ARC Review of The Electric Kingdom by David Arnold

Disclaimer: I won an ARC through BookishFirst in exchange for a review.

“In the beginning, there was nothing.

Then the world.

Then people, but no art.

Then people made art.

Then people died.

Now there is art, but no people.”

Years after a deadly Fly Flu pandemic*, the Earth as it was is no more. Whole cities of people are gone. There are small pockets of community banding together to make do in a world reshaped by the Fly Flu. 

But now something has happened.18-year-old Nico’s mother has died of a mysterious illness, and now her father is exhibiting the same early symptoms. On Nico’s 18th birthday, her father gives her a task. She must leave for Manchester. On the eighth day, her father will ring the bell on their house’s bell tower a couple hours after sunset to attempt to open some sort of portal that may be the solution to the latent Fly Flu now infecting those who survived. 

David Arnold began his writing career with Mosquitoland, an odyssey of a sort about Mim trying to find her way back to her mother on a bus trip that doesn’t go as planned. He followed that up with Kids of Appetite, where those who do not fit into society forge their own. Next was The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik which asked the question: what do you do when your life no longer makes any sense?

While The Electric Kingdom is a departure from Arnold’s previous contemporaries, Arnold builds upon the themes of epic journeys, found families, and how to keep on living when your life as it was no longer makes sense. It is a perfect evolution for Arnold as he masterfully weaves together a carefully constructed world with brilliant words. 

The Electric Kingdom is about the journey, about the questions, and about making peace when answers do not come. It is about asking “how can I fight this darkness?” and finding that answer. 

Arnold takes you on a journey in The Electric Kingdom, and it is not one that I will soon forget. 

The Electric Kingdom releases on February 9. 

Preorder here

Add to Goodreads here

*The Fly Flu pandemic is not at all like covid-19. The Fly Flu (which is actually bees) was caused when an attempt to genetically modify honeybees went wrong. The Flies killed off billions of people before the flu struck. Very, very different from Covid-19

ARC Review of Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

Disclaimer: I received an eARC through Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Pepper’s family is behind Big League Burger which has quickly launched into popularity across the U.S. and is spreading internationally.

Jack’s family runs Girl Cheesing, a small deli with only one location.

While both go to the same school, their worlds unexpectedly collide when Big League Burger launches new grilled cheese sandwiches, one of which is clearly a blatant rip off of the Girl Cheesing Grandma’s grilled cheese special. Not one to take it sitting down, Jack uses the deli’s Twitter account and fires off a tweet reply which unexpectedly goes viral. And quickly, Pepper’s mom instructs her to fire back because while Big League Burger has a social media manager, Pepper really is the brains behind it.

And so the feud begins.

But there’s another problem. Pepper and Jack may be crushing on each other without actually knowing the other is behind it on an anonymous app that Jack built while simultaneously engaging in a Twitter war that neither knows they’re behind.

Tweet Cute was a refreshingly fun read. While dealing with some hard-hitting topics (struggling family business, tense family dynamics), this read remains a fun read throughout.

This is told in alternating perspectives, and I thoroughly enjoyed both perspectives.

Tweet Cute releases January 21.

ARC Review of I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick

Disclaimer: I received an eARC through the author/publisher’s early reviewer program in exchange for an honest review.

We begin an interview room in a police station where Anna Cicconi confesses to the murder of Zoe Spanos. How we got to that point is the question.

Freshly graduated from high school, Anna gets a job as a nanny for a family who live in the Hamptons. She needs a clean break from her former reality in which she would get blackout drunk or high on various drugs, and what better way than to be put in a position where she is responsible for another human life besides her own.

As she arrives to the small village of Herron Mills, she receives many strange looks, and she eventually finds out that she bears a striking resemblance to Zoe Spanos who disappeared between New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

For a reason that she cannot explain, she feels like she knows Zoe even though her friends convince her that Anna and Zoe have never met. But Anna knows things about Zoe that aren’t public information, and how else can she know these things?

Anna decides to investigate Zoe’s disappearance, getting close to Zoe’s (former?) boyfriend. And in the end (or in this case the beginning of the book), she decides that she knows Zoe so well because she killed Zoe.

But not everyone is buying it. After all, how can you kill someone that you never even met?

Told in “then” and “now” segments, I Killed Zoe Spanos is a twisting psychological thriller that will elevate your heart rate and leave you second-guessing everything down to the last page.

In I Killed Zoe Spanos, Kit Frick is able to carefully weave together her best book yet.

I Killed Zoe Spanos releases on June 2, 2020.

