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Lakes, Rom-Coms, Love Lists, and More

- 0 comments - Reading

I’ve spent the last three days in a cottage by a lake with Patrick and the kids, and it was absolutely wonderful. I spent the morning of my fortieth birthday drinking coffee by the lake, we visited a fun dinosaur park that afternoon, and I am VERY happy with my pile of birthday books:

I’ve already finished tearing through the Breaking Cat News collection (my favorite comic in the world! I got a Breaking Cat News cocoa mug for my birthday, too), and I’m in the middle of Jen Wilde’s Queens of Geek, which is really, really fun. (It’s about two fabulously nerdy teen girls both having their own romances in the middle of a con – how could I not have fun reading it? It’s making me feel hugely nostalgic for the time when Patrick and I used to go to a lot of cons together – if you’re an f/sf geek like we both are, it really is a romantic thing to do!)

I also spent one of my days by the lake devouring Sandhya Menon’s When Dimple Met Rishi, which was just amazing – the best romantic comedy novel I’ve read in ages, and now one of my favorite rom-coms ever. You can read my full review here.

It was a gorgeously relaxing, refreshing long weekend away, but now we’re home, we’ve retrieved Pebbles from the (very nice) cattery where she stayed while we were gone, and at this moment, she’s purring on my chest, so all is feeling Very Right With the World. :)

And I’m guest-posting today on the Ms. Yingling Reads blog, talking about the “love lists” I use when I come up with new books.

Only one more day until The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart‘s US/CA book birthday!

Talking About MG and Birthdays of Various Sorts

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Today I’m really honored to be part of a panel on MG fiction over at The Book Smugglers with three amazing authors: Sheela Chari, Uma Krishnaswami, and Mark Siegel. I absolutely adored Sheela’s new MG suspense novel Finding Mighty (see my full review here!), Uma’s Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh is a wonderful, girl-powered MG historical with fabulous characters, and my 8-year-old is currently devouring Mark’s new MG graphic novel, The Sand Warrior.

I’ve been friends with Sheela for years (and yes, she really is every bit as warm and smart and lovely as you would hope from reading her books!), and it was great to meet Uma and Mark through this project. Reading the roundtable is basically as close as you can come to seeing a conference panel with all four of us together (since we’re currently scattered around the world)! I really hope you guys enjoy it. Read it here.

And of course…it’s just five days (!!!!) until my next MG novel comes out in the US and Canada! I love this graphic that Bloomsbury US made for it:

I can’t wait for you guys to meet my fierce dragon-girl. Within the next five days, I’m going to be having two kinds of birthday – my own (milestone) birthday (I’ll turn 40 while enjoying a family holiday!) and my book’s birthday just a few days later – and I have to say, if I was forced to say which one I was more excited about…well, as much as I do love chocolate birthday cake, my dragon-girl’s book-birthday might just win. ;)

(However, that being said… I may be turning 40 this week, but apparently I’m not completely mature after all, because when I had to choose between being sensible about packing by opening presents BEFORE we left on our holiday, or demanding that all of my presents be brought along, wrapped and hidden, for me to open on the day of my birthday itself…of course I went for Option 2. Birthdaybirthday! Wooot!)

Sticking to my Own Lane (or not!) and Some Good News

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Thanks to Paul Weimer’s generous invitation, I’m guest-blogging over at Skiffy and Fantasy with a post on Switching Between Lanes as a writer who hops back and forth between two genres.

Here’s a brief snippet from the opening:

I think that every writer who’s ever read publishing advice online has probably come across at least one article on the importance of “branding.” Apparently, to be really smart, writers ought to be figuring out the one thing that they’re best at — or the one thing that connects the most with potential readers — and then sticking to it no matter what, so that fans will know exactly what they’ll get from every new novel by that author.


I know I sound a little snarky in that description, but I’m actually not arguing with it as a strategy. I’m sure that it is a smart, practical way to build a successful career.


Unfortunately, I’ve never been much good at sticking to my own lane….

