Cover Design 101: Behind the Scenes of Scott Westerfeld’s Spill Zone Cover

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, but we think the same can be said of publishing graphic novels. Spill Zone was written by Scott Westerfeld and the art was created by Alex Puvilland. Once the book was ready for publication, an entire team stepped in to create the cover and jacket. Andrew Arnold, the associate art director at the graphic novel publisher First Second, was part of that team. Here, he takes readers behind the scenes and shares the secrets of cover design.

Click each image for a closer look at the design!

Hello, comics fans! Here at First Second, we take a lot of pride in creating thoughtful and beautifully packaged books. One of our biggest design challenges is creating the cover, and the jacket for Spill Zone was no exception. Here’s an inside look at how this cover came to life, from its earliest stages to the final printed book.

Spill Zone was one of the first projects on my plate when I joined the First Second team last summer. The first thing I did to familiarize myself with the project was read the book, and wow, what a treat that was. Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland have created an incredibly rich world that feels movie-ready. It’s a sci-fi adventure, but also has some dark and twisted elements, and we wanted to make sure the cover conveyed both of those facets.

The process began with several thumbnails from Alex, artist extraordinaire, who had come up with some pretty thought-provoking and eye-catching sketches. At this stage, we like to say that nothing is off-limits. I often find that only a small portion of what we look at during this stage makes it onto the final book. It’s pretty fun to look back at an artist’s initial sketches to see what was originally on the table!

After Mark Siegel (First Second’s editorial director), Danielle Ceccolini (First Second’s designer), and I processed Alex’s thumbnails, we decided that the more graphic approaches were working better than the more illustrative ones.

Once we were all in agreement on the general direction, Alex started to think about the background art and color palette.

As the overall design started coming together, we began to focus in on the details. In the previous stage, we liked what Alex did with the environment, but wanted to see if he could tone it down a little. Sometimes, less is more.

We started to get pretty excited about where it was headed, so we gave Alex the green light to move to pencils, and very soon thereafter, inks.

Once the inks were in, we started exploring the color palette a little further. A good chunk of this story takes place in a radioactive-colored world, so a lot of these early explorations focus on that.

As we got closer and closer to a palette we liked, we delved into a variety of title treatments.

And before you know it, we had ourselves a final cover!

Once the cover is resolved, we start thinking about the rest of the jacket. How will the back cover interact with the front? How can we create an effective spine, with such a tiny piece of real estate? How can the flaps inform the reader with descriptive copy, but still look good?

And then there’s the pre-printed case design! This is the art you see under the jacket, which is glued to the book board.

As all of these elements were being finalized, we were simultaneously communicating with our production team to determine what printing materials and techniques would work best with the design. This includes paper stock, special inks, embossing plates, and lamination. For Spill Zone, we decided that metallic stock was a must-have, not only because it looked good with the art, but it made a direct reference to the radioactive element. Our senior production manager, Alexa Villanueva, worked closely with the printer to make sure the proofing process moved along smoothly. At this stage, we made any last minute text corrections and color adjustments, and made sure all the special effects and materials were printing properly.

From start to finish, this project took several months, but when the books arrived I could hardly contain my excitement. Collaborating with this wonderful group of bookmakers was an incredible experience, and I can’t wait to relive it with their next book, Spill Zone: The Broken Vow.

Andrew Arnold is one of the co-authors of the Adventures in Cartooning series and moonlights [during the day] as a book designer for a children’s book publisher. His work has appeared in several publications, including Nickelodeon MagazineCambridge University Press, and Roaring Brook Press. Originally from Houston, TX, Andrew currently lives in New York City.

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Nuala Ellwood’s Top Five Grip Lit Novels

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Have you heard about the hot new literary genre? It’s grip lit. Grip lit is made up of novels that are a blend of fiction and thriller and typically written by, for, and about women. Nuala Ellwood, author of My Sister’s Bones, is no stranger to the genre. Here, she shares her favorite grip lit books with Bookish readers.

Talking to the Dead
Helen Dunmore, who sadly passed away in June, was a huge inspiration to me as a writer. In this stunning novel she explores sibling bonds, childhood violence, and unreliable memory with an understated menace that bleeds through the pages. The story takes place in a remote Sussex farmhouse at the height of summer where two sisters with a tragic past are reunited when one of them gives birth to her first child. We slowly come to realize that all is not as it seems; one or both of them may have committed a terrible crime years previously and yet each of them manage to convince the reader that the other is to blame. This haunting, beautifully written thriller gives me goose bumps every time I read it.

Apple Tree Yard

On the surface Yvonne Carmichael has it all: a successful career, a happy marriage, two much loved children. So why does she feel so unfulfilled? A chance encounter with a handsome stranger under the Houses of Parliament seems to give her a new lease of life, a chance to break away from the safe, steady world she has built around herself. But a random act of violence brings that world crashing down and forces Yvonne to make a drastic decision, one that threatens to destroy her life. Louise Doughty excels at creating bone-chilling stories by delving into the darkness that exists at the heart of seemingly ordinary lives. One of the things I loved about Apple Tree Yard was that, through its second person narration, it managed to turn the reader into a voyeur. Much like the CCTV camera hidden in the titular yard, we are at once removed from and yet colluding in the horrifying events that unfold.

He Said/She Said

Laura and her boyfriend Kit are at a festival in Cornwall watching a solar eclipse when Laura interrupts the apparent rape of a woman called Beth. They call the police and a man is arrested. However, as Beth becomes ever more entwined in Laura and Kit’s lives it becomes clear that she is getting too close for comfort. This is an extraordinary novel that clouds your perception throughout, much like the eclipse that sets the whole story in motion, so that you are never sure if what you are seeing is the whole picture or just a strange trick of the eye.

The Last Days of Summer

When Jasper Curtis is released from prison and returns home to live with his sister and her two daughters he assures them that he is a changed man, but soon trouble comes calling with horrifying consequences. Here is a novel where the landscape and searing temperature of Texas become characters in their own right and add to the intensity of this terrifying story. Vanessa Ronan’s thriller drips with tension and foreboding from the first sentence to the last.

