Author Archives: DEBtastic Reads!

About DEBtastic Reads!

Writer, reader, traveler, dog-lover, mom and wife. Author of two nonfiction children's books.

And The Winner Is…


Thank you to everyone who stopped by to help shine the spotlight on Kelly Fiore and her delicious YA novel:


Taste Test 

If you missed this fascinating interview, just click here to read it.

Be sure to look for her upcoming release 9781619633544_p0_v3_s260x420

This one looks like another goodie and I, for one, will definitely be buying and reading it!

The real reason you’re here, of course, is to find out who won a copy of Taste Test! Using a random number generator, the winning number is:

number 4! Counting from first comment to last, that makes the winner:

Lynn Bauer! Congratulations! Please contact me and give me your mailing address and I’ll make sure your prize gets in the mail ASAP!

Stayed tuned for more book buzz, interviews, and give-aways! Happy reading!

Welcome to the Spotlight Kelly Fiore and Taste Test!


I’m absolutely thrilled to shine the spotlight on YA author Kelly Fiore. I met Kelly this past winter at the Vermont College Novel Writing Retreat and when she told me about her book, Taste Test, I knew I had to read it. I read it and loved it! I’m now a fan of Kelly’s! Stay tuned below to enter for a chance to win her delicious novel!


Taste Test by Kelly Fiore (Bloomsbury/2013)

When Nora Henderson secures a spot on the popular TV cooking competition for high school seniors, she is excited for a chance to achieve her dream of leaving small town Weston, NC and having a career in the culinary arts. She does feel a little guilty for leaving behind her dad and the BBQ joint they’ve been running for most of her life. When she arrives on the set and meets the other contestants, she immediately loathes the arrogant son of a famous chef, Christian. The two become fierce competitors. Fortunately, she makes quick friends with two other contestants. During the course of the show, it seems someone is sabotaging the competition, seriously injuring some of the contestants. Nora is determined to solve the mystery. In the meantime, she fights her growing attraction to Christian. Delicious story flavored with a spicy romance! (And bonus, there are recipes!)

Spotlight on Kelly:

Thanks so much for having me, Debbi!

Thank you, Kelly, for being here! Please share the journey of this book – the inspiration, the writing process, and the road to publication.

I’ve always been a “foodie,” even before the word “foodie” was a common phrase. When the show, Top Chef, became popular, I was hooked. I loved how there was so much drama and stress in a kitchen – a true kitchen “arena.” The only thing I really thought was missing was the romantic chemistry and tension. If the show were a book or a movie, it would absolutely have that.

At about the same time, the class, Commercial Foods, became overwhelmingly popular at the school where I was teaching. It was essentially the cooking part of home economics. The kids loved making things and getting to serve them to others and there was a lot of pride and ownership of that food. Kids who ordinarily wouldn’t excel at art or other creative elective courses loved their cooking class.

So, in the Fall of 2010, I was talking to my agent about the manuscript that was currently on sub (and not going anywhere) and mentioned this “Top Chef for teens” idea. She was enthusiastic and, over the course of about four months, I wrote the first draft. I think it took another 2-3 months to clean it up and get it submission-ready. We went out with it in January and it sold in June to Walker Books for Young Readers.

I’m a sucker for a good (hot) romance. Nora and Christian totally sizzle! Taste Test has it all – romance, food, competition, sabotage, intrigue. Whew! I couldn’t stop turning pages! How did Nora and Christian come about? What are the challenges to writing great romantic tension?

When it comes to YA, I’m always trying to write and re-write one relationship – Pacey Witter and Joey Potter from Dawson’s Creek. I feel like any good romance, particularly for teens, needs to have two people with more than just chemistry – there needs to be a little spice. A little stress. It shouldn’t be an immediate attraction that, thereby, becomes a romance.

Pacey and Joey epitomized that kind of relationship for me. Their friendship and romance was a constant banter, alternately unrequited, then heated, then explosive. A big (read – huge) part of me will always want to be Joey and a big (read – enormous) part of me will always love Pacey.

So, in Taste Test, Nora is my Joey Potter – she’s feisty, but she’s cautious. She works harder than anyone else and feels like she has something to prove. Despite her strength, she’s painfully insecure. She trusts her best friend, Billy, implicitly, but there isn’t a lot of room for more than that in her carefully constructed, safe world.

Christian is my Pacey Witter – he’s cocky, but slightly damaged. His bravado is both a mask and a shield. As the son of a famous chef, he feels driven to prove himself and yet always unable to measure up. I think it’s safe to say that I gravitate toward that kind of male character – the kind that is both irritating and handsome, both frustrating and somehow sweet and heroic.

