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And more to the point: look at Caroline on that front cover! I love, love, love the way this cover portrays her strength, her cool calculation in the midst of high intrigue, and her utter determination to carry her plans through, no matter what.
I finished the (very rough, and VERY different from the final version) first draft of this book on April 6, 2006. It wasn’t ready for publication then; I wasn’t ready, as a writer, to give it all the layers that this story really deserved.
Now, though, over ten years and six months (and many, many intense re-drafts) after I typed “THE END” in this manuscript for the first time: just look at all those finished copies!
I can’t wait to finally share it with you guys. Less than two weeks to go before publication day! 🙂
Of course, Congress of Secrets is a standalone novel. You certainly don’t need to read Masks and Shadows beforehand; it’s set 35 years later, in a different city, and there aren’t any shared characters between the books. But! If you’d like something else to read before CoS comes out, and you haven’t read M&S already…
It was the finest teahouse in Trevanne; everyone agreed on that. The ancient Dragon Queen’s loyal courtiers would buy their tea nowhere else, for the quality of the tealeaves was unmatched and the blend was one that no other teahouse in the city could provide. The courtiers, all powerful men and women with subtle minds sharpened by decades of scheming, spent many a happy afternoon gathered around the central hearth, spinning political webs over steaming cups of tea while sitting in their favorite armchairs, which had worn over the years into the shapes of their familiar bodies.
The younger, wilder, and more dissatisfied members of the court, who cared far less for tealeaves than for wine, still followed the aging crown prince’s lead in spending long raucous evenings at the teahouse, bypassing the fire-lit rooms inside for the pleasures of the lush, beautifully laid-out open courtyard filled with lanterns and pink-blossomed magnolia trees, where the most popular musicians in the city played nearly every night. The fires burned cozily within the teahouse, keeping it the perfect temperature, never too hot even at the height of summer; the magnolias bloomed year-round in the warm inner courtyard even when three feet of snow piled up in the streets outside.
It had been the finest teahouse in Trevanne for generations, by then. No one thought to question its magic anymore. The owner had seen to that, long ago, with promises and threats and a contract that had nearly been forgotten, by now.
Of course, like almost every story I’ve written in the past several years, I wrote this one as a Christmas gift for one of my brothers – this time my brother Dave, who asked for an Agatha Christie-style story. Er…I swear, my concept STARTED there. It really did! It just kind of accidentally morphed into something else by the time I started writing it – something dark and creepy and magical, with dangerous dragons and tea, along the way! Oops. 😉
(This is kind of like the time Dave asked for a magical traveling circus story for Christmas and it turned into a creepy historical traveling salesman story instead. Allllllmost the same??? Kinda?)
I really hope you guys enjoy it. Let me know what you think of it!
Since I sent out an author newsletter today announcing this story and also (very belatedly) announcing my last story publication, “Pack Dynamics,” which has a very different (lighthearted urban fantasy) tone (it’s my werewolves-in-Pittsburgh story!) – and which was written as a Christmas gift for my other brother – it’s struck me hard just how lucky I am that I have brothers who actually request short stories from me as Christmas presents.
I really, really enjoy writing short stories, and there was a while when they made up the bulk of my writing income, so I wrote a LOT of them – but ever since I started actually selling the novels that I wrote, short fiction has felt like a side-indulgence that I can’t necessarily justify spending my writing time on. So if I didn’t have brothers, I might never write any anymore, and that would be sad (for me)! But I can absolutely justify writing short stories as gifts for people I care about, and I love doing that.
Thanks, Ben and Dave! I really, really appreciate you guys – and your patience when the stories I write aren’t exactly what you asked for. And I’m ready for this year’s Christmas-prompts any day now! 🙂
It’s three weeks to the day until Congress of Secrets will be published. Yay! And eek! In very good news for calming anticipatory author-nerves, it’s been getting some amazing reviews. Booklist says it “[will] delight her fans and fans of historical fiction in general with its spin on political intrigue, historical romance, dark alchemy, and romance” and RT Book Reviews says:
Below the surface of Burgis’ tale of intrigue, political tension, the dark arts and Vienna’s history lies a multi-layered story that is a perfect combination of romance, historical fiction and fantasy. The lush tapestry includes fictional and historical personages, actual events and surprising elements of magic that capture the imagination and chill the soul. Burgis displays wonderful storytelling and a gift for the imaginative.
