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Yesterday was a very, very bad day for me, along with many other people in the UK, and you can read yesterday’s post on Facebook if you want to know more about how that felt.
Today is all about outings with the boys, keeping the windows in the house open to soak in the sunshine and fresh air, and self-care at home – in other words, finding ways to feel positive and hopeful about small, concrete things so that big, national and international fears can’t overwhelm me.
Here’s my list of 5 small personal bright spots right now:
1. Lois McMaster Bujold has a new novella out, Penric and the Shaman! Hooray! She is one of my favorite authors, I *adore* her fantasy stories in particular, and I loved the first novella in this series. Needless to say, I clicked “Buy” immediately, and I’ve already started reading it. SO much fun and an instant comfort-read.
3. After taking the boys out this afternoon, I made myself a hot chocolate with cinnamon and nutmeg, and it was delicious.
4. I am deeply, irrationally tempted by this adorable rat mug. (I know everyone cringes at the idea of rats, and I would cringe, too, if I came into contact with wild rats – but I had a domestic pet rat when I was first in university, and he was sweet and funny and affectionate and clever and a perfect pet for someone in a one-room living space. Now that I don’t live in a dorm room anymore, I’ve gone back to keeping dogs or cats as my preferred pets, but this mug still made me smile – and I may well give into it even though we have about 1 billion other mugs cluttering up our shelves already! I have a weakness for mugs…)
5. Last night Patrick and I finally tried out a board game he’d given me for Christmas, The Castles of Burgundy. It’s extremely complex, especially for tired people who only get a chance to play boardgames at night (one bit of the many, MANY pages of rules promised: “Don’t worry, this remains challenging even after many plays” – and we both groaned “Noooo!” at that ‘reassuring’ news!)…and yet it is also somehow very, very deeply addictive. Playing it last night, I laughed and groaned and puzzled over what on earth we were supposed to be doing…and felt better than I had all day.
What about you guys? What are your own personal bright spots this weekend, in the midst of all the scary news? I would really like to hear them. Honestly, I really need bright spots to cling onto right now.
It’s been a hard, upsetting and scary few weeks in international and national news, and tomorrow we’ll be voting, here in the UK, on whether or not we should stay in the EU. Not only is that a huge, nerve-wracking issue for everyone who lives here, but the rhetoric of the Leave campaign has been absolutely full of anti-immigrant vitriol. As an immigrant who’s also descended from immigrants (many of them Eastern European, the kind that so many Leave campaigners hate)…well, it’s all making me more than a little tense.
But if you, like me, are feeling jittery and tense this week, then you can probably use some relief from all the stress from time to time. So let me share something else with you guys, too.
Last night, when I was feeling especially tense and worried, I posted a question on Facebook and Twitter:
And I got a fabulous list of recommendations in response! In fact, I got so many recommendations that I’m amalgamating them all into my own personal watchlist, to work my way through over the next few months (or year) whenever I need a break. So I thought I’d share the list here with you guys. Please feel free to add your own recs in the comments!
Fun, Escapist Romantic Movies (listed in the order that I got them, with notes on the ones that got multiple votes):
The Princess Bride (8 votes!)
Enchanted (2 votes!)
Walk, Don’t Run
Bride and Prejudice
50 First Dates
Eat, Pray, Love
A Walk in the Clouds
Six Days and Seven Nights
(the Gwyneth Paltrow version)
Just Like Heaven
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
About Time (3 votes!)
Safety Not Guaranteed (2 votes!)
Romancing the Stone (2 votes!)
A Letter to Three Wives
Cold Comfort Farm
(the Root/Hinds version) (3 votes!)
Return to Me (2 votes!)
Letters to Juliet (2 votes!)
Music and Lyrics (5 votes!)
The Jane Austen Book Club
Kate and Leopold (6 votes!)
The Thomas Crowne Affair (new version) (3 votes!)
Austenland (6 votes!)
