Thursday, December 30, 2010

How I write period voice...and, um, bookshelf pictures!

I did a blog interview today that asked about the period feel of my voice, and I realized I've gotten this question (or seen that comment in reviews) quite a few times, and maybe I could post about how I capture the feel of an era in voice.

The easy answer is, there is no easy answer, because for one thing, who is to say definitively what is the feel of an era? My editor flagged words as sounding too modern that came straight out of period literature, but I changed them because I decided actual accuracy wasn't as important as not jarring the reader's perception of accuracy. There is also the concern of not confusing a reader. In the 19th century, and into the 20th, oftentimes "dinner" was the midday meal and "supper" the evening meal. My grandparents still say supper. Lunch was not in such common use. But nowadays supper has fallen out of favor and many readers would be confused by the mid-day dinner/evening supper situation, so I stick with lunch and dinner.

Period voice is, for me, intuition as much as anything. But where does the intuition come from? Books!

Tip #1: Read a lot.

I am a non-fiction ADDICT. I buy some novels, sure, but what really opens my pocketbook is a good non-fiction book. My reference library is just to the right of my desk. Lots of books aren't even in there because they are scattered everywhere. (And of course, I'm also a heavy library user!)

If you're trying to capture a period voice, you have some options:
--Reading novels or memoirs/travelogues/whatever written in the time and place you are trying to capture
--Reading non-fiction about the era or collections of diaries and letters
--Reading novels/memoirs set in the era by someone who lived in the era, but written might change their voice, but it might also be a bit easier to read

I recommend some of all of the above to get the most rounded picture. And what are you trying to pick up while reading?

#2: Pay attention to small details.
For instance, Magic Under Glass, pg. 28: "The servants filled a tub with hot water from brass canisters." I could have left off the brass canisters, certainly, and just say they filled the tub. And one mention of brass canisters or the silk lining of a carriage won't fill out the book. But when you slip them in here and there, it helps set a mood and paint a picture. These are the sorts of things I take note of when I read, to stick in later.

You can also take note of the words people use. The Betsy-Tacy books, for example, are full of natural teenage dialogue that doesn't sound like nowadays, the kind of thing you could jot down or the rhythms of which you can absorb if writing an early 20th century American novel:

"I don't see anything so special," Tib remarked.
"Why, we're sitting here drinking coffee," Betsy repeated somewhat lamely. "And not just for a lark."
Tacy's thoughts followed hers.
"We're actually juniors," she said, "stopping in for coffee after shopping, not freshmen or sophomores pretending to be juniors stopping in for coffee after shopping."
Tib looked confused. "You usually take chocolate. I've just got you in the habit of coffee because I come from Milwaukee."
"But Tib!" Betsy cried. "That isn't the point. The point is that we're so frightfully old."

#3: Which brings me to the mood and rhythm...
Even though so far I write fantasies inspired by historical periods rather than actually history, the mood and rhythm of the language is a huge part of creating the world. Between the Sea and Sky was intended to take place around 1800. I feel that writing around 1800 was often actually simpler-sounding than the Victorian period. Marie Antoinette's letters, for instance, often sound very modern to me. Of course they're translated, but still. Jane Austen is wordy but not as wordy as Dickens! So the language in the book I tried to keep straightforward, a little bit "classic" perhaps:

Ginnia led Esmerine from the dim bedroom. Dusk had crept up almost unnoticed until Esmerine came into a dining room lit by a candle and glowing hearth-fire. Sometimes the mermen started a fire on the islands for some purpose or another, but only certain men knew how, and children couldn’t come near, so Esmerine had never been close enough to fire to feel the heat. An older woman with gray curls falling across her cheeks beneath a squarish black cap was sitting quite near it, smoking a pipe. Could this be Belawyn? Esmerine couldn’t believe a mermaid would smoke.
Ginnia went to stir the pot while Swift waved her to an empty seat. Alan was pouring red wine. “Esmerine, do you want wine or water?” he asked.
“I’ve never tasted wine.”
He poured a little in a cup and handed it to her. She took a sip and was surprised it was not at all sweet or salty, just nasty and like nothing else she had ever tasted.
Swift laughed. “She doesn’t like it.”

Magic Under Glass is inspired by the Victorian era, and the voice was more "affected":

I joined Mr. Parry in the tower—not the top of the tower, which must have been shut off like the rest of the upper stories, but the second floor, a small circular room with three huge windows overlooking the woods. A table already bore a spread of food: thin soup, more crusty bread, and some kind of drink in a silver pitcher. A footman waited in the shadows, in the invisible way of servants. Mr. Parry was standing, waiting for me to arrive before he took his seat. The footman pulled out a chair for me.
I smoothed my skirts underneath me and took the heavy, carved chair.
“A pity it rains,” Mr. Parry said, pouring himself the drink: something red and bubbly. “I suppose the gardens had to wait.”
He held the pitcher over my glass and I nodded. “Yes, sir. I don’t mind. I explored the house, the library—I spent ages reading. The sun might have set without my notice.” I chose my words carefully, feeling the need to make proper conversation, whatever that meant. I’d read it in stories, but I’d never shared a table with a gentleman before.

I'm working on a Weimar Berlin inspired setting now, and the voice in this one becomes more modern, a tad choppier and more cynical:

Thea hoped for a moment that it would be one of the old cakes, but of course it wasn’t. Mother didn’t even know how to make a cake right anymore. She used to make buttery pound cakes, and moist apple cakes, and gingerbread… When Thea opened the pantry, she saw the same old chocolate cake sitting there. It wasn’t even a good chocolate cake. Too dense, with a strange sour taste.
Still, she sliced it and got the coffee going. She set the table with plates and cups, all chipped by now from something or another, and when all was ready, she pulled Mother away from the window and into a chair.
Mother picked at her cake. “I do like this cake.”
“I’m glad you do, because you made it.” Thea chewed on hers, sorry that good flour and sugar had gone to waste.

(I used three eating scenes, to try to offer the best comparison...)

And one more note, because good HEAVENS this is going on forever:
#4: Don't forget to consider the age, sex, class and location of your character(s) when shaping the voice. My great-grandmother was born in the teens and grew up in Ohio, and the letters she sent to me as a kid and the way she talked always carried the flavor of an older era. Consider the past of your world too! And of course, a character's class can have a huge effect on their speech.

Of course whatever voice you use, it won't work for someone. For every two people who praise Magic Under Glass's voice, I see a review that said it was too "precious" or something. But at least I know it's as accurate as I can make it, being a modern girl, and that's the best you can do!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

More Art in 2011!: Ifra

One of my New Year's Resolutions this year is to post more art!! Of course, part of the reason I haven't posted much is because my computer doesn't have a scanner or Photoshop. Bit of a deterrent. But I'm getting around it, even if the art doesn't look that polished. Oh, well. I like to think of it like a 19th century tinted picture.

Anyway, I got some Pitt brush pens for Christmas so I've been playing around with them, and I drew this picture of Ifra, because I also got a book about clothes around the world, and Ifra has the most colorful male dress in the book, for sure. He's also my favorite character in Magic Under Stone. He looks a little intense here, I must say, which is not really OUT of character, but also isn't quite how I think of him. But he's pretty easy on the eyes I think. Poor Erris is probably jealous (although I'm not sure he should be, since Ifra has plenty to be an angst-puppy about himself).

(Click for larger image)

Also, NEWS FROM SPAIN, for my Spanish readers: I am told the Spanish version of Magic Under Glass will be released in February! I'm so excited!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

2010 Writer-ly Year in Review!

I'm too braindead to do much of worth today, so I compiled my year-end roundup. What a year! I went to tons of events and met more cool people--fellow writers, bloggers, teachers, librarians, booksellers, publishing house people, etc. than I can count, including a good solid critique partner, which is kind of a first! *waves at Jess* I can't believe how many long-time internet friends I got to meet for the first (and sometimes second!) time this year. I can't even begin to list the amazing experiences I've had this year (and a few that were funny in hindsight).

People often say writing isn't glamorous, but you know what? I think it can be pretty darn glamorous. I get to do what I love every day, even when I'm tearing my hair out, and make friends all over the country and world so I have friends wherever I go. Sure, I'm not a big author who gets invited to BEA or does tours or has people clamoring for signings, I did most of my traveling on my own dime thanks to my proximity to a big airport with a lot of cheap flights and friends that are willing to offer spare beds to me. But I can't imagine I'll be much happier even if/when I am that kind of author, because this year was full of great moments with wonderful people, wonderful books, and at its best, wonderful food.

