Category: Writing

A bunch of stuff!

I’ve been very, very busy lately, and I’m just poking my head up for a moment to say that yes, I am alive, before dropping back under. (Although. I am on twitter, now, and I am able to update there a lot more frequently than here, FYI.) In the past few weeks I’ve written the bulk of the first book in the Quantum League series, and now I have to switch gears to write my installment in the Infinity Ring series. So I’m going from a magical-heist novel, to Golden Age Baghdad, and I’m having way too much fun with both of them.

Before I go, I just want to say a few things.

First, if you have emailed me in the last few weeks (or *ahem* months) I’m sorry if I haven’t gotten back with you. I hope to get caught up on my email soon, but I’ve been saying that for a while now.

Second, I am behind on a few things people are expecting from me, and have been expecting for quite some time. You know who you are. Thank you very much for your patience.

Third, Icefall will be out in paperback on February 1st (officially – you’ll probably spot it before then), and the ebook price has dropped recently as well. Just in time for Christma- Oh, wait…

Now that I have said those things…

Do you remember the 12 year old composer I’ve mentioned before? Well, he just won first place in the student competition of the National Association of Composers for a piece inspired by the green violin in The Clockwork Three! Here is his acceptance, and a performance of the piece.

And here are some more wintery photos from the last couple of weeks. First, a couple of the lake by my house:

And one of Muppet, who treats snow like Scrooge McDuck treats his money bin:

And a couple of deer, as photographed from my bedroom window, hence the slight blurriness:

And finally, the other day we left the house, a single Oreo in its plastic sleeve on the kitchen counter, and we came home to this. There was no one home but the cat. I think Oreos should include “No opposable thumbs necessary!” on their packaging.

And that’s all I got for now.

Zombie Cats, Some Pretty Scenery, and a Red Dawn

I’ve been researching quantum theory recently, and by “research” I mean that I’m trying to wrap my math-challenged head around something that is even more amazing, disturbing, and shocking than I thought it was. Things (very small things) really can be in two places at once. The observation of something writes the history of that thing before you observed it. Schrodinger’s cat can be both alive and dead. Two electrons can affect one another across vast distances, instantaneously. The quantum behavior of very small things defies our intuitive understanding of the world around us, supplanting the Newtonian “approximation” that we take for granted. Quantum physics is where it’s at, and it’s pretty mind-blowing. I mean, it’s arguably the most proven theory in all of science, and a third of the world’s economy is comprised of industries based on quantum mechanics (things like lasers and the microprocessor in your computer and your phone).

I’m researching all of this for The Quantum League, and it’s got me really excited to write the series. If you’re interested, Brian Greene, a physicist with a gift for being able to describe very complex concepts in understandable ways, took on the quantum realm for the PBS show Nova. You can watch it below, if you’d like.

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And now, some pictures of my new yard and neighborhood, as promised.

my front yard

my back yard

the view from my office

The family of turkeys that love to stroll through my yard, completely unperturbed by my two barking dogs, whom they drive completely insane.

Still unperturbed.

And now, a few pictures of the neighborhood.

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For those of you who are of a certain age, do you remember the movie Red Dawn with Patrick Swayze? Well, last night I dreamed it. Sort of. I’m still not sure who the invaders were, but they were Russian-like. Except they had ships like those crazy flying armored whale things in the Avengers.

Yes. Like that.

Well, since Robert Downey Jr. et al never made an appearance, the Russian-ish invaders pretty well managed to subjugate the populace. Everyone was just surrendering. That was when my brother and me got a rocket launcher. (That sentence would make you chuckle, or at least raise an eyebrow, if you knew my brother and me.) And we shot down one of these ships. But it didn’t just fall out of the sky. No, it careened, smoking, blazing, right over our heads into the White House. The explosion that followed would make Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich both applaud and weep and turn in their directors’ chairs and bullhorns (they use bullhorns, right?) in the knowledge that they will never, ever be able to surpass such cinematic awesomeness.

After the shock of seeing something so spectacular wore off, the pseudo-Russians started looking for who had fired the rocket, so my brother and I stashed the launcher in an open cab and walked away. No one knew who had done it. We were anonymous heroes.

I woke up at that point, but if I had continued dreaming, I’m certain our bravery would have inspired others and incited an uprising that would ultimately drive the vaguely Russian invaders from our soil.

The thing is, I don’t normally remember my dreams. One of the last dreams I remember led to Icefall. I doubt this dream will lead anywhere, fictionally, but if it does, watch out, Bay and Emmerich.