Much Ado About Nothing (Branagh/Thompson version)
Two Weeks’ Notice
While You Were Sleeping
Sleepless in Seattle
You’ve Got Mail
Some Kind of Wonderful
Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging
The Thin Man
Shall We Dance
The Decoy Bride
From Mansfield with Love
She’s the Man
Dream for an Insomniac
I Love You Phillip Morris
Pride and Prejudice
(the BBC miniseries)
The Big Lebowski
Midnight In Paris
The Philadelphia Story
Singing in the Rain
When Harry Met Sally
Thanks so much to everyone who made recommendations! I’m so happy to have a big comfort watchlist of movies to dip into when I need them.
And as a quick shortlist if the above one looks too long and intimidating…
The top 5 films that got the most votes from my Facebook and Twitter friends were: The Princess Bride (8 votes – the absolute winner!); Kate and Leopold and Austenland (with 6 votes each); Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Amélie and Music and Lyrics (with 5 votes apiece).
Thank goodness for comfort films when we need them!
Wooooot! Patrick’s standalone YA novella, The Dinosaur Hunters, is out today! I love this story SO MUCH. It’s a witty, exciting Agatha Christie-style mystery set on Regency Mars WITH DINOSAURS and a fabulous cross-dressing heroine. It is absolutely my catnip!
You can read my full Goodreads review here, but as a quick sum-up, I’ll just say: I feel 100% confident that if you enjoyed my Kat books, you will LOVE The Dinosaur Hunters!
So I asked Patrick to do a guest blog for me here, so I could share an excerpt of the piece with you guys. Here he is!
When I wrote my first novel, Secrets of the Dragon Tomb, and its sequel, The Emperor of Mars (due out next year), I got to do one of the things I love doing most: building a whole world, with its own history, alien creatures, and strange technology. Being able to create such a wild, unlikely, and (hopefully) believable world gave me the chance to let my creativity run free, as well as to pay homage to some of the books and stories that I most loved when I was a teenager.
Even though my characters don’t encounter it all in the novels, I had great fun with this version of Mars. There are great swathes of the world they don’t visit and of history which they don’t know about or which they completely misunderstand. And the wonderful thing about creating a world like this is that it cries out for more stories. My characters in Secrets of the Dragon Tomb and The Emperor of Mars are dealing with the biggest events of their era and uncovering completely unexpected secrets.
But out there, other people are having adventures. They’re dealing with their own crises, tracking down murderers and thieves, and discovering their own secrets. That’s why I decided to write The Dinosaur Hunters, and why I’ll probably write more novellas in this world.
In the novels, dinosaurs are oddly absent. There are pterodactyls and plesiosaurs, but no actual dinosaurs. So now it’s time for us to visit those dinosaurs and get caught up in a deadly conspiracy. Welcome to The Dinosaur Hunters.
Harriet George had been dressed as a boy for the last week, and she still wasn’t sure her brother-in-law had noticed.
“The thing is, Harry old thing,” the Honorable Bertrand Simpson said as he hunched morosely over his twelfth cup of tea that morning, “disguises are such dashed confusing things. Can’t tell if a chap is a chap or, you know, another chap.” He stirred his tea listlessly.
It had never been entirely clear to Harriet how her brother-in-law had managed to work his way up to the post of Inspector in the Tharsis City Police Service. As far as Harriet could tell, Bertrand had never solved a single case in his entire life.
Unfortunately, Harriet suspected that she wasn’t the only one who had figured that out. It was the only reason she could think of as to why Bertrand had been given the job of capturing the Glass Phantom. The Glass Phantom had evaded police forces in France, Austria, Britain, and Chinese Mars. He’d helped himself to the Crown of Charlemagne from under the nose of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard and had stolen the Orlov Diamond from the Imperial Scepter of Catherine the Great. No one with an ounce of common sense would risk their career tracking down such a notorious and difficult-to-catch jewel thief.
Which was why Bertrand, who wouldn’t have recognized an ounce of common sense if it had fallen into his morning tea, had leapt on the offer like a piranha-mouse on a stray muffin.
