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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What Book Do You Wish You Had Written?

What book do you wish you had written?

I was tagged to answer this recently on Instagram by author @melaniejwalker  as part of the #authorschallenge2019 hosted by @debratorreswrites .

I would love to write a book that had and has the impact of Flowers for Algernon.

Being a precocious reader with older siblings, I read this book when I was very young, sneaking it from my sister’s bookshelf. The story resonated with me and influenced my thinking. It’s one of the books I recommend for all highschoolers to read.

If you haven’t read Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, go get a copy! It’s not a long book. I would consider it easy to read, even though all of the topics explored may not always be easy to think about. It’s about a mentally disabled young man who agrees to engage in an experiment to increase his intelligence. His story is told through a series of diary entries.

In my experience, even kids who aren’t into reading all that much seem to connect with this book. The story brings up loads of discussion worthy topics.

Flowers for Algernon always makes me think about the memoir, Switched On, by John Elder Robison, the true story of a person on the autism spectrum who participated in experiments meant to increase emotional intelligence. Switched On tells about his experiences during the procedure and the aftermath. 

I recommend both of these books.

The IG prompt made me consider my own work. I am often intentional about why I write the novels I do and who, in both a general and specific sense, I hope to communicate with.

I guess I could say I have written exactly the book I wished to.

One of my novels is about a family dealing with grief. I wrote it because there was a need. I could not find a novel addressing the issue of impending loss and grief against the backdrop of a family also dealing with autism.

As I spend time in the querying trenches, the ability to see how a particular manuscript fulfilled its intended purpose, at least in part, is a great encouragement to me.

I hope to see all my novels reach the readers who need to hear the stories. I hope to someday soon know hearts are being touched.  

#amquerying

 

 

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Why I Write

 

My life is divided into before and after. I’m in the after now.

Eight years ago, this coming April, my world turned upside down. Eight years ago, this coming April, I began the slow journey back. I hadn’t written a book then. Since that time, I have finished penning three.

When I got sick, my daughter became frightened. Who wouldn’t be? It was the summer before her freshman year of high school, and she spent her vacation taking care of her mother who needed assistance walking and bathing. It didn’t matter what I told her, or how many reassurances were held out, she was terrified. All the soft gentle words and reassurances never made it past her fear wrapped worry.

Sometimes you need a story.

I wrote her a book about a girl who was afraid her mother would die and leave her alone. In the book, the mother does die. The girl is not left alone, however. She has family and unlikely heroes to depend on. I wrote my daughter a book to make her laugh and cry, but most of all to help her see she was not alone and it wasn’t up to her to save the world. I think maybe it was both comforting and uncomfortable for her to discover how much I understood her.

She’s not a character in a book, and she is not this character. But young girls everywhere get angry with their mothers, at times think they’ve been abandoned, and generally feel treated unfairly by life. They’re often surprised when they discover their mothers were once girls and understand all of these deeply held, secret feelings.

Among the pages of this made up place filled with pretend people my daughter finally understood what I was trying to tell her. She wasn’t alone.

Sometimes you need a story.

A funny thing happened. Out of the story, two more grew. Each of these novels stand alone, and while they don’t lean on each other, they do rub shoulders, exploring the lives of the various characters in the same fictional small Texas town.

It’s quite a surprise to find at the end of these eight years I have three complete novels. I’d freelanced in my former writing life, and even written a novella, which resides in the dark recesses of my computer files, but I’d never attempted a novel length work.

As my health improved and my responsibilities shifted, I had more time to write books. With each novel, I learned better and went back, refining and polishing. I hunted down critique partners and entered contests. I was quite pleased with the feedback I got. Now I’m ready to start querying agents.

I’m telling you this tale because, as with all of my stories, I want to encourage and bring hope to the reader. Because sometimes you need a story.

Donna Jo Stone writes YA contemporary novels about tough issues but always ends the stories with a note of hope. She blogs at donnajostone.com.

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☕ Book Break ☕ | ~Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu~

~Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu~

Moxie Girls Fight Back is the motto of these high schoolers who are fed up with being groped, talked down to, marginalized, and assaulted while those in authority turn a blind eye.

