Gritty Contemporary Christian YA: Interview with Author Brian McBride

 

Haunted by the last question their mother ever asked them, the Greyson brothers struggle to cope with their grief and adjust to life after tragedy.

Semi-popular sixteen-year-old Liam spends his nights performing as the lead singer of his high school indie alternative/rock band, Liam and the Landmarks. But something happened to Liam four years ago at his friend’s house – a secret Liam will take to his grave. But in small towns like Summit, Colorado, secrets always seem to find their way out.

Twenty-four-year-old Ezra thought that he could cure his grief when he left Summit behind for a prestigious art school in Chicago, but things only got worse. Now a college dropout working at a gas station mini mart, he turns to alcohol, prescription painkillers, and meaningless one-night stands. But Ezra can’t run forever – life always catches up with you.

With abrasively honest dual-perspective narratives, Every Bright and Broken Thing illustrates the unbreakable bond between brothers and the power in coming home.

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Bookstagrammer, blogger, and author Sunny Huck shared about Brian’s work on her Instagram and peaked my interest so I had to talk with him.

DJS: Your novels are contemporary and gritty. What drives you to write about the issues you do?

BM: Some of it is personal experience; a lot of the issues I write about are things that myself or others I know have faced. Depression, self-harm, mental illness, sexual abuse and assault, domestic violence, addiction, etc… 

But some of it is also that there’s a severe lack in the YA market – specifically the Christian YA market – of stories that deal with these things. I can’t name even five Christian YA Contemporary novels that could be comparable to, say, the stories John Green, Amber Smith, or Stephen Chbosky write. The Christian Fiction industry seems to think YA Fantasy novels are the only kind worth publishing. I disagree. I doubt I can fill this gap completely by myself, but maybe I can encourage other Christian authors of YA Contemporary to share their stories, too – THEN we’ll fill the gap!

DJS: What has been the most gratifying about writing realistic Christian fiction for young people?

BM: Hearing the stories of how my books have given people a new view of themselves, of the value of life, of faith and hope, and most importantly of Jesus. Hearing all those stories has been the highlight of this experience. 

DJS: Liam and Ezra go through some pretty harrowing times before they begin their healing journey in Every Bright and Broken Thing. Will you write any more of their story?

I don’t have any new stories simmering for Liam and Ezra right now. But I have a short story or novella I may or may not be planning to carry on Lincoln’s story. But anything is possible. If a good idea comes, I won’t say no to revisiting my boys in Summit. 

DJS: Every Bright and Broken Thing is the story of two brothers dealing with loss and how they react. In a few sentences, what would you say to those who want to support families going through grief?

BM: Hold onto them and don’t let go. I remember a time when I was far away from the Lord and was getting into some bad stuff, but my parents refused to let go. Some parents will kind of back off and say, “oh, well they’re adults now. They have to make their own choices.” But my parents weren’t about to let me go. They held on for months and months. I literally would not be alive today if it weren’t for the fierce, fighting kind of love my parents have for me.

In Every Bright, we see Mr. Greyson grapple with his own suffering and even come to realize how he allowed his grief to cause him to not hold onto his sons like he should. Mr. Greyson had to determine once again that he was going to hold onto his boys. In that, we see a father who was broken become strong again.

So, if you know someone who is suffering, hold on and don’t let go. Sometimes that means telling them the hard truth. Sometimes that just means listening and letting them cry on your shoulder. Whatever the case, hold on and don’t let go.

Thank you so much for taking time to talk with us today, Brian. Keep writing. I expect great things to come from your work.

A winner of the 2016 Wattys Award, Brian published the award-winning Young Adult Contemporary debut, Love and the Sea and Everything in Between, in 2018.
Born and raised in Oregon, Brian moved to the San Francisco Bay Area at 16-years-old. He’s been writing since he was thirteen-years-old and has been reading for longer. Brian is pursuing a degree in Social Work, which he hopes to use to help rescue children and families. Perhaps he’ll work to better the US’s foster care system? Or maybe he’ll join an organization that fights human trafficking? A fourth generation pastor, he is deeply passionate about the Church and is also pursuing his Minister’s License. It was this passion that compelled him to launch the Pioneer Mvmt, a social-media-based faith movement. Among other things, he is also passionate about iced tea, animals, adoption, and the arts.
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Interview with Hope Bolinger ~YA Author and Literary Agent

This week I was super excited to talk with literary agent and author Hope Bolinger about her recent release, Blaze. 