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ARC Review of Scammed by Kristen Simmons

Disclaimer: I received an eARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Further disclaimer: This review will continue some spoilers for the first book (The Deceivers) but no spoilers for Scammed.

Brynn Hilder had her life turned upside down when she was taken into Vale Hall, a boarding school for con artists. For the first time in her life, her skills that she learned in Devon Park, a poor neighborhood, had great value. She made friends that became almost like family, and she became really close with Caleb, a fellow student.

But things become a bit complicated in Scammed as Grayson, a person she used previously to find out who killed the sister of the Vale Hall director, has found safe harbor at Vale Hall until the director can gather enough dirt to put Grayson’s father, a U.S. Senator.

As Brynn goes undercover to find out about the disappearance of an intern who worked for Grayson’s father, she finds her found-family thrown into turmoil and finds that things are not as they seem.

Scammed is a thrilling sequel to The Deceivers. It’s an amazing read, and I absolutely loved it. The whole series is one that is a fantastic read. The end of book 2 sets up for an amazing concept for book 3.

Add Scammed to Goodreads

Pre-order Scammed

ARC Review of Music From Another World by Robin Talley

Disclaimer: I received an eARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Summer 1977, and Tammy and Sharon have been paired up together for a pen pal project for their high schools. The purpose of the pen pal project is to strengthen students’ faith over the summer and into the first term of their junior year of high school.

Both are reluctant about this project, and both keep a journal outside of the letter writing project. Tammy writes to Harvey Milk, an elected supervisor for San Francisco Board of Supervisors (the first openly gay man to be elected in California). Tammy is a lesbian, but her family is very much anti-gay and is working with Anita Bryant’s campaign (another historical figure and real historical campaign) to repeal any gay rights laws as well as prevent any more from passing.

Sharon writes to her journal, keeping her brother’s secret: her brother is gay, but her mom doesn’t know this. Both are fearful for what could happen if their mom finds out.

As they begin to write to each other, an unlikely friendship blossoms between the two of them. As Sharon discovers Castro Street and punk music and Tammy tries to find ways to fight back against her aunt without outing herself, the two quickly find that it takes great bravery to be yourself when people are actively working against your very existence.

Running from 1977 to 1978, Talley’s Music From Another World is an atmospheric book, steeped in rich historical world building, putting these characters right there in real life events. Most of those who read this won’t know the history, but hopefully, this book will encourage them (like it did for me) to find out more.

Robin Talley’s book releases on March 31, 2020. Add to Goodreads here

DRC Review of Camp by L. C. Rosen

Disclaimer: I received a DRC from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

For the last few summers, Randy has come to Camp Outland, a camp for queer teens. He was free to be himself more fully, even being the lead in the musical there last summer. But this year, Randy is gone, and Del is here instead. Del doesn’t wear nail polish. Dell doesn’t do musical. Del does sports instead. Del wears different clothes.

Why? So Randy aka Del can attract Hudson, a guy who is only into “straight-acting” guys. He has a plan. He will get Hudson to fall in love with Del and reveal himself as Randy, hoping that Hudson has fallen in love him enough that he won’t have any problems being himself around Hudson.

At first, Del’s plans goes better than he expects. Turns out, Hudson was so oblivious to Randy in the past that Del is able to fully pass himself off as a new camper. Hudson takes advantage, eschewing his former reputation as a playboy at the camp, to quickly begin a romance with Del.

But as the summer unravels, pieces of the past find ways to pierce into the relationship, and Del finds himself wondering, is a relationship worth it if he has to change who he is to be in it?

Camp is an important look at toxic masculinity as well as some of the issues that are very real in the queer community, from problems with those that won’t accept you outside of the community to problems with those that won’t accept you from inside the community. It is a very worthwhile read.

Camp releases May 26, 2020.

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Author Interview with Shaun David Hutchinson

Today, I am totally freaking out over the fact that I got to interview Shaun David Hutchinson.

First a little bit about Shaun:

Shaun is a major geek and all about nerdy shenanigans. He is the author of many queer books for young adults. Find out more information at He currently lives in Seattle and watches way too much Doctor Who.

And here’s a little bit about his most recent fiction work, The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried:

A good friend will bury your body, a best friend will dig you back up.

Dino doesn’t mind spending time with the dead. His parents own a funeral home, and death is literally the family business. He’s just not used to them talking back. Until Dino’s ex-best friend July dies suddenly—and then comes back to life. Except not exactly. Somehow July is not quite alive, and not quite dead.

