On Sensitivity Readers; a Very Long Post

Warning: this is a long post.

There have been a number of articles on sensitivity readers in the last few weeks. Slate ran this one; Huffington Post this one over here; here’s the Washington Post. There are others. Google a few more if you want. Then go to Writing at the Margins, where you’ll find a description of what sensitivity readers do, just in case you weren’t already aware.

I’m a person who believes in sensitivity readers, in the first place because I’m a person who generally believes in having expert readers look over my manuscripts before my I call my books finished, but also because I write for kids. I think when you write for kids, the stakes are, in general, higher than they are if you write for adults, and I believe, basically, in taking the feelings and well-being of my readers into consideration. I don’t think I began my career in middle grade literature feeling quite so strongly about this, by the way–more on that below. But suffice to say, while writing Ghosts of Greenglass House, I made sure to find readers who could look at several aspects of the story that were outside my direct knowledge and experience.

This, by the way, if you read the comments on any of the articles I linked to above, apparently means I caved to excessive political correctness and allowed a bunch of overly-sensitive censors to water down a story that might otherwise have been original. I invite you to please imagine me either laughing my ass off as I type this or reading it with a heavy dose of sarcasm. Because I feel that, as with every other expert reader whose assistance I’ve requested in the course of writing a book, the input of these readers was invaluable. Simply put, their feedback made Ghosts of Greenglass House better. More on that below, too.

A couple weeks ago, I was honored to join Jennifer Baker and Jordan Brown on a panel moderated by Justina Ireland and presented by the Children’s Book Council. The panel was called “A Second Opinion: Utilizing Sensitivity Readers.” The panel was geared towards children’s and young adult publishing professionals who were interested in some best practices for working with sensitivity readers. Jennifer is an editor, author, and sensitivity reader; Jordan is an executive editor at HarperCollins; Justina is an author and maintains the Writing in the Margins website, including a database of sensitivity readers. I was there as an author who’d utilized sensitivity readers. Publisher’s Weekly did a nice write-up of the event; you can read it here. 

After that panel, I was contacted by a correspondent at NPR who was looking for an author who’d used sensitivity readers to answer some questions for a piece that I believe will air tomorrow (Tuesday). [Tuesday edit: Here’s the link to that interview, which also features my dear friend and colleague, author Dhonielle Clayton, as well as author Hillary Jordan.] Because I’m always afraid I’ll sound incoherent or rambly when I’m speaking off the cuff, I made some notes, and because I don’t know what parts of our discussion the NPR piece will ultimately use and because I didn’t wind up saying everything I’d written down, I decided to write my notes up as this post. The headings below are questions I anticipated being asked, followed by what I wrote up to help me organize my thoughts when I answered.

Isn’t this all a bit too much, the idea of hiring people just to avoid being insensitive? And paying them, too?

I do not. I love that sensitivity readers exist, and I am in awe of their generosity. These are people who are willing to share their knowledge and personal, lived experiences with complete strangers in the interests of bringing better stories into the world. And not all of these experiences are pleasant to relive and rehash, which, in addition to compensating basic time and effort, is one reason why paying sensitivity readers is important.

They do this so readers–and since I’m coming to this from the world of young people’s literature, I mean specifically kids–have a chance to see themselves and others like them reflected in books that feel authentic, that value their own feelings and experiences, and that tell those readers that they’re important and worth seeing in literature. I love the generosity of sensitivity readers because not only are they willing to give their time and emotional energy, they’re willing to do this in order to make literature a better place for another generation of readers. They’re willing to deal with the middlemen–authors like me, and all of our errors, assumptions, and ego–in order to make a positive change for strangers they’ll never meet.

And as for being paid–we’re talking about hiring people to do work, and people who do work should get paid. Editors get paid, copyeditors get paid–reading and critiquing a complete manuscript is work, and deserves to be compensated. Full stop.

Why did you feel you needed sensitivity readers for your book?

