Archive for October, 2012


Every Wednesday, I feature a writer and his/her workspace.  My aim is to get to know fellow writers better through their workspace and writing habits, and have them  share some of their writing wisdom here.

Today, I am most eager to welcome fantasy and romance author Susan Gourley. You can find her blogging at Susan Says.

Welcome, Susan!


Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do for a living? What genre do you love to write? What are some of your hobbies or interests? Do you have a hidden talent?

Fantasy and Romance Author Susan Gourley

Currently, I teach high school. Now, you might assume I teach in the humanities or language art fields, but I don’t.  I teach physical education and love it. But I’m still retiring next June and becoming a full time writer. I love writing epic fantasy and that is my first love for reading also. Under my pen name, Susan Kelley, I also write fantasy romance.  I do read almost every genre of fiction to be found.

I do some running almost every day though currently I’m resting after some knee surgery.

Resting up after some knee surgery

I love to cross-stitch, crochet and bake.  I’m not sure it’s special talent, but I’m very good at puzzles of all sorts. Jigsaws are my favorite, but I’m also good at fixing things because I can look at something and understand how it’s put together.



On Workspace

1.  Where do you do most of your writing?

I do some in the living room, but most of it I do in my office where I’ve put two cheap desks together to form a corner set up.


Susan’s Workspace

2.  Where did you get your desk?  How did you go about arranging your work area?

I bought my two desks at different times. They give my lots of room to spread out. I’m limited on rearranging because my office is pretty small.

3.  What are some important things on your desk?  Are there specific things you need to have around you as you work?

I always have my planner open on my desk. I jot blogging ideas down on it. Also I keep my little black book where I write down books and authors I want to read. I always carry it with me to the library and the bookstore.


4.  What do you love most about your workspace? Do you have any favorite objects on your desk, or things you use often?

I love that I’m situated in a corner so when people come in the room, they can’t see my screen. I really don’t like people reading over my shoulder. I also have enough shelf space to keep everything within reach.

Susan’s bookshelf 

5. What’s your writing beverage?  What do you love to drink while you’re writing?

I love water and often spice it up by drinking flavored seltzer water. I also drink coffee at almost any time of day. Iced or hot and black. Maybe once a week, I’ll have a glass of wine while I write.

On Writing

1. Who is your favorite author?  Who inspired you to write?

I fell in love with Tolkien in junior high school but never considered I might be able to write.  He’s still my favorite author.  As my children grew up and didn’t need me every moment of the day, I wrote my first fantasy romance in long hand. I never stopped writing after that though it took a few years to get published.


2. What’s your typical day as a writer like?  Do you have any writing related rituals or quirks?

During the summer months, I usually do some blogging in the mornings, posting and visiting. Then I do chores around the house. We have a big lot and it’s nearly full time to take care of it and my six bedroom house.  Then I’ll work on my writing after dark. During the school year, I don’t get a chance to write until evening or the weekends. I am completely without quirks, but I do like to have a movie playing while I write, even if I don’t watch. I can hear it.


3.  Do you write everyday?  How many hours a day do you spend writing?  What are some of your worst writing distractions?

Some days I only work on promotion, but it’s always something toward my goal of being a more successful writer. I usually find between two and four hours per day.  The only distractions I get are my children stopping in to talk. I have to stop for that.

4. Why do you write?

I like telling stories. I never have to try and come up with ideas. I have so many books still floating around in my head, I wish I could type faster.


5. Any writing tips or techniques or words of wisdom you want to share with us?  How about a favorite writing quote?

I would say never give up to other writers. And select the path that is best for you. Some people are doing great by self-publishing. Others go the small press route. And you can also try to sign with an agent and hope for a contract from one of the big publishing house. There are so many options I think everyone can find success.

How about a favorite writing quote?

“Butt in chair, and write.”




Thanks, Susan, for giving us a glimpse into your writing life.

Wednesday Writer’s Workspace is an ongoing series, and if you’re interested in being featured here, simply leave me a message in the comment box, and I’ll be sure to email you.





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Legend Giveaway Winner

You might be wondering what happened to that Giveaway I promised.

Well, wonder no more. Today is the day I announce the winner of Marie Lu’s LEGEND!

You are missing out on another great dystopian novel if you haven’t yet read LEGEND. Read my review, to see what all the hoopla’s about. While you’re at it, you might as well check out LEGEND’S amazing author, Marie Lu. Well, don’t check her out that way. I meant check out her Interview.

