Friday, October 25, 2013


Halloween is creeping up again. All Hallows Eve. The night when spirits, ’tis said, can cross freely from their world into ours. Rattling chains, or their bones. Shivering our timbers. Chilling our spines. Spooking us out. Or at least giving us the chance to dress up as skeletons, zombies, ghosts and ghouls, and make light of the dark side.

With its damp, musty castle, spiders, bats and generous dollop of scare, The Flame in the Mist could have been written especially for this time of year. It wasn’t, but still, I thought what a perfect time it would be to celebrate both. A match made in heaven! (Yes, heaven. Not that other place of fire and brimstone. Because even though the book has a high spook factor, there is light at the end of its darkest hour.)

So I decided to do a mini blog tour. Six lovely participants jumped in, and I’ll be stopping by with them over the next days, up through the 31st. The tour kicks off today* – full schedule below – and the first post has just gone live!

(*No kicking off by zombies, please. Feet flying loose might hurt someone.)

I hope you have as much fun reading the posts as I had putting them together with each host. AND - there's a giveaway! You could win a signed hard cover copy of The Flame in the Mist (U.S. / Canada) or an e-book (international.) You'll find the Rafflecopter entry at all the stops (except for The Lucky 13s).

Enjoy! Any comments VERY welcome!

With much gratitude to my blog hosts. You all rock.


Friday, October 25th,: Green Bean Queen Teen: Top 13 Creepy Things at Agromond Castle.

Monday, October 28th: IceyBooks: Interview with main character Jemma. Who, by the way, doesn't know what Halloween is. Why would she? She lived it... (P.S. Noodle and Pie put in an appearance too).

Tuesday, October 29th: On Emily’s Bookshelf: Review of The Flame in the Mist.
As I'm updating the links every day, I can add here that Emily hasn't just posted one review, but two! Her 9-year-old sister loved the book...And both of them gave it 5/5 stars. Guess who's doing an interrobang-worthy happy dance?!

Wednesday, October 30th: Literary Rambles: Guest post – Marketing a debut kidlit novel: Tips for Nervous Newbies. Some hints on overcoming newbie jitters, as well as a run-down of what kind of events an author can arrange.


Thursday, October 31st: From The Mixed Up Files**: Guest post – Why spooky books might just save mankind. Our lizard brains could be our best ally...

Thursday, October 31st: The Lucky 13s: Interview with Laura Golden*** – How the Agromonds would Celebrate Halloween. Or...would they? Laura rocked the interview questions - and the Agromonds jumped in with their own answers.

**Amie Borst, who hosted me on The Mixed Up Files, has a brand new book releasing on the 26th, written with her daugher Bethanie. Titled Cinderskella, it’s suitably creepy-sounding! Read Amie’s post about it here.
***Laura is the author of one of my favorite new reads of 2013, a middle grade historical novel called Every Day After. Do check her and her book out too!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A World Lit Only by Flame

I’ve always loved to immerse my imagination in the past, particularly medieval through Tudor times. Being English, I grew up absorbing the evidence of lives gone by: castles, manor houses, half-timbered cottages, churches, museums displaying everything from jewels to pots and pans, letters and books. Ancient bones are buried everywhere—even those of kings, ’neath parking lots*. On the darker side, any tourist can visit places like the Tower of London with its stocks, rack, ax, and other delightful remnants of bygone justice.

                                                             Uses for Rotten Food

So when it came to writing The Flame in the Mist – a medieval-flavored fantasy – the setting of a parallel version of Olde Englande was a no-brainer. True to history, there’s a castle, thatched cottages, and a general sense of the muddy unwashedness of jerkins, boots and breeches that the huddled masses wore back then. Tapestries adorn the walls of the evil rulers’ castle. People travel in carts and carriages, or on horseback. And casting its glow over everything is their one source of heat and light: fire.

This, to me, is probably the most evocative feature of medieval life. How did flame-light affect mood and tempers? Get up on a dark winter’s morning and light a candle or lamp rather than flicking a switch; there’s a stillness, a beauty, that the hard glare of a light bulb snatches away. The glow of flame hazes a face in a beautiful way, adding warmth and softness, instilling calm and commanding patience—something you’d need for the slower pace of pre-electric life. Imagine, for example, having to wait for water to boil on a fire or stove – bucketsful of it, if you wanted a bath – and the time it would take to light every torch of a dark corridor, every candle of a chandelier.


