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26. GLASS SWORD by Victoria Aveyard \\ Book & Audiobook Review

Review by Krista Glass Sword (Red Queen #2) by Victoria Aveyard Length: 14 hrs and 39 mins  Narrated By Amanda Dolan   Series: Red Queen, Book 2  Release Date: 02-09-16  If there’s one thing Mare Barrow knows, it’s that she’s different.Mare Barrow’s blood is red—the color of common folk—but her Silver ability, the power to control lightning, has turned her into a weapon that the royal

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27. Guest Post: Alan Cumyn on Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend

Find Alan on Facebook and @acumyn
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Welcome, Alan Cumyn! What was your initial inspiration for Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend (Atheneum, 2016)?

There’s a short answer and a long one. The short: in January 2012, popular YA author Libba Bray gave a speech to over a hundred writers at Vermont College of Fine Arts in which she brought us through the ups and downs of her writing career.

Three times in the course of an hour she said, “Don’t go writing your hot pterodactyl boyfriend novel.” She meant that we shouldn’t slavishly follow the trends. But I was struck by the phrase.

When I approached her afterwards and said that I was getting an idea, she encouraged me to follow up, and a little later the whole first chapter, in which the pterodactyl, Pyke, arrives at Vista View High in a calamitous fashion – by landing unceremoniously on the cross-country running champion, Jocelyne Legault – more or less fell out on the page for me.

The longer answer takes me back more than ten years when I was riding a train from Toronto to Ottawa. I had been at some publishing event or other, and was full of the possibility of new stories.

The train rounded a bend and Lake Ontario came into sight. On a rock by the shore a great blue heron, which looked like an ancient creature, pierced me with his gaze. It was the oddest feeling – I felt locked in direct communication with an intelligence not only from another species, but from a vastly different time.

Seconds later the landscape changed, the heron was gone, but I pulled out my pad and scribbled furiously for several pages about a heron who is able to change into a man at will, and who wanders into the big city from time to time almost as a vacation from his usual existence.

After a time I stopped writing because I realized I didn’t know enough about herons to proceed. Over the years, I worked on several versions of this story, and got sidetracked with an interest in Kafka, whose "The Metamorphosis" (1915) famously envisioned a man who wakes up one morning transformed into a bug. I was drawn to the idea of introducing something startlingly unreal and fantastical, but continuing the rest of the story in as realistic a fashion as possible. I was also, like so many others, attracted by the dreamlike nature of Kafka’s writing.

The story morphed and became at least two entirely different novel-length manuscripts that sputtered for various reasons and never quite worked. And then: “Don’t go writing your hot pterodactyl boyfriend novel.” I was seized with yet another possibility to work with some of the same ideas and influences, and perhaps not take it so seriously this time.

What was the timeline from spark to publication, and what were the major events along the way?

U.S. cover art
That first chapter poured out of me within a day or two of hearing Libba Bray speak in January 2012. I sent a full draft to my agent, Ellen Levine, in late December 2013, so it took me about two years to write much of the manuscript.

During most of that time I told nobody what I was working on. I like the freedom to go wherever I want on the page and to fail privately in ridiculous ways if need be.

After that strong opening chapter fell out, I slowly went over that material again and again for clues about how the story must proceed with these characters in the situation they find themselves in.

Before showing the draft to Ellen, of course, I got feedback from my wife Suzanne, and from friends and family, and made it as strong as I could.

Ellen contacted me enthusiastically in February 2014 and I worked on some more revisions for her. She sent it out to publishers in March and, although a lot of editors passed on it, we did get offers in April, with Caitlyn Dlouhy at Atheneum winning out.

I was way up north in Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada at the time as writer-in-residence at Berton House when the phone line to New York started to burn up. It was exciting and strange, to be so far away and yet to have such interest suddenly welling up about my unusual pterodactyl novel. (Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend, it turns out, is the first novel of mine to be published simultaneously in Canada, the United States, the U.K. and elsewhere.)

U.K. cover art
I got a chance to meet Caitlyn in New York in July 2014, and U.K. editors in September. When I was in New York I also spent time at the Museum of Natural History which just happened to be showing a major exhibit on pterodactyls!

Some of the latest research changed the way I thought about the physicality of Pyke, and made it into the book. A lot of the revisions for Caitlyn involved strengthening middle parts of the story and ending it in a way that stayed true to the characters, and to the strangeness of the whole telling.

Again – I kept going back to the beginning for inspiration. The manuscript was pretty well finalized by April 2015, and I was reviewing galleys in October.

There wasn’t a major crisis or anything, no pitched battles, but Caitlyn and I did have strong discussions about all the characters and themes.

I take it for granted that my creations will feel real to me, but it’s lovely when an editor so fully immerses herself as well.

What were the challenges (literary, research, emotional, logistical) in bringing the story to life?

Nothing about this story was straightforward. On the opening page, Pyke appears as a speck in the sky, and by the end of that chapter he is the first inter-species transfer student in the history of Vista View High.

The initial challenge – how do the students accept him as anything but a monster come to eat the school? – I skirted in my first draft by summarizing the changes in a paragraph or two. It was only fairly late in revision that I realized I needed to show in scene those crucial minutes after Pyke has landed on Jocelyne and then carried her to the school nurse for attention.

Pyke is not the main character, of course – the story actually belongs to the student body chair, Shiels Krane, an A-type leader whose well-ordered plans for her graduation year have nothing to do with dealing with a pterodactyl who steals everyone’s heart, including her own.

In that way I was able to shift the question about believability – if Shiels buys into it, then it’s easier for the reader to believe, too. I did do a lot of background reading on pterodactyls, but in my mind I was treating Pyke as the ultimate bad-boy boyfriend, and that’s part of the fun of the story, watching characters adapt to a ridiculous situation that turns normal and then actually seems familiar.

We do it all the time in real life, just not with pterodactyls! So often writing fiction convincingly is a matter of taking care of the tiny details, making those seem lifelike, so that the huge lies one tells hardly stand out at all.

What made you commit to the writing life? What did you sacrifice for it?

I was very lucky to attend a graduate writing program when I was young, only 24, at the University of Windsor, where my mentor, Alistair MacLeod, happened to be a brilliant writer and terrific teacher. Without that early formation, I’m not sure I would’ve stuck with it, given all the difficulties I had initially in publishing anything at all.

It took me seven years of strong effort after graduation to get a single short story accepted in a literary journal (for which I was paid $50). My first three novel manuscripts were rejected before the fourth was accepted, and even that one sat in the publisher’s office for over a year before I got a yes.