There’s a contrast between Viv’s reality and her grandparents, and that showing quite well without disrespecting either generation. The same sensitivity is shown when talking about people with different political backgrounds and belief systems.

As I was reading this I relived incidents from my own junior high and high school days. I think this book is a call to action. It’s not enough to just make it through until you graduate because the problem is never going to go away. It is a pervasive attitude that is passed down and tolerated unless boys are taught better.  

This book is set in a realistic high school environment where there is language, assault, and stuff that kids encounter. I would hope that most administrations would not be as blatantly anti-female as the one depicted in this book, but it reads as if it could be true. This is a book with feminist characters, and a simplified definition of feminism.

There is a bit tossed in hinting about two girls in a relationship. This encompassed all of a few sentences and felt a little odd, but I can see it playing out in real life that way.

This is a book about empowering girls to insist on an education and the right to walk the halls without being groped or worse. It’s a book about girls demanding accountability from authority. It’s fresh and thought provoking.

Well written and relevant. LOVED Viv and the portrayal of her family. Splash of romance. Besides being a compelling and well told story, this is a thoughtful book that could be used as a starting point for good discussions.

I definitely see the need for this type of book. This issue is not going to go away and I think novels can open our eyes and help us understand the world better.

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Favorite Reads and New Authors of 2018

My absolute favorite book I read in 2018 was Wonder. I have a goal to finally review it this year! I can’t believe I missed this one.

Of the books I actually did manage to review, here is a short list of favorites in no particular order. Click on the title to read my review.

 

Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Across the Universe

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

How to Stop Time

Dystopian

When the English Fall

Contemporary YA

Turtles All the Way Down

All the Bright Places

The Hate U Give

Contemporary MG

So. B. It.

Stargirl

Contemporary Adult

Elenaor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Beartown

When We Were Worthy

Historical

As Bright as Heaven

The Pecan Man

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

Inspirational

Stones for Bread

Contemporary Romance

I’ll Be Your Blue Sky

Fairytale Retellings

Entwined

Nonfiction

In A Different Key

Educated

Favorite New (to me) Authors

Donna Everhart

Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

I read a ton more, but these are the ones that come to mind. So many wonderful books? Have you read any of these? Did you discover any new authors? What were your favorite reads of 2018?

 

 

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☕ Book Break ☕ |~A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy~

 ~A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy~

“She was still vaguely hopeful that there was love out there somewhere—just a little less sure that she might actually find it.”

“Her life was like her house—a colorful fantasy where anything was possible if you wanted it badly enough.”

Chicky Starr revamps an old mansion, turning it into a holiday resort for those wanting to spend time in an out-of-the-way place. Stone House is in a remote area on the cliffs of Ireland, part of a small village. The novel follows a varied cast of characters. A warm read. Humorous. Relatable.

Maeve Binchy was one of a kind. I’m not sure how she did it. The stories she wrote are rich with characters in situations that we often find ourselves. I find myself becoming attached to her characters, and remembering them long after the last page has been read. This was her last novel.

While this is not my favorite novel of hers, it was a joy to revisit for this fan.

This one may be a bit slow in parts, and does seem to meander a bit, but I think it’s well worth the time. It leaves me with a warm, cozy feeling.

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☕ Book Break ☕ |~Across The Universe by Beth Revis~

~Across The Universe by Beth Revis~

Seventeen year old Amy, along with her parents, is cryogenically frozen in order to make a 300 year trip to a new earth. Someone starts the thawing process early, and Amy wakes. We don’t find out who until the end of the novel.

Amy doesn’t fit in with the other people. The small society of ship dwellers have become genetically similar over the generations spent on board, and Amy sticks out with her red hair and white skin. The ship dwellers’ behavior is odd and troubling. Elder, in training to become the leader of the ship, The Godspeed, is the only person Amy’s age on board. He finds Amy irresistibly attractive. Elder searches for the person who is tampering with the cryogenically frozen passengers and discovers much more.

