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We’re Back! (With a Helping of Good Stress)

So…we’re back! We flew back to the UK last week, actually, but as I’ve learned since my first trip with the kids to America last year, jet lag as a childless adult is NOTHING to the experience of jetlag with two little kids who are each experiencing their own jetlag, too! Ahhh, no fun whatsoever…but as of last night, I think both kids are finally back on their UK sleep-schedule, just in time for school to start. Whew! So, now, I can (I hope) finally catch up on my sleep, too. (Knock on wood!)

It’s grey and rainy here in Wales – I went through climate shock last week as I adjusted from wearing a skirt, T-shirt and sandals every day to wrapping up in thick cardigans and jeans. But the mountains are gorgeous, green and forested, rising all around our house. I can almost imagine dragons sleeping under them! And our own Maya-dog is sleeping in her bed downstairs as I type this now. All in all, it feels really good to be home…especially since I know I’ll be back in America next summer. It’s the right balance for our family right now.

And speaking of balancing acts…this year it looks like I’ll be trying something I haven’t tried for a long time, which is writing two books at once (one adult book and one MG). Please cross your fingers for me! Right now I’ve only written the openings of each of them, and that’s as far as I’ve gotten, because one of them needs a ton more research before I can really settle into it, and the other one needs a lot more planning time and creative play to work out exactly the right voice and story for the heroine…but tentatively – very tentatively! – it looks like I’m going to be trying to write them both over the next year or so. We’ll see! I’m nervous but excited about them both, so I don’t want to drop either one of them.

It’s been a funny last month in terms of writing. I had great plans to do lots and lots of writing over the summer, and I really did spend the first two weeks writing and revising with all my might to hit a freelance deadline…but then, over the last four weeks of our summer holiday, I only ended up writing down four different story openings (one short story, one Kat novella, and two novels, all of them pieces I’d like to pursue at some point) without really settling into any of them. Part of it, honestly, comes down to the fact that I’d been driving myself SO hard for so many months beforehand, filling up every free moment with my writing goals. As both Patrick and another one of my smart writer-friends pointed out, creative breaks are actually NECESSARY sometimes, not just optional, to refill the well! So there is that. The truth is, I really did need a break, and it was probably good for me as a writer to take one. (…At least inasmuch as 4 weeks full of childcare can be called “a break.” But – you know what I mean!)

And then there’s also the fact that, behind the scenes, a lot of publishing decisions that are going to significantly affect my career are being made right now in London and New York. So far, every single bit of news I’ve gotten has been amazing, and I’m really excited about all of it…but nothing’s absolutely settled yet, which is why I’m not posting any of that news here. And that’s a really jittery, unsettling feeling to experience, even when all the news is good! (As that same smart writer-friend pointed out in an email to me, “Good stress is still stress! It still has the same result.”) So, it’s been hard to settle into writing while I’m waiting for firm decisions and resolution all round.

House of Shattered Wings photo Anyway! In the meantime, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. I spent all of my free time on our international plane ride reading my new hardcover copy of Aliette de Bodard’s The House of Shattered Wings, which was AMAZING. It’s a postapocalyptic fantasy novel for adults set in Paris, and I’d read an early draft a year or so ago, which I loved…but the final, published version just blew me away. You can read my full Goodreads review here.

And when we got to Wales, I found a copy of Felicia Day’s fun, funny, and genuinely wonderful memoir, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) waiting for me (I had won it in a giveaway), and I was genuinely shocked by just how much I loved it. (You can see my Goodreads review for that one, too!)

Tomorrow, school starts again, here in Wales. Normal life is about to begin again. And yes, I am going to dive back into being a professional writer as well as a mom again…even if it’s a bit of a jittery adjustment along the way! 😉

What about you guys? What are your favorite reads from this summer? And if you had big goals at the beginning of the summer, like I did…did yours get amended, too? Or did you cheer your way to the end? I’d love to know!

(Note: you can read comments here or on my LiveJournal.)

Last Week, Family Love, and a Call for Votes

It’s our last week in America. Wahhh! But it’s been a really good week so far. Yesterday morning I got to meet up with an old friend in the park where we both played as kids, and we shared a picnic with all of our children. The day before yesterday, I celebrated a whole bunch of really wonderful professional news (which I hope to be able to share here sometime in the next few months!) by eating ice cream with my family, then going out to dinner with my oldest friend at a really great Mexican restaurant. We sat in an outdoor booth on the rooftop while sparrows flew around the tables, and talked about everything.

And oh, thank goodness, I finally got some new author photos, with a LOT of family help. Can I say just how grateful I’ve been for all of my wonderful sisters-in-law over the years? My last author photos were taken by my sister-in-law Gail (a former professional photographer, now anthropologist), back in Leeds six years ago, and she went make-up shopping with me first, loaned me her straightening iron for my hair, and generally talked me through the whole process of getting ready for a professional photo.

This time, it was even more of a full family process, because my mom (an amazing photographer who has had photos on magazine covers) took the photos for me, and my sister-in-law Jenn not only went make-up shopping with me to help me pick out what I needed (and loaned me her straightening iron! thank goodness my sisters-in-law are all more prepared than I am), but also finally put on my eyeshadow for me when I gave up, since I am totally clueless in the whole cosmetics department.

