Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Frostborn Cover Analysis & Author Interview, by Matthew MacNish

Before we begin, here is the jacket copy, from Goodreads:

Meet Karn. He is destined to take over the family farm in Norrøngard. His only problem? He’d rather be playing the board game Thrones and Bones.

Enter Thianna. Half human, half frost giantess. She’s too tall to blend in with other humans but too short to be taken seriously as a giant.

When family intrigues force Karn and Thianna to flee into the wilderness, they have to keep their sense of humor and their wits about them. But survival can be challenging when you’re being chased by a 1,500-year-old dragon, Helltoppr the undead warrior and his undead minions, an evil uncle, wyverns, and an assortment of trolls and giants.

FROSTBORN is the first volume in the series THRONES & BONES, a new MG Fantasy by debut author Lou Anders. Lou is the former Editorial Director at Pyr Books, the science fiction and fantasy imprint of Prometheus Books. He was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Editor (Long Form) 7 years in a row, and won the award in 2011. He has also been nominated for many other awards, such as the World Fantasy Award, Nebula Award, Philip K. Dick Award, Locus Award, and the Chesley Award, among others.

Before I get into my personal reaction to the cover of this exciting new book, you can find out more about Lou, and the THRONES & BONES series, if you're curious, at:

So, let me just say how much I love this cover! One of my favorite things about Middle Grade books (and especially by comparison to YA) is how often they end up with gorgeous illustrated covers. Photos are fine, and I'm sure the models need work, but there's just something magical about a hand drawn cover.

And this one certainly does not disappoint. It begins with the design, which starts with a lovely font, whose blade-shaped serifs seem to fit the world perfectly, that is complimented by kind of hand-carved looking jeweled encrusted stone brackets. The attention to detail, especially in the little skeleton and warrior carvings, is phenomenal.

And things only get better from there. We have a dragon, which is always a good thing, and not only is his snout and pair of glowing eyes perfectly menacing, but we have an interesting look at his body or tail, where it curls through the broken columns of these ancient ruins. Are those scales? They almost look like fur or even feathers.

From there, we can move on to the highlight: our main characters. I love that we see them small enough to give the setting and the dragon room to shine, but that we also can see them well enough to get a good sense of who they are, and especially that Thianna, being half-giantess, is so obviously and adorably much taller than young Karn.

The cover illustration and design is by Justin Gerard.

Moving on, here's Lou with the Hugo he finally won:

I had originally planned on analyzing the first page of the novel, along with the cover, which I have done in the past, and is always fun, but Lou, in his infinite peparedness to be available to anyone and everyone with any modicum of love for SF/F, agreed at the last minute to a mini-interview, so instead, I offer you a tiny 3 question peek into the mind of Lou Anders, and how one of SF/F's most well known editors decided to delve into the netherrealm of the debut novelist:

1) Personally, I love writing middle grade fiction, and especially middle grade fantasy, because I feel middle grade readers are at that age where their imaginations are really beginning to come alive. Having worked in adult and young adult fiction for some time now, was there anything in particular that led you to write the THRONES & BONES series first as you transitioned into becoming an author yourself?

Well, it wasn’t first. I had two unsold manuscripts getting to this point. The first was a YA. The second was a YA that was turned into a middle grade at the behest of an editor. And then there was Frostborn—the classic case of setting out to write not what was expected but what I most wanted to write myself. I grew up on fantasy fiction—it’s my first love—and Frostborn was my attempt to write epic fantasy and swords & sorcery fiction for kids, to get across that sense of amazement you get the first time you visit an imaginary land. I built a world I’d want to visit and then I did.

2) Tolkien famously drew on the Prose Edda in his THE LORD OF THE RINGS books. FROSTBORN is somewhat inspired by Viking culture and Norse mythology, correct? What does drawing on a subject that is so rich in history, style, and aesthetic do for storytelling? Have you found that it makes world-building, for example, easier, harder, or simply different?

It’s just the way I do it. To create the countries of Norrøngard, Ymiria, and all the lands on the continent of Katernia, I researched numerous cultures. I worked out time lines to five thousand years. I invented cosmologies and religions. I have an entire book’s worth of notes that isn’t in the book. It’s all “tip of the iceberg” stuff, only the tiniest portion of which peeks its head above water. But because I know it, the bits that do show seem more authentic, more real. It’s a ton of work—I world built for three months before I wrote a line of plot—but I don’t know any other way that works for me.

