Author Interview: Mirriam Neal

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There are some bloggers who are simply unmistakable and unforgettable. Mirriam Neal is such a blogger. The first time I read one of her posts, I felt her storytelling seep into my soul. So much, that it’s been nearly two years and I haven’t forgotten the first post I read on her blog. I stumbled on her writing by following a rabbit trail of three or four other blogs, but hers is the only one in that trail I still read consistently. Mirriam writes with such eloquence and depth, but also whimsy and humor. Today, we’re celebrating the recent debut of her novel, Paper Crowns. (Which I desperately need to read. Curse homework for interfering with my reading habits.)

Until I can read the full novel, below is a little preview of Paper Crowns: 

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Ginger has lived in seclusion, with only her aunt Malgarel and her blue cat, Halcyon, to keep her company. Her sheltered, idyllic life is turned upside-down when her home is attacked by messengers from the world of fae. Accompanied by Halcyon (who may or may not be more than just a cat), an irascible wysling named Azrael, and a loyal fire elemental named Salazar, Ginger ventures into the world of fae to bring a ruthless Queen to justice.

Amazon // Barnes & Noble // Pages of Wonder

 

Doesn’t it sound magical? Be sure to check out the Paper Crowns Good Reads page for more. Before you rush off, though, pour a cup of mocha coffee and join me for a chat with Paper Crowns’ author Mirriam Neal. She graciously answered over a dozen of my questions, and her answers are as fabulous as I expected from her. They also make me even more eager to read Paper Crowns. 

  1. What does the beginning of your storytelling process look like? Do you outline, free write, etc.?
    The beginning always looks the same, but with different ingredients: I’ve had enough of said ingredients simmering around that I finally realize I can make something, as soon as I figure out exactly how. I’m a seventy-percent free writer and a thirty-percent plotter. I like to have a vague idea of how I want the book to end, and probably three major things I want to happen. Just enough pins to keep the whole thing from falling apart, and I take it from there.
  2. What was the most difficult part of writing Paper Crowns?
    Editing and revising, really. I wrote it in a month, so the whole thing was kind of a slapdash mess. It still is! I’m working on a couple more tweaks since a few scattered minor mistakes were found – it’s a process.
  3. Let’s play favorites! Without spoilers, who is your favorite character in Paper Crowns and why?
    This is phrased in a very tricky way, Sarah. Very tricky. Hmm. My favorite character to write? The character I’d most like to hang out with? WHICH ONE? Well, my favorite character to write was probably Azrael. He was the easiest. He wanted to be written (he’s pushy that way). The character I’d most like to hang out with is probably Hal. I’d have endless questions.
  4. What is your recipe for creativity?
    It depends, really. Sometimes it means a constant diet of reading, movies, shows, dramas, and music. Other times I need to step away for a while and not read anything but non-fiction. Usually it’s a good mix of both – but I try to immerse myself in stories and music pertinent to what I’m writing. I also try to get out and spend time in towns and cities as frequently as possible, and write in places other than my room or my house. Shaking things up a little often knocks something loose.
  5. Tea time! What’s your beverage of choice, if any, when writing?
    Black coffee is always my beverage of choice. Anytime, anywhere. (Although I’m a fan of many beverages and won’t turn down anything from tea to kombucha.)
  6. What is one thing most people wouldn’t guess about your writing?
    How hard it is, probably. Even the easy novels like the Paper series. They’re the hardest things I ever do. I get told my writing feels effortless much of the time, which is often a large compliment but sometimes feels a little confusing – is that good or bad? I don’t want people to think that writing is easy, or that I do it because I’m lazy. It’s real work. It stresses me and pushes me just like any job.
  7. What has been a defining moment for you as an author?
    My mother was reading one of my novels and was so physically revolted that she had to stop eating lunch. She asked how I could write something so horrible, and I pointed out that I hadn’t written anything horrible – I just wrote it so that her brain would fill in the gaps. She went back and re-read it, and told me, astonished, that I was right. This was a huge leap forward for me, both in style and in my personal confidence.
  8. If you could visit any fictional land, where would you travel?
    I would absolutely travel to Middle-Earth. #Basic, I know, but it was my first otherworld love and continues to be the strongest.
  9. What makes a good villain?
    I think the scariest villains are the ones who might actually do something good, or who show a human side to their villainy. In ‘Dragon Blade,’ Tiberius blinds his young brother with acid, but he weeps as he does it. He knows the pain he’s causing, and it pains him in turn – but he does it anyway. That’s terrifying.
  10. If you could have lunch with any author or artist, who would you choose?
    I would have lunch with John Howe. It’s still surreal to be able to say ‘I’m friends with John Howe,’ but it’s true – yet he lives in Switzerland, so we’ve never met. Having lunch with him would be a dream come true.
  11. Are there any quotes that inspire your creativity?
    Many quotes inspire me, but a consistent favorite is ‘be the person you needed when you were younger.’ It’s an important mindset, I think, and one I try to live by.
  12. Choose a superpower just for today.
    Flight. Every time.
  13. Would you rather have a pet dragon or unicorn? Why?
    A dragon. Unicorns are beautiful and often have healing powers, but dragons are more battle-fit, they can breathe fire (and often have other talents, like shape-shifting or voice mimicry) and they’re shrewd PLUS they can fly.
  14. Would you be most at home among hobbits, elves or dwarves?
    Elves. I think I would be happiest there. The history, the architecture, the art, the music, the war-skills, the aesthetics – the conversations I could have!
  15. Thank you for making an appearance at On Another Note today! Is there anything else you would like to share? The spotlight is yours!
    You have the ability to make an impact on everyone you meet. I think it’s an important thing to keep in mind. Thank you so much for having me, Sarah!

