I’m incredibly excited to have fellow author Justine Manzano over to the blog!  But first, a big announcement:

I have my first reading this Wednesday!  I’m so excited and nervous.  It feels like my first day of school all over again, though this time I stacked the deck in my favor.  I’m giving away freebies and some of my fellow improvisors are coming over to perform some improv (and take the pressure off me).  I’m incredibly grateful.  If you’re in Raleigh this week, check it out!

And now, Justine Manzano everybody!


1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

Well, my name is Justine, I was born and raised in Bronx, NY, where I still live, in a house with my husband, my son, and three cats. I have told stories for as long as I could speak, and written stories for as long as I could write. I am also intensely geeky, and got my start in fan fiction. When I was young, I wanted to be an actor or a singer, but somewhere along the way, I tripped back into storytelling and started pursuing it as a craft, and that’s where I truly found my home.

2. How did you come to work at Fantasy Works?

I met the owner of Fantasy Works, Jen Leigh, when she accepted my novel at another publishing company. I was still with that company, when Jen left to start Fantasy Works. My husband, who is also a writer, finished his manuscript for his novel, Soulless, shortly after that, and I suggested he submit the novel to Fantasy Works. It was accepted, and once Jen and I started speaking again, she offered me a job. I took the job and when I decided to leave my previous publishing company, Jen, who had already accepted this same series at the other company, accepted it here, too. The rest is history.

3. What is your new book about and when can we expect to see it?

The Order of the Key is about a teenager named Jacklyn Madison. She discovers that she is a long lost member of the titular Order of the Key, a group of people with unique abilities who battle with inter-dimensional creatures and close rifts between the dimensions. But as she continues to train, she begins to unravel some questionable practices in the leadership of the Order that could put her younger siblings in danger. A little digging lands her right in the middle of a rebellion, led by the leader’s son, Kyp, and she becomes a major weapon determining the future of the Order. All the while, Jacklyn struggles to trust anyone, fearing that the enemies within the Order may be just as dangerous as the monsters they fight.


The Order of the Key is Book 1 of my Keys and Guardians series. Book 1 is currently in the middle of the editing phase. Fantasy Works doesn’t assign a publishing date until after edits are done, but we’re shooting for Fall 2016.

4. How long have you been writing?

It depends on what you mean by writing. I’ve been telling stories, however silly, since I could speak and writing them down since I learned how, but I never considered myself a true writer until about seven years ago, because I was too afraid to put my work out there, to be judged. And then my son was born and birthing and  taking care of a baby was such a scary thing that all of the judgment in the world suddenly wasn’t so daunting. I started sharing my work, and that was when I started to consider myself a writer.

5. What’s your greatest achievement as a writer so far?

Recently, I announced that one of my short stories, One Headlight, is a finalist for the Gover Prize for Short Fiction. I’ve never placed in a contest like this before, so that’s my greatest achievement as of yet.

6. You’ve recently started a series on social media.  What is the biggest downside to using social media to promote your work?  What is the biggest advantage?  Any social media advice?

I think the biggest downside to using social media to promote your work, is that promotion is an all the time, never stopping, experience. And for people who are your personal friends and follow you on social media, they probably get tired of me constantly marketing myself. They remember I have a book in stores because they know me personally and I’m sure they don’t need to be told once every couple of weeks. However, I will never market on two accounts at once. I know this about myself, so I keep everything together. So, I often worry that I’m annoying people.

The biggest advantage of working in social media is the sheer reach of it. A couple of people start retweeting one of your particularly good tweets and people who never would have heard of you now have. It just takes seconds to reach a whole new set of potential readers.

My best social media advice would have to be to actually be social. I’ve seen so many people marketing their books online and that is literally all they do. They don’t talk to their followers, or mention anything about their lives or even their writing process. They just tell people to buy books. That doesn’t make me remember you at all, and it probably doesn’t sell books. You just become another person, screaming into the void. To get attention, you have to contribute, and not because you have to. Because you want to.

