In Praise of Prickles

Nobody wrote prickles like Diana Wynne Jones.

I’m reading her Dalemark Quartet for the first time, and it strikes me again how prickly her characters are. From The Spellcoats (Book Three):

Robin wrung her hands. … It annoys me when she does.

“We can go away down the River and find somewhere better to live,” I said. It was the most exciting thing I had ever said. I had always wanted to see the River. …

“But the Heathens!” Robin said, wringing away. I could have hit her.

The narrator Tanaqui is not nice. She isn’t patient or kind. She sulks when she doesn’t get her way, she teases her brother and snaps at her sister, and she turns out to be a hero in the end. Even then, she’s still not nice.

In Jones’s most popular novel, Howl’s Moving Castle, Howl is vain, lazy, and not very brave, but it’s Sophie who we root for as she becomes less nice.  Disguised as an old woman, she discovers her inner curmudgeon — commandeering and no-nonsense, where once she was timid and compliant. She gains an edge. This is character growth in the world of Diana Wynne Jones, and that’s why I love it.

Middle-grade characters are often so nice. They do the right thing. They even feel the right thing. They have flaws, but their flaws are the kind of answers they could give to a potential employer who asked them their biggest weakness in a job interview.

Read the rest of the post on Project Mayhem >>

Surprise! MIRA is on Goodreads, where I learn many things

I adore Goodreads — I visit every day, both to update my own reading (just exceeded my 2015 Reading Goal yesterday!) and to stalk my author profile. So today I noticed that my book doesn’t have any ratings. My first reaction was to wonder where the reviews went — until I noticed that it’s Mira Tells the Future, my upcoming debut picture book! Surprise!

Then I see that my incredibly talented illustrator Lissy Marlin is listed, so I don’t have to wonder how to announce her involvement. Surprise! (I can’t wait to be able to share the cover and Lissy’s art for Mira, but not yet!)

Then I see a release date — May 3, 2016. Surprise!

And I look the title up on Amazon and you can already pre-order it. Whoa.

Maybe Goodreads can tell the future. Or perhaps a catalog update got loaded. Either way, I predict that May 3 will be a very good day.

So now you can add Mira Tells the Future to your Goodreads to-read list and pre-order it at Amazon. And why not add me as a friend, leave a book review, and judge my bookshelves while you’re there?

Stories found and made: The difference between fact and fiction

shark-coverorientationWhere do stories come from? One of my favorite topics when speaking to readers is where writers get their ideas and how to turn ideas into stories.

Before I wrote The Mermaid Game: A summer short story, I wrote Shark and Minnow: A summer memoir, a nonfiction essay about sisters at the beach, a boy next door, and a shark found in the shallows. This telling is as true as my faulty memory can make it.

Read it with The Mermaid Game to see where the story and essay converge and diverge to create the different kind of truth that can be found in fiction.

Nonfiction: Shark and Minnow: A summer memoir

Fiction: The Mermaid Game: A summer short story


Celebrating my one-year publication anniversary

Anniversaries are bittersweet, and that’s why I’m celebrating.

deadwood-coverToday is the one-year anniversary of the publication of my middle-grade novel Deadwood. I’ve sold books, but not as many as I wish I had. I’ve gotten some incisive reviews and honors, and been bypassed as well. I’ve met readers, and every single meeting has been a privilege. I’ve written new words and submitted new works (still waiting!). I’ve started drafts and abandoned them. I’ve gotten a contract for my debut picture book, Mira Tells the Future, and I’ve been awed by the illuminating, imaginative sketches I’ve seen. I’ve made new friends and lost others. I’ve worked my day job. I’ve raised my daughters. I’ve been a wife, daughter, sister, and friend. I’ve tried to figure out what it means to be a writer even though it’s not everything I once dreamed of.

It’s bittersweet — the good with bad, accomplishments with losses, milestones achieved and time gone forever. The publishing journey is long, but it’s not lonely because of my friends, family, and readers. I’ve learned that I have to make The Mermaid Gamemy own high points and celebrate each one.

That’s why this month I published The Mermaid Game: A summer short story (DIY high point!), 99 cents for Kindle and free to read for Kindle Unlimited subscribers. And if you haven’t read Deadwood, it’s only $2.99 for Kindle and in paperback at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, your favorite independent retailer, or a library near you.

Thank you for supporting me over the past year and all the years before. And thanks for making this a high point for me.


The Darkness of Nursery Tales

The other day my family and I was listening to an audiobook during a car ride — a middle-grade fantasy that retells a Grimm fairy tale. And of course, the princess’s father died right in the beginning.

My husband complained — he’s tired of all the dead parents of children’s literature. I defended the plot because that’s how stories work. Happy lives make dull books. The main character has to act on her own. She must suffer before she triumphs. She must face conflict.

Still, like my husband, I have tried to shelter my children from some literary losses — we haven’t read Charlotte’s Web or The Bridge to Terabithia. We never watched Bambi. We haven’t read the gruesomest Grimm tales that fascinated me as a child — the murdered stepson served as stew, the barrel studded inside with nails.

I remember my daughter flipping through my copy of Sing-Song, A Nursery Rhyme Book by Christina Rossetti. She was attracted by the little girl on the cover cavorting with a lamb, one of the gorgeous original illustrations by Arthur Hughes, the Pre-Raphaelite whose illustrations for George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin.

Read the rest of the post on Project Mayhem >>

SCBWI Crystal Kite Finalist in the Atlantic Division

I’m so honored that DEADWOOD has made it to the second and final voting round of the 2015 SCBWI Crystal Kite Awards. The SCBWI is the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and I’m in the Atlantic division (Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Washington DC, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland). The Crystal Kites are  member-voted awards, and I’m thankful for the support of my SCBWI peers.

Crystal kites

If you’re an SCBWI member, vote for books in your division from April 18 – 30.