One year ago, I snapped the photo above of my son looking out the window. We'd been home a month, at the beginning of a global pandemic.
For a year, we have been looking out. I'm glad the vaccines are rolling out (still waiting for my appointment) and hopeful for a return to normalcy. My son's just finished his first week back at in-person school, which was a big deal.
Yet, we cannot discount the year of "looking out". My daughter, who is nearly two, has lived more than half of her life in quarantine. My son spent a year in zoom pre-K. He had a few playdates in our bubble, but spent almost all of those twelve months stuck inside with Dad and his sister as his only playmates while his Mom struggled to work with a house full of loud, cooped up kids.
This pandemic has changed us all. It's mark won't vanish when the numbers finally drop for good. When we get to the point where we all feel safe, this year will remain with all of us. This year where friends and family have died, and a world was brought to its knees by a virus. A year where we were trapped, literally. Yet also a year where we hopefully found strength in our families and in our hearts. I personally feel closer than ever to my wife and kids, and am grateful for them. There is no one I'd rather "look out" with.
How has the pandemic affected you?
What projects are out there, waiting to be snatched up by a big publisher? If you haven't yet read my newsletter, this previous entry answers those questions:
Last week, for the first time in over two years, we took a family trip. It was a socially distanced, isolated trip to a fairly deserted town in Delaware on a bay, not too far from Rehoboth Beach. It was bitterly cold, but a wonderful way to gain some distance. We hadn't travelled significantly the entire pandemic and earlier (because of the baby). With my wife and two kids, I was able to put some real distance between myself and all the craziness of the world. The pandemic, the isolation, the news, and so on... We stayed by the water in a lovely house, spending our time searching for shells. While away, I watched Perseverance land on Mars. it was an extraordinary feat, and again had me thinking of how much we could reach, and what distances we, as a species, strive towards.
Distance... Stay six feet away. Escape to the beach. Send a robot to another planet... Distance is everywhere.
But it's also a matter of time. Perseverance isn't just some rover in a Martian crater. It's the term I've used most often to describe my career as an author. It's the term that defines my approach.
I run several writing groups. I mentioned something about my earlier books in one, and it started a swell of interest in The Scythe Wielder's Secret. Dozens have now received signed copies of the books. I'm delighted to share them, yet it's odd as well. I wrote School of Deaths a decade ago, but it's still new to each new reader. I can't help but feel a little distance from the book.
Earlier this week, my agent shared one of the most personalized rejections we've gotten yet. This is for the submission phase with my MG novel Starkeeper. I've been hoping for big news on that book, but again recognize the distance. I wrote that book over two years ago. Do you realize how much the world's shifted in two years? The distance between the guy writing that book and the guy hoping for a publishing deal...it's nearly as great as the distance Perseverance traveled.
And yet, I keep coming back to the concept that there will always be two distances. In one sense, writing is very removed from the moment. I am far from my newest readers, by years. Yet in another, more important sense, reading and writing provide a bridge. Reading is the closest we can get to another person - peering inside another person's very soul.
Writing creates true magic. I can read Shakespeare or Homer, and experience words and worlds for the first time, centuries after their original composition. I can draft something tonight, which readers might not see for years. And yet the moment their eyes take in those words, our minds will link. Just as my mind links with every author I read. Or every blog reader reading what I'm typing.
And that is why I persevere. My agent has 8 books by me ready to send out now. I don't need to write every day or drive myself crazy constantly striving to complete more projects. I haven't gotten that next step yet. Why not sit back and wait? Because I know the MAGIC. I understand the power of perseverance and how I will ultimately be able to bridge any distance. And in time, like that hunk of steel in a Martian crater, I too will explore new worlds, with my timeless readers linked to my every thought.
We are coming off of a tumultuous week of a difficult year.
Yet, as we embark into 2021, I wanted to share some of my current progress and plans as a writer.
In August, I signed fantastic literary agent Steve Fraser of the DeChiara Agency. He's currently shopping my novels to publishers, which means he takes my finished books and sends them to big press, who hopefully offer to publish my books.
But what books are coming?
Scythe Wielder's Secret and Pillars of Chaos feel like phase one of my writer career, with me firmly moving into a new phase now. Since then, I've written four middle grade fantasy novels. The novel that landed me an agent is a poetic story about a boy who places the stars in the night sky, only to confront the Man in the Moon. Another of my favorite MGs is set in the same world, and involves kids who manually change the seasons from one to the next. I am currently drafting a fifth new MG.
I've also written three YA fantasy novels. Two are connected in an epic series about a world that's been in night for centuries. The other is about a mystery involving nations that manufacture weather.
I'm currently drafting two adult projects. One is a satirical look at parenting, written as a choose-you-own-adventure. The other is a complex duology that plays with structure- the novel is essentially told from the beginning and end, and fills in the middle as it progresses.
