Monday, December 23, 2013

Happy Holidays!

The Inkpot will now sit silently until the new year. Those of you living in the colder bits of the world should remember that the days keep getting longer from here to Spring.

Read widely and wildly, everybody.

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Winter's Tale

'tis the season for whiling away the hours curled up by a fire, book in hand with the wintery chill firmly closed behind an iron door. Perhaps the fire pops, and the page crackles as it's turned...and is that shadow moving by itself in the corner of the room?
How I love the idea of winter and cold, and snow and all the magic it brings, particularly in fantasy stories, so this post is a celebration of our favorite winter tales!

First up a THE DARK IS RISING and to be honest we all love this book!

Here is Ellen Booraem on why she chose this winter scene...
'For me, the best of all possible invocations of winter is in THE DARK IS RISING. The snow is beautiful, mystical, even fun, but it has elements of menace that surface without warning. Here’s Will grinning at the window after his birthday blizzard: “In the first shining moment he saw the whole strange-familiar world, glistening white; the roofs of the outbuildings mounted into square towers of snow and beyond them all the fields and hedges buried, merged into one great flat expanse, unbroken white to the horizon’s rim.” Three-point-five seconds minutes later, life gets majorly weird. Yup, that’s winter for you.'

Anne Nesbet thought of Terry Pratchett's WINTERSMITH for some lovely cold magic: “They say that there can never be two snowflakes that are exactly alike, but has anyone checked lately?”

and, Susan Cooper's THE DARK IS RISING: "The snow lay thin and apologetic over the world . . . ."

Anne says, 'I grew up without snow, so I learned everything there was to know about winter from Cooper, from Tove Jansson's MOOMINLAND MIDWINTER, with extra information taken from my two favorite snowy non-fantasy books: Laura Ingalls Wilder's THE LONG WINTER and Arthur Ransome's WINTER HOLIDAY.

Snuggling under quilts and putting extra sweaters on just thinking about all these books!"

Anytime a story gives us a good look at snow, I'm basically happy. Perhaps that's because I grew up without much snow in my life!'

Gretchen McNeil chose the wintery scenes in the early Harry Potter books, and the first visit to the nearby town of Hogsmead, in particular from THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN.
'Hogsmead looked like a Christmas card; the little thatched cottages and shops were all covered in a layer of crisp snow; there were holly wreaths on the doors and strings of enchanted candles hanging in the trees.' (Chapter Ten, The Marauders Map)

Mike Jung chose A STORM OF SWORDS

'The Red Wedding scene in the GAME OF THRONES tv show made a big stir with those poor unsuspecting "oh I haven't read the books" viewers, but snobby book people like me feel smug about having been traumatized by that scene when reading A STORM OF SWORDS years ago. But I weirdly remember the books' closing scene with Jon Snow almost as much, although I should explain that I don't remember the specifics all that much. I mostly remember the way I felt while reading it: #$%&ing traumatized by the Red Wedding, including the aftermath involving Robb Stark's direwolf; a muted, complicated feeling of triumph when Jon Snow was named Lord Commander of the Night's Watch (was it good? Was it bad? Oh to be a non-bastard Stark!); and a strange feeling of existential despair that the unrecognized heir of the Stark family was stuck out there in the cold, on the border between kingdoms, hanging out on that damned wall. It was an oddly calming chapter to read, if that makes any sense, even more so because even MORE crazy stuff happened before the book was over. I suppose a final reason that wintry scene with Jon Snow stuck with me is because it felt like a thousand years went by before the next book, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS, was published, and I, um, haven't actually read it yet. I'm sure everything's working out for Jon Snow, however, right? All the other Starks took swords to the neck or daggers in the chest and so forth, but I'm sure nobody ganged up to repeatedly stab Jon Snow!'

Lisa Green picked SHIVER
: 'The whole werewolves tied to the weather instead of the moon gives the winter in Northern Minnesota (where I've been many times, brrrr) a whole new layer (pardon the pun).'
There really is something about a wolves call that makes you feel so vulnerable and cold!

Amy Greenfield cast a vote for the opening of THE WOLVES OF WILLOUGHBY CHASE.

'I love how we approach the Chase from on high, first seeing the snow lying “white and shining over the pleated hills,” and then the bundled-up men clearing the road, who fear “the wolves, grown savage and reckless with hunger.” As we draw still closer, we see the house itself, a glowing bastion against “the sombre sighing of the wind and the hideous howling of the wolves without.” And that’s only one of many fabulous winter scenes in the book, which include the deliciously dangerous one where Bonnie and Sylvia skate at dusk in pursuit of Miss Slighcarp, only to find themselves pursued by the wolves.'

I am feeling really cold now and need to go and read by the fire. So, I, (Keely Parrack) will leave you with one of my favorites, THE CHILDREN OF GREEN KNOWE, which I cannot really believe isn't absolutely true and so am still wary of calling it fantasy! 'In the moonlight the frozen meadows looked like sheets of frosted glass and the river like gold...'

Now, tell us, what are your favorite Winter scenes?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

You like THE HOBBIT? My book is exactly like that!

There's this fun game we play at Comic Con when pitching our books to potential readers. Find out what they like, and explain how our book is exactly like their favorite book. And what better book to compare against than THE HOBBIT?

So below I give you a holiday shopping guide from the Inkies. For all those fans of THE HOBBIT who can't wait for the movie to come out, here are the many ways our books are exactly like this classic.