Read the full blog post here (especially if you’ve ever wondered why I don’t just pick one genre and stick with it!).

US Cover art by Petur Antonssen

And in very, very good MG news…

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart has been selected as a Kids’ Indie Next pick (in the age 9-12 category) for Summer 2017! Woooot! These are the books recommended by independent bookstores around the country, and I am incredibly honored that Dragon is among them – and in fabulous company!

You can click on the cover image in the 9-12 category to read the full blurb from the bookseller who recommended Dragon for the list, but even just the first line of her recommendation makes me very happy:

“Have your hot chocolate ready before you start reading this book, because I guarantee you won’t want to stop reading to make a cup once you’ve begun this delightful (and delicious) tale of friendship and growing up.”

Yay! There are only 12 days to go until Dragon roars into North America. I am nervous and excited and impatient for you guys to all finally meet my fierce dragon-girl heroine!

Happy Thursday!

Books, Bubbles, and Other Kinds of Magic

- 4 comments - Reading

I’ve hit the point where I’m desperately counting down the days (and hours and minutes) to our first big family holiday of the year (less than two weeks to go!), so in other words, it has been A Week (to say the least), but here are some of my favorite moments from it:

1. Devouring Sally Nicholls’s upcoming YA suffragette novel Things A Bright Girl Can Do, which was utterly fabulous, immersive storytelling – by far the best historical novel I’ve read in ages – and written with wit and warmth and wonderful characterization throughout. You can read my full Goodreads review here.

2. Visiting our town’s new local comics-and-figurines shop with my boys, who broke into cries of glee when we stepped inside. This place could have been made for our family! Patrick and I have already promised each other to make a return visit together while the boys are at school, so that we can actually take time to browse for our own delights. (I’ve already spotted a Black Widow figurine that I just might need… ;) )

3. Reading an ARC of Cressida Cowell’s truly magical upcoming MG novel The Wizards of Once with my eight-year-old. It’s less light-hearted and slapstick than the early How to Train Your Dragon books (which I love) but it is genuinely, thrillingly full of magic and wonder, and my older son and I are both loving it. My biggest challenge has been keeping to my vow to only read it with him and not cheat by reading ahead on my own!

4. Signing contracts for the French edition of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart. Oh, and seeing the gorgeous German cover, too! So far, this book has sold in seven languages, which is a first for me, and it’s incredibly exciting.

5. Blowing bubbles in the back garden with my kids last night. The garden is bursting with flowers, it’s been lovely and warm here, and watching the bubbles fly up high in the early evening light felt really magical.

What about you guys? What are some of your highlights from this week?

Dragon Trailer!

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It’s less than four weeks until The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart comes out in the US and Canada…and look what just had its official début over at the wonderful book blog Random Musings of a Bibliophile?

The all-new book trailer!

Will you go and watch it and then (in comments over there or here) please tell me what you think? I love it so much!

It was made by Lodestar Author Services, and they were wonderful to work with.

You can pre-order the book right now at Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, and more…

(And of course, if you’re in the UK or Australia, you can buy the published version already! Waterstones/Amazon.co.uk/Foyles/Blackwells)

And, um. Without getting too specific about things I can’t talk about yet in public…

There are some strong reasons on my end for why it would be really, really good to get some healthy pre-orders and sales within the next week. So, if any of you guys were thinking of buying the book at any point, now would be a REALLY good time, and I would really appreciate it! (And I truly hope to be able to tell you guys soon why this timing is important.)

But most of all: Eeee! Yay for that lovely trailer. I love it!

(My 8-year-old loved everything about it except that there wasn’t a full movie to go with it. He said, “PLEASE can you ask Uncle Dave [who works in Hollywood] to make a movie of it?” I said, “I’m afraid that’s not really in his hands, sweetheart…” He said, “Well, but you can always ASK!” Well… ;) In other words, our whole family loves this trailer!)

