Guest Post: My Spunky Little Sister by Paul Harbridge

Today is Down Syndrome Day and we asked author Paul Harbridge if he wanted to share a little bit about his sister, Linda, who is the inspiration for his upcoming picture book, Out into the Big Wide Lake. Keep reading for Paul’s reflection as well as a note from his editor, Samantha Swenson.

Paul Harbridge: My Spunky Little Sister

Linda is my younger sister. When Linda was born, I had just started school. I remember my mother crying when a nurse told her my pretty little sister might never talk and my father getting angry when a doctor suggested she live in an institution.

The Harbridge Family

Almost as if to prove them wrong, Linda grew to be a very active girl. When we went swimming at Muskoka Beach, she was the first one in and the last one out. She loved to go out onto Lake Muskoka in our family’s little boat, usually accompanied by our black-and-white family dog. Benjie trotted along, too, on her long bike rides, and one day she came back and said, “We met a bear.” When she got cross-country skis, the first time she went down a hill without falling, she raised her ski poles triumphantly above her head and cried, “I did it!”

Linda played T-ball and hit the ball a mile. She was a member of a swimming group and later won a medal for Canada at the Special Olympics in Vancouver. Her bedroom was full of ribbons, medals, and trophies from all the sports she played, and she even won $1,000 at a bowling tournament!

Contrary to those early predictions, Linda learned to speak very well. She was an expressive, warm, and social young woman with an exceptional sense of humor.  She liked to show off the ASL signs she had picked up at school and when I taught her some Spanish words like leche, patatas fritas, hamburgesa, she remembered them for years.

Linda Catherine Harbridge

When my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in her seventies, Linda’s support workers suggested she move into a group home in town, but Mom would have none of it. When my mother passed away, Linda made the move into a group home at age 47 and told us, “I’m big now. I have my own place.” In her early fifties, Linda’s own memory started to weaken but that did not slow her down. At 58, she took up snowshoeing and, although I wasn’t there, after she successfully made her way down the first snowy trail, I’m sure she raised her arms and cried, “I did it!”

A couple of years ago I visited my father who still lives in the house he built us up in Gravenhurst. Looking through an old family photograph album, I got the idea for a story about a spunky girl with Down Syndrome and her best friend, a black-and-white dog. I wrote it with the encouragement from my agent Amy Tompkins, and my editor at Tundra Samantha Swenson loved it immediately. Josée Bisaillon did the brilliant illustrations, and Out Into the Big Wide Lake was born. For her 59th birthday, I sent Linda an advance copy of the book and she was absolutely thrilled, especially since there is a photograph of a her as teenager hugging Benjie on the very first page.

Linda and Benjie

I hope Out Into the Big Wide Lake will inspire children facing challenges to give it their best shot and say, like Linda, “I did it!”

————

Samantha Swenson: A Note on Out into the Big Wide Lake

What spoke to me immediately about this book was two words: Why not?

To me this encapsulates the beauty of picture books, the ability for a minuscule number of words to hold infinite possibilities. In this story, at every moment of something new, Kate asks “Me?” and her grandmother responds “Why not?” And with those two words, the world opens up. Why not, indeed? Those words are empowering, those words are life-changing, those words are even a little scary (especially for Kate’s rightfully nervous mom!). These two words allow Kate to ask the question of herself and answer with bravery and spirit.

After reading this story for the first time and sitting with it, I also realized how meaningful it is to have a character with Down Syndrome inhabit the space of the every-character. Her Down Syndrome doesn’t define her character here; her challenges aren’t defined by it either. These are challenges that all kids face: trying something for the first time, overcoming fear, being given a level of responsibility that’s new. And challenges that all parents face as well: letting go and trusting in your child – trusting that you’ve given them the tools to take on this new thing. It could be going on bike ride with a friend for the first time, a first sleepover, a first walk to school on their own, a solo plane trip to see parent in a different city, piloting a boat for the first time. Having a Down Syndrome character embody this freedom and this universal experience felt so important and so exciting.

