Author Interviews

Interview With Author Carly Anne West

I’m thrilled to welcome Carly to discuss her new book, THE GHOSTS OF NAMELESS ISLAND (Andrews McMeel Kids 7/23/24). I recently met Carly at ALA and fell in love with her and her hilarious/spine-tingling middle-grade novel.

I am delighted to say we share the same publisher, and our ghost stories release on the same day, which makes me feel even more of a kinship with her. (HART & SOULS)

So . . . If you’re in the mood for a spooky summer, we’ve got you covered!

Now it’s my pleasure to introduce you to the fabulous Carly Anne West . . .


Carly: GHOSTS follows Gus Greenburg, a kid with an unlikely (and unwelcome) gift—he can see ghosts. While this didn’t used to be the biggest deal in the world, it’s become a bigger deal now that Gus and his mom have moved to Nameless Island and into the infamous Rotham Manor, an old mansion replete with ghosts ready to haunt the heck out of Gus. And these ghosts play by a different set of rules than the others; they can hurt Gus. Now, Gus must find out what happened to the ghosts and discover their identities before they can pass on to the next realm and leave him alone. Fortunately, he’ll have some help ghostbusting with his new friends, Tavi and Miles.

Lisa: How did you come up with the idea? 

Carly: I’ve always felt that the most potent hauntings come from unfinished business, and Gus is dealing with a great deal of unfinished business with a missing father in his life, so it made sense to me that he would be parsing out mysteries about people whose lives ended perhaps before they expected them to, and I really liked the idea of a kid who was dealing with his own anxieties helping ghosts that were experiencing their own sort of turmoil. And it takes place in the Pacific Northwest; having lived there, I know it’s an area rife with haunted stories.

Lisa: Did you base characters on people you know? If yes, spill the beans!

Carly: I mean, don’t all writers create their characters out of composites of people they’ve known in their lives?  No one character is anyone specific, but there are certainly aspects of the characters that have special qualities similar to important people in my life. We’ll find in the second book that Gus is an artist; so is one of my kids. We’ll find out later Tavi is a soccer player like my other kiddo. Miles is Korean-American; I live in Korea. So there are elements of real-life in there, absolutely.

Lisa: How much of your real-life experiences play a role in the stories you tell?

Carly: Honestly, I think I write for middle grade and young adults because those times in my life (and so many people’s lives) were/are so difficult. It’s maybe a bit cathartic to write about a time when I felt so out of control; maybe controlling the narrative now is one way to take back some of the power I felt unable to possess back then. There are also plenty of emotions from that time period that cling to adulthood (frustratingly), so in a way, what I’m writing can feel timely, whether I want it to or not.

Lisa: Which books did you like to read when you were a kid? Do those books influence your writing?

Carly: I was a little late to the reading game. I was good at reading the required books, but when it came to reading for pleasure, I had a tough time finding what my niche was. I knew I liked scary stories, but once I’d burned through all the Christopher Pike options, I was stuck. I probably started reading Stephen King too young. Once I started down that road, I knew horror was my thing, and that absolutely influenced my writing. I knew I was attracted to scary stories, and the scarier the better. There was something delicious about the anticipation of a supernatural scare, that lingering suspense. Fear is such an ancient, lizard-brain sort of emotion. I love playing with notions that creaky and dormant.

Lisa: What advice would you give twelve-year-old, Carly?

Carly: Oh dear. That poor girl. She struggled. A lot. Twelve years old was not a good age. I would tell her that she is most definitely not the only one feeling the anxiety she is feeling, and that emotion isn’t alien but an actual clinical function she’ll be taught to deal with down the road. Same with the panic attacks. I’d tell her that the people who seem super important in this moment won’t mean so much in a year or two, and in fact, she won’t even remember their names. I’d tell her that her body is beautiful the way it is. I’d tell her she’s so much stronger than she thinks she is. She’ll be okay.

Lisa: Have you ever seen a ghost?

