Sunday, May 25, 2014

An ABC Review of BLACKFIN SKY & RRR Interview with Kat Ellis

I recently had the chance to read BLACKFIN SKY by Kat Ellis. (I won an ARC of the US edition through a Twitter giveaway.) 

Here's the book blurb:

Just like any other morning, Skylar Rousseau is late for school, but when she is greeted by a blanket of silent stares upon entering Blackfin High, she discovers that the whole town thought she fell from the pier and drowned on her sixteenth birthday three months earlier. However, Sky remembers the last three months living her life as normal, and since she is a full, living breathing human being, she has no idea whose body is buried underneath her tombstone. Everyone seems reluctant to help except her steadfast friend and crush, Sean . . . and a secretive man who draws her to a mysterious circus in the woods. Sky must wade through impossibilities and lies to discover the truth about what happened to her, which proves to be a bit difficult when someone is following her every move with the intent to harm her. And Sky’s only hope of finding the answers she seeks may have already been turned to ashes.

BLACKFIN SKY is now available for purchase in the UK and available for preorder in the US. (US release date is September 2, 2014.) 

First, I LOVE the cover! It's so perfect. The UK cover is great, too.

This was so much fun to read. Reviewing this is difficult, though, because I don't want to give anything away. There are so many mysteries surrounding Skylar and the other characters in BLACKFIN SKY that if I say anything it'll probably spoil something big. Sooo you should just take my word for it and read it! ;-)

Because BLACKFIN SKY is so unique (and I want to avoid spoilers!), I thought it would be fun to do the review a little different and theme it around the ABCs.



The story of BLACKFIN SKY moves quickly without feeling rushed. I was never bored or wondering when something would happen. Just enough of the mystery was revealed throughout the story to keep me reading and wondering what happens next. From the very first page, reading from the point-of-view of Silas, the haunted weathervane, I was hooked!  

My initial thoughts about the mystery surrounding Sky were wrong, and I was really surprised when I found out what actually happened to her. I think BLACKFIN SKY would appeal to fans of Les Revenants. (Sky's reemergence in Blackfin reminded me a little of Camille's in Les Revenants.)


While Kat Ellis created a town completely unlike any town around, it felt very familiar and real at the same time. The town of Blackfin is mysterious and quirky. I mean, there's a haunted weathervane and a well that steals your loose change if you walk too close! I think that speaks of Kat's magic as a writer--these quirky things all feel very real and possible.  


Skylar Rousseau is a great heroine. I immediately liked her and wanted to know what happened during her three month absence. Even with her otherness, she feels like any other girl. She could be your best friend.

Sean Vega is a refreshing love interest with his grandpa cardigans, dorky glasses, and strawberry licorice always dangling from his mouth. I also liked that he's just a nice guy. Because there are so many complicated bad boys, someone like Sean is a breath of fresh air.  

If I name or explain about anyone else from BLACKFIN SKY, I'm afraid it'll give things away...

Now it's time for my interview with Kat Ellis!

Some BLACKFIN SKY questions:

What inspired you to write BLACKFIN SKY? Did you get the initial spark and immediately start writing, or did you think about it a while before writing?

I knew the hook before I began: that Sky died and came back 3 months later, and couldn’t understand why her recollection of events was so different from everyone else’s. But (and this is unusual for me) I hadn’t written an outline before I started drafting, so I hit a bit of a stumbling block when I realised I had no idea what had actually happened to Sky. I spent a few weeks mulling it over before a fateful visit to the circus with my sister and niece helped me to fill in the missing pieces. 

Have you casted any of the characters in BLACKFIN SKY in your head with celebrities?

Ha! Of course. I’d cast Dakota Fanning as Sky, and Robert Sheehan as Sean, her love interest. I’m not sure about the rest, except for Sky’s father, Gui – I’d have Tom Hardy to play him, looking like he did in the film Bronson (though Gui is a very different character from Charles Bronson…)

Other than the characters in BLACKFIN SKY, are there any literary characters you could see Sky being friends with? Or enemies?

I could definitely imagine her being friends with Cas Lowood from ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD; they have the same almost weary acceptance of the bizarre nature of the world around them, although I like to think that Sky has better taste in love interests ;) I think Willow in the ANGEL series by L A Weatherly would also make a good friend for Sky. In terms of enemies… Sky probably has enough of her own to be going on with!


What are you currently reading?

I’m about to start WE WERE LIARS by E Lockhart - mostly because nearly everyone I know has already read it, and I’m bound to stumble on a spoiler if I don’t read it soon!

Do you bring a book with you every place you go or do you mainly read in one place?

I tend to travel with a book or two, but if I’m going anywhere far I’ll take my kindle; I worry I’ll somehow become a super-fast reader the minute I hit the motorway, and will run out of things to read if I don’t have my overstuffed kindle.

What's your favorite book to recommend to other people?

UNWIND by Neal Shusterman, mostly because it’s less well known than a lot of my other favourite reads, and you really can’t beat it for great, creepy SF!


