Tell us all about yourself and
what makes you tick and what do you like doing when you aren’t
My life consists of visualizing dreams.
My full-time job is as a high school theatre teacher, where I teach
200 students theatre history, acting, theatrical design and more.
When I’m not working, I enjoy seeing theatre, acting, singing, and
traveling. If I am away from the stage for too long, I miss it. I
tend to burst into song just for fun, even in the middle of my
classes. Theatre and writing are my two greatest passions, and I am
overjoyed to share them with others.
2. Tell us about
your family – married? Kids? Where you live!
As of my writing in this interview, I
am unmarried. However, my wedding is in a month and a half. Lately,
much of my “free time” has been spent in planning the wedding. I
live with my fiancée Rachel, just north of Washington DC. We live
literally one block from the city line.
If you could travel anywhere in or
out of this world, where would it be?
Either Rivendell or Hogwarts, both
would be amazing.
What is your favorite all time
Just one? Really? It’s very hard to
narrow down a single movie, but I’d probably pick The Princess
Bride. Other all-time favorites include Howl’s Moving
Castle, The Incredibles, and Lord of the Rings: the
Return of the King
What about weekly TV show? Why?
My favorite TV show is unfortunately
not a weekly one, and in the three seasons there have only been nine
episodes. The show is BBC’s Sherlock. I find the writing,
cinematography, and acting to be wonderful, and I love the modern
spin on classic Holmes stories. For weekly TV shows, I’d probably
say How I Met Your Mother for two reasons, one it’s
hilarious, and two, I tell really, really long anecdotes myself- in
fact my students over the summer, where I teach at an elementary-age
theatre, used to call me Ted Mosby.
What is the most scared you have
I was in a bad car accident on the
Capital Beltway (a highway that circles Washington DC) during
college, and saw my entire life pass before my eyes. For two years
following the accident, I refused to drive. I’ve since recovered,
but it was frightening.
If you could have any fantasy,
what would it be?
It would be wonderful if my book was so
popular that it first became a bestseller, then was turned into
films, then was hired by Disney to be adapted as a stage production.
In this fantasy, Disney asks me to write the stage version and to
design the sets. I mention Disney specifically, because they have
more money than any other Broadway-based company. What ever I wished
to design, would happen, with no budget restrictions. To be able to
design a set and write a script for a show based on my book would be
my ultimate dream come true.
Now, Tell us about your book?
Can a timid girl find bravery as the
first female Death?
Thirteen-year-old Suzie Sarnio always
believed the Grim Reaper was a fairy tale image of a skeleton with a
scythe. Now, forced to enter the College of Deaths, she finds herself
training to bring souls from the Living World to the Hereafter. The
task is demanding enough, but as the only female in the all-male
College, she quickly becomes a target. Attacked by both classmates
and strangers, Suzie is alone in a world where even her teachers want
her to fail.
Caught in the middle of a plot to
overthrow the World of Deaths, Suzie must uncover the reason she’s
been brought there: the first female Death in a million years.
SCHOOL OF DEATHS, a YA Fantasy novel,
will be released by MuseitUp Publishing as an ebook on May 2nd.
Where did you come up with the
idea for your story?
The idea for School of Deaths emerged
when I was finishing my graduate degree at Oxford University. I
spent four months abroad, far from everyone I knew. Every week, I
traveled somewhere I had never been before. I would climb castle
ruins in Wales and visit cathedrals in England. One of my favorite
trips was to Tintagel Castle in Cornwall. I crept to the cliff face
of Barras Nose, a stony peninsula jutting into the North Sea and
overlooking the ruins of Tintagel, which some believe to be the
birthplace of King Arthur. It was dawn, there were no other people
in sight, and I had to struggle against the wind, fighting to keep my
balance so I didn’t crash into the ocean. I imagined being
buffeted by winds, alone, and what that would do to a character, and
came up with the character of Suzie, alone in a world of men,
buffeted by sexism.
Returning to Oxford, I envisioned Suzie
alone in a strange school. The idea of a school of trained Reapers
appealed to me, giving a fantasy edge to her story. In an early
draft, the school of deaths resembled Oxford. However a beta reader
told me, very correctly, that Oxford was the inspiration for JK
Rowling’s Harry Potter series. I eventually changed the setting
drastically to avoid that parallel.
What is your favorite thing about
In his book, On Writing, Stephen
King compares writing to telepathy. I can take an image from my
dreams, a fantasy that exists only within my imagination, and
transfer that image directly into a reader’s thoughts. Such
communication is only possible to this degree through books. I can
convey Suzie’s inner thoughts, share the smells and tastes around
her, and share an entire new world through the written word. That is
the true magic of books, a magic that is real.