Linda Catherine Harbridge

Paul’s respect for the character is evident in every line. As a writer, he knew how to create a character who leapt from the page to grab you. But as a brother to someone with Down Syndrome, he knew how to honor that character’s life and experience in a way that is singular. Kate is not just a picture book version of his sister Linda Catherine; Kate is a beautiful embodiment of Paul’s love and respect for Linda Catherine and a celebration of her spirit and personality.

I hope that everyone who reads this book feels that warmth and love and admiration, and I hope you all fall as in love with Kate as I did. And I hope when you or your loved ones are challenged, you think of those two little words: why not?


Out into the Big Wide Lake
By Paul Harbridge
Illustrated by Josée Bisaillon
48 Pages | Ages 4-8 | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735265592 | Tundra Books
It’s Kate’s first time visiting her grandparents on her own at their lakeside home. She’s nervous but excited at the adventure ahead. She helps her grandfather with his grocery deliveries by boat, where she meets all the neighbors, including a very grumpy old man named Walter. And she makes best friends with her grandparents’ dog, Parbuckle. Her grandmother even teaches her to pilot the boat all by herself! When her grandfather takes ill suddenly, it’s up to Kate – but can she really make all those deliveries, even to grumpy old Walter? She has to try! Based on the author’s sister, Kate is a lovable, brave, smart and feisty character who will capture your heart in this gorgeous and moving story about facing fears and gaining independence.

Tell Me When You Feel Something: A Q&A with Vicki Grant

We’re super excited for Vicki Grant’s upcoming thriller, Tell Me When You Feel Something, so we asked Vicki to pop by the blog and answer a couple of questions!

Q&A with Vicki Grant

Tell us a little bit about the book! What inspired you?

Here’s my elevator pitch: Vivian Braithwaite is in a coma. Lots of kids shot cell phone footage of her taking a pill at a party just before she seized so there’s no real question what caused her to overdose – or is there? Davida Williamson has her doubts. Despite her crippling shyness – and her own mixed feelings about her apparent friend – Davida is determined to discover what really happened. Throw in some romance, betrayal, heartbreak, and a growing sense of dread – and that’s basically the premise behind Tell Me When You Feel Something.

The inspiration for the story came to me years ago when I found out that some of my daughter’s high school friends worked as “simulated patients” at med school. Their job basically was to ’simulate’ illnesses so student doctors could sharpen their medical chops before getting sicced on real patients. Until then, I had no idea that was a thing. My brain kicked into high gear. A YA story set in a med school? Kids having to fake diseases and conditions? I had so many ideas about what I could do with that scenario. My first attempt was a comedy TV series with the punny title of Ben Dover (also the name of our hapless hero.) I couldn’t talk anyone into buying the series, but the SP angle hung around in the back of my head. By the time I’d conceived of Viv and Davida working as SPs, the story had become much darker. My brother’s in the medical business so I’d occasionally pick his brain about what he’d witnessed. I could always count on him for some deliciously gross (if anonymous!) details after a night in emergency but it was the more complex issues he encountered that really resonated with me. I’d spoil it to say too much more other than to add that although the particulars in the book are fictional, the situations (and machinations that created them) are based on reality.

Designer credit: Talia Abramson

There are multiple perspectives in the book – what was the easiest perspective to write? The hardest? Do you have a favorite character?

Viv’s chapters were probably, if not the easiest to write, at least the easiest to conceive. I certainly wasn’t the star in high school that Viv was, but we shared a similar background. I’d never suggest I had an unhappy childhood – because I didn’t! – but I understand firsthand what Viv was going through. As in her case, my parents adored me (and my siblings), they just couldn’t stand each other. This led to some notably bad behavior. Different than in the book, but still far from ideal. Through it all, despite the unseemly behavior happening behind closed doors, we were expected to play happy, well-adjusted teenagers in the outside world. More than that, we were expected to succeed. Anything less felt like abject failure.

This, of course, isn’t an unusual situation. To a greater or lesser degree, don’t all teenagers live with the conviction that they have a terrible secret to hide? Sometimes it has to do with family breakdown or addiction. Sometimes it’s just having a sister you think is weird (which, depending on your state of mind, can loom almost as large). In the book, Viv is at the darkest part of her struggle, before she’s developed any perspective on it. I remember what that felt like – and how growing up was all I needed to get past the worst of it.

