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Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Josh Roberts here to share about his MG fantasy/mystery THE WITCHES OF WILLOW COVE. I read an ARC and really enjoyed it. It’s got witches and magic, which I love, and also deals with issues you see in contemporary MG like friendships, romance, and trying to fit in. It’s a really action-packed story too that never drags. I know a lot of you that read middle grade novels would enjoy this one.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

Six teenage witches. One mysterious stranger. A secret that could destroy them all.

It's not easy being a teenage witch. Seventh grader Abby Shepherd is just getting the hang of it when weird stuff starts happening all around her hometown of Willow Cove. Green slime bubbling to life in science class. Giant snakes slithering around the middle school gym. Her best friend suddenly keeping secrets and telling lies.
Things only begin to make sense when a stranger named Miss Winters reveals that Abby isn't the only young witch in town--and that Willow Cove is home to a secret past that connects them all. Miss Winters, herself a witch, even offers to teach Abby and the others everything she knows about witchcraft.
But as Abby learns more about Miss Winters' past, she begins to suspect her new mentor is keeping secrets of her own. Can Abby trust her, or does Miss Winters have something wicked planned for the young witches of Willow Cove?

Hi Josh! Thanks so much for joining us.

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

Like most writers, I got into writing because I love stories. Not just telling them, but reading them, too. Especially reading them. I love books, and so writing one myself was always something I wanted to do. Thank goodness I didn’t realize how difficult it would be or I might never have gotten started. 

I often tell people that The Witches of Willow Cove is the book that taught me how to write a book. I made just about every mistake you can make as a writer in my early drafts, but I tried to learn from them and improve with each revision. I suppose I could have given up and written something else, but this was always the story I wanted to tell first, so it’s the one I kept coming back to and improving with each new draft. 

It was a long road from the first draft to the finished novel, but the upside of that is I’ve had a lot of time to figure out where I want to take this cast of characters in future novels before all is said and done. I’m well into the second book in the series now and having a ton of fun writing it.
2. Good to know that I'm not the only one who made a ton of mistakes in my first book. Where did you get the idea for THE WITCHES OF WILLOW COVE?

Growing up a few towns over from Salem, Massachusetts, I was always aware of the witch trials and how fundamental they were to our local history and lore. What fascinated me most, though, was the fact that what we think of as the Salem Witch Trials actually occurred in another town that used to be part of Salem, but no longer is. Salem gets all the tourists, but the witch history happened elsewhere.

I love the concept of a small town with a secret history, because it offers such rich territory to explore as a writer. What if you were growing up in that town and didn’t know anything about its secret past? What if as you learned about it, you discovered you had a special connection to it? Once I had that kernel of an idea, the rest of the story began to fall into place bit by bit until I was ready to sit down and see where it led me.

3. I loved the fact that Abby and some of her friends are witches and the magical powers they have. Share about how you developed this part of your story.

I suppose in some ways it was inevitable—you set out to write a story about witchcraft and witch history, some of the characters are going to end up being witches! It’s not something that arrived fully formed in my mind, though. I wrote the first scene, and then the second one, and pretty soon it was obvious to me that Abby was going to have to be a witch. But the other characters, and the idea of their coven and its connection to the witch lore of the area developed and deepened as the story itself developed and deepened.

I will say one thing that was always important to me, and served as a sort of guiding principle throughout, was that I never wanted to trivialize or romanticize the historical tragedy of the witch trials. The women (and some men) persecuted in the seventeenth century were not magical witches, they were victims, and it would have felt wrong to me to try to capitalize on their suffering by fictionalizing their story into something other than the tragedy it was.

I suppose that’s another reason I was attracted to the idea of a secret history. Those poor victims you learned about in history class? They weren’t witches. But these others girls…? Pull up a chair and let me tell you a story.

4. That's great how you turned the focus around in your story. You also have Abby and her friends trying to solve a centuries-old mystery. What’s really interesting is that Abby and her friends who are witches are trying to figure it out and then her best friend Robby and two other friends are also trying to figure it out on their own. How did you weave it all together and keep it all straight as you wrote this story?

I love that people might read my book and imagine themselves with magical powers, and I hope they
can identify with Abby and her friends and see themselves reflected in those characters. But I also hope people come away remembering that you don’t need magical powers to be remarkable—even in a story like this. Robby, Becca, and Zeus are meant to remind us that ordinary kids can make a difference, too.

