2016 Debut Authors Bash: The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw (Interview + Giveaway)

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Hey everyone! Welcome to my stop on the 2016 Debut Authors Bash! I’m excited to be hosting Kathleen Burkinshaw, author of The Last Cherry Blossom (August 2, 2016 – Sky Pony Press). This book takes place during an incredibly painful and heartbreaking event in history: the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. It’s SO important that we learn from our past, so I’m REALLY excited to share with you this enlightening interview with Kathleen. First, here’s the chilling cover and synopsis:

LCBFollowing the seventieth anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, this is a new, very personal story to join Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes.

Yuriko was happy growing up in Hiroshima when it was just her and Papa. But her aunt Kimiko and her cousin Genji are living with them now, and the family is only getting bigger with talk of a double marriage! And while things are changing at home, the world beyond their doors is even more unpredictable. World War II is coming to an end, and Japan’s fate is not entirely clear, with any battle losses being hidden fom its people. Yuriko is used to the sirens and the air-raid drills, but things start to feel more real when the neighbors who have left to fight stop coming home. When the bomb hits Hiroshima, it’s through Yuriko’s twelve-year-old eyes that we witness the devastation and horror.

This is a story that offers young readers insight into how children lived during the war, while also introducing them to Japanese culture. Based loosely on author Kathleen Burkinshaw’s mother’s firsthand experience surviving the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, The Last Cherry Blossom hopes to warn readers of the immense damage nuclear war can bring, while reminding them that the “enemy” in any war is often not so different from ourselves.

Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

And now here’s the interview!

Question: The Last Cherry Blossom covers a very dark period in history – the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. In your own words, why is it important for young readers to learn about this period in history? Was it difficult to balance being truthful without being too brutal?
Answer: As the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are dwindling, it is important for the younger generation- our future voters to be aware of the danger in using nuclear weapons.

Yes, I definitely wanted to honor the memories of my mother as well as portraying the horrific reality of that day. However, in order to do that, I did work with my editors on various ways to write the descriptions of what my mother witnessed. I’m very pleased with the final outcome.

Question: Can you discuss the parallels/similarities and differences between the changes happening in Yuriko’s home life and the changes happening in her world/Japan?
Answer: Yuriko, like many of us do not like change. There will be new family members in her family soon. Other families are experiencing change when they are losing loved ones to the war effort. When secrets are revealed in Yuriko’s family her sense of stability is lost. Meanwhile, Japan’s fate is not entirely clear. As the war drags on, Yuriko along with other families begin to think about the unsettling possibility that Japan may lose.

Question: What’s the significance of the title and how does it relate to the story?
Answer: One of my mother’s favorite celebrations was Sakura hanami (the cherry blossom festival). I believe it stood out also because it was the last ‘normal’ celebration with family and friends before the atomic bomb dropped. She loved the fragrance of the cherry blossom. After the bomb dropped and the smoke scent invaded her senses,she couldn’t help thinking that she would never enjoy the fragrance of or that happiness in celebrating cherry blossoms..

Question: The cover is haunting yet gorgeous. Where did the concept for the design come from? Did you have any say in it? Do you feel it accurately represents your story?
Answer: I had submitted a mood board to my editor with various covers of other books that I liked. I had hoped it would be mostly in black and white and a pop of color. But all the credit goes to the cover artist Katy Betz. She created the design and when I first saw it the one word was stunning! I would never have envisioned it, but she completely and skillfully captured the emotion of beauty coming from the ashes.

Question: What’s the most important lesson you hope your readers take away with them after reading The Last Cherry Blossom?
Answer: That nuclear weapons should not be used on any country for any reason because each person that was under those famous mushroom clouds on August 6th and 9th were someone’s mother, father, brother, sister, or child.

Question: According to the synopsis and your bio, The Last Cherry Blossom is based partly on your mother’s first hand experience surviving the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. How much of the story is based on her story? What other research did you do while writing this story?
Answer: About 80% of the events in the novel are based on her life. But the description of the day of and days immediately following the atomic bomb are 100% from her own horrific experience in August 1945.

I researched many books on survivor accounts as well as the history of the war in Japan and how it affected the people in their daily lives.

Question: Craziest thing you’ve had to Google for a work in progress?
Answer: Where would a bride of a samurai store her weapon on her wedding day? And Were there movies about mummies in Japan before or during WWII?

Question: Are you working on anything new?
Answer: Yes, I’m at the very early stage of writing another historical fiction story.