In Greenglass House and its forthcoming sequel, the main character is a transracial adoptee. In the first book, in addition to solving a mystery, Milo was dealing a bit with questions about his unknown birth parents. In the second book, he’s dealing a bit with the complications of being Chinese in a white family and feeling a bit alienated from his ethnic heritage.

With past books–and in retrospect I wish I’d done this differently–I’ve relied on my own research. And I do have a significant amount of personal experience with the international adoption process–my husband and I have been in the process ourselves for a number of years, and after numerous trainings and homestudies and conferences with social workers, I know that transracial families frequently if not always have to contend with complications about race and heritage. But I have never experienced myself what my character and his family are going through and I wanted to try and be as true to that experience as possible. Because of that, during the revision process of Ghosts of Greenglass House, I arranged for three transracial adoptees from different backgrounds to read the book and give me feedback, as well as two non-adoptee Chinese-American readers and two additional readers looking at other concerns.

I want to write the best possible book I can, and the most accurate book I can. I’m a very good researcher, but even after three years’ worth of preliminary research, when I wrote a book set on a privateer during the War of 1812 I lined up two experts for feedback. In books where I’ve had characters speaking languages in which I’m not fluent, I’ve had experts check my translations. Asking someone to read for perspective when I’m writing outside my own personal experience feels not at all different to me from those things. It’s not that I can’t empathize or do the imaginative work myself; it’s about improving accuracy and adding depth and detail, except I would mind less if someone found an error in how I’ve described a schooner than I’d mind if someone found that I’d been inaccurate or insensitive in writing a transracial adoptee. My inaccuracy isn’t going to hurt the schooner.

Which brings me to the more important point. I write for kids. If I’m going to ask them to go with me on an adventure that might be challenging, might be sad or difficult or frightening, I need them to trust me. I need them to believe that I’m on their side. If I somehow signal to them that maybe I’m not–that maybe I don’t understand them or don’t understand their experiences or that I don’t know what I’m talking about, then at best I’ve lost them. At worst, I risk doing harm.

Yes, harm. You’re free to agree or disagree, but for myself I believe that the way that children see similar kids represented in books can make a difference about how they feel about themselves, and how they understand (correctly or not) the way they fit into the world. I’m perfectly willing to scare a kid (see my published works), but I’d rather err on the side of not making them feel crappy about themselves than they already might. Childhood and adolescence can be pretty brutal to start with. I prefer not to add to it.

So for me, working with sensitivity readers is less about trying not to offend anyone (there’s no way to guarantee against that, because no two people read the same book the same way) and more about a) at minimum actively trying not to do harm to the very vulnerable audience I write for and b) ideally trying to write the best book for them, the one that they can read and think, this book was written for me.

What did you get from the experience?

I was fortunate in that, for Ghosts of Greenglass House, the readers didn’t find any massive, big-picture issues that needed to be addressed. Most of the issues were small and subtle, things that probably never would have occurred to me on my own, based on my own experience.

For instance, this is a sequel, and in reintroducing my main character and his family, I referred to his parents as ‘his adoptive parents.’ This, of course, was accurate, but the readers all felt that, since we were in the POV of the adoptee protagonist, referring to his parents that way felt distancing. I had chosen that phrasing out of convenience, as a way to quickly remind readers of Milo’s family situation, but from the perspective of readers who were also adoptees, that choice undermined the otherwise tight-knit family I thought I’d written. And it was an easy fix. Most of the critical feedback I got was like that–subtle things, but meaningful, especially to young readers and their families who might in some way or other identify with the characters.

