Category: The Clockwork Three

Travels, Part 2

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.




Claymation! Plus, Scholastic HQ.

Just a couple of videos today.

The first is a book trailer that a fan made for The Clockwork Three. In claymation!

I love that the door to Alice’s cabin is yellow, just like in the book. Now that’s attention to detail!

The second video is of the Scholastic headquarters in New York City. Having briefly been there once before, it was kind of cool to see it again.

Travels, part 1

I’ve been doing a fair amount of traveling recently to promote Icefall. The first trip was to the Baltimore Book Festival in Maryland. Having lived in Maryland for several years, it felt a bit like going home. I stayed near the Inner Harbor, a place I really liked as a kid, especially the National Aquarium and the Maryland Science Center.

The view of the Inner Harbor from my hotel room.

Before my event at the book festival, I went to do some sightseeing. I was particularly interested in exploring the U.S. Sloop-of-War Constellation as research for the novel I’m currently writing. Below are some pictures I took of the ship.

The Captain's cabin.

The next picture is of the Captain’s toilet and bathtub (he even had a view). You really can’t see it, but the bathtub is about the size of a large sink. And this was the only toilet on the ship. The rest of the crew had to use a special place at the bow, or the head, of the ship. Which is where the expression, “hit the head” comes from.

Good aim was apparently a prerequisite for any captain.

Okay, enough bathroom trivia. How about some cannons…

The gun deck.

The Wardroom, or officers' quarters.

An officer's cabin.

While the Captain and his officers stayed in relative comfort, the crew did not. When occupied by sleeping crewmen, their section of the ship was said to become an oven. A really dark and smelly oven.

More comfortable than you might think. Like a hammock in your backyard, only without the sun, the breeze, or any sense of privacy.

The Sick Bay was eye-opening. It had several cases of surgical implements on display, which suggested all kinds of painful things just by their appearance, but were almost exclusively focused on dealing with battle trauma. And back then, the way you dealt with battle trauma was usually amputation. While amputation has become a last resort today, back then it was a first line of defense against infection and death. Amputation saved a lot of lives.

Up on the top deck, they gave us a cannon-firing demonstration, which was pretty cool.

It was loud.

So there I was on this faithfully restored ship, a noble vessel which had been used to combat slavery and had seen many battles, and then over the side I heard this swashbuckling, pirate-y music, and I looked down to see another little ship “sailing” by…

We had a real cannon. They had water guns. We had history, and they had Disneyland. I started chuckling, and so did several people beside me on the Constellation, so I know I wasn’t the only one to appreciate the juxtaposition.

Just to orient you, the windows sticking out from the side are where you'll find the earlier bathtub and toilet.

After I was done exploring the ship, I had enough time to visit the National Aquarium. One of the coolest things I saw there was an exhibit of jellyfish. I can’t think of a more relaxing activity than watching jellyfish undulating in the water. Seriously. I could have stood in front of the glass for hours, man.

The Aquarium also had a 4-D theater.

“There’s a 4th dimension?” I said to myself.  I had never experienced a 4th dimension before, I so bought a ticket to a showing of “Planet Earth: Pole to Pole.” While the theater didn’t let me transcend my limited 3-dimensional awareness, it did blow icy wind and snow in my face during the arctic scenes, fill the air with bubbles for the underwater scenes, jab me in the back when a Great White Shark took out a seal, and shoot water mist in my face as though from an elephant’s trunk. Which is to say, it ended up being pretty fun.

After that I went to the book festival for my event, a steampunk panel with Kelly Link, Gavin Grant, and Eden Unger Bowditch. Kelly and Gavin have recently co-edited an amazing anthology of steampunk short stories, appropriately titled Steampunk!, and Eden has written The Atomic Weight of Secrets. The panel was a lot of fun, and Emma from The Children’s Bookstore did a wonderful job moderating it. I was especially excited to meet Kelly, whose work I have long admired (really, check out her stuff).

Kelly Link, Gavin Grant, & Eden Unger Bowditch listening to me blather. Also, the goggles were because, you know, steampunk.

After the panel I had a lovely dinner with Emma (my publicist for the event), Emma (from the bookstore), Eden, and a really nice bookstore volunteer helping out with the event.


My next trip was to Denver, Colorado for the annual trade-show of the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association.  But before that I paid a school visit to the Hill Campus of Arts and Sciences.  The students were awesome, especially a young man named Isaiah. He had a reading wager going at the time, and I hope he won the bet and earned his free copy of Icefall. After I finished my presentation, I noticed a display for perhaps the greatest science project I’ve ever seen:

My kind of science!

Let’s look a little closer at exactly how this worked…

Step 2.5) Do not laugh.

What were the results?  Funny you should ask…

Clearly, blue Poprocks are the best.

