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Shannon Hale's blog, author of "Princess Academy" (Newbery honor last year), and "Goose Girl".
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1. Squeetus summer book club: Enna Burning, chapter 17

Enna-spanishI'm back from a wonderful time at San Diego Comic-con and ready to get back to work!

Part 4: Friend: Here's where the structure of this story gets really unusual, I think. There is still a quarter of the book left, but Enna ending the war would have been a traditional climax. Some readers might expect no more than a denouement here. Our brains are trailed to expect that story structure, which I totally appreciate. But I wanted to tell a slightly different story. So we head into the final quarter.

Fever dreams: I mentioned my love for fever dreams?

These two lines always stay with me:

"It was war."

"I was me."

Yasid: For words in their language, I borrowed from Guarani, a language indigenous to Paraguay. "Tata" means "fire" (accent on the second vowel). As well, the tea Isi drinks that smells like "seeped hay" is my feeling about mate, a drink I often had in Paraguay. I prefer mate dulce (with milk and sugar) or terere (yerba mate with cold water and ice and often mint or other herbs) to traditional mate. With apologies to mate purists. :)

AH! Sileph again! What will that man do next?

Catherine says, "This has nothing to do with the book club, but I thought you would like to know. I visited Jane Austen's home today (which was absolutely amazing) today and I overheard the cashier in the gift shop giving a raving review of Austenland, the movie. Congratulations! You've made it back to the motherland!" Ha! That's awesome.

Nicole asks, "Are Isi and Enna based off people you know or did they just spring to life in your wonderful mind?" Thank you! I rarely base characters off real people. They develop as I write the story. A character is what they say, do, think, and until I write I can't see that. I thought I knew Enna when I wrote The Goose Girl, but not till this book did I realize I'd only scratched her surface. You may notice she seems slightly different in all the Books of Bayern, because we're seeing her through other characters' points-of-view.

Lynn asks, "Do you think of a character and then name them or do you start with a name? I don't know why but I pronounce Enna's name as Eena or Ina." I say "Eh-na" but I don't mind if anyone says it differently. I met a baby named Enna once (after my character I believe) and recently someone named a baby Isilee (which is a name I made up, as far as I know).

Eliza says, "Last time I read this book, it was about struggling with a problem no one else could see and conquering your inner demons. And now it's about friendship! Haha, you tricky book, changing on me like that." Yay! I love that about books, how they change with you.

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2. Squeetus summer book club: Enna Burning, chapter 16

Enna-newpbNo one can relate to Enna's actual position at the beginning of this chapter, but I believe we've experienced times when there seemed to be no options. When we were trapped by the choices we'd made and the circumstances we were in. Inside those moments, all can seem impossible. As I hope it seems so now in the story. Impossible. She is truly trapped.

The catalyst for change: Isi. Always Isi. She changes nothing except perspective. I think sometimes that's all we need. Not for someone to take away all our problems but just help us turn a bit, see a slightly different way out. Isi was raised on stories, and so that's what she can offer. A story. I feel the same. I can't reach back to every reader who reaches out to me with letters and requests and needs for friendship or mentorship. I can't find every person who is lonely or afraid or trapped by people who don't have their best interests at heart or stuck in their own mistakes or sad or desperate or yearning. But I can offer a story. That's what this book is for me. A story like the one Isi tells Enna. And hopefully it will reach the right people in the right way. Hopefully the right reader can take what they need from it and turn just a little bit, see the path they hadn't seen before.

But--oh! After weeks in that tent, as horrible as this chapter is, I'm so relieved when she starts escaping in the camp.Run, Enna, run!

Stories are characters. Characters are their relationships. With others as well as with themselves. Everything in this story matters because of Enna's friendships with Isi, Razo, and Finn. Can you imagine this story without them? If you're story is stuck, look closely at the relationships. Which need to be strengthened? More important? Can you add a friendship/sibling/parent-child relationship that will matter to the story?

Anna asks, "If the Goose Girl was a movie, who would you want to play Ani and Enna?" I truly have no idea. Who would you pick?

Lizza asks, "Are any of the characters in Enna Burning LGBTQ+?" The text doesn't specifiy but surely there must be. 5-10% of the population in the US identify as LGBTQ, so it's reasonable to assume that at least 5% of a book's population as well. I've had readers email me that they read Enna's fire-speaking as a metaphor for their own homosexuality, which I hadn't intended but I love how fantasy can create metaphors to speak to everyone's own experiences. Telling the story of characters who are LGBTQ is not something I've done yet (there are so, so many stories I haven't done yet!) but if you're looking for recommendations, I love authors like Holly Black, Malinda Lo, Libba Bray, A.S. King, Maureen Johnson, and David Levithan. A couple recent books I've loved featuring LGBTQ characters are Smile by Raina Telgemeier and Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld. The Stonewall Book Awards also provide an excellent list.

I'm off to Comic-con and won't be able to blog again until Monday. Thank you, readers!

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3. Squeetus summer book club: Enna Burning, chapter 15

Ebkorea2Sileph and Enna: some are upset by this relationship, but it occurs to me how important stories are, how a distanced reader can see and understand things that a character can't. And in turn, that helps us take a step back from ourselves and see and understand ourselves better. How many people have been in a relationship like Enna's with Sileph but couldn't see it for what it was?

"You lying son of a goat." Feel free to use this at need. You have my permission.

Someone close to me had a hard time with this book, and it occurred to me that she had never made any big mistakes. Maybe it's uncomfortable for those who have lived a quiet kind of life to try to empathize with a character like Enna.

A note to myself in an earlier draft: "What are Sileph's motivations? Does he really love her?" I came to my own conclusion in later drafts but since the text doesn't specifically say I'll let you decide for yourself.

Rebecca asks, "Would you rather have this series adapted into movies or a TV show ...or neither if you had the choice?" Ooh, wouldn't a Game of Thrones style miniseries be wonderful? If done well. But I highly doubt any of the Bayern books will ever be made into a movie. The Goose Girl was optioned  years ago. And I remember (about 7 years ago?) someone shopping it around as a potential vehicle for a young actress. Obviously nothing happened. It's very rare that any book is optioned for a potential movie, and of those that are, maybe 10% actually are made into one. The only power a writer has in the matter is to wait, and if someone asks, to say yes or no. That's it.

Viola says, "Haha, they definitely have stood up to many rereads--with me, at the least. They're my go-to books for when I've got nothing else to read. I've lost count of how many times I've read each one. Each time, they feel like old friends and new adventures all at once. I'll never grow out of them." Thank you! Someone who read a draft of the last book in the Princess Academy trilogy (not out yet - next spring) said that reading it felt like coming home. I feel that way too when I write these characters.

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4. Squeetus summer book club: Enna Burning, chapter 14

EbkoreaSileph: It's hard to talk about this book without giving spoilers for those who haven't finished it yet! But...Sileph, man. Sileph.

Looking over one draft's notes (I don't know which draft except that it was in November 2002), I marked to make clearer that Sileph was a foil for Finn. He's an interesting character to me. I genuinely loved writing him, even if I was so uncomfortable putting Enna in his power.

Other draft notes:

What is going on in this section? Must use it to move forward 3 plot lines:
1. grows farther away from Bayern and Isi
2. learns to consciously love S and contrast with F
3. relationship with fire—must learn more about it, learn to control or give into it

Whew. These chapters are all so intense for me! I've said before, I don't think I could have written this book when I had children. I'm so much more sensitive now, I couldn't have lived inside this story for so long.

