What music taught me about writing

I’m celebrating a book birthday today! It’s the official pub date for the final book in the Chantress trilogy, Chantress Fury.

I had to work hard for this book. For a slow writer like me, the deadline pressure was overwhelming. And yet there was so much that I truly loved about writing Chantress Fury. With Lucy at the height of her powers, I could finally unleash the Wild Magic of the sea, forcing Lucy to confront wily mermaids, terrifying sea monsters, and a flood that threatens to drown all England. I also had secrets galore to unveil, many of them woven through all three books. And in the midst of all these twists and turns, I wanted Lucy to make a deep emotional journey, one that ends in her understanding more fully who she is and where she belongs.

It was a tall order. Especially under deadline.

Part of what pulled me through was the very thread that had carried me into the trilogy in the first place: music. Singing with my choir, playing the piano, warbling with my family – these gave me energy and perspective to face what was an incredibly challenging year.

But the importance of music went even deeper than that. My childhood was full of music, and much of what I learned then has stood me in good stead with writing, too:

  1. Practice. My extraordinary high school music teacher used to tell our choir that if he had to pick between talent and hard work, he’d pick the hard worker every time. This made a huge impression on me, and I think it’s true of writing, too. If I’ve learned anything from music over the years, it’s that practice matters.
  1. Sharing. Making music by yourself is wonderful, and writing for yourself is, too. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that both can be lifesavers. (At least they have been for me.) That said, there is a special magic in sharing your music and writing with others. Both can be terrifying (again, I speak from experience) but there’s something very powerful about sharing what matters to you. And you don’t have to play at Carnegie Hall to benefit. Making music with friends in your living room will do it, and so will sharing a story with a good critique group.
  1. A Tolerance for Mess. I’m a neatnik by nature, so it pains me to admit this, but music and writing both thrive on a certain amount of chaos. If you’re challenging yourself, you’re guaranteed to hit points where everything feels like a mess. Maybe you can’t hit the weird high notes in your new song. Maybe your poem falls apart in the middle. Don’t despair! Just keep working.
  1. Judgement. You need discernment to get better at both music and writing, so when your gut tells you that something isn’t working, pay attention. And yet at the same time you must remember that you are not always the best judge of your own work. Especially when you are in the middle of it.
  1. Loving Your Work. The work is easier if you’re doing what you love. Of course, there comes a point with almost every piece (writing or music) where the passion cools, at least for a while. For me, it helps to pull back and remember what made me fall in love in the first place—those blues chords in the bass line, the character’s voice in the novel—and see if there’s any way to work a little more of that into my daily practice.

What about you? Is there something you love that’s taught you about writing, or about living? I’d love to hear.

 

 

Mending, Monsters, and the Fantastic Flying Book Club

Almost six months without blogging! I’m pretty sure that’s a new record for me. But they were a tough six months, starting with a terrifying night in A&E in November (complete with my first-ever ambulance ride) and culminating in surgery in March, followed by complications, then flu, and finally pneumonia.

It’s been a long, hard trudge, and it’s not over yet.  Thankfully, however, I seem to have turned a corner this week, and at last the road looks a little easier. (Excuse me while I go find some wood to knock on.  With crossed fingers.  And maybe a little salt thrown over my shoulder.)

I’m doubly glad to be on the mend since this is the week that the wonderful bloggers from the Fantastic Flying Book Club are hosting a blog tour for Chantress Fury.  We have interviews for you and excerpts and reviews galore — and a giveaway, too! You can see if your Top Ten Sea Monsters match mine, and discover what 300-year-old book inspired Chantress. You’ll also find out what I think of the new covers, learn a few of my quirks, and get a hint about what’s coming up next.

The giveaway is a double feature, with TWO finished hardbacks of the book on offer! The first one, from Simon & Schuster, will go to a resident of the US.  The other one is open to anyone in the world.  Winners will be announced on Chantress Fury’s official publication day: May 19th.

You can find the giveaway entry at every tour stop. The complete tour schedule is here!

 

 

 

You donate, we’ll match it – a challenge to fight Ebola

Please feel free to share! MSF is a top-rated charity, with over 85% of its money going directly toward its humanitarian work. They’ve been fighting Ebola since March, and they’ve treated over 3000 people so far.  I’m awed by their compassion and courage.

You can donate to MSF UK here: http://www.msf.org.uk/make-a-donation

And you can give to Doctors without Borders here: https://donate.doctorswithoutborders.org/onetime.cfm

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Thank you so much! And do be sure to let us know when you donate, either here or on Facebook or Twitter!

Three for one!

