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.
I meant to post this a long time ago, but somehow forgot. (I say “somehow,” but really there’s no “somehow” when you forget things as often as I do.) You may remember Alessandro, the young musician who composed a quartet inspired by The Clockwork Three. Well, he has done the same for Icefall, and I continue to be amazed by this young man’s talent.
Here is how he described the piece:
Sextet on an Ice Epic is a piece inspired by Matthew J Kirby’s book Icefall. The structure of the piece loosely reflects the story:
• A “run-away” theme plays when Solveig, a young princess, is forced to run away in an icy land.
• She spends a lot of time alone, like a star in the Northern sky, sad but strong (sweet “Solveig theme”).
• Enemies arrive, they want to kill her! Solveig’s warriors fight to defend her (battle theme).
• The run-away theme returns, since Solveig and her warriors are forced to run off, but …
• Solveig has an idea and the enemy is defeated (“tumbling down” theme).
• Her dad, the king, finally arrives and Solveig is now happy again (peace theme).
A few weeks ago, Scholastic was kind enough to send me to Los Angeles to receive the PEN Center USA Award for Icefall. I have to say, I think this was one of the most intimidating events I’ve been to. It’s partly because I was there alone and didn’t know anyone. It’s partly because it was held in Beverly Hills, and I’d spent that afternoon walking past stores I didn’t think I could even afford to set foot in. The banquet and ceremony were held in a ballroom at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and there was a cocktail reception before the event, during which I was just sort of hanging out on my own at the edges, watching the people and simply enjoying being there.
At one point, while I was texting my editor, I looked up and saw someone standing right in front of me who seemed familiar. She had red hair, and it took about five seconds for me to think to myself, “That’s Molly Ringwald.” And before I could decide if it was a good idea to say anything to her, she looked at me and smiled, and I smiled back and blurted out, “Are you Molly Ringwald?”
“Yes,” she said.
I’m sure at this point she usually gets the Breakfast Club or 16 Candles appreciation, but I was more interested in the fact that I thought I’d heard she’d written a book. So I asked her about it. It’s a collection of short stories tied together by a theme of betrayal called When it Happens to You. We talked about that briefly, and then she asked about my work and we talked about Icefall.
The whole interaction lasted maybe two minutes, but it was kind of fun to have a Hollywood moment while I was there. I thought about asking to take a picture with her, but after feeling the mood of the room, I decided I didn’t want to be that guy.
That’s me giving my speech. Thanks to Drew Filus for snapping the picture.
When I went up to receive my award and give my acceptance speech, I talked about what an honor it was to receive the same award that had been given to Ursula K. Le Guin a few years ago. I haven’t ever blogged about Ms. Le Guin in detail, or what her work has meant to me. I think that’s something I need to remedy in the near future. I am a writer because I read her books.
It was a really wonderful evening. Thank you again to PEN Center USA for the honor, and to Scholastic (I’m looking at you Candace!) for their support in sending me. And congratulations to the other finalists!
We had our first snowfall of the year a couple of days ago, and woke up to this:
The back yard.
The front yard.
Pretty magical. I looked out the window and felt a bit like Ralphie in A Christmas Story on Christmas morning, with the harp music playing and everything. It has put me in mind of the holidays, that’s for sure.
And speaking of holidays, a good friend of mine, Kimball Fisher, has written a short story for the Christmas season. It’s titled Finding the Baby Jesus. I really enjoyed it and blurbed it. It’s available through Amazon.
Yesterday, I received copies of the German translation of Icefall. I think it’s a really interesting take, and I particularly like the tattoos on Solveig’s hand and face. I had never pictured her that way, but I think it’s pretty cool. It’s also fun to see how widely interpretations of the material can vary, when comparing this, the more realistic German cover:
to the more fantastical, almost ethereal Italian translation:
In some ways, this is actually a reflection of the different ways people read the book.
Just a reminder, I’ll be in Utah this week doing a couple of library events on the 17th, in Murray and Brigham City. If you’re in the area, come on by! Details to the right in the sidebar.
