Book Reviews, books, Poetry, Special Guests

Author Q+A with Alma Gray

Alma Gray is the pseudonym of Serenity Brame and the author behind Lucid Lies, a self-described collection of dark and passionate poetry. Released in 2020, Lucid Lies was a work years in the making and explores the rawest parts of ourselves.

Poetry can be used to both escape and explore reality. I like to think of poetry as the Room of Requirement in the Harry Potty series – it’s what you need it to be when you need it. One day you could read a poem and you think it means one thing, but a few years later – when you’re at a different place in life – you see it with an entirely fresh perspective.

Alma Gray’s collection Lucid Lies explores emotions that come from a deep place. Read on to learn what inspires Alma Gray, why she prefers free-verse poetry, and what we can look forward to next.

Congratulations on publishing your first poetry collection Lucid Lies! Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Thank you! My name is Serenity, I love anything and everything related to art (the darker and weirder the better). 

How did you get started as a writer?
In the first grade I had a wonderful teacher, Ms. Singley, and she was so encouraging when it came to creating art and writing stories. She had this rare ability to cultivate a sense of adventure during her lessons, and it inspired me to start painting and writing. I began writing stories, then journal entries, and eventually took a stab at poetry.

What inspired you to work on Lucid Lies and ultimately publish it?
I wrote the majority of these poems during high school. Reading and writing morbid content was my escape from reality at the time. Eventually, my feelings took shape in the form of free-verse. When I gained independence, I started to separate myself from escapism as I learned healthier alternatives. This publication was a very therapeutic experience. It sort of felt like I could finally put the past aside, move on, and step into a life I desired.

These poems are so raw and cover topics that can be very personal. Why are these topics important to you?
They’re important to me because they sort of defined my identity as a kid. I couldn’t open up to anyone in my life which is why loneliness and despair are recurrent motifs throughout this collection. I felt like an outsider because of the weight I carried in my heart, and I assumed it was an inescapable burden that I would simply have to live with. Though I’m in a much healthier place in my life, angsty poetry will have a special place in my heart forever.

One element that stands out in Lucid Lies is the imagery; the use of color specifically spoke to me in the way that it helped set the tone and evoke feeling. You also apply free-verse. Why did you choose these styles?
Descriptive imagery has always been my favorite literary device. I have a bunch of weird ideas bouncing around in my head, and both imagery and free-verse help me to express them best. 

What was your writing practice like and did it change while working on this collection?
When it comes to poetry, I typically write when I feel very strong emotions. Since I didn’t write them with the intention to publish, my writing style remained the same. 

What was the most challenging aspect of creating Lucid Lies?
The editing process was very difficult. I’m a big believer in breaking grammatical rules for the sake of poetic nuance, but I reigned it in a lot to appease the kindle publishing guidelines.

How did you choose the title Lucid Lies?
I just made a list of titles that sounded pretty to me. Some runner ups were ‘Sunkissed and Sappy’, ‘Daisies Picked to Death’, and ‘Tempered Passions’.

Is there anything specific in your life that inspires you to write?
The messy yet tender aspects of love inspires me. Movies, books, and music inspires me. Anything sad inspires me. My dreams and nightmares definitely spur a lot of creative energy. I pretty much write about anything, no matter how silly. I once wrote about a raccoon that was caught in a trap set up on the roof. I even wrote a poem about the “that’s what she said” jokes from The Office.

Do you share your works in progress or wait until they are complete?
I typically wait unless I really need a second opinion on something that will affect the entire work. 

What is one thing you want to share with readers about this collection?
I hesitated to include anything that appears to romanticize substance abuse/mental illness, and I’m hoping it doesn’t come off that way. Majority of the situations I wrote about are fictional.

Why did you decide to publish under a pseudonym? What is significant about the name Alma Gray?
I intend to publish any future novels under my real name. Since this is very different from the type of work I want to publish in the future, I felt it was better to publish it under a pseudonym. 

Do you have any other projects in the works?
Yes, I’m currently writing a YA novel about a teen who discovers she has very special abilities when she goes searching for a lost family member. I’m still writing poetry, but it’s mostly about mental wellness and self love.

What advice would you give to other writers who are new to writing poetry?
I’d say if it’s written with passion, it’s something to be proud of. I recommend trying out every form, but I love that free-verse poetry allows for unmitigated passion, redundancy, and pure mess. I hope people new to poetry abuse this style to aid in creative expression.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
I would tell myself to start reading at a higher level. I was very interested in reading about vampires and werewolves, so I didn’t focus on advanced texts until later in high school.

