BFFs August Newsletter

Check out the latest newsletter for our Books Forward Friends. This issue features highlights of our BFFs, fun titles available for review, and special opportunities for our friends.

Download the August 2021 newsletter here!

Atmospheric YA story deftly dips into the past to navigate fraught nature of modern teenage friendships

New Haven, CT – Critically acclaimed author Chandra Prasad (Damselfly) returns with Mercury Boys (Aug. 3, 2021, SoHo Teen), an evocative YA story with a historical twist that’s filled with first loves, the struggle to adapt, and the imperious world of young female friendships.

16-year-old Saskia Brown finds herself struggling to fit into her new school not only as a transplant, but also as a biracial teen in a predominantly white town. However, she finds solace in her only friend, Lila, and a tattered old daguerreotype of Robert Cornelius, a brilliant young inventor from the nineteenth century. While visiting Lila at a local university library, Saskia does something dangerous–she touches a vial of liquid mercury. That same night she has a dream that she’s transported to the 1800s and meets Robert Cornelius himself–a dream so realistic she wonders if maybe she’s stumbled upon a way to time travel.

Excited for her new friendship and the potential to make more friends, she shares her startling discovery with Paige Sampras, the most popular girl in school. Their new group steals vials of liquid mercury and various daguerreotypes to form the Mercury Boys Club, a secret society in which girls visit their “forever boyfriends” at night and divulge their juicy adventures the next day. At first, the Mercury Boys Club yields camaraderie and sisterhood, but soon it takes a turn for the worse as harsh rules are enforced and cruel initiations demanded. It’s not long before casual friendships turn ugly and jealous, and Saskia faces unexpected peril within her new friend group.

With the unexpected and creative force of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Wayward Children and the edgy, suspenseful impact of The Fever, Mercury Boys is a gripping, timely, and compelling YA adventure that explores the all too obscure in-betweens that exist between race, gender, and identity, past and present, and childhood and adulthood.

“Mercury Boys”
Chandra Prasad | Aug. 3, 2021 | SoHo Teen
Hardcover | 978-1641292658 | $18.99
Ebook | B08MQ5VWRN | $10.99
Young Adult science fiction


More about Chandra Prasad:

Chandra Prasad is the author of the critically acclaimed novels On Borrowed Wings, Death of a Circus, Breathe the Sky, and Damselfly, a female-driven young adult text used both individually in classrooms and in parallel with Lord of the Flies. Prasad is also the editor of—and a contributor to—Mixed, the first-ever anthology of short stories on the multiracial experience. Being half-Asian herself, Prasad has long acknowledged the dearth of significant mixed-race characters in literature, especially for teens and children, and has sought to bring awareness to this issue. For this reason, Prasad chose multiracial protagonists for both her YA novels, Damselfly and Mercury Boys.

Prasad’s shorter works have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, The Week, and Teen Voices. She is also a contributor to New Haven Noir, a short story anthology edited by Amy Bloom, and the author of a how-to guide for young jobseekers. A graduate of Yale, Prasad is currently working on several books and writing projects. She lives in Connecticut with her husband, sons, and assorted pets. Find out more at https://chandraprasad.com/.

Follow Chandra on social media:
Twitter: @chandrabooks
Instagram: @chandraprasadbooks
TikTok: @chandraprasadbooks


In an interview, Chandra can discuss:

  • Her first YA novel, Damselfly, and its usage in classrooms as a teaching tool, often in concert with Lord of the Flies
  • The growing use of classic and modern YA texts in high schools as parallel or linked texts
  • The importance of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #DisruptTexts movements
  • Why she has focused on strong and diverse female characters and on the intersections of race, class, sexuality, and gender in identity
  • The soaring population of young multracial readers who lack books with multracial characters or focus
  • The challenges teen girls face today, and how literature can both illuminate and address these challenges
  • Using a modern point of view to revisit historical events, especially as a young person
  • Her exploration of mid-19th century American history and the research put into this book, as well as in her previous novels
  • The rich history and lore of liquid mercury and the ways she used this as a device in the book

An Interview with Chandra Prasad

1. Why did you write Mercury Boys?

Years ago, the daguerreotype of Robert Cornelius made national headlines. I think I first read about it on CNN. This daguerreotype was evidently the first ever photographic self-portrait, or in today’s vernacular, the first “selfie” (now, as we know, the taking of selfies is practically a rite of passage for today’s teenagers!). After reading up on both Robert Cornelius and daguerreotypes in general, I learned how early photographers like Cornelius had to be skilled chemists in order to properly handle the toxic substances early photography required. I also learned that Cornelius was a fascinating individual—an inventor, lighting entrepreneur, photographer, and metallurgist.

When I researched the history of elemental mercury, and how it was seen, variously, as an antidepressant, fertility aid, poison, miracle cure, and alchemical device, I saw the potential for an exciting story—one that weaves together photography, bits of American history, early American pioneers, the problematic notion of female hysteria, and the complicated minefield that is modern female adolescence.

2. How did you arrive at the title: Mercury Boys?

The word “mercury” in Mercury Boys is significant in many ways. The Roman god Mercury was the ancient god of luck, boundaries, travel, and tricksters, all of which have a role in this book. Historically, mankind saw elemental mercury as enchanted or magical since it is the only liquid metal in existence. The possibility of enchantment and magic also permeate this novel. In addition, the adjectival form of mercury, “mercurial,” means changeable and volatile, which apply to the girls and their club. Finally, the girls require elemental mercury to access the boys in the daguerreotypes, so mercury, quite literally, is essential to the novel’s plot.

3. What are daguerreotypes and why are they important in Mercury Boys?

Daguerreotype was the first publicly available photography. Daguerreotypes were popular in the mid-1800s. They were named after their inventor, Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, a French artist and photographer. While daguerreotypes were very popular for about twenty years, they faded into obscurity with the advent of other forms of photography such as tintypes, ambrotypes, and cyanotypes.

Daguerreotypes are important to the novel because they require the use of mercury vapor during the photographic process. Liquid mercury, in turn, is required by the girls in the book when they “visit” their forever boyfriends.

4. Can you tell me about the main character, Saskia Brown?

Saskia Brown is a sixteen-year-old high school student who is going through a hard time. Her parents are recently divorced. Estranged from her mother, Saskia has chosen to move with her father from Arizona to a small town in Connecticut. Though she used to be outgoing, the dissolution of her family and her “new kid in school” status have made her shy and self-conscious. Her outsider status is further exacerbated by the fact that she is biracial in a mostly white school. While she quickly manages to make a caring friend, Lila, Saskia is nonetheless impressionable and vulnerable when she makes the acquaintance of the most popular girl in school, Paige, who holds a dark secret.

5. What research did you do for the book, and in particular, for the characters who are from the mid-1800s?

Three of my previous books—On Borrowed Wings, Death of a Circus, and Breathe the Sky—are historical novels that required fairly intensive research. I love learning about history, so it’s no coincidence that Mercury Boys also has a few characters from the mid-19th century. To get the details right, I read extensively about Civil War field hospitals, early American women’s suffrage conventions, the California Gold Rush, and the New York Crystal Palace exhibition, that opened in 1853, among other subjects.

 

Radicalism, white supremacy take center stage in Pulitzer nominee’s new novel, ‘Murmuration’

Sid Balman, Jr.’s newest book releases on Aug. 3, 2021

Pulitzer-nominated war and national security correspondent and Writer in Residence at Sul Ross State University Sid Balman, Jr. is releasing a harrowing follow-up to award-winning novel, “Seventh Flag.” The second book in the series, “Murmuration,” will be published on Aug. 3, 2021, with SparkPress.

Charlie Christmas, Ademar Zarkan and Prometheus Stone are the best of America, united by war, scarred by displacement and resolute in the face of the troubles that rip the nation apart over three decades. Christmas, the Somali translator with a split personality and Zarkan, a Syrian Muslim woman raised in West Texas, a West Point graduate and a US Army sniper who struggles to reconcile her roles as an assassin and a mother; are brought together by Stone, a lapsed Jew and an Army captain amid a war and famine in East Africa the likes of which the world has rarely seen.

Their journey from the mean streets of Mogadishu to the high desert of West Texas, the barren plains of Indian country and the rolling hills of Minnesota is both tragic and uplifting. Charlie’s son, Amiir, is the bookmark in their lives, and the struggle to raise him amid the predators of white supremacy and violent radicalism is their life’s work. With the help of Buck, the bomb-sniffing dog with a nose for danger, they prevail over Somali militias, pirates, white supremacists and ISIS terrorists in a splintering world that has turned on itself like a serpent in the singularly obscene act of devouring its own tail.

Murmuration digs deeper into the backstory from some of the beloved West Texas characters in Balman’s awarded debut novel, “Seventh Flag,” and defines what it means to be American in the 21st Century.

“Murmuration”
Sid Balman, Jr. | Aug. 3, 2021 | SparkPress | Literary Fiction
Paperback | 978-1684630912 | $16.95
Ebook | 978-1-68463-092-9 | $9.95


About the Author

The Writer in Residence at Sul Ross State University and a Pulitzer-nominated national security correspondent, Sid Balman Jr. has covered wars in the Persian Gulf, Somalia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo, and has traveled extensively with two American presidents and four secretaries of state on overseas diplomatic missions. With the emergence of the web and the commoditizing of content, Balman moved into the business side of communications. In that role, over two decades, he helped found a news syndicate focused on the interests of women and girls, served as communications chief for the largest consortium of U.S. international development organizations, led two successful progressive campaigning companies, and launched a new division at a large international development firm centered on violent radicalism and other security issues on behalf of governments and nonprofits. A fourth-generation Texan, as well as a climber, surfer, paddler, and benefactor to Smith College, Balman splits time between Alpine Texas, where he is the Writer in Residence at Sul Ross State University, and Washington DC with three kids, and two dogs.


In an interview, Sid Balman, Jr. can discuss:

  • Working during the Bush and Clinton administrations in the 90s and covering international politics, diplomacy, national security and wars in Somalia, Iraq and the Balkans, plus how these experiences inspired his new novel, “Murmuration.”
  • Using his expertise in understanding national security and violent radicalization to weave an electrifying plot while painting a complicated and nuanced picture of gender, race, class and political power in a globalized political environment
  • Deep analysis based on a lifetime of research into the inner workings of domestic white supremacist groups and ISIS, particularly in Minnesota and abroad, and in law enforcement
  • How the book mirrors American culture and weaves the lives of diverse characters – Muslim, Jew, Christian, American, Somali, Native American – into a tapestry of what nationality looks like in the 21st Century
  • A rare and relevant look from a male writer into the heart of complex female characters in whom reside the instincts to create and destroy, drawing on themes in Virginia Woolf’s essay, “A Room of One’s Own,” and Hindu mysticism
  • His first novel, “Seventh Flag,” and what he has planned for the third novel in his trilogy

An Interview with Sid Balman Jr.

Before we dive into “Murmuration,” can you give us some background on your debut novel, “Seventh Flag,” and how it ties into the storyline and characters in your new book? Do people need to read “Seventh Flag” before cracking open “Murmuration?”

