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Happy Monday Everyone! Hope you had a fantastic weekend. I did a presentation on blogging for our SCBWI meet-up group on Saturday. It went really well. Of course, I mentioned Captain Alex's name and his blog quite a bit. It was my first presentation like that and I was really glad it was really well received.

I have a winner to announce.

The winner of DRAGON OF THE STARS is Jeremy Hawkins!

Congrats! E-mail me your address so I can send you your book. Please e-mail me by the end of Wednesday or I'll have to pick another winner.

Today I’m jumping up and down with excitement that debut author Sabaa Tahir is here with us to share about her super fantastic YA fantasy AN EMBER IN THE ASHES that releases today. I LOVED this story and am going to be sobbing when I give away my ARC that Sabaa was so incredibly kind to send to me.
Laia and Elias are such sympathetic characters. Right away Sabaa shows us their intense internal struggles which drive what they do and want. I loved the diversity in the world building that felt like a Mideast desert setting and the characters. It’s so important in our world today to have more books like this. But the world Laia and Elias live in is so brutal that it’s hard to see how either of them will do anything but fail. I couldn’t stop turning the pages because I had to see what would happen next. I absolutely can’t wait for the sequel. And trust me you want to read this book.

Here’s a blurb of AN EMBER IN THE ASHES from Goodreads:

Set in a terrifyingly brutal Rome-like world, An Ember in the Ashes is an epic fantasy debut about an orphan fighting for her family and a soldier fighting for his freedom. It’s a story that’s literally burning to be told.

LAIA is a Scholar living under the iron-fisted rule of the Martial Empire. When her brother is arrested for treason, Laia goes undercover as a slave at the empire’s greatest military academy in exchange for assistance from rebel Scholars who claim that they will help to save her brother from execution.

ELIAS is the academy’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias is considering deserting the military, but before he can, he’s ordered to participate in a ruthless contest to choose the next Martial emperor.

When Laia and Elias’s paths cross at the academy, they find that their destinies are more intertwined than either could have imagined and that their choices will change the future of the empire itself.

Hi Sabaa! Thank you so much for joining us today. I can’t tell you how excited I am to have you here.

Thank YOU. I’m so excited to be here!

1. Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.

I’ve always loved reading, particularly fantasy books. Writing was a natural extension of that love. I started writing down stories when I was in first grade and continued doing it all the way through school. When I was 11, I had this big binder with a whole fantasy story in it—maps, character backgrounds, everything. Later, I wrote mostly contemporary short stories—but never with a major aim to publish.
When I got into journalism after college, I left fiction behind for a little while. But then in 2007, I got the idea for EMBER and jumped right back in.

2. I love fantasy books and started writing them too. Where did you get the idea for AN EMBER IN THE ASHES? And how did your own childhood inspire the story?

I grew up in a small, sort of insular town in the Mojave Desert. Early on, I knew I didn’t really fit in. I always felt like an outcast—lonely, voiceless. My only solace was books. When I decided to write one, I knew that it would be about people who, like me as a kid, feel voiceless and powerless.
At the time I was working at the Washington Post and I read a story about Kashmiri women whose brothers, sons, fathers and husbands are taken by the military and never seen again. I asked myself what I would do if I were one of those women, and that was the springboard for EMBER.

3. That's awesome how you drew on your personal and work experiences to get the idea for this amazing story. I read that you did a lot of research for this book, including interviews. Share about who you interviewed and why you felt the interviews were important to your story.

One of my characters, Elias, is a warrior. I, however, am not. To characterize him (and other warriors in
the story) authentically, I interviewed modern day warriors: a West Point cadet, police officers, soldiers and an FBI agent. Interviewing these people helped me get into the headspace of a warrior. I used what I learned to inform Elias’s actions, dialogue, skills, thoughts, etc.

4. That's a great idea to interview the people that you did. You really are so talented in creating both Laia and Elias as tortured and incredibly sympathetic characters. What’s your character development process like and what advice do you have for the rest of us?

Aww, thank you! I write by iteration, and my characters revealed themselves over time. So while I had a general sense of who they were going in, I didn’t really start to understand them until I’d written an entire draft. Every draft help me understand them better, and hone in on the things that fit with their personalities, as opposed to the things that weren’t in character.

My advice on characterization is to keep an open mind. Your characters will often surprise you. But never subvert their personalities to that your stories will go in the direction YOU want. Let your characters’ natural actions guide you.

5. I read that revising was the most challenging part of writing AN EMBER IN THE ASHES. Funny because that’s the part I love the most. Share about your challenges and what you learned from them.

I actually love revising too—to me, revising IS writing. But after a few years, revising was discouraging, because I started to wonder if my editing instinct was leading me down the wrong path. I start wondering if I knew what I was doing.

While I revised, I learned a million things, but here are the two that stick out: First, always leave a few weeks between major drafts. I usually leave 4 to 6 weeks. Second: have other people who know your genre but who aren’t your family or close friends read your book. It’s good to get an outside opinion. That’s why CPs are so great.