Once I had the idea of Abby and her friends learning magic and developing that part of the story, it seemed natural for Robby and his friends to go the amateur detective route to solve the centuries-old mystery. The challenge wasn’t so much keeping it all straight as it was making sure that both story lines were progressing at about the same rate so that their major revelations happened at the same time before the two stories intersected again.

I will say that if I’d known how hard it would be to write a dual POV narrative with two main characters, I probably never would have done it. This is essentially two books in one, which might explain why my first draft was 150,000 words long. (The final published version is exactly half that long.)

5. You'd never know that you started with such a large word count. Another thing I enjoyed about your story was your pacing. It never lagged because there was always something going on. What were some of your techniques for making your story a page-turner?

I outline, but I don’t always stick to that outline. I leave myself room for surprises and if a better idea comes along as I’m writing—even if it blows up the entire plan—I go with it. Every time I sit down to write a chapter, I ask myself, “What is the most exciting thing that could happen right now?” Then I usually try to figure out how to make it happen.

6. That's a great question to ask yourself as you write. What was your road to publication like?

It was torture! I waited a long time to query because I knew the book wasn’t ready. Once I had the story where I wanted it, though, I began to send it out and quickly got requests for the full manuscript. Those were hopeful days that eventually led to a lot of disappointment.

Everyone seemed to have a different opinion about where the book should be positioned. I made a conscious choice to write a book with 13-year-old main characters, and the most consistent feedback I received was that the characters should either be aged down to address more typical middle grade themes, or aged up to go after the young adult audience.

Honestly, I felt a bit adrift because of that. The book I wrote—the story I wanted to tell—was entirely about that in-between age, and it was frustrating that there didn’t seem to be a home for stories like this in the publishing world. I tried to fulfill those “revise and resubmit” requests with younger and older versions of the main cast, but it never felt right to me. Ultimately, I decided to make one more pass at it with my original vision of the story and themes and send it around again.

I almost couldn’t believe it when someone finally said yes! And I’m thrilled to have found a supportive and enthusiastic publisher in Owl Hollow Press who shares my vision for a series of stories about these characters that will fully bridge the gap from middle grade to young adult.

7. You’ve also written articles for other publications, like USA Today and The Boston Sunday Globe. Has this helped you in your MG writing or in getting published? If so, how?

I’m a travel journalist by trade, and good travel journalism is all about setting the scene and telling a story. That has definitely helped me learn to be a writer, but as I alluded to earlier, there are some things about writing a novel that you can only learn by writing (and rewriting) a novel. It’s harder than it looks!

8. How are you marketing your book, especially in light of the Coronavirus?

It’s definitely a challenge I never anticipated. My launch party has been indefinitely postponed and
replaced with a virtual event. I’d scheduled book signings at stores all around the country, and those were are also either canceled or postponed. Most of the marketing has moved online now, and we’ve done a ton of ARC giveaways to generate early reviews and buzz on Goodreads, NetGalley, and social media.

I’ve lost count of how many independent bookstores I’ve contacted, too, but it’s not an easy situation for anyone, because most of those stores are still closed to customers and many are struggling to stay afloat. Mostly I’m just offering to be involved in any way that would be helpful—virtual events, signed copies, that kind of thing. My local bookstore, Copper Dog Books, is offering signed copies and can ship them anywhere in the U.S. and Canada.

I’m hopeful that by the fall the world will have reached something that more closely resembles normal life, and fall seems like a good time to try to promote my book again. It’s a Halloween story, after all. I’m biased but I think it would make a great addition to any bookstore’s or library’s Halloween display.

9. What are you working on now?

I’m deep into the sequel to The Witches of Willow Cove, and I’m desperate to share details about it with everyone… but I really should finish it first. I will share one thing, though. Book two jumps ahead by half a year and begins on Abby’s fourteenth birthday.

I’m also writing a young adult adventure novel set on the eve of World War II—that one’s about half finished and I absolutely love working on it—and I have a few chapters written in another spooky middle grade book that I’m especially excited about, too. (Totally unrelated to Willow Cove.) So, there’s no shortage of things to keep me busy.

Thanks for all your advice, Josh. You can find Josh at:
Signed copies (shipped to US and Canada): https://www.copperdogbooks.com/book/9781945654497 

Josh has generously offered a hardback of THE WITCHES OF WILLOW COVE for a giveaway.  To enter, all you need to do is be a follower  of my blog and leave a comment by June 20th. 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. This giveaway is international.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (Wednesday for me this month) is hosted by Greg Pattridge. You can find the participating blogs on his blog.

