The Final Week of Bluecrowne on Kickstarter Begins Today!

Hurry, hurry, hurry! There’s still time, but Bluecrowne is counting on you. Yes, you! If you’ve been thinking about contributing to the campaign, now’s the time. Read on for a reminder of what you have to look forward to as a backer of Bluecrowne, or click here if you don’t need convincing and just need to know where to go to join the fun.

1) The Illustrated Bluecrowne. This is the big reason for the campaign. This is why it can’t be done without you. We are hiring a group of young artists to illustrate the book, each in the style of his or her choosing. They will be paid for their work. There will be around 15 artists creating about 20 pieces of art for The Illustrated Bluecrowne, and their edition will be free or pay-what-you-like, so that their friends and family can share their accomplishments without having to pay to do it.

2) New reading material right away. Backers have already gotten their first bonus short story, The Lock, as a celebration of hitting 50%. The next one comes at 75% ($6000), which is only $1350 away at the time of this writing.

3) Great rewards! The art is going fast, but there’s still one signed Greenglass House print by Jaime Zollars, and I’ve just added four signed prints by Andrea Offermann.

4) Oh, and yeah! A new, full-length, stand-alone novel of historical fantasy. You can read the entire first chapter here.

The campaign ends at 11am on Friday, April 25th. Find more info here, including links to The Illustrated Kairos Mechanism, a video of one of the artists at work, and rewards, rewards, rewards. You know you wanna!

Protected: The Lock (Bonus story for Bluecrowne Backers)

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Novellablog: Final Cover Time!

Without further ado:

Bluecrowne_Cover2

Isn’t it beautiful? As she did with The Kairos Mechanism, Andrea Offermann used hand-cut paper for the silhouetted “ironwork.” Miwako Feuer hand-drafted the title. I sat back and watched them work, because I am useless when it comes to visual arts and design. Thanks to historian and author David Antscherl for making sure we had the correct type, size, and rigging for the cutter in the center image.

Time’s running out for Bluecrowne, though. Only 10 days are left as of this writing (Monday), and we’re only at 50%. Remember that the bulk of the budget goes to hiring young reader artists to create art for the illustrated digital edition. Without the success of the Kickstarter campaign, that won’t happen. So if you’re a fan of fantasy or a fan of kids participating in storytelling, get on over to the Bluecrowne Kickstarter page and do what you can!

 

On Focus and Finishing Things

My kid is about to wake up. I just know it. He’s been out for an hour already. I almost couldn’t bring myself to start this post because I just know he’s going to wake up before I get anywhere. I used to have the whole day for getting things done. Now I have two hours, maybe three, during the day if I’m lucky and Griffin deigns to nap for any length of time, and a couple hours at night if he goes to bed and I decide to give up my run and let Nathan handle dinner (by ordering another takeout meal that I shouldn’t so much as look at, let alone eat, especially if I skip the run).

There’s so little time in the day. It’s been suggested to me that a new baby is a perfectly ok reason to take some time off. The problem is, I don’t want to take time off. If I’m not writing, I turn into a perfectly unpleasant human being. I’m unhappy and stressed and nobody wants to be around me, not even myself. So how to manage what time remains so that some actual writing gets done?

I don’t know. I’m still figuring it out. But here are some things I tell myself that I’m finding really helpful:

1) Be realistic about what you can get done with different amounts of time, and use them accordingly. Save big chunks of time for what takes longest: getting actual words on the page. Don’t use it for knocking items off your to-do list unless your writing for the day is already done. It takes willpower to keep from thinking, this email only requires a quick couple of lines. I can do that first and still have plenty of time afterward to get some writing done. Nope. Avoid the temptation. It never works out like that. What if, God forbid, whoever you’re emailing responds right away? Then you’ve got to reply to the reply, and maybe that takes more than thirty seconds and two sentences, and all of a sudden your time’s up. 

2) By the same token, don’t set yourself up for failure and frustration by trying to squeeze writing time out of every spare second. I can’t write while Griffin’s awake. I just can’t. There’s no point trying. Spend some time in figuring out how your brain works–how well you context-switch, how much time you need to get yourself in the zone (assuming you actually close Twitter and Facebook and try to get yourself in the zone). If you have less than that amount of time, don’t try and force words into it. Do something else. Nullify a potential procrastination thingy or two that might trip you up later, perhaps. Send one email. Wash a few dishes. Get the clutter off your desk so you can focus when you do sit down to write.