Bertrand came from a good family – his father was the fifth Baron Heatherstone – but his family’s estates on Earth had long ago been sold off to pay their debts. Bertrand’s father had brought the family to Mars to seek his fortune on a new world, but it hadn’t made any difference, and Bertrand scarcely had a penny to his name. In his position, he should have married a young lady with a good dowry. Instead, he’d married Harriet’s older sister, Amy. If it hadn’t been for Bertrand’s job, Harriet was certain they would have starved within the year.
And then, five years ago, Harriet and Amy’s parents had died, and Amy and Bertrand had taken Harriet in. She knew it had been hard for them, and she knew they’d given up a great deal for her. She owed them everything.
When Bertrand failed to catch the Glass Phantom, he would lose his job and it would be an absolute disaster for them all.
Harriet would not allow that to happen.
“You know, the Glass Phantom might not actually be in disguise,” Harriet said, trying to cheer her brother-in-law up. “I mean, why would he?”
Bertrand groaned. “That makes it even worse. If he’s not in disguise, how am I going to tell who he’s not disguising himself as?”
Which, Harriet thought, summed up rather neatly why her brother-in-law never actually caught anyone.
To make matters worse, now that Harriet had turned sixteen, Amy was determined to make a good marriage for her, a prospect that Harriet regarded with complete horror. Within a year – two at the most – she would be expected to “come out” in Society, find a husband, and live the life he chose for her. She was already thoroughly fed up with the bother of being a girl, and this was the final straw. She’d never seen the point of sewing or playing the pianoforte or endless, tedious social visits to neighbors, and what was more, she had very little interest in young gentlemen. If she was entirely honest, very few young gentlemen showed any interest in her, either. But Amy had set her heart on Harriet marrying well. She seemed to think she owed it to their late parents, and Harriet couldn’t live off Bertrand’s generosity forever, particularly if he lost his job.
Which left Harriet with only one option: she would have to solve the case for Bertrand, and she would have to prove to her sister that she could support herself without a husband.
Patrick Samphire started writing when he was fourteen years old and thought it would be a good way of getting out of English lessons. It didn’t work, but he kept on writing anyway. He has lived in Zambia, Guyana, Austria and England. He now lives with his wife, Steph, and their two children in Wales, U.K. He has published almost twenty short stories for adults and writes fun, funny, exciting books for middle grade readers. His first novel was Secrets of the Dragon Tomb.
Last year, my New Year’s resolution was: Write something different, to stretch yourself, just for fun!
So when I asked Patrick for a story prompt and he said, “Secrets,” I launched myself into a just-for-fun YA Victorian gothic fantasy novelette, full of eerie magic, mystery and brooding atmosphere…and just a touch of romance!
It was so much fun to write, and although I took a long time to revise and edit it over the course of the last year (as I went back to it again and again in-between work on my novels)…
…It’s finally ready to be shared, so you guys can read it too!
Just check out the gorgeous cover:
(You can click on the image to see a larger version.)
Megan Crewe at Another World Designs created it for me after she read the story, and it is Just Right. It captures the mood perfectly!
Here’s the official description:
Raised in hiding in the country and knowing nothing of her mother, Lily has been taught from birth that her existence can only bring shame to her wealthy father. But when she nears her seventeenth birthday, she is finally summoned to her father’s house in town…and discovers that everything she thought about herself was wrong.
And now she is a prisoner.
Locked among all the other mysteries in her father’s grand house – including one young man who could be an ally or an enemy – she may finally discover the truth about her own nature…and exactly why her father considers her so valuable after all.
“An atmospheric tale of family, dark magic, and the thirst of one girl to determine her own destiny.”
– Aliette de Bodard, author of The House of Shattered Wings
“A perfect gem of Gothic fantasy.”
– Beth Bernobich, author of The Ghost Dragon’s Daughter
Here’s the opening of the story, to give you a taste:
House of Secrets
My father’s house is full of secrets. They cling to the thick, dusty curtains that he keeps tightly drawn all day and night, muffling the sound of his friends’ low, intent whispers and blocking out the sunlight. I can hear the dull echoes of carriages outside, rattling past at all hours, but I never see them. Since I arrived here eight days ago, I’ve become a creature of shadow, as dim and hidden from the outside world as everything else in this house.
