Friday, December 20, 2013

Readers: Step Away from the Book

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It’s happened again. The literati (agents, editors, and the like) have spoken One trend in teen fiction is over, and another begins. Dystopian novels, paranormal romance—in fact, the entire genre of fantasy is SO last year. Now we want—well, we’re not sure. Maybe realistic contemporary fiction. Maybe anything that is not one of those things.
Vampires, werewolves and angels—head to the unemployment office. Wizards, pack away those wands and learn a useful skill, like—like—well, we told you not to go to wizarding school.
All over the world, writers are deleting files, tucking manuscripts away in drawers, or trying to figure out how to convert a dystopian vampire romance into contemporary realistic fiction.
            All over the world, teen readers are...hey! Readers! I’m talking to you. Close your books NOW.  Haven’t you heard? Time to move on. Just stop already.
            See how well that works.
            Trends begin because a reader falls in love with a book. This one particular book. Often, it is not the kind of book that is supposed to be, well, popular. It’s the kind of book that ambushes a reader. And this ambushed reader tells another reader, who tells another reader who talks about it at school, or posts it on Facebook or Pinterest or wherever they hang out.
When a reader falls in love with a book—this one particular book—she asks librarians and booksellers and teachers, Do you have any more books like this one that I love? The smart librarian or bookseller or teacher knows that she is not just looking for another book with a moody boy or a dragon on the cover. She is looking for another book that will give her that same rush of joy, that recognition of self, that feeling of context and connection.
This brushfire of reader love burns more and more brightly as it spreads until the flames are high enough that somebody in publishing notices. And, says—aha! THIS is what readers want. But what exactly is it?
What it is, is a vampire book.
And the call goes out to agents, and editors, and those few journalists that are still out there (journalism is over, too) that vampire books are HOT. Buy more of these. And writers get the message—write more of these. And somewhere, a writer pulls her beloved vampire manuscript out of the drawer and knows that NOW is her  hour. Other writers put aside their contemporary realistic fiction, grit their teeth, and begin to craft stories about vampires. And, because it's not from the heart, maybe it's a bad story.
Eventually, a reader has her heart broken one too many times by a book that promised to be just like that book she loved, and wasn’t. She has learned through bitter experience not to judge a book by the moody boy cover; not to listen to the seductive words of the publicists who tell her that THIS book is just like that book that she loved. She knows that she is going to have to work a little harder to find that next book.
An agent sits with a slush pile full of bad vampire romance, and realizes that he cannot stomach another one. And a publisher with a list of bad vampire fiction that is not selling says, WHOA! Send me something else. Anything else. And a trend dies an ugly death amid disillusionment and disappointment.
But that reader is still looking. And, like as not, the book that started the firestorm in the first place is still selling, because that was the book that readers fell in love with in the first place. Guess what—it’s STILL a great book.  There are STILL great books out there in every genre. The hard part is finding them.It's not about the genre, or the pitch--it's the execution.
            The ugly secret is, nobody knows what readers want until you tell us.
Author’s note: I was all ready to post this, and then I learned that the blog is dead.  So for those of you who are offended, I'm sorry. I never was all that good with authority.



Friday, November 8, 2013

Yallfest--Charleston, SC 11.9.13 My Schedule


My Yallfest Schedule 
Saturday, November 9, 2013
Charleston, SC

MUSIC HALL = Charleston Music Hall, 37 John St. (Amazon Mainstage)
BALLROOM = American Theater Ballroom, 446 King St.
(Epic Reads/HarperTeen Stage)
CINEMA = American Theater Cinema, 446 King St. (CreateSpace Stage)


11 am
ALL THE FANTASY • BALLROOM
Libba Bray (The Diviners), Cinda Chima (The Heir Chronicles),
Melissa de la Cruz (Witches of East End), Mike Johnston (Frozen),
Lisa McMann (Crash), Veronica Rossi (Under the Never Sky)
Moderator: Leigh Bardugo (The Grisha Trilogy)

12 pm
SIGNING
Blue Bicycle Books, 420 King St.

