Julie C. Dao: Women I Write Should Never, Ever Be Underestimated

Originally published on Bookish.com, an editorially independent division of NetGalley.

Bookshelf, bookshelf, on the wall. What is the most anticipated fall release of all? To be fair, there are quite a few. But Julie C. Dao’s Forest of a Thousand Lanterns has been at the top of our list for a while. It’s a dark fairy tale retelling that reimagines the Evil Queen from “Snow White” rising to power in a world inspired by Imperial China. To celebrate the book’s release, we chatted with Dao about writing a villain, the power of beauty, and why you should never, ever underestimate any of her female characters.

Bookish: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is a retelling/origin story for the Evil Queen from “Snow White.” Which elements of the original tale or character did you want to keep? Which elements did you want to leave behind?

Julie C. Dao: I wanted it to be a completely original reimagining of “Snow White” that was like nothing I had seen before in YA, but I also wanted to hold on to important elements of the old fairy tale. It’s crucial, when writing a fairy tale retelling, to ground the reader in your story. I wanted to make my reader feel comfortable, make them think this is going to be like the tale with which they’re familiar, and then… yank the rug from underneath them! From the original “Snow White,” I wanted to keep the magic mirror, the apple, and the stepmother/stepdaughter dynamic, but I twisted these concepts to fit my own purposes. In doing this, I hoped to make the reader still recognize the inspiration behind the story, but at the same time think of FOTL as fresh and new.

Bookish: What is the hardest part of writing a villain? What is your favorite part?

JCD: I knew I had my work cut out for me with someone like Xifeng who has a character arc that spirals downward. My biggest concern was making her somewhat sympathetic, even as she makes all the wrong choices and succumbs to her own greed for power. That was the hardest part: making her believable in some capacity. My favorite part was putting myself in the shoes of someone so completely different from me and everything I believe in—someone who has no moral boundaries whatsoever when it comes to their ambition. It was an interesting experience!

Bookish: The Evil Queen is famously vain, and in the book we see Xifeng grow from resenting how her beauty defines her to learning to use it as a gift and a weapon. How do you view the relationship between beauty and power?

JCD: I knew, in writing a “Snow White”-inspired tale, that I wanted to keep beauty as power and a status symbol in my story. Classic fairy tales favor youth and attractiveness above all and consistently depict older female characters as evil. So what would happen if a princess grew older and her beauty faded according to society’s standards? The stories seem to insist that the aging princess accept this fate, this loss of her perceived importance as a human being. If she dared to fight against this or resent a younger woman, then she was deemed the Evil Queen/Stepmother.

Basically, according to fairy tales, women were supposed to be young and beautiful until they were not, and then go away. I think our society would like to believe we are beyond this, but the worshipping of physical beauty persists. The perception of beauty may change, but the value placed upon it never does. Outward attractiveness—however defined, depending on the time and place—is seen to help get people ahead and earn them attention.

In Forest, Xifeng recognizes that her youth and beauty are vital assets. She’s clever and educated, but believes her physical attributes will win her the throne and help her keep it, and she’s terrified of losing them. This increasing fear and paranoia propel her toward a tragic choice: She essentially sells her soul for the assurance that she will never lose her looks. She is not a queen punished for aging; she is a queen whose self-inflicted punishment is that she herself cannot see her own worth beyond the prejudices of beauty.

Bookish: Xifeng has a Lady Macbeth moment of seeing blood that no one else can see. Did Lady Macbeth also serve as an inspiration for Xifeng?

JCD: Actually, she was not, but I can totally see what you mean! Lady Macbeth is the instigator behind her husband’s deeds and the blood on her hands is guilt for what she has indirectly wrought, if I remember correctly. For Xifeng, however, the blood that appears on her face is a symbol and a reminder that her beauty is fleeting—that once gone, she will have lost what she considers to be her greatest power. Also, Xifeng would never be content pulling the puppet strings in the background. She would want to be front and center!

Bookish: Underestimating women is a big theme in this book. We see Xifeng overlooked as “just a pretty face” time and again, but we also see her fail to realize how strong the Empress truly is. What drew you to this theme?

JCD: It is ironic that Xifeng hates being underestimated, yet falls victim to doing this to other women, isn’t it? I’m drawn to powerful female characters, and when I say “powerful,” I mean all different types of power. So often in fiction and film we associate female strength with perceived traditional masculine characteristics, like wielding a sword and being physically aggressive. But there are so many types of power people are often too happy to overlook: the power of knowing your truth, of being confident in yourself, of protecting the people you love and the beliefs you value, of charging toward your destiny no matter what cost. I wanted to show different types of female strength in book one, and in book two you will see even more. Every single woman I write has a power of her own and should never, ever be underestimated!

Bookish: We see Xifeng and other women judged harshly for their aspirations in a way the male characters are not. Was this element inspired by the Evil Queen’s lust for power or by more modern influences?

