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Author Interview: Refe Tuma and Frances and the Monster Giveaway

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have Refe Tuma here to share about his MG contemporary fantasy, Frances and the Werewolves of the Black Forest. He and his agent did a guest post when his debut book, Frances and the Monster released. I really enjoy contemporary fantasies and am excited to read his new book.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:


"A joy to read!" --New York Times bestselling author Margaret Peterson Haddix

Child genius and budding inventor Frances is in trouble. Her dreams of scientific glory were dashed when her first big experiment nearly destroyed her whole town. So when a prestigious society invites her to their symposium, Frances sees it as a chance to redeem herself.

On the way there, her train is hijacked, and she and her friend Luca flee into the Black Forest. Seeking shelter with a group of orphans, Frances learns the rules of the woods: Never travel alone. Never make a sound. Because something hunts in the shadows, something with glowing eyes and sharp teeth.

Frances is no stranger to monsters, but she quickly learns there are forces more terrifying than she ever imagined...and that the key to defeating them might lie in her own scientific discoveries. With Luca and the orphans at her side, Frances must again face the horrifying, this time determined to stop evil and make a name for herself, once and for all.

Filled with friendship, humor, daring deeds, and a spunky main character who will definitely steal your heart, this historical fantasy is perfect for fans of Serafina and the Black Cloak and Greenglass House.

Hi Refe! Thanks so much for joining us.

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

Hi Natalie! Thank you for having me back on your blog.

I taught myself to read when I was very young and started writing shortly after. My dad was an illustrator and I liked to tag along to the art supplies store to stock up on these big sketchbooks with black, faux-leather covers. The plan was always to fill every page with words and drawings so that, at the end, I’d have a complete book. I think the furthest I ever got was around twelve or thirteen pages, which included a title page, dedication, and a (highly aspirational) table of contents.

In middle school and high school, my focus shifted to music. I wrote songs and played in local bands and spent a lot of time I should have been in class tinkering with the music notation software in the band room. After that, I studied filmmaking and wrote a few short screenplays I never got around to shooting.

Through it all, I never stopped telling stories. It took different forms—music, movies, picture books, novels—but I was always writing.

2. Where did you get the idea for this series?

Mary Shelley’s groundbreaking Frankenstein and the classic monster movies it spawned were of course a major inspiration for Frances and the Monster. Eagle-eyed Frankenstein fans will find all sorts of easter eggs from Shelley’s life and works in both Frances and the Monster and Frances and the Werewolves of the Black Forest, with even more obscure references to things like Frankenstein VS the Wolfman in the latter.

But the first seeds of the Frances series were actually planted by the ‘Magician’s Apprentice’ sequence of Disney’s Fantasia. The idea of the apprentice being so impatient to skip ahead get to the good stuff—mastery—really resonated with me. That was me as a kid. Always impatient to jump straight to adulthood, and cocky enough to think I was ready. So, Frances ended up with a healthy dose of both qualities. And like the magician’s apprentice, when she gives into those impulses, she creates a monster.

About Your Writing Process

3. What was your plotting process for Frances and the Werewolves of the Black Forest? Has it changed at all since you wrote your first book? If so, how?

Frances and the Monster was such an evolution. The plot emerged as I wrote, and the themes, structure, and voice took shape in revision. The process took years, and I was learning as I went along.

Writing Frances and the Werewolves of the Black Forest was a very different experience. I was working under deadline, for one thing. I couldn’t spend as much time exploring and experimenting without a clear path to completion. Thankfully, I had a strong sense of the story I wanted to tell with Frances’s second adventure, and the emotional journey I wanted to take her on. The major beats and turning points were there before I had even completed book one.

The biggest challenge was the book’s opening chapters. I considered a number of scenarios and different ways to kick off the events of the story before settling on what I feel is the perfect balance of fun and quirky and intimate. I love the way the reader is reintroduced to Frances and her life after the shocking events at the end of book one, and how that reintroduction frames the larger adventure.

Maybe someday I’ll clean up the Hobbes-gets-kidnapped version of the opening and put it up on my blog…

4. You already had a publishing contract and deadlines to meet when you wrote your second book. How did you draft your manuscript and revise it on a schedule? What are your tips for other writers like me who are afraid that they write too slowly to finish a manuscript on a publisher’s schedule?

Writing a first novel is like climbing a mountain where you can’t see the top. It can feel so impossible, the path so often undefined—right up to the moment you type ‘The End.’ Then you’re there, at the summit, and the clouds have cleared and the path you climbed doesn’t seem quite so long anymore.

That view from ‘The End’ was an incredible benefit when I started book two. I had done it once, so I knew I could do it again. More than that, I knew so much more about myself as a writer. I knew what I did and did not need to achieve in my first draft, and my second. I could trust myself a little more and trust the process.

And never underestimate the value of a good editor! Yes, you have a deadline, but that means you also have a partner whose skill and talent and dedication to your manuscript is there to keep you moving forward and pry you loose when you get stuck. It’s a huge advantage most writers don’t have until much later in the process while crafting their debut.

