Apparently, this is the end of 2016. I didn’t see that coming! I’ve only just got used to it being this year. I must have done something during the year, right? Right? Right.
Here’s my writing-related stuff from the year:
Published my first novel!
Yes, at last. I’ve been wanting to be a novel-writer since I was a teenager, and despite not really writing during my 20s, I never gave up wanting, and this year, my first book finally, finally came out (I actually sold it at the end of 2012, but it’s taken this long to be published).
I also published a novella set in the same world as SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB. THE DINOSAUR HUNTERS takes place a year before SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB and features different characters, and it’s aimed slightly older, but it’s still the same mixture of humour, action, adventure, mystery, and over-the-top ideas.
Revised the sequel
The sequel to SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB will come out in July 2017. It’s called THE EMPEROR OF MARS, and it takes Edward and his family on an even more outrageous and deadly adventure. I did a pretty big rewrite of it over the summer, and then the copyedits this autumn. I’ve also seen the internal illustrations for it by the intensely talented Jeremy Holmes, and they are amazing!
Wrote a new book
The book that will be going out on submission in the new year is (currently) called THE MYSTERY OF FIRELAKE HALL. It’s set in 1932, in England. My agent, the wonderful Jennifer Laughran, described it as “A little bit Agatha Christie meets Clue meets St Trinian’s meets WW1 meets MAGIC!” It also has wolves, because, you know, why not?
I actually wrote a version of this quite a few years ago, but it didn’t work, so I ripped it up and completely rewrote it this year, which is the first time I’ve ever done that with a book, and I think it worked!
Pitched a third SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB book
To be brutally honest, this book probably won’t happen, but I have an outline and an opening in case it ever does, and the first two books tie everything important up, I think, if it doesn’t. One day, maybe!
Okay, when I put it like that, it makes it seem like I really did manage some stuff this year despite having young children (the younger of whom is only in school 2-1/2 hours a day).
Time for a bunch more great-looking middle grade books coming out this year. I blogged books coming out from January to April and from January to June. Now it’s time to look at books coming out from April to September. (Yeah, the dates overlap, because I don’t always know about books far ahead of time.)
All of these books are by new voices in middle grade, debut authors in other words.
Here we go again!
Treasure at Lure Lake, by Shari L. Schwarz
Published: April 12th, 2016.
An epic adventure—that’s all Bryce wants this summer. So when he stumbles upon a treasure map connected to an old family secret, Bryce is determined to follow the clues to unearth both, even it means hiking in the wilderness in the middle of nowhere. Bryce must work with his bickering brother, Jack, or they may never see the light of day again!
This one is already out, so no need to delay. Get it now!
Jax and his friends have been planning the summer of a lifetime at Camp Runamuck. However, when one of them is facing summer at a school desk for failing English, they watch those plans crash and burn!
At the last moment they’re given a way out. An extra credit assignment to find several fake artifacts for a fairy tale display their teacher is presenting at the local library. But soon they realize that they’re searching for one real artifact that can rewrite fairytales. Now they’re in a race against actual fairytale villains to get their hands on it first.
Imagine The Goonies meets Peter Pan.
This one has also been out for a while so you should have no trouble finding it!
This is already out in the U.K. I know that, because I’m reading it right now, and very good it is too! Those of you in the U.S. have to wait a few more days. :D
Twelve-year-old Brine Seaborne is a girl with a past–if only she could remember what it is. Found alone in a rowboat as a child, clutching a shard of the rare starshell needed for spell-casting, she’s spent the past years keeping house for an irritable magician and his obnoxious apprentice, Peter.
When Brine and Peter get themselves into a load of trouble and flee, they blunder into the path of the legendary pirate ship the Onion. Before you can say “pieces of eight,” they’re up to their necks in the pirates’ quest to find Magical North, a place so shrouded in secrets and myth that most people don’t even think it exists.
Ever since she was a baby, the words people use to describe Elyse have instantly appeared on her arms and legs. At first it was just “cute” and “adorable,” but as she’s gotten older and kids have gotten meaner, words like “loser” and “pathetic” appear, and those words bubble up and itch. And then there are words like “interesting,” which she’s not really sure how to feel about.
Now, at age twelve, she’s starting middle school, and just when her friends who used to accept and protect her are drifting away, she receives an anonymous note saying “I know who you are, and I know what you’re dealing with. I want to help.” As Elyse works to solve the mystery of who is sending her these notes, she also finds new ways to accept who she is and to become her best self.
Yuriko was happy growing up in Hiroshima when it was just her and Papa. But her aunt Kimiko and her cousin Genji are living with them now, and the family is only getting bigger with talk of a double marriage! And while things are changing at home, the world beyond their doors is even more unpredictable. World War II is coming to an end, and Japan’s fate is not entirely clear, with any battle losses being hidden fom its people. Yuriko is used to the sirens and the air-raid drills, but things start to feel more real when the neighbors who have left to fight stop coming home. When the bomb hits Hiroshima, it’s through Yuriko’s twelve-year-old eyes that we witness the devastation and horror.
This is a story that offers young readers insight into how children lived during the war, while also introducing them to Japanese culture.
The dashing Prince of the Rats–who’s in love with Cinderella–is changed into her coachman by the Fairy Godmother on the night of the big ball. And he’s about to turn the legend (and the evening) upside down on his way to a most unexpected happy ending!
I don’t often enjoy fairytale retellings, but this one looks like enormous fun. Can’t wait.