Lie With Me

This chilling thriller is narrated by Paul, a failed author and pathological liar. One night at dinner Paul meets Alice, a widow. They become involved and Alice invites Paul to stay with her at the villa she owns on an idyllic Greek island. But the trip turns into a nightmare where the ghosts of both Paul’s and Alice’s pasts come back to haunt them and Paul’s lies finally start to catch up with him. I read this novel in one sitting and loved the way Sabine Durrant managed to combine beautiful, hypnotic prose with a killer plot and truly unexpected twist.

Nuala Ellwood is the daughter of an award-winning journalist. Inspired by her father’s and other journalists’ experiences with post-traumatic stress disorder, she gained Arts Council Funding for her research into the topic and ultimately made it the main theme of My Sister’s Bones, her debut psychological thriller.

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Bookish Podcasts: From Westeros to the Willows and Beyond

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

If you enjoy lively conversations, dogged research, and quirky or dramatic readings, literary-focused podcasts have something intriguing and thoughtful to offer you. Whether you listen on your smartphone or your desktop, at home, in your car, or at work, podcasts are a way for you to feel as though you are a part of an exciting literary salon, enjoying thoughtful commentary from some of today’s most revered authors. Here, we’ve collected 11 bookish podcasts for your listening and learning pleasure.

Black Chick Lit

This exciting podcast is a bi-monthly production that focuses on books by and about black women. The hosts, Danielle and Mollie, dish on prose and characterization, while at the same time infusing the show with humor. Recent episodes have centered around BelovedThe Hate U Give, and An Extraordinary Union.

Bookworm, hosted by Michael Silverblatt

KCRW’s Bookworm is less of an interview and more of a conversation. The key to this podcast’s success is host Michael Silverblatt, who immerses himself in the work of his guests, thus elevating the conversation from the superficial to the in-depth. Recent conversations have been with Yiyun LiColm TóibínMorgan Parker, and Elif Batuman.

History of Westeros

If you are ready to get down, get dirty, and get deep into the history of Westeros, George R.R. Martin’s created land from Game of Thrones, then this podcast is for you. Hosts Aziz and Ashaya leave no stone unturned as they examine, imagine, and draw upon details and clues to provide listeners with their analysis of the series and with their educated guesses at what comes next.

It’s a Mystery Podcast

This is a spine-tingling weekly podcast hosted by mystery writer Alexandra Amor featuring interviews with fellow mystery writers with the goal of helping readers find the right books for them. A recent episode was “Edinburgh Bookshops, Cooking School Mysteries, and Ghostly Inspiration with Paige Shelton.

Modern Love: The Podcast

Sigh. Modern Love is wonderfully devastating enough as a weekly series of essays, but now it’s a podcast as well in which well-known personalities read previously published essays. Afterwards, host Meghna Chakrabarti and Modern Love editor Daniel Jones discuss the original piece and catch up with the writers of the essays to find out where they are now in their modern love lives.

Mr. Bear’s Violet Hour Saloon

Mr. Bear, your host, is the most bookish stuffed bear you will ever meet. Once a week, Mr. Bear reads aloud from favorite works of literature, both old and new, and sometimes interviews writers. This podcast is a great place to discover emerging writers and experience again those classics you already love. Recently, Mr. Bear has been reading aloud from The Wind in the Willows.

Otherppl with Brad Listi

This weekly podcast, features interviews with contemporary authors, poets, and screenwriters. Hosted by The Nervous Breakdown founder and author Brad Listi, recent episodes have included such literary luminaries as Jonathan Safran Foer, Amelia Gray, and Lidia Yuknavitch.

Sword & Laser

Created by Veronica Belmont and Tom Merritt, S&L is a science fiction and fantasy-themed podcast, the overarching goal of which is to build an online community where SFF fans can discuss both genres of books. The most recent episode was a discussion with Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham, the authors who write as James S. A. Corey.

The H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast

For Lovecraft fans everywhere, hosts of this weekly podcast, Chad Fifer and Christopher Lackey, dive deep on a different Lovecraft story each week, discussing plot, structure, and influences, among other things.

The Longform Podcast

Part of Longform, the weekly Longform Podcast features conversations with writers of nonfiction on craft and storytelling. Recent conversations have included John GrishamAriel Levy, and Samin Nosrat.

The New Yorker: Fiction

The New Yorker fiction editor, Deborah Treisman, hosts this monthly readings by and conversation with contemporary authors. Recent episodes have included Junot Díaz on Edwidge Danticat, and Mary Gaitskill on John Cheever.

Have a literary podcast you can’t live without? Share your favorite literary podcast in the comments below.

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Susan Spann’s Favorite Historical Mysteries

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Well-written historical mysteries combine the thrill of the chase with an immersive trip to another time and place. Susan Spann, author of the Hiro Hattori novels, understands the excitement history brings to a mystery. Her novels, set in 16th century Japan feature a unique crime-solving duo—a ninja assassin and a Jesuit priest—who join forces to hunt down killers in samurai-era Kyoto… and beyond. Here, she shares her top five historical mysteries.

I love the way historical mysteries let me travel in time, as well as location, to catch a killer. The best ones read like a page-turning thriller, immersing readers in the sights and smells of a different place and time without allowing historical details to overwhelm the excitement of a fast-paced, twisting plot. Here are my top five historical mystery reads, which span the globe as well as the calendar.

Strange Gods

The stellar opening novel in Annamaria Alfieri’s series is set in early 20th century British East Africa. Fans of The African Queen will love the intrepid Vera McIntosh and her partner in crime-solving, British policeman Justin Tolliver, whose quirky romance blooms as they attempt to discover the truth behind the murder of Vera’s uncle, who was found with a Maasai spear in his back.

