Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Interview with Leigh Bardugo, author of SHADOW AND BONE

It's my honor to introduce to the Inkpot debut fantasy author Leigh Bardugo, author of SHADOW AND BONE, book 1 of the Grisha Trilogy, a high fantasy series set in a Russian-themed fantasy world. Scheduled for release June 5, 2012,  SHADOW AND BONE is already garnering lots of positive attention, including being named as an Indie Next Selection and as one of ABA's Best New Voices.

CC: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? Can you tell us about your personal journey from concept to publication?
When I was a kid, I made up stories to keep myself entertained. (Most of them involved having a lot of siblings, sleeping in a hayloft, solving crimes, and/or running a hotel.) Sometimes I wrote them down or illustrated them, but most of the time I just walked around muttering to myself. (Still do. I think it's an only child thing.) When I got older, writing became a survival mechanism. It got me through everything from boring classes to the day to day barbarism of junior high school. From then on, I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I flailed around for a good long while. I changed my major about twenty times. I worked as a journalist and a copywriter. It took time for me to find the story I wanted to tell and the discipline to tell it.
From concept to query, writing SHADOW AND BONE took me about a year. I sort of tricked myself into finishing it. I told myself that, once it was done, I would shove it in a drawer or toss it on a bonfire. No one would ever see it. It helped shut down a lot of those negative, critical voices in my head. So I was that much more terrified when I finally did turn it over to my beta readers. I gave them all kinds of caveats-- it isn't very good, it's my first book, all that mumble and fuss. (For the record, I don't recommend doing this. Just let your readers read.)
After I started querying, things moved quickly. Jo offered me representation, we went on submission just a week after I'd signed, and a few weeks later we were at auction. It was thrilling, but I want to stress the fact that I got very, very lucky. It's not that I don't believe in my book, but the timing also happened to be right for me. If people are out there querying or if they're on submission and the wheels are turning a bit more slowly, I don't want them to get discouraged.
CC: How did you come to write fantasy fiction? Have you always been a fan of that genre? Are there particular authors or works that have been an inspiration or influence on you?
When I look back on the books that I really adored growing up, that I read and reread, so many are fantasy, science fiction, and horror. It's what I love and it's the way that I prefer to look at the world. As far as specific influences and inspiration, A SWIFTLY TILTING PLANET and DUNE were pivot books-- books that actually shifted the way I viewed the world. I read tons of Stephen King; IT and EYES OF THE DRAGON were favorites, though the quote that always stayed with me was from THE GUNSLINGER: "There are other worlds than these." It was almost like a mantra for me. More recently, George R. R. Martin's A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE series completely wrecked me. Or, I guess, since the series isn't finished, it's in the process of wrecking me.
CC: What made you decide to write books for teens?
I'm not sure I can call it a decision. I set out to write a story about characters who were at a particular place in their lives. It was only later that I realized I was writing YA.
CC: As someone who knows how exhausting it can be to build a society from scratch, I loved the world-building resources on your website, including the historical images that served as inspiration for your Russian-themed fantasy world.  How did you come to choose Russia as a template for Ravka? Do you have a personal or family connection to Russia?
(I just need to take a second to fangirl out a little and tell you how much I love your world building, particularly the elegant way magic is ordered in the Heir series. </end squee>)
Somewhere way back, my family has a connection to Russia, but I don't think that's why I chose it as the cultural touchstone for my world. I think many outsiders already view Russia as a kind of fantasyland. When you ask someone unfamiliar with the culture to describe it, they'll come back with these incredibly disparate sets of images. One set is lush, beautiful, decadent-- the Winter Palace, jeweled eggs, ballet, St. Basil's. The other is extraordinarily brutal-- the gulag, breadlines, mass graves, the murder of the Tsar's family. Neither of these extremes is the real Russia. They're fantasies; they romanticize both the best and the worst of Russian history and culture. I don't know if I succeeded, but I wanted to tap into that and then go further.
CC: Some readers assume that we fantasists write fantasy so we don’t have to do any research. What kind of research did you do to lay the foundation for your world?
Do they really? How quaint. I honestly enjoy research. You make all kinds of surprising discoveries and you can never tell where a good idea may come from. I focused most heavily on history, culture, and folklore, but I went through cookbooks, old atlases, collections of fairytales, and one of the filthiest books of slang I've ever set eyes on. I built up a library of images (textiles, landscapes, city plans) and kept long lists of names, notecards describing how peasants ate and how nobles ate, songs, superstitions, illustrations. Erdene Ukhaasai was kind enough to help me untangle some choices in Russian and Mongolian when it came to building the Ravkan language. (As a little thank you, I named the Grisha combat instructor, Botkin Yul-Erdene after her. She probably would have preferred a gift card.)  
CC: Are you a plotter or a plunger? Why does your method work for you? Do you have the entire Grisha trilogy planned out?
Can we please write a dystopian where the world has broken down into warring tribes of Plotters, Pantsers, and Plungers? I always feel like a bit of a fraud talking about my methods because I'm still so new to this. Disclaimer aside, I am most definitely a plotter. I outline everything and I've always known how the trilogy will end. Still, things change in the writing. I kept alive a character I had every intention of killing in Book 2, so the structure of Book 3 will change because of that. Also, it's not like the outline is some tidy, ordered thing. It's basically a rambling mess of a draft. It's full of questions and comments like "Why does X need the Y thingie" and "Make this make sense." But once I have the beginning, middle, and end down on paper, it makes returning to the story so much less daunting.
CC: In your other life, you’re a makeup artist—and you create illusions for television and movie productions. What are the commonalities and differences between creating fantasy on the page and on the skin? How does one form of art fuel or complement the other? Is it energizing to shift media in that way?
Wow. Interesting questions. Makeup is temporal in a way that writing is not. There's something satisfying about setting out to craft something and being able to see the finished product so quickly. But in both makeup and writing, it's about creating illusion. Whether I'm using words or prosthetics, if I get it right, you won't see the seams or cracks. You won't be aware of the process; you'll just experience the result. I do think that working visually sometimes helps free up ideas and words. I always find it useful to step away from the page, to do something else, something active that engages the mind in a different way. Otherwise, you're just overworking the same muscle.
CC:  I am a great fan of complex, layered, antagonists. You've done a great job with that in SHADOW AND BONE. Do you have a method for creating three-dimensional characters of all kinds? 
I don't know that I have a method, but I think there's a fine line between hero and villain. Very few people set out to do evil. They don't go to bed at night rubbing their hands together and cackling malevolently about all the bad, bad things they're planning. Most of them do damage in a misguided attempt to do good.  And in the end, it depends who tells the tale, doesn't it? I think it would be easy to look at some of the   choices that heroes and heroines make and see them as selfish, indulgent, and short-sighted. This is one of the reasons I love books like WICKED and WIDE SARGASSO SEA.
CC:  Can you give us any hints about the next book in the series? Dish, please!
I want to blab everything, but I can't! I can tell you that readers will get to travel beyond Ravka's borders, and I'll be introducing a few new characters, including one that is probably my favorite of the whole series. He's a privateer and he's so much fun to write. Just about everyone from Book 1 will be back, though I can't promise you that they're all going to make it through unscathed. *Rubs hands together, cackles with glee* Hmm, maybe I was wrong about villains.
Before I go, I just want to say what an honor it was to be interviewed by you. I'm such a fan and this still doesn't quite seem real. Also, big thanks to everyone at the Enchanted Inkpot! 

