Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Word Count Calendar (of Cuteness)

Heyo, happy ... *checks calendar* ... Tuesday. So, word count calendar. This is a brilliant idea I band-wagoned onto after hearing Victoria Schwab and Erin Bow discussing it on Twitter. Victoria said something like it was the single greatest writing advice she knew, which is like a sidebar headline that screams to a writer: READ ME! I AM THE SECRET!

Like most writing "secrets," you still have to do allllll the work yourself, sigh. But would we have it any other way? The only other way I would have it is to be able to go to the future and pick up my completed manuscript from myself and carry it back in time with me :-) But I'm sure such a technology would destroy the world in too many ways to count, so let's not go there. Unless it was just me that had it. I would be mostly responsible with it. Of course, in my time-related day dreams (of which there are many), I am the only one with the gift, and the rest of you have to shift for yourselves. Sorry. 

ANYWAY. This trick is really good and really, really simple: 

  • Get a calendar, or if you're me and it's fall and you don't have a calendar, print a calendar page off the internet. 
  • Get stickers. The ladies aforementioned mostly use stars. I didn't have stars, but I did have cute animals*, and it's like I'm populating a small adorable town, adding one resident at a time. Guys, meet Chimmy, he's a drummer! And look, Geronimo is going to a birthday party!
  • When you write a thousand words (or however many you decide your goal will be), put a sticker on the day. Repeat. 

There are rules. You only get the sticker for a thousand words completed that same day. Every day you start fresh. Some of those blank dates above, I may have written 900 words. No sticker. It's a really good incentive to get in that last 100 words. I want my sticker! Many nights since I started this trick, I've bullheadishly pursued my sticker where otherwise I'd have yawned and gone to bed. Last night, I hit 2k at precisely midnight, and introduced Tiny raccoon to the community. (Hi, Tiny!)

Some of those blank dates, I may have been revising: taking apart and putting back together. I revise heavily as I go, so there will be days when the calendar doesn't show a lot of progress, and when I look at it I see glaring blank spaces, but I know why they're there. Still, the blank spaces do glare, and worse, they mope, like: Why don't I get an animal? Don't you love me? I'm so emptyyyyy... And this is the point. To create a physical, easy-to-see record of achievement. Or, you know, lack of it.

Try it. It's a good trick. Thanks for the tip, ladies!

Speaking of these ladies, Victoria's latest novel, Vicious, came out last month. It's her first novel for adults and is a completely engrossing tale of super powers -- a fascinating look at what the fallout might be if flawed, actual humans were to acquire them. Read it! And Erin's second novel, Sorrow's Knot, comes out today, and I don't have my hands on it yet, dangit! Her first book, Plain Kate, will forever live on my favorites shelf. It was, for me, a perfect reading experience: the happy, alchemical blending of gorgeous prose, original imagination, and heart. So I can't wait to read this one. 

P.S. The illustrator of the animal stickers is Marc Boutavant from France, who did the wonderful wonderful book Around the World with Mouk, and many others. And stickers!

Thursday, October 24, 2013


back cover

It's here! Or rather, it's thereLips Touch is in the UK! This was my book prior to Daughter of Smoke & Bone, published in the US in 2009, and given a second life now in this beautiful edition. 

A huuuuuge thanks to my amazing UK publishers, Hodder & Stoughton, and my wonderful editor Kate Howard, for bringing this about and doing their usual gorgeous job of it! I love you, Hodder & Stoughton!

The interior art is here, as in the original. The book is fully illustrated by my exquisitely talented collaborator and husband, Jim Di Bartolo. See:

Lips Touch is a collection of two long stories and one novella, all of which hinge on a kiss. These stories have an interesting origin, for me, because they were written in the days after my first novel, Blackbringer, had been sold (some time in 2006, maybe?), and while I was undergoing the early phases of the publishing process for the first time. I was a skinful of excitement and dread, and though I *should* have been making a start on my next novel, Silksinger, which was already under contract, I ... couldn't. I didn't have editorial notes yet, I was filled with uncertainty. And I'd been working on that first novel for so long, what my brain really needed to do was play.

I co-founded a writing community blog, where we wrote weekly from prompts, and it was so freeing, to be writing these short pieces, with an attitude of playfulness and pure pleasure. Some were fiction, some were non, some were just little bits of fluff. And, by chance or brain patterns, a connection emerged in several of my entries. There were kisses that had ... life-altering consequences. 