And then there were what I’d call missed opportunities–things that the sensitivity readers had personally experienced that they were generous enough to share with me so that I could share them with the characters, or places where they saw the opportunity for me to make a stronger storytelling choice, or one that would resonate more deeply with kids in family situations like my protagonist’s. One reader reminisced about how her family helped her connect with her heritage through food and suggested I might use that to help show Milo’s family encouraging his efforts to connect with his. Another reader suggested I change a character’s name. Her suggestion for a replacement was way better than what I had started with, and because it relied on language fluency I don’t have, I would never have made that choice without her input. Two readers mentioned feeling alienated by family tree projects in elementary school, and with their permission, I gave that experience to someone in the book to share with Milo–after everyone also said they wanted more from that particular character.

Those things added beautifully to the story and made it richer. That’s an important thing to mention: this process isn’t just about someone telling you what you did wrong. It’s about making the story better, and not just for your sake, but for your target readers.

But political correctness! Censorship! Blaaaahhhhh!

Okay, stop. An author can, in fact, write whatever the hell he or she wants. Actual fact. You can write outside your cultural experience or not. If you do, you can hire a sensitivity reader or not, and if you do, you can follow the advice that person gives or not. So for a writer, it really is up to you. Just remember that if you put what you write out into the world, the public has a right to comment on it. There are a lot of good arguments for sensitivity readers. We’ve discussed some of them. But no one’s going to make you do it.

Unless, potentially, you decide to work with a publisher. Because once you sell your book to a publisher, you enter into a partnership, and you aren’t the only one making decisions about that book anymore. That’s just the way it works. If you feel you need to be the only one making decisions about the story you’ve written, and if you don’t look at the story as belonging to anyone but you–and some writers do feel that way, which is their choice–then the traditional publishing model might not be ideal for you. And today there are myriad alternative publishing options and platforms available to writers who want complete control over their projects.

If you do sign with a publisher, and if you the author choose not to worry about a sensitivity reader and the publisher does and this results in a disagreement, then presumably you work together to solve it as you would any disagreement that crops up during the editing process. I mean…that’s kind of what the editing process is about.

And I do think publishers–or at least publishers of books for young readers–should at least think about sensitivity concerns. I think they should utilize sensitivity readers and consider very carefully the feedback those readers give. For one thing, public opinion can impact sales, and using sensitivity readers can help identify potential issues before the book gets to print, which is just better for everyone.

But more importantly than that, in a perfect world, publishers of books for kids should be concerned with more than the bottom line. They should be concerned with doing right by their readers, and doing their best to be sure that the books they publish don’t perpetuate stereotypes or include potentially damaging elements. And even though what constitutes “harmful” is not always a clear-cut matter–look at any book that’s caused any kind of controversy in this way and you’ll find conflicting opinions–I think it’s incumbent upon publishers to think critically and seek informed voices and opinions to aid in making their decisions when in one of those potentially gray areas. The point isn’t to never ever offend anyone ever–because again, impossible–but to do due diligence and make informed editorial decisions before the book goes to print.

And if you’re still reading after all that, hey, thanks.

 

Ghosts of Greenglass House Cover Reveal and Excerpt, Plus The Left-Handed Fate on the Locus Recommended Reading List!

 

9780544991460_lresOh, I am so late on this post, mostly because I’ve been in the thick of finishing a set of revisions for the book itself, but just in case you missed it, Entertainment Weekly was good enough to host a cover reveal for Milo and Meddy’s next adventure, Ghosts of Greenglass House. And here it is!

9780805098006_FCIf you click on that EW link above and scroll past the awkwardly-large picture of my face, you’ll also find an excerpt to tide you over until October 3, when Ghosts of Greenglass House arrives at a bookstore near you. Enjoy! And in the meantime, if you need a little more Nagspeake in your life and you haven’t already picked up my beloved, current favorite-book-I’ve-ever-written, The Left-Handed Fate, what are you waiting for? It’s currently sitting pretty on the Locus Recommended Reading List, in some pretty amazing company.

Happy reading!

 

Introducing The Illustrated Bluecrowne!

Happy holidays, friends! I hope this message finds you and your families well.