Viola asks, "Is it possible for you to pick a favorite book out of the Bayern books? ;D" Nope! Like picking a favorite child. The mood of this one is quite different from the others. But I'm fond of them all. They were all extremely hard books to write. I poured my everything into each one, hoping they would stand up to many rereads.

Anna asks, "I ADORE this UK cover for Enna Burning. I'm partial to the older painted ones as well, but I've had trouble finding them. Would any stores still carry those older covers, or is my best bet to scour the internet some more?" I love the Alison Jay covers too! The US hardcovers are still in print and have these covers. I know my local store The King's English keeps them in stock. Or any bookstore can special order them if they don't have them on the shelves. Forest Born has a special edition cover with the Alison Jay artwork.

Eliza asks, "You've made a few references to your sisters in recent posts. How many do you have?" Enna Burning is dedicated to my three sisters Melissa, Katie, and Jessica.

(ps. I have a book announcement on my tumblr page)

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5. Squeetus summer book club: Enna Burning, chapter 13

UKPBEBChapter 12 was so intense for me, I'm almost shy to read chapter 13. Ay, what authors do to their poor characters...

The king's-tongue: Ugh, what a nightmare. I don't enjoy anything that alters my mind or body chemically. I don't drink alcohol and have had very bad experiences any time I've taken prescription pain killers or valium after surgery. One time I took half an Ambien and felt wretched (also I hallucinated--yuck). I despise feeling out of control of my own body. This would be horrible for me, as I know it is for Enna too.

Ingridan: When I wrote this description, I didn't yet know we'd be going there in the next book. I didn't yet know there would be a next book.

Razo and Finn!: No! I'm so sorry, boys, I don't want you to be prisoners too. It's uncomfortable for me to stop reading here. I want to keep going and going until I'm sure they'll be safe. I hope they'll be safe!

Rebecca asks, "Did you get any backlash from the scene with the soldier? What was Sileph's reason for coming back to her tent?" I'm sure I did. I get lots of upset emails for all my books. Such a scene does (and should) illicit strong reactions from people. But I felt like the story wouldn't be honest if Enna didn't feel herself in such danger in her current situation. I hesitate to say why I think Sileph did what he did. I know, but if it's not in the text I'd rather people decide for themselves.

Laurie says, "This makes me want to re-read Enna Burning. I haven't felt that way in years because it was an agonizingly beautiful book that hurt me a bit to read. So much pain. So much loss. So much danger and complication." I'm sorry. It is all those things for me too. But I am grateful I was able to write it and I am glad it exists. "How long before we get a summer book club on Maisie Danger Brown?" Not any time soon, but I'm so glad you want one! I love that girl.

Nicole asks, "if Enna and Ani were both real people (even though you said they are real to you) which you would get along with better- hard-headed Enna or strong Ani/Isi?" Honestly I think I'd love them both. I've always enjoyed having different kinds of friends. I'm a middle child, a balancer, and tend to get along with different personalities. Diversity of all sorts is wonderful to me.

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6. Squeetus summer book club: Enna Burning, chapter 12

Enna_BurningPart 3: Prisoner: Whew! Okay, let's do this. I think this part can be uncomfortable and intense for some, so feel free to hold hands if you need to.

Enna's dream: I love weird, fever dreams (if they don't go on too long). I had more fever dreams in Goose Girl early draft with young Ani sick but later cut it. But I think the image of the birds flying and breaking a mirror sky I stole from those cuts. "Cornstalks sprouted ears of fire, and the fields caught it and burned green." I love that.

The imperfect heroine: I think it's a lot easier for readers to root for Ani in Goose Girl than Enna. I think especially with female characters we're more comfortable with the good girl who stuff happens to, who shows courage in the face of terrific obstacles that aren't her fault, than we are with the girl who makes big mistakes. I think both kinds of heroines are valid.

Sileph: Man, this chapter...I don't even know what to say about this chapter except it does what I hoped it would do. Reading it now, I feel what I think Enna is feeling. She is complicated. He is complicated. Life is complicated.

Looking at rewrite notes for one draft, I have a full page of notes on parts 1,2,&4, but only two lines for part 3: "Need to see the progression continue here, the yearning becomes much stronger, due to the king’s-tongue and then the long times when she is forced to keep it in against her will" I wonder if this section was easier for me to write for some reason, or at least her arc and sequence of events made sense from an earlier draft, so I didn't have as much revision.

Writing the first draft, it was around this point, Enna a prisoner in a tent, I had to put the book on hold for some time. My husband and I had both lost our jobs in the recession. I was revising The Goose Girl (which I’d sold but the amount was very small, not enough to live on even for a couple of months) while we were both job hunting. I found work first and so went off to work again as an Instructional Designer. Working full time and editing Goose Girl nights, I had little time for Enna Burning. Eventually GG was done and I got back to Enna, finally rescuing her from that tent!

Melissa asks, "I love listening to audio books especially the Books of Bayern and of course Austenland. As an author do you have any say in the cast or the sound of each book?" No I don't. Full Cast Audio has always been so kind and will consult me on pronunciations of names or my opinion about a male or a female narrator, but I'm not directly involved. Which is fine.

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7. Squeetus summer book club: Enna Burning chapter 11

ChineseEBResearch: Like most writers I suspect, I always do more research than I actually need. Looking through my  notes, I researched fire in myth and folklore from dragons (firedrakes) to Jinn (offspring of fire), as well as the science of fire and how it works in order to come up with fire-speaking. I also have notes on Zoroastrianism as well as life in earlier centuries and things like food. Here are some food notes I took from somewhere:

ballock broth, brawn, roast squirrel, capon-neck pudding, tripe, buttered worts, apple mousse, sheep’s milk cheese, bread & butter pudding flavored with marigold, pears stewed in honey & vinegar, plates of hard bread, hot griddle bread

Revision notes from some earlier draft for part 2: "We don’t have enough sense of internal change, from the first tent --> gallows, we should see how her self control diminishes, both growing and letting go (surrender)

"See her scared and weak moments. The burning is manic—have foil scenes where she’s frightened, not everything on such a grand (war) scale, but also personal, losing her friend, Keep her human, inhuman with fire, see human, vulnerable

"Look at sections where she’s gone back on a promise, make sure she’s progressively worse each time, max. 3-4 breaks before capture, punctuate them, get the sense after telling Razo that she’s broken 2, accumulating broken promises, be aware, reflect, wonder am I slipping? Need to justify them, reader should detect that the justification is getting weaker as she goes along (gallows, justify before going)

"Mourn losing Isi, decide that it’s too late to go back, she has to give up everything to see this through, something the augury did not warn her, she has to be the sacrifice

"May even realize at the end that she’s lost it, must be close to where Leifer was when he burned her, or when he burned himself, but also the weight of the augury and her mission compels her to continue"

What strikes me most about reading those notes and reading this chapter is how different a book is from an idea. The notes are full of ideas, but they're not a story. I think sometimes people think the idea is what matters most, but most important is how you tell it. One reason why it's torurous for writers to write a plot synposis. The story isn't the sum of events, it's the words used to tell them.

Eliza asks, "What are some other weird reader theories you've heard for any of your books?" I've heard lots. I never mind when people bring their own interpretations to the book, but I do mind when people insist I had some particular agenda that I didn't. Ah, how many worry that I am out to corrupt the youths!

