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Hot Chocolate Recipes and Obsessions

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Readers who’ve been keeping me company for the last few years might remember that when the Kat trilogy was re-released as a boxed set, I declared its publication day (October 7, 2014) to be Hot Chocolate Day. In the week leading up to it, I posted one hot chocolate recipe after another, including guest recipes from friends. (There was Hot Chocolate One: the Original Comfort Recipe; Hot Chocolate Two: Vegan Perfection; Hot Chocolate Three: Witch’s Chocolate; and then, on Hot Chocolate Day itself, Coconut Milk Hot Chocolate.)

Of course, hot chocolate was never actually mentioned or drunk in the Kat books – I just like hot chocolate, so I thought Hot Chocolate Day would be a fun way to celebrate the boxed set. (And artist Sally Jane Thompson even drew a beautiful sketch of Kat drinking hot chocolate for the occasion!) But not entirely coincidentally, on October 24, 2014, just a few weeks after Hot Chocolate Day, as I was lying in bed in the dark waiting to fall asleep…I suddenly jerked upright, grabbed my laptop, and wrote the first 450 words of a new book – a book about a fierce dragon girl driven by her passion for chocolate (and a pot of enchanted hot chocolate that gets her into trouble in the first place!).

Sketch by Sally Jane Thompson

It was, of course, The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart…which is being published in the UK in just 33 days (and in the US/CA 3-1/2 months later).

So. It seems like time to start work on a few new recipes!

My personal cooking goal over the next couple of weeks is to come up with one recipe that I really like for cardamom hot chocolate (something I’ve been curious about for a while) and one recipe I really like for chilli hot chocolate (my fiery dragon-heroine’s very favorite kind!). (I know how she made it in the novel, of course, but that was based on eighteenth-century chocolate-making methods, and I’m not working with all of the same ingredients, so I’ll have to make my own recipe a little different.)

Today, I made my first attempt at a cardamom hot chocolate, and it was really yummy – but I think it could be even better. And my public vow is to return to this blog within one week, maximum, to report on a version that I love.

(Today’s experiment #1: I poured a cup of milk into a small saucepan along with 6 bruised – i.e., cracked open – cardamom pods and a scattering of cinnamon. I turned the hob to the lowest heat possible and let it all simmer together for about ten minutes before adding in 6 squares of 70% dark chocolate and whisking it regularly for the next five minutes. It was really lovely! I love the heat that the cardamom gives to the flavor, and the combination of cardamom and cinnamon was really nice. BUT I also thought the flavors could be stronger. I’m going to be putting in more cardamom pods next time and more cinnamon and maybe letting the whole mixture simmer longer, too.)

Of course, this means I’ll have to make a lot of hot chocolate over the next several days.

What a pity, right? 😉

Happy chocolate-drinking to all! And I’d love to hear about any of your own favorite hot chocolate recipes.

Year in Review, Wild Dreams, and a Personal Mission

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By the end of a long holiday season, I’m always feeling jittery about how little writing I’ve been able to do, with multiple deadlines mounting in my head and frustration that I haven’t managed to do more. Why haven’t I somehow done more???

But here’s what I have written in 2016, as an annual record for myself to look back on, because it genuinely helps:

  • I did structural edits (i.e. major rewrites) on The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart and Congress of Secrets
  • I wrote my Kat-all-grown-up-with-kids short-short story “Flying Magic”
  • I wrote another short-short story that’s currently out on submission
  • I wrote the last 23,000 words of my MG spies-and-fairies book (to be published in 2018) and then did a substantial rewrite of the full book before turning it in to my MG editors
  • I wrote the first 29,000 words (about the first 3/4) of my first adult novella, Snowspelled (which should be released sometime in 2017)
  • I wrote the opening to my next-next MG book (my grumpy-princess-and-giants-and-sisters-and-goblin-girls book)

So, all in all, I wrote just under 57,000 words on brand-new stories and also did major rewrites (including many thousands of new words) on three full books, along with various rounds of line edits, copyedits, etc, all of which took time and energy.

It’s certainly not a massive amount of wordage compared to many of the writers I know, but considering that my younger son isn’t in full-time school yet – so I only have 14 hours a week of writing time – I’m telling myself AS FIRMLY AS POSSIBLE that it’s not too bad. Whew.

(And I’m posting it publicly as part of my personal mission to teach myself to be proud of what I do get done rather than focusing nonstop on wishing that I’d done more.)