3) How has the transition from working as an editor informed your process of becoming an author? Are there any aspects of writing a book that seem like they might be easier for a former editor? Any that seem like they might be more difficult?

Fourteen years of being knee deep in other writers’ prose worlds has certainly made me a better writer. In some ways, having to fix what was broken was more instructive than studying what was perfect to begin with. And all the manuscripts that fell short taught me so much about what not to do. I’ve said before, you can often learn more from a bad book - or a just “okay” one - than you can from a great one by studying what didn’t work and why. As to the hardships of changing hats—switching sides of the desk might involve changes in thinking. But I also try to have everything my publisher is going to ask for before they ask for it, since I know what it’s like to wait.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Lou!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

TRILOGY…ONE…TWO…THREE: Thoughts on writing the third book by Eden Unger Bowditch

DISCLAIMER: This post contains subject matter that seems to flip back and forth. It reflects the ambivalence I feel as I pen the third book in a trilogy. It flops from thought to thought and back. Is it great? Is it sad? Is it happy? Is it fun? Is it hard? Is it…so many different things? What I can promise, it is honest.


I am knee-deep in the third book of the Young Inventors Guild. 'Knee-deep' does not reveal the times when I am, in fact, in over my head, however. There are times when I am over my head. We all get attached to our characters and the worlds we create around them. By the third book, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the final piece and all that it must contain.

(Wikimedia Commons)
While my publisher and I have discussed the idea of other Young Inventors Guild trilogies along different timelines, these specific characters during this particular time and place are contained in the three books. That means the mysteries are revealed and the story is given closure. It is exciting…and a bit sad. It’s like running to a finish line while loathing the end of the race. It is something you work so hard for, so relentlessly, so long. And, with one swift step or stroke of the pen or finger on the keyboard, it comes to a close.

So much goes into creating a world- heart, soul, love, madness. I find myself referring back to moments in the first two books to be sure I have it right and rediscovering things I’d almost forgotten about that story. The third book takes place in Cairo (good thing I came back!) and I find that I really do have to roam the streets, peruse the venues, explore the ancient markets to reestablish my own connection with a place that hasn’t changed much since my characters were there over a hundred years ago. I am lucky to have the opportunity to explore the very place that my characters will. But there is a sense of finality that goes along with the pleasure of exploring. It’s like a final walk-through, knowing you will close the door behind you and leave that house you built with your own hands, that home you love, forever.

(Gutenberg Image)
I know that, even if I continue and create new Young Inventors Guild books on their own timelines, it will be different. It will feel different, coming back to the first. Revisiting a place that was home is not going home again. That said, it is a wonderful thing to rediscover places where once we did dwell. With that in mind, those of us who have series that will come to a close, enjoy the time in that world, embrace it, and, as the adventure comes to a close, know that these books of ours become part of the world and people will get to enter the story and have a chance to be there. While we write, we are experiencing the adventure for the first time, too. The books then become their own destination. And we, too, can find our way back to visit them.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Age 14 – The No Man’s Land Between MG and YA -- Dianne K. Salerni

When my manuscript for THE EIGHTH DAY was submitted to an editor at HarperCollins, my protagonist Jax was 14 years-old. Before bringing it to the acquisitions board, however, the editor reduced his age to 13. Later, she explained to me that age 14 was a No Man’s Land as far as book stores (primarily Barnes & Noble) are concerned. If my main character was 14, the book would be shelved in the Teen section, where it didn’t belong. When I mentioned to her that there are 14 year-old protagonists in EVERLOST and that Percy Jackson ages past 14, she gently pointed out that I was not Neal Shusterman or Rick Riordan.

Four women MG authors: Main Characters aged respectively 13, 12, 11, and 14

I’m not alone in this experience. Within our Project Mayhem team alone, one author tells me she had to drop her protagonist’s age from 13 to 11, and another had to drop her character’s age from 14 to 12. A recent conversation thread in a Facebook group for MG Women Writers discussed the “Age 13-14 Problem” at length. Nine women reported having to drop the age of their main character at least one year to fit within MG specifications, and three said that their protagonist’s age was never directly stated, just to obscure the issue.

