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An Award and a Cover Reveal

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This week the winners of the 2017 Cybils Awards were announced…and The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart won the Cybils Award for Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction! It was chosen from an incredible shortlist, and I was absolutely thrilled when I found out. I’ve been shopping for my kids from the Cybils Awards list for years, I’ve been fantasizing (in a totally pie-in-the-sky, it’ll-never-happen way) about winning a Cybils Award ever since these awards first began…so in other words, this news means A LOT to me!

And luckily, since I found out on Valentine’s Day, I had plenty of chocolate on hand to celebrate! ;) (You can see a picture here.)

In the US, of course, the ebook of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart is still on sale for just $1.99

…and in the UK, look what just got revealed at last: The Girl with the Dragon Heart‘s fabulous cover by Freya Hartas (who’s also drawn beautiful chapter headers for the book)!

The cover was officially revealed on Bloomsbury UK’s Twitter or Facebook posts. I love it so much! That’s Silke riding on Aventurine’s back, and I have been waiting to share it with you guys for so long!

Here’s the jacket copy for the UK edition:

Once upon a time, in a beautiful city famous for chocolate and protected by dragons, there was a girl so fearless that she dared to try to tell the greatest story of all: the truth.

Silke has always been good at spinning the truth and storytelling. So good that just years after arriving as a penniless orphan, she has found her way up to working for the most splendid chocolate makers in the city (oh, and becoming best friends with a dragon). Now her gift for weaving words has caught the eye of the royal family, who want to use her as a spy when the mysterious and dangerous fairy royal family announce they will visit the city. But Silke has her own dark, secret reasons for not trusting these visitors …

Can Silke find out the truth about the fairies while keeping her own secrets hidden?

To be published by Bloomsbury Books on August 9, 2018 in the UK, November 6, 2018 in the US and Canada and September 1, 2018 in Australia.

Add on Goodreads

Back when I first started writing The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, I was planning for it to be a standalone novel. But by the time I finished, I had fallen in love with Aventurine’s best friend, Silke, too. I desperately wanted to find out her story!

Of course where Silke goes, her ferocious best friend will go, too, along with the rest of their Chocolate Heart family…and I can’t wait for you guys to read all about it! :)

Catching up with Notebooks, News, Book Recs and Cat Pictures

- 0 comments - awards, writing

It’s been a busy week over here. Pebbles turned three this past weekend, and we celebrated our one-year anniversary of adopting her with a lot of petting, cat treats and a palatial new scratching post/bed structure that she is, of course, politely but firmly ignoring. We’re hoping to change that if we ever find the catnip spray (which is hidden somewhere out-of-sight in our house) to make it more enticing, but in the meantime…well, at least we tried? ;)

On Monday, I sent off the edited version of Spellswept to my anthology co-editor for copyedits, and I’ve been immersed in my ridiculously-fun-to-write new MG book ever since then. I’m about 15,000 words in right now (so, about 1/4 of the way through the story), and I am dying to share more details with you guys the very moment that I’m allowed to! I’m also plotting out Thornbound on the side, so this week I got a gorgeous new dedicated notebook just for that. (I love Paperchase notebooks so much!)

The copyedits for The Girl with the Dragon Heart arrived today, and I also got to see the gorgeous chapter headers (again by Freya Hartas). I really love them! And I love how much care Bloomsbury is taking with these books.

The Locus Poll and Survey is up online now, so you can vote on your favorite f/sf books and stories of 2017 (whether or not you’re a Locus subscriber). I am really happy that The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart has been included in their Best YA F/SF category! And it’s in really fabulous company. (Luckily, you get to vote for up to 5 options in each category!)

I also got some really wonderful news: The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart has been selected as a VOYA Top Shelf Award-Winner for 2017! That’s an award for “those fiction titles that clearly raise the bar for outstanding storytelling for middle-grade readers,” and you can see the full list of selected books here.

Today I’m stuck in bed with chronic pain, which is frustrating (I’d been dealing with an issue left over from my last pregnancy for a while, but a bad fall last week made it suddenly MUCH worse), but Pebbles has been snuggling me through it, which makes the pain much easier to bear. And I’m 80 pages into Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood, which is an absolutely gorgeous fantasy novel with a truly magical feel – perfect escape-reading!