What is your biggest pet peeve
I have a few, including the shrinking
publishing industry. With self published books, there are more books
than ever on the market, yet the number of readers continues to
That’s a peeve, but my biggest pet
peeve related to writing is actually a criticism of the American
public schooling system, which I am a part of. Common Core, a new
government mandated program forced onto all of the school systems is
designed, among other things, to make reading such a chore, that
fewer students will be reading for pleasure. It is frustrating to
write when so many are working to make reading less desirable.
Hopefully, kids will still find pleasure in books, despite the new
Where can people find you? (give
all your links)
Most important – where can we
buy your story?
Amazon link not available yet
Can a timid girl find bravery as the first female Death?
Sarnio always believed the Grim Reaper was a fairy tale image of a skeleton
with a scythe. Now, forced to enter the
College of Deaths, she finds herself training to bring souls from the Living
World to the Hereafter. The task is
demanding enough, but as the only female in the all-male College, she quickly
becomes a target. Attacked by both
classmates and strangers, Suzie is alone in a world where even her teachers
want her to fail.
Caught in the middle of a
plot to overthrow the World of Deaths, Suzie must uncover the reason she’s been
brought there: the first female Death in a million years.
The Girl Who Looked like Death
She wanted to scream but no sound came. She wanted to run, but her legs wouldn’t move. The hooded man grinned.
heart pounded as she opened her eyes. Laughter echoed in the back of
her head. The terrible laughter she heard every night. She wiped the
sweat from her face, pushing aside the sheets. Sunlight spilled into her
room from between frilly curtains. Mom would be knocking on the door to
wake her soon.
turned to one side as the dream started to fade. Every night the same
nightmare. Every night she heard the laughter. The hooded man with a
scythe. The feeling of complete terror.
What did it mean?
her clock radio, a worn teddy bear stared at her with its single eye.
She pulled the bear to her chest and clutched it with her bony fingers.
The hooded man had written her name down. He always wrote it right
before the laughter began. The man looked like Death. But why would
Death have a stammer?
“Suzie,” said Mom, knocking on the door. “Come on, you’ll be late for school.”
changed, staring at the mirror in her pink-wallpapered room. Each rib
stuck out from her chest; she counted all twenty-four. The skin on her
face stretched tightly over her skeletal face, and dark patches
surrounded each of her gray eyes. As much as she tried to comb it, her
long black hair tangled into stringy knots. Her arms hung from her
shoulders like twigs, and her legs looked too weak to hold her up. In
the past few months, she had lost nearly half of her weight. She glanced
at an old picture, taken last year, on the first day of seventh grade. A
chubby, pigtailed girl with freckles smiled back at her from the photo.
Her braces gleamed in the sun, only a month before their removal. Suzie
sighed. She opened the door, looking for a moment at her room. She
didn’t want to start another year of school. Slowly, she turned around.
“Hey, squirt, watch out,” said Joe.
“Sorry.” Joe was a pest and a bully, but he was her big brother, and Suzie supposed she loved him.
“Get your skinny butt out of the way already. We’ve got a run before school.”
“Today’s the first day—”
“After last year, coach says we have to practice early.”
Suzie stepped aside, watching the bulky frame of her brother lumber downstairs.
He winked at Suzie. “Have fun at school.” He ran out the front door,
slamming it behind him, while Suzie went to the kitchen and sat down.
“I’ve made you a special breakfast,” said her mother, carrying a plate and a glass of orange juice.
“Let me guess, something big.”
made three eggs, two slices of sausage, four pieces of toast, two
slices of bacon, a bowl of oatmeal with raisins, and a doughnut.”
“Mom, I keep telling you, I eat as much as I can.”
skin and bones, literally. Your father and I are worried sick. You have
another appointment with Dr. Fox after school today. Did you take your
pills this morning?”
“No, Mom, but I will.”
Suzie gave up arguing. Her parents, friends, and doctors were wrong. She didn’t want to
lose weight. Everyone kept talking about anorexia, about eating
disorders. The strange thing was Suzie ate more than she ever had
before. She ate twice as much as any of her friends, hardly exercised,
and certainly never—what was the word the doctor had used—oh right,
purged. Gross. No, the way Suzie ate, she figured she should be fat.
Only she wasn’t.
managed to eat most of the massive breakfast. Her stomach ached, but
maybe a little would stay this time. She wiped her mouth, rubbing her
fingers across the bones of her face. Doubtful.