I also had constant deadlines for the first time ever, so I felt very official. This year between February and November I wrote Magic Under Stone, the short story for Corsets and Clockwork, and did two rounds of revision on Between the Sea and Sky. In my "off time" I worked on revisions of Alfred and Olivia for my agent and got to work switching my Grim Reaper WIP over to middle grade. I'm not really sure what 2011 is going to bring me, but I'm trying to enjoy my temporary freedom from deadlines. (I both miss and do not miss deadlines when I don't have them...)

Just a few photo highlights from the year, from top to bottom:

1. Me and the luminous Kathleen Duey at Miami SCBWI
2. Me reading at my debut party
3. Amy Brecount White, Maggie Stiefvater, and me at ALA
4. Tenners lunch at ALA (delicious tapas and L to R, Amy Brecount White, Karen Kincy, Christina Diaz Gonzalez, Lindsey Leavitt, Holly Hoxter, Margie Gelbwasser)
5. The Bloomsbury/Walker crew at NCTE: Danette Haworth, Kate Messner, Katie Fee of Bloomsbury, Mickey Mouse (we were all trying not to be the one snuggling up to Mickey, lol), fellow Bowie-fan Jessica Warman, me, Beth Eller of Bloomsbury.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Thank yoooou!!! + Magic Under Glass comics!

Today is the last day of my debut year. And what a year it has been. There were times of immense stress...and times of immense joy. But the best part of all was getting to meet and talk to fans, and seeing that, a year later, my book is still being talked about here and there. Still getting reviewed, still getting added to Goodreads. I appreciate all these signs of life SOOO much! I hope that you'll like the sequel in 2012 and, before that, Between the Sea and Sky. I couldn't really do too many nifty things for Magic Under Glass because I had a repetitive stress injury at the time, but I have a few neat little plans for Sea and Sky.

For today, however, enjoy these Magic Under Glass comics I made (a while back, actually...I've been lazy about scanning them, as you can probably tell since one addresses the new cover which only came out MOOOONTHS ago). Click to see them bigger! (Sorry the text is kind of hard to read otherwise...>_<)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Foreign editions update

This popped up on Goodreads this week. It seems to be the Indonesian cover for Magic Under Glass! Yes, they're both blonde now... (Needless to say, not only do authors rarely have much to do with their domestic covers, international releases? It's not uncommon for us to find out our books have sold abroad because Google alerts, Goodreads, or fans reveal, oh hey, guess what, your book is out in another country!) Such was the case with Indonesia! I had no idea. You know what I DO love about this cover, though? As someone with a lifelong interest in historical fashion and fashion illustration...the dress is just perfect. And it looks like Erris even has red heels on his shoes...

Anyway, I don't know for SURE that is the cover or just a placeholder of some kind, and it LOOKS like the book releases in Jan '11 there. I'm ashamed to say I don't know much about Indonesia, except that I love your Ting Ting Jahe ginger candy... If any Indonesian readers come by my blog I'd love to hear a little about your country and what you like to read!

I'm also always poking around to see when the Spanish release of Magic Under Glass is coming out. I had a fabulous chat with some Spanish readers a few months ago and they were SO nice I'm eager to have more Spanish readers. =D I promised I would learn a little Spanish for the release, so if anyone happens to see a date for it, do let me know! (I'd love to learn a little of EVERY language it comes out in, but that's not really practical unless I am turned into a vampire or some other form of immortal...

There is also, supposedly, a Thai edition coming out someday. I know nothing about the publisher or date. But I'll let you know when I do, of course.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Favorite Museums?

This is so random, but the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine has come up in conversation several times this week, and I was thinking how the Lightner might just be my favorite museum I've ever been to, which then got me thinking about what my OTHER favorite museums I've ever been to are. I was in D.C. twice this year and I went to the American History museum, because I've always wanted to see things I've heard of like the flag and the First Ladies dresses and stuff, but it was kind of disappointing, honestly. Too crowded, too tourist-y, and as Dade said, "I think 10% of the people here actually want to be here." So the best museums are probably the ones I've never heard of.

Here are my favorites, although of course there are many many MANY more to see in the world, and some gems I don't remember because I was a kid when we went there and I have no idea what they were!

The Lightner Museum, St. Augustine, FL
This is housed in an old Flagler hotel, and just the building is impressive. It had an indoor pool, which has since been drained and is part of the museum, as well as a steam room, both of which you can easily imagine Gilded Age folk wandering in and out of. It has a bit of a "Titanic" air to it. There is such a random assortment of stuff--from art and glass, to a mummy and weird collections--that anyone would be hard pressed not to find SOMETHING interesting, but the best part is the mechanical musical instruments. It's worth it to catch the twice-daily (if they haven't changed it) demonstration. I particularly love the Violano-Virtuoso, which was electric, and starts up with this great slow thrum and lights coming on and then it plays and it sounds just horrid. In a wonderful way.

Pioneer Memorial Museum, Salt Lake City, UT
This museum is just a ton of old junk shoved together with a lot of information and it's kind of creepy. I say both "junk" and "creepy" in the best possible way imaginable. We went to this museum when I was like, 10, and we only had an hour to look before it closed, or maybe less, and I almost cried (or maybe I did cry, I was a weepy child) because I could have spent hours and hours in there. Yeah, I've been a total history geek as far back as my memory goes.

Carl Sandburg Home, Flat Rock, NC
I've toured a lot of houses in my day, and this was one of my favorites, although I don't remember it very well. It's been years! I just know there are goats. And I think this is the place where everything is just like Carl Sandburg left it, even the trash in the trash can. But don't quote me on that.

Ringling Museum, Sarasota, FL
This place is huh-yuge. it's like three museums. Plus grounds. There is the Ringling House (which unfortunately, you have to do with a tour group and it's a bigger tour group than I'd like, compressed into smaller space than I'd like, and they are very strict, but it's designed like a Venetian palace), a circus museum and an art museum. We were here all day and we barely made it through the art museum, but it's an impressive collection.

The Met, New York, NY
Well, this is one museum that absolutely lives up to the hype. It's a little overwhelming. But you can spend forever in there and find something new each time. I recommend reading Museum: Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, too, which gave me a new appreciation for the collection and all the work that goes into it!

What are your favorite museums? Any museums of historical interest I ought to add to my list of dream museums?

Friday, December 10, 2010

December Lights is a website Stephanie Burgis and Patrick Samphire set up for some fun, funny fantasy short stories, some of it holiday themed. I contributed a short story set in Arestin that I wrote some years back (and updated a bit). There's some great stuff there, and a fantastic contributor list:

Jacey Bedford
Marie Brennan
Stephanie Burgis
Deborah Coates
Leah Cypess
Jaclyn Dolamore
Eugie Foster
Pamela Freeman
Maurissa Guibord
Karen Healey
Tracy Lynn
Sarah Prineas
Jenn Reese
Patrick Samphire
Sherwood Smith
Tiffany Trent

So check it out!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Holiday Book Recs!

It's that time of year! Time to recommend some books I read and really enjoyed in 2010.

Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly
Drea has Asperger's, and no friends, especially since she and her mom have just moved back in with Drea's judgmental grandmother. She's also a musician, and when she makes friends with hot musician boy Justin and neighbor Naomi, her know, changes, because this is a book and that's what happens in books. It's terrific. Great writing, great romance, and it rings very true. I don't have Asperger's but I can still seriously identify with the struggles to make friends and fit in while being your (weird) self. Buy it for anyone who feels alienated, and anyone who likes great contemporary fiction.

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly
A girl in the present grieving her brother meets the past in the form of the French revolution in this emotional, rich novel that you won't soon forget. Buy it for: History fans, people who like epic-feeling novels, anyone who thinks catacombs are fascinating!

The Twin's Daughter by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
When the identical and heretofore unknown twin to Lucy's mother shows up on their doorstep, a web of deception, mystery, and MURDER begins! This 19th century era novel definitely has that creepy "secrets in the house" Gothic feel. The prose is somewhat detached, but for the story it absolutely worked for me. Also I totally had a crush on the love interest, Kit... Buy it for: Fans of Gothic and Victorian novels. (Like Magic Under Glass!)

White Cat by Holly Black
Tired of the same old urban fantasy? I know I am, which is why this novel of magic and mobsters was one of my favorite UF in awhile. I was definitely surprised by some of the twists, the characters are very well-developed, and the world building is like nothing else out there. Buy it for any urban fantasy lover!

Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford
I think the cover of this book is rather generic compared to the absolutely delightful and clever writing within. I liked How to Say Goodbye in Robot a lot, but this I adored! The Sullivan Sisters tell their stories in the form of letters of confession to their grandmother, who has threatened to cut them out of the will because of what one of them has done. This book had me laughing out loud in places, and adoring the characters. Buy it for: The coolest person you know and anyone who likes witty humor.