P. J. Hoover
How is SOLSTICE like THE HOBBIT? Let's see...the weather gets bad in THE HOBBIT and the weather gets really bad in SOLSTICE.

Erin Cashman
THE EXCEPTIONALS is like THE HOBBIT because Claire Walker finds herself trapped in a cavern deep beneath a mountain, like Bilbo Baggins, and like Bilbo she has to use her wits to escape.

Mike Jung
GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES is like THE HOBBIT because there's a scene where a couple of characters travel underwater inside a giant robot head, which isn't exactly like traveling down a river inside a barrel but I got nothing else and I like the Hobbit game, I WANNA PLAY THE HOBBIT GAME...

Lisa Green
THE BINDING STONE is like THE HOBBIT because Jered finds a magic ring that causes all sorts of problems.

Hilari Bell
THE KNIGHT & ROGUE books are like THE HOBBIT, because this is what Fisk thinks when Michael proposes that they go on an adventure:  A glorious adventure.  In other words, a disaster in the making. 

Lena Coakley
WITCHLANDERS is like THE HOBBIT because Ryder must go under a mountain to find the dark secrets hidden there.

Anne Nesbet
A BOX OF GARGOYLES is like THE HOBBIT (and, for that matter, a little like certain episodes of DR. WHO) because it contains scary stone statues that look like they might recently have been doing some moving around....

Ellen Booraem
TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD is like THE HOBBIT because the main character is a fearful homebody who ends up traveling way, way out of his comfort zone. And he finds his courage there!

Dawn Metcalf
INVISIBLE is like THE HOBBIT because Joy, like Bilbo, must face down a seemingly unstoppable foe in order to get back to a peaceful life.

William Alexander
My book GOBLIN SECRETS is like THE HOBBIT because goblins.

Miriam Forster
CITY OF A THOUSAND DOLLS is like THE HOBBIT because it has talking animals. :)

Katie Carroll
ELIXIR BOUND is like THE HOBBIT because it is a there and back again tale of Katora and her companions going into a dangerous forest on a mission and having to find their way back home.

Keely Parrack
SNOWPOCALYPSE is like THE HOBBIT because a small ragtag group has to face harsh weather and multiple foes as they battle their way through the mountains.

So there you go! All the many ways our books are exactly like THE HOBBIT! Enjoy reading and enjoy the movie!


P. J. Hoover is the author of the dystopia/mythology YA book, SOLSTICE (Tor Teen, June 2013), the upcoming Egyptian mythology MG book, TUT (Tor Children's, Winter 2014), and the middle-grade SFF series, THE FORGOTTEN WORLDS BOOKS (CBAY, 2008-2010). You can read more about her and her books on P. J.'s website or blog.


Monday, December 9, 2013


In celebration of the release of THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG on December 13th, we here at the Inkpot (HOBBIT loving fans ourselves!) have a quiz to test your knowledge of the book, and refresh your memory before the big release! 

We will choose 5 winners and each winner will receive a signed copy of a book from an Enchanted Inkpot Author! And come back tomorrow, as we discuss how our books are like THE HOBBIT in a very fun post!
And here are thirteen Questions, one for each Dwarf, and because the movie comes out on December 13th:

1. What is Bilbo’s mother’s name?  
2. What was the rumor about the Tooks? 
3. How many are in the company, and of what races?   
4. What does Bilbo decide to call 
his sword?
5. What is the color of Bilbo’s Sword when enemies are close?
6. Where does the company first encounter the Elves?
7. What is the riddle that Bilbo stumps Gollum with? 
8. What mountain are the Dwarves trying to reclaim? 
9. Who discovers the Arkenstone? 
10. What special item does Thorin give to Bilbo from the treasure, that is featured again in LOTR? 
11. Who kills Smaug? 
12. After Smaug is defeated, what two races might go to war with the Dwarves over the treasure?
13. Who takes the Arkenstone from Thorin?

The first five people to get all questions right win! (Hint - if you're stumped, the answer to some of the questions may be found in our Hobbit read along posts of last year) You will be asked to pick your first, second and third choice from one of the following books (in alphabetical order by author) donated by Inkpot members. The book will be signed by the author and mailed to you. Good Luck - and remember to come back tomorrow!

THE LAST KNIGHT, by Hilari Bell 
Need a Hero? You've got one in Sir Michael Sevenson. Although there hasn't been a knight errant in over two hundred years, this young noble has decided to revive the trade. He's found himself a reluctant partner in Fisk, a clever rogue who has been given the choice of serving as Michael's squire or going to jail for a very long time. Now Michael and Fisk are on a quest to right wrongs, protect the innocent, and make the world a happier place. It's not going to be easy. On their first attempt at rescuing a damsel in distress, they break a lady out of a tower, only to discover she was there for good reason: awaiting trial for poisoning her husband. Now the would-be heroes must find Lady Ceciel and return her to justice or be condemned themselves

A Kirkus Starred Review
Conor O’Neill always thought spiders—and his little sister, Glennie—were the worst kind of monsters life had in store. That was before an inexperienced young banshee named Ashling showed up in his bedroom. The arrival of a banshee, as Conor soon learns, means only one thing: Someone in his family is going to die. Not only will Ashling not tell him who it is, it turns out that she’s so fascinated by the world above that she insists on going to middle school with him. The more Ashling gets involved in his life, the harder it becomes to keep her identity a secret from his friends and teachers—and the more Conor worries about his family. If he wants to keep them safe, he’s going to have to do the scariest thing he’s ever done:  Pay a visit to the underworld. If only there were an app for that.

