April 20, 2015, 3.24 pm
I'm back! Back to writing, that is. I decided to take the last 9 days off, because I really needed the downtime (creatively, mentally, physically - I just really, really needed that time off). It was the right thing to do, because I'd hit that stage of all 'round exhaustion where I felt just empty, creatively speaking. Halfway through my time off, that started to change - I felt ideas buzzing around, waiting to be noticed. By the end, I was DESPERATE to get back to writing, feeling as if I might burst if I waited any longer. But I made myself wait out the whole time, to really fill up the creative well and also just take the much-needed rest.
It was definitely the smart thing to do. But ohhhh did it feel good to start writing again today! I spent this morning revising the first four chapters of my MG dragons-and-chocolate novel, based on smart, helpful crits from other writers. I'll do lots more drafts over the next few months as more crits come in - this is nothing like a finished version - but it felt SO good to be playing in that world again, and doing exactly the thing that makes me feel the most perfectly challenged and the most fulfilled. There's nothing like forcing time off writing to make me appreciate just how good writing really feels.
And Toddler X is finally (knock on wood!) sleeping much, much better, for the first time in over 21 months. WHEW! It's going to take a looong time to catch up on 21 months of serious sleep-deprivation (especially since my new, good nights are only about 6 hours each - 8-hour nights are still a distant dream on the horizon), but still, that makes a huge difference.
Unfortunately, the M.E. has been seriously acting up, which is really frustrating. Over on Facebook on Friday (in a public post, which you can read even if we're not Facebook friends yet), I posted a #sickdayselfie along with a post about why I'm trying hard nowadays to capture those moments, too, instead of hiding them away. So, yeah. I've been crashing hard with the M.E. for the past several days. Today is the first day I'm starting to feel like I'm on an upwards curve again, and that's a really precious feeling. But now that I'm losing the post-baby burst of energy that came with Toddler X's birth, I'm also working hard to manage the inevitable health decline with all the positive coping strategies that I've learned across the years.
I spent the worst part of the crash last week reading and re-reading a bunch of Julie James's rom-coms for adults, which always cheer me up with their fun, sizzling 30s-style screwball rom-com banter. (My two favourites are Love, Irresistibly and Something About You, but I like or love almost all of them.) And last night I read a fabulously fun MG historical novel, Karen Cushman's Alchemy and Meggy Swan. Ferocious, prickly Meggy was such a fantastic heroine, her voice swept me away from the first page, and her adventures in Elizabethan London were just ridiculously fun. I loved Karen Cushman's Catherine, Called Birdy, too, so I really, really have to hunt down more of her books!
And it's been really lovely to see more reviews popping up even now for my own novella, Courting Magic. Gail Carriger wrote a wonderful review of it that made me really happy. (Here's the pull-quote that I will DEFINITELY be adding to my website soon: "It is a blast of fresh air, pure romantic joy." Eeee!) And just in the last 24 hours, multiple bloggers and librarians have posted other lovely reviews that made me smile. "Courting Magic" was the biggest gift I gave myself last year - the opportunity to write that story just for my own personal satisfaction and to make myself happy - and it's so, so great to see other people continuing to discover it and enjoy it.
So! That's been my last week. This coming week, I'll be focusing on trying to get a new draft of my MG dragons-and-chocolate book ready to send my agent by early May, while also working on some new adult-book thoughts and plans that I'm not quite ready to share publicly yet. And - just like I'm doing right now, as I type - I'll keep on spending as much time as possible sitting on the lounge chair in our sunny garden, soaking up the sunshine with Maya-dog curled up in the grass beside me.
It's a good feeling.
April 14, 2015, 11.16 am
Oof. We've been doing sleep-training with Toddler X for the past few days, and oh am I tired (especially since last night was far, far worse than the three nights before). Add on the fact that we just finished up a two-week school holiday, and all in all, I've decided to let myself take a few days of very rare downtime between writing projects to rest and refill the well. That means lots of reading, lots of time spent basking in the sunshine in our garden, lots of playing with knitting projects, and lots of listening to podcasts and favorite albums.
I also finished Naomi Novik's Uprooted, and oh, was it good. You can read my full review on Goodreads, but the short version is: pre-order this book if you love smart, fun romantic fantasy with creepy, original magic, fairy-tale resonance, and great female friendships!
In small but personally important news, I also used some of my downtime to finally, finally go get my eyes checked, for the first time in far too many years. For the past few months, I've been getting a lot of eye-strain and headaches, but I always thought: I've got so little child-free time, I need it for my writing. I can't waste it on frivolous eye appointments!
