Category: Writing

Editing and Consulting

I love working with other writers on their stories.

I’ve participated in my own critique group for about ten years. I’ve done mentorships and manuscript critiques through online programs. I’ve taught numerous intensive workshops. I love creative collaboration, and talking story, and problem-solving. I enjoy it so much that I’d like to try something, namely taking on a few select clients to work on their fiction with them. If you have a novel you’re working on, and you think I might be able to help you with it, send me an email (address on the contact page in the sidebar). From there we can talk about the scope of your project and payment rates.

Let’s work together on your book.

 

On Sexual Harassment in the World of Children’s Literature

Though mostly silent on social media these days, I am aware of the earthquake taking place in the kidlit world. That’s the most accurate metaphor I can think of to describe this long overdue upending of the status quo. It’s the kind of event that leaves everyone shaken, and makes you question things you had assumed to be foundational, or self-evident. Perhaps some of us were unaware of the underlying fault line that has ruptured, or the depths to which it reached. In the interest of owning my own part in this, I’m the latter. I’ve been peripherally aware of these issues, but I haven’t ever undertaken the kind of examination that would have revealed the full reach of this problem. Because yes, this industry that I cherish has a problem. A very big and deeply ingrained problem. I wish I had been more fully aware of it before now, and I’m sorry that it took this earthquake for me to see it. My heart breaks for the women who have been harassed, devalued, and victimized. If that is you, then I want you to know that I believe you.

The fault line revealed by this earthquake needs to be addressed, urgently, and I want to do my part. I fear that this chasm, which has always been there, but only now opened wide enough at the surface for everyone to see, has the potential to divide our community of writers, and it already seems to be doing just that. Some people are actively taking sides and rejecting the claims of the other. To some degree, that is expected. It’s human nature to reject information that makes us feel uncomfortable. After all, belief seeks the path of least resistance; if we are passive in our beliefs, we go through life avoiding dissonance and hard truths the way a river avoids certain terrain on its way to the sea.

We might say to ourselves, “I know the accused, and they would never do that.” But that is the easier path. That is simply another way of saying that we don’t want to re-examine our assumptions and biases, which is evidenced by the speed at which people have already decamped into their corners, where they seem to be digging in for a lengthy siege before the facts are known. That some of the accusations are anonymous seems adequate justification for rejection, by some, even though the accused may not have even denied the claims. The harder path in all of this, the active path, is to allow for the possibility that we might have been wrong about someone. We might have been wrong about lots of people, or even an entire industry.

I am trying to take the harder path. I am trying to hear and consider things that make me uncomfortable. I’m trying to examine my own biases and assumptions, because this fault line will not be healed by refusing to acknowledge it or blaming the other side for its inevitable rupture. It will only be healed if we stick our heads together like Lego Batman minifigs, and clench our Batman abs, to pull together.

Right now, there are women who need our support, and none of us have the right to judge the validity of their experiences, or the validity of their responses to those experiences. If you ever find yourself deciding for someone else how they should think and feel about something, well, speaking as a psychologist, you’re engaging in a form of psychological abuse. If you’re doing it to a victim, you’re victimizing them all over again.

Just stop it.

Now.

And listen.

Ursula K. Le Guin

“Only for a moment did the spirit glimmer there. Then the sallow oval between Ged’s arms grew bright. It widened and spread, a rent in the darkness of the earth and night, a ripping open of the fabric of the world. Through it blazed a terrible brightness. And through that bright misshapen breach clambered something like a clot of black shadow, quick and hideous…”

As a twelve-soon-to-turn-thirteen-year-old boy, that moment in A Wizard of Earthsea stopped me. I’d been given what was at that time the Earthsea trilogy of books for Christmas, and I remember blinking at the page when I first read that scene and those words. I was aware even then, in a slow and plodding, newly awakening kind of way that something powerful was happening. I went back and reread that scene, those sentences. Then I read them again, and again, and again, until my inner ear heard them not as words in a book to be read, but for what they were: an incantation, an enchantment, a spell.

