Interview with Laura Selinsky: Whitstead Books

I post this today for those who celebrate Christmas, and who have a little leisure at this busy time – which may be a very select few! But I hope it will be of interest at other times of the year as well.

Back in the depths of last December, I got a lovely little gift-box of a book, Whitstead Christmastide.

More than just a collection of stories on a theme, this is a collaboration between editors and authors to create a small English village, complete with a map and people whose paths cross and intertwine. The book was good for my soul, and warmed and cheered the long winter nights.

The collaboration continues with Whitstead Harvestide (which I quite enjoyed this past this autumn), and Whitstead Summertide, which I’m hoping will come out next summer.

I was intrigued with how this creation came about, and had many questions. So I asked my good friend Laura Selinsky, who has stories residing in all three volumes.

Gemma: How did you find out about Whitstead Christmastide?

Laura: The Whitstead Christmastide idea was proposed by Abigail Falanga, a wonderful speculative fiction author whom I “met” via social media. We share associations with Realmmakers, an organization for Christian speculative fiction authors, and have both written for Havok Publishing, which produces daily flash. Abigail, who became Whitstead’s first editor, suggested developing a Christmas anthology of short stories set in an English village in Dickens’ era. I immediately offered to write a Christmas Carol-inspired piece for Whitstead. I’m a high school British Literature teacher, so that’s a world I enter comfortably.

Gemma: How did you go about becoming one of its authors?

Laura: Waving my arms and shouting “Pick me!” on Facebook was my foremost method of getting into the initial anthology, which is independently published. The project attracted an interesting mix of aspiring prepublication authors and accomplished ones. I volunteered my Christmas Carol for consideration before the first Whitstead book had a title, and I followed up consistently with every hint that the anthology would become a reality. My diligence doesn’t mean that the editors couldn’t have decided to reject my stories. Jane Yolan has 400 books published, but she still gets rejections! 

Gemma: How did the collaboration work? For example, how was the map decided on? Did you communicate with other authors, or only the editors? 

Laura: The Whitstead collaboration has run largely through a Facebook Group that allows us to share characters and ideas with both the editors and the other authors. That’s where the map developed and where people share information about stories. We also answer each other’s questions about the era, both its social and writing practices. You never know what obscure information you may need for a story or who may have the answers you need. I recently answered questions about the trees in Victorian cemeteries, information I had acquired while preparing to teach Dracula for the umpteenth time.

Gemma: Your stories largely center around Whitwillow Farm. Where is that on the map?

Laura: The map has been -uhm- flexible, as authors and plot lines came and went. Whitwillow Farm has theoretically been at number 26 in Books 1, 2 & 3. Last week, I saw the map for Book 3. On the newest map, my farm remains at number 26 between two other country farms. Keeping Whitwillow Farm outside of the village has been crucial to the plot of all three of my stories.

Gemma: How was the writing, submission, and collaboration different for the second and third books? 

Laura: As an author, I felt less terror that my work would be rejected once Book 1 went to print. For Book 3, my rejection terror level has subsided from “hysterical” to “moderate.” One very positive feature of writing a series has been the increase in collaboration and encouragement as the books have continued. In Whitstead Harvestide and the upcoming Whitstead Summertide, I made reference to a character having been lured away by a fossegrim, a Norwegian fiddle-playing demon that is the focus of another author’s stories. The fossegrim is only in my stories with the other author’s permission.

Gemma: Can the books be read in any order?

Laura: Certainly, the Whitstead stories can be read in any order. Our anthologies are planned for stand-alone speculative fiction stories. I wrote characters and subplots that connect from book to book, but reading all three books or reading them in publication order is not essential. When I drafted the third story, my critique group graciously read for consistency and development of character between it and the two previous stories. So if someone read my Whitwillow Farm stories in publication order, they won’t be disappointed.

Gemma: I have read the first two in order, and was delighted to see how many of the stories and characters progressed. (Some stories in the second anthology are independent of the tales in the first book, but still integrally woven into Whitstead.)

Laura: If you are interested in our adventures in Whitstead, my author page links to the first two Whitstead books, and a link for Whitstead Summertide will appear on that page when the book is released! https://www.amazon.com/author/laura-nelson-selinsky

Gemma: thank you for taking part in my blog and answering my questions, Laura!

Readers: if you are looking for some warm-hearted Christmas reading, or perhaps a very last-minute gift, I recommend Whitstead Christmastide. The e-book is available instantly on Barnes & Noble and Amazon, and you can find Whitstead Harvestide both places as well.