JCD: This element was mostly inspired by the patriarchal society in which I chose to set the book, which is a kingdom inspired by Imperial China. Female historical figures like Empress Wu dealt with much prejudice and censure for their methods in seeking power. And yet, when reading about her deeds, it didn’t seem to me like anything the Empress did hadn’t already been done by male rulers of her time. But they didn’t come under the same kind of scrutiny and criticism. The double standard still exists today, unfortunately, with powerful women in fields like business and politics being criticized for qualities for which their male counterparts are praised.

Bookish: At times, Xifeng’s motivation shifts from wanting to claim her destiny to wanting that destiny because of the freedom it promises. Do you think that, in a way, chaining herself to her fate means losing her freedom?

JCD: Absolutely. There’s an irony in that. The thing about Xifeng is that she doesn’t understand the concept of power. She believes that being Empress is all about being front and center, invincible, and feared and loved and respected—which it partly is, in this world. But it’s also a position of responsibility, in that she is tying herself to the fates of everyone involved: She would be the Emperor’s wife, the Crown Prince’s stepmother, and the ruler of everyone in Feng Lu, for whom she is expected to care and govern. It’s a case of not looking at the long haul, the whole picture. She’s charging toward something she does not fully understand yet.

Bookish: The Crimson Army is an army made up entirely of women who live in the mountains. These fighters are only briefly mentioned; will we get to see them in future installments?

JCD: Yes! Without giving away too much, you will find out a lot more about them in book two!

Bookish: Can you give us three words that describe book two?

JCD: Epic adventure quest!

Julie C. Dao is a proud Vietnamese-American who was born in upstate New York. She studied medicine in college, but came to realize blood and needles were her Kryptonite. By day, she worked in science news and research; by night, she wrote books about heroines unafraid to fight for their dreams, which inspired her to follow her passion of becoming a published author. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is her debut novel. Julie lives in New England. Follow her on Twitter @jules_writes.

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Kendare Blake: “I Don’t Really Believe in Endings.”

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

In Kendare Blake’s Three Dark Crowns series, three young queens are vying for the throne. The one to wear the crown will be the one willing to dirty her hands by killing her competition. The second installment, One Dark Throne, takes readers back to this dark world and follows each queen in her attempts to stay alive. Here, Blake shares the inspiration for her murderous storyline, her thoughts on endings, and where our favorite characters may go from here (if they survive).

Bookish: At its heart, this is a story of young women taking their power and agency back from a society that strives to control them. Can you share with us what drew you to this theme?

Kendare Blake: I’ve always enjoyed putting people in sticky situations and seeing how they deal with them. And I enjoy working with complicated women. But the premise of Three Dark Crowns was wholly inspired by a beehive: a matriarchal system where an exiting queen will bear multiple queens and those baby queens kill each other. So it was that brutal bit of nature that drew me to this story specifically!

Bookish: Katharine emerges from the Breccia Domain a changed queen. She starts to break free from Natalia’s plots, but she isn’t completely in control herself. What can readers expect from her in the next book?

KB: In One Dark Throne, expect for her to be almost completely changed, as far as her drive for the crown is concerned. Her physical weaknesses don’t seem to be bothering her anymore either. But the new strength comes at a price.

Bookish: Unlike her sisters, Mirabella spent her life believing she’d face no competition for the throne. But now, everything she thought she knew is slipping away, and she’s struggling to face a future where she may be killed. What were the challenges of writing a character who is experiencing that kind of realization?

KB: Ah, Mirabella, the most powerful and favored triplet. When I started writing, I didn’t think I would like her. She was so sheltered and, despite her love for her sisters, I thought she would react badly when confronted with the realities of her situation. She was the most difficult character to write, perhaps because she and I are the least alike in personality, but I thought she showed surprising spunk, and was open to learning and changing her mind in a way that the other sisters weren’t.

Bookish: With three protagonists each making decisions that impact and change the story, is your plotting process for this series different from the way you plot your other books?

KB: The setup is more complex, setting all the pieces on the board at the start of the game, if that makes sense, but I still don’t really plot. I let the characters go and see what happens. With this many conflicting interests, and this many forceful personalities, they’re bound to get into the dickens without much interference from me.

Bookish: You’ve said you were thinking about this story for a few years before writing it, and now it’s developed from a duology to a four-book series. Who or what has changed the most since that original conception?

KB: Actually, not much has changed, despite adding books and other content (novellas, bonus scenes, etc.). One Dark Throne still ends more or less where it always would have. Now I just get to write the after, when before it would have been left to the imagination. I’m glad to be able to spend more time on the island, and with many different queens, but part of me is melancholy about that. Knowing the end. Knowing the rest. I like unanswered questions, and I don’t really believe in endings. But, I suppose by the time I reach the close of the fourth book, enough questions will have spun out from new conflicts to be able to leave some things unknown.

Bookish: This series is set in a matriarchal society. Did you research similar societies for inspiration or was your focus instead on subverting patriarchal norms?

KB: The only real inspiration was the beehive. It was fun to write the boys who come to the island from patriarchal cultures and watch them try to acclimate. And it was interesting to watch myself make mistakes, like giving characters the wrong last names (the last name should follow the mother’s line) or the wrong inheritances (daughters inherit first).