Oh, and one last thing: I’ve finally, finally signed up for Instagram – mostly, of course, just to have an excuse to post lots and lots of Pebbles-photos! ;) You can find me (and Pebbles) there.

Good News, a Kindle Monthly Deal, and Writing Soundtracks

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Hooray! I have two pieces of good news today. First of all, I just found out that The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart is on the Locus Recommended Reading List 2017! I love Locus (which I’ve been reading ever since I was 15, when I first started fantasizing about having a book of my own reviewed there one day), so this makes me really, really happy. I’m also thrilled on a personal level that I’ve now made that list twice, once with an adult novel – Masks and Shadows – and now with a book in their YA category as well. (Being an adult f/sf magazine, they’ve folded both MG and YA books into that single category.) It feels like a really lovely validation to get from my favorite industry magazine!

And secondly, in a nice piece of serendipity, if you don’t have your own copy of Dragon yet (or if you have a paper copy but not an ebook to carry around on your phone or Kindle), it’s a Kindle Monthly Deal on Amazon.com for the whole month of February! You can buy it for just $1.99 right here. Yay!

Thanks so much for supporting this book, guys!

Apart from that sudden rush of lovely news, it’s been a quiet week over here. We’ve been dealing with some minor family health issues of various sorts, so I haven’t gotten out much (except to a doctor’s appointment for one of my kids), but I have been making steady progress on both Thornbound (Volume II of The Harwood Spellbook, the direct sequel to Snowspelled) and a fun possible MG project. I’ve really loved immersing myself in both books.

(My writing soundtrack for Snowspelled was Lubomyr Melnyk’s Illirion; the soundtrack to Thornbound is Melnyk’s Rivers and Streams. I love his music! It’s so lush and evocative and romantic.) (I also have a very different but equally wonderful soundtrack for the MG project, but it feels too soon to share that one yet!)

And at some point in the next week I’ll be making my final edits to Spellswept, the Harwood Spellbook prequel novella which will be published in The Underwater Ballroom Society on April 30th. Don’t forget to sign up to that newsletter to enter to win 1 of 50 e-ARCs! (I also have a special treat – a free unrelated YA fantasy/romance novelette! – planned for my own newsletter subscribers sometime in the next month or so. I’m just waiting on that ebook cover before I announce an exact date for it.) There’s now a Goodreads page for The Underwater Ballroom Society, so you can add that to your virtual bookshelf now, too.

Happy Thursday, everyone!

An Underwater Announcement

- 0 comments - Cover reveal, New Publications

Hurrah! After months of plotting up a secret project with Tiffany Trent, it can finally be announced. Welcome to The Underwater Ballroom Society, an adult f/sf anthology full of sparkling, wonderful stories from authors I love.

It’s coming out on April 30th (with preorders available shortly beforehand), and you can find the full cover on The Book Smugglers today, along with more chatting by me and Tiffany about how the anthology came about. (Short answer: sometimes Twitter is actually good for writers! ;) )

You can also sign up to the anthology’s dedicated newsletter now for the chance to win one of 50 (!) e-ARCs of the anthology as soon as they’re available.

My story will be Spellswept, a prequel novella to Snowspelled that’s all about Jonathan and Amy (and told from Amy’s PoV). It’s full of underwater magic, politics and romance, and it was so much fun to write. I can’t wait to share it with you guys!

This project really has been a labor of love, and it has been such a privilege to edit stories by so many fabulous authors. I really hope you guys will love it as much as I do!

A Week in Photos

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This week I’m diving into an MG story that I love with a dedicated new notebook (which was one of my favorite Christmas presents):

I’m critiquing other people’s stories for a project that I can’t wait to announce (sometime in the next couple of weeks) while Pebbles cuddles me and pins me to the bed:

I’m reading Elizabeth Winthrop’s The Castle in the Attic with my 9-year-old (a new discovery for both of us – we’re only three chapters in to the copy I checked out of the library, but if it stays this good, we’ll be buying a copy to keep for lots of re-reads with him and then later with his younger brother!):

And I’m baking brownies because mmmm, chocolate:

What about you guys? What are your plans this week?