Boy oh boy, it’s been a long time coming (and a long time since my last post!), but I am thoroughly delighted to announce that The Illustrated Bluecrowne is ready, just in time to extend the holidays a bit. (Did you know Christmas used to be celebrated on 1/6? Merry Old Christmas!) You can find it here for download, free or pay-what-you-like: https://gum.co/Yieyk

feelslikedyingThis edition of Bluecrowne has been illustrated by twelve young artists of ages ranging from eleven to twenty-two. I could not be more proud to invite you to enjoy their work on this project–their varied styles and varied imaginings of the characters are just delightful and add an entirely new dimension to the book.

caylaxiao2Oh, and obligatory promotional stuff: If you enjoyed Lucy and Liao’s exploits in Bluecrowne, you can now join them on their next adventure in The Left-Handed Fate, which I may have mentioned was released this past August. To my very great shock, the New York Times reviewed it this fall and described it as “Patrick O’Brian’s Captain Aubrey series as seen through the lens of Hayao Miyazaki.” So that happened and was awesome. Hopefully your local bookmonger will have it readily available, but you can always order from my home store of McNally Jackson if you’d like a signed and/or personalized copy.

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Much love to all of you, and to your families. May 2017 be full of happy surprises.

Your friend,

Kate

A Post about Biggest Things

A couple months ago when I thought maybe, maybe if I tried really hard, I’d manage a couple blog posts a week leading up to launch time, I asked some friends what would make good topics, because I am notoriously bad at figuring out what kinds of things might be interesting to the reader who just happens to land here. Dylan Meconis said she’s always interested in what the biggest challenge of a given project is, which got me thinking and ultimately resulted in a very short list of “biggests” related to The Left-Handed Fate. Here it is.

Biggest challenge of the writing (thank you, Dylan!):

I think there were two.

20121127_191625The first was being detailed enough about the nautical elements of the story for it to pass muster with people who love boats and can spot inaccuracies but not so obsessive about nautical stuff that it pulls readers out of the story. I like to use fun vocabulary generally, so using the same tricks that allow you to confidently toss around uncommon and lengthy words in books for kids helped here. It was also really helpful to have one protagonist who isn’t a sailor and hasn’t gotten confident with terminology or architecture or really any of the practicalities of sailing. Any time I figure Max would need something explained or spelled out, I figure a reader will, too (and vice versa).

The second was making the War of 1812 accessible. I loved writing about this war because I think it’s relevant today for a lot of reasons, but if you’d asked me what it was really all about before I started researching I’d have had a hard time answering. It’s not one of the wars you learn much about in school, and it’s not easily reduced to a single memorable issue that sticks in the memory like the American Revolution, the Civil War, or World War 2. Plus, we didn’t win the War of 1812. We got trounced by Canada, fought to maybe a draw, and even the final treaty ignored one of the primary grievances we had with England. And while it was consequential for the United States, the War of 1812 was basically a spoiler conflict happening at the margins of the wars happening in Europe. It’s a fascinating moment, but it was hard to pin down without getting overly lecturey and expositional.

Biggest fear about the book:

9780544052703_hresThis one’s easy, and my friends and family already know the answer. I’m afraid people will be disappointed that The Left-Handed Fate isn’t like Greenglass House. Yes, it returns to Nagspeake, which was a total joy, but it isn’t cozy. It falls somewhere in the space between Greenglass House and The Boneshaker: a little more darkness than Milo’s story, a little more humor than Natalie’s. And there’s a hint of The Broken Lands in there, too, and not just because Liao is a character in both. Folks who’ve read all three of the earlier books (or five, if you count the Arcana companion books) know that Greenglass House is the outlier, but so many more people read Greenglass House than the others, it’s hard not to be worried.

But in the end, if there’s one thing I have learned as a bookseller, it’s that not all books are for all readers. Still, it’s hard to apply that to my own books, when of course I want everyone in the world to love them all, especially the new one that I love to an unreasonable degree–but that’s plainly unrealistic. So this book won’t be for everyone, and that’s okay. And anyway, there’s Ghosts of Greenglass House coming out next year, so that’s comforting, too.