THE EXCEPTIONALS, by Erin Cashman 
A Bank Street College of Education Best Book of The Year, 2013
In a famous family of exceptionally talented people, fifteen-year-old Claire Walker is ordinary . . . or so she leads everyone to believe. Yet the minute she steps out of line, her parents transfer her to Cambial Academy: the prestigious boarding school that her great-grandfather founded for students with supernatural abilities, or “specials”. Although Claire can’t see ghosts or move objects with her mind like the other students, she does have a special she considers too lame to admit: she can hear the thoughts of animals. Just as she is settling in, one by one the most talented students – the Exceptionals – go missing. After years of ignoring her special gift, Claire decides the time has come to embrace her ability . . . before it’s too late.

WITCHLANDERS, by Lena Coakley 
A high fantasy full of swords, snow monsters, and singing magic. Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Publisher's Weekly Starred Reviews. High in their mountain covens, red witches pray to the Goddess, protecting the Witchlands by throwing the bones and foretelling the future. It’s all a fake. At least, that’s what Ryder thinks. He doubts the witches really deserve their tithes—one quarter of all the crops his village can produce. And even if they can predict the future, what danger is there to foretell, now that his people’s old enemy, the Baen, has been defeated? But when a terrifying new magic threatens both his village and the coven, Ryder must confront the beautiful and silent witch who holds all the secrets. Everything he’s ever believed about witches, the Baen, magic and about himself will change, when he discovers that the prophecies he’s always scorned— Are about him.

Nisha was abandoned at the gates of the City of a Thousand Dolls when she was just a child. Now sixteen, she lives on the grounds of the isolated estate, where orphan girls apprentice as musicians, healers, courtesans, and, if the rumors are true, assassins. Nisha makes her way as Matron’s assistant, her closest companions the mysterious cats that trail her shadow. Only when she begins a forbidden flirtation with the city’s handsome young courier does she let herself imagine a life outside the walls. Until one by one, girls around her start to die. Before she becomes the next victim, Nisha decides to uncover the secrets that surround the girls’ deaths. But by getting involved, Nisha jeopardizes not only her own future in the City of a Thousand Dolls—but her own life. 

 THE BINDING STONE, by Lisa Gail Green 
Tricked into slavery by the man she loved, the Djinni Leela has an eternity to regret her choices.

Awakened in the prison of her adolescent body, she finds a new master in possession of the opal that binds her. But seventeen-year-old Jered is unlike any she's seen. His kindness makes Leela yearn to trust again, to allow herself a glimmer of hope. 
Could Jered be strong enough to free her from the curse of the Binding Stone?

Benjamin is different from other kids—he can read minds and use telekinesis. But it isn’t until he’s sent to summer school on a hidden, underwater continent that he learns the truth. 

It turns out, Benjamin isn’t really human at all—and the powers he thought made him special, just make him normal. But then the mysterious Emerald Tablet chooses him as its champion and he’s thrust into a mission to save the world.

Thanks for entering and see you tomorrow!

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Gift of Fantasy

 The fantasy that gave me the greatest gift was Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series.  I was in first grade, and every few days I’d check out a stack of picture books limited only by the need to get my hands underneath it and my chin on top.  One day the school librarian handed me The Book of Three.

“I think you’d like this,” she said.

“I don’t know,” I said.  (Just like every kid in the universe confronting their first novel.)  “It’s awfully thick.”

“Give it a try.”  And she smiled.

So I opened that thick intimidating book and started to read, and fell into a real, long, dense story for the first time in my life.  I think I lived in Prydain more than I did in the real world for the next few years.  If Mrs. Burris had handed me some other book, a mystery for instance, I might not be a fantasy writer today.  Or even a writer today.  So that’s the fantasy that’s given me the greatest gift.  (And thanks to Mrs. Burris, too!)

                                                                        --Hilari Bell

From Elizabeth Bunce:

For me, it came about ten years ago when I read Sharon Shinn's ARCHANGEL for the first time. I had spent so many years reading To Learn the Craft, to soak up knowledge and study storytelling techniques, that reading had become more work for me than pleasure (although I didn't realize it at the time). I had lost sight of one of the most important things: Reading should be fun. But Archangel swept me away like no book had in years. I picked it up, dove in, and before I knew it, five chapters were past, and I REMEMBERED. Shinn brought back that sense of reading for pure delight that I had lost somewhere along the line. I've said that this is one of the most important lessons I've ever learned as a writer... but it's also the greatest gift: the reconnection to the experience of reading a great book for the pure joy of it. Thank you, ARCHANGEL!

From Erin Cashman:

For me, it was Lord of the Rings. I was having a hard time my freshman year in high school - 3 middle schools all joined together, and I found that my good friends were hanging out with another group of girls -- and one of the girls decided I was not welcome. One night I started reading Lord of the Rings, and instead of worrying or crying (as I had been doing every night) I completely forgot about my troubles and was swept up in the story. I read it straight through -- claiming a stomach ache and missing the next two days of school. For some reason, when I returned to school I didn't care that much anymore (maybe it was simply that a mean girl is not so scary when compared with the Nazgul!) and I sat at lunch with two girls I didn't know, who became good friends. I realized then the power of a good book - and the ability it has to transport the reader to a new world, away from the issues and problems of every day life. Lord of the Rings inspired me to
become a writer, and even to this day when I feel down, my escapism is often found in the pages of a fantasy novel.

