Writing a Villain – a Guest Post by Amalie Howard

Amalie Howard, author of many books including Alpha GoddessThe Almost Girl, and The Fallen Prince is the queen at writing nasty, nefarious types. Today, she joins us to tell us the ins and outs of writing a really great bad guy.


As a kid, when everyone else wanted to be Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, or Princess Leia, I was the kid who wanted to be Darth Vader.

*whispers to you* . . . come to the dark side . . . 

I don’t consider myself to be a villain, but I do appreciate both sides of the battle as well as the lure of being bad. Because, let’s face it, villains can be awesome. And not only are they awesome, but they’re crucial to most stories. The villain is the antagonist that makes the role and journey of your protagonist so much more meaningful. Put in the simplest terms, they’re meant to keep your hero from reaching his (or her) goals. They’re the obstacles to the hero’s journey. The stone in his shoe. The sand in his swimsuit. The Joker to his Batman. The Voldemort to his Harry Potter. You get the picture.

That said, there are many different kinds of villains: villains who become twisted through some life-altering event or quirk of nature, villains who are simply born bad, villains who like being evil, villains who want to preserve the greater good, villains who have no choice but to be villains, and villains who are heroes in disguise.

But my favorite type of villain is hands-down the complex, misunderstood kind. The kind where the definition of villainous is mired in shades of gray, where moral nihilism starts to beg the question. What’s right? What’s wrong? Who defines goodness and/or badness? Is this villain truly a villain?

Megamind is a great example of this. He’s not inherently evil, but was pegged from the start into that role because of circumstance. In the end, he turns out to be the true hero of the story. Another example of a character often portrayed in a villainous light is Kali in East Indian mythology. She has a bad reputation for being a berserker killer goddess, but a lot of her fury comes from her deep-rooted protective instinct, much like a ferocious mother bear defending her cubs. She is considered to be the great mother goddess, capable of terrible destruction and yet also representative of powerful and nurturing female power. I like that combination of strength and ferocity (which is why I am writing about her in my next YA book, Dark Goddess, out in Spring 2017 from Sky Pony Press).

For me, writing a good villain (not an oxymoron by the way) is essential to my stories. And by “good,” I mean well-rounded, multi-dimensional, and layered. A good villain has to be as fleshed out as much as the hero. As the creator, you have to understand what drives him, what his motives are, what he wants so that these are transparent to your readers. His goals (nefarious as they may be) are just as important as the hero’s. At the end of the day, he is the surrounding pressure—the mold that helps shape your hero into the person he is meant to be. A good villain fosters urgency, creates impetus, causes challenges, incites tension. In short, this friction is what give your story its kinetic energy . . . the force that keeps it moving from page to page. One of the biggest things I talk about in my creative writing workshops is your character’s GMC or Goals, Motivation, and Conflict. Each character must have a goal they are working towards, motivation that drives them to achieve this goal, and the conflict that keeps them from getting there. The cool thing about villain/hero conflict is that their goals will usually be at opposing ends of the spectrum, which can make for very interesting tension.

In my own writing, I like to keep my readers guessing as to who the true villain is. Often, I’ll have a character who checks all of the boxes, but will turn out to be an ally. Conversely, I also enjoy writing characters who may seem wonderful on the outside but may have secret agendas. My favorite villains are the ones you don’t see coming.

Some tips on writing a good villain:

  1. Make sure your villain is complex, layered, and multidimensional. (He is a reflection of the hero so put as much work into him as you would your hero.)
  2. Give him real goals and motivation that make sense in the framework of your story.
  3. Create a believable backstory that brings value to his narrative.
  4. Avoid typical villain clichés (long speeches, disfigured, vain, jealous, angry at the world, abusive, sinister, over-dramatic, dressed in black, etc.)
  5. Surprise your reader.

Some well-done villains in literature:

  1. Alex DeLarge—A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  2. Dolores Umbridge—Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix  by J.K. Rowling (In many ways, I see her as even more evil than Voldemort.)
  3. Coulter—His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
  4. Ramsay Bolton—A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin (I really, really, REALLY hated him.)
  5. Count Dracula—Dracula by Bram Stoker
  6. The White Witch—Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis

 

Howard, Amalie - Alpha Goddess

Amalie Howard is the award-winning IndieNext author of Alpha Goddess, The Riven Chronicles, the Aquarathi series, and the Cruentus Curse series. Her debut novel, Bloodspell, was an Amazon bestseller and a Seventeen Summer Read.

Her next novel with Sky Pony, Dark Goddess, is a sequel to Alpha Goddess, and will release in Spring 2017.

She currently resides with her husband and three children in Colorado.

Visit her online at www.amaliehoward.com or follow her on Twitter @amaliehoward

 

 


9781626362086-frontcover

Alpha Goddess

In Serjana Caelum’s world, gods exist. So do goddesses. Sera knows this because she is one of them. A secret long concealed by her parents, Sera is Lakshmi reborn, the human avatar of an immortal Indian goddess rumored to control all the planes of existence. Marked by the sigils of both heaven and hell, Sera’s avatar is meant to bring balance to the mortal world, but all she creates is chaos. A chaos that Azrath, the Asura Lord of Death, hopes to use to unleash hell on earth.