On the other hand, Mayhemer Paul Greci’s upcoming book, SURVIVING BEAR ISLAND, features a male 14 year-old protagonist, and author Robert Lattrick has two MG books via Hyperion Disney with main characters aged 14.

Four male MG authors: Main Characters aged respectively 14, 14, 14, and adult

At this point, I started wondering if it was a gender thing. Male authors are allowed to write age 14; female authors are not? But then someone pointed out that Terry Lynn Johnson’s MG book ICE DOGS features a 14 year old protagonist – and a female one at that. (Yay!)

So, what’s the deal? Is it just a random benchmark applied by one giant book store chain that some publishers buy into, and others don’t? Why does this particular age matter so much? A couple writers pointed out to me that 14 year-olds are usually high school freshmen – which means YA. But what if it’s not a contemporary realistic story set in high school?

What if it’s a story about a girl who discovers a storybook world? (STORYBOUND) How about a 19th century pioneer girl trapped alone in a house during a blizzard? (MAY B.) When I first gave THE EIGHTH DAY to my agent, I wrote it as a YA novel, with a 15 year-old Jax.  My agent was excited about the manuscript but told me that the premise of a secret, hidden eighth day was all MG. So Jax dropped to 14 … and then to 13. And (of course) I made other changes to the manuscript for an MG audience – most of which were a lot more important than my main character’s age.

It seems to me that the premise of the story, the tone, the voice, and the themes matter more than the age of the main character. After all, Christopher Healy’s HERO’S GUIDE series features all grown-up characters! (Of course, he’s also a male author …)

So please – share your experiences! Have you been asked to lower the age of your protagonist to fall within an accepted MG range? Can you think of 14 year-old protagonists in MG books you’ve read? Are these characters male or female? What about the author?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

This Is Why You Should Always Carry a Notebook

A common writer’s tip is to carry a notebook and pen at all times so when inspiration strikes you’ll be ready, and that perfect word, sentence, paragraph, or page won’t escape forever if it falls through the cracks in your memory, failing to reappear once you’ve hunkered down to write in earnest.

It’s a good tip, one I’ve meant to follow for a number of years now but somehow never managed to put into practice. I usually have a pen on me (blue ballpoint—for some reason, I’ve always hated writing with black ink), but a little notebook has never made its way into my purse. Perhaps it stems from an unconscious desire not to add yet another item to my already cluttered handbag. Or since I HATE writing by hand (anyone who’s ever seen my handwriting can probably guess why), perhaps I’ve unknowingly developed an aversion to notebooks over the years.

Whatever the reason, my failure to tuck even the tiniest matchbook-sized pad of paper onto my person has led me to utilize some pretty odd writing surfaces when something pops into my head that I just have to scribble down. Over the years, I’ve resorted to writing on:

  • The sides and bottoms of the cardboard tissue box I keep in the car
  • The blank pages in the backs of old paperbacks (which I then have to rip out before passing the book along to a friend or donating it to the local library sale)
  • The labels of water bottles (the back of the label is blank for many brands, so if you rip it off the bottle, this makes a decent, if somewhat small, writing surface)
  • The insides of gum wrappers
  • The blank side of old receipts I’ve tossed into my purse (it’s amazing how many of these are for Chinese take-out)
  • The blank side of old movie or concert tickets (why do I even still have these?!)
  • The price tags ripped off clothing purchases
  • Post-it notes stolen off any nearby desk (usually I’ll write on both the front and back of these, and I need about five to ten of them if I’m writing anything substantial, and then I have to try to keep them in order)
  • Paper napkins
  • Paper cups
  • Paper plates
  • The margins of take-out menus (I think we’ve established I eat a lot of take-out)
  • The labels of vitamin bottles

Yeah, it would be a lot easier just to get a notebook. And maybe clean my purse.

Lol, am I the only one who writes on strange items? Do you carry a notebook or, like me, do you have to get creative when it comes to spontaneous writing surfaces?

photo credit: benleto via photopin cc

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Oh, wait, that’s not my darling: Guest author Isaiah Campbell on the dreaded rewrite! + GIVEAWAY

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
October 14, 2014

Everyone, please welcome debut author, Isaiah Campbell. Today he'll be talking about his debut novel, The Troubles of Johnny Cannon, and what he went through to get it published. A great story of perseverance and turning a bunch of no's into a YES! Also, Isaiah, will be giving away a signed copy of The Troubles of Johnny Cannon. In order to enter, please leave a comment! Giveaway open until this Saturday at midnight. Winner will be chosen at random and announced next week!