The Daughter of Time

Though published in 1951, Josephine Tey’s final novel involves a modern detective’s investigation of King Richard III’s alleged murder of the famed “princes in the tower.” In addition to a fine mystery, and some excellent historical sleuthing, Tey’s masterpiece examines the way the “truth” sometimes depends on who’s telling the tale.

Shinjū

When a samurai woman and an impoverished artist are discovered dead in Kyoto’s Kamo River, the apparent victims of a double suicide, only detective Sano Ichiro suspects foul play. To expose the truth, he must risk his honor and his life. As an author of mysteries set in medieval Japan, I love Laura Joh Rowland’s Sano Ichiro series from start to finish. Readers new to the series will want to start here, at the beginning.

The Secret Daughter of the Tsar

Though shelved in historical fiction, this page-turning debut novel features a unique, dual-timeline retelling of one of history’s most compelling mysteries, and an unexpected answer to what really happened to Anastasia and the heir to the Romanov throne.

Susan Spann is the award-winning author of the Hiro Hattori / Shinobi Mysteries. Betrayal at Iga (Seventh Street Books, July 2017) is the fifth in her acclaimed series featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo. Her debut novel, Claws of the Cat (Minotaur, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month and a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel. Susan has a degree in Asian Studies and a lifelong love of Japanese history and culture. She lives in California with her husband, two cats, and a highly opinionated cockatiel.

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Best Book Club Picks for July 2017: Psychological Thrillers, the Road to Recovery, and More

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Is your book club scrambling for a July read? We’ve got you covered! Here, we’ve pulled the best book club picks coming out this month. Whether you’re in the mood for a memoir about a woman regaining her sight, or would prefer to lose yourself in a gripping psychological thriller, we have the book to get your club chatting. For more excellent picks, check out our Summer Previews!

In Patient H69 Vanessa Potter tells the harrowing story of her struggle with Neuromyelitis Optica Spectrum Disorder. With the onset of the disorder, Potter was suddenly both blind and paralyzed. The paralysis left first, but for Potter, regaining her sight was a far larger ordeal. This book is Potter’s tale of gaining her sight back bit by bit, and she weaves scientific background about her illness, sight, and the brain into her narrative. If your book club loved Brain on Fire, then this memoir is sure to spark fascinating conversations.

Thandi has always felt caught in the middle. Born to an American father and a South African mother, she’s never felt like she truly belonged, and comments that she’s “not, like, a real black person” only solidify her feelings of isolation. When her mother dies, Thandi begins to wonder how people find the strength and will to move forward and live after experiencing tragedy. In vignettes, she meditates on race, home, grief, and motherhood. This book has been named a must-read summer novel by the Huffington PostBuzzfeedLA Daily News, and more. You don’t want to miss out on this one.

Readers, you’re likely already familiar with the work of Linda Castillo. She’s the author of the bestselling series of Kate Burkholder thrillers, and now, she’s back with a new installment that will keep you up chatting late into the night (whether or not you’ve read the other Kate Burkholder adventures). Joseph King is on the run. He escaped from prison, where he was serving time for killing his wife. Joseph immediately heads back to the Amish community he used to be a part of, and kidnaps his own children. Police Chief Kate Burkholder gets involved, and soon finds herself racing to prove Joseph’s innocence. But if Joseph didn’t kill his wife, who did?

Paula Stokes’ latest novel begins with the tragic death of a budding star. Genevieve Grace wakes up from a coma to learn that a drunk driver hit the car she was riding in with her boyfriend, Dallas. Genevieve survived, but Dallas died that night. As the country lashes out at the other driver, Genevieve struggles to recall her memories of that night and fight the nagging suspicion that the full truth of what happened has yet to be revealed. There’s a pinch of mystery here, but it’s the exploration of grief, loss, and forgiveness that will captivate readers.

For book clubs that love memoirs and are interested in World War II history with a personal spin, there’s no better book to pick up this month than Inara Verzemnieks’ Among the Living and the Dead. Inara was raised in the United States but was always aware of her Latvian heritage and how World War II pulled her grandmother and her sister away from one another for half a century. In this book, Inara travels back to the village where it all began, and makes peace with the struggles her family endured.

If your book club is in the mood for an engrossing psychological thriller, look no further than Michael Robotham’s latest. Agatha and Meghan have two things in common: They’re both pregnant, and they’re both keeping secrets. One of Agatha’s secrets is that she religiously reads Meghan’s online blog. She’s obsessed with the perfect life Meghan appears to be leading, as the wife of a handsome and caring husband and the mother to two beautiful children. When Agatha realizes that their due dates are within the same month, she decides to finally approach Meghan and the interaction changes both of their lives forever. Be warned: You may have trouble sleeping after reading this dark tale. You may want to grab a nightlight when you’re picking up cheese and wine for the meeting.

For book clubs that love discussing complicated dynamics and relish sharing in dysfunctional drama that isn’t their own, then Pretend We Are Lovely will be a home run. Get acquainted with the Sobel family of Blacksburg, Virginia. Parents Francie and Tate both have issues with food, whether the problem is consuming too much or too little. They lost their son years ago, and the stress of the loss has permeated their lives and trickled down to their daughters, too. Then, Francie disappears, and the Sobel clan will have to reckon with their past in order to move forward.

Last spring, Kara Thomas thrilled young adult readers with her debut The Darkest Corners. Now she’s back with a gripping tale about a missing girl and a friendship built on lies. As the new girl in town, Kacey Young is willing to accept any friends who come her way, even with classmates who bring her to the site of a massacre to hold a seance. Kacey thought that creepy night might solidify her friendship with Bailey and Jade, but the girls ignore her the next day, and then Bailey goes missing and Kacey’s involvement in her disappearance is called into question by the police. Book clubs looking to dive into a book that explores the psychology of teenage girls will devour this new release.

