Thursday, 29 March 2012

UPDATES, UPDATES, UPDATES

Hello, hello, hello, Dear Readers! Today I have many small pieces - one might even say tesserae - of loveliness to share, making this post a veritable mosaic of joy.

First, Shadows on the Moon. The (rather stunningly) good review by Kirkus Reviews is now online for all to see - although they've got the release date wrong. That's still the 24th of April. Some other early reviews are also starting to appear on U.S. blogs, which is very gratifying. Links below:

Dark Faerie Tales - Four Raven Review

Amy's Book Den - Excellent Find

The Book Queen - Four Star Review

Finding Wonderland

Anna Reads

Several of these reviews bring up the topic of the different U.S. and U.K. covers, and the universal opinion seems to be that people prefer the U.K. one, which is a little surprising to me, as I find both equally beautiful and would have expected, therefore, an even split. I think the really brilliant thing about both covers is that, on top of being very attractive, they're both pieces of art which will come to hold a deeper meaning for you as you actually read the book and understand the themes and imagery the artists were playing with. That's just my two cents on the matter, in case anyone cares (which probably no one does).

The U.S. release of Shadows also attracted the attention of the lovely Ellen Oh, who invited me to take part in a series of diversity related posts she's hosting on her blog at the moment. My post will be up next week, and I'll blog the link on Tuesday, but if you don't want to wait you can check it out on Monday. Make sure you stop a while and appreciate the rest of the blog too. Ellen is a fantastic person and I'm very much looking forward to reading her debut novel when I can get my hands on it. 

Next up, FrostFire and Daughter of the Flames. There is now a link on Amazon that will allow you to pre-order the new, scarlet-coated version of Daughter of the Flames with the gorgeous girlie on the front, if anyone's interested in adding it to their collection (either because they don't already have one, or because they want their copy to match the FF cover. Or maybe just because it's so darn pretty). The FrostFire artwork is finally up on Amazon too.

By strange coincidence, yesterday my editor emailed me the very-final-tweaked-buffed-and-polished full-cover artwork for both books, which I thought I would share with you since (all together now) it's so darn pretty. #NoRaceFail covers FTW!

Note: the white swirls and spine lettering you see on the DotF cover will be rendered in reflective blue foil on the real cover. (All together now) ooooh, shiny!





Let's just stand back for a moment and bask in all that glory, shall we?

*Contented Sigh*

OK, OK, enough basking. Stop it now. Get on with your day.

Read you on Thursday, my lovelies!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

MY CAMPAIGN FOR QUEEN OF TEEN!

Hello, Dear readers! Today I make my final post on the Queen of Teen subject - by reposting a guest post that the lovely folks at the Walker Undercover Blog asked me to write last week. Basically, if this doesn't convince you to get in there and vote for me (or some other author you love)? Nothing will. Read on!

*****
 
Shhhh. *Looks around furtively* I need to tell you a secret, OK?

It's really embarrassing. You won't tell anyone, right? This is just between you and me?

Here goes.

I really... kind of... love... pink.

When I was a little girl and my mum tried to put me in a pair of jeans, I threw an epic tantrum and wouldn't leave the house, even though said jeans had been specially bought because they had pink embroidered flowers all over them. When my cousin didn't invite me to be a bridesmaid at her wedding I cried for hours because I swear to you, I wanted that big pink puffy meringue dress more than I wanted to live. One of my favourite toys for years was a troll doll with hot-pink hair in a full ballerina's outfit including hot-pink tutu and toe shoes. It never left my sight.

And these days, I love something else which is very pink and sparkly. I love... the Queen of Teen Award.

I know, right!? Me! Me, with my martial arts and Feminism and fantasy/sci-fi nerdery. Me, with all the big talk about sexism and diversity and trying to write the change you want to see in the world. Me, with my powerful heroines that go around fighting and casting spells and rescuing the heroes and freeing nations.

I feel so ashamed of myself! I'm letting the side down! Right? Right?

Or how about: OH HECK NO.

What you see before you here is a dichotomy which many of us ladies face in our day to day lives. We want to be fierce, strong, independent people, fighting back against stereotypes of what femininity can and cannot be. We want respect and we are prepared to kick butt and take names until we get it.

But we also really, really, really want that pair of pink suede kitten heel slingbacks we saw on sale last week...