The Quantum League! And some other stuff.

First things first. The news is out, so I’m excited to announce my next writing project. From Publishers Weekly:

Lisa Sandell at Scholastic Press has acquired a three-book middle-grade fantasy series called The Quantum League by Matthew J. Kirby, author of The Clockwork Three and Icefall. In the series, two best friends fight modern-day magicians in a magical crime saga; it will debut in 2014. Stephen Fraser of the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency brokered the deal.

That doesn’t say an awful lot about it, but it’s still pretty early to go into more detail. So I’ll just add that I’ve always wanted to write a crime saga. Something with daring heists, criminal underworlds, and evil masterminds. The trick was to write one in a way that was exciting and fresh to me. That’s where the magicians come in. And I’ve been fascinated by quantum physics for a while now, so that found its way into the story, too. It’s going to be a lot of fun to write, something fast-paced and exciting. I’ve begun work on it, and like PW said, the first book will come out in 2014, with the next installments coming out a year apart after that.

I have to also say how happy I am to continue working with Scholastic. The people there (far too many to name right now) have all been so supportive of my books and my career. Especially Lisa, my editor. She understood the vision for this series right away, and I’m really looking forward to working on it with her.

So, after my installment in the Infinity Ring series and my next stand-alone novel (both of which will come out next fall), The Quantum League is what I’ll be working on.

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I mentioned in a previous post that my wife and I had moved to Northern Idaho, and I presented a photographic argument for that decision. We have since bought a home. We hadn’t planned to buy a home just yet. It made sense to first live here for a year, become familiar with the area, and then decide where we wanted to put down roots. But in becoming familiar with the area, we found a place that satisfied almost all our “dream home” criteria, and we couldn’t pass it up. We live on several acres, much of it wooded with pine and cedar and tamarack, on a lake, with the potential for horses.

It is also fairly remote, something I am still getting used to. My internet comes in through a parabolic dish mounted on my roof. Our water comes from a well. We have a family of wild turkeys that spend a lot of time on the property and drive our dogs crazy. The frequent deer have long since stripped the elderberry bush in our back yard clean. Last night, I fell asleep listening to the nearby howl of a wolf. It is a beautiful spot of earth.

I’ll try to post some pictures soon.

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A few upcoming events…

  • In October, I’ll be in Utah for the annual Book Festival sponsored by the Utah Humanities Council. I’m doing an event in Brigham City, and another in Murray. Both events will be held on October 17th and both are free and open to the public. Details can be found in the sidebar to the right.
  • I’ll be speaking at the annual SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City in February, presenting some of the same material I taught at the summer conference back in August. So if you wanted to come to one of my break-outs in L.A., but weren’t able to, you’ll have another opportunity if you’re going to the winter conference.

One More Spot

Really quick, I just wanted to let everyone know that one of the spots in my Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers workshop has opened back up. So if you wanted to take my class, but didn’t get in, now is your chance. And let me also take a moment to once again recommend the conference. There are still some amazing instructors with spots in their classes. If you’re serious about a writing or illustrating career, this workshop is a tremendous opportunity. Register here.

And here’s a video of success stories from the conference.

Infinity Ring

I’ve recently mentioned a secret project I’ve been involved with, and I am excited to finally announce it. But before I talk about it, The New York Times just ran a piece on it, which I would recommend reading first. You can find it here. If you want to track down the print version, it’s on the front page of the arts section.

And here is the announcement on Scholastic’s On Our Minds blog.

From the press release:

Scholastic, the global children’s publishing, education and media company, and the pioneering force behind the groundbreaking and international bestselling The 39 Clues book series, expands its innovative multi-platform publishing program with the worldwide launch of Infinity Ring, an alternate-history time travel series for readers ages 8-12. To be written by a team of six authors, this exciting new adventure combines books, an interactive “Hystorian’s Guide” map feature (named for a centuries-old secret society featured in the books), and a fully-immersive online game experience where readers travel back in time to fix history. Infinity Ring will launch simultaneously in September 2012 in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, with “Book 1: A Mutiny in Time,” written by New York Times bestselling author James Dashner (The Maze Runner), who also outlined the program’s overall story arc. Dashner will be followed by a team of bestselling and acclaimed authors including Carrie Ryan (Book 2; November 2012), Lisa McMann (Book 3; February 2013), Matt de la Peña (Book 4; June 2013), Matthew J. Kirby (Book 5; September 2013), and Jennifer A. Nielsen (Book 6; December 2013). The last book in the Infinity Ring series also will be written by James Dashner (Book 7; March 2014).

