Tuesday, September 28, 2021

In which I lead you TO A DARKER SHORE


An image of five burning moths or butterflies, with the text TO A DARKER SHORE

It's been a spell so I thought I'd share a little here about my current WIP, a young adult fantasy in which an autistic shepherdess with aspirations accidentally damns her best friend, so she goes to hell to kill the devil. She doesn't let grief, kissing monsters, or chub rub in the furnace of hell slow her down. (Well. She may pause a MOMENT for the kissing.)

There was that same intensity, written in the unforgiving, eager lines of her face. "We're already in hell. We may as well sin."

TO A DARKER SHORE (#MonsterInferno on Twitter) draws on my Italian heritage as well as a few Greek myths (though it is not a retelling). The title comes (via a slight mistranslation by me so it fit the book better) from Dante's Inferno:

Non isperate mai veder lo cielo:
i’ vegno per menarvi a l’altra riva
ne le tenebre etterne, in caldo e ’n gelo. 
Hope nevermore to look upon the heavens;
I come to lead you to the other shore,
To the eternal shades in heat and frost.


"Here you're no one. You're nothing. You're meat, or your teeth and claws."

But for all the "abandon all hope" of it, this book continues my tradition of writing dark fantasy that's really just an excuse for an inordinate amount of mutual pining, forced proximity, and happily ever afters. Three romance tropes dressed in a cassock if you will.

"The bow hung heavy from one hands. He ached for her to touch him again. it would kill him just as much as to hear no, with his end dark and near, and yet his heart lurched after the one answer he truly hungered for. Want me. Ruin me.

TADS also features friends to enemies to lovers, a girl who steals the sky, lightly veiled Catholic angst, and the biggest game of The Floor is Lava ever. A STEM girl and a painter boy. Monster makeovers (it's that thing where you make someone look worse/like a monster). What I've been told by professionals is a more lyrical prose style. Sadly no cats, but there are some sheep. And a nonna ready with her wooden spoon if you're acting foolish.

"'Monster!' She slammed her palms against the stone, at the beast obscured in shadows and her own reflection in the dark glass. 'I hate you!'"

Like I said, I drew from the stories I heard growing up, of the earthquakes and wolves that made my family in Molise say, hmm maybe we should give a different continent a try, as well as Greek myth, Milton, Keats, the life of Dante, and probably a few Disney movies. And possibly The Paper Bag Princess got in there somewhere, too. A lot of me is in the book, of course. There's on the page fat rep, a demi hero, two autistics in love, bis, and sword lesbians. The exploration of autistic masking (not the very good public health kind) and unmasking while isolated in hell was made all the more intense by writing this through the ongoing pandemic lockdown, as my sensory and processing issues have become dramatically more marked, and I'm not sure, like a certain cinnamon roll monster, how much I really want to rejoin society.

"'You only think I'm beautiful because you're surrounded by monsters.' 'No. I think you're beautiful because I'm surrounded by monsters and you came for me.'"

Here, have a playlist! I live in my headphones and have been listening to this (okay actually a much, much longer version) over and over the last several months. A friend sent me one song because it reminded her of TADS and I proceeded to listen to it sixty times in a row.

Have some memes that will only make sense if you've read for me, but maybe will give you a taste of the book?

not a meme, just my family nailing my brand during a discussion of Abruzzi e Molise

Have an aesthetic!

A novel aesthetic with images of a neon "inferno" sign, an icarus falling, a candle melting in a palm, a location tag saying "hell," a burning butterfly, a dark haired boy and girl, and a quote: "You either fall to the monsters or become one."

And finally, have an opening snippet, why not (I unrepentantly love prologues and haven’t revised this one out quite yet):


They chained her to the rock. Left her on the craggy island cliffside to feed a monster’s hunger. Her sacrifice would purchase paradise for the rest of her world.

Saltwater kissed her cheeks, whether from the sea spray erupting along the jagged dark coast or tears shed, only the gods could say. The air was all salt and spindrift. As if the world wept for the loss of her.

But it would not save her.

It would not unlock the chains that clanked as she began to shake. It would not bar the three beasts sent up the volcanic vents to fetch her down to hell—the shimmering dark leopard, the burning red lion, the coarse-coated wolf. The chains would break only under their powerful jaws. She would never again go in the ship that brought her here, through the treacherous sea. The men had already turned for home, kept safe another cycle by her offering. Without it, this place and its master would rain ash and evil over all, send tides of monsters against their shores.