Torn between reconciling her past and present, Sera must figure out how to stop Azrath before the Mortal Realm is destroyed. But trust doesn’t come easy in a world fissured by lies and betrayal. Her best friend Kyle is hiding his own dark secrets, and her mysterious new neighbor, Devendra, seems to know a lot more than he’s telling. Struggling between her opposing halves and her attraction to the boys tied to each of them, Sera must become the goddess she was meant to be, or risk failing, which means sacrificing the world she was born to protect.

 

The Almost Girl

The Almost Girl

Seventeen-year-old Riven comes from a world parallel to Earth, a world that has been ravaged by a devastating android war. As a Legion General, she is the right hand of Prince Cale, the young Prince of Neospes. In her world, she’s had everything: rank, responsibility, and respect. But when Prince Cale sends her away to rescue his long-lost brother, Caden, who has been spirited to modern day Earth, Riven finds herself in uncharted territory.

Armed with the mindset of a soldier and racing against time to bring Caden home, Riven must learn how to blend in as a girl in a realm that is the opposite of all she’s ever known. Will she be able to find the strength to defy her very nature? Or will she become the monstrous soldier she was designed to be?

 

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The Fallen Prince

Riven has fought for a hard-won peace in her world, and has come to shaky terms with who and what she is—a human with cyborg DNA. Now that the rightful ruler of Neospes has been reinstated, Riven is on the hunt for her father in the Otherworld to bring him to justice for his crimes against her people.

But when she receives an unwelcome visit from two former allies, she knows that trouble is brewing once again in Neospes. The army has been decimated and there are precious few left to fight this mysterious new threat.

To muster a first line of defense, her people need help from the one person Riven loathes most—her father. But what he wants in return is her complete surrender.

And now Riven must choose: save Neospes or save herself.

 

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Join us for a Live Chat with A MILLION TIMES GOODNIGHT author Kristina McBride!

September 28, 2016 

8:00PM EDT

Join Sky Pony editor, Alison Weiss, as she chats with A Million Times Goodnight author Kristina McBride about her latest release, her publishing path, and what you can expect from her in the future. The only thing we still need? YOU!


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You can find the chat right here next Wednesday. Click on the box below and it will even send you a reminder!

Haven’t read A Million Times Goodnight yet? No problem. You have a week! And we’ll attempt to keep the chat spoiler free. Emphasis on attempt.

If you can’t make it, no worries. Feel free to leave your questions in the comments section below, and Alison will work them into the conversation.

Live Blog Live Chat with Kristina McBride
 

And that’s not all! We’ll be giving away a signed copy of A Million Times Goodnight and a sweet secret surprise! Rafflecopter right here:

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A Million Times Goodnight_cover-REVISEDOne Night. Two Paths. Infinite Danger.

On the night of the big spring break party, seventeen-year-old Hadley “borrows” her boyfriend Ben’s car without telling him. As payback, he posts a naked picture of her on the internet for the entire senior class to see.

Now she has a choice. She can go back to the party and force Ben to delete the picture. Or she can raise the stakes and take his beloved car on a road trip as far way from their hometown of Oak Grove, Ohio, as she can get.

Each storyline plays out in alternating chapters. In one strand, Hadley embarks on a reckless adventure with her best friends. spinning the perfect plan for revenge. In the other, struck in a car with her ex-boyfriend, Josh, she’s forced to revisit the mistakes they each made, including whether they should ever have broken up at all. As the events of a wild night race toward an explosive conclusion, old feelings are rekindled, friendships tested, and secrets uncovered that are so much worse than a scandalous photo.

A Million Times Goodnight is a fast-paced romantic contemporary thriller ripped right from the headlines.

Kristina McBride is a former high school English teacher and yearbook advisor, as well as an adjunct professor at Antioch University Midwest and Wright State University. She has a thing for music, trees, purses, and chocolate. She is the author of two previous novels, The Tension of Opposites, and One Moment. She lives in Ohio with her husband and two young children. Visit her online at www.kristinamcbride.com or follow her on Twitter at @McBrideKristina.

 

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Quotable Life Advice and TWO Giveaways!

Coming this fall, Sky Pony Press is publishing a lot of wonderful titles. We pulled quotable life advice that we love from a few of them. Check it out below and don’t forget to enter our giveaways below for your chance to win an advanced reader copy of Spin the Sky or Earning My Spots!


Spin the Sky by Jill MacKenzie

“We need to think about us for a change. We need to be who we want to be.”

Spin the Sky 9781510706866Magnolia Woodson wants nothing more than to get her and her sister, Rose, out of the pitifully small, clamming-obsessed Oregon town that hates them—she just doesn’t know how. Forced to put up with the snide comments and hateful looks the townspeople throw at them, Mags thinks she’s destined to pay for the horrible, awful thing her mom did—and that she’s left her and Rose to deal with—until the day she dies.

But when a nationwide televised dance competition posts tryouts in nearby Portland, Mags’s best friend, George, says they have to go and audition. Not only have they spent the past fourteen years of their lives dancing side-by-side, dreaming of a day just like this, but also it could be Mags’s chance of a lifetime—a chance to win the grand-prize money and get her and Rose out of Summerland, a chance to do the thing she loves most with everyone watching, a chance to show the town that she’s not—and has never been—a “no-good Woodson girl,” like her mother. But will the competition prove too steep? And will Mags be able to retain her friendship with George as they go head-to-head in tryouts? Mags will have to learn that following her dreams may mean changing her life forever.

