As I mentioned, I’m hard at work on the next book.  Most of it will take place in a small town in Ohio, but part of it happens in places pretty far from there.  Here’s a taste of where I am today.  Thank goodness for Google Street View, which lets me travel there for free.  

Hollow World

My friend, Michael J. Sullivan, has become known as a fantastic fantasy writer as a result of The Riyria Revelations series.  He was also a great contributor to my First Page Project (which I need to revive).

Michael read a copy of The Bubble Gum Thief before it was published, and he gave me some great ideas about changes that made it better.  Then Michael honored me by asking if I’d give him thoughts on his new sci-fi novel, Hollow Wood, when it was still in a draft stage.  It’s a vivid depiction of a kind of future society, and a truly great story.  But it’s also a thoughtful attempt to grapple with issues of interconnectedness and technology, and that’s what I liked best about it.  Michael’s fantasy work harkens back to the classical era of fantasy books, so it’s not much of a surprise that Hollow World harkens back tonally to the days of Asimov or Bradbury, even while addressing concerns of our day.   I don’t usually read science fiction, but Hollow World made me want to. 

Hollow World is out now.  You can buy it here.

Progress on the Sequel

Very nice people have asked how the next Dagny Gray book is coming along. So far, I’ve written about 108,000 words. That’s a lot of words. The Bubble Gum Thief is about 116,000 words. So what I’ve written is almost as long as The Bubble Gum Thief.

Although I’ve written a lot of words, that doesn’t mean I’m almost done. There’s still about a fourth of the story to tell. Then I’ll have to cut and revise considerably. Some things I love will have to go because they aren’t serving the story, not matter how much I love them. There will be problems to fix—temporal problems, character problems, tone and timing problems. Jokes will need to be fine-tuned. Scary moments will need to be more frightening. Emotional moments will need to ring more true. I will spend hours laboring over single sentences, only to cut them in subsequent drafts. At some point, I’ll question whether I have any business writing a novel. Editing is just as hard as writing; maybe harder.

A lot of writers spend many years on their first book, and just one year on their second. As a result, a lot of second books disappoint. I want my second book to be better than my first, so I won’t let it out until I think it is. I owe that much to my readers, and to Dagny.

The tentative title of the second book is Borderline, or Borderline Insanity, or Borderline Insane. I haven’t quited decided. Feel free to let me know what you think sounds best.

When it comes to writing about anorexia, the only truly radical move, as far as I can tell, would be to show clearly just how profoundly boring it is—not sad or prurient or overdetermined… . I don’t know what a deliberately boring book about anorexia would look like. The closest Osgood gets is when she writes, “I used to sit in trigonometry class and calculate my intake obsessively in the margins of my notebook, each time coming up with the same answer, each time dismissing my mathematics as unreliable.” That is a much more accurate description of the disease than anything involving clavicles or frozen yogurt or sexual abuse or the fear of feeding tubes. If we really wanted to protect our supposedly susceptible youth, we’d paint anorexics as they are: slowly suicidal obsessives who avoid other people and expend ninety-five per cent of their mental energy counting the calories in green vegetables. We wouldn’t see them as worth reading about at all.

-Alice Gregory, from Anorexia, the Impossible Subject, in The New Yorker.

One of the reasons I was interested in depicting Dagny’s anorexia in The Bubble Gum Thief is that genre fiction gave me a chance to attempt exactly what Alice Gregory is talking about here. If I were using Dagny in contemporary literary fiction, the focus of the story would probably be about Dagny’s struggles with anorexia, which meant that anorexia would have to entertain the reader and keep him or her engaged. That would require either embellishment or romanticization. In a mystery/thriller, murders do that heavy lifting, which means that Dagny’s anorexia can exist as it actually would—as a facet of her personality that doesn’t define who she is, even though it affects how she lives.

When I wrote my first outline for The Bubble Gum Thief, Dagny wasn’t anorexic, and her character felt empty and flat. I thought about the protagonists of other thrillers that I loved, and the flaws that made them feel real. Some were alcoholics; some liked to gamble. Some just couldn’t get along with authority. None of that seemed like Dagny to me. (Maybe, maybe some of the last one, but that wasn’t enough).

If your thriller is set in the real world, it should feel like the real world, and the people in it should feel like real people. People tend to think anorexia is something that happens to young women in high school or college, but it’s increasingly common with women in their thirties (like Dagny) and beyond. As I delved more into Dagny’s character, I began to wonder whether Dagny might be anorexic.

Since I’m not a woman suffering from an eating disorder, it seemed terribly presumptuous to think that I could write about a woman suffering from an eating disorder. I watched videos about anorexia; I read medical studies about it. I went to the library and checked out every memoir about eating disorders I could find. Many of the women who wrote these memoirs were extremely intelligent and ambitious—just like Dagny.