SHADOW AND BONE is set for release June 5, 2012. Visit Leigh here for more information on the world of the Grisha.  

Cinda Williams Chima is the author of the Heir Chronicles and Seven Realms novels. Her upcoming novel, The Crimson Crown, releases October 23, 2012. Find her on the web here.

Monday, May 28, 2012

TOTW: Shades of Genius

As readers, many of us can point to the book or story that cemented us in the would-rather-read-than-eat category of humans (mine was my older brother's copy of Trixie Belden's Mystery at Mead's Mountain when I was five or six). As writers, I wondered if we had that same type of experience, where we scribble a few sentences and think That's it. This is what I'm going to do with my life. I rule.

Turns out, pretty much yeah.

Lena Coakley

When I was in junior high school I wrote a very earnest, very looooong play called Phaeton's Chariot of the Sun. It was about an ancient but advanced civilization on the island of Atlantis. When the island gets destroyed in a nuclear power accident, only a scholar and his daughter are left to rail about the dangers of nuclear power as they sail away from the sinking island in their little boat.

Ouch! Just writing the synopsis makes me wince-but at the time I thought it was utterly brilliant. I think it was the first time I wrote something that gave me that thrill of accomplishment all of us writers are addicted to.

Keely Parrack

The first time people told me I could write, at school, I guess I was about 13/14 and we used to have to write stories from prompts - actually I think it was part of the English exams. I wrote one about a ghost looking out at the sea from a window and remembering her youth, another about the end of the world when a guy woke in an alley way to discover he was the last person left in the world, and another on an old bed ridden man living out the remains of his days in a haunted bedroom.

Guess I was a fun child LOL - too bad it took me several decades to try again!

Ellen Booraem

The first story I remember writing was, I think, when I was seven. It was a day in the life of a Mexican cat. (I lived in Massachusetts, mind you, and had never been south of Maryland. I did have a cat, so I had that going for me.) As I recall, there was an evil dog involved. Also tortillas.

Anne Nesbet

I wrote a lot of stories when I was little, most of them gloomy or ridiculous or both gloomy AND ridiculous, but my first actual real novel was called "Liz in Artland," written when I was 11, and it totally took over my brain for some months. I had the whole story all worked out: Liz was going to be sucked into a museum catalog and find herself in a world where paintings by Paul Klee and Marc Chagall and Vassily Kandinsky had all come to life! and where monsters in Surrea, the dreadfully scary land of the Surrealists, were about to destroy the Castle of the Mind! which would mean the end of all painting and drawing everywhere unless Liz could SAVE THE DAY!! Which she was totally going to do in a really dramatic scene involving filing cabinets! You know what? Just thinking about "Liz in Artland" still makes me happy.

In real life, what happened was I wrote the first thirty-five pages and then the story got worn in a rain boot, which was completely my own fault in a very complicated way, and some of it was destroyed, and that was the end of "Liz in Artland."

