Feature Book of the Week #11
The Last Thing I Remember by Andrew Klavan

Tuesday, December 13, 2011



Charlie West just woke up in someone else's nightmare.
He's strapped to a chair. He's covered in blood and bruises. He hurts all over. And a strange voice outside the door just ordered his death.
The last thing he can remember, he was a normal high-school kid doing normal things--working on his homework, practicing karate, daydreaming of becoming an air force pilot, writing a pretty girl's number on his hand. How long ago was that? Where is he now? Who is he really?
And more to the point . . . how is he going to get out of this room alive? (Publisher's summary from Goodreads)


What Is A Tough Guy?  
by Andrew Klavan

I am what is sometimes known as a “tough guy writer.”  This, I’m sorry to say, does not mean that I’m a tough guy who is also a writer.  It means I’m a writer who writes stories about tough guys. 

Well, okay, you may say, but what does that mean?  What is a “tough guy” exactly?  And that’s a good question, because a tough guy is not what you might think.  For instance, a tough guy is not someone who is so big or so strong that he wins every fight.  In fact, sometimes, it’s only when someone loses a fight that you find out how tough he really is!  Also, a tough guy is not someone who is never afraid.  After all, who is tougher than a guy who does what has to be done even when he is very much afraid?

So what is a tough guy?  To give an example from my books, I think Charlie West, the hero of the Homelanders series, is a tough guy. In the first book in the series, The Last Thing I Remember, Charlie goes to sleep in his own bed one night—and wakes up strapped to a chair being tortured by terrorists.  Bad news!  Charlie isn’t stronger than the terrorists—obviously, or he wouldn’t be strapped to the chair.  And Charlie isn’t fearless—he’s scared out of his mind!

But Charlie is honest and he’s determined.  He’s honest because he doesn’t kid himself about the situation.  He doesn’t say, “Oh, maybe if I’m nice to the terrorists, they’ll be nice to me.”  He knows the terrorists won’t be nice to him no matter what he does.  After all—duh!—they’re terrorists!  And he doesn’t say, “Oh, maybe if I just wait patiently someone will come and rescue me.”  Someone might rescue him—it’s possible.  But it doesn’t make much sense to wait around and find out.

So what does Charlie do?  He acts.  He tries to rescue himself.  He thinks about what he can do, what skills he has, what powers he can muster.  He thinks about the fact that he has a black belt in karate.  He thinks about the words of a famous man who once said, “Never surrender.”  He looks for any chance—no matter how small—that he can escape from this horrible situation.

And that’s what makes Charlie “tough.”  He doesn’t lie to himself; he uses whatever tools he has to do what he needs to do; and, no matter what happens, no matter how bad things look, he never, ever, ever surrenders.

People like Charlie are the kinds of heroes I like to read about, so they’re the kind of heroes I like to write about too.

And that’s why they call me a “tough guy writer.”


Award winning author, screenwriter and media commentator Andrew Klavan is the author of such internationally bestselling novels as True Crime, filmed by Clint Eastwood, and Don’t Say A Word, filmed starring Michael Douglas. Andrew has been nominated for the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award five times and has won twice. His books have been translated around the world. His latest novel for adults, The Identity Man, has been praised by Nelson Demille as “fast paced, intelligent and thought-provoking; a great read!” Television and radio host Glenn Beck says “Andrew Klavan never disappoints…one of the best illustrations of the power of redemption that I’ve ever read.” His last novel Empire of Lies was about media bias in the age of terror, and topped Amazon.coms thriller list. 

Andrew has also published a series of thrillers for young adults, The Homelanders, which follows a patriotic teenager’s battle against jihadists. The books have been optioned to be made into movies by Summit Entertainment, the team behind the mega-successful Twilight film series.

Andrew is a contributing editor to City Journal, the magazine of the Manhattan Institute. His essays and op-eds on politics, religion, movies and literature have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, The Washington Post, the LA Times, and elsewhere. His video feature, “Klavan on the Culture,” can be found at PJTV.com. Andrew is a frequent media guest on television and radio stations from coast to coast, where he is known for his quick wit, humor and commentary on politics and entertainment. 

As a screenwriter, Andrew wrote the screenplay to 1990’s A Shock to the System, which starred Michael Caine, and to 2008’s One Missed Call, which stars Ed Burns and Shannyn Sossamon. He lives in Southern California.(Author's bio from http://www.andrewklavan.com/about/)

I want to thank Andrew for taking time out of his extremely busy schedule to write such a fantastic post for the 2011/2012 Book Battle. I also hope that those of you who have read the book will read the rest of the book in the series.

Special Announcement

This will be the last Feature Book of the Week until the New Year. Also make sure that you continue to leave comments on the posts. Finally, be sure to watch in January for the beginning of the Question of the Week.  

from the 
Area Wide Book Battle Committee

2011/2012 Feature Book of the Week #10
Chasing Lincoln's Killer by James Swanson

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


When actor John Wilkes Booth raced from Ford's Theatre after assassinating President Abraham Lincoln, he began a mad flight that lasted 12 days. James Swanson's Chasing Lincoln's Killer recapitulates the exciting chase through small towns and swamps by drawing on letters, manuscripts, trial transcripts, government reports, and contemporary newspaper interviews. This juvenile nonfiction hardcover displays history as it should be seen: up close and personal. (Publisher's summary from Goodreads)

James L.Swanson is the Edgar Award–winning author of the New York Times bestseller Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer. In 2009 in Newsweek magazine, Patricia Cornwell named Swanson's Manhunt and Truman Capote's In Cold Blood as the two best nonfiction crime books ever.

In 2006, Entertainment Weekly magazine named Manhunt one of the ten best books of the year. Swanson has degrees in history from The University of Chicago, where he was a student of John Hope Franklin, and law from the University of California, Los Angeles. He has held a number of government and think-tank posts in Washington, D.C., including at the United States Department of Justice. He serves on the advisory council of the Ford’s Theatre Society.

