Down the Rabbit Hole: a Brazilian-Brit in the USA


By Juliana Spink Mills

When I was eight, my English father and Brazilian mother boxed up our lives and moved our family from London, UK, to São Paulo, Brazil. There were many reasons behind the move – jobs, lifestyle, extended family – and it was definitely one of the biggest milestones of my young life. I’ll never forget the sensation of heat and damp when we stepped off the airplane, or arriving at my grandparents’ house to lush gardens and a kidney-shaped pool glowing like a jewel in the grass.

As a travel gift, I was given the full set of Narnia books by C.S. Lewis. After arriving in a country where I didn’t understand the language or customs, those books were my lifeline. I bonded with Lewis’ characters over the strangeness of arriving in a world where everything was new and amazing, and also a little bit scary. And although my parents had read The Hobbit to me when I was small, this was probably where my love of fantasy novels comes from: that absolute identification with Lucy Pevensie and all the others who traveled through wardrobes and down rabbit holes, having to adapt and to reassess everything they knew.

I lived in Brazil for most of my life. I absorbed the language and the culture. I learned to embrace my duality: a dual citizen not just on paper, but in manner and speech, too. And I learned what it’s like to be the eternal gringa – not quite entirely English, nor wholly Brazilian.

My love of the fantastic in fiction grew throughout my life. I was the hobbit in Lord of the Rings, trying to navigate and understand a vaster world than the one I’d started out in. I was Leia in Star Wars: princess, politician, warrior, strategist – a bit of everything and at the same time still searching for meaning and a place to belong. Science fiction and fantasy gave me a space where I wasn’t the only one a little lost, a little strange, and a little bit of a stranger, too.

Four years ago, my husband and I – in a curious mirroring of my own parents’ decision all those years ago – packed up our house and kids and moved to Connecticut, USA. I was the gringa again, the one with the weird sort-of-British-but-not-quite accent that I get asked about over and over. I was back down Alice’s rabbit hole, and once again finding solace in speculative fiction. But this time, I was the one putting words to paper, and creating my own imagined realms.

My YA series, the Blade Hunt Chronicles (Woodbridge Press), is urban fantasy, a genre where fantastic and supernatural elements rub shoulders with modernity. My demons use cell phones, and my angels drive around in SUVs. I like the idea that the guy next to you in the grocery store might have an entire “secret identity”; in my stories, he might be a werewolf, or a pixie. I’ve always loved tales that bring us worlds within worlds – perhaps because I grew up feeling that I belonged to different universes at the same time. And writing fantasy lets me play around with this as much as I want.

My novels also gave me a chance to put little bits of my own identity into my work. I have an English vampire knight, and an entire clan of Brazilian-American witches who get plenty of page space in book 2, Night Blade. I have mentions of books, TV shows, and sports teams that are tributes to loved ones. Scattering personal Easter eggs into my writing helps make sense of these wardrobes I keep tumbling through and, together with the books I read, serves to anchor me and let me find my place in my own real life story.




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Juliana Spink Mills was born in England, but grew up in Brazil. Now she lives in Connecticut, and writes science fiction and fantasy. She is the author of Heart Blade and Night Blade, the first two books in the young adult Blade Hunt Chronicles urban fantasy series. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies and online publications. Besides writing, Juliana works as a Portuguese/English translator, and as a teen library assistant.

Debut Celebration for The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey!

By Zoraida Córdova

I am super excited to have Melissa Grey with us at Latin@s in Kid Lit! I love fantasy, and I especially love when Latinas write fantasy. The Girl at Midnight has already received wonderful praise and starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist! To celebrate tomorrow’s launch of The Girl at Midnight, we are going to get to know the magic behind Melissa.


“Grey’s energetic debut offers a strong protagonist…[and the] well-built world, vivid characters, and perfect blend of action and amour should have readers eagerly seeking the sequel.” — Kirkus Reviews, Starred


Zoraida: Tell me about The Girl at Midnight and your inspiration for it.

Melissa: In The Girl at Midnight, there’s a magical race of creatures that live beneath the streets of New York called the Avicen. They have feathers for hair and their existence is very much a secret, but they take in a human girl who goes by the name of Echo. Echo has run away from a bad home life and finds a new family in the Avicen, so when they’re threatened by a centuries-old war, she takes it upon herself to find the firebird, a mythical entity prophesied to end the conflict once and for a all.