Who are your favorite poets?
Kris Kidd and Sylvia Plath.

And finally, what are you currently reading?
I’m scatterbrained so I’m circling between House of Leaves, Dogs of Detroit, and Good Bones and Simple Murders. 

Many thanks to Serenity for participating in today’s Q+A! Lucid Lies is available in paperback and Kindle from Amazon. Be sure to keep an eye out for future works by author Serenity Brame.

If you or anyone you know is struggling or has concerns about their mental health, check out these resources listed on the National Institute of Mental Health website. Domestic violence resources can be found at the Hotline. An internet search of resources will also yield results specific to your local area.


Are Book Club Picks the New #1 Bestseller?

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What’s more important – being a bestseller or being lauded as the latest celebrity book club selection?

On the one hand, your book sales have satisfied – if not exceeded – the requirements to be added to a prestigious list.

On the other hand, your book was preciously hand-selected and separated from all the others and a real person shares with their millions of fans how it made them feel. Your name and novel are catapulted into the social media spotlight.

And sometimes, you even get both.

I started thinking about this as I browsed reviews of a #1 New York Times Bestseller that I’m currently reading and realized, a lot of people don’t agree with these popular book selections.

Have you ever picked a book with “#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER” emblazoned across the front or it had one of those tell-tale little round circle stickers that said “so-and-so’s book club” but when you read it, it left you feeling a little… lackluster?

Because SAME.

It feels slightly deceptive. This book is someone’s first choice! This book sold thousands of copies! I trusted theses total strangers’ judgement.

Over time, I have developed certain predispositions about these categories.

“#1 Bestseller” makes me think of dark-hued paperbacks about FBI agents and special forces men returning to do one last job.

“Book club” makes me think of colorful hardbacks with strong female leads promoted by internet-famous influencers.

How these notions specifically, developed, I can only speculate.

This post will not help you write a bestseller or be one of the bestseller books of 2020. But I hope it makes you think about if and why being a bestseller matters. Or why it matters to be a book club pick.

What are your thoughts on this? I would love to hear from a writing or publishing perspective. Read on and comment below!

What makes a book a bestseller?

Greenleaf Book Group says “Books are traditionally considered bestsellers when they meet one of three unofficial requirements: 1. placement on the New York Times bestseller list; 2. placement on the Wall Street Journal bestseller list; or 3. placement on the USA Today bestseller list. And, if we’re being frank, the highest prestige comes from making the illustrious New York Times list.”

The New York Times doesn’t list specific sales requirements on their About the Best Sellers page. Apparently, they are a little more secretive about the specifics.

In this article on the Wall Street Journal, the author claims that the timing matters.

USA Today lists their top 50 books in print and the top 150 online, and aims to combine the totals of hardcover, paperback, and e-book sales. “For example, if Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice sells copies in hardcover, paperback and e-book during a particular week, sales from each format are combined to determine its rank. The description of a title and the publisher name refers to the version selling the most copies in a particular week – hardcover (H), paperback (P) and e-book (E).”

In an article by the co-founder of Scribe Media (previously Book in a Box), the author says that being on a bestseller’s list (in this case, specifically the New York Times Bestseller’s List) shouldn’t be a main goal for someone who has a pre-existing income.

While the article definitely leans one way in its opinions, it also makes this valid point: “… it does make a lot of sense for professional writers to focus on bestseller lists. It is a status marker for the writing and publishing industry, and it does help them get better deals from publishers in the future.”

This opinion piece says, “Since the publishing industry still shows great deference to these lists, finding your name on them significantly impacts the advance on your next book contract.”

In the days of newspaper-only news, being a bestseller would have been a huge deal because that’s where people would find that information.

I don’t know how many people are skimming a New York Times or Wall Street Journal or USA Today to look at their list of bestsellers. (Although I will say that after reading about them, I am now most interested in USA Today’s list.)

While doing some Google searches on this topic, there were so many book titles that were bestsellers that I had never heard of.

To me, it seems one of the cons of being a bestseller is that the title gets lost in the crowd, but I imagine it would still feel special to be known as a bestseller.

So while it feels like there is a shift in progress, getting your book on a bestseller list still has its perks.

What about book clubs?

Oprah is credited with starting the first celebrity book club in the 1990s – and she’s still going strong today.

