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Author Interview with Jennifer Niven!

By the time I was ten, I had already written numerous songs, a poem for Parker Stevenson ("If there were a Miss America for men, You would surely win"), two autobiographies (All About Me and My Life in Indiana: I Will Never Be Happy Again), a Christmas story, several picture books (which I illustrated myself) featuring the Doodle Bugs from Outer Space, a play about Laura Ingalls Wilder's sister entitled Blindness Strikes Mary, a series of prison mysteries, a collection of short stories featuring me as the main character (an internationally famous rock star detective), and a partially finished novel about Vietnam. I was also an excellent speller from a very early age. In 2000, I started writing full-time, and I haven't stopped... I've written eight books, and when I'm not working on the ninth, I'm contributing to my web magazine, Germ, thinking up new books, and dabbling in TV. I am always writing.







"The Fault in Our Stars" meets "Eleanor and Park" in this exhilarating and heart-wrenching love story about a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die.
Soon to be a major motion picture starring Elle Fanning
Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.
Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister's recent death.
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it's unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the "natural wonders" of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It's only with Violet that Finch can be himself--a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who's not such a freak after all. And it's only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet's world grows, Finch's begins to shrink.
This is an intense, gripping novel perfect for fans of Jay Asher, Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Gayle Forman, and Jenny Downham from a talented new voice in YA, Jennifer Niven.







  1. What/who was your biggest inspiration for All the Bright Places? 
    I wrote All the Bright Places the summer of 2013, following the death of my beloved literary agent of fifteen years.  The last time I saw him, I was nearing the end of a series of books I’d begun writing in 2008 and was feeling depleted and ready—creatively— for something new and different.  He told me, “Kid, whatever you write next, write it with all your heart.  Write it no matter what.  Write it because you can’t imagine writing anything else.”  Years ago, I knew and loved a boy, and later I lost him.  The experience was life changing.  I’d always wanted to write about it—I just wasn’t convinced I would ever be able to.  But that summer of 2013, I thought again about this boy and that experience, and I knew in my heart that it was the story I wanted to write.
  2. All the Bright Places covers some pretty heavy topics. Was there ever a time where you struggled with finding the right words or had to take a break from writing? 
    The fact that this story was personal and inspired by something that happened in my life made it at once easier and harder to write.  I wrote the first draft in about six weeks, so the words came quickly.  I never took a break from the writing, even though I wrote through tears more than once.  At night I would regroup and catch my breath, and the next morning I would go right back to it. 
  3. Theodore is obsessed with finding death and Violet longs to escape it; what’s your personal viewpoint on the topic of death?
    I’ve lost so many people in my life— my father, my beloved grandparents, cousins, friends, mentors, cats, and, most recently, my mom, who was my very best friend.  So much loss.  But through it, I try to focus on something Violet realizes in the book:  it’s not what you take, it’s what you leave.  Every person I’ve lost has left me so much, and I like to think I carry them with me.  I’ve also learned the importance of wandering the world, making it lovely, and leaving something behind.
  4. Which dead author would you most want to meet? What would you ask him/her? 
    I would love to have a writers workshop with Flannery O’Connor because she was the most brilliant, evocative, economical, darkly funny writer and because she is the writer—other than my own mother—I most admire.  But it would also be interesting to meet those Brontë sisters. I’d like to sit around the hearth with them and ask dishy personal questions about failed love affairs and their addict brother and life on the moors.
  5. Your other books are targeted toward an adult audience, what was it like writing YA? 
    Even though I love reading YA, this is the first young adult novel I’ve written.  I began my career writing adult nonfiction—back-to-back books about historic and tragic Arctic expeditions. I’ve also written a memoir and four historical novels for adults about a girl named Velva Jean Hart. The Velva Jean books have a strong YA following, and my memoir takes place during my high school years, but now that I’m officially writing for young adults, I am the happiest I’ve ever been creatively. So much of what’s being produced in YA literature is brilliant and daring and fantastically imaginative, and I can honestly say it’s where I feel most at home. I’m at work on my second YA novel now!
  6. If your book were made into a film, who would you like to see cast? 
    Funny you should ask that… when I was writing the book, I always pictured Elle Fanning as Violet.  And now she’s attached to play Violet in the upcoming movie version!  Finch hasn’t been cast yet, but Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies, X-Men, Skins) will always be Finch to me.
  7. If you weren’t an author, what would be your ideal career? 
    International rock star detective. It’s what I’ve wanted to be ever since I was little.
  8. Are you a pantser or a plotter? 
    I’m a bit of both, but I find it really depends on the book.  The work has a way of dictating how it wants to be written.
  9. Coffee or tea? 
    Tea, especially ginger or mint.
  10. Favorite TV show? Movie? Band? 
    Supernatural.  Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights.  And ABBA.