In the non-writing aspects of my life, I took my kids on my first solo weekend away with them and it went wonderfully; I had a great time taking my younger son on an overnight trip to London; and my older son and I went to his first-ever ballet in Cardiff and he called it one of the best days of his life. So those are the accomplishments I’m hanging onto there, at the end of a tough year!

What about you guys? I’d love to hear (either here or on Twitter or Facebook) about any of the things you’re most glad to have accomplished this year, no matter how large or small. Here’s to do-able goals and pride in our work!

And in the next few days, I’ll be sitting down to make my yearly list of Big Dreams, !!!WILD!!! Dreams (with extra capitalization and italics to emphasize the wild implausibility of them all!) and also Small, Do-Able Goals across the year. If you guys feel like sharing any of your own personal goals/dreams for 2017, I’d love to hear about them!

Wishing you all a wonderful turning of the year!

Knitting, Sneak-Writing, and Books of All Sorts

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Our Christmas tree is still sparkling in the corner of our living room, five days later. It was a lovely, busy Christmas with the kids – and I got all three of my knitted gifts finished in time. Whew! 🙂 Now I’m knitting a scarf for myself with the lush, gorgeous cornflower-blue wool that Patrick got me for Christmas, which fills me with utter delight. (I only ever knit in the autumn and winter, but oh do I love knitting during those seasons! Total stress-relief – especially when the wool is this soft and rich and beautiful.)

Since the kids have been off school and we’ve been celebrating Christmas with the extended family, I’ve only managed to sneak-write little bits and pieces of my new novella (Snowspelled) at a rate of about 50 words a day – just enough to keep me in touch with the project (and slowly but surely move along the fun kissing scene I’d started just before the holidays). But this morning I woke up with a massive realization:

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart comes out in the UK just 6 weeks from today!

Eeee! And: eep! I have SO MUCH of my heart wrapped up in this book. I really hope you guys will like it!

It’s a strange feeling to have three novels come out within 10 months. I felt as if Masks and Shadows had only just come out when Congress of Secrets arrived at the beginning of November. (And hurrah, I was SO pleased to see both of them on this list of 7 Must-Read Historical Fiction Books of 2016!) Now I’m already excited and nervous about The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, my return to MG fantasy. It’s been a very, very lucky publishing year for me.

It’s been a lucky time for me as a reader, too. Just check out my Christmas book haul!

I’ve already started Game of Queens, and it is fabulous – the kind of rich, fascinating history book that makes ideas for new stories spark on almost every page.

And look what arrived in the mail yesterday!

This Would Make a Good Story Someday is SO much fun – which isn’t at all surprising, since Dana Levy’s The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher is one of my favorite-ever MG books. (This one is a standalone spin-off of the Family Fletcher books, and it’s coming out in May. I was so excited to get an advance copy!)

What about you guys? What were your favorite holiday gifts, if you exchanged any? And/or: what are you looking forward to in the next year?

My Favorite Adult F/SF Novels in 2016

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I posted last week about my favorite MG books read in 2016, and I promised to do a followup post about my favorite adult reads. Of course, I always have less time than I expect over the kids’ school holidays…so this followup is a little late for holiday shopping. Sorry! However, if you (like me!) are a last-minute holiday shopper, or if you just want to look for more fun new books to read yourself, here’s a list of adult fantasy novels that I genuinely loved in 2016, along with snippets of the reviews that I wrote for them on Goodreads (and links to some of the longer reviews):

Elizabeth Bear’s Karen Memory
A fabulously fun steampunk adventure story with a great, sympathetic (and very diverse) cast of characters and a completely gripping narrative voice. Karen, the narrator, is just *awesome* – matter-of-fact, brave, loyal, funny, and far more impressive than she realizes – and I cheered for her arc of empowerment by the end. I also loved her sweet, fumbling romance, and Priya, her love interest, is truly wonderful too. (Read my full Goodreads review here for more details and discussion.)

Laura Anne Gilman’s Silver on the Road
A slow-paced but truly lovely fantasy novel, set in an alternate version of the 19th-century American west in which the Devil staked his own territory centuries earlier and the rest of the territorial borders have shifted around that. The heroine, Izzy, is a sixteen-year-old coming of age and coming into her own as the Devil’s Left Hand, traveling the roads of her boss’s territory with a mentor who has magical issues of his own. The alternate history setting is fascinating and well thought-out, the writing is absorbing, and the characters are wonderful. By the time I was halfway through reading this book, I’d already preordered Book 2, which is coming out next month – I can’t wait to read it!

