Category Archives: Interview

An Interview with Author Sara Fujimura

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An Interview with Author Sara Fujimura

Sara Fujimura is the talented author of Tanabata Wish (2017), Breathe (2018), and Every Reason We Shouldn’t (releasing March 3, 2020). You can learn more about her on her website. Fujimura recently answered questions for ARHtistic License.

 

You’re a white woman married to a Asian man. Your family celebrates your dual heritage. You’ve written about raising bicultural children, and characters in two of your books are biracial. This is obviously an issue close to your heart. Has your family experienced prejudice? What advice do you give to other biracial families?

Tanabata Wish

SF: Toshi and I have been married for 26 years now though we’ve been friends since I was seventeen. We have two college-aged kids, one son and one daughter. We spend about a month each summer in a very rural part of Gifu Prefecture with their Japanese grandparents. My first YA book, TANABATA WISH, is not an autobiography, but my long-time friends can pick out the true parts based on my annual summer missives from Japan via Facebook. I’ve been writing about bicultural life for a long time. First as magazine articles and later as young adult books. I have a large number of biracial and/or bicultural teens and young adults in my life, so it only makes sense that my work reflects the group of now college-aged kids you will see in my living room playing videogames on any given Saturday night. I have been reading YA books for twenty years, and there has never been a shortage of YA books in my house, yet we lost both of my children (especially my son) to anime, manga, and Japanese TV because they didn’t see themselves represented very often. Seriously, werewolves are easier to find in YA books than Asian or biracial Asian guys as the main character. Within the last few years, that has begun to change, so I hope we won’t lose another generation of boys. Yes, we have felt prejudice both here and in Japan. All I can suggest is keep pushing against the stereotypes and speaking up for your kids. Also, try to find books and other forms of media that your kids can see themselves in.

Breathe

What sort of research did you need to do for your historical novel, Breathe?

SF: Tons and tons and tons. TANABATA WISH was relatively easy because it came out of my real life and many of the experiences my family has had. BREATHE is set in Philadelphia against the great Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. My degree is in Public Health Education, and deadly diseases have always been my jam. Most of the medical details (especially the grossest parts) came directly from first person accounts from that time period. But that was only the tip of the research iceberg. I read newspaper articles, women’s fashion magazines from the time, listened to popular songs from 1918, watched the original 1918 TARZAN OF THE APES silent movie, looked through historical photos from the women’s suffrage movement, ate a lot of vintage candy in the name of research, and spent a good chunk of time in Philadelphia in all the major settings of BREATHE. I didn’t want to write a textbook but know that even what might look like a throwaway line has a purpose. If you want to dive deeper and go behind the scenes of BREATHE, you can go to my blog at: https://saraffujimura.com/blog. Are you a science teacher, history teacher, or homeschooler? I have high school-level curriculum tie-ins to BREATHE created by local high school teachers on the blog too.

 Your soon-to-be-released book, Every Reason We Shouldn’t, is about ice skating. Is that a sport that you’ve participated in?Every Reason We Shouldn't

SF: EVERY REASON WE SHOULDN’T is about perfectionism and the high cost that comes with being number one. I like to say that it is like THE CUTTING EDGE meets YURI ON ICE. At sixteen, Olivia is a washed-up Olympic-level pairs figure skater trying to figure out how to be a normal teen. Jonah, 15, is chasing his Olympic dream: To be the next Apolo Ohno. Jonah simultaneously needles Olivia, inspires her, and reignites her flame. I do own a pair of ice skates, but I am much better at roller skating (which is why there is also roller derby in this book). Just like my other books, I have other people who are much more knowledgeable about different topics look over my work. No spoilers but Olivia and Jonah’s signature move came directly from my beta reader who was a competitive skater. What I had originally would have been fine, but Katie’s knowledge took it to the next level.

Where does your inspiration come from?

SF: Real life. Even for BREATHE. I pull strings from real places, people, conversations, and experiences and weave them into new stories. For EVERY REASON WE SHOULDN’T, I actually had Jonah’s character down first even though Olivia ended up telling the story. Jonah was very much inspired by reading Apolo Ohno’s autobiography, specifically the part about when he was a teenager. I have two one-in-a-million girls like Olivia in my life who I’ve watched blossom into young women. There are a lot of super talented teens out there, but I wanted to write about an amped up version of what a lot of talented teens go through. Just because you are the star at your local dance studio doesn’t guarantee that you’ll dance on Broadway. ERWS is about gifted teens at a crossroad when pure talent is no longer enough. Do you quit? Do you keep going?