The story…

History is broken, and a long-feared Cataclysm seems imminent. The capital of the United States is Boston. Lincoln’s face is nowhere to be seen on Mount Rushmore. Everyone’s buzzing about the French royal wedding. And an international group of men and women known as the SQ is more powerful than kings, richer than nations, and more fearsome than armies. When best friends Dak Smyth and Sera Froste stumble upon the key to time travel – a hand-held device known as the Infinity Ring – they’re swept up in a centuries-long secret war for the fate of mankind. Recruited by the Hystorians, a secret society that dates back to Aristotle, the kids learn that history has gone completely, and disastrously, off-course. Now it’s up to Dak, Sera, and teenage Hystorian-in-training Riq to travel back in time to fix the “Great Breaks”… and to save Dak’s missing parents while they’re at it. First stop: Spain, 1492, where a sailor named Christopher Columbus is about to be thrown overboard in a deadly mutiny!

And if you want to read the full, official press release, it’s here.

Pretty amazing, isn’t it?

When I got the call from David Levithan a couple of months ago asking me if this was something I would be interested in, I told him that this was exactly my kind of project. I love alternate history, I love science fiction, and I love computer games. I grew up reading books and playing old-school Sierra games like King’s Quest, Hero’s Quest (tragically renamed Quest for Glory) and Space Quest. Putting books and computer games together? Infinity Ring is the kind of integrated story and multi-platform experience I wish had been around when I was a kid. So yes, I wasn’t just interested, I was absolutely thrilled to be a part of it.

I’m also honored to be working alongside James Dashner, Carrie Ryan, Lisa McMann, Matt de la Peña, and Jennifer Nielsen. Such an amazing gathering of talent. The experience of working with them on this story – creating, building, firing ideas back and forth – has been remarkable. We were all together in New York City a couple of weeks ago for the Scholastic sales conference, and we had the opportunity for a face-to-face brainstorming session. The creative energy in the room was palpable. And to top it off, we all get along really well, and though I always respected each of them as writers, I now count them as friends.

Clockwise from back row, left: Matt de la Peña, James Dashner, me, Jennifer Nielsen, Carrie Ryan, & Lisa McMann. Photo Credit: Ken Karp

There will be more details in the coming weeks and months, I’m sure. Check the official Infinity Ring website for news. But for now, I’m glad I can finally talk about it. Any questions?

Images of Icefall

A little while ago, I wrote about the soundtrack I listened to while writing Icefall. I mentioned then that I would also like to talk about the images that I had in my mind when writing the book. If you haven’t read Icefall, you might want to stop here, because I think it’s important – and many readers prefer – to fill a book with their own mental imagery. But if you’ve read the book, and you want to see what I had in mind, read on. It might be interesting to see how our visions of the story compare.

Icefall takes place entirely within the confines of a small steading located in a remote fjord. As the book opens, Solveig stands at the edge of cliff looking down on the water.

But it is winter, so perhaps more like this:

Within the steading walls, the characters live in a traditional Scandinavian hall, which I always imagined to be a small, rustic outpost.

From the outside:

And from the inside:

The steading is situated between “towering mountains and a frozen sea.” In the book, I describe the mountains as being like a procession of marching trolls.

But what Solveig sees…

The hall is also surrounded by woods, dense and forbidding regardless of the season.

Above the hall looms the glacier.

While a runestone stands silently in the woods below.

And lastly, here is an image I only found recently. It didn’t inform the character of Solveig, but I love that it includes a raven.

Music of Icefall

In anticipation of the release of my next novel, Icefall, I thought I would share some of the music from which I drew inspiration while writing it. Like a lot of authors, I have a few tricks I use to help me enter into the world of the story I’m telling, and music plays a big part in my creative process. I typically have a playlist of songs I listen to while working on a given project, music that evokes the emotions, the mood, the setting, or the feel that I’m going for. The music I draw from may not always seem like the obvious choice (Rage Against the Machine and Tool are on rotation as I’m writing my next book set in Colonial America). But there’s always a reason for my choice that works internally for me.

