Friday Five: Edwin Peng #AtoZChallenge

A to Z challenge 2018 EToday’s Friday Five focus is Edwin Peng, author of YA science fiction short stories, novellas, and novels.

Edwin Peng lives in beautiful Lincoln, Nebraska, with his beloved Pokémon buddy, Eevee. During the day, he indulges in super-villainy by performing high-power laser research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. At night, his secret identity is that of a literary superhero fighting to make the Young Adult Science Fiction genre less clichéd and more inclusive. He is the author of the Star City series, which features bad-ass heroines and space aliens who love blueberry pies. The first novel was released by Evolved Publishing on December 4, 2017.

Star City is the first book in the Star City series. When space aliens make contact with Earth, 18-year old Emma Smith is ready to serve. She answers the call of the United States State Department for the college freshmen to serve as student ambassador to the visiting Ba’ren delegation. As political struggles intensify between feuding human and Ba’ren factions, anti-alien sentiment on Earth reaches a lethal pitch. Emma is determined not to be a pawn in this complicated game of life and death and must risk everything to help maintain the fragile peace between the two species.

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Edwin Peng1. If you could pick just one book to read for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

If I’m stranded on a deserted island, it would have to be Robinson Crusoe.

2. What are some of your favorite words and why?

According to my editor, I use “very” a lot in my manuscript, so I guess that would be my favorite word.

3. What is the most important thing that people DON’T know about YA/sci-fi, that you think they need to know?

YA is a lot more than – or at least, CAN be more than – novels about abusive, glittering vampires. There are so many aspiring and current authors who are writing quality YA novels. Ignore the disparaging stereotypes about YA and its readers – try some yourself!

4. Where do your inspiration and ideas for your stories come from?

There were many sources of inspiration for Star City. My dayjob as postdoctoral researcher at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln provides plenty of ideas about future scientific discoveries and technologies. History, economics, and linguistics provided many of the ideas found in the Star City series. For instance, the many attempts at constructing an universal language for all humans is what I had in mind when creating Ba’zek, the language of the Ba’ren.

5. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever researched for your works or biggest/most out-of-the-ordinary thing you’ve done while researching?

Researching sounds for the Ba’ren language is fascinating – and can make you look weird when you’re straining your facial muscles to make weird sounds.

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Star City is currently available on Amazon.

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Thursday Things: Dyrhólaey #AtoZChallenge

A to Z challenge 2018 DI went to Iceland over spring break, and let me tell you – four days is NOT enough time there. We spent a day in Reykjavik, a day doing the Golden Circle circuit tour, a day driving along the southern coast, and a morning horseback riding around the volcanic fields before flying out.

I was especially excited to explore the southern coast. We didn’t get a chance to go to the Sólheimasandur plane crash site – it was cold and drizzly, and we didn’t have enough time in our schedule to walk a mile or two each way to the site – but we did get to some other famous places, like several beautiful waterfalls.


We also made it to Dyrhólaey, which is a park overlooking the black sand beaches that show up in Icelandic metal videos, especially Sólstafir’s “Miðaftann.” And I’m pretty sure some clips from their video for “Fjara” were shot around here too.

My short story, “The Beach,” was partially inspired by Solstafir’s “Fjara” (which is Icelandic for beach, by the way). Even though I’d only seen videos and pictures of the area before I wrote the story, I envision it being set here. I imagine Pría, the main character, standing on this beach watching her true love’s funeral barge float out to sea, then walking along it later as she’s about to give birth to their son.

I’m not a fangirl by any stretch, but there was something amazing about standing in the spot where some of my favorite songs’ videos were made, where my story took place too. It’s a feeling that makes me want to go back to Iceland, this time for several weeks, and just wander the countryside. Who knows what kind of stories I’ll come up with?

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About “The Beach:”

When Pría’s true love is killed before they can marry,
she must decide how to stay true to his memory while moving on with her life.

Available to read for free on Medium,
and it’ll also be included in my upcoming short story collection, Unkept Women

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Thursday Things is a weekly-ish feature highlighting little known facts, ideas, and stories behind my stories. Is there something you want to know more about? Let me know!