I realized then that Ged, in all his flawed and relatable anger and fear, was not the Wizard of Earthsea that I had assumed him to be. The real wizard of Earthsea could not actually be found within the story, and yet was present on every page, because the author was the wizard. Ursula K. Le Guin was the wizard.

I realized then that not a single word in that passage could be changed without breaking the spell she had cast over me. I knew the shadow could be nothing else but a clot, or it would be something entirely different than what it was. I knew with certainty that Le Guin had chosen every word with intent and with care. I sensed a kind of exhilarating power in that, and freedom, as though someone had just placed a wand in my hand.

I realized then that I wanted to be a writer, and now, nearly thirty years later, that moment with Le Guin has shaped the writer that I am more than any other experience or influence, and she has continued to teach me during these nearly-thirty years. I learned from every book of hers that I read, whether science fiction, fantasy, contemporary realism, or her essays and nonfiction. The lessons were not only related to the craft of writing, but also to the living of life. In her work I have always found wisdom, and truth, and grace.

When I wrote to her seven years ago and sent her a copy of my first novel, I didn’t express enough of that. I felt insecure, and I didn’t want to bother her. But I did tell her that I was a writer because of her, and a couple of weeks later, much to my surprise, she wrote me back.

My hands trembled a bit as I opened the envelope, and I cried as I read the note in which she complimented and encouraged me with enthusiasm and sincerity. She spoke not to the me who had just sold his first novel, but directly to the twelve-year-old inside me who had a dream, and it’s hard to describe that kind of validation. Then, when she graciously offered a quote for the cover of my second novel, I felt that I had come to the completion or fulfillment of something profound, which of course means the beginning of something else.

A few years ago, I encountered another Le Guin quote:

“Socrates said, ‘The misuse of language induces evil in the soul…’  A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well they strengthen their souls. Story-tellers and poets spend their lives learning that skill and art of using words well. And their words make the souls of their readers stronger, brighter, deeper.”

If my work as a writer were to ever have a mission statement, that would be it. Richard Peck has said that as authors, we write by the light of every book we have ever read, and in the constellation of my literary inspirations and heroes, Le Guin shines brightest. She may have passed away today, but her light has not gone out, and her magic has not faded. Her spells and enchantments remain, full of truth.

WARNING: This Post Contains My High School Art

My, my, my. It has been a long time since I posted anything here, which is how I think 99.89 percent of blog entries begin nowadays. But on a whim I think I’ll post something today.

I’ve been feeling the urge to draw lately. Well, I’ve been feeling it for the past couple of years, actually. Art used to be a big part of my life, when I was younger. I drew and painted all through high-school, with dreams of going into comics or illustration, and the only thing that stopped me from committing to that path completely was my colorblindness. I found it incredibly frustrating to not see what everyone else would see when they looked at my work. I got tired of having to ask a friend, “Does this shade of green work for maple leaves?” as I mixed colors. So I focused on writing instead, because I could communicate my ideas so much more clearly with words than color. But sometimes I miss making visual art.

I’ve been thinking about this because I’ve drawn a couple of maps recently, one for a fantasy series roiling at the back of my head, and one that will probably appear at the front of the third book in my Assassin’s Creed series, Last Descendants. In drawing both maps, I realized it felt good to have pencil and pen in my hand again. So I went out and bought some supplies, and I plan to start making visual art again, just for me. I also pulled out some of my old junior-high and high-school work to look at. I’ll post some of it below, just for fun. Don’t be too hard on it. I was just a kid.

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Assassin’s Creed!

AC_1_Cover

So, the word is out now, and I can finally talk about something I’ve been up to since last year. I’ll be writing an original YA Assassin’s Creed series, which is incredible, and to help me out with everyone’s questions, I’ve asked the made-of-straw, ever-inquisitive FAQman to join us.

Hey, FAQman!

Hey. Listen, I’ve got some questions.

I thought you might. So let’s get started.