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Christina Lauren on Empowered Heroines and Fighting Everyday Sexism

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

As our loyal readers know, the Bookish team adores Christina Lauren. We’ve followed along with their Beautiful and Wild Seasons series, and were ecstatic to dive into their first standalone, Dating You / Hating You. It’s a contemporary romance that follows two talent agents who find themselves competing for the same job and fighting their growing sexual tension. We caught up with both Lauren Billings and Christina Hobbs (the writing duo behind the pen name Christina Lauren—often affectionately shortened to CLo) at BookCon and chatted with them about their latest release, everyday sexism, and the best parts of romance novels.

Bookish: This is your first standalone, and it shares a few elements with your debut, Beautiful Bastard: an office romance, a mix of desire and aggravation. What was it like to revisit that setting and explore it in a brand new way?

Lauren Billings: When we had this idea, we weren’t thinking about Beautiful Bastard or trying to redo it in any way. But as the concept evolved, it started to feel like a grown-up BB and the more we discussed it the more we thought, “Yeah, this is something we can do. This is our wheelhouse.” One of the reasons why people really like BB is because it is sort of ridiculous and over the top. We wanted Dating You to be grown-up CLo but still have that element of the absurd. The shenanigans that Evie and Carter engage in bring that absurdity. Now instead of banging all over the office (like in BB), these are characters who are resorting to really terrible behavior and pranks because they’re driving each other crazy.

Bookish: What is your favorite part of romances to write?

Christina Hobbs: I’m realizing I have a very specific male character that I enjoy writing. I love the Carters, the Ansels, the Lukes—the really charming, funny guys. So for me, the scenes that are the most fun to write are the ones where the leads make each other laugh.

LB: My favorite part is when the characters first meet. I love meet cutes. That’s where you set up their personalities and their dynamic. It’s so fun. When I get stuck, I write kissing, but my overall favorite part to write is that first meeting.

Bookish: All of your books have strong feminist themes in them, but this one deals with sexism in a very head-on way. Evie and the other women in her office face a lot of everyday sexism, the kind that even Carter is sometimes oblivious to. Aside from being relatable to your readers, why was it important for you to feature that in this book?

LB: Both Christina and I had experiences in the workplace where we’d work equally hard as a male counterpart and be relegated to a different place on the hierarchy, but I think the more common experience is inadvertent sexism. I worked with people who reported to me who would call me kiddo or sweetie or honey. These are subtle things that chip away at you bit by bit.

When we first meet Evie’s boss Brad in this book, the reader notices the ways that he’s sexist towards Evie because she notices it. But when it happens in your own work place, often you initially let those little insults slide. You think, “Is it just me? Am I being sensitive?” And the insults build up over time. The subtle sexism is where it all starts; it’s the root.

CH: With sexism, there is also a level of privilege. Carter isn’t affected by it in the same way that Evie is, so he doesn’t have to see it if he doesn’t want to. The first time he does he has a moment of realizing he receives preferential treatment.

Bookish: Carter is described often in this book, and Evie thinks a lot about how hot he is. Carter is definitely attracted to Evie, but at least on the page, he doesn’t focus on her body in the same way. Similarly, her pleasure always takes center stage in their intimate moments. It reads like a subversion of the male gaze. Is that how you intended it?

LB: Absolutely, 100%. Like you said, what we notice about Carter is how he looks walking off down the hall in his pants, and a lot of that is for the romance reader. We want our readers to be able to visualize the hero and identify with the heroine. Carter looks at Evie and he sees her intelligence, her strength, her frustration, and he admires all of those things about her. We hope readers will see him appreciating those parts of her and maybe they’ll appreciate those aspects in themselves.

Bookish: In romantic comedies, women who are “married to their jobs” take a lot of heat and get told to take a step back. But here, Carter is also married to his job and he doesn’t ever expect Evie to step back. What made you want to play with that trope in this way?

CH: It’s something we deal with in our own lives. When you’re on a deadline, you have to work. We both have marriages that are truly equal partnerships and husbands who support that.

LB: And our husbands are just as dedicated to their own jobs. To be honest, it’s one of the reasons I’m passionately in love with my husband. He’s so good at his job and it matters so much to him. I think that’s incredibly sexy. I value hardwork and if Carter was slacking while Evie was working hard, it would be difficult for me to write him in a swoony way.

CH: I also don’t think we’d root for a heroine who would give all of that up for the hero. Writing strong women in our books is absolutely intentional and important. Those are the women we surround ourselves with, and the women we are. We’re opinionated and strong, so it’s natural that our characters would be as well. And we like to show that there are different types of strength. Some of our women are loud, some are quiet, but they all know who they are and what they deserve. Especially when it comes to writing sex in our books, we want our women to own their sexuality and not be ashamed of it.

Bookish: Evie is older and established in her career, Carter is young and talented but a bit naive sometimes—which is another flip of popular tropes. How did this influence how you wrote their dynamic?

CH: You wanted that.

LB: I did! We’ve written a bunch of books where the man was older, and not because we thought it was sexier. It stemmed from each character’s backstory and life experience up until that point.

Here, we wanted Evie to be older and more experienced because the job that they are both up for should be hers. Logically, she should get it. But because there isn’t a level playing field there it’s called into question.

Bookish: Female friendships are important in all of your books, and a lot of your characters work together. Do you gravitate towards these relationships because you two work together?

LB: That’s so funny! I think you may have pointed out something that we’re not totally aware of. The workplace dynamic comes naturally to us. Our working relationship really is like a marriage. We lean on each other for more than just work stuff; we lean on each other for everything that goes on in our day. In some ways, I feel like writing the female friendships in our books is just as intimate as writing the couple’s dynamic.

CH: Also, people spend such a huge chunk of their day at work so it’s only natural that those people who help you get through it become important to you.

Bookish: You’re capturing a fascinating point in life. Basically from kindergarten to college, friends are on roughly the same track. But after that some get married, some follow their career path, some travel, some have kids. It’s easy to feel like your own accomplishments don’t stack up, and both Evie and Carter feel this way, like they’re failing at adulthood. How do you see this affecting each of them as characters?

