Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Demon King Posted and Other Good News

The first chapter of The Demon King is now posted to my Website. Visit and click on the Demon King link. The Demon King will release October 20, 2009

The Dragon Heir was named to Kirkus Reviews Best Young Adult Books of 2008. For more information, see

The Dragon Heir received a “Perfect Ten” (5Q, 5P) review from VOYA.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Research Trap

I love research. Some people are surprised to hear that, because they assume I chose to write fantasy fiction so I wouldn’t have to look anything up.
“How hard can it be?” they say. “If you don’t know something, you just fake it. It’s not like you have to research the color and size of dragon scales.”
Now I will admit that I am always too eager to get to the keyboard to spend much time in pre-prep. I don’t even wait until I have the entire plot worked out, so you might guess that I’d find the prospect of spending hours and hours in archives and libraries, sorting through old maps, original records, and dusty old textbooks unappealing. But anyone who thinks he can avoid research by writing spec fiction has not done his…er…research.
I tend to do research in fits and starts, kind of a research-as-you-go method. The danger is that research is also a great way to waste time if you’ve run into a plot problem or word blockade.
“Guess I’ll hop over to Google and find out what kinds of furniture finishes were used in the Roman Empire,” I might say. Four hours later, I’ve not written another sentence and my character is still mired in malaise.
Maybe I’ll go look up the word malaise in the online thesaurus and see if there’s a better word.
Right now I am writing a high fantasy series for Disney*Hyperion. The action takes place in a medieval setting. Here are some of the topics I have researched along the way:
· Old English vocabulary: I often use Old English words for spellwork and magical terms. So I consult an online Old English/English Dictionary:
· Castle architecture: castles and fortifications play an important role in fantasy, even in my urban fantasy Heir series. So I’ve consulted a number of online sources regarding terminology, form and function, for instance
· Weapons: What’s the difference between a crossbow and a longbow, and what’s the range of each? What sounds do they make when fired? What device does a person use to cock a crossbow? Did you know that crossbows need to be cocked? If your fantasy takes place in a medieval setting, or in an urban setting with medieval weapons, it’s important to be aware of their function, use, and limitations. Otherwise you’ll receive emails from medieval weapons geeks.
· Herbals and remedies: I often use a combination of real traditional remedies and “made up” herbals. For instance, “flying rowan” is a real botanical that traditionally protects against magic. See . I also made up a botanical called razorleaf that is an addictive stimulant used by some of the gang members in The Demon King.
· Medieval travel: a common complaint about fantasy novels is that characters often cover impossibly long distances on horseback, or travel for hours at a dead run on horses that do not require refueling. If your characters are on the move, you must know how far they can travel in a day in order to construct a believable timeline and geography.
· Thieves’ cant and medieval slang: one of my viewpoint characters in the Demon King series is a teenaged gangleader. There are dictionaries of “thieves cant,” the slang thieves used among themselves in medieval and more recent times. Find a dictionary of thieves cant here.

Although the Heir series was set mostly in Ohio, a state I know well, I spent time researching sailing, because there were several sailing scenes in the novels, and the geography of the Lake District in England, because of events that occur there. I visited the church in London where Seph and Linda take refuge from pursuing wizards. Were there permanent pews or movable chairs? I didn’t know, and I couldn’t find that information online.
So, even if you want to write fantasy fiction, sharpen up those research skills. You’ll need them. Just don’t let endless research be an excuse not to write.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Difference Between Books and Movies

So I went to see the new Twilight movie. I went by myself so I wouldn’t have to put up with editorial comments from the men in my family. They are not the target audience. As Stephanie Zacharek suggests on, it’s sometimes more fun to watch in a critic-free zone.
I thought Catherine Hardwicke did a good job of translating the book to film. Some things were done differently than I would have done them, some parts were cast differently than I would have chosen, but I am not a filmmaker, I’m a writer. I know my limitations.
Afterwards, I looked at the professional reviews on They were decidedly mixed, but I knew that it was possible that those who did not like the movie would not have liked the books, either.
I wanted to know what readers who loved the books thought of the film, so I checked out the comments on the Twilight LA Times blogs and on the forums on rottentomatoes. Some (by no means all) of the Twilight-lovers who posted were disappointed. They called the movie awkwardly comical, unbelievably bad, craptastic, and one of the worst remakes of a book I’ve ever seen. They described themselves as gravely disappointed and utterly and completely appalled.
What I’m saying is, those who were disappointed were REALLY disappointed.
Common themes seemed to be that the movie left things out, it was nothing like the book, it didn’t capture some crucial element in the book, it didn’t match the reader’s vision of the book, and it was too short and rushed.
It reminded me of my sister, after the Lord of the Rings movies came out. “They were pretty good,” she said, “but I can’t believe they left out Tom Bombadil.”
Well, I said, the movies were three hours long as it is. How long did you want them to be?
Keep in mind that I am a total LOTR nerd.
Probably the most common question I get from readers is, When are they going to make your books into a movie? Personally, I think it would be really cool if they were. But I think any reader who eagerly anticipates a movie made from a book she loves is risking disappointment.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: books are a partnership between readers and authors. Each contributes to the final story. In effect, every reader reads a different book, shaped by her own emotions and experiences. When we watch a movie, we have to accede to the director’s vision. So it stands to reason that some if not most of us are going to be disappointed when we see our favorite books committed to film. The more favorite it is, the more we have contributed and the more disappointed we will be.
Given the fact that Twilight is a romance first and foremost, I think Twilight readers contributed more to the final story than, say, a reader of military science fiction.
There are things that a book can accomplish that a movie cannot. I persist in believing this.
So, gentle reader: be careful what you wish for.
PS: Twilight fans have voted with their cash. During its first weekend, Twilight the Movie scored $70.5 million in domestic sales on a production budget of only $37 million.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Tools Writers Could Use

My son Keith called me on the phone the other day when he was trying to avoid doing his homework. You are supposed to call your parents now and then when you’re away at college, right? Homework is a great incentive for keeping those communications lines open.
So Keith harked back to an old Dimitri Martin gag in which the Microsoft Word office assistant paperclip tries to help someone write a ransom note. “It looks like you’re writing a ransom note,” the paperclip says. “You should use more forceful language. You’ll get more money.”
So Keith said he wished a paperclip (or maybe a little calculator) would appear on his computer screen and say, “It looks like you’re trying to solve a quadratic equation. Would you like some help?”
I happened to be sitting in the writing den, and I got to thinking about the kinds of office assistant tools writers could use, built into their word processing programs. For example, the paperclip says:
It looks like you’re trying to resolve a major plot problem. Had you thought of hiding the townspeople in the salt mines?
Or: It looks like you’ve completely forgotten about the sidekick character you introduced in Chapter 3. Perhaps you should either give him something to do or get rid of him.
Or: It looks like your plot is getting rather bogged down in the middle. What if Alice turned out to be Jack’s long-long sister who murdered their father?
Or: It looks like 95% of your character names begin with M. Unless you are intentionally going for alliteration, you may want to change some of them to avoid confusing your readers.
Or: It looks like your main character has raked his hair out of his eyes 32 times so far and we’re only on p 163. Consider having him rub his chin or massage his temples. No more throat clearing, though.
Or: It looks like you’ve been working really hard today. Why don’t you take the rest of the day off and I’ll finish off your 1666 words for NaNoWriMo.
It could happen. Writers are dreamers, after all.