Twelve-year-old Howard Wallace lives by his list of rules of private investigation. He knows more than anyone how to work with what he’s got: a bathrobe for a trench coat, a makeshift office behind the school equipment shed, and not much else—least of all, friends. So when a hot case of blackmail lands on his desk, he’s ready to take it on himself . . . until the new kid, Ivy Mason, convinces him to take her on as a junior partner. As they banter through stakeouts and narrow down their list of suspects, Howard starts to wonder if having Ivy as a sidekick—and a friend—is such a bad thing after all.
The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee, by Erin Petti
Published: September 6th, 2016
Eleven-year-old Thelma Bee is never bored. In fact, she has curiosity and adventure in her blood. She spends her time running science experiments, practicing Spanish, and daydreaming about exotic landscapes. But Thelma gets more than she bargained for when a strange woman sells a jewelry box at her father’s antique shop.
That night, a ghost kidnaps her father, and the only clues are the jewelry box and a word the ghost whispered in her ear: “Return.” Now it’s up to Thelma to get her dad back, and it might be harder than she thought—there’s someone wielding dark magic, and they’re coming after her next.
What if your teacher could read your mind just because she was born on a Thursday? Or the kid next to you in class could turn back the clock just because he was a ‘Wednesday”? In the quirky town of Nova, all of this is normal, but one thing is not—Poppy Mayberry. As an almost-eleven-year-old Monday, she should be able to pass notes in class or brush her dog, Pickle, without lifting a finger. But her Monday telekinesis still has some kinks, and that plate of spaghetti she’s passing may just end up on someone’s head. And if that’s not hard enough, practically perfect Ellie Preston is out to get her, and Principal Wible wants to send her to remedial summer school to work on her powers! It’s enough to make a girl want to disappear…if only she were a Friday.
The Adventurer’s Guide to Successful Escapes, by Wade Albert White
Published: September 13th, 2016
A thrilling debut novel where fantasy and science fiction meet, dragons aren’t as innocent as they look, and nothing is quite what it seems.
Anne has spent most of her thirteen years dreaming of the day she and her best friend Penelope will finally leave Saint Lupin’s Institute for Perpetually Wicked and Hideously Unattractive Children. When the big day arrives, a series of very curious happenings lead to Anne being charged with an epic quest. Anne, Penelope, and new questing partner Hiro have only days to travel to strange new locales, solve myriad riddles, and triumph over monstrous foes–or face the horrible consequences.
Packed with action, humor, and endless heart, this debut novel marks the first volume in an irresistible and original fantasy series.
A little while back, I blogged about new middle grade novels coming out at the beginning of 2016 by debut authors. Because you can never get enough middle grade, here’s the next batch of awesome, exciting, brilliant books that are due to hit the stores in the next few months (and one that’s out already but didn’t get included in the last roundup).
So, here we go:
Lizzie and the Lost Baby, by Cheryl Blackford
Published: January 12th, 2016.
Cheryl Blackford’s debut novel is set in England during World War II and told from the dual perspectives of ten-year-old Lizzie, a homesick girl evacuated from bomb-blitzed Hull to the remote Yorkshire valley, and Elijah, a local gypsy boy. When Lizzie discovers an abandoned baby, her dangerous friendship with Elijah is put to the test. Will Lizzie be able to find the baby’s parents? And if she does, can she and Elijah remain friends in a world clouded by prejudice and fear?
I lived for a few years in Yorkshire, and a wonderful setting for a book it is. This book is out already, so don’t hang around. Go get it right now!
In the coastal village of Maiden Rock, Maine, Quinnie Boyd’s teacher has disappeared. Quinnie thinks it’s a kidnapping case, but her mom, the town sheriff, just thinks the teacher has left town. Still, Quinnie’s going to follow her instincts that something’s wrong.
Her investigation takes her through a damp and smelly marsh, a lobster pound, and more of Maine’s messiest places. She even gets help from her glamorous new neighbor, Mariella. As the girls hunt for clues around Maiden Rock, they encounter a cast of unlikely characters. And if Quinnie’s hunch is right, the search may lead them right into danger…
The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez, by Robin Yardi
Published: March 1st, 2016
Life is confusing for Mateo Martinez. He and Johnny Ramirez don’t hang out anymore, even though they used to be best friends. He and his new friend Ashwin try to act like brave, old-time knights, but it only gets them in trouble. And last night, two skunks stole Mateo’s old trike.
Wait—two skunks stole his trike?
Mateo is too big for that rusty kid toy. He has a cool, shiny new bike anyway. But Mateo also has a neighborhood to protect. And he’s about to begin a big, stinky quest to catch the thieves in the middle of the night!
As Mateo protects his neighborhood, he also learns a few things about growing up and letting go.
I’ve been particularly looking forward to this one.
On a stormy May day in 1929, William and Maxine arrive on the doorstep of Battersea Manor to spend the summer with a grandfather they barely remember. Soon after they settle in, Grandpa receives a cryptic telegram and promptly whisks the cousins off to New York City so that he can meet an unknown courier and collect a very important package. Before he can do so, however, Grandpa vanishes without a trace.
When the cousins stumble upon Nura, a tenacious girl from Turkey, she promises to help them track down the parcel and rescue Grandpa. But with cold-blooded gangsters and a secret society of assassins all clamoring for the same mysterious object, the children soon find themselves in a desperate struggle just to escape the city’s dark streets alive.
This book has been described as a cross between Indiana Jones and the The DaVinci Code.
Written in the voice of Mikey, a fourth-grader who believes that eating crunchy things will get your neurons to fire, The Lost Celt follows Mikey’s adventures after a chance encounter with what he thinks is a time-traveling Celtic warrior.
