Interview with Middle-Grade, Fantasy Author Alina Sayre

My good friend Alina Sayre just released her second novel this month, The Illuminator’s Test. As part of her release blog tour, she’s stopping by for an interview. So please welcome her!


Thanks so much for hosting me, Angela!

My pleasure! Let’s start off with talking about writing. What is your ideal writing space?

I’m kind of a nomadic writer. I feel like if I work in one place for too long, I use up the inspiration of that space. But I find I do a lot of my first-draft writing in comfortable places—bed, couch, backyard—and a lot of my editing at the desk in my office. When deep focus isn’t too important, I really enjoy working at coffee shops and enjoying the people-watching, the productive energy, and of course, the coffee.

Change of scenery can definitely be inspiring. How about a change of genre? Would you ever consider writing something different?

Absolutely! While my two current books are middle-grade fantasy, I read a wide variety of genres, both fiction and nonfiction, from fantasy to historical fiction to fairy tales to poetry to theology to biography to psychology. I’d rather follow the range of my ideas than get pegged into one genre. In fact, I’m percolating ideas for a nonfiction book, a book of poetry, and several historical fiction projects as we speak.

Wow, busy, busy! So with all these projects simmering, are you a plotter or pantser?

Hehe, this is the evolving question. For my first book, The Illuminator’s Gift, I was a wholehearted pantser. I had no idea where it was going, and the book was a joyful journey of exploration, but it also took me five years and four complete reworks to write. Then I took a Jami Gold workshop on using “Save the Cat” beat sheets, and it helped me see that I could create a basic outline of my major plot points without taking away all the fun and suspense of pantsing. So I tried out a very skeletal beat sheet for my second novel, The Illuminator’s Test. Things didn’t always go as planned and plenty of surprises still popped up! (My characters have a stubborn habit of insisting on their own way.) But I was able to complete the first two drafts of the book within five months. While I may never be an exhaustive plotter, I do think a little plotting has helped me waste less time on plot holes and spend more time enjoying the characters’ personalities and the twists and turns of their journey.

I’m glad the partial plotting worked out so well! I’m a big proponent of it, especially because I firmly believe plotting and surprise twists aren’t mutually exclusive. What was your favorite part of writing this book?

I really enjoyed the day when I realized I had fallen in love with a character named Kai. He’s thirteen-year-old Ellie’s bodyguard, and he wasn’t even supposed to be in this story. He’s gruff and tough on the outside, but a total softie on the inside. Somehow he elbowed his way into the book, and I absolutely fell for him. I also had a lot of fun creating the island cultures that appear in this book—especially the part where I got to sit at Starbucks across from a mood board full of pictures and attract weird looks.

I love it when stuff like that happens! Now what was your least favorite part of writing this book?

Remember what I said about writing two drafts in five months? Yeah, not the best idea ever. I set out to publish Book 2 by the end of this year, and I’m pleased to say I succeeded. But not a lot of sleeping, socializing, or generally healthy activities took place in the meanwhile. I plan to take my next book a little slower and spend more time enjoying the journey.

Well, congrats on meeting your goal. That’s a huge accomplishment. So can we get a little peek of this book?

That night, Ellie found a beautiful blue velvet dress on her bed. It had a long skirt, lace at the elbows, and sparkling white gems swirling from the bodice to the left shoulder and sleeve. Ellie gasped and reached for it, but Kai held her back. He scraped the blade of one of his daggers across the gems, then checked the stitching on the inside. Finally, he swabbed the fabric with one finger and licked it. After a moment, he waved her forward.

“It’s all right.”

Ellie grabbed the dress and held it to her, spinning around and watching the skirt twirl. She hadn’t owned such a beautiful piece of clothing since the coat Nevin Beswick had given her when she was four. Suddenly she paused.

“Kai, what were you doing? Were you…tasting the dress?’

He shrugged one shoulder. “Checking for poisoned fabric. It’s happened before. Now that you’re involved with the Council, we can’t be too careful.”

Slowly Ellie draped the blue velvet over the back of the sofa, wiping her palms on her skirt. The dress was still beautiful, but now it seemed terrifying as well.

Ooh, both delightfully charming and suspenseful!

We all have favorite books, ones we nag our friends to read, buy our loved ones as gifts, and the biggie, the books we read over and over again. What books have you read more than twice?

I love reading, but I don’t often return to the same books, as there are too many new ones I want to discover. But a few oft-read favorites include The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, a couple of the Redwall books by Brian Jacques, Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing by Soren Kierkegaard, The Giver by Lois Lowry, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, and The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. Do I like kidlit? Yes I do.

What is the geekiest thing about you?

I am a very, very geeky person, especially when it comes to words and books (don’t even get me started on etymology!). But in high school I spent my spare time learning to sew cloaks and speak Tolkien’s Elvish—both the Quenya and Sindarin dialects. Geeky enough for you?

Hey, we love geeky on this blog. *g* Is writing your only job?

