Posts Tagged magic

Zatanna and the House of Secrets Interview and Giveaway

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Today, I have the privilege to be talking to both Matthew Cody and Yoshi Yoshitani, whose graphic novel, Zatanna and the House of Secrets,  is available now from DC Comics.

Hi Matthew and Yoshi. Thank you for joining us today.

My first question is for both of you. Can you tell us a little bit about Zatanna and the House of Secrets?

Matthew: Zatanna and the House of Secrets is about a normal tween girl, Zatanna, who discovers that just about nothing in her life is what it appears to be – not her dad, not the house she grew up in, not even the family pet rabbit. There are magical secrets afoot, and more to Zatanna than she ever imagined!

YoshiIt’s a story of a girl growing up and trying to figure out her identity as the world and people around her change—figuratively and literally! And of course, lots of magic

Matthew, you’re books are, for the most part, a mix of fantasy and superheros. So, Zatanna’s story seems like a natural fit for you. Did you choose the character?

Matthew: I did. When this opportunity to work with DC came along, they asked me to pitch them three or four characters I’d like to write. Zatanna was a no-brainer, because she’s never been your typical superhero. She’s a magician! The story of how she became a magician – how she discovered her powers – was such a joy to conjure up (see what I did there?)

Not gonna lie, Zatanna is one of my favorite DC characters, and my go-to for cosplay. Yoshi, I love the new character design. I’m already planning on rocking this as my next cosplay. How did you approach the character design?

Yoshi: Yes! Zatanna is one of my absolute favorites too! Zatanna’s fully grown costume is over the top and confident, so it was fun to work backwards and consider what her pre-evolution outfits would be. Maybe some vintage finds, maybe her dad’s old shirts – she has a style but has yet to nail down her look. I really wanted to capture that transition.

One of the things that I really liked about this story is how it explored the relationship between Zatanna and her father and the idea that our parents aren’t always the heroes we expect them to be. Matthew, was that something that you wanted to focus on early on?

Matthew: Definitely. Middle school is hard for a lot of reasons, but one of the toughest aspects of it is that push/pull between still needing your parents tremendously, while at the same time feeling like you need to separate yourself in some ways. So, we took fantasy and did what the genre does best – we externalized that conflict. At its heart, this is a very family focused story about the mistakes we make both as kids and adults. And how we deal with them.

Another thing that I particularly loved was that the House of Secrets is like a character itself in the story. So, another question for both of you: How did you approach the world-building?

Matthew: The House of Secrets has been around in DC Comics lore for a long, long time. It’s been interpreted and reinterpreted in a many different ways, so I kind of took that meta-fact and applied it to the house in our story. Our House of Secrets has been passed down from Caretaker to Caretaker for centuries, and each one left their mark. Poor Yoshi then had to being all that to life on the page (btw, she knocked it out of the park)

Yoshi: Matthew had the idea that the House of Secrets had been passed through many different owners in different parts of the world and different eras. I absolutely loved that, and I personally relish any opportunity to kit-bash multiple cultural influences. Plus those huge stylistic changes really gave the impression of a magical unpredictable house—one you were just dying to run around yourself!

We see Teekl throughout the illustrations before we’re ever introduced to the character. Yoshi, was this an easter egg or is Teekl spying on the Zataras?

Yoshi: I was hoping someone would notice! And yes, Teekl is definitely a warning that Klarion and his mother are nearby, not that Zatanna understands that at the time. Its an Easter egg that’s fun on the reread.

Are there any other easter eggs that fans should keep an eye out for?

Matthew: Oh yeah! Yoshi’s art has a ton of clever hints and nods, but if you want to look for one in particular that might excite old school DC fans, pay special attention to the stone busts and portraits throughout the house to get a glimpse of the house’s original “caretakers”.

Yoshi: There are a few visual Easter Eggs for those who are familiar with the DC universe. I won’t give anything away, but definitely check out the school dance. Also, those in the know will recognize the Witch Queen’s assistants for what they are.