I think writing a good, desirable, swoon-worthy romance is HARD. Authors who primarily write romance do not get nearly enough respect for how hard it is to write one of the most universal experiences – falling in love – in a way that is both relatable and completely new. I like to think back on a fantastic piece of advice from Jennifer Jacobson – “Things that feel like they happen fast should be written slow, and things that feel like they happen slowly should be written fast.” Okay, she was WAY more eloquent about it than that – but that quote has stuck with me, especially when writing romantic scenes. It’s important not to rush the details. People want to fall in love with your characters and they want to be a part of that evolution. Your readers deserve the time and care a good romance takes.

Okay, I admit it, I love food. I wasn’t introduced to North Carolina barbecue until I met my in-laws for the first time over 16 years ago. But, yum! Do you like to cook? What is your favorite comfort food (or foods)?

Do I like to cook?


That’s like the understatement of the century. Cooking and baking are my “go-to” activities, apart from writing and reading. I use cooking to relax, to clear my head, to stimulate ideas. I ADORE food preparation in just about every form. I also have a son with food allergies, so I find myself cooking more often than not. Somehow, I never get tired of it.

I think my mom’s recipes are my biggest comfort foods. Some of them are in the book – well, variations of them. The macaroni and cheese recipe Nora makes for her first challenge is my mom’s recipe, but with my own spicy twists. But I will make beef stew or chicken noodle soup or chocolate cake from my mom’s classic recipes if I need that warm and cozy comfort feeling. I’m also lucky enough to have married into an amazing Italian family. My husband’s grandmother – who I call Grandma, too – has shared some of the Fiore family recipes with me and I’ve tried my hand at a few of the classics that my husband loves.

For me, food (like love) is a universal experience. It doesn’t really surprise me, in the end, that I wrote my first book about food. They always say you should write what you know and I definitely know food!

Kelly Fiore has a BA in English from Salisbury University and an MFA in Poetry from West Virginia University. She received an Individual Artist Award from the Maryland State Arts Council in 2005 and 2009. Kelly’s poetry has appeared in Small Spiral Notebook, Samzidada, Mid Atlantic Review, Connotation Press, and the Grolier Annual Review. Her first young adult novel, Taste Test, was released in August 2013 from Bloomsbury USA. Forthcoming books include Just Like the Movies, again from Bloomsbury, in 2014 and The People Vs. Cecelia Price from HarperTeen in 2015.

Kelly teaches college composition in Maryland, where she lives with her husband and son. 


For more about Kelly, check out her web site, follow her on Twitter, or friend her on Facebook!

By the way, I’m totally looking forward to her next novel, Just Like The Movies, due out on July 22! What’s it about? Two girls. Eight Movies. One Happily Ever After. I can’t wait!

But you won’t have to wait to read Taste Test! One lucky person will win a copy! As always, follow these instructions:

1. Comment below and for fun tell me your favorite comfort food. My comfort meal is roast chicken, Japanese rice, and gravy. It brings back memories of home. That and Mom’s potato salad. And pie. Any kind of pie, but I’m partial to key lime. It’s really hard to pick one!

2. Please have a U.S. mailing address. I take care of both the copy of the book and mailing, so this just helps me keep costs down. Thank you for understanding.

3. Enter by Friday, June 13th (lucky lucky!) by midnight EST. Winner will be drawn at random and posted here on Tuesday, June 17th.

Good luck and happy reading!




Writing Process Blog Tour


I’m taking a brief break from focusing on books I’m reading to participate in the Writing Process Blog Tour that seems to be taking over the internet. It’s fascinating to read about so many writing processes. I’m honored to be tagged by awesome friend, blogger, and writer, Sharry Wright.

What am I currently working on?

I’m working on a contemporary YA about a Japanese-American girl who aspires to travel the world and become a famous travel writer, but underneath her adventurous spirit is a broken heart. I’m not ready to give more detail as I’m about to embark on a big revision. I’ve been working on this novel for a very long time. An earlier version went to acquisitions seven years ago (but obviously didn’t sell). It took until last year for me to dig it back up and rewrite it completely from scratch. I’ve grown a lot as a writer, so I hope I can do this story justice now.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

As with all writers, I bring my unique perspective to my stories – my history, my feelings, my thoughts. I am a third generation Japanese-American who grew up in Los Angeles. I have traveled for much of my life and moved many times as an adult. I have a degree in zoology and have worked with all kinds of animals. All these things and more find their way into my writing.