Office Assistant for Fantasy Writers

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

World Fantasy Convention 2008

If you read this blog, you know I recently attended the World Fantasy Conference in Calgary, Ab. (October 30-November 2, 2008) The Guests of Honor included David Morrell, Barbara Hambly, Tom Doherty, and Todd Lockwood. The toastmaster was Tad Williams.
It was both my first time in Calgary and my first time at the WFC. By popular demand (well, one person), I thought I’d provide a few impressions of the WFC experience.
Most of the conferences I attend are 1) nutrition conferences and 2) conferences for people who write for children and teens. This con was different in several ways.
One happy difference is that many of the other cons I attend attract mostly women. This one seemed fairly evenly balanced between the genders. So the lines at the ladies room were much shorter than I am used to.
There were more free spirits at this con than at other meetings I attend. (I’m talking about the attendees, not the liquid refreshments, though I did spend time in the hospitality suites). Satin and velvet and sequins and glitz mingled with business casual which rubbed shoulders with torn blue jeans and tee shirts. (No costumes, though). Everyone was laid back and friendly, though I knew very few people before I came.
There was a certain good-natured confusion at the Con with regard to programming. Apparently final programming decisions were made rather late. So several panel participants didn’t realize they were scheduled to be on a panel until the very last minute. Some had conflicts, and didn’t make it at all. But most of the panelists dealt with life’s little surprises with good humor and flexibility.
Similarly, prep for panelists varied from seat of the pants and skin of the teeth to extensive. I was at the over-prepared end of the continuum, showing up to my panel with typed notes, FAQ’s and illustrative passages highlighted in several books—everything but an LCD projector. It all worked.
The dealer’s room was a clearing-house for fantasy literature, including fiction, magazines, and anthologies. It was a great overview of markets and product.
It’s important to note that the Cons are directed by an all-volunteer crew. It’s a huge undertaking, and bless ‘em for taking this on. Just the thought of it makes me want to roll under the bed. Except that’s where the monsters are.

Some Panels and Programs I Attended

Are Appendices Needed? (Tad Williams, L.B. Modesitt Jr., Julianne Lee, Susan Forest, Barb Geller Smith) – this refers to maps, glossaries, genealogical charts, and the like. The consensus seemed to be that authors themselves need maps, glossaries, etc. But if readers need them to follow the story, there’s something wrong. Many saw these features as value-added, cool stuff to entice and engage the reader.
Blind Alleys and Red Herrings: Mystery in Young Adult Fantasy (me, Brenda Cooper, Deborah Beale, Matthew Peterson, Alison Baird) This was my panel. We discussed how challenging it is to confuse and tantalize the diverse YA audience. Strategies included plot layering, pacing, chapter and title mechanics, and writerly sleight-of-hand.
The Writer’s Voice (workshop by David Morrell) Morrell spoke for an hour and a half without notes. (Whoa.) He described his challenging early life (he spent time in an orphanage and lived with a stepfather who disliked him). Morrell quoted Graham Greene in saying that an unhappy childhood is a goldmine for a writer. He says that the most important thing for a writer to do is to use his own history, to be himself, to pay attention to waking dreams.
YA Panel (Garth Nix, Linda DeMoulemeester, Sharyn November, Anne Hoppe, Kathryn Sullivan). Best take-away: Garth Nix said we should “never judge a book by its category, and never judge a category by its worst example.”
I already addressed the “Killing Off Significant Characters” panel in another post.
This con is very literature and art-focused, and many of the attendees appeared to be professionals. It was a great opportunity to connect with some marquee names of the fantasy game, including editors, agents, publishers, and authors. I spent some quality time with my agent, too.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Killing Off Significant Characters

I am driven to write on this topic in answer to the many readers who have finished The Dragon Heir, the last novel in the Heir Trilogy. Some have written to take me to task for killing off one of the major characters.
One reader wrote and said,
I will admit that when ___ died, I started crying. I actually had to put the book down for several minutes, because I was crying so hard.
Another wrote and said, You did NOT have to do that.
Some readers said they were totally blind-sided, and others that it was totally predictable. Several questioned whether the character’s death was faked and suggested there might be another book coming in which he/she might be resurrected.
To be fair, not everyone agreed that the death was a mistake. One reader described the ending as absolutely perfect. Another wrote to say that I had not killed off ENOUGH characters and had a list of a few more I could have offed. (Should I worry about this reader?)
It’s fairly common that characters are killed in books and movies—but they’re usually minor characters. There’s even a term for dispensable characters that came from the science fiction series, Star Trek—“red shirts.” According to Wikipedia, “A redshirt is a stock character, used frequently in Star Trek, whose primary purpose in the plot of a story is to die soon after being introduced, thus demonstrating the dangerous circumstances faced by the main characters.” The security officers wore red shirts, you see, and generally didn’t survive planetary landings. The main characters—Kirk, Spock, Scotty—survive major battles time and time again.
In the westerns of my childhood, main characters always ended up with their arms in a sling, to demonstrate that they had not escaped completely unscathed.
Killing off major characters is not a new thing. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle famously killed off Sherlock Holmes in The Adventure of the Final Problem, published in The Strand magazine. According to The Chronicles of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, ( more than twenty thousand enraged fans cancelled their subscriptions to the magazine. After considerable pressure from readers, Conan Doyle eventually brought his detective back to life in The Adventure of the Empty House.
Supposedly, J.K. Rowling wept when a character died in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Neither did she enjoy killing one of her favorite characters who died at the end of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. More deaths followed in Deathly Hallows. So it seems reasonable to ask—why did she do it? Why does any author kill off the characters they brought to life on the page?
I recently attended the World Fantasy Convention in Calgary. There was actually a panel on killing significant characters, including authors Tad Williams, George R.R. Martin, and Steven Erikson. Martin, especially is known for the ever-expanding body count of main characters in his most recent fantasy series.

World Fantasy Convention, Calgary
Martin makes no apologies. In fact, he says, Gandalf should have stayed dead in Lord of the Rings, because he was the man with all the answers, and the Fellowship should have been left on its own. Erikson argued that it’s all right if dead characters come back, if they come back as different people—transformed by their death experiences.
Williams surmises that you’re seeing more deaths of significant characters these days because modern speculative fiction seeks to be more realistic. But, he said, the death has to have some impact on the story. Erikson agreed. “If it’s a random death, people tend to get really pissed.” Martin argues that it’s unreasonable to think that in a story filled with violence and clashes of arms that no named character would die.
During the Q&A at the WFC panel, I asked the panelists how they respond to reader complaints about the deaths of significant characters. “I tell them to quit complaining,” Tad Williams said, “or I’ll kill them all off.”
He was joking. Really.
So—about Dragon Heir. It’s hard for me to explain my rationale for the choice I made in DH without major spoilers, so—spoiler alert!! Read further at your peril!
* * * * * * * *SPOILERS BELOW* * * * * * * * *
Many of the reasons cited by the WFC panel underlaid my decision to have a major character die near the end of DH. Death is what happens in wartime, and the Weirguilds are involved in a war. I knew it was going to happen, and to whom, from the beginning. That is one reason it was important to have two viewpoint characters throughout the book.
About Jason—Readers don’t seem to believe me when I say that Jason Haley is one of my favorite characters. He was so flawed, so human, so edgy and full of self doubt. Jason’s fate had a lot to do with his personality and his desires—it wasn’t random. He was reckless and careless and had a kind of death wish in him. He took chances—life for him was a series of dares. He could never see how important he was to the other characters in the story.
What Jason wanted most in life was to make a difference. And he did. He saved everyone by letting go of the Dragonheart and getting Madison where she needed to be. He was the only one who understood that Madison was the key. And he saved Jack and Ellen by killing D’Orsay. It was revenge, but there was an inevitability about it that made sense to me.
Do I have any regrets? I wish that Jason and Leesha had had a final scene together—some kind of resolution. On the other hand, it seemed to me that Leesha had to pay a price for all the terrible things she’d done. And she did pay a price. It was life-changing.
I also wish I’d spent more time on the denouement. The grief scene in The Fellowship of the Ring when Gandalf was killed recognizes and highlights the importance of the loss. The ending of DH seemed abrupt, my readers tell me.
* * * * * * * * *END OF SPOILERS* * * * * * * * * *
That said, any rationale for killing off a character seems like an excuse for a cold-blooded decision. You killed him off to prove a point, didn’t you? To teach a lesson. To raise the stakes. To tug at the reader’s heart strings.
You killed him off because that is what the story demanded.
That last is the only reason that matters. And the argument can go on forever about whether that applies here.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Immersed in Setting