“Are you ready for school?”
“Go brush your teeth, and I’ll be in the car. Don’t forget, we’re picking you up at one for your appointment with Dr. Fox.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Today’s your first day of eighth grade. Isn’t that exciting?”
didn’t answer. What would her friends say? She’d spent the summer
avoiding them, dropping out of camp and swim club. She was embarrassed.
She honestly didn’t want to lose weight, and didn’t have an eating
disorder, but she appeared skeletal.
She brushed her teeth in silence, dragging her feet. She put on her backpack and got in the car.
“Honey, you’re nervous, but you’ll be fine. Tell people you’ve been sick, and—”
“I’m not sick,
Mom. If I was sick, the doctors would cure me. If I had an eating
problem, they’d work with me. I eat more than ever, and I hardly
exercise anymore. This doesn’t make any sense.” Suzie wiped a tear from
“Are you sure this isn’t because of Bumper?”
The family beagle for ten years. He had died three months ago, about
the time Suzie had started losing weight. Mom believed the two were
connected. Dr. Fox agreed. Sure, Suzie missed Bumper, but that wasn’t
“No, Mom, I was sad for a little while, but I never changed what I eat. If anything, I eat more now.”
you’ll be all right. I promise. Your father and I will continue to get
the finest doctors, until we figure out what’s wrong with you. Remember
what Dr. Fox said last time? For now, the best thing is to go to school
and be around other kids.”
sighed. Mom still didn’t understand, and if Mom and Dad didn’t relate,
her classmates would be even worse. They pulled up in front of school,
and she gave her mom a quick peck on the cheek.
“Don’t forget. One o’clock.” Mom smiled, trying to hide the strain in her eyes.
“Suzie, my gawd, you look like death.”
hadn’t changed. The smiling redhead with large blue glasses and the
ever-present smell of cherry bubblegum was her best friend. She was
grateful Crystal had spent the summer away. “Did you have a nice summer?
How was Colorado?”
“My summer was great. Colorado’s cold. Geesh, what happened to you, Suzie?”
“I’ve been sick,” said Suzie. Not a complete lie, obviously something was wrong with her, but she didn’t know what.
“Sick?” Her voice lowered to a whisper. “You look like you’re dying.”
“I’ll be fine.”
“Crystaaal. Suzieee,” shouted a voice from across the parking lot.
“Oh gawd, it’s Monica,” said Crystal. “Let’s go inside quick.”
and her friend started to walk away, but the tall, lanky girl with
small eyes caught up to them. Monica. She wasn’t too bad, if you ignored
her whiny voice and her inane stories.
“Hiii guys,” said Monica. “I missed youuu this summer. Did you lose weight? The funniest thing happened the other day…”
realized the worst of the day was over. She got teasing looks from the
kids and concerned frowns from the teachers, but like Monica, most
people were too wrapped up in their own little world to pay any
attention to her. Even Crystal eventually stopped asking questions.
“Tell me again, do you like the way you look?”
“I’m sorry, what?” she asked.
Suzie snapped to attention. The day had blurred by, and she was sitting in Dr. Fox’s office, wearing a hospital gown.
“Suzie, I asked if you like the way you look?”
was cold and annoyed. The office smelled of bleach, and the fluorescent
light overhead hummed like a dying fly. Dr. Fox glanced up from her
notes and smiled a dry, lifeless smile she probably practiced in front
of a mirror.
Doctor.” She repeated the same answers she had given last time, and the
time before. “I despise the way I look. I’m a damned skeleton. You can
see every bone. I love to eat, I don’t purge, I hardly exercise, and I
actually feel fine.”
that’s the strangest part,” interrupted Dr. Fox. “Every test seems to
indicate that you’re at the peak of health. No lanugo, no joint issues,
no skin problems, and your stomach and the rest of you are actually
functioning fine. I’ve almost completely ruled out anorexia, but your
weight is still drastically low. It’s like your calories are vanishing
into some other dimension.” She laughed. “My husband wishes that would
happen with me.”
“May I get dressed now?”
I will get to the bottom of this. I have called a specialist in from
the West Coast, from San Francisco. He might be able to shed some light
on this condition. Your mother and I set up the appointment for next
“May I please get dressed now?”
“Yes, yes. I’m sorry I can’t do anything else for you.” Dr Fox sighed.
None of them knows what’s wrong. To them I’m just another puzzle to solve. She dressed and gave Mom a smirk, turning up her lips on one side to show she was unhappy. Mom smiled and shrugged.
“We’ll figure out what’s wrong, honey,” Mom said. They lied; no one knew.