Monday, July 30, 2012

Short Story Love

Often we discuss novels here at Enchanted Inkpot, so I thought we might take some space to talk about short stories we love.

I confess the short stories I like tend to be odd. One of my favorites is “Sweet Pippet” in Margo Lanagan’s Black Juice. It’s a love story, told from the perspective of elephants. I adore the way Lanagan explains almost nothing. We simply have to puzzle out whom the elephants love and why.

Another of my favorite collections is Kelly Link’s Pretty Monsters. Like Black Juice, this collection has odd stories, some surreal and some strange. “The Wrong Grave”, about a guy who decides to dig up poems he left in his girlfriend's grave, is funny in a dark, sad way. The collection also includes traditional tales with a twist, like “The Wizards of Perfil”, which features wizards, a tower, and lost children.

Steampunk! – edited by Kelly Link and Gavin Grant is a wonderful anthology that includes steampunk stories by Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, Holly Black, and M.T. Anderson, among others. If you’ve liked novels by these authors, you might enjoy their short stories.

When I'm looking for great fantasy stories, short and long, I frequently visit Endicott Studio's "Mythic Fiction for Young Adults" to see what's listed there. For short story collection recommendations, check out the 4th paragraph. 

Also, some recommendations from other Inkies:

William Alexander recommends Holly Black’s collection, The Poison Eaters. In a review for Magers and Quinn Booksellers (you can read the full review here), he says: “It's like very strong espresso, delicious to sip but powerful enough to keep you up all night wishing you could breathe comfortably with blankets pulled over your head.”

Leah Cypress wants to announce that she has short stories with YA appeal forthcoming and available, in the anthologies Sword and Sorceress 27 and Two and Twenty Dark Tales, as well as her own free collection Changelings and Other Stories. Take a look at her website for more information on these.

Amy Butler Greenfield says: "I don’t often read short stories, but I really enjoyed Willful Impropriety:  13 Tales of Society, Scandal and Romance (ed. Ekaterina Sedia).   Almost all the stories have a strong historical fantasy element; some are painful; many are funny.  Taken together they’re a fascinating and thought-provoking look at social norms and 'improper' behavior, with a bit of magic thrown in for good measure."

Dawn Metcalf recommends the Bordertown short stories, including the latest collection edited by Ellen Kushner and Holly Black. Dawn says, “These were the first stories I read as a teen that blended fantasy and technology on the border where our world and Faeland met along the Mad River; where bookstores came with magic locks, elves jonesed for a cup of coffee, and people rode motorcycles powered by spellboxes that (sometimes) worked. It was magic remade all over again and I loved it!”

Let’s add to this list. What short stories, and short story writers, do you love and why? 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

TechnoFail Shamelessness

Sorry this post is a day late! Somehow I lost all my files with the shameless updates for this week, and had to beg everyone to resend. But the issue has been resolved, so here we go!

NOTE: We have not one, not two, but THREE amazing cover reveals today. But I'm saving those for last. Because I'm mean like that.

We're going to start with review news this week, and not just because my own book TEN features in. Ha! Kate Milford's new release THE BROKEN LANDS "landed" (see what I did there?) a fantastic Kirkus review:

"Two teens race against time to thwart the forces of evil in this prequel to The Boneshaker (2010).

The Broken Land is a hotel where much crucial action takes place, but it is also an apt description of the United States in 1877. The Civil War has scarred the country, and Reconstruction has ended. “Folks are angry, still,” orphan Sam is told. “Folks are scared and folks feel like punishing each other, and I don’t think many of ’em are clear about what they’re mad for.” It is also a time of technological marvels like the Brooklyn Bridge, although this particular wonder has come with a price for young Sam. After losing his father to illness brought on by work on the bridge, Sam finds himself working as a cardsharp in Coney Island. He becomes the unlikely ally of Jin, a Chinese girl working with a team to provide fireworks at Broken Land, as they find themselves resisting a figure seeking to establish his own Hell. This seamless blend of fantasy and historical fiction is ripe with rich, gritty detail. Best of all, it is populated by a vast array of unusual characters: Along with Sam and Jin, there's Tom, a former member of the U.S. Colored Troops, and Susannah, a biracial woman who may hold the key to victory.

Readers will be captivated."
Kirkus was a busy little beaver this week, because TEN also got a fab review. I'm cutting out some of the more spoilery stuff because I think they added a bit too much plottage to the review, but here's the rest:
A scary gorefest of murder and mayhem, not for the faint of heart.

Clues are just amorphous enough to sustain the mystery, and since mistakes are lethal, the suspense is high.