Crochet as stress relief #AtoZChallenge

When I was in college, I taught myself how to crochet. It was a great way to keep my hands busy while watching TV, and now I frequently do it while listening to lectures for my online classes. it’s also something to do on long car rides (when I’m not driving, of course!), since I can’t read due to extreme motion sickness.

It’s also very relaxing for me. Counting stitches, as well as figuring out the symmetry and stitches to make a particular shape, helps me clear my mind.

I started out with blankets, but what I really like making now are little things: finger puppets, stuffed animals, and especially miniatures. Maybe it’s because they’re easier to do on the go? It’s one thing to work on a blanket while sitting at home on the couch; it’s another thing entirely to take into work when I’m watching the kids play basketball in the gym.

I’ve also moved on from other people’s patterns to my own. Sometimes I write them down, and sometimes what I make is a one-off. For example, I made a lizard, and then I made a dozen baby lizards with the same pattern.big lizard

I also use the same basic pattern for all my finger puppets.


Then, of course, I run into a problem – what do I do with a dozen crocheted lizards, gnomes, Minions, monsters, and whatever else I end up making?

So, I branched out and offer everything on Etsy. I currently have a dozen or so listings, but I’m always adding new stuff. I also have some stuff available through my crochet Facebook page (stuff like the Minions finger puppets, which I can’t sell on Etsy since they’re licensed), plus I’m always open to requests!Octopus fight

Every day this month, I’m participating in the 2018 A to Z Blogging Challenge. Please take a moment to check out some of the other blogs that are participating.

Media Monday: Australian thrillers #AtoZChallenge

A to Z Challenge 2018 AThe books: Broometime Seranade by Barry Metcalfe and Crossings by Ashley Capes

The music: “Straight Lines” by Silverchair

It’s a well-known fact that everything in Australia is trying to kill you, so why would books set there be any different?

In Crossings, wildlife ranger Lisa is puzzled when kangaroo entrails show up outside her house. She thinks it’s her abusive ex, until a bunch of people start dying. She’s busy trying to find the culprit, but she’s having a hard time focusing because her dad has dementia and needs her full attention. And then wildfires come through, along with a giant ghost kangaroo because it’s Australia and did I mention, everything – from the people to your own mind, from the weather and landscaping to giant ghost kangaroos – is trying to kill you! This book is a great mix of suspense and paranormal, with a relatable main character, a fast-moving plot, and wonderful imagery that pulls you right in.

The second book, Broometime Seranade, also features death because that’s what happens in Australia. Special Australian-equivalent-of-the-FBI/CIA agents Martin and Claire are sent to a coastal town to investigate a bunch of bodies that have been discovered in the area. As they investigate further, trying not to blow their cover and enjoying the beautiful beach, they soon discover that there are darker forces at work than just the average murderer – a foe more powerful than they can imagine, who’s laid a trap they’ve walked right into. Also, there are spiders in this book. Lots and lots of spiders that are okay with killing. Because of course.

The music I’ve picked is in keeping with the theme coming from Australia. ACDC is probably the best Australian band ever, but who can forget Silverchair? Everyone, probably, because did you know that the singer married Natalie Imbruglia, the band members are almost 40, and they released a new album in 2007? Me neither. This song is off that album. As you can see, they’ve changed a bit in the last 20 years. But in true Aussie fashion, this video seems to be the band members running from something probably trying to kill them.

Every day this month, I’m participating in the 2018 A to Z Blogging Challenge. Please take a moment to check out some of the other blogs that are participating.

Media Monday: Fairy tale noir

Media MondayThe books: The Twisted Files by Sonya M. Black

The music: “Tourniquet” by Rasputina

The Twisted Files are, as the title of this post suggests, fairy tale noir: retellings of classic fairy tales, set in a seedy world of murder and mayhem, that take the form of crimes that need to be solved by a gumshoe and his assistant who don’t always follow the rules.

The first book, The Snow White Files, introduces us to PI Brendan Hunter as he’s hired by a clan of dwarves to find a missing girl. He finds himself in the middle of a political power struggle between dwarves, sirens, and a wicked witch.