Why do you write for young adults?

SF: I love to read and write YA for the same reason: The sense of hope. Though the path might be difficult, anything is still possible. Also, the sense of newness and how the world begins to open up in your late teens as you break away from your family.

Do you have an agent? Who is your agent, and how did you connect?

SF: I do! Rebecca Angus of Golden Wheat Literary Agency hearted my ERWS pitch during Pitch Wars on Twitter. I signed with her in early January 2018, and she sold ERWS to Tor Teen by the end of March. That said, know that it took me almost twenty years of querying multiple books and enough rejection letters to wallpaper my living room to get to that point.

Sara Fujimura Headshot

Sara Fujimura

What’s up next?

SF: I have two projects I’m actively working on now. One is a screenplay, and the other will be my second contracted book with Tor Teen. I’m still in the beginning stages of both and have endless hours of research ahead of me still (which I kinda love). That’s all I can say right now.

Do you have a funny story about any of your books or about the writing process?

SF: The first time I went to Philadelphia to do research for BREATHE, Philly gave me the worst case of influenza that I have ever had. Being a writer, I took copious notes and wove them into the opening chapters of BREATHE.

What is something about your books or about yourself that you wish your readers knew?

SF: If you go to the local anime cons, you will often see me as my alter ego, The Obento Lady. I sell cute bento boxes and all the things to make your lunch fun and artistic (Bunny-shaped hard-boiled egg mold, anyone?). I made bento for my kids from the time they were 4 and 6 until they finished high school. You can imagine how many plastic baggies didn’t go into the landfill because of that. Sometimes my lunches were fabulous and artistic. Sometimes they were meh, but we still called it a win for Mother Earth. If you see me at events (book or anime), show me your lunch. I am happy to give it a makeover.

Interview with Author Ryan Dalton

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Ryan Dalton is the author of three YA novels, the Time Shift trilogy: The Year of Lightning (2016), The Black Tempest (2017), and The Genesis Flame (2018). He recently agreed to answer questions for ARHtistic License.