The current We Need Diverse Books campaign has made me feel more confident about bringing my own perspectives and experience into my stories. When I first started out, a little over a decade ago, I tried to make my characters more “generic” – because I write contemporary stories not based on what is typically thought of as “multicultural,” I felt I needed to downplay the race of my main characters. Let me make it clear that this was my own issue and nobody was telling me to write that way. These days, I don’t let that inner voice censor me – my main characters are Japanese-American and while the stories do not focus on race, race plays a part of who my characters are and how they experience the world.

Why do I write what I write?

I write the kind of stories I love to read, the ones the teen me would have loved to read. I’m fascinated with characters in search of themselves – the ones longing to discover their identity, their voice. I am interested in the journey characters take to make those discoveries. I write to appease my curiosity, to feel, to think, to laugh and cry. These are all the same reasons I read what I read.

How does my individual writing process work?

It varies for each story, but basically, I start with a horrible shitty first draft that nobody but me will ever see. I don’t outline or do any character sketches. I usually have nothing more than a main character and a premise. As I draft, I get to know my character and her story. After a first draft, I sit down with a craft book or two and run through writing and character exercises to get a better handle on my story. Some favorite books I use are The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson, Novel Metamorphosis by Darcy Pattison, and The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass, among others. I also take time to read inspirational writing books, like On Writing by Stephen King and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. This ritual helps me prepare for the next scary step, crafting a story from my first draft.

After one or two solid revisions, I share my draft with my writing partners – trusted readers who give me great suggestions and input for improvement. I respect them immensely as writers. I revise and receive feedback at least one more time before I feel I can submit.

I have a unique writing relationship with two fabulous writer friends, Jo Knowles and Cindy Faughnan. We’ve been exchanging manuscripts, writing together on annual retreats, and talking about our work since we met in 2005. What makes our working relationship unique is that we work together virtually almost daily. It all started because I moved to China for my husband’s job – we logged onto Skype while we worked, touching base every fifteen minutes or so. I think it started as a way for me to connect because I felt so very lonesome and isolated in China (yes, in a country of over a billion people)! But over the years it’s evolved to keep us focused. I’m always embarrassed if when we check in I have to admit to goofing off on email or Facebook instead of writing. These days we use both email and Skype to check in.

I’m so very fortunate to have a writing studio, The Word Nest. I’ve followed my husband for his career – seven moves in sixteen years. When we moved to Connecticut, this was his gift to me.


photo 1 (5) copy

It’s separate from the house (next to the detached garage in a former wood shop) so I am able to focus on my writing and not allow myself to get distracted by non-writing things, like laundry, or a snack, or playing with my dog, or anything else that feels easier than facing the words on the page. I love having this very special place to call my own. I’m very grateful to my husband for this incredible gift.


I work best in the mornings. I’m an early riser (usually awake by 5:30) and after a morning walk with my husband and dog, I head to The Word Nest, meditate, and then get started with my writing. I work every morning, Monday through Friday. I try to keep at least one full day a week free for my writing. No appointments, no lunches with friends, no errands. It’s just me and my words. Those are my favorite days of all!


It’s my pleasure to tag two talented and dear friends, Cindy Faughnan and Jennifer Wolf Kam.


Cindy Faughnan lives in Vermont where she taught 7th and 8th grade English for 31 years. She now splits her time between writing and a part-time job in the schools with the Young Writers Project. She co-runs a novel retreat every March at Vermont College of Fine Arts where she earned her MFA. In 2007 she won a PEN Discovery Award for her middle grade work-in-progress. She is represented by Barry Goldblatt at Barry Goldblatt Literary.

Be sure to check on her blog next week to see her answers!


Jennifer says, “I began writing stories as soon as I could hold a crayon. Today I hold an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. DEVIN RHODES IS DEAD is my debut novel and the winner of the National Association of Elementary School Principals Children’s Book Award. I am also a three-time finalist for the Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing, offered by the journal, Hunger Mountain. I live in a suburb of New York City with my husband, two sons, a carnival goldfish named Cinnamon, and a love of chocolate.”

Check out her blog for her answers next week!

While you wait for their posts, why not check out a few past ones here:

Tamera Ellis Smith

Sharry Wright

Ann Jacobus

Bethany Hedges

If you’ve already been tagged, please share your link with me in the comments. I’d love to read what you have to say!

I’ll leave you with the view out of my window. Happy writing!

photo 2 (4) copy


Congratulations to the Winner!