Along the way I decided I was not going to be the sort of writer who lives in a tiny room in the YMCA, turning his back on life so that he might have time to write. I have worked at a number of full-time jobs that, fortunately, also fed my sense of life and society, and so nurtured my writing as well.

But if I hadn’t married and had children, I doubt I would have written for younger audiences. I faced a really tough decision at around age 40 when the excellent government job I had (as a writer and researcher on international human rights for the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada) seemed to be too much to handle on top of novel writing as well.

Some of my adult novels were suddenly doing well, and I had to make a choice. It was a big gulp – our children were young, Suzanne had just started a doctorate program, and there was no extra money in case things went badly. So with family support I sacrificed the security of a regular paycheck, but was fortunate enough to have waited until my art was strong enough to withstand the pressures of such a decision.

It was the right thing to do, and I haven’t really looked back, especially since part-time teaching at the Vermont College of Fine Arts allows me to use my skills, and helps keep the wolf from the door during the inevitable down times in a writing and publishing life.

What about the business of publishing do you wish you could change?

I would love it if editors were not so extraordinarily busy, if they could somehow always keep a sense of the leisure of reading while opening up a new manuscript.

Editors often have crushing workloads and it means “quiet” stories often don’t have a chance to get their attention, they’ve got too many submissions to wade through before going back to their email backlog etc.

I know, it’ll never happen, and the really good editors do find ways to let themselves fall into a story when they read, no matter what their to-do list looks like. But I do think a lot of fine writing is overlooked because of the craziness of today’s schedules.

Cynsational Notes

Alan is the faculty chair of the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. See also Video Interview with Alan Cumyn from Indigo Teeen.


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28. Another Audiobook Review of THE WINNER'S KISS by Marie Rutkoski (Yeah, it deserves two reviews, get over it)

Review by Shannon THE WINNER'S KISSby Marie RutkoskiSeries: The Winner's Trilogy (Book 3)Hardcover: 496 pagesPublisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) (March 29, 2016)Audible Audio EditionListening Length: 12 hours and 13 minutesProgram Type: AudiobookVersion: UnabridgedPublisher: Listening Library Goodreads | Amazon | Audible War has begun. Arin is in the thick of it with untrustworthy new

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29. Lynne North Interview

Thanks very much for the great interview provided by Paula Roscoe on her blog. Why not go on over and check it out? Paula welcomes all authors to appear on her fascinating blog.

Guest Author Blog

 

 

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30. The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox, 400 pp, RL 4


The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox has a fantastic set up for either a work of historical fiction or a fantasy novel. Intriguingly, it is both! Katherine, Robbie and Amelie Bateson live in London with their parents and their Great-Aunt Margaret. As the bombing of the city increases, the Batesons take the first good opportunity to get their children to safety. In this case, it is Rookskill Castle in remote Scotland. The owner of the castle is Aunt Margaret's cousin, Gregor, the eleventh Earl of Craig. Recently married, the Earl is in need of money and also has recently taken ill. His new wife has converted the castle into a boarding school for a small number of evacuees. But, from the moment they arrive, Kat knows that there is something very wrong at Rookskill Castle.

While there are murmurs of a German spy hiding somewhere in the castle early on in the novel, another, more compelling story unfolds, starting in 1746. Lenore is the lady of Rookskill Castle but, unable to produce an heir for the lord, she fears for her life. On the edge of the forest in a crumbling hut, a magister offers Lenore hope - a charm for her chatelaine that will produce an heir. Over almost three hundred years, the Lady and her charmed children have existed on the outskirts of the castle grounds, the magister taking a part of the Lady with every new charm and replacing it with a clockwork mechanism that can only be seen in the moonlight. With the twelfth charmed child, the Lady, now called Eleanor, will have a power and security that she has longed for since her grim, painful childhood centuries ago.

Kat, eager to learn her father's trade - clock repair (not spying, as he now works for M16) is a practical child and skeptical of the dubious magic dotty Aunt Margaret promises when she gives Kat her own chatelaine before the children leave for Scotland. But, as Kat and her siblings, along with Peter Williams, an American transplant, suffer confusion, crankiness, and punishments as they get in the way of Lady Eleanor's plans, she begins to believe in the magic her aunt spoke of. With the instructors and staff at the castle under a spell, it is up to Kat to battle the Lady and rescue the souls of her friends and siblings.


I enjoyed this book, but I wished it had been a little bit more, despite being 400 pages long. Reading the blurb for The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, I was very excited. Yet, it didn't come together quite the way I had hoped it would. Perhaps because I had recently read and been very impressed and moved by The War that Saved My Life (and watched a few too many BBC shows set during the war, like The Bletchly Circle and Land Girls) I expected more from the possible German spy plot, however, from the start, Fox makes it clear that Lady Lenore is looking to fill out her chatelaine and collect enough souls to continue living forever, making the spy subplot less than relevant. In fact, it is almost an aside when, near the end of the story, one of the instructors is revealed to be a German spy. Fox introduces a wireless, a father who is a spy and even an Enigma Machine, but they really don't contribute much to the plot. Neither do the two instructors who, 200 pages into the novel reveal that they are spies working for a special forces unit researching magical artifacts, the occult and paranormal experiences, especially anything that the Nazis might use to gain power.  This plot thread takes a (far) back seat to the story of Lady Lenore, but I think it could have added so much more tension and excitement to the plot. I also think that developing and deepening twelve-year-old Kat's character could have added so much to the story. She is so cookie-cutter, stereotypical at the start - dutiful big sister, dutiful daughter, a little bit of a crush on Peter and she doesn't really change much over the course of the novel, even if she does come to believe in Aunt Margaret's magic. Like the special forces spies who show up half way through the novel, Kat's genius math skills show up and allow her, through the tireless working of algorithms, to break the German code. The elements of The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle are all wonderfully fascinating and together they make for a great story. For me, though, the story telling doesn't live up to the story elements.

Source: Review Copy



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31. World Building

There are many things you need to decide when building a completely new world.

https://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2016/02/01/being-god-101-the-basics-of-world-building/

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32. Wrinkles and abandoned buildings

I finished You Were Here by Cori McCarthy the other night and it was so satisfying!  Told in alternating voices, this is a story of grief and stubbornness and the need to put the past to rest.  Serious stuff!  McCarthy's mix of characters, words and graphics spins this book right along. 
          I worried at first that this would just be another "dead family member" book.  Then it morphed into a book about meeting unrealistic expectations and then it turned into a graphic novel and the whole time this group of five teens are fighting, musing, obsessing, and engaging in risky behavior - lots and lots of risky, perilous, dare-devil behavior.  (Definitely Teen Readers!)

So read it.  It is emotionally manipulating, but most good books are.  And the resolution is realistic and, as I mentioned before, satisfying.