I think 2021 is going to be a great year for me as a writer. I'm looking forward to sharing big news about publishing deals and of course will post more about all the fun projects coming out!
Tonight is Christmas Eve. The meaning of Christmas is a theme echoed again. It is of course a celebration of Jesus’ birth. Yet, Christmas is far more. To some, Christmas is simply a time of giving or receiving gifts. For some, Christmas is about family and community. Many view Christmas as a party: a frenzy of shopping, lights, and commercialism. And, of course, Christmas is also the start of winter, the breath at the end of one year, and the hope flowing into a new period.
While all of the above is true, there’s yet another Christmas often overlooked.
Christmas, more than any other single day, is a celebration of the power of fiction. To be clear, I am not speaking about the origin stories of the holiday in any way. Yet, Christmas today has been shaped by countless popular stories.
Clement Clarke Moore’s poem A Visit From St Nicholas (Twas the Night Before Christmas) helped define the holiday and the concept of Santa. Dickens’ A Christmas Carol solidified Christmas as a major, commercial holiday to be celebrated by entire cities, and his characters went on to become part of the Christmas tradition. The book has never been out of print, since the 1840s! Another example came when Dr. Seuss wrote The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, a children’s book that continued a series he’d started about tiny beings called Whos. His book became so popular independently, it’s hard to imagine Christmas without the Whos and their singing, the toys and their noise, and the Grinch whose heart grew three sizes that day.
These stories and countless others haven’t just sold well. They’ve helped redefine culture itself. I’d argue that more people are familiar with Moore or Seuss’s verses than anything related to Christmas in the Bible. Fiction, and storytelling in general, has the power to shape and inspire entire civilizations.
As this stressful year of hardships comes to an end, I find myself feeling very inspired. In August, I signed a new literary agent – Steve Fraser of the DeChiara Literary Agency – to represent my works. This is the first holiday I’ve headed into with an agent, who is at once a coach, advocate, and cheerleader for me.
I was also informed last week that one of my youngest beta readers, a girl of nine, absolutely loved my newest project. I’d sent her a book and she became frustrated at her mom’s slow reading so eagerly read the rest of the manuscript on her own. Her mom went on to inform me that the girl has now started writing her own story, trying to imitate my style. There is no greater flattery possible. If I have inspired a nine-year-old to write and excited a child that much, what future inspirations lie in store? Will I someday write fiction that shapes entire cultures? Did Suess guess his impact when he started planning the Grinch? Did Dickens, whose book initially made no money, imagine what it would go on to become?
A New Year is a time of limitless possibility. While 2020 has been grueling, and the pandemic rages on, particularly in America. I look to the future with optimism and hope. I will celebrate Christmas as a time of giving and family. Yet also as a testament to the power of fiction.
Twas two days before break,
With white snow on the ground,
Nine months in pandemic,
And despair all around.
The children, in Zoom school,
Continue to stare
Past the dull-glowing screen,
Towards the flurry-filled air.
With hope 'round the corner
For days filled with joys,
Of happy reunions,
For all girls and boys;
Still in Zoom school,
They sit and they sigh,
A possible snow day has flown right on by,
And the children's smiles fade,
And some even do cry.
Yet, HOPE is a powerful, wonderful thing,
And with the New Year,
The vaccines and the snow,
At long last,
Hope has started to grow...
If a writer wishes to break into mainstream publishing, they need an agent, and the way to get an agent is the dreaded query. There are countless websites, courses, books, blogs, and other resources out there to assist writers who are querying. It's a process involving a query letter with a hook, often a few pages that sample your book, and a LOT of angst. There are entire databases like QueryTracker.net, entire paid services with agents such as Manuscript Academy, and lists of agents who might be interested through sites like ManuscriptWishlist. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of books on the subject, and just as many blogs and services.
Yet, I've never once encountered this piece of querying advice, possibly the most important of all: Let it Go, and Move On. Everyone focuses on the mechanics of the query, the people to approach, or even the methods or timing of querying. But no one discusses the psyche of the author during the process.
I've been querying one project or another for years and years. Ultimately, Elsa is right.
At it's best, querying is a slog. In a BEST-case scenario, after spending months, or possibly years on a manuscript, you've finally gotten the nerve to send it to a few agents. These gatekeepers are going to love it, you hope. Maybe you get requests for your full manuscript right away. You STILL have to wait months to hear back. Then even IF you find that agent, there's another break while it's out on submission, and then even more time before that book is released. All too many writers can't stop checking the inbox, or staring at the phone hoping it will ring.
It's hard not to query and think about your project. It's a part of you, a project you've poured your soul and time into, and now you're helpless as you just wait. For most, the requests and offers come only after mountains of rejections. Agent after agent closing the door on your project. And let's face it, for better or worse, rejections during this godawful year of pandemic and turmoil sting even more bitterly.