Viola asks, "do you have to approve all of the cover art or does your publisher handle that?" In the US, I am consulted on cover art, though it's up to the publisher. Outside the US I am not consulted and just see it after it's published (if even then).

Leilani says, "Also, I think had (have) a teensy crush on Finn... (So much butterflies!)" Me too :) I have to fall in love with all my characters in order to feel enough to write. In this book, I fell in love with Enna, Isi, Geric, Finn, Razo, and Sileph.

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8. Squeetus summer book club: Enna Burning, Chapter 10

Enna-spanishRaiding the taken towns: This was always part of the story, but this section underwent so many revisions. I remember my sisters reading an earlier draft of this book and then a final draft. Both said that they couldn't tell what I'd changed but that it read better now. Often revision is like that. Subtle reorganizing, changes at the sentence level. Sometimes most of the events of the book stay the same from one draft to the next and yet 10-50% of the words themselves change. I can stumble on the right events of the story early on and yet not figure out the right words to tell those events until a final draft.

The metaphor of fire: While writing the book, I was aware that Enna's fire power could be a metaphor for various things, but I was careful not to force that metaphor. I concentrated on trying to be true to the logic of the story. What would it be like, in the world I created, to speak the language of fire? What would that feel like? What would be the consequences? The magic of fantasy allows readers to bring their own experience, create their own metaphor. I've received emails from people who asked me if I intended to have the fire a metaphor for drug addiction, sex addiction, divorce, adoption, mental illness, disability, and spiritual sin. If I'd forced the fire to be a metaphor for one thing, I would have prevented those readers from finding what they needed in the story.

Enna and Razo: In movies, especially for children, it seems to me there cannot be a male and female character who are remotely close without there being either a love affair or sexual tension. I think this is ridiculous. I have no problem believing Enna and Razo are friends and there's no awkwardness between them. A girl's purpose is not to be a love interest for every single male character on screen. She can just be. Same with the male characters.

Tales: I've enjoyed making up the fairytales of Bayern. There are some in Goose Girl too. I'd thought once about writing them all and making a little book of Bayern fairytales.

Finn in the tent: You may have noticed, I am a romantic, especially my self that I am channeling through this book. And I sometimes think this entire book is worth this one scene. It's a testament that no writing is ever wasted. In college I wrote a short story called The Sand Hill Gathering. It was a contemporary story, the setting like a Rainbow Gathering. In it a girl and a boy who have known each other for years but never been close end up sharing a tent, and he whispers in the night the same words Finn does. That other story was crap, but it brought me to a scene, an idea, that I re-purposed for this book.

Anna asks, "Did it ever annoy you to have Razo push for his own story?" I don't remember ever being annoyed by Razo. His presence always solved problems for me, not created them. That he was a character worthy of his own story and able to carry it was a relief.

Rebecca asks, "Where does the heat/flame come from in her chest? Does everyone (in the Bayern world) have an ability to learn that or are there only a select few born with the possibility?" In the book Enna believes some are born with the ability but have to be taught how to use it. I hesitate to get into the anatomy and details of it unless it's in the book. If it's not there, I'd rather readers decide for themselves.

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9. Squeetus summer book club: Enna Burning, Chapter 9

Enna-newpbA friend just texted me that while at girls' camp this week sitting around the campfire, on at least two occasions she heard girls mention Enna Burning. I spent a lot of time watching fire, finding new ways to describe it. I remember writing in Princess Academy after finishing this book in which there was a bonfire and I automatically started to delve into the description, giving the fire a gravitas that the scene didn't require before catching myself.

Hesel: I like her name. I always wished she could be a bigger character so I could write her name more.

Enna's rules: This was an important point in the story for me. The augury is a catalyst for her action. But she defines rules for herself to keep from going too far. Will she be able to keep them?

Alone outside on a winter night: There is something so poetic about this situation to me, transcendental even. Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening. That feeling of life and stillness, wonder in being somewhere inhospitable and the danger of it too. Magical, silent. 

Enna burns: I can't help but read this book like an author, examining my choices, and so far I approve. (that's a relief) I see this chapter as an essential step in the story's and Enna's arc. It's hard for me sometimes to risk analyzing the book, explaining each choice and why it had to happen, but I don't want to go down that rabbit hole.

This chapter was getting so dark...and then Razo! Hooray for Razo! He brings hope, a laugh, and a companion. Even the darkest books need moments of victory, some reason for the reader to hope, to care.

Catherine asks, "I've always found Enna and Finn an interesting pair, because they are so different. You mentioned before that in an earlier draft Enna was already married. Was she married to Finn or someone else? What made you bring Enna and Finn together? Was it always going to be that way?" I can't remember. There was the beginnings of something between Enna and Finn in The Goose Girl, but the note I had about Enna being married I made before I'd ever written a final draft of Goose Girl, and before it sold as young adult book. I never wrote a draft with her married, it was just a note in an outline.

Lindsey asks, "at the beginning of the chapter we learn that unlike Enna and the rest of Bayern, Isi does not necessarily believe that the augury will determine the outcome of the war. Although Enna points out that such things might only have power in Bayern. Do you believe that, within the bounds of Bayern, the augury really does have magical powers over the outcome of the war? Or is it just an old superstition, which by some fluke may or may not prove to be accurate (maybe a self-fulfilling prophecy kind of thing)?" I purposefully didn't decide. I thought as the narrator I had to remain impartial. I know that Enna believed it and Isi did not, and I would not pick sides. Maybe that sounds silly but I made a real effort to keep myself from deciding what was true.

I really appreciate all your comments! Thank you! What wonderful readers you are to write for.


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10. Squeetus summer book club: Enna Burning, Chapter 8

Enna_BurningThe augury: The initial idea for an augury came from my study of the Roman historian Tacitus writing about the early German people. Here's his description of a war augury:

"They have also another method of observing auspices, by which they seek to learn the result of an important war. Having taken, by whatever means, a prisoner from the tribe with whom they are at war, they pit him against a picked man of their own tribe, each combatant using the weapons of their country. The victory of the one or the other is accepted as an indication of the issue."

Some notes I found in my 2nd draft outline about the augury:

Time passing. Finn. Encounter other forest workers. What pushes her into arson again?

Maybe make a couple of characters from the enemy camp. Enna sees them when they parlay with Geric. Runs into one at night when she goes about setting fire to enemy camps.

First time Enna sets fire to person, something in her breaks, something she was holding back and it gets harder.

Finn’s fight in war augury helps forest folks gain legitimacy.

Here are other notes from either an earlier or later outline, I can't actually tell:

Learns how to use it, starts to want to use it, leaves camp because the desire is consuming, gets caught by Tiran scout party and burns her way out, Sileph is there, and it feels good to her, but still she resists until augury.

After augury, occurs to her how to fight

no tension between E&I until after augury, E has to hide it from I. then guilt develops. Also, doesn’t tell her because she’s afraid I would take her to Yasid and take away her knowledge.

Finn: The sweet Forest boy. He who cried when bringing Enna the feathers of her slain chicken. I hated having to put him through this story, to make him change as he did. Authors are cruel. But the story is always more important than what's best for the characters.

"She would save Bayern": She's all in now, baby. Enna has her mission. She is going for it. And my recommendation? Do not stand in that girl's way.