6. That's such great advice. I must ask you about Elias’ mother, the Commandant. I totally hate her! How did you think up her character and all her cruelty? Was she hard to write about?

The Commandant, like so many villains, is a product of her history. I thought up her back-story first. She was difficult to write at times because I wanted to protect my characters from her cruelty. But that’s not what would actually happen in life, so I had to learn not to pull my punches.

7. Your book is getting incredible buzz. I think it’s one of the most anticipated debuts coming out in 2015. And you’ve already been interviewed by many bloggers and in other media. How are you handling all the attention and is it and what Penguin Random House is doing to market your book pretty much marketing it for you?

I’m very thankful that EMBER has gotten such a lovely response so far. I feel super fortunate, but I actually try not to think about it too much and focus on all the stuff I focused on before I sold the book—so: family, writing, eating chocolate and buying ugly socks. ;)

8. What are you working on now?

Another YA fantasy!

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Sabaa. You can find Sabaa at:

Ember site: www.anemberintheashesbook.com
Twitter: @sabaatahir
Instagram: @sabaatahir
Tumblr: http://sabaatahir.tumblr.com

Sabaa generously offered an ARC of AN EMBER IN THE ASHES for a giveaway.  To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through May 9th. I’ll announce the winner on May 11th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, please leave it in the comments.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. This is for US and Canada.

Here's  what's coming up:
On Wednesday I have an interview with agent Brent Taylor and a query critique contest.  

On Saturday I'm participating in the May I Suggest Giveaway Hop. I'll have lots of great newly released YA choices or a $10 Amazon Gift Card for you to choose from.

Next Monday I have an interview with debut author Krista Van Dolzer and a giveaway of THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING, her MG historical contemporary story.

Next Wednesday I have a guest post by Donna Galanti and a giveaway of her MG fantasy, JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTENING ROAD. Donna was an intern with an agent and has lots of great advice to share on querying.

The following Monday I have an interview with debut author Jenny Martin and a giveaway of her YA science fiction TRACKED.

Hope to see you on Wednesday!


Jemi Fraser said...

Sounds like a powerful story! Sounds like it's right up the alley of a couple of my strong readers too - will definitely spread the word :)

Liz Brooks said...

Wow, I knew nothing about AN EMBER IN THE ASHES before reading this post, but now I want to read it so badly! Plus, the cover is gorgeous! I'm so excited for Sabaa! I agree--it's a good idea to let your characters become themselves without forcing them into the pre-decided confines of the story's plot. Thanks for sharing! :)

Liz Brooks said...

Also, I tweeted about the giveaway (@adelethelaptop). :)

Donna K. Weaver said...

Congrats to Jeremy. He's lucky. Hubby and I are reading Dragon right now and loving it.

Sabaa's book sounds awesome--and it's on preorder as an audiobook. 15 hours. Long story! Nice. I've got it on my wish list.

Beth said...

This sounds like a great book. Congratulations to Sabaa!
And congratulations to you too, Natalie, on your presentation.

Vanessa Morgan said...

This sounds like an absolutely fascinating story. She's a beautiful writer too.

Ellie said...

I am so excited for this book! It's one of my top NEED to reads of this year :) thanks for the giveaway!
Elliemoreton at gmail.com

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Wow, great idea for a story.
Congratulations to Jeremy!

Unknown said...

I'm a new follower via Bloglovin' (Kaitlyn Abshire). You can contact me at caitlynmanuel(at)yahoo(dot)com. Thanks for the giveaway!

Christine Rains said...

Wonderful interview. The story sounds fantastic and that is great advice. My CPs are the best.

cleemckenzie said...

I like the idea of letting the characters surprise you. That makes for very interesting stories. Thanks for the interview and congratulations on the book.

Unknown said...

Very fascinating interview - not just of Sabaa, but all the people she interviewed to add realism to her book. That's awesome! Her book sounds great, and I'm wishing her much success! :)

Patchi said...

Wonderful interview. My characters surprise me, too. Looking forward to reading this novel--it sounds amazing!

Brenda said...

This sounds like a wonderfully diverse book with a fascinating world/setting. Laia also sounds very interesting, defiantly on my TBR list. Have a great week Natalie.

Rachna Chhabria said...

This sounds super, I have been reading a lot about this book. Its been getting a good buzz. Adding it to my TBR pile.

Rachna Chhabria said...

This sounds super, I have been reading a lot about this book. Its been getting a good buzz. Adding it to my TBR pile.

Joanne R. Fritz said...

Congrats on your SCBWI presentation being so well received, Natalie. I've been hearing so much buzz about this book, I know I'll have to buy my own copy. I prefer revising too but when it takes years it can be discouraging.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Good interview. This sounds like a terrific read. I've been reading about it in other places, too. Another one for my TBR stack.

S.P. Bowers said...

This book sounds fabulous! And I'm the same when when I'm revising. I always second guess myself, especially since I'm such a slow writer and can be revising over such a long period.

Susan B James said...

Story sounds great. And I am finding my characters are taking me to a place I never wanted to go. Interesting journey.

Karen Lange said...