Here's what's coming up:

Monday, June 15th I have a guest post by MG and picture book author Elaine Kaye and a giveaway of three of her picture books

Wednesday, June 17th I have an agent spotlight interview with Kristina Perez and a query critique giveaway

Monday, June 22nd I have an interview with author Niki Lenz and a giveaway of her MG humorous contemporary THE STEPMOM SHAKEUP

Wednesday, July 1st I have Chrys Fey here with a guest post and an e-book giveaway of one of her books

Hope to see you on Monday!


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Congratulations to Josh! I'm glad he went with his gut and didn't age-down or age-up his story and characters.

Matt Sweeney said...

I had actually looked at this and passed. But after reading Josh's interview, I'm way more intrigued. I'll definitely put this on my TBR!

Max @ Completely Full Bookshelf said...

I've heard a lot about this book, so it was really interesting to read this interview! It was interesting to hear about how Roberts avoided glorifying the Salem Witch Trials, and it's amazing that the book's word count dropped by so much! Thanks for the great interview!

Greg Pattridge said...

I fully understand how word count can exponentially increase as you write a story. Can't imagine trimming it in half. Best of luck Josh. I've put this title on my future read list.

Danielle H. said...

Thanks for the interview--I love that this exciting book will have a sequel. I have this on my TBR. Secrets and witches sound so much fun. I shared on tumblr: https://yesreaderwriterpoetmusician.tumblr.com/post/620372542621941760/josh-roberts-interview-and-the-witches-of-willow

Computer Tutor said...

"I outline, but I don’t always stick to that outline." Love that, and agree!

mshatch said...

Magic and witches - just what I like :)

Michelle Mason said...

I feel for all of the authors debuting during this time. Best of luck!

Brenda said...

The Witches of Willow Cove sounds wonderful and a huge congrats to Josh!!

Ilona Bray said...

Ooh, witches and secrets, I want to read this.

Patricia T. said...

Different twist on witches and magic. I'm glad that you kept the characters ages in "inbetween" as I think you touch an important group of readers. Enjoyed the interview a lot -- didn't realize that the witch trials weren't in Salem. thank you for sharing your story to publication! You're there and I look forward to reading your book! My husband's composer uncle took Arthur Miller's "Cruicible" and made it an opera. So I have a soft spot for the Salem Witch trials.

Rosi said...

A mystery and witches. Sounds good to me. I love Josh's writing question, “What is the most exciting thing that could happen right now?” I'm stealing that one. Thanks for a great post.

Mary Preston said...

Sounds great to me.


Music That Doesn't Suck said...

Great read. I'm also querying a book with 13/14 year old protagonists. I'd love a copy of the book, as would my daughter for her podcast, Cordelia's Book Nook. waughwright@gmail.com

MorganeG. said...

Sounds wonderful, I'm very into witches at the mmoment!

Karin Larson said...

Congratulations, Josh. The Witches of Willow Cove sounds wonderful and exactly what I would have loved to read at that age. I'm looking forward to reading it. I love the idea of bridging the gap between younger readers and YA and agree it is important to target these readers.

Angie Quantrell said...

Congratulations, Josh. I'm glad you stuck with you placing of the story and found someone who "got" your story. Best wishes!

I will tweet this.

T.W. Kirchner said...

Congratulations on getting published. It sounds like a fun read.

Unknown said...

I love reading about the process an author goes through when writing and promoting their stories. My middle schoolers will eat this story up!

tetewa said...

This would be a new author for me and the book sounds good! tWarner419@aol.com

Jay Linden said...

Best of luck Josh - and thanks for that great tip of asking what is the most exciting thing that can happen in this scene? - a gem - I look forward to reading your work

Tyrean Martinson said...

Josh - Your book sounds really cool. I love that you chose to include both "powered" and unpowered characters who solve a mystery and make a difference. I also love that you managed to get the right fit for your book and your character's age range.
Wonderful interview, Natalie!

DMS said...

This sounds like an amazing book. I love the title and cover. Wishing Josh all the best! It's hard to have a book come out right now- but I am glad he is getting support from his local indie. :) Thanks for sharing. I am adding this one to my list.

lkrichmanauthor said...

I love how Josh powered through the "That book does not fit the mold" to write a book for those in-betweeners. On my list :)

Charlotte said...

Looking forward to this one! (I follow you on Bloglovin). Thanks!

Melanie B said...

Sounds like a good book, thanks for the chance! Following you on twitter and your blog!

melanie_brac (at) yahoo (dot) com