My eldest picked this book for me at the library. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this novel. Before I made it to the last chapter, I felt the need to reserve the next book in the series. Many of the sci-fi novels my boys pick are too heavy on the technical side for me, but this one was perfect.

If you are a fan of sci-fi stories or shows, you might like this series. Great read. Highly entertaining. Satisfying ending to the book with enough left over to make me want to get the next book. Engaging. Satisfying story.

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☕ Book Break ☕ |~The Ocean at The End of The Lane by Neil Gaiman~

~The Ocean at The End of The Lane by Neil Gaiman~

I had no idea what this book was about or even what type of book it was when I picked it up. I thought it was suspense maybe. Instead, I was treated to fantasy.

I listened to the audiobook read by Neil Gaiman. I’m always curious to hear them read their own work, how they meant for the story to sound when they wrote it. I have to say Neil Gaiman is the best author narrator I have heard. Some authors probably should not read their own work, but I think Neil Gaiman could make a grocery list sound enthralling.
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A coming of age story at the crossroads of mystery and wonder, the book has tragedies and magic mixed together. Every once in a while, I like a story that has a little bit of magic and supernatural elements stitched through. .

The story has so many truths woven through it. The characters are fantastic. I adored this book.

“I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else.”

“Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. Truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.” .
“I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I took joy in the things that made me happy.”

“Books were safer than other people anyway.”

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☕ Book Break ☕ |~My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows~

~My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows~
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This book had me snorting into my teacup. It’s a retelling of Jane Eyre, with the authors taking flexible liberties. It’s kind of a cross between the classic tale and Ghostbusters with a little extra thrown in for good measure.
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For purists who like their classics, the irreverence may be a bit much. I found it hilarious. The cultural references to LOTR and the Princess Bride had me laughing out loud. I’ve always had a soft spot for literature that breaks the story by speaking directly to the reader. There’s something special about seeing “Dear Reader”. ❤️
I adore this book. I did not read the first one, but it certainly on my list now.
❤️
If you’re looking for a lighthearted read I love Jane Eyre adaptations you should check this one out.
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There is mild language in one section of the book when are heroines are in dire straits and frustrated beyond their limits. Other than that, there should be nothing in here to shock the sensibilities. Unless ghosts disturb you. These ghosts are funny, for the most part.
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Loved it.

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☕ Book Break ☕ |~Entwined by Heather Dixon~

~Entwined by Heather Dixon~
❤️
She wanted to give him toast. The sort that had melted butter and a bit of honey spread on top. It was a stupid thought, but there was something comforting about toast.
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I can be agreeable,” said Fairweller. “If the other party is.”
“Oh, well,” said Bramble. “There goes that, then.”
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If you want to break all the windows in the house and drown yourself in a bucket but don’t actually do it, well, that’s love.
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I am rediscovering my love of fairytales. This was a delightful read. I love the way the author took an old favorite fairytale of the twelve dancing princesses and wobe a completely new story but retained echoes of the old classic.
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The castle has a bit of magic around the edges, left over from the time when the evil king ruled. Azalea and her sisters are forced to give up everything for a year of morning when her mother dies. The hardest thing to give up is dance. Azalea discovers a secret passage way that leads to a magical place where she is free to dance, she returns again and again. She finds it she cannot give it up, even when the Keeper, Who rules this en chanted room begins to make her uncomfortable.
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I was thoroughly entertained and enchanted by this novel. I love Azalea. It seems like she got the short end of the stick. Her mother dies and her dad, the king, checks out. The girls must all wear black. Azalea is of the age that she should be attending parties and balls, interacting with prospective suitors.
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Father daughter relationships. Evil villains. Characters with strong personalities. Romances. Hardship. Enchantment. I love the sisters. I could clearly picture each one of the characters.
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This was a long book that didn’t feel long. There were parts that were creepy, parts that were lovely, and lessons to be drawn. Well done.
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The villain is quite dark compared to some fairy-tale versions, depending on what you’re used to. Those with younger readers may want to be aware. This fairy-tale is suitable for older teens. It really does depend on your experience and expectation. I usually find the fairy-tale retellings to be tamer than the original fairy tales I read when I was a child. Most of those did not end well.
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