Friday, September 21, 2012

Darkbeast Author Interview + Giveaway!

I'm excited to have an interview with Morgan Keyes, the author of the middle-grade book, DARKBEAST!  It's a wonderful book and I recommend it for ALL ages.  Don't be fooled by the title - it's not scary.  And those of you familiar with Mindy Klasky's writing might recognize a similar style and humor (hint, hint ;>)

And I'm offering a copy of DARKBEAST to one random commenter - BUT you have to take the Darkbeast quiz  (  and tell us what your Darkbeast is in the comment to win!!  Also please include your email addy so I can get in touch with you. The contest is open until Friday, September 28th at midnight Eastern time.  See the interview below to find out MY Darkbeast.

Cover copy: In Keara’s world, every child has a darkbeast—a creature that takes dark deeds and emotions like anger, pride, and rebellion. Keara’s darkbeast is Caw, a raven. Caw is her constant companion, and they are magically bound to each other until Keara’s 12th birthday. For on that day Keara must kill her darkbeast—that is the law. Refusing to kill a darkbeast is an offense to the gods, and such heresy is harshly punished by the feared Inquisitors.

Though Keara struggles to follow the rules, she cannot imagine life without Caw. And she finds herself drawn to the Travelers, actors who tour the country performing revels. Keara is fascinated by the Travelers’ mysterious plays, with their hints of a grand life beyond her tiny village. As her birthday approaches, Keara readies herself to leave childhood—and Caw—behind forever. But when the time comes for the sacrifice, will she be able to kill the creature that is so close to her? And if she cannot, where will she turn, how can she hide from the Inquisitors?

A single decision could ripple outward and change Keara’s life—and perhaps her world—forever in this gripping story that comes straight from the heart.

Take 10 with Morgan Keyes:

1. I’m guessing from your recent newsletter you’re not hiding the fact that your doppelganger is Mindy Klasky. Why did you decide to write under a pseudonym? And how did you pick the name?

The last two books that Mindy Klasky published were romances that fell on the rather, um, spicy side of the menu. When my editor and I started talking about the middle grade market for DARKBEAST, we decided that a pseudonym would be a good idea – it would make it just a bit harder for really young readers to find the Klasky books that might be too much for them to handle.

My editor wanted me to choose a name that had no social media footprint. I wanted to use my initials. We went through several dozen names before we found a name that worked – it also had to be relatively short (to fit on the cover of the book) and relatively easy to remember (so that readers can share their find with other readers). Voila, Morgan Keyes!

2. DARKBEAST is considered a middle-grade novel (ages 10+). What made you decide to write for this age group?

In the short story that was the basis for DARKBEAST, the main character was sixteen years old. That story was published in 2005 – just before the current boom in rather grim young adult fiction.

DARKBEAST is not as dark as the current YA market – there's no sex, no strong language, no graphic depictions of violence. While Keara has friends, she does not have a romantic relationship. All of those factors pointed toward a younger audience. Thus, Keara became eleven-going-on-twelve, and DARKBEAST became a middle grade novel!

(I did not change my vocabulary, the themes, or the plot of the book in any way, even after the 10-and-up label was slapped on the book!)

3. So dish about these Darkbeasts. I thought they were a wonderful creation and wish I had one when I was younger. How did you come up with the idea?

I've always loved the idea of animal companions – I was horse crazy when I was a girl, and I grew up with dogs and cats in the house. I even had an imaginary lion who sat on my shoulder and told me secrets when I was very young. [Cool! I had two imaginary friends]

Therefore, Caw and the other darkbeasts came naturally to me. The novel, then, grew out of my thinking about how difficult it is to grow up and to set aside some of the things we most love. I wanted to force Keara to make the most difficult decision of her life!

4. Did you have trouble picking the title of this story? When I heard “Darkbeast” I thought scary things, but then I saw the cover and knew it wasn’t going to be horror.

I've enjoyed playing with some of the traditional images of "dark" and "light" in this book – darkbeasts, which are all black, are allies of our heroine; the Inquisitors who try to track down and punish Keara are all clad in white. Keara is constantly being asked to reevaluate her assumptions – and my readers are too!

5. And why am I not surprised to see a traveling theater company in this book? ;> What draws you to this element again? Were you an aspiring actress in your youth?

I've always been fascinated with the way the theater allows people to put on real and figurative masks. That sort of manipulating reality allows characters to express things that they otherwise might never have the nerve to say out loud.

The last time I was on-stage was when I played Queen Isabella in my fourth grade class's Columbus Day play. I stage managed plays, though, through high school and college, and I once considered making stage management my full-time career. I see about a dozen plays a year at local theaters – more if I can make the time!

6. The story has Twelve gods and stories about them. How did you keep track of everyone? How important will the Twelve be in the future?

When I started writing the novel, I kept notes in my computer files, reminding myself about the attributes of each god, along with the characteristics of their godhouse, etc. After a while, the notes started to take over the file, so I moved everything over to a wiki (an online encyclopedia). I figured that other people might be interested in looking up those details as they read the book! You can see the Darkbeast Encyclopedia here:

The Twelve continue to be important in Keara's world. As Keara begins to see the consequences of her choices, the Twelve become more present in her day-to-day life.

7. I noticed that your schedule this fall is jam packed. How do you balance promotion, writing, sleep, and your personal life?