Immersion in Setting

There is a reason writers, like artists, gravitate to the beautiful parts of the world. The English poets had the Lake District, Hardy had his wild and desolate moors, Edward Abbey had the unspoiled American west, and Annie Dillard had Tinkers Creek in the Blue Ridge.
And, though I am not comparing myself to any of the above, here I am in Banff, in the Canadian Rockies, where I’m spending a few days before heading down to the World Fantasy Conference in Calgary.
This place is astonishing. I’ve spent two days with my mouth hanging open, saying Wow! And Whoa! And Sheesh! Would you look at that? (Words are my business, after all). We hiked through Johnston Canyon and took the gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain, and walked over the Columbia Ice Fields on Athabasca Glacier. We hiked around Lake Louise and saw the sun bloody itself on Victoria Peak before sliding down behind.
In a place like this, you begin to realize the limitations of photography (especially as a tool in my hands). Focus on the Bow River snaking around sandbars, and the mountains disappear into the brilliant horizon. Focus on the mountains, and the river slides into shadow.
I worry that I can’t write well enough to capture this. I can’t even look hard enough to see it all. I wish I had better eyes. I wish I were a better writer. I wish I had more time and stamina so I could get at every secret place.
But the point is, this kind of natural beauty makes you flex and reflex your writing muscle, in order to get down what you can. I’ve been grabbing onto images—the light and shadow playing over the peaks as the sun moves across the sky, the unforgiving, translucent blue of glacier ice, the rippling shadow of a hawk as it crosses an alpine meadow. I breathe in the scent of pine in cold, clear air, hear the thunder of waterfalls and the creaking and complaining ice at the borders of streams. I feel the instability of wet clay and pebbles under my boots as I cross a moraine. I’m scratching notes, and trying to use all my senses, and remember what this place is like.
Art capture a truth that goes beyond the senses. It allows others to experience the emotion of being there, each in her own way.
I’m writing a series of fantasies set in the mountain queendom of the Fells, one of the fictional Seven Realms. The Seven Realms is a made up place. The books are not set in the Canadian Rockies, or Yellowstone, or any particular place I’ve been. But as Tolkien said, we write stories out of the leafmold of the mind. We need the raw materials, the convincing details, to tell lies that readers will believe. Sometimes it seems I have a memory like a sieve, yet experiences from long ago resurface in my fiction. The glitter and chatter of aspen leaves. The stink of sulphur from a hot spring. Nothing is wasted.
I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Writing Den lately, hammering out the first draft of Exiled Queen, and working on the revisions of Demon King. As Jane Yolen says, nothing happens until we get our butts in our chairs and write. There’s a guilty part of me that says I should be sitting in that chair, pounding out prose. You’ll sit there until you write a thousand words, Missy.
But a writer also has to keep a linkage to whatever reality she writes about. Reading and web-surfing are not enough. Sometimes our writing voice hoarsens from rebreathing the same air. It’s not enough to attend writing conferences, even those that focus on craft. Writing conferences are wonderful, but we writers risk becoming enthralled with our own cleverness. We are not each other’s audiences, after all. We need to get out into the real world and let the wind sling our hair around and get our hands dirty.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Meet Me at Anderson's Downers Grove IL!

Author Appearance and Signing

Anderson’s Books

Downer's Grove, IL

Thursday, October 23, 7 p.m.

5112 Main St. Downer’s Grove, IL 60515


Sunday, September 28, 2008

Notes from the Literary Ghetto

Writing Goddesses in Happier Times

So I’m in Park City, Utah, at a writing retreat with my fellow writing goddesses, Martha, Mary Beth, Kate, and Debby. We took the afternoon off to shop the tantalizing wares in Old Town Park City and encourage each other to spend money.
We were in a jewelry store, browsing the showcases, when the woman behind the counter pointed to my pin and said, “What’s that?”
“This?” I said, fingering my brooch. “This is the cover of my book.” (I’d had a pin made with the image of The Wizard Heir cover on it.)
“Your book?” she said, showing a spark of interest. “You’re a writer?”
“Well, yes,” I said. I fished in my purse and pulled out a bookmark and handed it to her. “I write young adult fantasy.”
“Oh!” She looked at me like I’d handed her a live serpent. “Here,” she said, thrusting my bookmark back at me. “I’m going to give this back to you. I don’t do fantasy, and I don’t do YA.”
I was speechless for a moment. “OK,” I said finally, sliding the bookmark back into my purse. “So you don’t do fantasy.”
“No,” she said, practically shuddering. “You can probably tell I have a master’s in library science.” When I looked blank, she added, “I know the jargon. YA, for instance.”
“I see,” I said.
I could have said that some of my best friends are librarians, and many of them fantasy fans and lovers of YA books. I could have said, glancing around the store, “So I guess the library gig didn’t work out.”
I should have just walked away.
Instead, I said, “Well, um, maybe you just haven’t read any good fantasy.”
She shook her head. “Oh, no, I’ve read fantasy,” she said, rolling her eyes. “We were forced to read it in school.”
Like the entire genre of fantasy had its chance and she was not amused.
She reached under the counter, pulled out a paperback literary novel and slapped it down on the counter. “This is what I like to read,” she said. “Have you read it?”
“No,” I said. “Um, I’ve heard of it, though. Is it good?”
“He’s a Pulitzer prize winner,” she said, thoroughly nailing me in my place.
My friend Martha had drifted over during this conversation. “Well,” she said, “Cinda is a best-selling author, you know.”
The clerk stared at me like she didn’t quite believe it. “Really?”
Martha nodded. “New York Times.”
“Oh,” the clerk said, eying me like she might be missing an opportunity to score something she could sell on E-Bay. “Well, maybe I will take a bookmark.”
I could cite other examples of this kind of literary snobbery—for instance, the workshop leader who said to me, as if she couldn’t quite believe it, “You know your writing is really quite good.” She went on to say that my stories could be quite literary if I took the magic out.
And I thought, Why would I want to take the magic out? And what is it about magic that makes them non-literary?
Here’s my point: I have my preferences in my pleasure reading, like everybody else. I read widely, but I know that I’m more likely to like certain kinds of books than others. But I’m not talking about preferences. I’m talking about a clear and visceral disdain for the heart’s work of others. Some people look down on those who write for children and teens. Others sneer at writers of women’s fiction or mysteries or science fiction. As for picture books: how hard could it be?
Nobody should be made to feel like a second class citizen of the writing universe.
If a story is formulaic, predictable, boring, pompous, or confusing—it doesn’t work. What makes a story successful is the same in every genre: engaging characters, compelling plots, and vivid settings. If those pieces aren’t there, nothing works. That’s where the magic comes from—in fantasy and in every other literary category.
Book lovers have more commonalities than differences in a world where many people don’t read a single book in a year. We should celebrate that.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Why I Write for Teens

Recently, a reviewer said I was adept with teen culture. I laughed quick to drown out my husband and two sons, who were snickering and elbowing each other. “Okaay,” they said. “Uh-huh. Ri-ight.”

I’m not up to date on current music, TV shows, video games, etc.—I never have time to get on YouTube unless I’m on a mission of some kind. The social networking sites are a moving target. I’m on Blogger when everyone else is moving to Facebook. As soon as I’m up on Facebook I’m getting invitations to Twitter (!).

My MP3 player is loaded with the music that I loved when I was a teen, with a few latter-day additions. When I mentioned developing a music playlist to go with my books, (something the cool authors are doing) my husband got this pained expression and said, “Maybe you should ask Eric and Keith to do it.” The subtext was: nobody in your target audience wants to listen to what you listen to.

So sometimes I wonder if I should be writing for teens at all. I feel like I’m totally unqualified except for the fact that I once was one.

But maybe the key to writing YA stories is remembering what it was like. All I have to do is walk into a school building, and it all comes rushing back: those nasty black bathing suits we had to wear in swimming class, the humiliation of phys ed, the bad boys I used to lust after.

I remember a boy who broke my heart. He drove an orange Mustang convertible. For years, my pulse accelerated whenever I saw a Mustang.

I remember the stricken look on another boy’s face when I told him I just wanted to be friends. “That’s not how I see us,” he said, and walked away, his back very straight. He was a poet, and so was I, but it wasn’t enough.

I have notebooks full of stories, poems, songs, and essays I wrote in junior high, high school, and college. Anyone who reads that stuff wouldn’t say adolescence is carefree. I think pain was my muse for writing back then. Either that or I was always in pain.

When I was a teen, I read like a fiend. Books were a refuge for me. I remember the time I was reading Valley of the Dolls in Problems of Democracy class and the teacher confiscated it. It belonged to a friend of my mother’s so I had to go beg for it back. Books are still important in my life, but they will never be as important as they were then.