As for the hardest perspective to work from? Again, I can’t give too much away but “the bad guys” are usually the most difficult to get right. Partly that’s because I don’t identify with them (geez, I hope not) but also because I don’t believe anyone is entirely evil. Very, very bad things are done in this book. Terrible, unforgivable things. But that doesn’t mean I want to paint the perpetrator and/or perpetrators as unredeemable monsters. No one is all bad, no matter what they’ve done. I always try to imbue my villains with some decency, some inherent worth. They’re human beings after all. How to do that without in ANY WAY condoning their behavior is the tough part.

Who are some of your favorite thriller writers (or what are some of your favorite thriller novels)?

I love thrillers that make sense. That sounds like one of those “well, duh,” responses but a lot of thrillers don’t. The clues might all add up, but the basic premise doesn’t. For instance, the social media influencer who singlehandedly cracks an international cocaine ring? The pre-school teacher who teams up with a semi-pro skateboarder to solve the murder of a Moldavian prince? Might make for a fun read, but when would that ever happen? So I’m going to go way, way back for this and mention Scott Turow’s book, Presumed Innocent. It’s not a YA book but it’s still the best thriller ever. It’s a true mystery set in a real-world situation, solved by someone realistically in a position to solve it. Brilliant!

What’s your preferred genre to write? Would you write another thriller?

I love writing thrillers, especially with some humor, so yes. I’d absolutely write another one! (In fact, I’ve got one on my laptop right now, waiting for a polish.)

What are you working on now?

I’m writing a middle-grade novel called Green Velvet Dress, Worn Once. It’s about vintage clothing and medically-assisted death and forgiveness and somehow figuring out how to fill the giant gaping hole torn in your life when the person you love more than anything dies. Oh, and it’s a mystery and it’s funny too.

Pandemic question: What’s the one thing you just can’t live without these days?

At the risk of sounding obnoxious, I live in Nova Scotia where there’s been virtually no COVID, so there’s very little I’ve done without during the pandemic. Our borders were closed so I haven’t been able to travel – but how can I complain about that given what the rest of the world is dealing with? I feel very lucky. (I’ve even be able to get my highlights touched up regularly!)

Thanks for joining us, Vicki! If you’re intrigued by Tell Me When You Feel Something, make sure to request it on NetGalley right now or pick up a copy on June 15!


Tell Me When You Feel Something
By Vicki Grant
336 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735270091 | Penguin Teen Canada
It seemed like a cool part-time program – being a “simulated” patient for med school students to practice on. But now vivacious, charismatic Viv lies in a very real coma. Cellphone footage just leads to more questions. What really happened? Other kids suspect it was not an intentional overdose – but each has a reason why they can’t tell the truth. Through intertwining and conflicting narratives, a twisted story unfolds of trust betrayed as we sift through the seemingly innocent events leading up to the tragic night. Perhaps simulated patients aren’t the only people pretending to be something they’re not. . . . The perfect after-school job turns deadly in this contemporary YA thriller that exposes the dark reality of #MeToo in the world of medicine, for fans of Karen McManus and Holly Jackson.

Vicki Grant: website | twitter | instagram

Speak a Word for Freedom: Women against Slavery

In honor of Women’s History Month, we have a special guest post from Marjorie Gann and Janet Willen, authors of Speak a Word for Freedom and Five Thousand Years of Slavery. Read on to learn more about some incredible women who fought against slavery:

Marjorie and Janet: Our first book, Five Thousand Years of Slavery, tells the story of world slavery from ancient times to the present. While doing our research, we discovered that women played a major role in the campaign against slavery. It was their first political battle, even before they fought for the right to vote. We were so intrigued that we decided to devote our second book to their involvement.

Speak a Word for Freedom tells the story of fourteen women who have fought against slavery in different regions of the world over the past 250 years.

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’d like to introduce you to four of these remarkable women:

Credit line: Portrait of Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman (c.1742-1829) 1811 (w/c on ivory), Sedgwick, Susan Anne Livingston Ridley (fl.1811) / © Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, MA, USA / The Bridgeman Art Library

Mum Bett was a slave in the home of John and Hannah Ashley in Sheffield, Massachusetts. One day while Bett and her sister were in the kitchen, Mrs. Ashley, a quick-tempered woman, lifted a hot kitchen shovel from the stove and aimed it at Bett’s sister. To protect her, Bett jumped in front of the girl, catching the blow on her arm and suffering a severe wound.

