Debut Author Interview: Christyne Morrell and Kingdom of Secrets Giveaway
Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Christyne Morrell here to share about her MG fantasy Kingdom of Secrets. It sounds like a fast-paced adventure story with twists that I’m excited to read.
Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:
Prismena’s father is the hot air balloonist in the peaceful kingdom of Oren. She assists him by mending torn balloons, but she yearns to build and fly the complicated machines herself. One day, a waif named Abi steals Prissy’s only remaining memento of her deceased mother – a silk scarf – and promises to return it only if Prissy smuggles a mysterious box onto one of her father’s flights. Since balloon travel is strictly regulated in Oren, that single act of rebellion results in her father’s arrest and kicks off a spiraling series of events that will yank Prissy out of her predictable life.
Along the way to free her father from jail, she’ll get caught up in a bar fight, nabbed by a sadistic schoolmistress, tossed into a home for unwanted children, schooled in the art of stealing, and thrust into the center of a brewing rebellion. On her journey through Oren – with its glitzy neighborhoods and its seedy underbelly – Prismena will uncover secrets that change the way she views her family, her kingdom, herself, and even her beloved hot air balloons. She’ll have to break a few rules – and even forge metal – to save the people she loves, but she may also get a chance to soar.
Before I get to my interview, I have Follower News to share. Colleen Paeff has a picture book, The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem releasing on August 31st. Here’s a blurb: It tells the story of how, in 1858, engineer extraordinaire Joseph Bazalgette cleaned London's River Thames and saved thousands of lives by building the city's first modern sewer system. The book's back matter delves into modern day "poop pollution" and what we can do to keep our planet's waterways, and the people who use them, healthy. Links: Once Upon a Time (personalized copies, signed by Colleen)Amazon.com Indie Bound www.colleenpaeff.com
Kathryn McKendry has a new release, One Year On Broadway: Finding Ourselves Between the Sand and the Sea, on August 26th. Here's a blurb: A true story of forbidden love, adventure, and letting go. Weaving together a fan girl's tribute to her all-time favorite musical and a memoir, One Year On Broadway is a closeup view into the production of a Broadway musical and a testament to the power of the stories that become a part of us forever. Links: One Year On Broadway: Finding Ourselves Between the Sand and the Sea Imagine-Today
And here's a link for you if you're interested. Preply, a global learning language marketplace, recently did a report, Mapped: The Most Translated Books in Every Country. Here's where you can find their map and report: https://preply.com/en/d/most-translated-books--lp.
Interview With Christyne Morrell
Hi Christyne! Thanks so much for joining us.
1. Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.
Thank you so much for having me, Natalie! I’m delighted to be here. I’m a mom, wife, lawyer, beagle wrangler, Girl Scout troop leader, wannabe baker, and if there’s any time left in the day, an author!
I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, but it took me a long time to make it a reality. When I was growing up, I wasn’t exposed to author visits or virtual book talks or any of the other amazing resources kids have today, so I had no idea how an ordinary person became an author. After graduating from college with an English degree, I took the practical route and went to law school, then started working as a corporate lawyer. It wasn’t until my daughter was born that I came back to writing. When she was a newborn, my husband and I would rock her to sleep while reading to her from our favorite middle-grade books - Charlotte’s Web, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Chronicles of Narnia. These were the same stories that had inspired me to be a writer when I was young, and hearing them again rekindled that feeling. I started making up stories just for fun, to read to my daughter when she got older, but eventually I realized that writing was more than a hobby. So I started a website, told friends and family the news, and made it official: I was a writer.
2. That’s awesome that you started writing again when you were juggling so much else. Where did you get the idea for Kingdom of Secrets?
Kingdom of Secrets was inspired by a random piece of history. Many people don’t know this (I didn’t!), but during the Civil War, there was a branch of the Union Army called the Balloon Corps that used hot-air balloons to spy on enemy forces. My husband wrote a research paper on this topic when he was a kid, and he casually mentioned it to me many years later. When he did, I was struck by the contrast of the buoyant, colorful hot-air balloons drifting over a grim battle scene. I didn’t immediately recognize it as a story concept, but I filed it away and kept coming back to that image again and again. It wasn’t until years later that the idea finally evolved into Kingdom of Secrets.