As Dino and July attempt to figure out what’s happening, they must also confront why and how their friendship ended so badly, and what they have left to understand about themselves, each other, and all those grand mysteries of life.

And now for the interview!

In the past, you have referenced The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley as being your relaunch/rebrand as an author. Can you speak more about this?

Sometimes 2008 doesn’t seem like it was that long ago, but when I wrote and sold my first novel, The Deathday Letter, the YA landscape was so very different than it is now.  I honestly wasn’t sure that anyone would be willing to take a chance on me if I wrote books with queer narrators or focused on the things I cared about, like mental health.  I have a special place in my heart for my first two books, but they also aren’t totally representative of me.  They’re more representative of who I believed readers wanted me to be.

The irony is that neither Deathday or FML did particularly well, and they certainly weren’t reviewed positively.  It wasn’t until I had nothing to lose that I wrote The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley.  With Five Stages, I wrote a book that I believed was one-hundred percent representative of who I wanted to be as a writer, and I figured that if publishing rejected it that it was a sign I wasn’t meant to be writing.  It was kind of a fatalistic attitude because we all know that one book doesn’t decide a writer’s future, but I found an agent who believed in Drew’s story, an editor who believed, and readers who were hungry for more stories about people like Drew.

In that way, The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley really was a bit of a rebirth for me as an author.  I had put myself out there, fully embracing my weirdness and queerness and honesty about mental health, and readers had welcomed me into their lives.  The Deathday Letter and FML will always be part of my history, but I sort of think of them as the books I wrote before I found the courage be myself.

In addition to your full length novels, you have been an editor to some unique anthologies (Violent Ends and Feral Youth) which tell an entire story through multiple short stories by different authors. What were the challenges and rewards of undertaking such an ambitious project (twice!)? 

I loved working on those anthologies, but they definitely were challenging.  The major challenge was wrangling all of the stories together and drawing the connections between them.  Violent Ends was more difficult than Feral Youth, but I was extremely fortunate that the authors in both anthologies were so passionate and supportive about what I was trying to do.  They often worked together to create those connections and to build the shared world the stories existed in. I guess in that respect, the challenges were the same as the rewards.  Because while it may have been a tough job to build that shared world, getting to stand back and see how it all came together remains one of the most gratifying experiences of my career.

Several of your recent works dealt with the end of the world in some way while your upcoming 2020 work The State of Us seems to be a departure from that thematic element. What drove this decision?

I remember being a teen and feeling how everything kind of felt like the end of the world, which is probably why I’m so drawn to it as a plot device.  It’s such a great way to explore problems that might otherwise feel mundane to readers.  But you can only end the world so many times before you begin to bore readers. At the same time, the last couple of years have exposed the hateful underbelly that exists in our world.  It was always there, but much of that nastiness was confined to the shadows. And now, unfortunately, it’s felt emboldened to step into the light.  With the world as dark as it is, I began gravitating toward stories that feel a little lighter.  Stories that envision the world I want to live in rather than the world we actually live in.

That said, explorations of sexuality and mental health will always be important to me.  In The State of Us, Dean is struggling to find his place in the queer world as he explores being demisexual, and both boys struggle with how to square their feelings for each other with the differences that divide them.  I’m just approaching those topics from a different angle these days.  One that lets a little more light in.

You transitioned from writing while maintaining another job to full-time writing. How has your writing process changed since this transition happened?

Oddly enough, my process hasn’t changed much.  When I had a day job, I did the majority of my writing in the morning before work.  I still do that.  And I still generally get up between five and six in the morning to do it.  The major difference is that I just do more of it.  I’m able to work longer.  Instead of finishing and then going to work in an office, I finish my morning writing and then go to a coffee shop to do more writing.

The biggest change has honestly been in my approach to future projects.  When I had a day job I was able to spend a couple of months working on a project that might go nowhere because I knew if it didn’t sell, I still had a paycheck coming in.  Writing full time means that I don’t always have that luxury.  If I’m going to commit my time to a project, I have to at least believe there is a good probability that I’m going to be able to make money off of it or I could find myself unable to pay my bills. It’s forced me to be a little more pragmatic about the projects I take on.

But I do make sure to set aside time for those weird passion projects because you never know what’s going to come out of them.  The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley began as a passion project.  As have other books, including one I recently sold that I can’t talk about yet but that I think my readers are really going to enjoy.

Brave Face is an absolutely stunning memoir that deals with a lot of tougher topics, including some very intense mental health challenges. What made you decide to relive these moments and write about them?

Thank you.  That really means a lot.  Even now, months after it came out, I still worry whether I should have published it. But I think that kind of fear is probably pretty natural when putting something so personal out into the world.