From Dawn Metcalf:

I'd consider "starter" fantasy books like BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA by Katherine Paterson, PROTECTOR OF THE SMALL by Tamora Pierce, DRAGONSONG by Anne McCaffery and, of course, HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE by J.K. Rowling can start a lifelong love of fantasy books!

For old folks like me, I love transportive, quirky and somewhat shadowy fantasy and I'd give THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern, THE DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE by Laini Taylor, NEVERWHERE by Neil Gaiman or THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE by Audrey Niffenegger.

(And if kids are darker like me, then I'd probably wrap up a copy of HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE by Diana Wynne Jones, ARTEMIS FOWL by Eoin Colfer or our own William Alexander's GOBLIN SECRETS!)

From Pippa Bayliss:

I consider every fantasy novel I've ever read as a gift which isn't very helpful to you for your TOTW :) but what stands out as a particularly special novel to me was Roald Dahl's 'Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator'. It's the sequel to the better known 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' and an old dilapidated copy found its way into my hands. My son was a reluctant reader so I started reading it to him out loud at bedtime. He loved it. Even though it was so old and strange, it became one of his favorites., and he'd make me repeat any parts that involved the 'vicious knids' - no silent 'k'. Just the sound of k-nids made him laugh and that alone gave us both a gift that I'll always cherish.

From Will Alexander:

I don't know if this counts, since it isn't a fantasy novel, but my first thought is Lewis Hyde's The Gift: a book-sized essay about the role of art and the artist in society. It's made up of the same raw material as a fantasy novel, given that it's filled with folk and fairy tales, and it's a boon to any artist trying to sort out their own gifts and how best to use them. (Hyde's Trickster Makes This World is also very, very good, but given the focus on trickster figures that one commits gleeful theft rather than offering presents.)

Let me try again with an actual fantasy novel. When I took over reading bedtime stories to my youngest sister, we first picked up The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. That was a gift, I suppose. "I loved this, and I think you'll love it, so here. Let me read it to you." It utterly failed as a bedtime story, though. We didn't sleep at all. We just read straight through until dawn, and finished The Dark is Rising while the sun was rising.

From Ellen Booraem:

One marathon weekend in the dregs of high school, THE LORD OF THE RINGS opened a new world for me. And I don’t mean just Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth—I mean the universe of fantasy written for anyone older than ten. My parents weren’t fantasy readers, so up to that point my experiences with speculative fiction consisted of fairy tales, Pooh, and a couple of other books distinctly written for younger crowd. I had no idea that you could give up childish things and still read about dragons and elves. Imagine how the top of my head blew off when I met Bilbo. And Gandalf! In fact, I barely slept that weekend—read the entire trilogy, day and night, stopping only for meals and to exchange a word or two with my long-suffering parents. Thank you, Professor Tolkien.

So tell us, what fantasy story has been a “gift” to you?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Jennifer Nielsen is the author of BEHIND ENEMY LINES, the sixth book in THE INFINITY RING SERIES: (From Scholastic’s press release 12/20/11)  History is broken, and a long-feared Cataclysm seems imminent. The capital of the United States is Boston. Lincoln’s face is nowhere to be seen on Mount Rushmore. Everyone’s buzzing about the French royal wedding. And an international group of men and women known as the SQ is more powerful than kings, richer than nations, and more fearsome than armies. When best friends Dak Smyth and Sera Froste stumble upon the key to time travel – a hand-held device known as the Infinity Ring – they’re swept up in a centuries-long secret war for the fate of mankind. Recruited by the Hystorians, a secret society that dates back to Aristotle, the kids learn that history has gone completely, and disastrously, off-course. Now it’s up to Dak, Sera, and teenage Hystorian-in-training Riq to travel back in time to fix the “Great Breaks”… and to save Dak’s missing parents while they’re at it. 

From the Goodreads Summary of Book Six: BEHIND ENEMY LINES:
Fix the past. Save the future.
Dak, Sera, and Riq involve themselves in one of the most bizarre spy missions in history . . . and the outcome of World War II hangs in the balance.

And now, it is my great pleasure to introduce fellow inkpot member, and one of my favorite authors, Jennifer Nielsen!

I really enjoyed BEHIND ENEMY LINES, Jennifer, and the fascinating history behind it! I had never heard of Operation Mincemeat before.  Can you tell us more about it?

I think this is one of the great spy stories of all time, possibly because the idea was conceived by one of the greatest spy novelists, Ian Fleming (creator of James Bond), who was then working in Britain’s spy department. Fleming’s idea was to get a dead body, give him a fake background as a military officer, plant fake battle plans on him, and then get him into Germany’s hands. Which is a great idea…for a novel. Once you get into the practicality of actually pulling this off, it becomes much more difficult. Where do you find a body (with no discernable cause of death so that you can insert your own “fake” cause, unknown to the world in case of a background check, and at the right age for an officer)? How do you build the backstory for his life, including the last few days of his fake life? And how to you get him into enemy hands while all the time trying to make it look as if you’re trying to keep that body out of enemy hands? Operation Mincemeat was incredibly risky for the allies. If we succeeded, we had a chance of winning the war, but if we failed, it could have been our last stand.

