Thursday, December 31, 2015

@MECunningham01 Decembers Author of the Month

Play list for Reluctant Guardian-- Songs about loss and redemption—They inspired me while I wrote.

  1. Down, by Jason Walker
  2. Holding on and Letting go, by Ross Copperman.
  3. Poison and Wine, by The Civil Wars
  4. Farewell, by Rosie Thomas
  5. Your Guardian Angel, by The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus
  6. Almost Lover, by A Fine Frenzy
  7. Fix You, Javier Colon
  8. Nobody's Home, by Avril Lavigne
  9. Someone Like You, by Adele
  10. His Love, Vickey Pahnke & John Canaan
  11. My Own Worst Enemy, by Casting Crowns
  12. In My Arms, by Plumb
  13. Without You, byt David Guetta & Usher
  14. Possibility, by Lykke Li

These songs not only helped me be in the mood to write a story about suicide, death, abuse, and healing, but they helped me on my own road to healing after one of my dearest friends took her own life.


  1. What is your schedule like when you’re writing?  I write while my kids are at school and once in a while when they’re home, but busy. My brain turns off in the evening, so I don’t get much writing done then. Plus, I want to spend time hanging with the fam in the evening.
  2. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?  I love La La Land whether I’m writing about it or not, so I love going to the movies—the smell of popcorn is like ambrosia—and I enjoy reading and watching TV. I live on a mini farm so I hang out with girls (my chickens) or the horses. I LOVE to organize, so I’m always cleaning something in my spare time. I do have to rest quite a bit since I’m still recovering from Lyme Disease, and other than that, I’m with my hubby and kids.
  3. How many books have you written and which is your favorite?  I’ve written quite a few, but not all of them are published, but I really can’t pick a favorite. Okay, yes I can. I LOVE The Eye of TanĂºb. That would be my fav.!
  4. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? I wanted to be a veterinarian! But then I found out how much math I’d have to take! That changed my mind pretty quick!
  5. Who are your favorite authors? I really love Stephen King. Especially his earlier books. They have less swearing and tighter editing, and are not so dang long! I also went through a stage where I read everything from Ann Rice. I love her vampire series. I love horror and suspense. I love Shannon Hale, and Dan Wells. Okay, I love a lot of authors. I’m not picky. LOL I love the dystopian novels that are out now too, like The 5th Wave, Hunger Games, Maze Runner etc…
  6. Were you good at English? NO! I was terrible. I couldn’t diagram a sentence if you paid me! I hated it. I just wasn’t good at all that left brain stuff. I’m still not! I love story and imagination. That is where I excel.
  7. What are you working on at the moment? I’m almost finished with a dystopian novel of my own called, Toy Soldiers. I’m really excited about it and can’t wait to show it to my publisher!