Sarah Kuhn’s Heroine Complex
Evie Tanaka is the put-upon personal assistant to San Francisco’s glamorous local superheroine, Aveda Jupiter…who was once her best friend Annie long ago, before a rift between dimensions scattered random superpowers across the city. Annie grabbed onto her new superpower whole-heartedly and flung herself into the spotlight, renaming herself Aveda Jupiter and fighting demons on livestream to the delight of her internet fans; Evie panicked and hid as deeply in Annie’s shadow as she could. But when she has to take Annie/Aveda’s place at an event with the help of a magical glamour, she’s finally forced to recognize her own true strength in more ways than one….with the help of a very nerdy, very hot scientist, lots of great friends, AND her rebellious little sister.

This book was so funny and fun and so full of real heart, it filled me with pure delight throughout. It’s full of fun urban fantasy adventure, hot (AND sweet and funny) romance, intense female friendships and complex, important family relationships. Basically, it has everything I love most in a book! And it’s all done so well. (Read my full Goodreads review for even more raving. I LOVED THIS BOOK.)

Ilona Andrews’s Magic Binds
This turned out to be one of my very favorite books in the whole Kate Daniel series so far (which is, by far, my favorite-ever urban fantasy series – I didn’t click with Book 1, but when I started again with Book 3, I got hooked HARD). I love the combination of humor with real emotion, tension and adventure, and these characters all feel like old friends by now. I loved the mixture of madcap wedding planning moments along with genuinely heartwrenching issues, freaky magic and fun fantasy action. I adored all the different kinds of relationships between women in this book, including one I would never, ever have guessed at any earlier in this series – it came as a delicious surprise in this book. And most of all, I cannot wait for the next book!

Seanan McGuire’s Discount Armageddon and Midnight Blue-Light Special
I just discovered Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid series and have been DEVOURING it. I tore through both of these first two books within less than 3 days! Urban fantasy, ballroom dancing and talking mice – this series is just ridiculously fun. You can read my full reviews of Discount Armageddon and Midnight Blue-Light Special on Goodreads.

***

What about you guys? What were your favorite f/sf reads in 2016? I’d love to hear about them either here, on Facebook or on Twitter. (You will not be surprised to hear that I am ALWAYS looking for new recommendations! 🙂 )

Failed Resolutions, a Comforting List, and a Movie Rave

- 0 comments - New Publications, watching, writing

Every year, I tell myself that I’ll (somehow) get loads of writing done over the children’s school holidays. This year, I tell myself, I’ll definitely find a way!

And every year…

Well.

Hahaha.

Quite. We’ll just leave it there, shall we? 😉 (…says the woman who’s managed a grand total of 430 words over the past 3 days…ah well.)

To comfort myself, though, I’m choosing today to post my yearly list of publications. (Because seriously, I need to remind myself today that it has been a productive year, even if the next few weeks won’t continue that trend!) So here they are:

Novels

Masks and Shadows – Opera, alchemy and romance in an 18th century Hungarian palace, published by Pyr Books

Congress of Secrets – Disguises, deceptions, dark alchemy and unexpected romance at the Congress of Vienna in 1814, published by Pyr Books

Novelettes

House of Secrets – YA gothic romantic fantasy, self-published as an ebook

Short Stories

“Mums’ Group” – near-future SF, published in the anthology Futuristica Volume I

“Pack Dynamics” – werewolves in Pittsburgh! Published (and free to read online) in Persistent Visions

“A Cup of Comfort” – my creepy magical tea story, published (and free to read online or listen to as an audio podcast) in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

“Flying Magic” – my Kat-all-grown-up-with-kids-of-her-own short story, self-published as a free ebook and also free to read online

***

Now I’m 3/4 of the way through the first draft of my adult fantasy novella, Snowspelled, I should be getting an edit letter for my MG spies-and-fairies novel sometime in the next month, and I’ve just started writing the MG novel that will probably come after that. (Grumpy princesses, inconvenient giants, philosophical dragons, and complicated sister-relationships ahoy!)

So, OK. Even if I don’t manage to get too much written over the next 2-1/2 weeks while the kids are off school, things will probably Be Okay.

But now…

Now it’s time to dive back into frantic Christmas preparation (because that is a VERY pressing deadline right now).