Bookish: Both titles follow a pattern of Number Dark Object (Three Dark CrownsOne Dark Throne). What’s your process for coming up with titles? Can readers expect them to follow the current pattern?

KB: Ha, you noticed! Yes, we’re sticking with the pattern. It might irritate some people that we’re not going in order—one, two, three—and I’m pretty sure there won’t be a title with the number four in it. So for the folks who like things just so with their numbers, I’m very sorry!

Titles usually show up fully formed for me. If the book is ready to be written (meaning I’ve tossed it around in my head for a few years), it has usually titled itself. Anna Dressed in Blood was one of the first titles that came to mind. It named the ghost and was wholly the title from day one. Three Dark Crowns was originally titled Three Black Witches, but then I wrote the book and they were more queens than witches. Witches is a mainland word in their world, a foreign word.

Bookish: Which character’s journey are you most excited to explore in future books?

KB: I’m excited to continue on with the relationships between the characters. I want to see how they change within their new situations. But I don’t want to name names… because then readers will know they live!

Bookish: Which scene are you most excited to see readers’ reactions to?

KB: The whole thing, really! Those last hundred pages or so the ropes tighten and the bodies start to drop. I just hope they enjoy it. I hope the queens take them for a ride.

Kendare Blake holds an MA in creative writing from Middlesex University in northern London. She is the author of Anna Dressed in Blood, a Cybils Awards finalist; Girl of NightmaresAntigoddessMortal GodsUngodly; and the New York Times bestselling Three Dark Crowns series. Her books have been translated into eighteen languages, have been featured on multiple best-of-year lists, and have received many regional and librarian awards. Kendare lives and writes in Kent, Washington. Visit her online at www.kendareblake.com.

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Reader Spotlight

Blog name: Beauty in Ruins
Blog URL: https://beauty-in-ruins.blogspot.com/
Your name: Bob Milne

A nice place to start is with your blogger origin story – how long have you been reviewing books online and how did Beauty in Ruins start?

I actually started Beauty in Ruins way back in 2009 (wow, has it really been that long?), with a focus on my photography of ruined and abandoned places. I was already reviewing on Goodreads at the time, which allowed me to find my voice and figure out how to approach reviews, and in 2011 those book reviews came to be the driving force behind the blog. I joined NetGalley soon after, and that was what really kicked the blog into gear.

Can you talk a little bit about your preferred approach to writing reviews for books? Has your style evolved over the years?

I think my reviews have become longer over the years, with more detail and personality to them, but my basic approach remains the same. I am always honest about how I felt about the book, even if that means being negative, and I try to avoid relying on comparisons to describe the book. While it doesn’t work for every title, I generally break down the review into content, characters, themes, and emotions. While literary merit is important, and I am happy to speak to an author’s technical brilliance, I also have no problem admitting that I enjoyed a book despite (or sometimes even because of) its serious flaws.

Which upcoming Sci Fi & Fantasy book(s) on NetGalley are you the most excited about recommending to your followers?

My most anticipated title – the one I keep checking on daily for approval – is The Core: Book Five of The Demon Cycle by Peter V. Brett. When so many epic fantasies linger on without end, it’s exciting to have that ‘final’ book on the way.

Black Star Renegades by Michael Moreci is the latest title to catch my eye this week, and sounds like a swashbuckling read. River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey was a great read, so I’m anxious to give Taste of Marrow a read next, and as a big fan of both the original story and the Bruce Campbell movie, Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers by Joe R. Lansdale is a must-read.

      

 

Are there any covers on NetGalley that you’re loving?

I assume it’s because they have so much artwork available, but roleplaying tie-ins always seem to have some of the best covers, so I’m loving Numenera: The Night Clave by Monte Cook & Shanna Germain, and Deadlands: Boneyard by Seanan McGuire. Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeanette NG has a great Victorian look, and while I know it’s a reprint, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip still looks amazing.

      

Do you have any advice for book bloggers who are just starting out?

The best advice I can offer is to always read and review for yourself first, and to not get caught up in the hype of ARCs and review requests. It’s immensely flattering to have authors and publishers asking for your time, but it can become overwhelming. Don’t be afraid to pass on a book that looks kind of interesting, and don’t feel bad about (politely) declining requests. If you’re not enjoying yourself, it will show in your reviews.

Are there particular subgenres that you prefer or find more interesting at the moment? Are there any trends that you are excited to see come or go?

Epic fantasy will always be my go-to subgenre for a read. I love having a massive book to immerse myself in, something to linger over for weeks. I’m excited to see more sword-and-sorcery on the shelves lately, particularly with edgier, more mature authors like Nicholas Eames, Jack Heckel, and Andy Remic (a subgenre I have coined maturesmirk). The one trend that I wouldn’t be at all sad to see less of, and I’m sure I’ll get some hate mail for this, is grimdark. There are grimdark authors I enjoy, and there are still stories worth telling, but I can only sustain so much bleakness in my escapism.