The idea actually came about because I was nearing the 20th anniversary of surviving my suicide attempt.  A lot of me goes into my books, but I wondered if it might be helpful for teens to have an account of that time—what I went through with coming out and depression—to both help them see that they aren’t alone and to help those who might not have experience with coming out or mental illness gain some understanding of what others might be going through.  I emailed my editor at Simon Pulse about the idea, and the more we talked about it, the more I thought I might have something worth saying.

The idea of writing a memoir was terrifying, and the only way I got through it was by telling myself that if only one person read it, and it helped them, then that was enough. That would make it worth it. The response has been overwhelming to say the least.

On Twitter, you post about baking a lot. How and why did this hobby come about?

Sorry!  I have a tendency to jump from one obsession to another.  Sometimes those obsessions stick around and become full-blown hobbies. Sometimes they turn into a career. I started baking last winter when my mom came to visit. It was my first winter in Seattle, and it was a cold, wet one.  My mom didn’t want to spent much time outside, so we spent a lot of time at my brother’s apartment where he was watching The Great British Baking Show.  I’d heard about it before, but I’d never sat down to watch an episode.  That show hooked me and reeled me in with its big heart and joyfulness, and I remain a fan of the show despite three-quarters of the original hosts leaving.

After my mom went back home, I found myself spending more time inside due to the weather, and I was looking for something to do. Inspired by The Great British Baking Show, I decided to give baking a try.  My mom baked quite frequently when I was growing up, but it was never something I thought I’d enjoy.  Much to my surprise, I instantly fell in love with it.  I think, for me, baking is a creative outlet that’s stress-free.  I enjoy the process of baking immensely because it helps calm my hyper-active and over-imaginative mind while also keeping me physically moving.  Plus, the end results make people smile.  Show up to a gathering with even the ugliest cake, and people will still smile.  Right now, baking is an oasis for me in this messy, messed up world.

Finally, what are some books that need to be on our radar? (This can be already released books and/or upcoming releases.)

Definitely The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper and How To Be Remy Cameron by Julian Winters.  I’m about to get started on Surrender Your Sons by Adam Sass, and the first page has already got me hooked.  Ryan La Sala’s Reverie is out soon, and I’m dying to get my hands on it.  Camryn Garret’s Full Disclosure and Saundra Mitchell’s All the Things We Do in the Dark are both out October 29th, and they’re at the very top of my reading list.  I also had the opportunity to hear Ryan Douglass read from his horror/thriller Jake in the Box, and he was amazing. I can’t wait to read the whole book.

There are always so many more books that I want to read than I have time for—the curse of every reader!—but we’re lucky that there are so many outstanding and diverse books out there now with more headed our way.

Thank you so much to Shaun for his time!

And always, here’s some links for you to check out:

Shaun David Hutchinson Links
Check Out Shaun on Goodreads
Make Shaun supremely rich and buy his books/enhance your own life too
Follow Shaun on Twitter

The Books Shaun Mentioned
Add The Gravity of Us to Goodreads / check out my interview with the author
Add How to Be Remy Cameron to Goodreads
Add Surrender Your Sons to Goodreads / check out my interview with the author
Add Reverie to Goodreads / check out my interview with the author
Add Full Disclosure to Goodreads
Add All The Things We Do in the Dark to Goodreads
Add Jake in the Box to Goodreads

Author Interview with Ronni Davis

Today, I have the honor of doing an interview with Ronni Davis, author of When the Stars Lead to You, which releases on November 12, 2019.

I’ve seen Ronni attend the same book events as me for the last couple years, and it’s so awesome that I’m about to get to read her own book soon!

First here’s a bit about Ronni:

Ronni Davis grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, where she tried her best to fit in—and failed miserably. After graduating from The Ohio State University with a BA in Psychology, she worked in insurance, taught yoga, and became a cat mom.

Now she lives in Chicago with her husband Adam and her son Aidan. By day she copy edits everything from TV commercials to billboards, and by night she writes contemporary teen novels about brown girls falling in love. When she’s not writing, you can catch her playing the Sims, eating too much candy, or planning her next trip to Disney World.

Her debut novel, WHEN THE STARS LEAD TO YOU, will be released by Little Brown Books for Young Readers in November 2019.

You follow her on TwitterTumblrGoodreads, and Instagram.

You can find random, fun facts here.

And here’s a bit about her book:

Eighteen-year-old Devon longs for two things.

The stars.
And the boy she fell in love with one unforgettable summer.