I got to a point where I felt that I could relate enough to the impulses underlying anorexia and the emotions surrounding it to do it justice. Readers can judge for themselves how successful I was at capturing Dagny’s eating disorder, or balancing it with the plot of the book, but I believe the choice to take on this affliction as part of Dagny’s character was correct.  Again, eating disorders exist in real life, and should therefore be present in some depictions of reality.  Moreover, extending awareness about these disorders might make people more observant about those in their own lives who might need help. 

In June 2012, Thomas & Mercer sent two initial cover designs for my thoughts.  This is one of them.  It looked like a lot of thriller covers, and I wanted something different. I really liked the look of this cover--it had a more literary feel.  But the depicted scene doesn't really match up with anything in the book, so I said no. The publisher cam back with four more cover ideas.  This one is attention-grabbing, but doesn't fit the feel of the book.  A girl's hands are bound in my book, but not in a sensual way. Sometimes a book cover can look too real.  This one does.  Plus, when you give a character a face on the book, it colors the reader's imagination of the story. This portrays a torture that just doesn't fit the book. This is pretty close, right?  I liked it from the start, even though I had never imagined anything like this for the cover.  So we took this one and played with it. They added the red lines, changed the font, and put I had an idea that maybe it would look good if the hands were inverted, but it didn't. This is kinda cool, but the comic-book effect went against the notion of making it clear this wasn't a kids book.  Some people felt that having the hands in color seemed too real, so we went B&W.  I liked it.  After this one, we changed the font, swapped in

I thought it might be interesting to readers to see how a book cover is designed.  Here is the evolution of the cover of The Bubble Gum Thief.  The title of the book sounds like a kids story, so the cover had to make it clear that it was not.  

My publisher, Thomas & Mercer, is fantastic about seeking input from their authors, taking suggestions and changes, and making sure the author is pleased with the result.  You can click on the images to get my thoughts about each design.

High-res There are lots of great events in my hometown, but Books by the Banks is my favorite.  Here’s an overview of the event:

Books by the Banks, the region’s premier book festival, brings literature to life through programs and activities for all ages. Books by the Banks is free and open to the public. Attendees can meet local and nationally known authors and illustrators and purchase autographed copies of their work. The Cincinnati area has a long history as a community that appreciates and values books and reading, annually earning distinction as one of “America’s Most Literate Cities.” Books by the Banks embraces the region’s love for literature, books, and reading. Books by the Banks inaugural event was held November 3, 2007, at the Duke Energy Convention Center in downtown Cincinnati. In 2014, Books by the Banks will debut outdoors on the Ohio riverbanks with anticipated 10,000 attendees and numerous local partners.

Books by the Banks takes place Saturday, October 12, at the Duke Convention Center.  It’s free.  And I’ll be there from 10 am to 4 pm, signing books and talking to fans, or if no one wants to talk to me or have me sign anything, sitting alone, pretending to attend to important matters on my phone, quietly sobbing.

There are lots of great events in my hometown, but Books by the Banks is my favorite.  Here’s an overview of the event:

Books by the Banks, the region’s premier book festival, brings literature to life through programs and activities for all ages. Books by the Banks is free and open to the public. Attendees can meet local and nationally known authors and illustrators and purchase autographed copies of their work. The Cincinnati area has a long history as a community that appreciates and values books and reading, annually earning distinction as one of “America’s Most Literate Cities.” Books by the Banks embraces the region’s love for literature, books, and reading. Books by the Banks inaugural event was held November 3, 2007, at the Duke Energy Convention Center in downtown Cincinnati. In 2014, Books by the Banks will debut outdoors on the Ohio riverbanks with anticipated 10,000 attendees and numerous local partners.

Books by the Banks takes place Saturday, October 12, at the Duke Convention Center.  It’s free.  And I’ll be there from 10 am to 4 pm, signing books and talking to fans, or if no one wants to talk to me or have me sign anything, sitting alone, pretending to attend to important matters on my phone, quietly sobbing.

High-res Early this morning, The Bubble Gum Thief hit #66 on the Kindle charts, a new US high.  (It made it to #2 in the UK, and #7 in France.).  Does this mean I am now a rich and successful author?  No.  But it means that more people will be reading my book, and that’s fantastic.

Early this morning, The Bubble Gum Thief hit #66 on the Kindle charts, a new US high. (It made it to #2 in the UK, and #7 in France.). Does this mean I am now a rich and successful author? No. But it means that more people will be reading my book, and that’s fantastic.