With the help of his best friend Kyler, and clues from his military history book, Mikey tracks down the stranger, and in the process learns about the power and obligations of friendship.
Full of heart, The Lost Celt throws a gentle light on some of the issues facing our veterans and their families, but it’s the humor and infectious camaraderie throughout this book that makes it so memorable.
The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society, by Janet Sumner Thompson
Published: April 1st, 2016
When her best friend’s house is threatened with foreclosure, young Annie Jenkins is full of ideas to save the home: selling her appendix on eBay, winning the lottery, facing down the bankers … anything to keep Jason from moving. But Jason’s out-of-work dad blows up at the smallest things, and he’s not very happy with Annie’s interventions, which always seem to get them into more trouble.
But when Annie tracks a lost treasure to Jason’s backyard, she’s sure the booty will be enough to save Jason’s family. Pirate treasure in the Midwest seems far-fetched, even to Annie, but it could be the answer to all their problems. Now all she has to do is convince Jason. As the two hunt for answers and the pressure gets to Jason and his family, Annie discovers that the best-laid plans aren’t always enough and there are worse things than moving away.
Definitely a candidate for the most awesome book title of the month.
Xander Miyamoto would rather do almost anything than listen to his sixth grade teacher, Mr. Stedman, drone on about weather disasters happening around the globe. If Xander could do stuff he’s good at instead, like draw comics and create computer programs, he might not be counting the minutes until the dismissal bell.
When spring break begins at last, Xander plans to spend it playing computer games with his best friend, Peyton. But little does either boy realise that they are about to be thrust into the biggest adventure of their lives — a journey wilder than any Xander has ever imagined, full of weird monsters even worse than Lovey. To win at this deadly serious game they will have to rely on their wits, courage, faith, and especially, each other. Maybe Xander should have listened to Mr Stedman about the weather after all…
Ella and Skyler have been best friends since kindergarten — so close that people smoosh their names together like they’re the same person: EllaandSkyler. SkylerandElla.
But Ella notices the little ways she and Skyler have been slowly drifting apart. And she’s determined to fix things with a fun project she’s sure will bring them closer together — The BFF Bucket List. Skyler is totally on board.
The girls must complete each task on the list together: things like facing their fears, hosting a fancy dinner party, and the biggest of them all — speaking actual words to their respective crushes before the end of summer. But as new friends, epic opportunities, and super-cute boys enter the picture, the challenges on the list aren’t the only ones they face.
And with each girl hiding a big secret that could threaten their entire friendship, will the list — and their BFF status — go bust?
Last summer, Quinnen was the star pitcher of her baseball team, the Panthers. They’re headed for the championship, and her loudest supporter at every game was her best friend and older sister, Haley.
This summer, everything is different. Haley’s death, at the end of last summer, has left Quinnen and her parents reeling. Without Haley in the stands, Quinnen doesn’t want to play baseball. It seems like nothing can fill the Haley-sized hole in her world. The one glimmer of happiness comes from the Bandits, the local minor-league baseball team. For the first time, Quinnen and her family are hosting one of the players for the season. Without Haley, Quinnen’s not sure it will be any fun, but soon she befriends a few players. With their help, can she make peace with the past and return to the pitcher’s mound?
If you pre-ordered it from Book Depository or Amazon or somewhere else, your book should be on its way to you already! Keep an eye on your mailbox.
Today, I thought it would be a great time to meet the characters of SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB.
Edward Sullivan – our hero
“I was hanging from a rope, fifty feet up the side of a great pillar of red Martian rock, with my arms buried in a sopping curtain of tanglemoss and bury-beetles trying to build a hill over my head…”
All 12-year-old Edward Sullivan wants is to be left in peace to read his Thrilling Martian Tales magazine. Instead he has to keep his chaotic family from disaster. And when disaster does strike, he is the one who will have to save them all.
“I’ve had lots of practice waking people up. It’s one of my specialties.”
Edward’s little sister, Parthenia (Putty), is incredibly enthusiastic and as impressionable as wet putty. Like their father, she is a genius, but she rarely keeps her attention on anything for more than a day or two at a time.
“A man who starts the day without a kipper is a man who will feel like a smoked fish until bedtime! So says Plato, or, er, someone.”
Cousin Freddie is a well-known but well-meaning idiot. But when he — literally — crashes in, everything starts to descend into chaos. Freddie is up to something, and Edward needs to find out what before it’s too late.
“What if someone sees us? What would they think?”
Edward’s middle sister, Olivia, is the most proper person he has ever met. How will she cope when she finds herself in the middle of the Martian wilderness, far away from civilization?
“You know, none of my family have shown the slightest interest in the device. I had once hoped that Edward might follow me, but…”
Papa is a genius, there’s no doubt. He’s the most successful mechanician on Mars, and his wild inventions have changed both Earth and Mars. It’s just a shame he doesn’t have a little more time for Edward.
“They called me the Crystal Rose of Tharsis, you know. Every young gentleman admired me.”
Mama was once one of Society’s most adored young ladies, hosting salons that were the envy of Tharsis City and with a host of admirers. But when her father gambled away the family fortune, nobody wanted to know her anymore and she has never quite recovered from the snub.
“It is remarkably handsome. Is that the latest London style, Cousin Freddie?”
Edward’s oldest sister, Jane, is possibly the sweetest person on Mars, but as far as Edward can tell, she’s never had a single thought in her head that isn’t about fashion or young men.
Sir Titus Dane
“My business carries me to Mars so infrequently that, when I found myself in the area, I could not resist the temptation of taking a slight diversion to pay my respects to one of my dearest friends.”
