Welcome, readers, writers and spooky mermaid lovers, too! You're in for a fin-tastic treat today. Lisa Stringfellow is here sharing her extremely fun and frightening book with us that just so happens to feature a vengeful mermaid, a magic comb, and a loveable MC named Kela. Lisa's A Comb of Wishes was so spooky, it even became a finalist in the Bram Stoker awards - naturally making it a perfect read for the season. I'll let Lisa's informative interview speak for itself and give you an up-close look into her debut MG novel. Want to know more about Lisa, A Comb of Wishes, PLUS want a chance to win your very own signed copy of her book? Read on...
Q: Hi, Lisa! Thanks so much for joining #SeasonsOfKidLit. We’re thrilled to have you Trick or Treat with us and hear all about your new Middle Grade book, A Comb of Wishes. It sounds like such frightful fun! Before we get started, can you share a little about yourself and how you became an MG author?
A: I’m a middle school English teacher and have taught 5th and 6th grade for almost 30 years. Several years ago I began thinking about writing for children, so I joined professional writing organizations and worked hard to learn about the publishing industry. In 2013, I started a novel about a girl who found a mysterious box that belonged to a mermaid as part of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. That book ended up being my middle grade debut!
Q: I LOVE that a writing challenge ended up becoming your debut book!
A Comb of Wishes follows a young girl named Kela who lost her mother. Kela is devastated and feels broken. However, when she and her friend Lissy stumble upon a magical comb in a coral cave that belongs to a mermaid, things swiftly start to change. Soon, Kela’s world turns upside down.
This sounds absolutely fascinating! Can you share more about your story with our readers?
A: Sure! Even though it is a mermaid story on the surface, I knew the book would touch on the topics of family, regret, love, and forgiveness.
In A Comb of Wishes, Kela stumbles on an ancient box in a coral cave. Inside is a beautiful hair comb and when she touches it, she opens a magical connection to a dangerous mermaid named Ophidia. The mermaid offers Kela a wish in exchange for her comb’s return, so Kela wishes for the thing she wants more than anything else...for her mother to come back.
I don’t want to spoil anything, but magic always has a cost. Kela learns many lessons about life and herself by the end of the book.
Q: What inspired you to write A Comb of Wishes? And what makes your story relatable and fun for readers of all ages?
A: My inspiration for this story came from thinking about two middle grade books I loved, The Tale of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler and Coraline by Neil Gaiman. I thought it would be fun to write a scary mermaid story, and because of my West Indian heritage, I imagined a brown-skinned mermaid and a story set in the Caribbean.
Kela lives in St. Rita, which is an island in the Caribbean that is inspired by Barbados where my father was born. I wanted the story to be rooted in the sounds, sights, smells, and tastes of the islands. When I was writing, I centered Kela’s experiences. Everything around her was normal and part of her everyday life. Kela is also surrounded by a loving group of family and friends. Even though she is dealing with sadness, she is not alone. In the Black experience, community is vitally important.
Q: Thanks so much for sharing the behind-the-scenes glimpse at what inspired your book.
I noticed some amazing news you shared on Twitter/X and have to ask: What was it like being a finalist in the Horror Writers Association’s inaugural year for Middle Grade books?! Did you know you were nominated or was it a surprise? What an exciting achievement!
A: It was amazing and I was so honored to be nominated! I was aware of the Stoker Awards but I didn’t know I was nominated until someone tagged me on social media. I let my editor and agent know and we all were thrilled that my book was recognized. Some friends and family have expressed surprise that A Comb of Wishes is horror because the fantasy elements are usually what draws readers, but I definitely meant it to be a scary book, as well as heartfelt. Those were the stories I loved as a kid and kept me reading long past my bedtime.
Q: What was your biggest surprise while writing this book?
A: As I researched and revised, what surprised me most was how the story developed to incorporate stronger connections to Africa and the legacy of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. My mermaid character Ophidia has connections to the folklore of mermaids but also is inextricably tied to the Black experience in the Caribbean. Mami Wata is a West African water spirit and often is depicted as holding a snake. Ophidia (whose name is the scientific word for the order of reptiles that includes modern snakes), moves and behaves in a very snake-like way. Additionally, she’s bitter by betrayals that she’s experienced from humans, a main one which relates to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and ripples through to her connection with my main character Kela. Exploring this past helped me see how interconnected we all are. On the surface, the plot isn’t about racism, but the legacy of it impacts the characters in our time.
Readers, want to read a sample of this amazing story? Click here to read some sample chapters from Harper Collins!
Q: BONUS QUESTION: What’s your favorite Halloween Candy?
A: My favorite Halloween candy is candy corn…I know a controversial choice. I stand by it though!
Mine too! #TeamCandyCorn
Thanks again for joining us, Lisa! We can't wait to check out A Comb of Wishes!
Q: Would you like to leave a Trick or a Treat for the readers?
A: A Treat! I'd love to offer a signed copy of A Comb of Wishes.
How cool! Thanks for such a sweet treat!
Contest Details: To enter to win this amazing giveaway make sure to 1) let us know why you can't wait to read Lisa's book and 2) share this post on social media.
#SeasonsOfKidLit's Trick-or-Treat winners will be chosen on or about November 5th.
*Books will be shipped in the US only*
Note: Those who leave a comment on all posts will be eligible to win one (1) of ten (10) Rate Your Story Speed Passes, perfect for quick MS feedback, provided by Agent Mentee Lynne Marie & Author Heather Macht.
About Lisa Stringfellow:
Lisa Stringfellow writes middle grade fiction and has a not-so-secret fondness for fantasy with a dark twist. She received the inaugural Kweli Color of Children’s Literature Manuscript Award for a draft of her first novel, A Comb of Wishes, which was a Bram Stoker Award Finalist, an Indies Introduce Top Ten title, an Indie Next List selection, and a New England Booksellers Association Book Award Finalist. Her second book, Kingdom of Dust, will be published by HarperCollins/Quill Tree Books in Summer 2024. Lisa’s work often reflects her West Indian and Black southern heritage.
For more about Lisa, check out the below links:
For more about Michael Machira and David Curtis, the amazing cover designers, check out the below:
To purchase Lisa's book on Amazon or to leave a review, click here.
A special thanks to David Rodriguez Lorenzo for the amazing custom-signatures!