Lightning Round!

Your blog in two sentences:

Beauty in Ruins is a reflection of the imagination, the diversity, and the creativity to be found upon my shelves. My WTF Friday feature is where I dig into the darkest, weirdest corners of the shelves, but otherwise you’ll find a mix of fantasy, horror, adventure, and science fiction.

The last book that made you smile:

The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase by Greg Cox.

Your all-time favorite Sci Fi or Fantasy book:

I have a soft spot for The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman, as it was my introduction to fantasy, but the one book I can reread time-and-time again is Imajica by Clive Barker.

Your favorite character in a book or series:

Elric of Melniboné.

And to finish off our interview, if you could have coffee (…or something stiffer) with any author, dead or alive, who would it be, and why?

Hands down, it would have to be Clive Barker. The depth of his imagination astounds me, almost as much as the breadth of his creativity. There are so many stories he’s teased, but has yet to write, and so much material he’s talked about that never made it into a final draft, I feel like I could pick his brain and ask “But what about…?” questions all night long.

Thanks so much, Bob, for spending time with us and answering our questions! 

Please make sure to check out the Beauty in Ruins blog and more Sci Fi & Fantasy on NetGalley!

Would you like to nominate someone to be featured in our Reader Spotlight series? Fill out this form!

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Leigh Bardugo on Wonder Woman: “I Just Want to See Her Smash the Patriarchy”

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

The summer of 2017 turned Bookish’s editor into a ride-or-die Diana fan, and Leigh Bardugo’s Wonder Woman: Warbringer played a significant role in that transformation. The novel tells Wonder Woman’s origin story, introducing readers to a young girl eager to prove herself and earn her place on Themyscira. She’s given the opportunity to do just that when she encounters Alia, a teenage girl and the personification of the Warbringer, destined to bring the world to blood and ruin. We had the chance to catch up with Bardugo at BookExpo America to talk about female friendships, writing kindness, and why the world needs Wonder Woman now more than ever.

Bookish: Diana is a hero in every way, but a lot of the characters in your other novels exist in a gray area. What was it like to write a character who is so defined by her desire to always do good?

Leigh Bardugo: It was an absolute joy. I was really worried when I went in because it was so essential to me that Diana not seem false and not be presented as a paragon. Just because you’re good and kind doesn’t mean you don’t have flaws or weaknesses or fears or that sometimes you don’t make poor choices, which she does.

When I wrote Six of Crows, depending on what section I was working on, sometimes I’d come out of Kaz’s POV and I would just be exhausted and sad and worried about humanity. Then I would write Diana and I would think, “All right, maybe we’re all going to be okay.” There’s a level of optimism that goes along with her character, and kindness. To me, it’s more about her being kind and compassionate than just being good. That is actually much more wonderful to write than I expected.

Bookish: When writing Diana’s origin story, what was one element of her original tales that you were excited to play with and one element that you decided to get rid of?

LB: I loved writing about the Amazons and putting my own spin on the mythology of Themyscira. I’ll admit I didn’t have any interest in writing about Steve Trevor. I was really charmed by his portrayal in the film, but I wanted this story to focus on the women.

Bookish: Diana, Nim, and Alia are a fantastic trio. They not only celebrate the importance of female friendships, but they showcase that there are many ways to be strong. How did you go about crafting their dynamic?

LB: I’ve written a short story set in our world, but this was very different for me. I spent a lot of time thinking about the way those relationships would be forged and how they would function. In crafting these characters, I was trying to keep them as authentic as possible. I had some wonderful readers who really helped me to work through some of the trickier issues they were dealing with.

It was important to me that even though Diana is the hero of the story, that Alia was a hero too. I wanted all of them to have opportunities to show what they’re made of and to show that feminism doesn’t belong to one person. Feminism doesn’t belong to one kind of person and adventure doesn’t belong to one kind of person. Magic, superpowers, all of those stories don’t belong to one kind of person.

I’m honestly a little heartbroken that I’m never going to write about these characters again. I’m not used to that. I’m used to writing a series or at least being able to say, “Well, maybe I’ll make it a series later.” Leaving them behind is so hard. There are so many stories for that group of characters that I would love to tell.

Bookish: The novel is infused with a lot of humor, both wit and physical comedy—Diana tossing the Lasso of Truth in a Duane Reade bag really sticks out to me. As a writer, how do you find that balance between comedy and the chaos of the world ending?

LB: I think if you only give the reader angst and intensity, the negative emotions start to lose their impact. The reader becomes desensitized. But if I’ve made you laugh and gotten you to let down your guard, it’s going to hurt that much more when I break your heart. (That sound you hear is me cackling.) The balance is one that really emerges in revision, fine-tuning the emotional turns and language so that the funny and tragic moments all get their due.

Bookish: We’re in a moment when Wonder Woman, as a character, is going through a period of rebirth. For years the name seemed to evoke the idea of a woman who manages to juggle a lot of responsibilities, rather than the heroine herself. What do you think it is about her story or about this period in history that is bringing her back into focus?