The famous archaeologist, Sir Titus Dane, was once of Mama’s admirers but no one has seen him for ten years since he disappeared in a cloud of disgrace. So why has he turned up out of the blue and what does he want with Edward’s family?
Dr. Octavius Blood
“I always carry my rock samples with me. You never know when you might need them.”
The small geologist is obsessed with rocks, but there is more to him than meets the eye.
Other Assorted Villains and Rascals
“Grrr. Argh. Grrr.”
…are villains and rascals. The villains! The rascals!
The illustration of Edward and his family is by Jeremy Holmes. Copyright Christy Ottaviano Books.
It’s juuuuusssst two days until SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB is officially published, two short, possibly rainy (in Wales, at least) days and I was totally going to write an awesome blog entry to celebrate. But I am soooooo tired today. Too little sleep, too many things to do for too many days, and all I want to do is go to sleep.
So, lazy post alert!
With only two days to go (have I said that already…), SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB is making its way out into the world, creeping onto bookshelves with a sneaky glance over its shoulder in case anyone is looking, and showing its dragon-y face to the passers-by. Here is the proof:
This is “Secrets” in Palm Desert Barnes and Noble (photo courtesy Rich and Kathy Burgis):
Here it is in the “Little Professor Book Center” in Alabama (photo courtesy of Sara Glassman):
And, finally, here’s “Secrets”, with its shiny star, at the ALA Midwinter conference in Boston (photo courtesy of Randi Pink):
That book next to it is Paper Wishes by my fellow debut, Lois Sepahban. It came out a few days ago, and I talked about it here.
That’s it, then, guys! The book is making its tentative, shy way out into the world. If you spot it, give it a stroke and tell it all will be all right…
In three days, on January 12th, 2016, SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB will be published. Publishing your first book can be a pretty stressful experience. Trust me on this. You’ve worked for ages — not just the years you’ve spent on writing, rewriting, and revising this particular book, but all the writing you did before this book that wasn’t quite good enough. And now your book is finally, finally coming out. It’s going out into the world. Maybe it’ll be ignored. Maybe it’ll be hated. Maybe no one will even know it ever existed.
Yeah, boy, this is stressful.
So, if you’ve got a book being published and it’s stressing you out, here are some thoughts of comfort.
1. Someone is always doing better than you
It’s very easy to look at everyone else with a book out and to see how much better their book is doing than yours. They’re getting starred reviews from Kirkus. They have a front table display at Barnes and Noble. They are on every blogger’s list of books to be excited about. Their debut is on the bestseller lists. They have adverts in the national press. They have a thousand five star reviews on Goodreads. Their advance is twenty times what yours is.
What a failure you are. What a loser. Maybe your book wasn’t that good after all.
Yeah, but no.
Someone will always be doing better than you. Even if you’re outselling JK Rowling, someone else might be getting all the award nominations. Even if you’re getting all the award nominations, someone else is on the top of the New York Times bestseller list and you’re not.
You can’t win.
The truth is it is basic human nature to compare ourselves to those doing better than we are and not with those who are doing less well. The ones we see are the ones with the great success. But they are the exceptions. There are far more people whose success is on a par with yours and plenty who are not doing as well. Except you’re not noticing them. You’re comparing yourself with those very few who, by luck or timing or national mood, just happen to be hitting a freakish level of success.
Don’t compare yourself to them. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. There is no win in comparing. It’s a lose every time.
2. There’s nothing you can do, so don’t stress it
It’s a horrible truth, but nothing you can do will really make much difference. Yes, a signing or a school visit might sell some extra copies. Yes, a blog tour might get a few people interested. Yes, putting vast amounts of effort into social media might shift a hundred more books. Attending conferences and conventions and producing lots of swag and doing dozens of giveaways, all these can add some sales.
But they are insignificant. Compared to the number of sales that will be generated just by sitting on bookstore shelves or being ordered by libraries, what you can achieve through your own efforts is statistically small and isn’t going to make much difference to your success.
How is that comforting?
Well, I don’t know about you, but I get a certain amount zen-like calm from the idea that I have no real power over whether my book sells or not. You can fall quite easily into thinking that you’re not doing enough, that if you could just do a bit more, that would make all the difference.
If you enjoy blogging or giveaways or social media or school visits or conventions, do them by all means! But don’t do them because you think you have to. You’re not losing out by not doing them.
Actually, I’m lying. There is one thing you can do that will make a difference. You can write the absolute best book you can. And you’ve already done that.
3. This is not the end
If the worst happens and your book isn’t a success it’s not the end.
Every writer who has a career lasting more than a few years will hit that point where a book flops and they are dropped by their publisher. I know a lot of writers who have gone out of contract. Sometimes it was their first book or first series. And every one of them has come back again after a few years and sold again. Some of them have gone on to enormous success after that commercial failure earlier in their career. Hell, even George R.R. Martin was dropped by his publisher because his book didn’t perform as expected, and he’s doing all right now.
4. Someone, somewhere bought and loved your book
Maybe none of these things help. Maybe you’re still feeling down. Maybe you didn’t get any reviews and only sold 500 copies and no one seemed to notice your book came out at all, except your family, and even they didn’t seem terribly excited.
Well, it’s not true.
Someone bought your book or checked it out from a library. Someone loved it. It spoke to someone. It mattered to someone. That is true for every book ever published. We all hope that thousands of readers will adore our books, but it’s not a failure if only one person loved it, because by giving them something they loved, you’ve changed their life for the better. If you can do that for one person, there’s no way your book failed.
