Interview with YA Author A.J. Cattapan

Seven Riddles to Nowhere includes one of the most original, intriguing minor characters I’ve come across in a children’s book. Old Man Englebert uses an electronic voice box, something I remember quite vividly from my own childhood. Several men that inhabited the smoky fraternal clubs my dad frequented used them, and they left a lasting impression on me. What inspired the character, whose voice provides an interesting contrast to the protagonist Kam’s selective mutism?

7 Riddles to NowhereI have to admit I never thought about what an interesting contrast Old Man Engelbert’s voice box is to Kam’s selective mutism! The truth is that I just wanted to make the man seem as scary as possible, and somehow the idea of an electronic voice box popped into my head. Maybe it was all those years of watching Star Wars movies with my brothers and listening to Darth Vader’s scary voice.

You’ve made many classroom visits with Seven Riddles to Nowhere. Who do you think is more inspired by your visits – you or the children?

The kids have written me a lot (via Instagram and snail mail) that they were inspired by my talk to believe that hard work and trusting in God really does pay off. At the same time, they inspire me to keep writing. When I enter a classroom where the kids have already read Seven Riddles to Nowhere, their faces light up and they nudge each other, whispering things like, “There she is!” I get such a kick out of it because that is definitely not the reaction of my regular students when I walk into the classroom! The questions they ask about the book are amazing, too. Like your first question, they have insights about the story and the characters that I had never thought of! One eighth grade class got really deep into some symbolism in the book and took it much further than I had ever expected. (I’d say what the symbolism is, but I’d spoil some of the ending.)

Angelhood begins with a very dark scenario, which is prevalent in a lot of contemporary YA fiction, but it doesn’t end there. How can Catholic fiction bring hope and light to teen readers?

AngelhoodBecause Catholic fiction is written from a Christian perspective, it can offer Christian hope. Our faith, our hope, our trust are all in Jesus. Just because someone follows Jesus doesn’t mean his or her life is going to be easy, so of course, our books need to reflect the challenges that everyone faces. The difference is that we can face these challenges knowing that we have an advocate by our side.

How do you think your profession as a middle school teacher gives you an edge in writing for the tween and teen audience?

First, it means I get to read a lot of young adult and middle grade literature, which I think is so key in learning to write for this age group. You need to know what else is out there. Not just in terms of inspirational fiction, but the general market as well. Second, it means I get to hear students talk about the books they read: what they like and what they don’t like.

I’ve enjoyed traveling with you vicariously via Instagram. Does travel deplete your creative energy or restore it?

That depends on the type of traveling I’m doing. In recent years, a good amount of my travel has included some “solo time,” time I get to spend being alone and reflecting. It becomes almost a sort of retreat experience for me, especially because I tend to visit places with many churches where I can sit in silence and prayer and reflect on where my life is going. It can become a time for me to really reconnect from God, away from my usual work.

What is your next project?

Right now I’m brainstorming ideas for a sequel to Seven Riddles to Nowhere. My hope is that I’ll have enough of a plan to write it during NaNo next month. However, back in 2011, I had planned to write Seven Riddles to Nowhere, but I didn’t have enough of the plot worked out and had to put it off until the summer of 2012. Three days before NaNo 2011, I came up with the idea for Angelhood and wrote that instead, so who knows what will happen this year. Maybe I’ll write a sequel to Seven Riddles, or maybe God will send me a completely different story to write! At this point, with all my teaching and grad school work, I just hope I’m able to write something.

A.J. CattapanA.J. Cattapan is an award-winning, bestselling author of fiction for teens and preteens. Her young adult novel Angelhood, a guardian angel story in the tradition of It’s a Wonderful Life, has won two books awards (a gold medal in the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards and an honorable mention in the Readers’ Favorite Book Awards). It was named a Carol Award finalist in the young adult category. Cattapan’s second book, a middle grade mystery named Seven Riddles to Nowhere about a boy trying to save his school from closing, released in August 2016.  Cattapan has also been a Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor and had numerous short stories and articles published in magazines for teens and children, including Highlights, Pockets, and Hopscotch for Girls. Her goal in writing is to empower young people so that they may live extraordinary lives filled with heart and hope.


Playing by Heart Blog Tour

Playing by Heart Blog Tour

About the Book:

Emilia Salvini dreams of marrying a man who loves music as she does. But in 18th-century Milan, being the ‘second sister’ means she’ll likely be sent to a convent instead. Emilia’s only hope is to prove her musical talents crucial to her father’s quest for nobility. First, though, she must win over her music tutor, who disdains her simply for being a girl. Too late, Emilia realizes that her success could threaten not only her dreams but her sister’s very life. Continue reading

Ta’Mara Hanscom’s ‘The Pretender’ Blog Tour and Giveaway

Despite just meeting each other, Tillie and Noah’s lives have been mysteriously intertwined for many years in Ta’Mara Hanscom’s The Pretender. From the moment they met, Tillie and Noah wanted to spend the rest of their lives together, but a deliberate omission will keep them apart – and that same omission will be responsible for the escape of a murderer, and a bride’s deception.

About the book:

Set in South Dakota in 1975, where eighteen-year-olds could order beer in a bar, and loaded guns were kept under the counter.

Frankie Valli sang “My Eyes Adored You,” and American soldiers returning from Vietnam struggled with their new reality.