5. It’s reassuring to know that it’s possible to write on contract, one of my greatest fears. What was a challenge you faced in writing your second book? How did you overcome it?

Frances and the Werewolves of the Black Forest expands the world I built for Frances and the Monster in a few significant ways. One of those ways is the addition of a much larger ensemble of characters. I kept the cast of Frances and the Monster tight because even the handful of people Frances meets along her journey represent a massive shift in her life, which is so isolated until her search for the monster begins. Writing for so many characters in the sequel added a new layer of complexity—ensuring each new character had a voice that was engaging and distinct, and that every member of the cast was both interesting and irreplaceable. I love writing dialogue, so having so many voices and personalities to play with was a dream come true. The biggest challenge was determining what to cut!

The new characters also gave me the opportunity to write in more of one thing that is very important to me: sign language. Several members of my extended family are hard of hearing or deaf, and I had an appreciation for signing instilled in me from a young age. I remember visiting my grandparents and sitting up with my grandfather, learning signs well past my bedtime. I worked with authenticity readers to help make sure that my depiction of the sign languages in the book and of a deaf character were as accurate as possible. I learned a ton, and I sincerely hope reading Frances and the Werewolves of the Black Forest will be a great experience for kids who sign.

Your Road to Publication

6. That’s great that you were able to write more in sign language. You had to find a new agent after your debut book was released. How did you find your new agent? Do you think it was easier to find a new agent as a published author?

I had a good relationship with my previous agent, so when she had to step away, there was obviously a period of uncertainty. I was also in the middle of revisions for Frances and the Werewolves of the Black Forest, which added to the unknowns.

Thankfully, that uncertainty didn’t last long. My agency, The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, was committed to keeping me on and quickly connected me with Senior Agent Marie Lamba. We spoke a few times on the phone to make sure we’d be a good match, and I reached out to a few of her clients to get their perspectives on working with her. Their glowing feedback made it an obvious choice. Marie has already proven to be a great partner and advocate.

When it comes to your question about previous publishing credits, I think they function in much the same way for agents as an agent’s client list does for authors. We look at an agents list to help us figure out if their tastes and networks will be a good fit for our work. So, it makes sense that agents would look at our body of work to determine if we’ll be a good fit for them. In the end, though, the manuscript reigns supreme. My agent might have liked my What the Dinosaurs Did picture books, but I don’t think that would have made much difference if they didn’t think they could sell and continue to advocate for Frances and the Monster and Frances and the Werewolves of the Black Forest.

7. Share what it was like to work with a new agent when you already were working on a manuscript that you were under contract to write? What tips do you have for other authors who find themselves looking for a new agent in a similar situation?

I’m not going to lie—it was a little nerve-wracking! Even remaining in-house at the same agency and connecting with such a talented agent so quickly, taking on a new partner in the middle of a deadline has its risks. Every interaction between you and your new agent, and your new agent and your editor, is a first. Can I rely on this person? Will everyone get along?

My advice to authors in similar situations is to focus on the work. Agents are important and a great author-agent partnership are invaluable. But, in the end, it’s the work that matters. Put your energy into your characters and your story. Hit your deadlines. Meet your contractual obligations. Even the best agents in the world can’t do that for you. Then, when the work is in a good place, focus on representation.


8. How are you planning to market Frances and the Werewolves of the Black Forest? Is it different from how you promoted your first book? If so, why did you make the change?

School and library visits will be my primary focus when Frances and the Werewolves of the Black Forest hits shelves this summer. My top priority is getting my books into the hands of the kids who will enjoy them most, and there’s no better way to do that than visiting them where they are. I’ve already started building my visits and events schedule for next year, focusing on the Chicagoland area, then moving out from there. I try to do as many as I can in-person, but virtual visits have been a lot of fun, too. I’ll also be speaking at the NCTE Conference in Ohio this November, so I’m hoping to book a few visits in the area for while I’m there.

9. I’m envious. It sounds like your marketing is all under control. Share some tips on marketing a debut book that you learned from being a debut author.

The best advice I can give to an author preparing for their debut is to take the long view. Launch day is important because you can sometimes make a bigger splash, but it’s ultimately just a single day. Many books—especially for the middle grade category—take time to find readers and build awareness. Give yourself some time and space to figure out what about your book or your message is resonating with people and find ways to look for them there.

10. What are you working on now?

I’ve got a few projects up my sleeve. I’m hoping for the opportunity to finish the Frances trilogy with the third and final book, so I’ve been focused on that along with another middle grade story that has been percolating a while. I’ve also been exploring few different picture book concepts with my wife and frequent co-author Susan Tuma that I’m very excited about. But really, this summer is all about Frances and the Werewolves of the Black Forest!

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Refe. You can find more information about Refe and his books at www.refetuma.com, on Twitter at www.twitter.com/refeup, and on Instagram at www.instagram.com/refetuma. Frances and the Monster is now available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook, and Frances and the Werewolves of the Black Forest hits shelves August 22.