Adventures, a Story Auction and a Giveaway

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In the last five days, I’ve led two writing workshops of my own, taken my kids to two more workshops, had a fabulous castle adventure and gone to the cinema with them, and visited the Bristol Aquarium as a full-family trip. So in other words, it’s been an excellent set of school holidays for all of us…

But now, like Pebbles, I am ready for a nap. ;)

However! I’ll be back to my usual writing routine tomorrow, and as of today, you can bid to win a brand-new short-short story written by me about any character from my novels – winner’s choice! This is part of the Con-or-Bust auction, which raises money for fans of color to attend fantasy & science fiction conventions. Bidding is open from today until May 7th, and there are many, many fabulous options to bid on. Find mine here!

This exactly how I came to write my short-short story “Flying Magic” last year – the winner of last year’s auction wanted a story about Kat dealing with her own kids. It’s also how I wrote my longer story “Forbidden Magic” – that particular auction winner wanted a story about Kat’s parents when they were young. Both stories were so much fun to write! I can’t wait to see which character this auction’s winner will choose.

I also managed to do just about all of my editing for my adult romantic fantasy novella, Snowspelled, over the past couple of weeks. (Right now I’m just proofreading with the help of some fabulous beta-readers and making a few last niggling line edits.) The final cover and blurb (and pre-order links!) won’t be ready to share until June, but you can add it to your Goodreads shelf now.

And speaking of Goodreads…

Patrick’s fabulous second novel, The Emperor of Mars, doesn’t come out until July, but you can enter a Goodreads giveaway for it now! It is SO much fun, and can certainly be read as a standalone adventure – but why not read Book One first? (Clockwork butlers, pterodactyls, girl inventors and dragon-tombs! <3 <3 <3 ) Either way, the giveaway is international, so enter now!

Happy Monday. :)

Art, Truffles, Books and Events

- 0 comments - events, giveaways, writing

It’s been a busy, chaotic set of school holidays – but then, I’m not sure we’ve ever had any that weren’t! Still, the kids and I have been doing Family Art Club almost every day,* we got to hang out with wonderful relatives last week, and I’m still eating the delicious Easter chocolates that Patrick gave me yesterday. (Charbonnel et Walker pink champagne truffles! Bliss!)

Also, I’m finished with all of my major rewrites of Snowspelled (my romantic fantasy novella for adults). Now I’m just playing around with minor line-edits and trying to catch any final typos and inconsistencies, with the help of wonderful beta-readers…and, of course, Pebbles, who always helps with everything (at least when she’s not walking in front of my laptop screen, telling me to stop writing and START PETTING HER)! ;)

Snowspelled won’t be coming out until September, so I’ll wait a while before talking much more about it here, but: I am so looking forward to sharing this one with you guys! (If you want to make sure to get all the details of it ASAP, you can sign up to my newsletter.)

And! It was a sign of just exactly how chaotic our school holidays have been that it was a genuine shock today to realize that the North American edition of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart is coming much sooner than I’d realized – May 30th is only 6 weeks from tomorrow! Woooot! (And eep!)

Next week, I’ll be giving away my very last ARC of it in my newsletter. If you’re a North American book reviewer/blogger/librarian, you can still request the e-ARC from Netgalley. And of course you can read Chapter 1 here and order the book from anywhere in the world!

I really, really hope you’ll enjoy meeting my fierce dragon-girl heroine!

And right here in Wales, I’ll be leading a fantasy & science fiction writing workshop for teens and adults as part of the Abergavenny Writing Festival this Friday. You can buy your tickets here! I’ll also be leading a dragon-themed workshop for younger kids at the Abergavenny Library on Wednesday from 2:30-3:30.

So it’s a busy week all round, but in a really good way. I hope your week is full of good adventures!

__

*Re Art Club: I am not one of those authors who is also a wonderful artist. But one of the great joys of having kids, for me, is letting myself do things with them that I made myself stop when I was younger because I didn’t think I was good enough. It turns out – shock! surprise! – that it’s *fun* to draw, even though I don’t draw well, when I just relax and let myself enjoy the process.

