Check This Out: A Wish After Midnight and The Door at the Crossroads

It’s always great when friends introduce you to their friends, especially if those friends are authors. Thanks to Lyn Miller-Lachmann, I learned about Zetta Elliott, an educator with a Ph.D. in American Studies from NYU, who also is a playwright. Awesome, right? And she’s written several books for children, including Bird, her award-winning picture book. Zetta is a hybrid author—one who has been traditionally published and indie published. She’s here because of her young adult time travel series, the first two of which are A Wish After Midnight and The Door at the Crossroads.


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After I chat with Zetta, I’ll fill you in on a giveaway. So for now, grab a cup of coffee or tea and hang out with us. We won’t bite. Much.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Zetta: I’m an immigrant [from Canada]. I’m a Scorpio. I’m middle-aged (43). I’m a medieval geek.

El Space: How did you get started writing speculative fiction books for children and teens?
Zetta: I guess the seed was the fantasy fiction I read as a child—mostly British, entirely white. Ducks believe the first creature they see at birth is their mother and they pattern themselves after that creature. Well, I read so much fantasy fiction about faeries and dragons and wizards that it wasn’t hard for me to “go there” when I started writing for kids in 2000. That was my imprint and it took a long time for me to hybridize those Western conventions so that the genre worked for me and my young readers of color.


El Space: What inspired you to write a time travel series? Which time period, if any, would you travel to if you could?
Zetta: Learning about Weeksville inspired me to write Wish and Crossroads. I was still new to Brooklyn, and when I learned about the historic free Black community—second largest in the U.S. prior to the Civil War—I knew I wanted to make that history relevant to teens. I was writing my dissertation on racial violence and also wanted young readers to know that wasn’t limited to the South, so the novels became an opportunity to talk about domestic terrorism and the NYC Draft Riots.


Weeksville in Brooklyn (New York)

Life was pretty rough for women in the past, so I don’t know if I’d want to trade this era for another. I was obsessed with Ancient Egypt as a child, though, so if I had some type of perfect immunity that’s probably where I’d go.

El Space: In a recent Huffington Post article, you stated, “Self-publishing is, for me, an act of radical self care—and self-love.” Could you unpack that a little for us?
Zetta: Audre Lorde once wrote that self-care is political warfare because it is an act of resistance. When you live in a society that is committed to destroying and/or denigrating Black people—and Black women in particular—then choosing to be gentle with yourself means a lot. It means you reject all the messages you’re receiving about your worth. Self-love insists that you are worthy and deserving of care and kindness and compassion. Black women do a lot for others but we don’t always remember to make ourselves a priority. Then add publishing to the mix and you’ve got an industry dominated by white women that largely excludes Black women. When I self-publish, I’m pushing back against the implicit message that my work doesn’t matter to them. It matters to me and it matters to the members of my community, so I don’t need to look outside myself and my community for permission to tell my tales.


El Space: How has mentoring been a help to you as a writer? How do you mentor others through your books or through the college classes you teach?
Zetta: I generally think of mentoring as a sustained, long-term relationship and I don’t really provide that to any one person. I’m an educator and so my students can call on my anytime, and some do long after they’ve graduated or grown up. I’m happy to provide whatever advice I can to aspiring writers and I get lots of email queries about self-publishing. I see hundreds of kids every year and I try to embody possibility for the one hour I’m in their school. I never saw or met an author when I was a kid, so I let them know that I’m not some special person from far away—I’m a member of their community. Anyone can be a writer if they choose to be—my high school English teacher told me that in Grade 9, and that changed the course of my life.


El Space: What’s the best writing advice you’ve received recently? Why?
Zetta: I don’t think I’ve gotten any advice recently. I’m always learning about myself as a writer and I try to keep learning about the publishing industry so I know what I’m up against! My friend Maya Gonzalez always says, “The revolution is now!” and that reminds me not to wait for change, but to be the change instead.

El Space: Which authors inspire you?
Zetta: Octavia Butler blew my mind with Kindred and I admire Jamaica Kincaid a lot. I like writers who take chances. Gayl Jones has had a challenging life but her first novel Corregidora is a Black feminist classic and stands the test of time. James Baldwin inspires me because he was an activist and author, and his books didn’t generally improve as he aged, but he kept writing what he felt compelled to write.

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El Space: What are you working on next?
Zetta: I’m hoping to publish The Ghosts in the Castle next month, which is Book #3 in my City Kids series. Next I have to finish The Return, which is the sequel to The Deep and Book #3 in my “freaks and geeks” trilogy. And then I hope to start my Black girl Viking novel, The Ring—if I can find a way to get over to Sweden to do some research!

Thanks, Zetta, for being my guest!

You can find Zetta at her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

A Wish After Midnight and The Door at the Crossroads are available at these fine establishments:

Amazon (Wish) (Crossroads)
Barnes and Noble (Wish) (Crossroads)
Indiebound (Wish) (Crossroads)

But one of you will win a copy of both books! Just comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on May 6 (because I have other giveaways coming).