For murder-mystery fans, there's more than enough horror and gore to sustain this effort (and several more), making for a breathless read. (Mystery/horror. 14 & up)
Yeah, I'm happy. Then right on that review, I found out I was a Top Pick in the September issue of Romantic Times!

by Gretchen McNeil

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary Young Adult

RT Rating

You want to read this book. McNeil incorporates all the thrills and chills of a horror movie into this fast-paced, gripping tale. With its quippy dialogue, it’s like reading Scream. This reviewer got the willies while reading Ten on a sunny afternoon. 
A party on a secluded island has Meg’s (slightly unstable) friend Minnie totally excited. Meg is less thrilled, especially once she finds out that TJ, the crush she and Minnie share, will also be attending. A storm isolates the teens, and even the hosts don’t show. Then, one of the guests commits suicide … or does she? (BALZER + BRAY, Sep., 304 pp., $17.99, ISBN: 9780062118783, HC, 13 & Up)

I'm sure you've all seen the NPR short list of Best Ever Young Adult Novels, but did you notice there were THREE Inkies on there? Congrats to THE SEVEN REALMS series by Cinda Williams Chima, ASH by Malinda Lo, and GRAVE MERCY by Robin LaFevers! So go vote NOW!

In foreign rights news, Kate Coombs' The Runaway Princess, has been translated to Japanese and is now available in Japan

I promised cover reveals, and here they are! First, the gorgeous cover for Kate Milford's THE KAIROS MECHANISM. The image is by Andrea Offermann, the artist behind THE BROKEN LANDS and THE BONESHAKER, and our own inkie Lisa Amowitz handled turning it into a cover.

Cindy Pon and Ellen Oh are both featured in DIVERSE ENERGIES, a multicultural YA dystopian anthology published by Tu Books (November 2012).

And William Alexander has a cover to share as well! For GHOULISH SONG!

PHEW!!! So glad I was able to reassemble all that info. See you in two weeks!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Interview with Kendare Blake

Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead. 

So did his father before him, until his gruesome murder by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead—keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn’t expect anything outside of the ordinary: move, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, but now stained red and dripping blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home. 

And she, for whatever reason, spares his life. 

I had the pleasure of sitting with Kendare Blake on my very first YALSA panel at ALA last month. I really enjoyed Anna Dressed in Blood--it was a refreshing YA read wonderfully written but also very original--which is always a gem. Not only did the book have a fantastic title, a stunning cover, it had the story to match. Today, I'm very happy to welcome Kendare to the Enchanted Inkpot for an interview. Thanks for taking the time from your busy schedule to join us! 

Cindy: As a fantasy writer myself, I find that I am quite plot driven when I write. And really need to go back and work on the characters to layer and deepen. Both Cas and Anna leap off the page with their personalities and voices. In writing Anna, which came to you first, the characters or the story?

Kendare: The title came first, actually. And then the character of Anna, but just the idea of her. She was the last one to really flesh out in my head...I started writing the book without knowing who she was. Which worked, because Cas didn't know her either, so we got to know her together. The concept followed Anna and the title. I knew she was dead, and that she was pissed, and that a ghost hunter would challenge her. But that's about it. I don't plot. When I started ANNA, I had a feeling it would end up somewhere on the shores of Lake Superior. I thought the lake would play a larger role. But it played no role at all. Weird. 

Cindy: The title? I am so impressed because I love your debut title. I wonder when Lake Superior will pop up in future books? =) On the panel, you mentioned being an author of YA Horror. And you also recommended authors who write horror like Joe Hill to read. What is it about horror that fascinates you, as both reader and writer? 

Kendare: I don't know! I'm morbid? I'm a little boy, playing in the dirt and comparing scabs with friends? I like blood, guts, violence, but I also need there to be thought, humanity, flaw. I never thought of ANNA as horror when I wrote it. It was just the story. And though my next series has blood, guts, violence, gross things, it isn't horror. Really, I don't read too much horror anymore. Dark stuff is always good. Joe Hill's HEART-SHAPED BOX was horror, but HORNS I don't think was. But both were dark. 

Cindy: I'm eager to read Heart-Shaped-Box upon your recommendation! Could you tell us a little bit about your writing process? Do you outline carefully or just leap in and write? Do you set any sort of word minimum to be met each day while you're drafting? 

Kendare: I never plot, and I don't set word limits. I mean, I set word hopes. I hope I'll make it past this scene, or I hope I'll make it past 40,000 words today. But I never know. With both ANNA and GIRL OF NIGHTMARES I knew where the story started, and had a vague idea of where it might end up. That's about it. With the project I'm in now, I'm noticing I have to go back and add scenes, which is new. 

