Category: Writing

BEA – Before

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ll be going to BEA this year.  Next week, actually.  I’ll be doing some speaking, and also some signing at the Scholastic booth.  I fly in on Tuesday, and on Wednesday my editor, Lisa Sandell, will be talking about my forthcoming novel, Icefall, on the Middle Grade Editors Buzz Panel.  Then on Thursday, I’ll be speaking about Icefall on an author panel.

I’m so excited and grateful for the attention being given to this book.  And I’m also a bit surprised.  As I was writing it, I honestly didn’t know if it was a book anyone would want to publish.  I just knew it was a story that wanted to be told, so I did my best to tell it.  It’s thrilling to me that it’s getting the kind of exposure it is.

While I’m in NYC, I’ll be going into the studio to listen to a recording session with Jenna Lamia, the actress reading the Icefall audiobook, and then I’ll be recording some “bonus content” of my own (more on that later).  I’m also really hoping I can hit the Kidlit Drink Night on Thursday.  We’ll see.  I expect it to be a busy few days, and I look forward to telling you all about the trip when I get back.


A few interviews with me have appeared in the last couple of weeks.

Utah State University had a nice article in their alumni newsletter here.

And the Deseret News interviewed me and Heather Dixon for an article they ran on the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Workshop, which you can read here.  Most of the workshop classes are full now, but there are a few spots still open, and there’s always the afternoon sessions, too, if you want to register.


Lastly, a couple more reviews of The Clockwork Three:

BSC Kids

Miss Print

A Chained Heart

Last week, we had a freak storm sweep into our area.  One minute, things were pretty calm.  A little overcast, maybe, but not bad weather.  The next minute, 70 mph winds start raging and pelting us with hail.  The assault lasts for about 5 minutes, and then it just stops.  Things go back to pretty calm again, and we’re left wondering, “What was that?”  I still don’t know what it was exactly, but it left plenty of damage in its wake:

This was a tree in my back yard.  I guess it still is a tree, but it just doesn’t feel as tree-like in the horizontal.  As you can see, much of the top half of the tree was already dead.  But the lower region near the base, and a few stalwart branches, still gave it their all and sprouted green every spring.  But no more.  Those near-hurricane-force winds came through and pulled it right down.  Snapped it.  At first I was pretty impressed by the feat, but as I was inspecting the break, I found this:

Yes.  That is a chain.  Inside the tree.  I have no idea how it got there, but it has to have been there for years and years, attached when the tree was young and then slowly enveloped as the tree grew around it.  After I saw this, I understood not only how the wind was able to topple this tree, but also why it was dying.  It had a thick, rusty chain wrapped around its innards.

The thing is just begging for an obvious metaphor.  A moral tale about what happens if you carry destructive emotions around for too long, the cost of anger, envy, or regret.  Or perhaps a simple allusion to Jacob Marley would suffice.  But I don’t think I’ll go that way.  Instead, I’m going to make it a metaphor for writing.

You see, I’m working on the first draft of my next book, as I recently mentioned, and it’s turning out to be a much bigger book than I thought it was going to be.  And that’s okay.  I have to let it grow and be what it wants to be.  I could fight it, and force it to be what I originally planned.  I could chain it up.  But that would only bury a weakness at its heart, something that I have no doubt would bring the whole thing crashing down at about the 3/4 mark.  So I’m not going to restrict it.  I’m going to let it grow unencumbered.

What kind of tree it grows into?  That remains to be seen, and is the subject of a whole different metaphor.

Teen Author Boot Camp

I believe I mentioned this once before, but I’ll mention it again.  This upcoming Saturday (April 23rd) I’ll be teaching at the Teen Author Boot Camp.  If you’re a teen, and you’re interested in writing, this conference is a wonderful opportunity.  The faculty line-up and the list of the classes they’ll be teaching is really great, just the kind of thing I wish had been available when I was a teenager.  I’ll be teaching a class called Voice: Where do I get one of those? Here’s the class summary:

Publishers often say they are looking for fresh, compelling, and original voices. But what is voice? And how do you get one? In this session, Matthew J. Kirby demystifies the quality of voice in writing, and offers concrete strategies and tools to help you develop yours.

