Stories and citizenship



For over seven years of my life, I’ve lived in Britain. I’ve earned a degree here; I’ve written books here; I’m raising my child here. But I’ve done all this as an American.

Now I’m American AND British.

My UK naturalization ceremony took place at Oxford County Hall yesterday. Besides me, it included people from Jamaica, Poland, Bangladesh, Canada, Somalia, China, India, South Africa, Hong Kong, and a number of other countries. It started out as a solemn occasion, and ended up feeling joyful, thanks to the generous welcoming speeches from the officials and the high spirits and happiness of us new citizens.

For all of us, this has been a long journey. In my case, it began with stories.

My first visits to Britain didn’t come courtesy of planes or ships, but from books. Growing up, I read lots of American authors, but also many, many British ones. Books like Tom’s Midnight Garden, A Little Princess, The Secret Garden, the Mary Poppins books, the Narnia books, and The Dark Is Rising cycle (and later, books by Dorothy Sayers, Jane Austen, the Brontes, and A. S. Byatt, among others) were part of my imaginary landscape.

When I first came to England as a graduate student, I felt as if I’d stepped through a wardrobe and discovered that my Narnia was real. Which isn’t to say that I understood everything here (I didn’t), or that I didn’t have misconceptions (I had plenty). But it does mean that there was magic for me in living here. There still is.

Thanks in part to books, my heart has belonged to two countries for a long time. Now it’s official.

My first act as a British citizen? I went to the library.


Summer into Fall

We had a glorious summer this year. And a full one, with visits with much-loved grandparents, days spent in Oxford with dear friends who we hardly ever get to see, trips to Bath and Chesil Beach….

Chesil Beach on a sunny day

Chesil Beach on a sunny day

...and on a stormy one.

…and on a stormy one.

It was also the summer I learned I was a celiac. Which meant changing my diet completely and learning to love quinoa. (Fortunately, I quickly realized that quinoa is GREAT.) We ate a lot of cake while I worked out a whole new way of baking,

Red currant cream cake (gluten-free, but you'd never guess)

Redcurrant cream cake (gluten-free, but you’d never guess)

And now it’s fall (an American word that stays with me, though everyone here calls it autumn). We’ve had a lot of chilly weather this September, which has been great for writing. I wrap myself up in my writer’s cape and spend my days deep in the third Chantress book.

But this week I’ve had to set the new book aside because the page proofs for Chantress Alchemy have come in. I am always tempted to skimp at this stage, because it takes enormous effort to read it for the umpteenth time, word for word, knowing that you can’t make any big changes. But as always, I’m knuckling down and doing the work, because there’s always stuff I catch at the end: little things like a missing “the,” and bigger things like copyedits that have fallen into the wrong paragraph.

One good thing about page proofs is that you finally see your words as they will be in the book, all beautifully laid out. This is the stage where I look and say, “Wow! It’s going to be a real book!”

Title page of Chantress Alchemy

Title page of Chantress Alchemy

***One last bit of news: I learned this week that an ALA Teen Tastemakers panel for Simon & Schuster chose Chantress as a favorite read. Which means S&S is offering everyone the chance to read the book for FREE on their PulseIt site until September 29th:

Chantress Alchemy – The cover!



The cover for Chantress Alchemy has been a closely guarded secret over at Simon & Schuster – but I get to reveal it to you today! The delightful Hafsah, who unveiled the Chantress cover last year, is again hosting the official reveal at her blog, Icey Books. Visit her to see the cover in its full glory and to read the book synopsis (also under wraps until now). You can also enter a giveaway for a finished copy of Chantress from Simon & Schuster (US only)!

I’ll also share a small version of the cover here (click to enlarge). I’m thrilled that they went with my working title – and I’m told that the gorgeous lettering will be done in blue foil on the real covers:

Chantress Alchemy

Huge thanks to everyone at Simon & Schuster and McElderry Books who helped with the cover & kept it secret! And special thanks go out to the team behind both Chantress covers: art director Michael McCartney and photographer Ali Smith.