But there IS a solution.
The key to querying is to prepare your query, and then throw yourself in an entirely different direction. Find a new project. One that is exciting on every level. You might want to start drafting, or outlining, or whatever your process entails. The key is you have to let the NEW project CONSUME you. It's the project you eat, sleep, and breathe. The more you focus on the new work, the less you even notice the rejections. Maybe you're getting requests, but even then you're not worrying about that interminable wait. You're happy and excited about something completely different.
That's the best querying advice I can possibly give. And it's the way I query myself.
I have not been actively blogging. The past three months have blurred by with the stress and added responsibilities of a son at home instead of school, and a world gripped in a devastating pandemic. Now, however, I need to mention the the burgeoning wave of protests and anger gripping my nation and home city of Washington DC. Silence is complicity in this situation, and no one can remain on the sidelines. I proudly support Black Lives Matter, and dedicate my life to fighting racism. It is a lifelong battle, but one worth fighting.
First, for book recommendations, my son's (age 3) favorite book by a black author, and a staple in our house is Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain: A Nandi Tale.
Below is a list from Oprah, on 43 books to buy from black authors (note, you have to click the image, then click the image again on Oprah's site to get the list.
And finally, beyond books, here's how YOU can help. This list below of 75 things has been going around social media, and I share it here.
75 is a lot. It can feel overwhelming. But that also means that there is a lot you can do right now to improve racial justice in the U.S.
I'll highlight just three things you can do:
1. Reach out to your Black friends and family and just let them know that you're here for them. They are not ok. They need to hear from you, so check-in and let them know that you're thinking of them.
2. Google your local police and whether or not they are trained in de-escalation strategies. My Chief of Police is a Black man who has emphasized de-escalation as a part of their regular training for officers. As a result, they are responding to protesters by kneeling with them and talking. That's real community work.
3. Donate to anti-white supremacy work such as your local Black Lives Matter Chapter, the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, the NAACP, Southern Poverty Law Center, United Negro College Fund, Black Youth Project 100, Color of Change, The Sentencing Project, Families against Mandatory Minimums, A New Way of Life, and Dream Defenders. Join some of these list-serves and take action as their emails dictate.
Bonus: The Loveland Foundation (https://thelovelandfoundation.org/) is raising funds to subsidize therapy sessions for Black women and girls.
Click the image below for the full list.
I am again a participant in the YA SCAVENGER HUNT!
yes, the world's in peril at the moment, but let's all take a pandemic break with some escapist fiction!
This bi-annual event was first organized by author Colleen Houck as a way to give readers a chance to gain access to exclusive bonus material from their favorite authors...and a chance to win some awesome prizes! On this hunt, you not only get access to exclusive content from each author, you also get a clue for the hunt. Add up the clues, and you can enter for our prize--one lucky winner will receive one book from each author on the hunt in my team! But play fast: this contest (and all the exclusive bonus material) will only be online for 120 hours!
Go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page to find out all about the hunt. There are FOUR contests going on simultaneously, and you can enter one or all! I am a part of the RED TEAM--but there is also a blue team, a gold team, and a purple team for a chance to win a whole different set of books!
SCAVENGER HUNT PUZZLE
Directions: Below, you'll notice that I've listed my favorite number. Collect the favorite numbers of all the authors on the RED TEAM, and then add them up (don't worry, you can use a calculator!).
Entry Form: Once you've added up all the numbers, make sure you fill out the form here to officially qualify for the grand prize. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify.
Rules: Open internationally, anyone below the age of 18 should have a parent or guardian's permission to enter. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by APRIL 5, at noon Pacific Time. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered.
Meet Melinda Cordell
I'm hosting Melinda Cordell. Tell us about yourself Melinda:
I'm a former horticulturist, a chicken wrangler, and my superpower is distraction.
My latest series is the Dragonriders of Fiorenza. Fia, an enterprising young dragonrider sees her father kidnapped before her eyes -- so she pulls her assassin grandmother out of retirement and puts a hit out on the kidnappers to rescue him. Assassin's Blade, the first book, will be out on May 7th!
Wow that sounds great! I love dragons! Sometimes I wish I had FIVE dragons. Yeah, FIVE of them. Really!
Where can people go to learn more about you and your cool book ASSASSIN'S BLADE?
My site is https://melindacordell.com/ and the book can be found at https://melindacordell.com/dragonriders-of-fiorenza/ (or click the cover below)
My father’s been kidnapped.
The kidnappers demand a ransom that’s impossible to pay. If they don’t get it in two weeks, they will kill my father.
Mama won’t survive his murder. She’s already fallen unconscious.
If we can’t pay, my brother and sisters will end up homeless.
So I’ve pulled my assassin grandmother and my pudgy war dragon out of retirement.