3) Allow yourself some time to fritter away. Writing is like anything–if you try to blunt-force your way through things and deny yourself any relief, your brain will rebel at some point. Rewards are good. Breaks are good. Losing an hour to an episode of (fill in your preferred guilty pleasure TV show here) is good–assuming you earned that down time.

SO, assuming you’ve protected a good hour and a half or so in which to get some work done, how do you actually make writing happen before that time’s up? Because the bottom line is, what’s important is adding words–hopefully good ones–to the work in progress. 

1) Hold yourself accountable for your writing the way you hold yourself accountable for whatever else in your life you consider to be your jobWriting may not be your full-time job, but if it’s in any way your job, and especially if it’s something you want in any way to be your career, you have to treat it that way.

2) Set reasonable goals for everyday and stick to them. I can clock 1000 words in an hour if I’m really on my game. Back in the days when I could put a whole eight hours a day into writing, generally I completed about 3000 words a day when I was writing to meet a deadline. On non-deadline writing days, I still expected 1500 words from myself, which I know I can do in two hours if I really focus my energy and attention. Nowadays, I figure on non-babysitter/non-husband days, even if I only manage to sit down and write in the evenings, I should still be able to do 500-1000 words, and that’s what I hold myself accountable for. On babysitting days, I try for a full workday of 3000 words, but I don’t settle for less than 2000. So: know what you can reasonably do and hold yourself accountable.

3) Don’t edit while you write. Don’t read the previous day’s work before you start. Make that a reward for finishing today’s words. Basically, when it’s time to sit down and write, just sit down and write. Check the clock. Jot down the time. Check your starting word count. Jot that down, too. Write for an hour. Write like crazy. Expect to get a thousand words before the hour’s up.

There are tools that can help. Mac Freedom will shut off the internet for the length of time of your choosing. Spadefish lets you track productivity and share it. It also shows you how much time you’re spending on different things, in case you’re like me and tend to be working on more than one thing at once. Even Twitter and Facebook can be helpful, if you can find a few folks to do writing sprints with you. Check in with each other before you start, then check in and report your success at the end of your hour.

These are things I tell myself and tools I use to keep myself from turning into the unpleasant person I become when I don’t get any writing done. What about you? Any tips and tricks and tools to share?

Novellablog: On Swearing in Middle Grade and the Need for It (or Not)

I read three things this week that made me think this might be a post worth writing. One was Patrick Ness’s post in this year’s Battle of the Kids’ Books, in which he had to decide whether Far Far Away or Boxers and Saints would proceed to the next round. Full disclosure: I have not read either of these books, so I can’t comment on whether I agree or disagree on the points he made as they relate to these specific titles, but something he said that resonated with me was this: “I found the book false in the most objectionable way: the teenagers aren’t allowed to be real people.”

Fast forward to yesterday, when I finished reading Aaron Starmer’s The Riverman. Two points of full disclosure here: I consider Aaron a friend and the book’s very much about storytelling and its consequences, so I was probably somewhat predisposed to like the book. Not surprisingly, I loved it. But I also appreciated the fact that the characters who peopled it were painfully real, and full of the flaws and bizarre contradictions and oddball tensions and perceived inadequacies and irrational behaviors that kids aged 12, 13, and 14 are knit from. It so completely brought back the constant fear and tension and uncertainty that I remember acutely from those days, even now at age 37. These kids say things and do things that make me cringe, and that’s before the actual primary (and terrifying) plot gets going. That’s just life for these kids. And it feels true. The stakes feel high before anything even happens. But I’ll tell you what: this is a book that will put some people’s backs up, if they happen to pick it up thinking something like, “Oh, this looks like a nice creepy middle-grade romp.” And by some people, I mean some adults.