As a slave, Bett had overheard many prominent guests talk around Mr. Ashley’s table. One of them, Theodore Sedgwick, described Massachusetts’ new constitution, which said all people were “born free and equal.” After being assaulted, Bett went to see him and asked if the law could free her. If all people are born free and equal, she asked, shouldn’t she be?

Sedgwick agreed to take her case to court. On August 21, 1781, Sedgwick told the jury there was no law establishing slavery and that the Massachusetts state constitution made slavery illegal because it said all people were “born free and equal.”

Mr. Ashley claimed she was a slave by law.

Bett’s argument won, and she and an enslaved man named Brom, who joined the case with her, were freed. To recognize her status as a free woman, Bett changed her name to Elizabeth Freeman. Mum Bett’s anti-slavery case was the first to cite the state constitution but not the last.

Credit line: ©Religious Society of Friends in Britain.

Elizabeth Heyrick, a white woman in England, became a leader in its abolition movement. As a convert to the Quaker religion, she fully adopted its message of equality regardless of race, sex, or social class, and refused to remain silent in the face of injustice.

By 1808, Britain had ended the slave trade that brought captured Africans to its colonies, but slavery continued to thrive in its Caribbean islands. Slaves produced the sugar that made British plantation owners rich.

Heyrick believed slaves had waited too long for their freedom. In 1823, she used the tool she had at hand – a pen – to protest the injustice. Printed pamphlets were the social media of her day, and she wrote seven to protest slavery.

In her first anti-slavery pamphlet, she called slavery a national disgrace and announced something new for the time:  a boycott of slave-produced sugar. “When there is no longer a market for the productions of slave labor, then, and not till then, will the slaves be emancipated.” She knew that both women and men would be suspicious of a pamphlet written by a woman, so she didn’t sign her name.

The abolitionist group active in Britain was for men only, so she helped to form one for women. The men’s group called for the gradual abolition of slavery, but women demanded it end immediately.

Heyrick’s group was so popular that it raised enough money to contribute to the men’s group. In 1830, though, they said they would not give any more money to the men until they, too, called for an immediate end to slavery. Seven weeks later the men did.

In 1833 the event Heyrick had long hoped for arrived, passage of the Slavery Abolition Act, ending slavery in the British colonies. Heyrick had died two years earlier.

When British missionary Alice Seeley Harris arrived in the Congo Free State with her husband, John, in 1889, they had one goal: to convert the native people to Christianity. But the atrocities they witnessed upended their mission.

The Congo Free State was created in Africa in 1885 by King Leopold II of Belgium to exploit the land for its natural resources, especially rubber, and to enrich himself. Agents of the king forced the natives into the bush to harvest rubber.

One Sunday morning, a man named Nsala arrived at the Harrises’ mission with what looked like a bundle of leaves in his hand. Alice opened it to see the severed hand and foot of his daughter, shown in this picture. This atrocity was a warning to Nsala and other rubber workers that they must meet their quotas for the Belgians or suffer mutilation.

Knowing that a picture is worth a thousand words, Alice, a skilled photographer, graphically documented the brutality in photographs published in reports and pamphlets sent to England.  On visits there, the Harrises gave public lectures illustrated with Alice’s photographs. The steady barrage of negative publicity incensed the public against King Leopold. By 1908, the disgraced monarch was forced to turn the governance of the Congo over to the Belgian government.

Credit line: Courtesy of the U.S. State Department

“I was sold like a goat,” says Hadijatou Mani, describing her sale as a slave at age twelve to a forty-six-year-old man in Niger in West Africa. She was known as a “fifth wife,” but had none of the rights or privileges of a wife under Islamic law. Instead, she was forced to work in her master’s house and fields, obey him in all things, and submit to beatings and humiliation.

Fortunately for Mani, a local antislavery organization, Timidria, was working to end the practice of slavery in Niger, where it was illegal but still widespread. With help from Anti-Slavery International in Britain, they sued the nation of Niger in a Western African regional court.