 

Earning My Spots by Mark Eastburn

“Be strong, be brave, and be smart.”

Earning My Spots 9781510707788Sam and his family are the only werehyenas in their town, and they do their best to keep up their cover in front of the humans while the other more aggressive shifters mock the werehyena family for being weak and passive. But Sam sees no other life for himself, as he believes what he is told: he is inferior to the other shifters.

One night, a pack of shifters raids Sam’s house and takes his family, leaving him all alone. With the help of some new friends, Sam sets off on a journey from Vermont to South America to rescue his family. Along the way, he meets various shifters who aid him on his quest. He even meets a tribe of werehyenas in Louisiana who teach him how powerful his kind actually is and how far his ancestry goes back. From them, Sam learns he has a great destiny to fulfill.

As Sam draws closer to finding his family, he begins to understand how different the world of shifters is that exists outside of his small hometown. Shifters are tired of humans destroying their homes, and they want not only revenge but also to force humans into submission. It becomes clear that Sam is the only one who can stop a war that’s on the brink of erupting.

Double Exposure by Bridget Birdsall

“Don’t let anyone hold you back from who you are or what you love.”

Double Exposure 9781510711587Fifteen-year-old Alyx Atlas was raised as a boy, but she knows something others don’t: she’s a girl. Born intersex, Alyx has always questioned her gender identity and struggled to fit in. But it’s after her dad dies—and after she sustains a terrible beating from her classmates—that she decides she can’t live as a boy any longer. She and her mother move from California to Wisconsin to start a new life, and Alyx begins again, this time as a girl.

Alyx quickly earns a spot on the girls’ varsity basketball team, and for the first time in her life she feels like she fits in. But as the team racks up one victory after another and the state championships approach, a jealous teammate sets her sights on Alyx. Hotheaded and fiercely competitive, Pepper Pitmani is sure Alyx is keeping a secret, which Pepper is determined to reveal. If she succeeds, the truth could destroy Alyx’s one shot—not just to take home the trophy with her team but to live as her true self.

Honest, raw, and uplifting, Double Exposure is for every teen who’s longed to be seen, struggled to find the courage to be different, or dared to face adversity head-on.

Science No Fair, Project Droid #1  by Nancy Krulik and Amanda Burwasser, illustrated by Mike Moran

There’s no I in team, but sometimes it’s okay if there’s a droid.

Science No Fair 9781510710184It’s a pretty normal day for Logan Applebaum—until his inventor mother announces that she’s built him a new robot cousin. And Java may be really smart, but he’s also going to be a major handful. No one can know about his secret. This is going to be a long school year.

With the third grade science fair coming up, though, Logan thinks maybe a super computer cousin could come in handy and he’ll finally have a shot at beating the nosey Silverspoon twins who win at everything.

But when Sherry and Jerry steal Java as their partner, and then start suspecting something is up with the new kid, can Logan think fast before this crazy experiment becomes an epic disaster?

 

Monsterville: A Lissa Black Production by Sara S. Reida

“That’s always when the monsters get you. When you think you’re safe.”

Monsterville 9781510707337Beware what lurks beneath your bed. . . . It could lead to a monstrous adventure.

Thirteen-year-old Lissa Black is miserable when her parents force her to move from New York City (the perfect home for an aspiring writer/director/actress) to Freeburg, Pennsylvania, nowhere capital of the world. There’s nothing to do there, except play her little sister Haylie’s favorite new game, Monsterville, and hang out with her new neighbor Adam.

But when a walk in the woods lands her face-to-face with a swamp monster hungry for brains and then a Sasquatch that moos, even Lissa can’t call her new home totally boring. With Adam’s help, she catches the culprit behind the drama: a shape-shifting goblin who’s fled from the monster world of Down Below.

And what do you do with a creature that can be literally anything? Make monster movies, of course! Lissa is convinced that Blue will be the secret to her big break.

But when Haylie goes missing on Halloween, Lissa, Adam, and the monster must venture Down Below to stage a rescue—and face the real Monsterville, which is anything but a game.


 

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Q&A with Kristina McBride

Kristina McBride, author of A Million Times Goodnight, joins us to answer some questions!


A Million Times Goodnight explores the power we all have to alter our own future.” Gwendolyn Heasley, author of Don’t Call A Million Times Goodnight_cover-REVISEDMe Baby and Where I Belong

“The novel is a fast-paced thriller with plot twists, intrigue, and revelations practically on every page. . . . Clever, taut storytelling.” —Kirkus Reviews

“This is a wild ride . . . Readers who are looking for a fast-paced thriller of a touch of romance may enjoy this title.” School Library Journal

 


Why did you gravitate to writing young adult fiction?

Before I began writing full-time, I spent eight years teaching high school English. This helped me to relate to the teen voice and mindset. My first attempt at a novel was an adult suspense/thriller, which didn’t garner any agent interest during the query phase. After completing the manuscript, I realized that the teenaged son of the main character seemed to jump off the page. This is the moment I realized I needed to write about teens for teens. The teenage years are such a compelling time of life with so much at stake, offering an endless supply of story ideas.

