Annie's Book Stop of Worcester

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SL Huang is a Hugo Award-winning author of science fiction and fantasy novels. In this interview, she talks about her latest book, Burning Roses, and about her writing. This video was created on March 8, 2021.




Photo Credit: Vanessa Hua


Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our Friday spotlight on fiction author Vanessa Hua.


Hello, Vanessa, can you please tell us briefly a little about yourself?

I’m a journalist and novelist who’s been writing about Asian and the diaspora for more than two decades. I’m also the American born daughter of Chinese immigrants who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with my family.



Where can people find your work? (Besides Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester–though they should totally check here first!)



How can we follow your work and share your awesomeness?


Twitter: @vanessa_hua


Instagram: @mononoke97

FB: @vanessahuawriter


For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write?  What can readers expect from Forbidden City?



I’m the author of three books, a short story collection, Deceit and Other Possibilities, about model minorities behaving badly, A River of Stars, a pregnant, Chinese Thelma and Louise, and Forbidden City, about Chairman Mao’s protegee and lover who becomes a poster child for the Cultural Revolution.

I often write about survivors, strivers, trying to find a way through.



What kind of research went into writing this book?  What is your favorite research story? What cool facts and findings didn’t make it into the book, but you loved discovering?


In 2004, on a reporting trip for the San Francisco Chronicle in the southern reaches of China, in villages and factory towns, I met teenagers who dreamed of a bigger life, and whose strength, smarts, and courage inspired me. On another visit in 2008, I conducted interviews for my novel in villages outside of Beijing, as well as explored the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and the Great Hall of the People, the high red walls of Zhongnanhai, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, tracing the path that would become Mei’s.



Perched on a tiny wooden stool, I interviewed grannies who’d lived through the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. One stared at me in disbelief when I explained that I’d come all the way from the United States. “I’m from America, but have Chinese parents,” I said.



She squinted at me. “But you don’t look American.” I wasn’t sandy haired and hazel eyed like my husband, who sat beside us.



In the lull that followed, he cheerfully volunteered in Mandarin, “Wo bu dong,” “I don’t know,” one of the few phrases he can say. he couldn’t stop talking about his language prowess, but when I asked her about Mao, she grew reticent. “I don’t know anything. I never learned how to read,” she muttered.


I found the same evasiveness at a market where I browsed porcelain figurines depicting the Cultural Revolution. One statuette portrayed a man on his hands and knees, signboard around his neck—“Down with capitalist roaders!” His tormentor brandished a sword, his foot on his victim’s back.


Sensing my curiosity, the shopkeeper blurted, “It’s not to hurt him. It’s just to show people.” It could have been what he’d been taught, or perhaps he wanted to smooth over the ugliness to a foreigner.


I believe that fiction flourishes where the official record ends, and that research should serve as the floor—and not the ceiling—to  the imagination. For the first time, I grappled with the challenges of writing a historical novel. By taking a leap of empathy, I wanted to approach not only the contours, but the truth of my protagonist—a truth that was emblematic of the millions of impoverished women who have shaped China in their own ways, yet remain absent from the country’s official narrative.





What was the inspiration for Forbidden City? What were the steps you took to bring it from initial inspiration to the finished book?



A decade and a half ago, a teasing glimpse of black-and-white documentary footage intrigued me: Chairman Mao surrounded by giggling young women. In plaid, they looked like Bobby Soxers. As I would learn, the peasant-turned-revolutionary was a fan of ballroom dancing—and young women, who partnered with him on the dance floor and in the bedroom.


When I looked for more information about them, I couldn’t  find much. In his memoir, Mao’s  doctor said “To have been rescued by the Party was already sufficient good luck for such women. To be called to the Chairman was the greatest experience of their lives. For most Chinese, a mere glimpse of Mao standing atop Tiananmen was a coveted opportunity, the most uplifting, exciting, exhilarating experience they would know…Imagine, then, what it meant for a young girl to be called in a Mao’s chambers to serve his pleasure!”

I suspected—I knew— the relationships had to be more complicated—especially for those who he kept on as his “confidential clerks.” Zhang Yufeng was eighteen years old when  she met the Chairman at a dance party— in the liminal years between girl and woman, and so young by comparison to Mao, then in his late  sixties. In time, she would handle and read aloud the reams of documents that  the Chairman commented upon daily. Toward the end of his life, as his speech became garbled by illness, she served an important role, interpreting what he said.