And don't forget, Jennifer Niven will be at Books Inc. Palo Alto on January 8th to answer the rest of your questions!


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Burning Kentucky

Chris Scotton’s The Secret Wisdom of the Earth takes you to Kentucky where Kevin’s mother seeks refuge after tragedy.  Sitting on the steps of his grandfather’s porch, Kevin listens to the talk of old men sipping sour mash whiskey.  If Kevin could, though, he’d add a little heat to their glasses – Kevin has a small problem setting fires.  So I did that for him.

Burning Kentucky
2 oz. Michter’s Sour Mash Whiskey
.25 oz. Simple Syrup
3 Dashes Bittermen’s Hellfire Habanero Shrub Bitters
Add all over one large piece of ice in an old-fashioned glass.  Stir.  No garnish.


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Author Interview with Katie Coyle!

San Francisco resident Katie Coyle grew up in Fair Haven, New Jersey, and has an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh. Her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in One Story, the Southeast Review, Cobalt, and Critical Quarterly. This is her first novel.







Seventeen-year-old Vivian Apple never believed in the evangelical Church of America, unlike her recently devout parents. But when Vivian returns home the night after the supposed "Rapture," all that's left of her parents are two holes in the roof. Suddenly, she doesn't know who or what to believe. With her best friend Harp and a mysterious ally, Peter, Vivian embarks on a desperate cross-country roadtrip through a paranoid and panic-stricken America to find answers. Because at the end of the world, Vivan Apple isn't looking for a savior. She's looking for the truth.







1. What was your inspiration for writing Vivian Apple at the End of the World?
I was really fascinated by Harold Camping’s Rapture/Apocalypse prediction in 2011, and had read an article about a family split along similar lines as Vivian’s—the parents were devout believers, and the teenage children were very much not. That tension was extremely interesting to me. I was also looking to write something about a girl taking control of her own destiny, which is pretty much the only thing I ever read. The two threads seemed to work together, and lo, Vivian Apple was born.

2. Vivian’s parents are devout believers. What kind of religious upbringing did you have?
I was raised Catholic but am not Catholic anymore.

3. Following the apocalypse (or rapture) Vivian comes home to find her parents gone and holes in the roof of her house. Would you react in the same way Vivian does? If not, how would you react?
I think I’m a lot more prone to pure panic than Vivian is. She essentially goes into a state of shock, but is all-business by the time she comes out of it. If the people I loved disappeared in a Rapture-like event, I would probably do a lot more screaming and running around in circles.

4. How much research did you end up doing for Vivian Apple?
Not a whole lot! I did some very cursory reading on cults when I first started exploring the idea of the story (and specifically the powerful religion Vivian’s parents belong to), and I read Lawrence Wright’s excellent book Going Clear, about Scientology, during revision.

5. Are there specific genres or authors you tend to avoid reading while you’re working on something new? Are there any authors or novels that have inspired your writing?
I tend to avoid the specific genre I’m writing in—I’d read (and loved) a ton of YA dystopias before starting Vivian Apple, but once I was working on it I stayed away, just for the sake of keeping my own vision clear. Vivian Apple doesn’t have any direct literary inspiration, but there are of course many writers who have helped me hone in on the kind of writer I want to be. Some of my favorites are J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, George Saunders, Kelly Link, and Aimee Bender.