Humans have a problem, and it is this: we like to put things in boxes. We like to be able to put Hairy Chested Manly Things in one box, and Fragrant Pink Girly things in another. Girls may sometimes, and with a large application of effort, be allowed to play in the Hairy Chested Manly Things box and borrow some stuff (like, you know, wearing trousers, voting, owning property). But we're not allowed to have everything we might want, and we're often under threat of someone coming along and taking those things back from us. And if we like the stuff out of the boys box too much, we'll probably have some very unkind names thrown at us. And men are pretty much never allowed to glance at the Fragrant Pink Girly Box without getting sneered at and possibly beaten up by others, some of whom might even be women.

And ladies - many ladies - including me! - have seen this and they say: 'I shall not play in the Fragrant Pink Girly Box! I shall not be forced into certain roles and choices in life! I shall partake only of the Hairy Chested Manly things - like being tough and strong, and not caring about personal hygiene - AND THAT WILL JUST SHOW YOU!'

Ladies. Comrades. Sisters in arms and sisters in pink suede kitten heel slingbacks. I am here to tell you that you do not have to chose.

Many, many of the things our society has put in the Hairy Chested Manly Box, like wearing trousers, and kicking butts, and being strong, are awesome. And many, many things society has put in the Fragrant Pink Girly Box, like falling in love, and caring about relationships, are also awesome.

The thing that is very not awesome? Is the label there on the box that says 'Manly' or 'Girly'.

Because this makes those of us who like stuff from both boxes feel bad. It makes us scared. It makes us allow other people to tell us that things we like and care about and enjoy are wrong, merely because of the private parts assigned to us by fate. That is not awesome at all. It's so far from awesome that I'd quite like to catch it and put it in a box all of its very own. And then hit the box with a stick. And then drop the box off a very high cliff.

It's 2012, and all of us, boys and girls, should feel free to play in both boxes and take what we like out of both of them and then construct our own, personal idea of what it is to be a man or a woman. Pink is not essentially girly, no matter what those box loving people think (in fact, until a couple of hundred years ago pink was traditionally a boy's colour, did you know that?). And being hairy is just as much a girly thing as a man thing - anyone who has seen a woman's collection of hair removing products cannot doubt this. We do not live as hunter-gatherers anymore. The natural order of things is the way that feels natural to each of us as individuals.

My dears, the Queen of Teen award is about celebrating women's contributions to the field of Young Adult writing and all those amazing, life affirming books out there which are aimed at young women. I think we can all agree that this is a wonderful thing. And as such, I would very much like to win it, and take that sparkly Queen of Teen crown for my very own.

But now I'm the one with a problem, and my problem is this: my books... my books are not really very pink and sparkly. They are not like the books which have won the sparkly crown in the past. My books are fantasy, and they have sword-fights and magic, and blood and passion, and honour, and self-sacrifice. And on occasion, things blowing up. And even though I know very well that a lot of girls love books like this, I am worried that no one would ever think of nominating me for the Queen of Teen.

I am worried that they won't let me and my books out of the box.

You, my Dear Readers, are the only ones who can lift the lid and free me from that box. And you are the only ones who can free the Teen of Queen award from its box too. You are the ones who can make a new, box-free space where a woman who just wants to write books about magic and sword fights can win the sparkly crown she wants so so dearly. Where the award itself can be shown to be embracing all kinds of girls, including those who may not love pink things at all.

So this is a plea to you. All of you girls who love pink and sparkly things. And all of you girls who love sword fights and magic. And all of you girls who love both. The world may not want you to have strength and independence AND your suede kitten heels - but I think you can. I think we can. And if you believe it too?

VOTE. NOW.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

MY TAKE ON FANFICTION

Good morning (or afternoon or evening, or whenever you're reading this) Dear Readers!

A few pieces of other business before we tackle today's blog topic. After my Pinterest related post last week there were some requests for me to make boards showcasing the images that inspired me when I was writing some of my published books, as well as the WIPs. Luckily I still had the files for Shadows on the Moon and FrostFire, so their boards are up there now if you're interested.

Also, a reminder that the Queen of Teen award nomination window is still open - but not for much longer! There's going to be a guest post and possibly a giveaway on the Undercover Reads Blog about this probably later this week, but please don't wait for that. Vote now!

And now onto the main point of this post: Fanfiction. My thoughts, let me show you them.

Lately there has been a big-bottom kerfuffle over a series of self-published books called 50 Shades of Grey (which I will not post a buy-link to, for reasons which will soon become clear). These books don't seem to be anything all that special - basically they're naughty romances with whips and chains and other titilating things. But they've become a huge success, to the extent that a publisher has paid between six and seven figures for the right to produce a hardcopy version, and high-profile production companies are battling it out to make a film. And most of that seems to be down to the fact that once upon a time, 50 Shades of Grey was a fanfic. More specifically, a Twilight fanfic.