I’m honored and pleased to announce that Icefall has won the 2012 PEN Center USA Literary Award for Children’s Literature! I continue to be humbled and touched by the attention Icefall has received. As I’ve talked about many times, Solveig and her story are very close and personal to me, and I love that the book has resonated with others. Congratulations to the other finalists, including Trent Reedy for Words in the Dust, Allen Say for Drawing from Memory, and Gretchen Woelfle for All the World’s a Stage: A Novel in Five Acts. One of the judges for this year’s award did a write up here. I look forward to going to the banquet to receive the award next month.
Last month, James Dashner’s Infinity Ring Book 1: A Mutiny in Time came out in bookstores, and I was fortunate enough to be there for the big launch in Salt Lake City on August 29th. James did a couple of school visits that day, and I went along with him. We went to Canyon Rim and Rowland Hall, and both schools were a blast (in spite of the fact that James told the kids I was a serial killer. I mean, look at this picture:
Now tell me, which of us looks more like a serial killer?) It was a special treat going to Rowland Hall, because the librarian there, fellow author Becky Hall, was once my 5th grade teacher at Uintah Elementary.
I love doing school visits. More so now, I think because the school year has started and I’m not working with the kids on a daily basis anymore. It’s been a bit odd for me. Even though I am so excited to be writing full-time, a part of me misses it.
After the school visits, Jennifer Nielsen joined us for the launch event at the Salt Lake City Public Library, hosted by the amazing folks at The King’s English. At the event, I told the audience that The King’s English is the heart of the writing community in Utah, and I meant it. During the event, James, Jen, and I did a reader’s theater, each taking one of the three main characters in the Infinity Ring, with special guest Brodi Ashton as the narrator.
And afterward, we signed books and posters. Those who came were able to get both signed by all three of us:
The event reminded me of a few of things. First, how fun it is to be involved in something like The Infinity Ring, with such talented writers and friends. Second, how amazing it is that three of the six Infinity Ring authors are from Utah. And third, how much I miss the people with whom I have formed such meaningful relationships while I lived in Utah.
Thanks again to the Salt Lake Library, The King’s English (especially Rachel!), and Chris and Charisse from Scholastic for putting together such a great event.
As some of you may have heard, last week Icefall won the Edgar Award in the Juvenile Fiction category! I am honestly still a bit stunned. The nomination alone took me completely by surprise, to say nothing of actually winning. But I’m so thrilled and honored, and I’d like to say thank you to the Mystery Writers of America.
I flew to New York City last week for the big banquet, which is a very fancy black-tie event. I actually went out and bought a suit for it, since I didn’t own one. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. The day before the banquet, I participated in a great panel with some of the other Edgar nominees, including Sheela Chari, Maureen Johnson, Todd Strasser, and Tom Angleberger. The topic of the panel was how we write for modern readers, and there were lots of witty and insightful things said by my fellow panelists. And Tom made us all laugh.
Prior to the banquet, we went to a reception for the nominees, and I have to say this part of the night was something I’d been anticipating for months, because Neil Gaiman was a nominee in the short fiction category. I was looking forward to the opportunity to meet him, shake his hand, and say thank you. As I was writing Icefall, I struggled with how to incorporate all the Norse mythology in an organic way. I wanted it to feel integral to the story, an essential part of the whole. And so I studied American Gods, because nobody does myth better than Gaiman. And I’m grateful that I was able to tell him all of that in person.
After the reception, the banquet began. It opened with a personal, videotaped message from John Cusack (who is currently staring as the man himself, Edgar Allan Poe, in the new movie The Raven) which, as a fan of his, I thought was super cool. Then, for the next hour or so, I tried not to think about the award. I just did my best to stay calm, eat my dinner, socialize, and for the most part I succeeded. But as soon as the presenter for my category took the stage, a tidal wave of nerves and heart palpitations crashed over me. And when they called my name, I got up and gave my acceptance speech in a daze. I’m still not exactly sure what I said. I know I quoted Richard Peck (“We write by the light of every book we’ve ever read.”) as a reference to the very bright light Gaiman had shined on me.
In fact, after the banquet I was able to give Neil a copy of Icefall, and that’s something I’ll remember for a long, long time.
Congratulations to all the other nominees. I’m glad I was able to spend time with them, and if you’re looking for good mysteries to read or suggest to kids, I highly recommend every one of their books. (And for a bit more on each of them, try this article from the Christian Science Monitor.)
