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Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have Ash Van Otterloo here to share about Ash’s MG fantasy Cattywampus. I was dying to read it just from the cover and was able to obtain an ARC from Edelweiss. I was so glad I did. I loved the magic of the hexes, but I especially enjoyed the middle grade issues of friendship, working together, and self-worth that the story explored.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads

The magical story of a hex that goes haywire, and the power of friendship to set things right!

In the town of Howler's Hollow, conjuring magic is strictly off-limits. Only nothing makes Delpha McGill's skin crawl more than rules. So when she finds her family's secret book of hexes, she's itching to use it to banish her mama's money troubles. She just has to keep it quieter than a church mouse -- not exactly Delpha's specialty.

Trouble is, Katybird Hearn is hankering to get her hands on the spell book, too. The daughter of a rival witching family, Katy has reasons of her own for wanting to learn forbidden magic, and she's not going to let an age-old feud or Delpha's contrary ways stop her. But their quarrel accidentally unleashes a hex so heinous it resurrects a graveyard full of angry Hearn and McGill ancestors bent on total destruction. If Delpha and Katy want to reverse the spell in time to save everyone in the Hollow from rampaging zombies, they'll need to mend fences and work together.

Hi Ash! Thanks so much for joining us!

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

I was born in Charlotte, NC, and lived in southern Appalachia for over thirty years! Books have always been a passion and a lifeline for me—fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, non-fic, you name it! Then one day during a difficult period in my life, I began writing a short story with a group of friends, to reconnect with my imagination and having fun. They encouraged me to keep going, and I’ve written nonstop ever since!

2. Awesome how writing with friends got you started writing. Where did you get the idea for your story?

It was a combination of things! I saw a #mswl (manuscript wish list) post from an agent (not mine!) on twitter, asking for a book about Appalachian witches. That general concept stoked a fire inside my heart. I loved the idea so much, I thought about it day and night for weeks!

Then, one day while I was sitting under some trees at the park with my then-nine-year-old daughter, we played the “what-if?” game, a favorite of ours.

I said, “What if a spell went wrong, and you raised an entire graveyard of zombies by accident?” Without missing a beat, she added: “And what if you were RELATED to all of them?”

I whipped out my notebook and scribbled a scene (which is still in the book!) and the title, Cattywampus.

3. What a way to get an idea for a book! What does Cattywampus mean and was this always the title of your book?

Cattywampus means “a little wonky/askew” or “not quite straight.” (For instance, most of my homemade stack-cakes end up looking a little cattywampus! But they’re delicious.)

I’ve always liked the word because I think it reflects a worry most people share: that we’re not quite perfect or somehow weird. And the big secret is, that’s okay! We’re all works in progress, and it can be good and powerful to accept help from those who care about us.

It’s been the title from the very beginning.

4. Share a bit about how you developed the magical system in your story and the hexes that cause so many problems for Delpha and Katybird.

When I was growing up, the people around me often fixed, created, and built things out of odds and
ends they had on hand, coming up with clever ways to patch and repair. Waste not, want not! As a little girl, I was always experimenting with things by trial and error this way, and I wanted to reflect that—the ability to “make do” with sometimes-comical materials—in Delpha’s family magic! They innovate and think on their feet.  

Katy’s magic was borrowed heavily from stories about ancient Irish and Welsh nature deities. The legends about Flidais and Cerridwen especially influenced the Hearn’s magic, and their fierce family love and tendency to be at harmony with the nature around them.  

It was also important to show that magic, just like any skill, often isn’t easy when you first attempt it! And it always costs us something.

5. Delpha and Katybird are both such great, sympathetic characters. Was it hard writing from both of their POV’s? What tips do you have for other writers who want to write a middle grade story using dual POVs?

Confession: I love writing multiple POVs. If I could, I’d write them exclusively! This is likely because my brain acclimates to projects very quickly (read: I have attention span issues), so I find alternating voices helpful in keeping my imagination engaged.

My best tip for writing distinct characters is: get to know them, inside and out! So many things go into making a complex human: our hurts, memories, families, personalities…

A fun exercise is to spend a whole day thinking as your character. (What would they order at this food cart? If someone pays them a compliment, do they deflect? Return the praise? Blush? Why?) Eventually, they might start to remind you of someone you’ve met before, and you can borrow speech patterns or mannerisms that match their personality.

Or: launch a DnD campaign and play as your MC!

Drawing from your own different moods/personality facets can help, too! We talk differently on different days and in different situations. Every person contains multitudes.
6. That's a great idea for anyone to spend a whole day thinking like your character. What was a challenge you had in writing your story and how did you overcome it?

I had to scoop out some deep, personal places in my heart to get the characters’ emotional arcs where they needed to be! It was challenging, but well worth it.

7. Your agent is Lauren Spieller. How did she become your agent and what was your road to publication like?

Lauren first requested my manuscript during a #NoQS contest on Twitter! I was completely over the moon after talking to her on the phone. Not only had TriadaUS been my dream agency for a while (their website was pinned to my toolbar), I knew in my bones Lauren was a perfect fit. Over the course of our agent/client relationship, that gut feeling has been proven a thousand times over! She’s honest, passionate, and insightful.

Lauren suggested heavy revisions, which took a while, but the effort paid off! In late summer of 2017, we officially signed, and then…more revisions just as my family geared up for an across-the-country move!