Roses and juggling

Oh, my stars. Is it really mid-July? I can’t believe it’s been two whole months since I last posted anything here.

The trouble is that I’m juggling altogether too many things – publicity for Chantress, the last edits for Chantress Alchemy, and the start of the third Chantress book. And that’s just the writing part! When I do get a bit of online time, it’s measured in moments, so you’re more likely to find me tweeting than blogging these days.

All things considered, I’ve been fairly productive juggler. This summer I’ve done various guest posts for other blogs, including a fun one about the touchstone images for Chantress, where you can see the Tower of London at night and a chained book and one of the most amazing clockwork pictures ever. I’ve worked on flap copy and other odds and ends for Chantress Alchemy. And I’ve got Book 3 (still untitled) off to a great start. I even squeezed in a radio interview and a short writing retreat in deepest Oxfordshire.

But all the same, I have my issues with juggling. It’s a necessary skill, but you can do too much of it. After one too many nights up in the wee hours, mind racing, I’ve begun looking for ways to center myself and slow down.

I started last month with something I’ve neglected for a long time: meditation. It’s amazing how even five minutes of essentially doing nothing can somehow change everything. I’m starting to say “no” to a whole bunch of things that were wearing me out. Although I still have a heavy workload, I now have a little more time to say “yes” to the things that really make me happy: walks and talks with my daughter, playing the piano, concocting a new flavor of ice cream…

I’ve also been spending more time in my garden. Poor garden! At one point this spring, it was almost as neglected as this blog. But it’s holding its own now, despite this month’s brutal heat-wave. You still couldn’t call it a show garden, but every day it brings me pleasure.

The motto I chose for 2013 is “Fill the well” — and little by little, I’m working out how to do that.

How do you fill the well? I’d love to hear.


A walk around the garden…


…with the friendly neighborhood cat (who is especially interested in the catnip)


Lots of purples this month…


And pinks galore.







Chantress travels – virtual and real

As you may have noticed, Chantress and I are gallivanting all over the internet this month. Here are a few highlights:

*Today I’m talking about Putting Your Internal Editor to Work over at Janice Hardy’s wonderful writing blog, The Other Side of the Story.

* On the Enchanted Inkpot last week, the delightful Deva Fagan asked me some terrific questions about the music, magic, and science in Chantress, and the process of crafting an original fantasy world.

* I’ve also talked to some lovely teen bloggers this week. Nobonita of Daydreaming Bookworm asked me to write a post about the intriguing world of real-life Restoration London, and how it inspired the setting of Chantress. And Annabelle Marie of Sparkles and Lightning asked me to give tips on creating a character.

* These last two posts are part of the Chantress blog tour bonanza organized by the amazing Shane Morgan of Itching for Books. The tour includes an international giveaway of a signed copy of Chantress, which runs through this weekend. Thank you so much to all the bloggers who’ve participated, and to everyone who’s entered!

Besides gadding about on the internet, I’ll be doing some real-life travel, too. I’m thrilled to be attending WisCon this year from May 24-27th. Here’s my reading/speaking schedule:

Friday, May 24th, 4:00-5.15pm ENCHANTING THE PAST (with Ellen Kushner, Pan Morigan, and Caroline Stevermer and me)

London in the 1660s . . . . New York City in 1902 . . . An alternative America in the 1960s . . . . Painstakingly researched historical fiction, with a twist of Magic thrown in to make it even more–real? believable? Or just desirable? The double art of a historical fantasist is to make the magical as concrete as the real, and the past as real as today. Think we can do it? Come and see!

Saturday, May 25th, 10:00-11:15 am, WOMEN IN POWER IN FICTION AND HISTORY (with Rebecca Maines, Dr. Janice M. Bogstad, Valerie L. Guyant, Philip Kaveny, and me)

How have women fared, historically and fictionally, in positions of power? What speculative fiction works address this well? How have women in power in the real world addressed challenges? How does the behavior of men and men in positions of power compare, in both fiction and the real world?