And now for the giveaway! One lucky winner will receive a few bookmarks and a signed ARC. Giveaway is US only. To enter, fill out the Rafflecopter below!

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KathleenAbout the Author:
I am a writer, a wife, and a mom of an 19-year- old daughter. I have a dog who is a kitchen ninja. I also live with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), a neurological chronic pain disease. Nurturing my creative side does not take away my pain, but it helps me to push through it and live my life in spite of it.

I have visited middle schools to present my mother’s experience for the past 5 years as I worked on this manuscript. In July 2013, I won 1st place in the Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators of the Carolinas’ Writing Contest in the Novel category! in September 2013 Anna Olswanger, of Olswanger Literary LLC, offered me representation.

I am thrilled to announce that on AUGUST 2, 2016, THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM will be published by Skyhorse Publishing, New York City, and coming to a book store near you!!!!!!!.

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2016 Debut Authors Bash: Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst (Interview + Giveaway)

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Hey everyone! Welcome to my stop on the 2016 Debut Authors Bash! I’m so excited to be hosting Audrey Coulthurst, author of Of Fire and Stars (November 22, 2016 – Balzer + Bray). This book looks AMAZING and I’m REALLY excited to share with you an interview with Audrey. First, here’s the awesome cover and synopsis:

OFAS coverBetrothed since childhood to the prince of Mynaria, Princess Dennaleia has always known what her future holds. Her marriage will seal the alliance between Mynaria and her homeland, protecting her people from other hostile lands. But Denna has a secret. She possesses an Affinity for fire—a dangerous gift for the future queen of a kingdom where magic is forbidden.

Now, Denna must learn the ways of her new home while trying to hide her growing magic. To make matters worse, she must learn to ride Mynaria’s formidable warhorses before her coronation—and her teacher is the person who intimidates her most, the prickly and unconventional Princess Amaranthine (called Mare), sister of her betrothed.

When a shocking assassination leaves the kingdom reeling, Mare and Denna reluctantly join forces to search for the culprit. As the two work together, each discovers there’s more to the other than she thought. Mare is surprised by Denna’s intelligence and bravery, while Denna is drawn to Mare’s independent streak. Soon their friendship is threatening to blossom into something more.

But with dangerous conflict brewing that makes the alliance more important than ever, acting on their feelings could be deadly. Forced to choose between their duty and their hearts, Mare and Denna must find a way to save their kingdoms—and each other.

Goodreads | Amazon | Kobo | Book Depository | IndieBound

And now here’s the interview!

Question: Congratulations! Of Fire and Stars will be out in roughly six months. What’s on your to-do list between now and then?
Answer: There are so many things on my to-do list! I still have a few ARCs of Of Fire and Stars that I’m planning to give away over the next few months on Goodreads and Twitter. In September I’m hoping to visit Chicago to celebrate the launch of my dear friend Paula Garner’s debut novel, Phantom Limbs, which is one of the most incredibly real and heartbreaking YA contemporaries I’ve ever read. Irish Banana will be hosting a blog tour for Of Fire and Stars in late November, and I’m also traveling to Atlanta, Georgia for a conference just before the book releases. Then I have a launch party to plan for early December, which I will be doing in Austin, Texas with Amy Tintera, the lovely author of Ruined. So, just a few things to do and places to be!

Question: Everything about Of Fire and Stars—from that epic title and gorgeous cover to the intriguing synopsis—sounds amazing! And readers are especially excited for a Sci-Fi/Fantasy YA book with LGBT+ characters. Can you discuss, in your own words, the significance of this story and why it needed to be told?
Answer: Fortunately we have begun to see some YA SF/F with LGBT+ characters in recent years. My inspiration for Of Fire and Stars came from writing the book I had always wanted to read. I was a big fantasy reader as a teen, but never came across a fantasy book with a female protagonist who fell in love with another girl. After reading Ash by Malinda Lo, it occurred to me that not only could I write a YA fantasy in which two girls fall in love, but I also had the opportunity to create a world without homophobia. Part of the beauty of writing secondary world fantasy is that writers are not obligated to create worlds that have the same social structures or prejudices that are present in ours. When I was a teen it would have made a big difference to me to spend some time in the pages of a fantasy book that felt familiar in the ways I loved—the medievalesque setting, magic, and political intrigue—but also showed me that it was possible for a girl to fall for another girl in that imaginary world.