LB: Maybe because we need her. Maybe because we need her and because this is a great time to see a woman in an action film. We’ve seen more and more of that, and I would love to see even more diverse women in those roles, not just white women. But I think we also need a story of a woman who comes from Themyscira, who comes from a place where peace is a value, who comes from a place where compassion and kindness are values and where being strong is awesome and kicking ass is a delight. I love writing it so much, but those fundamental principles matter so much more now. And we’re all much more aware of that. I don’t know why, because we’ve all been waiting so long.

I wrote an essay about this for Last Night, a Superhero Saved My Life. I loved Wonder Woman as a kid and I stopped loving her as I got older and began to understand who I was as a girl and as a woman in the world. It wasn’t until later that I came back to her. I feel like in some ways all of us are reclaiming her and saying “I don’t care if she’s wearing straps. I don’t care if she’s wearing heels. I just want to see her smash the patriarchy.”

Bookish: Mortal women have a chance to join the Amazons if they call out the name of a goddess in their last moments. Do you know who you’d cry out for?

LB: Hera, Athena, Demeter, Artemis, Hestia, and Aphrodite. They’re my pantheon. But I don’t belong on Themyscira. Too much cardio.

Leigh Bardugo is the #1 New York Times bestselling and USA Today bestselling author of Six of CrowsCrooked Kingdom, and the Shadow and Bone Trilogy. She is the first author in the DC Icons Series, where the DC Comics super hero icons are written by megastar young adult authors. Forthcoming books include Batman by Marie Lu, Catwoman by Sarah J. Maas, and Superman by Matt de la Peña.

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The Most Beautifully Written Books Lana Popović Has Ever Read

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Language can be spellbinding. It can evoke sights, sounds, and smells. It can take you to different worlds and transform you into new characters. Lana Popović’s debut, Wicked Like a Wildfire, is already gaining serious attention for its vivid descriptions and lush writing. To celebrate the book’s release, Popović shared books that captivated her with their stunning writing.

When you’re done adding these books to your TBR pile, head over to our giveaways page to enter to win a copy of Wicked Like a Wildfire.

I have an abiding fascination with exploring the many aspects of beauty on the page—especially when this closer look is rendered in compellingly stunning language. Here are some of my favorite books that find beauty in the strange, the mundane, and the tragic, all gorgeously wrought down to each sentence.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

This contemporary fantasy about blue-haired Karou—a girl at the center of an epic struggle that spills over from another realm into our own—is both visually stunning and lyrically written, and Laini Taylor’s take on angels and demons is dazzlingly original. Though anything that she writes verges on impossibly lovely, this is the book that broke my heart with its beauty and cemented my love for young adult fiction.

Kushiel’s Dart

Never have I read a book that made me want to ply its main character with lush trifles and cocktails in return for more stories as much as this one did. In Terre d’Ange, a land of unsurpassed beauty and grace, Phèdre nó Delaunay de Montrève is an anguissette chosen by Kushiel, the god of justice and vengeance. She’s a stunningly beautiful courtesan and spy who finds pleasure in pain. Brimming with political intrigue, gods, and shatteringly gorgeous love stories, this book is luscious and seductive, an ode to the danger of beauty.

The Fifth Season

This brilliant adult genre-bender—fantasy meets sci-fi meets dystopian—evokes a world built on the backs of orogenes, a minority blessed and cursed with the power of magical seismology, and wields it to deliver blisteringly perceptive social commentary on our own world. N.K. Jemisin’s visuals of a restive land trapped in a state of constant seismic upheaval are stark and stunning, and her exploration of human nature and the vastness of our emotional landscapes is piercingly beautiful, too.

Uprooted

Set in a Slavic-inspired fantasy world, this story follows the narrator into a gorgeous, verdant realm of old magic, sacrifice, and a sinister forest that isn’t what it seems. Agnieszka’s bright, unruly, and willful voice leaps off the page, and I found the twist on Slavic folklore particularly bewitching.

The Likeness

We don’t usually think of psychological/crime thrillers as beautiful, but Tana French’s plunge into the secluded little world of a toxically entwined, co-dependent group of friends—who may or may not be ruthless murderers and manipulators—is beautifully written, breathtakingly perceptive, and true to her unique brand of unsettlingly dark and twisty.

The Hidden Memory of Objects

This contemporary YA with a speculative twist follows Megan, a withdrawn and talented found-object artist, in her quest to prove that her charismatic, gregarious brother didn’t commit suicide like the police believe. Over the course of her own investigation, Megan relies on her newfound ability to see an object’s history by touching it—but only when that history is written in tragedy and pain. Danielle Mages Amato’s writing is clear and luminous, and her incisive exploration of grief, political corruption, and the haunting world of “murderabilia” lingers long after the last page.

Lana Popović was born in Serbia and spent her childhood summers in Montenegro. She lived in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania before moving to the United States, where she now calls Boston home. She works as a literary agent with Chalberg & Sussman, specializing in young adult literature.

