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Hooray! We’re in America for the summer. I love living in Wales, but there’s nothing like the feeling of coming back to my childhood home. Total comfort!
It’s a working vacation for me, though. I just finished up the Americanization line edits (and last minute typo-catches!) for The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart on Sunday, and now I’m deep in copyedits for Congress of Secrets. It’s truly excruciating, as a historical fiction author, to be away from my research notes while I make my last checks through the book…so thank goodness I grew up in a university town, with a large research library as backup!
And of course one of my very first trips, as always, was to my hometown library. I was so happy to be back!
And here’s my first haul of library books for the summer:
I’ve already devoured E.K. Johnston’s Exit, Pursued by a Bear, and it was AMAZING. You can read my full review here, but as a quick thumbnail: I can’t remember the last time any book made me cry this much, but it was also fiercely empowering and uplifting and I loved it!
Now I’m heading out to continue the only non-fun part of this summer, which is my epic glasses saga, because my vision shifted radically this spring – hello, 39th birthday! what an unpleasant gift to receive! – and my ongoing attempt to get new glasses that work has been both incredibly tedious and ridiculously frustrating. So I won’t burden you guys with the details!
But first, I wanted to let you guys know: there’s now a Facebook event page up for the fantasy panel I’ll be on at my wonderful hometown bookstore, Schuler Books, on August 9th (along with Patrick, Jim Hines and Merrie Haskell – so it should be really fun). I would love to see any of you guys there! If you’re on Facebook, please do RSVP on the page so that we have an idea of numbers, but don’t worry if you can’t. I’ll just look forward to meeting up on August 9th!
And don’t forget: my next email newsletter, on August 2nd, is going to include a new Kat short story. If you’d like to read it, just sign up here.
So here we are at the end of the school year…a bit early, since my poor seven-year-old has a sick day on what should have been his last day of school! Oh well. We’re cuddling up and watching dinosaur movies while we eat leftover apple cake from the birthday party this weekend. No complaints here!
In case anyone missed the cover reveal on Friday: check out the gorgeous cover for Congress of Secrets, designed by Nicole Lecht! I love it so much:
And it’s been a good last week. I finished the first draft of my MG spies-and-fairies novel last Wednesday – huzzah! – and then started preparing for MrX’s birthday party, which went really well. We spent the rest of the weekend hanging out with family here in Wales, and now we’re getting ready to spend the summer with family in Michigan.
(Have we started packing yet? Hahahahaha…soon. SOON.) (At least I’ve started making a packing list! – or rather…I’m ABOUT to start that list. Really!)
As soon as we get there (and I get over the jetlag!), I’ll be diving into copyedits for Congress of Secrets, but in the meantime, I wrote a new short-short story on Friday, which felt like a good refresher between novels (and functioned as emotional medicine to get me through more horrible news of the world).
And I wanted to let you guys know: there’s a new Kat short story on the way! The winner of my Con-or-Bust auction item this year asked me to write a story about Kat all grown-up and dealing with kids of her own. It was ridiculously fun to write! I sent “Flying Magic” to the winner in the beginning of July, and she gets it all to herself for a month, but on August 2nd, I’m going to send it out to my newsletter subscribers to share the fun. If you’re not already a subscriber and you’d like to read the story, you can sign up here.
Now it really is time to get started on the packing…or at least on the packing list! But one last quick note: thank you SO MUCH to everyone who’s already bought and read House of Secrets! I LOVE hearing from people about it – and thanks very much to the readers who’ve been asking about a full novel or a sequel to the story. Right now I don’t have any plans for more stories about Lily, but (a) I’m definitely not ruling anything out for the future, and (b) I can’t even tell you guys how much I appreciate the enthusiasm. You guys are wonderful!
What do you think? Personally, I love it. It was designed by Nicole Lecht, who also designed the Masks and Shadows cover, and I think she’s wonderful. She’s really captured the tone of both of my adult books.
Wooot! My YA Victorian gothic fantasy novelette, House of Secrets, is out today!
I wrote this one just for fun, to stretch myself by experimenting with a new style (moody, gothic, and intensely atmospheric)…and, of course, to distract myself from worrying about whether or not a particular book of my heart would sell. (And hey, that book was The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, which comes out next spring – so, there’s a double happy ending there!)
I had so much fun writing this novelette. I hope you guys will enjoy reading it! You can find an excerpt here on my website or buy the ebook at any of the usual online retailers. (And if you don’t have an e-reader, you can buy a printable PDF at Smashwords, too.)
In other news, we’re hurtling towards the end of the school year over here…and our upcoming trip to America! We’re spending our summer holidays there with my family, of course, but Patrick and I will also be doing a public event in August at my wonderful hometown bookstore, Schuler Books, along with fellow authors Jim C. Hines and Merrie Haskell – both of whom are not just great writers but also personal friends. So I really can’t wait! You can see the details here.
It’s all really exciting, but ohhh is there a lot that has to be done here first, from house-cleaning to child’s-birthday-party-hosting, packing and more – and my very top priority is getting a full draft of my MG spies-and-fairies novel finished! I wrote an incredible (by my standards) 3641 words on Monday, racing through the main climax of the book…and then had a horrible realization, Monday night, that I had gone in the wrong direction. Whoops!
So yesterday morning I backed up 3 chapters, re-plotted, rewrote (writing 3175 new words in the process)…and now I have just one scene left. So so so close! I’d love to finish the book today, but my older son has a playdate, the whole house needs cleaned beforehand…etc. We’ll see! But no matter what, this book IS going to be finished this week. I am determined!