Question: The main characters in Of Fire and Stars are Princess Dennaleia (Denna) and Princess Amaranthine (Mare). Neither girl strictly identifies with one LGBT+ identity. Did you want this to be ambiguous for a reason? Do you have an idea in your head regarding how Denna and Mare identify? If so, will you reveal this your readers at some point?
Answer: I am so glad that someone asked this question. The topic of labels seems to be rather divisive—they are very important to some people, and sometimes seeing identities explicitly addressed on the page can be very helpful to individuals who are still grappling with theirs. The main reason I chose not to have either girl identify with a particular LGBT+ label on the page was because first and foremost, I deliberately created a fantasy world in which homophobia does not exist, which means that the characters’ understanding of their sexuality does not directly correspond to what it might in the real world. Also, the relationship between the two leading characters grows from the ways they challenge and bring out the best in each other, and the attraction follows from that. It’s less about gender or sexual orientation than just meeting the right person. All that said, if Denna were a modern teen she would likely identify as lesbian—part of her journey through Of Fire and Stars is the slow realization that she is not attracted to men. On the other hand, Mare would probably identify as bisexual. She had a previous relationship with a boy, but there is no doubt that she also grows very attracted to Denna over the course of the book.

Question: How much of yourself and your experiences went into Of Fire and Stars?
Answer: A lot of my own experience went into Of Fire and Stars. Like Denna, I didn’t have much context in which to think about my sexuality when I was younger. Denna has known since childhood that she was to marry a prince, so why would she ever think about who she might be attracted to? There is no point. It takes meeting Mare for her to start to question what she wants, which is very similar to the way that my relationship with my first girlfriend unfolded. I did not choose a label for myself until long after that relationship ended—I did not know how I wanted to define my sexuality, but I knew without question that I loved my girlfriend at the time. I wanted to write a book that reflected that experience.

Question: In early May, you posted on Twitter, saying that your “queer princesses in Of Fire and Stars would be big fans of” the ‘Give Elsa A Girlfriend’ campaign. So, which of your princesses do you think would win Elsa’s heart, Denna or Mare?
Answer: If Mare wasn’t in the picture, I love the idea of Denna and Elsa together. Both have been raised to be queens, and with their opposing gifts of fire and ice they would be an unstoppable power couple.

Question: Craziest thing you’ve had to Google for a work in progress?
Answer: There are SO many bizarre google searches I’ve had to do. I did a lot of reading on weapon forging techniques for Of Fire and Stars. I also spent a lot of time learning about burns and stab wounds in far more detail than I ever wanted to! For another work in progress I actually interviewed a leading expert on obsessive-compulsive disorder. She was fascinating to talk to and incredibly helpful with my book research.

Question: What books would you recommend to a reader who loved yours, and wants to read something similar?
Answer: For fantasy involving girls who like girls, Ash and Huntress by Malinda Lo shouldn’t be missed. More recent SF/F releases I loved that included queer female protagonists are The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie and Shallow Graves by Kali Wallace. For readers interested in stories featuring other GLBTQIA+ identities, I highly recommend checking out the website It’s a great resource to find books with protagonists that represent all the colors of the GLBTQIA+ rainbow across lots of genres.

Question: What are three must-have items when you sit down to write?
Answer: I do most of my writing at home on the couch, so I always need my lap desk, a glass of water, and my Siamese cat Tazo curled up next to me.

Question: What book are you currently reading?
Answer: I picked up some exciting ARCs at BEA in May, so I’m working my way through those. Also on my to-read list is The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, and I’m super excited to sneak preview some 2017 books authored by my 2016 debut author friends.

Question: I know Of Fire and Stars is still months away from publication, but I have to ask… Are you working on anything new?!?
Answer: I am! I just finished an early draft of a companion to Of Fire and Stars. All I can say right now is that it involves even more magic and murder. *smiles mysteriously*


And now for the giveaway! One lucky winner will receive a copy of The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie, along with some Of Fire and Stars swag. Giveaway is US only. To enter, fill out the Rafflecopter below!

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CoulthurstAuthorPhotoAbout the Author:
Audrey Coulthurst writes YA books that tend to involve magic, horses, and kissing the wrong people. Her debut novel, OF FIRE AND STARS, will be published by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins on November 22, 2016. When she’s not dreaming up new stories, she can usually be found painting, singing, or on the back of a horse. Audrey has a Master’s in Writing from Portland State University, is a member of SCBWI, and studied with Malinda Lo as a 2013 Lambda Literary Foundation Fellow. She lives in Santa Monica, California. Find out more about Audrey and her books at or follow her on Twitter at @audwrites.

(Author photo ©Evrim Icoz Photography)