5. You did it!
Yep, you did. You wrote a book and you got it published. Have you any idea how rare that is, how unlikely? Millions upon millions of people want to write a book. Millions actually do. The vast majority will never get those books published. Writing a book good enough to be published is an incredible achievement all by itself.
In all the pressure of the process of publication, we forget all too often what an amazing thing we have done.
Take time to be immensely proud. What you’ve done is special. You did it!
I’ve always loved Ancient Egypt. I’ve visiting the remains of the civilization in modern Egypt. I love books and novels and short stories about it. I love watching documentaries. So it’s no wonder that Ancient Egypt is one of the influences on the Ancient Martian civilization in SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB.
Ancient Egypt was a wonderful, rich, and varied civilization, and though it was only an influence in SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB, it was the setting for my fantasy story, The Land of Reeds, that was published in Realms of Fantasy in February 2006, a story of revenge, ghosts, and the path to the afterlife.
With just four days to go, I thought I’d offer the pure Egyptian (fantasy) experience up for free. Enjoy!
The Land of Reeds
The dead, he had discovered, had mouths and could speak, but they could not be heard.
Or, they could not be heard by the living: the dead talked among themselves with voices of sand and dust. Amenemhet did not wish to talk to the dead. A man who has been murdered wishes to speak to those still living, to lay testament before them, to give warning.
The dead, in their crowded voices, said that Re no longer travelled through the underworld each night. They said that his face was now no more than a ball of fire in the sky. There were no more demons in the underworld, no Apep the serpent, no Amemet the great devourer, no gates, no judges, no scales. There was no Land of Reeds.
The dead said Amun-Re died on the day the Macedonian usurper sat upon the throne of the two lands and proclaimed himself Pharaoh, for Alexander was no true son of Re, no true son of Osiris and so no god.
Perhaps, Amenemhet thought, they were right. All his life, he had studied the map that showed the path through the underworld and learned the words of the Chapter of Renewing the Gates in the House of Osiris which is in Sekhet-Aanru. After his murder, Amenemhet had watched through the eyes of his ka as the sem priest prepared his body and performed the sacrifices and as the kher-het priest read the prayers and instructions. All had been in order, and Amenemhet had felt his ka slip free.
But when night came, his ka had not entered duat. It had remained in the desert sand, and Amenemhet had become aware of the press of the dead around him and the whispers of their dry voices like the desert wind. “Re no longer travels the underworld at night,” they whispered. “His face is but a ball of fire…”
* * *
He left the tombs and the dead behind him and walked down into the town. The narrow streets were busy with the living. Amenemhet passed easily through them, his ka as insubstantial on their skins as his words were on their ears. Other kas of the dead also moved through the streets. They stared at him with drawn, grey eyes. Amenemhet stepped around the dead, sometimes stepping through the whitewashed, mud-brick walls of the houses that lined the tight streets to do so.
Once, in the market, he shouted furiously at the living: “Rep-a Djau has murdered me. He slipped a blade into my throat and left me to bleed to death.” But the living kept on their way, chattering and laughing. Amenemhet spat emptily onto the ground.
“They can’t hear you, you know.”
Amenemhet looked around. The ka of a child was standing behind him. She could not have been more than eight years old when she died. She scarcely came up to Amenemhet’s waist.
“I know,” he said. “Go away.”
Her ka held ghosts of colours. Specks of precious gold swam in her eyes. Most of the kas he had seen had been grey.
“We could help each other,” she said, scampering after him as he strode through the crowd. “I was poor and young. I never saw the maps of the underworld. I never learnt the words to speak at the gates.”
“Go away,” Amenemhet said. “Those things are as dead as Amun-Re. The Land of Reeds is no more. And what could you offer me?”
Amenemhet’s house was on the southern edge of the town, a mile from the rich flow of the Nile, set among the estates of the wealthy. Amenemhet had been hety-a of the town, and all had been pleased to pay him court and to seek his wisdom. Now those same people saw him not and heard him not. The only one who paid him court was the ka of the wretched urchin who dogged his heels like a loose bandage.
“Something,” the child said. “I have been dead for a long time. I know the world of the dead among the living. I know things.”
“Go away,” Amenemhet repeated.
A golden chariot stood outside the gate of his house. The sight of it plunged Amenemhet’s ka into coldness. Rep-a Djau was here. With a roar of rage that did not even stir the dust in the air, Amenemhet plunged through the outer wall.
The murderer was not in the square court, but the door in the north portico stood open, and Amenemhet heard voices from within.
Amenemhet stepped through. Rep-a Djau stood in the centre of the reception room, clad like a pharaoh in his green and gold gown and his bead necklaces. Baketamen, Amenemhet’s wife, sat on an earthenware bench before Rep-a Djau. The two girls, Meryt and Kawit, and his little son, Hori, who was scarcely off his mother’s breast, stood behind Baketamen. Baketamen had obviously been crying, but she had dried her eyes and looked up at Rep-a Djau.
“I have always been a good friend of your husband,” Djau was saying. “He trusted me. Anything I can do for you, I will.”
“Liar,” Amenemhet screamed. “He always envied me you. It wasn’t enough that he was richer than I, that he had the ear of the Tjaty of the two lands. He wanted you. He killed me. Don’t listen to him.”
Baketamen smiled. “You are kind, Rep-a. We will remember your kindness.”
Djau bowed. “You may always call on me.”
Then the murderer turned, and strode out of the house.
When Amenemhet finally thought to look, the ka of the troublesome child had gone.