What are you reading right now?

I recently finished Wandering Wild by Jessica Taylor, which was a beautiful read for so many reasons. I highly recommend. I’m currently reading Asylum by Madeleine Roux. I love creepy.

If you could be a character in any children’s book, who would you be and why?

Oh my God, seriously? A character—as in ONE? Not fair. Today, I would have to go with Max from Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. Because King of All Wild Things? And wild rumpus? Just cool.

Where’s your favorite place to write?

My home, IMG_0017preferably in the kitchen because I can spread my writing materials (notebooks and outlines and edit notes) on the table around me. When the family is home, I sneak to the master bedroom hideaway, where I set up an ironing board and drag in a kitchen chair, then turn the fan on HIGH for white noise. (Super glam, I know.) It’s the only way to have peace and quiet for an extended period.

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Yes, that is an ironing board.

 

 

 

What’s your favorite classic movie?

Does The Goonies count? Or Pretty In Pink? Sixteen Candles? Or maybe The Breakfast Club? Because I love all of those. I’m a huge fan of The Princess Bride. Oh! And Dazed and Confused. That’s a classic, right? (More evidence that YA is the best genre for me.)

 

If you could have any animal as a pet (current or extinct), what would it be?

Falkor the Luck Dragon from The Neverending Story because he’s a kind, funny, protective type. He’s also cute. And he flies. Not to mention that I always said my puppy, Gertie, looked just like him.

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Milk, dark, or white chocolate?

I don’t understand. Is this an error in punctuation? Or a real question? Because yes, yes, and yes. (Although I gravitate to white chocolate least of the three.)

What’s your favorite holiday?DSC05480

The Fourth of July. Hands down. It’s summer, which means sticky, hot, must-be-at-the-pool weather. It’s a family day and a friends-who-feel-like-family day. There are parades and cookouts and fireflies. There’s music and laughter and almost always a little dancing. And then the evening ends with a touch of magic as kids of all sizes and ages watch fireworks blast through the night sky. Nothing better.

What’s your favorite GIF?

Currently? (This changes often.)

 

What did you want to grow up to be when you were eighteen years old?

When I was eighteen years old, I wanted to be exactly who and what I am today:

  • married to my best friend
  • mother to a couple of amazing kids
  • part of an kick-ass group of sister friends
  • an author with several books out in the world, and several more percolating in that dreamy phase of almost-ready-to-begin-drafting

I’m so thankful that I am living my dream life. How did this all work out? It wasn’t luck. (At least not all of it.) Key Factor: I made some really hard decisions along the way—break-ups with “friends” and guys and even a wonderful job teaching high school English—to make sure I stayed the course. I also didn’t take no for an answer (hello, 2.5 years of rejection before my first published novel). Keep your focus on your goals, honor your truest desires with no apologies, strive for them as you move through the stages of life, and there’s no telling what you can accomplish.


One night. Two paths. Infinite danger.A Million Times Goodnight_cover-REVISED

On the night of the big spring break party, seventeen-year-old Hadley “borrows” her boyfriend Ben’s car without telling him. As payback, he posts a naked picture of her online for the entire senior class to see.

Now Hadley has a choice. She can go back to the party and force Ben to delete the picture. Or she can raise the stakes and take his beloved car on a road trip as far away from their hometown of Oak Grove, Ohio, as she can get.

Each storyline plays out in alternating chapters. In one strand, Hadley embarks on a reckless adventure with her best friends, spinning the perfect plan for revenge. In the other, stuck in a car with her ex-boyfriend, Josh, she’s forced to revisit the mistakes they each made, including whether they should ever have broken up at all. As events of a wild night race toward an explosive conclusion, old feelings are rekindled, friendships are tested, and secrets uncovered that are so much worse than a scandalous photo.

A Million Times Goodnight is a fast-paced romantic contemporary thriller ripped right from the headlines.

Kristina McBride is a former English teacher and yearbook advisor. She dreamed of being a published author since she lived across the street from a library as a kid. She is the author of two previous novels, The Tension of Opposites and One Moment. She lives in  Ohio with her husband and two young children.

 

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Cover Love: The Story Behind A Million Time Goodnight’s Cover

A guest post by Kristina McBride

The journey to publication for my latest title, A Million Times Goodnight, was a bit bumpy, to say the least. I was thrilled when my editor, Alison Weiss, bought the manuscript, originally scheduled for publication with Egmont USA in the summer of 2015. I was even more thrilled when Alison revealed the cover design, showcasing a picture that I was fortunate enough to help choose. The color scheme was moody and thought-provoking, and the scale of the girl standing in front of the sky quite compelling. I was in love. When ARCs arrived, I could hardly believe it—this book was actually happening!

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Until it wasn’t.

In January of 2015, I received the devastating news that Egmont USA was closing. And my book deal? It was dead.

I honored my feelings (aka: ate a ton of chocolate) and tried to stay positive.