“Seventh Flag” is historical fiction examining the radicalization of America from World War II to the present day, with a brief foray into the administration of President Franklin Pierce prior to the Civil War and how his initiative to import camels from the Middle East for the U.S. Cavalry led to Texas having the nation’s largest Muslim population. The “Seventh Flag” trilogy centers on two families in West Texas as they engage in iconic, universal American activities that bind us together. One does not have to read “Seventh Flag” to fully enjoy and understand Murmuration, although I would certainly recommend it. The final novel in the trilogy, “Last Gun,” takes the readers 30 years into the future, with the same characters and geographies, to a dystopian, post-Trump nation splintered into warring fiefdoms.

Tell us about the title of “Murmuration.” What does it symbolize?

Massive, billowing flocks of starlings murmurate as a way to protect themselves from predatory birds, offering safety to the group, while conceding some fatal attacks. It is a metaphor, explained in the book as the central characters drive through the Great Plains and encounter a murmuration just prior to a deadly encounter with white supremacists, for how migrant communities coalesce against threats in their new homes.

How did you incorporate your personal experiences working as a journalist covering international politics and national security in Somalia into your new novel?

I flew into Somalia on an Air Force C-141with a planeload of locked and loaded Marines deployed as the vanguard to ensure humanitarian relief against marauding warlords amid famine and war. I was the vanguard for one of the world’s largest news agencies, with $50,000 and orders to set up our coverage for what would evolve into a complex, bloody war that defined Clinton Administration national security strategy in the post-Cold War world. My staff and I, utilizing American relief flights, reported from one end of the vast nation to the other embedded with U.S. forces, and witnessed firsthand the botched raid in Mogadishu depicted in Ridley Scott’s powerful film “Black Hawk Down.”

Minnesota is home to the largest Somali community in the U.S. How did that come to be?

After leaving daily journalism, I developed a specialty in behavior-change communications, focused primarily on countering violent extremism on behalf of the U.S. and other governments. Drawing on my experiences and contacts, we developed a project for the Department of Homeland Security to mitigate ISIS recruiting and white fascism in Minnesota, the largest concentration of Somalis in the U.S. due primarily to resettlement practices that place migrants in regions with low unemployment, appropriate jobs and a supposedly progressive populace. Much of “Murmuration” takes place in Minnesota and draws on my experience with that project.

Are any of the characters in “Murmuration” based on real people?

Generally speaking, all of the characters are mosaics of real people. But the fictional Laws family in the tiny West Texas town of Dell City is based on a colorful clan that helped build a farming empire on the high desert. One of the daughters was a founding member of the Dixie Chicks band! The real family, starting with Jack Lynch, were incredibly helpful and generous with my research.

What thematic roles do violent radicalism and white supremacy play in your new book?

Violent radicalism and white supremacy in my view and work are public health issues, spreading virally like a disease and requiring the same mitigation strategies as any illness. My main characters – black Somali migrants, a Jewish Army officer who becomes a rabbi, and a groundbreaking Muslim woman – a West Point graduate and Army sniper who struggles to reconcile her life as an assassin and mother – epitomize those who face and can fall prey to violent extremism due to injustice and marginalization. Without spoilers, each of these characters face the ultimate dilemma in the face of those challenges, whether to fall prey to violent radicalism or to hold the line against it.

How do you explore gender and gender roles in “Murmuration?”

Ademar Zarkan, my favorite character, is the vessel for all those themes. Ademar, raised in West Texas, breaks all the glass ceilings of gender and faith as she plays football, maintains a deeply personal and sexual relationship with a white, Christian boyhood companion, graduates from West Point, serves as a deadly sniper in the Army and has children. When asked in “Murmuration” why she is a sniper, Ademar cites Virginia Woolf’s book, “A Room of One’s Own,” to explain how being a sniper is her room, a place where she is safe and calls all the shots, both literally and figuratively.

What other themes are found in “Murmuration?

Whew; that’s enough! The rest are all variants, but police brutality in Minnesota rears its head in a profound way in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. I spent several months researching in Minnesota prior to the Floyd incident and found disturbing pockets there of white supremacy among law enforcement. That’s why I was not at all surprised when the FBI discovered that many of the rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 came from law enforcement and the military. Classically radicalized individuals.

Some novelists plan out all the details in a series before they even finish the first book. Others write as they go. What was your approach?

I’m very meticulous about mapping out the book before I write a single word. I spend months on research, construct detailed character profiles, outline every chapter and even build story boards that incorporate images and maps. As a former wire service reporter – a classic ink-stained wretch – I write very fast once I start, being careful not to write and edit at the same time. That said, and one of the most interesting aspects of my process, is not being too fixed on my story process and allowing the characters and narrative to grow organically within the tale. For me, it’s really a lot of fun!

You’ve now written nonfiction journalistic works as well as fiction. Do you prefer one over the other? What are the unique challenges of each?

I’m asked this frequently. Fiction is journalism, I just get to make up the story and all the quotes. In all seriousness, I’m an old-school reporter who believes that journalism must be the most accurate representation of the truth as one perceives it based on a moment in time. My fiction is a metaphor for the truth perceived through the rear-view mirror.

How important is your Texas background to your identity as a writer?

I’m a fourth-generation Texan, and the best of that amazing state is in my DNA. Iconic activities that draw us together as Americans abound in Texas, which made it the ideal place to start spinning this trilogy. Expressing the unity of America and Americans in my view is the antidote for what’s currently ripping us apart, and that, even more than my background, is why Texas is a dominant setting in the trilogy.

Without giving too much away, what is in store for the final novel in his saga?

It’s dystopian, not science fiction, set in an America of fiefdoms with no modern utility infrastructure and culminating in a battle for dominance. Not surprising, Ademar, a woman well into her 70s, and all the characters from the first two novels, rule over the last pocket of Free America based, where else, in West Texas.


Advance Praise for “Murmuration”

“Mr. Balman has written what I consider one of the Great American Novels of the 21stCentury. In Murmuration, the second novel in the Seventh Flag trilogy, he has turned on its head the traditional notions of heroism, patriotism, loyalty and gender. Balman weaves three decades of experience with conflict and extremism into a heartbreaking tale of diaspora and displacement that has defined the saga of so many migrants to the United States. As one who has made that journey, I urge all my countrymen and women – whether Somali or American – to read Murmuration.” —Mohamed Abdirizak; Foreign Minister of Somalia

“The book we should all be reading right now! Murmuration is a work of absorbing historical detail but also a multi layered story of love, honor, loss and the plague of radicalism. Sid Balman Jr. carries us from West Texas, into the battleground of Mogadishu and refugee camps in Kenya to suburban Minnesota giving us a deeper understanding of our global struggle with radicalism. Nothing is ever what it seems.” —Donatella Lorch, award-winning war correspondent for the New York Times, Newsweek and NBC News

“When a young Somali immigrant is confronted by hatred, it’s no surprise that he will rebel against the society that rejects him. Murmurationis a fast-paced thriller that captures the horror of the Somali refugee crisis and brings that horror home to America. It is a story of fear, revenge, compassion, and, ultimately redemption. Sid Balman, Jr. writes about the global threat of ISIS and white supremacy with the confidence and authority of someone who has witnessed it firsthand. This novel is a compelling glimpse into a dangerous world.” —Clifford Garstang, author of What the Zhang Boys Know and The Shaman of Turtle Valley

“Drawing on his personal experience in conflict, Mr. Balman immerses the reader in the purgatory of an African refugee camp, the snap of a passing bullet, the horror of a deadly crocodile strike, and the satisfaction of a sniper’s kill shot. He chronicles the turmoil in the head of a young Somali lured by unexpected sexual access, the calls to violence from an Imam preaching nihilism, and the torments inflicted by white nationalists inside American prisons. More than a good read, the novel presents the back story to today’s headlines.” —US Ambassador to Somalia James Bishop (Ret.)

Tagalong Wife Story is Feminist Statement on Marriage, Infidelity, Sexual Assault/PTSD and the Expat Lifestyle

Em’s Awful Good Fortune aims to challenge societal expectations

LOS ANGELES, CA – Marcie Maxfield debuts as a novelist with her raw exploration of the expatriate journey, 
not just through various countries, but through the personal road to self discovery.

What was originally meant as a memoir turned into the autofiction feminist statement Em’s Awful Good Fortune (She Writes Press, August 3, 2021). Maxfield’s novel is a biting comedy about a woman’s global journey to reclaim her autonomy in a relationship stretched by the unfamiliar landscape of expat life.

Part dysfunctional marriage, part global romp, Em’s Awful Good Fortune is not your typical expat story. The book is a deeply personal, marriage coming-apart-at-the-seams look at the struggle between a woman’s desire for partnership and her need for identity. Fueled by twin demons, love and rage, Em stomps her way around the world coming to terms with the fantasy of having it all: husband, kids, and a career. Em is not just married; it’s more like being handcuffed to her husband’s international career. Her life reads like a fantasy, bouncing between Los Angeles, Paris, Tokyo, Shanghai, and Seoul. But—the good fortune is all her husband’s: Em is just the tagalong wife.

Maxfield’s compelling, non-linear story explores the expat lifestyle through the lens of a struggling marriage, while at the same time tracing the lasting impact of sexual assault and PTSD. Em’s journey exposes the dark corners of this seemingly privileged world: loneliness, depression, infidelity, and loss of career. A whip-smart empowering narrative about compromise that every woman should read. Em begins to value her needs before those of her husband’s career, she stops letting herself be dragged along for the ride—and ultimately emerges triumphant.

“Em’s Awful Good Fortune”
Marcie Maxfield | August 3, 2021 | She Writes Press | Literary Fiction
Paperback | 978-1647421427 | Ebook | B08QZ58FDC


Praise for the book

“Maxfield calls Em’s problems those of ‘tagalong wife privilege,’ but the novel isn’t just about that; there’s something here that’s more universal, which women in different circumstances are sure to find familiar: the notion of abandoning the care of one’s own health and happiness in the name of love of family and marriage.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Settled in, but not settled down, Maxfield’s Em is the feminist response to Dangerfield’s “I don’t get no respect”. A character you want to meet in a lost bar in a lost town and spend the evening laughing with. Ironic, poignant and downright funny. It is a great novel to take on the road….” – Andrew Fierberg, producer of Secretary, My Art

“Em’s Awful Good Fortune brilliantly skewers the rarified life of the overly precious “tagalong” ex-pat life. The novel reads like your best friend’s blisteringly funny diary, especially if your best friend happens to be a stand-up comic with a knife’s edge wit who can make mince-meat out of any philandering husband. . . Find a chair, open the first page of this sizzling story, and fly around the world on that trip you’ve been itching to take all year.” – Susan Conley, Author of Landslide and The Foremost Good Fortune

“Equally funny and brutal, this novel breathes vivid life into a much maligned and little understood ‘type’ – the expat wife. Maxfield poured her heart into the writing and it shows: the pages crackle.” – Junot DIaz, author of the New York Times bestseller This is How You Lose Her and the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

“This breathless memoir of a woman’s attempt at balancing love with self-love as she navigates the joys and pitfalls of the tagalong life will keep you reading until the wee hours, and might even change the way you view marriage, travel, and feminism.” – Corine Gantz, author of Hidden in Paris and the trilogy: The Curator of Broken Things

“A fast-paced, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it whirlwind of a book capturing the good, the bad and the ugly of being a ‘tagalong’ expat wife.” – Stephanie Suga Chen, author Travails of a Trailing Spouse and Disunited Nations: International School Mums at War

“Any woman who has ever sacrificed something of herself for her family will empathise with the good fortune that comes with a hidden cost.” – Jo Furniss, author of The Trailing Spouse, The Last to Know and All the Little Children


More about Marcie Maxfield

Marcie Maxfield’s voice is fierce, authentic and personal. Her debut novel, Em’s Awful Good Fortune, is based on her experiences living overseas as a tagalong wife. Her play Girls Together Always—a collection of coming-of-age stories about “growing up girl”—won the ENCORE! Producer’s Award at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Maxfield is a teen mentor and volunteer for WriteGirl—an L.A. organization dedicated to empowering girls through creativity. She is married with two kids, a French bulldog named Bader, and two rescue cats named Hunky and Dory. They live in Los Angeles, CA.