Although Mani was afraid to speak, her lawyers told her to look at the woman judge and talk to her “the way you do to us.” Mani gave a heartfelt account of her years of abuse and suffering. The judges awarded her damages from the government of Niger for its failure to protect one of its citizens against enslavement. This was a victory not only for Mani but also for others facing the same degradation in Niger.

In March 2009 this woman, who had never left her country, flown on a plane, or felt a cold breeze, traveled to Washington, DC, to receive the International Women of Courage Award from then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who praised her “inspiring courage in challenging an entrenched system of caste-based slavery.”

Each of the women in Speak a Word took a courageous step. Though not all won awards, they have all won our admiration for never giving up in the fight for justice.


Want to learn more about these amazing women and many others? Check out Janet and Marjorie’s books!

Five Thousand Years of Slavery
By Marjorie Gann and Janet Willen
176 Pages | Ages 10+ | Ebook
ISBN 9781770491519 | Tundra Books
When they were too impoverished to raise their families, ancient Sumerians sold their children into bondage. Slave women in Rome faced never-ending household drudgery. The ninth-century Zanj were transported from East Africa to work the salt marshes of Iraq. Cotton pickers worked under terrible duress in the American South. Ancient history? Tragically, no. In our time, slavery wears many faces. James Kofi Annan’s parents in Ghana sold him because they could not feed him. Beatrice Fernando had to work almost around the clock in Lebanon. Julia Gabriel was trafficked from Arizona to the cucumber fields of South Carolina. Five Thousand Years of Slavery provides the suspense and emotional engagement of a great novel. It is an excellent resource with its comprehensive historical narrative, firsthand accounts, maps, archival photos, paintings and posters, an index, and suggestions for further reading. Much more than a reference work, it is a brilliant exploration of the worst – and the best – in human society.

Speak a Word for Freedom
Women against Slavery
By Marjorie Gann and Janet Willen
216 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781770496514 | Tundra Books
From the early days of the antislavery movement, when political action by women was frowned upon, British and American women were tireless and uncompromising campaigners. Without their efforts, emancipation would have taken much longer. And the commitment of today’s women, who fight against human trafficking and child slavery, descends directly from that of the early female activists. Speak a Word for Freedom: Women against Slavery tells the story of fourteen of these women. Meet Alice Seeley Harris, the British missionary whose graphic photographs of mutilated Congolese rubber slaves in 1904 galvanized a nation; Hadijatou Mani, the woman from Niger who successfully sued her own government in 2008 for failing to protect her from slavery, as well as Elizabeth Freeman, Elizabeth Heyrick, Ellen Craft, Harriet Tubman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frances Anne Kemble, Kathleen Simon, Fredericka Martin, Timea Nagy, Micheline Slattery, Sheila Roseau and Nina Smith. With photographs, source notes, and index.

The Nine Types of Magic: A Guest Post from Dana Swift

We have such a treat for all of you today! Dana Swift has very kindly given us a full breakdown of the magic system in her debut, Cast in Firelight, and we are fascinated. Read on for a look at how she came up with each color’s meaning as well as some fun facts!

The Nine Types of Magic:

Red The ability to create and manipulate fire
From the beginning I always knew I wanted my main female character to be a witch with fire magic. I think there is something inspiring about a witch who can control fire, a substance used in the past to kill women who were accused of witchcraft. Thus, I’ve always been drawn to that power for a witch character.

Orange The ability to enhance your senses and the body’s physical capabilities
I came up with orange magic because it felt so essential to the plot and makes it more plausible for my characters to be crime fighters. I also wanted it to be believable for Adraa, my female heroine, to be just a strong and fast as any male because she’s a powerful in magic.

Yellow The ability to create and manipulate air, especially for flying
I created yellow magic for the ability of flying and travel. In creating a world, one of the big aspects is how do people get from one place to another and how does that affect the cultures of each place. Having the nations of Wickery be able to fly meant they were more interconnected. Though, having their main communication be through letters meant they weren’t as connected as our modern world with the Internet.

Green The ability to manipulate wood and plant life
I grappled with deciding if green should involve the earth more than vegetation, but I thought it would be more unique and important for a society to control the growth of their food over controlling rocks. Also, that way I could have stone buildings in this world that no one would possibly be able to destroy or use against the protagonists, which eliminated some plot holes.