Biggest research problem:

Working out the architecture of the actual vessel called the Left-Handed Fate. But initially I wanted the Fate to be a really oddball vessel that looked nothing like anything else on the water–for those who’ve read Patrick O’Brian, I was thinking a bit about the “carpenter’s mistake,” the HMS Polychrest, if the “innovations” that made the Polychrest so dysfunctional had actually worked. But as I wrote I realized that constructing a ship like that was really outside my capability if I wanted to keep the nautical elements of the book realistic.

LHFDrawingAugust2DarkerOnce I let go of that idea, I wanted the Fate to be a Baltimore-built clipper, which really became a thing just after the era of the book. So she became a topsail schooner that incorporated elements of some of the other types of vessels that influenced the builders of what would come to be called clippers. And really what kept messing with me was the lower deck layout. It took me so long to get around to nailing that down that Eliza Wheeler (whose patience is really one of the wonders of the world) had already begun drawing and both of us had to revise what we’d done to match the final layout.

Biggest hope for the book:

That it does well enough to justify returning to this era and these characters in another full-length novel. I think that’s always my biggest hope when a book comes out. I fall so deeply in love with the characters that I want to return to them again and again. Even though I’m supposed to be working on other things, ideas are already starting to swirl. I hope, I hope, I hope.

Partying, partying YEAH!*

COME TO MY PARTY! YOU ARE ALL INVITED.

Next week is the official launch of The Left-Handed Fate, and I couldn’t be more excited–unless, of course, you come out to celebrate with us!

There are two launch parties happening next week. If geographically convenient, please do come and hang out.

Tuesday, August 23 (LAUNCH DAY!!): McNally Jackson Books, 7pm

52 Prince Street (between Mulberry and Lafayette)

All ages are welcome; a story and some refreshments will be provided. Find additional details here. 

Thursday, August 25: Barnes and Noble Annapolis, 6pm

Annapolis Harbour Center, 2516 Solomon’s Island Road

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Again, all ages are welcome. At least one of my high school teachers has RSVP’d that she’ll be present, if you’ve been hunting for blackmail material. Find additional details here. 

If you can’t make it but would like to join the festivities, there’s still time to order from one of the four special independent bookstores who have special gifts with preorders of The Left-Handed Fate. Find additional details here, but hurry, because quantities are limited.

*Nathan has played “Friday” several times at me in the past week in a not-very-covert attempt to game my Spotify Discover Weekly playlist to do ridiculous things and a probably not-unintended consequence of this is that I’ve had it stuck in my head since Sunday (which comes afterwaaaaarrrrrdd). I’ve also developed a terrible case of indecisiveness about whether I’d rather be kickin’ in the front seat or sittin’ in the back seat because STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT

Pre-Order THE LEFT-HANDED FATE, Get a Present from Me!

Well, we’re in the home stretch: just 24 days (as of July 30) until the launch of The Left-Handed Fate! And I hope like anything that you’re counting down the days, too.

9780805098006_FCSo, hey! Let’s talk about pre-orders. Some of you might know that I have strong feelings about the importance of independent bookstores. So for folks pre-ordering The Left-Handed Fate, if you pre-order from one of these bookmongers, I have a special gift for you. Actually, four special gifts, because each shop has something different. Order from any (or all!); they’re all happy to ship books anywhere in the country.

McNally Jackson Books, Soho, NYC

The first 40 customers to pre-order from McNally Jackson will receive a numbered and signed paperback copy of Bluecrowne from the original 200-copy printing funded by Kickstarter and printed in the store on the Espresso Book Machine. Bluecrowne, for those who don’t know, is the first adventure of Lucy Bluecrowne, one of the main characters of The Left-Handed Fate, in the city of Nagspeake. It’s a standalone story, as is LHF–you don’t have to read Bluecrowne first–but you’ll definitely have special insights and information if you do. Order here. 