Follow Marcie Maxfield on social media:
Facebook: @MarcieMaxfieldauthor | Instagram: @marcie.b.max


In an interview, Marcie can discuss:

  • How the original idea for a book about the expat experience and being a tagalong wife evolved into a powerful feminist statement
  • What she means by The 3 P’s (Patriarchy, Pollution, PTSD)
  • The lasting effects that PTSD has on a person’s life, from the experience of a survivor of sexual assault, but regardless of what caused the trauma
  • Writing a voice heavy, non-linear book that started as a memoir and published as literary fiction, and how Marcie is blurring genre lines with a novel of autofiction
  • Societal expectations of women that revolve around marriage, family, and career, and is the term “tagalong” wife specific to the expat lifestyle?
  • How this book can be equally as appealing to men, even as a feminist statement
  • Being in a marriage that survived infidelity and the writing process of this book

An Interview with Marcie Maxfield

1. The reference on the cover of your book is powerful: “PTSD: Paris, Tokyo, Shanghai, Detroit.” Tell us about how you wanted to focus on the lasting effects of PTSD, not necessarily what causes it, and how that travels with a person.

PTSD is like aftershocks following an earthquake—it comes in waves of fear, anxiety and full-blown panic attacks. All of which Em experiences. But I didn’t want to put a neon sign on Em that says #MeToo. It’s there in the background, like her limp/swagger from a childhood accident. Just another thing that impacts how women walk in the world—why they sometimes choose to “play it safe” rather than live their fullest lives.

2. You originally planned to write this book as a travel memoir. How and why did that idea evolve when your writing process began, and what exactly is autofiction for those new to the unique genre?

The plan was to write a memoir about my experiences as a “tagalong” wife living in China during the “air-apocalypse.” But then Em’s voice began to drive the narrative and the book became more about unleashing Em—raw & unfiltered—than writing an expat novel. In the end, her voice became the story. That’s how I define autofiction: merging the authenticity of memoir with the creative freedom of fiction.

3. What are some of the most common misconceptions about the expat experience that you want readers to understand from the book?

People think the expat life is a vacation. That my husband got a big fat expat package, and I didn’t have to work. The thing is, I couldn’t work—I didn’t have working papers. I lost agency, identity, financial independence. As for the expat package, honestly, it didn’t compensate for the loss of my income. And then, there’s the trope about “tai-tais” shopping all day, getting mani-pedis. Yeah, there’s definitely some quality self-care to be had as a tagalong wife—travel, museums, cultural activities. And thank the goddesses for that! It’s not easy raising kids in a foreign city where you don’t drive a car or speak the language, have no family to lean on, and you have to start over from scratch: make friends, establish community, find doctors, and then—just when you have it all figured out—it’s time to move again.

4. There are tons of musical references in your book. Can you talk about why music was so central to your character?

Oh, yeah, there are over 40 bands or songs woven into this book. Em thinks in song titles. I wanted to illustrate how the music industry career that she gave up—in order to keep her marriage together—stayed with her throughout her journey, embedded in her thought process. When Em reclaims her true self and steps into her light—she’s wearing a rocker-girl muscle t-shirt

5. You devote an entire chapter of the book to yoga. How did you get into yoga, and how did it change your life?

I stumbled into a yoga studio. Literally. Walked into one of those sidewalk-sandwich boards advertising one free month of yoga. That’s all it took—I was hooked. It helped with my anger and anxiety. That I got in better shape was just an added benefit. When someone reads that chapter in the book, they will see how Yoga Teacher Training practically broke me before it saved me.

Ivy League admissions expert sheds new light on what it really takes to get into college

NEW YORK, New York – From Ivy League admissions expert Dr. Aviva Legatt comes an insider’s college admissions guide that teaches students to identify and harness their authentic passions, stand out from the crowd, and achieve their dreams in college and beyond, “Get Real and Get In” (St. Martin’s Griffin, August 3, 2021).

“Get Real and Get In” teaches readers to think outside of the box and focus on what admissions officers are really looking for—young people who dare to be their most authentic selves. Through engaging, accessible, and empathetic prose, this book forms an inspirational roadmap for readers to uncover their true passions and leverage them to create applications that truly stand out from the crowd. It also features a variety of useful exercises and candid stories from many influential figures like Adam Grant (New York Times best-selling author), Dorie Clark (Harvard Business Review contributor), and Thomas Kail (Tony winning director of Hamilton: An American Musical) which teach students to look beyond just getting into a “good” college and focus more actively on identifying and attaining their long-term goals.

“Get Real and Get In” is designed to ignite an essential mindset shift in students: stop trying to just “get in” and start figuring out exactly what you want from life and how to get it. Stop managing the impressions you make on admissions officers and start defying impressions. This is an essential guide to cutting through the noise of the admissions process and gaining the confidence to forge one’s own path to success—in college and beyond.

“Get Real and Get In: How To Get Into the College of Your Dreams by Being Your Authentic Self”
Dr. Aviva Legatt | Aug. 3, 2021 | St. Martin’s Griffin
YA Nonfiction, College Guides | 288 pages
Paperback | ISBN: 978-1250773968 | $17.99
Ebook | ASIN: B08FZ8SH3Z | $11.99


Early Praise for “Get Real and Get In”

“This book is full of the kind of advice that college applicants crave—and every helicopter parent desperately needs. Not just for getting into college, but becoming a leader any college would be proud to call an alum.”
—Adam Grant, New York Times bestselling author of ORIGINALS, GIVE AND TAKE, THINK AGAIN and OPTION B with Sheryl Sandberg

“The decisions we make around college profoundly shape our personal and professional trajectories. Aviva Legatt is a sage guide along the way, helping young people make smarter choices as they navigate their futures. Get Real and Get In is both grounding and inspiring.”
—Dorie Clark, adjunct professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and author, Entrepreneurial You and Stand Out

“I strongly advise all students and parents who will be going through the college application process to benefit from this outstanding book.”
—Joelle Hatem Ancel, Parent and Lawyer, Hatem Law Office, Istanbul, Turkey

“If practical is your thing (and it’s definitely mine), Dr. Legatt’s book offers actionable advice to approaching college admissions with the holistic mindset that admissions officers use themselves when reviewing applications. Get Real and Get In is the gentle, yet firm reminder to you, the applicant, that success trumps name brand when selecting a school and that there’s more than one way to get to where you’re trying to go in life.”
—Ethan Sawyer, College Essay Guy, and author, College Essay Essentials: A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Successful College Admissions Essay


About the Author

Dr. Aviva Legatt is the admissions expert and founder of Ivy Insight, the gold standard in college admissions consulting for undergraduate college applications. An in-demand leadership and college admissions speaker with a fresh perspective, Dr. Legatt has been hailed by the New York Times as a trustworthy expert on college admissions, and recognized as an expert in corporate culture and diversity as a faculty member for Coursera and the University of Pennsylvania.

Follow Dr. Aviva Legatt on Instagram and Twitter @avivalegatt


In an interview, Dr. Aviva Legatt can discuss:

  • What factors to consider when applying to college — You may have very practical reasons to narrow your school list: cost, geography, size, and feasibility of getting in. But once you’ve done the pragmatic work of narrowing options, remember that it’s not about finding the “best” college—it’s about finding the best college for you.
  • College admissions in the age of Covid and the unique challenges students are facing during the application process
  • The most common pitfalls in applying to college, including the Impressiveness Paradox — Admissions officers at top universities know students are trying to impress them with all the activities they’re doing outside of the classroom. But paradoxically, these admissions officers are also underwhelmed by students who are clearly managing their lives outside of the classroom solely to impress the committee. The paradox is that almost all impressiveness goes out the window when you’re trying to be impressive.
  • Shifting your mindset: Stop trying to just “get in” and start figuring out exactly what you want from life and how to get it, preparing students for success beyond the college application process
  • The 2019 college admissions scandal
  • Her personal experience applying to college
  • Advice for students whose parents or guardians are not supportive of their choice of school or field of study
  • Why it is important to cultivate connections with key university personnel (like administrators, alumni and admissions counselors) and how to authentically build these relationships

An Interview with Dr. Aviva Legatt about “Get Real and Get In”

Before we dive into your new book, “Get Real and Get In,” can you tell us about your own experience applying to college?

The year was 2000. I was attending a competitive high school, Princeton High School (PHS), in Princeton, New Jersey. I absolutely loved my experience there, but there was one problem. Everyone who attended was a rock star, on and off paper, and it crushed me. Here are the receipts: I went to high school at the same time as Oscar-Winning “La La Land” and “Whiplash” writer/director Damien Chazelle (he was in the class of ‘03). I also attended school with a now-famous yogi, two future Broadway stars, and several would-be top doctors in the U.S. I knew multiple people who got a 1600 on the SAT freshman year (without studying…or so they said). I spent much of my four years at PHS engaged in deep conversations with brilliant peers whose worldly knowledge far exceeded mine.

While it was an extraordinary opportunity to learn in this environment, I was barely keeping up with my classmates academically, artistically, or extra-curricularly. They were in AP’s; I wasn’t. They were in tons of clubs; I wasn’t. I wanted to do theatre and was fairly talented…but I was competing for roles with future Broadway stars and Oscar winners! My dreams seemed meant for them, not me.

At PHS, there was an overarching belief that attending a top college was the only way to gain success in life. I didn’t grow up with this belief, but it was in the air in my high school and got hammered into me by teachers and classmates.
How did this impact my college plans? I felt I had to distinguish myself in some way from my classmates. But what could I do? I knew I had to get a head start. So, in sophomore year, I selected my first-choice college: NYU.

NYU had a music business program. I was obsessed with Hanson (yes, the MMMBop brothers—Google it!) and musical theatre—and the music business route seemed like a logical choice at the time. Back then, NYU’s Music Business program was considered one of the best in the country. In the years that followed, I did all I could to make sure I had everything in place for NYU. Test scores at target range: check. Grades good enough: check. Enough “worthy” extracurriculars (or so I hoped): check.