The chains clattered now, like great teeth gnashing. Not the girl but the rock itself quaked.

The monster must be fed.

Thanks for reading and joining me in hell for a while. With the current state of reality it makes for a nice escape.

Art is the work of Mat Collishaw 

Sunday, November 8, 2020

In Which I Cannot Believe I'm Saying This But I Got Into Pitch Wars!

 This was a week where dreams came true. 

When the week started, I was an anxious mess. I made a deal with God that if I could only have one good thing this week, to please take my four Pitch Wars requests in exchange for the election turning out all right. Ridiculous, but I could not fathom how very bad things would get for more and more vulnerable people if we had four more years of this awfulness. I was desperate.

And then things started looking okay. We all waited for it to be official. And even before the tension fully broke, Pitch Wars announcements were coming. I found myself suddenly, horribly caring about them again. I told myself it would be okay either way, that I have awesome CPs and a list of editors who expressed interest during #DVpit (and an agent I was about to finally query when I didn't get in--hopefully they'll still be excited to see my book when it's in the showcase!). But my anxiety had been practicing all week. Emotional DMs with friends in the same boat were my lifeline.

And then new messages appeared. The list was up. I turned my phone over. Got on my laptop. I clicked the link. I scrolled down, and down, and down--quickly through the middle grade and adult lists, and then slower, and slower, and slower through young adult. I was just dropping my shoulders and about to tell my family, already sitting down to dinner behind me, that I wasn't getting in, when my name appeared--next to the very first mentor team that had gone onto my sub list, the ones I automatically knew I would be beyond thrilled to work with, the ones I thought might really get my book. Sheena Boekweg and Alechia Dow both have published thrilling, fat-positive YA SFF books and have been my inspiration for hopefully getting to do the same someday. And now I get to work with them on my book!

After checking for friends' names (and being both ecstatic and devastated!) I hopped back on Twitter, where Sheena shared this gorgeous picture (I LOVE THIS BLOODY STATUE) and some of the nicest things anyone's said about my writing. I was too thrilled to sleep, so I got to celebrate with Alechia when she woke up over in Germany! I am so, so honored that they have chosen me and my book to give their time and expertise to, and I'm so looking forward to digging back into WE SHALL BE MONSTERS aka #MurderStatue and making it the best possible version of itself before sharing it with agents. 

Please click on the cover images to check out my mentors' exceptional books:

Cover image of GLITCH KINGDOM

And you can read more about the Pitch Wars program here. This year there were more than 4200 applicants and just about 120 writers got in. I have been on the other side of that math before--I got one partial my first year trying, when the very kind Tobie Easton read a bit of a truly awful fairy tale mashup and gave me a very encouraging phone call, and a few fulls the next year with DAUGHTER OF NO TEMPLE, which got lots of love over at Author Mentor Match thanks to the fabulous Emma Theriault (her beautiful book comes out in MERE DAYS YOU NEED IT GO BUY IT NOW), and lots of requests out in the querying trenches, but no offer. I'm hoping I've grown enough as a writer now that with a little more help and a lot more work, I can finally level up and make that leap. But I know how it feels to hope and not find your name on that list (I didn't even talk about applying to Pitch Wars this year ahead of time, beyond a couple DMs/Slacks, because it does hurt to hope and be let down!). If that's you this year, DO keep writing. Work with CPs, send that book out, write another. Read lots and lots of recent books in your genre and category, read a couple craft books if they jive for you, and keep going. DO NOT give up, please! I don't know how it happened, but recently I could feel my brain finally digesting the lessons it had been chewing over for years. Finally my writing was coming out how I wanted it. And I'm definitely still learning! And very, very lucky.

That math can mean you don't get in, don't even get a request, with a truly excellent book. Math and I aren't always the best of friends. I gave math the side eye a couple times this week. But people smarter than I with big maps kept me calm, just like the friends with bigger hearts and greater patience in my DMs. And somehow, things turned out pretty great! Which is a peculiar feeling lately!

Both dreams are going to require a LOT of work to make them truly come alive. But I'm ready to work on both, and see what more good things we can finally hope for.