3. That’s so cool that your husband’s research gave you the idea for your story. Your story sounds like a face-paced adventure, and readers say that they enjoyed your plot twists. How did you plot it out?
This book took me many years - and many drafts - to write. When I started, I knew what the basic premise of the book would be, and I knew how it would end, but everything else was up in the air (no pun intended!). I was a pantser back then, so I sat down in front of a blank page and let the story unfold. Unfortunately, little of that original draft remains in the published book.
After scrapping hundreds of pages of that first manuscript, I decided to give plotting a try! I’d avoided craft books until then because I considered them somehow “cheating.” Looking back, I wish I’d turned to them much sooner. I read Story Genius by Lisa Cron and Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody, and they transformed my approach to plotting. For my next draft of Kingdom of Secrets, I used a hybrid of those two methods to prepare a detailed outline before I sat down to write. I also created a master calendar to plot out the major events in the story and make sure the timing worked, both in the present-day adventure and in the backstory leading up to it.
In terms of format, I do all of my plotting and early drafting in Scrivener. I’ve always wanted to be one of those writers who use white boards, post-its, and complicated diagrams, but I’m strictly digital!
4. I just read Save the Cat Writes a Novel recently and found it helpful too. What was your world building process like?
I knew I wanted to tell a classic fantasy story with a fairy-tale quality to it, so I started with the familiar “in a kingdom far, far away…” Then I layered my original idea on top of that - about hot-air balloons in wartime - and built a world around it.
For example, to emphasize the importance of the hot-air balloons, I decided to make Oren a walled kingdom, in which balloons were one of the only ways in or out. Then, I reasoned, if people had a hard time getting into Oren, so, too, would new ideas. Technology (including the gadgets and inventions Prissy wants to build) would be frowned upon - even outlawed - by those in power, who want to retain tight control over the population. In a kingdom both isolated from and at war with its neighbor, a ruler could easily control and manipulate the narrative about major events and his role in them, which is exactly what King Michael does when he labels himself a hero and even invents his own holiday - Savior’s Day. He’d also be able to convince the people they were safer behind a wall, even as they lost the benefits of engaging with the outside world, because nobody would have the means to contradict him.
This is a lengthy way of saying that I built this world by starting with a single detail (hot-air balloons) and using it to fit another detail into place (the Wall) and then another and another, like putting together a giant puzzle. In this way, I was able to create a full picture of Oren, from the grand palace to the lowliest orphanage and everything in between.
5. I can really see the layers of your world building from your first idea. Your story is unique in that it involves hot air balloons. How cool! Did you have to do any research into how they work or go up in one yourself to get that aspect of your story right?
I’m actually too chicken to go up in a hot-air balloon, so I had to live vicariously through my characters on their high-flying adventures! I researched hot-air balloons primarily through books and online articles. I also interviewed a real-life hot-air balloonist (that interview is available on my website under Bonus Content).
Once I had a basic understanding of hot-air balloons, however, I allowed myself to deviate from that research for the sake of the story. That’s one of the benefits of writing fantasy - you’re not stuck with reality! In real life, for example, hot-air balloons don’t go precisely where you steer them, but in my story, it was important that characters use hot-air balloons to get from one specific place to another. Luckily for me, one of my young characters is an amateur inventor, so I had her come up with a method to steer the hot-air balloons.
6. Ha! There’s no way I’d go up in a hot air balloon later. You are an attorney by day and also a wife and parent. I know how busy that is because I’m retired attorney and was trying to write while working full-time having a family too. What is your writing schedule like and how do you stay productive enough to complete manuscripts and meet all the other deadlines and duties of an author?
It’s not easy, as I know you can attest! I live by the 30-Minute Rule, which means I write (or do something writing-related) for at least thirty minutes a day. It isn’t much, but it’s a manageable block of time that I can squeeze into my schedule no matter what else is going on. I do have to make hard choices sometimes - like deciding whether to use my daily writing time to market my upcoming book, attend a launch event, draft a blog post, or… well, write!
In some ways, having a limited amount of writing time is a blessing in disguise. With only half an hour at my disposal, I don’t have the luxury of being able to procrastinate or get distracted. The 30-Minute Rule helps me stay focused, and I can confirm that it’s entirely possible to write novels in thirty-minute increments - it just takes a bit longer!