Little Shop of Stories, Decatur, GA

LHFWithCopperplateThe first fifty customers to pre-order The Left-Handed Fate from Little Shop of Stories will receive a letter-sized print of an architectural drawing of the topsail schooner letter-of-marque vessel, the Left-Handed Fate. This is a drawing I made for my own reference while writing and revising the book, only I fancied it up for you with some walnut ink and nice paper and some charmingly wobbly copperplate. (Note: by the time you receive your copy, the copperplate might be less wobbly and amusing, but I had to put something here to get this page up.) Order here.

Porter Square Books, Boston, MA

20160730_081545Customers who pre-order from Porter Square will receive a signed (and personalized, if you choose) handmade cut-paper bookplate. This is a thing I should probably not have done because I’m really not to be trusted with a knife this sharp. Also I cannibalized a vintage trigonometry book to do it. BUT THAT BOOK HAD IT COMING. (Note: Colors may vary, because I made this one before I knew what color the inside pages were.) Order here.

Oblong Books, Rhinebeck, NY

20160730_082301Customers who pre-order from Oblong Books will receive a bookmark in the form of a prayer card for Saint Pontila of Nagspeake, Patron Saint of Messages Sent in Bottles (to be clear, she looks out for the messages, not the senders or receivers, so invoke her at your peril). Those of you who’ve read The Broken Lands will already know a little about my fascination with prayer cards, although they have a different significance in The Left-Handed Fate.  Order here.LHFplusStPontila

Coming soon: launch party information! But if you’re in the vicinity of NYC or Annapolis, MD, or plan to be at the end of August or need an excuse for a trip, mark your calendars!

NYC Launch: McNally Jackson Books, Tuesday, August 23 7pm. All ages welcome.

Annapolis Launch: Barnes and Noble Annapolis, Thursday, August 25, 6pm. All ages welcome.

FAQs: The Left-Handed Fate and Bluecrowne

As of today, 35 DAYS TO THE LAUNCH OF THE LEFT-HANDED FATE!

9780805098006_FCAnd, predictably, I still keep forgetting to post here. On the other hand, I do have at least one good reason: I’m working like crazy to get The Illustrated Bluecrowne PDF ready for release before the LHF launch at the end of August. And since Bluecrowne is so closely related to The Left-Handed Fate (and since a forthcoming review actually refers to LHF as a sequel to Bluecrowne), I thought it would be good to talk a little about these two books and how they’re related.

Bluecrowne_Cover2Bluecrowne is part of an endeavor I call the Arcana Project, which is a series of short novels set in the same world as The Boneshaker, The Broken Lands, Greenglass House, and The Left-Handed Fate—all of which are related to one degree or another, but all of which are stand-alone tales that can be read independently of the others. The Arcana books are meant to provide additional tales and, in some cases, show how certain books are related to others. I don’t publicize them heavily because I imagine them kind of like Easter eggs—if you find them, good for you! Enjoy. If not, no big deal. I had fun writing them. So far, there are two books, The Kairos Mechanism and Bluecrowne. The Kairos Mechanism takes place after the events of The Boneshaker; Bluecrowne takes place before the events of The Left-Handed Fate. Here are some FAQs I get about how these books are all connected.

Q: I see that some of the characters in The Left-Handed Fate appear in an earlier book, Bluecrowne. Is The Left-Handed Fate a sequel? Do I need to read Bluecrowne first?

A: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO READ BLUECROWNE FIRST. The events of Bluecrowne take place first; however, both are truly standalone stories. (Bluecrowne is also the backstory of the building of Greenglass House, for instance, and explains the origins of two key clues to the mysteries Milo and Meddy solve, but I am completely certain that most people who read Greenglass House are entirely unaware of Bluecrowne‘s existence.) If you have (or do) read Bluecrowne before The Left-Handed Fate, hooray! You’ll definitely have insider information, including insight into Liao’s pyrotechnical gifts and the reason Lucy and her father aren’t excited to return to Nagspeake. But if you haven’t or choose not to read it, no big deal.