The book really started with Echo and the firebird. I’m a huge fan of the ballet and the legend behind it, so my research into the folklore involving the firebird gave me a lot to think about when I was developing the plot. Echo was the first character to exist and she kind of predated the story. I came up with her first and eventually found a world for her to inhabit.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

It’s not specifically writing advice, but it can be applied to writing. When I was at art school, one of my professors told me not to be precious with my work. It was the first time I’d ever heard the saying “Kill your darlings” and it really stuck with me. I can be a perfectionist, so not treating my work as something delicate and inviolable was an eye-opening change of strategy. To me, it means not being afraid of scrapping drafts or whole chapters or even characters that aren’t working to the benefit of the work as a whole.

What was the hardest scene in your novel (if it’s not too spoilery)?

The last chapter was a struggle. I’m not a huge fan of cliffhangers, but as a writer, you do want to leave people wanting more, especially if you’re writing a series like I am, so I tried very hard to strike a balance between giving readers closure and enticing them to come back for the sequel.

How does your culture play a part in your fantasy (if at all)?

Well, I’m Puerto Rican and food is a huge part of that culture. I don’t include Spanish food specifically in the book, but Echo’s life pretty much revolves around food. It’s the foundation of a lot of her relationships, which is definitely something I can relate to.

Where would be your dream writing location?

A secluded little cabin in the Scottish Highlands.

Are there any lessons you learned while writing TGaM, and how is that helping you with book 2?

I learned that I have to trust my gut while not giving into my inner perfectionist. I also learned that I didn’t need to take every single criticism I received on the manuscript as gospel because sometimes my writing partners (and even my agent and editor) didn’t agree, so I had to trust my instincts.  

What books are you reading right now?

Right now, I’m reading The Archived by Victoria Schwab (it’s amazing), The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma (also amazing), and Get in Trouble by Kelly Link (amazing as well).

What do you wish to see more in YA?

That’s tough because I can only comment on what I’ve read and I don’t want to make it sound like I think YA as a whole (which is a super broad categorization) is lacking, but I will say that I love seeing books like Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap and Renee Ahdieh’s The Wrath and the Dawn that deal with the gray areas of morality and are peopled by characters that aren’t necessarily likable but are still deeply compelling.

Who would attend your magical fantasy tea party?

Echo, naturally. And some of her friends from TGaM. If it’s a magical fantasy, I assume I can invite anyone, real or fictional, so I’ll say Hermione Granger (Harry and Ron can come, too), Door from Neverwhere, Kell and Lila from A Darker Shade of Magic (Rhys can come, too), Tana and Gavriel from The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, and Finn, Petey, Roza, and Sean from Bone Gap. Oh, and all of the Raven Boys.

What is your favorite line from your book? (Or a couple of favorite lines. I know it’s hard to choose.)

At one point, Echo is backed into a corner and she basically has to bullshit her way out of it so she says to herself, “When in doubt, bravado.” I feel like that idea has carried me through life pretty well.


The Girl at Midnight debuts tomorrowApril 28th, 2015!


Amazon * B&N * Kobo * IndieBound * Powells

Find Melissa on Goodreads.



“Grey’s energetic debut offers a strong protagonist…[and the] well-built world, vivid characters, and perfect blend of action and amour should have readers eagerly seeking the sequel.” — Kirkus Reviews, Starred

“Sparks fly…This first novel will please fans of Cassandra Clare and Game of Thrones watchers with its remarkable world building; richly developed characters…[and] a breathtaking climax that…cannot come soon enough!”—Booklist starred review

“Inventive, gorgeous, and epic—Grey dazzles in her debut.” — Danielle Paige, New York Times bestselling author of Dorothy Must Die

“A stunning debut. Equal parts atmosphere and adventure … positively divine.” – Victoria Schwab, author of A Darker Shade of Magic



For readers of Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones and Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and BoneThe Girl at Midnight is the story of a modern girl caught in an ancient war.

Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she’s ever known.

Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she’s fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it’s time to act.

Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, but if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it’s how to hunt down what she wants … and how to take it.

But some jobs aren’t as straightforward as they seem. And this one might just set the world on fire.


Melissa Grey was born and raised in New York City. She wrote her first short story at the age of twelve and hasn’t stopped writing since. After earning a degree in fine arts at Yale University, she traveled the world, then returned to New York City where she currently works as a freelance journalist. To learn more about Melissa, visit and follow @meligrey on Twitter.