Okay, so first thing, Assassin’s Creed?? HOLY CRAP

I know! Can you believe it?

No. Who are you?

I . . . I’m an author.

I know, but like, what have you written?

Well, if you look over in the sidebar of this blog, you’ll see some of my stuff. So far, it’s been mostly middle grade novels. But you’ll notice most of it takes place in different historical settings, and usually with some kind of speculative twist. I love playing with history. Especially secret histories. That’s why writing for Assassin’s Creed was such a perfect fit for me.

How did this whole thing happen?

Well, last year I got an email from an editor at Scholastic, my publisher. They had just partnered with Ubisoft, and they were looking for someone to write an original Assassin’s Creed series. They asked if I’d be interested, and I said YES WHERE DO I SIGN.

So why did they ask you?

Short answer, because I’m incredibly lucky. Longer answer, because the editor knew the kind of historical stuff I like to research and write, he knew I’m a gamer, and I can usually turn projects around pretty quickly.

You’re a gamer?

Yes, but nowadays, because I’m so busy, a pretty casual gamer. (Except for Skyrim – I spent a not-casual number of hours on that game.) I started gaming when I was a kid, playing the King’s Quest series, Quest for Glory series, and other Sierra games on my family’s Atari ST computer. (Remember those? The thing had amazing sound and graphics, but adorably, no hard drive.) I’m mostly into PC games these days as well, but I grew up playing all the Nintendo consoles. I’ve been drawn to the world of Assassin’s Creed from the first game, and Prince of Persia before that. But like I said, I’m pretty busy these days, so I’ve just watched my step-son play through the last two Assassin’s Creed games.

And now you’re writing an Assassin’s Creed series.

Yes. Like I said, I’m incredibly lucky.

Is your series tied to any of the games or the movie that’s coming out?

No, this is an all-new story, but fans of the games and graphic novels will notice some familiar names and connections.

So what’s your story about?

Here’s the official synopsis of the first book:

Nothing in Owen’s life has been right since his father died in prison, accused of a crime Owen is certain he didn’t commit. Monroe, the IT guy at school, might finally bring Owen the means to clear his father’s name by letting him use an Animus – a device that lets users explore the genetic memories buried within their own DNA. The experience brings Owen more than he bargained for. During a simulation, Owen uncovers the existence of an ancient and powerful relic long considered a legend – the Trident of Eden. Now two secret organizations will stop at nothing to take possession of this artifact – the Brotherhood of Assassins, and the Templar Order. It soon becomes clear the only way to save himself is to find the Trident first.

Under the guidance of Monroe, Owen and a group of other teenagers go into a memory they all share within their DNA: the 1863 Draft Riots in New York City. Owen and his companions will find themselves tested on the violent streets of New York, and their experiences in the past will have far-reaching consequences in the present.

AC LD logo and title

How has it been working with Ubisoft?

Honestly, it’s been an incredible experience so far. Everyone I’ve worked with has been so supportive and enthusiastic about what I wanted to do with this story.

How much freedom did they give you?

A lot, actually. We had a meeting where they discussed their vision for the story in really broad strokes, but after that I was basically allowed to come up with whatever I wanted. I was able to pick the time periods, create the characters, the plot, all of it. Then I sent it back to them, and the collaboration began, which again, has been amazing. Ubisoft Montreal has some really talented, creative people, and it has never felt like anything was imposed on me. We were all just part of a team working to create a series that would expand and enrich the world of Assassin’s Creed, which itself has almost endless storytelling possibilities.

What do you know about the movie?

A little. I know what I need to know to write my story. They actually asked if I wanted to read the script, but I said no, because I want to go into the theater and be surprised and blown away like everyone else. I think it’s going to be really, really good.

So, is it going to–

I really can’t tell you anything about the movie. Do you have any other questions?

Not at the moment. But if I think of any, I’ll come back and ask you.

Of course. Thanks, FAQman.

If you have any questions that he didn’t ask, feel free to drop them in the comments.

