Monthly Archives: June 2014

Welcome To The Spotlight Jim Averbeck and A Hitch At The Fairmont!


Happy book birthday to Jim Averbeck for his debut middle grade novel! Stayed tuned below to enter for a chance to win a copy of this awesome mystery-adventure book.


A Hitch At The Fairmont by Jim Averbeck with illustrations by Nick Bertozzi

Atheneum Books for Young Readers/2014

When 11-year-old Jack Fair’s mother dies mysteriously, he is forced to live with his mean aunt at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. Jack reluctantly does his aunt’s bidding, fearful of being sent to an orphanage. When his aunt disappears, it’s up to Jack to try to find her before youth services discovers Jack’s predicament. He feels like he’s in over his head until he befriends none other than Alfred Hitchcock, the famous movie director in the room next door. They piece together clues while evading kidnappers and possible murderers, discovering a very tangled web of lies and deceit.

I’m a huge fan of Jim’s picture books. See my previous interview with him about his picture book Oh No, Little Dragon! It’s a real pleasure to talk to him about his first novel:

This book has it all – action, mystery, adventure, and danger! A page-turner, for sure. I know you are a fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s work and that you live in San Francisco. What was the journey of this story – from inspiration to publication?

I’ve spoken of the inspiration elsewhere, so let’s focus on the journey. For me, this was a journey through time, an attempt to turn back the clock to a day when childhood was quite a different thing. I’m a boomer, as is the child protagonist in this story. I think my generation was less supervised than kids today. We were basically turned out of the house in the morning and didn’t come home until it was time to eat. And if it was summer, we went right back out again. It seemed to us that every day was filled with all those things you mention- action, mystery, adventure, and even danger. And if there wasn’t enough of any of those things around, we manufactured some ourselves!

While you have written/illustrated several pictures books (I adore them all), this is your first novel. What are the major differences for you/your writing process when it came to writing a novel instead of picture books?

I can hold the whole story of a picture book in my head. I cannot do the same with a novel, particularly a mystery. So this novel required a ton of charts, outlines, and maps to make sure I had the big picture in mind, whenever I was working on a smaller piece of it.

Jack, an artist, has a photographic memory for images. Do you? How are you like Jack?

I do not have a photographic image memory. Like most artists, I have a vision in my head of what I want to capture on paper. But, also like most artists, that vision is in reality incomplete. My brain tricks myself into thinking I see it all, but when I go to capture it on paper, the holes are revealed. It’s remarkable that Jack can see and capture images in the way he does.

Like Jack I strive to see behind the image, to delve deeper than the apparent surface meaning of what I observe. Indeed, that is a major theme in this book. Jack often uses words like “look” and “see” and Hitchcock expounds on how what we think we are looking at may, in fact, be quite deceptive. The whole mystery hinges on the fact that what you see is not always what you get.

What is your favorite Hitchcock movie and why?

There’s something to like about nearly every one. But the one I could watch over and over is REAR WINDOW. Like many writers, there is a bit of a voyeur in me, I guess. I’m not a Peeping Tom, but when you walk around a city at night, you can’t help but catch glimpses of  the lives of your fellow urbanites. You may remember in REAR WINDOW that there are half a dozen or more little stories unfolding in the windows across the courtyard from Jimmy Stewart’s apartment. I love that aspect of the film

Jim Averbeck is the author of the Charlotte Zolotow Honor Book, In a Blue Room (Harcourt, 2008) and the author and illustrator of except if(Atheneum, 2011) Oh No, Little Dragon (Atheneum, 2012) and The Market Bowl (Charlesbridge, 2012.)  He studied writing and illustrating for children at UC Berkeley. He was the Regional Advisor for the San Francisco chapter of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

For more about Jim Averbeck and his books, check out his web site.

For a chance to win a copy of this adventure-filled mystery, just follow these rules (you know the drill):

1. Comment below and for fun, tell me your favorite Hitchcock movie (or if you haven’t seen any, which you’d like to see). I have seen only two Hitchcock movies: The Birds and Psycho. I saw both as an adult and both freaked me out. I can’t really say either were favorites only because I don’t like movies that freak me out. 😉 Though, I can appreciate the genius behind both. That being said, Jim makes me want to watch Rear Window.

2. Entrants must have a U.S. or Canada mailing address (yes, I’m opening this one up to include Canada).

3. Comment by Friday, June 27th midnight EST. One winner will be drawn at random and announced here on Tuesday, July 1st.

Good luck and happy reading!





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!