I also have to take a moment to once again thank my agent, Stephen Fraser, and my editor, Lisa Sandell, as well as Candace Greene and Lauren Felsenstein and all the other wonderful folks at Scholastic who have been so supportive of my career.
And just for fun, some more photos of NYC:
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral
The top of the GE Building at Rockefeller Center
A bag-piping busker outside Grand Central Station
The Hayden Planetarium, where my wonderful editor took me to see a show – amazing!
After the Edgars, I flew to Washington DC for the Malice Domestic conference, where Icefall was nominated for the Agatha Award. My fellow Edgar nominee Shawn Thomas Odyssey and his wife were on the same flight, a flight which had the amazingly good fortune of being on the runway right as the Space Shuttle Enterprise came cruising in on the back of a 747.
Taken by the nice guy next to me, who had the window seat.
The conference itself was a lot of fun. Such a nice group of people. Every person I talked to made me feel welcome, and though I didn’t win the award, I had a great time. Congratulations to the winner, Chris Grabenstein, and all the other nominees.
While in DC, I managed to catch a metro train to the Smithsonian for a couple of hours before my flight out, where they had a couple of new exhibits. The first was of the recently discovered “Titanoboa,” also known as the HOLY-CRAP-IS-THAT-A-SNAKE-boa. Seriously, this 50 foot, 25oo pound monster could strangle just about anything. One of the fact sheets on the creature posed the question, “What did Titanoboa eat?”
“Whatever it wanted.”
That's an alligator tail sticking out of its mouth.
The other exhibit I caught was a butterfly atrium, which was one of the most serene and beautiful things I’ve experienced in a long time. They say that watching fish lowers your blood pressure. Well, I think watching butterflies has the same effect.
And finally, a few more reviews of Icefall from around the web:
This post has been a long time coming, but I do still want to talk about some of the trips I took last fall. One of the things I’ve loved most about my writing career has been the opportunity to travel, to meet new people and have wonderful experiences I wouldn’t otherwise get to have. So without further ado…
I went for the trade-show of the Pacific Northwest Independent Booksellers Association, and was reminded of what amazing people booksellers are. Seriously, for anyone who likes books, it doesn’t get much better than spending time with people who are passionate about getting them into the hands of readers. As part of my events there, I also got to spend time with Allen Say, whose new Drawing from Memory is absolutely wonderful. Allen, by the way, has the smooth and resonant kind of voice that you can listen to all day. He can be saying anything, really. Kind of like when Oprah asked Anthony Hopkins to read the phone book. While in Portland, I also got to spend time with two friends, Danielle Jones and Kimball Fisher, and it was nice to catch up. Danielle took me to Burgerville, a locally sourced, sustainable, and environmentally conscious restaurant chain, and I think it was the first fast-food I’ve eaten without feeling guilty.
The Tweens Read Book Festival was fantastic. The people in charge did an amazing job organizing, and I think it was a great success for its first year. Plus, I got to hear Richard Peck speak, and that is something for which I will go well out of my way. I’ve heard him speak a couple of times before, and the man blows the roof off every time. I carry around several quotes of his in my head. I think my favorite is, “We write by the light of every book we’ve ever read.” But coming in behind that is a new favorite: “Unless you find yourself early in the pages of a book, you will go looking for yourself in all the wrong places.” Brilliant. Here’s a video with some pictures of the event.
I’d already been to Denver earlier in the year, but I went back for several school visits over the course of a few days. The whole trip was put together by Boulder Country Day School’s librarian Melinda Elzinga, and she made my first out-of-state school visits an absolute delight. Everything was well-planned and organized, there were no panic moments, and it all came off without a hitch. Well, except for the part where I tripped over my laptop’s power cord and ripped the power-port right out, leaving me without a laptop for my presentations (fortunately, that happened near the end of my trip). I went to several different schools, including Dawson, the Montessori School of Denver, Friends’ School (which wasn’t a Quaker school as I had assumed) and finally a book fair signing for Graland.
They did something really cool at Melinda’s school, where they teach Latin to the upper grades. They had taken several of the Latin phrases from The Clockwork Three and taped them up in the hallways for the students to translate.