It’s within this tumultuous season of American history that Tillie Caselli meets Noah Hansen, and they are never the same again. Their lives were mysteriously intertwined – and had been for many years – yet they had no idea. Continue reading

The Other Side of Freedom, Cynthia Toney’s New Historical Novel

AVAILABLE TODAY!Other Side of Freedom Promo

About the Book:

When the reward is the most costly sacrifice of all . . .

In a southern U.S. farming community in 1925, thirteen-year-old Salvatore and his Italian immigrant father become involved against their will in a crime that results in the murder of an innocent man and family friend. Will Sal keep the secrets about that night as his father asks, or risk everything he and his family cherish in their new homeland, including their lives? Continue reading

Standing Strong: Going All In with the West Brothers


Couched in ordinary circumstances and ordinary characters (except that, well, they live in sort of a castle), Standing Strong deals with the most important things. We start asking ourselves the relevant questions sometime in the elementary school years: What do I want to do? What kind of person do I want to be?

And we answer them every day with our actions or inaction, our habits, our determination, and our willingness to accept who, ultimately, will rule our lives.  To whose will do we bend? Our own? Or God’s will? Continue reading

An Open Book

An Open Book CatholicMom

Welcome to the October 2017 edition of An Open Book, hosted both at My Scribbler’s Heart AND!

Hauntings Possessions and ExorcismsWhen I saw a book recommendation by our friend and author Mike Aqulilina, well-known for his expertise in patristics, I knew it was something my husband would enjoy. We were able to borrow a copy of Hauntings, Possessions, and Exorcisms by Adam Blai from the Kindle  Owners’ Lending Library with our Amazon Prime subscription. (It’s a little confusing in that there are two editions of the book with the words of the title transposed. I’m guessing (hoping) that the content is roughly the same though.

DistortionI’ve been listening to the audiobook of Distortion (Moonlighter Series Book 2) by Terri Blackstock. I borrowed this one from Hoopla Digital (which is about a million times easier to use than Overdrive). Like the first book in the series, this is a fast-paced, multi-layer mystery involving a family with more than its share of murders. The victim in Distortion turns out not to be so much a victim, but rather an ostensibly respectable surgeon and father who led a double life. This series is categorized as  Christian fiction, but that aspect of the story is fairly insignificant.

Just MaybeAfter finishing and loving Begin Again, I’m eager to begin reading an advance copy of Just Maybe (Home in You Book 3) by Crystal Walton. She writes clean, contemporary romances that I believe get better with each book. The series traces an interconnected group of friends tied to New York City, but set in various American locales including the Adirondacks and Ocracoke Island, North Carolina.

Inferno SquadMy son waited weeks for a copy of Battlefront II: Inferno Squad (Star Wars) by Christie Golden to become available from the local library. While watching The Star Wars Show, he noted the Janina Avankar, the voice actress who plays Iden Versio, recommended reading Inferno Squad before the Battlefront II video game launches this fall. Reviews look good, and he’s enjoying the book.

I Survived the Shark AttackMy daughter’s fourth grade class will be reading books from the I Survived Series this year. They started with I Survived the Shark Attacks of 1916 (I Survived #2) by Lauren Tarshis and Scott Dawson. Did you know the shark attacks took place in a creek, not the ocean? These attacks were said to have been the inspiration for Jaws, but Peter Benchley has denied that claim. The class has since begun reading I Survived the Attacks of September 11th, 2001 (I Survived #6), also by Lauren Tarshis.

Early ThunderWhile still zipping through the Childhood of Famous Americans Series (Amelia Earhart: Young Aviator is  her latest selection), my daughter also checked out Early Thunder by Jean Fritz from the school library. I’m sure the early colonial setting appealed to her. She’s only read a couple of chapters, and seems to enjoy it, but I noticed the Amazon reviews are, uh, not so great. So, we’ll see what she thinks as she gets farther into the story.

Stray DogI brought out some picture books that I’d enjoyed with my older kids but which had been packed in boxes for lack of space. I remember not really “getting” The Stray Dog by Marc Simont, a Caldecott Award Medalist, when I first read it. Too many illustrations without text for my taste. But, it’s since grown on me, and the kids enjoy it as well. I could just see the wheels turning in their heads as we read it, wishing that we would come across a lovable, adoptable stray.

How I Became a PirateHow I Became a Pirate by Melinda Long and David Shannon is the perfect choice for Talk Like a Pirate Day. I can’t read this one in a  normal voice. Just can’t. It’s a fun story with bright, colorful illustrations of a boy’s pirate adventure – the good, the bad, and the ugly. It never fails to bring a smile to my face.

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Are You Under-Utilizing Goodreads? Tips for Readers and Writers

goodreadsMaybe you log books you read on Goodreads, but are you taking advantage of its other features?

For instance, did you know you can post a general update on Goodreads, like you would a status on Facebook or other social media? You can!

While logged into Goodreads, look in the left-hand column beneath what you’re currently reading.

All it takes is a little time browsing and clicking to discover what’s there. Pro tip: Scan the WHOLE page, including the sidebars, menus, and widgets for links. I guarantee there’s more there than you realize. Continue reading

Relevant Fiction Reviews: High School Theater

Relevant Fiction Reviews

I was a behind the scenes gal when it came to high school theater, but I still have many happy memories tied to our musical productions. As a proud member of the stage crew for four years, I was able to identify with the closeness and camaraderie that comes from putting on a show together.

The following are three excellent YA novels that stand on their own merit, but have something just a little extra special if you are or were a high school theater geek. Continue reading