There's been the usual misogynistic sneering over these silly bookeses that the silly wimminz read and all that, but the part of the debate which interests me is the one you see there on that link above, where people are asking: is this ethical? Is it right that a piece of fiction which originated from another author's work should now generate income for someone else? Is it OK to file off the serial numbers of a fanfic and sell it as original fiction?

A little over a month ago I would have shrugged my shoulders over this without thinking much about it either way (other than wondering if there's some sort of fairy glamour attached to Twilight which turns anything even tangenitally connected to it into a huge hit, and whose kidney I'd have to eat to get some of that for myself). I'd never written fanfic, never read it, and as far as I'm aware no one's ever written any for my books. So who cares, right?

But about a month ago I was checking out one of my favourite sites, Reasoning With Vampires, where a grammar-junkie dissects Twilight on a prose level and makes much pedantic hilarity of its awfulness, and she had a Q&A post where someone asked her, had she ever read any Twilight fanfic? She said that she didn't really enjoy fanfic much, so she'd only ever read one piece: The Movement of the Earth (don't click on that link if you're under the age of consent - there's language and adult stuff). This fanfic was, in her opinion, a rather brilliant piece of writing by a very talented author who attempted to re-write the story in a way that allowed for actual characterisation, plot, pacing and some degree of story logic while remaining within the 'Meyer Voice' (ie, making it look like she could barely string a coherent sentence together).

Fascinated, I hied hither and read The Movement of the Earth. And I found it good. So then I read all the author's other fics, which were dark and scary and beautiful and real, even though every single one of them was inspired by the work of other authors. And then I followed links from that writer's LJ to FanFiction.net where I found other authors writing Twilight fanfic and I, Twilight-hater-extraordinaire, FELL IN LOVE.

I read a million takes on Twilight. I read stories where authors took the characters and events of the story and remade them into something transcendent and wonderful which I could simply never have imagined. I read stories where characters I'd never imagined as a couple fell in love and I believed it. I read fics so diverse and brave and brilliant that, apart from the names, it would have been impossible for me to tell that there had ever been any connection to Stephenie Meyer's work in the first place. I read fics that made me giggle and snort like an otter with fish guts on its nose, and fics that made me snort and sob like an otter with fish guts on its nose.

I read a couple of pieces of writing so amazing that I desperately tried to figure out if it would be too presumptuous to email the authors, tell them I thought their work was grade-A, publication quality awesome, and beg them to do some serial number filing so they could submit to my agent (I haven't done this, by the way - I'm honestly not sure, given fanfic culture, if the writers would find that an insult).

Of course, I also waded through an awful lot of utter, complete, dreck. But how is that different from any visit to my local bookshop? Not at all, actually.

And as I was reading and laughing and crying and mentally composing (but not actually writing) begging emails to these fanfic writers, it occurred to me that actually, I *have* written fanfic in the past. I just never called it that, because I'd never heard the term when I was twelve. And I never had any kind of an outlet to share it; when I was a kid there was no online fandom and no FanFiction.net or anything of the sort.

I suddenly remembered filling a green school exercise book with my take on scenarios where Daine and Numair of Tamora Pierce's The Immortals Quartet finally admitted their feelings for each other and kissed for the first time. I re-wrote Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca with myself as the heroine (and I kicked Max DeWinter's butt, let me tell you). I wrote hundreds of poems that were directly inspired by situations I read about in other people's books.

And all this? Is the reason why I am the writer I am today.

Writing fanfiction is like...like a talented artist carefully imitating the work of Picasso or Monet or Leonardo deVinci in order to learn the skills that allowed those earlier artists to create such beauty. It's like me listening to a piece of music with a specific mood, over and over, to help me write a certain scene with that mood. It's taking a recipe which doesn't quite work for you and tweaking it, messing with it, taking certain ingredients out and putting new ones in until you've come up with something unique and different which has a little flavour of the original.

So my take on fanfiction is this: I'm all for it. I think it's a great testing ground for people who are often enormously talented in their own right to learn necessary skills in writing and taking and giving constructive criticism. If anyone ever wants to write any for my work I'll be astonished but pleased (although I'm not sure I'll be able to read it). And if someone offers you a publishing deal for a piece of work inspired by my writing, all you're going to need to do is make sure you file those serial numbers off really well, and I'll be delighted for you.

Have at it.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

MY LATEST ADDICTION

Happy Thursday, Dear Readers! Today I'm going to introduce you to my latest addiction/guilty pleasure/procrastination device:

Pinterest.

Oh, so much pretty! So, so, so much pretty, Dear Readers!

Ahem.