His other books include the acclaimed photographic history Lincoln’s Assassins: Their Trial and Execution, as well as Chasing Lincoln’s Killer, and adaptations of Manhunt and Bloody Crimes for young readers. James L. Swanson was born on Lincoln’s birthday. (Author's bio from Harper Collins http://www.harpercollins.com/author/microsite/About.aspx?authorid=25032 )

2011/2012 Feature Book of the Week #9
The Potato Chip Puzzles by Eric Berlin

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


When puzzle addict Winston Breen and his best friends head to an all-day puzzle hunt with a $50,000 grand prize, they're pumped. But the day is not all fun and games: not only do they have a highstrung and highly competitive teacher along for the ride, but the puzzles are hard even for Winston, the other schools' teams are no joke, and someone in the contest is playing dirty in order to win. Trying to stop this mystery cheater before it's too late takes an already tough challenge to a whole other level. . . .

Packed with a variety of fun puzzles to solve, this fast-paced sequel will pull readers right into the action from start to finish. (Publisher's Summary from Goodreads)

Sometimes people ask me how I came up with Winston Breen's name, and the truth is, I don't remember. (Honestly, I wish I knew.) Or people will ask me how I came up with all the puzzles for my books, and the answer is, it's just something I know how to do -- probably as a result of solving a million puzzles over the span of my life.

But then people ask me how I came to write books with puzzles in them, and THAT question I can answer.

I'm friends with a lot of people who, like me, love puzzles. We're all scattered around the country, and so we get to see each other only a few times a year. So when we do get together, large groups of us go out to dinner and catch up. It was at one such dinner, perhaps in 2000 or 2001, that we got to talking about all the things in our childhood that made us realize we would be lifelong puzzle people. We had all played the same video games, and we all loved patter songs like Tom Lehrer's "Elements." We were all madly addicted to Games magazine. We were all a little on the nerdy side. Or maybe more than a little.

And everybody at the table, as a child, had read the same book: "The Westing Game," by Ellen Raskin. It won the Newbery medal in 1979. It's still read and beloved by children today. And somehow -- impossibly -- I had never heard of it. This book that all my puzzle-loving friends had read, I had missed it entirely.

Well. Obviously I wasn't going to let THAT stand. So I ordered a copy the very next day, and read it as soon as it arrived.

It's a fine book. There's a reason it's considered a classic.

BUT... I was expecting something a little different. Because this book had come to me via all my puzzle friends, I thought it was going to be a mystery filled with different kinds of puzzles -- things you could solve as you read along. It's not. There's only one real puzzle in "The Westing Game." It's a doozy of a puzzle, to be sure. But it's only one.

And soon I thought: Well, I could write a mystery with lots of puzzles in it, can't I? I could write the book I had expected "Westing Game" to be! I could write the sort of book that if I had found it on a library bookshelf when I was a kid, I would have grabbed it immediately. Out of another person's hands if necessary.

That was the spark behind Winston Breen, and I'm happy to say that today's puzzle-loving kids ARE discovering him. That's why I was able to write the second book, "The Potato Chip Puzzles," and that's why a third book, "The Puzzler's Mansion," comes out in May 2012. You don't have to solve any of the puzzles as you read, of course -- if you want to skip the puzzles and enjoy the story, that's fine with me. But I'm hoping that even kids who don't like puzzles will stare at one of Winston's challenges... and have that"aha!" moment of solving satisfaction. The same kind of moment that turned me into a puzzle addict a long time ago.


Eric Berlin creates puzzles for all ages, from kids to adults (his crosswords appear often in the New York Times). He is a member of the National Puzzlers' League, and enjoys creating puzzle events for schools and other groups. He lives in Milford, Connecticut, with his wife and two children. (Author bio from The Puzzling World of Winston Breen web site)
Thanks so much to Eric from participating in this year's Feature Book of the Week. Make sure you leave your comments about his guest post and about his book.

2011/2012 Feature Book of the Week #9
Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Challenge: Piper has one month to get the rock band Dumb a paying gig.

The Deal: If she does it, Piper will become the band's manager and get her share of the profits.

The Catch: How can Piper possibly manage one egomaniacal pretty boy, one talentless piece of eye candy, one crush, one silent rocker, and one angry girl? And how can she do it when she's deaf?

Piper can't hear Dumb's music, but with growing self-confidence, a budding romance, and a new understanding of the decision her family made to buy a cochlear implant for her deaf baby sister, she discovers her own inner rock star and what it truly means to be a flavor of Dumb.

Hey there, Book Warriors! A huge thanks to all of you for including me in your battle plans. I can’t wait to meet you on May 8th next year! I’ll be the one who isn’t Heather Brewer :)

If you’ve been reading all the posts, you may have noticed that authors sometimes take long and winding paths to getting published. This is not unusual. It’s really not even surprising. We’re the sum of our experiences, and the more experiences we have, the more we have to draw from when we write.

But what’s just as interesting to me is that we all take different paths to becoming readers too. Some of you may have been devouring books for years, while others may only now be discovering the joys of reading. If you’re in the latter group, then you’re just like me.

When I was a middle school student in England in the 1980s, a lot of the books felt terribly similar. There was always a little (non-violent) adventure, some wholesome friendships, contented siblings, and at least one or two fluffy puppy dogs (because no English family is complete without a fluffy puppy dog, apparently). To be honest, these books didn’t exactly excite me, and so I pretty much gave up on reading altogether. I was what librarians and teachers call a “reluctant reader.” Sad, but true.

Then, when I was 13, my English teacher handed me a copy of “The Outsiders” by S. E. Hinton. It blew my mind! Suddenly I wasn’t reading about other well-adjusted English kids, I was reading about gangs in an Oklahoma high school. The language felt raw and real. Everything moved along at breakneck speed. I was hooked.