I don’t actually remember whether there was any particular use of salty language in The Riverman. There must have been; if not actual swearing, then certainly there were at least occasional discussions of the sorts of untoward subjects that almost-teenaged boys talk about. But let’s go back to Patrick Ness, who definitely called out the use of “zounds” rather than something harsher in Far Far Away as pulling him out of the story. Now, again, while Far Far Away is definitely on my TBR pile, I haven’t gotten to it yet, so I have no opinions on the author’s choice of expletive; this post is not about critiquing Mr. McNeal’s choices. (I am still really, really looking forward to finally reading Far Far Away.) And this is not to argue that every book for kids or teens needs to have heavy cursing, or even cursing at all, in it. Not every book does, which should hopefully be obvious. But when I read Mr. Ness’s comments, I thought immediately of an email I’d gotten from a teacher I’d asked to read a late draft of Bluecrowne when I needed fresh eyes, in which he’d more or less called me out for not letting my protagonist be a real person in a couple moments where I’d reined her in.

On Twitter I said that he’d told me Lucy Bluecrowne didn’t swear enough, but that’s not entirely true (that was my paraphrasing for amusement value). What he did was to point out a couple instances in which I’d pulled my punches when writing Lucy’s responses to things. This is a girl, he pointed out, who would know how to swear. (And boy, is that ever true.) I’d written a couple places where the idea that she wouldn’t have reacted with at least one sharp word was kind of unbelievable. He was kind enough not to put it that way, but he was right.

The challenge, I think, is this: write real kids. It can be put that simply, but it isn’t simple at all, and of course language is just one part of the elusive formula. For many writers who also happen to be adults, it’s easy to err on the side of writing kids either as we see them through our own (not always accurate and not always relevant) memories, or as we want to believe they are. Or, worst of all, we write gentler versions of our young characters because we’re afraid we’ll put people’s backs up if we don’t. 

Some stories are gentle, and this post is irrelevant to those books. Some books are about or for younger kids, and generally this post is irrelevant to those books, too. I’m not suggesting Charlotte’s Web would’ve been improved by some saltier language, I promise you; I’m pretty sure I left the hard stuff out of Greenglass House, for instance, because it just wasn’t called for. And softer language choices are only one way in which we, as writers, sometimes pull our punches. But when writing MG it’s important to challenge ourselves to write real kids, because we’re writing for real kids. It does get tricky sometimes when writing older MG, which sometimes walks the MG/YA line as if it were a tightrope and which sometimes makes adults uncomfortable in the same way kids of that age sometimes make adults uncomfortable. But it’s a challenge worth taking up.

Thoughts for a Thursday. Discuss?

 

Novellablog: Bluecrowne At the One Week Marker

One week down. 30% in the coffers. This is where we are: 40 backers have pledged $2445 towards our goal of $8000. It’s all so exciting! And so many wonderful friends are helping to spread the word through Twitter, Facebook, and their blogs. I can’t thank you all enough. Watching the numbers climb in these first days has been just amazing. You can take a look at the progress here at the Bluecrowne campaign page. As you’ll see, things are looking great, but we still have a long way to go. Original art is going fast, but there’s still time. There are also 3 copies remaining of Jaime Zollars’ signed Greenglass House cover prints. Remember how awesome the Greenglass House cover is? Here it is (picture it without my name and the title). Who doesn’t want that for their wall? I mean, really. I want one for my wall.

ggh__jkt_nospine (1)

 

So what am I, and the rest of the Bluecrowne team, up to during the campaign?

Well, I just turned in the first pass of Greenglass House. This was really exciting, because it’s the first set of editorial notes I’ve gotten since a pretty sizeable rewrite I did right before the Greenglass ARCs were printed. You might figure (and you’d be absolutely right) that my editor would never let ARCs go to press if she wasn’t happy with what I’d done. And yet it’s still an incredible relief to have the notes in your hand and see that they’re mostly about weird comma splices and places where you used the same word three times in two pages. Reviewing and approving and fixing all those edits took about a week and a half.

Meanwhile, Rachel is finishing up editing on Bluecrowne, and Miwako is finishing the titling for the cover, which she decided to hand-draft rather than use an existing font. It looks amazing, and I can’t wait to share the final front cover with you. My next task is to write the back text so that we can lock down the back cover; then it’ll be time to tackle Rachel’s notes and get the text locked, too. In the meantime, I have a few guest posts to tackle for blogs who are helping to pass the word about the Bluecrowne campaign.

I also have some prep to do for three upcoming appearances I couldn’t be more excited for.