If you’d like to read a bit more from Laura on my blog, here are a couple guest blogs, (one also Christmasy), and a different interview with her.

Wishing a Merry Christmas to all who celebrate, and a happy, healthy mid-winter to all.

Book Review: The Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner

I fell in love with Gen the Thief nearly twenty years ago. I was a volunteer shelving in the Young Adult area of our local library, my favorite section, and was looking over The Queen of Attolia; the cover and title intrigued me. A young woman, not much older than a young adult herself, said, “That’s a great series! But don’t start with that book. You need to start with The Thief. In fact, try to forget what you read on that cover.” I had a fun conversation with her. And it turned out she was right in every way. I managed to forget most of what I read on The Queen of Attolia’s cover, and as soon as I started The Thief, I was captivated.

Gen, who is hardly more than a boy, brags he can steal anything. An audacious theft lands him chained in the king’s prison. Matters are rather grim. But the king’s scholarly advisor, the magus, has plans to use Gen as a tool for the king’s advantage. Thus begins a twisting adventure, told in Gen’s wry, wily, cranky voice.

And that is only the beginning! There are six books, a grand series told over twenty years in our time, but only a few years (I think) in the world of the book.

These stories at first feel less like high fantasy and more like, as Laini Taylor says, “a secret, discovered history of real but forgotten lands.” There are resemblances to the landscape and culture of Ancient Greece, “if a civilization like theirs had developed another thousand years without the rise of monotheism,” as Megan Whalen Turner wrote in her note at the end of The Thief. Several echoes of Ancient Greece appear over the course of the series. The mythology, largely Turner’s own, is rich and real – more real to some of the people in the books than others. There are myths recounted by characters throughout the books, and they are some of my favorite parts.

Barnes & Noble’s website says that the novels can be read in any order – but good heavens, DON’T do that. It’s true that each book is a complete story in itself – no cliff-hangers sent me rushing to the next book. But there is a larger story told over the course of all the novels. Story threads weave through, intertwine and form greater threads. People in the books grow and evolve and change over time, some of them in remarkable ways. A book will mean so much more if you’ve read all the books that came before it.

So start with The Thief – read the back description if you like, and if it intrigues you, dive in.

I started the final book, The Return of the Thief, with some trepidation and even dread – fearing that some character I’d grown to love would die. And I deeply loved so many of these people. This last book brought tears to my eyes more than once. But the ending was deeply satisfying.

A number of the novels have short stories at the end. I’ve read and treasured them all as little gems, and ways to linger in Gen’s world. The short story at the end of the final book is my favorite of them all.

November 1st of this year, Moira’s Pen came out. For those who have read the series, it is a coffer of small treasures: short stories old and new, “vignettes and excerpts, poetry and rhymes… and a very special recipe for almond cake,” as the author’s website says.* There are the author’s reflections and memories of places, sculptures, and objects that inspired her. And there are beautiful illustrations and decorations by Deena So’Oteh, including of some of those artworks and objects (if you’ve ever wondered what a fibula pin looks like, now you can see!) Also included is a map. I love a good map in a novel. There have been three maps shown in different books of this series; two of them have small mysteries. One mystery came clear in the last book; the other remained a puzzle, until Moira’s Pen.

The entire series is one of my favorites of all time and I give it 5 stars. Moira’s Pen is a beautiful capstone to the series, for those wanting to spend a bit more time in Gen’s world and to learn more about it.

*Barnes & Noble’s website says Moira’s Pen “is ideal for longtime fans, as well as readers discovering Megan Whalen Turner’s epic and unforgettable world for the first time.” The former I certainly agree with, but new readers should only read it AFTER reading the previous six books. Otherwise you risk spoiling important parts of the whole series. Also: if you want to avoid spoilers, be careful what you read on the author’s own website. It’s a fun place to explore after reading the series, though.

Some Excellent (Belated) News

A nonfiction project has kept me so busy that I have rather badly neglected my blog. So, without further ado, here is some belated but really fine news.

First of all, my good friend Aud shared something quite exciting: not only did she get a really good review from Kirkus, but that august publication also made her an offer it makes to only a select group of Indie-published authors! Go, check out her blog and find out. My other news can wait.

If you haven’t already gone to Aud’s blog, here’s more: she also revealed the cover for her second “Winnie and the Wizard Book.” And I love it even more than the cover to Frama-12! Is that a Frama-scope I spy? And…perhaps even a time-tear??

I’m so tempted to ask Aud if I can post that cover, but I want you to see it for yourself along with her cool Kirkus news. (This is not a spoiler: I’ve read an earlier draft of Hutra even before Frama-12, and that’s where I became so very fond of Winnie and her companions.)

