Sixteen-year-old genius Matty Ducayn has never fit in on The Hill, an ordered place seriously lacking a sense of humor. After his school’s headmaster expels him for a small act of mischief, Matty’s future looks grim until King Hadrian comes to his rescue with a challenge: answer a question for a master’s diploma. More than a second chance, this means freedom. Masters can choose where they work, a rarity among Regents, and the question is simple. What was January Black? It’s a ship. Everyone knows that. Hadrian rejects that answer, though, and Matty becomes compelled by curiosity and pride to solve the puzzle. When his search for an answer turns up long-buried state secrets, Matty’s journey becomes a collision course with a deadly royal decree. He's been set up to fail, which forces him to choose. Run for his life with the challenge lost...or call the king’s bluff.
What others are saying . . .
Refreshingly intelligent and loads of fun! I lost a few hours as I read this book. It's a Young Adult novel that is refreshingly and astonishingly intelligent, and the love story is perfectly played out. ~Christine Ashworth, Amazon Review The mystery was intriguing - I loved how Wendy Russo weaved in all her secrets throughout the book, how she incorporated just enough to keep you reading, while never actually divulging much of anything. I was guessing for most of it and that's pretty hard to make me do.
~Julie, Clean Teen Reads
Wendy Russo has created a masterpiece. ~Ivan Amberlake, Author
An Interview with Wendy S. Russo
Did you plan to be a writer or did it just happen?
I've always had a work in progress. Most never made it to outline stage, but I've always had a pencil for taking notes, draft emails, or a folder of files with chapters in it.
When did you decide to take that step that made you a published author?
Three early readers of January Black--two of which have been reading my stories for years--approached me separately and said, "You need to send this to a publisher."
Is writing a full-time career for you? If not, how else do you spend your work day?
Unfortunately no. I'm an IT analyst for Louisiana State University. I spend most of my day at a keyboard, but NOT writing.
Without giving it all away, please tell us a little something about how Matty is going to get through his biggest challenge.
Matty's observant and smart. Those traits help him collect all the pieces of the puzzle and also solve it.
Which character in January Black will be the most difficult to part with?
I will miss Hadrian. I used him sparingly on purpose, so it already feels like I didn't have enough time with him.
What kind of research was involved for January Black?
I spent a lot of time on the internet. I searched for telescopes, flower, F to C conversions, old train stations, US History, cars.... On scene required plugging in a lot of numbers into a computational engine called Wolfram Alpha.
What has been your greatest pleasure in writing this book?
Watching the relationship between the characters unfold. Sometimes it felt like they were writing themselves.
What draws you to a book? Why do you pick it up off the shelf?
I have to admit, I judge books by their cover. I have to like the cover to even read the blurb on the back. And it's not just about pretty images, either. I went to school for graphic design and when you study anything, principles and fundamentals stick with you. The more care I see put into the cover, the more sure I am that the book will be well written. It hasn't failed me yet.
What has been your greatest pleasure or personal success as an author?
I recently donated copies of January Black to my hometown library. I spent a lot of time there in my teen years, and it felt like giving back.
Did you have a favorite character or hero as a child? Do you have a literary hero as an adult?
Jessica Wakefield (Sweet Valley High). I read every book in the series my library had.
What was the last book you just couldn’t finish?
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell. I really wanted to like it. I pushed through about half and then put it down, had a baby, and that was 5 years ago.
What is your favorite scene in January Black?
There is a scene where Matty is very upset and Hadrian shares a story from his own teen years. It doesn't comfort the boy at all. Hadrian holds Matty's hands as the boy cries. It would be a spoiler to explain why I love the scene.
Is there a genre you wish you could write, but haven’t made the plunge? Which one and what appeals to you about it?
Steampunk. It's a rich genre full of cool stuff. January Black started as a steampunk novel. It just didn't want to stay there.
Tell us the soundtrack to your book.
Taylor Swift - "Love Story," "You're Not Sorry," "Sparks Fly"
Dream Theater - "Rite of Passage"
Sam Tsui - "Halo"
Christian Kane - Thinking of You
Glee Soundtrack - "Defying Gravity" and "No Air"
Rock Sugar - "Don't Stop the Sandman"
The Who - Teenage Wasteland*
Lady Gaga - Bad Romance*
*My son was 2 when I started writing January Black. These two songs were his favorites and he requested them over and over. He called them "Baba Riley" and "Ra-ra-ah-ah-ah." He's since moved on to Taylor Swift "We are Never Getting Back Together" and "Gangham Style."
What challenges did you face in getting your first book published?
There's a lot of rejection in the road to publishing. You research agents and publishers, write query letters, and blurbs, and synopses, and send them out. More and more, agents and publishers are rejecting by non-response. It's not that they don't want to respond to you. The internet has made submission so easy that they're receiving hundreds per week. They simply don't have the time. So you have to get the submission packet exactly right, for each house. You have to send it to the right person. You have to catch the submission screener on the right day, in the right mood, while they're looking for your book.
It took me a year and a half to get a contract. And then after you sign, there can still be snags. I had a few.
When did you write your first book and how old were you?
I wrote a fantasy when I was eleven for a young author's contest. I don't remember the title, but it had an ensemble cast and involved a crystal talisman. There was bad dialogue. That sticks out in my memory.
If you were casting your main characters for a movie, who would be your top picks?
Hadrian is Ryan Reynolds. Iris is Taylor Swift. Matty...I'm not sure. Jesse Eisenberg is perfect, but he's too old.
Favorite place? My house
Favorite author? Neal Stephenson
Favorite smell? The air in the prairie after it rains.
Favorite series? I can't choose!
Favorite movie? The Red Violin
Favorite dish? Crawfish Etoufee
Favorite color? Orange
Favorite quote? Be who you are and be that well.--St Francis de Sales
Your best trait? I really have no idea. :)
Your worst trait? I'm passive-aggressive.
What do you have in store next for your readers?
I am working on two series. One involves nanotechnology and a supporting character with Asperger's. The other is an Angel vs Fallen, with the angels as the bad guys.
Will you share with us a short preview of January Black?
“I looked over your last test today,” the king said, now leading the group.
The Regents’ School expelled Matty that afternoon from its elite King’s Class. The infraction itself was insignificant. However, he had been admitted to the class on a probationary basis, and only because the king arranged his admission on behalf of the commandant. Matty’s latest test answers were the last of a long line of subtle “subversions” that his instructors would tolerate, his father be damned.
After a long pause, the king continued, “I found your answer to question six interesting.”
“Very.” The king turned to descend a sweeping staircase. “Unless you would rather have me believe that you were doodling.”
Matty was already in trouble. There was little use in holding back now. “The instructor is boring and the section is a joke.”
“And?” the king prompted him for more.
“He expects his answers, not correct ones.”
The king spun around at the bottom of the stairs, blocking Matty’s path. He crossed his arms. “You drew the atomic model for magnesium.”
“Yes, sir.” Matty said, meeting the king’s eyes as he stopped on the lowest stair. They were brown.
“It was a civics test,” the king said before walking away. Matty followed. “The question regarded the Assembly.” Downstairs resembled upstairs, except for a burnt orange wall in what Matty assumed was a sitting room. “Explain.”
“Twelve.” Matty looked around for something in the king’s home that would belong in the palace. He found nothing. “Twelve protons, twelve electrons, twelve prime regents.”
“So, the fact that magnesium is sour and highly combustible, that’s just a coincidence?”
While admiring the gleaming steel kitchen, Matty walked right into a wall. “Shit!” he cried out while grabbing his hurt shoulder. His heart stopped and splashed down in his stomach. He wondered if he blurted that as loudly as he thought.
The king’s reply was careless. “I do that all the time.”
“Really?” Matty asked. The desire to hide in a closet grew stronger by the moment as the king’s guardians tried not to laugh.
The king nodded but said, “No.”
Wendy S. Russo got her start writing in the sixth grade. That story involved a talisman with crystals that had to be found and assembled before bad things happened, and dialog that read like classroom roll call. Since then, she’s majored in journalism (for one semester), published poetry, taken a course on short novels, and watched most everything ever filmed by Quentin Tarantino. A Wyoming native transplanted in Baton Rouge, Wendy works for Louisiana State University as an IT analyst. She’s a wife, a mom, a Tiger, a Who Dat, and she falls asleep on her couch at 8:30 on weeknights.
January Black 100th Amazon Review Giveaway
January Black 100th Amazon Review Giveaway
Blog Tour Giveaway
$25 Amazon Gift Card or Paypal Cash
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