Definitely not! I am pleased that writing is a part of my career that pulls its own weight. But, like many artists, I wear a lot of hats. Depending on the day, I also work as a private writing tutor, a freelance editor, and a speaker. I’m also a graduate student, just to keep things interesting.

Definitely sounds interesting! If you could have lunch with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?

I would give a lot to sit in on a meeting of the famous Inklings, including Tolkien and Lewis, two of my literary idols. I love both of their theological imaginations and the way their work blends the concerns of real life with fantastical storytelling. I also love the camaraderie the Inklings had together.

Excellent choice! Well thank you so much for hanging out with us today. You guys can pick up your illustrated copy of The Illuminator’s Test on Amazon.

TIT Ebook cover small

 Synopsis of The Illuminator’s Test:

As Ellie and her friends start new lives on the flying island of Rhynlyr, Ellie hopes she’s finally found a home. At the Academy, she learns to wield her gift of Sight and discovers her role in the war against Draaken. But Draaken also wants to control Ellie’s gift. With the help of a blind mentor, an elite bodyguard, and a hostile singer, Ellie must navigate a storm of danger and deception that threatens to cut her off from her friends and corrupt her very self. When disaster strikes, will she find the courage to fight for her friends and the future of the One Kingdom?

Alina photoAuthor bio:

Alina Sayre began her literary career chewing on board books and is now the author of The Voyages of the Legend, an award-winning fantasy series for readers ages 9-14. Book 1, The Illuminator’s Gift, was a silver medalist in the 2014 Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards and has appeared at a number of schools and literacy events. On December 1 it was joined by Book 2, The Illuminator’s Test, now available on and at select bookstores! When she’s not writing, Alina enjoys photography, collecting crazy socks, and reading under blankets. When she grows up, she would like to live in a castle with a large library.





The Illuminator’s Gift on Amazon:


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An Author Photo Shoot With Captions

Last weekend my good friend Alina Sayre and I got together for an author photo shoot. You see, not only is Alina a talented author (check out her MG fantasy, The Illuminator’s Gift!), but pretty handy with a camera. And apparently I haven’t been professionally photographed since graduating from school. So we packed up my paperbacks (seven of them, yoikes), and hit downtown. We got some great shots, but also plenty of entertaining ones.


Latest release


Is that a typo?

Is that a typo?


I made this!

I made this!

In the library…

What ya readin'?

What ya readin’?

And after two hours…

Are we done yet?

Are we done yet?


That's a wrap!

That’s a wrap!


I hope you enjoyed your visit and come back for more!  You can subscribe using RSSTwitterGoogle+, or Facebook. And to ensure you don’t miss any new releases, sign up for the newsletter!

Special Feature: The Illuminator’s Gift

I have a special post today featuring my good friend Alina Sayre’s debut release, The Illuminator’s Gift. I love art, so when I found out Alina was having an illustrator hand-paint the entire book cover, I had to post it. And it’s gorgeous. Oh, the colors! But first, here are some work-in-progress teaser shots. All materials copyrighted Amalia Hillmann.

Cover 4

The cover was painted on cold press illustration board with watercolor and acrylic paints and detailed in pen and ink.

Cover 7.5 Cover 12

And finally…

Illuminator full spread

Illustration by Amalia Hillmann

Ellie is a twelve-year-old orphan who desperately wants a family. She just doesn’t expect to find one when she joins the crew of the Legend, a flying ship in a secret rescue fleet. On board, she meets a boy with a pet tarantula, a bully with eyes like mirrors, and a librarian who can read eighteen languages. Unexpectedly, Ellie also discovers a powerful gift that only she can wield. But when the Legend is called to a dangerous rescue mission, Ellie risks losing everyone she loves. Will her mysterious gift be enough to save her and her friends from a deadly enemy bent on destroying their world?

The Illuminator’s Gift is a Middle Grade Fantasy for Ages 9-12 and is now available on Amazon.

AlinapicConnect with Alina on her Website, Twitter, and Facebook.


I hope you enjoyed your visit and come back for more!  You can subscribe using RSSTwitter, Google+, or Facebook.  And if you want to ensure you don’t miss any new releases, sign up for the newsletter!

Confessions of a Versatile Blogger

Earlier this month, I was awarded the Versatile Blogger Award by two fabulous ladies, Marcy Kennedy and Sharon Howard.  Thank you!  Be sure to check out the awesomeness of their blogs.

Before I take the pleasure of passing this award along, I must list seven random things about myself.  Let’s see if I can come up with any new material.  ;-)

1. I kill flowers.  Not intentionally!  But so far not a single blooming plant has survived living with me.  Even now, the orchid, a plant that’s supposed to survive anywhere, is losing its flowers one by one, shriveling into dried corpses.  I am very distraught over it.

2. Whenever I learn something new, it usually works its way into the novel I’m writing at the time.  When I wrote Elemental Magic, I’d just taken a Tai Chi class–Tai Chi became my main character’s method of relaxation.  When I wrote Dry Spell, I had just ventured into the land of social media, and then one of my characters became a professional blogger with her own Twitter hashtag.