At the time, I didn’t know that Susan Hinton wrote “The Outsiders” when she was only 16 years old. She was writing from her own experience. But the key thing is that her experience was not the same as mine. “The Outsiders” removed me from my world and put me in hers. It made me view the world differently.

And that is why I read and write books. I want to constantly rethink what the world is, and what it might be. I want to see a familiar scene through the eyes of someone I’ll never be. I don’t have much in common with Piper Vaughan, the narrator of “Five Flavors of Dumb”—she’s a girl at a co-ed US high school, whereas I went to an all-boys school in England. She’s deaf and has little interest in music (at first, anyway), whereas I’m hearing and have Ph.D in music. But seeing the world through her eyes allowed me to think about music from an entirely new perspective. It taught me a lot about deafness. And it reminded me how important communication is to everyone, hearing or not.

As you read the books in the challenge, think about how they change your view of the world. And if you feel inspired to write you own book, go for it!

One last thing: If a book gets you really fired up, please tell your friends about it. If you think one of the challenge books will appeal to a friend or family member, check it out from the library and put it in their hands. Share the gift of your favorite books. Who knows—maybe you’ll change someone else’s


Antony John is the author of young adult novels Busted: Confessions of an Accidental Player and Five Flavors of Dumb (winner of the American Library Association’s Schneider Family Book Award). His novels Thou Shalt Not Road Trip and Elemental are forthcoming from Dial/Penguin in 2012. A native of England, he graduated from Oxford University with a degree in music, and received his Ph.D. from Duke University. Now he lives with his family in St. Louis, Missouri. Check out his website: www.antonyjohn.net

First, I want to thank Antony for taking time to participate in the Feature Book of the Week.  And in case you missed it in his opening comments, the Book Battle Committee is very excited that Antony  
Enjoy his book!  And Happy Thanksgiving!

2011/2012 Feature Book of the Week #8
Priscilla the Great by Sybil Nelson

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Meet Priscilla Sumner, an ordinary seventh grader with extraordinary gifts. As if middle school isn’t hard enough, not only does Priscilla have to fight pimples and bullies, but genetically enhanced assassins trying to kill her and her family. Armed with wit, strength, and a genius best friend, Priscilla must defeat the Selliwood Institute, an organization dead set on turning children into killing machines.

Add an older brother annoyingly obsessed with Christina Aguilera, mischievous baby twin brothers who could scare the sin off of Satan, and parents more puzzling than a Rubik’s cube in the Bermuda triangle and expect a smoking page-turner! (Publisher's summary from Goodreads)


            Hi Bookbattlers! Thanks so much for having me this year. I’m so excited for you to get to know Priscilla Sumner, the title character in my Priscilla the Great series. I’ve written a lot of books and she is by far the most fun to write. While I was writing the series, many times during the day I’d have to stop what I was doing in order to jot down something funny I could imagine Priscilla saying.

            So how did I come up with the idea for my feisty little fire-thrower? Well I started thinking about all the problems kids have when puberty comes along. I mean, what does puberty bring besides pimples and confusing hormones? So I thought how cool would it be if puberty brought awesome powers as well. But Priscilla the Great isn’t your ordinary superhero story. Even without her fire-shooting fingers, she is a riveting character. She’s addicted to superhero movies, comic books, and racing bikes down Main Street with her friend Kyle. Plus her school cafeteria has a soft serve ice cream machine which is home to the monthly seventh grade versus eighth grade Ice Cream Challenge (ICC). Imagine being able to stick your head under the nozzle of your favorite ice cream and gorge yourself while humiliating the eighth grade bullies. Awesome!

            While Priscilla is totally competitive in a tomboy kind of way, she is also completely in touch with her feminine side. A major plot point of the book is Priscilla trying to capture the attention of her crush, Spencer Callahan who barely knows she exists.

            On top of all this, Priscilla also has to deal with her quirky family: five-year-old twin brothers who like to throw frozen waffles at her for no reason at all, a sixteen-year-old brother who can’t stop singing Christina Aguilera songs, a father who looks like a professional wrestler but would rather bake cookies and a mother who has never heard of Oprah!

            I wrote Priscilla the Great while I was a high school teacher in South Carolina. I often found my inspiration for characters and situations from my students. In fact, Priscilla is a mix of two my students Ellen and Helen. It’s a complete coincidence that their names happen to rhyme. They weren’t even related. Anyway, I remember Helen would come into class every day with the craziest stories of something that happened to her. Once she shaved her armpits without shaving cream and they burned so badly that she spent the day with her hands tucked in her armpits. I haven’t used that story yet but expect it soon!

            So basically, if you haven’t already been introduced to Priscilla’s great world, be sure to check it out. Soon, she’ll most definitely be the hottest girl you know!


Sybil has always had a love of books and writing. During her school years, shed choose a different author each summer and devour their complete works.  Riding public transportation from her low-income housing, she always dedicated Wednesdays to her library pursuits. 
Sybil also spent her time jotting down poems and stories in her beloved notebooks. She even won a full scholarship to Washington and Lee University for one of her essays. Though her scholarship was for journalism, she soon lost confidence in her writing and ended up changing her major from English and Journalism to Mathematics and Music Theory.
During the years after college, while working as a math teacher at Georgetown Day School, Sybil never lost her love of words. She continued to devour novels in her free time. In all of her reading however, she began to notice that the novels she enjoyed most never contained any black female characters. This observation bothered her.

After years noticing the role models (or lack thereof) for black girls in the media, Sybil finally decided to pick up a pen and do something about it. While working as a math teacher at Ashley Hall School in Charleston, South Carolina, finishing her masters thesis at the College of Charelston, she began writing stories poems and novels that featured strong black women. She now attends the Medical University of South Carolina pursuing her Ph.D. in Biostatistics. She continues to write and, to date, has written ten complete novels.