Happy holidays!

PS: Have you seen the movie Moana yet? Go see Moana! It made me SO happy, and our whole family loved it so, so much. The boys and I have been listening to the soundtrack almost nonstop ever since, and I’m already plotting a second trip to the cinema to see it again. MOANA!

That is all. 🙂

My Favorite MG Books in 2016

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It’s our last week of work before the kids’ school holidays begin…and of course, we’re also frantically gift-shopping at this time of year! In case you are, too, it seemed like a good moment to start posting my totally subjective, personal lists of favorite books I read this year. (Also, I just like looking back on them!) So here is my first list – all MG novels I utterly adored, in no particular order:

island-cover

Sally Nicholls, An Island of Our Own
When I asked for recommendations of books that were filled with real comfort and joy, Frances Hardinge & Terri Trimble both recommended this one, and they were absolutely right. In terms of voice, overall feel and sheer charm, this book felt like a contemporary MG version of I Capture the Castle. Totally enchanting, heartfelt, and full of warmth, with wonderful characters and such a fun story. I loved it!

(ETA: A reader on Facebook pointed out that this isn’t available in the US, so I wanted to let you guys know that you can get it from The Book Depository with free worldwide delivery.)

hoodoo

Ronald Smith, Hoodoo
Hoodoo has one of the most fabulous narrative voices of any MG novel I’ve read in a long while. It is SO delicious and compelling, and I love the way the (creepy) magic is worked so seamlessly into the everyday life of the characters! This whole book is gorgeously creepy and magical.

Note: I really mean it about the creepy bit – I had to put it down at one point because I couldn’t read it at night! (I am a horror wimp) – but the characters are all SO wonderful, the story is so much fun and the magic feels so real, I HAD to go back to it afterward, no matter how much I knew it would scare me. (I just made sure to read the rest of it earlier in the day! 😉 )

time-for-jas

Natasha Farrant, Time for Jas
An absolutely beautiful conclusion to one of my favorite-ever MG series. When I finished reading, I literally cried even though it wasn’t a sad ending – I was just so full of emotion! I loved this book SO MUCH. It’s funny – sometimes laugh-out-loud hilarious! – and zany and fabulous, with one of my favorite-ever big, quirky literary families (who wouldn’t want to hang out with the Gadsbys? they’re so much fun!), but it’s also a book that really profoundly looks at the questions of why we make art and how creativity works. It’s a deeply compassionate look at complex, sometimes incredibly painful and yet still loving family dynamics, and what it’s like to be someone who doesn’t fit in to the norm, and and and…

It’s just beautiful. Really, really beautiful. And it’s my favorite book in this whole fabulous series, which is saying a LOT. (You can find the whole series listed in order here.)

cloud-cover

Anne Nesbet, Cloud and Wallfish
This book is utterly BRILLIANT. It’s exhilaratingly smart and fun, a wild ride from the very beginning, when 11-year-old Noah is picked up from school in Virginia by his parents only to be told his name isn’t really Noah, he isn’t really 11 after all, and they’re heading to East Berlin (this is set in 1989, when the Wall was still up) IMMEDIATELY, using an all-new set of names and a made-up history he urgently has to memorize….oh, and that from now on, he can’t ask any questions, because SOMEONE will always be listening from the moment they arrive in East Berlin!

It’s a fascinating and enormously fun story full of secrets and codes and mysteries, the setting is incredibly rich…and oh, the emotional developments as Noah makes a true friend in one of his neighbors and is drawn into her own painful and mysterious story!

This was an utterly compulsive read from beginning to end, I enjoyed every moment of it, and again, the ending made me cry in a very, very good way.

bayou

Jewell Parker Rhodes, Bayou Magic
Beautiful magical realism full of rich family relationships, strong women and girls, and beautiful writing. It isn’t fast-paced, but it is luscious! I looooved dipping into it a bit at a time and I always came out of each reading session feeling better about the world.

strange-star

Emma Carroll, Strange Star
Magical, creepy, and so beautifully written and immersive. I devoured it within less than 24 hours! As someone who’s always been fascinated by Mary Shelley, I personally loved the masterful way Carroll built real history into her drama (and played with echoes of Frankenstein, too!), but this book would be just as much fun for someone who’d never heard of the Shelleys in their life. The voices of the characters are utterly compelling, the story is exciting and scary, and even when I was most filled with dread, I could not stop reading.