You appeared at Phoenix Fan Fusion this year. (Cool!)
RD-Yes, I was the moderator team manager for a number of years, and it was a great team to work with. When I got my first book deal and started moving in that direction, they were so nice and welcomed me back as an author guest, so I’ve been coming back as an author for a few years now. I’ll come back every year for as many years as they’d like to have me.
You’re a trained singer! 
RD-I really enjoy music. It’s actually a huge part of my writing process. Putting together a story project’s soundtrack is a big milestone and really helps me start nailing the tone. I often come up with entire scenes just based on hearing an inspiring piece at the right time. I took vocal training for fun, never really intending for it to be profession, but continue to love singing whenever I can.
Do you ever do karaoke? What’s your go-to song? What style do you like best? Show tunes? Pop? Jazz?
RD-Yes, I love to sing. My training was centered around stage and show tunes, so I have a special love for those. My favorite character to sing is probably Javert from Les Miserables. When I karaoke, though, it depends on the mood. Sometimes I’ll go with a blues tone like from Kenny Wayne Shepherd, or I’ll go with Shinedown to really rock out. Other times I want something lighter and I’ll sing something like The Fray. If I’m feeling nostalgic, I’ll usually rock “Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds. If I’m in more of a classical mood, I’ll go toward something from Josh Groban or a song from Phantom. Jason Mraz’s music is great for vocal warmups. Kind of like writing, my musical interests are many and varied.
lightning 1
Your books have a lot going on: teenage twin protagonists, villains from the ancient past, villains from the future. How would you characterize your books? Science fiction? Thrillers?
RD-Yeah, I threw many things that I love into these books, so they’re sci-fi but with other influences woven throughout. Lightning is a mystery, Tempest is a fantasy, and Genesis is a war epic, but they’re all sci-fi and they have common thematic and stylistic threads that bind them together. They each have scary moments, funny moments, hopefully touching moments, and I wanted the team dynamic to shine through everything else. The characters were always what mattered most to me. I’ve never wanted to write just one thing, and I suppose this series really demonstrates that.
You’ve written screenplays. (Did you write anything I might have seen?) Have you ever thought about adapting your novels for the big screen?
RD-I love writing scripts. Plotting and dialogue are strengths of mine, and the script format really plays to those strengths, so it’s super fun whenever I get to write one. Most of what I wrote were short format for little films that didn’t end up getting made, so I wouldn’t say my screenplay experience is illustrious or anything, haha. Working with Legible Scrawl, a collective of writers and actors, I’ve also written some fan scripts for live table reads. I’ve often been told my writing style is very cinematic, so I think the Time Shift Trilogy would lend itself well to screen adaptation, though probably more like a Netflix limited series than a film trilogy. [ARHtistic License: Netflix, are you reading this???] If someone ever wanted to make them, I would totally be down for it, and I would definitely ask to take first crack at the scripts. Then it would be awesome to collaborate with, and learn from, a more experienced screenwriter on subsequent drafts.
If the Time Shift trilogy became movies, who would you like to portray Malcolm and Valentine?
RD-I typically cast all of my characters, which makes it easier for me to envision them and describe how they move, how they speak, etc. Since I started writing this series nearly a decade ago, the people I envisioned would have definitely aged out of these teenage roles now. However, at the time I created them, I envisioned Danielle Panabaker as Valentine and Emile Hirsch as Malcolm.
How do you go about mapping out your stories?
RD-I’m a heavy outliner. I typically start with a story concept and build that into a loose collection of ideas. When that feels like it’s grown into something I want to pursue, I brainstorm and let my mind wander through possibilities of where the story might go, what the world might be like, what kind of characters we could end up following. I write those ideas down, and when I get enough of them, I start organizing them into a timeline. That’s when the concepts and the flow of the story start to solidify and move toward what they’re ultimately going to become. The world and the characters grow in tandem with one another and the individual plot and character development points start coming into focus and arranging into a logical order. Once I have a solid timeline, my next outline is a close-up snapshot of each major plot point, which includes a supporting outline dedicated to character arcs. When that’s done, I’m usually ready to start writing, but the outlining isn’t quite done. At that point, I do a beat-by-beat outline of between one and three chapters at a time, often including dialogue. When that’s done, I’ll go back and write those one to three chapters. If anything about my plan ends up changing as I write those chapters, I make sure those changes reflect in the higher-level outlines before diving into the details and writing the next chapters. I imagine this all sounds super overwhelming from the outside, but it feels like a natural part of my process. I write my best and most confident work when I know where the story is going. At the same time, I’m always open to better ideas if they present themselves while I’m writing (and this happens surprisingly often, considering how much I outline, haha).
Do you ever do school visits? What are your presentations like?
RD-I love doing school and library visits, they’re so much fun. It’s great getting to meet young readers and encourage their love of books from an early age. As for what I talk about, I generally leave it up to teachers or librarians what they want the students to learn. I can talk in general about what it’s like to write and be an author, or if it’s a group that wants to dive deeper, I can talk about any number of specific aspects of the writing craft. Sometimes I’ll make the visit a workshop, using audience suggestions to create and outline a brand new story right there in the room, and then breaking down the writing techniques I used to turn their suggestions into a story. I always leave room at the end for questions so the students can ask anything they want, and that’s my favorite part. Never know what they’re going to say!