3. The very first CD I ever owned was Spice Girls.  It would have been quite the scandal in my house if my dad found out, so my mom, sister, and I only played it when he wasn’t at home.

4. I love lists.  I make to-do lists for everything–daily to-do lists, monthly to-do lists, lists for things to watch out for in editing.  I buy those page-a-day calendars so I can use them as notes.  Current count on my desk: 9 lists.  (7 of them are actually writing related.)

5. Every year I buy a fantasy art calendar like Nene Thomas or Josephine Wall, then at the end of the year I cut it up and put the pictures on my wall like posters.

6. I can recite every line from all three of the LoTR extended movies, in order.  I would love to be able to watch them for the very first time again.

7.  In college, I learned how to write in Tengwar, Tolkien’s elvish runes.  My friend and I used to write letters to each other in them.  Now, it just comes in handy for hiding passwords.

Now I get to pass this award along!  Congrats my fellow bloggers!  Remember, when you post about receiving this award, list seven random things about yourself, and then pass the award along.  And don’t forget to let those winners know.

1. Alina Sayre~Illuminations–She blogs on writing, cooking, books, and how faith brings them all together.

2. Jessica O’Neal–She’s already received this award, but her blog is newly discovered on my end, so there you go.  ;-)

3. Rebecca Enzor–She’s gotten this award in the past, but I just have to highlight her Custom of the Week posts.  If you love My Little Pony, these Sunday features are a must!

4. Jennifer Kirchner–In addition to her Vote Your Own Adventure series, she’s added some more nerdy pursuits to her blogging topics, such as gaming.  You absolutely must read her post on Kirk vs. Picard.

Thanks for playing!

Believe It Or Not

It’s time for Friday Fancies and I’ve been thinking about excitement vs. believability.  Every work of fiction demands at least some degree of willing suspension of disbelief.  The more fantastical the story, the more suspension required.  There is a line, however, and if the creator of the plot crosses it, he or she could shatter that bubble the audience has been happily maintaining.

Where is that line?  I’m sure it varies depending on the genre and story, and of course everyone has their own personal preferences.  The example I’m going to use is from the series premiere of Terra Nova, a television show about humans traveling from a dying future earth to prehistoric times in order to start over.  There are quite a few things the audience is going to have to take the story creators’ word on.  Hey, these people are living with dinosaurs; how awesome is that?


Warning, I’m going to talk in detail about one of the last scenes in the episode, though I won’t be giving any plot arcs away.

In this episode, one of the things that happens is a group of teenagers sneak outside the perimeter to have some fun.  They get stranded and attacked by slashers–mean dinosaurs with tails that could slice you in half.  They manage to take cover in a rover, but the power cell is dead and they still can’t escape.  One of the girls has a panic attack and decides to make a run for it, despite her friends trying to hold her back.  And she runs right into a couple slashers.  *Cue commercial*

Think the girl dies?  Commercial ends and the rescue convoy finds her staggering through the jungle bleeding to death.  That’s where they lose me.  Sure, a girl getting ripped up by dinosaurs is exciting.  It gets the heart pumping, the pulse racing.  You’re wondering whether she’s going to make it or not.  Here’s the thing–she shouldn’t have.  No predator is ever going to let their wounded prey simply limp away into the night.  In Jurassic Park, the characters were often saved by a bigger and badder predator coming in and eating the attacking dinosaur, but that’s not what happened here.

I’m not saying I wanted the girl to die.  I probably wouldn’t want to watch the show if that were the case.  But having her run off into the night to get slashed up a bit for excitement’s sake and then easily escape death by digestion feels like it crosses that line of believability.  At least for me.

So I pose the question to you guys: Where do you draw the line?  What kinds of things pull you out of the story?  What kinds of things are you willing to forgive?  If you watched the episode, did this bother you, or did you gloss over it, engrossed in the excitement?  I love hearing from you!

I’ve also got a mash-up of some very thoughtful posts for you.

Have I mentioned I can be a total douchebag?” by Natalie Hartford–Natalie talks about how competitive attitudes can ruin good ole fun.

Please Don’t Close Your Eyes, Because I Can’t See Your Soul” by Diana Murdock–The eyes are the window to the soul that cannot lie, so what does that mean for interaction on social media?

Why Busy People Need Poetry” by Alina Sayre–Btw, Alina’s one of my besties and she’s new to the blogosphere, so hop on over and wish her a warm welcome.  :-)

Are You Hungry Enough?” by Marcia Richards–Marcia talks about what happens to dreams put on the shelf.

Wander Off Trail” by Kate MacNicol–You never know what you might find.  Kate found alien babies in the woods.

Why It’s Worth a Watch Wednesday – Studying the Behaviors of the Criminally Inclined” by Tiffany A. White–Tiffany reviews one of my favorite TV shows: Criminal Minds.  If you don’t already watch it, she’ll tell you all the reasons why you should.