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About the Author: 

Mirriam Neal is a twenty-two-year-old Northwestern hipster living in Atlanta. She writes hard-to-describe books in hard-to-describe genres, and illustrates things whenever she finds the time. She aspires to live as faithfully and creatively as she can and she hopes you do, too.

Visit Mirriam’s blog, Wishful Thinking at mirriamneal.com or send a note to the­shieldmaiden@hotmail.com

Also check out the other stops on the Paper Crowns blog tour – you can view a complete list here.

Paper Crowns is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Now scoot, go get a copy.

Happy reading!

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A Year in Review: Book Reviews

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Hello, booklings!
I didn’t want to carry any reviews from last year into this one, but the stack of books on my desk forces me to differ. So in the name of closing out 2015 (a month into 2016!), here are some review wrap-ups. 🙂

The Chase by Kyle and Kelsey Kupecky

the chaseIt’s been a few years since I gave up reading books about dating and relationships. After a while, they’re either all the same, or they all contradict one another. When I first heard of The Chase, though, it captured my attention. Written by Kyle & Kelsey Kupecky, it was refreshing to read a book about relationships from a younger couple’s perspective. Their love for one another shines through, but even more evident is their love for God. The Chase doesn’t focus merely on romantic relationships, as I initially expected. Rather, it speaks about chasing after God, first and foremost; the true lover of our souls. When we allow Jesus to take His rightful place in our hearts, everything else falls into place- even falling in love. After all, “God cares about your deepest desires, your hopes and dreams.” (from the Chase.)

I loved that this book didn’t offer any official guidelines. Too many books about relationships are built on checklists and leave no room for individuality or considering unique situations. Granted, there are some non-negotiable principles in the Bible, but much else is left to conjecture. The Chase isn’t written to be a rule book, but a handbook. It’s more of a guide than an instruction sheet. Instead of listing do’s and don’t’s for an earthly relationship, the book encourages young people to pursue God before pursuing another person.

I tend to be a bit cynical about relationship books, but the Chase is a sweet, uplifting read. It encouraged me to focus on falling in love with Jesus, and it also reminded my skeptical side that true love actually does exist outside of Disney movies. The writing style made me feel like I was sharing coffee with a trusted mentor and friend. The book is written mostly through stories, and throughout, there is bound to be something each reader connects to. This would be a wonderful book to read with a small group, or for personal study.

In Good Company by Jen Turano

From the Back Cover

in good company 1After growing up as an orphan, Millie Longfellow is determined to become the best nanny the East Coast has ever seen. Unfortunately, her playfulness and enthusiasm aren’t always well-received and she finds herself dismissed from yet another position.