So, yeah, after seeing that lots of authors were using the site to build up mood and inspiration pinboards for their books, I got overexcited by the pretty caved into temptation and begged on Twitter for someone who already had an account to send me an invite (which you need in order to sign up). A very, very kind gentleman writer did the honours, and soon I was setting up my very own visual inspiration boards.

Now, I've posted the odd picture here on the blog in the past to give you a flavour of what I might be working on, but I'm not sure you guys fully realise the extent of my magpie-like obsession with Teh Pretty. I haven't even uploaded a quarter of the pictures from my files onto Pinterest yet, but it's really satisfying to see the images that I've collected over years organised and together on screen like that. The only thing that makes me sad is that you can't, as far as I can see, pin sound files or videos - which are another enduring source of creative fuel - to the board. Maybe they'll change that in the future.

In the meantime, here are the links to the boards I've currently got running.

Katana Trilogy

Barefoot on the Wind

General Inspiration

And to make up for the fact that there's no music included, here:

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

FOREIGN COVERS, AWARDS & AUDIOBOOKS (Oh my!)

Hello, Dear Readers! Welcome back and Happy Tuesday (first time typing that? Probably!) to you all! Today's blog comes with three pieces of Shadows on the Moon news which I hope you'll find as interesting as I do.

The first relates to the Google Alert that appeared in my inbox late on Sunday, telling me Shadows on the Moon had been mentioned on the Achuka website. Since that's a very well respected blog that covers many aspects of children's publishing, I hastened hither. And found this. Shadows on the Lancashire Book of the Year shortlist, surrounded by some absolute YA crackers!

Of course it was very nice to see it there. The problem was that I couldn't actually believe it. My publisher hadn't mentioned anything to me, and when I checked the Lancashire Book of the Year website they hadn't even put this year's shortlist up yet. There was no mention of the shortlist for 2012 anywhere else online. As it was a Sunday, I couldn't email anyone at my publisher about it, either. So I decided not to get too happy. These things have been mistakes before.

Then on Monday morning I got another Google Alert, this time with a link to this article. This was when I started to let myself get a bit excited, because there's a lot of detail here (Adele Geras? Eeee!). I sent off my email to Walker Books. And a few hours later it was confirmed - Shadows really is on the shortlist for the Lancashire Book of the Year 2012. Whoot! Shadows on the Moon is doing really well for itself here in the UK - that's the third award shortlist it's made, not counting the Sasakawa Prize, which it won prior to publication. I can only hope that the recent excellent Kirkus review and the Junior Library Guild Selection are hints that it will do as well in the U.S. when it comes out there in April.

And speaking of the US release (see what I did there?) the second piece of news I have comes from Candlewick Press, who have teamed up with Brilliance Audio to create the audiobook of Shadows on the Moon. This is the first time that any of my books will have been adapted to audiobook and frankly I can't wait to be able to listen to it. I have this idea that it will allow me to see the book in a completely new way, coming to it like a reader rather than a writer. Which means I was overjoyed to be told the name of the voice actress narrating the audio version: Amy Rubinate. I was sent a tiny sample of her reading, and then went out and looked for more myself. She has a very soft American accent, and her voice has a great deal of warmth and vulnerability, which I adore. Here, here and here are some samples if you want to check out her talent.

And now for the final piece of Shadows news! And this might be the most exciting bit of all. Aaaages ago I was told that Polish rights for Shadows on the Moon had been sold to Edgmont, and since this was my first foreign rights sale ever I was delighted. But I haven't heard anything since, so it was with great jublilation that I discovered (only this morning, Dear Readers!) that the Polish version is now available for pre-order (released on 18th of April) and got my first glimpse at the cover art. Here it is:


Isn't this gorgeous?! I love the shadows of Kanzi and bamboo leaves falling on the model's skin (very thematically significant!) and the darkness around her face. That lovely red circle, which I assume represents the moon as well as being a nod to the Japanese flag, is also a beautiful touch. I just wish that I could get a translation of all the words (both Polish and Japanese) on this cover! So intriguing. Here's a link to the page where I found it, which I pressed the translate function on - the translated synopsis is good for a laugh in my opinion. I really hope that's not what the Polish people are reading!

All in all, an excellent Tuesday for me :) I think I'll be answering some reader emails/comments on Thursday, so read you all then, my lovelies.

Friday, 2 March 2012

RETROFRIDAY: DEAR TEEN ME

Happy Friday, my Dear Readers! Today is our very last RetroFriday! Although that's not as dramatic as it sounds - it's just because from next week I won't be posting on Fridays anymore, so if I decide to pull posts out of the archive they'll appear on a Tuesday or Thursday. But whatever! I thought I'd give us a proper send-off by resurrecting the most emo post I've ever written. And so I give you...