Speaking of fans, I’m going to geek out for a little bit here. In DC canon, Zatanna was the caretaker of the House of Mystery, which is similar to, the House of Secrets. Can we expect to see another story featuring the House of Mystery, perhaps a different caretaker?

Matthew: Huh. That’s a great idea! 😉

Is there anything else about the story that either of you would like to share?

Matthew: It’s really, really good!

What’s the best piece of creative advice that both of you have received and would like to pass on to other writers and artists?

Matthew: For writers, read more than you write – but write a lot.

Yoshi: Breaks are important to creative flow, and pursue a creative process that brings you joy.

What is something that people would be surprised to learn about you?

Matthew: I tried to break into comics as a writer before I became a published novelist.

Yoshi: I’m allergic to coconut.

What are you working on next?

Matthew: I’m finishing up a novel for older readers and am working on a couple of kids comics projects that I’m really excited about.

Yoshi: Something else with DC!

How can people follow you on social media?

Matthew: On twitter I’m at @mattcodywrites. I tweet rarely but always respond!

Yoshi: Twitter @yoshisquared. Insta @yoshiyoshitani  Website

Thank you so much for the interview!

Zatanna and the House of Secrets is out now, and here at The Mixed-Up Files, we’re giving away a copy. Enter our giveaway below.

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The winner will be contacted  via email and asked to provide a mailing address (US/Canada only) to receive the book.

Naked Mole Rat Saves the World by Karen Rivers

Ever read the title of a book and know instantly that you must find out more about the story?

When I first saw the title of our next spotlight, I couldn’t help being filled with all sorts of questions. What’s up with this mole rat? Why did the day have to be saved? And how does he do it?

And wait! A mole rat?

Haha! I know. I’m being a little overly dramatic, but this goes to show how much value a title can hold. Let’s meet this mole rat.

Can Kit’s super-weird superpower save her world?

Kit-with-a-small-k is navigating middle school with a really big, really strange secret: When she’s stressed, she turns into a naked mole rat.

It first happened after kit watched her best friend, Clem, fall and get hurt during an acrobatic performance on TV. Since then, the transformations keep happening—whether kit wants them to or not. Kit can’t tell Clem about it, because after the fall, Clem just hasn’t been herself. She’s sad and mad and gloomy, and keeping a secret of her own: the real reason she fell.

A year after the accident, kit and Clem still haven’t figured out how to deal with all the ways they have transformed—both inside and out. When their secrets come between them, the best friends get into a big fight. Somehow, kit has to save the day, but she doesn’t believe she can be that kind of hero. Turning into a naked mole rat isn’t really a superpower. Or is it?

“A warm coming-of-age story populated with a cast of memorable characters.”
—Kirkus Reviews

The book releases on October 15, 2019 by Algonquin.


It’s wonderful to have you visit us here again, Karen. Welcome!

Kit is such an intriguing and endearing character. What characteristics did you know you had to include within her?

Kit, like most of my characters, came to me fully formed as herself, right from the beginning. I knew she had to be stronger than she knew, but I also knew that she was going to have occasionally overwhelming anxiety herself, that would be secondary (in her mind) to her mum’s more paralyzing version. I also wanted her to be brave, in particular brave to be herself, even when others might think it’s “weird” (to rollerskate, to believe in magic, to tie ribbons to trees in the park, to blow bubbles). And I knew she would be funny, of course.

Just hearing you describe her in your own words makes me like her even more.

We all know how important it is for young readers to relate to the characters they read. How will young readers relate to Kit?

I think a lot of kids around the age that kit is in the book are on the cusp of young adulthood, while also still wanting to stay kids. Kit very much wants to hold on to her kid-like qualities. I know some kids like this, who feel like they are being left behind because their friends are more like teenagers already, even when they aren’t quite ready.

That’s a very important reality during the transformation between tween and teen, and it’s not talked about enough. Glad you’ve mentioned it here. What is your favorite part of the world you’ve created for Kit and why?

I love the magic more than anything — all of it, from the literal to the metaphorical. I also love the way both kit and Clem find their power in surprising ways. Both of them are exploring the scarier, darker sides of their realities in these brave and surprising ways.