There you go. My top recs for the year. Enjoy!

Friday, November 19, 2010


Sometimes a book comes along that you just love so much and you see people buzzing about it for awards and you get really excited and invested because OMG YOU LOVE THAT BOOK and then it doesn't get nominated for anything and now there are copies at Amazon for a penny and a sales rank over a million and you wish you could just buy three thousand copies yourself and send them to everyone you know or will ever know and tell to read it if they have ANY interest in a wonderful historical love story.

That book, for me, is A True and Faithful Narrative by Katherine Sturtevant which came out in 2006 and now seems almost entirely forgotten. Let me tell you what I love about this book:

--Meg, the main character. She loves reading and writing, and her journey to becoming a writer is wonderful and rings very true. She's a strong girl that modern women can identify with, but at the same time she is most definitely a product of her age. Modern girls might like her, but she is NOT a modern girl plunked into the 17th century.
--Edward, the love interest, and his relationship with Meg. It's not simple. It's not quick. It keeps you guessing a bit. As a reader, I had time to fall in love with Edward myself. He's smart. He's a bit tortured (quite literally, he was physically tortured). But it's not too much. One of my favorite book love interests ever. If you like love stories between smart people, for goodness sake do yourself a favor and BUY THIS RIGHT NOW.
--There is a subplot about Muslims and Islam and the politics and relations of the time that are accurate to the past but also resonate to now, and they're very well thought out. Shades of grey on both sides. I love shades of grey.
--The language and historical feel. It feels like the time period, but it's not feels fresh, like you're really there, and besides that some of the lines in this book are very lyrical and wonderful but not pretentiously so.

Reviewing books has never been my forte, so I hardly know how to say how much I love this book, but really, read it. I don't reread books that often but I've reread this one, and I'll reread it again more than once.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ten Types of Reviews That Make Authors Sad

First, let me say that I love reviews in general. Some authors avoid reading their reviews ever. But I actually would not want to never read my reviews. I like knowing that some people loved my book, I love seeing thoughtful reactions, I like knowing what generally didn't go over well, and so while I might angst about those things, I enjoy them too. I praise those who are wise to avoid them to protect their sanity, but I will keep reading reviews. I've probably read 500 different opinions of Magic Under Glass already. After awhile, any one opinion means very little, but getting a feel for the collective opinion is nice.

So this is not a criticism against reviewers. This is just...a hopefully amusing list inspired by a Tenners/Elevensies chat the other day in which we Tenners warned the Elevensies what to expect and NOT TO STRESS over it. If possible. (Probably not possible.)

All book examples are made up and resemblance to real books is purely coincidental. In no particular order:

1. The Sloppy Slam. The reviewer didn't like your book. Or maybe they kind of liked it, but damned it with faint praise. More importantly, they called your fairy character a pixie and spelled Rutherford's name wrong, so clearly they weren't even PAYING ATTENTION REALLY so how dare they say the whole thing was just dumb? Also they added an apostrophe in an ungrammatical place.

2. The Turnaround. This reviewer was so excited to read your book. They drove 60 miles from their small town to the only bookstore in their entire county, pawning jewelry they inherited from their grandmother so they could buy your book in hardcover. And they are SOOO disappointed because this book SUCKS. I always feel so, so bad, so much so that when people tell me they just bought my book and can't wait to read it I'm just like, "I'M SORRY IF YOU HATE IT!!!"

3. The Unfair Criticism. This reviewer maybe even liked your book but they think the cover is sooo ugly, why did the author let them use that cover, or the font size is too big or too small and it's not available on Kindle and why did the sequel get pushed back a season?

4. The Mind-Reader. So, the other day you were thinking about some tiny little flaw in your book or work in general that luckily no one has never really commented on or noticed, and...the very next day, someone DOES notice.

5. The Reviewer With a Vengeance. All right. They didn't like your book. Fair enough. But did they have to go comment on every good review of it all over the web and point out how they didn't like it? Did they have to say something like "every other review of this on Amazon is so glowing but that just shows the dumbing down of the American taste" or "I can't BELIEVE Kirkus gave this a starred review"? It's a little much. Dear writer, have some chocolates.

6. The Assumption. Some reviewers see context in your work you never intended or realized, which is entirely fair and a part of literary criticism. Once it's published, interpretations are out of your hands. But it does get painful when readers assume you had an agenda that you didn't actually have, or when they seem to miss the point entirely, like say you make sure to handle teen sex in a sensitive, responsible way and show birth control and everything and the review makes it out like your characters are a bunch of irresponsible whores. Or they assume the characters' thoughts and beliefs are exactly like yours. Maybe they weren't reading carefully. Maybe you could have done better. You keep thinking about it. DID you put that in there? Ugh, maybe you did. Or maybe they're just stupid. Or maybe you did. Dude. Stop thinking about it, and whatever you do, do not comment on the review for goodness sake.

7. The Wrong Reader. So, say you adore writing about sensitive musician boys, maybe you are even married to a sensitive musician boy, and the reviewer is just like "OMG I HATE SENSITIVE MUSICIAN BOYS!" Well, they were not the reader for your book. The sensitive musician boy is what kept you going when you almost gave up on this book. There is no way you can please this reader and yourself at the same time. Why does it still hurt!?

8. The Reviewer That is Obviously Wrong. Obviously Wrong, Damnit! You've gotten fifty reviews that said your ideas were so original, and then you get the one who says that your book is the most typical unimaginative piece of tripe that they've ever read. What book were they reading? Maybe one of your books was somehow printed with a different book inside? Yes. Yes, that is it.

9. The Salt in the Wound. So, every book can always be better. From the moment your book leaves your hands, you will probably already be thinking about its weak points. This reviewer gives you a critical review that you totally agree with. And it makes you cringe. Augh, you could have pleased this person! If only you could take the book back and fix things! Please will they give your next book a chance? You have realized the error of your ways!

10. The Blog You Once Loved. So, you love a certain bloggers reviews. They have great taste! They like all the books you like! Their good reviews make you want to rush out and buy the book, and their bad reviews are so witty and astute and fun to read...oh. Until they hate yours. Oh. could they?

So, there you go. Collect them all! It's a rite of passage. Just like rejections.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Contest winner, etc.

I got back from my trip Saturday night and today I am finally sort of gathering myself and getting things done. It was an exhausting but wonderful voyage!

AND, I actually turned in Magic Under Stone before I departed. Yes! It has an ending! There are some parts of it, ending included, that I fear are still rather rough and I'm still cringing a bit...I wrote it so much faster than anything else I've ever written. But, still, for it being my first sequel and quite a bit longer than Magic Under Glass I am very happy with how it turned out. I can't wait to see what my editor will suggest for making it even better.

(Well, actually I can wait. I can totally wait. I don't want to see that thing again for a little bit.)

Between the Sea and Sky already has been added to over 600 to-read lists on Goodreads! Guys, that is a lot!! Thank you!! And the winner of the book package is Nicole (at Ink and Prose)! Nicole, I'll email you later today with a list of books to choose from.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Between the Sea and Sky cover!

The cover of my next book is live!

I got to see this cover back in May and I've had to wait all this time to share it with anyone. *writhes*

I LOVED writing this book so much. As I've described before, I envisioned like Jane Austen meets Miyazaki movie (and had soundtracks to both in heavy rotation while writing it). It's about a mermaid named Esmerine who runs into her old childhood friend winged dude Alan, while looking for her sister Dosinia who ran away with a human man. There is flying, and humor, and a brassy old woman, and a bookstore, and lots of love to literature (of the 18th century variety, at least), and kissing in a vineyard, and relationships between sisters, and Alan is somewhat of an intellectual snot, which I always enjoy, personally. Not so much of an intellectual snot that I wouldn't date him. You know.

It's set in the same world as Magic Under Glass but instead of being Victorian England/America-ish, it's based on Italy around 1800. (And man, I did way too much research on actual Italy for it being a made up Italy...)

So I'll have a wee contest for it. Add it to Goodreads (or if you've already added it, obviously, you're in, although I'd appreciate it if you could click the link and "change to this edition") for 1 entry:

Posting the cover on your blog will get you 5 entries.

You must comment back here with a link. Contest ends 11/14 midnight EST because I'm going on vacation.

Winner can choose three books from my stash of "already-read" books that I've either bought or picked up at ALA/BEA (I have very limited space to keep fiction so I cycle through them quickly!)...there are about thirty books to choose from, such as: The Eternal Ones, Plain Kate, Before I Fall, Hunger, Silver Phoenix, The Half-Life of Planets, Extraordinary... Lots more. I'll try to read some more before the contest ends too. Or you can opt for a signed UK copy of Magic Under Glass for one of your selections.