Everett Mulberry has quite unexpectedly become guardian to three children that scare off every nanny he hires. About to depart for Newport, Rhode Island, for the summer, he’s desperate for competent childcare.

At wit’s end with both Millie and Everett, the employment agency gives them one last chance–with each other. As Millie falls in love with her mischievous charges, Everett focuses on achieving the coveted societal status of the upper echelons. But as he investigates the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of the children’s parents, will it take the loss of those he loves to learn whose company he truly wants for the rest of his life?

In Good Company certainly does come with good company. The first thing I noticed about the book was how quirky and lovable Jen Turano’s heroine is. Millie Longfellow isn’t your conventional protagonist. She’s not especially gifted, doesn’t have any unique advantages, and isn’t known for having good luck or the best ideas. Yet in spite of all her shortcomings, she’s a character I quickly came to love. She has the greatest of intentions, a generous amount of spunk, a hearty dose of patience, a creative perspective, and a genuinely kind heart. It’s these traits that made me cheer for her, even when she did something exasperating, and made me empathize with her when she faced yet another struggle.
In true Pride and Prejudice fashion, Everett is the perfect contrast to the scattered, energetic, bubbly Miss Longfellow. Reserved, successful and in control, a feisty nanny is the last thing Everett needs in his life. But since Millie is exactly what Everett’s young charges need, he’s forced to endure her unconventional ways and the occasional tumult she causes. Along the way, both Everett and Millie must confront their differences. Can two people from opposite worlds ever share their own world?
The supporting cast also features some delightful characters, some of whom I’m looking forward to meeting with in one of the author’s future stories.
In Good Company is a lighthearted read, which manages to be zany, amusing, romantic and even a little mysterious. The mentions of classic literature were a delightful addition, and Jen’s writing style makes it easy to read multiple chapters in a single sitting. I typically prefer heavier books, with more suspense and higher stakes, but I truly enjoyed this one for what it is.
If you’re looking for a fun novel, featuring lovable characters, a few laughs and a pinch of mystery, you can find it… In Good Company. 

The Time Garden (Adult Coloring Book)

the time gardenA coloring craze has splashed the world. No longer is this hobby confined to kindergarten classrooms. Now adults can enjoy the art and relaxation of coloring, too! (Without being reduced to a Sesame Street coloring book.)

The Time Garden is laid out as a story book. Intricate pictures show one little girl’s journey through the land of time. Daria Song’s artwork is absolutely beautiful. The amount of detail astonished me. Each page is stunning, from the tree blossoms on the front cover all the way to the starry back flap. Adult coloring is supposed to help you pause and relax, forcing you to slow down and focus on one tiny section at a time. The Time Garden would allow you to do this for hours. There are so many little nuances to color, there is no room for rushing. Even if you only work on a corner at a time, this book invites you to sit down, take your time, breathe and create.

I also love how elegant the pictures are. I lack in artistic ability, but coloring in one of Daria Song’s masterpieces instantly makes me feel creative.

The quality of the book itself is lovely. Each page is printed on thick, high-quality paper. I used colored pencils in mine, but if you wanted to use marker, the paper is sturdy enough to handle the ink. The dust jacket can be colored, too, and it unfolds to reveal a gorgeous constellation on the reverse side.

Since the adult coloring trend began, I’ve flipped through my fair share of these books. The Time Garden, though, is one of the most sophisticated, unique and visually pleasing that I have found. Order a copy for yourself, or one for a friend… Or both, and enjoy your own journey through The Time Garden. 

I received these books for free in exchange for my honest reviews. 

In case you missed them, here are links to the other books I reviewed in 2015:

Remnants by Lisa T. Bergren // A Friend in Me by Pamela Havey Lau // To Win Her Favor by Tamera Alexander // The Knot: Little Books of Big Wedding Ideas // The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Now that I’ve tied up 2015’s loose book ends, I’m free to start my 2016 list! What have you read so far this year? What were your favorite books in 2015?

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Book Release: The Bureau of Time by Brett Michael Orr

Hello my dear friends! Apologies for nearly two months of silence. I could write an entire post about the last several weeks, but let’s save that for another day. Today I have something far more exciting to share!