LB: We do hold out those yardsticks. Even when you’re married with kids and have a job, you still compare yourself to your friends who are doing other things. Society has these expectations of a specific track you go down, and I think a lot of that is bullshit. There are more paths now, I believe, but I still feel like 30 years old is that flashing sign: You’re supposed to have some of these boxes checked by now.

The very first moment you see that is when Evie is going to Michael Christopher and Steph’s house. She sees that they have a mailbox with their name on it, and a doorknocker, and a three-year-old kid and she doesn’t even have a significant other. For Carter, he had a failed engagement, his younger brother is more successful, he doesn’t want to disappoint his parents, and now he might lose his job.

In a lot of our other books, the characters’ careers were set so it was fun to write characters who were struggling with it.

Bookish: This is a standalone, but if you were able to give one of the characters a spinoff, which would you choose?

Both: Daryl.

CH: I also really love Michael Christopher. I would send him, Steph, and Morgan on a roadtrip. But I’d still pick Daryl. There was a point where our editor asked if we were intending for Daryl and Eric to be having a thing. And we said, “Maybe they are…” It was totally inadvertent.

LB: Our editor also called us out because at one point Jonah was named Derrick, and he was like “You have Daryl, Eric, and Derrick.”

Bookish: You’ve written so many books. Do you ever run into the issue of accidentally reusing the same name?

CH: I never remember anything. I would most definitely write a book with the same name for a different character. Lo would stop me; she’s good remembering thing like that.

Christina Lauren is the combined pen name of long-time writing partners/besties/soulmates and brain-twins Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings, the New York Times, USA Today, and #1 international bestselling authors of the Beautiful Bastard and Wild Seasons series, Sublime, and The House.

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Signs It’s Time To Say “Boy, Bye”

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Heather Demetrios’ latest young adult novel explores one girl’s realization that her boyfriend’s behavior has turned from attentive to abusive. Demetrios was in a similar relationship herself and knows just how common the problem is. Here, she shares warning signs that can help readers to recognize abusive behavior.

Most of the female readers I talk to who’ve read my new book, Bad Romance, tell me that the topic hits really close to home. I’m not surprised: One in three teens is affected by dating violence. Almost every single woman I know has been touched in some way by the epidemic. After spending over two years in my own bad romance, I’m pretty good at recognizing the signs. If you go to the book’s website, you’ll find tons of resources, including a quiz that will help you see if you’re in a healthy relationship or not.

In Bad Romance, my main character, Grace, falls for a boy who is charming and sweet, manipulative and cruel. She doesn’t realize that he’s bad news right away, and once she does wizen up, she’s in too deep. Here are some of the things that she gets woke about by the end of the book:

Put-downs
This is one of the ways that abusers control their significant others. My boyfriend told me I wasn’t as “deep” as him, that I was a “wet blanket.” He knew just how to hit me where it hurt. Making critical comments about your personality, appearance, intelligence, or beliefs is a major sign of abusive relationships. It might seem harmless, but over time these comments can lead to suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, and generally crap self-worth.

Controlling behavior
This was something it took me a long time to notice. At first I thought my boyfriend just really loved me and wanted to be with me. Eventually I began to see that it was about power. He would insist on being given priority over my friends, control the guys I could talk to, and say which schools I applied to. Control also often turns to obsession: My boyfriend would watch me sleep at night and insist on reading my diary. He wanted me to account for my schedule, wanted to know who I ate lunch with, and who drove me home after rehearsal.

Jealousy
This one is huge. It can be so hard to see jealousy for what it is because it almost seems romantic, right? He loves you so much that he can’t bear to see you even talking to another guy because he’s so afraid of losing you. It’s the whole Edward and Bella thing. My boyfriend made a rule that we weren’t allowed to hug someone of the opposite sex. He would spy on me at work to make sure I wasn’t flirting with other guys. He brought a baseball bat on campus so that he could beat the shit out of a boy who liked me (thankfully, I was able to convince him this was a bad idea). This jealousy started out small, but grew over time. A little bit of jealousy here and there is nothing to worry about, but if jealousy plays a big role in your relationship, this is for sure something to look at. You’ve gotta watch this sign like a hawk.

Threats
This is where it starts to get serious. “I’ll kill myself if you break up with me.” “I’ll kill you if you break up with me.” “I’m going to kick his ass if I see you talking to him again.” “I’ll break up with you if you don’t have sex/go out/do these drugs with me.” If any of this sounds remotely familiar, run like hell in the opposite direction. This isn’t love—it’s about power and that other person’s severe psychological problems.

Isolation
When I first started going out with my boyfriend, I had a huge group of friends and was very social. By the end, I’d dropped several friends, had major fights with my closest one (to the point that we weren’t speaking for months), pretty much left my church, and was ditching classes I loved because my boyfriend wanted to see more of me. I had never felt so alone in my life. It felt like no one could possibly understand what I was going through. When anyone tried to tell me I should break up with him, I built a wall between us—or my boyfriend did it for me. It was a very us-against-the-world mentality, and it was lonely and terrifying.

Manipulation
It’s hard to know when you’re being manipulated, and it usually takes a long time to get hip to how your partner is manipulating you. Usually this looks like making you feel bad if you want to do something with your friends or you want to do an activity that takes you away from your partner. Abusers might make you feel like you’re in the wrong when you confront them about something or convince you that you’re imagining things when they give you the cold shoulder or punish you in some way. This always looks like your boyfriend or girlfriend not taking personal responsibility for their own feelings and actions: They will make it seem like their reactions are normal, and that they’re only acting this way because you did X or said Y. Start paying attention, especially when you know they did something uncool, confront them, and then you wind up apologizing. This is a total mind game and it’s crazy-making.

These are just a few of the signs of an abusive relationship. If you even think you might be in a bad romance, please reach out to someone you trust. Tell them what’s going on. Don’t go through this alone. You need friends, a teacher, a sibling, or a cool aunt or parent to help you through. I promise that you will find the right person someday—someone who treats you with the love and respect you deserve.