Heather asks, "How do you think of your characters? Are they just descriptions and actions on a piece of paper, or like imaginary friends, or do you think of them as real people, or what?" They do feel really real in my mind, in that once I've spent many drafts with them and fully developed them, I know how they would react to most anything. I know what they would say and how they would say it. I know how they would feel about whatever changes would come, in a way that I don't always know about real people, even my own children. Once they're developed, I can't change them. Only a story can change them, the way the war and Enna's overheard talk in the market changed Finn.

Viola asks, "Is Razo's character your favorite type to write, or do you like searching out and discovering the more difficult characters?" Easier is always better! But there is definitely a satisfaction to having labored long with a story and a character and then to finally get it right. Forest Born is that way for me. I feel so happy about that book now, so proud, even though during some drafts I wanted to give up writing entirely.

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11. Squeetus summer book club: Enna Burning, Chapter 7

Enna-newpbEnna as warrior: Looking back at my first draft, I didn't have Enna's encounter with the Tiran scouts from last chapter or this scene with Finn and Razo practicing swordplay. A scene like it took place later. This section was the most difficult of all the book, though the book generally was a tough nut to crack. But figuring out Enna's arc in part 2 was tricky, how the power builds, what events help shape it, how she feels about and reacts to those events, where her relationships are with the others.

My sister died in a car accident just over 11 years ago. (I was probably on draft 6 or 8 of Enna Burning at the time.) It was rough, and a month later Dean and I took a last minute trip to Thailand. I needed a change of scenery. For the whole week I managed not to think about much. But I remember in the airport waiting to fly home, sitting down with a notebook and talking through with Dean the events of part 2, trying to break these chapters, figure out what needed to happen and when. I'd rested. I was still heartbroken. But I was ready to start writing again. Rewriting is problem solving. I couldn't bring back my sister. But I could solve this problem.

It's hard to explain why some books are trickier than others. Sometimes I just start wrong (Calamity Jack). Sometimes the character is so quiet, she takes a long time to tell me what her story really is (Forest Born). Often it's because I'm trying to write a book I don't know how to write yet. Enna Burning is not a traditional structure. Although I'm playing with some strong archetypes, it's not quite like any other book I've written or read.

The amazing, prolific, ground-breaking Jane Yolen read Goose Girl when it first came out and praised it on her blog, which I read regularly at the time. I was so gleeful. Then a year later, she posted that she was reading Enna Burning. (I just tried to google that post and couldn't find it, but from my memory...) She wrote she was in the middle of the book and thought the writer had gotten herself into a place she wasn't going to be able to write herself out of, and that she wasn't as much a fan of this book as the first. I was heartsick.

I met her for the first time some years after that. As we talked, she said she liked my books, and I said I'd seen that she hadn't been as pleased with Enna Burning. (can you believe I said that? I hope it came up naturally in the conversation! I can't remember.) She said, oh no, only when I was in the middle of the book. But you pulled it off.

In an interview last year, Jane Yolen named Enna Burning one of her favorite novels. (I just found this while googling for that blog post! Jane Yolen rox.)

#brag #braggin #shamlessbraggingbragbrag

My point of all that was to say, I think in some ways, this is a writer's book. It's kind of been my black sheep. But for whatever reason, more writers seem to like it. If you don't, that's not to say you're not a writer. I've just found that of this book's ardent fans, most seem to be writers themselves. Maybe we enjoy watching other writers take on impossible stories and walk that tightrope.

Esa asks, "On your website (I think) you said that the title "Enna Burning" has a slightly different meaning in each of the four parts of the book. Did you think about the four different meanings when the book was separated into the four parts, or did you only realize what each part meant later?" I didn't name the book till late, but I did split it into these four named parts fairly early. Part of the reason I loved the title Enna Burning once I thought of it was because how it played with the meaning of the part titles differently.

Sally asks, "do you ever feel that Razo snuck his way into the story for the comic relief side of things?" THat's possible, I can't remember. What I do remember is when I was struggling in rewrites, I realized I didn't fully understand Enna's relationships with some of the characters, except with Razo. I always knew what their friendship was. I always knew how he stood with everyone. He is such a refreshing character to write because he doesn't hide things from me. Razo is Razo.

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12. Squeetus summer book club: Enna Burning, Chapter 6

Enna_BurningPart Two: Warrior: Like Goose Girl, Enna is split into parts, though four instead of three. I have them in my robust outline (the one that I made as I worked, more in detail than my original). I felt the story arranging itself into these parts and wanted to call that out with the part names Sister, Warrior, Prisoner, and Friend.

Lyrical language: When Goose Girl came out, several reviews praised its "lyrical language." I was finishing up Enna Burning at the time and the reviews made me nervous. Somehow I had managed to write lyrical language in Goose Girl and people would expect that in Enna Burning too. But I didn't think this book was lyrical and was sure everyone would be disappointed. Reading this chapter, I think I was always a lyrical writer and just didn't know it till the reviewers said it.

Fire: I spent so much time thinking about fire, observing it, reading about it, watching flames. After writing Goose Girl, I thought I knew what fire-speaking would be, but not till I was writing the story did I have to really work it out in detail and understand. I like to be able to believe that whatever is magical in my books is actually possible.

Enna & Isi: I hope everyone has a friend like Enna at their side.

Recently I read an article that bemoaned the lack of female friendships in YA literature. I thought through all my books and couldn't come up with one that didn't have at least one strong female friendship, as well as male friendships and female/male friendships. I didn't do this intentionally. I hadn't thought about it before, but clearly friendship must be important to me.

Enna's fire-speaking: I'm curious, in this chapter are you rooting for Enna to give in and embrace the fire-speaking or are you rooting for her to resist it?

The Tiran tent: Whew! That was exciting. I'd forgotten about that scene. I liked it when she booted the soldier in the head. Does that make me bad?

Eliza says, "One time I told my brother to read a story of mine "until you get bored". Forty nine pages in, he handed it back. "I'm bored now." I read over that page and realized he'd stopped at the first death scene. Gasp! What was I thinking, letting my sweet eleven year old brother read a book with a gory decapitation scene? When I asked him why he stopped, he told me, "Only one person dies in the first fifty pages. Usually someone dies in the prologue."" When adults worry about too much violence in children's books, I appreciate their concerns. I'm not a fan of violence. But I also think children read stories differently than adults with experience. They don't visualize the violence. It doesn't enter them. Books are gentler that way than movies. Our minds only show us what we already understand.

Carlie says, "I gave birth to my first baby six months ago, and I can't now read certain things without becoming emotionally invested (and often crying). My husband has suggested I stop reading the news. (And why did I think it was a good idea to reread "Walk Two Moons"?)" Yeah, I'm the same. Much more sensitive after children. Any child that gets hurt is my own.

Anna asks, "What was your favorite part about writing Enna Burning?" Honestly? The burning. It was fun to find the words for it. Also the relationships: Enna with Isi, Finn, and Razo.

Audrey says, "Finn is a wonderful character and I love how he's one of the Forest Born shown to understand what a battle means. The contrast between him and the younger boys playing at swords is stark; I can only imagine what sort of things were going through his mind during this chapter." Yeah, those boys playing swords before their first battle kinda killed me, but it also felt so true. Thanks about Finn. As a writer, I should be able to write the entire novel from any of the character's POVs. I should understand all the characters enough that the reader can guess what the others are thinking, imagine their internal story, even if I don't reveal it.