The Wrinkled Crown by Anne Nesbet is a wrinkled book.  Linny lives in Lourka where no trail is a straight line - or even the same from trip to trip.  Here stories can change reality.   When Linny breaks the most sacred taboo in the hills, her best friend and tether-twin, Sayra, is the one who pays the price.
Linny takes her forbidden lourka - a stringed musical instrument - and runs away to the Plains to find a cure for Sayra's fading away illness. 
Linny and her friend, Edmund, are caught up in a civil struggle between a faction that believes everything should be mapped, straight, smooth and mechanical - and a faction that honors magic and wrinkles of all sorts.
 I ended up skimming and, alas, skipping.  If I had more time I may have enjoyed the arguments and adventures and authoritarian quasi-villains.  The book is as wrinkled as its title.  But it is a solid beginning of a new magical trilogy(?) or series.  (Grades 5 through 7, though younger readers with skills and stamina will enjoy this book.)

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33. The Secrets of Solace by Jaleigh Johnson, 367 pp, RL 4



Two years ago I enthusiastically, excitedly reviewed The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson, saying that it was the best fantasy novel I had read in quite a while. I also speculated about a sequel, hoping to learn more about the curious artifacts that arrive in the world of Solace by way of dangerous meteor storms. With The Secrets of Solace, Johnson delivers a novel that, while not a sequel to The Mark of the Dragonfly, is set in the same world and, if possible, even better than the first. And, best of all, The Secrets of Solace is takes place in the Archivists' Strongholds, where the artifacts are taken to be studied and experimented with. In the eight years since I began my blog, and in the fifteen years before that while working as a children's bookseller, I read a lot of middle grade fantasy novels, especially when the genre exploded after the release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in 1997. However, I hit a saturation point where, while the books were good and satisfied my love of traveling to other, magical worlds, they did not necessarily stand out or leave a mark on my memory. Johnson's novels stand out and are very memorable. She is a masterful world builder and her stories are seamless. Her characters are compelling, and her main characters are strong, curious, intelligent girls who are good with machines. If you are feeling a little burned out on middle grade fantasy novels, Johnson's books are the perfect palette cleansers.


The main character in The Secrets of Solace is Lina Winterbock, an orphan living in Ortana. Ortana is one of the three archivists' strongholds that abut the Hiterian Mountains, beyond which are uncharted lands. Lina is a junior apprentice to Zara, a teacher and member of the archivists' ruling council. The ruling council has been especially busy lately with the flood of refugees escaping the escalating war between the Merrow Kingdom and the Dragonfly Territories, giving Lina lots of time on her own. Lina thinks of herself as a new breed of archivist, an "explorer archivist." She has spent so much time crawling through the air ducts and tunnels that thread throughout the mountain that she has been able to map them all as well as discover long lost workshops, overhear secrets and more. As Lina says of herself, she has been "hiding and listening for a long time." 

In fact, Lina has discovered a long lost workroom that was partially obscured by one of the frequent cave ins that happen on the mountain. Inside is an aircraft, something that the king of the Dragonfly Territories has been working on creating, something that would allow the inhabitants of Solace to explore uncharted lands. After twisting through the museum-like rooms and moss covered corridors of Ortana, Johnson's story takes off like a rocket when Lina encounters young Prince Ozben, the "spare heir" to the throne of the Merrow Kingdom. Ozben has been secreted away to Ortana and is in hiding from assassins. Together the two work to stay a step ahead of the assassins and the archivists who are growing weary of Lina's mishaps and suspicious of her behavior. Johnson includes an especially magical twist in the form of the aircraft, while also ramping up the dangers and complexities of impending war.

The Secrets of Solace was hard for me to put down, something that happens less frequently than I would like these days. Johnson does something that I especially appreciated in this novel, something that almost never happens in a middle grade fantasy: the hero of the story confesses to an adult who can help. I realize that it makes for good tension, but I often find myself feeling frustrated with characters in fantasy and adventure books who find themselves in deep and, for whatever fabricated (or real-ish) situation, do not turn to an adult for help. I think it is the mark of a truly good writer to be able to craft a plot that allows the main character to turn to an adult for help and continue on with a suspenseful climax to the story, which is exactly what Johnson does in The Secrets of Solace.

Source: Review Copy


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34. Read Out Loud | Steve Light Reads Have You Seen My Dragon?

READ OUT LOUD - Steve Light - Have You Seen My Dragon?

Have You Seen My Dragon is Steve Light’s ode to city living. A boy solicits help from readers as he searches for his slithery, green dragon. The dragon hops around the city and takes readers on a counting journey. Adults and children alike will love the detailed artwork touched by bursts of color! Don’t be afraid to count along as Steve reads Have You Seen My Dragon on Read Out Loud.

KidLit TV’s Read Out Loud series is perfect for parents, teachers, and librarians. Use these readings for nap time, story time, bedtime … anytime!

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Read Out Loud - Steve Light reads Have You Seen My Dragon?

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ABOUT HAVE YOU SEEN MY DRAGON?

Have You Seen My Dragon?Have You Seen My Dragon?
Written and illustrated by Steve Light
Published by Candlewick Press

Enter a fascinating, ornately drawn cityscape and help a boy find his dragon while counting objects from hot dogs to traffic lights. In the heart of the city, among the taxis and towers, a small boy travels uptown and down, searching for his friend. Readers will certainly spot the glorious beast, plus an array of big-city icons they can count. Is the dragon taking the crosstown bus, or breathing his fiery breath below a busy street? Maybe he took a taxi to the zoo or is playing with the dogs in the park. Steve Light’s masterful pen-and-ink illustrations, decorated with meticulous splashes of color, elevate this counting book (numbers 1 20) to new heights. Maybe the dragon is up there, too.

ABOUT STEVE LIGHT

Steve Light is the author and illustrator of several books for children. When he isn’t writing, he’s teaching pre-k students in New York City. Steve is a collector of fountain pens; he has more than 80. When Steve isn’t writing and illustrating he can be found creating models — some of which are inspired by his books –, or carving storybooks; wood dolls and props that fit in a box, which can be used to tell stories. Steve lives in New York City with his wife.

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The post Read Out Loud | Steve Light Reads Have You Seen My Dragon? appeared first on KidLit.TV.