When Ashton broke Devon’s heart at the end of the most romantic and magical summer of her life, she thought she’d never heal. But over the course of the following year, Devon slowly managed to put the pieces back together for the sake of her dream to become an astrophysicist.

Now it’s senior year, and she’s determined to enjoy every moment as she prepares for a future of studying the galaxies. That is, until Ashton shows up on the first day of school. Suddenly, he’s everywhere, their chemistry is undeniable, and he wants her back. Can Devon forgive Ashton and open her heart again? Or are they doomed to repeat history?

From debut author Ronni Davis comes a stunning and thought-provoking novel about passion, heartbreak, and the power of first love.

And now for the interview!

Can you talk a little bit about your road to publishing? 

Of course! My road to publishing was long and filled with all the feelings! I first started to pursue in 2005, with a book I wrote called Only Yours. I managed to get an agent with that book but he and I both knew it would be a hard sell. It incorporated a girl who was religious and kind of cold, but it was not a religious book. The book did not sell. Then my life kind of blew up. I needed to focus on making money and surviving rather than writing, so I did that. For years, I thought I wouldn’t pursue publication again. I trained to be a yoga teacher. I worked in advertising. I wrote a bit in my spare time, but it never went anywhere. Then I tried acting. I learned it wasn’t for me, but the great thing about acting is that it’s like I’m inside a story. It was very inspiring! So I started writing again—the book which would eventually become When the Stars Lead to You. I still didn’t plan to pursue publication until something special happened in 2014: We Need Diverse Books. Suddenly, I had a reason to write seriously again, and I had the characters in my head that would fit, plus the life experience to make it feel authentic. I knew I could help fill that gap, if I could get myself together!

I wrote this love story with a biracial/black main character, a boy who has mental illness, and how their lives collide. I wrote and rewrote and revised and edited and cried and tried and tried over and over. Then my agent, Caitie, got the book immediately. I knew she was the right person to represent Devon’s story. Once I signed with her, we did another couple rounds of revisions before sending the book on sub. I’d been down this road before, but this time, it felt Bigger. Maybe because I knew more of what went down during the acquisitions process. I ended up withdrawing from the writing world for a few months because it was doing my head in. The constant stream of good news on twitter was pounding my self-esteem into the ground, and I stopped believing in my story! Although, I didn’t pull it off sub, so I guess I still believed a little bit. 

I spent my days playing the Sims, because I still needed to be creative without the pressures of writing. It helped a lot. And the day I got the call, I was ecstatic and in disbelief. Now, it’s getting closer to the time my book is in stores, and I don’t even know what to think. But this is what I know: It feels like home.

When the Stars Lead to You has a main character who is interested in STEM. Why was this important to you to include? 

I wanted to get out of MY comfort zone. It would’ve been easy for my character to be a writer, or maybe even an artist. I knew that STEM would challenge me, but I’ve always been interested in and intimidated by the cosmos. Devon being into astrophysics seemed like the perfect intersection of creativity, science, and dreaming.

The book also deals a bit with mental health. What drove this decision? 

I have a mental illness myself, and seeing more people become vocal about it online has helped me a lot. When I was in college dealing with this, I had no idea what was going on with me. My friends often told me to suck it up. I felt guilty for not being OK. I wanted to dig deeper to see why someone would respond that way, and I also wanted to show that this boy, who seems so perfect on the outside, has his struggles as well.

What does your writing schedule look like? 

Once I figure it out, I’ll let you know! But seriously, it’s me having a million tabs open in my browser, trying to stay off twitter and Instagram (and Facebook and Pinterest when I get really desperate), eating too much candy, and then busting out 1500 words or so once I finally get focused! It’s hard for me to get started, but once I’m in the zone, I can crank out some decent work. I might delete it all the next day, but I do get it done.

You live in Chicago which has a fair number of YA writers living there or in the suburbs. Do you ever get together for writing/publishing support? If so, is this a valuable experience? 

We don’t get together as often as I’d like. We’re spread all over the city, we all have busy lives, and it’s hard to nail down times to get together. But when we do get together, it’s very special. It’s great to talk to authors face-to-face instead of through a screen, eat good food, support each other, celebrate our wins, and vent about our frustrations.

What do you hope your book does for readers in the first year of its existence? 

I want black and biracial girls to see themselves being deeply loved, loving deeply, and having permission to love themselves. Because I honestly still struggle with that today. In addition, I want people with depression to know that they also deserve to be loved in every way, that there are resources, and that there is help. I don’t ever want people to feel lost in terms of representation, or in getting help. Not like I did.

Thank you so much to Ronni for her time!