On April 14 at McNally Jackson Books I’m honored to be helping, along with fellow author-booksellers Sarah Gerard, Carly Dashiell, Fiona Duncan, and Julie Carlisle, to launch Beth Steidle’s illustrated novel The Static Herd, which is being published this month by Calamari Press. Beth is an author, artist, and designer, and also one of the masterminds behind McNally Jackson’s Espresso Book Machine department. I couldn’t be more excited for Beth, or to be reading alongside the amazing women I’ll be joining. It’s going to be a totally varied group of readers–meaning, and I can’t stress this enough, it’s not a kids’ book event. (I, therefore, am going to have to really think about what I’m going to read. After all, as Madeleine L’Engle said, “If the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” Maybe Walker’s first appearance in The Broken Lands? Everybody likes a villain. Thoughts?) 

In May, I’m joining Aaron Starmer and Laurel Snyder at NESCBWI for a panel on 5/3 called The Blurry Space of Thirteen. This one’s going to be great, and we all think this is a topic that really needs more discussing in the kidlit world. Many of us get our backs up when younger kids’ books get referred to as YA, as if bookstores were shelving Charlotte’s Web alongside The Hunger Games and teachers, librarians, or authors recommending or writing them for the same readers. But even among the books classified as MG, there’s still a huge age range represented. We serve readers as young as 7 and 8 up to 13 and 14, and while we call this entire range middle-grade, these are very different kinds of readers. We’ll be discussing the need for tackling truly thorny issues in MG. I have high hopes for a truly great discussion.

Lastly, on May 17th at 4pm, in honor of the ABA’s Indies First Storytime day, I’m joining a group of 12 middle-grade authors for a dramatic reading from The Phantom Tollbooth at McNally Jackson Books. This is going to be wicked fun, and I hope many of you will come out to join us. The cast includes such luminaries as Adam Gidwitz, Michael Northrop, Natalie Standiford, Matthew Cody, Jeffrey Salane, Courtney Sheinmel, Kekla Magoon, Sophie Blackall, Claire LeGrand. Barbara Marcus of Random House Children’s Books will be narrating as well as moderating a discussion afterwards. Then we’ll all hang around and sign books. It’s going to be great.

Oh, and this weekend my sister and I are running a ten-mile race neither of us precisely trained for. The heckling from our husbands has already begun.

So that’s the report from Milford Command Central! Basically, yay for a great start, but the heavy lifting’s far from over. Thanks to the early supporters! Keep spreading the word, and let’s make this happen!

K

 

 

Novellablog: On Remembering; or, The Care and Feeding of People and Places You’ve Invented

I replied to an email from a reader about a week ago and for one reason or another, in that email I included a list of the notebooks that were in my work bag at that precise time. There were eleven in the bag that day. Here’s the list:

  • 1 for lists and general notes (write blog post today, buy paper towels, pick up laundry, that kind of thing)
  • 3 notebooks with notes for a new project called Border Saints (1 for general ideas and 1 for notes from a certain book I’m using for research and 1 that’s redundant but fits in a pocket)
  • 5 notebooks for Bluecrowne, the next short novel, which I just finished and am revising (1 has notes on every year between 1764 and 1817, 1 has notes on the crews of two different ships, 1 has historical notes and ideas and 2 have general revision notes)
  • 1 notebook I use to track how many new words I’ve written every day
  • 1 blank notebook, in case I get an idea for a brand new project or something

Now, admittedly, eleven notebooks is a little excessive even for me. And to be fair, all of the Bluecrowne-related notebooks are also Left-Handed Fate notebooks (although those aren’t even the complete set of Left-Handed Fate notebooks). And about half of what’s listed there are Field Notes books, so they’re little (thank god for my Field Notes subscription).

But on any given day, I am likely to be carrying at least one notebook for anything I’m actively or even kinda-sorta working on, which always equals at least three projects. Today, for instance, when I went to my branch office (aka my local diner) to work for a few Griffin-free hours, I had three projects represented in my bag: Greenglass House, since I’m working on the first pass; The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book, which is a book of folklore referenced in Greenglass House; and Border Saints, the new thing, which I was be allowed to mess with only while taking a break to order and eat a sandwich.