Well, I finally went in yesterday, and...yeah, I should have done it a lot earlier. Oh well! I'm torn between looking forward to my new glasses (because the frames are fabulous and the prescription should take away my headaches...eventually) and dreading them (because it's a huge prescription shift, so the optician warned me they will probably really hurt for the first 2 weeks). Oh well. At least I'll look cool! (In a typically geeky way, of course.)
And in the BEST news by far, I just got the dates for our American trip this summer! WOOT! We'll be in Michigan for several weeks, and I cannot wait. It makes me so happy that we've been able to finally start spending significant time back in my hometown every year. I love being a dual citizen, I love being British as well as American, and I love living in beautiful Wales - but Michigan is where I grew up, it's where most of my family and my oldest friends still live, and in many ways it will always be home for me. I'm so much happier when I'm rooted there, too.
A couple of people have already asked whether I'll be doing any official author events while I'm there. My guess is probably not, since I won't have a new book out at that point (and bookstores usually prefer to host authors with new books to promote) - but it also occurred to me that maybe we could have an informal get-together instead for anyone who reads this blog/reads my books/etc? There's a wonderful independent bookstore in Lansing, Schuler Books, that has a nice café. If you'd be interested in being part of a get-together there one day in early August, just send me an email at:
contactform at stephanieburgis dot com (deleting all the spaces between words, and replacing the "at" and "dot" with their symbols)
- and I'll make sure to keep you in the loop for that! Sadly, I doubt I'll have any ARCs of Masks and Shadows by then, but Patrick might well have ARCs of his upcoming MG adventure novel, Secrets of the Dragon Tomb by then, so we might even be able to pass that around as a bonus. But mostly the idea would just be to sit around with me and Patrick, eating brownies, drinking coffee, and talking about books for an hour or so in person instead of just online! :)
(And obviously, it's also just another excuse for me to go shopping at Schuler's. Er...we'll just call that "research," okay? ;p )
What about you guys? What are you looking forward to this summer?
April 10, 2015, 1.00 pm
The weather has turned shockingly sunny and warm here in Wales, so this has been a week of hanging out with my kids in our front yard, the local park, and my mother-in-law's gorgeous garden, all of us in short-sleeved shirts and often with bare feet, too. The return of warm weather feels like such a miracle every year. Everything's brighter and happier and more full of possibilities, even in a very tired week (as this one was for me, for various reasons).
Because I am so tired this week, I'm bouncing back and forth between books rather than sticking with just one all the way through - I don't have the attention span for that! - but oh, am I reading some really good books right now. Naomi Novik's upcoming Uprooted is AMAZING - it grabs me in just the same way that Robin McKinley's Beauty and Meredith Pierce's Darkangel did when I was a teenager. It manages to be really warm and an insta-comfort-read at the same time as having an incredibly creepy (nearly horror-y) magical issue at the core of it. AND it's romantic. And fun! Hugely, hugely recommended.
I've also been (finally!) reading Mallory Ortberg's Texts from Jane Eyre: and Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters, and oh, I haven't laughed this much over any book in a very, very long time. It's my favorite humor book...well, maybe ever, honestly. If you're a lit-geek, I can't imagine you not loving it, too.
And Tatum Flynn's new MG novel The D'Evil Diaries is just enormously fun, in the vein of Rick Riordan - fun, funny, high-spirited fantasy adventure for kids. A great new discovery!
What about you guys? What are you reading right now?
April 6, 2015, 2.37 pm
Whew! I finished the first-pass revision of my dragons-and-chocolate MG novel last Friday and sent it off to a handful of brave volunteers for critique. I spent about four hours thinking that ooh, maybe I'd just take the rest of my older son's school holidays off...and then realized, no. I really can't stop myself from writing! So I started a new (romantic, gothic, historical) YA fantasy story yesterday morning, just for fun. But still! No deadlines. I'm feeling very relaxed.
And as you can see, I've had JUST the right kind of Easter. ;)
(Although I am somewhat concerned about the fact that these are "Darc Marc" truffles...will I be chained to Voldemort forever if I eat them all? Oh well. They are SO delicious, I won't ask too many questions!)
And I have news! My swashbuckling novelette for adults, "The Art of Deception," was just published in the Insert Title Here anthology, edited by the fabulous Tehani Wessely. I should warn you guys, though, that if you look at the Goodreads description of the anthology as a whole, it won't reflect - at all - the tone of my story. This was an unthemed anthology, so it just turned out that most of the stories accepted (by some fantastic authors - I'm really looking forward to reading their stories when my author copies arrive!) were apparently pretty dark. Mine, on the other hand, really isn't.