critchlore

Sheila Grau, Dr. Critchlore’s School for Minions
This book is full of wacky, funny, gross-out fun AND an enormous amount of real heart, and I loved it. Runt Higgins is a non-morphing werewolf who was left as a baby at Dr. Critchlore’s School for Minions for his own protection. Now – in hopes of finding his parents again – he’s trying out for the elite Junior Henchman training program, with the help of his wonderful group of friends, including Frankie, a Frankenstein-style created boy whose head pops off when he gets too upset, Syke the hamadryad who can swing from tree to tree, and the crowd of sweet, shuffling zombies for whom Runt’s become responsible. The characters are all fabulous and very funny.

It’s such a great mixture of fun and humor and genuinely creepy moments, and what carries it all through is Runt’s true sweetness, his unstoppable optimism and his deep love for his created family. I enjoyed every minute of this book SO MUCH.

eliza-rose

Lucy Worsley, Eliza Rose
I absolutely devoured this book, a delicious historical novel set in Tudor England, with a fabulously sharp and spiky narrator who is the cousin (and rival) of Henry VIII’s ill-fated wife Katherine Howard. The truth is, I’m not sure exactly which genre to class it in, as it breaks some of the “rules” of children’s literature – it looks from the cover like an MG novel, and starts with Eliza at 12, but by the end of the book she’s 20 and has been dealing for years with the questions of how to operate in a licentious and brutal court. There aren’t any explicit sex scenes, but the issues discussed are certainly adult…as, of course, teenage girls were expected to be in that era.

It’s all incredibly addictive, smart and entertaining and perfectly handled. I loved that Worsley let her heroine be sharp and unlikeable at various points, with her pride getting in the way of her own good. I loved Eliza’s voice – and oh, I swooned over her romance! And the historical era is conveyed beautifully throughout. I was already a huge fan of Worsley’s historical nonfiction, and now I can’t wait to read her next novel too!

(ETA: Apparently this is going to be published under a different title in the US, as Maid of the King’s Court, and not for a while yet. But you can find the UK edition on The Book Depository now.)

**

Later this week or next week, I’ll post about my favorite adult f/sf books of the year. But in the meantime, if you’ve been curious about my own next MG book (dragons and chocolate!)…

Final-UK-Dragon-Cover

For the next 24 hours, you can bid to win a signed, early (final!) copy of The Dragon Heart as part of the #FundsForFox auction, raising money for wonderful YA writer and all-round wonderful human being, Fox Benwell. The book won’t be published until February in the UK and May in the US – but if you bid now, you might be reading it in the next couple of weeks! Good luck!

(And I was absolutely thrilled by this lovely review of the book by one of my favorite book bloggers yesterday. Hurrah!)

What were your favorite books this year (in any genre)? I’d love to know!

Choose Your Own Story

- 0 comments - auctions, Short Fiction

Thanks so much for the lovely feedback I’ve gotten for “Flying Magic” on Facebook, email and elsewhere! It really, really means a lot to me.

If you recall, “Flying Magic” was written on commission for the winner of the Con-or-Bust auction earlier this year…and now one more reader is going to get the chance to commission a new short-short story from me, selecting any character from any of my novels as the protagonist! Winner’s choice. 🙂

You can find the 24-hour auction here on Jim Hines’s blog. The minimum bid is $10, and all of the money raised by the auction will go to Transgender Michigan, which runs one of the only transgender helplines in the U.S (available 24/7). It’s a resource that’s desperately needed by a lot of vulnerable teens and adults.

The auction closes at noon Eastern time on December 8th.

Good luck to everyone who enters! I can’t wait to see which character the winner will ask to read about.

Now I’m off to supervise some veeeeeery over-excited little kids in decorating our Christmas tree. Wish me luck! There may be tinsel everywhere by the time we finish… 😉

December Lights 2016: Flying Magic

- 0 comments - Short Fiction

Many years ago, Patrick and I put together a website called “December Lights” and published one story a day all through the month of December. Each story was donated by a different fabulous author, and each had just one thing in common: every story had a happy ending.

We need lights in the darkness in December – even in years that aren’t like this one.

I may not have the energy to organize that kind of big multi-author, monthlong event every year, but for the last couple of years, I’ve posted my own December Lights story at the beginning of each December, as a gift to my readers and a thank-you for keeping me company here. I appreciate you guys so much!