Thanks to everyone who stopped by to help shine the spotlight on


Always Emily by Michaela MacColl  (Chronicle Books/2014)

If you missed it, click here to read the interview and my buzz review of this awesome book!

Who is the lucky winner of the copy of Always Emily? I used a random number generator to choose the winner. Drumroll please…

The winner is Becky Levine! WooHOO! Congratulations! Please email me your mailing address and I will send you your prize ASAP!

Thanks for stopping by. Stayed tuned for yet another spotlight interview and chance to win a copy of a fabulous book!

Happy reading!

Welcome to the Spotlight Michaela MacColl and Always Emily!


I’m pleased to shine the spotlight on author Michaela MacColl and her newest YA novel Always Emily! Fan of the Brontë sisters? Enjoy mystery and romance? You’re going to love this book! Stay tuned below for a chance to win a copy of this thrilling novel!


Always Emily by Michaela MacColl (Chronicle Books/2014)

In 1835 Haworth England, 17-year-old Emily is forced by her sister Charlotte to leave her beloved moors to a boarding school, where Charlotte will be a teacher. Both sisters crave the writing life, but Charlotte is practical, having lost a mother and two sisters to disease, she worries about the future and her aging clergyman father. Teaching would be a good practical profession. But when Emily’s homesickness and misery allows her to escape back home, Charlotte stays to teach. Emily comes across a mysterious young man camping on the moors and learns he suspects his mother is being held captive by his cruel uncle. Charlotte comes home for a short break and becomes embroiled in the mystery as the two sisters work together, instead of against, as they usually do. A griping and engaging tale based on the famous Brontë sisters.

Spotlight on Michaela MacColl

What was the spark that led you to write this story about the Brontë sisters – and what made you write a mystery/romance?

Always Emily is part of a series of literary mysteries, with a touch of romance.  The first was Nobody’s Secret and it starred Emily Dickinson solving a murder that was based on a poem. Always Emily features Emily and Charlotte Bronte. These sisters are so different but they both stumble on the same mystery on their beloved moors. As they untangle the problem (with a few handsome suspects to distract them), they find a new equilibrium as sisters.

My inspiration is always to portray famous people in stories that make them accessible. I try to incorporate elements of their literary style too. In Always Emily, I use many motifs found in Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, as well as details from their lives that informed those works.

You include a detailed and fascinating author’s note at the end of the novel, explaining what was fact and what was fiction in this story. What were the particular challenges in writing a novel based on actual persons from history? And what were the particular joys?

I have to confess, the author’s note is one of my favorite things to write. I love showing the reader how I did it. What little details inspired the story and what bits were invented. For many of my readers, this may be their introduction to these authors and this setting.  I feel a special obligation to make clear what’s historical and what’s fictional.

When I research my stories I start with the heftiest biographies I can find. Then I may go into other sources that are more specific.  For instance, when writing about Emily Dickinson, I found a very useful academic book about Emily Dickinson’s domestic help and how it impacted her output. The author had done a ton of research that gave me brilliant details about Emily’s kitchen and household responsibilities.

The more I read, I find that I’m building a personality for my characters in my mind, layer by layer, detail by detail. By the time I start to write, I feel as though I know the character intimately. It’s really fun – as though my character was co-writing the story with me.

Emily is headstrong and independent. Charlotte is more practical and responsible. Both are brave and smart. Which sister are you most like and why?

Debbi, at first when I wrote this novel I couldn’t choose. I began with an alternating  point of view structure.  It turned out to be unworkable and felt artificial so I compromised by keeping the story in the third person with a tight point of view that varied by chapter – some parts of the story are clearly Emily’s, others are Charlotte’s.  But there was always that nagging question, who is the main character?  Personally, I have a lot more in common with Charlotte and I sympathize with her perpetual struggle to keep her eccentric family grounded and solvent.  But who doesn’t like the wild and impulsive Emily?

The title Always Emily sounds romantic (I think that’s why my publisher liked it) but in fact the person who says it in the novel is her exasperated sister. No matter, what, it’s “always Emily” who get the attention and admiration.

Thanks for having me visit!

Thank you, Michaela!

Michaela attended Vassar College and Yale University. She earned degrees in multi-disciplinary history. Unfortunately, it took her 20 years before she realized she was learning how to write historical fiction. Her favorite stories are the ones she finds about the childhood experiences of famous people.  Michaela has two daughters, three large cats and  lives in Connecticut.

For more about Michaela and her books, check out her web site, follow her on Twitter, or like her on Facebook!

Want to win a copy of Always Emily? Follow these directions to enter the drawing.