7. I really like your 30-minute rule Share about your journey to obtain an agent and to get a book contract.
Once I started querying, it took me five years to get my first agent. During that time, I wrote four different middle-grade manuscripts and numerous picture book manuscripts. I applied for loads of contests and mentorships, including Pitchwars. I don’t know how many rejections I received, but it was definitely somewhere in the triple digits!
At first, the rejections were mostly form letters, but as my writing improved, I started to receive more personalized feedback and requests for more pages. I had several close calls with agents and contests, so I knew I was moving in the right direction. When I submitted Kingdom of Secrets to the agent that I’d eventually sign with, she responded within an hour asking for the full, then made an offer three days later.
Of course, getting an agent doesn’t mean the waiting and rejection are over. Kingdom of Secrets was on submission for eight months, and I had just accepted the fact that it was never going to sell when… lo and behold, we received an offer from Delacorte! I find that the moment I stop obsessing over something (like getting a book deal) is usually the moment it comes to fruition.
8. How are you planning to market your book?
After I got a book deal, I set to work reading every article and blog post I could find about how to market a novel, and I was completely and utterly overwhelmed! If I did all the promotion people recommend to debut authors, I’d have to quit my job and work full-time marketing my book, which is definitely not feasible for me and my family.
Fortunately, there’s another piece of advice that I’ve received from seasoned authors, which I have taken to heart: my actions won’t have a significant impact on book sales, so I should focus on the marketing efforts I enjoy the most. To that end, I’ve been reaching out to librarians and schools, offering some school visits (in coordination with my day job), and creating book-related bonus content for my website. I’m actively seeking out marketing opportunities that allow me to connect with my end readers, because getting my book into the hands of kids who will love it is the most exciting part of being a published author.
9. I’ve heard that advice from many debut authors too. What advice do you have for other writers who are getting agents and may be signing a publishing contract as a debut author?
My first piece of advice for writers just beginning their publishing journey is simple: celebrate! Pause to savor each and every accomplishment, because you’ve earned it. The goalposts are always moving, and you’ll be amazed how quickly you can go from elation over signing your first book deal to dejection because you didn’t get a two- or three-book deal (or a huge advance or a cover story in Publisher’s Weekly… the list goes on). Which leads to the other piece of advice I’d give to debut authors, one that I often have trouble following myself: don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Focus on the things you can control and that you enjoy and tune out the rest. And always, always come back to the writing.
10. What are you working on now?
I just finished copyedits on my second book, TREX, which comes out next summer. It’s the story of a boy named Trex who receives an experimental brain implant with an unusual side effect - he shocks everything he touches, and his electrical charge is growing more powerful by the day. When rumors emerge about a prowler sneaking around his new neighborhood, Trex teams up with Mellie “the Mouse,” a reclusive classmate training to be a spy. As a grudging friendship develops between them, Trex and Mellie find themselves pitted against school bullies, their own parents, and even an evil, brain-hacking corporation. Along the way, they’ll question what it means to be “normal” and explore the fine line between secrets and lies.
Thanks for sharing all your advice, Christyne! You can find Chistyne at christynewrites.com and on Twitter and Instagram at @christynewrites.
Christyne has generously offered a hardback of Kingdom of Secrets for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower of my blog (via the follower gadget, email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment by August 28th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest. Please be sure I have your email address.
If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog and/or follow me on Twitter, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry for each. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. The giveaway is U.S and Canada.
Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is hosted by Greg Pattridge. You can find the participating blogs on his blog.
Upcoming Interviews and Giveaways
Monday August 23th I have an interview with debut author Jessica Lewis and a giveaway of her YA contemporary fantasy Bad Witch Burning
Monday, August 30th I have an agent spotlight interview with
Monday, September 1st I have an interview with debut author Michelle Mason and a giveaway of her YA time travel Your Life Has Been Delayed and my IWSG post
Tuesday, September 7th I’m participating in the September to Remember Giveaway Hop
Monday, September 13th I have an interview with debut author Alda Dobbs and a giveaway of her MG historical Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna
Wednesday, September 15th I have an agent spotlight interview with
Chloe Seager and Brianna Bourne and giveaway of Brianna’s YA dystopian You and Me and the End of the World and a query critique by Brianna
Hope to see you on Monday!