My second (or is it third?) bit of news: the next Enola book is out: Enola Holmes and the Elegant Escapade! (Truth be told, it came out just two days after Aud posted her fun blog; this is an embarrassment of riches.) I loved this latest Enola adventure! Lady Cecily appears for the third time, and I think I enjoyed this book even more than her second appearance. There’s such a wealth of great characters, old and young, and Enola (my favorite as always) is in fine form. Elegant, even. It was a treat to read. (Just don’t read it as your first Enola book. Start at the beginning!)

My Very Own Copy

So, here’s a number of things to celebrate and I’m happy to share them. I urge you to check them both out if you haven’t already.

Frama-12 Release and Review!

Frama-12 by Aud Supplee steps out into the world today!

I was delighted to be given an Advanced Reader Copy in exchange for an honest review. Full disclosure: anyone who’s read my recent posts will know I can’t claim to be objective in this review – I’ve known this book since it was a kid! But I will do my utmost to be honest.

So, here’s my honest opinion: I just finished Frama-12, and I enjoyed the heck out of it!

Here is a quick summary (from the book cover and the author’s website):

Winnie Harris, following a warrior code in honor of her mother’s fighting spirit, will do whatever it takes to protect her little stepbrother, Mikey. Kip Skyler, charming to everyone but Winnie, impresses her stepbrother with his sleight of hand. Now Mikey wants them to pass through a time tear into Frama-12 and save the inhabitants from an invasion. She’ll be the general and Kip the wizard.

Winnie sees two problems with the mission. Frama-12 is just a fantasy game, right? And Kip is majorly annoying. But she’s only half right. If the incompatible teens can’t work together, an enemy could march through a very real time tear and attack Earth.


To really enjoy a book, I have to like the main characters – mostly, at least. Winnie and Kip are like most teenagers, and most people in general: at times they can be exasperating, and at other times, deeply sympathetic. I came to care about both of them early on. As for Mikey, he’s an adorable little kid who tugged at my heart strings and made me laugh – and sometimes he’s unnervingly mature. But, unlike some other precocious kid characters, Mikey has a very good reason for this. He tells Winnie about it early in the story, but she doesn’t really believe him at first. He’s just her little stepbrother, right…? (Well, yes and no.)

As Winnie soon finds out, Frama-12 is home to a host of new, strange creatures and peoples. Some are alarming, some benign, some funny – and some of them a mix of all of the above. Winnie has to learn which can be trusted and which to beware of. Meanwhile, she’s confronted with a myriad of new sights, sounds, smells and tastes. She gets help in navigating all this from some unexpected sources—if only she can ease up and listen to them.

In trying to live up to her mom’s spiritual courage and determination, sometimes Winnie feels she has to be too independent, too strong. And that can make her downright stubborn at times. But over the course of the book, she learns more about what true courage looks like.

By the end of the book, there are some mysteries and unanswered questions – but I have it on good authority that there will be another book of adventures with Winnie, Kip, and Mikey. Hurrah!

This book is light and a lot of fun, but it also deals with some serious issues, like loss, separation from loved ones, and the challenges of stepfamilies. The story deals with these issues with warmth and heart. I highly recommend it for Young Adults and the Young at Heart looking for a fun contemporary adventure into a rather wacky world. It’s a great summer read.

So if you’re ready for adventure, Frama-12 is available from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and independent bookstores.

And if you happen to be in southeastern Pennsylvania, you can meet the author and get your book at a signing with her on Saturday, August 6th!

If you’d like to read my interviews with Aud, you can read them here, where we interview each other about anthologies we’re in and other fun stuff, here, where we talk especially about conferences we went to, and here, where Aud talks about earlier publications and her general writing process.

Congratulations, Aud! I’m so pleased Frama-12 is out in the world where readers can enjoy it!

Celebrating Juneteenth

In honor of today, here is a small handful of great books by African-American authors that I recommend.

The links will take you to my blogs with more about the books and why I recommend them, with multiple ways to obtain them.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: powerful contemporary fiction for YA and older.

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi: excellent and engaging nonfiction on the title subject written for young people.

The Lost Tribes by Christine Taylor-Butler: fun adventure fiction for middle schoolers.

For All Time by Shanna Miles: captivating time-travel love story for YA and older.

Many of these are outside my usual genres of fantasy and historical fiction, but I’m so glad I gave them a try, and hope you will take a look, too. (They’re listed in the order I read them.)

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