Friday, September 11, 2020

In Which I Share A Little About #MurderStatue aka WE SHALL BE MONSTERS

A statue peering at a cell phone held up before her face

Since I won't shut up about it, I thought I'd make a post sharing some details from my YA Fantasy #MurderStatue book. Scroll down (or click) to hear about my book, farther to learn about me, and all the way to the end of this post for a snippet from the book's second POV just because I can't have a #MurderStatue post without my favorite murder statue.

a nine panel aesthetic of statues, character inspiration models, a scenes from Rome, as well as a quote "Black moon, bloody moon, something's coming, something soon"


In WE SHALL BE MONSTERS, a city-state is guarded by its hundreds of statues until one awakens and begins murdering the people she's meant to protect.

WSBM features:

  • Dual-POV
  • Enemies to lovers (Real enemies! No rivals weak sauce! There is blood!)
  • A fat, angry girl with a sword
  • An autistic boy with nothing but the poem in his heart
  • Sister angst
  • LGBTQ+ secondary characters/romance
  • Greco-Roman, alt-Italian vibes
  • A magic system based on the three states of matter
a painting of a statue awakening and surprising the artist carving itthe sculpture of Medusa with Perseus' head
  • Pygmalion meets Frankenstein
  • The 80s classic Mannequin if she started killing everyone (I haven't seen this since I was a kid so I'm just assuming that doesn't happen in the film, right?)
  • The statue on the left meets the statue on the right
  • Romeo and Juliet vibes if Juliet carried and used that knife the entire time 
  • If you want to play by the rules, Strange the Dreamer meets Girl, Serpent, Thorn

WSBM turned out deeply personal, and it's been both exciting and scary to share it with CPs and betas.

screenshot of a conversation with a friend about how my book's critique of the Catholic church and naming a lesbian after my grandmother might make my mom freak out
And also my mom😬

The book draws on my Italian, Roman-Catholic background, and I do think Nonna would appreciate and probably not come after me with the guilt, but the autism rep and the girl who just happens to be fat as she lives her adventure and how it all intertwines with these teens' coming of age are what I'm really hoping resonate with readers who need more of these stories. That's so important to me, it kept me writing through an epic, on-going, debilitating flare up of my chronic pain condition (thanks, mismanaged pandemic, for barring access to regular treatment!). I mostly act like everything's okay, online, but these past months have been hell, and WSBM, even on days I can barely sit at the computer, has been my main outlet. This isn't the book of my heart, it's the book of my screaming nervous system.

an female Asian artist with her gorgeous female sculpturea sculpture in a yoga pose and glowing at cracks that line her body

Side note, it's been a trip working on this book while statues took over the national discourse. My book is nothing to the vital ongoing movement to remove expressions of white supremacy, but it's been wild seeing people discuss how statues shape the story told by those in power while writing a book literally about statues asserting their own narratives and murdering the lies of the past. And people digging themselves out from under institutions that have brainwashed them.

That got heavy! Let's get to some fun stuff.


Oh, the John Donne Holy Sonnet #14 of it all (except in the very best Donne tradition, turning that rapturous fervor to a love interest). We've got Hozier, Florence, Evanescence, Eurielle, Klergy, Halsey, etc. 


The general aesthetic I was going for, Italian disaster, that's it, that's the book

Not a meme but the FOOD! This book made me cook so much. A critique partner asked about the squash blossoms in the book, and this is what they look like before cooking, stuffed with ricotta.

Milo, who is so soft he's legally not considered a solid. He's my pensive, overthinking, sad Italian boy.

Milo meeting Gia:

The temple trying to maintain control through the chaos:

Milo's best friend, Valentina, himbo of himbos:



If you're not one of the three readers of this blog and found this via Twitter! I'm Leanne, writer of young adult fantasy. I love teaching, theater, and actively dismantling systems of oppression. I can be found (uh pre-pandemic) spending too much time and money at my local indie, Mysterious Galaxy, screeching on Twitter about my friends' books, and corrupting the minds of America's youth (as an English teacher). I've been writing novels for a while now, and I'm really excited about seeing where I can take WSBM.

a collage of me with writer friends

Thanks for reading! You can connect with me on Twitter and Instagram through the links in the sidebar. (And scroll down to read a snippet of my fat angry murder statue.)

a meme I made where a happy baby (me) loves pizza (my friends' books)


She drags in her first breath in a thousand years, drinks in pine, gulps down the last dregs of sunlight. It runs through her lungs, her blood, like the blazing of light on bronze. Quick, metallic.