I visited every NYU event I could, taking campus tours, attending information sessions, and going to prospective student gatherings at school. I even asked my dad to contact an NYU professor we knew and visited him at his home. Fortunately, Professor Walter Reinhold, who later became my music history professor, put in a good word for me. I applied for Early Decision (not knowing how this would impact my family and myself, AKA adding quite a bit to my student loans!).

Everything was looking good for my application—at least, as good it was going to look. But the pressure became too much for me in October of 2000. As a high school senior, I got stress-induced pneumonia the month before applications were due. I had to miss several weeks of school and was physically incapacitated for several months afterward, not to mention emotionally exhausted.

I barely took time to acknowledge my pneumonia, though (or the psychological/emotional implications of my illness). I waited and waited for my admissions decision to come in, and when that envelope finally came…

BOOM. Accepted. I cried tears of relief, balled up on the floor.

Why did I get accepted? I’ll never know for sure, even though I’ve since served as a member and chair of an Ivy League admissions committee.

But I’m fairly certain that I got into NYU because of my “demonstrated interest” (AKA obsession and persistence), alumni connections (I was a triple legacy), adversity (my father became very ill when I was in high school, which probably explains why I was so focused on a brighter future), and my attendance at PHS—a high school which had a good relationship with NYU at the time. My grades and test scores were extremely average for NYU and probably on the lower end of my other classmates who applied.

But all that mattered to me was that I got in.

Was NYU the thing that made a difference in my life? Did it make me successful today? Maybe my college experience has something to do with my successful career. But ultimately, college was the step that prepared me for the next phase of my life. It was not the making of me, nor the end of my story.

As it turned out, my high school experience laid the groundwork for my current career. Did I know then that my successes now would stem from that four-year period at PHS in which I felt perpetually frustrated and awkward? Um, no!

But with the advantage of time, I can now see how it all fits together. My time at PHS inspired me to go into the field of higher education. PHS got me obsessed with college! My high school experience led to my 15+ year career in higher education. In that time I’ve had jobs in admissions, academic leadership, teaching, and counseling students about how to get into top colleges.

Admission to NYU and any other successes I’ve had through the years have come because of hard work and luck. There is no secret formula.

Here’s what I’ve learned, through my own professional and personal experience and through interviewing the wonderful people you’ll meet in this book: success doesn’t go in a straight line. Rather than create a “perfect” plan for success to be followed no matter what, we must be clear on our own values and goals. Then we can use what happens in life, whether positive or negative, as fuel for our next endeavor. Our mindset matters—when we keep an open mind and don’t force ourselves onto a certain pathway because we think that pathway will make us successful, then we are most able to find true success.

While I could have written a book about how to “wow” the admissions committee by being the best underwater basket-weaving Irish step dancer (just kidding…but seriously that would be a very memorable applicant!), I decided instead to have conversations with widely-admired influencers about how college and other turning points affected their lives. Many of their pivotal life moments took place during college, but many moments that paved the way for future success had absolutely nothing to do with college. Because, as we’ll talk about in this book, your life amounts to so much more than where you go to college.

What are the most common misconceptions about applying to college?

Most people focus too much on checking the boxes and clearing the hurdles of the college application process and lose sight of the important big picture about what you really should be doing on the way to college: figuring out who you are and what you want.

As a former admissions committee member at an Ivy League university, I know a thing or two about what separates the accepted from the rejected. I want to share something important with you, something I don’t think you’re going to hear from other college admissions officers. It’s really counter-intuitive, but here it is.

Admissions officers at top universities know you’re trying to impress us with all that stuff you’re doing outside of the classroom. We know that we’re asking a lot of you. But paradoxically, admissions officers are underwhelmed by students who are clearly managing their lives outside of the classroom in order to impress the committee.

I call it the “Impressiveness Paradox.” The paradox is that almost all impressiveness goes out the window when you’re trying to be impressive.

You know this intuitively in your own social circle. No one is impressed by someone who is trying too hard to make an impression. Like when your classmate shows off their latest selfie on social media, and you know it’s totally got a filter. In that situation, it feels like someone trying to “play” you. You know the person is faking.

Exactly the same dynamic applies when admissions officers are sitting around the committee table, making decisions on your application.

There are two main pitfalls in creating your application (and the life you’re presenting in the app). The first is not being impressive at all: no clubs. So-so grades. Activities you tried for a semester, then pooped out on. I’m not going to talk about that one. If you care enough about your future to read a book like this, I doubt you’re at risk of leaving no impression at all.

However, there’s a second pitfall, one you’re probably much more at risk of falling into (without even knowing it). That’s the pitfall of seeming fake. You’re overly earnest in your application. You wax poetic about your involvement in the “Earth Club” and make a deadly-serious pledge to save every honeybee by graduation. You’re not just involved in clubs—you’re president of every one.

It all smacks of fake-ness. There’s just no other way to put it.

It’s not that we think you’re lying to us (we can spot the true liars! That’s not what we’re talking about). But admissions counselors get the feeling that everything has been pre-ordained, pre-managed, and pre-packaged to impress us–which is not impressive.

I want you to avoid this pitfall: that’s why I wrote this book. “Getting real” is the first step to getting in and, most importantly, getting what you want out of life.

What are some key factors students should consider when narrowing down which colleges to apply to?

You may have very practical reasons to narrow your school list: cost, geography, size, and feasibility of getting in. But once you’ve done the pragmatic work of narrowing your options, remember that it’s not about finding the “best” college—it’s about finding the best college for you.

Here’s some super-practical advice on ways you can find the right college for you. Below are five questions you can ask yourself when scouting colleges. They’re designed to help you learn about an institution’s values and priorities. Do they match up with your own?

For instance: Let’s pretend you’re interested in going to Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business. You owe it to yourself to do some research:

Question 1: What is the college’s culture and character?

Head over to the university’s “about” page on their website and check out “Our Mission and Vision,” (or something similar). A school’s mission statement is likely to be several paragraphs long, but you might find one sentence that summarizes it.

CMU’s Tepper School mission/vision reads like this: “The Tepper School of Business is committed to improving the critical thinking and leadership capabilities of individuals so as to enhance their value to business and society.” (That’s a bit dry, but hey—it’s for a business school!)

The motto is a short phrase or saying that captures a school’s history, character, and culture. It provides a sense of the school’s values and educational philosophy. Carnegie Mellon University’s motto is “My heart is in the work.”

For me, this phrase suggests that we can’t separate the core of who we are from what we do. Does this sound like you? Perhaps you’re more philosophically minded and believe we’re a lot more than the work we end up doing in the world. If a school’s motto doesn’t align with your own internal compass, it may be best to choose a different school.

Question 2: What are the college’s strategic goals for the next few years?

Check for the university’s published strategic plan. This document announces an intention to support that plan with resources and, most important for you, with students who can take advantage of those resources. Some college presidents may be looking to enhance community engagement, while others may be looking to advance global opportunities. For Carnegie Mellon and Tepper, key priorities are to “foster innovation and to use data for social good.”

This means that Tepper may be interested in students who have launched a nonprofit, have worked with big data, or are highly engaged in volunteer work. Does that align with the work you’ve been doing throughout high school?

If so, awesome! You can wow an admissions professional by showing them you understand the link between your passions and experiences and the school’s stated goals. Conversely, the school can provide you with resources, opportunities, and academic programs to take you to the next level.

Question 3: What are the academic choices and how are they structured?

Does the school use block scheduling (scheduling short but intensive classes), or traditional semesters? Does the school emphasize a core curriculum, or their lack of a core curriculum? What about the subject you’re interested in—what kind of research are students and faculty doing within this program?

Think about what you might like to major in and check out those academic programs. Would going to School XYZ adequately prepare you for a future in that field?

At Carnegie Mellon/Tepper, there are ten concentrations to choose from. The faculty hope students “enhance their skills in quantitative and analytic reasoning,” and the school aims to “provide the social, economic and political context for understanding business decisions in a global environment.” If numbers, data, and the influence of external forces on business decisions fascinate you, Tepper might just be the place for you.

Question 4: What college-based initiatives are being funded through donations?

A more to-the-point way to ask this: where’s the money?

Knowing where the money is flowing indicates where school priorities are today or where they may go tomorrow. You can check this out for yourself via press releases on college and university websites. You can also investigate The Chronicle of Philanthropy, at philanthropy.com. Check out the academic areas of interest to you. Has your potential program just received a big fat wad of cash? More money means more opportunities—maybe for scholarships, cool new study abroad programs, improved facilities, etc.

Let’s look at Tepper again. The Tepper family gave two BIG donations in the last twenty years: they donated $55 million in 2004 and $67 million in 2013. Since these donations were received, the school has expanded its facilities and strengthened its global reputation.

You want to know if the school that “puts its money where its mouth is,” i.e. funds the initiatives they claim to care about. Conversely, if your potential college is donating to causes and programs that go against your core values, you don’t want to find out about it midway through your first semester.

Question 5: What connections and relationships can you build with alumni, current students, administrators and professors of the college?

Establishing contact with people associated with the college can give you a personalized look at life inside. You can get a “sneak peek” to help you determine if said college is really right for you.

Don’t know where to find alumni? A quick online search can yield tons of potential contacts. Check out regional alumni groups listed on the college’s website; see if there are any alumni you’re connected to through your high school, or through social media. Find someone who seems nice and ask if you can give them a call. Or better still, meet for coffee. Going on informational interviews with alumni will give you a sense of what college life is like and how your interests might fit with the opportunities said college offers. But don’t stop with alumni! Go on campus visits or attend summer programs. Talk with administrators, current college students, and professors.

Establishing relationships like this will help you identify what elements of the college might fit with your interests. And it doesn’t hurt your chances of getting in. Ever heard “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know?” (There’s a whole chapter on that later in this book!) The more relationships you build with people associated with the college, the more people you have invested in the fate of your application. AKA, you’ll have more people pulling for you—always a good thing!

Given so many high school seniors spent the past year or so being educated from home due to Covid, what unique challenges do they face when applying for college?

For 2021, here are the top things that applicants should pay attention to:

Trend 1: Authenticity and resilience are prized traits for applicants
I often tell my clients that admissions committees are less interested in students who dabble in a dozen clubs than those who go all-in on their strengths and show excellence in their chosen fields. This has never been more true than in the Covid-19 era, when many students do not have the option to participate in extracurriculars as they have in years past.

In my book “Get Real and Get In,” I highlight students who have doubled down on their strengths and “wowed” admissions committees by being themselves. There are plenty of ways students can get creative and showcase their talents and hard work. I’ve had clients write books, conduct sophisticated research, and found national and global organizations. Colleges want to see applicants with the internal drive and resilience to lead something bigger than themselves. Stories of adaptability, ingenuity, and community-mindedness will undoubtedly impress in the pandemic era.

Trend 2: Standardized tests will be “optional but preferred”
The list of top-tier universities which have de-emphasized test scores has grown to over 900 as of this writing. Yet this does not mean a more level playing field for all students. Unfortunately, universities in which an SAT or ACT score is optional tend to accept students with test scores more frequently than they do those students without. For example, at the University of Pennsylvania, 75% of students admitted in the early round submitted standardized test scores, whereas only 25 percent did not. Georgetown University only accepted 7.34% of its early action pool that did not include standardized test scores.