This year, it’s a Kat, Incorrigible story, and I wrote it by special request. This spring, as part of the Con-or-Bust auction, I offered to write a short-short story about any of the characters from my novels. The winner, Melita Kennedy, asked for a story about Kat all grown up, with children of her own – and it was so much fun to write!

You can read the full story below, and if you want to keep it on your e-reader, you can find the free ebook on Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, iTunes or Kobo. (You can also find it on Amazon, but unfortunately, they haven’t price-matched yet, so they’re still charging 99 cents/pence for it. I’m sorry! I hope they’ll make it free SOON – and in the meantime, you can download the Kindle version from this link.)

I hope you guys enjoy this story! I’ve been really looking forward to sharing it with you.

***

Flying Magic

by Stephanie Burgis

For Melita Kennedy, with thanks.

1828

There was nothing more delightful in the world than completing a successful magical mission and returning to the bosom of my family…

…At least, until I landed in my own bedroom.

“What?” I demanded, as I looked wildly around the room. “What?”

My darling husband, who should have been there at that time of night to greet me and ask all about my mission…was not.

My darling but dangerous children, who should have been sleeping adorably in their own beds for hours, were here instead. And not only that…

“What are you all doing?”

“Oh, really, Mama.” My oldest daughter, Clarissa, rolled her eyes at me with incomparable fifteen-year-old disdain from her perch, cross-legged on my side of the bed, with all of my private journals of magic spread around her. “Isn’t it rather obvious?”

“Wheeeeeeeee!” Archibald, the baby of the family, shrieked with delight as he flew past me, his chubby arms spread wide and his nightgown flapping in the magical breeze.

“Olivia Angeline Ravenscroft!” I was already pointing my finger accusingly as I spun around to where I knew I would find her: my impossible, maddening, beloved middle child, her arms held out, sitting in the chair in the corner of the room and directing her brother in his flight. “Stop that immediately!”

“Mo-ther!” Heaving a heavy sigh, Olivia cast her eyes up to Heaven. It was the same gesture I’d been forced to make a thousand times in the last eight years, each time I faced a new catastrophe of her creation. “Fine,” she said, and crossed her arms. “If that’s what you really want!”

“Argh!” I lunged forward just in time to catch Archibald as he plummeted. He was giggling madly, and his round little form felt particularly delicious in my arms after nearly two days of separation, but my heart pounded in my chest as I clutched him against me and glowered down at his sister. “To your room!” I said. “At once, young lady! And you need to apologize to your brother.”

“I knew you’d catch him,” she muttered. “I would never have let him be hurt. You should know that.” She stuck out her jaw and shifted further back in her seat, digging herself in. “Anyway, I’m not leaving till the others do. Otherwise, it isn’t fair. And you can’t make me!”

It would be wrong to cast a magic working on my own child, I told myself. It really would. Worse than that, it would be undignified.

I was a grown woman and the Head of the ancient Order of the Guardians. Tonight, I’d foiled an entire band of rogue witches in Northumberland, and I hadn’t lost my composure for an instant.

Surely I could face down my own eight-year-old daughter just as calmly.

Dignity, I told myself, breathing deeply. Simple dignity.

Glaring at me, Olivia snapped, “You never let me do anything. You’re the cruelest mother in the entire world!”

“You — ! Oh, thank goodness.” I let out my breath in a whoosh of relief as the dressing room door opened and my husband walked in, rubbing his head with a towel. Alexander’s brown, curling hair was sopping wet, and he was wearing his oldest dressing gown, which I hadn’t seen in months.

“Kat!” His lean cheeks creased with his sudden smile, his serious hazel eyes lit up with unmistakable delight, and warmth filled every inch of me, easing the tension in my shoulders, at the sight of him. “You’re back!” he said. “So you’ve solved the latest crisis?”

“In Northumberland, yes,” I told him. “But have you seen what’s been happening here while I was gone?” I gestured with my free hand at the room around us as I balanced a happily babbling Archibald on my hip.

Elephants had been involved in tonight’s exciting adventures, apparently…or possibly lamps. Or lampreys. It was a little hard to tell, sometimes, with Archibald.

“Ah. Well.” Alexander’s lips quirked. “The children have been missing you, you see. So they all wanted to wait up in case you returned tonight.”

