Courtesy of Wendy Brant
She has wanted to become an author since the fifth grade and finally has a published book with her debut YA novel Zenn Diagram, which is one of my top reads so far for the year. I had a fun interview with Wendy Brant and enjoyed getting to know her. My review for Zenn Diagram is here.
JRR (Jessica’s Reading Room): Tell us a little about yourself.
Well, I’ve lived in Illinois my whole life, in various northwest suburbs outside of Chicago. I was a pretty typical introverted book nerd as a kid, and then I somehow became a nerdy cheerleader with a bunch of extroverted friends in high school, so I’ve sort of surfed between the introverts and extroverts ever since (though the introverts are my true people). I’ve been married for 23 years and have two great teenage kids (one who is about to go off to college). I like candy, time by myself, glass bottles (especially ones with corks), street tacos, good indie rock/coffee house music. I don’t especially like rude people, any kind of olive (except in oil form), most jazz or country music, or (surprisingly) … COFFEE. The only way I can drink it is with a lot of chocolate, just like Eva.
JRR: I’m an introvert myself. I think we would get along great! Did you always want to become an author?
Pretty much. When I was in 5th grade, I entered and won the young authors contest at my school, and it gave me my first taste of writing success. From that point on, this has been my dream.
JRR: That’s great that you finally reached your dream with Zenn Diagram. I really enjoyed reading it! Now, what inspires you to write?
Great question. I really don’t know. I like making up stories. I like the creative process. I like to connect with people over shared experiences. Basically, it’s fun for me and that is my inspiration.
JRR: What does your writing process consist of? Do you research, do you handwrite or type, do you listen to music or prefer silence?
I generally don’t like doing a ton of research unless it is absolutely necessary – research is really my more my mom’s thing (she LOVES it!). I do what I need to do for the story, but major research (and then trying to figure out how to seamlessly tie it in) is a challenge for me. I write on a computer, though occasionally I’ve been known to scribble pages in a notebook if I’m in a pinch (always with a nice pen – I like good pens). I generally like it relatively quiet when I write because I get easily distracted, but I do often pick certain songs that go with my story and make a playlist to inspire me. (I just don’t listen to it while I’m writing.) I don’t currently write on any kind of schedule though that is my dream: to have a regular writing schedule.
JRR: What kind of advice can you give to aspiring authors? I know the journey to become published and can be long and hard. What made you go the ‘traditional route’ versus indie/self-publishing?
Twenty-five years ago, when I started writing and trying to get published, self-publishing is not what it is today. It really wasn’t even an option for me at that time. It has definitely come a long way, but I don’t have the platform or social media following or marketing chops to try to sell my book on my own. I knew I had to pursue a traditional path or my book would never find an audience. I always had confidence that someday I would be published. I practiced – a LOT – and kept doing research and never stopped believing it would happen. And here we are!
JRR: And yay for that! It was a long process, but you did it! Who was your favorite author as a child and now as an adult?
As a child I loved Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume. I read paranormal/fantasy books by Ruth Chew and suspense novels by Lois Duncan. I remember really liking the “Great Brain” series by John D. Fitzgerald.
As an adult, I enjoy reading YA authors like Suzanne Collins, John Green and Rainbow Rowell. I also like adult novelists like Liane Moriarty, Jojo Moyes and Elizabeth Berg.
JRR: We have some similarities with the books we read. Which book have you always meant to get around to reading, but still not read?
There are so many classics I have never read! Honestly, I’m not sure how I made it through all my years of school without reading The Grapes of Wrath or On the Road or any Jane Austen or Mark Twain. I’m actually not very well read by usual standards. There are just so many books!
JRR: I also have not read many classics other than what I had to read in school and college(which has been a long time). Can you tell me what’s the best advice you have ever received?
Hmmmmm. Maybe “Life is hard, but we can do hard things”? My life has not been especially hard, but I like the idea that worthwhile things are not always easy, but they are not impossible.
Also, I don’t know if it’s advice, but it’s something to always remember these days, when people (especially people on the internet) can be so harsh and angry: “Just a reminder. There’s not two of you – Internet you and real you. There is just one real you. Which means if you’re not kind on the internet, you’re not kind.” –Glennon Doyle Melton
JRR: I like that quote and that is true. It’s something to remember. Where did the idea for Zenn Diagram come from?
I’m not 100% sure. With everything else I’ve written, I could tell you exactly where the idea was born. But with Zenn Diagram, I literally went to the park one day and brainstormed ideas, and one was: A girl who can see the future meets a boy who can’t escape the past. And that morphed into Zenn Diagram. I will say this: at the time that I started writing Zenn Diagram, my daughter was a freshman in high school and I watched kids her age struggle with allowing themselves to be vulnerable. God forbid teens show weakness, right? And I think that the idea of a girl who longs for connection, but is bombarded by peoples’ struggles came from that.
