Ontario Teen Book Fest Author Spotlight: Livia Blackburne

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Welcome to the latest stop for the Ontario Teen Book Fest blog tour! Today I’ll be spotlighting and interviewing Livia Blackburne, but first: a bit of information about the event.

GraphicTwoThe event is located at Colony High School, 3850 E. Riverside Drive, Ontario, CA 91761. This is a free and unticketed event, so if you’re in the area, stop by and visit a few authors! I personally won’t be there, but I know several bloggers will, including Sara from What a Nerd Girl Says. This event is sponsored by Mrs. Nelson’s Book Fair Company – I had some fantastic experiences with them when I was at the LA Times Book Festival last month, so I know it’ll be an event worth attending!

And now to the author spotlight: Livia Blackburne. When Sara emailed me a list of authors, I immediately jumped at the chance to interview Blackburne; she and I had spoken before, and I had just finished reading her novella Poison Dance. So without further adieu, here’s some more information on Livia and her books!

Livia Blackburne was born in Taiwan, raised in Albuquerque, and spent her twenties in Boston, where she studied biochemistry at Harvard and neuroscience at MIT. She writes mainly YA fantasy, and started her debut novel Midnight Thief in high school. One of her biggest influences was Tamora Pierce, and some of her favorite books include The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, and Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. Another fun fact: she has a very low tolerance for chocolate and sugar in general! You can read Livia’s full bio on her website.

Midnight Thief, Livia’s debut novel, will be published July 8, 2014 by Disney-Hyperion. Check out this amazing synopsis!

Growing up on Forge’s streets has taught Kyra how to stretch a coin. And when that’s not enough, her uncanny ability to scale walls and bypass guards helps her take what she needs. 

But when the leader of the Assassins Guild offers Kyra a lucrative job, she hesitates. She knows how to get by on her own, and she’s not sure she wants to play by his rules. But he’s persistent—and darkly attractive—and Kyra can’t quite resist his pull.

Tristam of Brancel is a young Palace knight on a mission. After his best friend is brutally murdered by Demon Riders, a clan of vicious warriors who ride bloodthirsty wildcats, Tristam vows to take them down. But as his investigation deepens, he finds his efforts thwarted by a talented thief, one who sneaks past Palace defenses with uncanny ease.

When a fateful raid throws Kyra and Tristam together, the two enemies realize that their best chance at survival—and vengeance—might be to join forces. And as their loyalties are tested to the breaking point, they learn a startling secret about Kyra’s past that threatens to reshape both their lives.

I also had the chance to interview Livia, and she gave me some great responses!

1. Your debut novel, Midnight Thief, publishes this year – what has that journey been like as you work through the publication process?  

As I’m sure you know, publication is a long journey. I first started writing Midnight Thief in 2007. So there’s definitely been a lot of writing and waiting, interspersed with high adrenaline nailbiting moments. I think what’s tied it all together is the chance to interact with people who love books. Everyone from writer friends I met along the way, to my agent and my editorial team. Just having this excuse to immerse myself in stories to such a degree has been wonderful.

2. I’ve read Poison Dance (loved it, by the way), the prequel novella to Midnight Thief. How important is that novella to understanding the novel? And – without spoilers! – what role does James play in the entire plot of your book?  

I’m so glad you enjoyed Poison Dance! It’s free on all the e-book vendors right now, if anybody wants to give it a try. It’s possible to read and understand Midnight Thief without reading the novella, though Poison Dance will give you a much better understanding of James as a character. He’s very closed off and reserved, and because the novel is from Kyra’s point of view, there’s a lot of his story that’s only hinted at in Midnight Thief.  I’d say Midnight Thief gives you the cliff notes version of James’s past, whereas Poison Dance is the real thing.

In Midnight Thief, James is the mysterious head of the Assassins Guild. He’s smart, politically minded, and darkly attractive. He has a job for Kyra, and he pays her well. But he clearly has secrets and plans that Kyra doesn’t know about.

3. What was your favorite part of writing Midnight Thief? Is there a specific scene that really stands out to you, or was a personal favorite?  

I think my favorite part about writing Midnight Thief was just realizing that I had these stories and characters in my head, and now they were on paper and I could share them with everyone else. When I started getting feedback from my first group of beta readers, after they’dd read the entire novel and they came back to me with their thoughts, it was really special just to realize that those characters they were talking about and rooting for came out of my head!

As for a personal favorite scene, that’s hard! There are three male leads in Midnight Thief, and they all affect Kyra in important ways. There’s her best friend Flick, James the assassin, and Tristam the young knight trying to capture her. Each character has a key interaction Kyra that affects their relationship deeply, and those are my favorites. Without going into spoilers, these scenes are 1) when Flick gets reeaaally mad at Kyra, 2) THE CONVERSATION with James in Kyra’s room, and 3) when Tristam and Kyra finally interact for the first time.

4. I could be totally off-base here (and ignore this question if I am!) but I read on your website that you studied biochemistry and neuroscience, and I can’t help but wonder: are you using that knowledge when you write your assassins? Specifically, poison used in assassinations? (I have this ridiculous fascination with using poison, despite it being a “dishonorable” or “feminine” form of murder) 

Haha, well, I didn’t use any specific poisons that I learned about in my classes. I got the inspiration for lizard skin venom from a nature magazine I read as a child (though in real life, it’s poison from the skin of rain forest frogs that’s used to poison arrows). I do use some general knowledge about chemicals and anatomy in my world building, basic concepts like whether or not molecules break down, whether some poisons might work better through one method of introduction compared to another (swallowing versus stabbing, etc). The one bit of information that I did learn from classes,that poison accumulates in the liver, I edited out of the final draft because we decided that their medicine wasn’t advanced enough to know that.