So maybe knowledge of the specifics of popular culture isn’t important. It’s not the particular band member or TV star you’re in love with—it’s the emotional memory of how it felt. You cannot write for teens from an adult perspective. You can’t condescend. They get enough of that in real life.

If I want to remember what it felt like to be a teen, maybe listening to the music I loved when I was that age might be the way to go.

I tell myself that, anyway.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

On the Road Again

Writers and Their Friends
Saturday, September 6, 2008, 8 p.m.
The Ohio Theatre, Playhouse Square, Cleveland

If you’re in Northeastern Ohio, consider checking out Writers and Their Friends this Saturday, September 6. I’m among ten Cleveland-area writers showcased in this unique literary event. Tickets are $25, and the event benefits The Lit, a home for all things literary in Northeastern Ohio. For more information, visit or call 216.694.0000

Some other upcoming events:

Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Cincinnati, OH
Author Reading and Signing
Wednesday, September 10, 2008, 7 p.m.
2692 Madison Road
Cincinnati, OH 45208

West Jordan Library,
West Jordan, Utah
Magic on the Page: Elements of Young Adult Fantasy
Wednesday, September 24, 2008, 7 p.m.
1970 West 7800 SouthWest
Jordan, Utah 84088

September 19, I’ll be at the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association Convention in Colorado Springs, CO, and October 3, at Great Lakes Booksellers Association Convention in Dearborn, MI.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I'm a Best-Seller!!

I am officially a New York Times Bestselling author! The Heir series appears on the August 31 New York Times Children’s Series Bestsellers List.

I’m keeping some fast company!! I’m sort of rubbing shoulders with Harry Potter (who, of course, has been on the list for 196 weeks! That’s—um—almost five years.)

The Dragon Heir also appears on the USA Today Bestseller list (all books) for the week ending 8/17/08, its debut week. That’s #150 out of 150, but, hey, somebody has to be last. And it’s better than #151.

And, finally, The Dragon Heir is also #15 on the Indie Bestseller Children’s list for Children’s Books for August 17.

It may be for just one week, but I'm lovin' it.

Here I am at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington for The Dragon Heir debut.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Come See Me in Lexington, Ky and Sylva, NC

The Dragon Heir is on sale!

I’ll be at Joseph-Beth at Lexington Green, Lexington, Ky, Saturday, August 16, 2 p.m. and at City Lights Books in Sylva, NC. Monday, August 18, 6 p.m.

I'll be back in Ohio at The Learned Owl Bookshop in Hudson, OH August 23, 11-1.

These friends and Heir fans helped launch Dragon Heir August 12 at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cleveland. Looks like a tough crowd!

But they warmed up as I spoke and read from Dragon Heir.

Followed by a book signing. The two kids I'm talking to are going into fifth grade. One of them has already emailed me to say he's finished Wizard Heir in two days.

Hope to see you at one of my upcoming events!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Notes from SCBWI LA

Well, now that everyone has already posted, I’ll shout out to all my LiveJournal friends I saw at the SCBWI meeting in LA last week. I went out to dinner Thursday night with a whole group of LJ-ers including Mary Cronin, Jody Feldman, Melodye Shore, and 15 others.

Got to lunch with Debby Garfinkle and hang out with Jody Feldman. Jody signed up for the Pro Track, so she attended some different workshops than I did, and also participated in the Editors’ Luncheon and Authors’ Reception and Sale. This is me and Debby and Jody.

Lest you think I just ate and drank and schmoozed my way through the conference, Bruce Coville’s keynote was totally inspiring, just what an opener should be. He discussed the Seven Deadly Sins and Seven Deadly Virtues of Writers. Illustrator Mark Teague told the hilarious story of how he stumbled into illustration via a degree in American history. It seems unfair that so many illustrators are witty as well as graphically talented. Later that day, agent Steven Malk shared strategies for developing a long-term career.

On Saturday, Rachel Cohn spoke on Embracing Your Inner Teen. She actually brought her inner teen with her and displayed her to the audience. Jay Asher’s presentation on injecting suspense into any novel had us on the edge of our seats. And Adam Rex, another unfairly witty, articulate, and otherwise talented illustrator discussed how to get a kid’s book published.
Here Jay Asher uses Grover and There's a Monster at the End of This Book to make a point.

On Sunday, I attended John Rocco’s session on book promotion, a good review of tactics to use before and after publication. The Golden Kite luncheon was inspirational, and in the afternoon Lisa Yee had us working very hard in her workshop on revision.

On Monday, Bruce Coville’s workshop on Plotting provided a lot of take-away, though I was tempted to go to Katherine Applegate’s How to Write and Stay (Relatively) Sane. Editor Donna Bray and agent Steven Malk spoke about collaboration and interaction between agents and editors. I heard from Jody that Sara Pennypacker’s session on Firt Pages was awesome. And Susan Patron was like the perfect dessert—a satisfying finish to the conference. And afterwards, I stood in the autograph line and had Susan sign The Higher Power of Lucky. This is me and my hero, Susan Patron.

Jody and I each furiously took notes at the seminars and workshops so we could share with each other.

Afterwards, I linked up with Ellen Hopkins and Susan Lindquist and others for a little happy hour out on the patio before I left for the airport.

That's Susan, me, Ellen, Kristin Venuti, and another friend.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

A Room at the Inn

What’s important to you when you check into a hotel? I realize that hotels have it tough, because everyone has different expectations of what good service is. One person has no interest in Internet access, while the next demands it. One guest requires an in-room media center, while someone else is more interested in security measures.

So I’m in Los Angeles for the SCBWI Annual Conference at the Hyatt Regency Century City. Now, this is not a flophouse by any means. It’s a beautiful hotel, recently renovated. The “rack rate” is $399 a night. (Full disclosure: I am not paying that much since I’m here with a conference.)

My question is, what should you get for your $399 a night? Here is my personal list of loves and hates in hotels:

I love these super beds hotels have these days. Six pillows may be a bit much, but I like being adrift on a great barge of a bed. It feels like a special privilege to sleep in one of these.

A beautiful view. It may seem silly to pay more for something you can’t take home except in your memory, but I love to look out at beauty.
Those cool showers with the curved shower curtain rods. You don’t end up with the shower curtain plastered to your bare body or water all over the floor.

Free Internet access in your room. I think that should be a given these days. Ironically, it tends to be provided in business hotels for $125 a night. For $399, you pay extra to get online.
A good working desk and chair with adjustable height. Right now I feel like my keyboard is under my chin.
Coffee maker in my room with good coffee: I like to have coffee before I meet the public. Including Room Service
Health clubs: these should be gratis. I’m not talking about a spa, but basic workout equipment. It’s hard enough to exercise on the road without feeling like you’re being nickeled and dimed to death

Those in-room junk food stores
posing as refrigerators. Here at the Hyatt, half the space on the bureau is taken up by a snack store with chips, cookies, raisins, and nuts. The mini refrigerator is packed with liquor, pop, candy bars, cookies, candy, and beer. There is no room for personal items I might want to refrigerate, for example, healthy items like milk or fruit or leftovers from dinner. Once again, there is a warning sign on it telling me that electronic sensors will bill my room if I disturb any of the items and warning me not to try and put my personal items in there. This is service? Why couldn’t there be a mini bar with items for sale for the convenience of guests and a couple of shelves for your own foods? That would be hospitality.

Non-dairy powdered creamer in those little packets with the coffee maker. Yick! Use real cream. It keeps for a long time in those little cups.
Cardboard cups. For $399 a night, you should get real glass. (BTW. the Hyatt offers to provide real glasses on request. It took two tries to get some.)

No Big Deal
I don’t care if they change the towels and sheets every day. I don’t do it at home, so why do I need it here?
Hair dryers: I don’t care if they provide hair dryers. You can’t count on their being there, so I always bring my own anyway. So don’t bother.
Iron and ironing board. Like I’m going to do ironing here.
What about you? What are your pet peeves and delights when you stay in a hotel?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A Good Beach Read

I’m spending two weeks at the beach, which naturally brings on the rains. When on vacation, I’m used to hearing the locals say, “I’ve never seen it rain like this in July,” or “Thank God, the drought is over.”