But it was difficult. Until Alison touched base with my agent a few months later, asking about the book. Things happened and soon I was celebrating another sale, this time with Sky Pony Press. When Alison mentioned a new cover design, I was more than a little worried. I had, after all, fallen in love with the original version. But I remained open-minded. And holy wow, did it pay off.

The new cover design popped and sang and did all the other magical things you want your book cover to do. The contrast of the color scheme is perfection, helping the umbrella to explode from the scene. The reflection draws your attention, the sky and clouds a gorgeous backdrop for the girl with her hand propped on her hip. The tone of her stance, emphasized by the boots and the cap, showcases the strength and daring of my main character, Hadley. I loved this cover from the first moment. All. Of. It. The whole package is simply captivating.

A Million Times Goodnight_cover-REVISED

I am beyond grateful to Alison Weiss and Sky Pony Press for delivering such a gorgeous cover design, and for helping to bring this book out into the world.


One night. Two paths. Infinite danger.

On the night of the big spring break party, seventeen-year-old Hadley “borrows” her boyfriend Ben’s car without telling him. As payback, he posts a naked picture of her online for the entire senior class to see.

Now Hadley has a choice. She can go back to the party and force Ben to delete the picture. Or she can raise the stakes and take his beloved car on a road trip as far away from their hometown of Oak Grove, Ohio, as she can get.

Each storyline plays out in alternating chapters. In one strand, Hadley embarks on a reckless adventure with her best friends, spinning the perfect plan for revenge. In the other, stuck in a car with her ex-boyfriend, Josh, she’s forced to revisit the mistakes they each made, including whether they should ever have broken up at all. As events of a wild night race toward an explosive conclusion, old feelings are rekindled, friendships are tested, and secrets uncovered that are so much worse than a scandalous photo.

A Million Times Goodnight is a fast-paced romantic contemporary thriller ripped right from the headlines.

Kristina McBride is a former English teacher and yearbook advisor. She dreamed of being a published author since she lived across the street from a library as a kid. She is the author of two previous novels, The Tension of Opposites and One Moment. She lives in  Ohio with her husband and two young children.


A Million Times Goodnight explores the power we all have to alter our own future.” Gwendolyn Heasley, author of Don’t Call Me Baby and Where I Belong

“The novel is a fast-paced thriller with plot twists, intrigue, and revelations practically on every page. . . . Clever, taut storytelling.” —Kirkus Reviews

“This is a wild ride . . . Readers who are looking for a fast-paced thriller of a touch of romance may enjoy this title.” School Library Journal

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Q&A with Michele Bacon

Life Before Converse

Michele Bacon—author of Life Before—takes on the Sky Pony Q & A. Life Before is on sale now!

 

“A riveting story told in a voice that will resonate with teens. . . . Bacon weaves a captivating narrative of a boy who is able to journey into adulthood by overcoming a childhood filled with abuse. Though dark in nature, the work does not delve too deep into the horrors of abuse, making it appropriate for younger teens. A great read-alike for teens who enjoyed Alex Flinn’s Breathing Underwater, Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, or Sharon Draper’s “Hazelwood High Trilogy.” —School Library Journal


Q: Why did you gravitate to the genre that you write in?

I love the teen years, when opportunity, energy, and idealism intersect. I used to write solely for adults, but I find teen ideas and risks very compelling. Writing for teens is fun.

 

Q: What are you reading right now?

Seattle Public Library is hosting Book Bingo this summer, so I’m working diligently on my bingo card. Right now, I’m reading A.R. Kahler’s Shades of Darkness for my “local author” square, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me for the “prize winner” square. I’m torn about what my summer “re-read” will be!Minerva

 

Q: If you could be a character in any children’s book, who would you be and why?

Minerva McGonagall. I love the magical world of Harry Potter, but the young wizards eventually grow into different lives. Minerva spends her life among young, vibrant minds learning magic and discovering who they are meant to be. I could hardly wish for better.

 

Q: Where’s your favorite place to write? 

I would love to have a private office, replete with whiteboard walls and bulletin boards for all my notes and plots. The desk corner should support an electric kettle and tiny fridge for milk and fruit and, out the window, a view of the Puget Sound and Olympic Mountains would be divine! But I write on my sofa with my computer in my lap.

 

Q: What’s your favorite classic movie?

“It’s a Wonderful Life”, but I also loved “The Godfather, Part II.” In new classics, if there is such a thing, I love “The Big Chill.” Yes, it’s campy, but I’ve always wanted that circle of friends in a big house for a long weekend, cooking and dancing and loving together. The mourning is necessary in the movie, but my perfect weekend would go without.

Woolly Mammoth

 

Q: If you could have any animal as a pet (current or extinct), what would it be?

Had you said imaginary, I would have chosen a dragon, no contest. With real animals, I narrowed it to a half dozen and will choose at random: a woolly mammoth.

 

Q: Milk, dark, or white chocolate?

Milk chocolate.

 

Q: What’s your favorite holiday?

Thanksgiving has been my favorite for many years. It unites us as a nation, and doesn’t involve mindless consumerism.

 

Q: What’s your favorite emoji? 

The heart. When I really love something, I express it like this:  hearts

 

Q: What did you want to grow up to be when you were your character’s age?

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be an author and a mother.


Life BeforeSeventeen years is a long time to keep secrets, and Xander Fife has gotten very good at it.