UPDATE

Publishers Weekly did a write up here

As did IGN here

And Game Informer here

And Game Spot here

FURTHER UPDATE

A video announcement of the series:

 

EVEN FURTHER UPDATE:

FAQman heard there was a great question in the comments, so he decided to come back and ask.

Yeah, I’m back. So when will the first book come out? When can I pre-order it?

The first book is scheduled to be released in September 2016, with the second to follow in January 2017. I don’t have firm release dates yet, but as soon as I do, I’ll post them here and on twitter. Same with the option to pre-order. Good question!

LastDescendants bookshot

A Taste for Monsters cover reveal!

Back in 2010, I was at the annual ALA conference in Washington D.C., and my editor, Lisa, and I had left the conference to do some exploring at the Smithsonian. As we walked along the National Mall, I told her about an idea for a book that featured the Elephant Man and Jack the Ripper, both of whom occupied a relatively small area of London’s East End, at the same time. As I talked, we both got the chills, (even though it was D.C. in the summer, and therefore uncomfortably hot and humid) and she said something like, “You have to write that book one day, when the time is right.”

That time came last year, and this year on September 27th, that book will be released. It’s called A Taste for Monsters, and I’m really excited to share the cover with you here:

TasteForMonsters-CCVR (1)

Here’s the official summary:

IT’S LONDON 1888, and Jack the Ripper is terrorizing the people of the city. Evelyn, a young woman disfigured by her dangerous work in a matchstick factory, who has nowhere to go, does not know what to make of her new position as a maid to the Elephant Man in the London Hospital. Evelyn wants to be locked away from the world, like he is, shut in from the filth and dangers of the streets. But in Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, she finds a gentle kindred who does not recoil from her and who understands her pain. When the murders begin, however, Joseph and Evelyn are haunted nightly by the ghosts of the Ripper’s dead, setting Evelyn on a path to facing her fears and uncovering humanity’s worst nightmares.

A Taste for Monsters is a terrifying and haunting tale of the monstrosity of men and the salvation one may find in the unlikeliest places, from Edgar Award–winning author Matthew J. Kirby.

YA Book Central is hosting a giveaway on their blog for an ARC, so if you’re interested in entering, click here.

Cover reveal! The Arctic Code

I’m really excited to reveal the cover to my next middle grade novel The Arctic Code, which is the first book in The Dark Gravity Sequence, coming from Balzer + Bray at HarperCollins. This adventure series takes place in the near future, and sees the earth frozen in a modern Ice Age, the key to which lies in the far distant past. That’s all I’ll say for now, but in the meantime, what do you guys think?

ArcticCode Cv 

A Halloween Post

It was Halloween over the weekend, which was appropriate to the book I’m currently writing. It’s a Victorian horror novel, and will be for a much older, YA audience than my usual, middle grade books. It’s been a new and interesting challenge to write, and I have to say I’ve creeped myself out a couple of times, both from the writing and the research, because man, the Victorian London underworld was NOT a very nice place. I mean, just to give you a taste, this was a place where guys would sell live sparrows on strings, at a penny apiece, as a kind of one-use toy for children to play with, AKA torture. If that kind of thing is going on, you know you’ve got some serious societal issues with empathy. And fun times for me writing about them! The book will be dark and violent, but I hope it will also be ultimately redemptive and hopeful, and I’m trying very hard to avoid any gratuitousness; when I include something that makes me uncomfortable, I make certain it’s not going in just to shock the reader, but serves a vital narrative purpose that can’t be accomplished another, better way. I’m not sure when this books will be out, but I’m hoping to have it finished by the end of the month or early December.

While we’re on the subject of Halloween, I had some fun with my step-kids’ costumes. One of them wanted to be Link, from The Legend of Zelda, but I couldn’t find a belt I could re-purpose into a baldric for her sword. So I went to Tandy Leather, and a young gentleman there was incredibly helpful in getting me sorted out with all the leather and tools I would need for the project. Here’s the finished product:

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The stitching isn’t the best, and my hands felt like they’d been run through a meat grinder for a few days, but it was actually a lot of fun. In fact, I may have just picked up a new hobby.