Editor’s Note: If you or anyone you know needs help further identifying or escaping from an abusive relationship, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) or chat with them online.

Heather Demetrios is the author of several critically acclaimed novels including Something Real and I’ll Meet You There. She is a recipient of the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award and has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When she isn’t traipsing around the world or spending time in imaginary places, she lives with her husband in New York City. Originally from Los Angeles, she now calls the East Coast home.

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K.A. Tucker’s Favorite New Adult Romance

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

K.A. Tucker’s latest new adult romance is the perfect summer read (we named it one of the best of the season). It follows Catherine, a 24-year-old mom and waitress, who saves the life of Brett, a hockey star. Catherine doesn’t want any fame or attention, but she can’t help her attraction to Brett, who is determined to learn more about the woman who rescued him. To celebrate the book’s publication, Tucker shared five of her favorite new adult romances. Check these out once you’re done reading Until It Fades.

Five of my favorite contemporary romance books are stories written by ladies with strong, identifiable voices and the ability to weave stories that bring to life not only profound romances but multifaceted characters. Here they are in no particular order.

God-Shaped Hole is the destined-for-tragedy love story about two lost, artistic souls finding each other in LA, a city which they both abhor. Tiffanie DeBartolo has a personal way of writing. Her words flow fluidly and honestly, and her main characters feel real in all their peculiarity. This story gripped me from the very first pages.

This is a classic story about two people with tragic pasts finding each other and love, but with a twist: Archer cannot speak and is somewhat of a social pariah in his small town of Pelion, Maine. Mia Sheridan’s writing always enthralls me. She writes with emotion. Her stories are well-developed and beautiful, her prose is poetic, and the romance is jump-off-the-page sensual.

It Ends With Us tells the story of florist Lily, who meets and falls in love with charming and gorgeous neurosurgeon, Ryle. Their relationship seems picture-perfect… until it isn’t. I can’t say much more without giving too much away, but I will say that it puts readers into the shoes of a very real and difficult situation that many people struggle to make sense of.  It’s a sobering tale, but it’s delivered in Colleen Hoover’s signature style, laced with comfort and brimming with her inimitable humor.

This is a darker love story about the cunning Olivia Kaspen, who uses her ex-boyfriend’s amnesia as an opportunity to rekindle their romance, despite the fact that he has moved on. Olivia is not the most redeeming character and she does some despicable things, but you find yourself rooting for her all the same. I credit that to Tarryn Fisher’s writing; it evokes emotion and deep consideration for human nature. This is a book I read years ago, and yet I have never forgotten the visceral feeling I was left with at the end.

This novel tells the story of two characters—thirty-year-old tutor Anna Emerson and sixteen-year-old T.J. Callahan—who end up stranded on an uninhabited island for years after their plane crashes. Don’t let the age difference deter you from trying out this book. Tracey Garvis-Graves strings readers along at a painstakingly slow pace and in an honest way, allowing them to experience the growth between these two characters as they face the many challenges of their situation and, over time, as T.J. matures into a man.

K.A. Tucker writes captivating stories with an edge. Her books have been featured in national publications including USA TODAYThe Globe and MailSuspense Magazine, and Publishers Weekly. She currently resides in a quaint town outside Toronto with her husband and two beautiful girls.

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Jill Dawson on Her Fascination with Patricia Highsmith

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Jill Dawson is fascinated by Patricia Highsmith—though, let’s be honest, who isn’t? While the rest of us merely read Highsmith’s novels over and over, Dawson decided to do a bit more research into the life of this mysterious author. The things she learned helped to shape her new novel The Crime Writer. It’s a fictionalized tale that images Patricia Highsmith’s life while she was living in England in the 1960s. Nothing is what it appears to be in this quiet village, and Pat soon finds herself wrapped up in a psychological thriller that seems ripped from the pages of her own novels. Here, Dawson shares what she learned about Highsmith’s time living in England and how it helped to inspire The Crime Writer.

Many people—I was among them—are surprised to discover that novelist Patricia Highsmith lived in England. It’s incongruous somehow: a hard-drinking, smoking, independent Texan writer like Highsmith living in a village as small and inconsequential as Earl Soham in Suffolk. I discovered this from her biography. Having just finished reading The Talented Mr. Ripley, I was thrilled to discover that for three years in the 1960s she’d lived not very far from me.

Highsmith chose the village of Earl Soham—a rural area in the east of England—because it would be good for working “due to [its] extreme English quietude.” It was close to the home of her friend, the nature writer Ronald Blythe. But her real reason for wanting to be there was simple: Highsmith was in love, wildly and as never before, with a married woman. The cottage, she believed could be a secret love nest, the perfect distance from London, where she could invite her girlfriend to stay with her, away from prying eyes.

Of course I couldn’t wait to go there and see the cottage she’d lived in: Bridge Cottage. I found a book of Highsmith drawings where the interior of the cottage is lovingly sketched—(Highsmith was a talented artist, as was her mother). The cottage, roses curling round the door, little stream in the garden, is pretty much unchanged, though the current owners seem unaware of its famous former owner (they run it as a guest house these days). Highsmith bought it in 1964 for the sum of 3,500 UK pounds.

It was her habit to move somewhere inspirational, write for a while using where she was living as a setting, and move on. So she set her novel The Storyteller (published in England as A Suspension of Mercy) in Bridge Cottage, and it made sense for me to use it as a setting too for my novel, The Crime Writer. I couldn’t help thinking that Highsmith would not escape the various demons that pursued her and had fun dreaming up ways that the tropes of her fiction (stalkers, murderers and sexual obsessives) might follow her to the English setting.