2 pm
BRAVE NEW DARK • MUSIC HALL
Presented by CreateSpace
Cinda Chima (The Heir Chronicles), Kami Garcia (Unbreakable), Nancy Holder (Teen Wolf), Tahereh Mafi (Shatter Me), Ransom Riggs (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children), Veronica Rossi (Under the Never Sky)
Moderator: Lev Grossman (The Magicians)

6 pm
YA SMACKDOWN • MUSIC HALL (SOLD OUT)
MCs: Gayle Forman and Adam Gidwitz

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Keeping Busy at the Bookfest

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I love bookfests. For one thing, there’s always someone to talk to, even if it’s just the author at the table next to you. Networking is important, right? Plus you’ll usually get traffic, even if you’re a debut author and nobody has heard of your book. Even better, the people you meet actually came there to buy books. How cool is that?
The downside of bookfests is that they often require you to sit at a table for seven or eight hours, trying to look warm, engaging, and interesting, e.g., not desperate. 

Author Looking Warm, Engaging, and Interesting
 Any daylong author event is going to involve a certain amount of downtime, when the crowd thins out. Like during the Panel featuring the Really Popular Authors. Or the chocolate dessert demo in the auditorium. I was once at a bookfest where Paula Deen was the keynote, and let me tell you, I was totally the bridesmaid at that wedding.
Sometimes the customers who are there are not your target audience. For instance, you’re pitching a middle grade book about serial killers. The crowd is mostly grandparents buying for their grandchildren. Middle graders would be all over it. Grandparents—not so much. 
            So most authors have developed strategies for making good use of that downtime. There’s only so many times you can straighten up the piles of books or refill the candy dish, right? The savvy author doesn't waste a minute.
Author tweeting to college roommate: Guess where I am?
Fortunately, I recently attended the Buckeye Bookfest in Wooster, OH, where there were many good examples of authors with stellar time management habits. I'm going to share some of their strategies here. 

For instance, a lull in the crowd might be just the time to catch up on your correspondence. There was that really important email from your agent, for instance. And you do need to sign off on that half million dollar publicity campaign.

Actual Customers Will Be Lucky To Get Any
Smart authors maintain healthy habits. That candy dish looks mighty tempting. It's important to keep up your strength, right? But authors know better than to fill up on sugary treats. Besides, that candy is for CUSTOMERS.
Author Trying to Figure Out How This Thing Works
          


Speaking of strength, physical fitness is important. Maybe a little physical therapy is in order to limber up those writing muscles.  Much can be accomplished in a few minutes of downtime. 


Author Stealing Other Authors' Ideas
Many readers don't realize that downtime at bookfests can be  a great time to begin researching  your next novel. 

Author practicing his autograph
In fact, this may be a great time to WRITE your next novel.  Why not? It's interesting for readers to see authors at work. Now that you know what you're doing, how hard could it be? Also note the savvy marketing strategy.
Hiding People Magazine Inside
Maybe you'd like to catch up on your reading. Prospective readers will be impressed with your literary eye. 
Author Reaches Next Level on Dungeon Hunter
This might be just enough time to review possible designs for your next book cover.
Authors Sharing Latest Gossip
Group events can be a great time for developing mentoring relationships. Most authors are more than willing to share their wisdom with others. 
Author succumbs to candy-induced sugar crash
Just remember: it's important to pace yourself. A day at the bookfest can be grueling. There's nothing wrong with taking a little break now and then.

With thanks to authors Faith Durand, Mindy McGinnis, Geoffrey Girard, Sam Thomas, Tricia Springstubb, Rae Carson, Mary Ellis, and Kylie Logan.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Happy Book Birthday, The Enchanter Heir!!


If anyone is still awake, check out the fabulous Enchanter Heir book trailer debut and giveaway over on The Story Siren !


Monday, September 23, 2013

MILWAUKEE AREA APPEARANCE ADDED!!

With YA authors Kami Garcia, Margaret Stohl, and Rachel Caine
Monday, October 14, 2013, 6:30 p.m.
Brookfield Square Mall Barnes & Noble
95 N Moorland Rd C1, Brookfield, WI 53005