International entries allowed but you only get to choose one book cause I can't afford to ship too many overseas.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Developing a magical system

Ah, good intentions gone awry. I meant to post more about world building this week but I had to put down my beloved cat of the past ten years, Tacy, who had cancer. I posted about it more extensively in my personal blog, I won't recap here, but suffice to say I haven't really been thinking about anything creative. =( I'm feeling a little better today, though, so I'll attempt some blabber about magic systems.

I'll admit it, I find creating magic systems kind of a bore, especially what I think of as "sorcery" type magic. In Arestin, the magic I deal with most is actually telepathy, which I find more interesting. But, in the Magic Under Glass world, we have no telepathy, just sorcery. In Magic Under Glass it was kind of vague--Nimira really didn't come from a magic background so she didn't know magic or know much about how it worked, but for Magic Under Stone I had to figure it out a little better.

Some questions to ask oneself while developing a magical system:

--Does everyone have the innate ability to use the magical system?
--Are there different types of people with different abilities or potential abilities?
--Is magic something you study, or does it just simply happen?
--Are certain types of people forbidden from certain magics?
--Are certain types of magic forbidden, period? Or, the reverse--are certain magics only allowed to a few, like court magicians?
--How is magic categorized in the world? This may affect how magic is studied or thought of.

In Arestin, for example, magic is categorized as either "aggressive" or "passive" (they probably have a better word for it in their language), shapeshifting is aggressive, healing is passive. Moving something with your mind is aggressive, merely sensing it is passive. Traditionally aggressive magic is considered a masculine art and passive magic more of a feminine one, which of course annoys a lot of people in progressive modern Arestin, and affects how these abilities are perceived, just as our cultural perception of sewing and cooking being female arts and say, building shelves and sword fighting being masculine affects how these activities are perceived and taught. It's good to know these details about your world so they can come up organically in writing and make everything feel more rich.

In Magic Under Glass, magic is categorized by species: earth (fairies), fire (humans and also jinn), water (merfolk), air (winged folk). There is also spirit magic, accessible to all races and considered the most dangerous and mysterious. Every race kind of has their own rules and thoughts about magic, though. Some of it was based on legend and myth, some on astrology and some on mere common sense.

Sometimes it's kind of hard for my brain to juggle two worlds with two different magic systems! I tend to have a certain way I think magic could work and I have trouble writing about it working in a drastically different way in another world. There are still some major similarities between magic in Arestin and Magic Under Glass...but Arestin has telepathy and Magic Under Glass has a distinct spirit realm, that's the major difference.

In a relatively unrelated note, I realized today that the fairies in Magic Under Glass are really more like elves. If I had called them elves I probably wouldn't see the occasional bitchy review about how I didn't follow lore. (I'm sorry! It's an alternate earth with echoes of our world so I wanted alternate lore with some echoes of our fairy lore.) But fairies are hot and elves are not, and I need to sell books, so I guess I'm not that sorry. ;)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Fantasy world-building, religion, and curse words/slang

I'm thinking--if I can find the time--I might do a few posts on fantasy world-building this week and some of the things that I consider when I'm world-building. This means I will be discussing the Magic Under Glass world (henceforth referred to, romantically, as "MUG world") and my Arestin world, which is an as-yet-unpublished world but I've been writing about it since I was 12 so I learned a lot about world-building from it.

Religion is just another aspect to consider when you're world-building, but it's one of the trickier ones because people can get annoyed about it. The most common religions in fantasy are, I think, belief in a pantheon of gods who may or may not be present as characters, or some kind of Goddess. I assume a goddess sounds more mystical than a god, and, well, you avoid that whole parallel with Judeo-Christian religion. Or, usually in Medieval-based fantasy, there is always the Evil Religion with Evil Priests and Oppressive Church in the Pocket of Evil King. Or you can just leave it out. In Harry Potter, for example, I always thought it was weird that Christmas was celebrated at Hogwarts but otherwise there was no mention of religion or religious holidays. I totally understood why she had it like that--goodness knows she got enough flak already--but it did make me wonder what people of different religions and beliefs would think of suddenly finding out they were a wizard, and what a fascinating story that would be to explore.

In the MUG world, I pretty much left religion out. Religion was an integral part of community life in the 19th century (it does come up in my Corsets and Clockwork story, in a casual sort of way); everyone pretty much went to church whether they really believed in it or not, and MUG is obviously set in an alternate 19th century, but then, do I make up an alternate Christianity for Hollin and Annalie? An alternate something for Nimira to have been raised with? What about fairies? Oh, the complications! Better not to mess with it.

In the Arestin stories, since I started writing them at 12 (Mists of Avalon phase ahoy) I went right for the whole goddess thing, so I could have a bunch of mystical women in robes and stuff. If you're reading a lot of 90s King Arthur retellings and listening to Loreena McKennit, what else would you come up with? There were two races in the world, the Goddess-worshipping Miralem and the Daramons who were of course all, "We will oppress your Goddess religion, rawr!" It was pretty typical at first. Over time, though, of course, things evolved and I worked out that the Daramons were quite different--their whole religious belief and how their moral choices were shaped wasn't even based around gods at all, but around reincarnation. I think if most of them believe in a God of some sort, it's more of a nebulous force of the universe than something you would worship. Daramons tend to believe in things that are more logical (at least, in their mind) than Miralem, and they don't generally pray or worship anything. They do tend to believe in karma, but I'm sure there is plenty of argument amongst them about who or what is deciding this karma, exactly.

This brings me to curse words and fantasy slang. I suspect that Daramon curse words are probably different than ours and some of them are probably based on these reincarnation beliefs, but how would you convey that without it sounding incredibly stupid? I don't feel that I could, especially since Arestin is a modern world with imported Earth culture and it would sound sooo jarring if Alfred was like, "By all the lives of my ancestors, the latest Arcade Fire album is awesome!" Or something. If it was an epic fantasy and he was like, "By the karmic power of the stars, this new broadsword is a dream!" that might sound a little better. (A little...) There is also the option of making up some word the characters can say all the time, but I don't like that either. For one thing, most languages have more than one word that is used all the time, but you don't want to throw in ten nonsense slang words, nor do you want to annoy with overuse of one. For another, what works in one language doesn't necessarily work in otherwise translated dialogue. Try throwing in Japanese curse words into English speech and making them sound right! The inflection is just all wrong.

Perhaps most importantly, the period you're trying to convey must be considered. Between the Sea and Sky takes place in a Regency-type world, so I felt I could completely get away with characters saying "Skies above!" or "Waters!" If it's replacing "Dear me!" or something, it sounds fine. If it's supposed to replace "Damn!", or worse, that might be...well, rather inadequate.

Oof. It's a lot to consider.

For more on the topic of religion in fantasy:
R. J. Anderson on religion in fantasy (I know I've seen another post from her on the topic but I can't find it anymore...)
Interview by Melodye Shore with Barry Deutsch, writer/illustrator of Hereville, which incorporates Orthodox Judaism and fantasy
Interview with Elizabeth Bunce at the Enchanted Inkpot where she talks about religious themes in "Starcrossed" and developing the gods in the book

Next time I might talk about developing magic systems. I already started blabbing about it in someone's blog comments yesterday so I think I can get a whole post about it...

Win a critique from me!

My friend Larissa is running the Florida Writers Association auction, so I donated a 20 page critique for their auction (to benefit literacy).

It only runs through 10/19 at 10 pm Eastern so don't delay!

Click here for details and see the rest of the critique donations.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Corsets and Clockwork update

Ooh, it looks like it has a cover!:

Also, a list of contributors:

Anna Aguirre
Jaclyn Dolamore =D
Tessa Gratton
Caitlin Kittredge
Adrienne Kress
Lesley Livingston
Dru Pagliassotti
Dia Reeves
Michael Scott
Maria V. Snyder
Tiffany Trent
Kiersten White

That's 12, it says 14, so I guess the description is not entirely accurate yet. I'm grabbing this from Amazon UK, so, ya know.

My story caused me a considerable amount of angst but it's done and I have to say I really like it and I had many enjoyable hours of research on airships and conjoined twins from it. Also I've read DIa Reeves's story and it ROCKS. This collection is gonna have some really good stuff in it.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The agony of the sequel

Magic Under Stone is coming close to the denouement (a word I can spell but likely not pronounce!). I'm feeling a bit of panic.