I asked the participants of the giveaway to answer why they’d like to win a copy of the books in a creative way to increase their chances of winning.

These folks certainly win points for creativity!


Dipping deep into another dystopian I havn’t read yet, would make my dreams of becoming the male verison of Katniss Everdeen, ever more endurable, (well in my dreams anyway.) hahah. Great giveaway, i was going to pick this book up awhile ago, but the Forsaken was calling my name. thanks for doing this, your amazing. (:

Danine says:

September 27, 2012 at 5:44 pm

Ohhh,Ohhh,Ohhhh! , Please be the answer to my Dreams! I have been trying to get a signed copy forever, I don’t have enough $$$ to travel to one of Marie Lu’s book signings, but you could be the answer to my Dreams! That’s if I win the signed copy you have in the giveaway!

“Legend” is one of the most believable YA books I have read. I could relate more to this book then the Hunger Games. I could imagine the characters as real people more then fictional characters.

I would love a signed copy of this book! Thank you for the giveaway!
I twitted but didn’t know how to share the link, also FB shared but have no clue how to send you that link either…lol…ohh if i only paid attention in my computer science class.


Vanessa P says:

September 27, 2012 at 5:57 pm

Oooh. This book looks GOOD. I love this type of thing and Marie is a new to me author that I just added to this weeks list of authors to check out and add their books to my TBR list!! I loved your review and excerpt, it was what made me decide that I HAVE to OWN (libraries are great but some books have to be possessed!) a copy of this book. At any rate, it looks like it will have the same feel as Scott Westerfield’s Uglies series or some of my other favs.
Here’s my creative effort to answer why I want a copy of the book:
Novel is top



Thanks for the giveaway!



In the end, however, my magic box decided for me:


I’ll be emailing you shortly with more congratulations and some instructions for claiming your prize.

If you didn’t win this time, don’t despair. I have another great giveaway that you can still sign up for.

Copies of Jenn Reese’s JADE TIGER and her more recent MG novel, ABOVE WORLD are still up for grabs! To join, simple click on this link, or the link on my sidebar.



Next month, I’ll be training the Spotlight on another favorite author and her wonderful book.

Tune in on the 2nd week of November to find out more about YA Author Gretchen McNeil and get a chance to win a SIGNED copy of her book!




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Spotlight Week: Above World Giveaway

This week, the Spotlight was on Jenn Reese and her fantastic, action-packed  MG novel ABOVE WORLD.

If you haven’t heard of ABOVE WORLD, you can check out my Review.

Also check out my Interview with author Jenn Reese.

It’s the end of another Spotlight Week, which means it’s time for another awesome giveaway.

Today, I’m giving away a SIGNED COPY of ABOVE WORLD!


To win, just Leave a comment below and tell me why you’d like a copy of the book.

I’ll put all your names in my magical drawing box and pick the winner.

But wait! I’m not done giving away stuff yet!

I’m also giving away 5 SIGNED copies of Jenn’s first book: Jade Tiger!

I love encouraging people to unleash their imaginative and creative sides, so the more creative your answers are, the more chances you have of winning. If your comment/answer tickles my fancy, I’ll add another slip of paper (or two) with your name on it to my drawing box.

Also, if you tweet about this giveaway, or share it on Facebook, I’ll add more slips of papers with your name on it.

 The contest will end on October 19, 2012, Friday.

Good luck!

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I first met Jenn Reese last February, when she and author Sara Wilson Etienne had a book signing at Mysterious Galaxy in Redondo Beach.

With Author Jenn Reese, at her book signing, February, 2012

I was ecstatic to discover that Jenn Reese was a big fan of Nickelodeon’s The Last Airbender series. She admitted that her book, Above World, was in fact inspired by the show. Being a big fan of the Last Airbender series myself, I felt an instant kinship with Jenn.

I was happily surprised to discover that Jenn and I shared another common passion–martial arts, and Sci-Fi/Fantasy. It’s no wonder that I enjoyed reading ABOVE WORLD as much as Jenn enjoyed writing it.

And now I’ll train the spotlight on ABOVE WORLD’s amazing author, Jenn Reese


 Author’s Bio from her website

Jenn Reese writes science fiction and fantasy adventure stories for readers of all ages. She has published short stories online and in various anthologies, including the World Fantasy Award-winning Paper Cities. Her first novel, Jade Tiger, is an action-adventure kung fu romance for teens and adults. She’s currently at work on a middle-grade adventure series called Above World for Candlewick Press. She lives in Los Angeles where she studies martial arts, plays video games, and dreams of rain.