Lia Keyes

I got busted for autographing the flyleaf of my parents' books before I actually knew how to read and write.

Later I got busted for writing stories on the paper lining my parents' chests of drawers, the inside of cupboards, and other such things.

I bought an old typewriter with my pocket money at an antique fair when I was eleven and started writing a novel. Only no one ever told me to write what you know. I wrote a cowboy story about taming a wild horse. I was a London schoolgirl. What did I know about such things? But there was a cute boy in it. I knew about cute boys.

Jacqueline West

For the final unit of my sixth grade year, my language arts class was given blank hardcover books (oh, the delicious blankness!!!) to fill with our own fiction. I was deliriously excited about this, having not known that such a beautiful thing as blank hardcover books existed in the world, and I proceeded to write a giant, ridiculous fantasy tale involving a rebellious princess, an evil enchantress, a golden eagle and a crystal orb, etc., etc. My handwritten story was much too long to fit in the blank hardcover book, so I had to type it (on a typewriter, as these were pre-home-computer days; lots of Wite-Out was involved). Even typed and single-spaced, it was still too long to fit in the precious book, so I had to glue in extra pages to accommodate the words and illustrations--but at long last, my work was finished.

During the final week of school, the sixth graders all brought in our books and read one another's work, which was thrilling and terrifying. And then, on the very last day, when I went to the language arts classroom to bring my work home, I discovered that my book had disappeared. The teacher and I looked everywhere, but it was gone. Someone else had taken it. Of course, I was disappointed that something I'd worked so hard on had vanished...but even at the time, I remember thinking that it was pretty cool that one of my classmates had liked my (terrible) book enough to want to keep it for him- or herself.

Dawn Metcalf

The first full-length novel I wrote was called "The Eye of the Ancients"--it was 365 pages long and probably had an equal number of various characters and subplots. It was a rambling, cliched, mess of a first-draft quest story starring a female heroine, Galena, and I was incredibly proud of it. It was printed on enormous feed paper on a Commodore 64. I was 11 years old. I still have a copy to this day.

Lisa Gail Green

My first story was about a talking giraffe. I was seven, and my mother, the librarian, bless her, thought it was a masterpiece. Honestly though, it was her encouragement, legitimate or not (ahem) that gave me the confidence to go for it so many years later. :D I suspect she still has it. Let's hope it never mysteriously surfaces anywhere!

Leah Cypess

The first story I wrote, in first grade, was told from the point of view of an ice-cream cone being eaten. And my parents still DO have a copy of that one.

The first full book I wrote, in third grade, was about a girl who got trapped on a desert island with her faithful and loyal collie dog. It was basically a mash-up of The Black Stallion and Lassie. Only, a lot less sophisticated than that sounds. I hadn't quite mastered breaking text into paragraphs yet, so I figured I would have to hire someone to do that for me before I got it published.

Can you see the genius fairly sticking out of all these early masterpieces? For my own part, my first story was about a Very Friendly Monster who had to take over the class when the teacher ran away screaming at the sight of him. She had very little imagination (unlike me, obviously).

What about you all? Do you have special first stories that clearly marked the path you were to take? Please share!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A New Deal of Shamelessness!

We only have two Inkies with shameless news this week, but boy are they doosies!

Starting out with Leah Cypess, she has sold a short story to Sword & Sorceress, and it will be published in the next edition of the anthology (Sword & Sorceress 27.) The story is called Straw-Spun and it's a "sequel" to Rumpelstiltskin, which, I'd like to point out for the record, is one of the creepiest of the Grimm's Fairy Tales. Can't wait!

Meanwhile, Kate Milford has sold not one, but TWO new books!

Author of THE BONESHAKER and THE BROKEN LANDS Kate Milford's LEFT-HANDED FATE, a nautical fantasy set in 1813 in which three kids from both sides of the conflict join forces to find the pieces of a legendary device they believe will stop the wars in the Atlantic, to Noa Wheeler at Holt Children's, for publication in Fall 2014, by Ann Behar at Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary Agency (World English).

Author of THE BONESHAKER and THE BROKEN LANDS Kate Milford's GREENGLASS HOUSE, about a boy who discovers that each of the strange guests snowed in over the winter holidays at his parents' remote inn believes there is a secret hidden somewhere in the house, and he and the cook's daughter, a role-playing gamer, make up a campaign to find the inn's secret before anyone else, to Lynne Polvino at Clarion, for publication in Spring 2014, by Ann Behar at Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary Agency (World).

How insanely awesome is that? And to top it off, her Kickstarter campaign for The Kairos Mechanism is at 102% so the project is a go!  There are two weeks left for fundraising. At $7500, the paychecks for the young artists who are illustrating the special edition will be increased; at $9500 Kate can announce the second volume in the series (for 2013); and at $13500 she'll have raised enough to commit to doing a reader-illustrated edition for that second novella. So anyone who hasn't become a backer that wants to should hurry over!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Interview with Kate Milford about The Kairos Mechanism

Today we're interviewing Inkie Kate Milford, whose second book, The Broken Lands, is being published by Clarion in September. Kate wrote an accompanying novella, The Kairos Mechanism, to be released along with the book, and set up a Kickstarter page to raise money to self-publish 300 paperback copies. Today, I’m here to find out more about this fascinating project.

