously erudite book that is ghostly and haunting. I am currently reading Njal’s Saga, an Icelandic Saga from, I believe, the fourteenth century. Plenty of ruptured skulls in this one. A delight.

–Which authors do you think are underappreciated in the current market, and why? 

Robert Penn Warren and James Dickey are shamefully neglected. They should be canonized. We no longer have great men of letters such as Mr. Warren and the result has been a glut of sophomoric drivel. No one is willing to declare the age inept. Sadly, my sense is that these two writers are neglected for political reasons. This is the height of absurdity. It matters not one iota what a writer’s prejudices are. The art is all. And Dickey and Warren were geniuses by any definition of the term.

–Which new writers do you find most interesting, and why?

I don’t have time to read many new writers. I’m stilly catching up on those who have gone before me. Donna Tartt is good, though not new. She deserves every award she gets. Likewise, Jeffrey Lent.

–Which “get writing” techniques are most effective for you?

The only ‘get writing’ technique I have is to wake up. That and guilt. If I do not write, I know the angels of my agony will demand an answer. I rarely have an adequate one.

–Can you give us a sneak peek into your current project?

I have completed a novel set between 1799 and 1830. It involves a duo of murderous brothers and their wives (they are polygamists), all of whom happen to be sisters. I am fifty pages into a second novel that is also historical. It centers around a bear, a dog, a woman and a widower.

If you enjoyed this interview, consider supporting this blog by leaving a tip of any size.

Book Giveaway

Enter here for a chance to win one of two signed copies of Message Stick, a novel of Australia and winner of two national awards.

If you are interested in receiving an ebook of this novel in return for writing a review on Amazon, email me. Available for review only for a short time! Do share with others who might be interested. And thank you!

The Uninvited by Cat Winters

The Uninvited by Cat Winters

William Morrow Paperbacks 2015

Here’s a well-researched and well-drawn historical novel. I received an ARC from the publisher. Set during the 1918 flu epidemic, a twenty-something woman leaves her family after her father and brother commit a horrific act of violence…and revel in the blood. They claim to be patriots, and have murdered a member of a German immigrant family during WWI.

When she leaves her family behind, she stays in town, striking out on her own for the first time in her life. She falls for the brother of the murdered man, and begins driving an ambulance for victims of the flu. She has survived her own bout with the illness and so is safe. The work takes her into every social and economic strata of her town, allowing readers a detailed look at life during this time.

Oh, and she sees ghosts, the “uninvited” of the title.

While the book provides readers of historical fiction with what they crave, the prose is a bit pedantic…not dense so much as precise to the point of stripping out the deeper elements of voice and tone. This affects the book’s atmosphere and makes for a surprisingly dry read. However, since this is an artistic choice (because it’s related to the author’s voice), it can be chalked up to something that strikes me personally rather than as a flaw that might put other readers off.

Overall, the work is well written and the story is interesting. If you like historical novels, check out this book and the author’s other works. She’s written extensively across many time periods, so it’s likely that one or more of her books will resonate with you.

4 stars

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Author Interview: Cat Winters

Cat Winters has written an astonishing number of novels. Do visit her website to learn more and to discover where to purchase her different types of books. A review of one of her many books will be posted tomorrow. Meanwhile, enjoy a chat with her here!

-How would your advice for new writers differ from advice you would offer writers who have been in the game for a while?

Honestly, my advice wouldn’t differ between the two. It took me nearly two decades of serious writing before a publisher ever offered me a contract. I would give the version of myself who was starting off back in 1994 the same advice that I would have told the version who was on the brink of giving up in 2011: If writing is what your heart and soul tells you to do, do not give up.

Writing is never a waste of time—don’t ever tell yourself that it is, even when you find yourself at a point in which you need to file a book (or books) away and move on to something new. Write the stories that grab you by the shoulders and refuse to let you go. Do not write for trends or scrap beloved ideas in favor of ones you think might make a bestseller. Readers will be able to feel your passion (or lack of passion), and so will the agents and editors who serve as the gateway between you and those readers.

Seek honest feedback from critique partners whom you trust, and LISTEN to that feedback, especially when everyone is pointing to the same areas that require a bit of work. Make your books, short stories, etc., as strong as they can possibly be before sending them out the door. A writing career takes diligence, patience, love, and luck, and the writers who make it are typically the ones who stick with it, even after countless rejections and other setbacks.

