Monday, March 13, 2017

Solomon's Bell


Michelle Lowery Combs is an award-winning writer and blogger who studied business and English at Jacksonville State University. She lives in Alabama with her husband and their army of children. When not in the presence of throngs of toddlers, tweens, and teens, Michelle can be found among the rows of her family's farm, neglecting her roots and dreaming up the next bestseller. She is a member of the Alabama Writers' Conclave and the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI). Check Michelle out at her website


I write because…
I’m better able to express myself on the page. Like many introverts, I tend to feel clunky and awkward when speaking, but writing offers the opportunity for perfect word choices and turns of phrase. A writer can embody any character they bring to life—even one with all the confidence in the world. 

If I were your favorite cookie, what would I be? Chocolate Oatmeal Cookie—my mother makes them at Thanksgiving and Christmas. I like to eat them warm before they’ve set. 

Plotter or pantster? There was a time when I waived my pantster flag proudly, but series writing has a way of forcing one into plotting. With the Genie Chronicles, it eventually became impossible for me to keep my character profiles and story arcs in my head, and I had to outline and plot. The process helped with insuring continuity and keeping me on track. 

What is your favorite type of character to write about and why? Villains. I used to be afraid of writing them, but a writing prompt I participated in with a group changed that. We were given an exercise to write a piece entirely from the perspective of a villain, and it gave me the opportunity to consider “bad guys” in ways that went beyond their use as foils and antagonists for a story’s main character. People are complex, whether they’re “good” or “bad.” That’s certainly the case for the villains in Solomon’s Bell, all of whom were wildly fun to craft.

Hamburgers or sushi? Sushi—of the rolled variety. I love rice! 

Name three things on your desk. iPad—it’s how I stream music when I’m writing. Cell phone—are any of us very far from our phones these days? A glass of sweet tea—I’m a Southerner, after all.

What books have influenced your writing style? I’m a humorist at heart, and everything I write comes from that place. Celia Rivenbark’s You Don’t Sweat Much for A Fat Girl and Jill Connor Browne’s Raising Children for Fun and Profit have both influenced my writing style when it comes to my blog. In terms of my fiction writing, Alan Bradley’s Flavia DeLuce novels gave me an incredible example to follow in terms of character voice. Bradley’s Flavia is young, but wicked smart and spunky. She’s also incredibly funny.

Tell us a little about your book. Solomon’s Bell is the second instalment of the Genie Chronicles and picks up within months of the conclusion to Heir to the Lamp. The book finds main character Ginn Lawson coming to terms with her genie heritage as a new threat to the secrecy of her abilities and the safety of her family looms large. With the help of friends, Ginn magically lands herself in 16th century Prague, where she searches for an artifact she hopes will enable her to thwart the Order of the Grimoire back home. The Grimms have proven they’ll stop at nothing to possess a genie as part of their magical menagerie, and their antics set Ginn on a collision course with the legendary Golem of Prague. 

What is next on your writerly horizon? While there is definitely a third Genie Chronicles instalment in the works, I’ve begun to contemplate a fourth. I also have a coming-of-age historical novel set in 1960’s Alabama that I’m eager to finish. Both projects involve extensive research, so I’m trying to balance that aspect of each while setting aside time to get actual words on the page, as they say. 

Top 5 Favorite Books
  1. Harry Potter Series, J.K. Rowling
  1. Stardust, Neil Gaiman
  1. The Founding Trilogy, D.M. Cornish
  1. The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis
  1. Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, Beth Hoffman

To save her family, Ginn uses her newfound genie powers to transport herself and her friends to 16th century Prague. Only one thing there remains the same as at home: she can't let anyone know what she really is. The Emperor of Prague and those closest to him are obsessed with magic. In pursuit of it, they’ve waged war on the citizens of their city. In the citizens' defence, someone has brought to life a golem, a dangerous being with connections to an artefact capable of summoning and commanding an entire army of genies. Can Ginn escape the notice of the Emperor as she attempts to discover a way to defeat Prague’s golem in time to save her family from a similar creature? Solomon's Bell is the sequel to Heir to the Lamp and the second book of the Genie Chronicles series. Grab your copy now!


 Haley Hardy blinks up at me, her big blue eyes made larger with surprise. Haley’s the newbie: a tiny ten-year-old my family has been fostering for the last few months. Mom and Dad want to adopt Haley, but she hasn’t decided on Charles and Molly Lawson and their chaotic brood of six children yet. “What’s up, Haley?” I ask, trying to sound as though I don’t know she’s seen me appear from out of nowhere. I turn my back to her, retrieve the lamp from the ground, and stuff it into my pack. “Sixty-four percent of people believe the Loch Ness monster really exists,” Haley says in her high voice. “Of course, you’d have to use a point zero one significance level to test that claim; the survey I saw was online.” Half the time I have no idea what Haley is talking about. She’s insanely smart—a genius even. I can practically feel my IQ plummet whenever I try to have a conversation with her. “Um, really?” I ask, trying to imagine where this is going. Haley half turns toward the open door of the small barn as if she’s about to leave. I sigh with relief, but Haley seems to think better of it and turns to face me again. “Did you know that there’s an ongoing project to have collected evidence validated by science and the Sasquatch officially recognized as a species?” What? “Haley, where do you come up with this stuff?” I sink onto the wooden bench behind me, peering into the bright eyes of the strangest kid I’ve ever met. “I like to read,” she says, looking away. Between her right thumb and first two thin fingers, Haley rolls the fat glass marble she carries with her at all times. Mom says it’s a kind of security object, like how some kids develop attachments to stuffed toys or blankets from their babyhood. Mom also says the rest of us kids shouldn’t make a huge deal about it. Haley’s been in six foster homes in five years, and Mom figures the marble could be a keepsake from her life before all that, though Haley hasn’t said as much. She’s so intense sometimes; I don’t think anyone knows what to make of her. Mom says some of the other foster families exploited Haley; she’s been on a major talk show and even won twenty-five thousand dollars for one of her foster families on some game show before they abandoned her on the steps of the Children’s Methodist Home on their way to Las Vegas. Watching her with her marble, seeing how slowly she works the ball of glass flecked with every color of the rainbow, I can tell I’ve hurt her feelings. “Reading’s cool,” I say, hoping to reassure her. Sure, I thought about divorcing my parents when I found out we were taking in another kid, even when in the beginning the arrangement was supposed to be only temporary, but I kind of like the little brainiac. Mostly because of the way she’s able to keep Eli and Jasper in line. The Twosome are crazy about our new foster sister. Part of me is starting to wonder if Haley’s stats on Bigfoot could have anything to do with the boys’ obsession with B-grade horror movies. “I’d be satisfied with being half as smart as you, Haley. I’m having the worst time in algebra.” “Mr. Lawson is teaching me trigonometry,” Haley says brightening. “Algebra was a breeze.” My parents are homeschooling Haley; they say it’s for the best. She’d be at least a junior at my high school otherwise. I can imagine all four and a half feet of her struggling on tip-toe to reach a locker—that is if her statistics about the Loch Ness Monster didn’t get her stuffed into it. “I’m happy to tutor you,” she tells me. “Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind.” I stand and watch Haley eye the backpack on my shoulder. She looks from my face to the pack a few times. I think she’s about to say something about what she’s seen or thinks she’s seen with the lamp when Jasper bursts through the barn door. “Hay-wee!” he exclaims. “We need wou, quick! I fink we found a chupacabwa!” “It’s highly unlikely that a goat sucker or el chupacabra would be found this far north of Latin America, Jasper,” Haley says. She corrects my seven-year-old brother even as she allows him to tug her excitedly from the barn.    

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