Q: Ok, cool. How do I get Bluecrowne if I want it?

A: You have three options.

  • You can get the ebook right now in the format of your choice from any of the usual ebook retailers. You’ll see that there are two versions, and one is more expensive than the other. The more expensive version is called the Kickstarter Edition, and it includes a bonus story from The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book (which you will know of if you’ve read Greenglass House).
  • You can get the paperback very rapidly (how fast depends on your shipping preferences) from McNally Jackson Books, where the books are printed using the Espresso Book Machine. If you want your copy signed or personalized, there is a field in the online order form where you can request that (note that I’m only there once a week, so signed copies might be delayed until I’m next in). Order here, or you can call the store directly to order by phone (212-274-1160). Bonus: on most Saturdays, if you call between 10 and 6, there’s a high probability I’ll be the one answering the phone! Hi!
  • You can read it free (or pay what you choose) starting sometime in August when The Illustrated Bluecrowne ebook is released. Right now I’m waiting for the last few pieces of original art from the young illustrators, but I expect to have it finished and available for download by mid-August or thereabouts. It’ll be a PDF, so it should work for you whatever kind of reader you use, and I’ll add a link here as soon as it’s ready. The art, by the way, is really outstanding. I can’t wait to share it with you. Preorder here.

Q: A free illustrated version? What’s that about?

A: As part of the Kickstarter-funded publication budget of the Arcana books, I included funds for a digital edition that would be illustrated by young reader artists and offered free or pay whatever, with the idea that I wanted the artists to be able to share their work at no cost to their friends and families. (Any money contributed by readers who do choose to pay goes into the pot for the next book’s illustrators.) The artists are between 11 and 21, and each used a style of his/her own choosing. It is, hands down, my favorite part of the project.

Q: I see the Bluecrowne paperback says “Arcana, Volume 2” on the spine. Do I have to read The Kairos Mechanism first? WHY IS THIS SO CONFUSING, KATE?

It was odd because they were strangers, and because they came in on foot. It was odd because of what they carried.

A: You do not need to read The Kairos Mechanism before Bluecrowne (although if you want to, you can follow all the same info above to get it in ebook or paperback (order the paperback here, and the free-or-pay-whatever illustrated version is here). Like Bluecrowne, it’s a standalone story, although it is definitely more closely tied to The Boneshaker. As for why it’s so confusing: I overcomplicate things. There. I said it. It’s just who I am.

Q: I’ve read the Arcana books and I was really hoping you’d have one coming out this year, but I haven’t heard anything. Are you doing another Arcana book?

A: Yes. Two more at least. But not this year. I have discovered to my shock that my ability to turn out three thousand words a day disappeared the day I had a kid. So here’s what’s coming down the pike: hopefully first, possibly as early as next fall, will be The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book. Additionally, I have an as-yet-untitled adventure featuring Sam and Jin from The Broken Lands. Kickstarter backers of Bluecrowne will get an advance peek and free digital copies, because this book arose from a short story I promised as a bonus reward during the Bluecrowne campaign that turned out not to be a short story at all.

Here’s hoping that clears up the relationship between Bluecrowne and The Left-Handed Fate. Any other questions you have, pop them into the comments!

 

A Few Things that are Lucky at Sea

I don’t know about you, but I need some happy thoughts right about now. So in the interests of good cheer and good fortune, here are some things likely to bring good luck to your blue-water voyage. Fair winds and following seas to you, friends.