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13. Squeetus summer book club: Enna Burning, Chapter 5

Enna_BurningIsi: Some readers of Goose Girl have told me they were disappointed in Isi's portrayal in this book. She found a strength in Goose Girl and in this book she seemed weak. But she never seemed weak to me. She has power, and sometimes there are consequences to power. But I still find her remarkable.

Enna's brother: Ooh, found some early notes that had Enna’s husband (instead of her brother Leifer) discovering the vellum and fire-speaking. Interesting! I’d forgotten that originally I’d thought she got married and moved back to the Forest. Now I can’t imagine it that way.

The first battle: I think originally I thought this scene would be the midpoint of the book, but I have an outline that splits it into the four parts it is now, so I think I realized before too long that this battle was the catalyst for Enna's story, not the midpoint.

The king: I know we didn't know him well, but I was very sad to lose him. He didn't die in my original outline, but he does in the first draft. A story must always raise the stakes, make the choices that will most challenge the main characters.

War: The descriptions of killing are a bit brutal. But in a book about war, I don't want to be responsible for glamorizing violence. This book has been criticized for being too graphic. It may be for some, and I totally respect that response. But I'd rather err on the side of truth. War is graphic. I don't think the description is sensationalized. If anything, I resisted going into too much detail.

The ending of this chapter gave me chills. If I don't have a reaction to the writing, I can't expect my readers to. Enna Burning is probably my most dramatic book. I was an exquisitely dramatic and romantic teenager. This story really speaks to that part of me. I dug in and went all out. I know this book made many uncomfortable, being too dark for some. Those who told me that, however, were all adults, usually mothers. I finished the final draft of this book before I gave birth to my first child (literally one week before) and I’ve wondered how different this book might have ended up if I’d been a more sensitive, less dramatic mother when I wrote this, rather than a young woman channeling my teen self.

Lily asks, "Would you say research is always vital when writing a novel? I have a hard time knowing where to look for what I want, so tend to push research aside." Yes, it's always vital. I tend to do minimal research before I begin. After I have a draft or two, I do more research, allowing the needs of my story to direct the research. I don't write non-fiction or historical fiction, where the research directs the story.

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14. Squeetus summer book club: Enna Burning, Chapter 4

Enna-newpbThe Forest: Yesterday I went up a canyon here in Utah to make campfire tinfoil dinners with my family. We hiked up slender trails that crisscrossed the mountainside, completely in the shade of the close growth evergreen forest, dark trunks and gray-green spines. The ground was thick with the pale green of low-light plants, some sprayed with tiny white flowers. My niece had just finished reading The Goose Girl in a hammock. I told her that the mountain forest here was what I'd visualized when writing Bayern's Forest. Reading this chapter here reminds me of that again, "the groaning, beating, swaying, and creaking voice of the forest."

Geric calls the hundredbands: As I read this, I find I can't remember anymore the process, why hundred-bands (was it research? The Roman historian Tacitus's writings on Germania?). Did this scene of a prince calling to the Forest people invoke in my mind a scene from another book? A piece of history? Did I make it up from nothing? Some things I recall and some I don't. I know a (much different) version of this was in the first draft so this scene always felt important to me.

I found that Shakespeare quote! It's from Trollius and Cressida: "'There were wit in this head, an 'twould out;'
and so there is, but it lies as coldly in him as fire
in a flint, which will not show without knocking."

Enna's age: just read a note that originally I thought her age 22-25. This was in the first draft before Goose Girl sold as a children's book. I'd thought Ani originally 19 when she left home. I changed that to 16 I think. And my editor advised me instead of Enna Burning taking place 5 years after Goose Girl it was only two years in order to keep them teenagers. When I was writing The Goose Girl and then the first draft of Enna Burning, I was unfamiliar with young adult literature, which had sprung up in the decade after I graduated from high school, so I thought I was writing fantasy novels for adults, although I remember thinking that I wanted to write something that I would have loved from ages 10-16 (my best reading years) as well.

Libby asks, "How come Conrad is cut completely from Enna Burning?I mean he did play an important part during the good girl, and then just magically appears again in river secrets." He went the way of Ratger, Gilsa, and others. Razo and Finn were so important to this story, others like Conrad just couldn't be squeezed in. I know many were fond of him and wanted more of his story. I've had many requests for a Conrad book. But so far he just hasn't been as insistent to me for a story as, for example, Razo was.

Elsbet asks, "You said you based the names in your book mainly on German names, yet both Enna and Finn are Gaelic, did you do that purposefully, or not?" I found most of the Bayern names on lists of medieval German names. Names tend to float around, be traded between languages and cultures. Mostly I chose them because I liked how they sounded and they felt "Forest" to me.

Jess-ica asks, "I noticed when reading Enna Burning again that in this book it says she's 16 and Isi is 18/19 (2 years after GG where she was 16). In Goose Girl I always assumed they were the same age. Was there a particular reason for having Enna younger? Was she younger in your mind in Goose Girl too? Is 18 considered too old for a YA main character?" Yes, exactly. That was an editorial decision and one I didn't mind changing. People mature at such different rates (especially girls) that I was comfortable making her younger.

Rebecca says, "I love scenes with Geric and Isi. How comfortable they are with each other and how you can tell that as happy as Isi is to see Enna it's not until Geric enters that Isi relaxes. I feel the same way with my husband. Everything is just better when he is there...even if he is messing up the words to one of my favorite songs. ;-)" This chapter has some nice little bits between Isi and Geric. Even though this book isn't their story, I think it's nice to see where they are now, two years later.

Audrey on the last line of chapter 3: "now that I've read the book through more than once the last line is even more steeped in its intended uncomfortable-ness. It reminds me of things to come, and I involuntarily shudder at the memories more NOW then I did the first time I read the book." Foreshadowing! Foreshadowing! There is a pleasure in rereading a book, isn't there? One reason I do as many drafts as I do is for the rereaders. Honestly a 3rd or 4th draft of my books might be as enjoyable to most readers as my 12th draft, but it takes 12+ to polish a story down to each word so that it stands up to the scrutiny of the noble rereaders!

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15. Squeetus summer book club: Enna Burning, Chapter 3

Enna_BurningRatger: Looking over my first draft, instead of meeting Isi in the market, Enna went to the palace and had to wait in the marketday queue for those wanting to see the king. She's belligerent and gets turned away until Ratger sees her and lets her in. I liked Ratger from Goose Girl and intended to make him a larger character in this book. But Razo won the right for a more major role, and the story moved away from Ratger in later drafts.

So much cut: And I keep looking through this first draft, realizing how much I deleted. That's common for me. I can't ever find the right story the first time through. For every 300 page book I publish, I've deleted another 900 pages of material. Just because I typed some words doesn't mean they're worth reading. I need to always keep myself open to trying it a different way.

the treasury: this scene reminded me of something I'd read as a child. I'm having a hard time remembering. Maybe it was from Prince Caspian? Or perhaps a scene in Hero & the Crown. Anyway, everything I've ever read is in my brain somewhere and inspires what I write.

Isi is not superstitious: She's a very practical thinker. Enna is the opposite.

Avlado: The name of Isi's horse. The word "Falada" means "spoken" in Portugues, and Avlado is a play on "hablado" which is "spoken" in Spanish.