JRR: I love that Math and Art is so prominent in Zenn Diagram. What made you chose those subjects or was it always going to be them based on the direction the story takes?
I’m not totally sure (I’m saying that a lot, aren’t I?). I know that STEM fields are still dominated by men, so I liked the idea of featuring a girl who is into math/science and a boy who is into art – seemed to be a refreshing change. I also liked the thought that Eva being a black & white, analytical person makes it even more difficult for her to deal with emotions and feelings all the time.
JRR: I was never good at Math or Science. It seems many girls have problems with those subjects, so I agree that having Eva’s strengths in Math could help girls. Some girls who are good in those areas could ‘look up’ to Eva as well as they realize that it’s ok to be good at Science or Math after all.
I really liked Eva. She was a perfect protagonist for Zenn Diagram. Did you base her off anyone or is she several people combined? As for her ‘special gift’ (or is it a curse?) where did that idea come from?
While she is not based on my kids exactly, there is some of them in her. My kids are smart and interesting, but they haven’t always felt like they fit in in high school. I think that is normal. What’s baffling to me is that some of the more negative feedback I’ve gotten about the book is that there’s this whole “not like other girls” idea. That Eva thinks of herself as “different” and sort of judges other girls. And … that is true. She does feel different, and she doesn’t always understand her peers. While not ideal – it would be nice if everyone respected and understood each other – I think this is definitely real. Everyone feels different. Everyone occasionally makes themselves feel better or worse about it by comparing themselves to others. We are still works in progress. Eva feels different, feels excluded, and definitely judges others in her weak moments. But I think you’ll find by the end of the story, she learns that people are not always the stereotypes that they seem to be. (Also, she has a gift/curse that makes her LITERALLY different from other people. So the “not like other girls” thing … it’s kind of true for her.)
As for where that idea came from … again, I’m not 100% sure. As I mentioned above, I’ve watched how teenagers try to hide their secrets and insecurities from others. Adults do the same thing, but with teenagers it can feel like a matter of survival. I thought it would be fun to explore what would happen if they couldn’t hide.
JRR: Same question about Zenn. I loved him! Was he based off anyone in particular or not? Or was he the ‘perfect guy’ for Eva that you just knew how his character should be?
No, he wasn’t based on anyone in particular. I just know that one of my pet peeves in love stories is when guys are TOO gushy about their feelings. I’m all for sharing and being open, but when a guy spouts these over-the-top romantic lines, I gag a little. So I wanted Zenn to play it a little more cool. Like, it’s obvious that he cares about Eva, but I didn’t want him to be the kind of guy who constantly tells her how beautiful she is, or get overly jealous or weird or stalkerish. I also loved the idea of a guy who has had a hard life, but isn’t overly bitter about it. A guy who puts his head down and works to try to do the right thing. What’s not sexy about that?
JRR: I love their romance and the fact that it was not a love triangle. I am so glad you did not go that route! Although, there really wouldn’t have been room for a love triangle with the direction the novel went. Did you know that Zenn Diagram was always going to go in the direction that it did, or did it take on a life of its own?
My stories always take on a life of their own a little bit, but I generally knew where it was heading. When I write, I sort of know the beginning and the end, and then the middle is just a fun, winding ride.
JRR: The ending was perfect in my opinion although I still wanted more when it was over. Do you think you may continue Eva’s story or will Zenn Diagram be a standalone novel?
That’s probably more up to my publisher and “fans” than it is up to me. I wrote it as a stand alone novel, but I could see how it could be turned into a series, if there were interest.
JRR: We will see what happens! Have you begun to think about your next novel? Or are you just enjoying Zenn Diagram being out there for everyone to enjoy?
Yes! I actually have another completed YA novel that I wrote before Zenn Diagram that I would love to resurrect. It’s a dystopian story and whenever I tell people about it, they always get really excited. I feel like it might be able to find a place in the market, now. And I’m also working on a traditional contemporary YA story of a tech savvy girl and a tech challenged guy, both with some baggage, and how they get stranded together during an ice storm and have to learn to appreciate someone who sees the world differently.
JRR: Dystopian novels are definitely popular now. I look forward to your next novel whatever it may end up being, whether either novel that you just mentioned or something else entirely.
If you could have dinner with three people (living or dead) who would they be and why?