It's nice to meet Sabaa. I appreciate her advice and insight. The story sounds engaging!

Thanks for hosting, Natalie. I'll pass on the giveaway this time around. Have a great week!

Jenni said...

Natalie, that's great that you did a blogging presentation for SCBWI! I'm sure you had a lot of good advice to give!
What a great interview. I loved how Sabaa interviewed people to get a feel for her characters and based the book on her own experiences.
Congrats, Sabaa!

Susan T. said...

This book is on the top of my TBR list. I can't wait for it to come out!
My tweet: https://twitter.com/suekitty13/status/592821579047907328
email: sueterendy at hotmail dot com

Eli Yanti said...

sounds great story, interest, i would like to read it :)


Unknown said...

I'm so excited to read this book! I've read a lot of raving reviews plus the synopsis is so intriguing! I can't wait to go book-shopping for my birthday and finally buy it!
I follow via Bloglovin' as Annie369 and you can contact me at eleonorerigby24(at)yahoo(dot)it

Kimberly V said...

I cannot wait to read this book! Please enter me into the contest.

LSpeers said...

I've been excited about this book for awhile! I follow via email subscription. Email: lcspeers@gmail.com

Unknown said...

Such a cool idea! I love the thoughts about character development. My characters often surprise me...I think they'll do one thing and they do a different, better thing! Thanks for the opportunity to receive an ARC. tlcnine at gmail.com

Madeline Osigian said...

So cool! I love complex characters! The challenge is writing them!

lindalou said...

I can't wait to read this one! I asked my library to carry it and they have ordered it! WooHoo!

lindalou said...

I've also tweeted about this giveaway! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I do believe most authors pull ideas and characters from what they have experienced. It's great that Sabaa was able to take elements of her own personality to her MC. This new book has fantastic potential but let someone else win as right now there's too much on my reading pile.

Rhi said...

this sounds like an awesome book. I will definitely take a look at it when it comes out. Thanks for the giveaway!
(rbarckhaus) at (gmail) (dot) com

Natasha Wing said...

It's hard to write villains. I'm interested in reading how she treated this. natashawing at gmail.com

Michael G-G said...

I bet your presentation on blogging was great. You are definitely one of the best bloggers out there.

And just this morning, my email also had a Publisher's Weekly ad for this same novel. So yes, it's getting a lot of buzz--and I would dearly love to win your ARC. Maybe The Commandant will fix Random.org so I'll finally win something!

Rosi said...

Wonderful interview. This sounds like a great read, but please let someone else win. I am buried right now. Thanks for an interesting post.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Wow! This is a wonderful interview, your review had me intrigued, and by the time I was finished with the post, I was looking for a "pre-order" button. Thanks for sharing Ember with us!

Margo Berendsen said...

I think interviews are such an impotant part of authentic storytelling, but I have such a hard time approaching total strangers! I've been looking forward to this book for months. berendsen70 at yahoo

Danielle H. said...

Yes, this book has me excited to read it! Thanks for the giveaway. I tweeted: https://twitter.com/dhammelef/status/593115085159014400

Valerie Bodden said...

I've heard so many great things about this book and can't wait to read it! Thanks for the giveaway! valbodden(at)google(dot)com

Anonymous said...

Gosh, this is a star star novel this year. :) Thanks for the giveaway!

Kayla :) said...

I would love to read this, I'm so excited for it! kayla3194 at gmail dot com

Empty Nest Insider said...

This is such a wonderful idea for a story! I also love chocolate and "ugly socks!" What a stunning cover! Thanks Natalie and Sabaa! Congrats to Jeremy!


DMS said...

I have been hearing such amazing things about this book! It was fun to learn more about the author. I definitely want to read An Ember in the Ashes and would love to win a copy. Thanks so much! :)

Carina Olsen said...

Yay! Gorgeous interview Natalie and Sabaa. <3 So awesome. I'm dying to read this book. Shall do so very soon :D I'm so glad you loved it a lot sweetie. I just really hope there will be a sequel :) Fingers crossed. Thank you both for sharing. <3 Wishing I could enter the giveaway, hih :)

Anita Saxena said...

Love how you were inspired to write this book Sabaa. And thank you for the give away Natalie and Casey.
productofanillusion at gmail dot com

Emily R. King said...

This book is EVERYWHERE!


Emily R. King said...

This book is EVERYWHERE!


SStokes said...

Excited to read this one. Thanks for sharing!

stacyastokes (at) gmail (dot) com

Heather said...

I am excited to read this book -- for so many reasons, including the fact that it has a diverse cast of characters.
Also - as a journalist-turned-writer myself, I'm delighted to read about Sabaa's success. It gives me hope!!
Email: HeatherM66@aol.com

Unknown said...
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Marlene Detierro said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

When the book ends, and it better not be THE END because there are so many unanswered questions, it is not an annoying cliffhanger. By the last page, everything is perfectly set up for so much more story. So, this better not be a standalone or I will just have to curl into a ball and eat all the Ben and Jerry's in my fridge because I do not want to come back to the real world.

Highly highly highly recommended.

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