This trend causes some to question: what does ‘test optional’ really mean if, all other factors being equal, universities more frequently choose the student with test scores? Critics claim that an “optional but preferred” testing policy pays lip service to the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion—while continuing to advantage students who have the means to prepare for and take standardized tests.

Trend 3: More students will continue to apply to early admission programs
In the fall of 2020, early admission applications to Penn rose by 23%. MIT saw an unprecedented 62% increase in early applications from the fall of 2019 to 2020. Harvard has seen an increase of 57% from last year. This dramatic increase in early applicants among highly competitive schools may be explained by the fact that many of these schools, including all of the Ivies, no longer require SAT and ACT scores. Another factor: in years past (before the pandemic), students who applied early were more likely to gain acceptance—though the rate of early acceptance is decreasing at elite institutions due to the sheer volume of applicants. For instance, Harvard accepted about 7% of its early applicants in the fall of 2020, as opposed to nearly 14% of its early applicants in 2019. With travel plans curbed and high school seniors choosing to connect virtually with universities, I predict that students will continue applying in high numbers to highly selective colleges which they may not have considered pre-pandemic.

Trend 4: The return of international students to campus
With the advent of the Biden administration, I predict we will see more international students back on campuses. The Trump administration proposed legislation that would limit international student visas to four years (and in the case of some countries, two years). This was in opposition to the long-standing practice of allowing students to stay in the US as long as they are in school and progressing in their studies. Trump’s policies resulted in a drastic decrease in the number of international student visas issued, from more than 600,000 in 2015 to 364,204 in 2019.

In a pre-election poll conducted by the Graduate Management Association Council, international candidates indicated that they would be more likely to matriculate in the U.S. if Biden became president. Under the new administration, federal agencies will likely work hard to facilitate international students’ higher education. I believe we will see a significant increase in international scholars, even if some Covid-19 restrictions remain in place across college campuses.

Trend 5: More students taking a gap year before college
The Covid-19 pandemic caused many students to consider a non-traditional start to college. The number of students who chose to take a gap year rose significantly in the fall of 2020. The class of 2021 may choose a similar path and defer their college admission in order to explore non-academic interests. I predict that many students who choose a gap year will involve themselves in civic action.

The activism and organizing efforts of Gen Z, born in the late ‘90s, are well documented and have been compared to the youth movements of the 1960’s and 70’s. Members of Gen Z—which include current high school seniors—report being highly concerned about the environment, racism, discrimination against the LGBTQ community, economic inequality, and many other issues. Given the unrest in 2020 in regards to racism and pandemic inequalities, there will be a strong pull for future college students to go out and make a difference in their communities. This will especially be true if Covid-era restrictions remain in place this fall.

Other Resources:

How to Ace Your Covid-19 College Essay:
https://www.forbes.com/sites/avivalegatt/2021/03/17/how-to-ace-your-covid-19-college-essay/?sh=1cc54da67220

How Students Can Succeed Despite Covid-19:
https://www.forbes.com/sites/avivalegatt/2020/07/31/college-plans-interrupted-how-students-can-succeed-despite-covid-19/?sh=2d863fa82637

Four Ways Covid is Changing College Admissions:
https://www.forbes.com/sites/avivalegatt/2020/04/29/4-ways-the-coronavirus-is-changing-college-admissions/?sh=1ca655e430f3

And my podcast episode:
The half-truth behind test optional policies: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/half-truth-behind-test-optional-policies-at-harvard/id1547285654?i=1000507830798

What makes “Get Real and Get In” so different from other college guides?

No other book on the market covers the same subject matter as “Get Real and Get In: How to Get Into the College of Your Dreams by Being Your Authentic Self”– i.e., presenting students and families with personal narratives from successful people as a conduit to experiencing a mindset shift in the college application process. Other comparable books focus on the frenzy and how to manage impressions made on admissions officers (e.g. get good test scores, take this specific set of extracurriculars) rather than how to defy impressions. This book will help prepare students for success beyond the college application process.

More and more, students and parents recognize the need to think “out of the box” when it comes to college applications. This book harnesses that mentality and encourages students to forge their own path to success for college—and life.

How important is it to go to an Ivy League school? How drastically does it change your prospects after graduation? Do you have to go to a “big school” to achieve big things?

Figuring out what school you want to go to is a part of that journey of figuring out who you are and what you want. Not every school will be an equally helpful conduit to getting what you want. An Ivy League school is a great opportunity provider for many students, but plenty others struggle at these colleges because they have a hard time standing out and/or keeping up with equally talented peers.


A person’s behavior and success is a direct outcome of the environment in which they are living and learning. It’s important to choose the right environment to live and learn in so that you can optimize your own success (however you define “success”). 

Is there a difference between the value of going to a small liberal arts college vs. a larger university, especially if they are ranked the same?

Ron Lieber’s book, “The Price You Pay For College,” is a great dive into how to define that value for yourself beyond the sticker price and ranking. The value you derive from any university you attend is ultimately related to not only the price you pay but what benefits you can redeem (both short and long term) from attending that university. 

The 2019 admissions scandal rocked the collegiate world, with wealthy celebrities essentially buying admission for their children. What would you say to the people who are defeated by these types of stories?

The college admissions scandal brought to light something that many already know to be true: if you are wealthy, you are advantaged in the college admissions process. We know this to be true because full-pay families have an advantage over those who ask for financial aid. We know this to be true because families who can afford support are in a better position to get into their dream colleges. 

While my clients and most people I know would not break the law to get their kids into college, the scandal underscored how deep the pressure is on students and families during the college process and why everyone going through this process needs some kind of support – even if the only support you receive is this book then you’re better off than someone else who didn’t read it! And if you do work with someone one-on-one, make sure you educate yourself on who you’re working with and that you’re getting support and information from the right source!

What advice do you have for students whose parents or guardians are not supportive of their choice of school or field of study?

Students’ college choices should be made by them (in consultation with their family about any constraints that the family may face e.g. finances). Beyond consulting with others, it’s important that students learn how to tune into their inner voice and block out the noises that clutter the airwaves. The sooner you learn how to do this, the better set up for life you’ll be. You don’t want to be 40 years old, regretting that you haven’t yet learned how to live for yourself and don’t know what to do for the remainder of your time here on earth.

Honoring your needs will lead you to the college that’s the best fit for you. As you come to know yourself better and better, you’ll know what you need in order to have a happy life. The more specific you are in naming your needs without apology, the better your chances of finding a school where those needs are met. Think about it: what would you do if you were at a restaurant and ordered a hamburger, yet the server came out with tomato soup on the tray. You were craving that hamburger and got a sinking feeling when the server placed the less-filling substitute in front of you. Would you pick up your spoon and eat the soup, like everything was just fine?

I hope not! I hope you’d take a stand for what you really want and need — and send the soup back. Think of a restaurant menu as you think about your college options. With all of the choices available to you, what do you need from your college experience? Your needs don’t have to match up with anyone else’s. (Maybe your friend ordered the tomato soup, because that’s what she was craving!) Get clear on what’s important to you; that way, you won’t get your priorities mixed up with anyone else’s.

In your book, you discuss the importance of cultivating connections with key university personnel, like administrators, alumni and admissions counselors. What are some ways to authentically build these relationships, and how can they help students when applying to college?

Whether or not you consider yourself “good” at networking, you can learn the skills needed to build relationships with key people at your college of choice. These skills will be useful to you now and forevermore. Take a cue from two students I helped gain acceptance into their dream colleges: Lana and Neil.

Lana had the dream of attending Wharton but was not a legacy and lacked connections prior to coming to campus. Lana visited the campus, traveling the long distance with her mother from their native Turkey. During her campus visit Lana took two courses and her mother used the “six degrees of separation” principle to connect Lana with several other individuals from the college. Because they were so impressed with Lana’s intellectual promise and potential, both professors wrote her recommendation letters which helped Lana gain admittance to Wharton. The other representatives Lana met with were equally impressed; they sent correspondence directly to the admissions office on her behalf. Lana’s visit was high-touch and high-impact.

By contrast, Neil connected with key college personnel on a more casual tour of his future school: Cornell. Whereas Lana had a carefully pre-arranged visit, Neil’s trip to Cornell was not so formal; he was one of many future students touring that day. But what he did do was some pre-planning, contacting campus representatives ahead of his visit. Neil played high school golf and thought he might be interested in joining the college team. He asked the coach for a meeting and the coach agreed. The meeting ended up lasting over an hour; the golf coach was extraordinarily generous with his time. Later, he wrote Neil a glowing recommendation letter. It’s no surprise that Neil got into Cornell.

 

New book helps leaders who are seeking to supervise and lead others with, through, and for justice

SANTA ROSA, California – With special focus on social justice organizations and nonprofits, author Rita Sever encourages a unified approach to human resources in her new book, Leading for Justice. Sever, a business consultant committed to advancing social justice causes, curates her advice in this book, helping leaders identify and address challenges in the workplace to help level the playing field and promote equity.

Leading in organizations working for justice is not the same as leading anywhere else. Staff expect to be treated as partners and demand internal practices that center equity. Justice leaders must meet these expectations, as well as recognize and address the ways that individuals and organizations inadvertently replicate oppression.

Created specifically for leaders who care about social justice, Leading for Justice addresses specific concerns and issues that beset organizations working for social justice and offers practices and models that center justice and equity. Topics include: the role of a supervisor in a social justice organization, the importance of self-awareness, issues of power and privilege, human resources as a justice partner, misses and messes, and clear guidelines for holding people accountable in a manner that is respectful and effective.

Written in a friendly, accessible, and supportive tone, and offering discussion questions at the end of each short section to make the book user-friendly for both individuals and teams, Leading for Justice is a book for leaders who want to walk the talk of supporting social justice, in their organizations and in the world.

“Leading for Justice: Supervision, HR and Culture”
Rita Sever | Aug. 3, 2021 | She Writes Press | Non-fiction / Business
Paperback | ISBN: 9781647421403 | $16.95
Ebook | ISBN: 9781647421410 | $9.95


About the Author

Growing up the youngest of six kids in a low-income family, Rita Sever often had the experience of feeling unseen and unheard. She became very focused on hearing and seeing others—as individuals and within the groups that we live and work in. This led her to recognize the uneven playing field that the world calls “equal.” This awareness has been part of her unified approach to human resources and organizational development for over twenty years. She worked as a staff member for nine years at an AIDS organization and another nine years at a community action agency. In her consulting practice, she works with social justice organizations throughout the United States.

Rita has an MA in Organizational Psychology and is a certified professional coach. Rita approaches supervision as a primary leadership function. In addition, she sees the function of human resources and the culture of an organization as essential components of organizational effectiveness. She works with individuals, teams, and entire organizations to help the organization to be in alignment internally as they work to achieve justice externally. Rita works as an affiliate consultant with RoadMap Consulting, a national group of consultants committed to strengthening organizations and advancing social justice. Rita lives in Sonoma County, California, with her husband, Mark, and their dog, Lacy.