So on the one sunny day we had in the first three, I stayed out too long and got burnt. (I was the one slathering on broad-spectrum SPF70 under the beach umbrella while my dark-skinned male companions were flying kites and basking in the sun.) They got scarcely toasted; I got roasted.

So yesterday while I was sitting on the lanai, writing and gazing out at the ocean, pining for sun and sand, the significant others made a sand sculpture of The Dragon Heir. It was the talk of the beach.

Isn’t it cool?

And here I am with the artists…..

Now we just need some dragon tracks into the water….

Tuesday, July 8, 2008




It's not exactly a 20-city tour, but I'll be making the following appearances to launch the Dragon Heir.

Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Legacy Village
Author Appearance and Signing
The Dragon Heir Debuts!!
Tuesday, August 12, 2008, 7 p.m.
Joseph-Beth Booksellers,
Legacy Village, Beachwood, Ohio

Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Lexington Green, KY
Author Appearance and Signing
Saturday, August 16, 2008, 2 p.m.
161 Lexington Green Cir # B
Lexington, KY 40503
(859) 273-2911

City Lights BookstoreAuthor Appearance and Signing
Monday, August 18, 2008, 6 p.m.
3 East Jackson Street
Sylva, NC 28779
Order online at

The Learned Owl Bookshop
Author Appearance and Signing
Saturday, August 23, 2008, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
204 N. Main St., Hudson, OH 44236
(330) 653-2252

What To Do With That Diamond in the Rough

Q: I’m just about to finish my book. Now what? I want to be published. What do I do next?

A: Congratulations on finishing your book. There are many people who “want to be writers” but most of them just want to have written.

Many new writers want to rush immediately to finding an agent, approaching a publisher, etc., but I encourage you to make sure your writing is as good as it can be first. Focus on craft.

A young writer once asked me if it’s harder to get published if you’re young, and I replied that all things being equal it’s not harder to be published (maybe even easier). But things are usually not equal because it’s harder to be good when you’re young—just because the more you write the better you become. That’s the way to hone natural talent.

Even if you’ve already taken some steps to make your work better, I suspect you probably could still benefit from critique from other writers who are serious about craft. You may want to link up with other writers in your area. If you’re writing for teens, you may want to join SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). You can visit their national website here and look under Regions to see if there is a chapter near you. They often have local critique groups and may sponsor a local writing conference where you can learn a lot about craft and the business of publishing.

You didn’t mention whether you’d read and applied any books on craft. I have a number posted on my Website. Self Editing for Fiction Writers is an excellent choice.

Once you’re convinced your work is as good as it can be, consider looking for an agent. You can search for agents who rep what you write at Literary agent Nathan Bransford has lots of basic tips on his site, here. Look for the basics (Before You Query) posts.

There is info on how to find an agent on my site and what to watch out for. You also might want to check out the Writer Beware blog sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America here
to make sure the person you are querying is legit. Use the Preditors and Editors link on the right hand side. One way to meet agents and editors from publishing houses is to attend writing conferences.

Finally, I often post answers to writers’ questions on my blog. On my LiveJournal site, look under the tag Young Writer Q&A.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Shopping Impaired

I am shopping impaired. I blame it on my mom, who never mentored me in the shopping tradition. We never went out clothes shopping, because she made all of our clothes. We’d go to the fabric store, and sit and flip through the pattern books. If I found something I wanted, then we’d look for a compatible fabric and notions.

There was no need to go beyond the two or three fabric stores available to us. The pattern books were pretty much the same everywhere. There was no ritual “trying on” of clothes, no vetting of what I chose by a committee of peers, no need for anyone to go fetch another size while I lurked half-naked in a dressing room. If I needed/desired a change in a collar or a hemline or short sleeves instead of long, that would happen on the cutting table or at the sewing machine.

The big downside was that it was sometimes hard to predict how a style would work in a particular fabric. Or whether it would flatter my vertically-challenged frame.

The notion of recreational shopping is foreign to me. It’s not that I don’t like bling, or cool clothes, or sexy shoes—I do!! I want to HAVE them, not SHOP for them. It’s all about outcome, not process. I like to do my research ahead of time. I want to know exactly what I’m looking for when I leave the house, and exactly where I’m going to go to get it. So traveling in a shopping pack is counterproductive. It just takes longer.

This week I went shopping for a bathing suit, since we’re planning to spend two weeks at the beach this summer. I went into the department store, grimly determined to come away with a bathing suit that wouldn’t require me to huddle in a cabana with a towel drawn up to my chin. I went alone, knowing I would have to try on approximately 125 bathing suits to achieve this.

This is fun?

There is one exception to this anti-shopping bias--bookstores. I love to browse in bookstores. I love the smell of books, the way the spine crackles when they’ve never been opened before, the texture of rough-cut pages, the weight of a volume in my hands, the aggressive artwork in picture books. I like being in a community of other bookstore browsers.

Shopping in a bookstore is the perfect marriage of process AND outcome—bliss.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Right of Revision

Q: Ms. Chima. Have you ever gone back and read your own books and began to wish that you had written certain parts differently or do you think that you captured the entire story just as you had imagined it?
Thanks, Matt

A: Matt, actually, I can’t stand reading my books once they’re in print, because I always want to change things. I can always see room for improvement, ways I can sharpen dialogue or deliver emotion more effectively. When I write sequels, it always gives me ideas about things I could have done differently in previous books. (If I’d known in Book 1 that Han needed to know all about poisons….) But short of traveling to bookstores and putting sticky notes in, I’m pretty much stuck with the way they are.

There are many potholes along the road to publication. One of them is sending work out before it’s ready. I’ve written before about the importance of revision, because a first draft is never as good as it can be.

But sometimes revision is just an excuse to hold onto a project. If you send your manuscript out, somebody might reject it. It’s much safer just to keep messing with it.

If you want to be a writer, you have to learn when to revise—and when to stop. First, you educate yourself by reading great fiction, reading books on craft, and attending conferences. That will prep you to do your best work. Then write the best book you can and have it critiqued by peers and mentors. Then revise revise revise until it is as good as you can make it at that point in time. Then let it go.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Self Publishing

Q: I’m thinking of self-publishing my book. I hear that if you publish through a traditional publisher, you have to pay back your advance if you don’t sell enough within a certain amount of time. Plus you only get about a dollar a book in royalties—you’d never earn your advance back at that rate. And you might have trouble getting your rights back.
What do you think?

A: Breaking into traditional publishing can be a frustrating business. I marketed The Warrior Heir for five years on my own before I found an agent who sold it for me. I never considered self-publishing because I didn’t think it was right for me and my project. I had a day job and had trouble finding time for writing, let alone intensive promotion.

What’s right for you depends on your individual situation. There are pros and cons to both self publishing and traditional publishing. I’m not an expert on self publishing. I can tell you that traditional publishing opens a lot of doors in terms of distribution and availability in brick and mortar book stores, as well as access to reviews.

Some writers self-publish because they want complete control of their final product and they don’t want to make the changes demanded by editors. But a good editor is your partner—she can make your book better. While we’ve all seen poorly written and minimally edited books from mainstream publishers, it’s less likely than in self-published books, where there are fewer quality control mechanisms in place. Your book may be fabulously written and edited—it’s just harder to get reviewers and bookstores and readers to take a chance on it because there’s a lot of bad stuff out there.

If you self-publish, it’s especially helpful to have what is called a "platform"--visibility and a ready means of accessing your audience. That’s why there are so many celebrity books out there. Let's say, for example, you are a well-known quilter and you publish a novel about quilters. You could market your book at quilting conventions and through quilting newsletters. Or maybe you’re a well-known motivational speaker who’s written a book about that topic. Every time you speak, you have an opportunity to push your book.

Regarding advances from mainstream publishers--you don't get any more money in royalties until the advance is earned out. But you typically keep the advance, even if you don't earn out, as long as you met your contractual obligation in terms of delivering an acceptable manuscript, etc. Of course, if you don't earn out your advance, it makes it less likely the publisher will publish a second book with you.

The issue of if and when you get your rights back is a contractual one. If you’re a new author without an agent, you don’t have as much leverage in terms of negotiating with a publisher. But if you have an offer from a publisher, it’s much easier to get an agent!

