Category: tarnhelm

Writing Update

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, so allow me to enlighten you all. As most of you know, I’m now up to four projects in various stages of completion that are all post-VODNIK. First is TARNHELM, a YA noir fantasy which has been out on the desks of editors for over 18 months now. We’ve heard back from around 40% of them. You heard that right. 40%. I’ve asked my agents if that’s par for the course–if some editors just never get back to you at all, agented or not. And it sounds like the bitter truth. There are a few editors we’re still holding out for, but at some point this is a book I’ll have to decide to either publish myself or just set it in a drawer for a while. Sad but true.

Next is GET CUPID, a YA heist fantasy which I’ve just started the fourth draft of. I’m in the midst of re-reading the third draft, and it’s an interesting read. My agent didn’t like the second at all, and so I did a huge revision (that he’s still yet to see–I never sent it to him) and set it aside for a long while in order to let myself be able to read it fresh and see what was working and what wasn’t. The good news is that I feel like the characters and conflict and magic system are all working great. The bad news is that the plot is still an absolute mess, even three drafts into it. The book was trying to be too  many things at once. My third draft helped streamline it some and bring it to more of a focus, but that focus (i’m discovering as I re-read it) is still far too blurry. But to return to good news, I have quite a few good ideas about how to change the book and make it work, plot-wise. It’ll be a hefty revision, but I think it’s doable. That’s what’s keeping me busy on a day to day level at the moment.

My other book is THE MEMORY THIEF, a middle-grade contemporary fantasy that I just finished the third draft of. My agent is reading it over now, but it’s looking good so far. I’m fairly confident we’re not too far off from having it on the desks of editors. TARNHELM is a strange book and one that could be hard to find an audience for. (Not too many teens reading noir at the moment, and even fewer clamoring for a hefty dose of fantasy with that noir, ya know?) MEMORY THIEF is much more main-stream and easy to sell (I hope). It also helps that I haven’t read anything really like it, though it fits comfortably in the same genre as other books. But we’ll see what editors think when they get it.

Finally, I’ve started another book that’s still unnamed. I got about 10,000 words of it written before I set it aside for MEMORY THIEF and GET CUPID. It’s nice to know I’ve got a project lined up to return to when I’m done with my revisions, and I actually think the time away from the project will once again help me approach it fresh and see how well it’s working.

I’ve been focused a lot on improving my ability to plot lately. I feel like my prose and voice is solid, but my plots have a tendency to meander around quite a bit. We’ll see how well it works in practice, as I try to wrangle GET CUPID into fighting form.

People always ask me, “Are you working on anything new?” And I’m always surprised they don’t know that I’m *always* working on something new. I just don’t have anything to show for it that you can read in print just yet. It makes me sad, but it is what it is. Hopefully I can buck that trend in the near future.

Anyway. Thanks for reading, and thanks as always for the support you all give me. It’s much appreciated!

Writing Update: Plotting a New Book

It’s been a while since I’ve given any sort of a real update on my writing. Not because I haven’t been doing any, but mainly because I’ve been in sort of a switched mode from my regular routine. I finished a draft of THE MEMORY THIEF a month or so ago, and my agent is currently reading it closely for another edit. Still some issues to iron out. I have some ideas on how I’d like to revise GET CUPID, but I’ve been purposefully giving myself some time away from the novel before I start in on them in earnest. And then this is the time each year when I write my Holiday Newsletter to go out to family (and be posted on the blog later–they just (finally!) went out yesterday, due to some snow we’ve been having up here, which messed up our mailing plans).

So my current projects that I’ve told you all about are all in various stages of “waiting”ness. (Don’t get me started on TARNHELM. I still love the book, and most of the editors I heard back from enjoyed it, too. But they had similar books in the pipes, or they worried the audience would be too small, or they just haven’t gotten around to reading it, or they didn’t like it, or–or–or . . . Perhaps this is a book I’ll just epublish. I haven’t had that conversation with my agents yet, and I’m not sure if that’s something I really want to do. Wait a minute. I thought I told you not to get me started on TARNHELM? Where was I?)

Ah yes. The waiting game.

So that means that it’s time for me to be starting a new book. and starting one I am. (What will hopefully turn out to be my 12th finished novel. There are four others that were started but set aside in varying degrees of Not Done.) I’m still in the plotting phase right now, and that’s a process I still struggle with. Of the 15 books I’ve worked on, 11 of them were written off the cuff. I just sat down and started typing. All of those were my earlier efforts, and they all were such a huge pain to revise that I swore never to do that again. What this means is that I don’t have nearly the amount of practice plotting that I should have. Such is my lot in life.