The Talented Jenn Reese

 1. Tell us three random, unique, or weird facts about yourself.

Only three weird things? It’ll be hard to choose…

 –        I do voice over for an animated web series called Hey Wordy, where I play a young dictionary trying to learn new words in different languages.

–        I once took a workshop in monkey kung fu that was so difficult I could barely walk for two weeks after. The guy who taught the workshop was the inspiration for Monkey Fist on the animated TV show Kim Possible.

–        In my high school yearbook, the phrase under my photo says “GUT & TOE” because I wanted to be a particle physicist. (They stand for “Grand Unified Theory” and “Theory of Everything.”) I like to think there’s an alternate dimension version of me that works at CERN.

2. What books and movies inspired your love for Sci-Fi or Fantasy?

I read voraciously as a kid, mostly Newbery books. Some of my favorite SF/F books were: A Wrinkle in Time, The Twenty-One Balloons, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Phantom Tollbooth, and A Wizard of Earthsea. They sparked a life-long love of speculative fiction in all forms.

As for movies, I was the perfect age (seven) to see Star Wars on the big screen when it came out. Princess Leia was the first woman I’d ever seen in an action role, and I worshipped her. I loved sf/f TV shows, too: Battlestar Galactica, Tales of the Gold Monkey, The Greatest American Hero, Star Trek, you name it! If it was science fiction or fantasy, I consumed it.

3. What day jobs did you have before you became a full time author?

I’ve mostly worked on the production side at various publishing companies. I’ve done graphic design, database design, web design, and general project management. I love to solve problems, find efficiency paths, and marry form and function whenever possible.

 But I should clarify that I’m not yet a full-time writer. I currently work part-time for the Lambda Literary Foundation, a nonprofit that supports and promotes LGBT authors and literature, and I run a freelance book cover design company called Tiger Bright Studios. Some day I might be a full-time writer, but I’m certainly not there yet!

4. When did you know you were going to be a writer?  What prompted you to take your writing seriously?

I didn’t start writing until I was twenty-five, and I didn’t start taking myself seriously until long after that.  I wrote short stories initially, and even attended the six-week-long Clarion workshop in 1999. But writing was still a hobby. I fit writing into the white spaces of my life, and when I got busy at work, whole months would go by without any new words. I managed to write my first novel in 2003, but it wasn’t until 2008 that I finished my second.

But then one day, a switch flipped. I’d been working at a start-up animation company, sometimes pulling 18-hour days and working every weekend. A year went by and I realized that I’d been spending all my time and effort and passion on other people’s dreams. I decided then and there that my dreams deserved just as much respect.

Since then, I’ve shaped my life around writing, not the other way around. Telling stories is my passion and writing makes me happy. I just had to give myself permission to consider those things valuable and to make them a priority.

5. What inspired you to write your first novel, JADE TIGER?

I’d started many novels over the years, but all of them had petered out within a few chapters. I had begun to think that writing a whole novel was an impossible task.  In retrospect, I was putting too much pressure on myself. I wanted to write (the fantasy equivalent of) the Great American Novel, and of course I was failing.

Meanwhile, I had been taking kempo for a year and a half and I had fallen head-over-heels in love with martial arts. I was watching documentaries, reading websites, visiting other schools, and taking workshops whenever I could find them. In order to get over my block about writing a novel, I told myself it could be about martial arts and I could put as much of my passion as I wanted into the story – including a rather direct homage to Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon.

And what do you know, it worked! Writing the book for myself, with no rules except to indulge every passionate whim, got me over that impossible barrier.  Since then, I let myself put as much of whatever I’m in love with at the time into the book I’m writing.


6. Like Shan, your main character in JADE TIGER, you are also a martial artist. Do you have a favorite fighting style or weapon?

Of the styles I’ve studied, kung fu is my favorite. I’m not much of a fighter (if you watched me spar, you would alternate between laughing and cringing on my behalf), but I am in love with forms. Forms are a little bit like dance routines – a specific set of movements that train your body in a certain way…while simultaneously looking awesome. They require strength and skill and precision that I can only dream of some day attaining. But even when you do them badly, they still bring together your  Mind, Body, and Spirit like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. I never feel more whole than when I’m practicing a form.