Their Latin teacher had also picked up on the fact that I used Medieval Latin in the book instead of classical Latin. That was actually a conscious choice on my part, one of those little details we writers use and wonder if anyone will even notice. But someone did, and that was gratifying. Thanks again to my brother, Josh, a real-life Renaissance Man, for providing the translations.
The only sightseeing I had time for outside the school visits was a tour of the Celestial Seasonings factory in Boulder. That was a lot of fun, in a Willy Wonka kind of way. I mean, they have a Peppermint Room there, and when you walk into it you get hit with this wall of peppermint that you feel in your nose and makes your eyes water. If you’re ever in Boulder, I recommend the tour. I also stopped back by The Bookies and said hello. Love that store.
I went to NCTE for the first time in November. It has a similar vibe to ALA in that it’s an enormous group of people who are all passionate about books and literacy. I was there for five very busy days. The first couple of days I did school visits, and here I would just like to take a moment to say how much I love doing school visits. To begin with, since schools are where I work, I feel right at home in them. And something else my job has done is inoculate me against any fear of a group of kids, even a large group of kids. I actually enjoy the energy of a big assembly with two or three hundred students. I really don’t get nervous at all, and I thank my job as a school psychologist for that. The other great thing about school visits are all the wonderful things students do to make you feel welcome. Like banners and posters…
…and even violin performances!
I hope to keep doing lots more school visits in the future (if you’re interested, feel free to contact me with the link in the sidebar).
At NCTE I was on a panel talking about revision and peer critique. I gave a big shout-out to my own intrepid critique group, and how they help me every week. (Hm. I just realized that I haven’t talked much about them on the blog before. Have to remedy that.) Also on the panel were Kate Messner, Eric Luper, and Linda Urban, moderated by Denise Johnson.
I really appreciated what everyone on the panel had to say, since revision does not come naturally to me. As I said in my remarks, left to my own devices I am far more likely to go chasing after something new and shiny than I am to return to polish something a bit old and tarnished.
Another NCTE event I did was the Scholastic Literary Brunch with Sarah Weeks, Coe Booth, Jeff Hirsch, and Jen Nielsen.
I love this kind of thing because it allows you to hear an author’s words in their own voice, the way they heard them when they wrote them. It adds so much to the experience of their work when I hold their voice in my head as I read. Case in point, once you hear Coe Booth read from one of her novels, you won’t ever read it the same way again. Oh, and also, David Levithan does an absolutely hilarious impression of an attorney.
Readers' Theater with (L to R) David Levithan, Sarah Weeks, and Coe Booth
While in Chicago, I did a signing event at Anderson’s Bookstore with Trent Reedy, Kenneth Oppel, and Gordon Korman. We had a lot of fun, and afterward went out to a cajun restaurant where they seated us right next to the jazz band. It can be hard to carry on a conversation with a trumpet in your ear, but we gave it our best. I had the turtle soup, since I’d written about it in The Clockwork Three without having ever tasted it, and I figured I needed to at least once. I liked it, enough that I’ll order it again if I ever have the chance.
At the recommendation of my driver, I also stopped by with a few friends for some blues one night at Buddy Guy’s Legends. That was a blast.
One last thing before I move on from Chicago. I have to take a moment and talk about the hotel where we stayed, which was the fanciest hotel I’ve ever been in. To illustrate, when I first walked into the bathroom, I noticed a remote control on the counter by the sinks. I’d never seen a remote control in a bathroom, and I had to wonder what it controlled. So I just kind of held it up, hit the “on” button, and looked around. That’s when I noticed the TV come on in the mirror. Yes, a TV came on inside the mirror! I had that thing on the whole time I was getting ready in the morning because, well, if you have a TV in your mirror, how can you not use it?
Also, the room had an Eames Classic, AKA the chair I’d admired for years while watching Frasier.
I took a nap in it.
New York City
The trip to NYC was for Infinity Ring, which I already wrote about briefly after they announced the series. Aside from the stuff I talked about in that post, we got to see a demo of the 3D computer game (awesome!) that will be an integral part of the series, did some promotional photo and video shoots, and spent time with Scholastic’s sales reps. Also, one night David took us all to see Tiger Beat, the YA band fronted by Libba Bray, which was hilarious and a blast.
