Friday, May 2, 2014

A look into the life of Christopher Mannino and his new release, School of Deaths

  1. Tell us all about yourself and what makes you tick and what do you like doing when you aren’t writing!

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.

  1. If you could travel anywhere in or out of this world, where would it be?

Either Rivendell or Hogwarts, both would be amazing.

  1. What is your favorite all time movie?

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

  1. 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.

  1. What is the most scared you have ever been?

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. What is your favorite thing about writing?
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.

  1. What is your biggest pet peeve about writing?

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 shrink.

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 system.

  1. Where can people find you? (give all your links)

  1. Most important – where can we buy your story?

Amazon link not available yet

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.

Chapter One

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.
Suzie’s 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.
She 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?
Above 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.
Suzie Sarnio. 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.”
“I’m coming.”
Suzie 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.
“Later.” 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.”
“I’ve 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.”
“You’re 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.
Suzie 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?”
“Yes, Mom.”
“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?”
Suzie 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 her eye.
“Are you sure this isn’t because of Bumper?”
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 the problem.
“No, Mom, I was sad for a little while, but I never changed what I eat. If anything, I eat more now.”
“Susan, 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.”
She 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.
“Okay, Mom.”
“Suzie, my gawd, you look like death.”
Crystal 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.”
Suzie 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…”
Suzie 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?”
Suzie 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.
“No, 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.”
“Yes, 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?”
“Susan, 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 Thursday.”
“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 wrongTo 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.


  1. This looks very interesting. On my list for sure. Thanks for sharing Penny.


  2. Isn't that first chapter a goodie? Thanks for stopping Stephen!