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35. #837 – Rise of the Ragged Clover (The Luck Uglies #3) by Paul Durham

Rise of the Ragged Clover SERIES: The Luck Uglies, #3 Written by Paul Durham Illustrated by Pétur Antonsson Harper    3/01/2016 978-0-06-227156-3 400 pages      Ages 8—12 “Once a Luck Ugly, always a Luck Ugly. Until the day you take your last breath.” “Against all odds, Rye managed to find her father, Harmless, in the …

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36. THIEF OF LIES by Brenda Drake // A Library Jumpers Novel

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37. The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann


The Unwanteds By Lisa McMann


      In the world of Quill, creativity is bad. It counts as an infraction, and on the day of the Purge, every thirteen year-old is put into three categories: Wanted, Necessary, or Unwanted. Wanteds are honored, Necessaries become slaves, and Unwanteds are sent to their deaths.When Alex Stowe is sent to the Death Farm after the Purge, he discovers that being Unwanted doesn't bring death... it brings the discovery of a whole new world called Artime.

       In Artime, creativity is allowed. Even encouraged. The wild-haired leader, Mr. Today, helps each artistic Unwanted learn that they can hold their title like a badge. Because in Artime, creativity is a magical gift... and a weapon.

       It's the first book in the Unwanted Series, and I am so excited for the last one to come out in April! If you like dystopian novels and magic, then you should totally try this book out!

-Grace

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38. Guest Post: Janet S. Fox on Blending History With Fantasy

By Janet S. Fox
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Some of my favorite books ever are the books of C.S. Lewis's Narnia series. The fantasy of leaving home and entering a land where a child can experience talking animals, mythological creatures, desperate (and deadly) battles - where a child can be perceived as making real, respected choices - where good deeds are rewarded by kindness and love and bad deeds are punished, but only by "just desserts" - I read these books (and still read them) over and over.

They articulated lessons without didacticism. Included in those lessons were reflections of the real world of the characters, World War II era England, and an interesting Arthurian tilt to the Pevensie children's experiences of Narnia.

So for me, the young reader, reading these books in America during the post-war years, they had the taste of something "historical" and of course foreign.

And then there were the myths and fairy tales I devoured. The Red Fairy Book, the Anderson and Grimms's tales, Greek and Roman myths and legends - I read these over and over, too. In my mind history became inextricably linked with the fantastic.

And why shouldn't it? The truth is that we are all shaped by perception, and even history is subject to personal interpretation. (If you don't believe me, check out the new hit musical "Hamilton".)

My first three novels are historical YA romances. When I wrote Faithful (Speak/Penguin, 2010), set in 1904 Yellowstone, I sought to capture the natural magic inherent in that environment of spouting geysers and colorful hot springs.

In my second YA, Forgiven (Speak/Penguin, 2011), I tried to capture the dark magic of the terrible 1906 San Francisco earthquake. By the time I wrote my third YA, Sirens (Speak/Penguin, 2012), set in 1925, I added full-on fantastical elements, including a ghost, an approach I felt was consistent with the 1920s obsession with spiritualism and magic.

I realized that as a writer I was drawing closer and closer to crafting books like the ones that so captivated me as a kid. It has become my goal, now, to try and evoke the same wonder in my readers as I felt when I was young.

Yes, fantasy is my aim, but having written history, I became game to try a blend of the two genres. My newest book, The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle (Viking, 2016), is that blend.

It's set in World War II; the children are sent out of London during the Blitz; there are enigma machines and short-wave radios and even spies. But...there are also ghosts, and magicians, and a ghastly monster, and only magic can save the day (while itself being a double-edged sword.)

Whether writing historical fiction or fantasy, the objective of suspension of disbelief can only be accomplished if the world-building is sound. In historical fiction, that means lots of research to get interesting tidbits right. In fantasy, it means crafting an environment in which those interesting tidbits feel right.

I loved writing The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle. I loved being able to play with a world that is both real and fantastical, where terrible and beautiful things did happen, and could happen. I can't wait to try it again.

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39. 8 Reasons You Should Never Read V. E. (Victoria) Schwab's Shades of Magic Series \\ A Darker Shade of Magic - A Gathering Of Shadows

I I know you've probably been hearing a lot about this series, and how amazing it is, and how the world-building is incredible and the characters are awesome and blah, blah, blah. But I'm here to tell you to think twice before starting these books. Here are 8 reasons you may want to steer clear. 1. You're going to want a magic coat that changes every time you flip it around and you can't

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40. LSQ Issue 025

The latest issue of Luna Station Quarterly is ready to read, and it is a colossal collection of absolutely fabulous science fiction and fantasy by women authors. You can read for free, but why not buy a copy (print or digital) and support the authors and illustrator? The cover this issue, and for the rest […]

The post LSQ Issue 025 appeared first on Cathrin Hagey.

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41. On writing fantasy fiction

Why does the world need yet another book on how to write fantasy fiction? Because the public continues to show a nearly insatiable desire for more stories in this genre, and increasing numbers of aspiring authors gravitate toward writing it. As our real lives become more hectic, over-scheduled, insignificant, socially disconnected, and technologically laden, there seems to be a need among readers to reach for a place where the individual matters.

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42. Review of the Day: The Magic Mirror by Susan Hill Long

MagicMirrorThe Magic Mirror: Concerning a Lonely Princess, a Foundling Girl, a Scheming King, and a Pickpocket Squirrel
By Susan Hill Long
Knopf (an imprint of Penguin Random House)
$16.99
ISBN: 978-0-553-51134-2
Ages 9-12
On shelves May 10th

What do you want from a fairy tale? Magic? Romance? Derring-do? Despicable villainy? Academics and scholars have puzzled and puzzed until their puzzlers were sore over what it is about the European fairy tale genre that so enthralls us. Recently fairy tale lovers have seen the entertainment industry discover that fairy tales are still a primo source of capital. On the book side of things, I’ve seen a distinct uptick in retellings of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and more in the last five years. Classic fairy tales have it easy. It’s the newbies that have a hard time going. How do you get a foothold in a genre that’s been in existence for centuries? In The Magic Mirror by Susan Hill Long, the author decides to simplify. Merely take the elements that suit the story best (highway robbers, princesses, and just a smidgen of magic) and then weave in some surprisingly stellar writing. The result is fairy tale fare that reminds one of nothing so much as the best of Gail Carson Levine. Funny, friendly, witty and sly, this makes for perfect bedtime reading.

Margaret (or Maggot, depending on who’s talking about her) should technically be grateful for her life. Though she sports a lame foot (an “accident of birth” she’s been told) and is an orphan, she has a roof over her head, food in her belly, and aside from avoiding Thomas, the local bully, not too much trouble in life. But of course she’s desperately lonely, and that’s a problem that’s hard to cure. When she makes the acquaintance of a man with a wooden leg, she receives in a trade a mirror capable of showing anyone their heart’s desire. But what she sees when she peers into it is a strange wild-eyed man she’s never laid eyes on before. When Minka, the woman who cares for Margaret, decides to marry her off, our heroine decides that leg or no leg she is not going to have her life decided for her. And in the course of her adventures she’ll little suspect there are royal mix-ups, a king with little in the way of fatherly feelings, a boy with a bagpipe, and a light-fingered squirrel in her very near future.