And so, I began to write about how one of these teenagers could have influenced the course of the Cultural Revolution, Mao’s decade-long campaign that plunged the country into chaos. What was it like for a peasant girl to get swept into the patriotism of those times and to meet a man she’d been raised to worship as a god?




 What was the biggest challenge in writing and putting out Forbidden City?  How did you overcome that challenge?

I began writing this novel in 2007 and finished edits last year—14 years, nearly a third of my life! It first went on submission 2009, and though it came close to selling, it didn’t, which was devastating. I continued writing, working on different projects and in between Deceit and other Possibilities and A River of Stars, I kept returning the project. I couldn’t quit Mei! When A River of Stars sold in 2016, my new agents strategized for a two-deal that included Forbidden City.




Thanks, Vanessa, for taking the time to answer our questions!



This week we have half genre and half non-fiction new arrivals donning our shelves at Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester. Three of the non-fiction books just happen to be related to Movies and Television!



Those three include:



MEAN BABY: A MEMOIR OF GROWING UP by Selma Blair is her memoir, complete from being what she was told, a “mean baby”, to alcohol issues, to being the talented actress she is today.



THE OFFICE BFFS: TALES OF THE OFFICE FROM TWO BEST FRIENDS WHO WERE THERE by Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey is a well-illustrated, behind-the-scenes look at the friendship between two of the co-stars of The Office.



WE WERE DREAMERS: AN IMMIGRANT SUPERHERO ORIGIN STORY by Simu Liu is a memoir/biography of Simu Liu, the man who played Marvel’s first Asian Superhero. It tells of his immigrant origins, and his struggles with cultures, family, and identity.




Another biography, not related to the movies is:



HIS NAME IS GEORGE FLOYD: ONE MAN’S LIFE AND THE STRUGGLE FOR RACIAL JUSTICE by Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa tells the story of how one man’s tragic experience brought about a global movement for change.




The fictional books this week include two thrillers:



IN THE BLOOD: A THRILLER (5) (TERMINAL LIST) by Jack Carr is # 5 in the James Reece terrorism thriller series.






THE ISLAND by Adrian McKinty. A new family in a vacation gone totally wrong. A heart pounding thriller.




The final two books in this list are both filled with humor, but are in different genres:



RAZZMATAZZ: A NOVEL by Christopher Moore is an outrageous follow-up of his previous novel NOIR, with the same cast of characters. This could be considered historical fiction.



SOMETHING WILDER by Christina Lauren is a humorous romance novel filled with adventure, treasure and love.







As always, thank you for making our shelves your destination.






Cerece Rennie Murphy is an author in many different genres. She writes science fiction, fantasy and children’s books. Her latest book, due out in April 2021 is a collection of four short stories called Between Two Seas. Cerece speaks about her book, her african-american female characters, and gives some writing advice in this interview with Selina from Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester. This video was published on March 1, 2021.







Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our Friday spotlight on Author Erika Ferencik. Award-winning novelist Erica Ferencik has received glowing critical praise for her literary thrillers featuring women who face extreme physical challenges in nature, even as they grapple with internal struggles.


Devoted to authenticity in her craft, Erica spent weeks in the wilderness of northern Maine as research for her debut novel, The River at Night, an Indie Next Pick that New York Times bestselling author Ruth Ware called “raw, relentless, and heart-poundingly real.” For her “hair-raisingly vivid” (Kirkus) follow-up, Into the Jungle, Ferencik journeyed a hundred miles up the Amazon to experience firsthand the lush and perilous Peruvian jungle.


Now, inspired and informed by a month-long trip to Greenland, Ferencik sets the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Wall Street Journal’s editors’ pick, GIRL IN ICE, in one of the most unforgiving, unforgettable landscapes imaginable.



Erica, Where can people find your work? (Besides Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester–though they should totally check here first!)


People can find my work anywhere books are sold.




How can we follow your work and share your awesomeness?










For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write?  What can readers expect from Girl in Ice?


I write thrillers set in exotic locations – remote forests, perilous jungles, and now, with Girl in Ice, the desolate Arctic landscape:

Val Chesterfield is a linguist and teacher trained in the most esoteric of disciplines – dead or dying languages – yet she seems at a loss to grasp the intentions of her own twin brother, Andy, a climate science researcher based hundreds of miles north of the Arctic Circle on a remote island off Greenland’s north coast. So, when Andy takes his own life by walking out into a 50 degree below zero night wearing only a pair of boxers, she spends months inconsolable, wondering if she ever really understood her brother at all.