Everyone believes Xander has a normal life and a normal family. If he can just get through this summer, he’ll start his real life in college with a clean slate—no risk, no drama, no fear.

Even better, his plans for summer are awesome: lots of pick-up soccer, relaxing afternoons with friends, and an epic road trip. Xander is banking on some long-overdue nights with his ideal girlfriend, the amazing Gretchen Taylor.

Instead of kicking off what had promised to be an amazing summer, however, graduation day brings terror. His family’s secrets are thrust out into the open, and Xander must confront his greatest fear. And survive doing so.

Armed with a fake ID, cash, and a knife, Xander skips town and assumes a new identity. Hundreds of miles from home and in danger, one thing is clear: Xander’s real life is already in progress and just getting through it isn’t enough.

Michele Bacon Headshot

 

Michele Bacon writes contemporary fiction for adults and young adults. She often writes about family, friendship, and the blurred line between those two ideas. Michele geeks out over many things, but especially board games, skiing, and international travel. She recently spent a year on sabbatical in Christchurch, New Zealand, where she may have left her heart at Ilam School. Wherever Michele is in the world, she is drawn to people’s stories, so she wants to hear how you met your best friend or fell in love with your partner. She lives in Seattle, WA with her husband and three young children.

 

**Credit for header image: Instagram user @benbrody09

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Happy Book Birthday!

Happy Book Birthday to all of our June Sky Pony Books!

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Life Before by Michele Bacon

Life BeforeSeventeen years is a long time to keep secrets, and Xander Fife has gotten very good at it.

Everyone believes Xander has a normal life and a normal family. If he can just get through this summer, he’ll start his real life in college with a clean slate—no risk, no drama, no fear.

Even better, his plans for summer are awesome: lots of pick-up soccer, relaxing afternoons with friends, and an epic road trip. Xander is banking on some long-overdue nights with his ideal girlfriend, the amazing Gretchen Taylor.

Instead of kicking off what had promised to be an amazing summer, however, graduation day brings terror. His family’s secrets are thrust out into the open, and Xander must confront his greatest fear. And survive doing so.

Armed with a fake ID, cash, and a knife, Xander skips town and assumes a new identity. Hundreds of miles from home and in danger, one thing is clear: Xander’s real life is already in progress and just getting through it isn’t enough.

Kingdom in a Horse by Maia Wojciechowska

Kingdom in a Horse_coverDavid Lee is twelve years old and disappointed in his father Earl, a once-famous rodeo clown who has quit the circuit and moved David to a small town in Vermont to start a new life. David has a hard time adjusting to life as a “normal” boy and is hurt that his father never allowed him the chance to be his partner in the rodeo arena. When Earl tries to buy David a horse at auction, David pretends to have no interest in it, and the horse is sold, instead, to a seventy-year-old woman named Sarah Tierney.

Sarah, grief-stricken at the death of her husband, tries to ?nd solace in her new horse, Gypsy, but she needs help from Earl and David to learn how to care for her. As the three of them spend more and more time with Gypsy, they all become entranced—in their own ways—by the horse and begin to learn more and more about themselves. A heartfelt story, this middle-reader novel is a must read for any girl or boy interested in nature and horses.

Treason in America by Jules Archer, foreword by Brianna DuMont

Treason in America_coverTreason can be defined as “the breach of the allegiance which a person owes to the state under whose protection he lives.” But what exactly does it mean to be guilty of a “breach of the allegiance” owed to your country? In a country that guarantees freedom of speech and dissent tp all citizens, the extent to which dissent becomes unlawful may not always be clear. Treason is punishable by the death penalty, underscoring the importance of the question: How do we go about proving that someone is indeed an enemy of his country—a traitor?

In this book, renowned historian Jules Archer explores different cases of treason throughout our history, while encouraging young readers to really question the definition of treason and how it should be treated. He asks readers to consider the similarities between disloyalty and dissent and ultimately urges this generation to take it into their own hands to redefine American duties and liberties for our time

Down into the Nether by Danica Davidson

Down into the NetherStevie and Alex thought they defeated Herobrine completely, but they soon discover that he’s still on the loose. He has returned to Stevie’s nightmares, taunting him with threats to now destroy the human world.

The prophecies on music discs suggest that only Stevie and Alex, plus Maison, Destiny, and Yancy, their friends from the human world will be able to defeat Herobrine. But the prophecies also warn that one of the friends will betray the rest, putting all the worlds at risk. Tensions run high as the group must figure out how to save the world while they try to discern the traitor in their midst. Maison, It isn’t long before the traitor is discovered.

Stevie and Alex find themselves separated from the others and must first journey into the Nether to find a special treasure that will enable them to confront Herobrine. The clock is ticking as they put their heads together to survive in the fiery depths of the Nether. Monsters are waiting for them around every corner and it won’t be much longer before they come face-to-face with Herobrine, who has become more powerful than ever.

Terror on a Treasure Hunt by Winter Morgan

Terror on a Treasure HuntAfter trapping Mr. Anarchy, the evil master griefer who’s been tormenting them, Lily, Simon, and Michael can finally concentrate on trying to escape the Overworld and getting to know their new friends on the server. So when one of their friends invites them along on a treasure hunt, they couldn’t be more thrilled!