Sybil has three books published under pen name Leslie DuBois. Visit www.LeslieDuBois.com to learn more. 

A BIG thanks to Sybil Nelson for taking time out to support all you lovely book battlers. Hope you are enjoying Priscilla the Great as much as it sounds like Ms. Nelson enjoyed writing about her. Make sure you leave a comment to let her know and enter in the Comment Challenge.

Also make sure you stop by next Monday for a very
special and exciting announcement!! 

2011/2012 Feature Book of the Week #7
The Bull Rider by Suzanne Morgan Williams

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Cam O'Mara, grandson and younger brother of bull- riding champions, is not interested in partaking in the family sport. Cam is a skateboarder, and perfecting his tricks — frontside flips, 360s — means everything until his older brother, Ben, comes home from Iraq, paralyzed from a brain injury. 

What would make a skateboarder take a different kind of ride? And what would get him on a monstrosity of a bull named Ugly? If Cam can stay on for the requisite eight seconds, will the $15,000 prize bring hope and a future for his big brother? (Publisher's summary from Goodreads)


Today I was at a high school and one of the students asked me “Why do you write your books?” My answer? – so people will read them. Yes, most writers love language and play with it the same way a star basketball player may practice six ways to do a layup shot. Yes, most professional writers hope to make money and almost everyone likes to be told they are special and their work is good. That just feels great. But the reason I spend a couple of years writing a book is because somewhere in that process I found the story’s heart, the thing that I’ve struggled with in my own mind, the question that I want to think about, and maybe a little bit of my answer that I want to share with readers.

When I started writing Bull Rider it was a story about a kid who wanted to be a bull rider and his mom wouldn’t let him do it. It was simple and the book had nothing to do with the story it became – the story of a family dealing with the aftermath of war. But one of the smaller characters in that first (unpublished) manuscript was Cam O’Mara’s older brother Ben. As I designed the O’Mara family, I needed Ben to be doing something, and being from a small ranching town, I figured he’d join the service as so many young men and women do. And I was writing the book during the height of the fighting in Iraq, and I had a hard time ignoring that if this brother was in the service, he’d probably be in the Middle East fighting a war. That was a really different story from the light one I’d started out to write. But that was the one that grabbed my heart. What if that brother came home injured and fundamentally changed? How would Cam handle that? So I found the heart of Bull Rider and the passion of writing this story for you.

Please know that every author of every book in your library wrote those books to be read. An unread book is like a text message that you don’t pick up or a conversation that you pretend to listen to but really blow off while you play a video game. A book that sits on a shelf doesn’t matter. But when you read a book you connect with the author. You become part of a conversation with someone you may never meet, but whose words may touch you. That’s the possibility, the promise, every time you pick up a book.

I just love knowing that you guys are reading Bull Rider. The things you think about and care about will be the basis for what happens in all of our futures. This is the absolute truth. School isn’t really about getting good grades and doing assignments – although that’s how you get through and on toward what you want to do. It’s about becoming the great people you are intended to be. Every time you read a good book, you not only (hopefully) are entertained, but you get to crawl inside someone else’s head and try on their ideas. You won’t always agree with the author or with each other, but like exercising to get better at sports, reading lots and lots of books will strengthen your own sense of who you are. As an author, a citizen, and a human being, I couldn’t hope for more than that. I’m honored that Bull Rider is on your Truman Award List, is part of the Book Battle and that, for a little while, we may share some thoughts. Enjoy.  

Suzanne Morgan Williams


Suzanne Morgan Williams is the author of the novel Bull Rider (Margert K. McElderry, 2009) as well as eleven nonfiction books for children. Bull Rider is a Junior Library Guild Selection, is on state award lists in Texas, Nevada, Missouri, and Indiana, and received a Western Heritage Award from the National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City and represented the state of Nevada at the National Book Festival in Washington D.C. Suzanne’s nonfiction titles include Pinatas and Smiling Skeleton (Outstanding, Parents’ Council and Best Multicultural Book, Independent Publisher’s Book Award), The Inuit , Made in China, and the upcoming China’s Daughters (Pacific View Press 2011). Suzanne’s work takes her into classrooms and communities across the US and Canada, from Mexico to the Arctic. Visit www.suzannemorganwilliams.com

I want to thank Suzanne for taking the time to be a part of this year's Feature Book of the Week and writing a guest post especially for all who will be competing this years.

2011/2012 Feature Book of the Week #6
The Latte Rebellion by Sarah Jamila Stevenson

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Our philosophy is simple: Promote a latte-colored world! —from the Latte Rebellion Manifesto When high school senior Asha Jamison gets called a "towel head" at a pool party, the racist insult gives Asha and her best friend Carey a great money-making idea for a post-graduation trip. They'll sell T-shirts promoting the Latte Rebellion, a club that raises awareness of mixed-race students. Seemingly overnight, their "cause" goes viral and the T-shirts become a nationwide fad. As new chapters spring up from coast to coast, Asha realizes that her simple marketing plan has taken on a life of its own-and it's starting to ruin hers. Asha's once-stellar grades begin to slip, threatening her Ivy League dreams, and her friendship with Carey is hanging by a thread. And when the peaceful underground movement turns militant, Asha's school launches a disciplinary hearing.Facing expulsion, Asha must decide how much she's willing to risk for something she truly believes in. (Publisher's summary from Goodreads)
Hi Book Battlers! I'm honored to be part of this year's mayhem.