When Wyatt, Andy’s fellow researcher in the Arctic, discovers a young girl frozen in the ice who thaws out alive and speaking a language no one understands, Val is his first call. Will she travel to the frozen North and meet this girl, try to comprehend what she is so passionately trying to say? Val has to shelve a reluctance to be at the place where her brother had fallen into such despair, tapping every ounce of bravery just to get on the plane, but her encounter with the mysteries on the land of ice at the bottom of the world is only just beginning.




What kind of research went into writing this book?  What is your favorite research story? What cool facts and findings didn’t make it into the book, but you loved discovering?


During my month-long research trip to Greenland, a small band of explorers and myself kayaked with our native guide into a section of a fjord known as the Iceberg Graveyard, where – because of quirks in ocean currents – thousands of giant ice floes gather until summer, when most melt away.


All around us, jaw-droppingly strange bergs loomed only hundreds of yards away. Some soared ten stories high, all were carved into impossible shapes: eerie cathedrals, massive arches, a bulbous monster two city blocks long, scored and warped by the waves.


I asked my guide what would happen if one of these split or calved. He said we’d all have to turn our kayaks toward the sound – fast – in order to keep from being flipped into the icy waters by the mammoth waves that would form. Heart pounding, I thought what am I doing here, then took my cue from the others, each of them calmly gliding along between the ice monsters, listening.




What was the inspiration for [newest release/series release is part of/spotlighted release]? What were the steps you took to bring it from initial inspiration to the finished book?


One bitterly cold morning in the winter of 2018, I was walking in the woods near my home, and came upon three juvenile painted turtles frozen mid-stroke in the ice along the shallow edge of a pond. They didn’t look alive, but they didn’t look dead either.


It turns out there are some animals (and plants too!) that have this freezing-and-coming-back-to-life thing down. Painted turtle hatchlings, some species of beetle, wood frogs, certain alligators, and even an adorable one-millimeter length creature called a Tardigrade or “water bear” that can be frozen to -359C and thaw out just fine. Most of these creatures possess a certain cryo-protein that protects their cells from bursting when they freeze.


A protein that…we don’t possess. Still, the image of a young girl frozen in a glacier in the Arctic popped into my head. From there, I asked myself: How did she get there? What was her story? 


From this initial inspiration, I teased out my story, all the while reading everything I could get my hands about Greenland, its people, landscape and history. I spent four months creating an outline, many more months writing a first draft, and it was only at that time did I plan my research trip to Greenland.







What else can we expect from you in the near future?


The novel I’m working on now is a little under wraps at the moment, but I can tell you that it’s an eco-thriller, called The Intelligence, that poses the question: what happens when nature strikes back at humankind’s attempts to destroy it?


In the course of the story, the protagonist must somehow answer a second question: how do you defeat an enemy you desperately need for your own survival?




What is/are your passions when you’re not writing? How do you make time for your non-writing hobbies/things you love?


I’ve been a dancer all my life, and used to teach some basic jazz and ballet classes. I still take classes four or five times a week: it keeps me sane. It also literally makes it possible for me to sit the many hours necessary in order to write books.


In terms of making time for things I love, nothing beats staying organized, sticking to a schedule even when I don’t feel like it, and being stubborn about achieving my goals and meeting deadlines.




What does your writing space look like? What do you need to have around you while writing or editing?


Mornings are spent “taking care of business” – errands, emails, exercise, you name it, life stuff. I settle down in my studio – a very simple, small rehabbed shed behind my house – at around three pm. I bring my dinner in there and work till nine five or six nights a week, seven when I’m behind or on some crazy deadline.


It’s a really simple place – and I need it that way. No decorations, just a lamp, desk and chair, and a coffeepot.:) The shed has a big window that looks out over the woods behind our property. All sorts of animals have dropped by to see me as I work: deer, rabbits, coyotes, skunks, owls, and porcupines – and I’m delighted to see them all.




While you’re writing, do you prefer music, silence, other? Please elaborate!


Most of the time, I need absolute silence in order to write, which is a tall order in this noisy world of ours. I have not one, but two fans in my studio for white noise (there are families with kids on either side of us). This is why I prefer composing a first draft in the dead of winter – I love cold, dark winter evenings for getting the work done. Every now and then I’ll listen to very select movie soundtracks, but only the very atmospheric variety and never any with lyrics.