One thing I like about traditional publishing is the fact that the publisher is the one taking the risk and fronting the money for design, editing, and printing—not me. Many authors wish their publishers would do more in terms of marketing, but at least they’ll do something, particularly if they’ve invested a lot in an advance and production. I work hard to market my books, but I’ve really benefited from my publisher’s support. If you self-publish, it’s all up to you.

Good luck with your decision. It would be a good idea to talk with some authors who have self-published. We’ve all read about self-publishing success stories. Most of those authors have worked very hard. The important thing is to go into it knowing that in addition to writing a great book, you’ll need to be an expert in book promotion and networking.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Drama in the Every Day

So the other day I’m on my way to the airport to leave for a school visit in Dallas. I’m within two miles of the airport exit when traffic on the freeway comes to a standstill. Emergency vehicles scream past us on the median, and I realize there must be a serious accident up ahead. My pulse accelerates as I contemplate the consequences of missing my flight—a missed dinner with a group of librarians and a school visit that’s been nine months in the planning. After ten minutes of parking lot frustration, cars begin squirting off the highway through whatever openings they can find. I follow them, even though it’s not part of my long term survival plan to drive the wrong way down a freeway entrance ramp.
I drag out the GPS, which sends me into a construction zone, a maze of flagmen and single-lane tunnels between massive construction equipment. My blood pressure rises. Amazingly, I make it to the airport with just enough time to get to the gate. Whoa, I think, taking deep cleansing breaths, already crafting the story I’ll tell. There’s always drama in my vagabond life. Drama drama drama.
As I’m standing in line to go through security, I hear the twenty-something guy ahead of me tell the screener that he’s just been in a car accident. I focus in more closely, and see that his hand is wrapped in gauze and blood is spattered over his khakis.
“Um,” I say, “Were you just in an accident on I-71?”
“Yeah,” he says. “Someone lost control and rammed our car and we rolled several times.”
“Um,” I say. “How did you get here?” My unspoken question is, How in blazes did you beat me?
“Well, I called the airlines and they said if I missed my flight I couldn’t get out until tomorrow. I need to get to LA today. So I called my dad who works by the airport and he picked me up and brought me the back way.”
“What about the car?” I have visions of him abandoning his ride on the highway.
“The car’s totaled,” he says matter-of-factly. “My aunt was driving. They were loading it on the truck as I left.”
I can’t help staring at him. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
He seems embarrassed by the fuss. “Yeah, it looks worse than it is.”
“Do you know you have blood on your pants?”
He shrugs. “I think that’s somebody else’s.”
While we stood in line, he took several cell phone calls from worried people. “No, I’m fine,” he said. “Looks like I’ll make my flight.”
I felt like a hysteric next to that guy. I wanted to be hysterical FOR him (perhaps I could offer a service?) Being a writer, I wanted to write his story. So I did.

Friday, May 23, 2008


Stonebriar Mall Barnes & Noble Booksellers
I'll be appearing at the Stonebriar Mall Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 2601 Preston Rd, Frisco, TX 75034, 972-668-2820
This is in conjunction with visits to Killian and Forestwood Middle Schools in Lewisville, Tx.
I'd love to meet you if you're in the area! I'll be signing books and handing out bookmarks and we'll take a sneak peek at The Dragon Heir.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Young Writer Q & A

Q: On your website, it says don’t be a writer unless you have to. I love to write and hope to some day become an author. I was just curious as to why you give that advice. Thank you for your time. Emily.

A: That advice seems odd, I know. It’s targeted especially at those who would like to make a living as a writer, and it’s meant to discourage dabblers. Publishing is such a chancy, random business, and so hard on the ego. Even the best, most successful writers are rejected a million times. It’s definitely not for the faint-hearted. As Red Smith said, “Writing is easy. All you have to do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” And after you do that, some assistant at a publishing house will respond with a form letter. In the event you are published, one negative review will shade out a dozen positive ones.

So by all means write if you’re compelled to do it. If the process itself is so rewarding that you’d do it even if you’re never published. If writing feeds your soul. If writing is like breathing in and breathing out—essential to life. If putting words together makes you high.

But, if you can do something else, go for it. You’ll have an easier path, and a greater chance for success as others define it.

I feel blessed that I’ve achieved some success with my writing. It has allowed me to write full time. It inhibits that chain of questions that begins with, “You’re a writer, huh?” and ends with, “So what all have you published?”

But I’d write for myself regardless.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Hello, Coppell!!!

Hello, Coppell!!

This week I visited three middle schools in Coppell, Tx while attending the Texas Library Association meeting in Dallas. Wednesday I visited Coppell Middle School West with librarian extraordinaire Rose Brock. My editor, Arianne Lewin, went along with (and was able to step in and advance the slides when the remote didn’t work). It was a great experience, the kids were so smart and well prepared—they had lots of good questions for me. Here’s a shout out to awesome Coppell West readers!

On Thursday, I visited two more Coppell Middle Schools. Coppell East librarian Virginia Greene picked me up in the early morning. Turns out Virginia is a fantasy fan, so we had a great time comparing notes. After two sessions at Coppell East, I traveled to Coppell North, where Lynn Chevron is the librarian. I’d already received emails from Coppell North students before I ever got there! I met lots of motivated young writers and fantasy fans at both schools. And it makes such a difference when students have prepared by reading the work. Then we can collaborate to make the visit successful, and it’s all good.
School visits are exhausting and energizing at the same time. How can that be?

Here’s a shout out to Coppell East and Coppell North, and thanks to Rose Brock for arranging all this.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Updates from the Texas Library Association

I'm just wrapping up an awesome week at the Texas Library Association meeting. These Texas librarians rock! On Tuesday, I was on a panel of YA fantasy authors, entitled “Strong Voices, Other Worlds” with fellow authors Libba Bray, Suzanne Collins, John Flanagan, Jacqueline Kolosov, and moderated by Rick Riordan. Such smart, witty people—I just wanted to sit back and listen myself.

Rick asked us why we write fantasy fiction and Suzanne had an interesting answer. She said that sometimes an author can address issues in fantasy fiction that are too intense to deal with in YA realistic fiction. The element of fantasy provides a bit of a buffer, in a way.

We were asked about series vs. stand-alones. Series novels are common in fantasy. After going to all the trouble to create a fantasy world and magical system, we authors want to work it for awhile. My Heir series takes place in Ohio, so I didn’t exactly have to create a world, but some of us also don’t like to let go of our characters. That was what happened to me when I finished Warrior Heir. It would just be a lot more convenient if I planned things out more. By the time I get to Book 3, I’m thinking, “Well, if I’d known when I wrote Book 1 that this was going to happen in Book 3, I’d have set it up better. But Book 1 is already in print. I want to go out to bookstores and put sticky notes in The Warrior Heir.

Libba discussed how she created the strong female characters in her Victorian fantasy series, set in a time when women had little power. I could listen to John Flanagan’s Aussie accent all day. And Jacqueline discussed her dual role as college professor and fiction writer. Rick did a fantastic job as moderator. He was clearly a home-town favorite among the librarians in the audience.

Wednesday morning I attended the opening session, with Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. I just kept thinking, Thank God I don’t have to keep up with them! Dave Barry could read the phone book and it would be hilarious. I looked around the auditorium to see thousands of librarians in black pirate eye patches. I think I’m going to adopt Dave Barry’s method of disciplining teens through the strategic use of embarrassment.

I passed by the hundreds of librarians lined up for Dave and Ridley’s signing on the way to my own, in the author area of the exhibits. I had lots of fun, meeting librarians from all over Texas, including Nancy McGinnis from Killian Middle School near Dallas. I’ll be visiting Killian at the end of May for a One Book, One School event.

Wednesday afternoon and Thursday, I visited 3 different middle schools in Coppell, Tx. More on that in my next entry.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Good News

The Warrior Heir has been named to the 2009 Abraham Lincoln Illinois High School Book Awards Master list by the Illinois School Library Media Association (ISLMA). This is a list of finalists who will be voted on by high schoolers in Illinois.

According to the ISLMA Website: “The Abraham Lincoln Award is awarded annually to the author of the book voted as most outstanding by participating students in grades nine through twelve in Illinois. The award is named for Abraham Lincoln, one of Illinois' most famous residents and himself an avid reader and noted author. The award is sponsored by the Illinois School Library Media Association (ISLMA).The Abraham Lincoln Award is designed to encourage high school students to read for personal satisfaction and become familiar with authors of young adult and adult books.”