Saturday, May 25th, 2:30-3:45 pm, IT’S ACTUALLY QUITE HARD TO RIP A BODICE, PART 2: HISTORICAL ACCURACY IN FICTION (with Mary Robinette Kowal, Vylar Kaftan, Delia Sherman, Jo Walton, and me)

Continuing the discussion from WisCon 36, the panelists will offer more advanced techniques for conducting historical research, ensuring accuracy, and how to handle situations with problematic historical attitudes to race, class, and gender.

I’ll also be at the WisCon Sign-Out on Monday.

On Tuesday, May 28th, I’ll be appearing at Simon & Schuster’s BEA Blogger Preview Party with Susanne Young, Cat Patrick, Corey Haydu, Lauren DeStefano, and Jason Reynolds. I wish I could invite everyone who’d like to go, but S&S is in charge of the invitation list. If you’re there, please come and say hello – I’d love to meet you!

The truth is in the journals

How do we keep writing in times of doubt? How do we have faith in our books and ourselves?

Today, on Chantress‘s release date, I’ve been thinking a lot about these questions. It took me about six years to write Chantress, and for all kinds of reasons I found it hard to keep going. At times it was hard for me to believe the book would ever be finished, let alone published. And yet still I kept working on it. Why?

I’ve been leafing through my writing journals for answers. There’s plenty of anguish in those journals, and often the joy of creation is swamped by doubt, discouragement, and fear. But this entry from November 2007 leaped out at me:

I’m feeling discouraged today…. everyone has zoomed past me. It’s been 2 ½ years since my last book was published, and 4 ½ since my last children’s book was published. That’s an eon in the book world. Arrrrgh.

(In the end the gap between books would amount to a full EIGHT YEARS. Probably just as well that I didn’t know that then.)

But what really got me was what I wrote next:

Still, I am where I am. And I am *who* I am. And that’s where I have to start.


As a very wise writer I know once said, “You need to write the book that only you can write.”

And if you do that, you have something to hold on to, no matter what. I was working this out during these years, as you can see from what I wrote in another journal entry:

[I’m reminded again that] writing really is about an inner life — about a gradual and quiet unfolding of the soul. It’s a messy process sometimes, a stumbling in the dark, but it’s where the real work and growth happen.

I’m sending heartfelt thanks to everyone who has helped me during this long journey, and to everyone who’s celebrating with me today. And I’m wishing courage and good cheer to all those who, like me, often struggle with dark and doubt, as we work to be true to ourselves.

West Oxfordshire-20130403-01525

Chantress, bookstores, and my high school cafeteria

Chantress‘s official publication day is tomorrow! And I hear that it’s already showing up in stores.*** WOW! and YIKES! and YAAAAAAAYYYY!

This week Simon & Schuster is going to be celebrating the book’s debut by allowing people to read it online for a few days on their PulseIt site. More details on that when I have them! [ETA: Until May 12th, you can sign up with Simon PulseIt to read Chantress for free online!

In the meantime I’ve blogged over on the S&S site about my inspiration for the book (including a few revelations from high school):

What inspired me to write Chantress? The remarkable ravens at the Tower of London played a role, and so did my love for romantic adventure and my fascination with English history. But I was also inspired by what might be the most unromantic place on the planet: my high school cafeteria…

For more, click here!

***It looks like Chantress will even be stocked in some Barnes and Nobles stores, despite the ongoing (and horribly distressing) dispute between B&N and S&S that Stephanie Burgis blogged about so eloquently. But as long as the dispute lasts, it will (like other S&S books) only be stocked in small numbers at best, and I’ve heard they won’t reorder — so if you want a B&N copy, hurry over! Or find yourself a wonderful indie and get it there. And please consider ordering yourself a copy of Stephanie’s Renegade Magic, too, while you’re at it — it’s such a delicious treat of a book!