Blue The ability to create and manipulate water
I always wanted the main country of Belwar to be by the coast, so I thought a lot about how people fish and function near the ocean. Thus, I knew I wanted blue magic to be water based.

Purple – The ability to manifest weapons, shields, and boundaries
I created this type of magi purely for fight scenes so that even the weapons they used were made of magic and not just steel.

BlackThe ability to camouflage and cast illusion spells
I added camouflaging and illusions to the world of Wickery so that Adraa hiding her identity with a mask made more sense. Once created, I loved inserting details into the world of how people combat and have certain laws again camouflage magic. For example, they use curtains and bells over doorways so people can hear and see the shift in fabric if someone was entering unannounced. It’s these details that I think brought the world a little more to life.

White The ability to create and manipulate ice, snow, and other winter precipitation
From the beginning I wanted Adraa and Jatin’s main powers to be as opposite as possible. And what’s more opposite than fire and ice?

Pink The ability to heal and enchant potions to fight illness
I really love potions and healing elixirs in fantasy worlds, and I wanted my own version of it. But instead of a magical plant or simple cure-all for any illness much of pink magic is brewing herbs and medicines and then adding magic to it.

Here’s a few more insights into the magic system:

  1. Much of the magic system was created with my desire for a very visual magic, especially for fights. I didn’t want spells to be cast and thrown like bullets. I wanted elements being used in creative ways, shields of plated color conjured through spells and glowing smoke rising off their arms. I also wanted a pantheon of Gods. So, in combining those two things the beginning of Cast in Firelight‘s magic system was born.
  2. The logistics of the system: At the age of nine it is determined if one will be a witch or wizard by whether they have marks on your wrists (another very visual marker for the world and for readers). At around sixteen one’s forte is determined, which means all spells are filtered through that one color, another marker for people of this world to see where a witch or wizard’s biggest magical strengths lie.
  3. In Cast in Firelight the magic system in many ways works like school with magic being a combination of talent and passion. I find with a lot of fantasy centered on magical powers one is born into or obtains one certain power. But I wanted a more academic studious magic that relied not just on genetics and raw talent, but the dedication and ability to choose your own passion, just like in real life. Not all scientists and mathematicians were gifted in that field at the start. Just like not all writers are gifted wordsmiths when they first starting out (I know I wasn’t). Like many professions it’s through study and developing one’s craft that one gets better. So instead of every person having only one ability, in this world with enough talent and perseverance you can be multitalented, and in many ways pick your own forte color.
  4. There are some stereotypes that come with each magic forte, but because fortes are determined through dedication, talent, passion, and will, many people break the mold and it isn’t based on personality like in other stories. The Gods on the other hand? Now, that’s a different story.

Fun Facts about Fencing

Directly related to the magic system is using the magic for fight scenes. But some of the other fighting techniques comes from my experience fencing in college.

  • I went to the University of Texas at Austin, where I majored in both English and Advertising, met my husband, and learned how to fence.
  • I fenced saber, a weapon noted for its speed and ability to slash as well as stab to gain points. One of the big reasons I chose it was because at the time the team needed more women saber fencers. (The three different fencing weapons are epee, foil, and saber.) And I’ve always picked activities I thought more unique and undervalued. For instance, out of all the band and orchestra instruments I selected the viola in grade school and kept playing all the way to senior year. In my high school they needed more girls to join Colorguard, a sport that spins flags, rifles, and sabers to bring visual interpretation to marching band music. Something in me likes the challenge and likes to support things others seem to not be drawn to.
  • My husband and I fenced together, both saberist. There were many times I had to fight him before and after we started dating, but our first day back at practice after our first date we were in a bout. He won and I remember shaking his hand at the end and pulling him close and saying, “That was our first fight.”
  • We actually first started dating right after a huge club tournament. And much of how we got to know each other was talking, jesting, and having fun at fencing practice. Much of the banter in Cast in Firelight comes from my husband and I’s relationship and dynamic. We like to playfully tease one another and it seems to have seeped into my writing.
  • There’s a moment in Cast in Firelight where the two characters spar and though they use magic, much of the emotional drive to win in the scene came from fencing. Also, in that scene there is a moment were swords are locked together and there’s been a time or two where my saber guard has locked with an opponent and it felt like a scene out of a book.
  • In most of the tournaments, I was fighting men more than women due to the fact that in Texas and at the time more men gravitate towards saber. Many seemed to underestimate me or hit too hard to prove a point. Some of those matches are mirrored in fight scenes through Adraa’s point of view where she notes how being a woman in a fight changes the dynamics and at times showcases sexism.
  • Overall, while I can’t say the fighting in my debut is a direct correlation to fencing techniques by any means, the emotion and frustration of a fight came from me tapping back into a time where I trained in this sport and fell in love with my own sparing partner.

