Interview with MG Author Ally Malinenko

Hey Y’all I’m proud to bring you Ally Malinenko, author of Lizzy Speare and The Cursed Tomb as a part of BOOKTOBERFEST‘s Middle Grade Mentions Series!

And don’t forget to enter the giveaway of The Adventures of Stanley Delacourt 🙂

Meet Ally

(doesn’t she look cool!)

Hi Ally! Can you introduce yourself  & your book?

Hi. I’m Ally Malinenko, writer, Brooklynite, and as my friend Jes so wittily puts it, needer of sleep. I’m also the author of Lizzy Speare and the Cursed Tomb which is the story of Lizzy Speare, a normal twelve year old girl with a talent for writing who has a very not normal family secret. When Lizzy’s father vanishes, that secret will change her life in ways unimagined. (Spoiler alert! It turns out that Lizzy, or Elizabeth S. Speare is the last living descendant of William Shakespeare. Shhhh! Don’t tell anybody!)

Then Lizzy and her best friend Sammy are kidnapped, awakening in the faraway land of Manhattan. Their host is Jonathan Muse, whose job is to protect Lizzy from becoming the latest victim in a family feud going back nearly five hundred years. Is that why the mysterious, eye patch-wearing Dmitiri Marlowe is after her? (Spoiler Alert 2 – he’s the last living descendent of Christopher Marlowe, a friend and rival of Shakespeare’s. But keep that to yourself!) Is Marlowe after Lizzy’s family fortune rumored to be kept in the tomb of that bald guy with the goatee? Does he seek artistic immortality? Or Revenge (with a capital R) for a death long, long ago.

In a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse, Lizzy and Sammy are thrust into the realm of the mythical and fantastic – from satyrs and Cyclopses to Middle Eastern cab drivers and Brooklyn hipsters in what is, as the Bard once wrote, truly “an improbable fiction.”

What is your favorite place to write?

I write in a closet. Literally. It’s a terrific little nook that was built by a previous tenant who was much better with hammer and nails than I could ever dream. He or she built bookshelves into the walls and put in an outlet. My desk fits right underneath the bookshelves and I’ve got an empty comic book box that my cat, June, likes to sleep in. The walls are covered with things that inspire me and plot outlines and notes for writing. I get up at 5 am, put on the classical station, brew some tea, and get to work in my little cave. I love it in there.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I wrote my first story when I was eight and decided that was it, I was going to be a writer. Simple, right? Well, it wasn’t but it was certainly interesting.

How did you get the idea for your book?

I’ve always been a fan of mythology and Shakespeare but I got the idea for Lizzy when I was in a bookstore in downtown Brooklyn and I saw a children’s book by Philip Ardagh entitled “A House called Awful End” which featured a young Eddie Dickens in Victorian England and I thought it was so clever. A book for children with a reference to Dickens. I love Dickens! But who did I love more than Dickens? Shakespeare, of course! And just like that, Lizzy in her red hoodie was born.

Why did you decide to write Middle Grade Fiction?

Middle Grade Fiction had the greatest impact on me when I was a young reader. I know a lot of people get into reading when they are older with young adult books but for me it was the Chronicles of Narnia and Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which and Mrs. Whatsit in Wrinkle in Time. Those were the characters that really left an impact on me. Bridge to Terabithia took me to a world that I believed in. To me, it was as real as the one I lived in. So did Narnia. I guess I never stopped checking the back of the wardrobe for snowflakes…just in case. Cause, what if?

If you could be any one of your characters or any character which would it be & why?

I would be Jonathan. He knows way more than he’s letting on and I like to be in the know. Second would probably be Cleo, only because I would look cool with goat legs and a crossbow.

When & why did you start writing?

I started writing when I was about eight years old with my first short story about a girl who gets hit by a drunk driver. It was about ten pages long which to my eight year old brain was clearly the same length as a novel. Then I moved onto teenage angst-y poetry which I kept up through high school and beyond.

Why did I start writing? Well, I guess that comes from the fact that by nature, I’m a story-teller. I had something I wanted to say. I had words in my head that were knocking about looking for a way out.

What is the best piece of constructive criticism you ever received?

I’ve received a lot of constructive criticism but I think one of the most solid and valuable is about killing your darlings. Lost of people receive this advice because it’s TRUE. You can’t get too attached to any single thing – not a plot device, not a character, not a passage, not even a single sentence. Nothing. Because when it’s revision time, you need to come at with new eyes. You need to be able to kill your darlings.

How did you choose the title and the main character’s name?

Actually when Lizzy was first written her name was Hamlet. But it was suggested that Hamlet was too obvious a tie back to Shakespeare. So instead I went with Elizabeth (after the Queen in Shakespeare’s day) and Speare (for the latter half of her real name). Because I knew it was going to be a series, I wanted there to be an “and the….something something something” after her name. Because of what happens in the book and because of the legend about Shakespeare’s grave being cursed, “and the Cursed Tomb” made the most sense.

How do you overcome “writer’s block” ? 

I don’t believe in writer’s block. No, honestly I don’t. I believe in bad writing mornings. I believe that sometimes I’m going to get up and produce bad work. But I don’t believe in writer’s block. Creativity is a muscle. It must be exercised. I write every morning. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, but each day brings me closer to where I’m trying to get.