tempest 2
What is your day job?
RD-Being an author is my day job. 🙂 That’s one of the reasons I moved out here to Missouri. At the end of 2017, I was finally at a point where I could leave the corporate world behind and dive head-first into writing as a career. Leaving the big city for a while made the transition easier financially. I could not be happier with the change, and I sympathize with all aspiring authors that still struggle with a day job they find unfulfilling. For over a decade I worked a corporate career that paid well but didn’t offer much in the way of satisfaction. At least, not the kind of satisfaction I was looking for. I remember when I turned in my notice, my boss (who was always very supportive of my writing, which was super refreshing) wished me well and said that it had always been obvious where my heart really was. I should send that guy a book, haha.
What types of books do you like to read? Which authors do you admire?
RD-I try to read books from just about every genre. Whatever genre an author writes, they can always learn good writing lessons from other genres, and I think it’s fun to mix the styles. My all-time favorite book is The Count of Monte Cristo, and my second favorite is The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway. I’m a huge fan of Abigail Johnson and Tom Leveen’s contemporary YA books. After Zero by Christina Collins and The Zanna Function by Daniel Wheatley are my most recent MG favorites. James Islington’s The Shadow of What Was Lost brought some interesting ideas into adult fantasy, and Brandon Sanderson’s new sci-fi Skyward is one of the biggest thrill rides I’ve read in quite a while.
What is the most difficult part of writing a book? What is the most fun part of writing a book?
RD-For me, the toughest parts are the in-between moments. When I finish a first draft, I take a 2-4 week break from the book, which allows me to come back to it with fresh eyes for the next draft. Waiting is really hard. 🙂 So I use that time to occupy myself with other ideas I’ve been toying with. Then, when the book is ready for beta readers after a few drafts, it’s pure agony to send them the story and wait for their feedback. I’m typically pretty confident in my writing, but every stray self-doubt and insecurity rises up when I’m waiting to hear if they liked it. The most fun parts are the initial stages of development when bursts of inspiration help me build a story or a character, and the points where characters are finally face to face and talking to each other. That’s when they start to reveal who they are, and it’s a thrill when they become real people.
What sort of research did you have to do for your Time Shift books? Do you have a science background?
RD-I’m a science geek with no formal scientific training. 🙂 I would describe my trilogy as science fantasy since it involves time manipulation, but I still wanted to use actual science as a foundation where I could. I studied how lightning and other weather patterns work, since they play a heavy thematic part in all three books. I read about basic quantum theory, what we know and don’t know about gravity, and the general theory of relativity. These books were a great excuse to read up on things I was interested in anyway.
How do you go about world building?
RD-I typically start with the story concept. As that’s developing, I start thinking about what kind of world would need to exist for this story to happen. How far away from our world does it need to be? What’s the same, what’s different, and how big are those differences? For example, the Time Shift Trilogy’s world is quite similar to ours in many ways. It’s not until the big stuff happens that we realize there’s much more going on under the surface. My next projects are similar in that way – the worlds share many commonalities with ours, but they’re skewed enough to accommodate the fantastic elements. I’m toying with ideas for future projects that will require more complete construction of new worlds, and it’s been daunting but also really fun and rewarding to create the pieces of those worlds and put them together.
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Do you have an agent? Who is your agent, and how did you connect?
RD-Last year I signed with Tricia Skinner of Fuse Literary. She is made of pure awesome. We get along amazingly well, and she continues proving herself to be the perfect partner for me. We connected through the querying process. I always wanted an agent, and although I ended up selling the Time Shift Trilogy on my own, I knew I’d go back to querying. Last year I wrote Remember Me, Archie, a middle grade about a boy whose grandfather is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, so the boy creates shared fantasy worlds for them to have adventures, as an attempt to bring back in his grandfather’s memories. After The Year of Lightning got so many agent rejections, it was refreshing for Archie to receive a few offers of representation, and Tricia immediately stood out to me. She’s everything I hoped for in a partner.
You’ve written comedy. Do you have a funny story about any of your books or about the writing process?
RD-I mostly like to write in public places like coffee shops (cliche, I know, but they’re awesome). However, I’ve learned the hard way not to write the intense scenes in public because I make faces and emote along with what’s happening. Fight scene? Angry faces, flinching at particularly hard hits, rocking out to heavy music. Sad scene? Sad faces, sniffling, teary eyes, all while sipping a festive coffee drink as college students work on their homework around me. I got enough weird looks that I now save those scenes for night writing at home. Also, I have one true story that I want to incorporate into a book somehow. A number of family members have read my books, and many them are book geeks, so I end up getting insightful feedback from them. I have one relative, though, who would otherwise never read the kind of books I write. This is not a problem for me at all, but they insisted on reading the books. I imagine this was to be supportive, which is super nice, but they’re reading the books very slowly because they aren’t all that interested, and now whenever we meet, I get to hear about how the books aren’t their thing. I continue imploring them, “Please stop reading the books, you’re clearly not enjoying them.” But they insist on soldiering forward. So while the support is appreciated, I’d rather they just move on and read what they like and then we don’t have to talk about this anymore, haha.