I imagine most writers know the way that things they're writing "just for fun" have a way of evolving into projects for publication, and the seed of this was when, in response to my considering subbing them to magazines, Jim said, "Or they could be a book. An illustrated book."

*fair chime sound effect in brain*

And so it was :-) And the resulting book was a National Book Award finalist, which is one of the very happiest things to have happened to Jim and me in our publishing lives! 

One of my favorite things about the stories is the short intro to each one. I had such a blast writing these, and they give you a pretty good taste of what the stories are going to be like:

There is a certain kind of girl the goblins crave. You could walk across a highschool campus and point them out: not her, not her, her. The pert, lovely ones with butterfly tattoos in secret places, sitting on their boyfriends’ laps? No, not them. The girls watching the lovely ones sitting on their boyfriends’ laps? Yes.


The goblins want girls who dream so hard about being pretty their yearning leaves a palpable trail, a scent goblins can follow like sharks on a soft bloom of blood. The girls with hungry eyes who pray each night to wake up as someone else. Urgent, unkissed, wishful girls.

Like Kizzy.

* * *

Kissing can ruin lives. Lips touch, sometimes teeth clash. New hunger is born with a throb and caution falls away. A cursed girl with lips still moist from her first kiss might feel suddenly wild, like a little monsoon. She might forget her curse just long enough to get careless and let it come true. She might kill everyone she loves.

She might, and she might not.

A particular demon in India rather hoped that she would.

This is the story of the curse and the kiss, the demon and the girl. It’s a love story with dancing and death in it, and singing and souls and shadows reeled out on kite strings. It begins underneath India, on the cusp of the last century when the British were still riding elephants with maharajas and skirmishing on the arid frontiers of the empire.

The story begins in Hell.

* * *

Six days before Esme’s fourteenth birthday, her left eye turned from brown to blue. It happened in the night. She went to sleep with brown eyes, and when she woke at dawn to the howling of wolves, her left eye was blue. She had just slipped out of bed when she noticed it. She was headed to the window to look for the wolves --wolves in London, of all impossible things! But she didn’t make it to the window. Her eye flashed at her in the mirror, pale as the wink of a ghost, and she forgot all about the wolves and just stared at herself.

It was no trick of the light. Her eye was an eerie white-blue, the color of ancient ice in a place that never thaws, and as startling as it was, there was something profoundly familiar about it too. Esme’s blood quickened as a shock of memories pulsed through her: a world of snow and spires; a milky mirror framed in jewels; the touch of warm lips on hers.

Esme swayed on her feet. These weren’t her memories. This wasn’t her eye. She clamped a hand over it and ran to wake her mother.

* * *

Hope you enjoy!

For US readers, if you'd like to give it a read, find it at Amazon or Oh! Weird. You can get the UK edition through Powells.


Monday, October 21, 2013


Happy Monday morning to all! I've got a bad cold and cup of tea. It's foggy outside my window and I like it like that. I'm very excited today, because ... today is the day before tomorrow, and tomorrow is the day that my favorite book of the year is coming out! I've mentioned The Twistrose Key here before, but I always seem to be rushing, and I haven't yet told you anything about it! 

In honor of its imminent publication, I decided to do A GIVEAWAY. Two copies of The Twistrose Key are up for grabs! And all you have to do is, in the comments section ...

... tell me about a beloved childhood pet.

Why a beloved childhood pet? Here's the synopsis of The Twistrose Key:

Something is wrong in the house that Lin's family has rented; Lin is sure of it. The clocks tick too slowly. Frost covers the flowerbed, even in a rain storm. And when a secret key marked "Twistrose" arrives for her, Lin finds a crack in the cellar, a gate to the world of Sylver.

This frozen realm is the home of every dead animal who ever loved a child. Lin is overjoyed to be reunited with Rufus, the pet she buried under the rosebush. But together they must find the missing Winter Prince in order to save Sylver from destruction.

They are not the only ones hunting for the boy this night. In the dark hides a shadow-lipped man, waiting for the last Winter Prince to be delivered into his hands.

Exhilarating suspense and unforgettable characters await the readers of this magical adventure, destined to become a classic.

Well, as haunting and lovely as that sounds, it cannot begin to prepare you for the exquisite, lilting loveliness and completely original imagination of Tone Almhjell. Read the synopsis HERE and you'll begin to get a notion.

(No, really. Go read it. I'll wait.)