99% of the time, I go without makeup and feel good about it. But every so often, I really want to wear it, and I am so glad to have fabulous, supportive women in my life who are willing to step in and help me when I need it! And oh, is the whole process of photo-taking so much more fun when I’m hanging out with people I love and laughing through the process. I tend to get really self-conscious about having photos taken, but getting them taken with Mom and Jenn was just perfect.

If you read this before the end of August 19th, I’ll still be trying to narrow down my choices – I need to send two photos to the publishers of my upcoming adult novel, and I’m trying to decide among three finalists:

Small-Steph-Author-Photo-1

Small-Steph-Author-Photo-2

Small-Steph-Author-Photo-3

If you have any opinions, voting is not only allowed, it is hugely encouraged! I would love any help, and people are already voting over on my Facebook page. (But if you read this after the 19th, I will have already sent off the photos, so it’ll be too late.)

Right now, I’m figuring out the stories of two different novels, in different genres, that I want to write…I’m trying desperately to read as many library books as I can before I have to return them all in the next few days…and I’m trying to fit in as much hanging out with old friends and family as I possibly can, while knowing that it will never feel like enough.

But I’m so glad to be here!

Awful Realizations and New Favorites

I’ve reached that awful stage that comes after the midpoint of every trip, where I realize that there is NO WAY to meet up with everyone I want to see while I’m here, to read all the library books I want to read*, to go all the places I want to go…oh well! I’m still having a great time, and it’s gotten a whole lot better since Toddler X has started (knock on wood!) sleeping through the night again. (Oh, did we have a bad couple of weeks with that beforehand…)

Here’s this week’s latest library find, Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper, a YA fantasy novel which is making me really happy so far:

shadowshaper
I’m absolutely loving the voice, and the magic and the characters and the (gorgeously evoked) setting all work together just wonderfully. It’s so much fun!

I’ve also been reading my way through Ursula Vernon’s wonderful Dragonbreath series with my six-year-old, who LOVES those books! Hugely recommended for any 6- to 8-year-olds you know – and they’re fun for adults, too! We’ve read the first 7 (out of 11) in the last couple of weeks and can’t wait to get the last 4. They’re silly and funny and clever and joyous and can certainly be read out of order. My personal favorite so far is Book 4, Lair of the Bat Monster, and my personal least favorite is Book 2, Attack of the Ninja Frogs, but honestly, they’re all fun, and my 6-year-old loves them ALL.

dragonbreath

I also started reading Ursula Vernon’s Nurk: The Strange, Surprising Adventures of a (Somewhat) Brave Shrew this morning, and I LOVED the opening – but then I forced myself to stop and set it aside so that I can read it with my six-year-old, who will certainly love it, too. And since Vernon’s MG book for older kids, Castle Hangnail, is one of my very favorite MG fantasies of the last few years, I think we can officially say that she has become a favorite author in this household! :)

What about you guys? Have you discovered any new favorite authors in the past year?
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*Yes, this is a serious issue! And it’s not just for fun, either. Since, at the moment, I’m primarily publishing my books in North America, it’s really important to me to keep up with new American books in my genres, and I can’t afford to buy them all (or even most of them). So, taking this opportunity, every year, to read as many as possible at my wonderful hometown library is REALLY vital! (But it’s really fun, too.)

PS: You can leave comments here or on my LiveJournal.

Cookies and Books

Another quiet, lovely week over here. I’ve been taking my kids to the swimming pool, the park and the library, eating wonderful chocolate chip cookies made by my dad, and of course doing my writing. I sent off my latest freelance audition on Monday – please wish me luck! – and since then, I haven’t had any deadlines to worry about. I’ve been doing steady writing anyway, of course, but I haven’t pushed myself too hard when it comes to hitting high wordcounts at speed.

Yesterday, I had a really delicious breakfast out (French toast with strawberry-infused cream cheese! Mmmm!) with one of my oldest friends and we got to have our first non-Skyped bookclub meeting in ages. Our unanimous conclusion was that Nicole Burstein’s Othergirl is really fun and gets the dynamics of high school friendships just right!

other-girl-cover

Next, we’re going to be reading Cherie Priest’s I am Princess X, which looks fabulous.

princess-x-cover

Have any of you guys read it yet? I picked up my copy late yesterday morning, and I can’t wait to dive in as soon as I finish the book I’m reading right now, Ilona Andrews’s Magic Shifts, which is really fun so far. I bounced off the first book in this series, but then someone recommended I try starting again with Book 3, Magic Strikes, and that REALLY worked for me. I’ve been a huge fan of the series ever since!

magic-shifts-cover

I also just finished one of my favorite birthday presents, Elizabeth Hand’s creepy, atmospheric fantasy novel (for adults) Wylding Hall. If you like gothic novels, British folk-rock, or just fantasy that feels genuinely magical, you should really try it out. Elizabeth Hand has been one of the fantasy authors I’ve most admired for about 20 years now, but this turned out to be by far my very favorite novel she’s ever written.

wylding-hall

What about you guys? Do you have any reading recommendations this week?

Note: This blog is still being mirrored over on LiveJournal, so you can also read (or leave) comments there.