In an interview, Rita Sever can discuss:

  • Unique challenges that nonprofits and social justice organizations face and how to address them — The predominance of mainstream white leadership practices in organizations that fight for justice in the world, expectations of staff to be part of the decision-making process at every level, etc.
  • Social justice and nonprofit leadership in the age of COVID, and what a post-pandemic world might look like for those organizations
  • Her work in the nonprofit sector and with social justice organizations, and how that led her to a career in human resources, specifically impacting (and changing) policies and practices that replicated oppression inside organizations
  • How inequity and biases can penetrate organizations, including those that are created to support equity — Impacting hiring processes, promotions, pay and treatment of staff
  • What it means to have a healthy workplace culture, though this is never one size fits all
  • How to give feedback in a way that is more likely to be heard, and therefore effective
  • Recognizing and preventing burnout in employees
  • Why an organization’s mission, vision and values actually matter, and how to bring these concepts into daily work
  • How HR can be an advocate for staff while still ensuring compliance and supporting performance
  • The top qualities of an effective leader — Self-awareness, collaborative, trustworthy, honest, compassion and integrity
  • The top practices of an effective leader — Regular one-on-one meetings with staff; articulating clear expectations and values; giving prompt, specific and effective feedback; active and consistent self reflection; routinely asking for feedback and creating an environment where staff feel safe to give it; listening at least as much as they talk

An Interview with RITA SEVER

What unique challenges do leaders of social justice and nonprofit organizations face?

The unique challenges that I look at in “Leading for Justice” center on the predominance of mainstream white leadership practices in organizations that fight for justice in the world. These organizations are usually very diverse in their staff representation and yet leaders often continue to employ top-down management practices that tend to be exclusionary. Another unique challenge is that the people who staff social justice organizations expect to be included in decision-making at every level and that is not always practical or effective. So how do you include people but not make every decision cumbersome and interminable?

What brought you to this work?

I grew up the youngest of six children and therefore had a strong sense of not being seen; I felt a lot of things were not fair. All six of us probably felt that way. When I started working, I was drawn to work in the nonprofit sector. I wanted to help people feel seen and to make things more fair. I worked in an organization that helped people with AIDS, I worked in a community action agency, and now I work with social justice organizations. Along the way I got my master’s degree and found a career in human resources, and even more importantly learned about racism, privilege, oppression, and intersectionality. I learned how my work could directly impact (and change) policies and practices that replicated oppression inside organizations.

How is your view of HR different from what many people experience at work?

I have heard people tell me that in their experience HR is not on their side; that HR is there only to protect managers and that anyone who complains to HR is deemed a problem employee. This is not the view of HR that I practiced and endorse. HR can be an advocate for staff while still ensuring compliance and supporting performance. HR can be the person, or department, that ensures people are treated well, that concerns are addressed and that managers are held accountable. HR can also be a primary partner in operationalizing values of equity and inclusion. When staff feel respected, heard and engaged, the organization will be safer – for the staff and from liability. I know that many HR departments quietly live these values and practices but our reputation is not always “user-friendly.”

What makes “Leading for Justice” different from other books that center on leadership?

This book helps leaders and organizations bring considerations of equity into their leadership practices. It helps them look at the common practices that favor dominant identities (i.e. white, straight and male), and it helps them weave equity practices into their supervision, their approach to HR and their day-to-day culture. The format is also different in that the book is written in short sections that promote quick reads while inviting reflection and personalization through “Make It Your Own” questions after each section.

How are social justice and nonprofit leadership roles evolving in the age of COVID?

Just like they are for every other organization I think. Most went through a period of time when many staff members worked remotely although there were some staff who continued to show up and do the in-person work in homeless shelters and child care centers. I was tremendously impressed to see how so many nonprofits found ways to retain their staff and keep the work going – even when they could not always physically deliver services. I think there will be more remote work and disbursed work groups as the virus passes; people have learned how to make it work and in many cases found value in being freed of geographic limitations. And in an ironic turn of events, in many organizations, COVID led managers to make room for grief and stress and fear into work spaces thereby humanizing them even as people were physically separated.

At the same time, the Black Lives Matter protests and the incredible organizing efforts in response to the overt white supremist actions and legislation has amplified the powerful work being done by social justice organizations. Conversations about racism and transphobia and sexism are happening in organizations, perhaps at a deeper level than they were previously. BIPOC staff are calling out practices that work against them and many social justice organizations are embracing a vibrant and transformative process to address these concerns. This work can be transformative for both individuals and organizations.

What are the top qualities of an effective leader?

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Collaborative
  3. Trustworthy
  4. Honest
  5. Compassion
  6. Integrity

What are the top 6 practices of an effective leader?

  1. Scheduling regular 1:1 meetings with each staff member they supervise
  2. Articulating clear expectations and values
  3. Giving prompt, specific and effective feedback (addressing what is working as well as what is not working)
  4. An active and consistent practice of self reflection
  5. Routinely asking for feedback and creating an environment where staff feel safe to give it
  6. Listening at least as much as they talk

You mention giving feedback as an important practice for supervisors. What are your best tips for giving effective feedback?

  1. Remember this is just information – information to help the person be successful – not a judgment of the person.
  2. Give feedback on what is working, as well as what is not working.
  3. Join with them – by naming a common goal or commitment.
  4. State what happened; an objective observation – not an interpretation.
  5. Name why it matters – connected to the work.
  6. Identify what you want them to keep doing or to do instead.
  7. After a brief statement of feedback, invite them into the conversation about next steps.

How does inequity show up at work, even when organizations try to support equity?

It shows up in how organizations hire, how they promote, how they pay, and how they treat people. There are so many practices that are inherently biased, if we are not actively working to see and change these practices, we will replicate inequity. And that is what happens when organizations are so focused on producing outcomes that they don’t hear the concerns of their staff and just keep doing what has always been done.

How do our biases sneak into our work as supervisors?

There are as many ways for our biases to sneak into our work as supervisors as there are ways that it can sneak into life. Our biases can directly impact our hiring decisions, our compensation decision, how we do evaluations and how we treat our staff. The assumptions we make about who people are can trigger us to interact in a less accessible manner or we can become more micromanaging with people that we think we are helping. Our definitions regarding work practices can be fraught with white supremacy values. What we mean by concepts such as “common sense” and “professionalism” and “work ethic” (these all sound like neutral words but actually come drenched in mainstream assumptions) which can lead us to mistreat people who have different understandings of those words or who see those words as triggers and racial judgments. We can be subjective in how we apply oversight. We can expect our staff to do things the exact way we would do them, instead of focusing on the outcomes and critical criteria. And of course, we can say and do things that insult and minimize our staff, creating distrust and distance that does not lead to success.

How important is an organization’s mission, vision and values? And how can you make those clear to employees?

An organization’s mission, vision, and values are the blueprints for who they are and how they plan to get where they are going. I believe that every staff member should be able to draw a clear line from the activity they are doing and the mission, passing through the organization’s values on the way. If not, why are they doing it? It is important that the mission, vision and values be an active part of the work and the culture, both in speech and in action. They should be discussed periodically, mentioned frequently and enlivened through the work The BIG leaders need to connect the dots and so does every manager and supervisor. If the mission, vision and values are only named during orientation, then they are stuck on paper and another “HR thing.” They should be part of onboarding in a way that every supervisor talks about them in a real and enthusiastic manner. And they should be part of evaluating the work – for staff and for the entire organization. Are we doing what we say we will do? Are we doing our work in alignment with our values? Are we getting closer to realizing our vision?

What does a healthy workplace culture look like?

A healthy workplace culture is one that supports the mission, vision, values and people of the organization. Culture is not one size fits all. There will be variations based on the work, the values and the leadership. Having said that, most healthy cultures will be grounded in respect and trust, will have standards of supervision that managers are held accountable to, will build a clear and consistent way to invite input from staff on a wide-variety of factors – and the input will be listened to and responded to, will be safe for people to be fully who they are while they do their work (including physical safety and safe from harassment, bullying, microaggressions, and disrespect), will foster growth and learning and in which all staff center the mission and work with engagement and effectiveness to support the mission. On top of all that, joy, laughter and play are always good additions to a healthy work culture.

How can leaders recognize and prevent burnout in their employees?

Burnout happens in all sectors and industries but it is an inherent danger in social justice work because there is always so much more to be done to address the injustices of the world, that it can be hard to feel like we are making a difference. Leaders can make sure that staff recognize the progress they are making. Victories and benchmarks can be celebrated. Staff can be valued and appreciated (both financially and in gratitude). This is a big reason I focus on supervision in my work; I saw what an impact an individual supervisor could have on their staff – in either a position or a negative way. So making sure that supervisors are trained to be supportive and clear, giving people tools and avenues to address problems that arise and most of all, listening and responding to staff concerns will all help to prevent burnout.

When burnout does happen, talk to staff about your concerns. Name what you are seeing. Listen when staff say they are overwhelmed or exhausted. Pay attention to changes in performance, or changes in how they show up. Ask them how they are doing. And listen to what they say. Do you hear a theme here?

Dystopian YA series advances spine-tingling story of forbidden love, resilience in the face of insurmountable odds

NYT bestseller Emily Colin to add sequel, short story collection to fantasy set

Wilmington, N.C.What do you do when the victory you’ve been fighting for is doomed to break your heart?

In “Siege of the Seven Sins,” (Aug. 3, Blue Crow Publishing), New York Times bestseller Emily Colin’s follow-up to her Foreword Indies-finalist YA novel, rogue bellators Eva Marteinn and Ari Westergaard have escaped the restrictive world of the Commonwealth and would like nothing more than to leave it behind forever.

But for Eva in particular, it’s not that simple. She is the weapon the Commonwealth wants — and they’ll stop at nothing to get her back. For years, Ari has seen Eva as his temptation and his secret, his virtue and his sin. Now that they’re finally free, he wants what he’s been craving — to start a new life with her … together.

But Eva is keeping a devastating secret of her own: The very victory the two of them have been fighting for is doomed to break both their hearts. Now she faces an impossible decision: Be the face of the revolution she’s dedicated her life to fueling and abandon the boy she loves — or sacrifice everything she’s fought for to stand by his side.

“This is easily one of the best books I’ve ever read. ‘Siege of the Seven Sins’ has it all — heart-stopping action, breathtaking characters, high stakes, and a thrilling story, all wrapped up in beautiful prose. What more could you ask for?”
— Madeline Dyer, SIBA Award-winning author of the Untamed series

The Seven Sins Series
Emily Colin | Blue Crow Publishing | YA Dystopian Fantasy
“Siege of the Seven Sins” Book 2 | Paperback | Aug. 3, 2021 | 978-1-947834-60-6 | $15.99
Ebook | 978-1-947834-58-3 | $4.99

“Shadows of the Seven Sins” Short Story Collection
Ebook | June 2, 2021 | $2.99

In the oppressive world of the Commonwealth, citizens live and die by the rules of the Seven Deadly Sins. Attachment is punishable by death … but all the rules in the world can’t stop people from falling in love. Fighting back against the High Priests who make the Commonwealth’s rules and the vicious Bellatorum warriors who enforce them is terrifying — but for love, people will take chances they’d never dare to otherwise. For love, people will do terrible — and wonderful — things. Dive deeper into the stories of your favorite characters and meet new ones; discover dark secrets; and witness the courage of rebels who risk their lives — again and again — for love.