MC: “We have a very special guest appearing on our show today. She’s not your average visitor though. She’s a ghost! So if you can’t see her, just let us know and we’ll dim the lights a bit more. Alisa Callahan, come on in!”
(Alisa strolls in wearing her long, blonde hair loose and down, over her shoulders and a long, white dress, angel style. She sits down across from the MC)
MC: “Welcome, Alisa. We’re so glad you could come! Andy may I say, you look radiant!”
ALISA: “Thank you, and thanks for having me.” (She smiles demurely.)
MC: “You’re welcome. So, let’s get to the fun questions. You seems so bright, so intelligent. Why on Earth would you commit suicide?”
ALISA: (Her mouth drops and she stare at MC in surprise for a moment.) “Wow. I didn’t know you were going to lead with that question.” (She chuckles and shakes her head.) “But we might as well get the hard stuff over with first.”
“At the time—and it has been a few years now—I was so, so sad… all the time. My best friend, Natty, had died of cancer, my Gram had just passed away, and I’d endured years of sexual abuse from Natty’s dad. I just couldn’t handle life anymore… I thought. I figured things would be better or easier once I was dead. Man, was I wrong!”
MC: “Really? And why is that?”
ALISA: “Because everyone on the “other side” has a job to do. Everyone has to work. There’s not a whole lot of rest going on. I had to fix my mistakes, which was harder to do without a body. I had to atone for my sins, so-to-speak.”
MC: “Ah. And how did that make you feel?”
ALISA: “Angry at first, to be honest. But it turned out to be the best thing for me. I had to attend my own funeral and see what my choice had done to my family. It was so hard. So terrible!”
MC: “I can’t imagine! You had some struggles once you accepted the job of “Guardian.” Did those struggles help you grow also?”
ALISA: “Absolutely! My first charge was a rebel! He wouldn’t listen or accept advice, but those conflicts taught me how to deal with difficult situations. Brecken and I ended up falling in love and saving each other’s lives! I don’t know what I’d do without him now!”
MC: “That’s wonderful to hear. It really is, and I’d love to hear more sometime, but we have a surprise for you! A special guest we’ve asked to come and be a part of this show!”
ALISA: “Brecken’s here? Really?” (Alisa turns in her seat, searching for the door guests come through.)
MC: “Not exactly. Audience, please give a round of applause for Lamia, The Woman in Red, from Reluctant Guardian!”
(There’s wild applause and cheering. Alisa’s face pales, if that’s possible for a ghost and she wears an expression of horror.)
Alisa: “You didn’t tell me there would be other guests.”
(Lamia walks in and sits demurely next to Alisa on the couch. She smiles as though she has an evil secret. Alisa can only stare.)
MC: “Welcome, Queen of the Underworld. How have you been?”
(Lamia ignores MC’s question and instead turns to Alisa.
Lamia: “Hello, dear girl. It’s a pleasure to see you again. How are things with you and The Undoer?”
Alisa: “I’m not staying here with her!” she says to MC. “She tried to kill me!”
Lamia: “Oh, come. Don’t hold a grudge.”
Alisa: “You’re evil and I won’t sit next to you like nothing is wrong. You should still be in Soul Prison. How did you get out?”
(Lamia gives Alisa a small, prim smile.)
Lamia: “I have my ways.” She finally turns to MC. “I’m doing well, thank you for this invitation. I love interviews.”
MC: “Of course, of course. And may I say, you look wonderful!”
Lamia: “Yes, this body is stunning.” (She smooths her short, red skirt and crosses her legs.) “It’s not mine, but will do until it wears out. Mortals are so fragile, you know.”
MC: “Yes… well, that’s… that’s wonderful. Can you tell us what you’ve been doing since your battle with Alisa and Brecken?”
Lamia: “Oh, times were trying for a while, I assure you, but now that I’m free to roam about the world I am busy working to teach demons how to possess the mortal bodies that are so abundant here on this Earth.”
Alisa: “What?” (Alisa jumps up and turns to MC.) “That’s it. Either have her escorted out or I’m leaving. I won’t continue this show with her. Do you even know what she’s done?”
Lamia: “Temper, temper, Alisa. You’ll never become a true guardian angel with that attitude.”
MC: (MC ignores Alisa’s outburst.) “Would either of you share what you future plans are?”
Lamia: “I already told you mine.”
Alisa: “It will be my eternity’s work to put people like this back where they belong!” (She points at Lamia with righteous indignation.) “Good will always overcome evil.”
Lamia: “Whatever… as youth are prone to say now-a-days.”
(Alisa glares at Lamia and turns to MC.)
Alisa: “Thanks for the invitation, but I’m leaving.” (And with that she disappears.)
MC: “Well, then, that leaves just the two of us.” (MC glances at Lamia with a touch of nervousness.)
Lamia: “I don’t think so. You don’t hold my interest in the least. I was here only to see Alisa. That girl fascinates me. And you… you had better sleep with one eye open.” (She gives MC a wicked grin and then also disappears.)

MC: (MC stutters and glances around at the people in the auditorium.) “Well, audience. There you have it. If you have the chance, check out Reluctant Guardian and its sequels, The Elementalist and the soon to be published, The Undoer.