You might not be able to believe just how many times I have re-read both of those reviews as publication day approaches. 😉
The funny thing is, Congress of Secrets is going to be my fifth published novel. There was a long time in my life – reaching up until quite recently – when getting five books published seemed like a fantasy too good to ever come true. “Five books” sounded like such a solid number to me – the number that would make me feel like a really established author. Surely an author with five books out wouldn’t ever feel insecure anymore?
Well. Hahaha. Anyway!
The best cure for writer-nerves is always, always to do more writing. Unfortunately, ever since I sent off Draft 1.2 of my MG spies-and-fairies book to my UK editor just under three weeks ago, I’d been feeling a bit lost. I’d spent the last year frantically racing to meet one deadline after another (which was both the up- AND the downside of having 3 books + 1 big freelance project published in less than 12 months!) and once I hit that final deadline, I just FLOPPED. The creative well was empty!
But I hate not writing. I mean, I really hate it. So I wrote an essay for one exciting submissions call; I wrote a few guest blog posts; I played with two or three different random book openings just for practice and to keep my hand in. (That kind of practice-writing feels a lot like playing scales on the piano; it’s never going to be exciting, but if you don’t keep your muscles trained that way, you won’t have much luck playing your next concerto in public!) I’d written the first 1000 words of an adult novella a while back, and that was clicking REALLY hard for me (I love the heroine! I love the voice!), but somehow I couldn’t quite move past its first scene to figure out the rest of the larger plot.
You never know what will be the key to finally escaping one of those creative dry spells…but this time, for me, it was a gift from a friend.
Back when I was powering through my rewrites of my first rough draft of The Storyteller’s Secret (my MG spies-and-fairies novel), I posted on Facebook about my progress for the sake of public accountability. One of my friends cheered me on there and promised she’d send me a reward if I got it done on time.
And look what arrived last week:
Gorgeous butterfly nail wraps! They were such a perfect gift for my spies-and-fairies novel. I laughed out loud with delight when I saw them! I didn’t end up putting them on until last night. But then…
Ohhhhh, do I love having butterfly nails! I smile every time I look down at my glittery, magical nails. They’re so fun and magical – the perfect cheer-me-up combination!
And this morning, when I was staring at my computer screen at the same opening scene I’d stared at many times before in the last three weeks, uselessly trying to figure out what happened next…I caught sight of my butterfly nails. And I thought: Wait a second. It needs to be more magical! THAT’S it!
I grabbed some headphones. I turned on an album (which is now my soundtrack for the project). I started to scribble notes…
And then pretty soon I’d typed 699 words of my novella (working title Snowspelled), aided by that perfect visual reminder of just how fun and magical I wanted the story to feel.
I may never stop feeling pre-publication nerves, as a writer…but there’s nothing that feels better than writing and sharing my stories with other people.
And I’m so grateful for friends who help with that! 🙂
We’re back! Our big trip to London last week turned out to be a bit different than planned, because my poor 8-year-old was ill, so Patrick stayed home with him while 3-year-old MrX and I took the train(s) to London. It was an adventure! I had a fantastic time at Bloomsbury’s 30th birthday party, I loved getting to talk to so many great people, and MrX loved London. (So many taxis! So many big red buses!) He was a perfect travel companion.
I love them. And a quick reminder: I’m going to be giving away an ARC of TDwaCH (either British or North American – whichever the winner prefers) with my next author-newsletter, which should be going out sometime in the next week. So, if you’d like to be entered in that giveaway, make sure you’ve signed up for my newsletter! (People who’ve already subscribed will be automatically entered in the giveaway. No extra work needed!)
This is going to be a very scattered post, because I am feeling scattered at the moment! I spent the end of last week getting ready to host a kid-birthday party in our house (which had gotten VERY SCARY with accumulated mess after several months of constant Deadline Mode). Then it was time for for a nice family visit, and then my kid’s actual birthday afterwards…and now we’re packing to get ready for a family trip to London, huzzah! Best of all, this trip will include a publishing party (for me and Patrick, not the kids).
I know, I know. There are people in the world – or at least, in London – who can say the words “Oh, I’m going to a London publishing party” with ennui or even with chagrin.
I cannot. To say the least. It’s almost impossible not to bounce as I say it, even when I’m saying it to myself!
But I do wish I could say those words to my teenaged self! Or even to my seven-year-old self, since that was the age I was when I realized I wanted to be a professional writer.
And look what I also got to see in the last week: the Bloomsbury UK kids’ catalogue for January-June 2016. Do you recognize that front cover???? 🙂
I was very, VERY happy to see my fiery dragon-girl making her way out into the world like that!