But oh, how I love weapons, too! I’m decent with a pair of daggers, the stave, the spear, and the Chinese broadsword. Of those, I think the staff is my favorite – but only because I’ve finally started hitting my imaginary targets more frequently than I hit myself.

7. Do you try to incorporate your own knowledge of kung fu when you write your stories?

Always. Kung fu isn’t a hobby for me, it’s a way of life. Even when I’m not making it to the studio, the philosophy behind kung fu stays with me in all things. It has fundamentally changed my life in almost every respect, and there’s no way I could write anything that wasn’t touched by it in some way.

Also, I love writing fight scenes.

8. Where did you get the story idea for ABOVE WORLD?

A long time ago, I wanted to write a short story about a spaceship captain and I was trying to think of what sort of person might be naturally good at navigating in space. The answer that popped into my head surprised me: a mermaid! That’s how I got the idea of combining mythology with science fiction. I also knew I wanted the book to feel like an epic fantasy adventure, the kind I gulped down as kid. I thought that approach – along with an emphasis on bioengineering instead of spaceships — might win over some readers who didn’t think they liked science fiction.

9. In ABOVE WORLD, humans have biologically engineered themselves in order to survive the harsh climate changes in their world. You’ve created a fascinating setting for your story. Could you give us a few tips or techniques for world-building?

 Here are two aspects of my world-building process that I’ve been spending more and more time on lately:

 1. I try not to make assumptions about my created societies. I don’t assume the men are the warriors and leaders, the political structure is a monarchy, or that everyone eats the same thing for dinner. (Or even that they have dinner.) The first thing that pops into my head is often consciously or unconsciously based on my personal experience with our world, my unconscious biases, or worse, based on stereotypes. I try to think about my created society’s history, geography, and economy. What sorts of beliefs and traditions truly make sense for these fictional people? I extrapolate as best I can, then question every decision.

 2. Omissions are also decisions, and I try to make them carefully. We see a lot of movies where all the characters are heterosexual white people… even when the stories take place in fantasy settings or on other planets. Our world is nothing like that, so why are those places? If I leave out people of color, women in active roles, people with different gender identities or sexual orientations, differently abled people, the old or very young, etc. from my stories, I am making a lot of decisions about my world and its created society. I try to make these choices deliberately, so I know what I’m doing and why.

10. Tell us about your path to publication. What is the coolest thing about being a published author?

My path to publication was pretty straightforward if you ignore the first 10 years where I wrote short stories for adult science fiction and fantasy markets. Once I wrote Above World, I went through rounds of revisions with trusted friends and colleagues (most of whom I had met during my short story phase), researched agents, queried agents, landed an agent, revised again, and went on submission. The book sold within a few months in a two-book deal to Candlewick. Just before Above World was released, we closed the deal on the third book, and I officially get to write a trilogy!

I worked really hard on my revisions and my agent research, but having incredible friends was my ace in the hole. They gave me a lot of advice and a ton of support, and cheered the loudest when things started happening. I am not a big fan of networking in order to get ahead, but I’m utterly devoted to the idea of making friends.

11. What’s your typical day as a writer like? Do you have any writing-related rituals or quirks?

In the perfect week, I write five out of seven days. The other two are designated non-writing days, and usually correspond to the days I spend hours in traffic commuting to and from my part-time job. On writing days, I’m proud if I start writing by 9am and go until noon. Then I spend the afternoons logging job hours, doing freelance cover design, and trying to tackle my inbox.

 As for rituals, I don’t have many. I’m addicted to Scrivener, which is probably my biggest crutch, and I usually listen to a playlist of carefully selected movie soundtracks. I can’t write to anything with lyrics, and some days even soundtracks are too distracting. Then I fall back to my White Noise app, where crashing waves, a thunderous rainstorm, or a crackling fire can really help me focus.

12.  What do you like to do when you’re not writing?  Any hobbies, sports, crafts you like to spend time on?

I used to have a whole host of hobbies, but I cut most of them out when I decided to focus on writing. Nowadays my leisure time is spent reading, playing video games (World of Warcraft, mostly, but I still love my PS3), and bugging my cats. In the future, I want to spend more time drawing. I wanted to be an artist when I was a little girl, and that dream still smolders.

13. Are you currently working on any other projects?

I just turned in the third and final book in the Above World trilogy, and have started work on an unsold YA fantasy. There will be both martial arts and kissing.