Back home in the country, where I lived with my nurse, the sunshine poured in all day long. Bessie’s cottage might have been a tiny, insignificant thing compared to my father’s great house in town, but hers led out onto fields and woods where I could wander to my heart’s content. The local girls were forbidden to talk to me, but the wind brushed against my skin like a caress whenever I stepped into the meadows, and distant bells always seemed to ring in the air whenever I walked in the woods, although Bessie claimed she couldn’t hear them. In the summers, I spent nearly every day outside, coming home only for required meals, or when Bessie managed to pin me down to study my letters.
“You’re the daughter of gentryfolk,” she always told me, “no matter who your poor mother might have been. I’ll not have your father disappointed when he finally summons you to live with him.”
Back then, of course, my father was only a name, scrawled hastily at the bottom of his brief, infrequent letters: William Norton, Esq.
William Norton, Esq., hoped that my health was well and that I was behaving for my nurse. William Norton, Esq., would summon me to town when I was older, for my coming of age.
I always tried to think of that as a promise rather than a threat…
You guys might remember (or not!) that last year my old website was hacked beyond repair. Augh! We had to take it all down, and I threw together an interim, very basic WordPress site until Patrick (wearing his website designer hat) could build me a new one. Which he did! But then…
Well, it turns out that you can’t actually put up a new website until someone’s written the text for it. Which would be me, the author. But I’ve been really busy! So poor Patrick has had to be Very Patient while I took months to getting around to FINALLY putting together the text…
And here it all finally is! Hurrah. And whew! 🙂 I’m so happy to have a full, functioning website again, complete with chapter excerpts for all of my books. Do please let me know, if you surf around it, whether you find any broken links or typos. I put up all the content last week during the kids’ half-term break, so there was a LOT of familial distraction going on, to say the least, and typos would not be unexpected. 😉
I got to return to my novel this week, though, and I’m so happy to be back. (I used to be a web editor in my last day job, and it’s interesting work, but it’s definitely not as fun as writing fiction!) This is my MG spies-and-fairies novel (veeery tentatively titled The Storyteller’s Secret), and I hit 40,000 words on it yesterday. Hurrah!
My heroine and her friends (and nemeses) have hit a major turning point and are now charging toward the ending (about 20,000 words away) with full momentum. It’s always my favorite part of the book to write! (Although I have to learned to foresee that sometime around 45,000 words I will hit that point where I think: Wait. How WILL they get out of this one? Aaaah, it isn’t possible! At which point, I have to eat a lot of chocolate to calm myself down before I can figure out the answer. 😉 )
I’ve also been doing lots of reading. I just read Tansy Rayner Roberts’s short story “Kid Dark Against the Machine” and LOVED it! You can read my full Goodreads review here, but in short: it’s a superhero story that’s witty, clever, funny and full of so much heart that I teared up at the (pitch-perfect) ending. It’ll be available to read for free on the Book Smugglers website on June 14th, but you can buy the ebook already, and it’s totally worth it. (Also, the ebook includes fun extra material, which is a bonus.)
And on a very different note, I also loved C.A. Higgins’s Lightless, a science fiction thriller that’s intensely character-based and suspenseful and full of fascinating women on various sides of big, morally ambiguous issues.
What about you guys? What have you been reading lately?
It’s been a really nice half-term break so far. The kids are off school/childcare for a week, and I had a wonderful birthday with them. They took me to a nearby butterfly zoo, and I loved it! I may not be used to being 39 yet (why is this number so disconcerting to me? I don’t know!), but I had a great time becoming it.
If you’re reading this on my website blog, I need to warn you that I’m in the messy middle of switching over to a new website design…which means that most of the pages don’t look quite right yet, and I need to fill in a WHOLE lot of new text and links! My goal is to get that all done by the end of the week, so that I can leap straight back into nonstop writing as soon as the kids go back to school…but this is half-term, which means we have no childcare, so: we’ll see!
But in one piece of very nice writing news that came today, my short story “Mums’ Group” has just been published in the anthology Futuristica: Volume I! I very rarely write science fiction, but my brother Dave asked me to stretch myself, do something different, and write a near-future science fiction story as his Christmas gift. So I did, and I really enjoyed it!