Book Review: Hostage (The Change #2) by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith


23899848By Eileen Fontenot

DESCRIPTION FROM GOODREADS: Welcome back to Las Anclas, a frontier town in the post-apocalyptic Wild West. In Las Anclas, the skull-faced sheriff possesses superhuman strength, the doctor can speed up time, and the squirrels can teleport sandwiches out of your hands.

In book one, Stranger, teenage prospector Ross Juarez stumbled into town half-dead, bringing with him a precious artifact, a power no one has ever had before, and a whole lot of trouble — including an invasion by Voske, the king of Gold Point. The town defeated Voske’s army, with the deciding blow struck by Ross, but at a great cost.

In Hostage, a team sent by King Voske captures Ross and takes him to Gold Point. There he meets Kerry, Voske’s teenage daughter, who has been trained to be as ruthless as her father. While his friends in Las Anclas desperately try to rescue him, Ross is forced to engage in a battle of wills with the king himself.

MY TWO CENTS: Even more gripping than the first of this series, Hostage takes us right back to the aftermath of Voske’s attack on our intrepid band of superhuman teens, which caused the death of a much-respected adult leader. We are introduced to a new player in this book, the daughter of Voske, the series’ main antagonist. The authors do a tremendous job of telling us about Kerry, who is smart, capable and raised to assess challengers and exploit their weaknesses.

Just as I began to dislike this new character, the authors begin chapters from her point of view. We see her life under her parents’ restrictive rule, and her love for her boyfriend, Santiago, softens her image. I came to root for Kerry, for her to find her own way in life and to make positive choices in her life, rather than negative ones. We also get to see how things are run in Gold Point, part of Voske’s kingdom. And it’s not pretty.

One of the main themes of this book was trust. Characters were thrust into various life-or-death situations, with only another to depend upon. And sometimes this other person wasn’t exactly the most trustworthy individual. Tracing the elaborate, yet tenuous, agreements made between unlikely partners became a bit of a challenge. I also liked the message that it’s OK to follow your own path, especially when you disagree with the way your family is behaving.

And because there are still several mysteries to be solved in the last couple of books, and a character I hope makes a big resurgence, I look forward to future volumes. The authors plan to release two more books in this series, and I can’t wait to see how these characters grow and change with each other. I read this on my Kindle, but Manija Brown says a paper copy of Hostage will be released in March, according to GoodReads.

RECOMMENDATIONS: As a young adult librarian, I would suggest this series to teens who love post-apocalyptic fantasy worlds who also want to see themselves reflected in the characters. The series is incredibly diverse; the main characters are all people of color and LGBT characters are also well represented. The authors are wonderful showing readers the depth of their familial connections through details dropped in throughout the action, which is plentiful.

For a book club pick, I would ask participants to discuss the role trust played in these characters’ choices. Teens could also talk about who they trust in their own lives and why. What would they share with their closest friends and family? What would make them lose trust in their loved ones?


Paraphrased From Goodreads: Rachel Manija Brown is the author of all sorts of stories in all sorts of genres. She has produced a memoir, All the Fishes Come Home to Roost: An American Misfit in India, and she has also written television, plays, video games, and a comic strip meant to be silk-screened on to a scarf. In her other identity, she is a trauma/PTSD therapist. She writes urban fantasy for adults under the name of Lia Silver.

From Sherwood Smith began her publishing career in 1986, writing mostly for young adults and children. Smith studied in Austria for a year, earning a master’s in history. She worked many jobs, from bartender to the film industry, then turned to teaching for twenty years, working with children from second grade to high school. To date she’s published over forty books, nominated for several awards, including the Nebula, the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award, and an Anne Lindbergh Honor Book.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT Hostage (The Change #2) visit your local public library, your local bookstore,, or

Eileenfontenot headshot Fontenot is a recent graduate of Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science in Boston. She works at a public library and is interested in community service and working toward social justice. A sci-fi/fantasy fan, Eileen was formerly a newspaper writer and editor.

Guest Post: Five Things I’ve Learned After Marketing My Young Adult Debut

By Heather Marie

2014-03-07_1394157700After you sign a publishing agreement, whether it’s your first book or tenth, you immediately start to consider your marketing strategy. What people don’t tell you upfront is that you are about to embark on a crazy adventure of ups and downs, sometimes more downs than ups, and you’ll find yourself overwhelmed, exhausted, and maybe even depressed.