For more information, visit

The Wizard Heir has been named to the 2008 New York Public Library’s Books for the Teen Age.

The release date of The Dragon Heir is being moved up from September 9 to late August. Stay tuned for the exact date.

In this photo, find Beth Dunacan’s students at Vista Academy of Visual and Performing Arts in Vista, CA. with advance reading copes of The Dragon Heir. Ms. Duncan’s students review books for Barnes & Noble’s in California.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Love Note

This is a love note. Or maybe it’s a fan letter. I’ve said it before, but it needs saying again.

Librarians are my heroes. Have been since I was 9 years old and my father was transferred and I had to go to a new elementary school, and the public library was two doors down from my school and I’d hang out there because I didn’t have any friends except books and the book lovers in the library.

These days, I’m hanging out with librarians once again—at library visits, school visits, and meetings like ALA and TLA (soon!) I feel so in context there—me and thousands of other lovers of the written word.

This is for the librarians who defend freedom of ideas and expression, even when it makes their lives difficult. Who don’t think decisions about access should be made at an administrative level. Who trust their patrons enough to set them free in the marketplace of ideas. Who don’t see danger between the covers of a book.

This is for the librarians who don’t have to bring authors in—but do it anyway. Even though it takes considerable time that they don’t have. Even though it means finagling and conniving and horse trading to find funding and get approvals and make it happen.

This is for the librarian who exchanged countless emails with me, arranged funding, presented book talks and book clubs and arranged for volunteers. She did all the ground work to plan a successful school visit—then was told by her principal that books with wizards in them were too controversial.

This is for the librarians who write grants and host bookfairs and otherwise raise money to supplement the funding that is never enough. These librarians find ways to get books into the hands of kids who have no books at home. Try to imagine accountants or pharmacists hosting bake sales to buy the tools of their trade.

This is for the librarian who gets a new book in and knows just who she’s going to give it to. And who after that, and who after that. Who models the love of books each and every day.

I just spent a day at O. Henry Middle School in Austin, with librarian Sara Stevenson. I presented three large programs and a writing workshop. The library was “closed” because of the author presentations, yet kids kept finding their way in. They couldn’t stay away. Her library is the heartbeat of the school. Running that library is like herding cats. The energy is infectious. I was exhausted and exhilarated after spending one day there. Sara is amazing. Her kids are lucky to have her.

It is so easy to get burned out in these jobs in a time when curricula and test scores have become straight-jackets that imprison flexible and creative educators. When it may be difficult to persuade teachers to send their students to the library and away from drills.

No one gets credit for instilling a lifelong love of reading in our kids. What a shame.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Alone at the Keyboard

Writing is like birth and death—you do it alone. Much as we writers try and make it a social activity—through blogs, conferences, retreats, electronic mailing lists, phone friends, and low-residency MFA programs—the work itself is a solitary business. When it gets down and dirty, it’s just you and your keyboard (or legal pad, or voice-activated tape recorder, or whatever.)

It’s not that we don’t have help. Depending on where you are with the process, you may have writing buddies, spouses, and friends offering encouragement, solace, and redirection. You may have a spouse or partner supplying financial and emotional support. You may have critique groups, assistants, agents and editors helping you shape your prose into something publishable. Just remember--no prose, no publication.

It’s easy to get distracted. When I attend writing conferences, I’m often struck by the lack of focus on craft. There are endless sessions on how to write a query letter, how to choose an agent, plan a career, publicize your book, and minimize taxes. The assumption is, we already know how to write—it’s all about packaging. I had one rather intense unpublished writer lecture me at length on how no publisher would ever look at my manuscript because it was formatted in Times New Roman and not Courier.

There is no license to write, so we all qualify. We confuse the mechanics we learned in school with the mysterious, arduous, threatening, magical process of writing a book that someone else will want to read. As Red Smith said, “Writing is easy. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” How much easier it is to attend another class or writing conference.

It’s possible to stay very, very busy with peripherals without actually doing any writing. You can hang out with writers, teach writing, and chair the social committee for the writing conference—but none of that makes you a writer.

Remember--nothing happens—and nothing is gonna happen until you write something. As Jane Yolen says, “Butt in chair.” Sooner or later you’re going to have to write the damn book.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Writer's Block

Young Writer writes:

Dear Ms. Chima, I want to be an author and I have started several books but after I get two chapters written I get stuck. Can you help me?

I used to scoff at writer’s block until that one summer when I was writing The Dragon Heir and editing The Wizard Heir. Editing and writing are two different beasts. Writing requires the freedom to be bad. I found that after a long editing session with Wizard Heir, I couldn’t turn off that internal editor when I sat down to work on my fresh draft. After re-writing the same sentence 95 times, I’d drift off and begin Googling myself.

Tips for Handling Writer’s Block

Know thyself. Be willing to experiment and understand your own process. For example, reading really good fiction might inspire one writer; it might discourage someone else.
Turn off that internal editor. Consider if you were reading a book and began editing every line. It would throw you right out of the story, right?
Be willing to write a bad first draft. Once you get the bones down, you can edit in beauty and grace.
I’ve heard the suggestion that if you work on the computer, you turn the monitor off. I’ve not tried that, but I can see how that might work. You can’t edit what you can’t see
Critique groups are wonderful, but you may not want to submit your work until you get the bones down. Critique of a work in progress can sometimes stop you in your tracks
Don’t feel like you have to have everything figured out. You may wait forever for that. The process of writing creates story. Trust it.
Figure out if an outline helps or hurts. For me, doing an outline crushes the creative spark. I don’t have to go on, because I already know what will happen.
Do some off-line plotting. I like to use the time after I wake up and before I get out of bed. Allow your mind to explore the “what ifs” around your story. Block scenes in your mind. Speak dialogue when you’re out driving. Scare the other drivers
Butt in chair, Jane Yolen says. Butt in chair, and write. Even if it’s some scene you don’t even know will fit into the book. Even if it’s about a minor character that goes out of control. Even if it’s out of order.
Try setting a timer. Work for 45 minutes, then take 15 minutes off to check your email, call a friend, whatever
Identify your best writing time and use it for writing. Don’t sit down to work when you’re mentally and physically exhausted
That said, don’t wait until the perfect time to write. It may never come, and if it does come, it won’t be enough

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Demon King

Wondering how I'm spending my time now that Dragon Heir is in final editing? Am I watching a Lost marathon, scraping sludge from my kitchen floor, or cleaning out my To Be Filed folder?

Oh, no. Get the young ones inside, fill the cistern and bar the doors. I'm writing again.

In a previous post, I mentioned that I'd sold a new 3-book series to Hyperion. Since then, my agents, the wonderful Christopher Schelling, Ralph Vicinanza, and Chris Lotts have sold German, Italian, and Dutch translation rights. So I've been doing the butt-in-chair thing. I'm 300 pages in, and here's a teaser on Book 1.

The Demon King

When 15-year-old Han Alister and his Clan friend Fire Dancer encounter three underage wizards setting fire to the sacred mountain of Hanalea, Han has no idea that this event will precipitate a cascade of disasters that will threaten everything he cares about.
Han takes an amulet from one of the wizards, Micah Bayar, to prevent him from using it against them. Only later does he learn that it has an evil history—it once belonged to the Demon King, the wizard who nearly destroyed the world a millennium ago. And the Bayars will stop at nothing to get it back.
Han’s life is complicated enough. He’s the former streetlord of the Raggers—a street gang in the city of Fellsmarch. His street name, Cuffs, comes from the mysterious silver bracelets he’s worn all his life—cuffs that are impossible to take off.
Now Han’s working odd jobs, helping to support his family, and doing his best to leave his old life behind. Events conspire against him, however. When members of a rival gang start dying, Han naturally gets the blame.
Meanwhile, Princess Raisa ana’Helena has her own battles to fight. As Heir to the throne of the Fells, she’s just spent three years of relative freedom with her father’s family at Demonai Camp—riding, hunting, and working the famous Clan markets. Now court life in Fellsmarch pinches like a pair of too-small shoes.
Wars are raging to the south, and threaten to spread into the high country. After a long period of quiet, the power of the Wizard Council is once again growing. The people of the Fells are starving and close to rebellion. Now more than ever, there’s a need for a strong queen.
But Raisa’s mother Queen Helena is weak and distracted by the handsome Avery Bayar, High Wizard of the Fells. Raisa feels like a cage is closing around her—and an arranged marriage and eroded inheritance is the least of it.
Raisa wants to be more than an ornament in a glittering cage. She aspires to be like Hanalea—the legendary warrior queen who killed the Demon King and saved the world. With the help of her friend, the cadet Amon Byrne, she navigates the treacherous Gray Wolf Court, hoping she can unravel the conspiracy coalescing around her before it’s too late.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Time Management

At a recent school visit, a student asked, “If you weren’t an author, what would you do?”