That is a great spy story! When you think about all of the different pieces, as you point out, it’s amazing that it actually worked!  THE FALSE PRINCE and THE RUNAWAY KING are two of my favorite books, and I’m sure that your fans will love this book, too, which is also filled with suspense, intrigue, and people who are not always what they seem. Is that what drew you to this particular story in the series?

I think I’m drawn to dangerous stories, and characters who are willing to risk everything for the things they believe in. In THE INFINITY RING, these characters are already dealing with a lot – one with missing parents, another with parents who might not be who they seemed, and the third who must come to terms with what this changed history will mean to his own life. But on top of this, in BEHIND ENEMY LINES, they also come to the realization that not succeeding will mean the end of freedom in the modern world.

That is one of the things that I love about the INFINITY RING SERIES, the books really makes history come alive. So many times, kids memorize dates and important people and battles, but they don’t really understand how important the past is to the present, and to the future.  Have you always been interested in history?

I actually minored in history in college (though I confess, it was largely because I had taken so many AP history classes in high school that it only required two more classes to get the minor), and as an adult I enjoy it even more. The better I come to understand history, the more I understand today’s world, and can predict tomorrow’s. As I see the world repeating mistakes of the past, I wish kids were taught more of history, so that we could avoid the pitfalls of our ancestors.

I agree entirely. I've noticed that some of my kids teachers are assigning historical fiction as part of the curriculum. It’s a great way to make history – and the lessons it teaches us -- more real.  Although this is a great historical time-travel story, my favorite thing about the book is the friendship between Dak, Sera and Riq. Since the series is written by six different amazingly talented authors, was it challenging for you to write a book where the characters were already developed?

All of the Infinity Ring authors met together very early in the process and discussed what we would like to see happen for the overall story arc. Part of that included our collective wishes for the relationships between these characters. Dak and Sera were already best friends, and we liked the idea of testing that relationship. As the newcomer, Riq already felt on the outside, and he and Dak were competitive from the start. I love the way they gradually come to trust and rely on each other – even if neither of them will admit it aloud, it’s a great friendship. I think that as fun and adventurous as this plot is, the bottom line for all readers is we want to get to know great characters.

That must have been such an interesting process! Dak and Riq do have a great relationship. Even though you all collaborated from the beginning, as I read this book I thought Yes! This is a Jennifer Nielsen book – it’s fast paced, with plenty of twists and turns, and snappy dialogue. Did you find yourself running into ideas by one of the other authors?

Because we had all formed the overall character arc together, there wasn't really a problem of running over anyone else’s ideas. Each author coming up the line was very communicative to the later authors about their plans. In fact, one of my favorite parts of this process was getting to work with these other creative, talented writers, and have the privilege of picking up their story threads to continue them in my book.

What are you working on now?

The third book of the Ascendance series, THE SHADOW THRONE, will release in February (I’m so excited for that!). I've also started work on my next series, called THE PRAETOR WAR, which involves an escaped Roman slave, some stolen magic, and a fight to prevent the fall of Ancient Rome. It’s epic in scale and will take readers through all the best parts of that great civilization. I hope that by the time people finish the series, they will feel as if they have stepped back from actually being there.

I can’t wait for THE SHADOW THRONE! And THE PRAETOR WAR series sounds fantastic!  Ancient Rome is such a fascinating time period – I’m really looking forward to reading it! Speaking of stepping back in time, if you could go back in history and change one thing – what would it be?

There are so many great tragedies in history, so many senseless deaths from bad choices, evildoers, or simple mistakes. One of the issues we had to deal with in the Infinity Ring series is, if the kids are holding this time travel device, why don’t they go back and fix these tragedies? Why not stop Hitler as a baby, warn the Titanic before it sets sail, foil the assassinations of Lincoln or Kennedy, or use our knowledge of the past to make things right? But what we decided is that with all its good and bad, history unfolds as it should. Fixing one tragedy may only spawn another, like a butterfly effect. That’s only theory, of course. I would like to think that in any time in which I found myself, I would try to make the world the best place it can be. I would hope that’s what I do now, in my own time.

And now, a few questions for our readers to get to know you better!

Favorite Book: Too many from which to choose. But the most important book in my history is THE OUTSIDERS by S.E. Hinton. It’s the book that first got me writing.

Favorite Quote: “A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because her trust is not on the branch, but in her own wings. Always believe in yourself.” – Author Unknown

Favorite Food: Sweet and Sour anything (well, not anything, but you get the idea)

Favorite Ice Cream: Peppermint Stick

Favorite Place: Home 

Thanks so much, Jennifer!

Jennifer Nielsen's book, THE FALSE PRINCE was number 2 on YALSA's Teen Top Ten list, and the second book in that series, THE RUNAWAY KING, has been nominated for Goodreads' Best of 2013 in the category of Middle Grade and Children's. If you want to see all the other nominees (or cast a vote), you can look here:

Monday, November 18, 2013

TOTW: Why is there far more speculative fiction in YA series than straight up contemporary situations?

Hi, Everyone! It's Martina with a new Topic of the Week. And the topic today is series fiction.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about series lately. I have a trilogy launching in 2014, for one thing, but I'm also part of a group of authors who are starting up a new blog devoted to YA series, YA Series Insiders. And of course, I read series. Since I mostly read what I like to write, and visa versa, it means I'm primarily reading speculative fiction series, but I also throw in historicals and series about worlds so far removed from mine that they may as well be speculative fiction. That got me thinking about how few series there really are that don't include huge elements of world-building. And being that I have a group of experts to draw from, I figured I would ask my fellow YASI authors why that is--and then throw the question open to the speculative fiction authors and readers here on the Enchanted Inkpot.