Drum roll please…

This week, the talented Brett Michael Orr released his highly anticipated debut novel, The Bureau of Time! I’ve been following this book’s progress for a while, and I’ve been waiting impatiently to read it, thanks to Brett Michael’s teasers on Twitter.

When he sent me the official blurb and the cover, I jumped at the chance to share it with you. Read on, and you’ll see why.

The Bureau of Time

You can not change fate.

Cassandra Wright is a Timewalker – a teenager with a genetic mutation that allows her to manipulate the flow of time. But her inexplicable powers have made her a target for Adjusters – monstrous assassins from a parallel universe.

Saved from almost certain death, Cassie is pulled into a secret agency sworn to defend our timeline against these threats: the Bureau of Temporal Integrity, Monitoring, and Execution. Cassie’s life soon becomes entwined with Shaun Briars – a reckless Timewalker with an alluring smile and dark suspicions about the Bureau itself.

When Cassie and Shaun cross into the parallel universe, they discover a world in the grips of nuclear winter, with a new war threatening to spill over into our universe. With time running out, they must learn the true history of Timewalkers, confront the unforgivable crimes of their future selves, and defy their own fate to save two worlds.

Join the Conversation: #TheBureauOfTime

Doesn’t this sound intriguing? I’m also really impressed with the acronym for TIME. Calling it now, this is totally going to become a summer blockbuster film.

I always say you’re not supposed to judge books by their covers, yet I always do exactly that. Feel free to judge The Bureau of Time by its cover, though, because the cover is awesome.

Gaze upon it!

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THE BUREAU OF TIME is the debut YA SF/thriller novel from Brett Michael Orr, available early 2016 on all digital reading platforms, including Kindle, Kobo, iBookstore, and more. Stay up-to-date with The Bureau of Time by following @BrettMichaelOrr on Twitter!

Ready for the best part? You don’t have to wait another minute to read The Bureau of Time! It’s available now for Kindle through Amazon. It will also be coming soon to iBookstore, Kobo, and other major digital reading platforms. Be sure to check out the official hashtag #TheBureauOfTime on Twitter for the latest news.

Also, take a look at what my writer friend Annie has to say about the release, on her lovely blog, the Curious Wren.

Until next time (get it? Okay. Sorry. I’ll stop now.)

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Last Minute NaNoWriMo Survival Tips

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October 31st is a scary day, and it has nothing to do with Halloween. (Which I always forget about anyway.) No, this final day of October is frightening because November 1st is mere hours away… And with it comes National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo, a.k.a. “The Month Writers Sacrifice Their Remaining Sanity and Neglect Basic Survival Skills.” Sounds fun, right?

Actually, it is. Sort of. Once you get past the lack of socialization and sleep, it really is pretty awesome. Last year, I wrote a post of 30 Reasons to do NaNoWriMo. If you’re on the fence about doing NaNoWriMo, maybe this list will push you onto the side of slightly insane writers taking the challenge. (You can read it here)

Let’s say you’ve already decided to get in on the action, though, but now you have no idea how November is already here and you still have NO IDEA WHAT YOU ARE DOING WITH YOUR NOVEL. (Deep breaths. Don’t hyperventilate.)

Should you drop out? There’s always next November, right? Surely you can’t wade into the trenches of NaNoWriMo without a detailed battle plan, can you? You’ll never survive now that you’ve waited until the stroke of midnight to take action.

Never fear, my writing comrade. I’m right there with you. Until this morning, I hadn’t even settled on a story to work on this month, and I’m still having doubts. I logged into my NaNoWriMo profile for the first time two hours ago. If anyone isn’t ready to take on this monster, it’s me. But ready or not, here it comes. Part of being a novelist is being adaptable, and that’s a skill I work in November more than any other month. No story is ever truly ready, and writing is never without surprises, no matter how much we outline. Even if you just decided five minutes ago to get involved with NaNoWriMo, you can make November work in your favor.

Here are my simple tips for surviving NaNoWriMo, despite being mostly unprepared.