“Mums’ Group” is a near-future SF story set in Leeds, England, where I lived when my older son was a baby, and it’s a dark and funny (I hope!) story about the pressure mothers face to be perfect, no matter what that takes. It’s also about the way our friends help get us through it! So I’d like to take a moment now to give a public and deeply grateful thank-you to all the mums’ groups (in both Leeds and Wales, and also online!) that have supported and saved me in so many ways ever since I had my first baby.
Here’s a quick snippet from the opening:
By Stephanie Burgis
There was a virus in Megan’s Mum-implant, even though she’d uploaded all the firewalls.
…Or at least, her ex had. Maybe that was the problem.
“Damn it!” She shook her head irritably, trying to focus on the crowded pavement ahead of her through the dark red haze that filtered her vision. Groups of laughing, strolling university students filled the big streets of Leeds’s pedestrian-only town centre, along with businessmen and –women carrying travel cups of coffee and other women like Megan who were out shopping with young children, forming a shifting obstacle course in every direction.
She jerked her pushchair out of the way of one fast-walking woman in a tailored suit just as a warm, rich, maternal voice said in her left ear: “Swearing in front of your children is wrong. Guilt. Guiiiiiilt…”
“Abel’s at school right now, and Lucy’s asleep,” Megan muttered, pushing Lucy’s pushchair a little faster. “Neither of them heard me. Anyway, I’m on my way to mummy group, for God’s sake! I’m being good.”
Through the red haze, she caught the startled look on two businessmen’s faces as they veered out of her way, wide-eyed and wary. Wincing, she clamped her lips shut. The businessmen weren’t the only ones who’d heard her, obviously; but the woman who passed her next, pushing a pram of her own, sent her a wry, commiserating smile and tapped her ear knowingly…
You can add the book on Goodreads or buy it as a paperback or an ebook on Amazon. (US link/U.K. link/CA link). I’m really sorry to only be linking to Amazon purchase options – they are my least favorite bookseller! – but it isn’t up yet for purchase on any other online bookstores, at least as far as I can tell. Do let me know if you spot it elsewhere, and I’ll add those links too!
But right now it’s half-term, and the kids and I have signed up for the 30 Days Wild challenge being hosted by the Wildlife Trusts, committing to doing something wild every day of June, even if it’s just hunting for bugs in our back garden. Time to head outside and get started! 🙂
Have you guys all already heard of the Con or Bust auction? Con or Bust is a nonprofit organization that helps fans of color attend f/sf conventions around the world, and right now they’re raising money with a fabulous auction. If you look through, you’ll find all sorts of amazing offerings, from the chance to name a character in a Naomi Novik book to a really cool set of dragon-themed jewelry. (I am so tempted by that one!) And you’ll find an offering from me as well!
I’m offering an original, 500- to 1,000-word short-short story written to your personal specifications. I’m happy to either write a story about any character you choose from any of my books, or write a totally unrelated short-short story to your prompt. That prompt could be as specific as “please write me a Snow White story with dragons” or as general as “Please write me something historical” – whatever appeals to you, personally!
I’ll write and email the story to you within one month of getting the commission (once the auction has officially closed). Then, for one month, the story will be all (and only) yours! After that, I may post the story on my website or here on my blog, but I’ll make sure to credit you when I do that, and I’ll never offer the story for sale. I’m also happy to mail you a printed and signed copy of the story, if you’d like.
Bidding opens today, and it’ll continue until 4p.m. (US Eastern Standard Time) on Sunday, June 4th.
And whether or not that offering appeals to you, I hope you’ll check out the rest of the auction – there are some amazing things on offer!
I love this book. And seeing it laid out in its to-be-published form (in the same typeface as Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, according to my lovely editor at Bloomsbury!) made me feel really emotional…especially as a big date is coming up for me.
My birthday is arriving later this week. It’s not a major, decade-birthday milestone – that’ll come next year! But birthdays always have a way of bringing back the last year in review.