Here is what our YASI members said:

Jennifer Armentrout

To me, it's the escape that speculative fiction provides. You can fall into a new world, a new society, meet new creatures, and experience the impossible. Who can't resist that.

Nina Berry

When the genre allows the writer to change the rules of the world, as speculative fiction does, they can allow teens to have more agency, to free them from adult authority to be the heroes of the story. When you leap beyond the ordinary world, you give the reader permission to believe a teen protagonist could have many adventures. As the series continues, you can expand on the fantasy setting to give your protagonist more stories to star in.

Which isn't to say you can't have contemporary (or historical) series, because of course you can. I do! But in a realistic setting, teens have a harder time flouting the rules and avoiding adult intervention. So you have to be very creative and careful to justify the teen's ongoing adventures or your audience won't believe them.

Anne Blankman

I think many of us read to escape. We want our characters to have problems, but not necessarily our kinds of problems. Reading about characters struggling with weighty life-or-death issues, but in a world unlike ours, lets us slip away from our own lives for awhile.

Martina Boone

I think that teen readers these days have so much pressure and so many challenges facing them every day that it is nice to plunge into a world that's completely different from their own. I know *I* I feel like that. And whether a series is straight up fantasy, or dystopian, or paranormal, or historical, or contemporary about super wealthy characters or art thieves or girl spies, what all these series share is a depth of world building that allows readers to become immersed in that world, to fall in love with characters whose way of life is very different, and to feel like they have stepped out of their own worlds for a while to become part of something bigger, greater, more exciting. That can happen in single titles, too, of course. But with a series, anyone who is that invested in the book's world can simply pick up the next book in the series and be back in that magical place again. How wonderful is that?

Lee Bross (Lanie Bross)

Escapism. I think maybe sometimes, contemporary hits too close to home. It's real in a sense. But when you read speculative fiction, you get to go to other worlds, fantastical places, or even stay in your own world but with cool powers or creatures or something that takes you outside what you normally live. And let's face it, there is always a chance that the world will be overrun by zombies or werewolves or vampires, so maybe speculative fiction is our way of knowing what to do if that happens!

Tracy Clark

I think it’s difficult—not impossible—for a contemporary story to have a unique hook, especially one that will carry through an entire series. In my mind, contemporaries are one slice of life’s loaf, if you get me. They are often “quiet” but powerful books that can be told as a stand-alone.

Bree Despain

I love both speculative and contemporary fiction equally. But I think the reason there are more successful speculative series than contemporary is because there are simply MORE speculative fiction series. The scope of contemporary story-lines often lend themselves to stand-alone novels, were speculative fiction often has so much going on with the mythology and world building, that there are more story avenues, characters, and larger scale issues to be delved into over the course of several books. Often it takes more than one book just to be able to properly tell the full story when dealing with speculative fiction, and in the meantime, readers become involved in the story-line and characters and eagerly snap up the next installment.

Claudia Gray

There are of course fantastic contemporary series - Gayle Forman, hello! -- but I think speculative fiction lends itself beautifully to series because the worlds and mythologies get more room to expand. In a series, the author can introduce new elements of their mythology or created society, allowing the reader to learn more in every installment. IMO, Suzanne Collins handled this beautifully in "The Hunger Games." The original book taught us about District 12, the Capitol and the Games themselves. In "Catching Fire," we got a larger look at Panem and its power structure, and finally, in "Mockingjay, we learned what might lie beyond Panem's power. Speculative fiction sometimes needs that room to fully explore a brand new world.

S.E. Green (Shannon Greenland)

Because it's an escape from reality. The chance to leave this world and enter some place new. It allows the imagination free reign.

Kimberley Griffiths Little
Teens love being able to read about their favorite characters beyond the pages of a single book. How often do we wish for more beyond The End? And how often do these speculative books feed a teens (or our!) need to vicariously *become* Princess of the Vampires or Lord of the Zombies?
When it come to speculative vs contemporary, YAs want escape from the real world and, with no offense to contemporary literature, they get more of an escape in a speculative world. They want to be able to visualize and pretend that they can be part of a newer, bigger world. They want the possibility of their childhood fairytales coming to life. They want the possibility of a romance that no one else could possibly have. One that is unique and special and fantastical. That’s the main reason I think Twilight was such a big seller; because Bella had a dangerous relationship with a vampire, and readers wanted to experience that themselves.

Sara Raasch

Wow, good question! I, for one, love the escapism that comes through speculative fiction, and I've never felt that same result from contemporary (not that contemporary isn't good, it just provides a different type of release). I think that's why many other people turn to speculative more frequently too -- to get a break from this oft-intense world in a completely unique way.

What do YOU think?

What kinds of series do you like, and why do you think the number of realistic stories made into series is so relatively small? Do you always finish a series if you liked the first book? Or do you find yourself moving on before the next book is published?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Interview with Matthew J. Kirby of THE LOST KINGDOM

From the Goodreads summary: A remarkable adventure by award-winning author Matthew J. Kirby brings a fantastical American West filled with secrets and spies and terrifying creatures to vivid life.