Don’t get me wrong, getting published is a flippin’ amazing experience! But the work doesn’t stop there. You wrote the book. You got it published. Now you have to sell it. And, yes, I mean you.

Your publisher and/or marketing team/publicist will be there to help you, but you have to be ready to put in some leg work. There are some things that work better for others, and some things you do that’ll completely flop, or some things that’ll blow everything else out of the water. The most important thing to remember is that you actually don’t have to do everything at once, if at all. You only have to do what works for you, period.

I learned this the hard way. After driving myself into the ground with marketing, I finally had time to reflect on what I won’t be doing next time around to spare my sanity.

1. Purchasing swag without draining your bank account in the process.

The minute you get the okay to tell the world about your book deal, you instantly want every promotional piece of swag you can get. First of all, swag is an excellent way to get your book out there. People love it and they’ll gladly take it off your hands, but let’s remember what happens to that swag once people get it. *eyes bookmarks scattered throughout my apartment* I can honestly say that my bookmarks have in no way helped with promotion. They’re just pretty to look at and that’s perfectly okay. However, I think next time I’ll save them for events or send them in bulk to libraries.

The pins and posters were fun as well, and I think the pins were a bigger hit than anything else. But I broke my back trying to get all of this stuff even after everyone told me not to. My advice would be to stick with what you can afford, but don’t feel obligated to go big. Of course, do what works for you, but also consider saving your funds to attend conventions where you can meet new readers in real life. If I’d known ahead of time the amount of money I’d end up spending, I would have held back and saved up for all the events I’ve missed out on.

2. When promoting on social media, timing is everything.

As exciting as it is to share that new piece of big news, try holding off on posting until you know people will see it. The best way to do this is to test a few things on your media accounts and see when you get the most hits. I’ve seen several people post brand new happenings in the super late hours when absolutely no one is around to see it, or in the way earlier hours when no one is even awake. What I’ve found is that my Facebook page gets the most hits on Monday’s in the late morning. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true. Twitter on the other hand gets the most hits in the early afternoon on Fridays.

Obviously, I don’t only post big news on these days, but you can see what I mean about timing. I’ve gotten myself familiar with the certain times throughout the week that really make a difference. It’s easy for your posts to get lost in the craziness of social media, and if you want people to share or celebrate along with you, you have to familiarize yourself. Trust me. You’ll notice a huge difference in your posts when you do this. It’s hard for me to hold back, but if I find something out on a Saturday, I’ll wait until Monday to share it. Learning how to market yourself is so important. And when you do it is even more so.


3. Breaking up your marketing so you’re not hitting your readers over the head.

Now that we’ve gone over the timing, let’s go over how much marketing you do at once. For instance, I had one week during release where I had a few major interviews/posts going up at once. I was honestly so sick of talking about myself at that point that I knew everyone else was sick of me, too.

Sometimes you don’t have control over what gets posted or when. At one point I had this amazing interview all scheduled with another major thing, and the interview was moved to another date which left my marketing team and I stuck. We had to run with it anyway, but ultimately the major thing wasn’t as successful as it could have been. Also, I had things get switched around so much that I was stuck promoting a billion things at once that flooded each other out.

The thing I learned here is that it’s okay to space things out. If that means waiting a few days or a few weeks, by all means do it. Sometimes it’s better to let people forget you have a new shiny book coming out and just be your normal human self for a while. That way, when that big thing gets promoted, people will actually stop and listen, as opposed to being like ‘meh.’

4. Telling people to buy your book is not going to make them buy your book.

It’s one thing to promote your book with fun posts and interviews or even a giveaway, but spamming them into buying your book isn’t going to work.

That is one thing I have never done, nor will I ever. Though that doesn’t necessarily mean I haven’t seen it done. An easy way to lose followers aka new readers is by spamming them with constant tweets and posts about buying your book. You know what I mean. The tweets that are very clearly generated through a website that posts your Amazon link every thirty minutes. What I am guilty of (going back to the fact #3) is promoting too many things at once, which can repel people from ever wanting to check your book out.–not because they don’t want to necessarily, but because it doesn’t seem new anymore.

People want to buy something they’re excited about. If something has been shoved into their face (newsfeed) enough, they’ll lose interest quick. Be yourself. Be real. That’ll sell your book more than any promotional link.