I remember when I was about to turn thirty, almost ten years ago, I felt like such a failure. I’d just been diagnosed with M.E./CFS and had had to give up my day job…but since my first agent and I had just amicably parted ways, there was no sign of the writing career I’d always dreamed of to replace it. So I was out of work, unagented, just-diagnosed with a lifelong chronic illness, and even though I’d been desperate to have kids – I wanted so badly to be a mom! – that didn’t look like it was ever going to happen, either.
I felt rotten.
Then Patrick and I went to WisCon, my favorite f/sf con, and my 30th birthday happened on the same day as WisCon’s famous dessert salon (where everyone dresses up in fabulous clothes and eats desserts with their friends – perfect!). I sat at a table full of wonderful friends from around the world, surrounded by even more friends at the neighboring tables, talking about books and writing and life with people I loved and believed in, who somehow, miraculously, believed in me too – and partway through, I was handed a birthday card signed by all my friends. Then the whole WisCon dessert salon sang me happy birthday as I sat there with my beloved husband and wonderful friends, and I felt so loved and supported and shockingly happy despite everything.
Just over a year later I had my first baby after all – AND I sold my first three books before that baby was born. Life can shift so quickly.
Now here’s something I haven’t talked about publicly before, but it’s also true: I went for multiple years in my mid-thirties being absolutely terrified that I would never sell another book after that first trilogy. I really believed that those might be the only books I ever published under my own name. I wrote nine work-for-hire books under a pen name for a packager, I wrote my own new books in whatever time I could scavenge on the side, and I took deep, steadying breaths around my birthdays, as yet another year came and went without another book-sale of my own.
But then this past year… Well.
In this past year, since I turned 38, I sold three more books and I saw my first adult novel published. Yesterday, I got to read a beautiful review of Masks and Shadows in Book Reporter that said, among other things, “MASKS AND SHADOWS by Stephanie Burgis is one of the best historical fantasies to emerge so far this year.”
This morning, I woke up to a really lovely tweet from one reader who’d loved M&S, and this weekend I got an email from another reader who’d found an escape in M&S during a really difficult time.
This morning I hit “send” on my proofreading corrections to The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart. Then I clicked “refresh” on my inbox just in case the cover for Congress of Secrets had arrived yet. (It hadn’t! And it probably won’t for another few weeks. I’m just impatient, because I loved the cover for M&S so much, I can’t wait to see what they do for CoS!)
This weekend, I’ll be celebrating my birthday with Patrick and our kids, who have PLANS for the day.
Life can change so quickly, in ways I couldn’t have even imagined.
I’m feeling really, really lucky right now. And I can’t wait to see what the next year holds.
This has been a week of hanging out with friends, and it’s been lovely. On Monday, it was such a warm, sunny day, a good friend came over (carrying lunch with her! Yum!) and she and MrX and I hung out on a picnic blanket in our sunny garden, eating lunch, chatting, and knitting. (Well, okay, MrX didn’t knit. But he did chat and play with dinosaurs and playmobil!) It was just idyllic.
On Wednesday, our friend and Clarion West classmate Emily Mah Tippetts (who writes fabulously fun books as E.M. Tippetts and creates wonderful jewelry and more as Emily Mah) came to visit with her husband and we all had lunch and chatted about books and more…and look what she’d made and brought for us!
Gorgeous dragon pens! And they came with such perfect timing, because guess what the manuscript underneath is? The hardcopy first-pass pages of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, which also arrived on Wednesday.
Talk about a perfect match of pens to content! 😉 So, after spending Monday and Tuesday working on the first draft of my MG spies-and-fairies novel, I spent the next couple of days (dragon pen in hand!) with The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart. At this stage, I’m really just proofreading and trying not to let myself fiddle too much with other changes, so it’s the first time I’ve been able to read the book – laid out beautifully, just like it will be in published form! – mostly for pleasure instead of for revision. It’s a nice feeling!
And then on Friday afternoon, the week wound up with cake and coffee with my weekly coffee group of good friends, a group of fantastic women who’ve saved me multiple times over the last few years, in so many ways. Hanging out with them always feels so good.
Work, family, and friends. Just the right combination. 🙂