1. Comment on this post, and for fun, are you more like headstrong and independent Emily or practical and responsible Charlotte? I would like to say I’m more like Emily, but I suspect I’m much more like Charlotte. But when I feel like I’m perhaps too adverse to change, my good friends remind me that I’ve picked up and moved all over the country/world many times in the past 15 plus years. Perhaps I have a little of each in me! (And I suspect we all do!)

2. Entrants must have a U.S. mailing address.

3. Comment by midnight EST on Friday, May 30th. Winner will be drawn at random and notified by email. I’ll announce the winner here on the following Tuesday.

Good luck and happy reading!

And The Winner Is…


Thank you to everyone who stopped by to shine the spotlight on


Dust of Eden: A Novel by Mariko Nagai (Albert Whitman & Co/2014)

If you missed the interview about this powerful novel in verse about a young Japanese-American girl interned during WWII, check it out here: Mariko Nagai

I used the random number generator to choose the winner of a copy of Dust of Eden. And the lucky winner is:

Jama Rattigan of Alphabet Soup! HOORAY! Please contact me at just kid ink at yahoo dot com (no spaces) and send me your mailing address. Your prize will be on its way shortly!

Thank you to everyone for stopping by! Come back soon for more book buzz, interviews, and book give-aways! Happy reading!

We Need More Diversity in YA



(logo created by IceyDesigns)

You’re probably aware there’s a big campaign for more diversity in YA. If you’re not, check out these links:

(I pre-ordered The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson!)

There is a lot of support from numerous authors.

I’ve long felt the desire, the need for more diverse characters in YA, in all fiction. When I was a child, I devoured books by Judy Blume and Paul Zindel and M.E. Kerr – and often wished at least one of those characters looked like me. I think the only book I read when I was younger that had a Japanese-American character was Farewell To Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, and while it was a fascinating story about the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, it wasn’t something I could directly relate to (although my father had been interned).

I am a third generation Japanese-American. I grew up in West Los Angeles where I was surrounded by friends and classmates of all races. It wasn’t until as an adult when I moved from California that I was forced to think about race a lot more. I’ve lived in the Midwest, the East, New England, Mexico, and China. I’ve had great experiences and not-so-great experiences. I am proud of my heritage, but for the most part I very much identify with being American. While I appreciate and enjoy reading stories about immigrant experiences, I also love to read contemporary stories where Asian-American characters (or any characters of color) deal with romance, friendship, hard issues, family, etc.  I love seeing Ming-Na Wen in television’s Marvel’s Agents of Shield and Lucy Liu as Watson in Elementary, where their race isn’t an issue. I’d love to see more of that in YA literature.

Here’s an incomplete list of books with diverse characters. Please feel free to add to it in the comments section.

Ghetto Cowboy by Greg Neri

Dust of Eden by Mariko Nagai

Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

Boys Without Names by Kashmira Sheth

Kira Kira by Cynthia Kadohata

Yaqui Delgado Wants To Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee

See You At Harry’s by Jo Knowles

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Chronal Engine by Greg Leitich Smith

Wolf Mark by Joseph Bruchac

Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon

Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park

Geography Club by Brent Hartinger

I also want to make special mention of an adult novel with an Asian-American main character who is a lawyer in Manhattan: The Partner Track by Helen Wan.

This is not a full list – but let’s face it, we still need more! My friend’s young daughter (of Asian heritage) often bemoans the fact that there are “no books out there with characters that look like” her. My college-age daughter is half Japanese, a quarter German and a quarter Irish. Where are the characters that look like her? Act like her?

One of the reasons I’ve heard that publishers give for not publishing more books with diverse characters is that they don’t feel that their audience will be able to relate. I’ve been reading books with mostly Caucasian characters for decades – I enjoy those books very much. I can relate to the characters’ feelings and their experiences. I get to learn and grow and experience through the lives of these characters. I doubt very much that young kids who are not of color would be alienated by these books with diverse characters.  I would also love to read stories about characters more like me. It’s one of the reasons I mention The Partner Track by Helen Wan above. I’m not a lawyer gunning for partner, but some of the experiences the main character has as an Asian-American living and working in a big American city were exactly like some of my own. Wouldn’t it be nice if kids of color could see themselves in some of the characters in books – to be able to say, “Hey! I know how that feels!” I could seriously go on and on, but in the interest of time, I’ll stop here.

Let’s make some noise and put our money where our mouths are. Buy books with diverse characters! Share them with friends. Help the publishing world let go of the notion that kids (or really buyers) don’t want to read books with diverse characters.

Thanks for your support!