She must remember how to breathe, how to live, but after a millennium, her grip doesn’t fail. Her sword completes a swing aimed at an enemy long crumbled back into dust. The movement almost drags her off the pedestal the templars set her upon, but a length of ivy fashioned of iron grips the ankle above her foot that was planted flat, secured to the block of stone. She hefts her sword back to recover her balance, wincing at the ivy’s bite.

She sheathes her sword at her back and pulls free a knife from her belt. Crouches, and slides the blade between her boot and the iron. Takes her deepest breath yet, and angles the handle down.

Her swallowed cry still sends the cat darting away. She shudders in another breath, and rocks the knife forward again. Again.

The edge of the blade bites through a leather strap. She grimaces and wrenches again. She doesn’t expect the pain to stop just because she’s awake. Alive.

Why is she alive?

The top wisp of iron ivy gives just enough for her to slip her thickly curved leg free. The knife is ruined, dulled on the iron and bent—she tosses it aside, knocking over the ridiculous paper beast, and climbs down.

The cat leaps from the shadows to tuck itself against her throbbing ankle while she surveys her surroundings.

Darkness. Crumbled temple walls. And trees grown up to supplant its columns. But the slight moon is out, and she knows where she is. Her feet know their way down this hill.

Her rage knows its long-held target.

And, pricking painfully at her heart, a slice of hope urges her forward.

The cat skitters away from her first shambling steps. Gia sets her teeth and straightens her spine. The cat creeps behind.

When they spill into the city, Gia finds it familiar and unfamiliar, a great stone heart calcified. Some ways are filled in with new buildings, small streets and alleys, but she finds the main arteries. The old squares, great buildings of worn stone.

She finds the other statues.

Above a well sunk in the middle of a square, a stone man with one arm contorted back raises his other in warning. A jeweled beast, a serpent, positions its teeth around the man’s wrenched arm. The mockery of it—Gia’s rage swells like the Argus in late spring. She stares up at the man’s face, agony cast in moonlight, and the slice of hope wanes, growing smaller and sharper, piercing deeper.

She pushes on. The streets are all quiet. It’s the city’s turn to sleep.

And hers to enact vengeance.

The first temple waits atop its hill at the end of the great road, paved darkly and lined now with so many statues. Their stone faces watch her. Jeweled monster eyes wink with silvery light. Carved teeth and claws fill the dark.

She draws a slow deep breath through her nose. No running away this time. She enters the square, limps towards the temple steps.

A figure shatters the staid lines of the temple’s steps and columns, silhouetted by the torches along the wall. A long curve twisting in pain and endurance and spiked with a dozen weapons. Arrows and spears feather the statue’s back and shoulders like a nightmare of wings. A lone spear shafts down through the woman’s front, rending stone tunic and flesh. Gia doesn’t feel her feet move, but she finds herself closer, rounding on the statue, looking up into her face—beautiful and stoic and marked with a crescent drawn upon her high brow.

The slice of hope splinters all the way into Gia’s heart.

Her rage comes alive, like a serpent threading through her veins, through her limbs, like battle cries and clanging swords in her head. Her breath escapes her again. There are no more fine words, just her vision narrowing to one black thought: Enemy. Enemy. Enemy.

The temple breaks open, light spilling from around a door. Gia crouches behind the statue’s pedestal. Two men stumble out.


One begins down the steps, but the other hangs on the door frame. “You’re too drunk to make it.”

“The pleasures of Helena’s bed call even through three bottles of wine!”

The first templar dismisses this with a wave and a laugh, “You’ll wake tomorrow in an alley halfway there and late for rites.”

“Better make an offering now then.” He leans one hand upon the statue’s breast, just above where the stone spear pierces her, and with his other jerks up his robes.

The other man snorts and swings himself back inside, fumbling the door closed. The clank of the lock and thud of the security bar follows.

Piss hits stone. Gia rises like lava coursing upwards. Why does he get to be alive, to drink and piss and bed his way through days and nights never stolen and frozen in stone? She draws her sword.