The second book, The Riding Hood Files, takes us further into this world as Brendan’s assistant, Stasia Weatherly, finds herself in a power struggle of her own – one funded by synthetic pixie dust and perpetuated by shifters.

Taken together, they’re a fast-paced and refreshing look at fairy tales every reader is familiar with, but with a twist in that the plot of the fairy tale, and it’s characters, are used to advance a very modern, arcing storyline. Black does a great job with her dark, criminal-mastermind updates.

The accompanying song, “Tourniquet,” is probably more recognizable in its original form by Marilyn Manson, but this twist makes it somehow darker, by adding a whimsical flair that makes the lyrics that much creepier.


Friday Five: Stephanie Villegas

friday fiveToday’s Friday Five focus is Stephanie Villegas, author of young adult and thriller short stories.

Stephanie Villegas is an author and freelance writer living in sunny Southern California. She graduated with a degree in Religious Studies from UCSD, where she developed a deep interest in cultural beliefs and diversity in literature. Among many other obsessions, she can’t get enough of Film Noir, vigilante comic books, and mechanical typewriters.

In her latest short story, “The Secrets I Carry,” secrets are difficult for any eleven-year-old child to keep. But in Nazi Germany, Gertrude’s family secret is a matter of life and death. When she and her best friend stumble upon something unusual in the woods, their accidental involvement could mean danger for them both. Must she reveal one secret to keep another? Or is it one more secret for this young woman to carry?

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stephanie villegas1. What author has influenced your writing style/subject the most and why?

That’s a tough one. I’d much rather give a list than a single author, but if I had to choose, I’d probably say Gillian Flynn. She steps outside the box and has revitalized an interest in Noir (with the rise of so-called “Domestic Noir”). She took a male-dominated genre, dusted it off, and crafted something new out of it. All the while, her stories are full of micro-tension, a strong voice, complex characters, and plot twists. Too many writers are afraid to write a gritty woman and Flynn definitely delivers.

2. Thinking about the stuff you’ve written, who’s your favorite character and why?

So far, my favorite character is Roger from “Author of Death”, which I hope to release next year. He’s broody and cynical, but also a hopeless romantic. Writing in his voice has been a ton of fun, and it has taken me to darker places than I ever anticipated when I initially began the project.

3. What do you want your readers to take away from your works?

The first thing anyone should take away from my works is that being different (whether that is mental illness, a physical disability, or being introverted) is not shameful.

Beyond that, my readers should probably take away that often there isn’t a happy ending for everyone because characters, like all humans, have hopes and interests that are often at odds with one another. Mercy in the eyes of one character may be considered a lack of justice in the eyes of another. I don’t mean to say that an ending like Hamlet or Othello should be normative, just that there is more than one way to end a story and not every one needs a scenic ride into the sunset.

4. What’s your current writing project and what are your writing plans for the near future?

I am currently trying to finish my Thriller novel “Author of Death” about Roger, a 1950’s pulp-fiction writer turned stalker. Things get all kinds of tangled for him when an unstable ex-lover, the police, and an organized crime syndicate become involved. Suddenly, he’s the primary suspect for a crime he didn’t commit and his only alibi is the crime he did.

In addition to that, I’m working on a Science Fiction Young Adult novella (possibly a short series), which so far I’ve only referred to as “Vatos Versus Robots”. As you may have guessed, this one is very different than anything else I’ve ever written so its been a really fun challenge and learning experience. The part I’ve been working on is about Diego, former robotics engineer, who has returned to his home planet (Nuevo Juarez) following his father’s death. When his little brother is murdered by the local cartel’s robots, life for Diego’s family changes drastically.

5. What do you want your tombstone to say?

I’m quite sarcastic so, if I could have my say, I’d want something memorable like “It’s dark in here.” Of course, I’d always be open to something along the lines of “Feel free to sit and read with me.”

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The Secrets I Carry” is currently available on Amazon.