Right about the time I began Icefall, I heard an interview with the composer Ben Frost. While I use the term “composer” to describe him, because it’s really the closest word, it doesn’t completely capture what he does. His work is hard to define – it crosses boundaries, or blurs them, or makes them seem irrelevant. There is an electronic component to it, an industrial component, a lot of traditional instruments sometimes used in nontraditional ways, and a few other sounds you might not find musical at all until you hear what he does with them. Like the sound of wolves growling and howling. Or the sharp intake of breath when your body hits icy water. It is relentless music and sound, visceral almost to the point where your ears want to turn away, and that is exactly what I needed for this book.

At any rate, when I heard Ben Frost interviewed on NPR’s Studio 360, I knew just from the few bits they played that this was what I was looking for to help me bring Solveig’s icy and forbidding Nordic world to life. I’ve embedded the interview here, and if you have any interest in music or the creation of art, it would be worth a listen.

And below I’ve embedded a player with some tracks from his album By the Throat, which he composed in Iceland and infused with a distillation of that landscape. When I was writing, I would typically play the entire album through and repeat it a couple of times in one stretch. Related to that, I’ve found that listening through to the end of an album or a playlist can be a great way to carve out units of time to write.

If you like what you hear, you can stream or purchase the rest of the album here.

Another song I added to my Icefall playlist is called “Crystal” by Mannheim Steamroller. For some reason, and as long as I can remember, I’ve associated this song with a vivid, almost-nightmare I had as a child. In the dream, I was walking alone at night over a winter hill, the icy crust on the snow crunching beneath my boots, my breath a white cloud carried away by the wind, the light of the full moon glinting on the ground. The feeling of the dream was desolate and very frightening without a distinct source for the fear. Here’s that song from my childhood:

A few pieces of classical music also found their way into the Icefall playlist.

The first, A Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky:

And of course, it would be an absolute sin to omit Edvard Grieg from the playlist for a book set in Norway. The following come from Peer Gynt (this production).

And finally, if I wanted to lighten things up for certain scenes in the book, I would occasionally write while tuning into a Norwegian folk music station I found streaming online here. There were a few other pieces of music that I listened to now and again, but not enough that I kept them in the playlist.

So there you have it. The music of my novel Icefall. What do you think? Was there anything that you liked or that surprised you? Do you listen to music while you write?

I plan to do a companion post to this one in the future, the “images of Icefall,” with some of the pictures that helped me visualize the world of the story. But that post will be a bit spoilery, so I’m going to wait until after the book has been released on October 1st to put it up.

UPDATE:

An email conversation with a friend reminded me of another album I listened to quite a bit. William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops are the aural equivalent of a memory you can’t quite fully recall. There are four albums, but I listened to the second while writing Icefall. How these albums came to be is interesting in itself. The story goes that as Basinski went back to transfer some old loops and samples from magnetic tape to a digital format, the magnetic tape began to disintegrate as it was being recorded, resulting in a sound like, as my friend described, “a very large something dying over a very long period of time.” This music, in particular, helped me capture the essence of the glacier as a figure in the book.

Icefall is available for pre-order: Indiebound|B&N|Amazon

One month away!

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this, since I mention it to everyone these days, but I am under deadline. And being under deadline, I have learned that deadlines are an effective way to time-travel. As they approach, time speeds up, bringing them rapidly closer, and before you know it you’re in the future and they’re right on top of you. But their time-compression effects aren’t local. No, they bring on other things more swiftly in their wake.

All of this is to say that I’m amazed September 1st has arrived without more advance warning. In one month, on October 1st, Icefall will be out in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook, simultaneously. I’ve seen the hardcover, and they look amazing. Once again, Elizabeth Parisi at Scholastic has designed a truly stunning book. October 1st is also the day that The Clockwork Three comes out in paperback.

To celebrate the release of Icefall, The King’s English in Salt Lake City will be hosting a launch party, and I’d love for everyone to come.

Date: October 5th

Time: 7:00 PM

Where: The King’s English Bookshop (1511 South, 1500 East, Salt Lake City)

The end of September/beginning of October also marks the first of a series of trips I’ll be taking. Between Labor Day and Thanksgiving I’ll be going to Baltimore, Denver, Portland, Houston, Boulder, and Chicago, with local events in Utah scattered between. But rather than list all the details here, I’ve added an events page to the side-bar menu, as well as a calendar where you can click on the days in bold and see where I’ll be. I’ve only added a few events so far, but I’ll get the rest entered soon.

The beginning of October is also when the manuscript for my third book is due to my editor. And so we come back to deadlines. Which reminds me, I need to get back to work.