Cindy: We are non-plotting buddies! And "word hopes", I like that. What is a genre you'd love to try writing that you haven't dabbled in yet? 

Kendare: I wish I was smart enough to write a great philosophical novel. Unfortunately, I'm only barely smart enough to read them. 

Cindy: Ha! You should try Iris Murdoch. She is one of my favorite authors and a philosopher by trade. My favorite by her: A Fairly Honourable Defeat. You mentioned a new YA project on the horizon at our panel. Could you tell us a little more about it? 

Kendare: Funny that you ask! I'm doing this interview right now as a way to procrastinate working on the second book of it. It's called ANTIGODDESS. Dying gods at war, mortals drawn into the fray. It draws a lot on The Iliad and The Odyssey, and features Athena, Hermes, Hera, Aphrodite and Poseidon, all in various states of decay. Odysseus and Hector show up too, and at the center is Cassandra. I always thought that she had the worst of it. To see the fall coming, and never be believed. I hope people like it. And oh, it's contemporary! Modern world setting. 

Cindy: I love Greek myth and that sounds so fantastic! Happy to help with your procrastination, too. =D And last but *never* least, what is your favorite pastry? (Any sweet thing that must be baked.) 

Kendare: Never least! Favorite sweet thing that must be baked....chocolate cake. I've come to realize just how difficult it is to find a truly transcendent chocolate cake. They'll either be dry, or I won't like the frosting. And I'm talking a magnificent, dense, chocolately chocolate cake. Not too rich, not too heavy. Maybe with some kind of thick, cold whipped cream. Dammit, Cindy! Now I'm hungry!

Cindy: I so agree! Great Choice! And I think making people hungry is one of my superpowers. =D Thank so much for stopping by the Inkpot, Kendare!

Kendare: Thank you for having me by the Enchanted Inkpot! It was great hanging with you (even so briefly) at ALA. I hope we get to do it again soon!

Cindy: Definitely!

The sequel to Anna Dressed in Blood titled The Girl of Nightmares is out on August 7! You can learn more about Kendare and her books at her official website:

Cindy Pon is the author of Silver Phoenix (Greenwillow, 2009), which was named one of the Top Ten Fantasy and Science Fiction Books for Youth by the American Library Association’s Booklist, and one of 2009′s best Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror by VOYA. The sequel to Silver Phoenix, titled Fury of the Phoenix, was published in April 2011. Her first published short story will appear in Diverse Energies, a multicultural YA dystopian anthology from Tu Books (November 2012). Cindy has also studied Chinese brush painting for over a decade. Visit her website at

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Interview with Joanne Levy, author of SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE

Today we’re delighted to have Joanne Levy visiting the Inkpot, author of the middle-grade novel, SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE. Can’t you just tell from the title that this book is going to be funny? Well, I've read it, and it is!  Here’s a book description from the publisher’s website.

Lilah Bloom hears ghosts. And boy, are they annoying!

After she's hit by lightning at a wedding, twelve-year-old Lilah Bloom develops a new talent: she hears dead people. Among them, there's her over-opinionated bubby Dora; a comically prissy fashion designer; and an approval-seeking clown who livens up a seance. With Bubby Dora leading the way, these and other sweetly imperfect ghosts haunt Lilah through seventh grade, and help her face her one fear: talking to and possibly going to the seventh-grade dance with her big crush, Andrew Finkel.

Welcome to the Enchanted Inkpot, Joanne, and congratulations on your debut!

Thanks so much for having me here!

Your book made me laugh more than any other book I’ve read this year. Many reviewers have mentioned the hilarious bra-shopping scene, where main character Lilah is accompanied by the ghost of her over-opinionated Bubby Dora, but you’ve also got the ghost of a clown haunting a birthday party, a scene where your main character shouts “I know about your underwear!” to a cute boy in a crowded cafe, and many more.  Everyone wants to write humor and yet so few can.  Can you give us some tips?

Thanks so much for mentioning the humor! As a recovering class clown, it means a lot to know that I can still make people laugh! I used to write much more serious books, but I am learning that humor is where I naturally shine. A wise editor told me I was very funny and that she had so much trouble finding funny books, so I took that and ran with it. I’m sure stand-up comedians will tell you that one of the big parts of being funny is the timing and I believe that’s no different in writing to make people laugh. Some of this is instinct, but I recommend listening to people. Especially funny people—listen to the cadence of how they talk and how they tell stories and develop your funny ‘ear’. Also, I will stop at nothing when it comes to humiliating and embarrassing my characters, especially if it guarantees a laugh. My jokes at Lilah’s expense are never mean spirited, but the poor girl gets herself into a lot of really embarrassing situations. This is the kind of stuff I remember well from my own childhood, so I often mine my own past for stories, too.