And there are just two more days until the Congress of Secrets cover will be revealed on USA Today’s Happy Ever After blog. I can’t wait! Not only is it a great cover (by the same designer who created Masks and Shadows’s cover), but I am bursting to share photos of the first 2 ARCs that arrived here yesterday. It’s all becoming so real!
I have a book to finish, a house to clean, suitcases to pack, and more…
But because this is House of Secrets‘s release day, I’m going to be totally self-indulgent and post the blurbs that I’ve gotten for it here, just because they make me happy. Here they are:
“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 romance fit for fantasy and Gothic lovers both! Chilling, suspenseful, and extremely satisfying!”
– Tiffany Trent, author of The Unnaturalists
“A perfect gem of Gothic fantasy.”
– Beth Bernobich, author of The Ghost Dragon’s Daughter
“With its slowly unfolding mystery and atmospheric magic, House of Secrets kept me entranced until the final page. I loved the moody setting, the dark, unexpected turns in Lily’s story, and Stephanie’s rich and straightforward prose. It’s like a delicious slice of Gothic pie!”
– Page Morgan, author of The Beautiful and the Cursed
PS: As usual, any reviews on Amazon, Goodreads or elsewhere would be hugely appreciated – but no worries if you don’t have the time or energy. Most of all, I just hope that you’ll enjoy the story!
Does anyone know if one has been set up yet for the families of the police officers in Dallas? If that happens (or if it’s already happened and someone points me toward it), I would love to add the link here.
I’m thinking of all of those families today.
Here in Wales, Oxfam Cymru is asking people to write letters of welcome to incoming refugees, as just one way of combating the awful attitudes (and even attacks) that many of them have been facing, just when they should finally be able to feel safe. You can write and send your letter online or write it by hand and post it to Oxfam Cymru. I sent one online myself, but I’m writing another one on paper with my kids so that they can add their drawings to it. Is there a similar campaign going on in England or Scotland? I’d love to add links to anything like that here, too.
In my writing life, I’ve started writing the final showdown in my MG spies-and-fairies book. I wish I was moving faster, but I’m happy with what I’m writing, and I’m telling myself that that’s what matters most. I hope that it’ll be a comfort book for someone one day.
The cover of Congress of Secrets is going to be revealed next Friday on USA Today’s Happy Ever After blog. I’m really looking forward to sharing it with you guys! In the meantime, you can see this temporary cover that Pyr created, using a few elements from the final cover as hints. I love it. And I just found out that I’ve gotten more blurbs for it, which is always exciting – and these two new ones are from Martha Wells and Juliet Marillier, two of my own favorite authors.
My Victorian Gothic fantasy novelette, House of Secrets, is coming out in just five days.
We keep going, as the news keeps coming in. I keep writing. I keep hoping for compassionate solutions and better news for all of us.
So! If you’ve been curious about the book but haven’t been able to afford it or haven’t wanted to take the risk, now is the perfect moment! And I really hope you enjoy it.
It feels like particularly nice timing, too, because the cover for my next adult book, Congress of Secrets, is due to be revealed next week – so anyone who buys M&S now and enjoys it can see almost immediately what the next adult book will look like. 🙂
This morning when my agent phoned, she asked, “How are you? I mean, apart from the world being miserable, of course.” And of course that is how it’s felt lately. Orlando, Jo Cox, Brexit, Istanbul…
How do we cope in these times? Some days I end up crying and reading the news nonstop, unable to detach…and unable to work. After those times, I have to go offline completely to get my work done. Now I’m trying to take in the news in short, controlled chunks, doing whatever I can see to help…and then coming back to my work and my kids without letting myself be wrecked for them.
Last week I asked for recommendations of comfort films. But comfort books get us through hard times, too.
Here are some of the books that I’ve reread again and again through hard times, immersing myself in their worlds. This isn’t a list of my favorite books, it’s a list of my favorite comfort books, which isn’t exactly the same thing, although those two lists do overlap – my comfort books are among my favorites, but some of my favorite books aren’t on this list because they aren’t comfort reads:
In MG and YA:
Noel Streatfeild, Ballet Shoes
Hilary McKay’s Casson Family books, starting with Saffy’s Angel
Virginia Euwer Wolff, The Mozart Season
Ursula Vernon, Castle Hangnail
Joan Bauer, Squashed
Robin McKinley’s Beauty and Spindle’s End
J.K. Rowling, the Harry Potter books
In adult f/sf:
Lois McMaster Bujold’s 5 Gods series, starting with The Curse of Chalion (although they can be read as standalones, and my very favorite and most-often reread is Book 2, Paladin of Souls
Judith Tarr’s Lord of the Two Lands
Katherine Addison, The Goblin Emperor
Gail Carriger, Soulless
Karen Lord, The Best of All Possible Worlds
In adult romance:
Nora Roberts’s In the Garden series (contemporary romance, female friendship and ghosts)
Laura Florand’s Amour et Chocolat series (romance and chocolate in contemporary Paris)
Lucy Parker’s Act Like It (sweet, fun rom-com in London’s West End)
Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series (hot, emotionally intense paranormal romance)
Thea Harrison’s Elder Races series (fun paranormal romance with strong fantasy worldbuilding)
What about you guys? What are your favorite comfort reads to escape into when you need to?
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.