2011 SCBWI Annual Summer Conference

Earlier this month I went to the annual summer conference of the SCBWI, and I had a wonderful time. It’s always great to catch up with old friends, some of whom I only see once a year at the conference. Lin Oliver and Steve Mooser pulled out all the stops this year in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the SCBWI. The weekend was packed with talks and presentations by such luminaries as Richard Peck, Gary Paulsen, Judy Blume, Norton Juster, David Small, and many, many others. In years past, I’ve always left the conference on a bit of overload, but this year, with the compressed 3-day schedule, it was like mainlining Wisdom and Inspiration. Some of my favorite nuggets below, though perhaps not exact quotes (I’m not the best note-taker).

From Libba Bray:

Sometimes you have to write something wrong to get it right.

Stories need time and patience to find out who they are.

From Laurie Halse Anderson:

You have more control over how you spend your time and energy than you want to admit. You can spend time on things that may make you happy, but also may not make you a writer.

Don’t be a writer. Be writing.

And quoting T.S. Eliot:

Do I dare disturb the universe?

From Richard Peck:

Write not what you know, but what you can find out. Write from observation, not experience.

Unless you find yourself on the page early in life, you will go looking for yourself in all the wrong places.

There was so much more, but like I said, I’m not the best at getting it all down. Judy Blume was very funny. David Small was poignant. Norton Juster, very clever. And Gary Paulsen could be a professional storyteller. Wait, I think he is.

Publishers Weekly has a write-up on the event here.

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A few early reviews of Icefall have popped up, and you can check them out if you want by following the links below:

Kate Coursey

Hopping Fun Creations

Rogue Librarian

The Freebie Fairy

And I think I mentioned this, but just as reminder, Icefall is available for pre-order: Indiebound|B&N|Amazon

Where did July go?

I knew it had been a while since I posted anything new to the blog, but I was honestly surprised to see that it’s been almost a month since my last entry.  That was followed quickly by the surprise that the month of July is nearly over.  I don’t know where it went.  But the end of July means that I’m soon headed to the SCBWI annual conference, something I always get really excited for.  I’ve gone the last several years in a row, and I’ve never regretted it.  The conference gives me the opportunity to learn, to be inspired, and to participate in a very large community of children’s book writers and illustrators.  Writing is such a solitary activity, and I find it invaluable to be reminded that I’m a part of something much larger than myself.

But the end of July also comes with the realization that I am not as far along in the new book as I’d like to be.  It took a little while to find my footing on this one.  I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a very linear writer.  When I hit a rough spot, a character or scene that’s not working, I’m not someone who can say, “I’ll skip ahead and come back to this bit later.”  I need to work it out before I move on.  And since I didn’t have the beginning worked out to my satisfaction, I didn’t exactly make a lot of headway on the book.  I think I wrote five or six different openings before finally striking on what I think is the true beginning.  Some of the credit for the breakthrough is owed to my editor.  Lisa and I had a long conversation about it, and she helped me find my way into this story.

Now that I’m inside it, I’ve made great progress, and I hope it will continue to go smoothly.  It’s requiring a lot of research, more than The Clockwork Three, or Icefall.  The other day I went and got a community card at the local university library, and checked out an intimidating stack of books.  I’m trying to research a few steps ahead of where I’m writing, so I can keep up the kind of pace I’ll need to meet my deadline in October.

But something wonderful and unexpected has come from my research.  It sparked an idea for a completely unrelated story, something that I think may turn into a series.  It’s too early to really talk about.  The idea needs to age in the cellar of my subconscious for a while before I really know what I have.

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The Clockwork Three has been shortlisted for the 2011-2012 West Sussex Children’s Book Award, an award voted on by young readers in, appropriately enough, West Sussex in the UK.  This is some of the first recognition the book has received outside the U.S., and I’m especially thrilled by it for that reason.  Congratulations to the other nine shortlisted titles and authors.

The Clockwork Three has also been named an Honor Book for the Judy Lopez Memorial Awards for Children’s Literature, given by the Los Angeles chapter of the Women’s National Book Association.  Congratulations to Kate Klise, who won the award for her novel Grounded, as well as my fellow Honor authors Rita Williams-Garcia (for One Crazy Summer), Lewis Buzbee (for The Haunting of Charles Dickens), and Jewell Parker Rhodes (for Ninth Ward).

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I’ve got quite a bit of travel coming up in the next few months, to Denver, Chicago, Texas, and Baltimore.  I’ll post more details on my schedule later.

And check back soon to see the final cover of Icefall.