I’ve heard a ghost. It murmured in my right ear. I was unpacking books in our new apartment in Alameda, CA late one night. My husband was asleep in the bedroom, and all at once, all the sound emptied from the room, like a vacuum sucked every drop of air from the atmosphere. Then, I heard a very close murmuring against my ear. I whipped around thinking it was my husband sneaking up on me, but no one was there, and when I ran down the hall to catch him in the act, he was dead asleep. When I returned to the living room, the sound was back, the murmuring was gone, and all had returned to normal. The next morning, my husband was putting books away in the same spot, and he yells “What?” to me. I come around the corner, and he’s like, “you were mumbling, I couldn’t hear you.” He heard the same thing I heard, in the same spot. The murmurings happened right next to a closet in the living room. The entire time we lived in that apartment, our cats would never go in that closet. They would get close, then freeze, stare into an upper corner of the closet, lay their ears back, slowly slink away, and dart around the corner.

Lisa: If you could talk to a ghost, what would you say?

Carly: Well, to the one in Alameda, I said, “You were here first, so the place is yours. Please just let us stay in peace. I think we can live here together.” And we did for three years with almost no other incidents. Just a couple of spooky moments.

Lisa: I know you are a plotter . . . How do you outline an entire story? What is your secret? (asking for a friend)

Carly: So, I should probably qualify this. I’m a plotter, but only to an extent. I don’t start off that way. I typically start with an emotion, something I know I want my main character to be going through. From there, I often pick a setting, as the setting usually becomes something of a character in the story. Then I’ll just sort of see what sprouts with that emotion and that setting. I only really start plotting once I’m about a third of the way through writing scenes. That’s when I realize I need to start building out a sort of scaffolding to hold the story together. I’ll break out a giant sketchbook and make either a timeline or a scene-by-scene summary, but even then, there are holes and scribbles and a million and one changes. I rarely if ever write in sequence, and I almost never know how a story is going to end. My characters almost always surprise me.

Lisa: Last, but most important . . . What happens next with Gus?

Carly: HA! He’s going to surprise me, too! But I at least know where he’s headed in Book 2. You can expect more ghosts than you bargained for in the first book, some friend drama that Gus didn’t sign up for, noxious dogs, therapy speed-dating, intrepid librarians, bootlegging, Cat-wrangling, and so much more.

Lisa: Thank you so much for chatting with me today. I’ve got goosebumps from your ghost story. So creepy! I once lived with a ghost that occasionally turned all the lights on in my house after I went to bed. I just assumed she didn’t like the dark. 

Spooky . . . 

And dear reader, if you have a ghost story, please share in the comments. We’d love to hear your chilling tale. 

Happy haunting! 

All About Carly Anne West

Carly is the author of the YA novels The Murmurings and The Bargaining and the Hello Neighbor middle grade series of novels. She is also a collaborator on the Fazbear Frights novels with Five Nights at Freddy’s. Carly Anne lives in Seoul, Korea with her husband, two kids, a very small cat, and a very large dog. Visit her at, on Twitter @carlyannewest1, on Insta @carlyannewest, and on FB at carlyannewest.

Welcome A.Y. Chan! – Author Interview

We Need Diverse MG

It is my extreme pleasure to welcome A.Y.Chan today and learn about her book the Legendary Mo Seto! I have to say, the second I saw this book I was drawn to it. Who doesn’t love an action packed middle grade book with themes of courage and friendship. Plus, taekwondo!

All about A.Y. Chan

For those who aren’t familiar with A.Y., she grew up in Canada’s Greater Toronto Area reading all the middle grade and young adult books she could get her hands on. To this day, those remain her favorite genres. After achieving her black belt in Taekwondo, she explored other martial arts, such as Wing Chun, Hapkido, and Muay Thai. These days, she continues her martial arts training some mornings, writes in the afternoons, takes long walks to muddle out plot points, and falls asleep reading.


How did you come up with the title for your book?

Best Book Titles | The Blog | The Novelry

Coming up with the title was a complete challenge! I went through so many iterations, but nothing felt quite right. Let me give you a peek behind the curtain at some of the contenders: “Master Mo,” “Lights, Cameras, Attack!,” “Flicks and High Kicks,” and “Taekwon-Mo!” The one that got away was “The Art of Being Small.” I used it during submissions and adored it, but my publisher pointed out it didn’t scream “middle grade.” And they were right. After several more rounds of brainstorming, my editor threw “The Legendary Mo Seto” into the ring, and everyone loved it. And just like that, we had our title!