5. After all of this is said and done, please take time out for yourself.

You’ve published a book. Be proud of yourself right now. Allow it to sink in and really enjoy it. I’m serious. Being a published author is one of the greatest feelings of accomplishment. I’ve never been happier, but damn, do I wish I would have allowed myself time to appreciate the small things.

I worked myself so hard those last few months prior to release, that afterwards I hit rock bottom. I was exhausted emotionally, mentally, physically, and whatever else. Being a writer means your job is never done and that is absolutely true. There will always be something you have to do, whether that’s your next manuscript, an interview, an event, etc. I’m excited for these things. I love it! But I always, always forget to take care of myself first.

I ignored all the signs that told me to slow down. When my personal life was getting too complicated, I dived even further into my writing. I pushed myself so hard that I didn’t realize how burnt out I was until I emotionally fell apart.

Your book and readers will always be important, but remember that your health is priority. Take a day off. Go out with your friends. Read a book or two over the weekend. Do anything!

Just don’t forget to take care of you.

Heather-AuthorPhotos-3-WEBSIZEHeather Marie lives in Northern California with her husband and spends the majority of her time at home reading. Before she followed her dreams of becoming a writer, Heather worked as a hairstylist and makeup artist for several years. Although she enjoyed the artistic aspect of it all, nothing quite quenched her creative side like the telling of a good story. When the day had come for her to make a choice, she left behind her promising career to start another and never looked back.

Heather was included in a Cosmopolitan Magazine article as a “Latina YA Author You Need on Your Radar.” Her debut novel, The Gateway Through Which They Came released in August from Curiosity Quills Press.

Book Review: Stranger (The Change #1) by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith

By Eileen Fontenot

16034526DESCRIPTION FROM GOODREADS: Many generations ago, a mysterious cataclysm struck the world. Governments collapsed and people scattered, to rebuild where they could. A mutation, “the Change,” arose, granting some people unique powers. Though the area once called Los Angeles retains its cultural diversity, its technological marvels have faded into legend. “Las Anclas” now resembles a Wild West frontier town… where the Sheriff possesses superhuman strength, the doctor can warp time to heal his patients, and the distant ruins of an ancient city bristle with deadly crystalline trees that take their jewel-like colors from the clothes of the people they killed.

Teenage prospector Ross Juarez’s best find ever – an ancient book he doesn’t know how to read – nearly costs him his life when a bounty hunter is set on him to kill him and steal the book. Ross barely makes it to Las Anclas, bringing with him a precious artifact, a power no one has ever had before, and a whole lot of trouble.

MY TWO CENTS: After finishing an ARC of this book, which was officially released 11/13/14, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that unlike many sci-fi/fantasy books I enjoy so much, this one left a very pleasant feeling and hope for the future and not a lurking doom cloud of worry about what humanity will be like once we destroy the environment/bomb ourselves silly/let computers take over. Yes, there are terrible creatures lurking in the desert, but Las Anclas has an abundance of people who are working together to protect each other from those dangers.

But yes, there is still bigotry among certain people in power against those with “the Change,” but all does not seem completely hopeless. There are some teenagers with their own Changes – along with respected adults – who are fighting for acceptance. As for non-traditional male/female relationships, the people of Las Anclas are quite easy going; being gay or considering polyamory is very normalized behavior. In addition to the variety of relationships and differences among the characters that contemporary readers would recognize, the racial diversity of the cast of characters is not tokenized and does not feel forced in any way.

Teens who may not see themselves represented very often in sci-fi/fantasy novels can surely find a character that speaks to them – whether they are in a non-traditional romantic relationship, physically disabled, or experiencing mental illness. Or just feeling out of place and out of step with the so-called “normals” favored in society.

TEACHING TIPS: Youth services/teen librarians and high school teachers and librarians can encourage readers to write their own short stories and experiment with different points of view, like this book does. Teens and their instructors can discuss what using this narrative technique does to a plot, setting, and character development.

For teachers with an artistic bent, get the teens to draw or write about the flora and fauna of the future. A good tie-in would be a conversation about the ecological implications of war and how that would change what animals and plants look like and how they would behave. The drawings and ideas can range from silly to serious.

And finally, it would be interesting to find out what teens felt about building a positive society in the face of such challenges – a kind of positive utopia that existed in this novel. What would they do to become effective leaders in a harsh world, with little resources? What compromises would they be willing to make?