Sleep? I don't remember what that word means! :)

It is a challenge to stay organized. I use an electronic calendar, color-coded to show Writing, Personal, Family, and Household activities. ("Family" covers activities with my family; "Household" covers chores around the house.) I also have an extensive list of electronic reminders, with constantly changing due dates, so that I stay on top of things. [Wow, that's really organized - maybe I should start doing that!]

Weekdays are fair game for anything writing related. While I try to get my work done during a normal workday (8:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.), I work into the evenings if I haven't completed my goals. I try to keep weekends free so that my family doesn't forget who I am!

8. I took the personality quiz on your website for readers to discover their darkbeasts (so fun!). My darkbeast is a Raven – what’s yours?

My darkbeast is a Snake. I had a lot of fun putting together the Darkbeast Quiz – and I get to laugh when some people get out of sorts about what the quiz tells them. [Here's that link to find yours:]

9. How long did it take you to write DARKBEAST?

Well, I wrote the short story about eight years ago. Several times, I considered expanding DARKBEAST into a novel, but I didn't start to work on that until 2010. When I finally put fingers to keyboard, it took me about four months to actually draft the novel – lots of long days of doing nothing but writing. After that, my publisher took about one and a half years creating the final book that you can read today.

So, I can say that it took me four months, or a little less than two years, or eight years!

10. So…the next book – tell us! What’s it about and when is it due out?

I just completed the edits on DARKBEAST REBELLION, a sequel to DARKBEAST. It should be in stores in 2013. (I don't know the specific date yet, but I'll announce the news on my website – -- when I do find out!)

Maria, many, many thanks for letting me visit today (and for asking such interesting questions!)
[You're welcome!  Any time Morgan ;>]

Morgan Keyes:

Monday, September 17, 2012

My Ahh-Mazing Weekend Part 1

Last weekend my husband had a number of events to attend for his job (historical chocolate manager for M&M/Mars) and I happily tagged along.  One of those events was a NASCAR race - the one in Richmond, Virginia on Saturday, September 8.  Well, I'm not a NASCAR fan - football is my sport, however, I like to experience new things and this invite wasn't just a couple of seats in the bleachers.  Oh no!  You see Mars sponsors Kyle Busch's car - #18 and we had full access to...well, everything.

 Rodney, Kyle & Me before the start of the race - Kyle a LOT happier then at the end :(

Rodney and Joe Gibbs - owner of Kyle's car. 

Before the race, I did a bunch of reading about the Sprint Cup and how only the top twelve can race for the championship (Kyle missed it by 1 point!), but I learned so much during my day at the races.  First, there is a ton of effort in getting the car ready - there's a sense of urgency and little time to waste from the crew - but it's not all work as there were plenty of TV screens, showing college football and plenty of food! 

Inside the trailer, I discovered a number of surprises.  I expected the drawers and cabinets full of spare parts, but I didn't expect the "spare" car to be parked above our heads - or for there to be so many computers.  One was just dedicated to keeping track of the weather - storms were coming - we hoped they'd miss us, but we had a rain delay and I watched the big jet engine type dryers dry the surface in an hour.

Spare car on second floor of trailer.

Tools inside trailer

Crew Chief on left and his crew in trailer's office (working and watching football)

The rush to prep the car.

Prepping Tires

When the race started, we hung out in the pit - well, we kept out of the way - I didn't want to slow anyone down.  I must say the pit stops were the most exciting but hard to watch - just as I'd focus on one guy, he'd be done with his task.  The fuel man wore a flame-resistant apron, a helmet with a visor and heavy gloves and I noticed a spray of gasoline when he yanked it out so Kyle could race off.  Then after a stop, four guys would intently crouch over the used tires, with a torch and examine them, burning off...I wasn't sure what (anyone know?). I guessed they were examining the wear and how pitted the tires were.

Pit Stop #2

The front of the pit.

Fuel tanks.

I was fascinated with the whole process, and there's so much more involved than a driver going in circles on a track.  When the engines started, it was very loud (thank fate for ear-protection) and the vibrations from the cars rumbled deep in my chest.  Talking and being heard were impossible when the cars were at full speed.  I thought it funny that the pit crew watched the race on the huge monitor in the middle of the track - but their body language made it clear when they were getting close to a pit stop and for me to move out of the way. 

Oh and the TV doesn't do the speeds justice - it's hard to get a sense of how fast they're really going when watching on TV, but when they rip by you at 150 + mph, it sends an little impact/energy wave right into you.  I don't know if I'm going to become a die-hard fan of racing, but yesterday I kept flipping between the Eagles/Ravens football game (Eagles won - Yay!) to the race in Chicago.

If you noticed I titled this Part 1 - and you're probably thinking what else I did that was Ahh-Mazing - well it has to do with an event at the State Department in Washington, DC.  I'm waiting on pictures - so stay tuned for Part 2!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Oooohhhh Pretty...Come and See.... new look.  Not me, me (no purple hair...yet!), but my blog.  My fabulous, talented, sweet friend Sarah put this together for me.  I love it - it includes many of my favorite things.  Travel, writing and tea!  I'm sipping some now - English Breakfast decaf ;>

Sooooo...... What do you think?

I'm hoping the new look will help motivate me to blog more - I do have ideas and posts ready to be assembled (pictures uploaded, links found, etc...).  Time will tell :)