But when the gang’s absence from Lisimi Village gives Mr. Anarchy a chance to escape, their hunt for treasure is cut short and Lily, Simon, and Michael must make a hard decision: do they continue their much-anticipated treasure hunt, or do they band together with their new friends to find and recapture Mr. Anarchy, and whatever team of griefers he might be working with?

Nothing is as it seems—and no one can be trusted—in this thrilling third book in bestselling author Winter Morgan’s Unofficial Minetrapped Adventure series.

Abracadabra! by Kristen Kelly & Ken Kelly

Abracadabra_coverSummon your inner Houdini and learn simple magic tricks that will wow your family and friends!

How did he do that? Have you ever racked your brains trying to figure out how that birthday party magician pulled a dove out of his sleeve? Or spent sleepless nights wondering just how he made that coin disappear? Well, what if there were a book that shared a magician’s secrets with you and showed you how to do magic, too?

Eleven-year-old magician Kristen and her magician dad, Ken, reveal secret magic techniques with step-by-step photographs and demonstrate how you can perform tricks that look impossible but are, in fact, very simple to master! You’ll also learn one of the most important secrets about becoming a magician—how to use your confidence, personality, and presentation skills to enchant and amaze your friends and family. Choose from thirty of Kristen and Ken’s coolest tricks and learn how to:

• Make a pencil float in mid-air!
• Bend a key using your mind!
• Make a pile of items disappear!
• Eat a knife!
• And much more!

With Abracadabra!, you’ll see that you don’t have to be an adult to perform magic!

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Dear Teen Me with Ava Jae, author of Beyond the Red

Ava Jae, author of Beyond the Red writes a Dear Teen Me letter. Check it out below!


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16-year-old Ava didn’t take many selfies, so maybe those school pictures came in handy after all. 

Dear Teen Me,

The good news about the divorce is you’ll never blame yourself. You know from the day Mom sits you down at 13 to tell you your life as a kid with two parents who live in the same house is over, exactly who’s fault it is, and you know, very clearly, it’s not yours.

Unfortunately, for a long time, that’s about the only good news.

I’m going to be honest with you, the next six years are going to be rough. You, your two sisters, and your mom are going to move into your grandma’s tiny two bedroom home for a summer—the one that’s about the size of your previous home’s kitchen and living room. You’re going to be The Strong One your sisters look up to, and you think being The Strong One is temporary, and it is—as long as you consider six years temporary.

About a week before you start your new school, you’ll finally move in to your new home. It’s larger than your grandma’s, but nowhere near what Used to Be. It’s small, and creaky, and the radiators are unreliable, and there isn’t air conditioning, but you won’t care. It’s home.

Your new school is nothing like your old one, but you are nothing like the old you, so it’s okay. You’ll retreat into yourself and into books, and that’s okay because it’ll lead to the one really, really awesome thing about your teen years: you’ll figure out you want to be an author. It’ll be a little over ten years before that dream comes true, but Future You is in your debt, 13, because your job is pretty amazing now.

I wish I could tell you things are going to get easier quickly, 13, but the next six years will be anything but. You’ll learn what it’s like to worry about not being able to pay the bills long before you get your first job. You’ll learn what it’s like to develop an anxiety disorder on your 16th birthday, like a superpower but not nearly as cool or fun, and even though you’ll ace AP Psych, you won’t recognize the symptoms in yourself until after you’ve nearly left those teen years behind. You’ll also learn what it’s like to experience stomach acrobatics when you hear the words “I think we might lose the house,” and you’ll learn what it’s like to smile and pretend everything is okay for your sisters when your world is crumbling around you.

Dear 13, there will come a time when you won’t be able to visit your father anymore, because it hurts too much to go back to your old town, with old friends you can’t see, and be surrounded by his very nice house, with his very nice new things, and see again, and again, and again, the widening gap between What Was and What Is, between What Is for Him and What Is for You. There will come a time when visiting just makes you angry, and bitter, and it’s too painful for you to take anymore. He’s going to tell you it’s not okay when you stop visiting, 13, but you’re just taking care of yourself, and that’s all that matters. You won’t learn this for a while yet, but taking care of yourself first is more than okay—it’s essential.

Those six years are going to be really, really hard, 13, but I promise you’ll all come out of this okay. You’ll all recover slowly, a day at a time, and you’ll remember what it’s like to not have to worry quite so much. You’ll learn how to put yourself first again, and though you won’t be able to reclaim those years, you’ll finally be able to do those things you should have been doing as a teen, like realizing skirts and long hair really aren’t your thing (that’s okay too, by the way. You’ll rock that pixie cut).

Dear 13, you’re going to get what you want most: you’ll see your words published in an actual book you can hold in your hands, and you’ll be happy and so proud of a thing you made. Things are rough right now, 13, and they’re going to be for a while. But you’re going to get through it, and when you come out on the other side, you’ll be stronger, and happier, and your YA book collection will be really quite impressive, at least to you.

You’ll do all right, 13. That, I can promise you.

Love,

Ava

 

Ava

17-year-old Ava wasn’t sure how this pic happened, but the results were accidentally fun.