Were there any middle-grade novels that particularly inspired you?

 I’m a huge fan of Judy Blume, so when I started writing MG, I went back and read several of her books and also some of the Phyllis Reynolds Naylor Alice books. These books really helped me with the tween voice.

One thing I loved about your story is the father/daughter relationship.  For part of my childhood I was also an only child living with a single Dad, and I really felt you understood what that was like.  Is his character, or any of the other characters, based on a real person in your life?

I’m so glad the father/daughter relationship resonated with you, Lena. I come from a two parent family and I have three older brothers, so my childhood couldn’t be any more different from Lilah’s. Her family situation came about organically when I wrote that she got hit by lightning at her mom’s wedding. And to be honest, it just seemed easier writing her without siblings. I love writing dorky dads, though, so I really love Marty in this book. Their relationship reminds me a bit of the one I had with my dad as a kid—we used to go on ‘dates’ and hang out and I did draw on that somewhat when writing their scenes together. Bubby Dora is sort of a mashup of my real Bubby Dora (my great grandmother) and her granddaughter, my mom. Strong, smart and so funny, they made for great models for the Jewish grandmother character.

In YA there seems to be many more female protagonists than male, but in middle-grade that seems to be turned around, especially in comic middle-grade.  How important was it for you to create a strong, female character?

I will be honest and say that when I was writing Lilah, I was completely channeling myself as a twelve year old. I think I was a pretty kick-butt tween and didn’t take any crap from anyone (thanks, I’m sure, to having older brothers that I had to stand up to), and it’s important to me to write girls like that. Lilah stands up for herself and finds her way in the world, even if she’s not really sure of herself a hundred percent of the time. That’s what I want for girls—no one says you need to know everything, but being brave and true to yourself is what’s really important.

Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process? For instance, do have a writing group; and do you plot your novels beforehand, or are you a “pantster?”

I am a total pantser—I’ve tried to plot and outline, but it just doesn’t work for me. I need to just sit and write to allow the story to unfold for me, so any attempt at plotting just turns into a hot mess.  That said, I recently bought Scrivener and do like how organized it’s making me, so although I still don’t outline in advance, I do sort of outline as I go and can see scenes at a glance and keep my manuscript files really clean and tidy. It also makes life a lot easier for keeping files and details together—I no longer have to go searching through a manuscript manually for the name of a secondary character that I’ve forgotten halfway through!

Once you were accepted at Bloomsbury, what was the editing process like?

It was actually pretty easy and straightforward. I’d made a few changes on the ms for them before they bought it, so by the time they made the offer, it was pretty much what they wanted. I had a very simple editorial letter that just outlined a few plot tweaks and after that, we just went right into line edits. I did change editors after that, so there was a small transition, but no major changes to the book at that point. I’m very thankful that my first experience was fairly painless! 

Joanne's toes on the Star Princess
I’d love to know a little more about you.  What do you do in your spare time (if any!)?

Well, I do have a full time job, so there isn’t a lot of spare time these days, but aside from finding time to read for pleasure, I do enjoy hanging out with my pets, particularly my black Lab, Zoe, who drags me and my husband to the park every day for some serious ball-throwing.  I’m also a big fan of Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory, which I usually watch with a cat in my lap and a bowl of popcorn (for me, not the cat). My husband and I are avid cruisers, and we try to get on a ship once a year—our next one is booked for February 2013 and I can’t wait!

I couldn’t help noticing that there was a bit of room for a sequel at the end of SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE.  Will there be one and if not, what’s next?

I’m hoping there will be a sequel, but no word on that just yet. There’s another MG I’ve been working on that’s also funny, but has a touch of magic realism to it. It’s about a boy who gets left in the woods and how he has only his wits and a talking spider to help him find his way home.

I’ve also just finished up a YA that I’m hoping to shop very soon. I can’t talk about it just yet, but I can tell you that it’s funny AND semi-autobiographical (especially the funny parts).

I’m so glad to hear that there is more humor coming.  Can’t wait! Thanks so much for stopping by the Inkpot, Joanne!

Monday, July 16, 2012

How to Write a Classic: Wolves of Willoughby Chase

Ask fantasy writers about their favorite childhood books, and chances are The Wolves of Willoughby Chase will soon come up. This small masterpiece by Joan Aiken (1924-2004) first appeared fifty years ago, the start of a madcap historical fantasy series unlike any other. Quite a few of us at the Inkpot count these books as a key influence, as do Kelly Link, Megan Whalen Turner, Hilary McKay, Shannon Hale, Tracy Chevalier, and other noted writers.