AUTHORS: From Goodreads: Rachel Manija Brown is the author of all sorts of stories in all sorts of genres. She has also written television, plays, video games, and a comic strip meant to be silk-screened on to a scarf. In her other identity, she is a trauma/PTSD therapist. She writes urban fantasy for adults under the name of Lia Silver.

From Sherwood Smith began her publishing career in 1986, writing mostly for young adults and children. Smith studied in Austria for a year, earning a masters in history. She worked many jobs, from bartender to the film industry, then turned to teaching for twenty years, working with children from second grade to high school. To date she’s published over forty books and been nominated for several awards, including the Nebula, the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award, and an Anne Lindbergh Honor Book.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT Stranger (The Change #1) visit your local public library, your local bookstore,,, or


Eileenfontenot headshot Fontenot is a recent graduate of Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science in Boston. She works at a public library and is interested in community service and working toward social justice. A sci-fi/fantasy fan, Eileen was formerly a newspaper writer and editor.

Rachel Manija Brown & Sherwood Smith on Collaborating & Bucking the ‘Received Wisdom’ of Publishing Diversity

By Eileen Fontenot

16034526This post-apocalyptic, western-tinged adventure is more character-driven than you may expect. A diverse group of teenagers in Las Anclas narrate the story in third-person point of view–Ross, the stranger in town, who has a valuable item coveted by several factions and experiences PTSD episodes after escaping death from a bounty hunter; Mia, the town engineer who helps Ross in his new life; Jennie, a Ranger that is “Changed,” that is, has some sort of superhuman powers; Yuki, a former prince that struggles with settling down in LA and with his boyfriend, Paco; and Felicite, a scheming climber, lusting after power but also hiding a secret of her own.

This narration style does not detract from the action scenes, which find the characters battling deadly–and extremely crafty–desert animals and a neighboring army, which has a bloody history with the city of Las Anclas. Co-authors Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith, however, portray most of the characters as well intentioned; even the least sympathetic main character did merit some empathy by the end of the novel. Nearly all of LA’s citizens are trying to make their town a better place to live in the way they feel is best – even if they can’t agree on what course that will take. But one thing they are not prejudiced against is non-traditional relationships. Same-sex and polyamorous relationships are accepted; Change powers have become the new issue that divides the community. The book’s dearth of white main characters is noteworthy as well.

Smith, who has authored more than forty books and been nominated for several awards, including the Nebula and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award, and Manija Brown, TV, comic strip, urban fantasy and video game writer and PTSD/trauma therapist, were kind enough to answer a few questions about this and future writing they’ll share and getting diverse works published.

Eileen: I’ve really enjoyed reading Stranger, especially the five POV characters. Any particular reason why you decided to write the novel in this way? How do you feel this structure lends itself to this genre/setting, etc.?

Rachel: It has multiple points of view (POVs) because it’s about a community, not a lone individual. The post-apocalyptic town of Las Anclas is very community-oriented—for better and for worse—so we wanted the structure to reflect that.

We also thought it was fun, for both us and our readers. Different people notice different things, and speak in different voices. For instance, Yuki Nakamura, who loves animals, was born on a ship, and is very introverted, always notices the wildlife, thinks in nautical metaphors, and only focuses on the people he actually cares about. Felicite Wolfe is the mayor’s ambitious daughter, so she pays close attention to everyone around her in order to make a good impression on them, manipulate them, or gain some knowledge she might be able use later.

Sherwood: While Mia, the youngest town engineer in Las Anclas’s history, keeps getting locked inside her head, sometimes spinning around so much in questions that she doesn’t know how to act when it comes to socializing. Poor Mia! She was the most fun to write about.

Rachel: The POV characters rotate throughout the series. Ross, Mia, and Jennie have POVs in all four books, but the other POVs switch off, with old POV characters dropping out and new ones taking their place.

Eileen: You have a co-author, Sherwood Smith–how did you come to work with her? Did you experience any challenges/benefits working with a co-author? What was the process the two of you used to write the novel? Did you each take character(s) and only write their chapters?


Rachel Manija Brown (l) and Sherwood Smith (r)

Rachel: We both used to write TV, and we met to collaborate on a TV series. It didn’t sell, but we enjoyed working together so much that we kept on writing together.