And yet, all those notebooks, all the notes I make and research I do and keep–I am discovering that none of it keeps me from having to re-do a certain amount of work each time I start working on a new project. Because I can’t keep everything in my head, and because up until now, every project among the seven manuscripts I’ve finished and the eight I consider to be on my active-but-unfinished roster is related to the rest–with the exception of only two. (Those two, in case you’re curious, are Border Saints and a thing called Greensward.) So almost every time, I wind up revisiting something from a previous book.

Now, they’re not all directly related. Not all have to do with Natalie, Sam, Jin, and Jack Hellcoal. But they are all set in a world I have begun to call in my own mind the Walking World, a place peopled with uncanny itinerants called roamers, who include everyone from the denizens of traveling medicine shows to those who’ve faced the Devil in competition to the strange beings called Jumpers to those, like The Broken Lands‘ Sam Noctiluca, who have what the card sharp Al Tesserian refers to as dust on the soles of their shoes.

When you get to know a world through and through, it’s hard not to want to return to it. When you fall in love with your characters–and when they’re characters with long histories–it’s hard not to want to tell as many of their adventures as you possibly can. But that means always being able to bring them back to life as fully as you did the first time. And it means making sure what you’re resurrecting is the same character as before, adjusted for differences in age and circumstance. A lot of this is voice, but it’s way more than voice alone. And I don’t know about anybody else, but I find this very difficult. The first time I had to do this was when Tom Guyot strolled into the Reverend Dram in The Broken Lands. Since then, I’ve had to do it with Natalie (and everybody else in Arcane, including Tom again), Jack, Liao, Liao’s sister Lucy, Liao again, Lucy again…I don’t know, maybe it’s me. I love doing it, but it’s never easy.

There’s also the matter of more simple, everyday consistency between the books. In which leg was Tom Guyot wounded? In which battle did that happen? Does Doc Fitzwater’s cane have an alligator head or a crocodile head? Who’s the purser of The Left-Handed Fate? As I’m typing this, I found an example of what I’m talking about, and I only found it because I just checked to be sure I was quoting Tesserian correctly when I mentioned dust on the soles of one’s shoes. In The Broken Lands, when the term “roamer” is used by Tesserian, it isn’t capitalized. I’m pretty sure we capitalized it in Greenglass House. I will now have to make a note to go back through and check that. 

Then there’s the matter of the stuff I learned for whatever reason and suddenly have to re-learn again. I don’t have the bandwidth to retain for four years everything I learned about waidan and fireworks when I was writing The Broken Lands, but I needed it for Bluecrowne. (This is why I hoard books, I tell myself. At least I know when I suddenly need them years after the project I initially got them for, I’ll still have them.)

So I keep these notebooks. I keep notebooks for every project, and sometimes even for specific ideas if I think I need to devote more space to them than just a few pages in a notebook dedicated to something else. I should really have done that for my notes on the waidan of Liao and Jin, for instance. Live and learn. But even more than that, I’ve started to keep a universal set of notes. It’s not world-building stuff or history. It’s mostly the details: what kind of head tops Doc’s cane; in which leg Tom took a bullet; when I think Jake Limberleg was born, in order to calculate his likely age in 1821. (Yes, Limberleg fans. I know you’re out there. More to come.)

Still, half the time I don’t know what I need to know until I’m knee-deep in a New Thing, so heck if I know if trying to anticipate the kinds of questions that New Thing will require me to remember the answers to will actually help at all. And it certainly won’t help with replicating a character’s voice, or any of the extrapolation that goes into figuring out how Tom Guyot of 1877 is subtly different from Tom Guyot of 1913. But I’ll give it a try. It’s gotta be good for something.

Plus, you know, that’s one more notebook I get to maintain, and I like me a good notebook.

 

It’s Alive! Introducing Bluecrowne.

At last, at long last, Bluecrowne is live on Kickstarter! 

Let me tell you about this story. I’m super-excited about it. I hope you will be, too.

It’s September when the sutler Foulk Trigemine walks into the year 1810 and the Sovereign City of Nagspeake. His mission is twofold: to acquire a particular knife in the shape of an albatross from the a legendary weapons-maker known as the Ironmonger; and, with the help of a peddler called Blister, to locate a special kind of pyrotechnical prodigy known as a conflagrationeer.