Beyond the Red by Ava Jae

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Alien queen Kora has a problem as vast as the endless crimson deserts. She’s the first female ruler of her territory in generations, but her people are rioting and call for her violent younger twin brother to take the throne. Despite assassination attempts, a mounting uprising of nomadic human rebels, and pressure to find a mate to help her rule, she’s determined to protect her people from her brother’s would-be tyrannical rule.

Eros is a rebel soldier hated by aliens and human alike for being a half-blood. Yet that doesn’t stop him from defending his people, at least until Kora’s soldiers raze his camp and take him captive. He’s given an ultimatum: be an enslaved bodyguard to Kora, or be executed for his true identity—a secret kept even from him.

When Kora and Eros are framed for the attempted assassination of her betrothed, they flee. Their only chance of survival is to turn themselves in to the high court, where revealing Eros’s secret could mean a swift public execution. But when they uncover a violent plot to end the human insurgency, they must find a way to work together to prevent genocide.

 

Jae, Ava -- Beyond the Red

Ava Jae is a writer, an Assistant Editor at Entangled Publishing, and is represented by Louise Fury of The Bent Agency. Her YA Sci-Fi debut, BEYOND THE RED, is releasing March 1, 2016 from Sky Pony Press. When she’s not writing about kissing, superpowers, explosions, and aliens, you can find her with her nose buried in a book, nerding out over the latest X-Men news, or hanging out on her blog, Twitter, Facebook, tumblr, Goodreads, Instagram, or YouTube channel.

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Live Chat with WANDERING WILD Author, Jessica Taylor

Live Blog Live Chat with WANDERING WILD author Jessica Taylor
   

 TONIGHT! 8PM EDT.

Jessica Taylor will be taking your questions about her just-released YA, WANDERING WILD. We really hope you’ll come right back to this post to join us live for the chat. (You can even enter your information in the box above and we’ll send you a reminder!)
But even if you can’t make it, we’d  love to ask your questions during the chat. Just leave them in the comment section below.
See you at 8!

Enter to win an attack owl sign and a SIGNED copy of Wandering Wild!

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a Rafflecopter giveaway

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SAVE THE DATE: Live Chat with WANDERING WILD author Jessica Taylor AND a Giveaway!

Jessica Taylor

What’s as exciting as reading a great book for the first time? Chatting with it’s author! Wandering Wild author Jessica Taylor will join her editor, Alison Weiss, in a live chat on Monday, May 16 at 8 PM EDT to talk about her novel, her path to publication, and what it’s like to be a YA author in the current publishing climate today.

So save the date, and please join us!

The event link will appear right here on this page. (If you click, it will even send you a reminder!)

Want to make sure your question gets asked? Feel free to leave questions in the comments section. Alison will draw on your questions on this WILD night of fun.

Worried you’ll miss the fun. That’s okay. A transcript of the conversation will remain on the blog after the chat.


But you said there would be a giveaway!

That’s right. We’ll be giving away this fantastic attack owl sign and a signed copy of Wandering Wild.

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So please leave your questions below, and stop by on Monday for the chat and to enter to win. Jessica and Sky Pony can’t wait to hear from you!


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“I believe in possibility. Of magic, of omens, of compasses, of love. Some of it’s a little bit true.”

Sixteen-year-old Tal is a Wanderer—a grifter whose life is built around the sound of wheels on the road, the customs of her camp, and the artful scams that keep her fed. With her brother, Wen, by her side, it’s the only life she’s ever known. It’s the only one she’s ever needed.

Then in a sleepy Southern town, the queen of cons picks the wrong mark when she meets Spencer Sway—the clean-cut Socially Secured boy who ends up hustling her instead of the other way around. For the first time, she sees a reason to stay. As her obligations to the camp begin to feel like a prison sentence, the pull to leave tradition behind has never been so strong.

But the Wanderers live by signs, and all the signs all say that Tal and Spencer will end only in disaster and grief. Is a chance at freedom worth almost certain destruction?

Wandering Wild is an achingly romantic journey of tradition and self-discovery–a magical debut.

Jessica Taylor adores sleepy Southern settings, unrequited love, and characters who sneak out late at night. After graduating from law school, she realized she’d rather write her own stories than read dusty law books. She lives in Northern California with a sweet-yet-spoiled dog and several teetering towers of books.
Visit her online at www.jessicataylorwrites.com or follow her on Twitter @JessicaTaylorYA.


“A moving portrayal of young love, family, and hope, a combination that steals your heart on every page.” —John Corey Whaley, Michael L. Printz Award winner and National Book Award finalist

“Jessica Taylor’s prose is exquisite, her characters authentic, and her plot imaginative. Tal is brave, flawed, and clever—a YA heroine who won’t soon be forgotten!” —Julie Murphy, New York Times bestselling author of Side Effects May Vary and Dumplin’

* “Taylor’s story about a teenage girl and her complicated life is a stunning debut in the world of young adult novels. . . . This story is told in a first-person female point of view with a voice that is honest and real. The raw emotion of the protagonist will immediately draw readers into Talia’s plight. The setting of the story is unique and fascinating. . . . [A] realistic coming-of-age story about love, family, and change that will appeal to readers who like stories with romance.” —VOYA  5Q 4P  (starred review)

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