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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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NetGalley Author Interview: Gabe Hudson

Watch our author video interview, “15 minutes with… Gabe Hudson,” now! Here, we talk about his debut novel, Gork, The Teenage Dragon, staying in the science fiction genre and where the world of Gork is going next! You don’t want to miss this interview brought to you by NetGalley, Meryl Moss Media and BookTrib.com.

Gork, the Teenage Dragon

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Pub Date: July 11, 2017
Sci Fi & Fantasy, Teens & YA
Published by Knopf

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Gork isn’t like the other dragons at WarWings Military Academy. He has a gigantic heart, two-inch horns, and an occasional problem with fainting. His nickname is Weak Sauce and his Will to Power ranking is Snacklicious—the lowest in his class. But he is determined not to let any of this hold him back as he embarks on the most important mission of his life: tonight, on the eve of his high school graduation, he must ask a female dragon to be his queen. If she says yes, they’ll go off to conquer a foreign planet together. If she says no, Gork becomes a slave.

Vying with Jocks, Nerds, Mutants, and Multi-Dimensioners to find his mate, Gork encounters an unforgettable cast of friends and foes, including Dr. Terrible, the mad scientist; Fribby, a robot dragon obsessed with death; and Metheldra, a healer specializing in acupuncture with swords. But finally it is Gork’s biggest perceived weakness, his huge heart, that will guide him through his epic quest and help him reach his ultimate destination: planet Earth.

A love story, a fantasy, and a coming-of-age story, Gork the Teenage Dragon is a wildly comic, beautifully imagined, and deeply heartfelt debut novel that shows us just how human a dragon can be.

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Reader Spotlight

Blog name: Life Has a Funny Way
Blog URL: https://lifehasafunnywayofsneakinguponyou.wordpress.com/
Your name: Leonie Byrne

Let’s start with the beginning: why did you first get involved with blogging?

It all started a couple of years ago, when I started a blog mainly to get things off my chest. I’ve always loved writing and reading but I’m useless with keeping a journal, so I decided to start a blog to talk about what was going on in my life and the random thoughts I had. The blog worked for my initial idea but I was constantly looking for what my niche could be. Despite being a big reader it never occurred to me that people would want to read my book reviews. I had no idea that there was this whole community of other book lovers out there. I’d often thought about applying for a job as a reviewer in a magazine or newspaper but had no idea where to start! Then an author friend of mine told me about NetGalley. When I started reviewing for NetGalley it made sense to put those reviews on my blog as well as on social media, and so Life has a Funny Way was reborn as a book reviewing blog. I still post other bits and pieces on there but my main passion is the book reviewing!

How has reviewing books changed your experience as a reader?

I’ve tried not to let it change my experience too much if I’m honest. At first I was reading all these amazing reviews from other bloggers or reviewers and they were making them really cool by adding quotes. So, I started writing quotes down as I was reading. But then I realised that this was having a negative impact on my reading. I was hunting down quotes and dragging myself out of the story to write them down. So now I just choose one or two quotes usually from the beginning of the book to use as an introduction. Of course, if I’m reading on kindle it’s easier as I can highlight whole passages if I want to! On the other hand, though it’s enriched my reading experiences in a big way, when you’ve read a ton of books (1733 at last count) it can be hard to remember specifics about what you’ve read. Reviewing allows me to go back at the end of the month, the year, even 10 years later and refresh my memory, not on whether the book was one I enjoyed but why I enjoyed it so much. It also allows me to share my love of books with other people in the book community which in turn can lead to recommendations which will enrich other readers’ lives.

You just started a BookTube channel – how do you like vlogging so far?

Vlogging is so different to blogging! I don’t know what I really expected from vlogging, or how successful I thought I would be, but what I have found is that it’s a lot of fun. Writing is my thing, speaking not so much, so it took a while to get into the swing of things. But once I saw that people enjoyed what I was saying it’s just gotten better and better. It’s introduced me to a community of fellow book lovers which I never knew existed. When I try to talk about books to anyone in real life I see their eyes glazing over and that’s fine, if that’s not their thing. But talking to my subscribers on YouTube, I’m talking to people who love books as much as I do, who understand my crazy book loving ways. It’s also been great to get recommendations on books from other people’s channels and share our weird book habits, loves, hates and passions. I’ve also made some great friends who I now speak to over email and I’m going to be starting a book related newsletter with one of them soon. Vlogging has really expanded my horizons.

Are there particular subgenres that you prefer or find more interesting at the moment? Are there any trends that you are excited to see come or go?

I love high and epic fantasy like The Lord of the Rings & A Game of Thrones because you can really get lost in a book which creates a whole world which is alternative to your own. As a writer as well as a reader I admire the incredible talent of writers like Tolkien, Martin and Laini Taylor because they can actually create these books with such beautiful writing, I mean, what would it be like to be inside their minds? Minds where a whole new universe can be created?