Both of us write all the characters. We outline the story in advance, then literally sit next to each other at the computer, one typing (usually Sherwood; she’s much faster than me) while we alternately dictate the story. Any given sentence may have been written by both of us.

Sherwood: I have done several collaborations, and enjoyed them all, though each is very different. The fun part of writing with Rachel is that we never get writer’s block, because as soon as one of us runs out of ideas, whether on a single sentence or in a scene, the other either picks up with it and zooms ahead, or we can talk it out. Sometimes act it out!

Eileen: I see that you are a PTSD/trauma therapist, and one of the characters appears to be experiencing PTSD. What are your thoughts on including a character struggling with a mental condition? For you, is it similar and as important as including many characters of diversity?

Rachel: I definitely think that mental conditions are an aspect of diversity. But that’s not all there is to it. Ross’s experiences with PTSD are largely autobiographical. I don’t mean that they’re based on my clients, I mean that they’re based on what I went through as a teenager. I wanted to show that you can go through a lot of trauma and have it affect you–even affect you a lot– and not have it ruin your life, or mean that you can never be happy or never find love.

Sherwood: I agree with Rachel. There are aspects of Ross that also come out of my own childhood experiences. Rachel and I discovered that though our lives were very different, we shared certain emotional responses to situations that can cause symptoms of PTSD. This, in turn, made me very aware of similar emotional responses in students during the years that I taught, and though I am not trained as Rachel is, experience caused me to read up on the subject, and to seek ways to help kids feel a sense of safety, and agency.

Eileen: Stranger is incredibly multi-racial and diverse in many ways. What are your thoughts on getting your book published? I know from reading you and Sherwood’s PW blog post that you had at least one agent request that this diversity be toned down somewhat. Can you tell our readers a bit how you overcame this? Any advice for other authors who are marketing their diverse book or trying to get it seen by agents/publishers?

Rachel: Yes, an agent had trouble with Yuki being gay. In general, we had difficulty with the fact that gay and lesbian romances are just as important as straight romances. It’s also extremely unusual for a YA dystopia to have all the POV characters be people of color. We really had to persist to make the book available to readers.

Sherwood: I think it’s important to note that we do not believe that any of the agents or editors who asked, or hinted, or expressed doubts, about the diversity of our characters are bigots or anti-gay. It’s just that there has been such a strong “received wisdom” in marketing that protagonists must be straight and white or the book won’t sell. And publishers are primarily in the business of selling books. This received wisdom was probably true in 1950, but we don’t believe it is true today.

Rachel: Persistence is the key. If you want to go the traditional publishing route, be incredibly persistent. If you choose to self-publish, hire someone skilled to do the cover, and research how keywords and other important self-publishing techniques work. And know that there are readers out there who will really, really want to read your book. Luckily, nowadays it’s much easier to get it to them.

Eileen: I have read that Stranger is Book One in a series. What’s the status of the series and can you give us any juicy tidbits about what’s to come? Are you working on anything other than this series?

Rachel: Stranger stands on its own, but it’s also the first of a four-book series.

Book two is Hostage, in which we spend time in Gold Point, the city ruled with an iron fist by King Voske, the villain of Stranger, and meet a surprising new point of view character. Book three is Rebel, in which Ross’s past comes back to haunt him. The new point of view character in this book is someone we met back in book one, but maybe not someone expected to get a point of view. Book four is Traitor, in which all the plot threads and characters from the first three books come together in a battle for the future of Las Anclas. The new point of view character is someone whose perspective you may have been waiting for.

I’m currently working on the third Werewolf Marines book, Partner. That’s urban fantasy for adults under the pen name Lia Silver. It’s also diverse and also involves PTSD, but contains too much sex to be suitable for younger readers.

Sherwood: I’m working on the sequel to Lhind the Thief, which is YA fantasy with a character not quite human. It’s called Lhind the Spy, and it explores questions like belonging, what love is, the consequences of power—but these are also meant to be fun, so there will be chases, and magical razzle-dazzle, and an elaborate dinner party for powerful people that goes very, very wrong. That will be published through Book View Café, a consortium of writers who have been publishing work that is difficult for New York publishing to categorize. For DAW, I have been writing A Sword Named Truth, which is the first of a series about teenage allies, many of them in positions of power, who have to try to overcome personal and cultural conditioning to work together against a very, very powerful enemy.

Rachel and I also have other projects planned, which we will write together.