Other faculty include Kiersten White, J. Scott Savage, Emily Wing Smith, Sydney Salter, and Kristen Chandler.  They’ll be teaching classes on things like dialog, creating characters, and plotting.  There’s a feature story on the conference here, if you want to read more about it.  Check out the faculty and schedule, and register here.

First Review of Icefall

Things have been pretty hectic lately.  And by lately, I mean the past eight months or so when the school year began.  Writing books while working full-time as a school psychologist can be pretty daunting, exhausting, and stressful.  I try my best, but it can be difficult to wear so many hats.

One thing I’ve been immensely enjoying, however, are the school visits.  I’ve done quite a few of them, and it’s been a wonderful experience.  I love getting out there and meeting young readers and fans of the book.  They’re the most honest readers you’ll ever meet, sometimes brutally so, but that’s what makes it so fun to engage with them. I also have to mention that an effective, energetic, and passionate school librarian is a thing to behold.  Walking into one of their libraries is like coming home for a writer.

I’ve continued to work on my next novel, which is still mostly in the research stage.  I can spend forever researching a book because I enjoy it so much, and at some point I have to make myself stop and just write the thing.  I’m quickly approaching that point, since the manuscript is due later this year and so far all I’ve written is the first chapter, and even that feels like a false start.  Right now I have two books wrestling each other inside my head, two very different versions of the same story – one that is somewhat restrained and quiet, and one that is more sprawling and epic.  As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t usually outline, but this book has been so difficult to pin down that over Spring Break I deviated from my normal routine and collected all my thoughts into seven single-spaced pages.  I took all the characters, themes, story fragments, and ideas, and I sat them all down together in the same document to see if I could get them to talk to each other and come up with a game-plan.  Then I sent it off to my editor, and I’m both excited and nervous to see what she says about it.


Things are starting to gear up for Icefall.  In fact, the first professional review has come in, quite early.  From Kirkus:

The chilly, claustrophobic, ancient setting is vividly created, and the sense of impending doom generates a gripping suspense overarching the developing—and deteriorating—relationships among the group, marking Kirby (The Clockwork Three, 2010) as a strong emerging novelist. Recommend this one to teens who crave a good mystery set in an icily different time and place.

I’m really pleased that the review pretty well sums up exactly what I was trying for; “chilly,” “claustrophobic,” and “suspense” were some of the exact adjectives I was aiming at.  If you’re interested, you can read the entire review here.


I was excited to see that The Clockwork Three is a finalist for the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award, a regional award voted on by members of the SCBWI – it is a special kind of honor to be recognized by your peers.  Congrats to all the finalists, who you can see listed in the press release.

The Clockwork Three has also been named a finalist for a few 2012 state book awards, including the Beehive Award here in Utah, the Pennsylvania Young Readers Choice Award, and the  Colorado Children’s Book Award!  I’m really thrilled and honored.

And lastly, a few more blog reviews have popped up for The Clockwork Three:


Karissa’s Reading Review


Reading Tween and Teen


My second novel won’t be released until later this year on October 1st, but I’m really excited to share a little glimpse of it with you now. So here is the synopsis for my next middle-grade novel, Icefall.

Trapped in a hidden fortress tucked between towering mountains and a frozen sea, Solveig, along with her brother the crown prince, their older sister, and an army of restless warriors, anxiously awaits news of her father’s victory at battle. But as winter stretches on, and the unending ice refuses to break, terrible acts of treachery soon make it clear that a traitor lurks in their midst. A malevolent air begins to seep through the fortress walls, and a smothering claustrophobia slowly turns these prisoners of winter against one another.