Tie-in stories, novellas, etc., seem to be a big thing in promotion these days – mostly in ebook only editions. Can you tell us about the process of deciding to write a novella for The Broken Lands, and why you decided to do a print run instead of just keeping it online?

I think there are two things that make this sort of thing exciting for readers. Firstly, I think we all wonder what’s happening to the characters we love when we’re not looking. Secondly, I think we all get excited about the idea of having “insider information”—clues and special insights that not everyone gets.

As far as how I came to the decision to try my hand at this kind of thing: I get to know the worlds and the people and the history of the things I write, I start coming up with—for lack of a better term—extra stuff. Some of those ideas turn into novels (The Broken Lands started out as one like that, for instance), but not all of them do. I always had this idea that it would be really fun to give readers the opportunity to do a little bit of extra digging and find extra layers and history to uncover. Plus, The Broken Lands is related in a sort of sideways fashion to The Boneshaker. The Kairos Mechanism gives a few extra clues as to how they’re really connected, and what’s yet to come for Natalie, when we return to Arcane (the setting of The Boneshaker).

As for doing a print run—well, I guess there are two things. The first is that I don’t own an e-reader. I just don’t enjoy reading books that way, plus I love books as objects. So it was never an option not to do a print edition; that was the thing I wanted to do most. The second thing is that I work a couple days a week at McNally Jackson, and I’ve gotten kind of addicted to the book machine. It’s really kind of amazing. So I’ve been looking for an excuse to use it for my own nefarious purposes for a while.

Actually, there is a third reason: promotion of The Boneshaker and The Broken Lands. During the September Broken Lands launch, I’ll be offering discounted paperback copies of The Kairos Mechanism with pre-ordered copies of The Broken Lands; with copies of both The Broken Lands and The Boneshaker, they’ll be free.

Monday, May 21, 2012

What Makes a Classic?

We all want to write the best book possible. For many it's a struggle just to get published. But imagine if the book you do write becomes a classic. Can you picture it? There are so many fantasies that come to mind when you think of that word. Lord of the Rings, the Oz books, Alice in Wonderland, The Phantom Tollbooth, Harry Potter - I could go on and on. But what's the secret ingredient? What makes something a classic?

Fellow Inkie, Hilari Bell put it beautifully when she said, "I think what makes any book into a classic, fantasy or not, is how much it touches your heart and soul.  How deeply it moves you.  When I think of classics, across the genres, one thing they pretty much all have is "heart."  Also, usually, some wisdom..."

I agree! But there's something else I noticed about the books I've marked as classics, at least in my own mind. They each have an endearing, typically unlikely hero/heroine who faces adventure head on in a wonderfully fantastic world. 

Even the high fantasy books fit this description. Why not take LOTR as example? Frodo, the simple hobbit, agrees to go on a dangerous quest and leave the safe Shire in order to accomplish it. He isn't even as big as a human man and has no magic. We instantly connect with him as readers and vicariously enjoy the danger and excitement we find while traversing Middle Earth.

 I believe that when we find which of our "modern classics" endure the test of time, it will be those with characters readers easily identify with, rich worlds, and plenty of adventure. Is there anything you've read lately that falls into this category? Do you agree or disagree with my analysis? Let's chat! 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Interview with Jasmine Richards, author of THE BOOK OF WONDERS

I am delighted to introduce to the Inkpot Jasmine Richards, who is the author of THE BOOK OF WONDERS, which is a thrilling Middle Grade adventure fantasy.  As is sadly so usually the case (she says, tongue in cheek), the United States has been luck enough to get THE BOOK OF WONDERS before the United Kingdom, with its release on 17th January 2012.

THE BOOK OF WONDERS follows 13-year-old Zardi (an adventure loving young girl who dreams of magic and running away to work on one of the ships that comes into the kingdom of Arribitha) and her best friend Rhidan (who arrived in the kingdom as a baby and who wants to know where he came from).  When Zardi's elder sister is  taken prisoner by the tyrannical sultan and marked for death, Zardi and Rhidan set out to find the magic they need to overthrow the sultan's rule.  On the way, they'll encounter djinni, monsters and a roguish sailor called Sinbad ...

In this interview my questions are in bold and Jasmine's answers are in italics.

Hi, Jasmine, and welcome to the Inkpot!

THE BOOK OF WONDERS has been described as "a fantastical, action-packed response to the mythology of The Arabian Nights - but this time the sultan doesn't get away with murder".  What was it about the Arabian Nights that particularly interested you?

Arabian Nights is in a word "awesome".  Many of the stories from this collection are well known and include ALADDIN'S WONDERFUL LAMP, ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES and THE SEVEN VOYAGES OF SINBAD THE SAILOR.  For those of you who haven't read THE ARABIAN NIGHTS they begin with a young woman called Scheherazade who tells tales to a cold-hearted sultan for 1001 nights in order to escape execution (the sultan has a nasty habit of executing his new wives!).  Through her stories, she manages to melt the sultan's heart and they end up living happily ever after.

