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Interview with Lee Kelly and Giveaway of City of Savages

Today we are happy to welcome author Lee Kelly, whose debut, CITY OF SAVAGES, comes out today! I, for one, am very excited to read it, and you will be too after you see this summary:

After the Red Allies turn New York City into a POW camp, two sisters must decipher the past in order to protect the future in this action-packed thriller with a dual narrative.

It’s been nearly two decades since the Red Allies first attacked New York, and Manhattan is now a prisoner-of-war camp, ruled by Rolladin and her brutal, impulsive warlords. For Skyler Miller, Manhattan is a cage that keeps her from the world beyond the city’s borders. But for Sky’s younger sister, Phee, the POW camp is a dangerous playground of possibility, and the only home she’d ever want.

When Sky and Phee discover their mom’s hidden journal from the war’s outbreak, they both realize there’s more to Manhattan—and their mother—than either of them had ever imagined. And after a group of strangers arrives at the annual POW census, the girls begin to uncover the island’s long-kept secrets. The strangers hail from England, a country supposedly destroyed by the Red Allies, and Rolladin’s lies about Manhattan’s captivity begin to unravel.

Hungry for the truth, the sisters set a series of events in motion that end in the death of one of Rolladin’s guards. Now they’re outlaws, forced to join the strange Englishmen on an escape mission through Manhattan. Their flight takes them into subways haunted by cannibals, into the arms of a sadistic cult in the city’s Meatpacking District and, through the pages of their mom’s old journal, into the island’s dark and shocking past. 

Sounds pretty great, right? And to tell you a little bit more about it, Lee was kind enough to answer some questions for us:

What's the thing you most want readers to know about CITY OF SAVAGES?
I'd love for readers to know that even though CITY OF SAVAGES is billed as a thriller, at its heart, it's also a story about family: their relationships, the lengths they will go to preserve and save those relationships, and the pain they can sometimes unknowingly (and sometimes knowingly) inflict on those they love.

What made you pick Manhattan as the setting for CITY OF SAVAGES, and how important is setting to you when you write?
The story idea for CITY OF SAVAGES was born out of a very stressful time in my life: so looking back, I actually think the setting came first, and everything else came after.   I was in New York at the time, working a job that demanded long hours, tight deadlines, and had lots of pressure -- and I had the distinct sensation of being trapped somewhere that I couldn't get out of.  That hopeless, uncomfortable feeling eventually released itself through day-dreaming, and I started thinking about midtown Manhattan as a type of prison, subway rides that really were life-and-death, and a version of the city that actually was cutthroat and savage (instead of just sometimes feeling that way!)  One thing led to another, and I soon began writing rough sketches of a story about a family living in a prisoner-of-war camp Manhattan (a story which was called “Manhattan Savages” at the time).

But as a writer and a reader, setting has always been super-important to me.  I especially love when the setting of a novel mirrors or complements the internal journey of the main character(s) (the examples that spring to mind: BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA, THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH, THE ROAD, and the list goes on).  Similarly, I hope the burned-out husk of Manhattan in CITY OF SAVAGES serves as its own kind of metaphor for what's going on internally with the characters: the dark and dangerous pockets of the city that the characters encounter are meant to raise questions about redemption, sacrifice and second chances.

What is your favorite part of the writing process? Least favorite?
Oh, tough question!  I think my most favorite parts of writing are 1) brainstorming a new idea and growing that kernel of an idea into characters and a world, 2) those few minutes where I manage to lose myself completely in the story and I'm no longer conscious of the fact that I'm writing, because I'm 110% settled within the skin of the characters I've made up, and 3) when my second or third draft is done, and the story is in place and fairly set, and it's all about polishing -- infusing world details here, revving up tension there, providing more character insight and other embellishments that are pure fun for me after the heavy lifting.
My least favorite part is this “heavy lifting”: that second and third draft, where you're beyond the "mad-dash of a first draft" phase (where anything goes), and you're really in major revising and cleanup mode.  It brings its own rewards and interesting challenges, but it's definitely the hardest part of the process for me.

Which authors have been most inspirational to you?
I'm in awe of authors that have been able to write successfully for a variety of different audiences, like V.E. Schwab and Lauren Oliver.  I think it’s an amazing thing to be able to bring your writing into new markets and challenge yourself through voice and audience, and I think both of these authors are wildly successful at it.

I’m also very inspired by Beth Revis, because I loved her ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, and I read afterwards on her site that she wrote ten manuscripts before landing her deal for her series, which is such an awesome testament to dedication and perseverance.
And I’m constantly inspired by the other 2015 debut authors I’ve teamed up with through the Freshman Fifteen (, Class of 2K15 ( and the Fearless Fifteeners debut groups.  They’re such a talented group of new writers, and they’ve been so incredibly supportive and wonderful during this (sometimes insane!) path to publication.

What piece of writing advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Read every day: I find it's just as important as writing.  Reading will show you what you enjoy most about a story, which characters you root for and which you could care less about, what types of stories satisfy you and which infuriate you… which all goes to informing what you care about as a reader, and what you should be focusing on as a writer.

Thanks so much for your amazing answers, Lee!

Want a copy of CITY OF SAVAGES? Just enter the giveaway below before   next Tuesday, February 10th, and you'll be entered to win:

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Kaitlin Ward

Kaitlin Ward is the author of Bleeding Earth, Adaptive Books 2016, and The Farm, coming 2017 from Scholastic.

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  1. This book looks awesome, and thanks for the giveaway! I lived in New York for a year after college, and I felt the same way about the city--trapped, locked in. I used to go for walks to see how far I could go, but at the end I always felt so helpless because I couldn't get out of the city. Lee, I'm impressed that you channeled that feeling into something productive!


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Item Reviewed: Interview with Lee Kelly and Giveaway of City of Savages Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kaitlin Ward