What was the hardest scene to write and why?

The hardest scene to write was a tie between the first scene and the Legend of the Three Sisters. I must have rewritten each of these scenes a million times!

Young acrobats inject energy into ...

The first scene was like trying to nail a perfect backflip on a tightrope. It had to hook the reader while giving them the scoop on Mo—who she is, what she wants, and what her challenges are. The beginning of a story is critical, and there are entire books and workshops just for those first pages. No pressure, right?

Then there’s the Legend of the Three Sisters. This one needed to be epic, like a real Chinese legend, but also had to weave the whole story together. It had to be thrilling, mysterious, and seamlessly threaded throughout the book. I think the next time I attempt to create an ancient legend from scratch, I’ll set aside a few months just for that!


Do you love or hate Kata’s?

Oh, it’s a total love-hate rollercoaster! On one hand, they demand discipline, precision, and tons of

The Shotokan Katas – Karate-Do Sanchinpractice—challenging and often frustrating. But on the other hand, when done right, they’re absolutely beautiful to watch and perform, plus they teach valuable lessons about focus and technique.

Now, because I have a memory like a sieve, I’m not the biggest fan of poomsae, which are the taekwondo equivalent to katas. Every single step must be perfectly sharp and precise, which I can never seem to get juuust right. But when others do it? It’s mesmerizing. So, yeah, I’ll cheer from the sidelines!

What’s your favorite Taekwondo maneuver? What is Mo’s?

training - roundhouse kick (left stance ...

My favorite taekwondo maneuver is the spinning hook kick. There’s something so exhilarating about its power, elegance, and speed—like a tornado! As for Mo, she’s all about the roundhouse kick. It’s lightning-fast, versatile, and she’s mastered it to perfection. Plus, it’s the best move to score a quick point in a sparring match. Her second favorite would definitely be a jumping kick—any jumping kick—for the extra height advantage it gives her 😉.


Celebrate that which Makes You Unique

One thing I love about your book is that Mo learns to celebrate that which makes her unique. I feel like this may be an important lesson for lots of your readers. Do you feel it was an important lesson for you?

Absolutely! Growing up, I always saw myself as a sensitive, introverted kid who shied away from anything uncomfortable—public speaking? No thanks! Meeting new people? Yikes! Even now, I sometimes feel the pressure to be more “this” or “that.”

Tips to Help Kids Embrace Their ...

Society often rewards extroverts—the outgoing, outspoken, and gregarious types. I tried to fit into that mold for years, but it was like wearing shoes two sizes too small. Then I read QUIET by Susan Cain and other books and articles that celebrated introverts. I realized it’s okay to be quiet; that perhaps it’s simply that my preferences and strengths lie in the written word, not the spoken. That’s when I truly embraced who I am and decided to become a writer…though I never anticipated just how much stepping outside my comfort zone would be involved in promoting a book!

Can you tell us what you learned from your first Taekwondo competition?

UTRGV student earns silver ...

For my first (and only) taekwondo competition, I had to choose between poomsae (forms) and sparring. I chose sparring. We were grouped by age and belt level, not size. I progressed well, defeating my competition, until I reached the finals and faced a boy bigger than me. I was intimidated and lost, going home with a second-place trophy and a bruised ego. Unfortunately, that experience made me not want to compete again.

Looking back, I wish I could tell my younger self to keep going, to keep training, and come back next year for the win. That’s what I wanted to convey in my story: getting knocked down is part of the journey, but persistence, determination, and grit lead to success.

Do you believe authors are born or taught?

I’d say it’s a mix. Some folks are born with a wild imagination and a knack for storytelling, but becoming an author takes practice—kind of like taekwondo, minus the bruises (that is, if you don’t count a bruised ego!)

Born or made? — Revive Your Work

You need to hone your skills, learn the craft, and keep writing, even when your story feels like a mess. Did I mention to keep writing? Seriously, that’s the secret sauce. Never stop, never give up, keep improving, keep learning. Write like your keyboard is on fire and the only way to quell the flames is to pound the keys with everything you’ve got!