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Oh, your poor neglected blog! You got pushed out of the nest by Book 3, didn’t you? This year, and especially this summer, Chantress Fury demanded all the words I had to give, not to mention all the energy and time and life-force. Truly, this book took everything. It finally went off to my editor on August 15th, and I’ve been recovering ever since — greatly helped along by my editor’s lovely note saying that the final draft was wonderful. (Such a relief!)

At some point I hope to have more words for new books — and yes, for blog posts, too. But for the moment, what I have to share are pictures.  Today lovely Alyssa Susanna is hosting the cover reveal for Chantress Fury over on her super blog, Eater of Books. It’s actually a TRIPLE cover reveal, as Simon & Schuster is changing the look of the entire trilogy. I’ll post a couple snapshots of the new covers here, but do go and check out Alyssa’s blog post to see the covers in their full glory, and to enter the international giveaway of the first two books!

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Gift books and transformations

It’s publication day! And my books have made it across the Atlantic: the paperback of Chantress, and the brand new hardcover of Chantress Alchemy. It’s wonderful to hold them in my hands.

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Every once in a while, some writers get a “gift book” — one that comes together quickly and with much less angst that usual, one where the story seems to know from the get-go what it wants to be. That was my experience with Chantress Alchemy.

That didn’t mean I hardly had to lift a finger, or that I never made mistakes. I put in long hours, and there were weeks where I lived more in the story than I did in the real world. But mostly this book was a joy to write.

Maybe that’s because it was about alchemy, which is something that’s fascinated me for ages. It’s also about the transformative power of friendship and love, and about the way our weaknesses can sometimes make us stronger — all things I deeply believe in.

But then again, I always write about things I care deeply about. (I’d never find the strength to keep at the writing, otherwise!) So in the end I have no real explanation for my gift book. Which I think is the nature of the beast. All you can do is be grateful when it happens.

At the moment, I’m wrestling with book three, which alas, is not a gift book. Although there’s a lot I love about it, it’s been hard work, and I’m having to finish it on a very tight deadline. So that makes me all the more grateful that the stars aligned for Chantress Alchemy.

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If you’d like to know more about Chantress Alchemy, I’m doing a tour this week with some wonderful bloggers, thanks to the amazing team at Rockstar Book Tours. Today I’m visiting Word Spelunking where I share secrets and photos of the great houses in England that inspired the setting for Chantress Alchemy.

The full tour schedule is here. And the tour includes a giveaway of copies of the book, which anyone in the world can enter!

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ETA: I forgot to add that the first few chapters are now online! You can find them here.

Skype chats, trailers, blog tours — and chocolate cake

A few weeks ago, I found a note in my in-box from a teacher at my old middle school.  Her kids had read Chantress and loved it, and she was wondering if I’d do a Skype chat with them.

Of course I said yes.  On Friday we talked, and the kids were great, bursting with good questions.  I had so much fun talking with them.  And here’s something else that delighted me:  Later on, the kids were going to have chocolate cake as a special treat, because they’d read it was my favorite.

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Warmest thanks to Barbara Peria for making the chat happen, and to her 6th grade class for all their enthusiasm!

The chat came at the end of an incredibly busy week, as I gear up for the debut of Chantress Alchemy on May 6th — now just nine days away!  The amazing bloggers at Mundie Moms unveiled the book trailer on Thursday.  You can win a free copy of Chantress Alchemy over at their blog!

Like the Chantress trailer, this one is a home-grown production.  I wrote the super-short script, and my husband brought it to life.  It wowed Simon & Schuster, which makes us happy.

Chantress is coming out in paperback on May 6th, too — and you can win a copy of it over on Goodreads.  There’s a giveaway of a Chantress Alchemy ARC on Goodreads as well.

Tomorrow the pre-pub blog tour for Chantress Alchemy begins, organized by the lovely women of the Fantastic Flying Book Club.  I’ll be answering questions about writing, Chantresses, alchemy, book covers, and what the week after publication is like.  And yes, I might just be mentioning chocolate now and again.  You can see the schedule here!

 

A writing book recommendation: Views from a Window Seat

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During my early years as a writer, I used to read books and articles about writing over lunch.  I was housebound by illness much of the time, and the days could be long and lonely, especially when the writing wasn’t going very well.  So in a very real way those books were company – a home-grown version of a masterclass series, my own Algonquin round table.  There in my sunny kitchen, I could almost hear the authors talking to me: Katherine Paterson, Anne Lamott, William Zinsser, E. M. Forster, Gayle Brandeis, Maurice Sendak, Mollie Hunter, Barbara Tuchman, Syd Field, Elizabeth Berg, Madeleine L’Engle, Lloyd Alexander, Barbara Kingsolver, and E. L. Konigsburg.  They gave me the encouragement to get up from the table and try once again to make my own writing sing.