*whistles, files nails*

(No, actually, I'm rereading it too, because I looooove it. Troll-hunting secrets and a skeleton-legged house, fluffy rice pudding with raspberry sauce, old folk songs, and Rufus, the beloved pet in question. *wipes eyes* Okay, I'm back.)

But that chapter is barely even a gateway for what's to come, for which you will have to read the book. When Lin crosses over into the realm of Silver, it's the kind of fantasy you want to climb right inside of.  This book is the perfect winter fantasy escape, and also a perfect Christmas gift for the 8- to 12-year-old in your life, not to mention anybody else who loves beautiful writing and delicious, evocative fantasy. 

Full disclosure: As I mentioned in the previous post, Tone and I have been friends for ... maybe five years now? (Wow!) We met on my blog, actually, and I got to know her writing through group writing exercises all while she was busily writing this phenomenal-sounding novel in Norwegian. Because, oh yes, Tone is Norwegian, and lives in Oslo. But I got a taste of her writing in English, and she would tease these amazing details of her Norwegian novel, and I was dying to read it. I thought I would have to wait forever, but fate intervened. With some interest from an international book agent, Tone took to translating her novel into English, and I was one of her early, happy readers.

I was even happier when I got a chance to introduce her to my wonderful agent, Jane Putch, who signed her and sold this book to Dial/Penguin. So we're sisters now. Agency sisters :-) Here we are in California this spring, when we met in person for the first time:

Read it. Read it. Read it. Order it. Order it AND enter the giveaway, below, and then if you win, you'll have an extra copy to give to a friend! 


I'm thinking this up on the spot, so ... hm. Just tell me something lovely or funny or moving or anything you want about a beloved childhood pet. If you were not so lucky to have a beloved pet as a child, then I give you free license to invent one, since we are all pro-fiction around here. The winners will just be the ones I like the best, based on what remains to be seen. Sorry if that's vague.

This giveaway is open internationally.

Either include an email address in your post, or if you don't want to do that, be sure to check back here for winners. Maybe next week? Maybe in a few weeks? I don't know how long I'll keep it open. Like my contest-running skills? Maybe they should hire me to organize the Olympics :-)

That's all for now. Oh, and ...


Sunday, October 13, 2013

"Ma" and Tension-building, via Miyazaki

You guys know how I love the Japanese animation filmmaker Miyazaki? Well, I do. I love his movies. Totoro. Howl's Moving Castle. Spirited Away. From up on Poppy Hill. And many more. They are a great visual treat, and great feats of storytelling, with imagination that sidesteps the usual narrative conventions, not to mention: there's serious girlpower. His heroes and problem solvers are almost always young girls. There's no sexualization, either. Just power. Will. Spirit.

But more on that in a second. I mainly want to share this snippet:

Roger Ebert, on Hayao Miyazaki:

I told Miyazaki I love the “gratuitous motion” in his films; instead of every movement being dictated by the story, sometimes people will just sit for a moment, or they will sigh, or look in a running stream, or do something extra, not to advance the story but only to give the sense of time and place and who they are.

"We have a word for that in Japanese," he said. "It’s called ma. Emptiness. It’s there intentionally.”
Is that like the “pillow words” that separate phrases in Japanese poetry?
"I don’t think it’s like the pillow word." He clapped his hands three or four times. "The time in between my clapping is ma. If you just have non-stop action with no breathing space at all, it’s just busyness. But if you take a moment, then the tension building in the film can grow into a wider dimension. If you just have constant tension at 80 degrees all the time you just get numb.
(via Sara Ryan's tumblr, via in turn various others; thanks!)

Isn't that good? I saw a blockbuster movie sequel this year (which shall remain nameless) that I was looking forward to, having enjoyed the previous movie. But this one, aside from other storytelling failings, existed entirely at a state of high-velocity high-stakes drama. EVERYTHING WAS LIFE OR DEATH! So, you know, you just got deadened to it really quickly. There was none of this "ma." I love the line above: "If you take a moment, then the tension building in the film can grow into a wider dimension."