Those charged with protecting the king’s children are all suspect, and the siblings must choose their allies wisely. But who can be trusted so far from their father’s watchful eye and unchallenged authority? Can Solveig and her siblings survive the long winter months and expose the traitor before he succeeds in destroying a king, his empire, and his children?

Beginning a new book

I’ve pretty much finished work on my second book, which will be published later this year on October 1st, and I’ve begun writing my third.  As with my second book, the third is going to be something new and different from what I’ve previously written. I have the general idea of the story, and I’ve begun the research I’ll need to write it.  The beginning of a book is such an exciting time – for me, the most exciting time. Right now, this book could be any kind of book it wants to be.

A couple of years ago, author China Mieville wrote a brilliant essay in which he compared the mystery novel, and more specifically its resolution, to a collapse of quantum state vectors, wherein all the myriad suspects, and all the possible narrative explanations of the crime are “winnowed” down to one single truth.  Whereas before the detective pronounces whodunnit, all theories are possible, after the pronouncement, all theories collapse to a single reality and the perpetrator is exposed. This, Mieville explains, is why all mystery novels are inherently dissatisfying even when done right.

I’ve thought a lot about this idea, and for me, the same principle applies to all of my storytelling. When I begin to write a new book, the story seems impossibly and thrillingly immense to me.  Before I’ve started laying down the words, a story can be anything, and contain anything.  Because it hasn’t yet been written, the possibilities are endless. I don’t yet know which path my characters will take, nor even still the choices that will be presented to them. I won’t know any of that until I am there at the crossroads to observe it, when all the previous possibilities clear away like fog, and I’m left saying to myself, “so that’s what happens next.”

It’s rather difficult to explain. The simplest way to describe it is to say that when I begin a book, it is big.  So big it scares me. But as I write, and the words turn into sentences, and the sentences turn into pages, the book gets smaller. With each character, scene, and choice, the previous possibilities diminish. The characters and story assume a trajectory from which they can no longer deviate without violating their truth. This is exciting in its own way, this momentum, because it means the story has taken up its own life. But it is also disappointing to realize all the things the story will not, and can no longer be.

I don’t think I would experience this if I outlined. But I don’t, and so writing for me is an act of discovery. While that means I face an inevitable deflation when I stand at the end of a book and look back over it, there remains the quiet joy that comes from seeing something for what it is. And it has to be that way. Stories about everything are really about nothing, and offer no meaning, ask no questions, and provide little truth.  I don’t yet know what this new book will be, what surprises it holds for me, but I’m looking forward to finding out.


In other news, the Salt Lake Tribune did a short piece on me that you can read here.

And here are some links to a few more reviews of The Clockwork Three:

Mrs. Behnke’s Blog

Kiss the Book

The Star Phoenix

Yearning to Read

Teens Read Too

Pica Reads

UPDATE: One more review

YA Books and Reviews

Publishers Weekly Flying Start

I’m really excited to announce that Publishers Weekly has chosen me as a Fall 2010 Flying Start for The Clockwork Three!  I’m thrilled and honored.

From Publishers Weekly:

Our semi-annual Flying Starts feature highlights first-time children’s book creators with noteworthy debuts over the season just past. Our fall picks: Adam Gidwitz, whose A Tale Dark and Grimm inventively combines retold tales with new material, with Hansel and Gretel in starring roles; Kiersten White, whose novel Paranormalcy tells of a teenager who bears the responsibility of keeping paranormal beings under control, but longs for a “normal” life; Matthew Kirby, author of The Clockwork Three, a middle-grade historical fantasy set in the 19th century that mixes fantasy and steampunk elements; and Sarah Dooley, whose Livvie Owen Lived Here paints a memorable portrait of the interior world of an autistic girl.

If you want to read interviews with myself and the other Flying Starts, click here.

Congratulations to the other three authors, and thanks to the editors of Publishers Weekly!