Author Links

Next Door To A Star Blog Tour

 “Hadley, did you see the new Celebrity Snooper blog today?” Aunt Faith asked. “Simone is in it with
Lauren Gere.”
“What? She didn’t say anything about that. Werethese super old pictures?”
“Here,” she said. “I’ll pull it up on my phone. It’s Simone and Lauren walking along the boardwalk with some blonde girl and a boy.”
“Does it say when that happened?” I asked. I couldn’t believe Simone wouldn’t have mentioned
Lauren had already been here.
Faith found the site on her phone and stared at it. “I’m not sure, but I guess it was pretty recent. Here,
Simone was on the phone in the picture and the blonde girl with them was Morgan. But what was worse  was that the boy was Nick and Lauren had her hand on his arm. Great, it was probably the same night I called Simone and she was too busy to talk. Maybe I was the one on the other end of the phone in the stupid picture. I had missed my chance to meet Lauren, and Simone never even told me when she was in town. I guess I wasn’t cool enough for her to admit she was friends with me to somebody like Lauren. Who was I kidding? A TV star wanting to hang out with me? We weren’t friends at all. I was somebody she ran to when she needed something. And Nick was probably humoring me until his new celebrity girlfriend called him back. I wanted to throw up all over the table.

 Charlotte called later and asked if I wanted to go with her to the party tomorrow .I went to put on my fake tan and imagined myself walking into the party looking all tan and gorgeous, and everyone would be wondering who I was and why they hadn’t asked me to hang out with them before. Connor and Lucas would want my phone number, Nick would be begging me to go out with him, Simone would realize I was cool, and Morgan would want to be my friend.
Then reality set in. First, the fake tan squirted out of the bottle all gooey. I rubbed the cold cream all over my arms and legs and put a little on my face. Simone had said you had to wash your hands well or it would stain your palms. I wasn’t sure how to put the tanning stuff on the back of my hands without getting it on my palms and drying, so I decided not to put any on my hands at all. I sat on some paper towels so I wouldn’t get any brown stuff on my bed, but it seemed to dry fast.
I woke up the next morning and I was definitely darker. My face was kind of orange, but my arms and legs had streaks on them. It was like somebody had burned me with a curling iron. Plus, my hands looked like I had white gloves on compared to the rest of me. I couldn’t go to the party all streaky.
People would make fun of me. I thought about putting the tanning stuff on all the lighter places on my body, but then it might look like I had a disease.
I ended up wearing a long sleeved shirt and jeans to the party. Charlotte had on a t-shirt and shorts when she came to pick me up.
“Aren’t you hot wearing all that?” she asked.
“I want to be covered for the mosquitoes,” I said. “Malaria is nothing to mess around with.”
I wasn’t the only one wearing jeans at the party, but I felt like I was dressed for a winter carnival when I saw Morgan and Pilar. Pilar had a deep pink halter top on with tiny jean shorts, and she had put some shimmery stuff all over her arms and legs. Morgan was wearing a blue crocheted tank top, and she would have passed for at least seventeen. She had her curly blonde hair down for a change, and all the guys were sitting around her.
“She’s so fake-looking,” Charlotte said as we watched Morgan and Lucas dance.
Morgan seemed so confident as she moved her hips. I wouldn’t be able to dance so free even if I was alone in my own bedroom. I was glad I had worn jeans because I would have seemed like a skinny kid next to Morgan’s muscular legs.

 Q. What made you want to tell 'Hadley' story?
A. Back when I was in school I saw girls who would put up with being treated badly just to hang out with certain people and it bothered me. I remember being at the mall and a friend of mine came up to me with this girl. We were talking and the other girl kept making little jokes at my friend’s expense and saying passive aggressive things. Later, that friend asked me to spend the night at her house and I knew the other person would be there, so I said I was busy. I wondered why my friend kept hanging around this girl. So I wanted to write from that perspective, but also write about when you make one friend so exclusive and then they move and you have to start over, which is what happens at the beginning of the book when Hadley’s best friend Lexi moves to Dallas. I thought so many girls do that where they just have the one close friend and how shattering it would be to have that person move and then stop keeping in touch with you and you have to start over.
I also liked the idea of moving somewhere where you could have a fresh start and reinvent yourself. Plus, we’re all so bombarded with images of celebrities that I wanted to put that into the story, but with a realistic spin on it where you see things in that famous celebrity world aren’t what they appear to be. That even these seemingly perfect people have insecurities and sides of themselves that are just put on for the cameras. Hadley starts to see how even her favorite actress who she aspires to look like doesn’t actually look like that naturally. That was something I didn’t realize at her age—I didn’t get that images were altered and Photoshopped. I felt that was important to put in the story because that would have helped my self-image as a teen as I compared myself to the models in the magazines.