Writing a sequel is really weird. With Magic Under Glass I had no fan base, no idea how anyone would respond to my work, what people would love and hate about it. Now I have voices in my head: People who want X, people who want more of Z. People who hate Z.

Well, I can never please every fan. But I'm my own first fan. I'd like to please myself, at least! Sometimes I worry if I've even managed that. You know, as a fan, I have my own expectations for the sequel. Certain characters I want to see more of, certain things I want to happen, and as I write, sometimes the characters don't cooperate, sometimes a certain character has turned out to be the kitchen sink--you know, there's everything in it BUT them.

It's the hardest thing when I really WANT something to happen and it just isn't fitting in. Augh. Fan me is so disappointed! Damn that Jaclyn Dolamore!

On the other hand, there have been some marvelous surprises. I'm loving two certain new characters a lot more than I expected. And I didn't think character X was going to turn up much, and they did, and they are awesome.

Either way, it's definitely going to be my longest and most ambitious work yet, and it's always nice to feel like you've moved up a notch in what you're capable of.

Friday, October 1, 2010

What rejections and a ukulele taught me about failure

I just watched the Oprah interview with J. K. Rowling, and was thoroughly fascinated. She talked a little about the importance of failure, which I thought was interesting since I was JUST mulling over failure myself yesterday. It seems like whenever I mull over something, someone else talks about it. Usually on a blog with 10x more readers than this one. Well, this time it was national TV, so my thoughts keep moving up even when I don't. ;)

I'm gonna talk about it anyway. Sometimes when I'm talking to teens or aspiring writers or whatever, I feel kind of bad, because I want to encourage people who are struggling to achieve their dreams. I ALWAYS wanted to be a writer, always wrote a lot, was always praised for my writing, had a lot of encouragement, etc. It did take me three years to find an agent and I really worked on my craft during that time, but it would be a lie to tell you that I started out completely clueless and awful. I was always good at telling stories. I don't feel it's braggy to say so. I could tell by the way people around me reacted. The same goes for art, although it wasn't my passion so I never honed it as much.

However, because I WAS really talented at certain things from a young age and I knew it, I tended to avoid new things I was NOT good at. Anything athletic, for example. I quickly gave up on learning to ice skate or do any sort of structured dancing, ditto karate, archery, or basically anything sporty, even if it interested me. Music was another one. I tried learning the guitar as a teen and dumped it pretty fast. I sucked at playing guitar. Learning to sew, you can add that to the list too. I deeply resisted learning to cook, too--it was only that my burning desire to eat decent food overwhelmed me.

When Magic Under Glass sold, I asked for a ukulele for Christmas. This time, learning an instrument was a new experience. Ukuleles are pretty easy to play in a basic way, so that's satisfying, but I still have to admit the whole world of playing an instrument is new to me. I don't know how things work or the terms. It's not intuitive to me. Sometimes I feel like I'm trying to do algebra when I look at ukulele lessons. There is nothing remotely special or impressive about anything I have EVER played on that ukulele.

I realized it's one of the first things I've ever done knowing that if I am ever praised or noticed for my ukulele-ing skill, that day is FAR, FAAAAR away. It's not like I write or draw strictly for praise or attention, but if everything you ever do is praised and noticed--at least sometimes--it's kind of hard to do something that you'll probably never be stellar at.

It's kind of liberating in a way I never knew. I can just mess around without any sense of pressure on myself. But I think I was able to do it because I've sold a book, and "proven" myself in my preferred area of expertise. And maybe because I'd learned a lesson by putting my book out there to agents and editors, something I couldn't do for a long while.

I wish I'd been easier on myself before. Why did I need to be good at everything? I didn't realize how much I feared failure, and might have held myself back from learning a lot of new things.

Succeeding in the arts (or probably, anything you're passionate about) is all about embracing rejection and failure, and learning from it, even when you're starting off with some inherent talent. For years I was afraid to query even though I thought I was a good writer. I must have suspected deep-down that I wasn't as great as I thought I was, and I was afraid to come down. There is definitely a deep fear about moving to a new level of achievement or competition, that what cut it before won't cut it there, that there are others much better than you are. The first rejection I ever got from an agent made me cry. The first rejection of a partial made me cry, and a full, and sometimes I'd just be in the midst of the process and random tears would sneak up on me: What if I'm never good enough? I thought I was special and I'm NOT. I am MEDIOCRE and my writing does not make anyone desperate to acquire.

But in other ways, I learned to enjoy even the process of submission and rejection. Every rejection meant I was OUT THERE. I was LEARNING. For years, I was afraid to do it, and now I WAS DOING IT. And man, even if I meant I had to step down from the protected tower, it also meant that I wasn't one of the people who just TALKS.

In hindsight, one of the things I'm most proud of about myself in the last five years is not that I succeeded, but that I learned to fail.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Do we write for ourselves, our audience, or our generation?

Hannah Moskowitz had a thought-provoking post some weeks back at her blog about whether the YA community has gotten too insular...I don't agree with all of it, but I gotta love Hannah for getting me thinking. I love a good juicy blog discussion.

One of the sub-discussions that popped up was whether we should, or do, write for ourselves or for our audience.

So, I was just reading a book of interviews with children's writers from the library (AuthorTalk). The book came out in 2000 and I think the bulk of the writers were born in the 1930s. I mean, obviously if you're going to be one of the few selected for interviews in a book representative of the genre, you're going to be somewhat of a classic in your own time, so these aren't whippersnappers like me. (That may have been the first time in my life I used the word "whippersnappers", and I have to say, I never noticed what a fun cadence that word has.)

A recurring theme I noticed with these writers is that when they were young, they didn't see a lot of books about kids like them, whether it was because of race, or class, or because they lived in a big city, or whatever. These writers, and others like them, shaped the next generation of children's literature, the stuff I read as a kid in the 80s, where lots of kids lived in New York or Boston, and there were Jewish kids and black kids, and kids with really down-to-earth lives, money troubles, divorce, etc.

Of course, since I grew up with those books on the shelves, AND old books like Betsy-Tacy and Emily of New Moon and My Father's Dragon and Doctor Dolittle, it all blended together with little sense of How Far We'd Come, and meanwhile, I wondered where the books I wanted to read were. Like, why were fantasy books always set in pseudo-Medieval England? Why were they incredibly lacking in influence from other cultures or time periods? Why were disabled characters always either aggravatingly cheerful or just plain aggravating with a big fat lesson at the end? And we won't even get started on race. I mean, sure, books about other races existed in the mainstream, which was an improvement, but they were awfully pigeonholed...we still have this problem, but it gets better with the years. And gay characters? I didn't even know what gay WAS until I was like...nine or ten. This seems unbelievable now, and yeah, my childhood was SORT of isolated, but I did read teen magazines from the time I was nine and I recall no mention of gay teens at that point. (When I did find out, it wasn't from books or magazines either, btw, it was a documentary on PBS, probably about AIDS.)

I won't lie that one of my motivations in writing was to write books with the things I perceived to be missing from the stuff available, to reflect the world as I saw it, even in a fantasy novel. I was writing, in part, for my generation, the kid I was and the kids my friends were.

And, in fact, diversity was certainly not my only aim. One thing I desperately wanted to read about was HOT BOYS. I had trouble with that as a preteen and young teen because I liked skinny, artsy, sensitive boys who had angsty pasts and maybe some conflict but were still reasonably good guys, whereas most romance stories, whether for YA or adults, seemed to run more toward jocks and alpha males or bad boys. When anime came along, it blew my little mind because apparently Asian cultures and I agree on boys. Anime and manga are rife with the kind of boys I like. But I still dreamed of writing about them myself, in books.

Now, of course, I'm an adult and there is a new generation reading these books that I and others have written, and I've noticed there are other writers tackling very similar types of themes, characters and settings to the ones I always wanted to read. I can't help but think a lot of the current crop of new writers was born in the 70s and 80s and they must have thought some awfully similar things growing up. No doubt, the kids reading our books are seeing something missing. I don't know know what it will be yet. So, do I always write for my audience? I do listen to readers, but let's face it: probably not. But whatever the gap is, it's for them to fill, in the next decade or two or three. In the meantime, enjoy the relative hot boy diversity.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Read your non-fiction, kids

Just as I was once shocked to learn that not everyone has huge bookshelves in their house, I am sometimes surprised to learn that many readers don't read nonfiction, except for school. (I'm sure there are also many nonfiction readers who don't read fiction, only I don't know them because I dwell in the fiction world and they're probably not reading my blog.)