  1. Pick a story and stick to it. It doesn’t need to be your most revolutionary idea ever, or have any publishing potential. You don’t even have to like it after the thirty days of November are up. Just pick one idea and give it one month to see what happens.
  2. Speaking of ideas, if you have no ideas whatsoever, consult a prompt generator. My two favorites are the Google Play apps, Story Plot Generator and Writing Prompts. For iOS, there’s a similar app called the Great Plot Generator. Even if you don’t go with the exact idea generated, it may spark something. If you have too many ideas and not a single one stands out, write a few down and randomly pull one. There you go! Your latest literary masterpiece!
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  3. Be unoriginal. You only have four weeks to write 50,000 words. Now is not the time to create detailed character diagrams, in-depth fantasy worlds, or your own language. It’s okay if your main character reminds you of the lead in your favorite show. If your world is suspiciously like the Shire, keep writing. As you go, your story will take on a life of its own. In the meantime, don’t get so hung up on originality that you write nothing at all, original or otherwise. Even if you’ll have to make changes later to avoid plagiarism, borrow the ideas you need to keep going.
  4. Forget (almost) every writing rule you’ve ever learned. Go ahead and write one chapter in first person and the next in third. Ignore commas entirely. Ramble on for two pages without pauses. This is November. This is the month of writing anarchy and dangling modifiers.
  5. Repeat after me: This draft is going to be bad, and that’s good. I have to remind myself of this every November. The sooner you accept the inevitable badness of this draft, the easier it is to adapt to it. Make a bad draft work for you, rather than trying to work against that bad draft.
  6. Get a cheap notebook and a fast pen. I don’t recall who first said that, but it’s some of the most effective writing advice I’ve ever heard. My best ideas tend to come from marking up a blank page rather than staring at a blank screen.
  7. Don’t be distracted by all the shiny new writing apps and platforms. There are so many to try, but November isn’t the month to experiment with them. Keep it simple. Stick to what works.
  8. Create a rough outline. I use the term “outline” loosely, because it doesn’t even need to be in order. Just jot down anything that seems relevant to the story. Scene ideas, even if you aren’t sure where they fit, can be super useful. Character names, facts about dragons, chapter titles… Anything you want to include, dump into a document. Nothing is too insignificant to be inspiration for NaNoWriMo.
  9. Consult your calendar. Hardly anyone has time for NaNoWriMo, but if you truly are overbooked and can’t cancel anything, consider making an adjustment. Either pick a different month to devote to writing, or set a smaller goal than 50k. If you can squeeze your novel into November, block out some writing appointments. Lighten up on other activities as you’re able so you don’t burn out.
  10. Establish boundaries. I learned the hard way that NaNoWriMo will take over your life if there are no boundaries set at the beginning. The first time I competed, I ended up exhausted to the point of illness. And since I refused to take any downtime, I was probably sick for longer than I needed to be. Noveling is important, to be sure, but there actually are more important things. Don’t sacrifice sleep, meals, or relationships for a few thousand words.
  11. Remember why you’re doing this. You’re a writer, and you have a story to tell. NaNoWriMo is just one way of carrying out this goal. Keep that in mind, and don’t stress.
  12. Just start. No matter how prepared you do or don’t feel, nothing can happen until you start. Take it one day at a time, word by word. You may end up with 50,000 words at the end of November! And if not? It’s still a grand noveling adventure.This is certainly not an exhaustive list, and I could always use some more tips on surviving National Novel Writing Month. Comment your own novel advice below.Happy NaNoWriMo!

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12 (More) Reasons to Buy More Books

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Last month, I shared my struggle over self-control and book shopping. As it turns out, I am not alone in this dilemma. Bookworms seem to be programmed to buy books. We’re drawn to them like kids to bouncy castles (okay, and also adults to bouncy castles.) No matter how many we have, we can always find room to love another.

Not everyone understands this craving, though, and sometimes we book lovers may feel a little guilty for our book obsessions. With that in mind, I sat down to create a list of 12 Reasons to Buy More Books. I ended up with closer to 30. Since not every excuse, I mean, reason, made the original list it seemed only fair to post the remainder now.
… All right, I’ll confess. I’m also sharing this because my to-be-read shelf is full, I have a shaky stack of books in my room, and I’m waiting for a few new arrivals. Also, I have three titles in my shopping cart right now.

But it’s okay because I can explain! Really! Here are 12 More Reasons to Buy More Books.