Funny thing about reading: when you sit down to get absorbed in an amazing story, that story seems like such an independent force, like it came into being fully formed and couldn't have existed any other way. Harry Potter, he of the green eyes and lightning-shaped scar, could never have been Henrietta Potter, with two Harley-riding parents and an orange mohawk, for instance. (Although, if I had written it, maybe...)
But the truth is, a story can take a lot of different forms before it sees the light of day. Some stories never manage to see the light of day at all, but the important part is to keep writing. The Latte Rebellion is my first published novel, but I wrote two-and-a-half novels and a whole bunch of short stories before I even started Latte. But it would not have been possible for me to write Latte without having written those novels and stories, without sending them out and getting rejection notes and being inspired and determined to do better next time.

Heck, I wouldn't have been able to write Latte if it weren't for EVERY bit of writing that came before. Even the really, really bad stuff, like the unfinished dystopian cyber-thriller starring a guy with a robot arm, and the angst-filled poems that made me sound like I should be put in a comfy padded room without any sharp objects. Yes, even those fashion magazines for cats that I made when I was a kid, complete with advice columns. (I'm sorry to report that I did indeed write all of those things.)

Fortunately, NONE of that made it into The Latte Rebellion. What did make it into the story, even if indirectly, was the fact that I kept on going, didn't ever give up on writing or let rejection or failure get in the way of how much I love putting words together to create stories. I stayed focused on trying to improve, trying to become a better writer. And my favorite method of trying to become a better writer is to read a lot. In fact, I think I can credit my immense, sometimes out-of-control, love of reading for the fact that I'm a writer now. 

I hadn't planned to be a writer—I thought I'd be illustrating the covers of books rather than writing the stories inside. But even though I still draw, paint, and do other artistic things, I always come back to words. I start the day with reading. (And coffee.) I read as the last thing I do before I go to bed. 

And one of the thoughts that gives me the most joy and amazement is to picture some other book addict, reading under the covers at night before bed, with MY book in their hands--my little story, The Latte Rebellion, about a girl whose moneymaking scheme spirals out of control and causes both havoc and hilarity. If that's you, sneaking in a few more minutes of your book addiction before bed, well, thanks for reading!


Sarah Jamila Stevenson is a writer, artist, graphic designer, introvert, closet geek, enthusiastic eater, struggling blogger, lapsed piano player, household-chore-ignorer and occasional world traveler. Her previous lives include spelling bee nerd, suburban Southern California teenager, Berkeley art student, under appreciated temp, and humor columnist for a video game website.

Throughout said lives, she has acquired numerous skills of questionable usefulness, like intaglio printmaking and Welsh language. She lives in Northern California with her husband, who is also an artist, and two cats with astounding sleep-inducing powers.
She earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Mills College in Oakland, CA, a post-baccalaureate certificate in Printmaking from the San Francisco Art Institute, and a BA in Art Practice and Psychology from the University of California at Berkeley.

I want to thank Jamila for taking time out of her writing and blogging schedule to talk to us about reading and writing. 

Don't forget to leave a comment about the book and her post.

2011/2012 Feature Book of the Week #5
Jane in Bloom by Debby Lytton

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Jane's big sister, Lizzie, has always been the center of attention. No one ever pays attention to boring, plain Jane. But when Jane's twelfth birthday marks the beginning of Lizzie's fi nal descent into a fatal eating disorder, Jane discovers that the only thing harder than living in her big sister's shadow is living without her.

In the wake of tragedy, Jane learns to look through her camera lens and frame life differently, embracing her broken family and understanding that every girl has her season to blossom. Spare and vulnerable prose marks this beautiful debut that is at once heartbreaking and uplifting. (Publisher's summary from Goodreads)


Imagine you and I are sitting together in my favorite tea room in Los Angeles.  Maybe we would talk about our favorite books.   You would tell me what books you love. 
And then I would tell you that I love Pride and Prejudice, The Scarlet Letter, historical fiction about Queen Elizabeth I, Alice in Wonderland, the Wizard of Oz and Island of the Blue Dolphins.

Then you might ask me how I knew I wanted to be a writer. 

I have had many careers.  I’ve been an actress, a singer and an attorney.  But I became a writer because I love books.  I love staying up until three in the morning because I can’t stop reading.  I love laughing out loud, weeping in sorrow and falling in love.  I love making new friends.  Books are an escape for me.  Writing them is like embarking on a journey without knowing my destination.  Because I never know exactly what is happening next.  For me, writing is freedom.  I have to write, like I have to breathe.

Perhaps you would want to know why I decided to write Jane in Bloom

I wrote Jane in Bloom for anyone who has ever felt invisible.  Many years ago, I saw a television news segment about forgotten siblings.  They were lost in a family that was focused on a child with a problem.  That child took all the attention.  And the forgotten brother or sister was left alone.  Feeling invisible.  I wanted to tell their story.  And that became Jane’s story.  Jane is a girl who has been forgotten.  Because everyone around her is only looking at her older sister, Lizzie.  Lizzie could have had any number of problems.  But I decided to give her an eating disorder.  So many girls and women today struggle with their body images.  Our society tells us we need to look a certain way to be considered beautiful.  I wanted to show that beauty comes from within.  True beauty comes from being true to yourself.  From believing in yourself.   Jane learns this lesson.  Sadly, Lizzie does not. 

Many readers have asked me why Jane becomes a photographer in the book.

I wanted to give Jane a creative outlet to express herself.  I believe in writing what I know, so I needed to choose something I could understand.  I am a really terrible artist, so art was out.  I am a fairly good photographer, though.  Photography is a way to express yourself while being able to remain invisible.  You aren’t in the photograph, rather it is your vision that is seen in the photograph.  This allows for expression without exposure.  I liked this for Jane.  In order to write about Jane’s experience as a photographer, I took my camera and went out and shot photos of roses.  It was much more difficult than I imagined it would be.  But it let me into Jane’s world even more. 
I hope before we finish our tea, you would tell me about your own writing. 

