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Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Megan Bannen here to share about her YA fantasy THE BIRD AND THE BLADE. I am super excited about this because of the Chinese setting, which I always love because my daughter is adopted from there, and the impossible love. Can’t wait to read it! But first I have some follower news to share.


. Lee McKenzie's new MG SOME VERY MESSY MEDIEVAL MAGIC is being released. Here's a blurb: Pete’s stuck in medieval England! Pete and his friend Weasel thought they’d closed the Timelock. But a young page from medieval times, Peter of Bramwell, goes missing. His absence during a critical moment will forever alter history unless he’s found. There’s only one solution—fledgling wizard Pete must take the page’s place. He travels to 1173 England accompanied by Weasel and Fanon, Pete’s alligator familiar. But what if the page remains lost? Will Pete know what to do when the critical moment arrives? Toss in a grumpy Fanon, the dukes’s curious niece, a talking horse, and the Circle of Stones, and Pete quickly realizes he’s in over his young wizard head yet again. 

And some links:

Now onto today's interview!

Here’s a blurb of THE BIRD AND THE BLADE from Goodreads

As a slave in the Kipchak Khanate, Jinghua has lost everything: her home, her family, her freedom … until she finds herself an unlikely conspirator in the escape of Prince Khalaf and his irascible father as they flee from their enemies across the vast Mongol Empire. On the run, with adversaries on all sides and an endless journey ahead, Jinghua hatches a scheme to use the Kipchaks’ exile to return home, a plan that becomes increasingly fraught as her feelings for Khalaf evolve into a hopeless love.

Jinghua’s already dicey prospects take a downward turn when Khalaf seeks to restore his kingdom by forging a marriage alliance with Turandokht, the daughter of the Great Khan. As beautiful as she is cunning, Turandokht requires all potential suitors to solve three impossible riddles to win her hand—and if they fail, they die.

Jinghua has kept her own counsel well, but with Khalaf’s kingdom—and his very life—on the line, she must reconcile the hard truth of her past with her love for a boy who has no idea what she’s capable of ... even if it means losing him to the girl who’d sooner take his life than his heart.

THE BIRD AND THE BLADE is a lush, powerful story of life and death, battles and riddles, lies and secrets from debut author Megan Bannen.

Hi Megan! Thanks so much for joining us.

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

Hi, Natalie! Thanks for inviting me to interview. I’m a children’s librarian in the Kansas City area, and I was also a middle school English language arts teacher for a few years. I always had it in the back of my mind that I would write a book someday, but I didn’t actually get around to doing so until, in my late thirties, it occurred to me: “Hey, Megan, you’re never going to write a book unless you sit down and write a book.” So, I started writing. Six years later, I sold The Bird and the Blade. It’s never too late to try something new or go after a dream, people!

2. I'd love to be a librarian. Where did you get the idea for THE BIRD AND THE BLADE? 

I was listening to Puccini’s opera Turandot and stewing for the millionth time over the rather unsatisfying ending when it occurred to me that retelling the story from a different point of view had potential to be a good YA novel. As I researched the possibility, I read several versions of the story, many of which give the slave girl character a meatier backstory than the opera gives her. I decided to create my own version of this character (Jinghua) and to tell the story, based on François Pétis de la Croix’s version, from the slave girl’s point of view.

3. Tell us a bit about your world building process and your research into China as you developed your world. 

There’s some scholarly evidence that links the Turandot tales to the Mongol Empire, which is how I chose my setting. So my early research focused on learning as much as I could about the Mongols of the thirteenth century. Additionally, the slave girl’s backstory in “Prince Khalaf and the Princess of China” has an interesting link to the demise of the Song Empire—the last emperor, a six-year-old boy, was thrown overboard a ship to drown rather than fall into the hands of the Mongols—which is why the protagonist, Jinghua, comes from Lin’an, the capital city of the Southern Song Dynasty (modern day Hangzhou). Consequently, I needed to learn as much as I could about the Song as well. I wrote and researched concurrently, so that as world-building questions arose, I could track down the answers through research. Once I had the book as close to finished as I could get it, I worked with my publisher to have a combination of sensitivity readers and academic scholars read the manuscript and offer feedback on authenticity and historical accuracy. Their thoughts and suggestions were invaluable, and the book is much better as a result, in my opinion. My favorite sources of information, however, were two friends who were incredibly generous in answering my many, many questions regarding the representation of a Muslim character (Prince Khalaf) and best practices in the use of Pinyin (Romanized Mandarin Chinese), respectively. When it comes to research, books and articles are great, but people are even better.

4. Yes, that's great you had friends that you could ask. I read that longing is an important emotion for the three main characters in your story. Did you plan that out or did it evolve as you wrote the story? How did you weave it into your characters’ stories?

Personally, I love character-driven novels that make me feel something emotionally, so when I set out to write The Bird and Blade, that idea went without saying. I don’t visualize world or action or even characters very clearly when I write. I tend to feel my way through the creation of a story. Because the focus of the writing is on the characters’ internal lives, their hopes and desires drive the plot (I hope!), which leads to the reader experiencing the characters’ deep sense of longing (I hope!).