Patti Ford (she’s a blogger who I find absolutely hilarious), Glennon Doyle Melton (another blogger who inspires me daily), and maybe J.K. Rowling. Or Ellen DeGeneres. Or Barack and Michelle Obama. Too many choices!
My answer is not very deep, I know. But … it is what it is.
JRR: It doesn’t have to be deep. It’s your dinner and your selection of people (if you can narrow it down 😉 ) Do you have anything else you would like to share with us?
I just want to thank you everyone who has read Zenn Diagram. To those that like it: I’m so glad! That is definitely my goal. I hope I get the chance to write more for you!
**Thank you so much for your time with this interview Wendy! It was a pleasure to read your book and to get to know you!
Courtesy of Wendy Brant
Wendy and her fellow debut KCP Loft authors having fun in LA! They look like such a fun bunch! They are:
Lindsey Summers- Textrovert
Wendy- Zenn Diagram
Jeff Norton- Keeping the Beat
Kim Turrisi- Just a Normal Tuesday
This is Kim Turrisi’s first novel and is based off of her story as her sister committed suicide when Kim was fifteen. The emotions are raw and real in Just a Normal Tuesday. It was released last week on May 2nd and I feel everyone should read this novel. It truly touched me; so far this is my #1 read of the year. My review for Just A Normal Tuesday is here.
JRR (Jessica’s Reading Room):Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m an Air Force brat so I moved every two years. That alone helps me adapt to new situations fairly quickly. My love of music is from my father and my love of reading definitely from my mom and sister. Both read to me every day when I was younger. I was destined to be a book nerd and I’m okay with that. I went to college in Florida at Florida State University and I am a diehard Seminole fan.
JRR: I am a book nerd as well and proud of it. I have a problem and freely admit it! Did you always want to become an author?
I always wanted to be a writer. I wrote screenplays first then two web series. Working at the SCBWI(The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), I fell in love with young adult literature. I can’t imagine doing anything else. If I’m not writing it, I’m reading it. There are so many incredible YA authors.
JRR: There really are so many good YA author and books out there, yours included! What does your writing process consist of?
I always, always write with music playing. I create a play list for the book I’m about to tackle then a play list for my protagonist. When I wrote Just a Normal Tuesday, several songs were on repeat while I wrote the really tough stuff. Lots of angst. I keep notebooks about each of my characters that I go back to as I outline my book. I like to know what they wear, what foods they like, habits they have, what they read and definitely what music they listen to.
JRR: That playlist and the notebooks helped when you wrote Just a Normal Tuesday since for me you really nailed all the emotions. What kind of advice can you give to aspiring authors? I know the journey to become published and can be a long and difficult one.
My best advice is to never give up. It is hard road but when it does happen, I promise that all of the rejections and revisions are worth it. Also, make sure you surround yourself with other writers and take their notes to heart. With Tuesday, I was so close to it, I needed other perspectives to stay on track. I’m grateful to all the people who read it and those who rejected it but gave me notes. It made this book so much better.
JRR: That’s a good way to take the rejections; using the notes you were given to improve the book. What made you go the ‘traditional route’ for getting Just a Normal Tuesday published versus indie/self -publishing?
It was a goal I gave myself. There was no question that I would go the traditional route. In my every day job, I work closely with editors at the traditionally publishing companies so it was my comfort zone.
JRR: Where did the idea for Just a Normal Tuesday come from? Did you take your personal experiences to form Kai’s character, especially when it came to the range of emotions she felt after her sister’s suicide? Was Just a Normal Tuesday difficult to write or was it a kind of therapy and a way to get those emotions and feelings out?
Just a Normal Tuesday is based on what happened to me when I was fifteen. I fictionalized a portion of it but honestly, a lot of the emotions and events were spot on. I would say Kai and I shared the spiral of anger and despair. This was probably the hardest book I will ever write since it’s so close to my truth. There were many dark days having to recall all that I went through at such a young age. It’s also the first time I’ve talked about it since then.
I didn’t get to go to Grief Camp at fifteen but in writing this book, I felt like I did all these years later. It was quite cathartic even when it felt like I was climbing Mt. Everest.
JRR: The emotions Kai experiences were so real and raw! At times I felt like I was hearing your story (which in a way we were) with the first half of the book. It felt like you were talking to me as I was reading.
Who do you hope your book reaches? I feel that everyone should read this book, especially those who lost someone at a young age. There is such a wide range of emotions the reader will experience as the book is read.
When I set out on this journey, my hope was that anyone feeling left behind by a loved one would see themselves in this book so they felt less alone and that it helps them find their path to healing. The stigma of suicide can be isolating especially if no one is talking about it. That’s how it was for me.