Is anyone going to challenge me when I say that comparing a book, any book, to The Princess Bride is never a good idea? The Princess Bride inspires a loving fandom that jealously guards its unique storytelling. Still, there are many familiar tropes in that book/film. A princess, a pirate, giants, swordplay, you name it. When writing a new fairy tale you Harry Potter it. You take those familiar elements and weave them into something new. So when Ms. Long wrote The Magic Mirror she did exactly the same thing. Additionally, by splitting her narrative into an increasingly large cast of characters, she gives it a distinctly Princess Bride-like feel. It has humor and fights and baddies in all the same ways. When Kirkus reviewed this book they said that it was predictable and unbelievable (because of the coincidences in the plot). I’d counter that there’s nothing any more predictable or unbelievable here than you’d find in any modern fairy tale, be it Ella Enchanted or Frozen, and just as much joy.

In this particular case it’s Long’s descriptions and characters that stay with a reader long after the book has been put down. Even the foulest villain has an emotional weak spot, and characters that are set up to seem like baddies at the beginning (like Minka) turn out to be pretty soft in the end. Plus you really root for these characters. Some authors think it necessary to drown their villains in a thick sauce of sadism so that when the heroes triumph it’s an even keener victory. But when writing books for 9-12 year olds there’s no need to pile on the bloodshed. In the right writers’ hands, as long as the antagonist is preventing the heroes from their happy ending, that’s all you really need to do to keep the plot moving at a sharp clip. I liked the people I met in this book, but the descriptions were probably my favorite aspect of the novel. Lines like, “Her voice climbed up the sentence like a ladder, and quavered at the top,” make me happy. Ditto wisdoms like “It’s all in the angle of the squint.” Or a description of a cathedral’s shadows where a character “shuffled away from the creeping dark so that she might escape God’s notice.”

I did experience a palpable sense of relief that it was written today, though. Since Margaret has a physical disability (a foot and leg injured long ago that were never set correctly) there is a brief suggestion at one point that there might be a magical remedy to her problem. I was reminded of a similar middle grade novel Handbook for Dragon Slayers which also starred a girl with an injured limb. In that book a cure for her disability is bandied about and ultimately rejected in an excellent manner. Indeed, the book went on to win a Schneider Family Book Award given annually to books that embody, “an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.” Reading The Magic Mirror I had the very clear sense that if this book had been written in the past an easy cure for Margaret’s leg would have been part of the story’s happy ending and that would be that. These days such endings are mildly insulting answers to what, in truth, are very real problems. Happily The Magic Mirror does not fall into such a trap (though sadly the heroine does have some unfortunate thoughts about a successful man with a hunch on his back that did not gel well with the book’s otherwise positive embrace of disability).

As it happens, I did find one particular aspect of the book problematic. This is Ms. Long’s second novel so while the bones of this story are strong there are aspects to the writing that will need a bit of strengthening in the future. Specifically, the exposition. Now the art of exposition is learned, not born. Filling the reader in on a hitherto unknown back-story is no easy task. At best, back-story is woven into the dialogue so naturally the reader is hardly aware that they’re learning about what’s come before. Clunky back-story, in contrast, places huge chunks of it en masse in the same general vicinity of the novel. Alas, near the end of The Magic Mirror the author has set herself up to reveal not just the back-story of our heroine, but of at least three to four other people as well. The result is ultimately somewhat confusing, with new characters popping up (a midwife, a thief’s wife) to fill in the details out of the blue. Without a character guide (which would, admittedly, give away some of the plot) there is little to help kids distinguish between Petra vs. Minka vs. Margaret.

For all that there is a magic mirror in the story the book is pretty devoid of magical activities. You won’t find dragons or wizards or much of anything out of this world here, with the sole exception of the mirror itself. It’s almost a pity that it’s in the title since you could probably hand this title to kids that only like realism (and they do indeed exist) and they’d get just as much out of it as the most ravenous fantasy fan. While it’s not a perfect novel, it is a ripping good yarn that keeps you enthralled from page one onward. Will you see where it’s going? Maybe. But you’ll enjoy the sights along the way. Fine fantastical stuff.

For ages 9-12.

On shelves May 10th.

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43. Rebel of the Sands: Review

This review is going to be frustrating to write. So far, all of my GoodReads friends have adored Rebel of the Sands, and it comes on the strong recommendation of Wendy. But I was never swept up by the story, or as wholly captivated by the world and the romance as I quite wanted to be. I’ll address some of the things that I think prevented from being fully invested at the start of this review. Amani is a gunslinger (awesome!) and a girl struggling to get by in Dustwalk, her unfriendly desert community. For as long as she’s known anything, Amani has been desperate to escape. This is historical fantasy that blends a Middle Eastern-based setting with the tone and feel of an American Western. And it just didn’t work for me. I found the language (It’s folksy and Western. Like, “I reckon” and a town named “Dustwalk” when... Read more »

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44. The Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, 86pp, RL 2


Priness Magnolia, Frimplepants, the Princess in Black and Blacky are back! And all my favorite things are in one place again - princesses, unicorns, masked avengers, and sumptuous feasts! In book three, we find Princess Magnolia and Frimplepants headed to brunch in the village with Princess Sneezewort. In anticipation of the soft rolls, cheesy omelets and "heaping platters of sugar-dusted doughnuts," the two have skipped breakfast. Just when the village is in sight, Princess Magnolia's glitter-stone ring rang - the monster alarm!


The Princess and her pony zip into a secret cave to become their super selves, the Princess in Black and her steed, Blacky, ready to fight monsters. And what monsters have emerged from the monster hole this time? A horde of hungry bunnies! Pham does an excellent job making these little purple puffballs cute and potentially menacing at the same time. These bunnies have grown tired of Monster Land, having nibbled all the monster fur, toe-nail clippings and lizard scales in sight. They have discovered the fresh green grass of the goat pastures and are not looking back!

At first, the Princess in Black is charmed by the hungry horde of bunnies, but when they eat up all the grass, a nearby tree and then begin nibbling on Blacky's tail, she knows she must pull out her best Princess in Black moves to take them on. 


It's touch and go for a while, but the Princess in Black always prevails! Sadly, she and Blacky arrive at the café just a hair too late for brunch - but not too late for brunch with Princess Sneezewort!


Don't miss the first two books
 in this fantastic series!