If you want to read a (signed!) early copy, don’t forget that there’s still one up for offer on the Authors for Refugees auction! Since a whole bunch of extra authors, editors and agents contributed new stuff over the last week, the auction’s deadline has been extended to 8 a.m. (UK-time) October 1st. Whether or not you’re interested in my ARC, you should definitely check out the auction as a whole!
Now I need to get back to packing for tomorrow’s trip…which includes desperately trying to unearth fancy-dress items that I haven’t used for months! (Oddly enough, in my normal life, there aren’t all that many times when they come in handy! 😉 )
But first, since it’s Wednesday, I’ll share with you guys, too, the teaser quote that I put up on Twitter today for Book Quote Wednesday (#bookqw). The word for the week was “long”, and since Congress of Secrets is coming out in less than 5 weeks (!!!!), I thought I’d share my first teaser quote from it today:
(The whole concept of CoS began when I thought: wouldn’t it be fun to make the powerful, manipulative, ruthless woman the heroine of her own book? And guess what: it WAS fun! 🙂 I can’t wait for you guys to read the first big excerpt on The Book Smugglers tomorrow.)
Hurrah! I sent off my MG spies-and-fairies book to my lovely UK editor yesterday morning, meaning that I have officially hit my final (so far!) deadline of the year. Whew!
This has been a seriously intense last year for very good reasons – in just over ten months, between April 2, 2016 and February 9, 2017, I have three books coming out (Masks and Shadows, Congress of Secrets and The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart), and a significant (30,000-word) freelance project under a pen name! I am SO grateful that this has all come together so amazingly well, but: oof. I am so relieved to have hit my final and most important deadline – the one I’d been most worried about – because honestly, there were a few points this year when I didn’t know how I could do it.
And the very best part is that suddenly, all I want to do is READ! For the past several months, my brain has been so intensely focused on my own books-in-progress that I didn’t have the energy & attention to read many new-to-me books by other people – all I could manage were comfort re-reads. But now I want to read EVERYTHING!
Now I’m a third of the way through Ilona Andrews’s Magic Binds (the latest book in my very favorite urban fantasy series ever), really loving it, and also impatiently waiting for today’s expected book mail: Robin Stevens’s Arsenic for Tea (Book 2 in the Wells & Wong MG mystery series) and my preordered copy of Two Naomis, by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick, which I’ve been looking forward to for months.
I also just bought Tracey Baptiste’s The Jumbies, which looks absolutely fabulous and has gotten great reviews.
So in other words, I am completely giddy on books right now! 🙂
Most of my energy for the next few days has to go to cleaning our messy house (because we’ve been in Deadline Mode for far too long!) before an upcoming kid birthday party. Pretty soon, I’ll start writing my own novels and stories again. (Monday, I hope!)
But right now I’m just going to roll around in all the books I can for a while longer. Hurrah!
Oh, and since I am posting this on a Wednesday, and Wednesday is Book Quote Wednesday over on Twitter, I might as well share the quote I put up on Twitter today. This week’s theme for #bookqw was “mistake,” so here’s mine from Masks and Shadows:
Hey! Would you like to get a signed ARC of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart (complete with gorgeous chapter header illustrations by Freya Hartas) AND help refugees at the same time? You can bid here to do that – and also check out all the other fabulous offerings (from manuscript critiques to books and CDs and more) at the Authors for Refugees auction. It’s open until Monday, September 26th, and it’s supporting a really, really important cause.
I’ll post a real, longer blog entry soon, but today I’m racing to get through my last polish of my MG spies-and-fairies book so that I can send it to my editor within the next few days. Please wish me luck!
Whew! I finished Draft 1.1 of my MG spies-and-fairies book on Wednesday, and I heard from my lovely agent today that she likes it! Double-WHEW. 🙂 I am feeling so happy and relieved right now.
Will there ever be a time in my career when I stop feeling so nervous every time I send off a new book?
I had a really good Twitter-conversation earlier this week with another writer whose work I love about ways of getting the work done. One of the things we talked about was how we both use inspirational quotes to get through the times when we’re struggling (whether that’s because of health, confidence, or any other issue). Coincidentally enough, we’ve both used book-money to commission jewellery with the mottos that personally inspire us. (So now I wonder: How many other people have done that, too? Have any of you guys? If so, I’d love to hear about it!)
Her beautiful motto is Post Tenebras, Lux (After darkness, light); mine, for a long time, has been Invincible Summer (from Camus’s quote “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”)
What about you guys? Whether or not you’ve ever put it on a piece of jewelry, do you have a motto that you come back to for inspiration?