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From the Back Cover of Blaze

If you can’t stand the heat, don’t walk into the fire.

Danny knew his sophomore year would be stressful . . . but he didn’t expect his school to burn down on the first day. 

To make matters worse (and they were about to get a lot worse), he — and his three best friends — receive an email in their inboxes from the principal of their rival, King’s Academy, offering full-rides to attend the town’s prestigious boarding school. Danny wants nothing to do with King’s Academy and says no. Of course his mother says yes. So off he goes to be bullied and picked on for not being part of the popular and rich “in crowd.” 

From day one at King’s, Danny encounters hazing, mocking insults from girls at the “popular and pretty” table, and cafeteria food that, for such a prestigious school, tastes as if it were purchased from a military surplus supply warehouse. If he survives, Danny will have to overcome his fears of failure, rejection, and loneliness—all while standing strong in his beliefs and walking into the fire.

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DJS: As I read your book, I often found myself chuckling at Danny’s wit. Was it difficult to write humor or did it come naturally? What experiences did you draw on to write humor into your story?

HB: I love humor. I actually started writing as a comedic playwright. If you know me at all, I crack jokes all the time, which does draw many eyerolls from my younger brother as is the tendency of most younger brothers. I think you just have to have a sense of humor to make it through this industry. Certain rejections are simply funny. It’s like publishers are just desperate to come up with a reason not to take on your book. I literally had a publisher say, “There’s nothing wrong with this book. It’s perfect. But we’re not going to publish it.” A lot of awful stuff happened right before I wrote Blaze, and I had two options: to wallow or to poke fun at the ridiculousness of it all. I think all those humorous situations just pent up and turned into Danny.

DJS: Blaze is set in a boarding school, King’s Academy.  What was it about the boarding school culture that drew you to write a story in this setting? 

HB: I wanted to create a modern-day Babylon, and in the original story of Daniel, they basically live in the King’s palace for their education. It just felt like a boarding school. I also wrote it in college, which is basically a boarding school for adults. I think I just had to release some frustrations about the lack of AC in our forty-five year old dorm when the campus kept building such nice things for all the visitors.

DJS: As a writer, it’s easy to become attached to our characters. Can you tell us about one of your characters who tugs on your heartstrings? If you could meet them face to face and tell them one thing, what would it be? 

HB: I love all four of the characters in Blaze. Rayah really tugs hard on my heartstrings because she went through something somewhat similar to me. Throughout the series, we witness the falling out of her parents and how the divorce affects her. Because she’s so shy and timid, she doesn’t often let on how much it affects her. If I could meet her, I’d tell her she’s far stronger, smarter, and more beautiful than she thinks.

DJS: Friendship is a theme in your novel. What advice about friendship do you have for your young readers?

HB: Friendship is so important. Keep your friends as close as possible, and be there for them during the tough times. Friends can help you through the most difficult times of life. If I didn’t have a body of wonderful friends surrounding me during my parents’ divorce, I don’t know what I would’ve done.

DJS: Great advice, Hope. We all need friends to lean on in tough times.

I enjoyed reading Blaze. Thank you so much for spending time with us. Wishing you the best of luck with your novel!

Guys, next month be sure to pop over to Almost an Author for more of my interview with Hope Bolinger when we talk about writing.

Hope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a recent graduate of Taylor University’s professional writing program. More than 350 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer’s Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column “Hope’s Hacks,” tips and tricks to avoid writer’s block, reaches 6,000+ readers weekly and is featured monthly on Cyle Young’s blog. Her modern-day Daniel, Blaze,” (Illuminate YA) just released, and they contracted the sequel for 2020. Find out more about her here.