What’s this next book about? I’m not entirely sure at the moment. I know there are some psychics involved, and I’m leaning toward the inclusion of a sinister investment firm and some spy hijinks. I’m also looking at doing two viewpoint characters again–something I haven’t tried since book #3 (WEAVER OF DREAMS). And one of them would be a girl, a POV I haven’t written since . . . books #1 and #2 (INTO THE ELEVATOR (Worst. Title. Ever.) and THE BLOOD COUNTESS.)

But at this point, it’s really just at the brainstorming stage. Putting ideas down on paper. Looking at building block basics of plots and how to tie them together to make a cohesive whole. If any of you out there have some schweet plotting tips, I’d love to hear them. I’m all for learning from others, especially if it saves me from some floundering.

Anyway, I’ll keep at this until I hear back on MEMORY THIEF, and then I’ll do another draft of that. At that point, I’ll shoot for finishing the plot of this next book, and then either move right on to writing it, or else move over to a GET CUPID revision. I feel bad that it’s been three years since VODNIK was accepted for publication, and I have no other books heading to a bookshelf near you. I only have one that’s been on editors’ desks. My hope is 2014 changes that statistic a fair bit. I’d like to have two more floating around the offices of New York before the year is out.

Let’s see if I can do it!

And the Winner of the Groundhog Haiku Contest Is . . .

After 74 votes over the space of a week, some pretty intense campaigning, and allegations of voter fraud, I’m proud to announce a winner of my Groundhog Haiku contest. Ready?
Her winning haiku, in its entirety:

A groundhog I am
Call me Punxsutawney Phil
I’ll eat your garden
Debbie gets to have a character named after her in my current book, TARNHELM. In fact, I’ve already picked out the spot for her to reside, and I’m presenting you with her scene in its entirety, right now. (Debbie, your name can appear however you’d like–just let me know.) To give you all some context, the main character (Vee–a new kid in the school) is going up to talk to a girl (Victoria–Miss Popularity). The book’s told from Vee’s point of view, and he’s patterned his life after film noir. So it’s supposed to have a sort of Sam Spade flair to the text.
Victoria was surrounded by a court of cheerleaders, with a select few jocks peppered around the table to make things cordial. I stood in the doorway behind her, observing for a spell before I spoke to her.

She was clearly the alpha cheer. Every detail at the table screamed it. The way the other girls’ eyes would flick to her for approval or cues about what to do, the way she managed the emotions of the group with a flirting smile in one direction, a well-placed hand on a shoulder, a tiny frown of confusion. No one at the table was allowed to forget her for a moment. If she could have it her way, the whole room would be devoted to her.

Their table sat right in the middle of the cafeteria. Lines for hoagies on one side and pizza on the other. You couldn’t eat a school lunch and not pass by her coterie. It was almost enough to make a man want to start brown bagging it.

I left my post by the door and strode over to the table, tapping the doll to Victoria’s right on the shoulder. “You’re wanted in the guidance counselor’s office,” I said.

The girl turned and frowned at me. “Excuse me?”

“Guidance counselor sent me to get you.”


“I’m pretty sure,” I said. “What’s your name?”

“Debbie Kinney-Dearden.”

I snapped my fingers and pointed at her. “That’s the one. They’re expecting you.”


I shrugged. “Didn’t ask. Not my business.”

Debbie got up and grabbed a few books and her purse and then hustled out of the room. I sat down in her now empty seat. “What are we talking about?” I asked loudly, smiling at the rest of them.

I got a sea of disapproval in return, a wall of disgruntled fake noses and perfect teeth. Victoria defused the situation by laughing. “Everyone, this is Vee. Vee, this is everyone. He’s doing an article about me for the school newspaper. Weren’t we going to do the interview after school today, Vee?”

“Sorry,” I said. “Must have slipped my mind.”

One of the cheer squad must have taken that as a sign of weakness—a chance to pounce. “You’re not in seventh period lunch,” she said, her lip curled up in revulsion for who knew what reason.

“Beautiful and observant,” I said. “What a winning combination.” I turned to Victoria. “Now if you don’t mind, Princess, you and I need to have that interview.”

“Now?” She was still smiling, but there was an edge around her eyes—I didn’t know her well enough to know if it was panic or fear or something else.

“No time like the present. Would you like to do it here, or is there some place more . . . comfortable?”

“I know just the place.” She pushed back from the table and stood up. As we left the room, I heard conversation start back up in her court. No doubt the rumor mill about us would be churning away happily by now. To the best of my knowledge, our school didn’t even havea paper.

So there you have it. I won’t tell you what the rest of the book’s about, but that’s a nice sneak peek there as a thank you to all who voted. I’ll make sure to keep everybody updated if the book gets picked up for publication. In the meantime, remember: less than a month until Vodnik comes out!