In terms of a different kind of inspiration, I’ve been reading so many good books over the last few weeks! Ronald Smith’s Hoodoo has one of the best narrative voices of any MG novel I’ve read in a long time. It is gorgeously creepy and magical! In fact, it’s so creepy that at one point I had to set it down because I was getting shaky just reading it! (I am a horror wimp.) But the story was so compelling and the magic all felt so real, I HAD to come back to it even as a horror wimp – and I absolutely LOVED it. 🙂
Natasha Farrant’s Time for Jas is the fourth book in her Diaries of Bluebell Gadsby series, which is one of my very favorite MG series ever. The series is about a quirky, sometimes-dysfunctional, always-loving family in contemporary London, it’s all enormously funny and sometimes incredibly heart-wrenching, and this fourth book was just perfect. I cried at the end, in the very best way. You could probably start with this book and enjoy it just fine (and it was in fact my favorite book in the whole series), but why not start at the beginning with After Iris and get to enjoy the whole course of the family’s journey? (I re-read After Iris immediately after reading Time for Jas, and I loved it more than ever.)
I’m halfway through Jewell Parker Rhodes’s Bayou Magic, and it’s a wonderful contemporary MG fantasy set in Louisiana, full of family, fireflies, mermaids, love and magic. It’s so beautifully written and so full of warmth that reading it feels like getting a big hug! I’m forcing myself to move slowly through it, so I get to enjoy it for as long as possible – and I feel happy every time I read a new chunk of it. 🙂
I’ve also just started Robin Stevens’s Murder Most Unladylike (a.k.a. Murder is Bad Manners in the US/CA) – the first book in the Wells & Wong series of British schoolgirl mysteries set in the 1930s – which is SO MUCH fun, I’m kicking myself for not reading it two years ago when it first came out! Then again, that means I can devour the first four books in the series (along with two bonus stories!) all at once now. So: that’s an excellent consolation! 🙂
And the wonderful Ying Lee just interviewed me over at The History Girls about my own book Masks and Shadows. The questions she asked were so thoughtful and in-depth – they were really fun to answer! You can read the interview here.
It’s the beginning of the school year here in the UK…almost. That is, my older son started school last week, but my younger son won’t start for real until next week because his lovely, nurturing new nursery believes in staggered starts. That’s wonderful in many ways…but this starting schedule has been a bit of a nightmare for a working parent with a big book deadline coming soon and no scheduled childcare this week. Oops!
In other words, I’ve been a bit stressed-out. Over the last five days I have managed to revise 109 pages out of my 212-page manuscript, which counts as a definite victory…but now I’m FLOPPED. (Literally, on my bed, as I type.) And I am behind on eeeeeverything else! So if you’re someone whose email I haven’t replied to, or whose manuscript I should have already critiqued, I can only say: I am SO SORRY. It’s not you (or your manuscript), it’s me. It is very much me.
But! At least I’m over halfway through this revision (we’ll call it Draft 1.2) of my MG spies-and-fairies book. Which I love! And it’s been a great excuse to eat a lot of chocolate. 😉
This is also, thank goodness, the season of The Great British Bake Off, which Patrick & I watch every week with absolute addiction (sometimes holding hands for mutual support because it is SO TENSE)! In general, I’m not a fan of reality TV shows, but this one I absolutely adore, and it’s also a great reminder of one of the best things about being a writer: we can always revise. No one’s expecting me to write a perfect novel in three hours (or in a single draft) and be judged on it! I can keep on rewriting and polishing every book until I’m happy with it, and Paul Hollywood will NOT stand next to me me giving me skeptical looks as I work.
My next newsletter will go out in early October…and one newsletter subscriber (from anywhere in the world) will win an ARC of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart! So if you’re not already a newsletter subscriber, sign up here to become a subscriber and enter the giveaway. (People who already subscribe will automatically be entered into the giveaway without any need to do anything extra.)
Hooray! I can finally, finally share the two (!) covers for my next MG fantasy novel, The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart. The book is being published by Bloomsbury in both the UK and US, but of course cover styles are very different in those two countries…
I truly love both cover artists and both covers – and the great thing is, they’re both perfect for the story even though they come at it from very different angles! But I’m really curious: which one is your favorite?
(PS: The post includes a note from me about the UK cover and not the US cover only because the US cover was a last-minute – and very welcome! – addition to the cover reveal. It definitely wasn’t meant to imply any unfair preferences on my part! 🙂 I honestly love BOTH of my book-baby-covers equally.)