* * *
The servants did not come the next day. When Amenemhet’s ka searched through the house, he found his wife sweeping the sand from the floor. With every stroke of the brush, a tear fell from her face into the sand to be lost in the water she had sprinkled there. His children, even little Hori, were building a fire from dried dung. When he had been alive, they had burned only wood in this house.
“There is a new haty-a now,” a voice said. “You are dead. Your place is not here. The taxes you once received now go to another.”
The ka of the child stood beside him.
“Go away,” Amenemhet said. “Why do you bother me with things I know?”
* * *
The first creditor came at dawn on the third day. He was a grain trader from Thebes. Amenemhet had met the man only once. The man had stuck to Rep-a Djau’s shoulder like a shadow to a wall. Amenemhet had disliked the man and refused to do business with him. That had angered Rep-a Djau.
“It grieves me to trouble you at such a sad time, Nebet Per,” the trader said to Baketamen, “but your husband owed me money. The debt is long overdue. I would wait longer, but my farmers need payment.”
Outraged, Amenemhet swept through the man. “I have done no business with you. You lie.”
“You are mistaken,” Baketamen said. “I keep the household accounts. I have no record of any debts unpaid. My husband told me of no contract with you.”
The trader bowed his head and passed a rolled papyrus to her. She flattened it. Amenemhet peered past her. The bill of sale was clear. His seal had been pressed firmly onto the papyrus.
Hesitantly, Baketamen said, “It is a large sum.”
“You see my dilemma, Nebet Per.”
“I made no such contract,” Amenemhet shouted. “The bill is false. Rep-a Djau must have stolen my seal when he murdered me.”
Baketamen rolled the papyrus and returned it to the trader. “You will be paid.”
The trader bowed deeper.
“How?” Amenemhet said, but none answered.
* * *
They came like the flow of the Nile, the creditors, each with his papyrus. With every payment, Baketamen’s face became more drawn, her figure more bent. Her eyes grew desperate. She did not sleep.
At last, near the end of the second week, when the latest in the flow of creditors had gone, Baketamen dropped to her knees on a floor mat.
“Amenemhet,” she wailed. “How could you?”
“But I didn’t,” he said.
She did not hear him.
* * *
“We must sell the house,” Baketamen told her children. “That is the only way we can pay your father’s debts. This is a good house. It will bring us enough.”
“Where will we live?” Kawit asked, through tears.
“We will find a small place in the town. It will just be one room, but it will shelter us.”
“We should go to Rep-a Djau,” Meryt said. “He would give us rooms in his palace. He is kind.”
Baketamen shook her head. “Your father would not like that. We still have our pride.”
“Who cares about father?” Meryt shouted, little Meryt with the wide brown eyes and the thick black hair, his jewel. “This is all his fault. I hate him. I wish Rep-a Djau was our father.”
She turned and ran from the room, passing through Amenemhet’s stricken ka.
Amenemhet’s anger lifted him like a feather in the wind from the north. Yet it seemed a distant anger, an anger drained of colour. His ka drifted through the town, across the rich fields, to the desert beyond and the tombs. For a while, he forgot his family and slipped only among the kas by the tombs. They did not revolt him as they once had. He found comfort in their endless, repeated words of despair. Re no longer travels the underworld at night. His face is but a ball of fire in the sky…
Time passed, a scarce-noticed breeze.
One day, a golden chariot drew up before Amenemhet’s tomb. A tall man in green and gold alighted. Disquiet grew in Amenemhet.
The tall man hitched up his robe and urinated onto Amenemhet’s shrine, befouling the offerings left there.
Amenemhet howled. Rep-a Djau. Fury revived him, and his memories tore back. He chased the speeding chariot towards the town, throwing curses at the rep-a’s back.
Once in the town, he slowed. The streets here were narrow. The rep-a’s chariot could not move swiftly.
Amenemhet surveyed the crowds of the living. How bright they were. He became transfixed, and soon the chariot was gone.
Wailing from one of the low buildings reached Amenemhet. He passed through the wall.
He did not recognise his family at first. These people were strangers to him. They were dirty, bent, sun-darkened, and poorly dressed. Yet when Baketamen looked up, Amenemhet knew her.
Beside her, Meryt and little Hori stood over their prostrate sister. Kawit moaned and twisted on the dirt floor. Her skin was oily with sweat. She seemed very close to Amenemhet, as though her ka wished to slip from her body and begin the journey to the Land of Reeds.
Baketamen brought a rag from a bucket and squeezed water over Kawit’s hot skin. The girl moaned in response.
“Mother,” Meryt said. “Kawit is dying. She will not last another day if we cannot bring a doctor.”
“We have no money for a doctor,” Baketamen said. “It is all gone.”
“Rep-a Djau has money,” Meryt said. “He has his own doctor. He would help us. You know that.”
Baketamen bent her head. Then she straightened. “You are right. We have waited too long. Help me with your sister. We will go to the rep-a.”
* * *
Amenemhet followed his family to the rep-a’s palace. A guard let them through the massive external wall, while another hurried off to fetch servants. Beyond the wall was a garden. Date palms, pomegranate trees, sycamores, and acacias lined the winding paths. The roof of a pagoda jutted from the shrubbery to the left. Blossoming vines trailed over it. Around the edge of the gardens, Amenemhet saw kitchens, workshops, stables, cattle sheds, and a wide granary.
“I never could offer you this,” he said, unheard. “Yet you loved me.”
Servants arrived to carry Kawit on a litter. Baketamen and other children followed a scribe through the gardens. They passed a large rectangular pond from which grew lotus plants, papyrus reeds, and water lilies. Amenemhet saw the thick brown bodies of fish slide through the water.