But while flame imbues the world with an air of tranquil, magical mystery, paradoxically—and wonderfully, for the historical author—it also ramps up drama and intrigue. Shadows and light dance off walls; dark corners hide lurking dangers; silhouetted figures wait in ambush. The mysterious becomes a threat, sparking deep, primal fears in our beleagured characters. There’s no phone for them to call for help, no alarm button, no battery-powered torch, even, to search out and reveal a would-be assailant.                                 

As readers and writers, we can always close the book on our heroes and heroines, abandoning  them to their dark ages while we scurry back to the 21st century in a blaze of fluorescence. But what if we couldn’t? What would it really have been like to live such a life, with only one’s wits to depend on, and only a lamp to light one’s way? I’m back to square one, immersing my imagination in new, historically-flavored fantasy ventures. But much as I enjoy rambling through Olde England, I’m glad I’m not actually there, huddled in the cold and scratching away with my quill by flickering candlelight. That, I’ll leave to my characters.

*In August 2012, the skeleton of King Richard III was found under a parking lot in Leicester, England.

Originally posted 3/6/13 on the historical fiction blog Corsets and Cutlasses.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013



I’ve been meaning to post events here for a while, and what better time to get around to it than on the cusp of the Summer Solstice, and my first hometown book signing the following day? That’s THIS SATURDAY, June 22nd, from 1 to 4 pm. I'll be perched outside the store with table and books, 100 yards or so from Starbucks. (That's not a hint. Ok, it is.)

When I look at this list...well, I’m gawping. Three months ago, my in-person calendar was blank and I was quaking at the prospect of the next inevitable stage of Life as a Published Author (bar holing up in my writer's cave with an infinite amount of chocolate treats). Now, with 5 book signings and 5 presentations already under my belt, I can’t wait to do more!

So, below is the next far. Thanks for dropping by, and please feel free to commentI love reading what you have to say!

Saturday, June 22, 1- 4 pm: Farley’s Bookshop, New Hope, PA. Book signing.

Saturday, June 29th: Barnes & Noble, Neshaminy Mall, Bensalem, PA.
Panel and signing along with fellow KidlitAuthors Club members Alissa Grosso, Ann Malaspina, Artie Bennett and Charlotte Bennardo; 13 pm

Friday, July 19, 3–4:30 pm: West Windsor Branch Library, NJ,
Discussion with YA authors E.C. Myers and Alissa Grosso about not-to-be missed YA and MG books!

Sunday, July 21st, 11a.m.-2 pm: A Paperback Exchange, Belmar, NJ
Signing with other local authors

Tuesday, July 23, 2–4:00 pm: Cranford Library, NJ
Panel event with Alissa Grosso and others (tba), 

Saturday, July 27, 10–12 am: Toadstool Books, Milford, NH
Book signing (solo) and critique event,

Saturday, July 27, 3–5 pm: Toadstool Books, Keene, NH
Book signing (solo) and critique event,

Saturday, August 3, 7–9 pm: Booksmith, Brookline, MA
Panel, readings and book signing with fellow Lucky 13s authors Rachele Alpine, Justina Ireland, Alex Lidell and Mindy Raf (YA) and Elisabeth Dahl (my MG companion for the event!)

Tuesday, September 10, 7 pm: 9/10 Wall Library, NJ
Panel Q&A, So you want to be a writer, with NJAuthors Network members (tba)

Sunday, September 15, (time tbc): Towne Book Store, Collegeville, PA
Educator panel with fellow Kidlit Authors Club members Cyn Balog, Nancy Viau, Amy Holder and Ann Malaspina, followed by meet the public and book signing.

Saturday, September 28, all day: Warwick Book Festival, Warwick, NY 
Book festival! As it sounds…a ton of authors, all selling and signing books.

Sunday, September 29, 2:30: Baltimore Book Festival, Baltimore, MD
Panel discussion in the Children's Tent, followed by signing.

Saturday, October 5, all day: Collingswood book festival, Collingswood, NJ
Another one! Authors galore, selling and signing.

Monday, October 21, 9 am–10:15: Pennsylvania School Librarians Association Conference
Panel on Why we love writing Middle Grade, with Jonathan Auxier and one other (tba).

Saturday, October 26, 10-12 am:  Howell Library, NJ
World building in Fantasy Fiction. My first solo presention! Open to writers and all comers.

Thursday, November 14th, 7—pm: Somerset Co. Library, Bridgewater NJ: 
Query Q&A panel and critique raffle with Kidlit Authors Club members Alissa Grosso, Alison Formento, Nancy Viau and Charlotte Bennardo.