“Sword of the Seven Sins” Book 1
Available now | Paperback | 978-1947834460 | $14.99

Eva Marteinn never wanted to be a killer. Raised in the Commonwealth, where citizens live and die by the code of the Seven Sins, Eva is sickened by the barbaric punishments the High Priests inflict. When she’s Chosen as the first female bellator, Eva is devastated. But she is inordinately gifted at the very role she abhors. When she falls for her mentor, Ari Westergaard, she knows they should do anything to avoid each other. Balanced on a razor’s edge of desire and betrayal, the two uncover a secret that could overturn the Commonwealth itself. Eva must decide to either turn her back on Ari, and remain loyal to her home — or stake her life on the boy she’s come to love.

“Sacrifice of the Seven Sins” Novella
Available now | Ebook | 978-1-947834-59-0 | Free

Born in the Commonwealth of Ashes, Ari Westergaard has known little but violence and deprivation. One day, he sees a girl dare to defy a High Priest … and falls hopelessly in love. Ari’s feelings for Eva Marteinn are forbidden, and though they have never spoken, his thoughts of her sustain him as he survives in a world where cruelty is the norm and kindness is for the weak. But when Ari is faced with a fellow citizen in need of protection, he must make a difficult choice: Stand up for what he believes in — or pay the ultimate price.


Praise for Emily Colin and the Seven Sins Series

“Even better than the first book, ‘Siege of the Seven Sins’ is a one-sitting read, not because it’s short, but because it’s impossible to stop reading once you start. With an intriguing world, an impossible love story, and characters I both loved and loved to hate, the stakes are high. Enemies are closing in on Eva and Ari, but the most dangerous thing of all might be what’s happening inside Eva. What if love was a death sentence? This is a series everyone should know about.”
— M. Lynn, USA Today-bestselling author of of the Queens of the Fae series

“‘Siege of the Seven Sins’ was at least as thrilling as its predecessor, but even more heart-wrenching and blood-pumping because we’ve fallen in love with Ari and Eva. We’re so invested in their survival and happiness, especially when Colin never pulls a punch and never leads her readers down a predictable path.”
— Karissa Laurel, author of The Stormbourne Chronicles

“A beautifully crafted story with so many intense moments I couldn’t stop reading.
This is the best book I’ve read in a long time.”
— YA Books Central

“A hot, fast-paced story you don’t want to miss.”
— Caitlin Sinead, author of “Heartsick”

“This book was amazing from the haunting prologue to the last page.
The sizzling romance between the two main characters was everything … highly recommend!”
— @womanon

“A rollicking ride through forbidden love and deadly adventure …
I haven’t ached for love like this to conquer all since Tris and Four.”
— Leigh Statham, Author of the Daughter Trilogy

“A romantic dystopian with a fantastic — and unexpected — twist …
‘Seven Sins’ is powerful, sexy, hopeful, and unsettling.”
— Heidi Ayarbe, award-winning author of “Freeze Frame”

“An absolutely mind-blowing, spine-tingling, action-packed extravaganza … an electrifying, imaginative, phenomenally well written book. The tension, banter and angst blazes.”
— Emerald Book Reviews

 


EMILY COLIN’S debut novel, “The Memory Thief” was a New York Times bestseller and a Target Emerging Authors Pick. She is also the author of “The Dream Keeper’s Daughter” (Ballantine Books). Her young adult titles include the anthology “Wicked South: Secrets and Lies” and the Seven Sins series, both from Blue Crow Publishing, as well as the anthology “Unbound: Stories of Transformation, Love, and Monsters” (Five Points Press). Regardless of whether she’s writing for adults or teens, all of her books feature love stories and supernatural twists.

Emily’s diverse life experience includes organizing a Coney Island tattoo and piercing show, hauling fish at a dolphin research center, roaming New York City as an itinerant teenage violinist, helping launch two small publishing companies, and working to facilitate community engagement in the arts. Originally from Brooklyn, Emily lives in coastal North Carolina with her family. She loves chocolate, is addicted to tiramisu, and dislikes anything containing beans. You can find her trying to do yoga, with her nose buried in a book, or hanging out at www.emilycolin.com.

Follow Emily Colin on social media:
Facebook: @emilyacolin | Twitter: @emilyacolin | Instagram: @emily_colin


In an interview, Emily Colin can discuss:

  • How the Seven Sins series upends typical dystopian YA fantasy tropes
  • How the series examines themes of personal freedom and choice
  • Pivoting to writing YA after a successful career in romance and women’s fiction
  • Writing romance for YA/adult audiences and how not to win the Bad Sex in Fiction Award
  • Making reading/storytelling accessible to youth and teens with dyslexia and ADHD
  • The intersection of creativity and anxiety/illness and working through challenges
  • The creative writing process, including inspiration, plotting, pantsing, outlining and more
  • Building your author community, including finding and fostering international collaboration
  • Traditional, small press, and indie publishing from an author’s perspective
  • Hacks for balancing her writing, teaching and editing careers with motherhood
  • The importance of community engagement in the arts and creative youth development

An interview with Emily Colin

1. Given that your career as an author began in women’s fiction/romance, why did you start writing YA fiction? What caused your interest in this younger audience?

I started writing YA because I was reading so much of it — especially Leigh Bardugo, Marie Lu, Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, Tomi Adeyemi, and lots of other fabulous authors. I found myself drawn to the extremes that YA fiction naturally embraces — first love, first kiss, first breakup, etc. — as well as the emotional highs and lows that teenagers experience. (I just reread that last sentence and realized that it includes a horrible pun. But you know what? I’m leaving it. You’re welcome.) The more I read, the more I felt inspired to write a YA series of my own — especially after attending YALLFest in Charleston, which was just amazing! Much like my adult books, my YA series features love stories with supernatural twists. If it’s got lots of kissing and a hint (or more) of the paranormal, I’m all in!

2. What were the inspirations behind writing the Seven Sins series?

I was inspired to write this series for a couple of reasons. When I started writing “Sword of the Seven Sins” in 2015, I was deeply disconcerted by America’s political situation. I expand on this below in greater detail, but in a very real way, writing the series offered me a creative way to cope with the anxiety that the 2016 election fostered. I was also inspired by the idea of a society ruled by the Seven Deadly Sins. Lust, pride, envy, greed, wrath, gluttony, sloth … so many of these represent the extremes of human behavior. What would happen, I wondered, if these were turned inside out and used against people? What might such a society look like? What if love was forbidden, lust was a death sentence … and my two main characters fell hard for each other? And so “Sword of the Seven Sins” was born.

3. Did the political situation in America at the time you were writing the book play into the story, and if so, how?

Definitely. Back in 2015, everyone kept telling me Donald Trump couldn’t win the election, but I believed he could — even worse, that he would. And the more I thought about it, the more I kept spinning what-if scenarios: What if he wins? What if he wins, and he’s really a puppet of the Russian government, because of their shared business interests?

What if the white supremacists who despise Barack Obama believe they can elect Trump as their candidate, and then further their agenda of ignorance, hatred, and violence? (As a Jewish woman, this hit home on a personal as well as a moral level.) What if those supremacists try to stage a coup? What if the coup is successful, and then our country splinters into mini-strongholds that use religion to control their inhabitants? That’s basically where my mind went — and as I said above, I used the series as a sort of creative therapy to work through my anxiety. I will say that I began to feel a bit like the prophet Cassandra, as more and more of my worries began to materialize. I think I should’ve decided to write a book about margaritas, chocolate fondue, and afternoons by the pool instead.

4. Why did you decide to write the prequel novella and short stories set in the Seven Sins universe? Has that changed the way you decided to tell the story?

I originally decided to write the prequel novella because my publisher suggested it — and I had so much fun with it that it spawned an idea in my mind. I’d been reading Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter short story collections, and I thought — why can’t I do that with Seven Sins? It’ll give me a way to deepen the world of the series and stay in touch with readers between books, and then maybe I can bring all the stories together as a collection. I pitched the idea to my publisher, they agreed, and here we are!

In terms of whether it’s changed how I decided to tell the story — I think it has, in the best possible ways. It’s given me insight into minor and new characters that I might not otherwise have had, which in turn has influenced what I wanted to do with Books 2 and 3. It’s been a lot of extra work — but so, so worth it!

5. How, in your mind, does character development and experience play into the creation of a naturally intense story?

Absolutely. When I teach writing, I always tell my students that before they do anything else, they need to understand their characters’ goals, obstacles, essential wounds, and true needs. If the goal is strong enough, the obstacle large enough, and the need powerful enough, then the story will naturally be intense — no matter what genre you’re writing. Readers will want to know what happens, because you’ve set up the characters’ arcs so clearly. Before I write a word, I make sure those elements of any book I’m working on are as sharp as they can be. Then I interweave the plot with each characters’ goals, obstacles, wounds, and needs — and the intensity bleeds onto the page.

6. As a mother, editor and writing teacher, how do you balance your time? Are there any productivity hacks that you’ve learned over the years?

Oh, gosh. This is a tough one. I think the most important one I’ve learned is to know myself well. For instance, I will never be a member of the 5 AM Writers Club; I’m completely dysfunctional at that hour. Likewise, I can edit well late at night but not write creatively. So, I don’t try to force myself to do those things. I’m part of a fabulous group of writers who sprint every morning from about 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., and that’s been key for me — setting time aside when I’m accountable to others, and giving myself permission to focus on my work. We set timers in 30-minute increments, and I don’t let myself do anything else during that time — check email, scroll through social media, et cetera. That’s made a huge difference. I also keep a calendar of all of my projects, including writing, teaching, and editing, so I have a realistic sense of what’s coming up and how long it will take. And I force myself to build in time to exercise each day. Sometimes I have to convince myself to take time away from my work — but I discover I’m far more productive once I take a walk and then sit down again!

7. What’s your idea of a perfect day?

Well, first I wouldn’t have to wake up early. That is the worst. Then, when I finally got up, I’d discover that my boyfriend went to the coffee shop and got me a mocha & a bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon (in this scenario, the pandemic’s over, so I don’t have to worry that he’s putting his life at risk to caffeinate me). I’d sit on my back deck, watch the turtles splash about in the pond, and chow down. Then, I’d go inside and do some yoga (I adore Yoga With Adriene — she’s just the best). Post-downward-facing-dog, I’d sit down and write. Inspiration would’ve struck, so the words would come easily. Two beautiful, mystical hours later, I’d take the dog for a walk with my son. Then — again, in a world with no pandemic — I’d meet a friend for lunch and browse at a bookstore afterward, where I’d find an amazing novel that I never knew I needed until I held it in my hot little hands. Then I’d come home, read a bit, make something really yummy for dinner, and settle down with my favorite blanket and my boyfriend to watch Netflix. Boom! Best. Day. Ever.