Source: Review Copy



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45. Of magic and moxie

These books take place in fantastical worlds, but the protagonists’ pluck may feel familiar to many intermediate and middle-school readers.

anderson_my diary from the edge of the worldTwelve-year-old Gracie Lockwood, the high-spirited heroine of Jodi Lynn Anderson‘s My Diary from the Edge of the World, lives in a world that’s like ours but with a few key differences (involving dragons and poltergeists, for example). When an ominous Dark Cloud seems to portend her brother’s death, Gracie, her family, and a classmate set off on a cross-country Winnebago trip in search of a guardian angel and a ship that will help them escape. Anderson lets the intricate details of Gracie’s world emerge gradually through her protagonist’s sharp, sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant diary entries. (Simon/Aladdin, 9–12 years)

nesbet_wrinkled crownIn the village in Anne Nesbet’s The Wrinkled Crown, girls mustn’t touch the traditional stringed instrument, the lourka, before they’re twelve for fear of death. Linny, full of “music fire,” has secretly built a lourka and expects to die, but instead, it’s her friend Sayra who begins to fade into the unreachable realm called Away. Nesbet’s fable explores the relationship of science, logic, and imagination; a cozy, personable narrative voice punctuates the drama with light humor. (HarperCollins/Harper, 9–12 years)

jinks_last boglerIn Catherine Jinks’s The Last Bogler, bogling is now respectable, and Ned Roach has signed on as Alfred Bunce’s apprentice. Ned must lure child-eating bogles with song so Alfred can dispatch them—and that’s only one of the dangers, for Alfred has drawn the attention of London’s criminal underworld. Fans of How to Catch a Bogle and A Plague of Bogles will appreciate Jinks’s accessible prose, colorful with Victorian slang; her inventive, briskly paced plot; and the gloom and charm of this trilogy-ender’s quasi-Victorian setting. (Houghton, 9–12 years)

deutsch_hereville how mirka caught a fishMirka, star of Barry Deutsch‘s humorous, fantastical, Orthodox-Jewish-themed Hereville graphic novel series is back in Hereville: How Mirka Caught a Fish. Her stepmother, Fruma, warns her to stay out of the woods while babysitting her half-sister Layele; so of course, curious Mirka drags Layele right in there with her. The girls encounter a wishing fish who once lost a battle of wits with a young Fruma and who now has a wicked plan to gain power through Layele. Expressive, often amusing comic-style illustrations do much to convey each scene’s tone and highlight important characters and objects. The eventual solution requires verbal gymnastics as much as heroics and compassion from Mirka. (Abrams/Amulet, 9–14 years)

From the February 2016 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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46. The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones by Will Mabbitt, illustrated by Ross Collins, 290pp, RL 4



I have had The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones by Will Mabbitt with illustrations by Ross Collins on my To Be Read shelf for a year now. The impending publication of the second book in this series, Mabel Jones and the Forbidden City, combined with the possible chance to have author Will Mabbitt visit here lit a fire under me and got me reading. Once I started, I couldn't stop! The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones is every bit as absurd and adventurous as the title, illustrations, blurbs and reviews promise. As one reviewer touted, Mabbitt's book is a bit like Monty Python meets Jack Sparrow. While this is definitely accurate, for me Mabel Jones and her crew call to mind the brilliant, equally creative but darker work of two of my favorites, Chris Riddell and Paul Stewart and their series, The Edge Chronicles. Mabbitt's story and Collins's illustrations are perfectly paired and the design of the book is fantastic. There is a great mix of fonts and font sizes and one fantastic spread where, in the midst of a massive storm at sea, the text slips and slides off the page! Mabel Jones's richly illustrated, patently hilarious adventures are an absolute MUST READ for everyone.

When an  omniscient (and very talkative) third person narrator first introduces us to Mabel Jones, she is about to be bagged by the kidnapper Omynus Hussh. Hussh, a slow loris who was kidnapped by Captain Idryss Ebenezer Split at birth, is a "dastardly breed: quiet as a peanut and sneaky as a woodlouse in a jar of raisins." Even if you have no idea what a woodlouse in a jar full of raisins is, it SOUNDS funny! And the names of the all animal crew! Mabbitt is a master of names. Besides Hussh and Split, there is Split's boat, the Feroshus Maggot, a pipe smoking goat pirate named Pelf, a mole who is the "best shortsighted lookout ever to have mistaken a pirate ship for an optician's shop," McMasters, and Mr. Clunes, an orangutan who is the strong and silent type. Finally, there is Old Sawbones, a crocodile who has a certificate in Advanced Nautical Surgery from the Butcher's Guild.

And how does Omynus Hussh know that Mabel is good for bagging? She was observed doing THE DEED - the deed that shows she is a pirate in the making. And what is this deed? Well, Mabel was observed picking her nose and eating her booger. And thus she was bagged. But not without some distress. Mabel got a good chomp on Hussh's paw, causing it to go septic, necessitating an amputation by Old Sawbones. Being fresh out of hooks, Sawbones attaches a doorknob to Hussh's stump in what has to be one of the funniest and saddest moments ever in a kid's book. And boy was Hussh sad - so sad he kept is paw with him, cradling it and talking to it like a friend (and a bit like Gollum with his Precious) while also harboring an increasing grudge against Mabel.





Of course the crew is outraged by the presence of a girl on board and they promptly prepare for her to walk the "greasy pole of certain death." But, this wouldn't be a story without Mabel and she manages to become part of the crew once they learn that she can read! Mabel becomes the key to helping the crew find a buried treasure by reuniting the pieces of the X that marks the spot which just happen to be in the hands of a handful of pirates who were once marooned with Captain Split's father.

The mystery of the missing X is actually pretty mysterious with an edge of creepy, reminding me of Stewart and Riddell's books all the more. There is a Haunted Sea, a sunken city and an army of the dead to contend with before the very dramatic and a tiny bit sad ending that also includes time travel. Happily, I get to dive right in to the next book in the series . . . 


Source: Review Copy

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47. COVER REVEAL!

And here, for the first time, is the cover of my latest children’s humorous fantasy to be released during 2016 by Crimson Cloak Publishing!

 

BCarefulWhatUWish4-FINAL FRONT

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48. Ravenous by MarcyKate Connolly, 276pp, RL 4






Ravenous by MarcyKate Connolly begins shortly after the devastation of her debut novel, Monstrous ends. Published in 2014, I somehow missed reading Monstrous and will be adding it to my TBR pile. However, the only way that not having read Monstrous first affected my understanding and enjoyment of Ravenous was that I wanted to run out and buy it so that I could read the two simultaneously!