Good Crying, Story Updates, and Hot Chocolate

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It’s off! Today I sent off the line-edited version of The Girl with the Dragon Heart to my editors at Bloomsbury, along with the dedication and acknowledgments. This week, it should all move on to copyedits, where the whole manuscript will be checked for typos, formatting issues, inconsistencies, etc…and then advanced copies will be printed soon-ish. This book is becoming so real! Right now, the tentative English-language publication dates are 9th August (in the UK) and November 6th (in the US/CA), but I’m not posting pre-order links yet because I don’t know if those dates are set in stone quite yet.

This time round, the ending of the book made me cry all over again. (But only in a good, cathartic way, I promise – it’s not a sad ending, just an emotional one!) I really hope you guys will love it. I put so much of my heart into this book!

Now that this draft of TGwtDH is finished, I’m going to spend the next couple of days revising Spellswept, my Snowspelled-prequel novella. The publication details should be announced sometime in the next two weeks at The Book Smugglers, and I can’t wait for you guys to find it all out. As soon as my revision is done, it’ll be time to leap with both feet into my next MG novel, figure out the new MG series to come after that…and the other night, I also scribbled down the opening to a tentative new novel for adults that I’ve been daydreaming for years. (I won’t be writing it this week or month, but now that I have an opening written down, it’s anchored in my subconscious, so it can simmer there while I write my next MG book first.)

Sometimes I feel frustrated that I’ll never have all the time/energy I need to write every story that wants to bubble up inside me. Right now, though, I’m just feeling grateful for the richness of all these stories that are carrying me through the years. (I am SO grateful to the publishers and readers who actually buy my books so that I can make a living, pay rent and feed my children! But I have to admit, even if no one else in the world ever wanted to read anything of mine again, I would still have to keep writing somehow just to let all the stories out.)

This is the hot chocolate I drank today to celebrate sending off my line edits. (One cup of milk heated on the stove with a large heaping of cinnamon, a small pinch of nutmeg, and 25g of 70% dark chocolate = bliss!)

I’m wishing you all comfort and abundance, hot chocolate and good stories to sink into across the week. (And if there are any stories you’ve read lately that you particularly loved, please do stop by and tell me about them! I am ALWAYS looking to add to my teetering TBR pile. :)

New Year and New (Re-)Discoveries

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Happy New Year, everyone! This year, I have all sorts of practical professional goals that I need to meet, but in a larger sense, I have one main New Year’s resolution: to let myself do more things that I enjoy and am not good at.

I’ve always been an ambitious and driven perfectionist, which has genuinely helped me in many ways. It’s hugely motivational when it comes to the things I really care about – it means I’m always willing to really put the work in and keep on trying to make all of my stories as good as they possibly can be – but it has also seriously limited me sometimes, when I’ve given up things I enjoyed just because I didn’t have the time/energy to become really good at them and I couldn’t stand being a low-level amateur.

So: this year I want to go back to making music every week even though I no longer have the time/energy to play music at a professional level (which was why I’d originally given up making my own music after I graduated from music conservatory and changed career paths from French horn performance to music history), and I want to go back to regularly drawing the way I did before I was 13 years old (when I finally realized just HOW MUCH better some other kids my age were and gave up because I “wasn’t good enough”).

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve finally picked up the beautiful alto recorder that I was given as a gift before my older son was born. Right now I’m only playing it in 15-minute chunks – but it’s been astonishing just how much happier, calmer and more settled I’ve felt at the end of each 15-minute practice session. I love making music! How did I forget that over the years? It’s why I originally planned to be a professional musician – but somehow, in the stress of a very intense (and occasionally toxic) conservatory lifestyle, all of my focus shifted from loving what I did to fighting to be PERFECT at it (in a context where ONLY perfection was acceptable) – and since I couldn’t strive for “perfect” when I was playing for less then 3-5 hours a day, I couldn’t stand to make music at all afterwards.

Maybe someday I’ll be brave enough to pick up the French horn again, but in the meantime, starting mostly from scratch with an instrument I never studied professionally is really helping me to allow myself that level of joyfully low-level amateurism – and it’s bringing me an awful lot of happiness. How did I ever cope without making my own music for so long?

(One line that’s really helped me, from my younger son’s cello teacher when I was discussing this stuff with her: “If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly!” – Which is completely opposite to my general life approach, and it was sooooooo enormously liberating for me to hear. :) )

I’ve also been drawing a bit with my kids this year, just to keep them company, and it’s reminded me that – newsflash! – I actually do like doing it for fun, even though I don’t expect to ever get particularly good at it. (My sweet 6-year-old niece asked me the other day: “Do you illustrate your own books, Steph?” Hahaha NO and I never will, thank goodness for everyone concerned.) But it’s fun to do anyway! And “fun” really is worthwhile, too, now that I finally have a bit of time for it.