Was there anything about Kit that surprised you?

When I started writing, I didn’t realize that sometimes she was going to be angry or that she was going to show her anger on the page, that she could be unforgiving. I happen to have a twelve year old of my own now (although she was younger when I was writing this story) and this ability to flip back and forth between joy and fury turns out to be very real. It felt true on the page, too, but I hadn’t necessarily anticipated it.

Would you have been friends with Kit as a middle schooler?

Oh, definitely. She’s kind and fierce and funny and loyal AND she roller skates!

She definitely sounds like fun! What’s the most important element from this story you hope readers take with them once they’ve finished the book?

That everyone has something going on beyond the version of themselves that they present and that you see at school. You don’t have to scratch the surface very deeply to realize that we all have many, many layers. You never know what someone else is going through, and you definitely can easily underestimate what they are capable of if you forget to look beyond their outward appearance. And of course it’s also a book about forgiveness, about acknowledging that not everyone always does the right thing.

Another hidden truth during those middle grade years. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about Kit and Clem’s story and for helping young readers explore who they are through them. All the best from your Mixed-Up Files family . . .

Karen Rivers’s books have been nominated for a wide range of literary awards and have been published in multiple languages. When she’s not writing, reading, or visiting schools, she can usu­ally be found hiking in the forest that flourishes behind her tiny old house in Victoria, British Columbia, where she lives with her two kids, two dogs, and two birds.

Find her online at and on Twitter: @karenrivers.


What to Give this Holiday Season: The Hotel Between

It’s the holiday season, which means I get to pepper our readers more than usual with book recommendations AND introduce you to the authors! Yay!

Today’s pick is a lovely, lush novel by author Sean Easley: THE HOTEL BETWEEN.

HOTEL weaves the story of Cameron and Cassia, who have never known their parents. Cass thinks their father abandoned them, but Cameron is certain something happened to him. When Cam discovers THE HOTEL BETWEEN, where there are endless doors that open into countries all over the world, his instinct tells him his father’s story is there, in the hotel, and he’s determined to stay long enough to figure out what happened and find his father.

This story has magic and intrigue, international travel and fascinating people,  an intricate plot, and a dash of wry humor. (NOTE: Sean is a former Mixed-Up Files contributor.)

“In the end, people are just people no matter where they’re from and no matter what they look like. It’s how they treat one another that matters.”

One of the things I love about this blog is getting the chance to go behind the scenes with authors, being able to add to the depth and texture of great scenes by seeing them from the writer’s perspective. Here’s what Sean Easley had to say about writing THE HOTEL BETWEEN.

Author Interview: Sean Easley

The Origin Story

MUF: Of course as authors, when we love a book a lot, we always want to know the origin story. How did you come up with this world and with Cam and Cass, Agapios, Nico, Rahki, and everyone else?

SEAN: There were several factors that led to me writing this book, I think. Part of it came from growing up the son of a foreign language teacher and a world-class athlete—my sister and I were always meeting people from all over the world.

Then, one night I had a dream about a place that was a hodgepodge of halls and rooms from all over the world. The next morning I set aside another project I was working on at the time and went to work figuring out how a place like that would work. As for the characters: they’re largely the product of people and friends I’ve known over the years, all mashed up together with bits of myself

MUF: Is it okay to say I see echoes of HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE here? If so …. May I also say, I see so many lovely differences as well. Cam is desperate to unravel the mystery of his father’s disappearance and his mother’s death, so there is definitely a similar relationship theme. But there is also the best friends and chosen family theme with Nico, the moral relativity theme with when do you tell the truth to protect someone—and on that front, I found it much more sophisticated in many ways than HOWL’S. What are other themes in addition to these you hope readers will be affected by?

SEAN: Compared to the amazing Diana Wynne Jones? You flatter me too much, but I’ll take it!

When I started working on the book, I was enamored with this idea that magic—real magic—would be rooted more in the emotional/relational side of the world than in the physical. I didn’t want the kind of magic that plays out like a manipulation of the laws of physics, like fire and ice and all that. I wanted something that would be deeply, inextricably tied into the magic of who we are as human beings.