What drew me to Ravenous in the first place was the mention of Baba Yaga, the witch from Russian fairy tales who lives in a hut that stands on enormous chicken legs and has an insatiable appetite that includes eating children. For more Baba Yaga books, click here. But Ravenous is about so much more. Greta, a character from Monstrous, becomes the narrator of Ravenous. Greta has returned to her hometown of Bryre from the broken village of Belladoma where a usurping king, driven mad by greed and magic, has finally been dethroned. King Ensel, among his other heinous crimes, stole a magical cornucopia from the Sonzeeki, a sea monster living off the shore of Belladoma. Without this constant source of food, the Sonzeeki is forced to emerge from his cave every full moon to hunt. Without the sacrifices of girls from the neighboring town of Bryre, the Sonzeeki causes mass flooding in Belladoma every month.

With King Ensel gone, Bryre's King  Oliver feels an obligation to help feed the people of Belladoma and plans to send an army to help with this. The start of Ravenous finds narrator Greta making an impassioned plea to King Oliver not to aid the place where she was held prisoner with other girls from Bryre, girls she watched fed to the Sonzeeki, one by one. When she fails, she returns home, her parents long disappeared, to her younger brother Hans. But Hans is nowhere to be found. Greta heads off into the woods to find him and quickly finds herself face to face with a hungry Baba Yaga, who makes a deal with her. If Greta can deliver the long hidden, magical cornucopia to her before the next full moon, she will hand over Hans.

Greta heads off again, heartsick to think that she will have to return to Belladoma and the castle of King Ensel. Her search finds her locked up in a hidden village where mermaids, centaurs and other half-human creatures created by the evil wizard, King Ensel's lackey, in Monstrous, are hiding from persecution. Freed in a burst of flames, Greta continues her hunt with Dalen, an exiled centaur, at her side. The two face mercenaries, including their brutal Vincali, who has developed a taste for using magic. Once in Belladoma, Greta and Dalen must stay hidden as they search the ruins of the castle using a maze of tunnels. Secrets are revealed, hidden maps and magics are unearthed and Greta finds she must betray people she once considered friends, including King Oliver, who, she learns has plans to use the cornucopia, if it can be found, to feed the Belladomans. As the two decode the map and search out the possible hiding places of a madman, the full moon grows closer and their inability to stay hidden. And, as Greta uses the magical potions she finds herself wanting to use them more and more and also experiencing the backlash of the magic.

One aspect of Ravenous that I especially liked was knowing that, even after Greta finds the cornucopia, she still has to deal with King Oliver and Vincali, both of whom want it for different reasons. It seems almost insurmountable, but Connolly plots with skill and all the pieces come together for a fantastically explosive climax and a very satisfying ending. Connolly weaves familiar elements from classic fairy tales into her stories but makes them completely her own as well. In one turn that I especially liked, Greta takes a collection of fairy tales with her on her journey to read and, over the course of the story as she shares them with Dalen, she notes that the fairy tales never end well, turning the "happily ever after" we are all so familiar with on its head. Happily, Connolly ends Ravenous, well, happily.

Source: Review Copy









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49. The Golden Compass: The Graphic Novel, Volume 1, adapted by Stéphane Melchior, art by Clément Oubrerie, translated by Annie Eaton, 80pp, RL 4


I have been half-writing (mostly in my head) a review of the first book in Philip Pullman's masterful trilogy, (known collectively as His Dark Materials) The Golden Compass, originally published in the UK with the title Northern Lights, since I started this blog in 2008. Like the other books that have meant a tremendous amount to me as an adult and/or as a child (Harry Potter, The Phantom Tollbooth) I have not reviewed them here, either because I wasn't sure I could add anything new to the conversation or because the task was too overwhelming. A review of Pullman's almost 20 year old book falls into both categories. Contemplating writing a review of this philosophically provocative, theologically challenging brilliant work of fantasy (really - dæmons? The best fantastical creation ever!!) feels comparable to starting my thesis senior year of college. What follows is a review of the graphic novel with a brief synopsis of the plot of the graphic novel adaptation (but  not the whole book) for readers who have not had the immense pleasure of reading this trilogy yet. For an encompassing review of all three books in one, read Brian Anderson's review of The Amber Spyglass for the New York Times.


But, as a fan of the graphic novel, I think I just might have something to say about this new adaptation of Pullman's work. First of all, I think that the only logical choice was to have this illustrated adaptation creation taken on by the French. I learned years ago that the French love, love, love and have deep respect for the art of the graphic novel. And, last summer over the course of a few days in Paris, I visited many bookstores and several spent hours in the graphic novel sections regretting the fact that I had forgotten all of my high school French but marveling over all the gorgeous, inventive visual storytelling. Another smart choice was made when this book was divided into three volumes, with books 2 and 3 coming out in September 2016 and 2017.




I also think that I am perfectly poised to review the graphic novel adaptation of The Golden Compass because I first read the trilogy about 16 years ago, just before the third and final book, The Amber Spyglass, was published. Since then, I have listened to the fantastic audio production of the trilogy (including a full cast with Pullman himself narrating) a couple of times. So I remember the book, but not enough to get really picky about the adaptation itself, which would detract from enjoyment of the graphic novel. Of course aspects of the plot have to be simplified and speeded up because this is a graphic novel - and because of the complexity of the themes. Melchior, who also wrote the graphic novel adaptation of The Great Gatsby (Gatsby le Magnifique) does a fine job explaining the fantasy elements of the novel, like dæmons, the alethiometer and panserbjorne, while Oubrerie's illustrations bring the familiar but strange world of an England and Northern Europe to life. For me, Pullman's novels are so richly magical and polished (they are often ranked alongside the works of C.S. Lewis and Tolkein) that I think I might have imagined a more lush illustration style, like that of Kazu Kibuishi. But, Oubrerie's scratchy, kinetic style captures the almost feral nature - and enthusiasm - of Lyra and the archaically civilized world of Jordan College that brushes - sometimes roughly - against the natural world around them and the various tribes that inhabit it.



Of course there are aspects of the novel that I found missing in this graphic adaptation, but this is also a three part adaptation of a single book. I am hopeful that things I noticed missing - like the compelling relationship between dæmons and their humans - will be explored in the next book as we move closer to Svalbard and the Northern Lights. However, as sometimes only a graphic novel can do, there are winks and nods as well. In one scene, Lyra and Pan are in the heart of the city at night and they pass a theater where John Milton's Paradise Lost is being performed, a nod to the title of the trilogy, taken from Book 2 of Milton's epic poem.