As a young reader, I loved these stories,  I loved that Scheherazade was such a good storyteller and that she always made sure that she was at the most exciting bit of the story when the sun rose so that she would get to live for another day.

However, the 9-year-old me was enraged by the idea that the sultan got a happy ending after killing lots of innocent young women!  Even back then I wanted to create a new story, where the sultan was challenged and maybe even defeated.

With THE BOOK OF WONDERS I have created an alternative version of events which I hope will keep readers guessing!

Sinbad - the original seafaring adventurer rogue - plays an important part in the story.  How did you go about adapting such a well known and well-loved fictional character and were you ever worried about how older readers would react to it?

THE ARABIAN NIGHTS is a treasure chest of great characters and creatures, but for me they were a jumping off point rather than a set of rules I had to stick to.  Sinbad had to be dashing (obviously) but I also liked the idea that he was a bit of a scoundrel and not to be trusted.  The fact that he was a familiar character made it both more of a challenge and more of a joy when it came to recasting him.  I don't think my Sinbad replaced other Sinbads and so I don't think older readers will have a problem with him ...
As a writer, are you a plotter or a pantser, i.e. do you like to plot out your story in advance or do you prefer to se where it takes you as you write it?

Ha!  I call it being a plotter or a floater!

To be honest, I am a bit of both.  I like to have a rough idea of where I am going in the narrative but I don't have all the plot points down, as I still want to surprise myself.

It is useful to think about what kind of writer you are and instead of working against it, embrace your preferred way of working and get on with it!

Zardi is a bit of a tomboy with her love of archery and dreams of high seas adventure, whereas Rhidan is quite a sensitive and bookish boy but they have a very genuine and deep friendship.  How did you set out to balance the characters with each other and develop that relationship?

I love a feisty girl in an adventure novel and am so pleased to see Zardi join the ranks of other great heroines.

Because the original Scheherazade in THE ARABIAN NIGHTS is rather cerebral and saves her neck by telling stories I knew that I wanted Zardi to be much more physical, hot tempered and immediate.

When telling a story, I think balance is incredibly important and so I wanted Rhidan to be the opposite to Zardi and to have traits that Zardi didn't have but which she clearly needs to succeed.  I wanted to make it that they always work better as a team than they do alone.  The banter between the two came really easy to me and I think these two characters have great chemistry.  I love, love, love writing them.

One of the things I particularly enjoyed about THE BOOK OF WONDERS is the sense of place - there's a real feel of the exotic in Arribitha - and I loved, loved, loved the map that's been added to the book.  Did you have a conscious and deliberate vision for Arribitha from the start and did you get to input into the map?

I must confess that I am not very good at reading maps but I do love them at the beginning of a book because you know that you are in for a treat and that you are going to go on a proper quest!

With the map in the front of THE BOOK OF WONDERS I sketched this out and the artist who did my cover actually drew the map and made it all pretty!

In terms of the setting of the book, I always knew that the first book in THE BOOK OF WONDERS TRILOGY would have a strong Middle Eastern flavour because the first book is directly inspired by THE ARABIAN NIGHTS.  It was really important to me that I got the smells, colours and the atmosphere of Arribitha right and so I did lots of travelling around the Middle East and North Africa.  However, it was actually in Zanzibar in East Africa where I really felt that I was seeing Arribitha in the flesh.  Zanzibar really helped me to add those last little details to Zardi's world.
Djinni have a fairly big role in THE BOOK OF WONDERS.  If you found a djinni, what would you wish for?

That's easy.  I would wish for the ability to stop or slow time.  Between a full time job in publishing and writing there often doesn't feel like there are enough hours in the day and boy would I just love a weekend vegging out and watching GAME OF THRONES!

In your day job you're a senior editor at Oxford University Press Children's Books.  What was it like to be on the other side of the fence in the editing process and has it changed the way you go about your day job?

I think being an editor makes me a better writer and being a writer makes me a better editor.  Because I'm an editor I know that when my editor gives me feedback it is from a position of really wanting to give my book the best chance of succeeding.  Therefore even if I don't always agree I respect that opinion and my editor's expertise.  

As a writer, I know how hard my authors work.  Writing books for children isn't just sitting in a room coming up with ideas and beautiful prose - it's about being brave enough to let your words out to the wider world and receive the praise and criticism, it's about going out and doing school visits, it's meeting booksellers and spending time speaking to readers on blogs and in newspapers and at festivals!

Sometimes doing events can be absolutely nerve-wracking and being on the other side I can really understand that nervousness.

Jasmine Richards
THE BOOK OF WONDERS is the first in a trilogy.  What hints can you give us of what to expect in the forthcoming books?

I don't want to give too much away but in the next book Zardi and Rhidan's friendship is going to be sorely tested and we may or may not get to meet a certain Prince Aladdin in the third book!

Oooh, Prince Aladdin!  I can't wait!  Thank you very much for taking the time to visit us at The Inkpot.

Thanks so much for having me on your blog!

THE BOOK OF WONDERS is available in the United States from AmazonBarnes and Noble and all good independent book stores.

THE BOOK OF WONDERS is available in the United Kingdom from Amazon UK.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Spring & Summer Celebrations in Fantasy

As spring slips effortlessly into summer, I started wondering about these seasons in fantasy. How are they celebrated? How do they effect the story?