Giveaway Details

Refe is generously offering a hardback of Frances and the Monster, stickers, and bookmarks for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower of my blog (via the follower gadget, email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment by July 22nd. If your email 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 or Refe on his social media sites, 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 book giveaway is U.S.

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

Upcoming Interviews, Guest Posts, and Blog Hops

FYI, I do not have as much planned this summer. I’m taking a little break to enjoy my daughter’s wedding celebrations and to help get ready for the wedding.

Saturday, July 15 I’m participating in the Sip Sip Hooray Giveaway Hop

Monday, July 25 I have an agent spotlight interview with Danielle Hunter and a query critique giveaway

Tuesday, August 1 I’m participating in the Apple a Day Giveaway Hop

Wednesday, August 2 I have an interview with debut author Vanessa Montalban and a giveaway of her YA contemporary fantasy A Tall Dark Promise

Monday, August 7 I have an agent spotlight interview with Jane Chun and a query critique giveaway

Wednesday, August 16 I’m participating in the Old School Giveaway Hop

Hope to see you on Saturday!




Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Growing up with an illustrator would be a cool way to get introduced to the creative life! Congrats on the new book.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Sign language. There's something you don't see in books.

Valinora Troy said...

Great interview, really interesting, and the book also sounds great, so hopefully it will make its way over to this side of the world! Sadly not eligible for the giveaway! Thanks Natalie!

Computer Tutor said...

This sounds like a really fun book. I love when the MC outthinks her/his enemies.

Sue Heavenrich said...

Great interview! And this book sounds like a whole lot of fun... and possibly the teeniest bit scary. I love the idea of incorporating sign language into the story and can't wait to see how it looks in print.

Danielle H. said...

I'm excited to read this fun book! Thank you for the interview! I follow Natalie and the author on both Twitter and Instagram and shared on tumblr: https://www.tumblr.com/yesreaderwriterpoetmusician/722471163394195456

Kate Larkindale said...

Sounds like a fun read! Love me a werewolf!

Brenda said...

Sounds like a very interesting story and love the incorporation of sign language into the story.

Max @ Completely Full Bookshelf said...

This was such an interesting interview to read! Writing under contract sounds nerve-racking to me too, so it's really fascinating to hear about what kept Mr. Tuma going throughout that process, including the value of a good editor. I'll pass on the giveaway, but thanks so much for the thoughtful interview, Natalie!

Liz A. said...

Changing agents mid-publication would be nerve-wracking for anyone. Yikes.

traveler said...

Wonderful interview, fascinating and captivating novel. Unique and special. What a treasure. A very creative author. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

Greg Pattridge said...

Excellent interview thanks to Refe's personal insights into writing and the publishing process. The book has an engaging plot and one that I've added to my future read list. Thanks for featuring your post on MMGM this week.

Maryanne said...

I've recently started to learn more about elementary and middle grade books since I have a nibling who can read them and this sounds like a winner!

CJ Penko said...

Well now i have to read the first one!! Great interview! thank you so much for stopping by to share your story! ❤️🐺🛤️

Sandra Cox said...

This read sounds like all sorts of fun. Wishing you much success.
'Lo, Natalie:)

Allie said...

sounds like a fun read! as someone that works with children of all abilities, I use basic sign language in some of my sessions and am thrilled to see that it is being included in a novel. i've never heard of this before! what a great idea. my email is happilyunboxing(at)gmail.com. thank you for the interesting post and chance to win a copy!

Sarah Skolfield said...

I haven't read an MG fantasy yet. Will check these out!

Rosi said...

I always enjoy reading your interviews, and this is no exception. Excellent job. The book sounds like one middle-graders will love. I'm sure it will be very successful. I'll pass on the giveaway. I'm buried in books. Thanks for the post.

tetewa said...

Enjoyed the post today, would love to get a copy!

Kerry Hansen (she/her) said...

I'm dying to read these books! They look wonderful. I also promoted the blog on Twitter.

Out_In_A_Cornfield said...

My middle grade son is a tough one to find a book he wants to and then enjoys reading. This adventure and monster combo is right up his alley! THanks for the chance! - Chris

Leela said...

I'm an email subscriber.

polly said...

Great interview. Book looks interesting. Also, an email subscriber.

AA Haynes said...

Please enter me in giveaway! I can't wait to read this. I love Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
I follow via Bloglovin'.
Following you and Refe on Twitter, and also Refe on Goodreads.


Jessica Peeling said...

Following on GFC and by email as jessicapeeling@yahoo.com

Tonja Drecker said...

The "Her dreams of scientific glory were dashed when her first big experiment nearly destroyed her whole town" already has me hooked. Thanks for the heads-up!

Nancy P said...

Looks amazing! Follow on Twitter & gadget. Positive.ideas.4youATgmail.com

Elizabeth Varadan said...

Congratulations on Refe's new book. I'm especially impressed that he could come up with a sign language version. That must be so welcomed by the sign community.