  1. Books are inexpensive entertainment. Yes, I probably spend a tad too much on books. Probably. However, compared to the prices of movie tickets, cable, even Netflix or the Internet, books are cheap. Where else can you travel around the world, learn a dozen new things, and meet new friends for about $10, or even less? It’s a bargain, I tell you.
  2. They take us places that travel cannot. Not only do books cost vastly less than vacation, there are some destinations that are unreachable beyond books. Even with enough funds, I couldn’t book a trip to the Shire or Narnia. Thanks to books, though, I’m still familiar with those places. I’ve had tea in Hobbiton and stood beside the Lamppost with Mr. Tumnus. And I can go back any time I want to, without packing a suitcase.
  3. Books turn any room into a home. As Roman philosopher Cicero put it, “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” No matter whose house I’m in, the sight of a brimming bookcase is welcoming. Books make a room feel lived in, while looking splendid as decor. Even better, they serve double duty by being both lovely and useful. You can even use extra books as bookends for your other titles.
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  4. Buying used books is recycling. You can help the environment and your personal library!
  5. A battery may die, but a paper book endures. Don’t worry, I’m not anti-eBooks. I use both a Nook & Kindle app. But downloading eBooks never excites me like opening a box of hard copies. And I always forget to charge my tablet until the moment I want to read. So paper books are an essential for me. Really.
  6. They smell good. Another perk of paper! Whether you like the smell of new books, old ones, or any combination of both, books have the distinct scent of possibilities, invitation and magic.
  7. Carrying books looks, and is, smart. I know we aren’t supposed to worry about impressing others. However, it’s undeniable: if you’re walking around with a book that isn’t rubbish, you will look quite studious. And you might catch the attention of fellow readers and get to have book discussions! Or at the very least, you’ll have your book to occupy you in boring situations. Yet another reason having novels on hand is wise.
  8. Reading books makes us smarter. I truly believe living isn’t complete without learning and for me, books have been the best teachers. Through countless pages, I’ve studied under experts and gained information I never would have accessed otherwise. A bonus is that books are cheaper than tuition. Unless they’re college textbooks. Because why not overcharge the broke student population, right?
  9. Dating websites are overpriced and unreliable. Books are not. Until a real Mr. Darcy (or Knightly, Thornton, etc.) shows up, I shall keep my storybook loves! I even wrote an entire post dedicated to my favorite fictional couple. It’s turned out to be my most popular post to date, which has me somewhat shocked but mostly thrilled. You can check it out here, and get a recommendation for my favorite series as well. 🙂
  10. Books hold both stories and memories. Every so often, I’ll take an old favorite from my shelf and flip through the pages. When I do this, I remember the story I loved but also the girl I was when I read it. Maybe I read it multiple times in one school year, or found comfort in those pages from a broken heart, or read it through laughing with a close friend. The stories dearest to me always have a bit of me preserved in their pages. This is why I’ll often buy a book I loved, even if I may not read it again for a while.
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  11. Reading is therapeutic. True, I’ve suffered emotional trauma from books countless times. In some twisted way, those books usually become my favorites. But there’s a difference between fictional difficulties and real life conflict. When I’ve had a hard day, sometimes all it takes is an hour with a story. Escaping into a book for a little while makes the real world easier to face when I come back to it.
  12. Books make life better by letting us live several. Similar to all the places I couldn’t visit without books (#2), there are so many things I’ll never do or people I’ll never be, beyond novels. I would never trade my own life, but I’ve learned so much from all the fictional ones I have lived. I’ve rebelled against tyrants, rescued innocents, and run for my life alongside those characters. And in living their lives, I’ve come away with tools for mine. It’s doubtful I’ll ever have to bring down the Capitol or walk into Mordor, but if those characters can find the courage and determination, then I can be brave for the smaller tasks I face everyday.

If I tried hard enough, I could probably think of other reasons to encourage collecting books. I think two lists about covers it, though. (If you didn’t get to read my original 12 Reasons to Buy More Books, here is a link.) I’m in the mood to go read a book now! I need to finish it before the sequel arrives.

What are you currently reading? Which books are you planning to add to your to-be-read shelf? I’m always open to recommendations! And also book discussions. I’ve updated my contact page, so now there are even more places for us to connect and chat about stories.

Happy reading!

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