Jaime made the rest of the costumes, and here’s my step-daughter as Link.

link

And here’s my step-son as a “deku scrub,” which, he will correct you, is not a character, but a race from Legend of Zelda.

dekuscrub

It was quite a fun Halloween. I hope yours was, too.

Before I go, just a last bit of writing news and updates. I get MANY emails and comments on the blog asking when the next Quantum League book will be out. I am so, so sorry that I don’t know. That’s up to my publisher, as well as other factors outside my control. I have written a draft of it, and I think it’s pretty cool. If you want to read it, I would recommend letting your local bookstore know that you want it.

But in the meantime, I have a new series starting up with a new publisher. The Arctic Code, book one in the Dark Gravity Sequence, will be out next April, and I’m really excited about it. It’s going to a place I’ve never gone in my books, namely the future. When I have a cover and I can tell you more details, I will.

Books written, books yet to be written.

The books I have written may explain why I haven’t written an entry here in quite some time. Since I last posted, I’ve written the next Quantum League book, the sequel to Spell Robbers, and did a rewrite on the first installment in an SF/adventure series I’m doing for Harper Collins. I’m really excited about both, and I’m looking forward to talking about them more in the coming months.

The fact that I can write sentences like the ones I just wrote still catches me off-guard at times. I’m so happy and honored that I get to write stories. People often ask which of my books I like the best, and that’s a difficult question to answer. I usually reply that I like the book I’m currently writing the best, which means it’s a book no one else has read. That’s because the story I’m currently writing is the one that’s alive in my head. Those are the characters who’re living their lives and talking to me. When they stop talking, there’s no story, and when I’ve finished a book, it’s no longer a living, moving thing. I don’t know if that answer satisfies the one asking the question, but there it is.

Of course, it’s also true that I love different memories from the writing of each of my books, and it’s hard to pick a favorite memory, isn’t it? Each writing experience brings its own unique pleasures and challenges. Each book means something different to me, personally and artistically. I’m proud of all of them, each for their own idiosyncratic reasons.

In the next week or so, I’ll be writing a nonfiction piece, with an accompanying short story, for a really wonderful anthology called Been There, Done That. The project aims to show students how authors connect our real-life experiences to the stories we tell, and the roster of writers contributing to the anthology is mighty impressive. I’m honored to be a part of it.

After that, I’ll be tackling something very new for me. It’s still quite early to be talking about it, but this next book will likely be shelved in a slightly different part of the store or library than my other novels. I’m a bit nervous about it, but also incredibly excited. I’m still in the research phase (which, let’s face it, I love) but I’ll be starting in on the writing very soon.

On a personal note, it occurs to me I haven’t updated you all on some life changes I’ve gone through in the last year. I have remarried. My wife is an absolutely amazing woman named Jaime, also known as the sophistimom. She blogged a bit about our meeting and marriage, so if you’d like to read about it, you can click here. We are happy, and life is good.

Infinity Ring!

Infinity Ring

Hey, everyone! I’m relieved and excited to say that I have finished my installment in the Infinity Ring series, which is book #5, and will be out this fall. This series has been so fun to work on. Books 1 and 2, by James Dashner and Carrie Ryan, have both been bestsellers, and I’m so thrilled for them. They really got the story off with a bang. A couple more things I’m excited about:

INFINITY RING BOOK 3

Lisa McMann’s book 3, The Trap Door, just came out last week, and I hope everyone goes out to pick up a copy. If you want a taste, click here to read an excerpt.

The online game that accompanies it involves Samurai and Ninjas, or in other words, it’s made of awesome. Click here to check it out.

Finally, the Infinity Ring message boards are now live, so click here to visit them, and if you’ve read the books, be sure to leave a comment. The folks at Scholastic are really excited to hear from fans.

That’s all the news for now. (Except, I’ve read Matt de la Peña’s book 4, and it’s amazing!)