With that as a base, it just made sense to me that a magic that bonds and connects things together would also be used to bond people and families as well. Out of that came some really strong feelings of friendship and family—something that’s so very important at that age. The family we’re born with determines so much about who we are, and the family we choose determines who we are becoming.

The Magic of Best Friends

MUF: The moment when Cam and Nico bind each other as blood brothers—this was middle-grade perfect. I remember doing that with my BFF back in the day. Do you have a friendship that you modeled this relationship after?

SEAN: That part was one of my favorites when it happened during writing too. And it did just “happen”—when I was drafting I hadn’t originally planned for Nico to do that, and then all of the sudden he starts talking and the next thing I knew they were making up a contract.

I can’t point to any specific friend as the impetus for that scene in particular, but it’s always been a big thing for me to let important people in my life know that I’m not going to “drop” them. I’m typically a pretty intuitive judge of character, and when I find those folks that fit with me I want them to know.

But Nico himself does remind me a lot of a long-time friend who’s always brought a bit of trouble and mischief wherever he goes.

The Antagonist

MUF: The character of Stripe is delicious in ways I won’t reveal so as not to give spoilers. But I have to ask … did you have fun creating him?

SEAN: For sure. Interestingly, Stripe is a character that came out of a different dream way back when I was a kid. In the dream, I was with a bunch of friends when our bus broke down in the middle of nowhere. Of course back then few people had cell phones, so we had to walk somewhere to find a landline telephone. We ended up knocking at the door of this incredible mansion on a hill, where a man in a pinstriped suit and cane opened up. He kinda reminded me of Mr. Peppermint, if you ever saw that show. The man welcomed us into his mansion and said that of course we could use his telephone, but first he wanted to give us the grand tour of his home.

To say much more would be to give away big spoilers for the book, but it’s safe to say that the dream version of Mr. Stripe is very like the one who made it into the manuscript.

The Editing Process

MUF: What parts of the book stayed the same through the editing process?

SEAN: Is it a cop out to say “nothing”? That might be a little dramatic, but it feels that way.

The scene you mentioned above with Nico and Cam might be the only bit that stayed largely the same from the early drafts to the final copy. It’s the hinge-pin of the book for me, and even for the whole series (seeing as how my editor is working on book two with me right now). Aside from that, I think the Budapest scene stayed pretty close to the original, as well as the events at the Monastery, though there were some significant tweaks in both.

A fun tidbit: while working on early versions of this book, I was able to share the manuscript with a group of around fifteen middle school students who told me what they liked and what they didn’t. Kids that age are effusive in both their praise and their criticism, and a lot of how the book ended up is thanks to their brilliant input.

A Great Holiday Gift

MUF: Since I’m recommending this book as a holiday gift, can you tell us what about the book lends itself to the spirit of the season?

SEAN: The Hotel Between takes place over a holiday break from school. Cam even visits a Christmas market in Hungary, and there’s a pivotal scene that happens when New Year’s Eve becomes New Year’s Day.

Aside from that, there’s an undercurrent of togetherness in the book that I think really fits with the holiday season. Of family, and friends, and the important moments that bring us all together—and not just the people we know, but people from all over the globe. It’s all tied up in this idea that we’re all just people, living together across the world. We’re all the same in the ways that matter, and we all deserve to be cared for and connected to those we love.

MUF: What is your favorite part of the book?

I’d love to say it’s one of the poignant moments in the book, but it’s actually the scene at the Hotel pool. I had so much fun imagining what a pool-type area would look like with all the magic of the Hotel at their disposal, and every time I got to editing that piece of the story I ended up smiling.

Congratulations, Sean!

Sean Easley started writing in third grade because he was looking for adventure. He’s worked with kids and teens for well over a decade, listening to their stories, and somehow ended up with a Masters degree in education along the way. Now he’s a full-time writer living with his wife and son in Texas, where he stubbornly refuses to wear cowboy boots. Visit him at and on Twitter and Instagram @AuthorEasley