I believe all of us have stories to tell, and that no one can tell a story exactly the way that you would tell it.  The best lesson I have learned about being a writer is to write.  Because the lovely thing about writing is that it improves with practice.  And you don’t need anyone else to help you.  You can take a pen and paper, or write on your computer.  All you need is your imagination.  And if you let it, your imagination will take you on a fantastic journey.

Thank you for reading Jane in Bloom.  I am really grateful to know that Jane’s story is being shared. 

Deborah Lytton


Deborah Lytton is a writer and actress who grew up in front of the camera, beginning her career at age six when she was discovered by a Hollywood agent.  Her acting credits include five years on the hit daytime soap opera Days of our Lives as “Melissa Anderson” and numerous television roles on shows such as Mod Squad, Family, The Waltons, The Incredible Hulk, Stone, Next Step Beyond and Streets of San Francisco.  

   Debby signed her first record deal with Curb Records at the age of twelve.  She went on to sing songs on the soundtracks for numerous films including Hot Lead and Cold Feet, Mac and Me and Let It Be Me.  She sang Time which appeared in the feature film Ballistic Ecks vs. Sever and was also on the film soundtrack.   In addition, she was one of the cast of the animated musical Rudolph the Movie for Good Times Entertainment. 

Debby is educated as an attorney, having graduated cum laude from both U.C.L.A., where she received a B.A. and from Pepperdine University School of Law, where she received a J.D.  Debby then went on to pass the Bar Exam in two states, California and Tennessee.

Debby resides in Los Angeles, California with her daughters, Ava and Caroline.  In her free time, Debby enjoys photography, studying martial arts and going to Disneyland.

Jane in Bloom is her first novel.  

I want to thank Debby Lytton for taking time out and providing such a wonderful guest post. 


2011/2012 Feature Book of the Week #5
Shifter by Janice Hardy

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Nya is an orphan struggling for survival in a city crippled by war. She is also a Taker—with her touch, she can heal injuries, pulling pain from another person into her own body. But unlike her sister, Tali, and the other Takers who become Healers' League apprentices, Nya's skill is flawed: She can't push that pain into pynvium, the enchanted metal used to store it. All she can do is shift it into another person, a dangerous skill that she must keep hidden from forces occupying her city. If discovered, she'd be used as a human weapon against her own people. 

Rumors of another war make Nya's life harder, forcing her to take desperate risks just to find work and food. She pushes her luck too far and exposes her secret to a pain merchant eager to use her shifting ability for his own sinister purposes. At first Nya refuses, but when Tali and other League Healers mysteriously disappear, she's faced with some difficult choices. As her father used to say, principles are a bargain at any price; but how many will Nya have to sell to get Tali back alive? (Publisher's summary from Goodreads)


Hi guys! I’m so excited to be part of your Book Battle this year. I wish they had these when I was in school.

People always ask me where I got the idea for my trilogy, The Healing Wars, especially the first book, The Shifter. How did I ever come up with shifting pain from person to person? Well, it was actually inspired by a movie.

I went to see the first X-Men movie, and Rogue is my favorite surperhero of all time. (If you don’t know, her power is that she accidentally steals other heroes’ powers when she touches them) After the movie, I started thinking about stealing things from people by touch, and that led to me wondering what would happen if someone could heal by accidentally bumping into people. Would they feel all the injuries they healed? Get sick? What would they do with it afterward?

I wrote up a ten-page outline for this story and it was terrible. I mean really, really bad. So I stuffed it in a drawer and forgot about it for years. But one day I found it again, and while the story idea was still ghastly, the idea of taking someone’s pain stuck with me. I kept thinking about pain and healing, and suddenly realized I’d rarely seen anyone portray healing as anything but good before. What if it could be used for evil as well? Could there be a dark side to healing? What would be the consequences?

I couldn’t stop thinking about this. I knew my hero for the book had to be a healer, but how was she unique? What made her different from “normal” healers?  And thus Nya was born, a girl who could heal, but only by shifting pain from person to person. She wanted to help others, but her skill was better used to hurt people, so to help one she had to hurt someone else.

Once I had Nya and knew how her powers worked it was easy to put her into the story and get her into trouble. Because stories are all about interesting people, solving interesting problems in interesting ways.

I hope Nya’s story (and her problems) are as much fun for you to read as they were for me to write.

Battle on!


Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy THE HEALING WARS, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her books include THE SHIFTER, and BLUE FIRE. DARKFALL, the final book of the trilogy, is due out October 4, 2011. She lives in Georgia with her husband, three cats and one very nervous freshwater eel. You can visit her online at www.janicehardy.com, chat with her about writing on her blog, The Other Side of the Story (http://blog.janicehardy.com/), or find her on Twitter @Janice_Hardy.

A warm thanks to Janice Hardy for the lovely guest post written especially to all of our book battle teams. Shifter is a wonderful book and I hope you all enjoy reading it as you get ready to strut your stuff this May.

2011/2012 Feature Book of the Week #4
Dead Boys by Royce Buckingham

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


In the desert town of Richland, Washington, there stands a giant sycamore tree. Horribly mutated by nuclear waste, it feeds on the life energy of boys that it snags with its living roots. And when Teddy Matthews moves to town, the tree trains its sights on its next victim.

From the start, Teddy knows something is very wrong with Richland-every kid he meets disappears before his eyes. A trip to the cemetery confirms that these boys are actually dead and trying to lure him to the tree. But that knowledge is no help when Teddy is swept into the tree's world, a dark version of Richland from which there is no escape. (Publisher's summary from Goodreads)


 Royce “Atomic” Buckingham

Hey reading warriors! I hear you are going to battle, and I am so psyched that my book THE DEAD BOYS is one of the weapons. I write fantasy and monster novels, so a good raging battle is right up my alley.