Growing up in Hampshire, England, down the road from Stonehenge, I'm used to the celebrations and rituals of May Day, with Morris dancers, May Poles, and cheese rolling. Even donning masks and dressing up as animals, as depicted in The Wicker Man.

And such celebrations of the coming of Spring, the return of the sun, growth of the crops and fertility - Easter eggs and maypoles occur all across the world. So why not in world fantasy literature?

In fantasy, rituals and settings place an important part of world building. The seasons reflect challenges and emotional journeys, weather itself can become a character so in the same way rituals, or celebrations can add depth, intrigue and texture.

But it was way harder to find any references than I thought it would be..

My first thought was GREENWITCH by Susan Cooper - which is set in Cornwall - an ancient place rooted in Celtic tradition, with an awesome ritual of weaving a Greenwitch from twines and flowers, and throwing it into the sea, around Spring. But it may be that Susan Cooper is such a fantastic writer, she just convinced me that was a real festival as I can't find the real roots anywhere. Cornwall does have many celebration though including May Day! So, the feel of her setting was spot on!

Then I remembered the bear festival in TENDER MORSELS by Margo Lanagan, where the young men of the village dress in bear costumes and run around the village harassing the young women. Now, that is based on a real festival, la journée de l’ours (the day of the bear).

The Bears!

Prats-de-Mollo's town website says, 'The young people of Prats meet up at Fort Lagarde, for a boozy meal during which the bears, chosen several weeks before, are prepared for the festival. Some will play the bears (usually the fittest amongst them!) and others will be the hunters.' It happens in late February - early March.

Trying to reach out further than my Anglo-Saxon roots I thought of Holi - a Hindu celebration that takes place in spring, a jubilant festival celebrating and renewing relationships and friendships.
In MOLLY MOON - by Georgia Byng, which I've stretched to be fantasy, Molly travels back and forth in time through India, and experiences Holi first hand.

Next, I combed through THE OWL SERVICE, Alan Garner, THE NEW POLICEMAN, Kate Thompson and THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, Neil Gaiman - I was convinced the Macabray was based on a real yearly event - but not one I could find! I think it may just be a twist on the Dance Macabre which would be more Halloween-ie anyway.

So, I went to the Inkpot!

Amy Greenfield (CHANTRESS (McElderry/S&S, April 2013)) shared some of her Oxford memories,

I live just north of Oxford, which has a fabulous May Morning festival every year...I can remember standing in the crowds on Magdalen Bridge listing to the choir, glimpsing a Green Man in the hubbub, hearing the jingle of Morris dancers everywhere, watching fire-eaters by the Bodleian, and being offered fertility cake from a man’s sword. Good food for the imagination. She also came up with more titles!

Laura Lee Sullivan’s UNDER THE GREEN HILL is a recent one. Julie Hearne’s The MERRYBEGOT (called The Minister’s Daughter in the US) is another from 2005. And there’s Mary Stewart’s WILDFIRE AT MIDNIGHT, but that’s a real oldie.

Amy also mentioned Nowruz, 'the spring festival celebrated in Iran (and elsewhere)...It's rooted in the Zoroastrian religion and marks the spring equinox and the start of a new year. I can't think of any book connections, though.

Lena Coakley (WITCHLANDERS) shared these pictures from a recent trip to Oxford UK.

(The man with the cheese on his head is the "fool" a traditional character
in Morris dancing who causes havoc and gets all the steps wrong.)

Lena Coakley

And William Alexander (GOBLIN SECRETS) told me something I never would have thought about his home town of Minneapolis...

One way that we cope is by banishing winter with a huge parade and puppet show. Mayday!

May Day is a spring holiday. The sun is coming back, and this is cause for tremendous relief because there's nothing like a Minnesota winter to make you doubt your knowledge of our heliocentric solar system and believe--if only a very little bit--that mythic wolves might actually devour both the sun and moon. But then warmth returns, and one of our local theater companies builds an enormous sun puppet and paddles it across a recently thawed lake. Everybody cheers as though the puppet were actually the sun, as though it really could chase away arctic wind, as though everything might be okay from now on.

Which just sounds like an amazing event looking for a fantasy story to appear in!!

So, it's over to you. Can you think of any spring or summer celebrations, real or invented, in children's fantasy writing? Not including, of course, the really obvious one I forgot to mention by a certain Bard!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Shameless Celebration!

YAY!  Lots of news this week.  I love weeks like this.  :)

Starting out with a bang, Lena Coakley's WITCHLANDERS is a SCBWI Crystal Kite Award winner!  Chosen by SCBWI members, this is like being voted prom queen by your peers!  Such a huge honor.

We have another book with honors this week: Dawn Metcalf's LUMINOUS was picked as a Top 40 Pick for the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association.  What an awesome line up of books!!!

In foreign rights news, Nancy Holder sold Polish rights to WICKED, the NYT bestselling YA series she writes with Debbie Viguie. Copies of WICKED: WITCH, the first novel in the series, arrived on Friday.

In blurbage news (hee), William Alexander landed an amazing blurb for GOBLIN SECRETS from none other than Ursula K. Le Guin!