I LOVE LOVE LOVE non-fiction. Always have. My childhood library, mind you, was a wee thing. It was built within my readerly lifetime and nowadays the small building is bursting at the seams with books, but when I was a kid, it was new and there was plenty of room. There was one stubby aisle of children's fiction. Children's non-fiction was lumped in with adult non-fiction, and that section was more like seven aisles, so it became my habit to wander down every aisle of children's fiction and the non-fiction every time I went to the library and pick up whatever caught my eye.

I started out as more of a fiction reader and started moving more toward non-fiction in my early twenties, and then back a bit more to fiction again when I became serious about fiction writing. My favorite books ever are fiction, but my home library is 75% non-fiction.

My favorite non-fiction books have always been about history or other countries, particularly about some aspects of people's every day lives. This has shaped who I am as a person and a writer. I haven't been to another continent, and I grew up in a pretty small world. I didn't realize as a kid I was learning to think in global terms and notice patterns throughout history because of the many many books I read. In the past five years I've read about how airplanes work, the history of fairy tales and children's books, archaeology, the Age of Enlightenment, manners around the world, blindness, Romantic poets, Chinese foot-binding, immigrants and Ellis Island, the Masai people, the Chicago Worlds' Fair, early European explorers in the Americas, remote tribes in South America and Asia, three generations of a Japanese business family, the Mafia, conjoined twins, the Hindenburg, and the history of food; housework; Publix grocery stores and Woolworth's. I've traveled, via book, to Japan, Victorian England, 18th-century France and Italy, New York City, India, Russia, Mongolia, and Maine, and I've learned a little more about Isaac Asimov, Helen Keller, Sylvia Plath, Tasha Tudor, Louisa May Alcott, Colette, Frederick the Great, Charles and Emma Darwin, Lord Byron, Madame Pompadour, L. Frank Baum, the Romanovs, Horatio Nelson, the Mitfords, Frida Kahlo, Josephine Baker, eternal favorites L. M. Montgomery, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Jane Austen, and the Brontes.

For fantasy writers especially, I think it's good to read non-fiction...whether you're interested in animals, food, rock formations, castles... You can bet you'll use it for world-building somewhere. Fiction is great, and I read tons of it, but non-fiction lends creativity and authenticity to fiction, and I don't just mean the reading you picked out for targeted research. Sometimes it's the random book you picked up on the fly that turns out to be just the thing.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Deadlines and me

I've been pretty accomplished lately. I sent off my story, "The Airship Gemini" for the Corsets and Clockwork anthology, and I passed 60,000 words on Magic Under Stone. It's probably going to be 75,000 words in the first draft (which makes it my Longest Thing Ever, not including Alfred and Olivia, which is 81k, but grew very slowly and comfortably over many revisions) I see the end in sight.

Last month, however, and during many other months of the summer, I was in despair about how I would get these things done by the deadline, especially with all of June and half of July occupied by pretty much rewriting Between the Sea and Sky. That crushing, OMG I'M GOING TO DISAPPOINT EVERYONE AND GO BROKE CAUSE THESE BOOKS WILL NEVER EVER BE DONE, despair. I was stuck in both contracted thingies, and that short story that sounded like a fun little thing when I signed up for it had seemed to grow into a very intimidating task as I worked on it.

As it turned out, I turned in The Airship Gemini early, and I'm not sure when Magic Under Stone is supposed to be due (my contract says November, but usually my editor seems to give me a different date), but unless someone tells me otherwise I gave myself a self-imposed deadline of November 2nd, because I'm going on vacation on the 4th and there is no better feeling than finishing a book and then leaving town! It appears I will definitely make that. Even allowing for getting stuck on the end.

My agent had a post today about the pros and cons of accepting a multi-book deal, which is similar to a topic I've been pondering lately--do I work better with or without a deadline? There were times earlier in the year when I just couldn't wait to be free of a deadline. I was thinking how I get SO stressed about them, I take them SO seriously even when the deadline is ages away (maybe because I never had any formal education with papers due? no experience forcing myself to do something and turn it in on time? or maybe because I'm just an over-achiever in certain areas), and how I hoped the next thing I sold would be done already.

Of course, now that it seems I'm going to make my deadlines without any problem, I wondered why on earth I was so worried. Deadlines are kind of great! They keep me on task so I don't flit around from project to project (as I am wont to do), and it's kind of awesome to be paid for something before you even write it.

So, now I have three books sold and two have been bought before they were written. I've also done two decently involved revision letters. And the short story. I'm a lot more acquainted with the deadline than I used to be. Will it be a little less scary next time I'm stuck under deadline? I'm not sure, really, if that fear ever goes away. But I also know that stories always work themselves out. So I guess I'm pretty comfortable with the deadline (unless it's really tight...I know how fast I's fast, but not CRAZY-fast, and I think it would be awful to force myself to work faster than that). Still, I'd be pretty hesitant to sell a book without, at least, a strong vision for it. I've stuck *fairly* well to my Magic Under Stone proposal, and thank goodness for that thing... Sometimes when I was flailing, I would read it to calm myself down. "I do know how this is going to end...just keep writing from point A to B to C and you WILL GET THERE!"

Other writers, feel free to chime in! Do you love or hate deadlines?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

And the winner of the Mermaid's Mirror, Matched and Paranormalcy ARCs is...!

Angie Frazier!

(For pete's sake. I just sent her that picture of Oscar from her interview last week! I could have bundled them!! LOL)

Thanks for entering, everybody!!

I spoke at a homeschooling event today about unschooling. It wasn't a huge event but I think I had a really good crowd considering the size...maybe 10 people at the peak. I was nervous though...small crowds are hard, I think. I think my speaking skills are decent. But this made me wish they were better still. The kind of person who can liven up a tough crowd or really engage a small one. I'm not there yet, but I think I'll get there with experience.

Dade thought there was someone there who had been at my signing earlier in the year. Oh gosh, I hope that's not true and there wasn't someone there I should have recognized! I'm so horrid with faces. It's embarrassing. Sometimes really embarrassing. Once when I worked at Sears, this customer asked me if we had meat grinders. In the one minute or so it took to go ask my coworker if we had meat grinders, I forgot what the person looked like. Utterly. I think I remembered their gender. That was it. So I had to go around asking every man in the vicinity if they'd been asking about meat who looked totally different from one another, men of different ages and races. *sigh*

Oh, and the real kicker was, the meat grinder guy seemed to have left.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mermaid-y Interview with L. K. Madigan and Giveaway of The Mermaid's Mirror, Matched, and Paranormalcy!!!

I have a treat for you today: an interview with L. K. Madigan, author of Morris-award-winning FLASH BURNOUT and the upcoming THE MERMAID'S MIRROR (releases Oct. 4th), which is a lovely story with very real contemporary characters and a magical underwater world that I already want more of. I asked her if she'd talk mermaids with me and not only did she say yes, she threw in two ARCs for me to give away, PARANORMALCY and MATCHED! I'm giving away those two and an ARC of her new book, details after the interview.

I know why I was drawn to mermaids when I was a little girl and ever since (at least, I have some theories...psychologists may differ...) but why were you drawn to mermaids?

This is a great question, and I’m glad you asked, because I really had to search my childhood memories. My fascination with mermaids has been life-long, so it took me awhile to pinpoint the beginning.

I believe I can trace my mermaid-love back to a vintage View-Master reel of Hans Christian Anderson Tales, one of which was “The Little Mermaid.” Not the Disney version … this was long before the animated film. (If you don’t know what a View-Master is, you can read about them here: They were invented in Oregon! I had no idea.)

Those images appear amazingly low-tech now, but when I first saw them … they were mesmerizing. The mysterious underwater setting combined with the poignancy of Anderson’s tale left an indelible impression on me.

Interviewee note: Lisa actually bought this reel on eBay when I interviewed her and got her photographer friend, Brian McLernon, to use all of his super close-up gear to turn them into visible images. Is this not the coolest interview ever? Thank you, Brian!

You first wrote about mermaids when you were eight years old with a 78 page manuscript called Mermaid's Fun. 78 pages is a LOT to write for an eight year old, I must say. And even as an adult I know this book has gone through some evolution. How have your fictional mermaids in general and this story in particular change over time?

The mermaids in my childhood manuscript sounded a lot like my sister, my friends, and me … except they possessed tails and the ability to breathe underwater. The mermaid who most resembled me was, funnily enough, a princess!

The characters in The Mermaid’s Mirror are purely fictional, both the humans and the mer-people. They’re no longer thinly disguised versions of my sister, my friends, and me. :-)

The early version of the book was written for younger readers. Lena, the main character, was fourteen years old, and her concerns revolved around her family and her desire to surf. Once I decided to turn the book into a YA novel, I aged Lena to sixteen. Her concerns also became “older,” centering more on her friends, her boyfriend, and her desire for independence.