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The world is falling apart – be a pessoptimist

fistI was at a talk today about race in education, specifically focused on the role that white teachers play in regard to black boys, and the presenter ended by urging us to be “pessoptimistic.”

It’s like optimism, but you don’t just hope things get better – you’re out there doing something and demanding results.

According to the Urban Dictionary, it’s

A philosophy that encourages forward-thinking optimism with an educated acceptance of a basic level of pessimism. Optimism’s fault is it’s naivete, pessimism’s it’s blind jadedness. We live on Earth and are human. There is, was and will be good and bad. Shit happens, dreams come true.

As I write this, American headlines are detailing our 18th school shooting this year, with at least 16 dead. As an educator, as a parent, as a human being – this breaks my heart, especially because it’ll happen tomorrow, or next week, and we’ll see the same response: handwringing, thoughts and prayers, and nothing.

When I go to my job, I work with kids who have been beaten and raped and witnessed attempted murders and all kinds of horrible things that no one, not even adults but especially not kids, should endure.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed, especially when everywhere you look there’s negativity and it seems like people with power are going out of their way to be cruel to the least among us, only to protect and enrich themselves.

Today, however, was a reminder that we CAN do something.

We can become pessoptimists, and demand accountability from our leaders.

We can become pessoptimists, and step up as community leaders that will be accountable to our communities.

We can become pessoptimists, and talk to the people who are most affected and learn what they want us and need us to do.

I’m not saying bad things won’t still happen. They will. There will always be apathy and greed and a million other reasons why someone can walk into a school and kill 16 people, or beat their children, or systemically deny others basic human rights.

Change won’t happen overnight, but it also won’t happen at all if we don’t make an effort to do something, anything, to speak up and fix the problems around us.

Will you join me in being a pessoptimist? What will you do to make things better, not worse?

Friday Five: Vila Gingerich

friday fiveToday’s Friday Five focus is Vila Gingerich, author of children’s short stories, novels, and creative nonfiction/personal essays.

Vila Gingerich grew up in Mennonite communities across the Midwest. She spent seven years doing volunteer work in Romania and now lives on fifty acres in Missouri with her husband, cats, and an overgrown veggie garden. She was a winner of the 2014 Highlights for Children fiction contest and her work has been published in Highlights for Children and Purpose magazines. Vila teaches sixth through eighth grades in a private Mennonite school. She tells her students that everyone has a special talent, good books take you places, and sometimes it’s okay to add on your fingers.

Growing Toward the Sun follows Celeste, a ten-year-old wannabe detective whose giant imagination often gets her in trouble. When a thief targets her Mennonite community, her desire to solve the case clashes with the beliefs of her peace-loving people and with her promise to behave more responsibly.

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growing toward the sun cover1. Why do you write in the genre you listed above?

Growing up, I seldom got to read books about Plain kids like me. As an adult, I determined to do my part to change that for young Amish and Mennonite readers. Today I write for my old self, as well as for my nephews, nieces, and students. I know my audience but I also know their parents, and the guidelines they set for their child’s reading material. Somewhere along the way I realized I also want to reach readers outside my target audience, and I hope my coming-of-age tale will appeal to a wide variety of readers.

2. Thinking about the stuff you’ve written, who’s your favorite character and why?

Celeste is me so I love her, faults and all. I also love the real people I write about in my personal essays, especially the Romanians I learned to know during my time in their wonderful country.

3. Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others? How do you deal with this?

I’m awful at starting scenes much too early, meandering into the action at a snail’s speed. Since I am incapable of realizing this myself, I enlist the aid of honest, smart people to point it out to me.

4. If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?

Time travel. Duh. Victorian England. America before Europeans arrived. Egypt of the Pharaohs. Biblical Jerusalem. Incan civilizations.

5. What literary character are you most like and why?

I always wanted to be Jo March, but I’ve given up on that one. I’m not nearly tomboyish enough. So I’ll go with Emily of New Moon. Teacher, writer, reader, lover of cats, holder of grudges, lover of sunshine and shadows.

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Growing Toward the Sun is currently available through Amazon.

Become a Friday Five author or read previous author interviews.