Interview with Author Paul Mosier

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Interview with Author Paul Mosier

Paul Mosier is the husband of Keri and the father of daughter Eleri. His younger daughter, Harmony, passed away from rhabdomyosarcoma on May 2, 2018.

Mosier is the author of Breakfast at Tuli’s (2013), Story Girl (2015), Train I Ride (2017), and Echo’s Sister (2018), about a girl whose younger sister suffers from cancer. His latest book, Summer and July, comes out July 7, 2020.

Mosier graciously agreed to share his writing process with ARHtistic License.

What is your day job? How do you find time to write? Do you write every day?Breakfast

My day job has been proprietor of Invest Green, helping people who want their investments to reflect their concern for the environment and issues of social justice. I have been stepping away from it over the last few years, and this time next year will no longer be giving any time to it. I feel really lucky to have had a day job that is interesting and rewarding, and to have had clients who have felt like friends to me, but the muse is unrelenting, and answering her call is where my heart is. My green investing gig has been a profession that I have largely been able to choose how much time to devote to it, beginning with my first Nanowrimo in November 2011, and in the last couple of years I have only been  servicing existing clients a few hours per week. I do write or engage in related activities essentially every day, with the exception of when I am traveling on holiday. Even on those days it’s in my head.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I’m a pantser, though even pantsers have to plot eventually. I used to be hostile to plotting in advance, but I’m softening with practice.

Where does your inspiration come from?Story Girl

I think inspiration comes from the muse, though she takes on different guises. I usually don’t write about things which resemble my own life, with the exception of Echo’s Sister, but even there, most people who experience cancer don’t experience it as a novel. When I look at what I’ve written and cannot explain where it came from, when I look at it and think that I cannot have done something so smart and lovely and unexpected, that’s when my belief in the muse is reaffirmed. I’m just one of her instruments. Perhaps you can relate.

Why do you write for kids?

After writing two novels for grown-ups, my older daughter Eleri was asking when she could read them. I thought rather than waiting for her to age into them I’d try to write one for her age range. That became Story Girl, which I self-published after a couple dozen agents passed on it. I was unknown at the time, but think it’s pretty solid. It was an amazing experience to read the last two chapters aloud to the girl I had written it for. Reading children’s lit to both of my daughters taught me that I could write for that age with the emotional depth necessary to have a rewarding artistic experience. Specifically, Kevin Henkes’ quiet, poetic Junonia pushed me to giving it a try. I read very little as a kid, between Go, Dog, Go! and Heart of Darkness for AP lit in high school. I still read very little compared to almost all writers, but I try to read well when I do. Lastly, I feel very connected to my own childhood, like it’s close enough for me to touch. I have a freak show memory.

How long does it take you to write a book?

They get a little easier the more tools I have sharpened, but generally for a middle grade book, a few to several months for a first draft. That of course is only the beginning, but there is a lot of waiting with what comes after the first draft.

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Paul Mosier with daughter Harmony

What types of books do you like to read? What authors do you admire?

I have said that I have a fondness for southern and Latin American literature and their use of magical realism, because if you’re gonna tell lies, they might as well be good lies. That said, I’ve been in a realistic middle grade fiction contract with HarperCollins. My favorite work is The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway, but I’ve also loved Salinger, Vonnegut, Marquez. But I think I am more inspired by poets and lyricists than other novelists. I’m constantly embedding lines and lyrics.

What is your favorite book about writing?Train

I have almost zero experience studying the craft, which I know is setting myself up for the comment of “it shows.” I’ve not taken any writing classes, aside from one day of fiction writing in college before dropping the class. I guess I have read things such as Aristotle’s poetics. I was recently recommended The Magic Words, by a woman named Cheryl Klein who is an editor, and I thought it had some useful stuff. But I cannot read a book like that from front to back. There’s something wrong with my brain.

What is the most difficult part of writing a book? What is the most fun part of writing a book?

The most fun part of writing a book is perhaps being surprised by it, being carried by it, laughing and crying at the words coming out. I don’t feel like the creator of a novel so much as the first person to experience it, and experiencing it as I give birth to it is magical. The most rewarding part is connecting with people you haven’t met, having them tell you what your words meant to them. Thinking of what is most difficult certainly falls into the category of First World Problems, and the sort of problems that many of my talented writer friends wish were their own, but wrestling with the story editor at one’s publisher might be the most difficult. Or waiting to see the fruit of your labor.