14. What advice would you like to give to writers on the road to publication?

Forge strong friendships whenever you can, regardless of whether you think the other person can help you with your career. If they’re a good friend, then they’ll help you… even if it’s in ways you don’t expect.

15. What would you like to say to your young readers? Is there any advice that you would like to give them?

My advice is always “Write your passion,” but I like this paraphrase of a Bruce Lee quote better: “Take what is useful, discard what is not, make what remains your own.”

Thank you so much for the great questions, Nutschell – I had a great time answering them.



Visit me again on Friday. I’ll be giving away a copy of Jenn Reese’s ABOVE WORLD!

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This month’s Spotlight Week features ABOVE WORLD by Middle Grade Author Jenn Reese.



368 pages, Hardcover

Genre: MG, Ages 10 and up

Published on February 14, 2012 by Candlewick

ISBN-10: 0763654175

ISBN-13: 978-0763654177


A suspenseful sci-fi escapade plucks two children out of the ocean for a thrilling adventure.

Thirteen-year-old Aluna has lived her entire life under the ocean with the Coral Kampii in the City of Shifting Tides. But after centuries spent hidden from the Above World, her colonys survival is in doubt. The Kampiis breathing necklaces are failing, but the elders are unwilling to venture above water to seek answers. Only headstrong Aluna and her friend Hoku are stubborn and bold enough to face the terrors of land to search for way to save their people.

But can Alunas warrior spirit and Hokus tech-savvy keep them safe? Set in a world where overcrowding has led humans to adaptgrowing tails to live under the ocean or wings to live on mountainshere is a ride through a future where greed and cruelty have gone unchecked, but the loyalty of friends remains true.


My Review

Opening Line: Aluna swam toward the outpost, her heart pounding, her breathing necklace pulsing at her throat.

Opening Paragraph: Aluna swam toward the outpost, her heart pounding, her breathing necklace pulsing at her throat. She kicked her legs harder, wishing it were tomorrow. Wishing she already had her tail. With a tail, she could speed through the water, fast as a dolphin.

The opening lines hooked me right off the bat, and questions about this character and the world she lived in began swimming in my head. What was a breathing necklace? How would she get a tail? What kind of underwater world did she live in?

Author Jenn Reese did not disappoint. The world she’s created is a fascinating one—full of wonder, surprise, and danger. In this dystopian story, environmental problems and overpopulation has forced humans to seek out alternative habitats, and adapt their bodies to their new environment.

Like the rest of the Kampii, Aluna lives deep underwater, but through her adventures, she gets to meet people from other splinters of the new world. She befriends the Avians, winged people who live in the high mountains, and even makes friends with an Equian, a member of the half-horse race living in the deserts.

Aluna is a strong-willed, and defiant heroine. She takes it upon herself to find out a solution to the growing problem of breathing necklace malfunctions, when the Elders in her society refuse to seek help. She journeys to the above world, where she realizes that working with the other races might be the only way to save them all from a common enemy.

Aluna and her friends all have distinct, likeable characteristics. Her best friend Hoku, who helps tell the other half of the story, is the ultimate geek, and often helps calm hot-headed Aluna. Brave Dash and shy Callie also add fun and sometimes drama to the adventure.

The setting is so original and vividly described. I love how science fiction and fantasy seem to meld in Above World. Technology began all the amazing transformations of the human race in this story, but ceremony and ritual from the different tribes lend an almost magical feel to everything.

I also loved the little details about the world, which author Jenn Reese has sprinkled throughout the text. I was pleasantly surprised to find a lovable pet raccoon named Zorro, a talking dog, and a half human-half crab mechanism who longs for a kiss.

Boys will especially enjoy the book’s fast pace and every action-packed chapter. There is hardly time to breathe, as the friends are thrown from one adventure to the next. The author’s background in martial arts shines through in the fight scenes she’s written. I could clearly picture the action in my mind, and I almost felt like I was watching a movie.

Girls, on the other hand, will enjoy reading about Aluna’s journey of self-discovery, and the budding romance that will blossom later on between two of the other characters.

I enjoyed reading Above World and can’t wait for the next two books in the series.

** Book 2, Mirage, will be published in February of 2013, while Book 3 will most likely come out in 2014.



Stay tuned for an interview with ABOVE WORLD’s author Jenn Reese on Wednesday!

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