-When you take a break from writing, is it a full and total break or is your mind constantly parsing the world for fodder? What does that parsing look like? How does it make you feel as an artist? As a human being?

These past three years I’ve had so many back-to-back books due that I haven’t been able to take much of a break from writing at all. In December, however, I managed to find myself with a couple of weeks that didn’t involve any pressing deadlines, so I put myself on a full writing vacation to spend much-needed time with family.

No matter how much I tried to avoid thinking about my books, though, I found myself mentally plotting and planning and drawing inspiration from the world around me—a process I believe to be one of the most important stages of writing. Often writers need to walk away from their computers and let the ideas marinate.

As both an artist and a human being, I love that my mind turns everything around me into something meaningful; the entire world speaks to my imagination. It’s a fascinating way of looking at life.

-From your perspective as an author, what do you feel is the biggest challenge to the publishing industry today? 

I feel that the biggest challenge is the lack of diversity. Because my young adult novels started appearing in print a couple years before my adult novel debuted, I’m much more aware of the state of the YA publishing industry.

In the world of kidlit, groups such as #WeNeedDiverseBooks are now encouraging publishers to acquire and promote books written by a wider variety of authors. A push for publishers to hire diverse employees is also in the works, as evidenced by the recent article “AAP, UNCF Partner to Improve Diversity Hiring in Book Biz,” by Calvin Reid (Jan. 14, 2016).

I also believe that we need to work harder to ensure that student writers of all racial and ethnic backgrounds—and at all income levels—receive access to educational opportunities in creative writing.

-What books are you currently reading?

I’m reading Daniel Kraus’s entertaining historical epic, The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch. Plus I’m making my way through several research books for the YA novel that I’m currently writing. A favorite of those books is American Monsters: A History of Monster Lore, Legends, and Sightings in America, by Linda S. Godfrey.

-Which authors do you think are underappreciated in the current market, and why? (The authors do not have to be living.)

Going back to what I said about the publishing industry’s need for greater diversity, I would say that many writers of color continue to be unfairly underappreciated. Sherri L. Smith’s excellent WWII-set novel, Flygirl, is a book that I learned about through word of mouth, and it was so eye-opening and moving, I felt I should have been made aware of it through bigger publishing campaigns and stronger Internet buzz.

One of the books I most want to read at the moment is Ashley Hope Pérez’s Out of Darkness, which involves a racially divided town on the Texas-Mexico border in 1936. I just learned of the novel because it was named a 2016 Printz Honor Book, but before I read the list of winners, I had, sadly, never heard of it.

Granted, historical fiction is a genre that itself is often underappreciated, but historical fiction about marginalized groups tends to slip under the radar all the more. I hope future changes in the publishing industry will remedy this issue.

-Which new writers do you find most interesting, and why?

My busy schedule has kept me from reading as much as I’d like in the past couple of years, but I would say to keep an eye on Amy Lukavics, a young horror novelist. I blurbed her debut novel, Daughters Unto Devils, of which I said, “Imagine Stephen King writing Little House on the Prairie.” I love when authors experiment with the historical fiction genre and do something completely unexpected with it.

-Which “get writing” techniques are most effective for you?

I write when my kids are in school, so there are very specific hours in the day when I need to plop myself down into a chair and get the work done. In order to make the transition from my mom life to my writer life, I typically listen to a song that connects me to my work-in-progress. I compile lists of go-to inspirational music for each one of my books, and when I sit in my chair, close my eyes, and absorb that music, inevitably I’m put into the writing mindset.

In the middle of the workday, when I grow restless or find writer’s block setting in, I get up and take a long walk outside, if the weather cooperates (I live in Oregon). Afterward, I almost always return to my computer refreshed and ready to go.

-Can you give us a sneak peek into your current project?

I’m getting ready to release my next young adult novel, The Steep and Thorny Way, a retelling of Hamlet that centers on a biracial teenage girl in 1920s Oregon. That book releases from Abrams on March 8, 2016.

The novel that I’m actively revising at the moment is my second adult novel, Yesternight, which HarperCollins will release in October 2016. It involves a female school psychologist who, in 1925, finds herself dealing with the baffling case of a seven-year-old girl who claims to have lived a past life in the late 1800s. It’s a historical psychological thriller, and I’m greatly looking forward to celebrating its publication just in time for Halloween.

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