Together, we’re going to find the kidnappers and rescue my dad.
And we’ll make those bastards pay.
Set in an alternate medieval Italy with dragons and magic, ASSASSIN'S BLADE is for fans of the Venatrix Chronicles by Sylvia Mercedes, or the dragon books of Ursula K. Le Guin and Anne McCaffery. You'll love taking flight in ASSASSIN'S BLADE.
And now an exciting excerpt!
This is an excerpt from Assassin’s Blade, when Fia’s father is kidnapped and Fia and her dragon Ryelleth wing after them in pursuit.
Ryelleth roared and reared up, taking the brunt of the flames against her chest – a war dragon maneuver done to protect their riders. Fia made herself as small as possible on Ryelleth’s back as blistering heat and deathly flames broke against Ry’s body as a wave breaks across the rocks.
Fia held her breath to keep her lungs from being scorched by fire, and she shut her eyes tight, clinging to Ryelleth. The flames went on and on until every part of her screamed with pain from the fire and the super-heated air.
With a surge of power, Ryelleth winged up into the air, out of the flames, rising higher and higher.
Now cool air surrounded Fia. She wheezed in air, immediately choking – but her goatskin gloves were burning. She smacked them out on the sides of her asbestos dress, wincing in pain. She’d been burned but there was no time to look at the damage.
“I told you to spend a few coins on asbestos gloves,” she muttered to herself, seizing the forward strap. Her hands were shaking, but she leaned against Ryelleth’s neck. “Pursue,” she called, voice quavering.
With a roar, Ryelleth pitched herself directly at the green racer, which was rising swiftly out of the fogbank.
As the green racer rose, Fia could see two people on its back. One was its dragonrider. The second man was her father, wearing his red robes of state.
“Daddy!” Fia shouted, though the deep bruise in her side hurt at her cry. “Ry, follow them! Don’t let them get away!”
Ryelleth growled with determination and blazed after them in pursuit.
The small green dragon clapped its wings and shot away so fast that Fia couldn’t help but gasp. The racer dragons were bred to be light, powerful – and very, very swift.
There was no way that Ryelleth, her big pudgy dragon, could keep up with that. She thought of how the only exercise her dragon got was in ferrying people from city to city. But Fia leaned forward on Ryelleth’s neck like a jockey urging her horse on to a win. “Pursue them!” she cried. “Go, go go go.”
Ryelleth lowered her head and her wings came down like thunder, and they were roaring through the air.
Fia’s fingers went white-knuckled on the forward strap. She had never gone this fast before in her life, and her eyes behind her streaming veil went wide. Ryelleth was keeping up with the green racers.
Now they were slowly staring to gain on the racers. “Get ‘em, my good girl,” she cried to Ryelleth as the freezing wind smacked her veil against her cheeks and neck. Fia pressed herself against the dragon’s back to lower her wind resistance, tightened her legs against Ry’s sides, thrilling at how swiftly they were flying. She’d never known Ry could travel like this. The jeweled tone of the dragon’s scales brightened and glowed from her internal fires, and sparks went eddying and flying past from her hot breath.
One of the riders glanced over his shoulder at them, then shouted something at his partner. Her father, lying face down across the back of the right-hand racer, kicked and squirmed. The rider shouted something and brought down a leather crop across her father’s back.
“No! You bastard!” Fia screamed. “Ry, fire upon the dragon on this side.” Fia struck the left side of Ry’s neck.
At the signal, a gout of flame roared out at the dragons.
Immediately the left-hand dragon peeled off and came for Fia and Ryelleth while the second dragon flew on.
Fia swore. That was a mistake, for now the dragon with her father would have a chance to get away while the oncoming dragon engaged them in a fight.
The green racer circled back and spat a line of fire. Fia’s heart dropped. She curled against Ryelleth’s back, heart rattling with terror with the hard beat of Ry’s wings.
Ryelleth flung herself up so fast that for a split second Fia, within the straps that held her on, was flung face-down on her dragon's back. The racer’s fire broke against Ry’s belly, the dragon’s body and wide wings protecting Fia. Ry blasted fire in return as she climbed and climbed straight up in the air.
Fia felt her dragon’s momentum stall as they hung for a moment in the. Then to Fia’s horror, slowly, as in something out of a nightmare, they began to fall backward.
WOW - if this sounds amazing to you too, don't forget to visit
Look at all the amazing books to win above! Want them? Then, don't forget that I really like FIVE. You'll need that number (added to all the other RED TEAM numbers to enter).
Now, on to the next author in the hunt: TERA LYNN CHILDS
The pandemic goes on. We are more isolated than ever, and yet even in isolation, we are one world, and one species, all in the same predicament together. I've been posting images of my family on facebook and wanted to share some of the moments of joy, we've found, amid the fear.
Stay safe. Stay sane. We'll get through this.