It's so important. As a storyteller, it's something I'm always trying to structure. Plus this: often I find the "at rest" moments to be the most fun and rewarding. From my very beginnings as a novelist I've been trying to strike the balance between imperative forward momentum and enjoyable interludes that exist purely for color, character development and fun. Like, for example, hanging around the Himalayan faerie bazaar in my second book Silksinger. Or like Karou and Zuzana at Poison Kitchen, in Daughter of Smoke & Bone. You can't indulge in too many of them or you slow down the plot. But if you don't have them at all, at least for me, I find that I care less about the plot. There has to be a feeling of life and reality extending beyond the plot. There has to be an established threshold of "normal" that is being overthrown by the high stakes of the current situation. Or else ... EVERYTHING IS LIFE OR DEATH yawwwwwn ...

So there's that. And just now, googling a picture of Miyazaki's girls, I came across this excellent explanation of why Miyazaki films are so much better for kids than Disney princess fare. Read it HERE. And there was this graphic I just came across too. I actually enjoyed all of these movies, but as an adult and storyteller and parent of a daughter, I have a deep unease about their message, expressed pretty well here:

Ugh, right?

(Also, here's a piece from bitch magazine on Miyazaki's feminism. Speaking of that magazine, when I was walking around Wordstock with Clementine last weekend, she, who is learning to read, asked me, "Mama, what does b-i-t-c-h spell?" Ha! It was the bitch magazine booth. Um, never mind that one for now, sweetie :-)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


Hi all! So there's some news I've been sitting on for months, and I'm so happy to finally be able to tell you about it! Back in the spring I took a tiny break from DREAMS OF GODS & MONSTERS to write a novella ... about Mik & Zuze! It was so much fun. All along, I've wanted to tell this story. In DAUGHTER, I tried to find a way to work in the meeting of Mik & Zuze, but it was just way too off-track from the urgency of the narrative. And then in DAYS I kind of snuck it in, when Karou tells Ziri how Mik & Zuze met (it's chapter 63: Luck Friction):

     "Well, since she was too afraid to talk to him, she drew him a treasure map. She hid it in his violin case when he was performing--they worked at the same theater, but they'd never spoken--and she left early that night so she wouldn't see him get it. In case he got all pained-looking or something, you know, and she just couldn't take it. She'd already decided that if he didn't follow the map to the treasure, she would just never go to work again and that would be the end of that." 
    "What was the treasure?"
     "She was." Karou laughed. "That's Zuze being shy. She won't talk to him, but she'll make herself the object of a treasure hunt. Right in the middle of the map was a drawing of her face."

Originally I had Karou tell him a slightly longer version of it, but I scaled it back, knowing I'd like the write the full story some time, and that time came! Introducing NIGHT OF CAKE & PUPPETS, the story of that night, that treasure hunt, that first date!

US cover

UK cover

I love these covers. Thank you publishers! I only wish they were book-books that I could hold and pet. It's an e-novella and come out November 26; you can pre-order it at Amazon and B&N (in the US;  for Amazon UK go here). I'm not a reader of e-books, so I don't know how else it might be purchased, or how to support indies while buying e-books, but I'll find out. 

The offical announcement and AN EXCERPT can be found HERE. (YAY!)

It's funny, the treasure hunt idea is something I've been wanting to use for a WHILE. In my earliest efforts at cracking DAYS OF BLOOD & STARLIGHT, before I found and struck the proper [dark] tone, I actually had Karou invite Zuze to the kasbah by way of a treasure hunt she planted for her in Prague, with the final clue being inside the coffin at Pestilence in Poison Kitchen. It was terribly fun, but there was a big problem with it: Karou would never invite Zuzana into danger, and the kasbah and the chimaera army were certainly that, and also, Karou hardly had time for such hijinx! 

It's funny, looking back, how dumb I was about how to start DAYS. I tried to recapture the spirit of fun and magic that I had enjoyed so much about writing DAUGHTER, but I gradually realized that it could never ring true, considering the situation I'd set up for myself. DAYS had to be grim.  

Which just made it all the MORE important to make sure Zuzana found her way into the story, because her levity was so deeply needed. But the fact remained that Karou wouldn't have ever considered inviting her, so I had to have her figure it out for herself, and that was fun in its own way. Monty Python sleuthing and all! 

But the treasure hunt idea stuck with me, and this was the perfect place to use it. 

Also, for something a little different, NIGHT OF CAKE & PUPPETS is in first person. I've played around with first person before but I've never written an extended piece in it, and never for publication. The viewpoint switches back and forth between Zuzana and Mik, all in the course of one evening, and it was so dang much fun to write. Would that writing could always be such a delight!

I can't wait to get it out into the world, occupying nebulous electronic space, impermanently, on e-readers ...

Hope you enjoy it! 

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