Cast in Firelight
By Dana Swift
448 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593124215 | Delacorte BFYR
Adraa is the royal heir of Belwar, a talented witch on the cusp of taking her royal ceremony test, and a girl who just wants to prove her worth to her people. Jatin is the royal heir to Naupure, a competitive wizard who’s mastered all nine colors of magic, and a boy anxious to return home for the first time since he was a child. Together, their arranged marriage will unite two of Wickery’s most powerful kingdoms. But after years of rivalry from afar, Adraa and Jatin only agree on one thing: their reunion will be anything but sweet. Only, destiny has other plans and with the criminal underbelly of Belwar suddenly making a move for control, their paths cross . . . and neither realizes who the other is, adopting separate secret identities instead. Between dodging deathly spells and keeping their true selves hidden, the pair must learn to put their trust in the other if either is to uncover the real threat. Now Wickery’s fate is in the hands of rivals . . ? Fiancées . . ? Partners . . ? Whatever they are, it’s complicated and bound for greatness or destruction.

Dana Swift: twitter | instagram

Dream Casting “Breathless:” A Guest Post from Jennifer Niven

We asked author Jennifer Niven (All the Bright PlacesHolding Up the Universe) for a guest post today and she delivered! Not only did she provide an excellent dream cast for an adaptation of her upcoming novel, Breathless, but she also gave us an inside look at how personal Breathless is to her – and how sometimes art seems to imitate life.

Dream Cast

I almost always write my books with actors in mind for the characters. Particularly when the book is so personal—as Breathless is—it helps give me enough objectivity to write the character. Hopefully we will see Breathless on the big screen. If so, my dream is to cast the actors I had in mind while writing the book—assuming, of course, I’d have an unlimited budget and ultimate power to make those decisions!

For Claude Henry, I envision the amazing Sophia Lillis (I Am Not Okay With This). To me, she is Claude— freckles, short red hair, fire, emotional depth, attitude, and all. For the dreamy and charismatic Jeremiah Crew (who was inspired by my own dreamy and charismatic husband), I picture the magnetic Rudy Pankow (Outer Banks) or multi-talented Luke Eisner (Tall Girl).

For Claude’s no-nonsense best friend, Saz, I imagine someone like Maitreyi Ramakrishnan (Never Have I Ever). For Claude’s mom, Lauren, I see Alicia Silverstone or Drew Barrymore.

For her dad, Neil, I picture Michael Sheen. For Wyatt Jones, her hometown crush, Reece King or Chance Perdomo (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina).

And as for the young people she befriends on the island—Sofia Hasmik (All the Bright Places) as Wednesday, Ross Lynch (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) as Grady, and an older Keith L. Williams (Good Boys) as Emory. And as Jared I see the person who inspired the character—a real-life reader and friend named Jared whom I wrote into the story. 🙂

Fun Facts

At the end of my senior year of high school, days after I turned eighteen, my dad told me that he and my mom were splitting up. All my life, it had been the three of us—Mom, Dad, me. My parents were everything. And suddenly, my world turned upside down.

Years later, I visited an island off the coast of Georgia to write this book and met my now husband. He is that barefoot boy of nature who inspired Jeremiah Crew. The one who taught me how to find shark teeth. The adventures in the book are adventures my husband and I had while we were falling in love.

So Breathless is personal both to the teenage Jennifer and the adult Jennifer in ways I never saw coming when I first began working on the story of a girl named Claude whose parents separate days after her high school graduation.