Tuesday, December 3, St. Katherine of Sienna Grade School:
Assembly presentation, grades 5-8, followed by Book Fair at Barnes & Noble, Bensalem, 7pm.

Also in the works:
October 13-17: Possible NJ library events for Teen Read Week with Kidlit Authors Club
Saturday October 19: Lucky 13s School Library event, Cleveland, OH

Wow. Wow! Wow...That's almost until Christmas. And I've barely started booking school events for the Fall. Watch this space... 

I’m so grateful for every opportunity to meet children’s book lovers of all ages—especially the kidsand to take The Flame in the Mist out into the world. Without the camaraderie of various local author groups like the fabulous Kidlit Authors Club, who invited me into their midst, this list wouldn’t be half as long. So Thank you, thank you, thank you to my fellow authors for your energy and enthusiasm, as well as to the wonderful event organizers at the bookstores, libraries and schools that host us, and who are so willing to go the extra mile to help us out.

Thank you. Again.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

MY FIRST SCHOOL VISIT: An Alarming Experience, and a Book Fair

I’ve always dreaded public speaking. Serenading an audience of thousands? Easy by comparison, with a guitar and mic as props. Book signings? No problem meeting people one on one, while the book sits there looking pretty. But talking to even 20 people in a room, let alone a whole assembly full of students? Eep. I’ve known for some time that as a published author, I’d have to face this big fear (aka, terror) sooner or later. “Later” being the option my Inner Procrastinator kept whispering. Deal with this in the fall, it soothed. Build up to it! 
Destiny, however, had a different plan. Through Bonnie Lynn Wagner, a book blogger who’d hosted a stop on my blog tour (you can see Digby’s character interview here), I connected with Elizabeth Ullmer, the Community Relations Manager at the Barnes & Noble in Bensalem. “Ask her about book fairs,” Bonnie wrote me. “Better than signings.” Book fairs? I didn't know what they were, but fairs are fun, right?
Pretty, but don't be fooled
I called Elizabeth, who was delightful and enthusiastic. Within hours, she called me back. The New Foundations Charter School in NE Philadelphia were excited to have me do a school visit on May 29th if I was available, followed by their book fair that evening at the store. Wait…what?? A book fair involved doing a school visit? A zillion grubs in my stomach instantly hatched into mini butterflies. “Sure!” I blurted, before Inner Procrastinator could come up with any excuses. “Tell me more!” It would involve 2 presentations each about 30-40 minutes long, Elizabeth explained, to an assembly of about 225 kids at a time.
225 at a time? Uh…really? Not a mere 20 or 30 (gulp) in a classroom? And I didn’t even know PowerPoint yet! Amazing how mini butterflies can grow into carnivorous, stomach-gnawing Papilia really fast.
Well, what else to do but prepare? I learned PowerPoint (aka hubby learned it, then showed me how) and put together a presentation full of the typically Brit castles, cottages, and general spookiness that found their way The Flame in the Mist. I rehearsed to an audience (aka hubby, a few stuffed toys, and the imaginary crowd in my head, all listening patiently). I actually began to look forward to The Day. And then, it arrived. 
I met Elizabeth for a quick breakfast before we drove down to the school. She was as lovely in person as on the phone, and put me at ease. Tum-butterflies fluttered gently, as if playing around a sunny flower garden. At the school, we were warmly welcomed by Bobbie Tyndall, who organizes the school’s author visits. My laptop connected easily to their projector. The sound worked. Bobbie took goofy snaps. Everything was going perfectly! No glitches! The first group of kids began filing in. Some smiled. Some looked curious, others skeptical. A few more virulent butterflies flew in with them. Never mind. I was ready. This was It!
And then...the alarm rang. Fire drill! Only it turned out it wasn’t a drill. Grabbing handbag and laptop, I filed outside along with the kids, and Elizabeth and Bobbie. What were the chances—a fire alarm, on the threshold of my Big Event? Saved by the bell! Sigh of relief? No. I was disappointed. I'd been raring to go! By now, excitement had totally squished any remaining tummy 'flies. 
A mysterious cause for alarm
We stood in the school yard for an eternity – at least 10 minutes. The fire department came. Elizabeth and I laughed at the absurdity of timing. I wondered whether nerves would ramp up again, but they didn’t. All I wanted was for there to be time to give both presentations, and experience the kids’ reactions. What would they think? Would they enjoy it? After all the build-up, would I even get to find out, when goodness knew how long the firemen would be milling around? Finally, the mysterious cause of the alarm undiscovered, we were all allowed back inside. By 9:10, the kids were in their seats again. Bobbie introduced me, and off we went.