"It was hard to stop reading Goblin Secrets, and I didn't want the book to end! The author's imagination is both huge and original, taking us to a truly new place, rich with lively, vivid scenes, fascinating people, and marvelous inventions. He doesn't explain things, yet everything is clear. And he tells his fast-paced story in language that's a pleasure in itself -- subtle, tricky, funny, beautiful. More, please, Will Alexander!"

And perhaps most excitingly of all this week, long time Inkie P.J. Hoover has not one, but TWO book deals to announce!

P.J. Hoover's SOLSTICE, about a near-future global heating crisis and a Texas teen who uncovers the strange untold ending of the Persephone myth, only to find that she is part of the story -- and that her choices in love, in family, and in friendship will determine the destiny of her world, to Susan Chang at Tor Children's, for publication in Spring 2013, by Laura Rennert and Lara Perkins at Andrea Brown Literary Agency (NA).

P.J. Hoover's TUT, in which a young immortal King Tut, who has been stuck in middle school for over 3,000 years, must defeat an ancient enemy with the help of a dorky kid from school, a mysterious Egyptian princess, and a one-eyed cat, to Susan Chang at Tor Children's, for publication in Winter/Spring 2014, by Laura Rennert and Lara Perkins at Andrea Brown Literary Agency (NA).

Excuse me while I squee all over myself.  :D

Hmm.  There's something else.  Something I'm forgetting...  Oh yes, winners in the Tu Book drawing!  I gots them:

Natalie Aguirre


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Interview with Alethea Kontis, author of ENCHANTED

I’m thrilled to welcome to the Inkpot Alethea Kontis, author of Enchanted, which apparently is the monster of all fairy tale retellings. I mean, why retell just one when you can retell them all, right? Read on and find out….

Enchanted isn't a retelling of any particular fairy tale -- rather, it's a mosaic of many of them. Was there any particular fairy tale that got you started? Or did you intend from the beginning to borrow from as many fairy tales as possible?
The original story that Enchanted is based on was an entry in a fairy tale contest the Codex Writers had in the summer of 2005. The stories had to be inspired by at least one of four "seeds": "Fundevogel," "The Princess and the Pea," the Irish legend of Cú Chulainn, and the nursery rhyme "There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe." I couldn't choose between them, so I chose them well as all every other fairy tale and nursery rhyme that was suggested. They just all fit together so well, you see...

I hate the "where did you get the idea" question as much as anyone. And yet: Where did you get the awesome idea for seven sisters named after seven days of the week?
That particular tidbit came from the "Monday's Child is Fair of Face" nursery rhyme. As a Sabbath Day child myself, I've always been slightly disappointed in my generically optimistic lot in life as prophesied by that poem, so I instantly had a great deal of empathy for Sunday. The reason anyone would have so many children in the first place would surely be the goal of a "seventh child of a seventh child" legend, and this dovetailed perfectly into the old rhyme of counting magpies ("One for sorrow, two for joy"). Sevens and threes are very powerful numbers in fairy tales.

I happen to know (looks mysterious) that the original title of the book was Sunday, the name of the main character. And having gone through title changes myself, I know there were probably a bunch of titles you considered before you hit on Enchanted. Care to share any of them?
Yes, the original title of the novel was Sunday, which was the name of the novelette of this tale as it appeared in Realms of Fantasy in 2006. The publisher was afraid that this title would not immediately convey a fairy tale sensibility, so they suggested something "more like...Enchanted." I had about two days to come up with new title ideas, which included: Blithe, Fanciful, Dreamer, Glister, and Perchance. But by then, Enchanted had already settled in everyone's brains, and there you have it!

You are also the author of the bestselling picture book, Alpha Oops: The Day Z Went First (side note: my kids LOVE that book). Obviously the writing process is different, but how similar or different the process of getting a picture book published vs. getting a young adult novel published?
*hugs* I love you and your kids! Thank you! Oh, yes, I learned an incredible lot during the production of the first AlphaOops, not the least of which was that writing a picture book was far more like writing a script than a short story or novel. There is so much one doesn't need to say in prose when given illustrations, and there needs to be room left for the illustrator/collaborator to step in and shine on his/her own. Almost like in acting, where the words in the script are a guideline by which the actor bases his or her motivation and fills in the blank with talent, imagination, and personality. Thankfully, I've had some little experience acting on stage and television, so when I sat down to write AlphaOops: H is for Halloween, I wrote it as a script rather than in story format. I think the editing process for that book went a lot more smoothly.

All that said, the award for strangest format in which I've ever written a story goes to "Diary of a Mad Scientist Garden Gnome," a month-long twitter serial illustrated by Eisner Award winner J.K. Lee. Because of the 140 character limit on each daily mini-story, it was easier to construct the project on an Excel spreadsheet so that I could see the stories one on top of the other and keep track of the characters all at the same time. It was an odd endeavor, but the unorthodox approach ultimately worked out to everyone's advantage. My advice to writers: Always keep an open mind. We live in an ever-changing world, and you'll never know what hoop you might be asked to jump through next!