Revisions done! Also, a few more reviews.

Well, I survived. And what’s even better than that, I feel good.

When I began Book 2 (which now has a title, and which I will hopefully be able to announce soon) I knew I was venturing into unknown territory in terms of my skill as a writer. It was a great big gamble as to whether I could pull it off, and at times during the writing of the book it felt very much like that moment in the movie Maverick where Mel Gibson is about the turn the last card over, willing it to be the Ace of Spades. Only I still don’t know if I have the cards or not.

I was also gambling that Scholastic would like it. Book 2 was – still is – very different from The Clockwork Three, and I wondered at the time if it was the right story to go after. But I was passionate about it, really taken with the idea, and my wonderful agent, Steve, gave me the push I needed to dive in. And then Lisa, my editor, loved it too.

It was hard to make some of the changes, to let go of what I’d written. That “delete” key really took on a sinister cast, and it truly felt as though I was “murdering my darlings” (a writing expression I understand much better). But now that it’s all done, and I’ve stepped back to get a good look at what the effort has produced, I’m very happy with it. It’s a book I’m proud of, and hopefully, my readers will like it to.

And now, on to Book 3…


You might be interested to know that it was exactly two years ago today that I posted my first entry on this blog. Not that I expect that anniversary to mean anything to most or all of you. But it means something to me. I started the blog before I had an agent, and before I was published. So in that sense it’s become a record of all the little milestones of my writing career from the beginning.

It’s also personally gratifying on a different level. You know how at the end of the book Jumanji, two new kids pick up the game in the park and take it home? And they’re the kids who never finish a game? That’s me. I’m notorious for not following through on things. So to say I’ve maintained a blog for two years is something of a personal accomplishment in which I take a measure of pride.


I’ve been meaning to post links to some more online reviews that have popped up for The Clockwork Three. I appreciate the time that each of the reviewers and bloggers put into reading and thinking about the book. Hop on over and check them out.

Fuse #8

Kidsreads, which also has an interview

The Review Broads

21 pages

Fantasy Literature

The Unread Reader

Dearest Dreams

Update: A few more reviews…

Librarian’s Quest

It’s All About Books

Night Writer

Revisions are a Weekend at Bernie’s

I’ve been working through revisions on my next book for the past few months, and it’s been a challenge for me.  Revisions to The Clockwork Three were relatively painless.  Not so with my next book.  Not at all.

I’ve made it no secret that I hate revisions.  Some writers talk about how much they love revisions.  That’s when the story really takes shape for them, and they actually have to force themselves to stop fiddling with the words.  Well, it seems that’s not how I’m wired.  For me, the real excitement is in the first draft, where all the discovery takes place.  That’s when the story really lives and breathes for me as something vibrant and exciting.  Going back to it after the words have cooled off feels a bit like posing a corpse.

But over the past few months, I’ve also learned that I can do it.  Which is a good thing, since all signs point to revisions having a constant presence in my career going forward from here.  I’m not out of the woods with my current book yet, but I’m getting there.


I’ll be presenting at the upcoming regional conference for the Utah/Southern Idaho branch of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  The date is November 13th, and the event will be held at the Salt Lake City main library (210 East, 400 South).  The title of my presentation is, “Voice: Where do I get one of those?”  I suggested the title somewhat humorously, but now that I look at it, I realize that I should probably have an answer.  Feel free to come and find out if I do!

Details and how to register for the event here.  But I think you can also come and register the day of the conference.


The Association of Booksellers for Children have just announced their “2010 New Voices” picks, and The Clockwork Three is on the list!  So are several fellow 10ers, including Jennifer Cervantes, Christina Diaz Gonzales, and Blythe Woolston.  Also on the list is fellow Utah writer Kristen Chandler!  I’m honored and thrilled to be in such great company.  You can see the full list and read more about it here.


I also realized I haven’t yet posted the UK cover of The Clockwork Three.