In this extraordinary adventure story, Billy Bartram, his father, and a secret society of philosophers and scientists venture into the American wilderness in search of the lost people of the Welsh Prince Madoc, seeking aid in the coming war against the French. Traveling in a flying airship, the members of the expedition find their lives frequently endangered in the untamed American West by terrifying creatures, a party of French soldiers hot on their trail, and the constant threat of traitors and spies. Billy will face hazards greater than he can ever imagine as, together with his father, he gets caught up in the fight for the biggest prize of all: America.
THE LOST KINGDOM is an epic journey filled with marvelous exploits, courage and intrigue, and a bold reimagining of a mythical America. Matthew J. Kirby brings his signature storytelling prowess and superb craft to this astonishing story of fathers and sons, the beginnings of a nation, and wonder-filled adventure

It is a great honor to welcome Matthew to the Enchanted Inkpot today. Let’s dive in…

Matthew, compare this book to your other releases, ICEFALL and THE CLOCKWORK THREE. Generally speaking, what will readers find in THE LOST KINGDOM that they’ve loved from your previous works, and what is new territory for you? (No American West pun intended, of course!)

Ha! In that case, I’ll forgo the “new frontiers” metaphor I was going to use and simply say that I tend to have a wandering attention span when it comes to my books. All my stories thus far have been very different from one another in terms of setting. 19th century America, ancient Norway, Golden Age Baghdad. THE LOST KINGDOM took me to a fantastical Colonial America, which was a tremendous amount of fun. But whether I’m writing about an orphaned busker, a Viking princess, or a colonial botanist, I believe people have a lot more in common than differences. Deep down, we all have the same loves, fears, and joys. If I’m trying to pin down a commonality in all my stories, it would be the fact that I love people, and I love writing people, and I hope that comes through in my books.

THE LOST KINGDOM draws heavily on an alternate history of the American West to merge with a
myth (or fact?) of the Welsh Prince Madoc. Can you tell us a little about him, and why his story fascinates you? Do you think it’s true?

According to the legend, Madoc was a 12th century Welsh prince who sought to escape a war fought among his siblings. He sailed to the Americas, where he founded a colony. The legend acquired the most fame during the Elizabethan era, but colonial Americans believed it. Stories of Welsh-speaking Native Americans prompted the governor of Virginia to offer backwoods traders a reward for proof of their existence from the frontier. Thomas Jefferson asked Lewis and Clark to make contact with them in their trek across the continent. We know the whole story was likely cooked up as a piece of propaganda to promote England’s prior claim to the Americas, but it took on a life of its own. I think that’s what fascinated me. Something about the story captivated colonial Americans. I take on the question of why in the book.

You released a second book on the same day – the fifth book in the INFINITY RING series, CAVE OF WONDERS, which is an awesome book (shameless plug here: once you’ve read this and loved it, check out Book 6: BEHIND ENEMY LINES. The author tells me it’s terrific! ;-) ) What can you tell us about this?

Working on the INFINITY RING series has been a ton of fun, hasn’t it? I love history now, but that wasn’t always the case. When I was younger, “history” meant names and dates, mere cold facts. As I grew older, I realized that history is much more than that. It’s the story we tell about ourselves. It’s how we make sense of who we are and how we got here. The premise of the INFINITY RING series explores this in a way that brings key points in history alive. Readers see how our world might be changed if events had happened differently. Book five takes place at the end of Baghdad’s Golden Age, on the eve of its destruction by Genghis Khan’s grandson.

What’s coming up next for you?

In a few months, on January 28th, I’ll be kicking off a new series called THE QUANTUM LEAGUE. It’s a magical crime saga, and the first book, SPELL ROBBERS, is a pretty classic heist novel. Think Ocean’s Eleven with magic. Fast-paced, with lots of twists and turns and double-crosses. Once again, it’s a real departure from my previous projects, but I love taking on ideas that are new and different.

Quick questions here:

Summer or Winter?


Must-see place before you die?

Man, I love to travel. It would be impossible to pick just one place, but I’ll say the Lascaux Caves. To stand there and connect with history that deep? I can only imagine how profound that would be.

Irresistible snack?

Grape Hi-Chews

The last movie you saw and loved?

GRAVITY. Absolutely brilliant.

You can find Matthew online here or read more about THE LOST KINGDOM here. This one is definitely worth checking out! 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Fall YA Fantasy Covers: Gorgeous & Eerie

Fantasy covers for a young-adult audience tend to go with the flow—specifically, flowing dresses and hair. This year’s gorgeous fall covers have some of that—okay, a lot of it—but most of those we collected go off in various cool directions.

LOTS of cool directions.  Early on, we despaired of finding any common themes at all.  But then we looked closer and noticed . . . The Bare Shoulder. 

Yes! *fist pump*

These stunning covers are from books with pub dates between July and December 2013. We defined “young adult” as written for teens 12 and older.

The covers start after the "read more" jump. As always, if we missed one you wish we’d caught, please link to it in the comments. And—as always—we want to know your favorites!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

November Shamelessness

Greetings Inkies! We have some fantastic shamelessness to share with you today!
First of all, teen voters around the country awarded the #2 slot to Jennifer Nielsen's THE FALSE PRINCE for YALSA's Teen Top Ten list. ( The second book in that series, THE RUNAWAY KING, has been nominated for Goodreads' Best of 2013 in the category of Middle Grade and Children's. If you want to see all the other nominees (or cast a vote), you can look here:

And next on our shameless list, Vicky Smith, children’s and teen’s editor at Kirkus Reviews, wrote a blog post about Ellen Booraem who she called “One of the Best Kids’ Writers You’ve Never Heard Of.” She praised TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD and Ellen’s two earlier books for “funny, heartfelt examinations of life’s Big Questions.”  All of Ellen’s books have gotten starred reviews from Kirkus. And may we say that we at the Inkpot wholeheartedly agree with Ms. Smith!