Facebook: @therosewoman Twitter: @hopebolinger

Instagram: @hopebolinger  Website: hopebolinger.com

 

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☕ Book Break ☕ |~The Christmas Shoes by Donna VanLiere~

~The Christmas Shoes by Donna VanLiere~

Can you guys believe I had not read this book before? This story was based on the song of the same name and I think that’s why wasn’t on my radar.

If you’re looking for a short, sweet, Christmas read that reminds us of what is truly important, then this book fits the bill. This is a story with strongly Christian themes. It moves quickly through time, but I don’t mind that. All of the story problems were resolved, no holes left. I actually prefer a short Christmas book during this busy holiday season.

The story felt like a gentle reminder to value the most important treasures in life.

Heartwarming. Sweet. Easy to read.

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☕ Book Break ☕ |~Stones for Bread by Christa Parrish~

~Stones for Bread by Christa Parrish~

What a lovely read. Christa Parrish is one of my favorite contemporary Christian fiction writers. Her prose always touches me. It feeds my soul.

Liesl McNamara spends her days making bread. She learned this talent from her mother and her grandmother. Her days are busy with her bread making business, and life is simple until people and event complicate it. The delivery man, a single father, begins to win her affection, and one of her employees enters Liesl as a contestant for a cooking show. Secrets her parents kept from her are revealed and she must deal with them.

The novel has flashbacks scattered throughout, but I had no difficulty following any of the storylines. .
Another cast of true to life characters who are less than perfect and uniquely human. The novel is not preachy, but the message is there. I like Christa Parrish’s voice, her style. Excellent writing. Parrish is one of those authors whose books I pick up without even bothering to read the description because I know I will enjoy the read.

This one didn’t seem as complex plot wise as some of her others, but I still loved it. I will reread it again and again. Sweet story.

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☕ Book Break ☕ | How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

~How to Stop Time by Matt Haig~
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“A wave can kill you. Or you can ride it. It’s sometimes more dangerous to shy away. You can’t live your life in fear…”
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Tom Hazard has just taken a job as a history teacher, moving back to London. By all appearances he is a mild mannered 41 year old bachelor. He’s actually much older. Much older. How To Stop Time is a science fiction book about…people who age slower than the typical. They live for hundreds of years. Tom has become aware that there are people who wish to harm those like him, and as protection, he has joined a secret society that keeps them safe. But to belong he has to do his part. He gets occasional assignments, and he must never fall in love.

Intriguing beginning. The story switches back and forth in time but I never found it confusing.
It hit just the right balance of mystery, suspense, and action for this reader. I was completely hooked and read it straight through. .
In this book, the characters travel on a personal journey of introspection and enlightenment. Like all good scifi, the novel gets a bit philosophical. Ends on a note of lessons learned and hope for happy possibilities. Well done. Satisfying ending after I had almost given up hope of Tom having one. Scifi is not my usual genre, but this one had me from page one. Excellent storytelling. Some language.
. “In those moments of that burst alive the present lasts forever.”
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“The way you stop time is by stopping being ruled by it. I am no longer drowning in my past, or fearful of my future.”

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Interview With Inspy Author Stacy Monson and Giveaway

This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to CFloyd!

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Mindy Lee “Minnie” Carlson’s dream job has dropped into her hands, but there’s a catch. She has four months to revive Open Circle, the town’s only Senior Adult Day Center, or the doors will close, leaving her beloved seniors stranded, and eliminating the only job she’s ever wanted.

Globe-trotting photographer Jackson Young documents the forgotten people of the world, focusing on the poor and elderly. After decades on the road, he’s stunned to learn his beloved Grandma Em is still alive in the small town he’d had to leave decades earlier.

Overjoyed, Jackson races back into town to reconnect with her and discovers she’s been Minnie’s adopted grandma for the past twenty years. When Grandma Em has a stroke, his ideas about her care pit him against Minnie’s determination and expertise. For Grandma Em’s sake, and the future of Open Circle, they’ll need to do the impossible—find a way to work together.

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As you guys may know, it’s not my policy to agree to review books in exchange for a free copy, but something about this one caught my eye. I can’t say why that is, exactly. This book came to me a perfect time. I needed an inspy and this one fit the bill. As a bonus, I found a new writer friend!