“And you let them?” I frowned. “But…” My eyes narrowed as I saw my husband trade a sidelong look with our oldest daughter, who was suddenly sitting absolutely still on the bed…and looking extremely guilty. “Oh, Lord,” I said. “What did they do to their poor nursemaid this time?”

“Ah…” Alexander cleared his throat.

I looked again at his frayed old dressing gown. “Is that why your hair is wet? And what happened to your usual dressing gown?”

“Children,” said Alexander, “it’s very late. Why don’t you say goodnight to your mother now, so that we can all get some sleep?”

Clarissa shot up from the bed with visible relief. “Goodnight, darling Mama!” she said sweetly. “I’ll put the little ones to bed myself, if you like.”

“Mmm,” I said warily.

Oh, Lord. Had we just lost another nursemaid?

I looked at the implausibly saintly expression on Clarissa’s face, and I sighed.

Oh, yes. We had definitely lost this latest nursemaid, too.

But because my oldest daughter was on her very best behavior, she actually let me catch her close for a hug, which was a rare and precious gift nowadays. I buried my face in her soft hair for one long, sweet moment.

How could our first baby already be so big? Clarissa would be taller than me within just a few months. Not only that, she’d be coming out in Society only a few years later, and then…

Smiling angelically, she slipped out of my arms and reached for Archibald. “Time for bed now, silly.”

“No! No bed!” Archibald glowered fiercely at her, clinging to my neck. “Want Mama! Want elephants! Want fly!”

“Go to bed now, little elephant,” I said briskly, and I gave him a smacking kiss on the cheek. “No more flying.”

And speaking of that…

Bracing myself, I turned back to where Olivia was still sitting in the corner with her arms tightly crossed.

I knew that stubborn tilt to her chin. How many times had I held myself in that position as I’d waited for one of Stepmama’s lectures?

If there was one thing even more aggravating than rogue witches, it was the suspicion that possibly — just possibly — my own stepmother might actually have been correct about a few things…or at least, that her reactions to some of my own past antics might have been understandable.

I sighed and let all the rest of my tension flood out of me. What was the point of feeling outraged, after all? It had been a very long night, to say the least, but some things were still crystal clear.

Olivia had inherited every bit of my stubbornness. She had inherited Alexander’s beautiful hazel eyes. She had the combined Guardian powers that she had inherited from both of us, filling her slight frame to overflowing, and she’d woken to them far earlier than either of us had. She filled me with terror for her safety every day…

And as I looked down now at her skinny, stubborn figure and glimpsed the fragile vulnerability in her face, I felt as if my chest might just explode with the love that swelled irrepressibly through it.

“Just send Olivia down to me once she’s apologized for what she did,” Clarissa caroled back, and closed the door behind herself with a thunk.

Olivia’s shoulders hunched even more. I winced.

Some parts of sisterhood were, unfortunately, universal.

Alexander tilted his head, looking pained. “Kat, perhaps — ”

“Shh.” I waved him back and sank to my knees in front of our most challenging child. Meeting her fierce gaze, I wrapped my arms tightly around her.

“No more flying your brother,” I told her. “Not ever. Not even if he pleads for it! But if you tell him tomorrow morning that you’re sorry, and if you’re very, very good with your new nursemaid once we find one…”

“Yes?” Her voice was small, and her own arms didn’t budge from their defensive position, but she nestled forward into my chest just as she had when she was a baby…a baby who couldn’t help sending silverware magically flying through the room and frightening herself with every infant tantrum.

I met Alexander’s worried gaze over her head and slid him a mischievous wink. “Then perhaps we can have a flying expedition of our own one night,” I whispered. “What would you think of that?”

“Really?” Olivia’s head jerked up. Her face shone with wonder and excitement. “You would fly with me, Mama? You wouldn’t be too busy to come with me? Or tell me I’m not allowed to do any magic of my own?”

Alexander sighed and shook his head, but he couldn’t hold back his smile. “Will you at least try not to be witnessed doing it?”

“Of course we won’t let anyone see us,” I said. “We can do some invisibility practice at the same time. And…” I looked back at Olivia and touched her cheek gently. “How could I ever be too busy to train the newest member of our Order?”

“Oh, Mama!” Olivia breathed.

Parenthood might be the most challenging mission I had ever undertaken.

But at this particular moment, as my magical heir threw her arms around me, it was also by far the most satisfying.

The End

flying-magic-kindle

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Happy December!