RETROFRIDAY: DEAR TEEN ME
 
***WARNING! ADULT LANGUAGE BELOW!***

Hey you! Yes, you – the fourteen year old with the nail scissors! Put those down and pay attention. I’ve got something to say to you, something you need to hear. Listen up.

You’re in a pretty awful place right now. You’re in a place not many people get low enough to experience in their lives, and even fewer climb out of. This is probably the worst you’ve ever felt about yourself, and you’re thinking: can I go on like this? Do I even want to? Maybe there’s a way out…

No, don’t try and brush me off. I’m not going to be fooled by that big goofy grin or your hyperactive chatter. I know the truth. Those half-healed cuts and scratches on your arms and legs? The ‘accidental’ ones that you lie about so well, no one ever questions you? Yeah. I still have those scars, kiddo. So let’s not play games.

Today, on the way home from school, a group of about ten boys, ranging in age from twelve to sixteen, cornered you. They pushed you up against the wall of a building and spat on you. Spat in your face, in your hair, on your clothes. They laughed and taunted you while they did it. When you managed to get away and get home, you scrubbed yourself until your skin bled, washed your hair until handfuls started coming out. But no matter what you did, you couldn’t get clean. You feel like you’ll never be clean again.

And you and I both know that this isn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened to you.

Every day since you were eleven, you’ve gotten up, eaten breakfast, left your house, and walked into a nightmare. You’ve been kicked, pinched, punched, tripped, pushed down stairs, been stabbed, had ink poured down your back, and on one memorable occasion, had eight separate pieces of chewing gum stuck in your hair. You’ve been shunned. Screamed at. Tortured in every way that a person can be, short of hot pokers and bamboo shoots under the nails. You’ve watched every person you ever called a friend scatter because just being close to you was too dangerous. You’ve seen teachers who pounce on improperly fastened school uniforms or kids holding hands brush off your suffering by telling you to ‘just ignore it’. You’ve lived through punishments on the occasions when you dared to fight back. You’ve even heard your own parents ask each other, when they thought you couldn’t hear: ‘Why does this keep happening to her? What is she doing wrong?’

That’s the question I’m here to answer for you, fourteen-year-old Zolah. Just what the Hell is wrong with you?

Nothing.

Not a single, solitary fucking thing.

Shut up. Don’t start arguing with me. Don’t start crying. You’ve never let them see you cry, and now is not the time to start.

This isn’t your fault. You didn’t do anything to deserve this. There’s nothing missing inside you, no essential flaw, no reason at all why 50% of the kids at your school take pleasure in tormenting you, or why none of the adults in your life seem to be able to help you. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU.

There’s some stuff right with you, though. Some stuff you’ve never realised because you’re too lonely and depressed and emo to realise it. Let me spell it out.

You’re brave. You’re incredibly, stunningly, wonderfully brave. You don’t know this. In fact, you think you’re a coward, that if you were just brave enough you could get people to leave you alone. But the truth is that the courage it takes to keep walking into that school, day after day, to keep putting your hand up in class, to keep studying and doing your homework, to keep reading your books and talking exactly how you want to talk? Is possibly the greatest courage in the world. I’m awed by that courage. One day you’re going to be awed by it too.

You’re also compassionate. Don’t ask me why that matters. I know it’s not a virtue anyone gives a crap about in your life right now, but one day your kindness is going to make you real friends. Friends who will do anything for you, friends who’ll stick with you no matter what, who would never abandon you and take cover. Friends who’ll make your life worth living.

And you’re clever – and it’s not anything to be ashamed of. You sometimes wonder if it wouldn’t be better if you were like everyone else, if you thought books were stupid, if you didn’t want to learn. But you’re dead wrong. Your intelligence is a gift, an amazing gift. Stop cursing it.

So here’s the deal. I’m not going to lie. Things aren’t going to look up straight away. In fact, you’ve got some bad stuff to come. Really bad. But you are going to survive it. And in the not-too-distant future, good things are going to start happening, things which will make up for everything you’ve gone through so far. I promise. YOU will make those things happen. The very traits the other kids hate about you, the bravery, compassion and intelligence that they try to beat out of you, will allow you to follow and find your dreams.

So put those scissors down, okay? You don’t have to punish yourself. You don’t have to keep hurting yourself. You didn’t do anything wrong. There is nothing wrong with you. You’re going to put the scissors down, Zolah. And someday, soon, you’re going to be all right.

**This is a guest post that was written for the wonderful site Dear Teen Me. Check it out to read hilarious and inspiring letters from authors all over the world to their teen selves**
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