Are you a full time writer…why/why not?

By full time writer do you mean is that all I do? No. I’m also a librarian. But writing is my passion and I hope one day to be able to do nothing but that. Prior to this my only other book is poetry, and that isn’t the sort of writing you can retire off of. But if you mean, am I a full time writer because there is rarely a point in the day that I’m not thinking about writing, then yes, I am a full time writer.

Coffee or tea?

Tea, always. Coffee upsets my stomach. And I drink it with milk, like the English do.

Fun Fact about yourself most people don’t know?

I fell off a waterfall when I was in high school. But I can’t tell you anymore than that because that is a story I have yet to write. Spoilers!

What was your writing & publishing process for your book like, from start to finish?

I wrote the book and then rewrote the book and then changed everything and wrote the book again from scratch. Then I submitted to agents and one of them said, “I like the book, now let’s re-write the book” and we did. Then we sent it out to publishing houses and let me tell you, being on submission is rough! When you’ve wanted to be a writer since you were a little girl waiting to hear if someone is going to publish your book is intense.

How did you find a publisher for your book, do you have a literary agent?

I do have an agent and he subbed my book around to all the big houses and some small ones and we went with Antenna Books.

Is there a particular reason why you chose a small press, do you feel there are advantages/disadvantages for small vs. large press?

I don’t know if there really is that much of a difference. I get a lot of attention from my publisher and we worked really closely on this book together. But I would think that would be the same at a big press. I guess it’s just a roll of the dice. The book finds its home.

Why did you choose to become a traditionally published author?

I don’t think so much that I chose to as that’s just what happened. I finished my book and went searching for an agent. I didn’t really consider being an indie author because at the time I didn’t really know a lot about it. But I don’t see any difference between getting published by a big house, a small house or on your own. In this internet age we can connect with our readers immediately and the point of writing a book is to be read, not about what imprint is stamped on the spine. Publishing houses have overhead costs and they need to make sure what they put out there will sell enough to cover that. Totally understandable. But that means they have to be really selective, especially now with e-books changing the dynamic of the business. Maybe they can’t take so many chances on debut authors. Sometimes they’re right and I think sometimes they’re wrong. I like that things like Create Space forge another avenue for writers. Think of all those great stories out there that wouldn’t have been told otherwise. What a loss! It empowers the reader and the creator. More books is always a good thing.

What is some advice you would impart to aspiring authors?

Read. Read. Read. Read everything you can get your hands on. The only way to learn how to write is to read. And then when you do start writing don’t give up. Just write. Keep writing. When it’s good keep writing. When it’s bad keep writing. When someone tells you it’s terrible and you should stop, keep writing. When someone tells you it’s perfect don’t change it, keep writing. One day you’ll wake up and you’ll have found your voice. But it takes work. Be ready to do the work.

If you could have breakfast with anyone dead or alive, who would it be and what would you eat?

Well naturally I would love to have breakfast with William Shakespeare and I would like pancakes. But if I pick someone other than Shakespeare, I would go with Jim Henson. And I would still have pancakes.

If you had/have an animal spirit which animal(s) would it be…why?

Awesome question. Makes me think of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials books. If I had a spirit animal it would be a sea turtle. They strike me as the sort of animal that is able to see beyond the veil and really grasp the humor and mystery in the universe. Also, it reminds me of the story about the philosopher Bertrand Russell and the elderly lady who told him the world rests on the back of turtle. When he asked what’s holding up the turtle, she smiled coyly and said “It’s turtles all the way down!” Plus I imagine swimming around all day is a bit like flying only wetter.

What is your favorite book…why?

Oh, wow that’s hard. I can’t pick just one so I’ll say the most influential book I read was The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. It made me want to be a writer. And the most moving book I read is a tie between Wrinkle in Time and Bridge to Terabithia. When I was a kid, I was Meg Murray, this bubbling petri dish of hope and frustration and awkwardness. I understood her and she understood me.

As an adult, Catcher in the Rye and Franny and Zooey are up there. I’m a sucker for Salinger. On the Road blew a synapse or two. This list is just going to keep growing so I’ll stop there.

What is your favorite movie…why?

If I pick one that has intense sentimental value for me, one that had a resounding effect from when I saw it as a young girl all the way up to now, it would be Labyrinth. Jim Henson was a genius and Brian Froud’s designs are amazing.

What is the next book you want to write?

I’m working on the second Lizzy book now but I’ve got a few other things in the pot – a young adult book about chess and time travel and the story about me falling off the waterfall which really is just about complicated teenage love.

Imagine you are writing your memoir…what is its title?

Oh, I’ll bite off L’Engle’s book on this one:

A Ring of Endless Early Mornings: The Ally Malinenko story.

Last words???

Thanks for the interview! I really appreciate what bloggers like you do for people like me in terms of spreading the word and sharing my story with readers. Basically…you guys rock.

Thanks Ally, you rock, and I loved your advice to aspiring readers…some of the best advice ever!

Connect With Ally & Lizzy





Whimsically Yours,



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