Q.  What was the hardest part?
A. I think writing the scene where Hadley and Simone run into Nick and his girlfriend was the hardest. I felt the same sick feeling Hadley got as the guy she liked was blowing her off and with another girl. I also felt very emotional when writing about how Simone feels replaced by her dad’s new family.

Q. If you could tell 'Hadley' anything what would?
A. I would tell her to stop comparing herself to other girls and that fame and popularity isn’t what she would expect. We all get so swept up into these images in the media that make it look like everyone famous has the perfect life. Slowly, she starts to see that it’s not that way and she learns from Simone how manipulated the images are in reality.

Q. How is 'Next Door to A Star' different than  'Landry's True Colors Series'?
A. In Next Door to a Star, we see Hadley having one best friend who she spent all her time with and when her friend moves, she realizes she doesn’t have a lot of people to hang out with. When she tries to find a new squad, she encounters mean girls and bullies. So branching out to meet new people isn’t easy for her and she basically decides to reinvent herself when she moves to Grand Haven and she gets very swept up by celebrity and popularity. Landry from the Landry’s True Colors Series gets ignored by her best friends after a modeling contest and has to overcome the fact she’s an introvert at heart and find out where she fits in best. Both girls are trying to find their tribes, but they have different personalities. Landry wants to fit in and stand out, but she’s more afraid to step into the limelight. There’s a part of her that wants to just fade into the background when she gets uncomfortable whereas Hadley wants to be accepted by the popular crowd and the former teen celebrity, Simone. I think Landry is coming from the place of an introvert who wants to overcome her anxiety and stand out, whereas Hadley is trying to find her place in the world, learning who she is and being true to that.

Q. When writing what do you feel is the most important thing?
A. I think truth and vulnerability are the two most important things. You must be authentic and vulnerable to get to the truth and to write a story that will touch people.

Q. How long did it take for you to write 'Next Door To A Star'?
A. I actually started the story back in 2002 while I was in school. It got put aside a bit because I was going to school, working for a newspaper and then I moved overseas. I didn’t come back to the book until after my first novel, True Colors, was published. Then I edited it to make it more timely since technology changes make for huge differences in fiction. For instance, no one really stays at home waiting for a call now and things are cleared up faster and easier with texts, emails, and cell phones that people carry 24/7. So that impacted a lot. There were scenes I had to cut out for those reasons.

Q. Will there be a book two, to 'Next Door To A Star'?
A. Yes, the sequel to Next Door to a Star will be out on March 22nd. It’s called Competing with the Star and it picks up with Nick and Hadley’s relationship. You see Hadley dealing with some issues of Nick’s ex-girlfriend interfering and Hadley develops an unlikely friendship with someone you met in the first book. She also uncovers a secret about Nick and learns who her true friends are as well. I’m really excited for this one to come out and to work on the third book in the Star Series.

Q. What's your next writing project?
A. The third book in my Landry’s True Colors Series comes out January 12th. It’s called Landry in Like. I’m also working on the third book in the Star Series and working on an adult novel and another YA one.

Q. What has been your favorite book you've read this year?
A. Right now I’m reading Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing. It’s a must read if you like to write.

Q. Do you think Landry of 'Landry's True Colors Series' and Hadley of  'Next Door To A Star' could be friends?
A. I think Landry and Hadley could definitely be friends. Even though Landry is a touch younger, I think she’s a bit more experienced when it comes to deal with friendships and frenemies and they could definitely commiserate on that topic. I think they’d also talk about the boys in their lives although as you’ll see in the Next Door to a Star sequel (titled, Competing with the Star), Hadley and her boyfriend Nick are about to form a deeper bond after he confides in her about a family member going through a difficulty. Both girls wear their hearts on their sleeves and look at life with a sense of humor.