And I think that about catches me up. I don’t have too much going on for a little while. I’ll be in Boise in April, speaking at the SCBWI conference, and the week after that I think I’ll be back in NYC for the Edgar Awards Banquet. I’ll be sure to let you know how those trips go.
Just a quick note with some really cool Icefall news. Pretty soon, I hope to do another post about the travel I did in the fall, as well as a belated New Year kind of thing where I talk about my writing goals for the upcoming year.
But in the meantime, I’m really excited to announce that Icefall is a nominee for the Edgar Allan Poe Award in the juvenile fiction category! I am so thrilled by this. I love mysteries. I grew up watching Mystery! on PBS. I had the Edward Gorey introduction memorized, down to the desperate cooing of the lady in distress…
…and Jeremy Brett will always be my first Sherlock Holmes.
That said, the mystery aspect of Icefall was something I always felt a bit insecure about, and doubted whether I could actually write. I think it helped that as a mystery, it is unconventional. I deliberately set out with two goals when writing it. First, I wanted multiple theories to be proven correct in the end. Second, I wanted to write a mystery where the reader didn’t actually want to know who did it. What I mean by that is, I wanted the reader to love each of the characters so much that, like Solveig, they don’t want to find out that any one of them would be capable of betraying her and her family. I don’t know if I accomplished either, but the fact that Icefall has been nominated for a mystery award delights me to no end. Thank you to the Mystery Writers of America.
Icefall is also a finalist for the Cybils in the Middle Grade Science Fiction and Fantasy category, and I’m so excited about that as well. It’s always interesting to me to hear Icefall described as fantasy. Some don’t consider it to be fantasy at all, but historical fiction. As the author, I’m not sure what it is. I know that it feels like a fantasy, because the world in which it takes place is quite foreign, and the Norse myths and legends seem to be stalking the characters, lurking in the mist and the ice. But you never actually see Odin, or Thor, or any dragons or trolls. In the end, I don’t know that it has to be one or the other for the reader to enjoy it. First and foremost, it’s a story.
The New York Public Library recently released their 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing for 2011. Icefall is on the list, and so are a great many other wonderful titles. You should check them out.
And here are a few more reviews of Icefall from around the web.
Some more good news and reviews have been coming in for Icefall.
First, it was recently announced that Icefall has been given the 2011 Parents’ Choice Gold Award in the Fiction category! I’m honored and grateful. Icefall is sharing the award with Brian Selznick’s Wonderstruck, and there are some other great titles on the lists, including The Cheshire Cheese Cat by fellow Utah writer Randall Wright and Carmen Agra Deedy. Be sure to check them all out here.
I recently gave an interview to the Scholastic Book Clubs about Icefall, and you can read it here. Additionally, Icefall was featured in the Editor’s Picks video, which you can watch below.
Icefall has received some very nice reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist.
School Library Journal said, “In a page-turning climax… the ensuing battle and survival scenes are vividly portrayed, and characters fight back with the epic heroism of gods. Solveig is an empathetic heroine and Hake, the hulky berserker war chief, is also a well-developed and (eventually) endearing character. Fans of John Flanagan’s “Ranger’s Apprentice” series (Philomel) will enjoy this adventure tale.”
And Booklist said, “Over the course of the brutal winter, Solveig learns the delicate art of storytelling from her father’s skald (“the poet of the living past”) and also forms a bond of mutual affection with the most fearsome berserker of the bunch. Her stories provide comfort, distraction, and hope for the starving people, but are tested to the utmost when blood begins to spill. Both elegant and exciting, this work recalls Jonathan Stroud’s Heroes of the Valley (2009) in its treatment of the lofty spot that lore occupies in a warrior society and how stories give meaning to both life and death.”
Ann Cannon recently mentioned Icefall in a round-up of some great fall titles by Utah writers. Lots of fine recommendations there. Check out the article here. Of course, Ann should have mentioned in the article that her wonderful middle grade novel Charlotte’s Rose is also back in print.
And Ann Diener, owner of the Yellow Book Road, recently recommended Icefall in the San Diego Union-Tribune, which you can read here.
Finally, a few more bloggers have reviewed Icefall, and you can read their thoughts by following the links below.
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.