Rehearsals paid off. So did getting the kids to say “Wooo!” every time I said the word “spooky”. Several times, they caught me out. (Who knew I said “spooky” so much?) Booing the Agromonds went down well too. Time being shortened, I had to clip through a few sections, but still showed the trailer at the end. The kids cheered. They cheered! Wow. 
I anticipated that the second group, being older (through 8th grade) would be more reserved, more hesitant about joining in with booing, woo-ing, and shows of hands. But if anything they were louder. Again, cheers after the trailer. I was floored. As nervous as I'd been in the weeks before, then as fun as it had felt giving the presentation, I could never have imagined that happening. Let alone the message that turned up later that day on my YouTube trailer page: “omg, you came to my school and you were amazing.”
Book fair at B&N

At the book fair that evening, The Flame in the Mist found a lot of new homes, helping it become the store’s best selling children's book last week. None of it could have gone better—even the alarm was part of the perfection! But nothing beat seeing the look of excitement on kids' faces, their anticipation of reading a book they’re excited about. And to think I’d been so scared, I’d have avoided this if I could. So thank you, Destiny, for shoving me in the deep end; and thank you, Elizabeth and Bobbie, for helping me swim; and thank you, Bonnie, for being the hand that gave that first nudge. And thank you, New Foundations students, for making my first school experience so great!
As to my next school visit, no more cause for alarm. I can’t wait.
Even Inner Procrastinator agrees. 
-->With thanks to Elizabeth Ullmer and Bobbie Tyndall for the New Foundations and B&N event photos

Thursday, April 25, 2013


What a fantastic blog tour, thanks to the lovely Gabrielle Carolina at The Mod Podge Bookshelf who put it together. I’m so grateful to all the participants, who made the lead-up to THE FLAME IN THE MIST’s arrival in the world feel so special. They all gave the book a fabulous send-off.

The tour ended with a Twitter chat last Saturday, officially from 6-7pm EST. Fun! At 7:20 we were still going strong but I had to wrap up because of dinner plans, so we didn’t get to  everyone’s questions. Gabrielle, who was hosting, emailed me the list of remaining ones and suggested I post answers on my blog. So here they are, with (hopefully) an added bonus: they’re not limited to 140 characters.

Thank you so much to all who chipped in, including those of you who lurked on the sidelines. Vivien, Amber, Heather, Lisa, Tabitha, Farah, Dena, Holly and Erin - Here's your questions.
Vivien: Do you have a dream cast?
I would love the girl who played Jemma in the book trailer to play her in the movie. (Notice how I said "the movie" like it's going to happen? Here's hoping…). She looks strong, moody, harrowed, determined...

(If you missed the trailer, you can see it here.)

The only problem is she's French-Canadian and doesn't speak English! In any event, I'd like an unknown to play Jemma, like Harry was in a certain movie…

And just as Harry's contemporaries were also played by unknowns, I'd prefer that Shade, Feo, Digby and Talon were, too.

The adults could be known actors, though. I won't give away the whole book cast, but here's a few:


Nox Agromond. He has to be handsome but craggy looking, and in his mid to late 30s. Able to look dark and dangerous as well as kind. Add dark eyes and long dark hair, and Joaquin Phoenix would do nicely...


....Or how about Christian Bale?


Then there's Nox's wife, Nocturna: Beautiful and ruthless, exotic-looking. Eva Green (Casino Royale) has the perfect face for her. Also, she's French, which is perfect fo Nocturna's heritage. 

Yes...let down that hair, add in some dark contacts, and Eva looks the part.

Marsh: Someone like Kathy Bates, only she'd have to be in her 40s. 

"Leave Jemma alone, or you'll have me to answer to, you evil-begotten Agromonds!"

Mmm. Take off the watch, though. And let's make that a hatchet instead of a gun. Or perhaps a vial of magic potion.

Vivien: Character or plot first? 
They come as a bundle. I can't think of a character without their story being part of it, and likewise, a plot without a protagonist is like a can of beans with no beans in it….if that makes sense!

Holly: Did you plot or pants the story? 
Both, Holly. I outline, and sometimes even write a rough of each chapter, but I really like to let go and pants within the boundaries of what I know has to happen. That way, unexpected things can happen which makes it all the more exciting. But for me, it's important too to keep the outline in mind so the over all plot doesn't get too sidetracked. Ultimately, everything that happens has to serve the story as a whole.

Erin: Most fun time researching the book 
The forest scene with Bryn concocting herbal remedies! I wanted to be sure they were authentic.