After I read Open Circle, I asked Stacy if she would be willing to do an interview for us, and she said she’d be happy to!

I loved the idea of setting a story in an elder care environment. Can you tell us a little bit about your inspiration for choosing this particular setting?
I started writing Open Circle while my mom was in the midst of her Alzheimer’s journey. It’s such a terrible disease, and yet we experienced moments of joy, even humor through those years. I got to know caregivers, administrators, and other families on a similar journey. I also learned about the wide variety of programs available for families, research, and organizations committed to providing support, encouragement, and education for clients and family members/caregivers. As difficult as the journey was, watching my fiercely independent mother decline over nearly a decade, I was inspired by the people who cared for her, as well as the others like her. She’s been gone nearly 7 years now, which is hard to believe.

What are the main things you want readers to take away from Open Circle?
That everyone deserves respect no matter their age, mental capacity, illness, and that our elders have earned the right to age with dignity, and be loved unconditionally. All of my books have the underlying theme of who we are in Christ; our identity in Him doesn’t change just because we lose our memory, or our bodies get old.
I love the title. Can you tell us what the title means to you and why you chose to name the adult daycare center in your novel Open Circle?

It’s actually the name of an adult day program where my in-laws were involved. I co-facilitated a caregiver support group with Carol, the social worker of that program. I got to know the staff and was immensely impressed with all of them and their programming.

What can we look forward to reading about in your future work?

I have several ideas percolating! What I’m working on right now is a series called My Father’s House, about sisters who discover (as young adults) that they’re adopted. Two of them have been raised as twins. The stories (each book follows one of the sisters on her journey to discover who she “really” is) look at adoption, identity, family, consequences. After that, I’m focusing on a more lighthearted book, perhaps a novella, about online dating.  🙂

My question for all of YOU:  I’d love to know which genres are your favorites. Comment below and you’ll be entered for a chance to win an autographed copy of Open Circle.
My favorite is contemporary (obviously!) but I’ve also grown to love historicals as I know a number of historical authors and appreciate all the work they put into making their stories accurate as well as interesting!

About Stacy

Stacy Monson is the award-winning author of The Chain of Lakes series, including Shattered Image, Dance of Grace, and The Color of Truth. Her stories reveal an extraordinary God at work in ordinary life. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and the MN Christian Writers Guild (MCWG), Stacy is the area coordinator for ACFW in Minnesota, past president of ACFW MN-NICE, and is the Events Director for MN Christian Writers Guild. Residing in the Twin Cities, she is the wife of a juggling, unicycling physical education teacher, mom to two amazing kids and two wonderful in-law kids, and a very proud grandma of 3 grands.

For news about upcoming books, contests, giveaways, and other fun stuff – stop by Stacy’s Author Website here. 

To learn about bringing Stacy’s speaking ministry, WINGS, to your event, visit her blog here.

She also on Facebook  Twitter  Instragram and  Pinterest.

Thank you, Stacy!

I struggle to pick a favorite type of fiction. It’s like asking me to go to the buffet and pick one favorite food. I love a good story that makes me laugh or cry. The best ones do both.

OK, ya’ll, we have TWO  Giveaways!

Giveaway ONE

Leave a comment below to enter Stacy’s giveaway for an autographed copy.

Giveaway TWO

As an EXTRA, sign up for my newsletter for a chance to win an ecopy of Open Circle. If you’re on my mailing list and provide a valid email, you are in. One chance for  an ecopy per email valid address, but you can enter BOTH giveaways one and two.

Both giveaways close on May 31.2018.

Linked up at Literacy Musing Mondays #LMMLINKUP.