So true! As long as they’re all fun hoops, right?
You can read more about Enchanted at You can also go out and get it if you want – it went on sale yesterday!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

More YA covers: Eye catching!

They're diabolical, these YA cover designers. They have to be: They have a tough, tough job.

First of all, obviously, they have to be pretty accurate about conveying a book's essence: There's nothing more annoying to a reader than buying a book with a soft, romantic cover only to suffer a bloody chainsaw murder on page five.

Also, a designer wants to drag you to a book across a crowded store. Once the book's in your hands, he wants you eaten up with curiosity about what's inside. (CINDER wins that award, in my opinion.)

Today's post explores a few of the techniques designers have been using on covers in the January-June publication season. Cue the eyeballs!

The covers are after the break. Which ones work for you? Why?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Spring YA fantasy covers take wing!

Angels and mermaids still rule in young adult fantasy, and cover artists have to exercise all their creativity to come up with new ways to depict them.  (The creators of wings--whether angelic or fae--were especially inventive this season.)

Meanwhile, YA covers continue to love gorgeous dresses and tresses. (Who doesn't?) Also one-word titles. Unearthly light. Well-toned torsos.

And, of course, nothing says "uh-oh" like a good mist.

This spring's round-up includes books whose pub dates were January through June. Once again, we're so overloaded with wonderful cover art that we're going to spread this post over two days. Tune in for more great covers tomorrow!

In today's groupings, I admit to a fondness for the kick-butt females in the bottom grouping--not to mention the GRAVE MERCY lady who has both a great dress and a crossbow. (You really won the sweepstakes on that one, Robin!) On the other hand, you can't beat DRAGONSWOOD for sheer weird resplendence.

Click "read more" to see the covers. Which ones are your favorites?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Interview with Zoë Marriott, author of SHADOWS ON THE MOON

Today we welcome author Zoë Marriott to the Inkpot to talk about her newest YA fantasy novel, SHADOWS OF THE MOON, a beautifully rich and detailed story inspired by the traditional Cinderella fairytale, but set in a fantasy world reminiscent of feudal Japan.

If you are a fan of fairy tale retellings, beautiful prose, and/or strong, complicated heroines, please find yourself a copy of this book! It's a compelling exploration of revenge and love, and though the main character endures much, I was left cheering for her and her companions.

Sixteen-year-old Suzume is a shadow weaver, trained in the magical art of illusion. She can be anyone she wants to be -- except herself. Is she the girl of noble birth, trapped by the tyranny of her mother’s new husband, Lord Terayama? A lowly drudge scraping a living in the ashes of Terayama’s kitchens? Or Yue, the most beautiful courtesan in the Moonlit Lands? Even Suzume is no longer sure of her true identity. But she is determined to steal the heart of the Moon Prince, and exact revenge on her stepfather for the death of her family. And nothing will stop her. Not even her love for fellow shadow weaver Otieno, the one man who can see through her illusions...

There's also a fabulous book trailer:

SHADOWS ON THE MOON is available now in stores, in both the UK and North America! You can read the first chapter for free here (note: link is a pdf). You can also learn more about Zoë and her books at her website!

Thanks for joining us here, Zoë! You've stated that SHADOWS ON THE MOON is inspired by the Cinderella fairy tale, and the question: "What if Cinderella wasn't a wimp? What if she was strong and brave and out for revenge all along?" Your first book, THE SWAN KINGDOM, is also inspired by a fairy tale. What is it about fairy tales that draws you to re-interpret them like this? Why do you think fairy tale retellings are so popular? 

I've been in love with fairytales my whole life. As a child - right up until I left home, in fact - my walls were plastered with dozens of sketches and photocopies of illustrations from books of traditional fairystories, Greek and Norse myths, Chinese and Japanese folklore, Beowulf, Arthurian legend, the Mabinogion: I craved those ancient stories in a way I can't even describe. Nothing made me happier than finding a huge book of fairytales and hiding away on a windowsill or staircase and reading until my legs went numb or some member of my family rooted me out. Looking back I really was a very strange child! I couldn't have cared less about the boybands my contemporaries screamed for; I was in love with Gawain and Tristan, Cupid, Orpheus, Cuchulain, the Beast (and with George, King of the Rogue, from Tamora Pierce's Lioness Rampant Quartet).

Recently I did a blog-post where I talked about the dark, scary origins of many fairytales, the rape and filicide and wickedness that was excised from traditional stories in the Victorian era to make them clean and 'child friendly'. I got into trouble with some people who thought I was saying that I didn't like fairytales, or that they weren't suitable for children. Nothing could be further from the truth! I think our desire to keep those ancient stories alive, to reinterpret them, find new meaning in them, and create within them all the individual romances and enchantments that speak to us personally is a fundamental part of what makes us human!

So I'm a fairytale addict, basically. When I read a fairytale or any piece of folklore or mythology my mind immediately begins to seek out the shadowed gaps and jagged edges of the tale - all the places where we're told what people did but not why, what someone said but not what they felt, who someone was but not how they became that way in the first place. I call these the liminal spaces of a story. They're what fascinate me, and they're the reason I'm drawn to retell fairytales, because they hold so many endless possibilities for creating new meaning within the framework of powerful archetypes which are a part of our collective unconscious.