What time of day do you prefer to write?

I’m a night owl; I generally start mid-afternoon and work into the wee small hours.

Do you need to eat or drink something while writing?

Oh god yes! I mainline coffee…although I tend to forget to eat, so I quite often get lovely little caffeine headaches.

Do you listen to music while writing? If so, do you listen to different types of music while drafting and revising?

I make playlists for each manuscript I work on, and sometimes play those in the background. Other times I find random songs, or work in silence. It’s very much mood-dependant.


When you’re not writing (or thinking about writing), what do you do to unwind?

I read, which really does feel like a luxury sometimes, and I mess around on my piano and guitar.

What’s your not-so-guilty pleasure?

The TV show Catfish. People on that show are INSANE, but it’s kind of addictive.

Do you have any other creative outlets besides writing?

I love travelling around North Wales taking photographs of forests and castles and stuff like that. I post quite a lot of them to my Tumblr.

Thank you so much Kat for being brave enough to be the first interview on my blog! You can find Kat on Twitter or on her blog. A few places you can find BLACKFIN SKY: Amazon, B&N, Book Depository

Sunday, May 18, 2014

NESCBWI 2014 & Meeting CPs IRL

If you read my first post, you know that I recently went to my second NESCBWI conference. This post was going to be about the conference, but I think other people have blogged about NESCBWI 2014 better than I could…so this may turn into a post about something else. We'll see!

In my daily life, I don't talk about writing with other people. Only a few select people know that I write (and even less know I'm a querying writer). I think a lot of other writers are the same way. Most people don't understand the publication process and everything that goes along with it, so it's hard to talk to non-writers (even friends and family) about the things you're going through. (Things like: form rejections, no responses, or your MC being difficult and not doing what she's supposed to do.)

This is what makes writers' conferences so much fun. You're surrounded by your peers, by people who know what you're going through. You can commiserate about the querying process and share tips and tricks. There's nothing better than talking to other writers.

Well, almost nothing. The one thing that's even better is getting the chance to talk face-to-face with online critique partners--people who have actually read your manuscript! CPs have fallen in love with your characters, told you when they hate your MC, helped you fix a previously unsolvable problem, been a personal sounding board for you, etc.

I finally had the chance to meet one of mine at the conference. I made plans with Julie Dao, my Pitch Wars teammate and critique partner, to go to the NESCBWI conference. She'd never been before, and we thought it would be a great opportunity for us to meet there. It was so awesome to finally meet in person. (Julie's the first writer friend that I've ever met IN REAL LIFE.)

We met on Friday afternoon in the hotel lobby. There was lots of smiling and hugging! After saying hello, we went in search of a Starbucks so we could sit and chat. Even though I was pretty sure there was a Starbucks around somewhere, we couldn't find one. We ended up going to a coffee shop that was in the mall across the street from the hotel instead. Because we had SO MUCH that we wanted to say, we started laughing, not knowing where to even start.  The time flew by. It was so easy to talk to each other and to talk about our manuscripts. It was so freeing, so cool, to be able to talk about our characters (in depth) with someone else who had read our stories. After coffee, we continued talking at dinner. (Julie made reservations at Nadim's, which was right near the hotel.)

Later that night, there was a Meet and Greet for the conference attendees in the hotel. I'd been too chicken to go by myself the previous year but this year, with Julie by my side, I wasn't as nervous! I didn't speak with any agents, but Julie was able to talk with an agent who has her full manuscript. It was awesome to see her so excited! I didn't speak to any agents, but I did run into a friend from Twitter, Emily Kate Muyskens. (Emily and I had met online through Cupid's Literary Connection's Blind Speed Dating Contest.) She was super-sweet and Julie and I met up with her again on Saturday.

Julie and I signed up for the same workshops on Saturday (Manuscript Revisions with Mandy Hubbard and Write What You Don't Know with Julie Berry and Kendra Levin). We both had great manuscript critiques. (Mine was with an agent and hers was with an editor.) Overall, it was a great time!

How about you? Have you ever met online critique partners IN REAL LIFE?

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Writer's Voice Entry - STRANGE ATTRACTORS (YA sci-fi)



Dear Writer's Voice coaches,

With the weight of the multiverse on her shoulders, it’s a wonder that seventeen-year-old Piper Newton doesn’t have to see a chiropractor.

As a corporate spy, Piper uses her unique ability to travel between universes to obtain lucrative information for her father and his company. But when she discovers that a parallel version of her father’s most-hated competitor is experimenting on the veils between universes, the gravity of her next spy mission threatens to break her back. 

Her father asks her to infiltrate the company through the competitor’s son, Calvin James. Dating--even for a mission--is the last thing she wants to do. Guys lie and cheat and are more destructive than superluminous supernovae. But because Piper and her father believe the damage caused by Calvin’s father’s experimentation will create a black-hole-like-void, ultimately destroying both universes, she knows she has to do something--even if that means hooking up with a cocky jerk like Calvin James.

