If you've ever wanted to read a book about a strong teenage girl with magical powers who fights off her enemies using her own wits and abilities, well...you need to read Michelle Lowery Combs' Genie Chronicles!
Hello, hello, and welcome to Living Life the Write Way's very first COVER REVEAL for World Weaver Press! Today, I'm revealing the cover for Solomon's Bell, the second installment in Michelle's young adult fantasy series, the Genie Chronicles.
According to WWP's website, "Ginn thinks she has problems at home until she magically lands herself in 16th Century Prague."
A bit of backstory: Ginn is a regular teenager until she discovers she's actually a genie. Solomon's Bell picks up where the first book, Heir to the Lamp, left off, and takes Ginn all the way to Prague in the 16th century.
Below, you'll find the cover, revealed today for the first time (and I'm lucky enough to be a blog participating in the reveal!) as well as a profile on Michelle, who, through her responses to my questions, has inspired and amused me greatly. I hope I someday get to meet this woman in person!
Are you ready to see the cover?
Michelle grew up in a series of small towns in central Alabama, bouncing about after her parents' divorce from each other and subsequent splits from various other partners. One such home was close to a public library, and the family's financial situation made it such that buying books was impractical, so they walked to the library to borrow them.
"My mother read aloud to my sister and me: The Boxcar Children, The House at Pooh Corner, a children’s illustrated Bible. We loved each of the stories, and experiencing them made me an avid reader," Michelle said.
As happens so often with writers, the love of reading and stories bled easily into a love of writing and telling stories. Michelle's first experience was with writing fanfiction of Jim Henson's Muppet story, Pigs in Space.
"I was intrigued by the idea of characters that I loved so much in an unexpected setting. If Miss Piggy could be a space traveler, anything seemed possible," Michelle said. "I wrote about it at length—phonetically, I should add, because I used words I had no idea how to spell as a second grader."
For a few years in middle school, she graduated to writing and reading publicly, but says those experiences were awkward and uncomfortable. "Teenage me then retreated from writing for any kind of notoriety," she said. "I was more awkward than talented, and I knew it."
So it wasn't until 2012, when she was trying to place her first novel, that Michelle again entered the world of writing for the public. She won a national contest (!!), First Place for Best First Chapter of a Novel, had the piece published in a literary magazine, and that helped lead to the publication of the Genie Chronicles.
The second book in the series, Solomon's Bell, is the result of research Michelle completed for the first one, Heir to the Lamp.
She hit on the idea of genies because she was exploring the concept of otherness through the supernatural, and, finding an under-representation of genies in YA literature, created Ginn, a teenage genie.
A rabbit hole of research stemming from grimoires (ancient books of magic) and meandering through the Italian Renaissance and King Solomon's ancient temple led her, eventually, to a synagogue in Prague.
"I decided, pretty early on while writing Heir to the Lamp, that my second book would introduce a new, more ancient and possibly more dangerous adversary for Ginn..." Michelle said, "and that this adversary would take them on an adventure to 16th Century Prague."
In her pursuit of setting a novel in Prague, Michelle had to again embark on that quest that can set a writer to pulling out their hair: research. However, she now has a wealth of knowledge about the capital of the Czech Republic.
"I can tell you the kinds of trees that grew in Prague’s public spaces in the 16th century: poplars;" she said. "The number of steps leading up to Prague Castle: 247; and just about anything you’d ever care to know about the Orloj, Prague’s astronomical clock tower."
She described the process of writing Solomon's Bell as very fun, and the thing she loves the most about her book is her main character's perseverance.
"She isn’t a damsel in distress by any means, and while she is smart enough to utilize the talents of the young men (and djinni) in her life, it’s ultimately her that works through solving her own predicaments," Michelle said.
Michelle's aunt (and a youth librarian), Gwen Rollins, says that Solomon's Bell will appeal to readers of all ages, and attributes this to Michelle's skill as a writer as well as the intriguing nature of the story itself.
In addition, she said, "The characters are lively, well-developed personalities who, while colorful, are unquestionably believable. Young readers are bound to find the characters relatable since they are, for the most part, ordinary kids in anything-but-ordinary circumstances."
Mary Furlow, a friend of Michelle's through a local writing group in Alabama, said, "[Michelle] blends her easygoing humor with a heartfelt style that is very appealing to readers. I think people can easily identify with her."
Gwen, who says she has known Michelle "since her red-faced, clinch-fisted, and very vocal debut onto life’s stage," added that her niece is a special person as well as a talented writer. "She has the ability to spark excitement in others no matter the topic, and brings an energy to bear that is irresistible."
Michelle described her childhood as one of upheaval — her parents divorced and remarried a combined total of nine times, which, incidentally, is the number of schools she attended before reaching seventh grade.
Nonetheless, despite commotion in her early life, Michelle has overcome obstacles in pursuit of writing and storytelling.
She landed upon YA as a genre because she ran out of books for young readers at her local library and wanted to add to the list of books available for youth. She had an 11-year-old daughter at the time, one who put much emphasis on her approaching 13th birthday as a day when things would magically change, and that is why Ginn, protagonist of the Genie Chronicles, is 13 when her life changes.
Turns out, I could have wished for the moon for my birthday and it would have fallen from the sky into my back yard. Oblivious to my awesome moon-falling-from-the-sky potential...
— Excerpt from Heir to the Lamp, by Michelle Lowery Combs, published by World Weaver Press
And because writing a book can change a life, I had to ask Michelle how the Genie Chronicles have positively affected her life. She cited the embrace of sci-fi/fantasy communities in the South, and the renewal of her own fan-girl persona, as positive changes.
"I’ve had the distinct privilege of meeting some of the most friendly and inclusive people in the whole world at some truly fantastic [conventions]," she said. "I’ve begun to entertain the notion of participating as a cosplayer at some events in 2017. I think I’d make a convincing Professor Sprout from Harry Potter, if I do say so myself."
Michelle's writing can be found on her blog, Through the Wormhole: Confessions of a Book Worm, where you can find stories about her life with five children ranging in age from 21 to nine, as well as the writing process and what books she's loving. Follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook for more updates.
Solomon's Bell releases March 7, 2017, which means you've got just enough time to order Heir to the Lamp and read it before it comes out!