5. Because I’m an aspiring author, and since a lot of my followers are also aspiring authors, what is one piece of advice you would impart now that you’re publishing your stories?  

Get critique partners that you trust, and take their advice to heart. Don’t get too attached to your writing. Be willing to make big changes if the story requires it. (Is that one piece of advice or three?  I’m pretty good at giving you three things when you only want one)

6. I also have to ask: plotter or pantser? 

I’m definitely a plotter. I actually tried to pants Poison Dance for NanoWriMo, and after a week I got so stressed out about the uncertainty that I had to pause and outline again. My outlining process includes a lot of writing though. A lot of times, I sketch out rough scenes while I’m outlining and throw out a lot of rough scenes, so I guess you could call that pantsing, except without going to the trouble of doing an actual draft.

As a part of this blog tour, there’s a giveaway involved! There’s some great prizes included, including signed swag from all the authors at the event! This is NOT international, sadly – sorry guys!

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And if you want to follow the rest of the tour, check out the schedule below:

May 2nd: Spotlight on Jessica Brody – What A Nerd Girl Says 
May 3rd: Spotlight on Elana K. Arnold – Nite Lite Book Reviews 
May 4th: Spotlight on Catherine Linka – Fangirl Feeels 
May 5th: Spotlight on Livia Blackburne — The Thousand Lives 
May 6th: Spotlight on Lauren Kate – She Reads She Blogs 
May 7th: Spotlight on Katie Alender – Movies, Shows and Books 
May 8th: Spotlight on Lauren Miller — A Bookish Escape 
May 9th: Spotlight on Sarah Skilton – Read Now Sleep Later 
May 10th: Spotlight on Lissa Price – Recently Acquired Obsessions  
May 11th: Spotlight on Jessi Kirby – What A Nerd Girl Says 
May 12th: Spotlight on Katherine Ewell – iFandoms Collide 
May 13th: Spotlight on Mary Pearson – The Windy Pages 
May 14th: Spotlight on John Corey Whaley – Read Now Sleep Later 
May 15th: Spotlight on Robin Benway – Adventures of a Book Junkie 
May 16th: Spotlight on Ava Dellaira – Fangirl Feeels

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Blog Tour: Mara by Veronica Bane – Review + Giveaway

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When Francine contacted me to ask if I wanted to join in on the tour, I was absolutely ecstatic! Not only could I help a friend, but I also got to read a novella that I’d had my eye on for a while! And even better – Mara was incredible, and left me wanting more!

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Title: Mara
Author: Veronica Bane
Publication Date: August 3, 2013
Publisher: Black Hill Press
Planned series, more info to follow

For years, Mara Tucker has used her power of manipulating flames to punish those who have done her wrong. But things are changing in the town of Jericho. Rampant disappearances have forced Mara to seek out others with special powers. In a story that confronts the violence and turmoil of adolescence, Mara and a group of other “unusuals” like her grapple with new alliances and the villains pressing in all around them.

“A tale of teenage rebellion in the tradition of classics ranging from The Outsiders to The Hunger Games, Veronica Bane’s fantasy novella explores the timeless themes of growing up, finding one’s inner strength, and discovering where one belongs. The titular antiheroine and her flawed-but-lovable band of “unusuals” are characters that will resonate with teen audiences and older readers alike.” –Ashley Heaton, Editor

Goodreads | Amazon

My Review:

I normally don’t read novellas, unless it’s something like Destroy Me where it’s a simple bridge between novels, but Mara was a stand-alone (as of right now), and yet I still loved it! I’ve always been interested in super powers, and with this motley band of kids who figure out they’re the next X-men, I was immediately hooked.

Mara, the title character, isn’t your normal teen girl – she’s isolated, moody, and quite snarky, not to mention she has some serious family issues. I really wanted to punch her brother – just sayin’. Despite her past, and her strange ability that can cause a lot of damage should she choose it, Mara is strong and ultimately becomes a leader for the group. The other characters were very unique, not only in the power they had, but also their personalities. I never mixed them up, because they stood out from each other. Alex was another of my favorite, out of the main five. His background is never fully revealed, and I really hope Veronica continues this series because I want to find out more about this boy! He’s roguish and a bit wicked, but towards the end of the novella he’s shown to care about a lot more than himself.

Even in the small number of pages (less than 200), there was a complete and intriguing plot. At times it became a bit confusing, because I was trying to catch up with the story while it kept barreling forward, but I think that was more of a reader issue rather than a writing issue. I can be a bit dense unless something is laid out step by step for me! The story is fast-paced and suspenseful, and I was on the edge of my seat the whole time.

The only thing I’d say I wish was a bit different would be the setting, as far as clarity. One character seems to be Asian, and I got the sense that she was in a sort of set apart camp for their culture. But then on another page it seems like they’re in a rural, tiny town where they’re all mushed together. One of the main plot points is racial tension, so I would have liked just a bit more clarification and world-building.

Four Stars

Meet the Author: 

author-veronica-baneVeronica Bane grew up in San Diego, California and spent her days writing in local coffee shops and at the beach. Her writing was and has always been fed a healthy diet of chai tea lattes and film scores.

Veronica studied Creative Writing at Chapman University and now lives in Los Angeles.

Author Links: Site / Twitter / Goodreads

The Giveaway: A signed copy of MARA + $25 gift card to Amazon

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Tour Schedule: