Saturday, August 6, 2016

Review, Author Interview, and Giveaway (US Only): Chasing Merlin by Sarah White

Book info:
TitleChasing Merlin  
Author:  Sarah White
Genre:  Fantasy, YA?
Published:  June 29th, 2012
Source:  Purchased myself when I met author

Now, I actually read this book at the beginning of July, but since I had met the author earlier this year, and really liked it, I decided to save it for part of my Blogoversary month and to do a giveaway!  Now I'll be giving away an autographed book that I purchased when she was at the bookstore where I work, so this giveaway will be US only because of shipping.  I really enjoyed listening to the author, Sarah White, when she was at B-Fest at Barnes and Noble.  I feel like she gave lots of great tips for writing, some that I'm getting ready to use this weekend when I have a writing date with my former writing partner!  I'll share some of what she gave me in an interview after my review of the book.

So, at the bookstore where I work, it seems that the publisher has classified this book as YA.  I would say it is more teen or NA, as it is about a girl working on an advanced degree.  At the bookstore, YA is the books that are considered below teen, and I feel this is a bit too old for that.  But anyway, that is an argument I'm still having with my managers at the bookstore.  

The idea behind this book is really unique!  The main character is Dyllan, and she is going to London to work on her Master's degree in Medieval Literature.  Her subject is to learn more about Merlin, not really all the myths exactly, but more about him as a real man.  There are several surprises for her when she arrives.  One is that she has a roommate, which she didn't expect, but soon is very happy to have Gina around.  Another surprise is the guy she bumps into when she first arrives.  His name is Emrys, and there is something about him.  He's cute, and seems to know a lot about her topic of Merlin.  And it isn't just once chance meeting, soon he is showing up other places unexpectedly.  So she gets together with him, finding his information on her topic very helpful, if very much a different aspect than she'd ever thought about.  Gina doesn't know whether Dyllan should trust this guy that keeps just popping up, it's very stalker-like.  And when they find out that Emrys's brother is someone Gina had to deal with in the past that wasn't someone she was really a friend of, it makes it even more of a bad idea in Gina's opinion, to hang out with Emrys.  And Emrys himself doesn't always act like it is a good idea, although he keeps showing up and even needing Dyllan's help at times.  

All of the strange things going on are keeping Dyllan from getting her thesis done, and then, when Emrys takes her back to his home for a tour of the places that are where Merlin lived and was known to be, things really start to change.  She learns just how real Merlin was, or maybe even still is!  Who Arthur was/is, and just what all of it means in the fabric of even today's world.  And the romance isn't a big issue, but it is there, and I don't know if the ending satisfied me, or made me sad.  I feel like I could definitely read another book with these characters, I want to know if Dyllan can get a happily ever after, or if it is just impossible, with Emrys especially.  

While I wish for more, I feel the ending totally worked for the tone of the story, and fit perfectly for what the author was trying to do.  I definitely will recommend it, and that is why at the end of this post, you'll find a giveaway for this book!

Author Interview:
1. What does your writing process look like? Do you know the whole story when you start? Or do you just start writing and go with it (seat of the pants writing)? If you plan it out, how do you do that? Outline, note cards, post-it notes, etc.?

Writing for me is a bit of a wild ride. Sometimes a story comes to me with a plot fully formed and sometimes it’s a single character, or a pair, in a scene, and I have to find the story around that. But when I sit down to actually write, I think about the story in terms of three specific things: Action of the Plot (a “to” statement; in the most basic examples “to get the girl” or “to beat the bad guy”, but can get extremely complex), which then defines the Inciting Moment (what starts the Action of the Plot) and the Climax (where the Action of the Plot is completed or negated). Once those points are in place, forming a plot around them is pretty simple – I write scenes out on notecards and then arrange them into a good arc, before dividing that into a chapter-by-chapter outline. Even though all of that feels super structured, my process is pretty malleable; Scenes change, are added or erased. For example, my current work in progress started as a single novel, now turned six, so the Action of the Plot has changed to envelop 6 different arcs that all fit within the Arc of the Cycle.  

2. How do you come up with your ideas for your stories?

Story ideas come from everywhere. Sometimes it’s something that takes years to build – my current work in progress started fourteen years ago – and sometimes it slaps me in the face in a matter of months, or even days. I recently started working on a side project that I’m calling “Lady Motorcycle Novel” that came to me while I was driving back from a job I did a few states away. The night before I had eaten dinner with a professor of mine from college, and he was talking about his motorcycle, and that little bit of knowledge, combined with a song that came on the radio during my drive incited an image in my mind of a teenage girl biker gang, complete with six characters, all in the span of four minutes time.  

3. How long have you been writing?

How long? Hah! Oh, this is a fun one. As long as I’ve been able – I have a very distinct memory of my first ‘book’. I was seven, maybe, and it was a Care Bears Story, complete with my own new Care Bear, and one for my brother. I have no idea where those fifteen (illustrated too!) pages went, but I won’t ever forget that story.  

4. What tips do you have for aspiring writers?

I think any advice I can give is boiled down into three parts: 1. Read. All the time. Read forever. The more you read the more you understand language and the more you will be able to use it to your advantage. 2. Write. All the time. Write forever. Write on the bus, write when you’re waiting for your food at a restaurant, write before you go to bed. You’ll only get better with practice. 3. Experience other kinds of storytelling. I’m dual trained in writing and theatre, so I have seen a lot of live performance of theatre and opera. Listen to music and pay attention to the way they use words. Look at poets instead of just prose writers. Look at paintings, and think how you’d describe them in words.   

5. How important are names in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds, or the meaning? Do you have any name choosing resources you recommend? 

Names are a huge thing in my writing. I fall somewhere between sound and meaning. My gut is usually what takes final precedence. Sometimes they just come to me, and other times I spend a lot of time researching them before I settle on something. I’ve got a series percolating in my brain right now that’s set on a trio of fictional islands between Scotland and Iceland, so all of the characters names are culturally tied to Old Norse, Scots Gaelic or Icelandic; this series also has a lot to do with tree mythology, so when I found a middle name that meant ‘Oak’ or a last name that meant ‘Dark Woods’, I was like “Of course this is this character’s name!” 

Favorite Book: Seaward by Susan Cooper – in my opinion it’s the most perfect book ever written. I read if for the first time when I was twelve, and I’ve probably read it once a year since then. It has a fantastic lyrical quality and a powerful character journey for both of the protagonists. 

Favorite Authors: Lloyd Alexander is who I aspire to be as a writer. His works all have a human quality that not all authors can accomplish. His stories are as much about the human condition as their subject matter. I am also a huge fan of Maggie Stiefvater. She has a way of making the tension of character objectives so complex – you want everyone to get what they need, but it’s impossible to have all those things; and yet, her endings are perfect. 

Favorite Genre: Anything YA. I adore YA fantasy, but YA slice of life or science fiction or even YA historical fiction can grab me and get me going. My Creative Writing professor in college said that she holds YA work to a higher standard because it’s the work that people will go back to, either with their own children, or by themselves later in their lives because it’s something that meant something to them. 

Favorite Film: That’s a tough one. I love movies. As a theatre person and a writer. I would say my all-time favorite is probably The Princess Bride, with Somewhere in Time being a close second. 

Favorite TV show: The 100, which is on the CW. There are some problematic things, but overall, my favorite thing about this show is that young people are in charge! Most of the main characters are 18 or younger. It also asks a lot of hard, real questions and doesn’t give you an answer. 

Favorite Music: When writing, I’m all about instrumental music. It’s so helpful to close my eyes and imagine things. But otherwise, you can find me jamming to the Hamilton soundtrack, or Sara Barielles or Noah Gundersen any day. 

Favorite snack: Anything chocolate. I am a sucker for dark chocolate especially. 

Favorite Social Media site: Facebook is both my bane and the joy of my existence. I have a lot of friends from working theatre jobs across the US and several friends who now live in other countries, so it’s great to have such an easy way to keep up with them, but it’s such a distraction when I’m trying to work; there’s a great extension for Google Chrome called Simple Blocker that you can use on a timer to block sites that are distractions to you, which has been invaluable. 

Thanks so much to Sarah for answering my interview questions!  Here I am (I'm on the left) with Sarah at B-Fest earlier this year!

Author Bio:
I'm a roamer who has finally determined (after living in 5 different states and more than 20 locations) that home is a place in my heart where I have grown into myself. It took many years of reading absurd amounts of books, several unfinished manuscripts and very persistent life experiences to realize this.

My first completed novel, Chasing Merlin, was written during NaNoWriMo 2011. I have several other novel-length projects in the works, including a six book cycle that I began writing as a thirteen year old, and have revamped more times than I can count.

I have a Bachelor's degree in English and Theatre from Anderson University and an MFA in Scenic Design at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Scenic Designer and Painter by day (or night, because in the theatre you never know), novelist in the in-betweens. 

Amazon purchase link
Barnes and Noble purchase link

Author Links:    

  • 1 autographed paperback copy of Chasing Merlin (US Only)
  a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. I love stories of Merlin. The fact that he had so much power but didn't show it off or want to "take over the world" is something I love. This is a new author for me. B & N does do a great job of bringing authors to us to discover. Love their events.

    1. She's a great author! I hope you entered the giveaway!

  2. I still watch Merlin on Netflix even though I've already seen it, so this sounds very interesting to me. I always enjoy your honest and well-written reviews.

  3. I loved the review and want to read this because it sounds great :)

  4. Ohhh great review this is actually the first time I heard about this book I only read one book about Merlin and I was really surprise on how much I really loved and enjoyed it. This one really looks and sounds absolutely amazing I might just check it out and see if I like it or not. Thank you for the awesome post Lisa.

    1. Then you'll probably like this one! Hope you entered the giveaway!

  5. Lisa, I can't thank you enough for posting about this book!!! I just finished it and I LOVED it; can't wait to read books 2 and 3 in the series. I've gotten so many great book recommendations from your blog so many thanks!

    1. Yay! So glad you enjoyed it. And also glad that you're getting some great ideas of books! That's what I like to do, share what I've loved!


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