7. How does Fantasy Works choose the books they publish?

Well, the main thing we are looking for is something different. Obviously we want a story that is well written, but we aren’t looking for the cookie-cutter type of fare you’ll get with every other publishing company. We want something with a twist of odd, a fresh look at an idea, a trope turned on its ear, or a setting or mythology nobody has heard of before. We like books that dance over lines we would normally see.

Other than that, we just need to know that you can tell a good story. We love a good story. So entertain us with something different, and we’ll be very interested in talking about your book.

8. What’s the most difficult thing about being (or working at) a new small publisher?

People don’t take you seriously. It’s so hard living in a big publishing world as a small publisher. Especially if you’re like us and looking for alternative routes for promotion and distribution. Before we even opened we had people who seemed to believe that traditional publishing was the only way to go railing against our alternate methods, swearing we couldn’t possibly do right by our authors, or that we were a scam. The truth is, we are a small group of people who genuinely love fantasy writing and love authors and readers and want to provide them with something different. We are small and can’t do as much as we want all the time, but we are fierce. We fight for our place in the publishing world and we fight for our writers and their voice, and we work like hell to get our books to/above the quality people expect from big publishing because we are personally invested in each and every book.

9. You mentioned your husband is a published author as well.  Does your relationship inspire each other’s writing?  Are you each other’s cheerleaders?  Or is there competition? 

We are definitely each other’s cheerleaders. While we don’t write each other’s work, so much of the behind the scenes work in the writing of our books is done as a team. We send each other links we found that can help in research. We do the first edit of each other’s books. And we cry on each other’s shoulders when things get tough. We cheer for each other in both good times and bad, because you always need a good cheer. I’m certainly Ismael’s number one fan, and he’s mine. And on the plus side, he writes damn good stories, so it isn’t difficult to be his fan. 😉

And the only competition is entirely self-imposed. We often comment on each other’s work with the words, “I wish I had come up with this, dammit.” And it’s true.

10. Any favorite novels or authors?

I always find it nearly impossible to answer this question, but if I had to pick a favorite author, I’d say Kelley Armstrong was absolutely formative for me as a writer. I read everything she writes with glee, even when I do find some things to criticize. I had come up with the idea of The Order of the Key as a teenager, but shelved it because I couldn’t find a category for it. Kelley taught me that there were readers for my kind of storytelling.

As far as favorite novels, I would have to say The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness. The story blew me away and taught me so much about what you can do with three weird little novels, what you could teach. How you could be both crass and poetic, dramatic and profound, and tell an epic story. I read that trilogy in under a month. I was obsessed. And for me that’s a short time because I wear many hats and that didn’t matter here. I dropped everything and read as much as I could.

11. If you could have written one book that already exists, which one would it be and why?

Definitely The Chaos Walking Trilogy. It was so brilliantly crafted to leave you on the edge of your emotional seat, and I think what was so cool about it was the way it was easy to see how good people could behave like villains and vice versa. And people behave like young adult readers can’t handle complexity. PFFFFFT.

12. Final Question: If you only had to write to make a living and you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live and why?

Ireland. Hell, I would just like to visit. The pictures I’ve seen from there are gorgeous, I’m fascinated with the culture, and the climate is what I consider to be exactly perfect. One day, we’ll pull it off.

Thanks Justine for stopping by and withstanding my inquisition!  If you’d like to see more of Justine, just follow the links below:
Justine Manzano
Author of The Order of the Key
Book 1 of the Keys & Guardians Series
Coming Soon!

7 thoughts

  1. How wonderful that your short story is a finalist for the Gover Prize! Best of luck with that, as well as your newest novel, Justine! Also, that Patrick Ness trilogy is on my MUST BE READ list, and has been for a while now. I’m really looking forward to diving in one day soon.

    Best of luck with your reading, Libby!!


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