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Magical Cleveland


My first published novels were the Heir Chronicles (2006-2008) a contemporary fantasy trilogy set in the fictional college town of Trinity, OH.
The Enchanter Heir,(Hyperion, 10.1.13) is the first of two companion novels to the Heir series. Here, the action moves from the small-town sanctuary of Trinity to the big city—into the gritty industrial landscape of Cleveland. 
Cleveland’s industrial heart is a spectacular setting for an urban fantasy. The Cuyahoga River bottoms known as the Flats are forested with the iron skeletons of bridges: lift bridges, swing bridges, railroad and road bridges.
lndustrial buildings line the pitted streets—marine businesses and factories alternating with shuttered clubs and waterfront bars. Lake freighters shoulder their way up the crooked river to unload cargo at the Port of Cleveland.
This is a place where the lurid flare of steel mills still light up the night. Despite the encroachment of residential lofts, condo conversions, and craft breweries, it is still a place where longshoremen move cargo, steel is forged, and people actually make things.  
Much of the entertainment action has moved up the hill into the Warehouse District, the oldest neighborhood in Cleveland, one that is being reborn as a residential district. Here, bars, music clubs, and restaurants hum with activity nearly every night.
This is, after all, the birthplace of rock n roll.
When you write novels set in real places, it requires a bit of research. If you get things wrong, you get emails.
Excuse me, but actually XYZ bar is on the east side of the river, not the west, and so in that scene where the zombies are chasing Fitch and Jonah, they couldn’t possibly have…
You get the idea.
To prepare for the gig, I took one of the Take A Hike walking tours of the Warehouse District offered by Gateway Cleveland Afterward, I walked around the Flats, soaking up the sights, sounds, and smells of the waterfront.
A bridge tender called down from her cabin to ask what we were up to, skulking around, taking photographs of the workings of her bridge.  “I’m a writer,” I said. “There’s going to be a battle on top of your bridge.”
“For real?” she said.
Soon after, we heard the clamor of the bridge alarm. The bridge deck rose, and a lake freighter squeezed through.

Where Magic Happens in CLE
Some Cleveland Locations in The Enchanter Heir
 The Anchorage: the “special school” established for Thorn Hill survivors, and underwritten by music promoter Gabriel Mandrake, who also happens to be a sorcerer. Also the headquarters of Nightshade, a team of assassins who hunt the undead; housed in several buildings somewhere in the Warehouse District
The Keep: Mandrake’s nightclub, adjacent to The Anchorage; a showcase for touring bands and up and coming local talent; somewhere in the Warehouse District
The Carter Rd. Lift Bridge: where Jonah encounters shades behaving badly; Cleveland Flats
B&O Terminal
Carter Rd Lift Bridge
The B&O Railroad Terminal: a secret meeting is held in a location modeled after this shuttered terminal on Sherwin-Williams property (Cleveland Flats)
Detroit-Superior Bridge: Jonah Kinlock uses the closed trolley level to travel across the river valley undetected
Settler’s Landing Park: often used as a meeting place on neutral ground

For more information about the characters and events in The Enchanter Heir, visit my website here, or read about it here and here.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Home of the Blues


The Enchanter Heir: 
Soundtrack of the Blues

“… the twisty narrative works, propelled by the deft characterizations of tortured, frustrated, desperate Jonah and fierce, feral, determined Emma and held together by the ubiquitous soundtrack of the blues, both literally and metaphorically.”
Kirkus Reviews, The Enchanter Heir
When I was in my teens, I was the lead singer and the least-skilled guitarist in a couple of bands. We sang the songs of the mid-century folk revival; songs that told stories, including traditional ballads, and rock and roll that could be adaptable to our acoustic stylings. I even tried my hand at song-writing, but always felt more comfortable as a lyricist than a composer. Though I wouldn’t call myself a musician, music has always been important to me.
Maybe because I’m a storyteller, I’m especially smitten by the people’s music—the folk and blues and country and gospel music that entwines with people’s lives, telling their stories when no one else will. It’s the music that was carried from town to town by the traveling minstrels of the old world. It’s a music that has stirred passions and sent men to war and soothed the widows and orphans left behind. It rises from cotton fields and country churches and after-hours clubs in the grittier parts of Chicago, Cleveland, Memphis, and Detroit.

The blues tells the sad stories of the working class—of mistakes made, of jobs lost, brushes with the law, and the good dying young. The stories are stuffed full of murders, betrayals, devil’s bargains, and lovers who just won’t be true.

This music is always on the move--changing and evolving as it gets passed from hand to hand. It is imperfect and unproduced—vetted only by the test of time. It persists only because it speaks the kind of truth that grabs the heart and won’t let go.
The power of music is an important theme in The Enchanter Heir. Jonah Kinlock is a survivor, left so damaged by a magical accident  that the only way he can connect with others is through music—through his guitar and his intoxicating voice.
Emma Greenwood is a musical prodigy; an unschooled wild-child raised in Memphis by a grandfather who builds guitars and channels the blues. It is music that brings Emma and Jonah  together—and a shared history that threatens to tear them apart.

Many of the chapter titles are the names of blues songs. Maybe some are already familiar to you. If you want to hear more, you’ll find my Enchanter Heir playlist here on Spotify

Enjoy!