Urban Fantasy novels have also long been a favorite, books like Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter series, books which create an alternative world but it’s a different kind, it’s the world which is your own world but better, more adventurous. I always come away with the niggling feeling that maybe there is something else right in the corner of my eye and one day I could just be there at the right place and time to slip into it. It’s pure escapism and I love it!

There’s a huge trend at the moment for “Royalty based” fantasy novels. I loved The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen but I’ve found myself avoiding other “Queen” books. I was in Waterstones over the weekend and that seemed to be all that was on the shelves. I’d like to pick up some books which have original and new ideas. Fantasy is such an amazing genre because a lot of it comes straight from the imagination and can’t really be based on life experience or researched in the way other genres can. That’s why I think it’s so important to come up with new and exciting ideas. I would really like to see more Mermaid books orientated towards adults and YA.

You’re working on a debut novel. Can you talk a little bit about your writing process and how you make time while in university and with an active blog?

Oh well, what can I say about my writing process? It’s very haphazard to say the least. It’s a fantasy novel I’m writing but I keep losing myself in other people’s fantasy writing instead of doing my own! I started my novel about 3 years ago, and just wrote in notebooks whenever I had a spare minute and whenever the muse struck so to speak. Now, I tend to only write when the muse strikes. I need to get a new laptop as mine is really slow which puts me off writing because I can’t be bothered to wait for it to boot up! My blogging, writing short stories, creative writing for university and of course now my Booktube and my full-time job all take up a huge amount of time as well. But when I do sit down to write, I write a lot. Rather than setting myself a goal such as 500 words per day, I find that writing when I feel inspired works better for me because I can sit down and write 5k+ words at a time, but then I might not write again for 5+ months. It’s a slow process but I want to get it right, I’m in no rush!

Which upcoming Fantasy book(s) on NetGalley are you the most excited about recommending?

Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles by JM Sullivan is a title I’ve just requested and I’m hoping to be approved for. I love Alice in Wonderland retellings and I’ve even written a short story version of one myself!

I’ve recently been approved Prophecy Awakened by Tamar Sloan, a novel about two teenagers who get together and set off a chain of events relating to a prophecy, it sounds magical and has a cool cover so I’m looking forward to starting that.

Darien, Empire of Salt by CF Iggulden is another one I’ve just been approved for and it looks like a super cool Game of Thrones style novel so I’m really intrigued by it. There’s a lot to live up to with George RR Martin’s series and I’m hoping this will satisfy my cravings for fantasy-cum-historical fiction!

Rotherweird by Andrew Caldecott has been one of my favorite reads of the year so far. Not just as a Netgalley read but overall it was amazing! It’s all about a town which has been cut off from the rest of England and nobody knows why. There’s a mystery at the centre and it revolves around this really cool fantasy element, but I won’t say anymore because it’s better as a surprise!

Lightning Round!

Your blog in two sentences:

Life has a Funny Way is a quirky blog inhabited by lots of gifs. It’s very welcoming and frequently updated as I do read a lot!

Your favorite 2 publishers for Fantasy titles?

Penguin Random House Group and Harper Fiction have both published some amazing fantasy books in the last 12 months, either under their own name or their imprints.

Your favorite snack(s) to eat while reading:

Vegetarian Pizza & Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Brownie Ice Cream (not together of course!).

And to finish off our interview, if you could go on a road trip with any author, dead or alive, who would it be, and where would you go?

I had to think long and hard on this one because there are so many authors I love, particularly in the fantasy genre. I think, though, that my choice would have to be Laini Taylor, author of Strange the Dreamer. I’ve been a huge fan since first reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone and my fangirling has only grown as time has gone on. On our trip, we would go to Prague which is the setting for Daughter of Smoke and Bone and explore it through the eyes of Karou, the main character in the series.

    

Thanks so much, Leonie, for spending time with us and answering our questions! 

Please make sure to check out the Life Has A Funny Way blog, and Leonie’s latest BookTube video, “NetGalley The Reader’s PoV”:

Would you like to nominate someone to be featured in our Reader Spotlight series? Fill out this form!

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Reader Spotlight

Blog name: On Starships and Dragonwings
Your name: Anya

Let’s start with your origin story - how long have you been blogging about Sci-Fi & Fantasy books, and why did you start?

I started the blog in 2010, so six years, time flies! It’s a bit embarrassing to admit, but I started blogging about sci-fi and fantasy books because I wanted to try out blogging in general and realized that books were the thing that I would never get tired of! It’s worked so far I guess :).

Are there particular subgenres that you prefer or find more interesting at the moment? Are there any trends that you are excited to see come or go?

I try to switch between subgenres every book so that I don’t get bored with any one. I’ve found that my preferences don’t align with elements special to any particular subgenre, but more what makes books excellent no matter their subject: strong voice, unique world, beautiful writing, etc. In all subgenres though I’m seeing a trend of authors working hard to bring in mythology from places other than Western Europe and I love that. Since I tend to be more interested in new-to-me magic and monsters and worlds, stories that pull in myths I’m not familiar with are exactly what I’m looking for.