Of Aiken's books, China Miéville says, "If that kind of writing hits you at the right time when you're a child, the impact is like nothing else ever.”

The iconic Edward Gorey cover

So what is it about Aiken’s Wolves that grabbed us as kids? And what can we learn from Aiken as writers?

(1) A fast and furious plot pulls in readers.

Aiken’s plot runs at a tremendous clip. If it begins in the nursery-room, it soon becomes the stuff of high adventure. Young heiress Bonnie Green and her cousin Sylvia are left to the tender care of governess Miss Slighcarp when Bonnie’s parents travel overseas. Miss Slighcarp, however, is bent on seizing Bonnie’s fortune and her home, the manor of Willoughby Chase. Despite the girls’ resourcefulness, Miss Slighcarp eventually succeeds in exiling them to a vile orphanage. Outrageous adventures ensue before Bonnie and Sylvia are restored to fortune.

Miss Slighcarp, Bonnie, and Sylvia, by Pat Marriott
As a child, I read this book on the absolute edge of my seat, desperate to know what would happen next. And this, it seems, was what Aiken intended. She’s on record as saying, “The pace is faster when writing for children, who soon become bored by descriptions of thought-processes, flashbacks, overlong descriptions.” 

If the pace is fast, however, there's still room for a great many twists and turns, as well as a general atmosphere of secrets and skulduggery. "Children do have a feeling for mystery," Aiken wrote. "This was certainly true of me, when I was very young."

(2) You don’t have to do everything.

In Aiken’s books, plot trumps character. It seems this was deliberate.“Characters in children's books are simpler and more strongly defined, like those in Morality plays — personified abstractions,” Aiken once said.

This, of course, is only one way to write a book, and plenty of readers prefer deeper and more subtle characterization. But whether you’re a plot-driven writer or a character-driven one, it’s helpful to remember that you don’t have to be all things to all people. It’s okay to play to your strengths.

Joan Aiken at her desk

(3) Be as quirky as you want, but get the details right.

Like many readers, I first encountered the pleasures of alternate history in Aiken’s books. Aiken's early nineteenth century isn't ours. Instead it's a charmingly off-kilter world of scheming malcontents, eccentric aristocrats, absentminded adults, and Dickensian dark doings. Voracious wolves terrorize all England. A Nantucket sea captain hunts for the great pink whale. The jovial Stuart king James III struggles against Hanoverian plotters. 

No matter how absurd the premise, the details are exquisitely executed. Take this moment, for instance, when Sylvia is alone on a train with a stranger, and a wolf leaps through a broken window:

Sylvia screamed. Another instant, and a wolf precipitated itself through the aperture thus formed. It turned snarling on the sleeping stranger, who started awake with an oath, and very adroitly flung his cloak over the animal. He then seized one of the shattered pieces of glass lying on the floor and stabbed the imprisoned beast through the cloak. It fell dead.

"Tush" said Sylvia's companion, breathing heavily and passing his hand over his face, "Unexpected- most."

Is it any surprise that I believed in those wolves absolutely? Or that I was sure that there really had been a King Jamie III?  I vividly remember consulting the encyclopedia at 11, and being bewildered as to why he wasn’t there in the list of British monarchs.

(4) Have fun.

Aiken clearly had a great time reinventing the nineteenth century, which gives the story a lot of its brio. She also had almost as much fun with names as Dickens did: In addition to Letitia Slighcarp, we get Pattern the nurse, malevolent Gertrude Brisket, and Mr. Friendshipp the Inspector. My favorite, however, might just be Abednego Gripe the attorney. In later books, we meet Captain Jabez Casket and his daughter Dutiful Penitence, as well as the immortal guttersnipe Dido Twite.

(5) Be open to suggestion.

Joan Aiken never intended The Wolves of Willoughby Chase to be the start of a series, but when it did well, she wrote another book set in the same world, Black Hearts in Battersea. She believed this would be the last book.

Soon, however, she received "a heartbreaking letter from an American child" about Dido Twite, one of the characters in Black Hearts. As Aiken later recalled, the letter asked, "‘Why did she have to die? She was such a good character’ (with no address on the letter so I was unable to reply). [That] obliged me to rescue her from the sea in Nightbirds on Nantucket.  From then on I had become addicted to her— after which the series continued on for many more books.

Joan Aiken (1924-2004)

(6) Be persistent. 

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase was a long time in the making. According to her official website, Aiken started the story in 1952, but set it aside to nurse her husband who had tuberculosis. He died in 1955, after which Aiken needed to work as a copywriter to support her children. It was only in 1961 that she managed to finish the book. It then languished on her agent’s windowsill for a year.

