Monday, March 26, 2018


Hey lovely YAtopians! Welcome back to Guestopia. I have some super special guests for March, so you’ll notice that the format is a wee different than usual. I am a bit excited about today’s guests. I have interviewed them before and never get tired of their enthusiasm for life, not to mention books! So, let’s get started. Please welcome the crew of…


This group of fabulously talented YA writers were all selected in Round 3 of Author Mentor Match and became fast friends during that time. Books make them happy and sharing that love makes them happier! 

They are:

Gracie Goldhart

Louisa Onomé

Julie Abe

Kate Havas

Dakota Shain Byrd

Erika L. Cruz

Heidi Christopher

Emily Beck

Lorna Riley

Michelle Fohlin

Katherine Pisana

Susan Lee

Find out more about each of them right here…

Right, introductions done, let's get going with the interview! 

Thanks for joining me today, Love at First Chapter! I’m thrilled to host you. So, for the new readers who haven’t heard of your fabulousness, tell me first up what exactly is Love at First Chapter. 

Love At First Chapter is a biweekly young adult fiction newsletter that introduces the first chapter of an upcoming or new release to subscribers. With each newsletter, subscribers can “fall in love” with the book and either purchase or preorder it at the end of the email. It’s a fun reader resource that allows a wider audience to sample new, diverse releases -- and introduces authors to more engaged readers who are likely to be interested in their book. A win-win for everyone involved!

You guys are all YA writers and met during Author Mentor Match. But how did you go from not knowing each other to setting up this amazing new service for YA book lovers?

Amidst talk of revisions and drafts, Graci Goldhart, our founder, introduced the idea as a fun way to promote upcoming YA releases we’re excited for. The rest happened pretty quickly after that. We set up the website, assigned roles, came up with a list of our most anticipated releases, and prepared for our Valentine’s Day launch.

What’s different about the reader service you’re providing?

All the books selected for Love At First Chapter have been recommended by one of our curators. That means we’ve read and can vouch for the book, have enjoyed it, and want to share it with others. We like to think of it as an unconventional book club of sorts: recommending books and building a community based on readership.
Why should readers sign up?

We’re unlike any other YA newsletter or book service -- it’s 100% free to sign up (and will remain that way!) and you get a surprise first chapter of a new or upcoming YA release straight to your inbox. Like the chapter? Purchase or preorder through links in the newsletter. Don’t like the chapter? Feel free to delete the email. It’s pressure-free and only aims to spread our love of books.

Why YA books?

Young adult fiction centers around, and is catered to, young people, who arguably are going through one of the most dynamic times in their lives. They are forming opinions about their environment and themselves, and using those opinions to create their world. We believe a greater sense of diversity in YA fiction is necessary -- to allow young people to dream bigger, to create a greater sense of acceptance amongst YA readers, to create the kind of world that doesn’t just tolerate, but accepts every kind of person. YA is such a transformative readership because of its reach. As YA (and MG) writers ourselves, we want to see more diverse works and debuts, and wanted the chance to introduce reads we feel can make a difference. 

Will you offer other services on the site in the future?

Though our focus currently lies with curating YA releases, we’d love to eventually create a community where readers can connect with one another. Watch this space! 

Will you share only standalone novels, or do you intend to share books within a series too?

We are open to sharing both. If the first book in a series is highly anticipated and we’re also really excited for it, then we’d love to feature it!
Will it be only novels, or will you share anthologies or perhaps novellas as well?

As of now, we’re focused on sharing YA novels, but may open to anthologies in the future. There are so many good ones coming out lately!

Will you share only traditionally published books or indie and self published as well?

We focus on traditionally published books.

Will you only share already published books or forthcoming titles too?

Some books we share are new releases that may have just come out within the past six months to a year, but our goal is to share more forthcoming titles to help authors build hype -- and hopefully boost preorders!

Will you only share diverse books? What if you accidentally get a chapter for a book that turns out to be problematic, like THE CONTINENT?

We aim to boost diverse voices, so a majority of the books we share will be diverse or #ownvoices. We read ARCs for each book we recommend in hopes we never end up recommending a book like THE CONTINENT. As writers, our names are on this project and we want to maintain a level of integrity when curating.

Why diverse books?

Why not diverse books? We live in a diverse world. Media should always reflect that. Seeing yourself in a book for the very first time is a life-changing moment because you realize you can be the hero too.

Michelle: As a history and geography nerd, I have always been drawn to the diversity of cultures in our world. I have always sought out books with rich worlds and characters that don’t necessarily reflect my own identity. And there are millions of kids who deserve to see their experiences in their words they read. It’s life-changing when you realize that someone who looks, sounds, loves, acts like you is a hero too.
Do you have any diversity that you identify with?

Shain: Yes. To start with, I’m queer as all get out. Physically only into guys, but I’m Bi-romantic, and gender-fluid. Beyond that I’m epileptic, and live with clinical depression, severe anxiety, and ADHD.

Louisa: Nigerian-Canadian, first gen! Also being from Montreal and not speaking any French (this is a Canadian joke, sorry!) 

Graci: I’m a proud Kowi (Korean-Kiwi), 1.5 gen, and visually impaired. Oh, and I live in Middle Earth (only partially kidding - New Zealand is basically Hobbitland)

What are your day jobs? If you’re in school, what’re you studying? Anybody doing an internship or other program like that?

Shain: I’m an American Sign Language Interpretation student in Fort Worth. Regarding internships, I have one with Entangled Teen. When I’m not studying or doing things for my internship or AMM mentorship, I also work as a freelance editor. Be sure to check out my website if you’re interested in learning more about all this!