My life is busier now, and those kinds of lunches are few and far between, but I still love to read books about the writing craft.  And now I have a new favorite to lunch with: Views from a Window Seat: Thoughts on Writing and Life by Jeannine Atkins.

Jeannine is a wonderful writer of poetry and children’s books, and her strengths include gifts for metaphor, for uncovering past lives, and for honing in on telling details.  I discovered her blog (also called Views from a Window Seat) when I was a young mother trying to find my way back to a regular writing practice.  It quickly became one of my favorite ports of call.  Since then, I’ve had the delight of getting to know her in person, too – and she’s just as thoughtful and interesting and warm-hearted as her blog is.

Jeannine is always honest about the writing life, sticky bits and all – the confusion, the excitement, the anxieties, the isolation, the delights.  I read her posts and nod and laugh in recognition:  I’ve felt that way, too, I think.

But here’s the most amazing thing about her blog:  It makes me want to write.

So you can see why I’m thrilled to have this collection of Jeannine’s essays.  Drawn in part from the blog, it considers the various seasons and stages of writing: beginnings, middles, revision, and endings.  On pretty much every page, you’ll find wise advice and encouragement, all offered with empathy and humor.  If you’re looking for your own lunchtime masterclass, I highly recommend it.

Thankful Thursday: Here and now

All my life I’ve tended to get ahead of myself.  My eyes slip past today and focus on tomorrow, next month, a year from now.  To prepare myself for what’s coming, I write the longest checklists of anyone I know.  My friends joke that I’m a walking calendar.

You could call it a gift for advanced planning, but I’m not so sure it’s a gift.  In the end, the future is just a guessing game, a lesson brought home to me in my 20s, when I was a grad student and queen of the 7-year-plan.  At that point in my life, I had not one, but three 7-year plans – Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C – which I thought sufficient to cover all eventualities.  But then, right smack in the middle of Plan A, I was struck down by a major illness.  My plans died on the vine.  Instead of earning a PhD, I spent those years learning to walk again and figuring out how to use speech-recognition software so that I could write.

After an experience like that, you would think I would learn.  But the planner inside me has never really given up.  She worries about so many things, that planner, and she figures that if she can just get everything on the calendar, she can keep me on a safe and sure path.  Ever since I signed up to write the Chantress trilogy, she’s had a field day.  This year, especially, the workload and deadlines have been so intense that it’s easy to find myself slipping again into a kind of tunnel vision, where I’m focused only on the next deadline, the next release date, the next set of boxes on the to-do list.

But life isn’t a tunnel  –  or at least it shouldn’t be.  A to-do list is a good servant, but it’s a terrible master.  So I’m grateful for every single thing that pulls me back into the moment at hand:  a joke from my daughter, a phone call from a friend, the song my husband whistles, the pale butter-yellow of our February primroses, the crispness of red peppers on my cutting board.

When you’re a planner by nature, and your deadlines are on top of you, anything unexpected can feel like disaster.  (There’s a special school play today? The storm blew down the climbing rose? What do you mean, we’re out of milk?)  But in a very real way, it’s those unexpected interruptions that keep me human, that keep me grounded.  I don’t want my head to be always off in the unknowable future.  I also want to live in the here and now.

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Chantress Alchemy – the ARCs are in!

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Behold what DHL delivered!

IMG-20131202-01983Chantress Alchemy is my fourth book, so you’d think I’d be used to this by now.  But my heart still started pounding when I opened up the box and saw these ARCs.

My first thought:

Someone could be reading my book right now – how wonderful! 

Closely followed by:

Someone could be reading my book right now – how terrifying!

I once read a story about a little girl who was walking to a party and felt butterflies in her stomach.  She asked her dad what that feeling was called.  “Anxiety,” he said, so that’s what she called it, too.  It was only when she was much older that she realized the feeling she was really trying to describe that day was anticipation.

I always feel both anticipation and anxiety when a new book goes out.  But I’m very proud of this one – and excited, too.

There are limited ARCs and e-galleys available, but there’s an international giveaway for a signed ARC on Goodreads that everyone can enter.

Reviewers, booksellers, librarians, and bloggers can request a review copy using this form.  You also may be able to get an e-galley through Edelweiss.  I wish I could guarantee a review copy to everyone who wants one, but Simon & Schuster makes the final call.

The actual hardcover book – which, unlike the ARCs, will have a glossy, glimmering cover – comes out on May 6, 2014!