When the book was finally published in 1962, however, it was an immediate triumph. Fifty years later, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase remains in print and is considered a classic.

Long may it flourish!


Amy Butler Greenfield was on her way to a history PhD when she gave into temptation and became a novelist. She loves music, romantic adventure, strange science, alternate history, and twisty plots, which explains how she came to write her first YA novel, Chantress, due out from Simon & Schuster in 2013. You can visit her at

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Focused Shamelessness

Just a few pieces for today!

Amazon listed their choices for Best Books of the Year (So Far). Included in the teens list were two Inkies: Robyn LaFevers' GRAVE MERCY and Jennifer Nielsen's THE FALSE PRINCE.

Meanwhile foreign rights for THE FALSE PRINCE have recently sold in Thailand.  WOO HOO!

Oh, and one more little thing.  POSSESS is available for e-book download on Kindle, Nook and iBook formats for just $2.99 through the end of the month.  WOO HOO!

That's it.  I'm out.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Interview with Rachel Hartman, author of SERAPHINA

Today we welcome author Rachel Hartman to the Inkpot, to talk about her gorgeous debut YA fantasy SERAPHINA. It only took me a chapter to fall in love with this book, between the beautifully-realized and complex world and the determined, clever, wry protagonist struggling with her own identity, romance, philosophy, and Dragon-Human politics. I'm not the only one who loved this book: it's already received four starred reviews and is number two on the Summer Kid's Indie Next List!

Cover of Seraphina, featuring an medieval-style engraving of a dragon flying over a city

Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

SERAPHINA is available now in stores! [SPOILER ALERT: the Indie Next blurb on that page gives away certain plot details you might not want to know. So do a number of other reviews, so be warned] You can also learn more about Rachel and her books at her website!

Thanks for joining us, Rachel! On your blog you say that it took you eight years to write SERAPHINA (or rather, to write four different novels that were steps along the way to the final version). You've also written (and illustrated!) a comic series AMY UNBOUNDED, which is set in the same world as SERAPHINA, and (if I understand correctly) even features a few of the same characters. Can you tell us what it was like write a book on top of such a foundation? Were there any particular challenges or advantages? How much did the book change over the course of those eight years?

There was one obvious advantage to setting the novel in the same world as the comic: I had less active world-building to do. There was this whole infrastructure already in place, a big stage where new characters could come out and have their own dramas. Any time I needed a reminder of the world’s aesthetic, I even had a handy visual reference! That part was wonderful.

I didn’t anticipate what the challenges would be at all. One challenge was that I had this whole other cast of characters from the comic series, and they all wanted to pop into the novel for cameo appearances. I remember my agent identifying these very characters and asking, “Why are they even in the story?” That forced me to look closely and see where I was being self-indulgent.

Another challenge was that with so much of the world already built in such detail, I initially felt little need to delve into it much. The book started as an intimate family tragedy, like Ibsen with dragons. This was a source of befuddlement for agent and editors both, the fact that I had set such a small, quiet story in an enormous, complicated world. It was as if I had been cultivating a single begonia in the middle of a great garden. Maybe it was the most beautiful begonia in the world, but here was all this garden going untended. This struck them as a terrible waste.

Each successive version of the novel has expanded the scope of the plot, the better to fit into the world I had already built. Only echoes of the original remain, mostly in scenes where Seraphina interacts with her father. So yes, the book has changed substantially, but I really believe it has changed for the better each time.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Price of Magic

I once found myself on a panel at an SF con, listening to a famous author talk about creating magical systems.  He said that magic always has to have some cost attached to it, in energy, in money, in years of study and meditation—something that kept it hard enough so that not just everyone could do it.  That it was important, in both the laws of physics terms and of creating good fiction, that magic not be “free.”  Being someone who is willing to argue (politely—honest!) with even famous authors, I pointed out that while I didn’t necessarily disagree with him—in fact, I was inclined to agree—in Harry Potter, magic is pretty much free.  You’re born with the ability to use magic, and while some training is required, it’s no harder than school is for everyone else—and let’s face it, Defense Against the Dark Arts is a lot more relevant than your average history class.  So it seems clear that you can write wildly successful fiction where magic has no cost. 

On the other hand, last year I read Daughter of Smoke and Bone.  And after I got over being blown away by the way Laini Taylor uses language, I was promptly blown away by her world building.  (Spoiler alert—and if you haven’t read this book already you really should!)  In the world of the chimaera and the seraphim the price of magic is pain.  This is about as far from free as you can get!  And if she’d just left it there, magic probably wouldn’t be common enough to matter very much, because hardly anyone would use it.  However, she went that one fantastic step further and made it so it didn’t have to be your pain that fueled the magic.  That one simple twist made the seraphims’ use of the chimaera as pain slaves almost inevitable, and the chimaera rebellion equally inevitable.  In fact, the entire war that has utterly shaped both those societies, and forms the core of the story in the way it divides the hero and heroine, springs completely from the horrifically high price placed on magic. 