What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned, thus far, in your writing career?


No matter how your work is being received, love yourself at every stage of your writing life. I sure wish I had been kinder to myself. 


I took rejection hard over the decades before my first novel was published. And trust me, the demons still want in. There are days I beat myself up for perceived shortcomings more than I actually write. I castigate myself for not being able to produce when it’s time to produce, for creating words, sentences – entire stories – that don’t live up to what I’d conjured so clearly and beautifully in my head. So, see? I don’t always live by my own advice. Hell, I even beat myself up for beating myself up😊.


But here’s what I’ve learned:


Each cell in your body replaces itself every seven to ten years. It stands to reason that you will literally be a different writer in your twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, and beyond. Each writer you were, are, or will become, is important, valid and frankly wonderful. Sure, we’ve all got the stories – maybe even whole novels – shoved in the drawer, but without having written them, it’s quite possible you couldn’t have moved on to what you’re working on these days, and admit it: you love what you’re working on now, right? And who knows? Maybe – in one of those squirreled-away manuscripts – an idea for a new novel or screenplay lurks, some key to the opus you were born to write. It happens all the time. It happened to me.


So don’t be such a beeyatch to yourself. Would you treat a friend like that? Of course not. Now have a cookie.



Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions, Erica!






First of all, we have a few non-fiction books in our line-up of new arrivals at the store. We have one book that is more of a philosophy book,





Next, we have some more memoirs to add to our growing list of very interesting life stories:







Now, for the fiction. Our first fiction book is a beach read.


THE SUMMER PLACE by Jennifer Weiner


Then, a “book of gritty realism exploring 3 different personal quests with eerily similar outcomes”.


THE RAVAGED by Norman Reedus and Frank Bill


A luxurious African safari goes deadly for a Hollywood starlet and her entourage in this historical fiction:


THE LIONESS by Chris Bohjalian



For those interested in fantasy, our next entry is an LGBTQ fantasy story, book 2 in the Malice series.


MISRULE (MALICE DUOLOGY #2) by Heather Walter



And for just plain old Star Wars speculative fiction fun, we have:







As always, thank you for making our shelves your destination.





Lee Hollis is a cozy mystery writer, whose latest book, Poppy Harmon and the Hung Jury came out on February 23, 2021. Lee talks about his books, his time as a screenwriter, how his name came about, and all about his life as a writer in this interview with Selina from Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester. This video was recorded on Feb 17, 2021.









Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our Friday spotlight on speculative fiction author Peng Shepherd. Peng Shepherd is the nationally bestselling author of The Cartographers, The Book of M, and The Future Library.


Her second novel, The Cartographers, was a USA Today bestseller, a national Independent Bookstores bestseller, and was named a Best Book of March by The Washington Post, as well as a Pick of the Month by Good Morning America, Amazon, Apple, Real Simple, Buzzfeed, Bustle, and Goodreads, and was featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition.


Her first novel, The Book of M, won the 2019 Neukom Institute for Literary Arts Award for Debut Speculative Fiction, and was chosen as a Best Book of the Year by Amazon, Elle, Refinery29, and The Verge, a Best Book of the Summer by the Today Show and NPR On Point, and has been optioned for television.


A graduate of New York University’s MFA program, Peng is the recipient of a 2020 fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.


She was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, where she rode horses and trained in classical ballet, and has lived in Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, London, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., New York, and Mexico City.


When not writing, she can be found planning her next trip or haunting local bookstores.




My first question to you, Peng, is where can people find your work? (Besides Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester–though they should totally check here first!)


You can find my books, The Cartographers and The Book of M, in Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester of course, but also at any other bookstore and online!



How can we follow your work and share your awesomeness?


I’m easiest to find on Twitter and Instagram @pengshepherd! I also have a website:



For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write?  What can readers expect from The Cartographers?


I write speculative fiction. I love stories that start out seeming familiar, with details drawn from our very recognizable reality, and then slowly start to creep sideways. That sense of grounding makes the fantastical elements feel that much more possible to me, and I think to readers, too.


For example, in my first novel, The Book of M, people’s shadows start disappearing all over the world. It sounds impossible, but there’s actually a real-life precedent for this. Every year in India on a day called Zero Shadow Day, if you’re outside at exactly the right time, your shadow will actually disappear for a few minutes. That’s how I started my book. The first people to lose their shadows are people who are outside on that very day, just like in real life. Only in the story, after a few minutes, their shadows don’t come back—and then things get weird.