My fantastic editor, Jenne Abramowitz, picked up CATTYWAMPUS in fall 2018, and the deal was announced shortly after I moved to WA in 2019. The best words to describe it all are “slow-motion whirlwind.”

8. How are you planning to promote your book given the Coronavirus? What is your advice to other writers who may also need to market their book during these challenging times?

Researching the purpose of in-person promotions and meetings has gone a long way to soothe my anxiety! For the most part, readings and events are joyful things that bring celebration to the book launch process. But most sales aren’t generated from in-person events, even though they can be very meaningful and fun. And many authors are doing their launches and readings online!

Personally, I’ve really enjoyed participating in online launches and readings this year that I wouldn’t have been able to attend otherwise! Innovative solutions and creative community are flourishing, even during this very difficult time.

So, my advice is this: borrow a page from Delpha’s book and think outside the box! Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Humans are so resourceful and resilient when we work together. It’s all going to be okay. <3 o:p="">

9. You're making me feel better about not doing so many in-person events. What are you working on now?

Right now, I’m fiddling with an outline for a third book while I wait on edit notes for my ghost book, A TOUCH OF RUCKUS, which comes out from Scholastic in fall 2021!

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

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is hosted by Greg Pattridge. You can find the participating blogs on his blog.

Ash is generously offering an ARC of Cattywampus for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower of my blog and leave a comment by July 18th. 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 U.S.

Here's what's coming up:

Monday, July 13th, I have an interview with debut author Karin Biggs and giveaway of her YA fantasy THE KING'S 100

Monday, July 20th, I have an interview with Jess Redman and a giveaway of her MG contemporary Quintessence

Wednesday, July 22nd, Angela Ackerman of Writers Helping Writers will be here to celebrate the release of THE OCCUPATION THESAURUS written by Becca Puglisi and her with a big giveaway  

Monday, July 27th I have an interview with Olivia Wildenstein and a giveaway of her YA romance Not Another Love Song 

Hope to see you on Monday!


nashvillecats2 said...

An excellent interview which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Hope you are well. Have a good week.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Being related to a huge group of zombies is a great premise!

Jemi Fraser said...

What a fabulous premise and the cover matches it perfectly!

Max @ Completely Full Bookshelf said...

This is a great interview! I love the tips about writing multiple POVs, and the title of this book is fabulous as well! I'll pass on the giveaway, but thanks for the great post!

Ilona Bray said...

I love the "what ifs" that led to this story. Sounds like fun!

Brenda said...

Love these titles, CATTYWAMPUS and A TOUCH OF RUCKUS they both sound like a lot of fun. Have a lovely week Natalie.

Patricia T. said...

What a fascinating interview with Ash. I learned so much! And I love her "what if" game with her daughter led to the premise and a great title for her book! And I love the Appalachian psetting. I can only imagine research she had to do on the feuding families. Congratulations Ash on your launch!

Greg Pattridge said...

I enjoyed reading how Ash got inspiration for her story. She's teaching all of us a lesson to stick with it. Her book sounds great. Thanks for the interview. Fun read.

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

A book of hexes. Interesting. Great interview. Best wishes to you. Have a super week.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

What a delightful idea for a story. She needs to bounce more ideas off her daughter.

Jenni said...

Love this title and the delightful cover! It sure makes you want to pick up this book. I liked Ash's idea about pretending to be your character for the day. What great advice!

www.switchthekettleonlove.com said...

Thank you! What a positive, uplifting post filled with great ideas.

Robin said...

Oh, I'm a NC girl, and always love finding stories set here. Cattywampus sounds so fun!

Danielle H. said...

This book sounds fun to read with an excellent setting. I shared on tumblr: https://yesreaderwriterpoetmusician.tumblr.com/post/623002799073034240/ash-van-otterloo-interview-and-cattywampus

Sandra Cox said...

What a fun storyline AND an author from NC. Yay.
AND lots of info and giveaways.
Hope you both have a productive, pleasant week.

Rosi said...

I don't read a lot of fantasy, but this will be an exception. It sounds soooo good. I really enjoyed reading about this book journey. Thanks for the post and a chance to win a copy.

Angela Brown said...

I'm always fascinated by "origin" stories for the stories authors pen, and this one hits close to home with a mom and daughter using their imagination to come up with something spectacular.

Enjoyed the interview as always :-)

Sherry Ellis said...

I love the word, Cattywampus! And such a great cover!

Nick Wilford said...

Excellent interview! Thinking as your character for the day is a great idea.

Sandra Cox said...

So great that you found the purrfect agent. That doesn't always happen. It's bound to make a huge difference.

'Lo, Natalie:)

Natasha said...

Great interview!
Thanks for the chance to win!
natasha_donohoo_8 at hotmail dot com

Debra Branigan said...

I really enjoyed the interview. I think the book sounds like a very fun read for middle graders. Best wishes on the new book.
I shared on twitter (https://twitter.com/BraniganDebra/status/1283014924487274498?s=20) email: dbranigan27 (at) gmail(dot) com.

Sabrina said...

I have been waiting for this book to release. I know I will love it and so will my daughters!

Cindy C said...

Ash - your novel sounds awesome. I live in Charlotte, NC and write middle grade too. Hope we can meet sometime!

Jim said...

I like the artwork on the cover

Betty C said...

I loved the interview. I shared on Twitter and Facebook and am vollowing you on both. BTW Cattywampus is a word I grew up with and I still use it when things don't go quite right.

Betty C said...

Sorry, my fingers don't know how to spell today.