The templar spins, barely steadying himself by the jutting spear. He spies the cat, ambling across the square, and slumps. Chuckles at himself.

He doesn’t notice Gia until she steps completely from behind the statue, one girl shifting into two. One still and stone. One blood and fury.

They sing together as Gia strikes. Her sword slashes—the man falls. Blood flies. A proper offering at the statue’s feet.

He struggles away, painting the stones a slicker black. Only able to gasp. Gia thrusts, trapping his body to the stone. The moon has lost itself behind the city walls, but there is just enough light to see the fear in his eyes. Gia drinks it in to the last dreg.

When he’s dead, she yanks her sword back, hissing as her weight shifts to her sore ankle. Still, there’s more to do. More enemies waiting in this temple. She steps around the fallen templar.

Her chest tightens. Gia frowns. She is not afraid. She is the monster stalking this night. Her next breath comes thickly.

Something is wrong.

She retreats, back to the edge of the square, catching herself against the corner of a building. She fights down another breath. Her palm scrapes over the rough blocks. She shoves her way farther from the enemy, around another corner, down a narrow alley. The cat chases after her and mewls as Gia sinks to the ground.

No. She can’t go back to the silence and waiting, under the unbearable weight of betrayal and impotence. Her fist clenches the hilt of her bloody but unsated sword.

She swallows a shallow breath and curls into herself, as if she could hold on to it. But with a gasp she becomes again stone, and still.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Off Book: REBEL ROSE by Emma Theriault


Description from Disney:

Happily ever after is only the beginning as Belle takes on the responsibility of becoming queen and learns to balance duty, love, and sacrifice, all while navigating dark political intrigue—and a touch of magic.

It’s 1789 and France is on the brink of revolution. Belle has finally broken the Enchantress’s curse, restoring the Beast to his human form, and bringing life back to their castle in the province of Aveyon. But in Paris, the fires of change are burning, and it’s only a matter of time before the rebellion arrives on their doorstep.

Belle has always dreamed of leaving her provincial home for a life of adventure. But now she finds herself living in a palace, torn between her roots as a commoner, and her future as a royal. When she stumbles across a mysterious, ancient magic that brings with it a dire warning, she must question whether she is ready for the power being thrust on her, and if being Queen is more than just a title.

Rebel Rose is the first in the Queen’s Council series, an empowering fairy tale reimagining of the Disney Princesses—and the real history behind their stories—like you’ve never seen before.


I adored this book! Theriault gives us the perfect blend of Disney and historical detail, in a compelling but utterly readable voice. 

Belle is brought to life as a likable and relatable heroine, and her progression from feeling uncomfortable with her new royal-adjacent role to claiming it in order to help the principality she was once desperate to leave for far-flung adventure is a satisfying journey. When she finally cuts through all the delicious political intrigue, she had me cheering along with the rest of Aveyon (a moment that also had me choking up). 

It's fun seeing many of the characters from the animated and recent live action films come into play--I am so here for Big Virgo Energy Cogsworth, and a feisty Mrs. Potts plays an important role as advisor to Belle, not directing her but inspiring her to find her strength. It's really a joy seeing a relationship like that between older and younger female characters, along with another female friendship for Belle that was a highlight of the book for me. Plus, when Mrs. Potts used a potty mouth (just the once!) it made me laugh--definitely a glimmer of Emma Thompson in the role there! There was also deft handling of the "gay moment" introduced at the end of the live action film. I don't want to get into spoilers, but I appreciate how in the book it's evolved into a presentation with real empathy, plus Theriault includes multiple representations of queerness and also uses all that rich historical research to bring in new characters of color.

The romance is just what I think fans of BATB will be looking for--no questioning of the love between Belle and her prince, just the pair facing new challenges together and apart. There are several adorably sweet moments between the two (hello, ponytail!), and a heartfelt treatment of the emotional aftereffects of the curse they've been through, as well as the rocky start to their relationship.

I think readers will love the clearly well-researched historical detail in the descriptions of France and Aveyon, and there's enough courtly machinations to keep them guessing along with Belle as she goes from the rowdy streets of Paris to the principality and people she's desperate to protect. This is a great read to get swept up in, with plenty of far-off places and magic spells--I couldn't put it down!