Anna asks, "Did Isi have a bond with Avlado like she did with Falada?" Yes, she did. Is that right? Honestly it's been so many years since I last read Enna Burning I can't remember if the bond was a little different.

Rebecca says, "Personally, I think Embo sounds like a great future husband. They are young and he is already responsible enough to have the foresight to provide for his bride." I agree! I'm much more practical than Enna is.

Carlie asks, "How do you make up character names that feel so real and represent so well where the person is from?" The Bayern names I took from lists of old German names. The Forest names I wanted to have a similar feel, so I just found names (and made up some) that felt right. There's a passage in Forest Born about how the Forest names tend to rhyme and alliterate.

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16. Squeetus summer book club: Enna Burning, Chapter 2

Enna-newpbEnna & Leifer: First, I misspelled Leifer's name the first time I just wrote it. And then the second time. You'd think I could spell my own character's names. I had a twitter discussion recently about what a terrible speller I am.

Anyway, the beginning of this chapter reminds me about how important relationships are in a story (and life!). A character is, fundamentally, their relationships with others. No one lives in a vacuum. This conversation would have gone very differently if Ani had been Leifer's sister, or anyone. If ever I feel like I'm losing understanding of who my character is, I put them in a conversation with another character and develop their relationship. Even if I don't keep that conversation, it's instructive to me in understanding.

"smarts in your head like there's fire in a flint": I think this is a paraphrase of an idea I read in a Shakespeare play. I can't remember which one!

"Embo's been cutting and storing wood for our house for a year": A small detail, but one I wouldn't have known if I'd tried to write this book 10 years earlier. It wasn't till I lived in Paraguay that I learned that people who build houses outside a bank and mortgage system would gather and store materials for years before beginning. I wanted to be a writer since I was 10, but I personally believe a person needs some life experience as well as time to develop the craft before getting good at it.

The orange egg of the omen: In the outline, I hadn't thought to include Razo. But he always worms his way in. In the first draft, he didn't show up till later chapter, almost as an afterthought. But as the story continued, he became more and more important. So as I revised, I thought I should introduce him earlier. And in a memorable way. Looking back at Goose Girl and the pranks Enna and Razo used to play on each other gave me this idea.

Isi: In Goose Girl, the narrator referred to her as Ani, since Isi was her alias she only named to the forest workers well into the book. But this is from Enna's POV, and I decided that Enna would think of her as Isi, and then so should the narrator.

Anna asked, "I've always wondered why Leifer wanted the fire speaking!!" I don't think he could know what it was when he read the vellum. Once he learned the secret, he gained the ability. It's the nature of fire to want to survive, to spread. I hesitate ever to interpret my books for people. I don't want to be the authorial voice of authority, so I won't say much more but pipe up anyone else if you have an idea.

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17. Squeetus summer book club: Enna Burning, Prologue & Chapter 1

Enna-newpbJoin me weekdays in July for discussions of Enna Burning. Feel free to ask questions in the comments. I'll try to keep each day's discussion spoiler-free for future chapters in case you are reading for the first time.

The Title: We went through many title ideas. The one I used in my initial outline in 2002 was Fire Speaker.

The map: You may notice the map is different in Goose Girl than here. I believe the artist misunderstood my initial drawing as it looks like the rivers just ended in the Goose Girl map, but here they are properly shown as ending in a river delta and the Rosewood Sea.

Prologue: I remember being so excited that I was starting a new book, for Mother's Day I printed up and gave my mom the prologue. And she was alarmed. This didn't seem anything like her beloved Goose Girl. After all, a woman dies at the end of this prologue! The first draft prologue is essentially the same as the final in structure and content, though few sentences are actually the same.

Enna: I chose to write Enna because I wanted to tell a story from the POV of a character who was very different from Ani, and Enna is very different from Ani. From the beginning of my career, I've always wanted to make sure I'm telling new stories. I never want to get in a rut.

"Enna let the fire burn out." This was the first line in my first draft too.

"You're not always happy here." Initially she was. Enna was content in the Forest and had no intention of ever leaving. But there was just no dramatic tension that way. An understandably common theme in young adult literature is the main character finding their place in the world, and if the character has already found it from the beginning, there's no journey needed. Otherwise, the plot is just stuff happening to the character, rather than the character moving forward, propelled by the action. Once I let go of that idea for Enna, not only the story but her character began making more sense.

Here's a paragraph from the first draft: Enna had lived for five years in the city and had cherished her time there, but mostly because others like herself surrounded her, their eyes also haunted by loneliness for the Forest. The city was a forest of towers and tottering houses and things that did not grow. Only this, she thought, feeling as though she could inhale the entire forest into her lungs, only this was home.

page break on 8: If I wrote this now, I'd start a new chapter there. But ten years ago, I preferred long chapters that felt like their own short stories. Not saying that one is better than the other, but each book reflects where I was then as a writer.

Finn: Finn!

"If I'm patient then you don't need to be, because one of us already is.": I think here Finn is already imagining they are a couple, leaning on each other's strengths and weaknesses.

pages 13-17: originally this section was very different. First, Finn didn't arrive in the story yet. Also, I was fond of the peace-keepers from Goose Girl and initially intended for them to be a large part of the story. In this chapter, Leifer called a meeting of peace-keepers and tried to incite them to action against the city, showing his power to them. But so many other things in the book pulled me away from the peace-keeper idea so later I cut them out entirely.

"Hearing and telling unbelievable stories makes it easier to believe when strange things happen": I think we're all well-prepared for the zombie apocalypse.

Burns: You know you're a writer when you burn your finger and immediately focus on the sensation and try to find the right words to describe it. I had no trouble describing Enna's pain. I'd practiced telling that story to myself every time I'd ever burned a finger.

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18. Announcing the 2014 squeetus summer book club

Enna-newpbHappy 10th birthday to Enna Burning! To celebrate, in weekdays in July I'll be hosting our annual Squeetus Summer Book Club, doing a chapter or two every day from Enna Burning. Read along with me. And feel free to ask questions in the comments. I'll try to answer them all in the next day's posts.

See also 2013's club posts on Goose Girl and 2012's club posts on Princess Academy.

ps. was amused by this Amazon review of Princess Academy: "This book is soft porn for the youth. We read as a family and all I can say is it was highly inappropriate. This is a classic gateway book to romance novels. For young impressionable teens I would exercise a lot of caution before purchasing. There are far too many wholesome, fun and fun loving books out there worth your time rather than this one." Um...

(ps. for those who haven't read Princess Academy, I don't think I'm being blind when I assert that there is nothing remotely soft pornish about it)


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19. Can white writers write non-white characters?

This past week, a group started a campaign on twitter #WeNeedDiverseBooks that trended for days. Blogs, twitter, tumblr, instagram facebook were lit up with people sharing photos, stories, ideas about how diverse books are both wanted and needed.

Diversity just means "reality," i.e. books (and movies, etc.) work best when they reflect the richness and variety of the real world rather than only representing one sliver of it. But often, diversity most often connotes race. And so lots of race questions rise up in this conversation, such as, is it okay for writers of one race to write from the point-of-view of a character from another race? Lisa Yee wrote her thoughts about this, which I appreciated.