SelfControl, Actions and Escape

- 2 comments - writing

For the last several years, I’ve been linked into social media for most of my waking hours. Sometimes I worried about whether I was too linked in, but mostly I enjoyed the connection too much to worry about it.

This weekend, though, I finally downloaded the SelfControl app to cut the link, because in a time when a LOT of us are feeling anxious, that constant feed of (completely justified) anxiety was sending my own emotions skyrocketing out of control.

Now I’m using SelfControl to turn off Twitter and Facebook for all but half an hour a day. Half an hour is long enough for me to check in; it’s enough time for me to see most of my friends’ activities online and also keep up with the serious issues that people are bringing up for our attention.

(I’m also trying not to let myself rely on social media for my news, as I’ve done too often in the past. Here in Wales, I’m reading The Guardian. If I were in the US, I’d personally be reading The New York Times. No matter where you get your news, there’s a really useful list that’s recently been posted – you can read it about it here – of “False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and/or Satirical “News” Sources”. It’s definitely worth checking – and it includes both right- and left-wing sites, including some that I’ve read in the past.)

Every day by the end of that session, I try to take at least one positive action (whether that’s phoning my congressman, donating to a cause, signal-boosting a petition, or…) to fight against my biggest fears.

But then I turn off the feed, because otherwise, I get so overwhelmed that I can’t do anything but worry. And that’s no good to anyone.

The next time I buy a piece of jewelry with words on it, the words may well be: Write Your Own Escape. Writing has been what’s saved me this past week. I’m over a third of the way through my novella Snowspelled, which has the fun, frothy feel of a grown-up Kat story (although it’s set in a different, alternate historical version of Regency England with completely different characters). It’s full of powerful women, magic, sisterhood, families, romance, and hope. I’m trying to write as much as possible of it before the edits for my next MG book arrive.

I hope that when it’s ready for you guys to read (sometime next year), it’ll give you a feeling of escape and hope as well.

And when it comes to the book of mine that just came out – Congress of Secrets was reviewed in Paul DiFilippo’s column for Barnes & Noble, and it’s a wonderful review! He called it “The Count of Monte Cristo meets Darth Vader,” which of course made me happy – and here’s a snippet from the review:

Burgis’s recreation of period Vienna is sensual and vivid, stemming from much good research and from personal familiarity with the modern city. She does not betray the authenticity of her historical figures, and renders her imagined folks thickly enough to go toe-to-toe with the big guys. The reunion and subsequent love-hate relationship between Carolina and Michael is sweet and teasingly well done. Suspense and thrills abound in what is essentially a caper novel. But Burgis also layers in some potent subtext about authoritarianism and the freedoms we take for granted.

You can read the full review here.

And if you’re in the UK, you can enter to win an advance copy of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart here.

Aftermath

- 2 comments - Reading

I spent a lot of yesterday crying, in the aftermath of the US election. I am still sad and shocked and scared – scared for the rights and safety of Muslim-Americans, of Mexican-Americans, of African-Americans, of LGBT Americans, and more; scared for the health and safety of the Americans with chronic illnesses who won’t be eligible for health insurance anymore if/when Obamacare is repealed; scared for the future of the planet – my children’s future – with an incoming US government (just at this moment of global crisis, when we most need to DO SOMETHING) that doesn’t believe in climate change and has promised to remove the few controls that we already had…

And that’s not even the full list of my fears in the wake of this news.

This stuff is HARD – and whether or not you share my personal political perspective, I hope you can understand the fear that so many people are feeling right now.

But.

I was trying to figure out, yesterday, what I could do – what small, positive steps I could take to combat those fears and not feel helpless.

The first thing I did was make a donation to the American Civil Liberties Union, which has promised to fight for the constitutional rights of ALL Americans.

Another organization doing important work right now (and accepting donations) is the National Immigrant Justice Center, whose mandate is to protect human rights and provide access to justice for all immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

The Huffington Post made a good list of other positive actions people can take right now.

And I’m going to take one other small personal action. I’m going to go back to writing, after my day of crying yesterday.

penrics-mission

What got me through the last 36 hours was Lois McMaster Bujold’s Penric series. I read #2 and #3 over the course of that time and got to sink into a smart, absorbing fantasy world told from an extraordinarily kind and compassionate perspective. It let me escape my fears and remember that kindness is real and hope is important.

I may only be able to take small positive steps myself. But one of those small positive steps, for me, is trying to give other people comfort and reassurance with my own writing.

Here we go.