Here’s a little breakdown of just some of the ways in which it’s personal…

Then (teen Jennifer):

  • I grew up in a small Midwestern town with a gay best friend. We constantly dreamed of leaving that town and going out into the world together in pursuit of our big dreams.
  • My parents and I moved there from somewhere else when I was ten.
  • Like Claude, I’m an only child.
  • The Joy Ann Cake Shop was the bakery in our town. Their specialty was thumbprint cookies. J
  • A week before my high school graduation, my dad came into my room to tell me that he and my mom were splitting up. He also asked me not to tell anyone about the impending separation, not even my best friend.
  • Five days after graduation, my mom and I moved away from my hometown, my best friend, all my friends, the boy I liked, my dad, my dog, and my home. Whereas Claude and her mom go to a remote GA island for the summer, my mom and I went to the remote NC mountains.
  • That was the summer I had sex for the first time.
  • It was also the summer I really started writing seriously and began finding my voice. (Although instead of a novel, it was a play about Zelda Fitzgerald.)

Now (adult Jennifer):

  • I traveled to Cumberland Island—one of the islands that inspired the setting for the book—and met my husband, Justin Conway. The real-life Jeremiah Crew. (I had named the character long before I met my husband.) The only notable difference—apart from being older than Claude and Miah— is that there was no Wednesday, he didn’t pull me from the water after I’d swum out too far, and we’ve never actually argued.
  • I wrote Jeremiah Crew before I even knew my husband, but in addition to having the same initials, there are so many eerie similarities, almost as if I conjured him—walking barefoot all over the island, similar backstory in terms of family troubles and having to raise his siblings, becoming sober, having to grow up too fast and be responsible at a young age.
  • Every adventure we have in the book (except for the bike riding one) is an adventure my husband and I had while we were falling in love. The fireflies guiding our way through the dark. Wandering the grounds of the ruins at night. Long beach walks under a blood moon. Waiting for the turtles to appear. Sinking into the pluff mud (me in my sundress and rain boots, him in his Ranger Panties, the same shorts Jeremiah wears in the book). Getting trapped in a basement with the ghost of a woman who loves jewelry. All the things we shared with each other when no one else was listening.
  • We agreed from the first day we met to always, always share everything about ourselves, just like Claude and Miah do.
  • He taught me how to hunt for shark teeth by making circles in the sand.
  • He carried me through the creek when the tide came in and the water was too high.
  • There is an inn on Cumberland and ruins on Cumberland, but a lot of the setting—including the Geechee culture— is also inspired by Sapelo Island, where we’ve spent some time as well.
  • Jared is a real person—a devoted reader of All the Bright Places who works at the inn on Cumberland Island.
  • Wednesday is a reader who won an auction to appear as a character in the book.
  • Claude’s relationship with her mom is very similar to mine with my mom. All my life we’ve always been Penny and Jennifer, Jennifer and Penny. The Niven women.
  • Much of the family history of the Blackwoods comes from my own Niven family history.
  • Now my husband and I live part-time in Los Angeles and part-time in coastal Georgia, just fifteen minutes from Cumberland Island by boat. We still go over and hunt for treasure and wade through the pluff mud and walk the beach under blood moons whenever we can. <3

Breathless
By Jennifer Niven
400 Pages | Ages 14+
ISBN 9781524701963 | Knopf Books for Young Readers
Before: With graduation on the horizon, budding writer Claudine Henry is making plans: college in the fall, become a famous author, and maybe–finally–have sex. She doesn’t even need to be in love. Then her dad drops a bombshell: he’s leaving Claude’s mother. Suddenly, Claude’s entire world feels like a lie, and her future anything but under control.
After: Claude’s mom whisks them away to the last place Claude could imagine nursing a broken heart: a remote, mosquito-infested island off the coast of Georgia. But then Jeremiah Crew happens. Miah is a local trail guide with a passion for photography–and a past he doesn’t like to talk about. He’s brash and enigmatic, and even more infuriatingly, he’s the only one who seems to see Claude for who she wants to be. So when Claude decides to sleep with Miah, she tells herself it’s just sex, nothing more. There’s not enough time to fall in love, especially if it means putting her already broken heart at risk.

Jennifer Niven: website | twitter | instagram