Do you have a mermaid book, movie, myth, etc. that is your favorite?

In books, I really love Mary Pope Osborne’s MERMAID TALES FROM AROUND THE WORLD, which is exactly what it sounds likes – a collection of stories from various countries.

As for art books, my two favorites are MERMAIDS, by Elizabeth Ratisseau and SIRENS: SYMBOLS OF SEDUCTION, by Meri Lao. They’re full of gorgeous images and historical literary references to sea creatures.

I confess I haven’t read any of the current YA mermaid books, because I don’t want to be influenced (even unconsciously) by the other authors’ vision of undersea life … so I can’t claim a favorite among them. I will make an exception when YOUR book comes out, Jackie. :-)

In movies, I love “Splash” and “The Secret of Roan Inish.” And come on, who doesn’t love Disney’s “Little Mermaid”?! If we go waaaay back in time, “The Incredible Mr. Limpet,” a 1960’s classic with Don Knotts, may have fueled my fascination with mermaids. (I hear they’re doing a re-make of the movie now. Sigh.)

In the book, we learn that the names of the mermaids come from all the waters of the world. Some of them I recognized, like Melusina, from a famous mermaid myth, or Rusalka, after the Russian water spirits. But there were a lot I didn't recognize, and I've even been researching this stuff. Can you tell us the origins of a few of the names?

Some of them came from the Mary Pope Osborne compilation mentioned above. A lot of them came from Greek mythology. I found other names through lots of reading and research.

Here are a few specific sources:

Amphitrite – one of the Nereids (sea nymphs) in Greek mythology; she became Poseidon’s wife.
Merrow – the Gaelic word for mermaid or merman.
Wata – taken from “Mami Wata,” an African water spirit, sometimes depicted as a mermaid.

I loved comparing your mer world to the one in my upcoming novel Between the Sea and Sky. Did you do any particular research for the story, or has it all just been in your head for a while?

I worked on this story off and on for several years, so my undersea world evolved and clarified in my imagination with each rewrite. I read plenty of fairy tales and folk tales, but there’s not a huge amount of lore about sea creatures. Did you find that to be the case, when you were working on your mer world?

Yes. So true! I combed the internet for hours digging up what I could find. My library hardly had anything... It seems that most of what is out there is for little girls, but I know I'm not the only grown woman who still likes mermaids!

I wanted to portray the world beneath the waves as beautiful and mysterious and dangerous – after all, the sea IS all of those things – but also try to address practical questions. How do they breathe? How do they talk to each other? How do they avoid discovery?

It was so much fun to envision that world. Writing feels pretty close to magic, sometimes.

And one more question I must ask because I'm always fascinated by other people's themes--while The Mermaid's Mirror is a fantasy and more of a "girl" book than your previous (contemporary) novel, Flash Burnout, they both share a similar style of well-developed, realistic characters and world. Are there any themes you feel like both books share?

Oooh, another great question, Jackie! Both of my books explore the themes of love and loyalty – to friends, family, and romantic attachments. The main characters’ choices result in believable consequences in both books, I think.

Thank you so much for the interview, Lisa, and everybody pick up The Mermaid's Mirror come October!

Now, if you want to win the ARCs, you get +1 entry for commenting on the post and another entry for posting the following to Twitter:

I talk mermaids with L. K. Madigan: RT @jackiedolamore for a chance to win Mermaid's Mirror, Matched, and Paranormalcy!

Or to Facebook:

I talk mermaids with L. K. Madigan: Click for a chance to win Mermaid's Mirror, Matched, and Paranormalcy!

And then TELL ME in the comments or else I won't be able to keep track and you will LOSE YOUR CHANCE and it will be very sad. The contest is open to the US/Canada (sorry, I can't afford to send three books abroad, it's pricey!) and closes on Friday, September 17th.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Is the world getting ever faster, or just kinda moving along?

This isn't a writing post, this was just a dumb history-geek musing that was keeping me awake last night for some reason. (Actually I think the dark chocolate I ate at 1 am was keeping me awake, the weird swirl of thoughts was from the stimulant. Bad idea.)

I had this conversation with my dad last week about how technology keeps advancing all the time and how the world keeps moving faster and faster. I think about this sometimes and it's really terrifying, because it seems like if the world keeps accelerating, pretty soon we're just going to explode or something.

But we were talking about what an advancement actually consists of. Is a faster computer every week truly the world getting faster? I sort of feel like it really only counts as a true advancement if you have trouble imagining life without it. Like, I was born in 1982 and spent the first fourteen years of my life without really experiencing the internet, but now I can't imagine life without it. It seems astounding when I think how my mom used to plan a vacation using Mobil Travel Guides. OMG! Nightmare! Ditto cell phones. I still barely own a cell phone--it's a pay-as-you-go piece of junk that usually sits unused in a pile of papers--but I'm SO used to OTHER people having cell phones that I also have trouble remembering what we did before they came along.

But, I don't consider faster internet really much of an upgrade. I mean, sure, it's hugely important, but if we suddenly all had to use 14.4k modems, my life wouldn't be utterly destroyed. We'd go back to more mailing lists and message boards than Twitter and such, and web pages would have to become less fancy again, but it wouldn't completely change life as we know it. It's sort of like if we all had to drive Model Ts. Yeah, they kind of putter along and probably everyone would learn more about car repairs, but you could still get around.

So in my lifetime I really only see the personal computer (I don't remember my family not having a computer, but they came into general household use when I was alive), internet, and the cell phone as the life-changing inventions of my time.

I still think the early 20th century was the most accelerated point in history. If I'd been born in 1900, it would be 1928 now, and I would have seen movies, the automobile, the radio, the telephone, widespread electricity, quite a few major innovations for housekeeping like the washing machine and vacuum cleaner (might not seem as important but it had a huge impact on women's lives)...Some major medical advances, too, I guess. I'm not as up on my medical history. Sanitation, certainly. The toilet came into widespread use at this time, and baths! The airplane I'm not sure counts until people actually began to use airplanes to travel regularly. I think it would be more of a shocker for a child of 1950 to go back to 1900 than a child of 2000 to go back to 1950. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it's about the same because kids would go nuts without video games these days or something.

Or maybe inventions are just more subtle and complicated these days so we don't notice how much is going on. I don't know. I do always wonder what the major innovations of the next few decades will be. I'm guessing they will be in green technology. I hope so. I *think* we're nearly maxed out on communication technology.

Thus concludes a very random post.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Writer dreams; or, every night is like playing the lottery

I think every book I've written has benefited from my dreams. In Magic Under Glass, for instance, Annalie's curse came from a vivid dream I had some years earlier about a cursed prince. I say dreams are like playing the lottery because you certainly can't count on them to help you, but once in awhile you'll get an unexpected gift, and it can be extremely valuable.

When a helpful dream does come along, its effect can be almost miraculously potent. I've been working on Magic Under Stone and there is a character in it who is new to the book. He's actually (at least, as of this first draft) the secondary POV along with Nimira, so he's pretty important! He has an interesting situation and I WANT to know him, but I didn't feel like I really did.

The other night I had a dream where I was semi-in his shoes. The setting was all was modern, kind of like those weird Fushigi Yuugi stories where the cast of hot boys from ancient China are all oh-so-conveniently reincarnated in modern-day Japan. But because I briefly WAS him, I got some insights into his personality and his background that I didn't previously have. When I woke up suddenly I knew him in a new way. I've been clamoring to write about him ever since this dream, whereas before it was just sort of "meh".

This isn't the first time such a thing has happened by any means...but the nature of these dreams never fails to amaze me. I've had any number of bizarre character dream experiences. Sometimes I get hit with a whole new story out of nowhere, other times, like with the dream just described, I am walking in a characters shoes and getting to understand them in a way I never could while awake. One time I even woke from a nightmare, calmed myself by thinking of my stories, went back to sleep, and had a continuation dream where my characters saved me from the threat.

Does everyone dream like this? Or is it because I sleep too much?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Interview Roundup

Yeesh. I've been meaning to do this for MONTHS, but when Magic Under Glass came out, I was in the midst of confusing hand pain hell, and didn't pursue any interviews. I did all the interviews people asked me if I would do, but then I didn't do much of a job publicizing them. I am so SOOO appreciative of all the people who did approach me and ask to interview me. I also feel bad that I didn't really keep track of where I did interviews at the time. Well, I just spent an hour Googling myself (a hazardous occupation at any time...did you know some libraries list how many times a book has been checked out? I didn't know this until today...) so I could compile this belated list of interviews! See me answer the question "how did you get the idea for Magic Under Glass?" ten different ways!