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☕ Book Break ☕ | The Family Next Door by Sally Hepworth

~The Family Next Door by Sally Hepworth~
I could not tear myself away from this novel. .
Everyone in the friendly community of Pleasant Court knows their neighbors, or do they? One day, someone new, Isabelle, moves into the close knit neighborhood, but she isn’t like everyone else here. She is a single woman in a neighborhood primarily of young families.
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Isabelle is tracking down someone’s secret. Under scrutiny, things that once were hidden come to light and lives unravel. Secrets abound in this novel. Ange, Fran and Essie all have things they would rather not share and things in their lives they prefer not to examine to closely. .
This story makes one wonder what kinds of lies we tell ourselves and each other. .
Highly entertaining. Great women’s fiction. Fast moving and an easy read.
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☕ Book Break ☕ | The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

~The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah~

In 1974, 13 year old Leni’s father announces that they will be moving to Alaska. Her father, Ernt, has been gifted with a homestead. Leni and her parents pack their belongings in a VW bus and head north. They are ill prepared for the wilderness that greets them. The community pools together to help the trio, but they quickly learn that the environment is a harsh and unforgiving one.
Even worse, the long winters aggravate Ernt’s mental condition. He was a POW and has nightmares coupled with a violent temper. Cora, Lani’s mother takes the brunt of Ernt’s violence, but the situation soon escalates.

Kristin Hannah tackles a tough subject in this book, and I think she did a good job of portraying the complexity of one facet of domestic abuse. I mostly liked this novel. While it kept my interest, it was difficult for me to relate to the main characters. The women were too weak for my liking and this frustrated me. I wanted them to figure out how to stop being victims, but I think that was one of the points of the story. I cared enough about the characters to finish the book in a short period of time.

Victims of domestic abuse often cannot find their way out. The convoluted thinking of the abused wife shows her reasoning and ability to live in denial. The characters were completely believable. I think this is a realistic portrayal of women in this situation.
This is a long book. I liked the first half better than the second, which seemed to drag in spots to me. It felt like a genre shift, but then returned to the familiar story telling of the first half.

This novel is well worth the read, and I recommend it. Kristin Hannah fans will love this book. The vivid descriptions of Alaska and the community there made me want to visit. Not in winter, though!

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☕ Book Break ☕ | All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

~All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda~ “There is nothing more dangerous, nothing more powerful, nothing more necessary and essential for survival than the lies we tell ourselves.” Nicole returns to her hometown of Cooley Ridge to care for her aging father. She hasn’t been home in a decade, not since her best friend,Corrine, disappeared. Shortly after Nic’s return another girl, Annaleise, goes missing. The current investigation uncovers old clues.

Nic’s father suffers from dementia, and he is saying things that make no sense. Does he know something about Corrine’s disappearance? Or is it just the ramblings of a confused old man?

This story is told in reverse, beginning at day fifteen and ending on day one. This one is full of twists, turns, and suspense that was addictive.
I did not read the description before I begin this book, so was thrown for a moment at the telling in reverse. Once I caught on, I was amazed at the storytelling. It was not confusing at all. I’m not usually a fan of the told-in-reverse type stories, but this one hit all the right storytelling notes.

Nic gets entangled with her former boyfriend, even though she is engaged. “But maybe there was nothing more intimate than someone knowing all your secrets, every one of them, and sitting beside you anyway, buying your favorite food, running his fingers absently through your hair so you can sleep.” Plenty of drama going on with the other characters as well. And the characters! The interaction between the girls and the unraveling of the mystery was mesmerizing. More adult themes than my usual fare. It does make you wonder what lengths you would go to in order to protect the ones you love.

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☕ Book Break ☕ | The Pecan Man by Cassie Dandridge Selleck

~The Pecan Man by Cassie Dandridge Selleck~ “Once you tell a lie, you have to keep tellin’ and tellin’ and tellin’ to make it stand.”

I passed this one by more than once, but as it gained popularity my curiosity was peaked. This book proves the old saying “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”

Ora Lee Beckworth hires the Pecan Man, pronounced Pee-can, a homeless black man, do do yard work for her. When a young man turns up stabbed to death, the murder is pinned on the Pecan Man, but Ora Lee knows the truth. The year is 1976 and the voice is authentic. I felt like I was listening to an actual person telling me about real life events. Ora Lee is finally coming clean and telling what she knows about the murder, who really committed the act, and the horrific events that led up to it.

I made the mistake of starting to listen to this book late one evening thinking it would put me to sleep. Instead it kept me up! I listened to the audio version read by Suzanne Toren, who performed the book wonderfully.

Click here for Book Club Questions for The Pecan Man.

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