Lisa: I work for the school district in the High school Library. I manage the circulation desk for both books and computers. I love it. I get to talk about books with students and it’s so great to connect with them over stories we’ve both read. I’ve also run into some fellow writers as well.

Julie Abe: During the day, I work in digital marketing for a healthcare company. At night, I write middle grade and young adult stories.

Louisa: I’m a SEO consultant during the day.

Heidi: I’m an editor with a small publishing house and when I’m not working on client material, i’m writing YA. 

Graci: I’m a diplomat for the New Zealand foreign service by day. 

Michelle: I currently make my unpaid living caring for my two precocious, adorable littles. But I’ve put in years as a history teacher, which is where I draw my ideas for my books from.

OMG. Aren’t they the best? And, obviously, if you haven’t already signed up to their newsletter (the next one is coming out THIS WEEK!) then I have no doubt you’re rushing off to do that right now. J If you need me to make this even easier for you...  

Thank you, gang, it’s been a pleasure!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Emotional Battlegrounds

The topic for blog posts this month is battlegrounds. But I’d like to focus on emotional battlegrounds. Don’t get me wrong. Actual battles are important for YA writing. Conflict needs to come to fruition since stakes can’t be hypothetical, meaning there needs to be a payoff. An emotional battleground informs YA writing, though, because characters need stakes and goals, as emotional layering is ultimately the last aspect of writing that authors need to master. For example, a writer can improve with imagery, voice, and dialogue, but might not understand the emotional aspect of YA fiction.

To help give an example of emotional battlegrounds, I’d like to mention my YA Fantasy novel IN THE NAME OF MAGIC (which is forthcoming from NineStar Press with a tentative release date of June 11, 2018). I don’t just have intense action, there’s also a lot at stake emotionally, and not just for my main character. One example is my main character, Maximillian, who hides his non-magical best friend, Katherine, when Queen Vivian wages a campaign against non-magical people. The obvious implication is Maximillian and his parents risk life or death by giving Katherine shelter. And while that fact is true, there’s more. The emotional layer is that Maximillian is always in a heightened state. The concrete detail (hiding Katherine) informs how he feels in any given moment since he needs to navigate life carefully. Stefan and Anastasia are another example of illustrating emotional battlegrounds. They have their own reasons for hating Queen Vivian (their older sister), and that fact informs their choices and feelings throughout the novel.

Depth is also important for emotional battlegrounds, and I’m not just talking about what is at stake for one character. I’m also referring to when an issue pops in YA fiction. With IN THE NAME OF MAGIC, said issue is oppression against non-magical people. Obviously, oppression and bigotry is wrong. However, I don’t want the issue to be cartoon-like, which means I need a character to take Queen Vivian’s side. And that character is Taylor. Just like in real life when people are on the wrong sides of issues, Taylor is also on the wrong side of oppression against non-magical despite how he’s dating Katherine (a non-magical person). Furthermore, I give Taylor a real reason why he would be on the wrong side of oppression, i.e. he’s not a flat character since his family has been having financial trouble, and that’s why he supports Queen Vivian—she’s offering the snake oil of fixing Magnifico’s economic problems.  

Another way to look at emotional battlegrounds is banter. A scene doesn’t always have to be life or death to provide stakes. The former ABC television show Revenge might be TV as opposed to YA Fiction, but still illustrates the importance of emotional battlegrounds. The main character, Emily, always has intense banter with her enemy, Victoria, even when weapons aren’t present. The banter between Emily and Victoria goes beyond melodrama. There intense verbal confrontations are always rooted in concrete facts as opposed to only trading insults.

Anyway, I hope the above discussion about emotional battlegrounds helps, and informs your writing!!!

Thursday, March 15, 2018


When people think of a battle, most envision soldiers and tanks, warships and weapons … possibly rifles and a cavalry. But there are many types of personal battles, as Fiona mentioned in her previous blog post. These include internal moral battles, relationship conflicts, and personal vendettas. How your character deals with these issues is very telling and gives the reader much insight into that individual’s personality. It’s also a chance for you as a writer to provide an opportunity for your character to grow and ratchet up the tension in your story.

So how do you write a compelling battle scene, whether it be an actual fight, where the loser may wind up injured or dead, or a clash between two high school rivals fighting to become class president? I’m not sure if this is true for every writer, but when I write tense scenes, there’s always an urge to resolve the conflict quickly and move on. This is how I operate in life, as confrontation makes me anxious. But the reader doesn’t want a fight that’s resolved quickly and easily—without conflict there is no story!

So, if you’re like me and want to smooth out your MC's hardships asap, how do you build suspense and write an exciting fight scene?

I believe it was The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises by James Scott Bell that gave me some of the best advice for writing tense scenes. (Even if I’m wrong, it’s a great book—it’s been quite a few years since I’ve read it, and definitely deserves a reread.) To summarize the advice: whenever you have the opportunity to resolve the battle, throw another problem into the mix.

So, let’s say your MC is in a dangerous situation that results in an actual fight scene. Most readers will root for the protagonist to win, but how much fun would it be to read about the character throwing one punch and knocking the antagonist out cold? It’s better to create a fierce battle where the MC is the underdog, makes a comeback, and then just before success, something happens—the character drops a weapon, another person blindsides the MC, etc. The more the odds are against your protagonist, the greater the victory will be. Because in the end, most readers want the good guys to prevail.