5. Your book has gotten great reviews as a beautifully written book that is heartbreaking and makes you cry. Share how you really delved into your characters to make your story pull so much at readers’ hearts. 

The characters’ evolving wants and needs drive the action of this story, so I think it’s only natural that it hurts when things don’t pan out the way the reader might want. Both Jinghua and Khalaf have opportunities to make choices that would greatly improve their personal happiness, but frankly, they both kind of suck at the whole personal happiness thing for different reasons. That can be painful for a reader to watch (read?). And, quite honestly, my favorite scenes to write are the ones that I design to make readers ugly-cry. Sorry, all, but I’m drinking your tears with a heart full of joy. Mwah-ha-ha!

6. You are also a librarian and have a family. What has your writing schedule been like and how have you stuck to a writing schedule that keeps you productive? 

I’ve spent the past five years supporting a family of four while my husband has been working on his Ph.D. (You may all call him Dr. Mike now.) Between work and soccer practice and basketball games and music lessons, it’s been tricky carving out time to write. When I’m on deadline, my alarm is set for 4:45 am. I preset the coffee pot the night before and I have a half-pint jar of oatmeal waiting for me in the fridge when I get out of bed. I write until about 6:30 at which point I have to walk the dog and get ready for work. Since I work Wednesday evenings, Wednesday mornings are a time when I can get a lot accomplished. Unless I have to work a weekend shift or take my kids to a soccer and/or basketball game, I write until noon on Saturdays and Sundays as well. Depending on my writing workload, I put in anywhere from 20-30 hours a week toward my writing career. This schedule is so thoroughly engrained that 7:00am is now “sleeping in” for me, and I turn into an anxious, cranky person when I’m not actively working on a writing project.

7. Sounds like you are incredibly discipline. Your agent is Holly Root. How did she become your agent and what was your road to publication like? 

My agent is Holly Root! How fantastic is that?? I queried nineteen agents between April and June of 2016, and Holly was the first to ask for more pages. I was over the moon when she offered representation. (Because, seriously, Holly Root.) I signed with her in mid-July of 2016. We went on submission at the beginning of August that year, and right after Labor Day, we had an auction and a book deal. So while the book took me a bajillion years to write, querying and selling didn’t take long at all. I consider myself extremely fortunate in that regard. (By the way, my editor is Kristin Daly Rens! How fantastic is that??)

8. What are your plans for marketing your book and what advice do you have for others who are hoping to debut in terms of the planning they should do in the year leading up to their book release? 

My advice to fellow debuts is to do whatever makes you happy. At the end of the day, unless you’re some kind of marketing guru, I suspect that it’s unlikely that your own marketing efforts will tip the needle on sales. Find your jam and stick to that. And don’t do stuff you don’t want to do. Some people love making swag and running pre-order campaigns, and more power to them. Personally, I would rather poke myself in the eye with a sharp stick. I’m sticking with marketing and promotion that I enjoy, particularly public speaking and meeting people. I’m a recovering theater nerd, so I plan to find as many opportunities as I can to talk to readers in person through classroom visits, book signings, panels, etc.

9. That's great that you are comfortable with public speaking. Okay, here’s another librarian question. How can authors connect more with libraries around the country to help get the word out about their books?

Just walking into your public library and saying hi to the librarians is a good start. Of course, library conferences are a way to meet a lot of librarians all in one place, so if you have the funds to send yourself to ALA, PLA, etc. have at it. One avenue I think a lot of authors fail to explore is investigating their state library association. Most, if not all, states have an annual library association conference that is like ALA but on a smaller scale. That’s a great opportunity to interact with librarians on a local level, and it’s usually easier on your pocketbook, too.

10. What are you working on now? 

I have a several projects going. My primary focus is on revisions for a young adult fantasy novel, but I’m also puttering away on a humorous middle grade fantasy between edits, and I’ve started research on a possible young adult historical fiction novel as well. I’d really like to write down the bones of a new project sometime this year if I can swing it.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Megan. You can find Megan at:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/megan.bannen

Megan has generously offered a signed hardback of THE BIRD AND THE BLADE. 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 26th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest.t

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. This giveaway is U.S. and Canada.

Here's what's coming up:

Monday, May 21st I have an agent spotlight interview and query critique giveaway with Natascha Morris

Monday, May 28th I'm off for Memorial Day

Thursday, May 31st I'm participating in the Beach Reads Giveaway Hop

Wednesday, June 6th I have an interview with debut author Adrienne Kisner and a giveaway of her YA contemporary DEAR RACHEL MADDOW

Monday, June 11th I have an interview with debut author Kit Frick and a giveaway of her YA contemporary thriller SEE ALL THE STARS

Wednesday, June 13th I have an agent spotlight interview and query critique giveaway with Gabrielle Piraino

Thursday, June 14th I'm participating in the Splash Into Summer Giveaway Hop 

Hope to see you on Monday!


Greg Pattridge said...