6. If your book were turned into a movie, who would you like to see cast?
This is my very favorite question! I love the young actress Hailee Steinfeld, who appeared in the Coen Brothers’ True Grit a few years ago—she has a very natural intelligence and toughness that I think would serve Vivian well. Harry Styles from One Direction should play Peter, because they are both very dreamy. When I was writing the novel, I couldn’t stop picturing Amy Poehler as Vivian’s beloved teacher Wambaugh—I think she’d be great in that role, and I also like to imagine that we’d start a lifelong friendship on set.

7. If you weren’t an author, what would be your ideal career?
I would be a Hollywood casting agent. See above answer for my credentials.

8. Are you a pantser or a plotter?
I plot extensively when I’m writing something novel-length, because my brain is usually very scattered and if I don’t tell myself that today I am writing this particular scene in which these particular things happen, everything tends to go off the rails. But I do like to play it a little looser with short fiction—I tend to start with a general premise and then watch it come together in a weird, haphazard way. The first method is more effective, but the second’s a little more fun.

9. Coffee or tea?

10. Favorite movie? TV show? Band?
The Philadelphia Story. Doctor Who. The Monkees. (I contain multitudes.)

Head to Books Inc. Opera Plaza on January 6th and meet Katie in person to ask her all the questions we didn't answer here!

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Review - Egg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire

Egg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire
Publication Date: September 9th, 2014
Publisher: Candlewick
Genre: Fantasy/Fairy Tales

In this tour de force, master storyteller Gregory Maguire offers a dazzling novel for fantasy lovers of all ages.
Elena Rudina lives in the impoverished Russian countryside. Her father has been dead for years. One of her brothers has been conscripted into the Tsar's army, the other taken as a servant in the house of the local landowner. Her mother is dying, slowly, in their tiny cabin. And there is no food. But then a train arrives in the village, a train carrying untold wealth, a cornucopia of food, and a noble family destined to visit the Tsar in Saint Petersburg -- a family that includes Ekaterina, a girl of Elena's age. When the two girls' lives collide, an adventure is set in motion, an escapade that includes mistaken identity, a monk locked in a tower, a prince traveling incognito, and -- in a starring role only Gregory Maguire could have conjured -- Baba Yaga, witch of Russian folklore, in her ambulatory house perched on chicken legs.

With great gusto and enthusiasm, Maguire spins his literary magic on this whimsy of a fairy tale. Set in Tsarist Russia, in the poverty-stricken village of Miersk. Thirteen-year-old Elena Rudina works hard to take care of her ill mother with no food or medicine, and with one brother working abroad and the other conscripted into the army. Ultimately, Elena convinces herself to travel to St. Petersburg to ask the Tsar for help. Meanwhile, Mademoiselle Ekaterina de Robichaux (Cat for short) is traveling with her governess to be presented at the Tsar's ball (also in St. Petersburg). As fate would have it, the train is derailed in a nearby abandoned village. It is there that Cat and Elena meet. The two girls immediately notice that they have similar facial and body features. When the train takes off unexpectedly, Elena is trapped aboard and Cat is sent tumbling out the door and into the path of the folkloric figure Baba Yaga--a hilariously sarcastic child-eating, metal-toothed crone who dwells in a hut carried along on a pair of chicken legs. Baba Yaga forewarns of the disasterous consequences that would come should the natural order not be restored to it's former glory. Cat and Baba Yaga head to St. Petersburg (and Elena) to alert the Tsar. All three characters must band together to restore the world's order and magic. Maguire manages to knit together a tale that incorporates the elememental foundations of known tales such as Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Twain's The Prince and the Pauper. This book is a worthwhile adventure that people of all ages will enjoy. 
Carla from Books Inc. Airport T3

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