Meanwhile, in a brand-new house full of stained glass, Lucy Bluecrowne is about to be marooned. That’s how it feels, at least. Thanks to the threat of war with America on top of the ongoing war with Napoleon, her privateer father has decided it’s time for his family–Lucy, her half-brother Liao, and Liao’s mother, Xiaoming–to live ashore like a pack of landlubbers. And Lucy has never handled being ashore well. 

Then Liao’s genius for fireworks brings him to the attention of Trigemine and Blister, who waste no time in identifying the boy as the conflagrationeer they’ve been seeking. Neither party can afford to lose. With her old life aboard a private ship-of-war about to be gone for good, Lucy has nothing left to fight for but her family. As for Trigemine–not only does his boss, the merchant Morvengarde, not handle failure well, but nobody wants to disappoint the client who’s ordered up the conflagrationeer from him. Morvengarde might be scary, but according to the rumors, not even the Devil wants to tangle with the client.

 

One short novel. 30 days.

Read the first chapter here.

Back the campaign here.

Follow my attempts not to have a nervous breakdown right here at The Clockwork Foundry, and on Twitter.

Bluecrowne in 5…4…3…2…

I’m not going to lie to you. I’m really, really, really nervous. It doesn’t help that the Kairos campaign went so well, because what if, you know? It doesn’t matter that I love Bluecrowne desperately, that the cover is going to be beautiful, that every time I get to return to this world I’m overcome with joy. Because I’m neurotic as hell, I worry about everything, and there is nothing that’s going to make this easy.

Terrified as I am, though, I believe it’s going to be awesome.

Details coming in (checking watch and Kickstarter FAQ page) 48-72 hours.

So…

Watch this space. 

Greenglass House: An Author’s Note

I suppose I should point out the use of “an” in the title. This is not the final text of the Greenglass House author’s note, by any stretch. But the ARC doesn’t have a note at all (chalk that up to Stuff That Didn’t Get Done Due to Griffin) and I’d like to note a few things for the sake of early readers of this book who might be curious about Milo and his family.

In 2011, my husband and I decided to begin the process of international adoption. It wasn’t a question of infertility, something we’ve had to explain now and then since the birth of our first child, Griffin, in 2013, when acquaintances are surprised to find we’re still in the adoption pipeline. The truth is that there were a lot of factors involved in our decision to adopt. We chose China because we had an interest in the culture and history. We began studying, both on our own and with our adoption agency as part of the home study, a required stage of the process. Among the many topics we read about and discussed were questions of identity and family and culture and heritage. If you’ve read my last book, The Broken Lands, you might be thinking now about Jin, and the speech Liao gives her atop the Brooklyn Bridge. It probably won’t surprise you to know that Jin grew from what was supposed to be a secondary character into a main character at the time that Nathan and I were beginning that process.

I began writing Greenglass House in the summer of 2012, and I was still thinking (as I imagine I often will) about adoptive families and what ours might be like. Out of those musings and the many hours of reading and study we spent to prepare for our adoption came Milo and Nora and Ben Pine. I didn’t want the story to be specifically and only about adoption, so it isn’t; just as I don’t imagine the experiences of every child who came to his or her family in this way are forever and always about adoption. However, when I chose the makeup of the family that ran the inn, it meant adoption would be part of the story. A lens—not the only one, but an important one—through which Milo views the world.

No two children are alike, so I have no way of knowing whether our Chinese son or daughter will have the same questions and secret musings that Milo does. But every kid has a birth family, so I know that family will always be part of my kid’s life in some way (even though, as in Milo’s case, the chances of our ever knowing anything about that first mother and father will be very slim). I would be very surprised if he or she didn’t wonder about them at some point. I hope he or she will not feel in any way uncomfortable about those wonderings, and will feel comfortable talking to Nathan and Griffin and I about them. But kids are kids—they’re secretive little critters. They suffer in silence when they shouldn’t have to. So let this book also be a letter to my future kid: We understand. We know. Wonder away. Include us in your wonderings when you want to. Know that we love you. Know that we know you love us, too.

The international adoption process can take a long time. Our first child was born into our family in June of 2013. Although there’s no way to be sure exactly when his little brother or sister from overseas will join the family, it’s likely Griffin will be four or five when that happens. We can’t wait to go to China together, all three of us, to bring home the newest member of our family.

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