Take it away, Isaiah!

When I was first revising the glorious nugget of golden literature we shall call from hence forth “My Book,” I had a few pieces of classic writing advice that I happily turned into my mantra: “Show-don’t-tell; enter-late-leave-early; Chekhov’s-gun; only-eat-one-M&M-per-twenty-words.” And the one bit of writing advice that I felt proudest to follow was this one: “Kill-your-darlings.” (Yes, in fact, I may have softened the adage’s blow by muttering “Exterminate” in my best Dalek voice every time I pressed the delete key)

And yet, even after slaughtering whole races of words, phrases, characters, and plot-points from My Book, I was sure that through the submission process, it would probably need more revision. My Book needed to be transformed inside the loving cocoon of a warm agent and a passionate editor so that it could be the monarch I had always dreamed. I imagined any further revisions would be of the “your/you’re/yore” variety, or simple factual errors, or the occasional “why-are-his-eyes-blue-here-when-they-were-brown-before?” frustrating little misses.

It’s almost quaint how naïve I was. Almost.

Now is probably the best time to bring up this detail: My Book was titled Johnny Cannon and the Bay of Guinea Pigs. It was about a half-alien cyborg twelve-year-old who was hand-picked by John F. Kennedy to join a team of super-powered pre-teenagers with the mission of eliminating communism from the world. Oh, and the communists had their own band of robot aliens fighting for them as well.

Yes, it was darling.

My Book had been on submission for nearly a year when my agent called with some bad news. Yet another editor had passed on the manuscript. (This wasn’t so surprising, actually. By my count, we had been in front of more editor’s eyes than the latest version of the Chicago Manual of Style) Unfortunately, this was an editor that she and I had maintained high hopes for. However, he had made a suggestion that, if I was willing to take it, would make him willing to look at My Book again. (The hope in my chest stirred at this, in spite of my best efforts to keep it dead. Dang that Zombie Hope)

“He says he thinks it would be better if you took out the robot aspect. And he likes the parts before JFK comes into the picture. After JFK appears, he says it feels like a completely different book.”

My stomach burrowed its way through my body and into the car seat. “But that’s the whole book!” I said. “If he doesn’t want my book, maybe I don’t want him.”

Unpublished authors have more integrity than any other artists in the world.  Oh, no, wait, that’s not integrity…

My agent, who is always in my corner, validated my feelings and assured me we didn’t have to do anything I didn’t want to do. And so we went forth, my little darling intact.

It was three months and at least a dozen more rejections before I finally realized the truth about my little darling.

It wasn’t a little darling at all.

Instead, as I fought to defend it and worked day and night to keep it alive in spite of every indication that it ought to die, I began to recognize it for what it really was.

It was a little parasite. A little parasite that I’d grown to love.

And so it was that, over the course of six weeks, I went through the painful process of extracting the parasite from My Book. I took away the robotics. I took away the super-hero team. I even took away JFK.

And, once I’d bled and groaned and cried and questioned the universe and destiny, I was left with a book without a parasite. A book without a darling.

A darling of a book.

It only took a few weeks before the editor who had made that suggestion, David Gale at Simon & Schuster, informed my agent that he was ready to make an offer. On My Book 2.0: The Troubles of Johnny Cannon.

It’s pretty amazing how quickly the pain of parasite extraction can fade away.

Author Isaiah Campbell
About Isaiah:
Isaiah Campbell was born and bred in Texas, and spent his childhood reading a blend of Dickens, Dumas, and Stan Lee. He dreamed his whole life of becoming a writer. And also of being bitten by a radioactive spider. Unfortunately, only one dream has panned out. For fifteen years he taught and coached students in writing and the arts before he finally took his own advice and wrote The Troubles of Johnny Cannon. He lives in New Mexico with his wife, three children, and his sanity, although that may be moving out soon. He occasionally searches the classifieds for the bulk sale of spiders and uranium but hasn’t had any luck yet. Find him online at

Don't forget to comment and enter the giveaway! Feel like sharing the love? Feel free to share this post and get the word out about Isaiah's awesome new middle-grade read!