What sort of research did you do for Train I Ride? Did you take Rydr’s journey?

My little family and I had taken most of the route described in the story in the summer of 2014, and I wrote the first draft in spring of 2015. So I’m sure I would not have written the story if not for having taken the trip from Flagstaff to Chicago and back, though the immediate impetus was the first line of Elvis Presley’s song “Mystery Train” running through my head. Aside from that I had to spend a little time on Amtrak’s website, and looking at timetables to know what my protag would see if she looked out the window. But the trains are subject to significant delays, and I found it necessary to buy myself extra hours with a meteorological event.

How did writing Echo’s Sister help you deal with your daughter’s illness?Echo

Echo’s Sister was a helpful way to process what we were experiencing, how to find the beauty and meaning in it. Also, as the big sister is the narrator, it gave me another reason to consider the uniquely difficult experience of my older daughter. Really, I think every novel and art activity is about finding the beauty and meaning in what we are experiencing in life. Writing novels is how I arrive at feeling.

Who is your agent, and how did you connect?

My agent is Katie Grimm of the Don Congdon agency. Our relationship is new, after parting ways with my first agent, Wendy Schmalz, a few months ago. After parting ways with Wendy I was afraid that nobody in the industry would ever say yes to me again. Katie had rejected a query of mine several years ago, but this time around she said it was so good to hear from me. She had been a fan of Train I Ride. That’s a nice development. Katie was on my short list of hoped-for agents, and I appreciated that she had previously repped at least one MG novel concerning baseball, as my next novel has baseball as its vehicle. My first three novels I had rejections or ignores from 150, 36 and 24 agents respectively. Train I Ride I sent to twenty, with very little hope, and only one asked to see it. Within a couple months I had a multi book deal with HarperCollins.

Your upcoming book deals with two girls who have a crush on each other. What do you hope your readers take away from Summer and July?

That’s an interesting question. I hope they laugh and cry and want to listen to the Beach Boys’ album “Pet Sounds” and learn to surf. I hope that readers will feel an awful lot, and fall in love with the characters, and read it repeatedly and feel like it was the wildest, happiest summer they ever spent, even though it was experienced vicariously through two girls in a novel. I expect that the nature of the crush will bring some criticism, for the fact that it’s between two girls, or for my being a middle aged man writing a crush between two girls, or because I got it all wrong. To which I’d answer they fell for each other without any help from me. It doesn’t take any real bravery to write about such a crush today, and I’d like to thank the folks who wrote about same sex love and crushes in decades past, when it meant making their own lives considerably more difficult. I cannot wait to share that book with the world.

What’s up next?

Next up is Thirty Parks, a story about a girl named Lefty whose father takes her on a tour of all 30 Major League Baseball parks in a desperate attempt at repairing their relationship. I’m ironing it out while giving consideration to some of my agent’s ideas– she’s pretty hands-on, and good with plot, whereas my strengths are character and voice– and then she’ll take it to market in September. Summer and July is my last book with Harper, as I was having a hard time seeing eye to eye with my story editor, though I’m grateful for the books we made together. So Thirty Parks will have a different home. It’s a strange development that I haven’t a particle of doubt that it’ll find a publisher that I’m happy with.

Do you have a funny story about any of your books or about the writing process?

My brain doesn’t organize info that way so much, but one that comes to mind is when I was at the ALA school librarians annual conference, and I had a librarian shoot video of me telling Jonathan Sonnenblick, author of Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie, that I had written the cancer book (Echo’s Sister) that was going to make people forget his cancer book (Drums etc.) Of course I was only kidding, and we traded books. The MG Lit world is filled with incredibly nice and supportive authors. I really feel lucky to be a part of the community.

What is something about your books or about yourself that you wish your readers knew?

I’d like for readers to know how grateful I am that they want to read what I’ve written, and that when they throw the words back at me and tell me what the story has meant to them, it’s an indescribably wonderful feeling. To share experiences and feelings with readers is the best thing about writing novels.

Learn more about Paul Mosier on his author website and by reading his books.