She’s been joined by the ranks of Sarah Jessica Parker, Emma Watson, Emma Roberts, Reese Witherspoon, athlete Andrew Luck, and more.

While it certainly doesn’t hurt to be on a bestsellers list, book club selections are readily photographed and widely shared across social media platforms. They get more bang for the book with the connotation.

It’s almost impossible not to notice whether a book made it onto a celebrity list.

I couldn’t find a ton of information on how celebrities select books. I’ve read snippets about emailing the organization and making the case for why they should select your book.

So however your book ends up on their #tbr you’ll be glad it did.


Neither bestseller lists nor book clubs take into account the total sales of books in the long-term. A lot of copies being sold upfront does not necessarily indicate long-term book sales.

Greenleaf also writes: “In some ways, bestseller status is becoming less relevant in this age of ebooks, apps, and digital downloads. Can a free ebook downloaded 100,000 times in a week be considered a bestseller? Not according to the New York Times, but it certainly must have been one of the most-read books of the week. In the long run, that will matter a lot more.”

Now that newspapers and periodicals are accessible online, it is easier to look at the bestsellers lists, but are any of us doing that? Regardless, I don’t think I’ve ever been swayed to buy a book because it was a bestseller.

Bestseller lists are great for established authors and book clubs seem to be better for emerging authors or specific topics.

Many book club selections introduce you to a new author or concept while you can rely on the bestseller lists to see the latest from your favorite long-term writers.

So, book club picks aren’t quite the new #1 bestseller, but they do have the power to launch a book onto the bestseller list.

At the end of the day, it’s awesome to see so many people being encouraged to read!

Do you follow any celebrity book clubs or read from the bestseller lists? Let me know!


Coming Soon in 2020/2021! My Anticipated Book Releases

This post is not sponsored and I am not affiliated with any authors or companies mentioned. Opinions are my own.

Happy September, friends!

The end of 2020 may be in sight but my TBR pile keeps on growing.

This fall, in addition to some first-time selections, I want to re-read Daniel Mason’s The Piano Tuner and Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood. (Review of The Hazel Wood and The Night Country coming soon in prep for the January 2021 release of Tales from the Hinterland!)

The end of 2020 and beginning of 2021 are bringing more selections I’m looking forward to. Browse 7 of my upcoming picks below and check out more from these great sites:

Penguin Random House’s article Our Most Anticipated Books for Fall

HarperCollins Coming Soon

Bookstr New Books for Summer and Fall 2020

Macmillan Publishers Coming Soon

What books are you looking forward to? Let me know in the comments!

The Writer's Library by Nancy Pearl & Jeff Schwager

The Writer’s Library by Nancy Pearl and Jeff Schwager – 8 September 2020 A book about writers talking about books that impacted them. What’s not to like??

Cursed Objects by J. W. Ocker

Cursed Objects by J. W. Ocker – 15 September 2020 – Is there a lover of spooky stuff in your life? This book is for them!

Comfort & Joy by Kristin Hannah

Comfort & Joy by Kristin Hannah – 6 October 2020 – A story of Joy, recently divorced, who finds herself alone at the holidays and takes a trip to the Pacific Northwest, where what she least expects awaits: a semblance of love and family. Will she find the courage to believe in love again before it’s too late?

(My son has been asking to put up the Christmas tree, so you could say our house is getting into the Christmas spirit!)

This Just Speaks to Me by Hoda Kotb

This Just Speaks to Me by Hoda Kotb – 13 October 2020 – I’m not familiar with TV-Hoda but my son and I like her children’s book I’ve Loved You Since Forever (it’s perfect for bedtime).

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey – 20 October 2020 – I love a good memoir. Matthew McConaughey seems like a good egg, and his memoir promises to be nothing short of honest.

Siri, Who Am I? by Sam Tschida

Siri, Who Am I? by Sam Tschida – 12 January 2021 – A young woman wakes up in the hospital with amnesia and must use her Instagram feed to find out who she is. Will she learn more than she bargained for? Quirk Books: “But as Mia and Max work backward through her Instagram and across Los Angeles to learn more about her, they discover an ugly truth behind her perfect Instagram feed, and evidence that her head wound was no accident. Did Mia have it coming? And if so, is it too late for her to rewrite her story?”

Tales from the Hinterland by Melissa Albert

Tales from the Hinterland by Melissa Albert – 12 January 2021 – The hauntingly captivating stories about the Hinterland will finally be available on a bookshelf near you!