Grief is a universal feeling. No matter how you lose a loved one, it’s devastating. Suicide is especially crippling since it’s sometimes so difficult to understand.
***Thank you so much for your time with this interview Kim! I know you have been very busy with the launch of Just a Normal Tuesday, so this means a lot that you agreed to an interview at this time. Good luck with the book! I hope it reaches many people out there who need it. It truly touched me and I hope everyone reads it.
If you are considering suicide please get help. There are many organizations that can help. You are worth it!
The National Suicide Prevention Helpline
The Trevor Project (LGTBQ)
For those who have lost someone, here are some camps that can help:[Top]
The beginning of 2006 was a terrible time for Mark Sullivan, but then he discovered Pino Lella’s story and Mark had to share it with the world. Beneath a Scarlet Sky is the end result of all that hard work. It was released yesterday and the whole world can finally learn of Pino and his important story.
Who is Pino Lella?
At the age of 17, Giuseppe “Pino” Lella helped Jews escape the Nazis in northern Italy, guiding them from a Catholic boys school north of Lake Como, up and over the Alps, and into neutral Switzerland. The following summer, he became a spy inside the German High Command, risking everything to serve the Italian Resistance and suffering mightily for it long after the war ended. Beneath a Scarlet Sky is the untold story of the most inspiring and heartbreaking years of Pino Lella’s life.
Buy on Amazon
Based on the true story of a forgotten hero, Beneath a Scarlet Sky is the triumphant, epic tale of one young man’s incredible courage and resilience during one of history’s darkest hours.
Pino Lella wants nothing to do with the war or the Nazis. He’s a normal Italian teenager—obsessed with music, food, and girls—but his days of innocence are numbered. When his family home in Milan is destroyed by Allied bombs, Pino joins an underground railroad helping Jews escape over the Alps, and falls for Anna, a beautiful widow six years his senior.
In an attempt to protect him, Pino’s parents force him to enlist as a German soldier—a move they think will keep him out of combat. But after Pino is injured, he is recruited at the tender age of eighteen to become the personal driver for Adolf Hitler’s left hand in Italy, General Hans Leyers, one of the Third Reich’s most mysterious and powerful commanders.
Now, with the opportunity to spy for the Allies inside the German High Command, Pino endures the horrors of the war and the Nazi occupation by fighting in secret, his courage bolstered by his love for Anna and for the life he dreams they will one day share.
Fans of All the Light We Cannot See, The Nightingale, and Unbroken will enjoy this riveting saga of history, suspense, and love.
JRR (Jessica’s Reading Room):Tell us a little about yourself.
I live in southwest Montana and have been a full-time author for more than 25 years. I write mystery and suspense novels by myself and with James Patterson. I write the #1 New York Times bestselling Private series with Mr. Patterson.
Beneath a Scarlet Sky is my first historical novel. It took me 10 years to write, which proves again that I’m a little slow on the uptake.
I have been married to my best friend for 33 wonderful years. Betsy and I spend our free time outdoors trying to enjoy the miracle of every moment.
JRR: I have read a few James Patterson books. Ten years to write Beneath a Scarlet Sky!?! In my opinion it’s better to take your time and get it right than to rush it and not have a respectable book. Did you always want to become an author?
From the age of seven. We did not have a television until I was 10, and my mom taught me to read when I was four, so books were my earliest entertainment. I got in a fight in second grade that the vice principal, a formidable Catholic nun named Sister Mary Joseph, broke up. My “punishment” was to enter the school storywriting contest. I got home, told my parents nothing about the fight, and, petrified I would be discovered, went upstairs to “write.” I didn’t know what to write about and sat there worrying I’d be found out, until a cottontail rabbit went ripping through our backyard with the neighbor’s dog in full pursuit. I decided to write about that, and, to my amazement and Sister Mary Joseph’s, I won the contest. I had to read the story to the entire school and got a standing ovation. I was completely hooked from that point on.
JRR: That is quite a start! Let’s all be glad for that punishment that Sister Mary Joseph made you do! What inspires you to write?
Everyone and everything I have ever encountered.
JRR: What is your writing process like? Do you research? Do you hand-write or type? As you are writing do you listen to music or not?
My process is to work from premise through research toward a complete outline. I do this both handwritten and at the keyboard. I often listen to music as I’m getting prepared to write, something that inspires me. But when I’m actually writing, I listen to “brown noise” through Bose headphones to block out all distracting sound, and I face a blank wall so the only way out is through the screen.
JRR: What kind of advice can you give to aspiring authors?