My sponsors for the school visit were the lovely ladies of The Bookies bookstore. After the school visit, they fed me lunch and gave me a little unintended and entertaining tour of Denver before depositing me safely back at the hotel for my event. I participated in the “Author Tea,” along with several other writers, including Utah’s own Ann Cannon and Randall Wright. During the course of the tea, I got to move around to several tables and meet some passionate and wonderful booksellers. After that, the fabulous Roz set up a dinner with folks from The Bookies, The Tattered Cover, and the Boulder Book Store.  Great food and great company.

And that was Denver. More travel coming soon…

A very talented young composer.

I recently received an amazing email from a young reader named Alessandro, who is 11 years old, a violinist, and a composer. He shared with me a video, the premiere of a quartet he wrote for flute, clarinet, cello, and viola. The piece is called “The Clockmaker, the Hotel Maid, and the Italian Violinist.”

From the composer’s notes:

The inspiration for this piece came to me from a book I recently read, “The Clockwork Three” by Matthew J. Kirby…

At the beginning they all live in gloomy situations, as you can hear at the start of the piece, a sad theme. They each try to escape and make their life better: a faster theme represents their attempts to escape. However, every time the bad guys win, and the sad melody comes back. At some point the 3 kids meet, and I’ve merged previous themes together to represent that important event.

They try to escape together, the escape theme comes back with instruments playing new motives, and we get into the Presto part, the final fight, where the kids defeat the bad guys. The Italian violinist can now return back to Italy, and the Presto becomes a tarantella, a Southern Italian dance. Finally there is a coda, where the escape theme becomes Allegro Vivace, and everybody lives happy ever after.

That alone left me a little speechless. It’s a truly magical thing to think that my story inspired someone else’s art and creativity. As happens with some premieres, the performance had a slight hiccup partway through where the flutist seems to have forgotten the rest of the score. But you can still get a sense of the piece when the music is replaced by a synthesized sound for the last part. And be sure to watch to the end, where Alessandro stands up on the front row and takes his bow.

Okay, silence all cellphones, please. Without further ado, I present to you Alessandro’s “Quartet in F-sharp Minor.”

Isn’t that awesome? I have to say, he really captured the spirit of the book. I hear Giuseppe in those notes, and Frederick, and Hannah, and even perhaps Stephano’s low growl. I’m told the composer is currently working on Giuseppe’s “canzone” for solo violin and full orchestra. I cannot wait to hear it.

Bravo, Alessandro! Bravo!

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.

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.


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).


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.

Turkish Delight

Summer is here.  And once again I’m reminded that I find the idea of summer to be much more appealing than the real thing.  I like playing in the water, I like barbecuing, and because I work in education, summer still has that childhood association with “No school!”  But ultimately the heat just kills me.  I hate it.  During the day, I don’t want to go out and do anything.  I just want to stay where there’s lots of A/C, and lots of Diet Mountain Dew and Coke Zero.

To beat the heat, a couple of days ago my wife gave me an amazing gadget.  I’ve just mentioned my addiction taste for soda (or pop, or “coke,” depending on where you live) and because my wife knows me and loves me, she got me a Sodastream.  Have you heard of these things?  With one of these marvelous inventions, you can MAKE YOUR OWN CARBONATED BEVERAGES.  It’s amazing.  I have to admit I laugh like some kind of Willy Wonka mad scientist every time I make another fizzy bottle.  So far, I’ve tried the diet root beer (pretty good), the “cola free” (a zero calorie cola more like Pepsi than Coke) and the “diet fountain mist” (an approximation of Diet Mountain Dew that misses the mark, but still tastes all right).  But if you’re thinking of getting one of these, be careful what you try to carbonate.  I’ve had a mishap or two…


The Clockwork Three has been released in Turkish.  This is the cover:

I think the title is so awesome.  Google tells me it translates into English as Tiktaktak Trio, which I assume means the “tiktaktak” is what it looks like.  The onomatopoeic sound of a clock.  This is cool to me because when I was brainstorming titles for The Clockwork Three, one that I considered for about five minutes was Tick Tock.  So I got to see it in print, sort of, after all.


The BEA folks have put up a video of the Middle Grade Editors’ Buzz Forum online.  My editor, Lisa, talks about Icefall (and The Clockwork Three) toward the beginning of the clip. If you’re interested in watching it, you can do so here.

And I think that’s all for now.

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

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

The Clockwork Three in German, and also a contest

I recently posted the Complex Chinese cover for The Clockwork Three. It’s been a lot of fun seeing how the foreign publishers handle the cover – different approaches work for different audiences. I recently came across the German cover, which is entirely different from the U.S. cover. Here it is:

The elements of the book are all there. Giuseppe on his violin, Frederick working on a clock (placed inexplicably in a wall near the ground) and Hannah offering help. I believe the title translates to “The Movement of the Night,”  which is quite lovely.

While we’re on the subject of The Clockwork Three, my friend and fellow writer, Elena Jube, is giving away a copy. Hop on over to her blog and give it a look, if you’re interested in winning one.

Oh, and Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! To celebrate, here are a couple of photos from a trip my wife and I took to Ireland a few years ago (my wife is the photographer).

And here’s a link to a post I wrote a while ago about a Road Bowling game we encountered on the same trip.

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