There is probably an important lesson in that…and maybe sometime when I’m a little less busy, I’ll let myself actually think it through. ;)

Lowering the Goal Posts

- 6 comments - writing

Thirteen years ago, I was a PhD student at the University of Leeds, and I was really, really stressed – to the point where I finally went in for counselling at the university counselling centre so that I could stop having physical panic attacks. Luckily, I got a wonderful counsellor. She was a perfect combination of warmth and brisk practicality, and as we talked one day about how stressed I was about constantly feeling so behind, she asked me how I set my work-goals each month.

I said, “Well, I figure out how long I have until my next supervision meeting, then I figure out exactly how much I could get done if I work REALLY REALLY hard every day until then – and then I set that as my goal.”

…Then, of course, I got incredibly stressed as I neared the date of my next supervision session, realized how unforgivably, shockingly behind I was, and drove myself to the edge of burn-out (or beyond) desperately trying to hit that goal, every time.

This was something that, by now, my counsellor knew about me. So:

“Hmm,” she said. “Interesting. But…have you ever considered, instead, figuring out exactly how much you could get accomplished if you worked moderately hard on most days and didn’t get anything done on a few other days along the way – and set that as your goal?”

I stared at her, genuinely shocked. “I could do that?”

It was one of the most counter-intuitive – and revelatory – suggestions I’d ever heard in my life.

(And yes, I know that that fact reveals soooooooo embarrassingly much about my psyche. But you guys all knew I was a perfectionist overachiever long before this blog entry, right?)

That meeting took place almost 13 years ago, but I’ve never forgotten it – and it’s resonating all over again for me now because we’ve just entered the kids’ 2-1/2-week school holidays, directly after a long stretch of kid-illnesses when a horrible stomach bug went around the family (and larger town), keeping one or another of the kids home for 5 out of the last 10 days of school. Those kid-illnesses meant I didn’t get nearly as much as I wanted done before the holidays began; the holidays now mean that most of my energy is going toward child-care (and that energy is even more limited than usual right now, anyway, because looking after sick kids took a lot out of me, and the M.E./CFS is demanding its payment now).

So.

I did have really high goals for what I would ideally get done by the end of April. But today, I’m remembering that long-ago counsellor’s face, kind and ever-so-slightly amused, as she said, “Have you ever considered…”

…and I’m re-considering.

Mini-goals.

Doable goals.

Today, my writing goal is to print out the critiques I’ve gotten for my adult novella and read through them…and that’s it. If I get started, that’s great. But if all of my other energy is used up when I take the kids out this afternoon for today’s mini-trip…well, then, so be it.

Whew.

What about you guys? If you have any small, do-able goals of your own right now, I would love to hear them.

Onward!

Three Things I Love That I’ve Been Thinking About This Week

- 0 comments - Reading, Short Fiction, writing

1. Toby Hay’s The Gathering

Lush, gorgeous instrumental-only folk music from Wales. Listening to this album makes me feel like I’m absorbing emotional sunshine! I love it, and I can’t count how many times I’ve listened to it since I bought it last week. You can hear the first song for free here.

2. Aliette de Bodard’s The House of Binding Thorns

Another lush pleasure! This time, it’s an adult fantasy novel set in a magically post-apocalyptic Paris with fallen angels and a fabulous, underwater dragon kingdom inside the Seine river. Ohhhhh do I love this book. I read it first as an e-ARC months ago and then started re-reading it yesterday afternoon as soon as my pre-ordered paper copy arrived. I’m loving it even more the second time through! It’s so rich and absorbing and magical and satisfying. It’s also the second full-length book in her Dominion of the Fallen series, and as much as I loved Book One (The House of Shattered Wings), this one is even better. I adore this whole series!

3. Tie-in-stories

I still like reading paper books most of all, but one of my favorite things about online- and ebook culture is that it’s now possible and easy for authors to publish all sorts of fun tie-in stories related to their series. After I read and loved Aliette’s The House of Shattered Wings last year, I devoured every one of her tie-in stories, which took the same setting and characters and gave them fun adventures and romances that had only been hinted at in the backstories of the full-length books. I adore them all (and you can find the whole list here), but my personal favorites are her Of Books and Earth and Courtship and Children of Thorns, Children of Water. Both of them give fascinatingly different perspectives and new insights on familiar characters from the series.