Pretty cool, huh?  The Clockwork Three has sold in several countries, and I think it will be fun to see the different covers.

That’s the news for now!

SCIBA – 2010

This past weekend, Scholastic sent me to Hollywood for the annual trade show of the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association, where I got to meet lots of book-loving people, and had a wonderful time.

The night before the trade show, I went out to eat with my publicist, Lauren, and Roz, the Scholastic sales rep for the Southern California area.  (Though her territory includes much more than Southern California.  She gets to go to Hawaii on business!)  Dinner was delicious, and the restaurant was decked out in cobwebs and spooky candles for Halloween.  I think Lauren referred to the style as “haunted bordello” or something like that.  Over our meal we talked a bit about my presentation, and afterward we walked back to the hotel, trodding upon the Hollywood stars (not the people, the pieces of cement).  As we walked, Roz commented on the placement of certain stars, and how some of them are kind of off to the side all by their lonesome.  Then Lauren pointed out that Dean Martin’s star now sits in front of a lingerie store, and we all agreed that Dean would likely have approved of women seeing his name and thinking of him as they go to buy their intimates.

We went back to the hotel, and as I walked to my room I noticed that each of the room-number plaques also featured a welcoming picture in silouette.  Like a hand holding a doorkey, or a champaign glass.  Well, this was the picture by my door…

…and it made me kind of vaguely nervous the first time I opened it.

The next day, I gave my speech.  I talked a bit about the books and the bookstores that have been important to me while growing up and moving around with the military.  And then I talked a bit about The Clockwork Three.  I think it went pretty well.  Fellow Utah author Ally Condie also spoke, and talked about choice and the role it plays in her new novel, Matched.  We shared the stage with several other authors, including Al Yankovic.  Yes, the “weird” one, but for his new picture book, he’s just Al.  Did you know that guy has sold, like, 12 million albums?  I remember listening to him as a kid, and if you had told me a couple of years ago that I would one day meet and speak on the same stage as Weird Al, I would probably have told you that you’d listened to “White and Nerdy” one too many times.  But nevertheless…

After the lunch, there was a signing, and Ally Condie and I shared a table and signed a lot of books.

Then the trade show started and I went to see Roz at the Scholastic booth, only to find Kazu Kibuishi there.  I’ve known of Kazu’s work as editor and contributor to the Flight comics anthologies, which are amazing, but more recently I’ve come to love his Amulet series of graphic novels for Scholastic.  If you haven’t read them, you should seek them out.  At any rate, I started talking with him about his books, and we had a great conversation about what he’s trying to achieve with them (and succeeding very well, if you ask me) which then turned into a conversation about story in general.  At some point I walked away to get a drink, and when I returned, Kazu was holding The Clockwork Three.

“This is you,” he said.

“Yes, it is,” I said.

I guess while I had been gone, he had picked up my book and said to Roz, “This author has the same name as that guy I was just talking to.”

To which Roz had said, “No, that guy was the author.”

I had been so excited to meet Kazu, I hadn’t even introduced myself.  So when I came back, we all kind of chuckled about it.  And then we continued our conversation, during the course of which Kazu’s interpretation of the Pixar film Ratatouille shifted the way I’ve been thinking about a future project of mine for the better.  So thanks to him for that.  We signed each other’s books, and he left to go to a dinner.

Kazu Kibuishi and me.

Roz, me, and Lauren

Then Lauren and I went to eat dinner at this place that served really amazing hamburgers.  Now, people who know me know how much I love hamburgers, so apparently Lauren knows me well.  Having worked in Hollywood for a film studio, Lauren also gave me a guided tour of Hollywood, past Grauman’s Chinese Theater

…where I snapped this photo, because I’m kind of nerdy like that:

The next day, I flew home.  It was a great weekend, and I owe a big thanks to Lauren and Roz for taking such good care of me.  If you’re interested, Publishers Weekly has a write-up on the event that you can read here.

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