A Partial List of Good Luck Stuff I Could Think of Off the Top of My Head

Albatrosses, if alive

Black-handled knives

Black cats

Scratching a backstay (part of the rigging)

Spitting, when intended to counteract bad omens or luck

The “bitter end” of a piece of rope

St. Elmo’s lights, if they’re ascending the masts (unless you’re a Chinese sailor, in which case the reverse is true)

St. Elmo’s lights, if there are two of them

Any object having proved itself to be a Good Luck Charm

Tossing the source of a specific piece of bad luck overboard

An Incomplete, Just-Off-the-Top-of-My-Head List of Things That Are Unlucky at Sea

Girls

Preachers

Broken knives

White-handled knives

White cats

Albatrosses, if you killed them

Fridays, if you leave port on one

Wednesdays, for reasons I can’t remember

Anyone who’s left-handed

Whistling

Talking about things like wind and weather out loud

Opening a chronometer

St. Elmo’s lights, if they’re moving down the masts (unless you’re a Chinese sailor, in which case the reverse is true)

Painting your hull certain colors

Anything suspicious not already known to be lucky

 

75 days to launch…

The Coundown to The Left-Handed Fate Begins!

Boy, oh boy. The last time I updated this site was far, far too long ago. But it’s time to dust things off and get to blogging, because as I’m writing this, we are a mere 81 days from Pub Day for The Left-Handed Fate. I have so much to tell you guys.

In the next not-quite-three-months, we’ll have loads of cool LHF-related trivia and a few contests and giveaways, so keep checking back. (I’ve made some promises to my publisher on this score, so between now and late August, anyway, I am actually going to have to follow through and actually write stuff here.) But for today, let’s talk origins.

Whenever I go to visit schools, and often when I’m at bookstores and libraries too, someone asks something along the lines of, “Where do you get your ideas?” Ideas, of course, come from all around, and I can give lots of different and equally true answers to this question. The way I usually answer it is to admit that a high percentage of my best ideas, the ones that spark whole new books or solve serious story problems, actually come from my husband.

Nathan is, thank God, not a writer. (Or at least, not yet, although I suspect he’s got at least one book in him that will eventually surface.) Therefore, rather than doing what I do and hoarding every idea he gets in a notebook, certain it will eventually be the missing piece to a story he’s had kicking around in his head for however long, he sends them to me. Most often he does this by sharing links to articles he knows I’ll enjoy or might find useful, but sometimes he’s less subtle. The Left-Handed Fate arose from one of those less-subtle times. Nathan badly wanted me to read Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series, which he’d loved. I read the first one under duress, mostly to get him off my back. But that was all it took to get me addicted to the adventures of Captain John Aubrey of the Royal Navy and Stephen Maturin, naturalist, ship’s doctor, and spy.

Guys, these books are so good. Seriously, so good. They’re exciting and funny and full of amazing dialogue and historical detail and the friendship of the two main characters, which begins with an almost-duel and continues through their adulthoods into middle age, is phenomenal. And did I mention they’re funny? They’re hilarious. (For the record, Nathan likes Horatio Hornblower better, but I never quite fell in love with him the way I fell in love with Jack and Stephen.)

At some point as I was devouring the twenty-book series for the first time (I’ve read the whole thing twice, but I’ve never been able to bring myself to read the last, unfinished book, 21), Nathan pointed out that since kids routinely went to sea at young ages at that point in history—and could even wind up actually commanding vessels, at least temporarily—a fighting ship during the Napoleonic Wars would be a perfect setting for a middle grade novel. I recall not being instantly excited by this idea, until suddenly I was. I can’t remember what the trigger was, but something clicked and I had the first inklings of what story I could maybe tell. And then it was off to the races.

I recently found the page of notes where I was working out the name of the ship at the heart of the book, which I was pretty sure was also going to wind up being the title. It was one of my first entry points to the story. I hadn’t worked out who the characters were or what was going to happen, but I had ideas about the ship. So perhaps this is where I’ll leave you today, with those first notes and the ship herself. Oh, and this link, where you can preorder signed copies from McNally Jackson Books.

Welcome to The Left-Handed Fate. I can’t wait to share her story with you.20160520_224846