Can you describe the Sci-Fi & Fantasy community? Is there anything unique amongst those contributing to and interested in this genre that perhaps isn’t a characteristic of other literary communities?

Like any community, the Sci-fi and Fantasy community is far flung and varied of course. There is an interesting split between those who read predominantly young adult versus adult sci-fi/fantasy though. I feel like I cross between those two groups of speculative fiction readers and am always trying to push books from the other age category on to readers. Something that has been under close scrutiny lately is diverse representation in sci-fi and fantasy: if you have elves and aliens, it shouldn’t be hard to also have humans with different skin tones and sexualities. Recent outspoken groups against representation seem to have largely united our community to start fixing the problem in response. I’ve always found the sci-fi and fantasy book blogging community to be exceedingly welcoming in part because we’re mostly made up of the nerds and outcasts that often didn’t fit in growing up. We know what it is like to feel excluded and want a space where no one has to feel that way.

Do you have a particular approach to writing reviews for books? Has your style evolved over the years, particularly since becoming a blogger?

When I was writing my very first couple of reviews, I tried to write them as paragraphs waxing lyrical about the book for thousands of words. Then I realized that I both didn’t like trying to write that way and didn’t particularly enjoy reading those reviews. That’s when my bullet-list review style was born! I had always taken notes of the things I wanted to discuss on a post-it note with bullet points and decided to try keeping that format and just expanding a bit where it was appropriate. I’ve stuck with that review style because I really do think that it helps my readers quickly figure out if they’d like a given book and because it makes writing reviews so much easier for me. There are times when I want to break out of that pattern a bit, and at those times I do, but I always find myself coming back to bullet-lists of pros and cons.

Which upcoming book(s) on NetGalley are you the most excited about reading and recommending to your followers? And are there any covers on NetGalley that you’re loving?

RoseBlood by A. G. Howard is absolutely gorgeous and I’m excited to see a new series starting in that world so that I can jump in without having to catch up (always so much to read!). I’m also excited to see Wake of Vultures up on NetGalley to request in the lead up to the sequel Conspiracy of Ravens and HIGHLY recommend both!

RoseBloodWake of VulturesConspiracy of Ravens

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Lightning Round!*

Your blog in two sentences:

Just a grad student geeking out over books. Find your next sci-fi or fantasy read here!

Your favorite character in a book or series:

Just one???? Cress from Cress by Marissa Meyer!

Book you’d like to see made into a movie or tv show:

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

 

 

 

 

 

 

And to finish off our interview, if you could have coffee (…or something stiffer) with any author, dead or alive, who would it be, and why?

Anne McCaffrey! The Dragonriders of Pern was my first fandom and I dreamed of visiting her in Ireland before she died.

Thanks so much Anya, for spending time with us and answering our questions!
Please make sure to check out On Starships & Dragonswings and more Sci Fi & Fantasy books available on NetGalley! 

Would you like to nominate your blog, or a blog you admire, to be featured in our Blogger Spotlight series? Fill out this form!

*Interviewed by Tarah Theoret

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News from NetGalley

An out-of-this-world shortlist for the
British Science Fiction Association Awards

The shortlist for the 2015 British Science Fiction Association Novel of the Year Award has now been announced, and we’re giving NetGalley members the opportunity to wish for these five superb books. Just click on the jacket – and hopefully your wish will come true!

The BSFA awards are presented annually by the British Science Fiction Association, based on a vote of BSFA members and members of the British national science fiction convention Eastercon. They are fan awards that not only seek to honour the most worthy examples in each category, but to promote the genre of science fiction, and get people reading, talking about and enjoying all that contemporary science fiction has to offer.

So even if you don’t regularly read SF, do take a look at these titles – they will take you to the stars!

 

Europe at Midnight, Dave Hutchinson (Solaris)

A stabbing on a London bus pitches intelligence officer Jim into a world in which his intelligence service is preparing for war with another universe, and a strange man holds the key to unlocking Europe’s most jealously guarded secret . . .

Glorious Angels, Justina Robson (Gollancz)

On a luminous world where science and magic are hard to tell apart, a stranger arrives in a remote town with news of impending political turmoil. It is a message that changes everything for one young woman, who learns  she must free herself from the role she has accepted . . .

The House of Shattered Wings, Aliette de Bodard (Gollancz)

In the aftermath of the Great Magicians War, the once great house of Silverspires seeks salvation through three very different people must come together: a naive but powerful Fallen, an alchemist with a self-destructive addiction, and a resentful young man wielding spells from the Far East . . .

Luna: New Moon, Ian McDonald (Gollancz)

Luna is a gripping thriller about five corporate families caught in a bitter battle for supremacy in the harsh environment of the moon. It’s very easy to die on the moon – but with its vast mineral wealth it is also easy to make your fortune.

Mother of Eden, Chris Beckett (Crown Publishing)

Just a few generations ago, the planet’s five hundred inhabitants huddled together in the light and warmth of the Forest’s lantern trees, afraid to venture out into the cold darkness around them. But for Starlight Brooking, a dangerous and powerful life beyond the trees awaits . . .

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