Although Laini Taylor blew me away with the system she created, I have to admit, in my own books I’m usually closer to the J.K. Rowling model.  It’s not always exactly the same, but in my stories magic is usually some kind of natural force, that a person with a gift for it is somehow able to channel and shape to their will, though it usually requires study and practice. 

So how do you handle magic in your world?  Charge a high price, or give it away for free? And what kind of system do you prefer in the novels you read? 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Fourth of July! Upcoming summer/fall reads from the Inkies.

Happy Fourth everyone!

Now that summer's in full swing, we've got some great upcoming reads for you.

The Second Spy (The Books of Elsewhere #3) by Jacqueline West, coming July 5th! (that's tomorrow!)

In Olive's third adventure, what lurks below the house could be as dangerous as what's hidden inside... 

Some terrifying things have happened to Olive in the old stone house, but none as scary as starting junior high. Or so she thinks. When she plummets through a hole in her backyard, though, she realizes two things that may change her mind: First, the wicked Annabelle McMartin is back. Second, there's a secret underground that unlocks not one but two of Elsewhere's biggest, most powerful, most dangerous forces yet. But with the house's guardian cats acting suspicious, her best friend threatening to move away, and her ally Morton starting to rebel, Olive isn't sure where to turn. Will she figure it out in time? Or will she be lured into Elsewhere, and trapped there for good?

Courtship and Curses (Leland Sisters #3) by Marissa Doyle, coming August 7th.

Sophie’s entrance into London society isn’t what she thought it would be: Mama isn’t there to guide her, Papa is buried in his work fighting Napoleon, and Sophie’s newly acquired limp keeps her from dancing at any of those glittering balls. If it weren’t for her shopping escapades with her new French friend Amélie and a flirtation with the dashing Lord Woodbridge, she would think this season a complete disaster.But when someone uses magic to attack Papa the night of Sophie’s first ball, her problems escalate, especially when it becomes clear that all the members of the War Cabinet are being targeted. Can she catch the culprit and keep her own magic powers hidden long enough to win herself a match?

The Cavendish Home For Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand, coming August 28th.

At the Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, you will definitely learn your lesson.

Victoria hates nonsense. There is no need for it when your life is perfect. The only smudge on her pristine life is her best friend Lawrence. He is a disaster--lazy and dreamy, shirt always untucked, obsessed with his silly piano. Victoria often wonders why she ever bothered being his friend. (Lawrence does too.)But then Lawrence goes missing. And he's not the only one. Victoria soon discovers that The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls is not what it appears to be. Kids go in but come out...different. Or they don't' come out at all.If anyone can sort this out, it's Victoria--even if it means getting a little messy.

Vanquished (Crusade #3) by Nancy Holder, also coming August 28th.

Hope is in short supply, but courage runs deep as the Salamancan hunters recover from a devastating loss. Jenn knows she must rally her team against the Cursed Ones, but her focus is shattered. She’s torn between passion for Antonio, who once fought by her side, and hate for the bloodthirsty vampire he’s become. His volatility is tearing apart their team . . . and Jenn’s trust.

As the Cursed Ones amass new strength, Team Salamanca must stick together if they hope to survive, let alone defend humanity. Jenn wants to believe Antonio’s loyal to their cause — and their love — but she’s slowly losing her heart to Resistance fighter Noah. And if Antonio’s not careful, he may just end up with a stake in his.

The Broken Lands by Kate Milford, coming September 4th

A crossroads can be a place of great power.

So begins this deliciously spine-tingling prequel to Kate Milford’s The Boneshaker, set in the colorful world of nineteenth-century Coney Island and New York City. Few crossroads compare to the one being formed by the Brooklyn Bridge and the East River, and as the bridge’s construction progresses, forces of unimaginable evil seek to bend that power to their advantage. Only two orphans with unusual skills stand in their way. Can the teenagers Sam, a card sharp, and Jin, a fireworks expert, stop them before it’s too late? Here is a richly textured, slow-burning thriller about friendship, courage, and the age-old fight between good and evil.

Ten by Gretchen McNeil, coming September 18th.

And their doom comes swiftly.

It was supposed to be the weekend of their lives—an exclusive house party on Henry Island. Best friends Meg and Minnie each have their reasons for being there (which involve T.J., the school’s most eligible bachelor) and look forward to three glorious days of boys, booze and fun-filled luxury. But what they expect is definitely not what they get, and what starts out as fun turns dark and twisted after the discovery of a DVD with a sinister message: Vengeance is mine.