Next Saturday, at the annual conference of the American Association of School Librarians in Hartford, CT, Ellen will join other middle-grade fantasy writers on a panel called “Head in the Clouds, Feet on the Ground: The Role of Fantasy in the Real World.” If you are like me, you are probably wishing you could be there also!

So that's it for the shamelessness this time. Congratulations to Jennifer and Ellen B!!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Interview with Erin Bow, author of SORROW'S KNOT

I am thrilled to be interviewing Erin Bow, whose second book, SORROW'S KNOT (isn't that an awesome title?), was released last week!

Your first book, Plain Kate, was Russian-based fantasy. Your second, Sorrow's Knot, seems (correct me if I'm wrong!) inspired by at least one Native American culture. How do you decide where to go for your inspiration? What comes first, the research or the story?

There's a story behind the setting of Sorrow's Knot.   I met the heroine, Otter, long before I knew much about where she lived.   I knew she lived in a whispery, haunted forest, and that seemed good enough.  I put that forest in the middle of what Diana Wynn Jones called "Fantasyland."  (see:   For a long while Otter and her friends wandered around Fantasyland Forest, picking up horses and swords, but the story wouldn't quite come together.   

Then I visited the Black Hills in South Dakota.   

The Hills -- actually they are small mountains -- are very strange.  The rise up out of the prairie, stoney and literally black, because of the black pine trees that cover them.   Inside the forest there, the light is different, and the air is different.  It's a strange, numinous place, and holy to nearly everyone who's lived in sight of it.  Knowing it was holy it was with some trepidation that I set the story there.  But it felt, that day, as if I'd walked into Otter's world.  

So it was at that point that I stopped and did research.  A LOT of research.  Architecture, gardening, ethnobotany, storytelling, drumming, hunting, foraging, stone knapping, rope making -- there was a lot.  I wasn't trying to make Otter and her people an historically accurate depiction of (say) the Hidatsa (from whom I borrowed the houses and gardens) because when you start with a world where the dead prey on the living and give women (and on
ly women) the power to bind the dead in knots, you don't end up with an historically accurate anything.   But I did try hard not to default to the European, the urban, or the modern.  I tried hard, in other words, to get inside her world and let the story take root there and grow.  

That DOES sound like a lot of research - I'm slightly overwhelmed just reading your list! Do you enjoy research, or do you see it as something you have to do to get into the story (or -- like me – a little of both?)

I do like research -- part of what I really like about writing books is that you get to dig deep into stuff.   I'm the kind of person who goes into a bookstore and sees a gorgeously illustrated 800 page book on things to do with ropes on sailing ships and am just THRILLED that someone knows that much about knots and lashings!  And this, despite getting seasick in bathtubs.  So writing is, in one way, just a channel for me being really geeky.  

On the other hand, every time I write an historical, I swear I will never write another historical.  Ugh, it's ENDLESS.

Did you ever have to/get to go back to the Black Hills to fill in details/descriptions for your story? In that one paragraph, by the way, you managed to add them to my bucket list.)

I have been back, once.  My extended family farms in South Dakota, so the Black Hills are not too far out of the way.  But most of what I've done has been from photos and books, plus some locals and experts who answered questions and gave me assorted lessons.  The acknowledgements list in this book is long. 

Also -- you need to go to the hills!  I didn't even tell you about the buffalo herds!  Or the caves!  

You say you "stopped" to get into the research. How do you know when you've done enough research and you're ready to get back into the story?

It's a paradox, isn't it -- it's hard to know what to research before you write, but hard to know what to write until you do the research.  It's tricky, too, because you want to write too early (because writing is awesome and research is hard) and also want to use research as means of procrastination (because research is awesome and writing is hard).   For me it's always a dynamic balance, nothing quite as clean as stop and start.  There are periods, especially early on, where I do a lot of research and write while knowing that most of the writing may need to go out the window.  There are periods later when I mostly write and leave the research questions on little notecards so that I don't break my own flow.   And at any point that balance may shift, if only briefly.

The real trick for me is to do enough research that the world becomes natural and real, and the story flows from inside the world.   For instance, in my current work-in-progress my characters are on an epic cross-continent horseback journey.  This is a problem for me because when I started the story I'd never been on a horse.  (I have since taken a couple of lessons, and think I really nailed the bit where my protagonist rides for the first time, is awkward and terrified, and later very sore.)   I knew I'd done enough horse-ish research when the horses began to suggest stories.  I stopped moving them around the board and they started to move the novel on their own.  Otter's world is more complicated than that, because the research was so multifaceted, but at a certain point there was the same kind of shift.  

Perhaps not entirely relevant, but hey, it's my interview. So: since you mentioned The Tough Guide to Fantasyland - what's your favorite Diana Wynne Jones book?

They say you never forget your first, and mine was Charmed Life.  Still my favourite, though I usually end up reading the entire Chrestomanci series every time I pick it up.    Also Fire and Hemlock.  And Howl's Moving Castle.  Ummm.  I could start to get carried away here ....  

So could I, so I will resist the temptation to... oh, okay. The Chrestomanci series first, Howl's Moving Castle second, and then... right, RESISTING NOW.

To find out more about Erin and her fabulous book, you can check her out at