Thankful Thursday: Fellow artist


One of the best things about making a book trailer was having the chance to work with pictures. I’m a visual thinker, but as a writer I mostly work with words, so immersing myself in images all day was a treat. And my favorite image from the trailer — Jeannette Faith’s stunning “Bride of the Sea” — has a great story behind it.


Before I saw “Bride of the Sea,” I searched through many, many photo sites, trying to find an image of a girl by the ocean that felt right to me — an image that spoke of mystery and magic, of loneliness and strength, of storms and waves and the pull of the tide. A tall order, admittedly! I started to think it just wasn’t out there.

Then I saw Jeannette’s photo on Flickr, and I fell hard for it, and for her work as a whole. She creates haunting and truly inspired photographs. Each one sings a song; each one tells a story.

Wonderful as Jeannette’s sea photo was, I wasn’t sure I’d be allowed to use it. We had a shoestring budget for images, and I knew I’d have to ask for permission to alter the photo slightly. (The girl in the photo is blonde, and my heroine is dark.) I figured Jeannette would probably say no. But at last I girded up the courage to email her, explaining how much I loved the image and offering to pay her what I could afford to use the image in the trailer.

In return, I received the most incredibly generous letter from Jeannette, who granted me permission to use the photo for free, saying she “would be more than happy to help out a fellow artist.”

My book is about a girl who sings magic — and it turns out that Jeanette, in addition to being a gifted photographer, is a wonderful singer and musician. She does smooth, subtle vocals and keyboards for a terrific group called Hearts + Horses. (If you want to check out their music, you can find it on iTunes, bandcamp and Amazon. My very favorite track is “Be With Me.” )

She also composes and performs music for film. By the time I wrote to her, I was already committed to other music, but if any of you want to commission original music for your own trailers, take note!

I was amazed and delighted to discover all these musical connections behind “Bride of the Sea.” And every time I see Jeannette’s photograph, I’m amazed all over again – not just by the beauty of the image, but by the generous heart of the photographer.

Ta-dah! It’s a book trailer…

The book trailer for Chantress is making its debut! To see the original reveal and win a copy of the finished book from Simon & Schuster, please check out the wonderful blog Icey Books.

I’m going to post the trailer here, too:

I’m so happy to be able to share it with you! David and I put it together, and we’re really delighted with how it turned out.

I’m looking forward to sharing some tips and tricks for trailer-making in later posts. But for now, I’ll just share this secret: Making a trailer can be a bit like throwing a party. If you’re lucky, you have all kinds of wonderful people bringing good things to the table.

I’m grateful to all the people whose talents contributed in one way or another to mine: Jeannette Faith, Sean Sheerwood, Leigh Diprose, Soarer, Jack Francis, Ali Smith, and Michael McCartney — and of course David, my tech-genius husband!

Tomorrow: a fun behind-the-scenes story about making the trailer…

Look what came in the mail!


The first finished copies of Chantress arrived in New York this week, but I knew it would take a while to ship mine across the Atlantic. I was just hoping they’d arrive before May 7th, the book’s official pub date.

So when the doorbell rang yesterday, I wasn’t thinking about my book.

But look — it’s here!

20130412_121731 (768x1024)

My editor and her assistant expressed a copy over to me here in England, bless them. And oh, is it beautiful! So glossy, and the title just shines. And inside the book are my words. Words that I wasn’t sure would ever live outside my computer… but there they are, published in this gorgeous book.

More pretty pictures to follow, but before I forget, Simon & Schuster is giving away 25 (!) ARCs (advance reader copies) of Chantress on Goodreads.* These aren’t glossy the way hardback is, but the story is pretty much the same. The giveaway ends this weekend, and you can find it here:

(*Unlike the earlier giveaways I ran, this one is only open to US residents, as per S&S policy. Sorry! As a UK resident, I know it’s frustrating to be left out.)

And now those pictures:


West Oxfordshire-20130413-01553

West Oxfordshire-20130413-01554

West Oxfordshire-20130413-01551 (2)