What’s really cool about my book THE DEAD BOYS is that it’s set in my home town of Richland, WA, where I grew up near the Hanford nuclear plant (you can Wikipedia Hanford for more info). Turns out radioactive waste was dumped in my drinking water until I was about five years old. Once I started writing fantasy books, it seemed the perfect setting for a mutated monster story (I’ll stop there…I don’t want to give any more away). The locations in the book are authentic (check Mapquest to further investigate), as is the history of Hanford. Well…okay, I did take a few liberties in order to monsterfy the town.

I now live in Bellingham, WA, overlooking the islands in Puget Sound. My other novels, DEMONKEEPER and GOBLINS, are also set in places I’ve lived. They are even more monstery than THE DEAD BOYS, if that’s possible. DEMONKEEPER is a bestseller in Germany and was even optioned for a movie, once upon a time. You can write me at royce@demonkeeper.com

My advice for aspiring writers is to create your story completely in your head before you start writing. My favorite way is by telling it to others out loud over and over before I whip out the laptop. My advice for aspiring readers is: do it a lot! It’s fun, it’s cool, and it makes you smart.

Have a great battle.

 I was born in 1966 in Richland, Washington and grew up in the 70’s near the Hanford nuclear plant. Richland is in the eastern Washingtonian desert on the Columbia river, one of the largest rivers in the world. I used to take a trip each summer with my family to my grandparents’ working ranch in the mountainous Bozeman/Livingston area of Montana. As a young child in Richland, I was a Cub Scout, loved sports, and I was fascinated by fantastic tales such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Phantom Tollbooth and The Mouse and the Motorcycle.   

As I grew older, I moved on to The Hobbit, Conan the Barbarian and anything Stephen King. I collected comic books too. Movies were a big event in my small, government town. I saw Jaws at the theater the day it opened in 1975. I was nine years old. I stood in the sold-out line again in 1977 for Star Wars when I was eleven, and again for Alien when I was thirteen. We didn’t have VCR’s back then. 

Around twelve, I discovered the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons&Dragons and began to create my own fantasy worlds. I was a Little League baseball player filled with wonder and dreams and a fascination for stories.   
When I graduated from high school, I left home for Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. It’s a small liberal arts school. I played college baseball there for a couple of years, but was primarily there for the academics. I majored in English literature and traded Stephen King and the X-men for Milton and Hemmingway. I also gave up baseball my junior year to go abroad and study English in…England.   

I had begun tinkering with creative writing by this time. However, I felt that I should be responsible and pursue a “real career.”

I applied and was accepted at the University of Oregon School of Law. I didn’t know anything about law, but it seemed a good bet to provide a “real career.”    I discovered an area of law I found interesting—criminal law. In my final year at law school, I studied all things crime and even wrote a fifty-page thesis-style paper on juvenile criminals. I also took an undergraduate creative writing class for fun in my spare time and wrote a dark little literary/horror story. At the suggestion of a professor, I sent my thesis to a law review. At the suggestion of a friend, I sent my story to a literary magazine.  

As law school came to a close, I was contacted by the Willamette Law Review. They wanted to publish my article on juvenile offenders. About the same time, I got a call from Reed Magazine, the Literary Magazine of San Jose State University. They wanted to publish my short story…as written. These were two early writing successes that couldn’t have been more different.   

My legal article went onto my resume, my short story went into my drawer, and I began looking for a job to begin my “real career.” My first interview was at the Whatcom County Prosecutor’s Office (DA’s Office) in Bellingham, Washington, a gorgeous little University town north of Seattle overlooking the San Juan Islands. When I arrived, the receptionist told me that there were over 100 inquiries for the job. The interview consisted, in part, of the entire office of experienced attorneys watching me do a mock opening statement and mock cross-examination of a witness in a real courtroom. It was terrifying, but I prepared hard and apparently did well, because I got the job. I passed the bar exam and began to prosecute criminals as a real attorney.  

As I went after bad guys in real life, I began to write fantasy, sci-fi and horror short stories in my spare time and submit them to publications. In 1993, I collected over one hundred rejection letters. One especially mean-spirited letter said, “your story is moronic, don’t you have anything better to do with your time?” It was discouraging, but I made up a file entitled, “reasons to keep writing,” and kept all of those letters as motivation. Eventually, I had seven short stories published in small magazines that nobody had ever heard of, including me. I discovered later that a 7% publication rate for short stories is actually pretty good. I also did well in some story competitions, which made me think, “hey, I can do this.” I showed my stories to anyone who was willing read them. People often said my stuff was weird, which I took as a compliment.   

I sat down and wrote a novel. It took a year. I didn’t know anything about the publishing industry at the time, and I couldn’t sell it. I was discouraged. It took too long to write a novel just to learn at the end that nobody would buy it. But short stories didn’t get me many fans or much money. I wanted to tell stories to a larger audience. About this time, I discovered the screenplay format.   

It was the mid-90’s, and I had advanced to a position as a juvenile court prosecutor. Rap songs about violent gang members were popular, and I handled many serious juvenile offenders.   

I was writing screenplays at this point. My first was an adaptation of my novel. I loved the screenplay form. It was very direct, like me. I wrote another and entered a contest. To my delight, I was a finalist, and my script was performed as a stage reading in Seattle. I was encouraged to write more scripts.   

Then Demonkeeper happened.

Demonkeeper began as a short story inspired by a street kid I used to prosecute regularly in juvenile court. He was thirteen, had a green Mohawk, and I’d see him downtown begging change. One day he disappeared, and nobody seemed to notice. Even his parents didn’t know where he’d gone, or care. I imagined the chaos of street life as a monster that rose and ate him up while people weren’t paying attention, as it does with so many lost children. I wrote a screenplay from that story. The script evolved into a much more lighthearted and fun tale than that short tale I wrote years earlier, but the message remained—kids need stability, family and a home.