Gg-pbHere's my own experience. When I was drafting The Goose Girl, I originally was going to make Bayern an African-type continent, everyone there having a deep-brown-to-black skin, while Kildenree would be the European-type continent with pale skin. I was inspired by Le Guin's Earthsea books. But I quickly realized the story required Ani to hide in Bayern, so she couldn't look too different from the Bayern people. I could have chosen to make Ani dark skinned as well but I decided not to, out of misguided respect and fear. As a white person, I was hesitant to try to speak from the point-of-view of someone of another race, even in a fantasy setting. I felt like I only had access to the heritage of my own bloodlines. So I based Bayern on Germany, both because the tale was recorded by the brothers Grimm and because it is one of the lands of my ancestors. I'm not saying that was the wrong or the right choice (I don't believe there was necessarily a right or wrong here), but that this was my creative process.

When I began a new series with Princess Academy, again I felt that I only had rights to the lands of my ancestors, so I chose to base the setting on Scandinavia. And the research and writing was a lovely experience for me.

B1000pb While I was drafting Book of a Thousand Days, I was also studying about Mongolia, because my parents were about to go live there for two years. And the more I learned, the more the research slid naturally into the story I was working on. Perfectly. As if that had been my intention all along. I had a moment of crisis. I wanted to base the setting on medieval Mongolia, but did I have the right to appropriate a land I had no blood or familial ties to for my story?

Eventually I decided, yes. I am a human being. I can take inspiration from the stories of our shared planet. It was a little easier for me to make this jump since I wasn't writing a true historical setting but a fantasy kingdom inspired by a historical setting.

Dangerous-smDangerous is my first young adult book not set long-ago-far-away but in our own world. I don't remember my exact thought process in deciding to make my main character biracial with a Paraguayan-American mother and white American father. There was reason to have a bilingual character and the choice seemed interesting for the story. The supporting cast also has a Russian-American, African-French, American-Korean, German-American, and African-American. These choices make sense in the story, but if this had been my first book, I don't know if I'd dared to make them. Again, out of misguided respect and fear, I might have been hesitant to try to embody the experience of a character who has a different race than me. I think that would have been a mistake. This story makes more sense, is richer, and is truer with the diverse cast. If I'd tried to write this story with an all-white cast, that would have been forced and untrue, because it wouldn't have reflected the actual world the story takes place in. Making creative choices from a place of fear (even fear mixed with loving and honest respect) is never a good idea.

I appreciate writers who are respectful of other cultures and experiences. And I don't think that every book needs to have a diverse racial cast. A book set in a town where everyone is white can exist. Those stories matter too. But I always want to make sure I'm open to what the story needs. And all stories (ironically perhaps, but especially fantasy and science fiction stories) need to have a foundation of truth in order to work. And the truth of our world is colorful, rich, expansive. I think it's wise, as writers, that we're always checking ourselves, making sure we're not just defaulting to all white, straight, able-bodied, non-religious, etc., characters. Not defaulting to Neutral. But keeping our stories open for the possibilities of diversity.

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20. The Slushpile Family Circus


New to the Annual Children’s Book Art Silent Auction and Reception at BEA this year, The Slushpile Family Circus, an entertainment and comedy variety show displaying the non-authorial talents of various children’s writers and illustrators. Masters of Ceremony Shannon Hale and Michael Buckley will emcee with their trademark Verve™ and Panache™ the phantasmagorical cavalcade of “talent” and showmanship.

Come witness such luminaries as David Levithan and Jon Scieszka display never-before-witnessed “talents”! What shocking tricks will Pseudonymous Bosch and Melissa de la Cruz be up to? We would give you a sneak peak of the hidden talents of Brandon Mull, Jason Reynolds, and Paul Zelinsky but we’ve been sworn to secrecy! Jarrett Krosoczka, Maryrose Wood, and Scott Westerfeld will amaze and delight! Libba Bray, Daniel Kirk, and Tom Angleberger will provoke and alarm! And who will be the Mysterious “Talent” Guest? Come one, come all and witness the bizarre, the unusual, but the always entertaining Slushpile Family Circus at this year’s Silent Auction!

The Silent Auction runs Wednesday, May 28, 5pm-7:30pm at the Javits Center in New York City. Get your tickets here!

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21. The Great Greene Challenge

The Great Greene Heist goes on sale today! Have you taken the Great Greeene Challenge? Here's my post from a couple of weeks ago:


Author Kate Messner threw down a challenge this weekend. “At the end of the day, publishing is a business that needs to make money to survive. Given that reality, the best way for readers to ask for more diversity in children’s literature is not with words and tweets and blog posts alone but also with dollars.” She picked THE GREAT GREENE HEIST, a wonderful middle grade coming out in May by the incomparable Varian Johnson, and challenged everyone to preorder a copy to show that yes, we want great books that also have diverse characters. (and a cover showing an African American boy front and center!)

Bookstore Eight Cousins got involved, challenging Odyssey Books to a handsell-off. I love this idea and proposed opening it up wide.

So here’s the game: what single bookstore can sell the most copies of THE GREAT GREENE HEIST in its first month? It comes out May 27, so from May 27 to June 27. (If the bookstore has multiple locations, then the numbers are counted by individual stores.) To the winner goes the spoils! How can you help?

1. Are you an author? Care to sweeten the pot? If you’re going to BEA, please bring me something to add to the treasure chest going to the winning bookstore. Signed books, bizarre items, a box of chocolates, anything fun you think the winning booksellers would love.

2. Are you a reader? Contact your local bookstore. Let them know about the Handsell-Off (if they don’t already) and pre-order your copy of THE GREAT GREENE HEIST. Let’s get everyone excited about it! Let’s get this deserving book (and author!) on the NYT bestseller list!

3. Are you a bookseller? Read the book and handsell like crazy!

This is going to be fun. Common wisdom often states that books starring POC can’t be best sellers, especially if the POC is on the cover. I’m eager to blow that out of the water. In ten years, let’s look back on that outdated belief and laugh.

UPDATE 2 (ignore all previous updates!): The party’s on, bookworms! John Green threw down a gauntlet of his own: “Any store in the U.S. that can handsell 100 copies of The Great Greene Heist in its first month will get 10 signed copies of TFIOS. I’m a huge Varian Johnson fan and really want to see this book succeed. Winning stores can email me: sparksflyup -at- gmail.”

And The Great Greene Heist author Varian Johnson helped clarify the sitch:

"1) One package will go to the bookstore that sells the most copies of The Great Greene Heist.

2) The second package will be a random drawing of all the bookstores that have “signed up” for the challenge (no purchase necessary, just need to know who you are).

3) A separate set of goodies (provided by me) will go to the winners of each “one-on-one” challenge.”

If you’re an indie and want to participate or an author and want to donate, “email me at vcj (at) varianjohnson (dot) com, or send me a tweet at @varianjohnson.”

Also, Varian Johnson is donating $1.50 for each book sold the first week (starting today!) to Girlstart. Wahoo! Let’s do this!

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22. Graphic novels: one little girl at a time

This appeared in the Boston Globe opinion section last Sunday, reposted here with permission. Written by Heather Hopp-Bruce, art by Kagan McLeod. It makes me so happy!


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23. Is anyone really "able-bodied"?

In a recent post about diversity, I wrote: "No one is truly able-bodied: we have missing limbs or chronic illnesses or mental illnesses or even glasses or allergies or freckles or fat or some way our bodies or minds aren’t exactly like some impossible transcendent ideal."

I understand why some mistook this piece of my post. I dropped that in there without enough explanation, so please allow me.