And I love getting to see the world made larger through those tie-in stories, too! Patrick’s YA novella The Dinosaur Hunters is a completely standalone story with original characters that don’t appear in any of his MG novels – but it’s set on the same world of Regency-era British Mars, and it all sprang from a throwaway mention in his first book. It’s one of my very favorite novellas ever, it is SO MUCH fun, funny and exciting (think: an Agatha Christie-style mystery with T-Rexes and girl detectives!), and – while you don’t need to have read any of his books before reading it – it gives a whole different view on the world of his books. (You can find out more and read the opening of it here.)

There’s a whole added pleasure for me as a reader to discover these smaller stories filling out side-characters and backstories from the larger novels and to get glimpses at the wider life of the world outside of the novels that I’ve loved. Each time I read a good tie-in story, I get to fall into the world again and again, and it becomes more real and rich to me with each new dip inside it.

Cover for Courting Magic

And of course, as an author that kind of story is just incredibly fun to write. Without ebooks, I couldn’t have published my own YA novella Courting Magic, a standalone story that gives my MG heroine Kat her own grown-up romance – much less Flying Magic (a short-short story about Kat’s own kids!), Dueling Magicks (a short story set between the first two Kat books) and Forbidden Magic (a short story about Kat’s parents that’s coming out tomorrow, huzzah)!

Novels work really, really well with traditional publishing, and I personally love publishing my full-length books that way. But when it comes to shorter, quirkier lengths and tie-in stories, it is SO great to have the freedom that hybrid publishing gives!

I’d love to hear about any of your own favorite tie-in stories to series that you’re following!

Deadlines, Tie-in Stories, and Two Workshops

- 0 comments - writing

It’s been Quite A Week over here in Wales. It started with a beautiful, sunny UK Mother’s Day last Sunday, which was wonderful, but then both of my kids caught a stomach bug over the last few days, so…yeah. I’ll leave the gruesome details from this latter half of the week to your imagination! ;)

On the upside, though, I still managed to get through my first big revision of my adult romantic fantasy novella Snowspelled this week, powered by rich, dark hot chocolates. Huzzah! I sent the new draft off to critique partners late this morning, and since I’m not expecting edits for my next MG novel until Sunday or Monday, I am – for the first time in a looooong time – temporarily deadline-free!

Needless to say, I immediately started trying to think of a new short story to write before my edits arrive. I don’t do very well without an ongoing writing project to keep me busy. ;)

And speaking of short stories, my Kat prequel story (about her parents when they were young), “Forbidden Magic,” will be published as a 99-cent ebook in just 5 days, on April 5th. You can find a full description, a brief excerpt, and the pre-order links here.

I originally wrote that story on commission earlier this year, for a charity auction winner who requested a story about Kat’s parents. It’s so much fun to write those tie-in stories! I love doing it. Of course I’m already contemplating my first tie-in stories for The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart. So far, though, my ideas have all been for stories following that first book, so I’ll have to wait until the book is safely out in America (on May 30th! less than 2 months away!) before I start writing (or at least sharing) them.

Still, if you’ve read the book and have any particular characters you’d love to read about in a tie-in story, do let me know, and I’ll make sure to keep them in mind!

And if you’re interested in talking more about writing with me, I’m going to be running two different writing workshops over the next month.

On Friday, April 21st, I’ll be running a science fiction and fantasy writing workshop for adults and teens, as part of the Abergavenny Writing Festival. You can find more details and book your ticket here.

And on Wednesday, April 19th, from 2:30-3:30, I’ll be running a dragon-themed writing workshop for kids at the Abergavenny Library. (No tickets necessary!) My 8-year-old is VERY excited about that one. :)

I’d love to see any of you guys at either of those workshops! Do let me know if you’ll be coming.

Hope you all have a good weekend!