 Where did the idea for the book come from?
I started writing the book the summer of 2002 and originally I was thinking of all the times I had witnessed girls going along with being treated badly by friends. I never understood those friendships where one minute someone is your best friend and the next they’re making mean comments about you in front of other people. Then I decided to take someone (Hadley) who was desperate to find somewhere she belonged and throw in the added allure of the new friend being a former TV star(Simone) so that Hadley would have more incentive to want to be liked by this famous person. I wanted to see if someone so eager to fit in would be able to find her own voice and become comfortable enough in her own skin to see that she didn’t need to conform to be liked. I really liked the whole idea of a person finding their tribe and where they felt most comfortable versus what society tells you that you should want. I also wanted to show the real side of celebrity and the fake Photoshopping, etc. that goes into it to show another side of Simone.
Did you ever deal with any of the situations Hadley finds herself in?
Well, I never found myself in a situation where my best friend moved away and I didn’t know anyone else in the class. The closest I came to that was when I was about to start high school and I got my schedule. I had gone to a small, private school and I didn’t have one person from that school in my homeroom or my first hour. So I started school that first day knowing I wouldn’t see a single person I knew for a good two hours. I was terrified, but it ended up being the best thing because it forced me out of my comfort zone and to meet new people. I ended up making all new friends and I’m in touch with almost all of them today. Sometimes you need that push.
When did you begin writing the book?
I began writing it in 2002. It went through a lot of changes over the years and there were several years when it sat while I was pursuing other things (journalism and grad school) and other books. The things that stayed the same are the friendships between Hadley and Charlotte and the bond between Hadley and her Aunt Faith. Some of the things added in were the Asia character’s impact on Hadley, the love triangle with Reagan, Nick, and Hadley and the Nick character period!—the first few drafts had no Nick, but rather the focus was on Simone’s career. The original book had more scenes with Hadley dealing with Brittany Buchanan and her mean girl attitude. I liked the idea of bringing in a guy who sees and likes Hadley for who she really is and who is someone she can feel comfortable with…and then I threw a little wrench into it.
Did you do any research for the book?
I visited Grand Haven and Saugatuck several times. I had spent a lot of time there growing up, so I had my memories, but I needed to go back and map things out and get a better feel for the environment. I saw something on this last trip there that inspired a cute scene that will show up down the road in another book in the series…maybe book three!
Did you intend on the book being part of a series when you began?
Nope! Next Door to a Star wasn’t originally intended to be part of a series, but I had a lot of readers writing to ask what happened to Nick and Hadley and what was next for Hadley seeing as she had really begun to come into her own with her self-esteem. I had been thinking about what Hadley would have done next and hearing so many people asking about it made me decide Hadley’s story wasn’t finished yet. I talked to my editor about continuing Hadley’s story and she told me to, “go for it!” and it’s a series now. The second book, Competing with the Star (Star Series: Book 2) will be out March 22nd.
What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
I wrote the book because I think it’s easy to feel alone and worry that you won’t be accepted if you don’t try to fit in with the crowd. The book shows how we all go through those moments—even the former TV star, Simone, shows how insecure she is—maybe even more so than Hadley. I grew up during the time of the supermodels and I didn’t realize how photoshopped and fake those images were and now, with social media sites, it’s only gotten worse. Instead of seeing Cindy Crawford airbrushed, teens are now seeing the girl who sits next to them in algebra using filters to take pictures and trying to gain followers on their Instagram and Facebook page and using their Youtube channel for insta-fame. The teen years are already hard enough without adding all these other elements into it. Next Door to a Star shows how we all worry about being accepted and have our moments of insecurity and the book also has moments of humor to keep you laughing as well.
Any hints on what happens in the sequel, Competing with the Star?
There is a lot more focus on Hadley and Nick and their relationship. We also see a different side of Pilar and of Simone. Hadley makes an unlikely friend and learns a lot about who she can trust and relationships. I’m really excited for people to read it. I cannot wait for March 22nd when it releases. I’m working on book three in the Star Series now.


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