Schedule your writing time, and to the extent you can, make it the same time every day. This is important psychologically, as your subconscious begins to anticipate writing if it occurs with frequency at the same time and place. Also, use an App like www.freedom.to to shut down Internet, social media, and the like on your computer and on your phone. I am shut down and unreachable from 11am-5pm every day. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you’re not distracted.
JRR: That is good advice. And I did not know about that App! It could benefit many people. Now, Who is your favorite author as an adult?
The late, great Jim Harrison. During my years as a reporter, I tried to read modern fiction and could not relate until I read Harrison’s Legends of the Fall. The prose was like thunder, and through it he packed an epic, sweeping story of early 20th-century Montana into an unforgettable 95-page novella. I was flabbergasted and inspired. I still am.
JRR: If will look into that novella and Jim Harrison himself. If you could have dinner with three authors (living or dead) who would they be and why?
Harrison, certainly. I met him a couple of times and heard him speak several more, but I never got to sample his cooking skills, which were said to be remarkable. Charles Dickens would also be there. I learned much of what I know about novel writing from a course I took in college in which we had to read all of Dickens’s work. What’s stunning is when you realize he wrote most of his books and stories in serial form with deadlines every month. He did some outlining, but really he just sat down and set sail. He was the master of understanding instinctively where plot lines will go, and I’d love to be able to pick his brain regarding that. Third? Probably Steven King, just because I like his sense of humor, and I think he’d make it a good time. I also think he’s a writing genius.
JRR: Those are good choices. What made you want to base Beneath a Scarlet Sky on Pino Lella’s story? How did his story affect you personally?
January of 2006 was a terrible time for me. My brother and best friend had drunk himself to death the prior June. My mother had drunk herself into brain damage. I’d written a book no one liked, was involved in a lingering business dispute, and on the verge of personal bankruptcy.
That day I realized darkly that my insurance policies were more valuable than my life and potential. During a snowstorm, I seriously considered driving into a bridge abutment on an interstate freeway near my home, but I was saved by thoughts of my wife and sons. I was as shaken as I’ve ever been, and in a Costco parking lot of all places I prayed for a story with meaning, a story I could get lost in.
Believe it or not, that very night at a dinner party in Bozeman, Montana, I heard the first snippets of Pino Lella’s tale. Larry Minkoff, a fellow writer, told me he’d heard a little about Pino and his story but wasn’t going to pursue it. Minkoff introduced me to Bob Dehlendorf. In the late 1990s, Dehlendorf was on an extended vacation in Italy when he met Pino by chance. Dehlendorf was a few years younger, but they bonded. After several days, Dehlendorf asked Pino about his experiences during the war. Pino had never told anyone, but felt like it was time, and so he started telling Dehlendorf about Father Re and the escapes and the Nazi general he’d driven for. Dehlendorf was stunned. How had the story never been told?
That was my reaction as well, and that was enough to get me on a plane to Italy in late March 2006. Over the course of those first three weeks, as Pino opened up more and more, I experienced his deep pain and marveled at his ability to go on after being so depressed and traumatized—he, too, had contemplated suicide. I had to comfort him repeatedly during the course of his long recounting, and I was moved again and again.
During that time, and apart from the details of his war story, Pino taught me about life and his values and the many, many joys he’d been blessed with after the trauma of World War II Italy. It made me realize how much I’d put in jeopardy even thinking about killing myself. I had a great, loving wife and two remarkable sons. I had an amazing story to tell. I had a new and dear friend. I was more than lucky. Leaving Italy that first time, I felt blessed to be alive. I went home a different person, grateful for every moment, no matter how flawed, and determined to honor and tell Pino’s story to as many people as possible. I just never thought it would take this long.
JRR: Wow, thank you for sharing all this. Everything seems meant to happen at a certain time for reasons we don’t know and that was the time for you and Pino to meet. What was it like to meet and interview Pino after all that time looking for him and thinking about his story?
I actually met Pino in person within six weeks of first hearing about his story. It was a remarkable experience, listening to an old man summoning up a past he had long ago buried away in the deep recesses of his soul. As I said, I was deeply moved by what he’d gone through at such an unfathomably young age and was inspired by his determination to go on despite the tragic things that had happened to him.
JRR: What do you want readers to get out of reading Beneath a Scarlet Sky?
I think people deserve to know about Pino Lella and the war in northern Italy. Pino was and is a thoroughly remarkable soul, and I believe his story is restorative. I hope readers will be moved not only his indomitable spirit, but by his belief in the miracle of every moment and in the promise of a better tomorrow, even when that belief is not deserved.
**Special thanks to Mark Sullivan for your time with this interview and for sharing these experiences!**[Top]