The Demonkeeper screenplay married my love of fantasy with the themes I was seeing in the courtroom during my very somber day-job. It began to win competitions. I wrote other scripts, and they earned me awards as well, but Demonkeeper was always the favorite and garnered the most notice. The awards kept me going like addictive little nibbles at success, and they regularly reminded me that, “hey, I can do this.” By 1999, I was writing more scripts and sending my work to L.A. in the hope that I could sell something. 
For the next five years, I wrote hard and tried to sell a script. As a result, I ended up winning the quadruple-crown of northwest screenwriting competitions, including the Washington State short script competition, the Pacific Northwest Writers Association feature length script competition, the Washington State feature length competition (with Demonkeeper), and the Seattle International Film Festival’s Pitch Competition all in the space of two years. Some Hollywood producers got interested in Demonkeeper, and I thought I was about to break through. I even took the time to translate Demonkeeper into a novel.   

But as excited as I got about my amateur success, my big-budget fantasy about street monsters eating lost kids did not get picked up by a studio. In the meantime, I had children of my own. I also got promoted at work. I moved to adult felony prosecutions—robbery, arson, abuse, negligent homicides, burglary, etc.. My wife was working full-time too. I had to write at night after everyone else went to bed. I was typically up until two a.m., and often later, either writing or preparing for jury trials. This…was a problem. My intense day job and my writing were taking time away from my family. I even fell asleep sitting upright at my desk once. As good as the signs were for my writing, the fact was: I wasn’t breaking through, I wasn’t making any money at it, and I’d been doing it over ten years. It was tough to justify the commitment. I had a “real career,” and I questioned why I was still chasing what seemed a silly dream.   

I’d submitted Demonkeeper to the Nicholl Fellowship, a contest put on by the Academy for amateur screenwriters. I’d done so every year for some time. They receive up to 5000 entries annually and are regarded as the best competition for screenwriters—heck, they’re the Academy Awards people! Winners often obtained representation and/or sold scripts. I’d done well in the competition before, but, as with my attempts to sell my work, I’d never won. In 2004, with all of my other obligations weighing on me, I resolved to quit writing seriously after I received the results of that year’s Nicholl Fellowship. 

That same week, Microsoft e-mailed me. They’d heard about Demonkeeper from a friend of mine in Seattle. They wanted to hire a screenwriter to create an original story for an Xbox video game. I was floored. After they read my script, they offered me the job. I sat down with my wife. This was not what I had planned, but it was an opportunity to write a fantasy story for a real audience for real money. My amazing wife took one look at our choice between my dream vs. my secure “real career” and told me…“go for it.” Completely contrary to every conservative lesson I’d ever been taught, I “went for it.” I left my “real career” and wrote Microsoft an incredible story. A few months later, Microsoft cancelled the project, and I came crawling back to the prosecutor’s office to beg for my job back. 

This time I felt I was truly done with writing. I’d been doing it for almost twelve years now. I’d won almost everything I could win, and still I hadn’t sold anything. And I almost lost my hard-earned, secure government job as a prosecutor.

Then I received a letter from the Nicholl Fellowship. Demonkeeper had made it to the top 2% and was being considered for the final round of the competition. I was elated.
Then it lost. I was done, this time for good. I shut off the computer.

Along about here, Michael Kuciak at Atchity Entertainment International (AEI) gave me an innocuous call and asked if he could read the script that had done well in the Nicholl Fellowship. I sent Demonkeeper down to him and, frankly, forgot about it. I’d sent lots of scripts out, and only once had producers gotten legitimately interested. I returned to my stabbings, shootings, and robbings prosecutions. At least, I thought, I’d given my dream of being a writer a shot with the Microsoft gig. On my deathbed, I could say that I tried.   

Then Mike called me. He’d read Demonkeeper. He loved it. His bosses had read it. They loved it. They wanted to represent me. I mentioned that I had written it into a novel and asked if they cared. The response from them was surprise and delight. It turned out that AEI specialized in taking literary properties first to New York, then to Hollywood. Ken Atchity at AEI told me that they’d sell my novel in NY, then sell my script in LA. Yeah, right, I thought, but they did indeed work quickly to get my novel ready for publishers in New York to review.

In late 2005, Penguin Publishers read it Demonkeeper…and they loved it. They bought my novel sometime around Christmas of that year. Wow! We celebrated. I jumped up and down.   

The sale was announced in Publishers Weekly shortly thereafter, in January of ‘06. It turns out that Hollywood studio scouts read Publishers Weekly looking for new material. Fox 2000, a division of 20th Century Fox, called AEI the day the announcement was printed. They wanted to read the novel. Ken was ready. He asked them, “wouldn’t you rather read Royce’s award-winning screenplay?” Fox read the script and made an offer the next day. Double wow! I spent a week pinching myself each morning to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.


Ken and AEI had delivered exactly as promised. And that hasn’t been the end of it. My second novel, Goblins, sold to Penguin later that same year. I now have three books out in the U.S.: Demonkeeper, Goblins! and The Dead Boys. Demonkeeper I was a best seller in Germany and third book of that series will be released in November 2011. Demonkeeper has also sold to and/or been released in France, Italy, Finland, Spain, Peru, Russia, Romania.

The whole idea of Penguin publishing my novels and 20th Century Fox making a movie out of my crazy monster fantasy was overwhelming at the time, and I still pinch myself some days. But looking back over this letter, I think things were meant to work out this way. The other day I found a scrap of paper in my Cub Scout handbook in my parents’ basement. It was a one-page story written in a childish cursive script with a No. 2 pencil. The story was about a man who found a ray gun and accidentally made himself disappear—a spooky science fiction tale. The story had my name printed neatly at the bottom, and my age. I was eight years old. (retrieved from author's website)
A picture of the boy eating tree from Dead Boys

A big thanks to Royce for participating in this year's book battle. I am sure he would love to hear from all the teams about your experience reading Dead Boys.

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