Suddenly people are dying, and with a storm raging, the teens are cut off the from the outside world. No electricity, no phones, no internet, and a ferry that isn’t scheduled to return for two days. As the deaths become more violent and the teens turn on each other, can Meg find the killer before more people die? Or is the killer closer to her than she could ever imagine?

Don't those all sound amazing? I can't wait.

What books are you really looking forward to this summer?

Monday, July 2, 2012

TOTW: Craft Books for Fantasy Writers

I recently tried my hand at a mystery story, and asked around for recommendations of books specifically devoted to the crafting and structure of mystery stories. I discovered dozens, which spurred me to ask my fellow Inkies what books they love that are similarly devoted to writing fantasy fiction. As you see below, I struck gold! Here are their recommendations:

How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card (Miriam Forster): “A great breakdown of the boundaries and challenges of writing speculative fiction. It explains the differences between science fiction and fantasy, how ideas and worldbuilding develop and gives some great tips for how to keep the rules of your world straight.”

Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy by Crawford Kilian (Phillipa Bayliss): “Loads of most excellent advice. Kilian's information is on-line, too, and well worth searching. I'd recommend him over Orson Scott Card and I think Card is a genius.”

The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones (Jennifer Nielsen): “[A] great book on the cliches of fantasy writing. It's a very entertaining A-Z travel guide through fantasyland, where all elves sing beautifully, the villainy of a character can be determined by the color of his clothes, and why the all-knowing mentor will only give out cryptic clues. This is a very informative book for fantasy writers determined to be creative in their writing.”
Sometimes the Magic Works by Terry Brooks (Miriam Forster). “My absolute favorite writing book of all time. He talks about his career and his writing process. At one point he gives you some basic storytelling principles, like "The strength of the protagonist is measured by the strength of the antagonist" and my favorite "Don't bore the reader."”
The Wand in the Word: Conversations with Writers of Fantasy, edited by Leonard S. Marcus. (Deva Fagan): “This isn't so much of a writing craft book, but it's one I find inspirational when struggling with the act of writing. It includes interviews with Lloyd Alexander, Franny Billingsley, Brian Jacques, Diana Wynne Jones, Tamora Pierce, Jane Yolen and others. I was particularly grateful to read the interview with Lloyd Alexander in which he talked about having to entirely re-write one of his manuscripts, because at the time I had just embarked on doing the same with my own second novel! The interviews provide both fascinating insights into some of the most beloved and talented authors of our time, and inspiring and informative advice.”

The Hero's Journey by Joseph Campbell (Lisa Amowitz): “Hero's Journey is something that felt so familiar to me---the archtypical storyline we all seem to have embedded in us. To see it mapped out so clearly was a revelation to me.”

 Talent is Not Enough by Mollie Hunter (Amy Greenfield): “An older book that has many wise things to say about writing fantasy, especially for younger readers. (The title comes from her paraphrasing of an Emerson quote: "Talent is not enough; there must be a person behind the book.")”
The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler (Patricia J. Hoover): “This is my number one book recommendation always because: (1) It has mythology at the root of it (and mythology is awesome!), (2) It takes The Hero's Journey by Joseph Campbell and makes it so much simpler, (3) It uses examples that I can relate to which helps form a better picture for learning in my mind, (4) I can picture some of my favorite stories broken down into pieces (like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, The Odyssey, etc)."

The Larousse Dictionary of World Folklore (Amy Greenfield): “Packed with entries on everything from "abandonment" to "Cat Maiden" to "zombie." Not an in-depth guide to these subjects, but wonderful for browsing and brainstorming.”

Reflections by Diana Wynne Jones (currently available in the UK, US edition forthcoming September 2012) (Kate Coombs): “It’s a collection of DWJ’s essays and talks about writing. Naturally, it's wise and witty, pungent and pithy. The best quote so far is for young writers: "Most teachers will tell you that you need to make a careful plan of your story before you start. This is because most teachers do not write stories."”

Some Inkies also had favorite books to recommend that, while not specifically focused on fantasy, they’ve found as useful for fantasy as for any other genre: On Writing by Stephen King (Lisa G. Green, Lisa Amowitz), Save the Cat by Blake Snyder (Lisa G. Green), Don’t Sabotage Your Submission by Chris Roerden (Hilari Bell), The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp (Amy Greenfield), Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott (Lisa Amowitz), and Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury (Jacqueline West).

So check out these books - or, if you already have, tell us what you thought of them! And what other craft books specific to writing fantasy would you recommend?