Fun and mysteries

Just a quick post today to say that I’m delighted to be a guest on Elizabeth Dulemba’s wonderful blog today, talking about writing, inspiration, and unexpected story twists. And also about how the BBC is a boon to writers and how beetles make things better. (Ra’s scarab beetle buddy would agree with me there.)

I even take a closer look at a goddess.


Yes, I’m looking at you, Bastet!


For more fun and mysteries, come check out my post at Elizabeth’s site. And do take a look at the rest of her great offerings, including her newest book, CROW BY CROW!

On writing a funny book in dark times

Today is RA THE MIGHTY’s book birthday! It’s my sixth book, so you’d think that book birthdays would feel very routine by now. Not so. They’re a cause for celebration every time — and maybe especially this time.

When the idea for this book came to me, I was in the midst of a truly terrible year. I’d had my first emergency ride in an ambulance, multiple hospital consultations, surgery far from home, serious surgical complications, flu, pneumonia, pleuritis, further complications, and a flare-up of lupus. And the year wasn’t over yet.

On top of all that,  I felt burned out as a writer. I’d just finished a YA trilogy written under grueling deadlines, and then I’d written a book that my agent didn’t want. I thought I might never write a book again.

But then one day a cat showed up. An imaginary cat, true — but one bursting with personality. A cat who made me laugh. Soon I discovered he had a scarab beetle buddy, who made me smile, too.

Write a mystery for us, they begged. A funny mystery.

I’m sorry, I told them. You’ve got the wrong writer. Maybe I could do a mystery, if I got my health back and I worked hard. But I can’t do funny.  I wish I could, but humor isn’t one of my gifts. You’ll have to find somebody else.

But the cat and the beetle stuck around. Just give it a try, they urged me. It’ll be fun. You’ll see.

So I finally did. And they were right. It was a joy to write their book.

Happy book birthday, Ra and Khepri! Thank you for seeing me through a dark, dark time. It’s wonderful to see you in living color.


My writing mascot watches over Ra and Khepri’s book

That isn’t the end of my gratitude. All books take a village, and I send warmest thanks to all of mine, especially to Kit Sturtevant and Paula Harrison and my husband and daughter, who read drafts and laughed in all the right places and kept my spirits up. To Sarah Horne, whose art amazes me every day.  To Paula and Mo O’Hara, who wrote such lovely blurbs for the cover. To my agent and editor and the people at Holiday House, who are Ra and Khepri’s champions.

And thank you, dear readers and dear friends. I’m grateful to you all.


Something to brighten your Monday

Looking for something to brighten your Monday? Never fear — the RA THE MIGHTY book trailer is here! It’s 47 seconds of pure comedy, featuring Sarah Horne’s fabulous art and some great Keystone Cops music:

I wrote the basic script, but my husband is the genius who put it together. It reminds me a bit of those wonderful old Edward Gorey MYSTERY intros on PBS, only more madcap.

Let me know what you think! And please feel free to share.


Double Vision – and a Sneak Preview

My Septembers are almost always busy, but this one has me seeing double.


The impossibly beautiful Tarn Hows, where I went for a walk ten days ago

Why double? Because I have two big writing milestones coming up.

  • Later this week, I need to turn in the revised draft of RA #2 to my editor.
  • Next week RA THE MIGHTY debuts on September 18th… just nine days away!

One of these milestones would be enough to keep me busy. Taken together, they’ve made my life  a blur of revisions and website updates and long to-do lists. Even the lists themselves are higgledy-piggledy, with arrows and crosses and jottings squeezed in on the side – all too representative of my state of mind.

All is not lost, though. I’m still making time for snacks. And even the occasional nap.  (Ra the Mighty would approve.)

And I do have something fun to share today:  a sneak preview of RA THE MIGHTY! My publisher has released the first two chapters, so they’re now available for FREE online – and you can see Sarah Horne’s hilarious illustrations, too. If you like what you see, I’d be thrilled if you pre-ordered the book, or asked your local library to order it.