The enormous house stood on a plinth at the end of the garden. A colonnaded flight of stairs led up to a vestibule. There Rep-a Djau stood, his smile as wide as the river. Amenemhet saw the rep-a take Baketamen’s arm. Then a silent wind took his ka and bore it away.
* * *
Time passed. Dust settled on his eyes. His ka grew gaunt and listless. He found himself drifting through the streets, dragged again and again to the crowds at the tombs. He forgot his name and his purpose.
“You’re becoming like the rest of them,” a small voice observed. “You are fading. Your ka will forget what it knew, and all you will be able to do is repeat the same words all the other kas repeat.”
“Go away,” he said. But there was no force to his words.
The ka of the child continued remorselessly. “You will forget the map of the underworld. You will forget the path to the Land of Reeds. You will forget the words to speak at the gates.”
“Go away. Re no longer travels the underworld at night. His face is but a ball of fire in the sky. There are no demons anymore in the underworld, no Apep, no Amemet, no gates, no judges, no scales. There is no Land of Reeds.”
“Listen to yourself. You just repeat the words. Maybe Amun-Re is dead. Maybe Re no longer travels the underworld. That does not mean there is no Land of Reeds. You know the map, yet you will not follow the path.”
“There is no path,” he said.
“If you help me, I will help you,” the dead child said.
Amenemhet’s ka drifted, caught by a dead wind.
* * *
Something was pulling at him. Amenemhet realised he was at the tombs. Kas pressed tight around him. He could hear words coming from his mouth. “…are no demons anymore in the underworld, no Apep, no Amemet—” He cut off the words.
The ka of the child stared up at him sadly. “Your colours are almost gone. You are near to forgetting.”
“Then let me,” Amenemhet whispered.
“Your daughter is well. She has recovered from the fever. Your family now live in the house of your murderer. He speaks of marriage to your wife. Perhaps…perhaps soon your son will number among the dead. Your murderer resents that your blood flows in your son’s veins. Accidents are easy. I know.”
Already the words wanted to bubble from Amenemhet’s lips. Re no longer travels the underworld at night. His face is but a ball of fire in the sky… Instead, he said, “Help me.”
“Come, then,” the ka of the child said. “I will take you to one who can speak with the dead.”
* * *
The child led him down towards the river, where the poorest lived. Sometimes, in the inundation, these rough houses were swept away by the river. When living, Amenemhet had not come this way. The narrow streets stank of human waste.
The hut the child took him to had partially collapsed in an inundation. One wall was gone. The roof dipped towards the floor. Amenemhet dipped so he could see within.
“Come,” the child said. “To the living, she is deaf and blind.”
Amenemhet stepped into the dark.
“I see you, oh dead,” a voice said. “I smell your dust and I hear your pale breath.”
Amenemhet bent towards the sound. A crone sat huddled among rags.
“Who are you?” he said.
“No one you would know, oh grand hety-a.” She cackled. “So grand to come so low.”
“I was murdered,” Amenemhet said. “Rep-a Djau slid a blade into my throat and left me to bleed to death. You must tell everyone. They must know the truth.”
The crone rocked back and cackled again. “Who will listen to the words of an old woman against the word of the rep-a? They would throw stones at me.”
Amenemhet fell to his knees. “I was always a loyal servant of Ptolemy Philopator. Once, he touched my hand.”
“Go,” she said. “The kas of the dead have no place with the living. Go to the Land of Reeds or go to fade. I do not care which. You know the map of the underworld, and the child is a true child of Re. Between you, you can reopen the path once more.”
“I do not know where the path begins,” Amenemhet said.
“It begins where it has always begun,” the crone said. “It begins where life meets death, where they combine, and where life fails.”
Amenemhet stood. “I will not go while the rep-a lives. Justice must be done.”
“Then fade,” the crone said, “but bother my rest no more.”
* * *
The town was filled with celebration. Curious, Amenemhet followed the crowds.
Rep-a Djau’s house was surrounded by flags. Amenemhet heard music within. He passed through the wall. The child followed behind.
His wife stood on the top of the steps leading to the rep-a’s house. Beside her, Rep-a Djau stood, garbed in a wedding robe.
“He has married her,” Amenemhet said. He swept forward, his ka buoyed by rage. He pummelled his fists through Rep-a Djau. They had no effect.
He felt the dead wind try to lift him back towards the tombs.
The rep-a lent towards Baketamen. “Tonight,” he said, “you are mine.”
Amenemhet saw his wife shiver and a tear lay its trail down her cheek.
He drew back. His ka grew cold.
The ka of the child gazed up at him, her face sad.
Amenemhet looked up at Rep-a Djau. “I know where the path begins,” he said.
* * *
The dead were easy to lead. Their kas had become grey. They had lost their will. They could only repeat words. Amenemhet became his own dead wind. He passed through them, drove them, tugged them. And he taught them new words to repeat.
Slowly, the kas began to drift from the tombs.
A cold wind passed through the town, and even the living moved aside.
It reached the walls of Rep-a Djau’s palace and passed through them. The guests grew silent.
At the high table, Rep-a Djau stood, his forehead lining, his mouth growing tight.
The cold wind reached him. The dead reached him.
“Follow,” Amenemhet said. Behind him, the dead whispered their new words.
Amenemhet flowed up into Rep-a Djau’s heart. There the ka of the dead met Rep-a Djau’s living ka.
Grey dust fell from Amenemhet’s ka and drifted down onto the rep-a’s heart. Amenemhet’s colours grew. Ahead of him, he saw the path.