Seeing the 17th-century Bridge Cottage and thinking of Highsmith living there, my mind teemed with stories. What would Highsmith make of such a typical English village? In her day there would have been two pubs (now just one); I went into The Victoria to check it out and immediately realized what a strong impression a woman, a stranger, made going into a pub on her own in such a small place. And this in 2015! What would it have been like for Highsmith to drink alone there in 1964? Her idea of being incognito was ridiculous: The locals would have been agog with the scandal and drama of having a famous writer in the village. Whether her sexuality was known is a moot point. Highsmith was highly private, and her only lesbian-themed novel, Carol, had been published under a pen name as The Price of Salt. Highsmith did not put her name on the cover until 1995.

The frustrations Highsmith clearly felt at her girlfriend’s refusal to leave her marriage caused her pain, but on the other hand loneliness, longing, and being in love were states that suited her. Highsmith wrote in her diary that without a lover “I cannot develop as a writer any farther, or sometimes, even exist.”

I contacted author Ronald Blythe. Now 95, he still lives in Suffolk, and agreed to talk to me about Highsmith. He told me that they had shared “grim sandwiches” in local pubs and he had showed her churches and architecture, and she had in return cooked him the occasional supper at Bridge Cottage. “She wasn’t at all a good hostess,” Blythe said. “It was obvious she wanted her life back to herself, to go back to her typewriter and work.”

Despite Highsmith’s famously difficult personality, Ronnie spoke affectionately of her and in a postcard he wrote that their friendship had been “tender and true.” I tried to be faithful to that, as I wandered around Earl Soham, always picturing Patricia Highsmith moseying around, doing the same: walking, taking notes, and making up stories.

Jill Dawson is the author of Trick of the Light, Magpie, Fred and Edie, which was short-listed for the Whitbread Novel Award and the Orange Prize, Wild Boy, Watch Me Disappear, which was long-listed for the Orange Prize, The Great Lover, and Lucky Bunny. She has edited six anthologies of short stories and poetry, and has written for numerous UK publications, including The Guardian, The Times, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar. She lives in Norfolk with her husband and two sons.

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Marcus Sedgwick on Borders, Ageless Characters, and Saint Death

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Whether you’re new to Marcus Sedgwick or a longtime fan of his work, you’ve likely heard the buzz around his newest novel, Saint Death. It tells the story of Arturo, a young man living near the US-Mexico border. When an old friend shows up, begging for help after stealing from a violent gang, Arturo must decide if he’ll risk his own life to save his friend’s. All the while, the boys are watched by Saint Death. Here, Sedgwick chats with Bookish about his new novel, mortality, and choices.

Bookish: Can you take us through the research process for this book? Did you know much about Juárez before you decided to start writing about it?

Marcus Sedgwick: Although the book is set in Mexico, the idea behind it began when I saw firsthand migrants and refugees on the French coast, trying to get into the United Kingdom. A long series of reasons (which you can read in full here) made me realize that the story I wanted to tell would be better played out on the Mexico-US border. I knew a bit about Mexico; I knew very little about Juárez aside from where it was. So there was a lot of research for the book. I relied a lot on a friend of mine, a young Mexican academic and writer, who had first introduced me to the emerging folk saint: Santa Muerte. Obviously, I read a stack of books, not just about Mexico but countries to the south, and accounts of the US side of the border too. There were newspapers and magazine articles, not just about Juárez, but about things like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Santa Muerte, and so on.

It quickly became apparent, however, that some very basic facts were hard to come by–the reason being that the non-Mexican press doesn’t report from on the ground in a place like Juárez, and the Mexican press is unable to, because to do so will very often cost the journalist his or her life. Upsetting a narco-lord is a dangerous thing to do. Even to find out which cartel is currently “in charge” of Juárez was tricky–I found some answers by following a number of (anonymous) blogs by people living either side of the border. After about 18 months, I was finally able to make a trip to the city, and visit both Juárez and Anapra (the township just to the northwest of the city, where the book begins) in the care of two very different guides. Both were from the city: I spent some time with an oldish guy called Sergio and then, later, a younger man called Roberto. Each had a very different view of what was happening in Juárez; but it was Sergio’s testimony that I found closer to reality. I could go on, but this is getting long…

Bookish: Can you talk about your decision to write the novel in the Spanish style, using em dashes instead of quotation marks, and Spanish punctuation? As a writer, was it challenging to adapt to a new style?

MS: I wanted to signal to the English-speaking reader in a subtle(ish!) way that we’re in a Spanish-speaking world. Conversely, I didn’t want to italicize the words of Spanish that I include in the book, because this is Arturo and Faustino’s world, and Spanish is their language. But here’s the thing: All of fiction is artificial. People sometimes make the mistake (I think) of believing that realistic fiction is in some way actually real. What fiction has to do is tell the truth, but everything about a novel is actually a construct of some kind, especially dialogue. So in Saint Death I use a false construct of dialogue that is designed to suggest (paradoxically) both familiarity and otherness at the same time.

Bookish: The word “our” is used frequently in the prose, written to include the reader in this journey. It’s our town, our heartache, our fate. Why did you make that choice?

MS: Yes, you’re absolutely right, it’s a deliberate choice to include the reader in the world. One of the thoughts in the book is the belief that no matter how much we might be tempted to see the world as them and us, it’s just not true. Call it globalization or internationalism, the world we live in now is a connected one, and all our actions affect everyone, ultimately. This is why I chose the preface for the book, taken from a book by Charles Bowden: “This book is about other stories, that occur over there, across the river. The comfortable way to deal with these stories is to say they are about them. The way to understand these stories is to say they are about us.”

Bookish: In some ways, this book is about choices: What do we do at the crossroads, for ourselves or for others? It’s also about inevitability: “Don’t worry where you’re going; you will die where you have to.” What was the hardest thing about balancing these two elements?