I’m wishing you all luck with your own to-do lists. And if you’re having double vision, too — here’s to a clear-sighted September!

Another Pair of Eyes

I am deep in the revision trenches right now. Which may sound like a grim place to be, but it’s not, because I love to revise.

I never send off a piece of writing until it’s the best I can make it — but that doesn’t mean it can’t get better, especially with another pair of eyes. I’m lucky to have had several readers for the next Ra book, and every one of them has made some good suggestions. My editor is the latest person to have sent some wonderful notes, which have helped me to see the book from a different angle.

If you take its Latin roots literally, to “revise” means to “see again,” and that’s what I’m trying to do now: to truly re-envision parts of the book. It’s challenging work, but very satisfying.

I’m also cheered because the first Ra the Mighty book continues to get great reviews, including this one from lovely blogger Melissa at Melissa’s Mochas, Mysteries, and Meows. I’m also hugely grateful to Paula Harrison and Mo O’Hara, who wrote some wonderful words of praise for the cover.

And look at what came through my letterbox this week — my first author copy of Ra the Mighty!


The whole book is beautifully crafted. It’s hard to see from the photo, but Ra and Khepri are done in a shiny finish, so they catch the light, while the brilliant background is matte. My thanks to Sarah Horne and the design team at Holiday House Books for the fantastic art and design!

I also got my first look at the spine of the book, with Ra’s eye looming large. That means I now have TWO books with a single eye featured on the spine.


Another pair of eyes…

How many authors can say that?!


The First Review Rolls in…

I always get anxious when I’m waiting for the reviews to come in on a new book. I’ve learned to work through it, but the shadow of worry is still there, ready to pounce in any quiet moment. So I was thrilled and relieved to get a fantastic review of RA THE MIGHTY from Kirkus yesterday.

Kirkus praised the “exciting ancient setting” and the “delightful repartee,” and the fact that the book has things to say about the nature of power. They said lovely things about Sarah Horne’s illustrations, too.x

The bottom line: “Fast-paced adventure with a lot of charm.”

Maybe I can stop holding my breath now?

April Arrivals & Departures

My April has been full of comings and goings.  Some visitors were the usual spring suspects: daffodils, fritillaries, school holidays, rainy days, Easter chocolate, and jellybeans. Others were special guests: friends and family who came to see spring in our part of the world. Overall, it’s been a month of fun and music and good conversation and hard work — and even some sunshine, now and again. (Did I mention it’s been a very rainy spring? Record-setting, in fact.)

On the writing front, there have been lots of arrivals and departures, too.  Earlier this month, I was thrilled to get an ARC (Advanced Ready Copy) of RA THE MIGHTY.

Here it is, in all its glory:


Isn’t it beautiful?!

On the departure side, I’m happy to report that RA #2 has left the building. I had a lot of fun (plus only a few plot headaches) while I was writing this next installment of Ra and Khepri’s adventures. It’s exciting to know that it should appear as an Actual Book in Fall 2019.

Now I’m taking a little time off to catch up on reading… and spring. And then, once I’m rested, I’ll be diving into more writing.

Ra the Mighty has a cover!

My next book, Ra the Mighty, is a funny mystery set in Ancient Egypt, where the detectives are a pampered Pharaoh’s Cat and his hard-working friend, a scarab beetle. Now it has a cover – and it’s wonderful! Huge thanks to the amazing Sarah Horne, who’s the perfect illustrator for my comic duo. She’s captured Ra and Khepri beautifully!

Inspired by Sarah’s work, we’ve got some very funny animations on the website, including a dancing Khepri. Never seen a scarab beetle dance before? This is your chance!

When Ra the Mighty comes out in September, you’ll be able to see more of Sarah’s fabulous work, as she’s done lots of drawings inside the book, too.


And here’s the full wrap-around jacket art:


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.