The Golden Compass: The Graphic Novel, Volume 1 begins with a zeppelin hovering over Oxford, preparing to dock at Jordan college where Lord Asriel, the great explorer, is due to give a talk about his travels in the North. Hiding in a cupboard with her dæmon Pantalaimon, is Lyra Belacqua. So much happens in this one scene - Lyra  saves Lord Asriel, a man she believes is her uncle and benefactor, from being poisoned. She also overhears Asriel's discussion of Dust and the appearance of another world through the glimmering Northern Lights. From that night, the story takes off at a fast pace. The head of Jordan College sends Lyra off to live with Mrs. Coulter, an elegant explorer with connections to people in high places, such as the Magesterium and the General Oblation Board, also known as the Gobblers. Before Lyra leaves Jordan College, the Master gives her the alethiometer, a golden compass that Lord Asriel entrusted to him, telling her to keep it hidden. When Mrs. Coulter's dæmon finds it, Lyra and Pan make a quick escape. A dangerous night leads them to a gyptian boat and safety. Hidden amongst this community that has lost many of its children to the Gobblers, Lyra finds her place and a deeper understanding of the alethiometer as they sail towards the North to make a dangerous rescue.


Book 2 of The Golden Compass Graphic Novel, coming September 2016
(the French cover, which reflects the original British title, The Northern Lights)



Melchior's graphic novel adaptation of 
The Great Gatsby





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50. New Voice & Giveaway: Paige Britt on The Lost Track of Time

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Paige Brittis the first-time author of The Lost Track of Time, illustrated by Lee White (Scholastic, 2015). From the promotional copy:

A magical fantasy, an allegorical cautionary tale, a feast of language, a celebration of creativity--this dazzling debut novel is poised to become a story for the ages.

Penelope is running out of time.

She dreams of being a writer, but how can she pursue her passion when her mother schedules every minute of her life? And how will she ever prove that writing is worthwhile if her mother keeps telling her to "get busy " and "be more productive"?

Then one day, Penelope discovers a hole in her schedule--an entire day completely unplanned --and she mysteriously falls into it. 

What follows is a mesmerizing journey through the Realm of Possibility where Penelope sets out to find and free the Great Moodler, the one person who may have the answers she seeks. Along the way, she must face an army of Clockworkers, battle the evil Chronos, take a daring Flight of Fancy, and save herself from the grip of time.

Brimming with clever language and masterful wordplay, The Lost Track of Time is a high-stakes adventure that will take you to a place where nothing is impossible and every minute doesn't count--people do.

Was there one writing workshop or conference that led to an "ah-ha!" moment in your craft? What happened, and how did it help you?

Jill Santopolo
I absolutely do have a most memorable workshop! It was actually one you gave in 2008 with Jill Santopolo, author and editor at Philomel Books. Even though it was over seven years ago, I’ve never forgotten it.

The workshop was organized by the Austin SCBWI and hosted by Debbie Gonzales, who was regional advisor at the time.

To register, you had to submit three pages of a work-in-progress. A few weeks before the event, everyone received a packet with copies of all the three-page submissions. Then during the workshop, you and Jill went through each submission and discussed it with the entire group.

You were both kind and encouraging, but also very honest. Jill told us that editors were looking for a reason to say “no” when they read a manuscript. Together you discussed each submission and pointed out the potential “no’s.” Meandering openings, overly long backstory, and hazy plot lines were the most common mistakes.

Even though what you had to say was tough, it was clear you were invested in everyone’s success. You wanted to turn those no’s into yes’s.

Here’s the funny thing. I didn’t even submit my three pages. I registered too late to be a part of the critique, but I went to the workshop anyway. And I’m so glad I did! After the workshop I went home, re-read my three pages, and guess what? They were meandering, “explain-y,” and vague. But because of your input, I could see it. And if I could see it, I could fix it.

Cynthia Leitich Smith & Debbie Gonzales
The Lost Track of Time opens with an alarm clock going off, “Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.” It’s 6 a.m. and even though it’s summer vacation, the main character, Penelope, has to get up and get busy. Right from the start, you know that the central conflict in the story is time.

I did that because of what I learned from you and Jill.

After I fixed my first chapter, I submitted it to two conferences and had sit-down conversations with agents at both. The first agent asked for thirty more pages and the second one, Marietta B. Zacker, signed me. There is absolutely no way that would have happened if I hadn’t gone to that workshop. I’ve always wanted to tell you and Jill how much you helped me!

As a fantasy writer, going in, did you have a sense of how events/themes in your novel might parallel or speak to events/issues in our real world? Or did this evolve over the course of many drafts?

From the beginning, I knew The Lost Track of Time was intimately connected to real-world issues. When I started writing it, I was working for an internet startup. I was constantly on the clock, from morning until night and over the weekends, trying to make the company a success. Everyone was fighting for more time—but no matter what we did, there was never enough. And what time we did have, had to be spent Constantly! Achieving! Results!

Not surprisingly, The Lost Track of Time is about a girl who likes to do nothing. Doing nothing seemed to me like a radical and counter-cultural act. I’m not talking about the nothing where you lie around flipping through TV channels because you’re too exhausted to engage in life.

I’m talking about moodling.

I learned about moodling from Brenda Ueland in her book, If You Want to Write. She writes:

“The imagination needs moodling–long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.” 

I agree. When you moodle, you’re quiet, still, and (horrors!) unproductive. You let your mind wander until it becomes calm and curious and open. It’s a space of quiet contemplation and intense creativity.

During this busy time in my life, I had no time for quiet contemplation. But when I discovered Brenda Ueland’s words, I suddenly felt I had permission to sit, stare out the window, and moodle. Not only did I have permission, it was imperative that I do so if I wanted to let my own ideas and stories to “develop and gently shine.”

Ueland’s encouragement that everyone moodle touched me so deeply that she inspired a character in my book. She’s the Great Moodler and Penelope fights the tyranny of Chronos and his Clockworkers to save her from banishment in the Realm of Possibility.

As Penelope faces each trial with both imagination and courage, she moves from being an insecure, apologetic daydreamer to a great moodler in her own right.

Paige Britt
Research shows a marked decline in U.S. children’s creativity, due to a lack of unstructured free time to play and, I would say, to moodle.

This is terrible news! Not just because creativity is wonderful and life-giving, but because it’s the best predictor we have of a child’s future success, not just in the realms of art and literature, but in the world of business, science, and technology, too.

I’m not sure if you can teach creativity, but I do think you can encourage it. And that’s what I wanted to do in The Lost Track of Time.

I wanted to hold up moodlers as heroes.

Not because they can wield a sword, but because they dare, like Penelope, to enter the Realm of Possibility—to live in the present, to be creative and contemplative, and to believe anything is possible.

Paige's desk


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