Four days to the cover reveal! How about today I tell you a bit about how this book came to be, and what it’s about.
First of all, here’s the publisher’s description of Greenglass House:
It’s wintertime at Greenglass House. The creaky smuggler’s inn is always quiet during this season, and twelve-year-old Milo, the innkeepers’ adopted son, plans to spend his holidays relaxing. But on the first icy night of vacation, out of nowhere, the guest bell rings. Then rings again. And again. Soon Milo’s home is bursting with odd, secretive guests, each one bearing a strange story that is somehow connected to the rambling old house. As objects go missing and tempers flare, Milo and Meddy, the cook’s daughter, must decipher clues and untangle the web of deepening mysteries to discover the truth about Greenglass House—and themselves.
If you’ve read The Boneshaker and/or The Broken Lands and/or The Kairos Mechanism, this probably sounds like something different. It is. Mind you, it’s not entirely disconnected to Natalie, Sam, and Jin’s world, but you’ll really have to look for the connections. They’re there, but they’re not remotely the point. So how did this story come about?
About two years ago, my critique group came up with a summer project. Some of us were between projects, some of us had been staring too long at the projects we were working on, and some of us (me) needed to be challenged to write something short. The goal was to take a prompt and write a short, simple book, something around 200 pages. As I recall, six of us decided to play. The other five sent their prompts to me and I wrote them down, stuck them in a hat or something, and pulled them out one by one to assign them at random. I can’t remember now what prompt I gave, but I received Lindsay Eland’s contribution: stained glass.
I’ve said it before, but here we go again: I resist outlines. I like to just dive in and see where a story takes me, so that’s what I did with the story that became Greenglass House. About the only things I worked out in advance were the season (winter), the location (a remote inn in the city of Nagspeake), and the fact that Milo, the main character, was adopted. I think I had fairly recently read Dickens’ The Holly-Tree Inn, in which guests snowed in at an inn share tales at night, because the idea of having the guests at Greenglass House tell stories followed fairly quickly.
I think I started right at the beginning, and the opening paragraphs have basically not changed at all:
There is a right way to do things and a wrong way, if you’re going to run a hotel in a smugglers’ town.
You shouldn’t make it a habit to ask too many questions, for one thing. And you probably shouldn’t be in it for the money. Smugglers are always going to be flush with cash as soon as they find a buyer for the eight cartons of fountain pen cartridges that write in illegal shades of green, but they never have money today. You should, if you are going to run a smugglers’ hotel, get a big account book and assume that whatever you write in it, the reality is, you’re going to get paid in fountain pen cartridges. If you’re lucky. You could just as easily get paid with something even more useless.
Milo Pine did not run a smugglers’ hotel, but his parents did. It was an inn, actually; a huge, ramshackle manor house that looked as if it had been cobbled together from discarded pieces of a dozen mismatched mansions collected from a dozen different cities. It was called Greenglass House, and it sat on the side of a hill overlooking an inlet of harbors, a little district built half on the shore and half on the piers that jutted out into the river Skidwrack like the teeth of a comb. It was a long climb up to the inn from the waterfront by foot, or an only slightly-shorter trip by the cable railway that led from the inn’s private dock up the steep slope of Whilforber Hill. And of course the inn wasn’t only for smugglers, but that was who turned up most often, so that was how Milo thought of it.
The first seventy-odd pages were written when I showed it to Lynne Polvino, my editor at Clarion. But between the time I wrote those pages and the time I went back to finish it a full year passed, which was the time during which we edited The Broken Lands and I wrote The Kairos Mechanism. I wasn’t able to seriously return to Greenglass House until basically a month before the draft was due. But by then, even if I hadn’t broken down and made an outline, I’d made enough notes that I might as well have, although it was still sort of a surprise even to me as the threads I’d laid down at the beginning, without a clue as to where they’d wind up, began to come together.
It wound up being a harder book to write than any of the previous books. In part this was because of the way it had begun, with me jumping into a story based on a prompt without a clue as to where that story was going. In part it was just the fact that the story was so different from the rest. I think I kind of felt that without the fate of the world or at least a whole town somehow hanging in the balance I might not be able to tell a compelling story. I’m still kind of afraid about that, even though I desperately love Milo and Meddy and the adventure they have. But it isn’t the kind of story I’m used to telling, so it’s still hard to know how successful I was. It helps that my editor loves it. It helps even more that the Kid Editors who’ve finished it love it. At least two have declared it their favorite of my books so far, and one of those two, Emma, admitted that she was surprised by that.
So, cautiously, I am beginning to let go of my fear about this very different story. And one of the things that’s really helping me to do that is the perfect rendering of Greenglass House on its perch over Nagspeake’s Quayside Harbor district that you’ll see on Tuesday.