Yay for librarians and teachers, especially ones like Megan who follow their dream and write a book.The plot of this one sounds intense, but also the kind of story you don't want to put down. Let someone else win as my summer reading stack is already three summers high! I will look for this one when time allows.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I love Megan's marketing advice. :) I admire her discipline in managing writing and parenting, too! Looks like a great book.

Christine Rains said...

A wonderful interview with Megan. I admire her discipline, and I love it her favorite scenes to write are those that make the reader ugly-cry! :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'm amazed she had time to research and write book.
Smart advice - do what you enjoy with marketing or you'll just end up hating all of it.

cleemckenzie said...

Loved reading Megan's interview! How great that she landed an agent she loves working with. That's huge.

Thanks, too, for the shout out about Some Very Messy Medieval Magic. Really appreciated that, Natalie.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Megan, if you're comfortable with public speaking, you can do anything.

Thank you for featuring Lee's book today.

Sherry Ellis said...

Such an interesting source for your inspiration! Sounds like a really good book!

Nice to see Lee's book here. I've pre-ordered it. Looking forward to reading it.

Megan said...

Thank you so much for the wonderful giveaway - I'm so excited to read this gorgeous book <3
I follow as Megan S. on GFC and I tweeted here: https://twitter.com/WordsThatStay1/status/996098769883140098

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

An awesome interview. And such a busy schedule. I don't see how you do it all. Makes me feel so lazy. Adding your book to my list. Yes, Lee's book is great. Read it, cause you'll enjoy it.

Joanne R. Fritz said...

Wow! What a great interview! I'm so impressed with her editor being someone I've actually met (at a Highlights workshop) and I agree, Megan, that she's fantastic.

Stephen Tremp said...

Great to see C. Lee McKenzie get another work out to the public. And best wishes to Megan and her latest and greatest!

Rosi said...

Another helpful and interesting interview. Thanks for that. I will pass on the giveaway. Buried in books here.

Morgyn said...

Mongol Empire, slave girl, sing me up!

Angie Quantrell said...

Congratulations! Your book sounds exciting (and tearful!). Great interview! Angelecolline at yahoo dot com. Tweeted @AngieQuantrell

Jennifer Lane said...

Sounds like a fantastic premise and kudos to Megan on all of her research and following her dreams. Her fun, smart personality comes through in this interview.

Erin said...

Sounds like a fantastic book! I love the idea of doing a spin on the Turandot story.

Chrys Fey said...

Congrats to Lee!

The Bird and the Blade sounds like it has many fascinating twists and turns. And I love the premise.

Michelle Wallace said...

Great to see Lee's book here.
I've read the first two books in the Pete and Weasel trilogy, and I'm looking forward to reading this one.

Danielle H. said...

Thanks for the interview and chance to win a book on my want to read list. I shared on tumblr: http://yesreaderwriterpoetmusician.tumblr.com/post/173932229512/megan-bannen-interview-and-the-bird-and-the-blade

Pat Hatt said...

Sure a busy schedule, but still getting time to write is a win. Don't want to become cranky haha

Loni Townsend said...

Grats to Megan. I know what it's like to juggle writing and family!

DMS said...

Congrats to Megan. Sounds like an interesting read. Great cover!

Also- so excited for Lee!

Leslie S. Rose said...

Hooray for another Pete and Weasel adventure from Lee! Megan's book sounds pretty amazing. I'd expect no less from the trifecta of librarian, teacher, and theater nerd. Congrats!

Leela said...

I'm a follower.

Guilie Castillo said...

Excellent interview! I loved the fact that, even after what sounds like extensive research while writing, they had the manuscript read by both sensitivity readers and scholars to ensure historical accuracy—that's commitment, and as a fan of historical fiction just that fact alone would make me pick up the book (I'm adding it to my Goodreads wishlist, though I can't enter the giveaway since I'm not in the US or Canada). And on top of that the subject matter, the characters, the setting and the time period are all fascinating. Looking forward to reading Megan's debut, and wish her much, much success with it and all future projects.

Congratulations to you too, Natalie; I just read on Alex's blog you received the You Rock award—much deserved! And I also wanted to thank you for the super sweet comment you left on Michelle's Writer-in-Transit post on IWSG day for my bit on nonfiction. Really, much, much appreciated.
Guilie @ Life In Dogs

Cathrina Constantine said...

Congratulations to Lee!!!

And Congrats to Megan. The Bird and Blade sounds amazing! Wonderful Interview.

Unknown said...

Following on Instagram which is my main jam lol. LOVE THAT COVER!

Jemi Fraser said...

Yay for Lee - I've got my copy on my Kindle! :)

Megan's books sounds terrific - and I love that cover - just beautiful!

Anonymous said...

This book is on the top of to-read list! It sounds so good.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

I was so sorry to hear about C. Lee McKenzie's husband. I've shared the information about her book on my timeline and my author page. Earlier I had shared it on a blog and I bought and review the book as well. But every little bit can help. She is such a sweet person, and always does so much for other.

Angie Quantrell said...

I really enjoyed reading The Bird and the Blade! Well-written and engaging! Thank you for allowing me to win a copy of this book!