As always, here’s some links for you to check out:

Add When the Stars Lead to You on Goodreads

Pre-order When the Stars Lead to You from Anderson’s where Ronni is holding her launch

Follow Ronni on Twitter

Author Interview with Caleb Roehrig

I have the honor of interviewing Caleb Roehrig for the blog today! It’s been a dream to interview Caleb, and I’m so thrilled I get to do this.

Here’s a bit about Caleb:

Caleb Roehrig is a writer and television producer originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Having also lived in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Helsinki, Finland, he has a chronic case of wanderlust, and can recommend the best sights to see on a shoestring budget in over thirty countries. A former actor, Roehrig has experience on both sides of the camera, with a résumé that includes appearances on film and TV—as well as seven years in the stranger-than-fiction salt mines of reality television. In the name of earning a paycheck, he has: hung around a frozen cornfield in his underwear, partied with an actual rock-star, chatted with a scandal-plagued politician, and been menaced by a disgruntled ostrich.

And a bit about his latest book:

Teenage socialite Margo Manning leads a dangerous double life.

By day, she dodges the paparazzi while soaking up California sunshine. By night, however, she dodges security cameras and armed guards, pulling off high-stakes cat burglaries with a team of flamboyant young men. In and out of disguise, she’s in all the headlines.

But then Margo’s personal life takes a sudden, dark turn, and a job to end all jobs lands her crew in deadly peril. Overnight, everything she’s ever counted on is put at risk. Backs against the wall, the resourceful thieves must draw on their special skills to survive. But can one rebel heiress and four kickboxing drag queens withstand the slings and arrows of truly outrageous fortune? Or will a mounting sea of troubles end them — for good?

And now for the interview!

Since your debut came out in 2016, you’ve had a busy career with two additional published books, two forthcoming, and three short stories coming. What do your writing days/nights look like to accomplish all that? 

OOF. Ugh. This has actually always been a bit of a moving target, but…lately it’s been moving in a bad direction, haha. When I wrote my debut, I was living in Europe without a work visa, and my schedule was eight hours of writing a day: 3 pm-7 pm, break, 10 pm-2 am. Three moves and several spirals later, my schedule while writing THE FELL OF DARK and A WEREWOLF IN RIVERDALE (simultaneously) often had me up until 5 am. (Not something I want to maintain!) (I am happy to report that over the past two months, my bedtime has moved back to 2 am!)

Your first two books are told in first person while Death Prefers Blondes is told in third person. What drove those specific decisions?

This is such a good question! I cut my teeth on first-person detective fiction—Sue Grafton, Raymond Chandler, Sara Paretsky—and I really love the opportunity it affords to dig into the main character’s innermost thoughts and feelings. However, when I was plotting DEATH PREFERS BLONDES, and I knew it was going to be an ensemble narrative, (and one with plenty of switching back and forth, even within the same scenes and sequences,) I had to consider what would be the cleanest and most elegant way of effecting those transitions. Ultimately, I decided that a third-person limited perspective would be best.

Your books are set in many locations. Last Seen Leaving in Ann Arbor, Michigan, White Rabbit in Vermont, Death Prefers Blondes primarily in Los Angeles, and the forthcoming The Fell of Dark in the Chicago suburbs. What drives your decision for book settings?

Environment is an absolutely crucial factor for me when I’m plotting a story, and to date I’ve chosen settings that are all personally meaningful. Ann Arbor is my hometown, I got married in Vermont, I lived in Los Angeles for ten years, and I lived in Chicago for one year before that (and now live there again!) In many ways, it’s a chicken-vs-egg situation: I choose the location because its vibe fits the atmosphere I want for the story, but the story can change as it develops because the environment of the location requires it.

Writing can be immensely stressful. What ways have you found to relieve some of that stress? 

I always give the most disappointing answer to this question, but here it is: running. I want to be clear that this is what works for me, because I know it isn’t possible or enjoyable for everyone—but it might be the only thing that truly works for me. I burn off anxious energy, I build up endorphins, I give myself a full hour to do nothing but mentally focus on the story I’m trying to tell while my body is otherwise engaged. Anyway, I guess that’s my answer and I’m sticking to it!

What has been your most rewarding part about being an author? 

Typically, I’ve always answered this question with a glib remark about how I can show up late for work with a martini in both hands and still not get in trouble, but the truth of the matter is, I’ve never felt luckier in my life. I get to tell stories, and I get to see people engage with them; I get paid to let my imagination run wild—and my fantasies were always as alive to me as the real world anyway. Plus, at least in my books, I can control the chaos spilling into everyone’s lives, and I get to decide when and how it ends.