I went through a long period – from the time my first son was born 9-1/2 years ago until both of my sons entered full-time school 4 months ago – when I had to fight and claw just to steal the bare minimum of time/energy to get my writing work done. Pretty much every other hobby or passion dropped by the wayside for nine full years. And that wasn’t a mistake – I NEEDED that time for my writing, so I had to be ruthless with my prioritizing. But now that both boys are in full-time school, I’m starting to slowly rediscover things I used to like, that I can finally start to bring back into my life. It’s a process of…not reinventing myself, exactly, but – maybe rediscovering myself? Finding out what I still love after all these years, what I no longer feel much real interest in after all – and what things I’d never even thought of before.

What about you guys? Are there any old passions or hobbies that you’d like to pick up again one day (or that you’ve already gone back to)? I’d really love to hear about them.

Here’s to a 2018 full of moments of joy and rediscovery, everyone. I’m really glad to be here sharing it with all of you.

Smuggling Comfort Reads

- 0 comments - Reading

The Book Smugglers invited me to write a post as part of their Smugglivus seasonal celebration, so OF COURSE I made a massive list of comfort books I read and loved this year!* You can read the whole list here (including MG, YA, adult f/sf, and adult romance recs) – and I’d love to hear any recommendations of your own!

__

*Equally of course, the very moment that I sent off my list, I started thinking guiltily of all the other books that SHOULD have been included on the list as well, because I loved SO MANY books this year – but I took a deep breath and restrained myself from sending an endless stream of updates, because honestly, I think 18 book recs in one post is probably a reasonable limit. ;)

Finishing Up, with Spells and Chocolate and a Question

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The year as a whole may not end until December 31st, but my kids’ last day of school is tomorrow…so as every work-from-home parent can guess, this has been my very last week of real writing before the holidays begin. And huzzah – I just finished the first draft of Spellswept!

Spellswept is a prequel to Snowspelled, telling Amy and Jonathan’s story, and I originally intended it to be just a short novelette (maaaybe 12,000 words at most?) because I didn’t want to put too much time into writing a just-for-fun project like this one, but…well…the problem is, I really, really like these characters! So I got wrapped up in their story, absorbed and curious, aaand…in other words, it’s turned out to be a novella after all. Oops! Obviously, this means that I spent more time than planned in the writing, which wasn’t sensible for my schedule, but I hope that it will be good news for readers. :)

Sometime in January, we’ll be announcing the anthology where Spellswept will first be published (in spring 2018), and of course I’ll let you guys know the very moment that that announcement happens. (I’ll also be publishing it later as an ebook on its own, but the anthology is full of SO many amazing other writers, you’ll really want to grab the whole thing!)

Finishing that draft feels like a really happy way to wrap up the working year. The line edits for The Girl with the Dragon Heart just arrived from my publisher, and I’ll be working on them today and tomorrow – but in terms of fresh writing, I’m definitely now done. So I’m going to go ahead and post my yearly writing roundup (for my own accountability) here today instead of waiting until the 31st the way I usually do.

And here it is! In 2017 I wrote:

  • The last 16,000 words of Snowspelled (which was published in September);
  • The first 10,000 words of a possible next MG novel;
  • The first 5,000 words of another MG novel that’s just waiting its turn;
  • My 4400-word Kat tie-in story Forbidden Magic (telling the story of Kat’s parents, and available now as an ebook);
  • My 1382-word Dragon with a Chocolate Heart tie-in story The Dragon with an Unbearable Family (a prequel from Aventurine’s older sister’s PoV, free to read online);
  • My 3100-word Dragon with a Chocolate Heart tie-in story Girl in Boots (a story starring Silke and set between Books 1 and 2; I sent it out to my newsletter subscribers earlier this week and will probably put it out as an ebook in 2018);
  • My 3500-word Masks and Shadows tie-in story Shadow Duet (a sequel starring Carlo and Charlotte, published as an ebook);
  • Spellswept, my 17,500-word Snowspelled-prequel novella, to be published in 2018;
  • The first 3,000 words of Thornbound (the sequel to Snowspelled, to be published in 2018);
  • 40,000+ new words on The Girl with the Dragon Heart in the midst of a major, ground-up rewrite that stretched me far past what I’d thought I was capable of and resulted in SUCH a better book. (Thank goodness for wonderful editors who push us to do better than we think we can!) Only 20,000+ of those words ended up in the final draft, because I had to write 20,000 new words just to figure out that I’d gone in the wrong direction [argh!] and then I deleted them and started over again – but in my year-end roundup, I am ABSOLUTELY claiming those deleted words, because I worked far too hard on them to pretend they didn’t happen! ;)