It was the kind of question kids prepare under threat from teachers. I answered without giving it much thought, which is usually how you find a true answer.

“Well, I said, “I would sleep more. I would watch television now and then, and not just the news. I would finish the project I’ve had on my weaving loom for two years and go back to spinning. I would talk on the phone and make pastry and invite people over for dinner. I would cook things that take longer than half an hour.”

The boy blinked at me, and I knew it was TMI, but I continued to unfurl my mental list.

I would continue researching my family tree. I would read more for pleasure and less to a purpose and go back to my other book club. I would get out in the garden and walk in the woods and daydream in the ether and not on the page.

I would buy better Christmas presents and be fully present with my sons when they tell their stories.

I would volunteer more and get involved with a political campaign again.

None of these things are wasting time. But they are the things that go when a person with a family and a full time job becomes a writer.

I used to teach a time management course to interns. “There will never be enough time for everything,” I declared, “But there will always be enough time for the most important things.”

I’m not so sure.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Kindling Words 2008

I’m leaving Vermont at the end of another Kindling Words. The hugs and kisses have been exchanged, the promises made, the connections that lie between us as writers reinforced, spun into tensile strength. It’s a web that extends from Tucson to Texas to New York City, from Iowa and Chicago to Florida and Atlanta. One of the blessings of the Internet is that we can find our kindred, wherever they are. But sometimes we just have to meet face to face.
For those of you who don’t know, Kindling Words is a conference/retreat for published writers, illustrators, and editors, where the focus is on craft and renewal. It’s a kind of cult ritual, an orgy of fellowship, a revival meeting (complete with spirituals sung about a bonfire) that heals and energizes. And lest you think we spent the whole time singing “Kumbaya,” our goddess presenters were Laurie Halse Anderson, (writers) Vera Williams (illustrators) and Cecile Goyette (editors).
Laurie spoke about the smack-down match between character and plot. We concluded that the relationship between character and plot is less a battle than an erotic, tangled embrace that births story (author fans self rapidly).
Laurie also hosted a lunchtime “white space” session on her “five-year plan,” subtitled (by me) Beyond Romance—How to Keep Body and Soul Together as a Full time Writer. It was practical advice for anyone who wants to make a living as a writer. I was especially impressed by her inclusion of volunteering and what she called “family drama” time in her plan for living.
I’m such a fan girl, and participants in the conference are so generous with their time. I attended Jane Yolen’s informal session on whether and how to find an agent, not because I am looking for an agent (hi, Christopher!), but because I just wanted to hang out in Jane’s room. Of course, I couldn’t help learning a lot from the plain-spoken Jane.
As important as the formal presentations is the opportunity to learn from true peers. They’ve often already solved the problems I’m wrestling with—even something as simple as how to resist the siren call of the Internet when you’re on deadline. Probably one of the most important lessons of KW is that there is no one right way to do things.
Some writers begin the writing process with character. Others with plot. Usually we start with the element we’re most comfortable with.
Some of us revise as we go along. Others of us vomit on the page, writing in a white heat until the bones of the story are down. Some of us love revision. Newbury-winner and keynote speaker Linda Sue Park said that writing is revision.
Speaking of Linda Sue, emblematic of this diversity of technique was the smack-down battle between Laurie and Linda. They disagreed on almost everything—and both are gifted, productive, genius writers.
On Saturday afternoon, the nine editors attending (including my own Arianne Lewin!) graciously answered our questions in a roundtable. More plain speech. As in any kind of therapy, first we have to be honest with each other.
That night, twenty geniuses shared their souls in five-minute increments during the candlelight readings. Themes ranged from incest to faeries to badger parenthood. Formats ranged from brilliant picture book rhymes to Green poetry to YA novel. At one point a choir of dissonant frogs emerged from the audience. It was that kind of night.
And, finally, the bonfire of wishes and dreams. We sang camp songs, folk songs, antiwar ballads, and show tunes. There is something elemental and primitive about assembling around a fire. It forges a connection that can carry us as missionaries into a world that sometimes seems bent on stomping on our souls.
I mean, I sang harmony with Gregory Maguire and actually felt in context.
Finally, we cast our prayers and dreams into the fire, watching the flames exhale them toward the stars, hoping to catch the ear of God.

I could write a whole blog of thank yous. Thank you to the mystic healer Alison James, who streams magic, to the wise Tanya Lee Stone, to Marnie Brooks, who called down blessings from the top of the stairs, to the always generous Nancy Werlin, to wise counselors Martha Levine, Mikki Knudsen, Laurie Calkhoven, and many others unnamed. Thanks to everyone who helped this happen.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Making My Peace with Winter

The Ranger at the Rocky Mountain National Park visitor center seemed out of place with her North Carolina drawl. “You only have a few hours, you say? Well, Trail Ridge Road is closed, you know, but the drive up to Bear Lake is real pretty,” she said. “Only we’ve had a few cars slide off the road this morning. The sand trucks just went out, so you may want to give it an hour or two before you set out.”
“That’s all right,” my husband said when we got back to the car. “An hour more or less won’t make any difference. I’ll just drive slow.”
That’s my husband. To him, weather is irrelevant. Me, I’ve never liked winter. Too many clothes, too much hassle.
So we drove up Bear Lake Road, creeping around the curves and tip-toeing over areas of black ice.
In Northeastern Ohio, where I live, we have what’s called lake effect. The weather can vary dramatically depending on the wind direction and whether you’re east or west of the lake. In RMNP, they have…mountain effect? We drove through several mini climates on our way up the road. In some places, the pavement was showing, and in others, there was solid snowpack and three foot walls of snow to either side, left there by the plows.
I knew I was in trouble when I saw the other hikers in the Bear Lake parking lot squirming into gaiters and snow pants. My husband and I were among the few people who were not strapping on snowshoes.
I’d thought I was prepared. I’d put on my brand new Spyder Thinsulate ski jacket and hat and toasty warm gloves. I wore my hiking boots and wool socks. But the brand of the day seemed to be The North Face, and with the temperature in the teens, the wind bit through my jeans with such force I looked down several times to make sure I hadn’t forgotten to put them on.
Sigh. Whether its formal dinners and weddings to hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park—I’m always underdressed.
The sign said, “Bear Lake, 250 Feet.” Even I thought I could make it that far. The path to the lake overlook had been packed down by many snowshoes. Once there, we noticed that people were snowshoeing around the lake. “Bear Lake Trail, .5 mile.” Half a mile? Hah! No problem. I walked three miles regularly at home.
At first, we seemed to be doing better in our hiking boots than our friends in their snowshoes. But the further we went, the less traffic there’d been before us, and the looser the snow. Soon, I was struggling, between the knee-deep snow and the climb. We decided to take our chances down on the ice. Surely the snow wouldn’t be as deep down there.
Wrong! The far end of the lake was piled in deep drifts over a seventeen-inch base. It was like swimming waist-deep in quicksand--for vertically-challenged me, anyway. “I can’t do this!” I gasped, and we headed back for the overlook.
From there, we took another groomed trail to Nymph Lake. I’d been there in summer, and was amazed at how different it looked. The stark skeletons of trees cast blue shadows over the snow. Pines brushed by the wind sifted snow like glitter onto the trails. Although there were a lot of people there, the sounds seemed muffled and muted, the woods robed in a cathedral hush.
On the way back down, we were swooshed several times by cross country skiers who were having way too good a time. And I thought, maybe I’ll get myself some long underwear and pull out those cross-country skis.

Maybe I’ll even get myself a pair of gaiters.