I often fall into the trap of looking ahead at upcoming releases that I miss so many fantastic books already out there. What already released books would you say are absolute must-reads (any genre)? 

To shout out a few titles just off the top of my head, for YA: NOTEWORTHY by Riley Redgate; ALL OF THIS IS TRUE by Lygia Day Peñaflor; UNDEAD GIRL GANG by Lily Anderson; THE DARKEST CORNERS by Kara Thomas; KEEP THIS TO YOURSELF by Tom Ryan; The Engelsfors Trilogy (THE CIRCLE, FIRE, THE KEY) by Mats Strandberg and Sara Bergmark Elfgren; for adult fic: LOCK EVERY DOOR by Riley Sager; THE LIE by CL Taylor; THE DARE by Megan Abbott; GARNETHILL by Denise Mina; and the VI Warshawski series by Sara Paretsky.

As an author, you sometimes have an opportunity to read early versions of upcoming releases. Besides your books, what upcoming releases should we add to our TBRs? 

REVERIE by Ryan La Sala; SURRENDER YOUR SONS by Adam Sass; THE GRAVITY OF US by Phil Stamper; HOW TO BE REMY CAMERON by Julian Winters; SCAMMED by Kristen Simmons; THE LIARS OF MARIPOSA ISLAND by Jennifer Mathieu; DARK AND DEEPEST RED by Anna-Marie McLemore; and DARLING by K. Ancrum!

Thank you so much to Caleb for his time!

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Links for all of Caleb Roehrig’s recommendations

Noteworthy by Riley Redgate
All of This is True by Lygia Day Peñaflor
Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson
The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas
Keep This to Yourself by Tom Ryan
The Engelsfors Trilogy by Mats Strandberg and Sara Bergmark Elfgren
Lock Every Door by Riley Sager
The Lie by CL Taylor
The Dare by Megan Abbott
Garnethill by Denise Mina
The VI Warshawski series by Sara Paretsky
Reverie by Ryan La Sala
Surrender Your Sons by Adam Sass
The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper
How to Be Remy Cameron by Julian Winters
Scammed by Kristen Simmons
The Liars of Mariposa Island by Jennifer Mathieu 
Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore
Darling by K. Ancrum

Author Interview with James Brandon

Today, I have the honor of interviewing James Brandon, author of Ziggy, Stardust, & Me which released in August of this year. The book is absolutely incredible.

Here’s a bit about James from Penguin’s Website:

James Brandon produced and played the central role of Joshua in the international tour of Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi for a decade, and is codirector of the documentary film based on their journey, Corpus Christi: Playing with Redemption. He’s the cofounder of the I AM Love Campaign, an arts-based initiative bridging the faith-based and LGBTQ2+ communities, and serves on the Powwow Steering Committee for Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits (BAAITS) in San Francisco. Brandon is a contributing writer for Huffington PostBelieve Out Loud, and Spirituality and Health MagazineZiggy, Stardust and Me is his first novel.

You can visit James Brandon at

Here’s a bit about his book from his website:

The year is 1973. The Watergate hearings are in full swing. The Vietnam War is still raging. And homosexuality is still officially considered a mental illness. In the midst of these trying times is sixteen-year-old Jonathan Collins, a bullied, anxious, asthmatic kid, who aside from an alcoholic father and his sympathetic neighbor and friend Starla, is completely alone. To cope, Jonathan escapes to the safe haven of his imagination, where his hero David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and dead relatives, including his mother, guide him through the rough terrain of his life. In his alternate reality, Jonathan can be anything: a superhero, an astronaut, Ziggy Stardust, himself, or completely “normal” and not a boy who likes other boys. When he completes his treatments, he will be normal–at least he hopes. But before that can happen, Web stumbles into his life. Web is everything Jonathan wishes he could be: fearless, fearsome and, most importantly, not ashamed of being gay.

Jonathan doesn’t want to like brooding Web, who has secrets all his own. Jonathan wants nothing more than to be “fixed” once and for all. But he’s drawn to Web anyway. Web is the first person in the real world to see Jonathan completely and think he’s perfect. Web is a kind of escape Jonathan has never known. For the first time in his life, he may finally feel free enough to love and accept himself as he is.

A poignant coming-of-age tale, Ziggy, Stardust and Me heralds the arrival of a stunning and important new voice in YA.

And now for the interview!

Ziggy, Stardust, & Me is set at a pivotal point in LGBT+ history. What drove your decision to set the book in 1973 and deal with some (terrifying) history?