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Off Book: SURRENDER YOUR SONS by Adam Sass

Summary from author's site:

SURRENDER YOUR SONS is a YA mystery set on an island—like LOST but very, very queer. A gay teen named Connor finds his summer vacation interrupted by a group of masked men who abduct him and deliver him to a conversion therapy camp on a desolate Pacific island. Connor’s religious zealot family arranged this for him, but he has no intention of staying. 
Connor then teams up with the other kidnapped LGBTQ+ teens to uncover the camp’s dark secrets and take the whole place down.


I have been hearing about this book for so long, and then I read it and it was beyond anything I had imagined. Yes, it's like LOST or LORD OF THE FLIES but queer, but it's anything but derivative. This book takes so many literary conventions and busts them apart, then crafts them into something utterly new. I loved the daring nonlinear unraveling of the timeline and mystery, which goes so much deeper than expected. I loved how unflinchingly the book examines the messy reality of queer life, and all the places the queer community builds family and strength for themselves. This isn't a book written for someone who wants a smoothed-over image of queer experiences, you can tell this comes deeply from a real OwnVoices perspective. It's for the young people who need to hear that voice, their voice, and see both the struggles more inescapable than an isolated island and triumphs possible. The presentation of queerness was so good (including a model of how to handle pronouns for trans characters through a character's POV). Connor is a voice that's going to stick in my head for a long time. The story is a wild adventure, but by the end I was a crying mess, holding my breath as I turned the final pages.

Off Book: WENCH by Maxine Kaplan

Summary from author's site:
Tanya has worked at her tavern since she was able to see over the bar. She broke up her first fight at 11. By the time she was a teenager she knew everything about the place, and she could run it with her eyes closed. She’d never let anyone—whether it be a drunkard or a captain of the queen’s guard—take advantage of her. But when her guardian dies, she might lose it all: the bar, her home, her purpose in life. So she heads out on a quest to petition the queen to keep the tavern in her name—dodging unscrupulous guards, a band of thieves, and a powerful, enchanted feather that seems drawn to her. Fast-paced, magical, and unapologetically feminist, Wench is epic fantasy like you’ve never seen it before.


WENCH was a fun romp with admirably strong female characters--strong in all different ways! The world building will greatly appeal to the Minecraft/gaming crowd. As the magic system was explored and developed into more intricate systems, I kept thinking of all my students who would would be totally entranced by this story. It's a little episodic--the main focus throughout sits squarely on the stout, capable shoulders of the title wench, Tanya, as she goes in search of the one thing she wants and ends up exploring farther out into the world and into herself than she planned. The larger cast of characters are fun, especially Jana. The body positive rep/exploration (for female and male characters) is another plus.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Off Book: LITTLE CREEPING THINGS by Chelsea Ichaso

I'm SO excited to share my review of LITTLE CREEPING THINGS, a book I've been looking forward to reading since I first read the pitch, and which comes out June 2nd.

Blurb from Barnes & Noble:
As a child, Cassidy Pratt accidentally started a fire that killed her neighbor. At least, that's what she's been told. She can't remember anything from that day. She's pretty sure she didn't mean to do it. She's a victim too. But her town's bullies, particularly the cruel and beautiful Melody Davenport, have never let her live it down. In Melody's eyes, Cassidy is a murderer and always will be.
When Cassidy overhears what sounded like an abduction and Melody goes missing, Cassidy knows she should go to the cops, but... She recently joked about how much she'd like to get rid of Melody. She even planned out the perfect way to do it. It's up to Cassidy to figure out what really happened, because if she comes forward without a suspect, she knows people will point fingers at her. Again. And she can't let that happen.
But the truth behind Melody's disappearance will set the whole town ablaze.

My Review:

I found this thriller to be compulsively readable, which is what I'm always looking for when I pick up a thriller. It also totally did that (rare) thing where it had me questioning and suspecting EVERYONE. It reminded me of TWO CAN KEEP A SECRET in that way. The tension was deliciously taut as I could see the mystery going in any number of ways, and also couldn't quite figure out how it would unravel, until it did, in its very satisfying conclusion. There was a fair amount of relationship drama woven into the mystery, too, so teens who are looking for that will be happy. The characters are likable and well-drawn, the voice strong and engaging. Overall, this was a compelling and satisfying read--with an unsettling edge.