I wrote "The Art of Deception" as a Christmas gift for my brother Dave, who had asked me for a fun, swashbuckling adventure story with lots of sword fighting, banter, and a twisty-turny plot, in the tradition of The Prisoner of Zenda/The Three Musketeers. So that's what I wrote! I had a lot of fun writing it, and I hope people will enjoy reading it, too. (It's a novelette rather than a short story, because it's 12,000 words, so there's time to really settle into the adventure.)
And in nice timing for our household, Patrick just had a story publication, too - but on the other end of the length-scale. His flash-fiction "Five Things of Beauty," which was first published in Strange Horizons (and which he wrote for me as a Christmas present!) has just been republished in audio on the Toasted Cake podcast. The story itself is only 5 minutes long, and it is absolutely beautiful. Go listen!
March 30, 2015, 9.39 am
Right now, our family is immersed in a two-week-long set of school holidays that - of course - clashes with a bunch of writing deadlines. Oh well! Luckily, I have friends willing to step in and help out in a number of ways - and I am so happy to have a guest post here today from Beth Bernobich, talking about one of my favorite subjects: fantasy novels that include great romances.
Beth is currently kickstarting a lushly romantic fantasy novelette of her own, which is linked into her River of Souls trilogy but which can also stand alone for the enjoyment of new readers. I was lucky enough to read a draft of this story, and I really enjoyed it!
And I love this blog post from her on epic romance.
THE EPIC ROMANCE
Once upon a time, I knew nothing about fantasy and even less about romance. Then my older brother came home with a copy of The Once and Future King and I read about Lancelot and Guinevere.
Dear Reader, I wept.
Then I went back and re-read those sections a dozen more times.
Since those early years, I've read many other fantasies and many other love stories. I've come to adore Georgette Heyer. I have my own Jane Austen action figure. And books from authors such as Delia Sherman, Martha Wells, Stephanie Burgis, and Michelle Sagara are now on my auto-buy list. I can't pick one single kind of romance or fantasy that is my favorite, but epic fantasy with an epic romance is definitely in the top ten.
Now, just to be clear, not all fantasies include a love story, and not all love stories are romances with a happily ever after. This is good! This means we have variety! For this particular article, when I talk about an epic romance, I mean a love story, and in particular, one woven into the tapestry of an epic fantasy.
Let's talk examples.
One of the first series I think of when I think of epic romance is Kate Elliott's Spiritwalker trilogy. Cat Barahal is the daughter of an Amazon warrior and the Master of the Wild Hunt. Andevai Haranwy is a powerful cold mage. Their marriage was forced on them and they were at war from the first moment they met. I have to admit, I disliked Andevai. He was arrogant, insensitive, and insulting. Or at least, that's how Cat saw him throughout their first days together.
And then... Cat is whisked from Europa to the Antilles. Andevai follows. And courts Cat with a love and tenderness she never expected. And Cat comes to realize that Andevai's arrogance hides a vulnerable young man. Their love story takes place against the backdrop of war, magic, the challenge of class and class, and science against magic. If this isn't epic, I don't know what is.
(Pause to fan myself.)
A very different kind of love story takes place in N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Yeine Darr is a young woman whose mother was once the heir to the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, an empire so powerful the human rulers have enslaved the gods. When her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, Yeine is summoned by her grandfather to the ruling city of Skye and named an heir to the throne. But there are other heirs, her dangerous and ambitious cousins, and Yeine must fight for her life as well as the throne. Nahadoth is the god of night and chaos, who offers to help Yeine for a price. When their alliance takes a turn into passion, let's just say that it's lovemaking on a scale that deserves the term epic.
And then there is Megan Whelan Turner's Queen's Thief series.
This whole series brings me such delight I can barely express myself. The prose, the humor, the clash between the personal and the duty to kingdom, the many different characters, each exquisitely drawn. I can re-read every single book and discover new things to enjoy each time.
One element that took me completely by surprise was the love story between Eugenides and the Queen of Attolia. I can't explain more without major spoilers, but let's say their love story is neither simple or straightforward--and that is what makes their love so deeply satisfying. On the surface, they married for political expediency, but Turner makes it clear the marriage could not have happened without the very genuine love Eugenides has for Irene, and which Irene gradually learns to return.
You can see it here, in this paragraph from The King of Attolia:
The king lifted a hand to her cheek and kissed her. It was not a kiss between strangers, not even a kiss between a bride and a groom. It was a kiss between a man and his wife, and when it was over, the king closed his eye and rested his forehead against the hollow of the queen's shoulder, like a man seeking respite, like a man reaching home at the end of the day.
Dear Reader, I wept. Then I read that section again.
BIO: Beth Bernobich is the author of the epic fantasy trilogy, River of Souls, from Tor Books. Her latest book is The Time Roads, an alternate history about mathematics, murder, and time. You can read more about her on her website.