MS: Yes, you’re right, both these things were in my mind as I wrote, but I like to balance opposites in my books, so it wasn’t too hard to do. One of the things that lies underneath lots of my books is trying to show that life is full of opposites–and that very often sanity lies in the position of balance, rather than extremes. As you say, there’s also the concept in the book of bridges–both literally (in terms of the border crossings) but also metaphorically– representing those moments when we move from one thing to another. The book features some thoughts of Carl Jung (hidden in the character of Carlos)–Jung saw the number five as symbolizing the bridge. Five is halfway from one to nine, after all, so I used the number five a lot in the book. Jung also wrote a lot about transformations, so there are many oppositional transformations depicted, most notably in the chapter called “Arturo’s Dream.”

Bookish: We never find out exactly how old Arturo is. He shows incredible maturity at points, but then we’re reminded through other characters that he is young, not a kid, not quite a man yet. Why did you choose to not disclose his age?

MS: I have always resisted the belief that we need to give a precise age to our characters. Obviously sometimes it’s necessary, but mostly I don’t think it is. I could write an essay about this deceptively simple question, but I’ll try to keep it short! For one thing, it’s not necessary to know exactly how old Arturo, Faustino, and Eva are; we know they’re young people, not little kids, on the way to being adults. There’s a concept called “masking” in the comic book world which argues that an illustrative style that shows characters’ faces more simply (and less “realistically”) enables the reader to project themselves into the shoes of those characters. In addition, I don’t think someone’s age is the most interesting thing about them, it’s enough to have a rough idea. In the same way, I rarely give much physical description of how my characters look–how someone looks is again (very often) the least interesting thing about them. What makes people people, and what makes characters become real, is seeing what they think, what they say, how they interact with others, and so on. In Arturo’s case, I often find young people in difficult situations show unbelievable maturity—because they have to—but then again, he is still just a kid, after all.

Bookish: Santa Muerte never speaks or takes corporeal form, but she is a character in this book—one that is awed, feared, and respected. Were there challenges to writing characters, like Arturo, who are constantly aware of their own mortality?

MS: There’s a long relationship with Death in Mexico, stretching way back to the form of worship of the Aztecs and so on. In the modern world, we have the Days of the Dead, the worship of Santa Muerte (small but rising rapidly) and the image of Catrina (depictions of a pretty, skull-faced lady). Some people argued that it’s because Mexican people are less afraid of Death, some that it’s because they’re more afraid of Death. Whatever the truth of that, it’s certainly the case that Mexico has a more open dialogue with Death than many other cultures. So I found it “fun” (because I like thinking about Death) to have my characters pondering mortality, which is a common enough thing in a violent world, as well as having Santa Muerte drifting in and out of the book, and their lives. By the way, if you want the best account of this subject, I recommend Death and the Idea of Mexico by Claudio Lomnitz.

Bookish: This novel tackles a number of complicated topics (everything from American-funded cartels to immigration to environmental change), but it never feels overstuffed. How did you go about weaving these together without overwhelming the story or the reader?

MS: It was important to me that the book was more than just a tragedy set on the border. I wanted the reader to have a sense at least of the context of events which is causing problems in these areas, because I want the reader to get the sense that we will be seeing many more such flashpoints around the world (and often close to home) unless we start to take a radically different view of how the world should be composed. In order to do that successfully in a traditional manner, I would have had to write a book that was five times as long, and which probably very few people would have read. Instead I used a sort of Greek chorus of small (less than one page) chapters, which are interspersed between the main chapters of the book: These offer a range of views about all sorts of things that have and are affecting the borderland.

Bookish: We see two figures being referred to as kings in this book: Jesus and Arturo. Is that because you see Arturo as a Christ-figure or more because Jesus represents the humanity in God?

MS: I had a long conversation with someone about this when the book first appeared in the UK. Her view was that the book could either be read as a condemnation of the idea of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins, or, in fact, an endorsement of it. I agree with her view. I called Arturo the King because of the decisions he is faced with taking, but I cannot say more without giving away very large spoilers!

Bookish: Siggy says to Arturo at one point, “You are at the hardest point of all. You are not a kid. You are not a man. You are somewhere in the middle.” What do you think it is that makes life so difficult when you’re at that point?

MS: Being a teenager is a pretty intense experience for most people. For some it’s a breeze, yes, but for many more people it’s a crazy time in which your body changes, your mind changes, in which you almost literally become a new person. It’s also accompanied by lots of new thoughts and experiences: things like sex, thoughts about mortality maybe. This time of life is that bridge I was talking about earlier—it’s the bridge between childhood and adulthood. And the kind of adult we become is very dependent on how we survived our teenage years. I believe many adults neglect that fact, intentionally or otherwise, but if we are really to understand who we are as adults, we can do no better than see how we got there.

Bookish: The book explores one of the reasons for the refugee crisis, while also explaining that natural disasters (resulting from climate change) will cause more displacement in the future. What is a resource that you recommend for readers wanting to educate themselves about these problems, and get involved in finding solutions?

MS: I guess I’m not alone in feeling that the world is in an especially fine mess at the moment. It can feel hopeless and as a result, it can feel depressing. But I think that ironically it also means we are in a time when it might be possible to change things. If you look at how close the elections in the US and the UK last year were, how close the French election is turning out to be, a couple of percent either way can make all the difference. Even if you’re not old enough to vote yet, you can have conversations with people who are; engage them, debate with them. I think part of the reason we’ve come to this place is that too many people haven’t been engaged with politics (in the broadest sense of the word). Now, we’re seeing a rise in membership and grassroots funding of organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), to give just one example; an example that shows that people are realizing not only that we have to try and make a difference, but that we can, too. To do that, we have to educate ourselves: read quality newspapers and join organizations like Amnesty International, and so help them raise funds; or in the case of climate change, follow the work that NASA has been doing. There are lots of good sources for news about the climate and theirs is among the best.

Marcus Sedgwick was born and raised in Kent in South East England, but now lives in the French Alps. His books have won and been shortlisted for many awards; most notably, he has been shortlisted for Britain’s Carnegie Medal six times, has received two Printz Honors, for Revolver and Ghosts of Heaven, and in 2013 won the Printz Award for Midwinterblood.

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