8. If you hadn’t become an author, what would you have done instead?

Well, I spent many years working at a nonprofit that provides multidisciplinary, free-of-charge arts programming for youth in need. I was, and remain, extraordinarily passionate about that cause; I truly believe that art has the power to change and save lives. Just look at how all of us have turned to stories and movies during the pandemic!

I challenge any politician who defunds the arts and claims that they don’t matter to take a close look at how most of us have managed to hang on to our sanity during these challenging times. Stories, music, art, and other creative pursuits have sustained us. Okay, getting off my soapbox now! Anyway, after that I worked as a community engagement specialist at a performing arts center that hosted national acts and touring Broadway shows. I loved that too — the sense of connecting the community, especially underserved populations, with the incredible, transformative power of the arts. BUT, in college, I studied dolphins at Duke’s Marine Lab, and then I took a semester off and interned at the Dolphin Research Center in the Florida Keys. There’s something so restorative about being out in nature for me; I think if I hadn’t ended up working in the arts, I would’ve loved to have a job that enabled me to travel to beautiful places and help to keep them safe for future generations, including working with the animals that call those places home.

9. Where do you get your ideas?

From everywhere … really. A line of dialogue in a movie, which spawns an entire plotline in my head. A beautiful painting, wondering what went on before and after the moment captured on canvas. Conversations overheard (sorry, person next to me at the coffee shop!). Sometimes, I write down lists of disparate things that are fascinating to me at the moment, draw lines between them (Oh, look! Running a truffle shop and a crime heist!) and then pose a what-if question. What can I say … the inside of my head is a messy place.

10. What do you do when your ideas won’t come?

Weep? Rend my garments? Just kidding. Here are my go-tos: Taking a walk, doing yoga, talking with friends, listening to music (every book of mine has a playlist, which helps me drop into the mood of the story), taking a shower (that’s where I have my best ideas, alas), and engaging with other art forms (reading, watching movies or shows, going to museums — when such things were possible). The more I try to force an idea, the more elusive it is … so I do whatever I can to relax and open myself up to the world around me!

Gritty, twisted novel unravels a complicated mystery stemming from a drug deal in the Midwest

Small-town detective Sasha Frank returns in the prequel to “Deliberate Duplicity”

BLOOMINGTON, IL – Fan favorite detective Sasha Frank is back in the highly anticipated series prequel, “Cold Consequences” (River Grove Books, July 27, 2021). The prequel traces the murder of Ashley Cummins, the granddaughter of a powerful judge, who is unexpectedly shot when a drug deal gets intercepted late one night. As detective Frank works to track down her murderer, all of his leads start showing up dead. After hitting wall after wall, Sasha happens upon a weak link and unravels a thread from a complicated web that leads him to one suspect—will Sasha be able to prove who the killer is and take down the person responsible for the murders?

“Cold Consequences” is the exhilarating second book in the Detective Sasha Frank mystery series by David Rohlfing, serving as a prequel to “Deliberate Duplicity.” Full of breathtaking twists, this latest installment will have readers anxiously waiting for the final secret to be revealed.

In “Deliberate Duplicity,” dead bodies are found at different points along the Constitution Trail in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois. The work of a calculating, methodical killer, each body is posed on the ground with the eyes manipulated so they remain wide open. As the story begins to unravel, the ordinarily calm and collected Sasha Frank begins to feel the immense pressure of the case. Will he be able to solve the mystery before time runs out?

“Rohlfing has the police procedural formula down pat… impeccably staged investigative scenes guarantee satisfaction to any aficionado of police detective mysteries.”
– BookLife, by Publisher’s Weekly

“Cold Consequences”
David Rohlfing | July 27, 2021 | River Grove Books | Mystery
Paperback | ISBN: 978-1-63299-388-5

“Deliberate Duplicity”
David Rohlfing | January 5, 2021 | River Grove Books | Mystery
Paperback | ISBN: 978-1-63299-306-9


DAVID ROHLFING: After a long career in business that gave him the opportunity to travel to all but one continent and countless countries around the globe, David decided to write his first novel, “Deliberate Duplicity.” He lives in Illinois with his wife.

When he’s not writing, he spends as much time as possible with his wife and family and working on his golf game. “Cold Consequences” is the second book in the Detective Sasha Frank Series. To learn more about David’s work, please visit www.davidrohlfing.com.


In an interview, David Rohlfing can discuss:

  • How he created his protagonist, Sasha Frank, and what the detective’s name means to him
  • Why he chose a small city in the Midwest for his novel’s setting
  • The process of writing a prequel to his first novel, taking place 5 years before the Constitution Trail Murders
  • His writing technique, and advice for aspiring writers
  • What’s next for detective Sasha Frank

An Interview with David Rohlfing

1. This is the second novel that follows protagonist Sasha Frank. How soon into crafting the first book did you know his story would continue?

It was my intent from the start to write several books in the Detective Sasha Frank Mystery Series. I hope to keep writing about Sasha solving murders in the years to come.

2.Why did you choose to make “Cold Consequences” a prequel to “Deliberate Duplicity”? What will readers think of Sasha Frank in his younger years?

Readers of “Deliberate Duplicity” may recall that I referred to the murders that take place in “Cold Consequences.” I added that reference to the second book’s murders while editing “Deliberate Duplicity” when I decided to make “Cold Consequences” a prequel. The murders in book two take place five to six years before the events in book one.

3. What are some of the challenges you faced with writing the second book in a series? Did you discover that anything was easier this time around?

While intending to write a series of books featuring Sasha Frank, I needed to develop other characters who could be reoccurring from book to book. I had to decide which of those characters would be in the prequel versus those appearing in subsequent books. I discovered that telling less is often better in telling a story. I hope readers agree.

4. What drew you to Bloomington-Normal as a setting for this series?

There are many books featuring detectives or investigators from larger cities across the United States. I thought that having Detective Sasha Frank from a small Midwest city would be interesting to readers. The first book featured the Constitution Trail, which made a perfect setting for those murders. In “Cold Consequences” murders occur in a variety of places in the city.

5. What’s next for you? Can readers expect to see more from Detective Sasha Frank in the future?

I’ve begun writing the third book in the series. You can expect Sasha to continue to investigate murders taking place in Bloomington. He’s not retiring anytime soon. I’m having too much fun writing about his investigations and finding justice for those killed.

 

Welcome to a world of æther and rust

Los Angeles, CA – Noah Lemelson harmoniously merges unique genres in his new steampunk/apocalyptic/fantasy noir novel. “The Sightless City,” (July 20, 2021, Tiny Fox Press) is the debut novel of an upcoming trilogy, and has already received a First Place Award in the 2019 OZMA Book Awards for Fantasy Fiction. Lemelson places realistic and flawed characters in a world both strange and familiar. Strange in its unique creatures, machines, and magics, familiar in the corruption and cruelty that comes with industry and war.

Kidnapping. Enslavement. Murder. Those are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to actions some will take to protect their interests in æther-oil, the coveted substance that fuels the war-torn city of Huile.

As both veteran and private investigator, Marcel Talwar knows this firsthand, and he likes to think he’d never participate in such things. However, that naïve idea comes to a crashing end when he takes on a new case that quickly shatters his world view. A trail of evidence points to someone in Marcel’s inner circle who’s using him as a pawn to conduct grisly experiments—experiments that could lead to genocide.

Now, Marcel is more determined than ever to discover who’s pulling the strings to this sinister plot. But the further he gets, the larger the target on his back becomes, and it’s not long before Marcel has to ask himself how much and how many he’s willing to sacrifice to get to the truth.

“The Sightless City”
Noah Lemelson | July 20, 2021 | Tiny Fox Press | Steampunk/Dieselpunk Fantasy
Hardcover | 978-1-946501-33-2 | $28.95
Paperback | 978-1-946501-33-2 | $16.95
Ebook | 978-1-946501-33-2 | $8.99

“Stellar worldbuilding and quick pacing. This is sure to entertain any fan of gritty speculative fiction.” – Publishers Weekly


Noah Lemelson is a short story writer and novelist who lives in LA with his wife and cat. Lover of Science Fiction, Fantasy, New Weird, and Punk. He received his BA in Biology from the University of Chicago in 2014 and received his MFA in Creative Writing from the California Institute of the Arts in 2020. He has had several of his short stories published in both print and online magazines, such as Allegory, Space Squid and the Outsider’s Within Horror Anthology.

Follow Noah Lemelson on social media:
Facebook: @Noah Lemelson | Instagram: @EruditeGoblin


In an interview, Noah Lemelson can discuss:

  • How one’s own flaws allows for deception and control
  • The nature of evil, ideological evil vs. pure selfishness
  • His unique approach to fantasy with realistic and flawed characters
  • How and why he merged the genres he chose
  • What’s to come in the world of Huile for the last two installments of his trilogy

An Interview with Noah Lemelson

1. How can fiction alter one’s own self narrative?

I think fiction allows us to look at the world through someone else’s eyes, and that’s a skill that can be turned inward. Different perspectives let us realize that the way we think about anything, including ourselves, is just one possibility, not the be-all-end-all truth. We all live in our own stories, partially written by us, partially written by others, while we can’t always control the way we fit into other peoples’ narratives, I think we do have some control on how we tell our own story. Fiction lets us practice that skill.

2. How did you decide to set your story in a steampunk fantasy world against the tumultuous backdrop of a partial apocalypse?

For whatever reason, I find industrial decay to be utterly fascinating, and even beautiful in its own way. I think that’s one reason why places like Chernobyl are so fascinating, places marked by civilization but no longer controlled by it. Traditional fantasy loves its ruined temples and forgotten cities, I think it’s interesting to take those same tropes and bump them up a couple centuries.

3. Could you explain your “realistic” approach to writing magical characters?

Though the term magic is never used in the book (besides once in a derisive aside), several characters have abilities or powers that are… basically magic with a fancy name. It’s a fun fantasy to imagine problems that magic could solve, but I think it’s often more interesting to look at what magic can’t solve. Self-doubt, moral quandaries, societal inequalities, relationship difficulties, magic has its limit. Its like anything else, skills or powers in one part of life don’t necessarily translate to others, and I think many of the most interesting stories about magic characters, be they literal wizards, super-heroes, or realty-defying inventors, is to look at where their magic is no longer enough.

4. What exactly is the Calamity, and how did that event influence the ongoing wars and discrimination throughout the book?

The details of the Calamity aren’t discussed much in the book, but in short it was a massive disaster caused by the misuse of ætheric weaponry that turned a big chunk of the continent into desolate Wastes. It’s one of those events that is so big that it paradoxically just kind of blends into the background. For most people it’s just a fact of history, an explanation for a reality that is their mundanity. Yet, like most facts of history, it can be trotted out to win political debate, or to excuse terrible acts. The Calamity is always someone else’s fault, an everlasting causa belli, a parable to support whatever argument is currently being made.

5. What inspired you to create this world?

Honestly I always loved the expanded universes for other novels, games, movies, and a not small part of my motivation came from a desire to have a world of my own, where my imagination wasn’t bound by what other people already wrote. As for why it became what it became, that’s a harder question to answer. I’ll say this, it started with the Wastes, and worked its way out.

Books Forward July 2021 Newsletter

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