The ka of the child came next. Rep-a Djau clutched his chest as the cold touched his heart.
Then the river of the dead swept through him.
Amenemhet saw the grey dust fall from their kas. As each of them passed through Djau, they spoke the words Amenemhet had taught them: “I am Rep-a Djau. I am a murderer and a liar. The gods judge me. I have murdered hety-a Amenemhet.”
Rep-a Djau’s lips twitched. Sweat sprang from his pale face.
Still the dead came. Still they spoke the words.
Rep-a Djau stiffened. His head tipped back and the words poured from him in a scream: “I am Rep-a Djau. I am a murderer and a liar. The gods judge me. I have murdered hety-a Amenemhet.”
Then he fell.
The last ka to pass onto the path was the ka of Rep-a Djau.
Amenemhet took the hand of the child who had helped him. The map that showed the way was clear before him. The words to speak at the gates sat on his tongue.
“Come,” he said. “Together we will find the Land of Reeds.”
It’s now only five days until SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB is published. I have my author copies (see yesterday’s post) and I know the book has started filtering into bookstores, although I don’t think it’s made its way onto any shelves yet.
So let’s talk about something else instead.
When your dream is to get a book published and then you do get a book published, what then? Do you retire with perfect satisfaction to exist in zen-like peace for eternity, having achieved your dream? Do you heck.
Nope, it’s time to come up with new plans. So, these are my five goals for the rest of 2016:
Pitch a book 3 in the SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB series. My publisher bought two books (SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB and THE EMPEROR OF MARS (the sequel to SECRETS…)). I want to see if she wants a book 3 as well.
Write another, completely unrelated, middle grade novel. I started one with wizards and murder and mystery, and I want to get that done. Unless I get commissioned for book 3, in which case I’ll be doing that instead.
Revise THE EMPEROR OF MARS. I’m gonna have to do that anyway. My editorial letter should arrive this month (fingers crossed) and I’ll be doing the rewrite, making it more fun, more snappy, and more awesome.
Write a related novelette or novella in the same world as SECRETS. I’ve actually written one already, but I’d like to do another. There’s another story that is not about Edward and his family that I want to keep pursuing. Also, the novelette I did has dinosaurs in, so how could I not want to keep going on that story arc?
Start work on an adult novel. The first novel I seriously tried to write after I’d started publishing short stories was an adult fantasy novel. It was kind of a mess and I abandoned it, but I still like the basic idea behind it, and I really want to try it again, now that I know what I’m doing. (Kinda…)
So, those are my new goals, and somehow I’ve got it into my head that I’m going to do them all this year. You can hold me to it. Probably.
That’s today, folks. Tomorrow it’s four days to go. *Deep breaths. Deep breaths.*
Today in my countdown to publication of SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB on January 12th, 2016, I am going to be very self-indulgent, because today my author copies arrived and they are absolutely beautiful! So, this post is basically just photos of them.
The box of books, newly arrived!My books. My own. My preciouuuusssss.MrX discovers the books.
The book has a map. All good books have maps! (That’s Steph’s hand.)
And a first page. All books have a front page…
All the artwork, cover and interior, is by Jeremy Holmes. Copyright Christy Ottaviano Books.
I’m doing a blog countdown until SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB is published, on January 12th, 2016. Today, there are seven days to go, so it must be time for some rock ‘n’ roll.
Well, kind of.
Back when I was … quite a bit younger, before I had children and before 10 o’clock sounded like a late night, I used to go down the pub every Friday or Saturday night with my friend, Neil. The pub we usually went to was one of those that has a band playing most weekends. Not always great bands, but not bad bands, either. Most of them were pretty good, musically and technically. But a lot of them weren’t great performers.
They would play, and nobody much would be paying attention.
These bands, it wasn’t that there was anything wrong with their ability, but they seemed to have forgotten that they were playing to an audience. They would look at each other. They would peer at their shoes. They would stare into empty space. But they never looked the audience in the eye. They never tried to grab your attention.
The difference between them and the bands who really got an audience rocking was painfully obvious. The bands who engaged would be right there at the edge of the stage, leaning forward, grabbing your gaze, refusing to let go.
And it occurred to me: that’s not so different to being a writer.
No, no. This isn’t just an attempt to make being a writer seem as cool as being in a rock band, because we all know that’s not true. Sorry, it just isn’t. No one ever became a writer to look cool. Somehow, being hunched in front of a laptop just isn’t as rock and roll as having a Les Paul or a Gibson slung low.
Here’s the way I see it: when you write, you need to be looking your audience in the eye. You need to be telling the story to them. It’s easy to stare at your feet when you’re a writer, to focus on the processes of writing, the technical challenges and the act of putting the words on the page. It’s easy to forget you are writing a story for readers.
That’s not to say that you should try to “sell out”. I’m not for a moment suggesting that you change your story to please an audience. No really great rock ‘n’ roll band changed their music to please listeners. But you do need to remember that you are writing for someone to read. You need to write with that audience as a focus and build a story that they will respond to. You have to look them in the eye, force them to engage, and never let them go.
Your audience, of course, can be anyone you like. It can be as small or as large as you want. It can be your child or wife or husband only. It can even just be you.
Whoever that audience is though, when you write, write as though you are telling them a story and you want them to be as excited by it as you are.
Don’t stare at your feet. Your feet don’t care.
And, in case you came here expecting some rock ‘n’ roll and feel cheated, and in memory of the great Lemmy, here is Motörhead with “Rock n’roll”: