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We have a winner for this month’s giveaway – a copy of Elizabeth Brigg’s fantastic NA romance, MORE THAN MUSIC! Geeky girls, rockstars, and a great romance make this a perfect summer read. Congratulations Hagergirl! Hope you enjoy! (p.s. I’ll be emailing you for your address soon… ;) )

And for those of you who didn’t win, Elizabeth Briggs is also having a giveaway on her blog. Check it out here for another chance!

More Than Music

Six Questions with NA Author Elizabeth Briggs and Giveaway of MORE THAN MUSIC


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Hi all!

The lovely Liz Briggs

The lovely Liz Briggs

I’m so excited to be interviewing Elizabeth Briggs, author of New Adult, stand alone, contemporary romance MORE THAN MUSIC.

Many of you may be familiar with Liz, since we’ve mentioned her several times on this blog. I met Kati and Heidi when Liz chose all of us to be a part of her 2012 Pitch Wars Team. So, you already know she has good taste. Since then, Liz and I have become close friends and I could not be more excited about the release of her NA debut MORE THAN MUSIC.

But before we start chatting, here’s a little more about More Than Music (from Goodreads):

More Than MusicMusic major Maddie Taylor seems to have her life all figured out. She’s just finished her junior year of college, has a summer internship lined up with the LA Philharmonic, and plans to go to grad school to write movie scores. Only her roommates know she practices guitar every night and secretly dreams of a louder life. But geeky girls like her don’t get to be rock stars.

Tattooed singer Jared Cross has a new girl every week, but when he catches Maddie playing one of his songs, she attracts his attention in an unexpected way. His band needs a fourth member for The Sound, a reality TV show competition—and he wants her. Though Maddie refuses to be another notch on Jared’s bedpost, she agrees to risk everything for the chance to be a rock star. 

Once on the show, Maddie discovers there’s more to Jared behind his flirty smile, and with each performance their attraction becomes impossible to ignore. When the show pressures Jared to flaunt his player image, they’re forced to keep their relationship secret, but Maddie can’t help but want something real.

As the competition heats up, Jared will do whatever it takes for his band to win, and Maddie must decide if following her dream is worth losing her heart.

Doesn’t that sound awesome?

I was able to read an early version of MORE THAN MUSIC, and one of the things I really loved about this book were Liz’s many references to comics and music. Even the name of the band name Villain Complex is connected to comics—it made the book so fun to read. Liz, were these things you had to research?

Liz: The geeky stuff didn’t require any research because I’m already a huge comics fan. I did search for different villain shirts for Jared to wear though, which was fun. I had a huge list, so I’m sure new villain shirts will pop up in future books.

The music took a lot more research. I play the guitar but I’m not great at it because I don’t have time to practice regularly. Still, I tried to learn many of the songs that Maddie performs myself so I could describe the way it feels when you’re actually playing them. I also watched a lot of guitar tutorials, live performances by the original bands, and covers by other bands. And of course, episodes of The Voice!

Stephanie: I’m glad there will be more villain shirts in future books! I actually wanted to buy a couple of the shirts Jared wore.

So, I’ve heard a rumor that one of your novellas might be set at Comic-Con. Would you be willing to confirm that?

Liz: This is true! Hector (the drummer in Villain Complex) is also a comic book artist, so his novella will be set at Comic-Con. The tentative title is MORE THAN COMICS and it takes place about a week after MORE THAN MUSIC. I’m going to my 7th Comic-Con in July, so I plan to do LOTS of research there!

Stephanie: I have always wanted to go to Comic-Con! That sounds like the best research. Too bad, that means the novella hasn’t been written yet. Is there anything else you can tell us about your other upcoming Novella’s?

Liz: Other than Hector’s novella, there will also be a prequel novella set about a month before MORE THAN MUSIC. This one will be focused on Kyle, the keyboardist in the band, who is Maddie’s friend and Jared’s brother. The novella is set at the UCLA vs USC Battle of the Bands and it shows how Villain Complex got the gig at the start of MORE THAN MUSIC.

After that, I plan to write books about Maddie’s best friends, Julie and Carla. But you’ll have to wait a little longer for info on those, sorry!

Stephanie: That’s okay, as long as there will be more books I’m happy.

So, although I loved all of your awesome comic references throughout More Than Music, the romance was definitely my favorite part of the story! I’m not going to lie, I totally fell in love with Jared Cross, would you mind sharing how you came up with his character?

Liz: Jared is loosely based on Jared Leto from Thirty Seconds To Mars. I originally used the name Jared as a placeholder, but it stuck and my friends wouldn’t let me change it. Like Jared Leto, the Jared in MORE THAN MUSIC is charming, something of a player, but also pretty silly and more down-to-earth than people might expect from a rock star. Also, they’re both very hard-working and driven and perfectionistic. Plus, they both have brothers in the band that they’re really close to, which causes other complications (the drummer in Thirty Seconds To Mars is Jared Leto’s brother Shannon).

There’s also a little of my husband in Jared, too, because every love interest I write is partly inspired by him. For example, my husband also wears a lot of geeky shirts. And like all characters, Jared is partly me, too. I definitely feel the same way about writing that Jared (and Maddie) feel about music.

Stephanie: That’s so sweet that you put a little of your husband in every love interest you write!

Before writing More Than Music, you wrote young adult science fiction. I know a lot of people think the main difference between YA and NA is just the age difference of the characters and a stronger emphasis on romance, but as someone who’s written both, what would you say the main difference is between writing in the two different categories?

Liz: For me, the main difference is that the characters are a bit more mature in NA and have more independence than teens do. They’re on their own for the first time in their lives and have more experience than they did in high school, but that freedom and maturity also comes with new challenges and responsibilities. It’s a time of transition and change, and NA characters are starting to figure out who they want to be for the rest of their lives – in their careers, in relationships, and as people. This combination of independence and uncertainty is what I loved most about writing NA.

Stephanie: And finally, what piece of advice would you give any writers who are thinking about making a switch from writing YA to NA?

Liz: First of all, do it! I thought people might give me a hard time about switching to NA, and worried that my CPs or my agent wouldn’t want to read my book, but that hasn’t been the case at all. In fact, my agent told me NOT to use a pen name because there is so much cross-over audience between YA and NA these days. Plus, NA is growing right now, and there’s no telling where it will go next, so it’s a perfect time to start writing it.

 Second, keep in mind that NA isn’t just “YA with sex.” There are lots of great NA books out there without any sex. However, NA does have a slightly older voice and maturity level than YA, with characters who worry about different things than teens do. For example, they might worry about how they’re going to pay for the next semester of college, or they might be starting a summer internship or their first job. Or they might be living away from home for the first time and enjoying new freedoms, but also new responsibilities like paying rent and dealing with roommates. That said, a lot of the same things readers love in YA work great in NA, so the transition is a lot easier from YA to NA than you might think!

Awesome answer!

Liz, thanks so much for taking the time to stop by and answer my questions.

More Than Music is currently available for purchase in paperback and ebook, on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Heidi, Kati, and I are also going to be giving away one copy to a very lucky winner!

To enter to win, all you need to do is leave comment before midnight (PST) June 24th. If you share this on twitter, we’ll give you an extra entry, just make sure you tell us in the comments. Our winner will be announced the next day, June 25th.


Fiction Friday: The Screaming Staricase


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Since one thing I have been able to do for the last 10 weeks has been read, I’ve got quite a few book recommendations for all of you. I’ve been more or less been going on an MG kick lately, reading out loud to Ember, so the first book I have to recommend is The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud.

The Screaming Staircase takes place in a London that has become haunted by ghosts. Some of these ghosts are harmless, a lot of them are not. The interesting thing about this book is that kids are pretty much the only ones who can actually see or sense the ghosts, and as they get older, they lose that ability. Because of this, Lucy works for Anthony Lockwood in a kid run business that takes care of people’s ghost problems. Because of a job gone wrong, they have an enormous fine that they have to pay, and therefore are forced to take on more dangerous jobs.

I liked this book, and thought it was cute. Lucy is a good main character, and I like how Lockwood is kind of a young Sherlock Holmes character, with his grouchy yet likeable sidekick: George. The story itself had some fairly spooky scenes, but for the most part stayed more fun and lighthearted. But what I found the most fascinating about this book is that the author never comes out and directly says the kids ages. And this is kind of a trend I’ve been noticing in upper MG as of late…but more on that later.

The only problem I did run into while reading this book is that I had a little trouble visualizing the setting. Because all the kids use rapiers to battle the ghosts, I was mistakenly under the impression that the story took place a long long time ago. However, as I read on, I learned that wasn’t the case. I do wonder if that was left ambiguous intentionally, but whether it was or it wasn’t, I found The Screaming Staircase to be an enjoyable read.

So if you are looking for a ghost story that doesn’t leave you sleeping with the light on at night, I recommend The Screaming Staircase.

How about all of you? What books have you read lately? Have you read The Screaming Staircase?



Fiction Friday–ELUSION


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Short and Sweet

ELUSION by Claudia Gabel and Cheryl Klam is full of awesome science fiction, fast paced mystery, and dangerous romance. I picked it up because I was in the mood for a good science fiction, and it didn’t disappoint!

For those of you not familiar with ELUSION, here’s a short summary:

In a future full of acid rain, and air pollution levels that make it dangerous to breathe outdoors, Regan’s father has created Elusion, a type of virtual reality that allows users to escape into a more beautiful world.

The book takes place several months after Regan’s father’s death, right before Elusion is about to be released nationwide. Regan is still grieving her dad, when rumors surface that Elusion is addictive and dangerous.

Regan is the first to defend her father’s work. But as Regan seeks to prove there’s no problem with Elusion, she begins to discover dangerous secrets, and…I’m not going to give anymore away.

If you want to know more, you’re going to have to read the book. And this is book I would recommend.

My review:

Lately I’ve been a little burnt out with anything that feels like dystopian, but rather than focusing on the problems of this society ELUSION focused mostly on the technology of Elusion. There’s a lot of mystery as Regan searches for the truth as to whether or not Elusion is addictive and dangerous, and I found myself turning pages really fast. I liked that the emphasis was more about solving a mystery, and not so much about the state of the world, or bringing down a corrupt government—in fact there was no mention of government at all.

But there was a romance, and since I don’t like to give too much away, I’ll just say I really liked the way this romance was done. Romance definitely played a significant role in this story, but at the same time it never overshadowed Regan’s real goals. Her focus stayed on Elusion and the many mysteries she uncovered as sought to figure out if there was truth to the claims it was harmful and addictive. I really liked her as a character!

One of ELUSION’s authors, Claudia Gabel, is a Senior Executive Editor at Katherine Tegen Books, and it was very obvious as I read. The writing was clean, the characters were multi-dimensional, and as I’ve already said, the fast pacing made it difficult for me to put this book down.

My only complaint is that I would have liked the ending to wrap up a little more. I’m not sure I would call the ending a cliff-hanger, but it definitely left me wanting the next book. That being said, if you’re looking for an easy science fiction read and you don’t mind a little dystopian flavor, I would say ELUSION by Claudia Gabel and Cheryl Klam is worth picking up.

So, what about all of you, have any of you read this? Or do any of you have any other good science fiction recommendations? Now that it’s summer and I have more time to read, I’m looking for some good books!


Fiction Friday: All Our Yesterdays


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Heidi and I recently read the book All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill. This Science Fiction YA novel was a really great read, but in some ways I felt like I was watching some sort of accident that I couldn’t tear my eyes away from.

This book is about Em, who has instructions from another future version of herself to go back in time and kill someone she loves to prevent the creation of a horrible time machine. It’s told from future Em’s perspective, and from Marina’s perspective, or Em from the past who still loves that person.

Like I said earlier, I really enjoyed this book. The characters were great, the tension was high throughout, and I just love time travel. It was interesting how Cristin Terrill made me want both Em and Marina to succeed even though they had opposing objectives. The setting in the future was well described, and felt very bleak, and I loved how the character who Em is trying to kill is totally likeable in the past, but horrible in the future. What’s also impressive is how you can see how this character might turn into the monster that he/she does.

I know that Heidi really liked the ending to this book, and she felt it was the perfect conclusion, but I thought it was a little depressing. I can’t go into details on why I thought it was depressing without giving away some huge spoilers, so you’ll just have to read this book and tell us what you think.

For any of you that have read it, what did you think? Was the ending perfect, or a little depressing? Also, what do you think about this book being the first book in a series?

Fiction Friday: Splintered and Unhinged


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Kati reporting in from baby duty. So recently I was able to read two books: Splintered and Unhinged by A.G. Howard. These books are based very heavily on Alice in Wonderland, but aren’t officially retellings.

Splintered is about Alyssa Gardner, a distant descendent of Alice Liddell from Alice in Wonderland. Alyssa’s mother is in a mental institute, and since Alyssa can hear what the bugs and flowers around her are saying, she’s afraid she’ll be ending up in an institute, too. When she learns that her family has a curse from Alice Liddell’s time in Wonderland, she jumps through the rabbit hole to try and break it.

Of course, this book wouldn’t be YA without its trusty little love triangle. On the one hand, Alyssa has Jeb, her childhood friend and crush, who follows her into Wonderland. Jeb is dependable and loyal…at least to Alyssa in this book, but he is the oh so typical dark and broody YA guy, and therefore a little boring. On the other hand, Alyssa has Morpheus. The description on Morpheus is the whole reason I picked this book up to read in the first place.

Morpheus is in every way a trickster…so in other words: totally awesome. He may not be dependable, or loyal in the same way Jeb is, but he is clever, and at least knows and accepts all aspects of Alyssa. He is Alyssa’s guide through Wonderland, and he has taught her through her dreams everything she needs to know to survive this twisted version of Wonderland, and break the curse that’s on her and her family.

Anyways, I really loved this book. A.G. Howard’s version of Wonderland and some of the familiar characters there are original and vivid. I liked Alyssa, even if she did from time to time drive me a little crazy, and I loved Morpheus. All in all, this book was really fun, and kept me interested enough to go and read the second book.

Unhinged is also about Alyssa, but it takes place in our world about a year after the first book. In this book, Alyssa is dating her long time, boring crush Jeb, who for reasons stated in the first book, has no recollection of the events that took place in Wonderland. As Alyssa tries to build up the courage to tell him about his lost memories, Morpheus gives her a warning: Queen Red is back in Wonderland, and will soon be coming for Alyssa in her world.

To avoid spoiling anything that isn’t already spoiled from reading the back covers of these lovely books, I’ll stop my synopsis there.

In a lot of ways I liked Unhinged even better than Splintered, which is rare since I can only think of one other series where the second book was better than the first. In this instance, I liked it better because there was surprisingly a lot less Jeb, and a lot more of Morpheus. Also, the ending to this book was very dramatic, even if it did leave off as a rather painful cliffhanger and the news that the third book won’t be out until January 2015.  :*(

I really do highly recommend both of these books. However, it might be better to read them in about a half a year from now, so the waiting time to the next book is less.

On that note, I am now in search of other books with good tricksters (by good, I don’t mean they have to do good, just be clever, full of tricks, and a lot of fun). If you know of any, I’m open to suggestions.  :)

We Need Diverse Books


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Hello world! I’m breaking out of our radio silence to help spread the word about a very important campaign. Check out this link for more info:

In the meantime, I’m trying to think of books I’ve read recently that didn’t feature a white protagonist and predominantly white cast…and I’m coming up blank. That’s very sad. And while we need more diverse books, I think this is a good clue that I need to go out of my way to look for these books as well. Luckily that’s what May 3rd is all about – buying diverse books! An excuse to buy more books? Count me in!

So I’m turning to you – what are some books you’d recommend with diverse casts? And please consider posting the “we need diverse books” link as well on your own sites – let’s spread the word! Thank you!

Well, at least Kati’s been busy…



We’ve been on radio silence over here at Mystic Cooking HQ…but some of us have been super busy. I mean super, duper, creating life busy. “What?” you ask. And I’ll answer with a picture:

proud mama

Yes, that’s Kati, proud mama of baby Ember. And just because she’s the cutest niece ever, here’s another pic for you all:

Ember sleeping one arm under her head

So, yeah. Kati’s been doing that. What’s my excuse for not writing? Well, it takes a lot of work to be the world’s best aunt! ;)

We’ll resume posting next week.

Someone's surprisingly chipper after 40 hours of labor...

Someone’s surprisingly chipper after 40 hours of labor…


Fiction Friday: Rump


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I know, I know, Fairy Tale February was last month, but I saw this Rumpelstiltskin retelling and just had to read it…and I’m so glad I did.

Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin” by Liesl Shurtliff is an enchanting, delightful read, with lots of good humor. I mean, just take a look at this tag line:

In a magical kingdom where your name is your destiny, 12-year-old Rump is the butt of everyone’s joke.

Here’s the basic premise: Rump’s mother died minutes after his birth, and before she could announce his full name. She whispered it in baby Rump’s ear, but only managed to tell the others the beginning, “Rump,” before she passed away.

Years later, Rump is being raised by his grandmother, who assures him that one day he will find his full name…and his true destiny. Then he discovers a spinning wheel that once belonged to his mother, and learns he has the ability to spin straw into gold. He thinks he’s found his worth, but thanks to the greedy local miller, and the even-more greedy king, instead Rump finds he’s spun himself into a whole tangle of trouble.

What I loved most about this book was how it kept all the traditional elements of Rumpelstiltskin: the talking in rhythms, the spinning of straw into gold, the need to say his name to break the curse, and of course the whole baby thing…but it turns them all around, and weaves them together in a completely unique way. Also the world building is really fun: there are gnomes who deliver messages, pixies who are obsessed with gold, and trolls who purposely enhance their foul reputations so the humans will leave them alone.

How about you? Read any fun, light-hearted books lately?

Pitchathon Panel


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Last week I talked a bit about how to prepare for a writing conference. Today I wanted to discuss the very first panel I went to at the San Francisco Writer’s conference: the MG and YA Pitchathon, where agents Laurie McLean and Pam van Hylckama Vlieg, and editor Natashya Wilson shared information and then gave feedback on live pitches.

Live pitching? That's terrifying!

Live pitching? That’s terrifying!

Live pitching is very different from querying. Maybe all of you already know this, but it took a while for that to sink in for me.

The Hook, the Book, and the Cook

In a query, you have more time. You can start with that hook – what will immediately grab attention in your book? And then in the next paragraph or two you have space to elaborate on your story, not a lot of space, but a little, before you end with “the cook,” which is your own writing credentials.

For more on queries, I’d recommend checking out Janet Reid’s Query Shark, which is super helpful.

Who Fights What to Get Where?

In a live pitch, you only have a very narrow window of opportunity to hook an agent or editor’s attention, so you need to be short and to the point. Your MC has to vanquish/overcome/annihilate what/who in order to save the world/find true love/open the greatest restaurant ever. Keep it short, one sentence if possible, maybe two or three at most.

At the panel they also recommended starting with the basic information so the agent has something concrete to ground them, especially in a situation like a conference, where each agent is listening to many, many pitches. For instance, “I wrote TITLE, which is GENRE and complete at X words.” Then launch into your very brief pitch.

Less is More…Seriously

Before the conference, Kati and I put together our own pitch. It was long…I was under the impression that we had three minutes to pitch, and we would want to fill that three minutes. Thanks to some really great advice from a few of our super amazing writer friends, we cut it way down. But…it was still way too long. I know this because I summoned up my courage and, when they asked for volunteers, I went up front and read my pitch.

In addition to turning bright red and shaking like some kind of demented tomato, I only got about halfway through before I was stopped. They were pretty nice about it, but the feedback was clear: shorter!

That evening, and, lets be honest, throughout the rest of the next day, I worked on my pitch. I cut out the potential romantic interest. I cut out the side elements. I cut out everything except enough of the unique elements of the setting to make it stand out, and was left with the main character, the antagonist, and the stakes. Two sentences, short and sweet.

Practice Makes Perfect

You’ll want to be able to say your whole live pitch from memory – it’s much better if you don’t need to bring notes. But memory is a tricky thing – you want to make sure your mind won’t draw a complete blank if you stumble on a word or get asked a question. For more on live pitching, check out Jae’s post.

In order to prepare for the real live pitching the next day, I spent the morning after the Pitchathon panel trying out my pitch on my fellow conference attendees. This was not only a great way to get used to saying it, but also to hear any phrasing that might sound clunky, and to get live reactions from other people. Even if you’re by yourself, I highly recommend practicing your pitch out loud. Talk to your spouse, your dog, heck, even your pillow, but practice, practice, practice.

How about you? Have any of you ever live pitched before? Do you have any tips to add? Please share!


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