On December 15, 1973, the life of every human who identified on the LGBTQ+ spectrum changed when the American Psychiatric Association officially removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (otherwise known as the DSM; otherwise known as the “Big Book of Mental Illnesses”) and suddenly all those people being “treated” for their “sickness” were “cured.” This was a pivotal moment in our history and one that–coming on the heels of the Stonewall Riots–marked the beginning of the modern-day LGBTQ+ movement. I knew nothing of this time, and having been out for over half of my life, I was ashamed to realize I didn’t know my history. So I started researching this moment, and subsequently started learning what that generation of LGBTQ+ peoples had to endure on a daily basis just to survive. It changed my life. This was the initial seed of Ziggy.

What did your research process look like?

Intense. I proudly deem myself a Research Geek. I spent a solid year researching this novel. Some of my time was spent in the basement of the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco excavating materials through their vast archives. Most of my time was spent at every library in Los Angeles (and I mean almost that quite literally) digging through books and magazines and movies and newspapers for every topic I cover in the novel. Research is the key to unlocking your story’s mysteries. Even if you aren’t writing historical, any issue you explore or character you’re writing outside of your own lane, needs to be throughly and viscerally researched for true authenticity. YA readers, to me, are some of the smartest humans out there; they can see through anything that even slightly resonates a sense of falsehood. I always wanted a reader of Ziggy to feel fully immersed in the story, to not even think they’re reading a historical novel, but to feel like they’re actually living it. I hope that comes through in the narrative.

When you write heavier scenes, how do you take care of yourself?

An excellent question. Self-care comes in many forms, but here’s what it looks like for me when I’m writing “heavier scenes.” I first let myself feel everything I’m writing. There were many times along the way I was writing a scene through tears, but kept pushing forward. I had to get the words out, even if I knew they weren’t going to end up in the final manuscript, even if I knew only one of those words would stay. Allowing myself to fully feel these emotions through any one of my character’s eyes, gave me a deeper connection to their being, and ultimately to my self. But the minute I felt like I was finished with the scene, I saved my draft, closed my computer, and stopped working for the day. Even if it was only after writing an intense few paragraphs with one hundred words. I’d take a long walk, shake it all off, and wouldn’t think about it again until the next day or week or month or whenever it was time to get back to it. It’s important, I think, to separate your “self” from your “work” at the end of each writing session to keep your identity in check and to continue living a healthy life along the journey

Do you have any interest in visiting some of the other pivotal years in LGBT+ history in your writing? Why or why not? (And if you do, what years would you consider?)

Yes! My next book, and in fact, the next couple of books I have in mind, will all focus on a lost or forgotten moment in LGBTQ+ history. Queer history isn’t taught, and the importance of our generational stories being shared today can no longer be ignored. Queer peoples have obviously existed since the beginning of time, and they’ve contributed innumerable gifts for the betterment of society. We just don’t know about them and it’s time we do. I obviously can’t write about every historical moment, and I’m not particular about any specific year or decade, but I do have some stories in mind that may interweave with Ziggy. I’m focusing on the moments that create a spark within me, because I know that spark will eventually turn into a beacon of light to carry me forward through the hundreds of drafts and rewrites.

What has been the best moment of your debut year?

I’m currently experiencing this at the moment: Being on tour. I’ve spent the better part of the past few years hunkered down in my rabbit hole of writing, interwoven with some major life changes, lost in my own world without too much socializing. The original idea of touring was a little daunting for me, to say the least. And then I was asked to do school presentations in front of 500 students! (Even as an actor, I’d never performed to that size of an audience at once!) But instead of letting my anxiety get the best of me, I pushed through. And I’m so glad I did. Meeting people from every age and walk of life has been so inspiring. To share stories, to laugh, to cry, to connect through this imagined (and some parts unimagined) world I created has been nothing short of pure magic. I didn’t realize how rewarding it would be to meet readers who’d fall in love with these characters that I care about so deeply. And to be able to share my personal journey along the way, to hopefully help those who might be questioning their own, has been the biggest gift I could ever receive.

What books do you recommend that would pair well with Ziggy, Stardust, & Me?

1- Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian — another queer historical set in the 80s that has a beautiful story with gorgeous prose.
2- The Grief Keeper by Alex Villasante– a queer speculative story that interweaves immigration and f/f love in a delicate and lush narrative.
3- The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik by David Arnold– for any Bowie fans out there who love Ziggy, this story had a Vonnegut-esque twist and was such fun to get lost in the mind-bending narrative.
4- Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz– THE classic queer love story…enough said.