Growing up, I viewed the world as two separate groups: the Normal people and the Handicapped people (that's the word used in my childhood). The Handicapped people were blind or deaf or in a wheelchair. And I wasn't. And I felt bad for them and determined I would never bully any Handicapped children if I ever met any, (though I never did--or at least, I thought I didn't).

As I grow older, I see such a fallacy in that way of thinking. I understand why our language has terms like "able-bodied" or "whole-bodied" and "disabled," etc., but I find that dichotomy isn't really truthful. Disability/Able-bodiedness isn't an either/or situation. It's a continuum.

Is it as difficult for a myopic person who must wear glasses to navigate the world as a person who is blind? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Is it as difficult for a person who is fair-skinned and must wear sunscreen and hats whenever in the sun to navigate the world as a person who has xeroderma pigmentosum? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Is it as difficult for a person with a bad knee who must wear a brace and hesitates on stairs as someone who is paralyzed from the waist down? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Our world is designed for the able-bodied and it's a mark of an empathetic civilization when we try to accommodate all abilities.

I'm not trying to diminish the difficulties and challenges people with disabilities face. But I am trying to normalize the idea of disabilities because they are normal. Some disabilities are undoubtedly more life-changing than others. But I think it might be healthy for everyone, even those who are considered whole-or-able-bodied, to recognize that they're on the continuum too. We all are. We all have challenges that separate us from an impossible ideal of physical and mental health. Recognizing that can help us to not just sympathize with those who have more physical or mental challenges than us us but actually get closer to true empathy. And an increase of empathy only makes the world better.

Once we get rid of the either/or way of thinking, then possibilities open up wider. A child with a disability won't feel as Other (because really, aren't we all disabled some way?) A person without a disability won't feel uncomfortable around someone who has one because aren't we all in some way? Readers who are considered "able-bodied" won't have a hard time relating to a character who is disabled because, again, aren't we all?

Our bodies and minds are so magnificent. So diverse. So unique.

In the same way, white and non-white is another really weird dichotomy. E.g., in the US so many of us are mixes of many different nationalities, ethnicities, religions, genetics. The idea of pertaining to a single race is getting blurrier and blurrier. In a few decades people will look back and find the whole "white" vs. "not-white" idea really weird.

What do you think? Is this line of thinking disrespectful? Is it even possible to change how we think about disabilities? How can we change our language to get rid of that dichotomy? What have I not considered here? I absolutely don't want the last word on this nor do I think I have all the answers. This is something I think about and would love to hear your thoughts too.

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24. More selfies than you can shake a stick at

I'm home all this month (hallelujah!) but it's been a travel-heavy year and will continue to be so. I won't be at ALA (but ARCs of THE FORGOTTEN SISTERS -- the 3rd and final PRINCESS ACADEMY -- will be there!). I'll be at SDCC and a book festival this summer, I think, before I hit the road in October to tour for THE PRINCESS IN BLACK.

Here are some random selfies from my spring trips to TLA, BEA, IRA, etc., in no particular order.

Jessica Day George and I were on the same plane to Texas. In the airport we ran into Matthew Kirby...


...and Jim Di Bartolo.


David Levithan modeling the fried green tomatoes we ate in New Orleans.


On stage at the Teen Book Con in Houston with Emery Lord, Brendan Kiely, Rachel Hawkins, and Jason Reynolds


...also with Tess Sharpe and Bree Despain...


...and Laurie Halse Anderson keynoting, showing the slide of all the authors who were there. What a fun group! We had a blast. Thanks, Blue Willow Books!



For some reason, I did this.


With Laini Taylor and Cecil Castelucci in...where? I think Houston. It all runs together. But I remember we played a very funny card game in a hotel lobby till late at night with Bree Despain and Eliot Schrefer. Well, not too late. We ain't kids anymore.


Trent Reedy, Elizabeth Eulberg, Sarah Mlynowski, and Sarah Mlynowski's hand


Aw...Lauren Myracle.


Dean Hale, I told you to stay away from Tori Spelling!!!


At lunch, Varian Johnson and Alaya Dawn Johnson (no relation!) show us they can salsa.


Laini Taylor and I model Daughter of Smoke and Bone masks.


The fabulous E. Lockhart. Have you read We Were Liars yet?


During our panel on "Kick-Ass Girls" I invited the audience and fellow panelists Elizabeth Eulberg and Maggie Steifvater to do the Wonder Woman pose and feel the power! (we're on the table, because why not). Also it was Mother's Day.


In the hotel, Dean wants to see if he can walk on the ceiling.


Chillin' by the river in San Antonio with Nathan Hale, Tom Angleberger, and Jenni Holm. Man, I love those kids!


With my good pal Michael Buckley. He's like a big brother to me. When he's not like a little brother to me.


In NYC, having lunch with Brandon Mull and his wife Mary we found a Diane Von Furstenberg sample sale. Brandon models a dress I thought about buying. (the idea of a sample sale is better than an actual sample sale)


In New Orleans for IRA I did a panel with Sean Williams, Garth Nix, and Maggie Steivater for Spirit Animals. At the signing, my ARCs of book 4 (FIRE AND ICE! Out next week!) didn't show up, so I mostly just watched them sign. And took photos. And gave them helpful pointers. I'm sure they were thrilled.


Dean models a "This princess wears black!" t-shirt


At our signing for THE PRINCESS IN BLACK in New Orleans. I am at a loss for words about how excited I am to share this book with everyone.

Doing some dangerous moves with PRINCESS IN BLACK editor Sarah Ketchersid.


After years of narrowly missing each other, Dan Santat and I finally meet! I loved BEEKLE.

BEA, New York City, Michael Buckley and I emceed the first annual Slushpile Family Circus, an author and illustrator variety show. Libba Bray opens the show with her incredible set of pipes and pack of sass.


Michael Buckley sings Lionel Richie's "Hello" while Tom Angleberger, Phil Bildner and Gareth Hinds juggle, as you do.


Comedy sketch with Jason Reynolds, Brandon Mull, Kami Garcia, Margaret Stohl, and Maryrose Wood.


This photo started out with me pretending to karate chop Daniel Handler's injured knee, when he took my hand and placed it there. I swear! I'm totally innocent! Also important to note that the last time we were together was also in Javits (for NYCC last fall) and I was wearing this same outfit. Surely he believes I'd been there all those months, just waiting for his return.


After this lovely gentleman by the name of John Green waited in line for both of my signings at BEA, I thought I needed photographic proof that John Green is a fan of mine.


Kate DiCamillo signs a copy of LEROY NINKER for my kids after hearing we're all big MERCY WATSON fans...


Then we try to take a photo together but can't decide of we're sitting/crouching...


...or standing so we kept popping up and down.


And home again.


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25. What's your spirit animal?

Hitting bookstores Tuesday, June 24, the fourth book in the SPIRIT ANIMALS series, Fire and Ice. Brandon Mull wrote the first book and was the series architect and a different author writes each subsequent book. I had a blast working on this story. It was a challenge but also tremendous fun to take up someone else's characters and help continue their story. I can't wait to see what happens to Rollan, Meilin, Abeke, and Conor in books 5-7! If you or young readers you know are following this series, I'd love to hear what you think so far and your response to my contribution.

If you had a spirit animal, what would it be? Which of the animal's inherent skills would you gain through the bond? I always wanted a big, red-maned lion.

SA cover4

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