Author photo courtesy of the author. Book covers from Goodreads. Weeksville photo from Self-love image from Dragon from Indie image from

Check This Out: Brotherhood

Hello. Glad you found your way back to my neck of the woods and didn’t get lost along the way. I could tell you stories about getting lost! But I won’t digress. Instead, I’ll announce that with me today is the fascinating and fantastic Anne Westrick. Anne is represented by Leigh Feldman of Writers House.

A.B.Westrick.cropped.low_resIf you’re a regular reader of the blog, you can probably guess the place Anne and I have in common, so I’ll save myself some typing and instead tell you that Anne’s book, Brotherhood, is what we’re here to talk about today. (If you’re new to the blog, just click here and you’ll have the answer.)

Check out this synopsis for Brotherhood:

Brotherhood COVER ARTThe year is 1867, and Richmond, Virginia, lies in ruins. By day fourteen-year-old Shadrach apprentices with a tailor and sneaks off for reading lessons with Rachel, a freed slave, at her school for African-American children. By night he follows his older brother to the meetings of a brotherhood, newly formed to support Confederate widows and grieving families like his. As the true murderous mission of the brotherhood—now known as the Ku Klux Klan—emerges, Shad is trapped between his pledge to them and what he knows is right. In this unflinching view of the bitter animosity that stemmed from economic and social upheaval in the South during the period of Reconstruction, it’s clear that the Civil War has ended, but the conflict isn’t over.

Brotherhood debuts on September 12, courtesy of Viking/Penguin. But one of you will receive an ARC of Brotherhood very soon. It even comes with a bookmark! More about that later.

El Space: Thanks for stopping by, Anne! Please slip us four quick facts about yourself.
Anne: Through junior high and high school, math was my favorite subject. I don’t live to eat; I eat to live. I love sudoku puzzles. I hate to shop.


El Space: Wow. For two out of four of those answers, we are twins separated at birth! So, how did you come up with the idea for Brotherhood?
Anne: It really started with a feeling more than an idea—with the feeling of being stuck in a situation you can’t get out of. When my father was growing up in the South in the 1930s, he felt stuck, and vowed that he wouldn’t raise his own children there. I thought about that a lot, and started writing scenes with a character who felt stuck. My protagonist is a boy who has joined a gang, because it offers him a lot of support. Then the gang—the Klan—makes demands on him, and he wishes he hadn’t joined. But it’s too late.

El Space: How long did it take you to write Brotherhood?
Anne: I started in 2008, completed a first draft in 2009, then rewrote it five times during 2010. In 2011, I polished the story and the manuscript got the attention of an agent who sold it to Viking. My editor there asked for revisions, and I worked on those in 2012 and early 2013.

300px-Collage_of_Landmarks_in_Richmond,_Virginia_v_1El Space: What tools were helpful as you researched the time period?
Anne: Books, libraries, museums, and the Internet were great. I set the story in Richmond, Virginia, where I live, and I made a point to walk or drive down every street mentioned in the story, and linger en route, taking in the details—the angle of the light, the toll of church bells, the views of Richmond’s hills.

El Space: What appealed to you about this time period? What were the challenges of writing about such a turbulent period in history?
Anne: Many have written nonfiction about this time period—Reconstruction—but I hadn’t seen a lot of good fiction set after the Civil War, so I figured that even in today’s saturated market, there might be a place for a novel set in the late 1860s. I’d also noticed that while there are books featuring Southern elites—plantation owners—and African-Americans, both free and enslaved, few books feature ordinary poor white tradesmen. I didn’t think their story had yet been told.

El Space: Many writers sprinkle a little bit of themselves in their characters. Which character, if any, is very much like you? Which is extremely different from you?
Anne: I was a little goody-goody growing up, so my bad-boy character, Jeremiah, was really hard to write. I’d like to think that the character most like me is Rachel, the African-American teacher who is strong and funny and determined. But I’m probably more like the protagonist, Shad—sometimes unsure and questioning how I got into a situation I didn’t plan on, and basically trying hard, but not always succeeding.

El Space: What authors or books inspire you as a writer?
Anne: For writing inspiration, I’ve read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird three times. She was the first to give me permission to write badly and revise later, and without that advice, I wouldn’t have a book coming into the world this year.


Thanks, Anne, for visiting today! Anyone else who stopped by need not say good-bye to Anne. You can visit her at her website, Facebook, or on Twitter. And don’t forget that Brotherhood is available here:

Barnes and Noble
Powell’s Books

I’ve got an ARC of Brotherhood signed by Anne and a bookmark ready to leave my hands and find a home in yours. Simply comment below to be entered in the drawing to receive both. The winner will be announced on Saturday. Previous winners sadly remain ineligible until September. But please don’t let that stop you from commenting! As Edna Mode from The Incredibles would say, “I enjoy our visits.”


Photos of Richmond from Wikipedia. Bird by Bird cover from Goodreads. Edna Mode from