Dena: How long did it take you to write The Flame in the Mist?
Over all I'd say about five years, in between songwriting, traveling for work (lucky me!), hitting a couple of looong road blocks…and…oh, this and that, you know. (Ok, you don’t. And I’m not telling...)

Heather: Who would you consider your writing muses?
J.K. is an author who inspires me, without a doubt, for her amazing world building and for the doors she's opened in the children's fantasy market. Then, for books I read very early on in my life, an English author called Enid Blyton. I adored her stories, which were all adventure-driven, and I'm sure inspired my own love of mystery and adventure in children's lit. I read them over and over as a kid, and they stand the test of time—they still sell amazingly well in the UK. She's kind of a part of me, in my bones. Then for courage in the face of times when women weren't supposed to write, George Elliot. She blazed a trail, and no mistake.

Heather: highs and lows of authorhood

Highs: Seeing my book in stores! I just saw it yesterday at a Barnes and Noble on the "Top Picks for Children" shelf…that made my day!  

 But the ultimate high is hearing that people love it. A friend emailed last night to tell me that a friend’s daughter who she’d brought to my book launch last Friday has already read the book twice, and is now quoting from it! That warms my heart like nothing else. It’s the raison d’etre for everything, and makes all the hard work worthwhile.

Lows: Snarky reviews. Of course I want everyone to love the book – what author doesn’t? But one size doesn't fit all. I don't care so much about someone not liking it;  everyone's entitled to their opinion. But there are snarks out there, book sharks who seem to love shredding authors’ work – and confidence, and I dread seeing any like that. One answer might be to avoid all reviews!

The other thing is worry that it won't sell. In the end, I have to take the advice of one of my own characters, Jemma's mentor, and Trust. At a certain point, there's not much else any author can do about the big picture.

Heather: How do you overcome writer's block?
There's never a time when I can't write anything. Even if I'm stuck in a WIP, I can write something else, even if it's a rant about being stuck! So for me it's not really about "writer's block" so much as discovering what the particular problem is. Often, it's a resistance to getting to work because I'm stuck on a plot point, something that's not yielding. Then, I'll try several things. For example:
1. Write around the problem. Perhaps explore more backstory about a character or a scene. Not that that will get included, bit it can loosen up creative juices.
2. Do something else! Read, relax…Taking time off can give distance, and space in which my mind can come up with the solution. Other times, it's just a question of giving my mind more space to mull over a problem and let the solution come.
3. Free writing. Just…give myself a limited time, and one, two, three, go. Let my fingers gallop over the keyboard without regard to spelling or punctuation. Often something will jog loose if I do that.

Heather: What do you do to unwind after writing?
Walk. TV. Be in nature.

Get back to some roots. 

Farah: Your writing traditions?
The best thing for me is to write First Thing. Pre-email, social media, anything. Grab that cup of tea, nestle into my writing cave (aka Chair) and get going.

Tabitha: Reaction to seeing your cover?
When I saw the roughs (b&w sketches): Wow! Seeing it in color: WOW! The hues are my absolute favorite, and I loved the mystery of it. A few small things needed fixing, but once they were, I was very happy.

Lisa: is there any significant meaning on the cover to the story?
It's more of a symbolic depiction of the contents than a literal translation of a scene - there's no point at which Digby is with Jemma when she sees all those ghosts. So you have Jemma front and center with Digby "having her back" (i.e, watching out for her) while somehow helping to shepherd those small ghosts, while Agromond Castle broods in the background, an ever-present threat because of its evil inhabitants.

Heather: If  you could meet any writer living or dead who would it be and why?
William Shakespeare. Because his use of the way words sound to evoke emotion is amazing. Plus his insight into human nature is unbelievably astute, even by modern standards. Not to mention that his writing was beautiful. 

The man was a genius, and I would LOVE to meet him! I'm not afraid of bardolatry.

Amber: Which authors would you want at a dinner party?
Any of my Lucky 13s pals!


Amber: What book or series would you like to see on a screen next? 
You mean, besides THE FLAME IN THE MIST? (I could hardly resist that, could I?)
Next on the list would be one I believe is actually in the works, Leigh Bardugo's SHADOW AND BONE (Grisha Trilogy). I hope it is, as it's one of my favorites of 2012, and I can't wait for it! But don't get me started on the cast list for that one...

Heather: What's a book you wish you had written?
Actually…there’s none I wish I’d written. I admire a lot, hugely, and strive to learn from them. But if I’d written them, they wouldn’t be the books that they are.

Thank you all so much for your questions!