With my second novel, The Cartographers, I wanted to do the same thing. Cartography is such a specialized scholarly discipline, full of science and art, and one of my biggest goals was to invite readers into a world they might not know much about, and hopefully offer them a sense of wonder and adventure and mystery—magic, essentially—about maps and mapmaking. To achieve that, I wanted The Cartographers to feel as grounded and realistic as possible, and for the settings and maps in the story to come from history. You can look up almost every location and every map mentioned in the book and find pictures of them in a library or museum archive, because they exist. The closer I could tie the story to reality, the more possible the strangeness can feel when Nell, the heroine, starts to realize the secret that the map she’s discovered in her late father’s things might be much bigger and more dangerous than she first suspected.






What does your writing space look like? What do you need to have around you while writing or editing?


I write at my desk with my laptop plugged into a gigantic monitor, so that I can see four or five pages of whatever I’m working on at once. The more of my draft I can see, the more it helps me feel like I can see the “big picture” of what I’m working on. I also have a notebook, a pile of scratch paper, and some Post It pads for brainstorming and notetaking, and always a glass of water or mug of coffee or tea. Also, my cat has to be napping across the keyboard or knocking pencils off the edge, or generally making some sort of mischief. That’s crucial.



What else can we expect from you in the near future?


I’m about halfway through the first draft of my third novel, so I hope to have more good news on that project very soon! If The Book of M was a post-apocalyptic story, and The Cartographers was a mystery, it feels like this new book is shaping up to be a sci-fi thriller.



Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, Peng! And good luck with The Cartographers!






Greetings, all. This week was so full of new books I had to limit the number I am presenting to you to only the genre and fiction books, and not even all of those!

To start out, I need to mention the thriller,


22 SECONDS (BOOK 22 OF 22 OF THE WOMEN’S MURDER CLUB) by James Patterson, starring SFPD Sergeant Lindsay Boxer.




I believe that because Summer is coming, the romance books are also starting to be arriving more frequently. We have:


BOOK LOVERS by Emily Henry, is a clever romantic take on two people who work in the book publishing field (Nora is a literary agent and Charlie is an editor). They have met before, and have butted heads, and they somehow keep bumping into each other on Nora’s “sister’s vacation”.


LEGACY: A NOVEL by Nora Roberts is more of a romantic suspense novel, since there are death threats sent to the heroine, murders, and of course, a romance.


THE HOMEWRECKERS by Mary Kay Andrews is a funny novel about flipping houses and finding true love.




And here we have a fantasy (or magical realism) book:


THE CHANGE: A NOVEL by Kirsten Miller is a feminist revenge fantasy about 3 women who gain powers which helps them go after the evil that lurks in their wealthy beach town.




Even though the rest of the books are all considered fiction, there are many different types of fiction that are not really genre specific. For example.:


ALL THE SECRETS OF THE WORLD by Steve Almond is considered contemporary fiction or literary fiction, about two separate girls, a missing father of one of the girls, and the prime suspect: the other girl’s troubled older brother.


THE DICTIONARY OF LOST WORDS by Pip Williams is actually historical fiction. It concerns a woman who collects words discarded on the floor of the Scriptorium, an Oxford Garden shed where lexicographers were collecting words to put into the very first Oxford dictionary. Many of these words and meanings relating to women’s and common folks’ experiences often go unrecorded so the main character sets off to create her own dictionary. (This is based on true facts).


ELEKTRA by Jennifer Saint is a retelling of the story of Elektra, Clytemnestra, Agamemnon, Princess Cassandra and more. This would be categorized as mythology and folk lore.


THE FOREST OF VANISHING STARS by Kristin Harmel. This is a WWII Historical Fiction story.


REMARKABLY BRIGHT CREATURES: A NOVEL by Shelby Van Pelt about a woman who befriends an octopus, who helps her find clues to an incident in her past. This is either contemporary fiction or animal fiction.





As always, thank you for making our shelves your destination.



Alexandra Ivy is an author of suspense and paranormal novels. Don’t Look is her latest suspense novel, and she speaks about that as well as her Guardians of Eternity paranormal series in this interview with Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester’s Selina Lovett. She also talks about being a writer, and her writing preferences. Recorded on Feb 12, 2021.




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