Heard Back from My Agent on Tarnhelm

For those of you playing along at home, yes–I’m still sick. Really hacking and wheezing today, and it doesn’t help that I can’t seem to sleep past 4 in the morning. Sigh. There’s always tomorrow.

In the “Good News” category, I heard back from my agent yesterday. I’d sent him the latest draft of Tarnhelm about a month ago, and he’d read it and evaluated it. Verdict? I’m 80% of the way there. He had some very solid observations about key elements of the book that need to be tweaked and improved so that the whole thing works together. Better yet, they’re fixes I can actually do. 🙂

Of course, there’s always the dreaded “will there be an audience for this book” issue to deal with. If you’ve read much of my stuff, you might have noticed that sometimes I don’t seem to end up writing books that are very mainstream. Ichabod is an exploration of reader response theory mashed up with Woody Allen’s Purple Rose of Cairo. And can we say talking alpacas?

Tarnhelm is a YA Noir with (mostly) light fantasy elements. If you look over the bookshelves in YA sections of bookstores these days, you might notice that there aren’t really a whole lot of YA Noir books out there to begin with–let alone fantasy noir. (Actually, if any of you know of any books in this vein, please pass them on to me. I’d really like to see any you’ve come across.)

So I’m not really following any current literary trends by writing this book.

But there *have* been precedents, at least in TV and movies. Veronica Mars, Brick, and the Assassination of a High School President are three examples that leap to mind. And I loved Veronica Mars, really enjoyed Brick, and found Assassination intriguing. That’s good. But audiences didn’t flock to Veronica strongly enough to keep it alive past three seasons, and Brick only managed to squeak past the 2 million mark domestically. So . . . not exactly a horde of pent up desire for the genre, it seems.

Why did I write it? Because I wanted to. Because it was a book that had been kicking around in my head for years, and it was time to get it out there and see what it could do. Because I think it’s a pretty fun read.

In the end, all it takes is for an editor to see the same things in the book that I see. I can’t be the only person to love Veronica Mars (I know I’m not)–and if someone told me there was a book out there like Veronica, but with a bit of fantasy thrown in on the side, I’d be all over it. (But of course I would–I just wrote a book like that. I’m clearly part of the target audience). And if the book did some cool riffs on a Maltese Falcon theme? I’d be even more excited.

So . . . we’ll see. I’m going to revise the book one more time (hopefully finishing before the end of January), and then once it’s looking good to me and my agent(s), then it’s time to send the little bird out of the nest and see if it flies or splats. And while it’s struggling to gain altitude, I’ll be at work on my next book: a fusion of Ocean’s 11, Mission Impossible, and Holiday Mythology. It’s a YA heist fantasy.

Because there are *tons* of books like that out there. I’m totally chasing the market now. Right?

Writing Update

It’s been a bit since I updated ya’ll on my writing, and there’s no time like a Friday to do it, right? I’ve finished the second draft of Tarnhelm, and it’s now on my agent’s iPad, officially in his To Be Read pile. Once I hear back from him, I’ll likely need to do another thorough draft or two before it’s ready to get sent out to editors. (Or at least, that’s what I hope will be the case. This is the first time I’m doing this since I got my book deal with Vodnik, and there’s no small level of self-doubt involved. What if this next one is no good? What if I can’t get it to the right level for publication? What if what if what if. In the end, a guy’s gotta have confidence that no matter how crappy the second draft is, he can and will make it better in the third draft. That’s how this works.)

In other news, Vodnik has now gone off to the printer’s for getting the Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) printed, which means that at some point in the not too distant future, I should be looking at real live printed versions of my novel. If that doesn’t excite you, then you live in a drab, grey world, and I don’t want to talk to you.

The electronic version of the ARC was looking fantastic when it was sent off. The maps turned out great, the interior graphics are solid, the cover’s super. Really a lot to be excited about. I’m hoping to do some giveaways when they come, so keep an eye out for that. Just this morning, I’ve got a bit of a back and forth going with my editor as we refine the jacket copy (what’s on the inside of the front jacket). Exciting!

In the meantime, I’m getting my annual Christmas Newsletter ready. For those of you who don’t know, I take the whole “Newsletter” thing quite literally. I write up fake news stories, include pictures–the whole shebang. It’s actually fun to do something with my writing time that’s so drastically different than the writing I usually do. I’ll post it here once it’s done.

After that’s over, it’s on to the next book. What’s the next one? That’s a secret. Let’s just say I’m thinking of it as Mission: Impossible meets Mistborn, with a YA twist. Lots of work to be done on it, though–I need to revisit the plot and the setting, check the characters, and then start writing writing writing. It’s the first book I’ve really thought of from the ground up as a series. Never hurts to have lofty goals, right?

And that about sums up my writing efforts to date. Happy weekend, all!

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