What’s your favorite under appreciated novel?

I’m not sure if it’s underappreciated, but my favorite novel is THE BLUE CASTLE by L.M. Montgomery, the creator of “Anne of Green Gables.” While most people are all about Anne, they’re missing out on Valancy, the fabulous heroine of THE BLUE CASTLE.

This book is like a warm hug on a chilly day, filled with stunning scenery and L.M.’s signature poetic language. Plus, it’s romantic enough to leave you swooning. So, if you need a little extra charm in your life, give this a go!

The Power of Words - Jack Hayford ...

What was an early experience that taught you words have power?

It probably goes back to when I became obsessed with reading. Picture a super restless kid who couldn’t sit still for more than a minute (hence my love for martial arts!). But with books? It was like I was under a spell. I could sit for hours, lost in those rows upon rows of small, black-inked text. That’s when I realized how powerful words could be—they transported me to fantastic new worlds which made me dream bigger, feel deeper, and imagine endless possibilities. And that’s when I knew I wanted to wield that kind of magic with my own writing.

Book recommendations! Can you tell us what book you’re currently reading, books that inspire you.

Thorn (Dauntless Path Book 1)

Talking about books is my favorite topic! Right now, I’m deep into THORN by Intisar Khanani, and it’s an absolute thrill. Next on deck, I’ve got LIA PARK AND THE MISSING JEWEL by Jenna Yoon, and I can’t wait to crack it open.

Lia Park and the Missing Jewel: Lia Park

Books that inspire me are too many to name! I adore the fun, cheeky voice of fellow Canadian Gordon Korman’s books, the bright cheer of Kelly Yang, and the dreamy, poetic language of L.M. Montgomery.

Books featuring martial arts or Asian characters or culture… Again, too many to list! Grace Lin’s beautiful storytelling and focus on Chinese legends are awe-inspiring, along with Axie Oh’s dreamy tales, Sue Lynn Tan’s majestic worldbuilding, R.F. Kuang’s poignant narratives, Frances Cha’s haunting societal insights, and David Yoon’s sharp wordplay—these authors are just a sprinkling of those I’ve adored. Honestly, there really are too many to count, and I wish I could list them all here!

Legends of the Condor HeroesAs for books featuring martial arts culture, the only books that come to mind are classic translated Chinese Wuxia stories like THE CONDOR HEROES trilogy by Jin Yong. And if you’re looking for

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo

something more current, F.C. Yee’s hilarious YA book THE EPIC CRUSH OF GENIE LO dabbles with martial arts, though it’s not the main focus. I guess what this means is that we absolutley need more books in this genre!


You can keep up with A.Y. Chan here.

The Tenth Mistake of Hank Hooperman: An Interview with Author Gennifer Choldenko

I’ve been a fan of Gennifer Choldenko since I first read Al Capone Does My Shirts (a 2005 Newbery Honor Book). I also had the pleasure of attending a writing revision session she was giving at a national writing conference.

When I saw the opportunity to interview her about her latest book, I couldn’t resist! I was absolutely blown away by  The Tenth Mistake of Hank Hooperman. It is a wonderful book that will be both a window and a mirror: some children will see themselves in the book, and other children will have a chance to understand what someone else may be going through and feel empathetic.

I couldn’t wait to interview her and pick her brain to learn more about it.


About the Book

First, here’s a summary of The Tenth Mistake of Hank Hooperman:

Eleven-year-old Hank is used to taking care of his little sister, but after his mom is gone for a week and they’re out of food, Hank risks asking for help from a former friend of his grandma’s. With no word from his mom and a grumpy caretaker who hates teenage boys, Hank is worried that he and his sister will be separated and sent to foster care.

This is a heart-wrenching and redeeming story about kindness, family, foster care, resiliency, and forgiveness inspired by Gennifer’s own childhood experiences.


Hi Gennifer!

Wow, I just finished the book last night. Just when I thought the story couldn’t get more intense, it would!

Hi Natalie, thank you so much for your enthusiasm for The Tenth Mistake of Hank Hooperman!  And thank you for taking the time to interview me.


This book had so many twists and turns. Did you know all the things that would happen to Hank before you wrote it? Or, in other words, are you a plotter or pantser?