Friday Five: CJ Anderson

friday fiveToday’s Friday Five focus is CJ Anderson, author of young adult sci-fi/fantasy novels.

CJ Anderson is a teacher and author who has a slightly obsessed curiosity for the fantastical. When she isn’t assiduously performing these roles, switching back-and-forth whilst balanced precariously on the back of a Nimbus 2000, you can find her on alien worlds stalking hot demigods, nephilim, and elves from the cockpit of an X-wing. CJ and her husband, Superman, live northwest of District 12 with their superhero children and their cat-dragons.

Awakened, book 1 of her Gods and Guardians series, is non-stop action and romance with a syfy twist! Hair raising, skin prickling, and explainable is the only way to describe the connection Alaya and Dru experience when they first see each other. As Alayna is drawn into Dru’s world, she learns of the Guardians—others like her who have special abilities, whose genetics can be traced back to the Gods. . .except both the Gods and the Guardians are actually extraterrestrials, and . . . THEY AREN’T THE ONLY ONES WHO HAVE FOUND THEIR WAY TO EARTH. “Aliens? Yep, they exist. LOTS of them. Bad ones, good ones … I’ve now seen two bad ones up-close-and-personal; and as for the good ones, well, I’ve met three. No, wait – FOUR, if you count me, because I.AM.PART.FRAKKING.ALIEN!”

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CJ Anderson1. What genre do you currently read most and why?

I mostly read YA science fiction and fantasy. I love the not-everyday-life situations in this genre and the thought provoking concepts and possibilities that pop-up in these books. The books I read usually have a strong character as well and the plot is character driven. I’ve always found it easier to relate to characters in books than to real people. So, I suppose that in a way, I like reading these books because I get to hang out with my “best friends.”

2. Where do your inspiration and ideas for your stories come from?

I’ll just be going about my day and all of the sudden a “what if” question or idea will pop into my head. I also teach at the elementary level and often times my students will share their “what if” ideas. I don’t remember exactly when this particular insight occurred, but it was a merger of “what if instead of ‘science fiction becomes reality’, it is ‘reality becomes science fiction?’” I was teaching Greek Mythology at the time and I shared this idea with one of my 5th grade classes. This led to a whole conversation about the TV show “Ancient Aliens” currently on H2, which I had not yet seen. I started watching the series and my plot grew from there.

3. What are some of your favorite words and why?

nyctophilia – (n.) love of darkness or night. Finding relaxation or comfort in the darkness.

I’ve always been a night owl and when I discovered the word nyctophilia I though, wow, that’s totally me!

collywobbles – (n.) butterflies in stomach.

I mean, this one is just fun to say!

4. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever researched for your works or biggest/most out-of-the-ordinary thing you’ve done while researching?

Well … I do write SciFi so I’ve researched some very bizarre things. To me, they are ordinary because I think about these types of things all the time, but I did feel a bit awkward researching Zero Point Energy (ZPE) and weapons. I mean, you never know who is out there watching your Google searches, and if they don’t know I’m an author …

5. What’s the worst job you’ve ever had and why? What was the best thing about that job and why?

Years and years ago I worked in a warehouse where returns were delivered from all the Walmart locations across the U.S. Being a creative, this was torture for me. Not to mention, much of the stuff was just thrown out. Not recycled, not repurposed, not sent back to the vendor. Because it was cheaper than any other option, perfectly good merchandise, trashed! if you were like 5 seconds late or had to leave for an emergency it was treated as like the worst thing in the world by management. One night, a lady who had been working in my department was having chest pains and was made to believe if she left for the hospital she would be fired. So, she stayed. When I came in to work the next afternoon, we all found out she had died! That was the absolute worst. The best thing about this job was the bull shit, (and I’ve had other similar jobs – but this was the worst). In all cases, the bull shit is what motivated me to keep trudging through life until I met my goals, first becoming a teacher and later a writer. Without all the BS I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I want to encourage my students and readers to think for themselves, to question everything, and above all things, always do the right thing EVEN if it breaks a rule!

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Awakened is currently available through Amazon.

Become a Friday Five author or read previous author interviews.

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