Authors Unleashed
Bloomsbury UK
The Book Butterfly (Guest post: Interview with Erris from "The Young Maiden's Own Magazine")
The Book Report
The Book Scout
The Compulsive Reader
DaydreamerN's Reviews
Drenched in Words (L. K. Madigan)
The Enchanted Inkpot
The Hiding Spot
In Bed With Books
LiyanaLand! (Interview with Nimira.)
LiyanaLand! (Deleted scene with the original version of Erris, at the bottom of the post.)
Manga Maniac Cafe
Oasis for YA
Post Mortem (A very fun interview between Jackie Morse Kessler's Death and my Erris.)
The Spectacle
Tea Mouse
Windowpane Memoirs
YA Highway

(P. S. Almost forgot, if you did an interview with me that Google didn't turn up, don't be shy! Let me know so I can add it to the list.)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Critique Partners, Selection and Care of

My last post spawned a new question, which is, okay, say you're really ready to listen to feedback on your work, but you can't find anyone to read it. What do you do? How do you find these elusive critique partners?

I'll admit I've had a lot of trouble with critique partners myself. If you read Maggie Stiefvater's blog you know she has two wonderful critique partners and she auditioned to find them. (She talks about that here.) My road, however, has not been so smooth. I've never had a regular critique partner. But especially in the beginning. And I think there are three rough phases of critique partner-ing.


The more difficult your work is to read, because it's wordy or confusing or badly paced or whatever, the more difficult it is to find critique partners, because your work just isn't enjoyable to read. You might not even realize it at first, but most writers go through this stage. No shame in it. This is the point where you can get just about anyone to critique you, because there are so many problems that anyone can spot at least some of them. And in fact, it's best to find critique partners that are on a similar skill level to you, because you'll learn a LOT from critiquing their work as well. Maybe you can't see what's wrong with your story yet, but you'll probably notice you don't really enjoy reading their work either. Sometimes you'll have to really think about WHY that is, exactly, depending on what the problem is.

If you're at this stage, I also recommend reading some books on writing. I never went writing book crazy, but there are two I love and still go back to: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne & King, and Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. (You could also opt for the Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook instead if you enjoy that format.) The first one handles how to develop a style and line edit your work (not grammatically, but to improve readability and strengthen the prose), and the second one is good for plotting.

Where do you find beginner critique partners? Well, this is kind of the phase where you probably don't know how bad you are. I would not give your work to family, friends, or people you love and trust. They'll either lie, break your heart, or never have the time to read it. A great place to go is Critique Circle. The website makes it easy to submit critiques and critique other writers, and there is a point system set up so that you have to give critiques to get critiques. Therefore, almost every story will get some critiques because people need to earn points. You might even make some friends there and find someone to exchange with more closely.


At Critique Circle, you submit a chapter at a time, therefore it's best when your work really needs line editing. At some point, you won't get so much line editing, you'll get comments like "This character doesn't work for me" or "The pacing in this chapter dragged"--global comments. At this point, you'll want someone who will exchange larger chunks of story with you. There are a few ways you can find them.

If you have a blog, Twitter, etc and you've been making friends in the writing community, you can put out a call for readers there: "Hey, does anyone want to look at the first 50 pages of my novel? I'll be happy to reciprocate." I wouldn't ask for readers for the whole thing--too intimidating--and always be sure to return the favor. Also, when your friends ask for critiquers, you can always be the first to volunteer and build up "critiquer karma" so you can offer them your work when it's ready.

If you don't participate much in the online community, I think it would be really hard to find critique partners. Sometimes I see people pop onto the Blue Boards asking for crit partners, but I don't know what kind of response they get. I've always gotten critique partners through my blog.

I will mention, at first, it's better to give more than you take. Offer to give a lot of critiques and you'll learn things, make friends, and build goodwill. At first I critiqued more than I received critiques from others, and near the end of my pre-publication journey I had several people who would read my work just because they liked it. But it took time to get there.

During the intermediate phase, you might have a lot of critique partners. Maybe several at once, or maybe you'll run through them like Henry VIII went through wives. Sometimes you'll get advice that makes your forehead wrinkle, other times you might have three people telling you three different things (note: this usually just means something isn't working and there are many ways to fix it), but you'll learn a lot about how to use a critique. (My rule of thumb: Make changes if several people say the same thing, several people mention the same problem but offer different solutions, or if you're excited about the change. Don't take every suggestion.) You will learn exactly what you want in a critique partner.


Advanced is the ideal! One or two or three (probably not more than that) people who love your work, whose work you love to read, who will exchange entire manuscripts with you, turn them around when you need them for a deadline if they don't have a deadline themselves, and who will hash out ideas and problems when you're stumped. Finding this person is like...well, maybe not as hard as finding a romantic partner--you still don't have to share chores or finances--but it can be hard. Just as some people marry their high school sweetheart and some people go through three divorces and some people live and die alone, you might luck into a perfect critique partner early on, or it might take you 5+ years like me. It's a love match. Don't look too hard for it, let it find you, and don't feel bad if you don't have one. You'll manage without it.

Okay. Phew. OMG. If you like blogs with snappy advice, this is not the blog for you, is it? I'm so long winded...

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Want to get published? Learn to LET GO.

I've run into the same conversation a lot lately--with crit partners, friends, on Twitter... It has to do with revisions, and why they're important, and what they really MEAN.

Okay. This is an insanely common scenario when critiquing a beginning writer. (Note: "Beginning writer" = Someone who has not been seriously writing for publication. It doesn't mean you have to actually be new to writing itself. In fact, some of the most stubborn "beginning writers" have been writing their entire life. I know. I was one of them once upon a time.) They keep getting feedback like:

"There are too many characters in the beginning. I can't keep them all straight."
"This setting just doesn't feel authentic. I think you might want to do some thorough research."
"I'm not sure you should tell this story from an adult point of view. It doesn't feel like a teen story."
"I know you've worked really hard on this world building, but it's really dense and slows down the story."
"I'm not connecting with this character. He seems to just be an observer and isn't really contributing to the action."
"The writing here is good, but I'm not sure you want her to meet the mysterious Vampie boy in biology class because it's kind of overdone. Also, while I understand you're going for this half-vampire, half-kelpie thing, that name sounds...uh...stupid."


And this is the writer's response:

"Oh. I see what you're saying, but it has to be that way because of X reason."
"Well, it will all make sense later if you just keep reading."
"Yeah, but if I do that, then I can't do THIS later, and that is an INTEGRAL part of the plot."

Sometimes revising isn't really about just making what you have better. It's about letting GO of what you have. You don't ever have to listen to every suggestion (in fact, you shouldn't--that's another problem altogether), but if you kinda sorta understand what the person critiquing you is saying, yet you're resisting because "that would just be too hard" or "that's not how it goes" or "I don't know how to do that"?


If something in your gut says the story probably would be better if you could only find a way to do that, then find a way. Step outside the box of what you've already written. Allow yourself that freedom. Even if you've been thinking of this story for 15 years. Trust me on this. I've been there. When you write for yourself, you can write about anything your heart desires, but when you're writing for publication, what you're learning to do is no longer purely selfish.

What you're really doing, when revising, is learning to help a reader connect with the heart of the story. It is not so much about you anymore. The details and plot twists and characters you've so carefully planned are WORTHLESS, from a publication point of view, if none of your critique partners or friends can get into the story and no agent or editor seems to want to read it. If you insist on clinging to all your ideas, you will probably not get published.

The fact is, the details are not what make people love books. People don't love Harry Potter because the kids have to carry wands and speak Latin words to do spells, or because the Weasley family consists of this many members, or because it's told in Harry's POV. What grabs people is the heart of the story and the depth of the world and the excitement of the plot. You want to hone that, so you can change any specific part of the story that isn't working without losing the heart. Sometimes, change it drastically.

And trust me, it's no good to think, "Well, I'm just going to try and sell it anyway and see what happens." Because if an editor DOES buy it, it's quite possible they will suddenly want changes--HUGE changes. You don't have to agree, but you'll want a good reason as to why you're not taking the suggestion. Sometimes it's not even your editor who wants the change, but marketing--or even a chain bookstore! I know people who have made changes because the Barnes and Noble buyer wouldn't carry the book without them. You will want to be a flexible writer who can roll with that sort of thing. Otherwise your editor will be frustrated working with you, and you'll have to find some way of working it out because they will already have paid you an advance.

These are skills you should learn before you even try to sell anything. Your work will be much better for it!

I actually have another point I want to make that is kind of related to this topic, but this is already long, so I'll save that for later.