I’m a mixed blood.  Half plotter/half pantser.  I make outlines but if I stick to the outline the book goes corpse on me.  I think that’s because I’m imposing my will on the story, rather than giving the characters the space to come to life on the page.  Still the outlining of the book helps me get a grasp of the macro of the story. It activates my brain so that I can see the book as a whole.  I outline, then start writing, then toss out that outline, and keep writing.  Then I get lost again and do a new outline and then toss out that outline too.  On and on I go until I get to the end of the book.

That is my usual process.  Though this book was a little more on the pantser side. It came tumbling out in more or less a workable shape.  The big changes came from recommendations my editor made.  I had never worked with her, before so it was a little scary to tear the manuscript apart, when I wasn’t entirely sure her suggestions were on target.  But I decided I’d give it a try and see what happened.  I could always go back to the old draft.  I put my all into making her changes and . . . the book got way better.   She was right.


The topic of The Tenth Mistake of Hank Hooperman is very serious, and sadly, one that some readers will relate to on a very personal level. What is your hope for those readers?   

Many kids in similar situations do not tell anyone what is happening at home. Few kids want to be yanked out of their homes and put into foster care.  But because they feel they have to keep quiet, there is no chance of getting help and often they feel like they are the only kids who are experienced what they are going through.  I hope The Tenth Mistake of Hank Hooperman will reach out and touch them.  I hope it will make them feel less alone and give them faith that there is a way out of the mess they are in.


About the Author

How did your writing journey begin? Any other interesting jobs you have had?

 It began when I was in third grade, and I wrote my first autobiographical story.  It was called The Adventures of Genny Rice and it was about a grain of rice that went down the garbage disposal and all the characters she met down there.  The coffee grounds man, the half a grapefruit lady, the bent spoon.  It was an absolute hoot to write.  And that planted a seed that maybe someday I could come up with weird ideas for a living.


I read that this book was inspired by your own childhood. Was it hard to write about something so close to your heart or did you find it cathartic?

Well first off, I want to clarify The Tenth Mistake of Hank Hooperman is not thinly veiled autobiographical fiction.  It is fiction fiction.  I made the story up based on a lot of research.  That said, the character Hank Hooperman was inspired by my big brother, Grey.  And the relationship between Hank and his little sister Boo was a lot like the relationship I had with Grey. Some of my fondest memories of Grey were when he built “Disneyland” in the living room, and I got to try out all the rides.  Or when my parents weren’t home for my birthday, so he wrapped gifts and presented them to me every hour.  Each time he’d make the delivery it was with a different theatrical or musical fluorish.  My big brother made stuff fun for me just as Hank tries to do with Boo.

But that doesn’t answer your question.  Okay, here’s your answer.  Yes, it was cathartic.


Author, her dad, and her brother (who inspired Hank)

Any little details from your childhood that you snuck into the book?

An interviewer recently asked me how I created Boo.  I told her she was a lot like me when I was little.  And the interviewer asked: “You remember what it was like when you were three?”  It seems impossible that I could remember, doesn’t it?  And I do have a vivid imagination so maybe I just made her up.  But in my heart of hearts, she feels like me.  Even the fact that Boo liked to play with trucks.  I have such a visceral memory of the way the sand felt on my legs as I played with my dump truck.



What was your original spark for The Tenth Mistake of Hank Hooperman?

A manual on foster parenting.


What do you feel has changed about your writing since you wrote your first middle grade book?

When I first started writing there were a limited number of novel ideas, I had the skill set to bring to the page.  In other words, I could think up the ideas, but I didn’t have the chops to write them.  But after publishing 13 novels (counting the two I co-wrote with Katherine Applegate Dogtown and the soon to be released second book in the series: Mouse and His Dog) my ability to write what I imagine has increased dramatically.


For Teachers

Do you have a curriculum guide or discussion questions posted online?

Yes!  It will be available on my website: at the end of August 2024.

How can we learn more about you?

My website: or on Facebook: Choldenko, twitter @Choldenko or instagram GenniferCholdenko, threads @GenniferCholdenko


Thanks for your time, Gennifer.

 Thank you, Natalie!