    The Girl with the Dragon Heart is Silke’s book. In some ways it’s the most personal book I’ve written (as my editor pointed out, I put a LOT of myself into Silke!); it was definitely the hardest and most vulnerable book I’ve ever written – and I cannot wait to share it with you guys in 2018. I hope you’ll love it too!

So! This has been a year when I constantly agonized that I wasn’t getting enough work done, wasn’t accomplishing enough at any point…but I’m really happy with the writing that I did do. It might not be as much as I’d have liked, but every story I’ve written has had my whole heart in it. And it truly helps me to see the tally set out here! So thanks, guys, for bearing with me every year as I use this space for my own accountability.

I’d love to hear, too, about what you’re happiest to have gotten done this year, whether it was a professional or a personal accomplishment and whether it felt large or small. (On my own personal end: this year, I learned how to confidently poach eggs and I conducted a Great Chocolate Chip Cookie experiment, testing out a whole bunch of different recipes until I settled on my favorite – as well as finding my husband’s new favorite (vegan) chocolate chip cookie recipe – and it now feels easy to make both of those. As someone who’s never been a confident cook, those both truly do feel like major accomplishments to me! I’m also really glad that I got out with my kids for our once-a-year ballet trip despite total exhaustion and organized some really nice holidays for them this year.)

2017 has been a really hard year for an awful lot of people, and I know that a lot of us have really struggled with finding ways to be creative and productive while absorbing and reacting to all the frightening/enraging/horrifying news of the world. It can feel utterly overwhelming. But I hope you guys can each take a few minutes to think about what you did manage to accomplish this year, and be proud of it. It matters.

And so do you.

Snow Day, Guilt Mode, and One Final Chance

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It’s a snow day! (Quite literally, for all of the schools and many of the businesses in our small town.) For the first time in about 6 years, our part of Wales is blanketed in gorgeous white snow, and the kids and Patrick and I are loving it. (Pebbles, on the other hand, is DEEPLY disconcerted by it and wants the world to go back to normal, please, as soon as possible!)

Between the beautiful, rare snow (we have an actual snowman in our back garden for the first time in YEARS!) and the fact that we set up our Christmas tree on Thursday, it’s been easy to feel festive despite the fact that it’s been a fairly rough week in other ways.

Last week, both kids got a feverish cold which developed into different kinds of ear infections, one for each of them, and led to far too much missed school; I picked up the feverish cold and ran a fever for three days straight, which really knocked me out (I am SO GLAD it’s all gone now!); and as glad as I am that my kids got a snow day today (because I still remember how great those felt when I was a kid!), it is, ah…not SO great in terms of my own productivity. Oops!

I was planning to finish my Snowspelled-related novelette Spellswept by Friday, and I was only about 1200 words from the ending by the end of Thursday…but between one thing and another, I’m still about 1000 words from that ending. Sigh. I’m also ridiculously behind in multiple critiques that I’d promised to friends (including Patrick!), so in other words I am in Deep Guilt Mode. I sneak-wrote 63 words yesterday and 125 words today, and I might fit in just a bit more tonight before bed, but…ah well. Maybe I’ll get some work done on the train tomorrow, for the first time ever? ;)

Anyway: tomorrow I’m heading for London to attend a fun publishing party and have brunch with my agent, so life is pretty good regardless. Now I just have to figure out what to pack, because – to say the least – I was not factoring snow into my expectations for this trip when I first figured out a party outfit a few weeks ago! It is definitely time to drag my big pouffy winter coat out of the attic.

And! It is also time for One Final Chance to decide which of my characters (from any of my books!) should get a short story of their own. I’ll be picking a winner tonight before bed (probably around 10pm UK-time/5pm EST), so don’t miss your chance!

Happy snow day. :)