To Piper’s surprise, Calvin quickly disarms her with his intelligence, quesadilla-making-skills, and butterfly-effect-smile. She’s soon sneaking off to the parallel universe to see Calvin behind her father’s back and neglecting to tell him everything she learns. She rationalizes that his father is more mad-scientist than sinister-villain and wonders if they were wrong about Calvin’s father. He’s only studying the veils. He’s not trying to be malicious.

But when red flags start appearing and lies begin unraveling around her, Piper’s shocked to learn she put her trust in the wrong person.

And she’s going to need the help of a former enemy to exact revenge.

STRANGE ATTRACTORS, a young adult sci-fi, is complete at 80,500 words. It is a standalone with series potential.

First 250 words:


I couldn’t find anything on Michael Silverstone’s desk because it was a complete disaster, like a hoarder-snuck-into-an-office-building type of disaster. As I looked through the receipts, hand written notes, half-eaten food, and coffee-stained papers, I wondered how someone so messy could be organized enough to run New York City’s most successful financial advising company. This extreme amount of junk was like an inexpensive theft-deterrent or more like an inexpensive Piper-deterrent.

What the Hell? I thought, touching a still-wet, soiled napkin. There were words scrawled across the napkin, but “purch-dia-glass” didn’t really tell me anything. I had a knack for remembering random bits of information and passwords, so I made a mental note of the phrase in case it was important.


I cursed under my breath before turning off my stopwatch. Time was up. I quickly stacked all the papers with numbers or percentages in the hope that something important made it into the pile. Since Silverstone’s desk was such a mess, I didn’t worry about him noticing a few missing documents. He would probably assume he’d misplaced them.

I paused, thinking I’d seen a flash of light, and listened. The muffled sound of footsteps on carpet soon followed. Someone was in the hallway! My heart hammered as I slipped beneath the disordered desk. I pulled a knife from my pocket and held it in front of me. 

Thanks for your time and consideration!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Going to a Conference for the First Time & NESCBWI 2014

As a new writer, thinking about going to a conference can be intimidating.

Last year, I went to my first ever conference (NESCBWI in Springfield, Ma). Since it was my first conference (and I was all alone), I only went for one out of the three days. I thought it would be a good idea to just get my feet wet and see if I even liked going to conferences. I'd decided to shelve my MS, so I didn't sign up for a MS critique or participate in any of the pitch sessions.

I had no idea what to expect and didn't know anyone who was going, so I was really nervous. I consider myself to be a shy person, so the thought of going to a giant conference without knowing a single person was really scary! Plus, at the time, I was super-new to the writing community. (I hadn't even found critique partners yet.) You could say I was more than a little intimidated about going.

But, I'm happy to say, those fears were unwarranted.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn how warm and inviting the writing community can be. I found several friendly people to buddy up with during the day. All it took was a smile and a "Hi! This is my first conference!" and people were glad to help me out or invite me to join their group. Probably the most intimidating part throughout the day was finding a seat during the sit-down lunch. (It felt a little like trying to find a seat in the cafeteria on the first day of school.) I had to go a little out of my comfort zone to approach a table of lovely ladies and ask if I could join them. Like I said, the writers I met at this conference were all super-nice, so they greeted me warmly and asked my name and what I write.

What do you write? 

I wasn't prepared for how many times I'd have to answer that question! In my day-to-day life, I don't talk about writing with other people, so talking about it was strange (but great!). People will also ask  what your book is about/what your pitch is. I hadn't practiced my pitch, so I was like, "Uh, my book is about this girl who, um…" (I probably should have practiced it once or twice!)

 I only got a taste of the conference and everything it offered, but I had a good time and felt like I still got a lot out of it.

My top four tips:

  • Practice your pitch beforehand. (Especially if you're shy. You want to be able to explain what your book is about.) I've heard having business cards with your info and pitch on them are a good idea, too.
  • Smile and have fun!
  • Connect with other writers and ask about their writing. You may find critique partners!
  • If you're nervous about attending (or can't spend the $), try signing up for a portion of the conference. If you have a good time, you can always sign up for more the following year!

This weekend, I will be going to my second ever NESCBWI conference. Obviously, it will be a different experience this time around. I know what to expect this time and I know some people who will be attending. Another change this year is I'm doing a manuscript critique with an agent. I've had critiques before but never face-to-face. This is a little (a lot!) scary, but it should be good! But the best part about going this year is that I will finally meet one of my Pitch Wars teammates, Julie Dao, IN REAL LIFE! Yay!

A lot can happen in a year. Since going to that first conference, I've gotten several critique partners, been in two contests (Pitch Wars 2013 and Cupid's Literary Connection's Blind Speed Dating 2014), and started querying my young adult sci-fi, STRANGE ATTRACTORS. I can't wait for NESCBWI 2014 to learn even more and meet more great people!

What are your experiences with conferences? Do you have any tips or advice?