Tagblue riley

May 17, 2016

You know, I started out writing something much longer and more complicated, but the truth is that those of you reading here, by and large, have been here for the long haul. You were around to read about the start of Blue Riley, and about what happened when her story sold. You may very well have been one of folks who responded to my request for help with details around Wyoming in winter or the wonders of I-90. You’re the people who know about Wren, and about how I vanish into my head every spring, and how much I like turtles.

So I don’t need to tell you all those things again. It’s simpler to say this: once upon a time there was a girl who loved words more than anything, and she made a deal with sadness once and gave up all her words to try to stave off change and loss, and then she realized that didn’t work, and she took her words back again. If there is a piece of me in Blue, it is that piece that puzzles over how the words fit together, and what it means to write something, and to say it out loud, in front of people.

But the thing about books is that once they are out in the world, they become about the readers far more than the writers. If the world of a book being read could be seen from afar, I suspect it would look much like a jigsaw puzzle being fit together. Every individual reader a piece; their own lives, their own stories, shaping the part they create. It becomes so much more than a book, so much more than words on a page made by one person alone somewhere. In reading we are alone, but we are also together in a truly incredible way.

All of which is a long way to get to the point: DEVIL AND THE BLUEBIRD is out in the world today. Thank you for being part of the journey.

Final cover

More housekeeping

Guildtop

Lovely, isn’t she? A 1968 Guild, used to woo me many years ago, and still full of music. She’s the inspiration behind Blue Riley’s guitar companion as Blue travels the country in search of her sister.

It’s been a busy week for Devil And The Bluebird. On Monday, the first trade review came through: a starred review from Publishers Weekly. That was followed by a Kirkus review today, also starred. Rather heady stuff.

My attempt at celebration this weekend involved, as is so often the case, a husband with pneumonia AND a reaction to his antibiotics, an attempt at buying myself a cake (because baking my own cake seemed so everyday) that ended with congratulations written in the brownest of brown frostings, and watching movies with the kids. It is an odd but charmed life, is it not?

ARCs!

Rather than describe them, I’ll just use some pretty pictures.

Outside:
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Inside:
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I don’t want to use this blog as a means to hard sell DEVIL AND THE BLUEBIRD (more on that to come), but I feel like this space has been such a big part of the journey that I want to show off the results.

Introducing…

Because it’s now appearing elsewhere, I thought it was time to show off the cover for DEVIL AND THE BLUEBIRD. Ready? Close your eyes.

Open them.

Final cover

There were a galaxy of things that I thought might end up on on the cover. Blue’s guitar was the one I desperately wanted. It’s a truly weird experience to have someone else translate your book into an image: kind of thrilling, kind of terrifying. In this case, the end result was everything I hoped it would be. Thanks so much to the design team at Abrams (the inside is as beautiful as the outside). Monica Ramos is the the artist. More of her work can be found here.

I don’t have the official copy yet to offer you as a book teaser. My original description grew less accurate as I wrote my way toward the end. Some characters you can’t know fully until you’ve gone the distance with them; some truths are hard to grasp in the bumbling along phase.

So, let’s leave it here for now. If you’d like to read the catalog copy, it’s available on Goodreads. If you’d like to read my original description, it’s here. If you have questions, ask away. I’m happy to answer.

Sometimes news comes in the shape of a book

Blue and Guitar for blog

This is what you would have seen had you driven by my house on March 7 this year. What is it? Well, Blue Riley, obviously, and her guitar. You see the resemblance, right? Okay, so maybe it looks like any number of snow people, but when my kids made it they knew no other snow person in the whole world would possibly be standing in our yard. Not with that guitar. Why March 7? Hang on, I’ll get back to that.

My daughter loves Blue’s story. She’s read it more than once. When I write, I try to keep my audience in mind. This is the first time that my audience has consisted of either of my children. It’s been…spectacular. We’ve had so many conversation around Blue and the other characters, and who I need to write more about, and what happened before or after or between the scenes. To be the mother of a passionate reader is wonderful. To be the mother of a passionate reader AND the writer of a book said reader loves is indescribable.

So, March 6–the day before Blue and her guitar showed up in our yard. There was a lot of snow outside. It was that kind of winter–remember? We were coming in from errands–me, son, daughter, daughter’s friend–and I had bags in my hand, and then my phone rang. Not my house phone, which rings nonstop with robocalls. My cheap little cell phone, which only my husband ever calls. Only it wasn’t my husband, which I knew because his ring is a whistle and this was not. I looked at the number, realized it was Agent Alice, and, with my usual level of grace and charm, said “oh crap.”

Which, I admit, is an odd response to something that I knew would be good news. I knew Alice would only call with good news. I knew that one of the editors that had been reading Blue’s story had been keeping Alice posted on her progress with it. But…let me tell you a little secret about myself: I don’t handle surprises well. Even good surprises. Some personality quirks are endearing. Some are…quirky.

I answered. Alice cheerfully said she had good news. I…remember me, the one who’s bad with surprises? I stalled. I said the first thing that popped into my head. “One a scale of one to ten, what level of good news is it?” (Can you tell I’ve spent a lot of time around medical people?)

That slowed things down a bit as Alice pondered the question (and likely wondered why she’d taken me on as a client). I had enough time to drop the bags and hide away in the bedroom. Keep in mind, though, that my kids know all about things like submissions and editors and what it means when Mom’s agent calls unexpectedly on a Friday afternoon, so they were waiting, waiting, waiting.

Do you see where all this is going? Do I need to continue?

Yes, dear ones, it was an offer from an editor for Blue’s story. Want the facts? Try this: “Jennifer Mason-Black’s debut DEVIL AND THE BLUEBIRD, in which a teenage girl meets a devil at her town crossroads and exchanges her voice for a pair of magical boots and six months to save her runaway sister’s soul, to Anne Heltzel at Amulet, for publication in spring 2016, by Alice Speilburg at Speilburg Literary Agency (world)

It’s been kind of a crazy spring. Between festival and editing and kids and my husband’s intense travel schedule, I’ve been dropping more balls than I’ve been catching. But the bottom line is that Blue and her guitar stepped out of my house and into the snow back in March, and sometime next spring they may well be arriving somewhere near you.

The glamorous writing life

The things I’ve had to research recently for Crossroads: hopping freight trains (which I keep writing as fright trains–please, someone write that story for me, okay?); finger picks for guitar players; constructing underground shelters; New England Patriots players (yes, I wrote that out for anyone who would be lost if I said the Pats–I may not watch football, but I am a Massachusetts native); bus lines in upstate NY; train lines everywhere; busking; surgical scars on backs; and the scenery of I-90 from Massachusetts straight through to Montana.

It’s the last one that’s giving me the most trouble. I like to write about place. I like to be able to touch and smell and listen to a place, and I can’t, not for this trip. Luckily for me, it’s possible to find things like a website devoted to pictures of exits off I-90 in the Dakotas, which is something like driving driving driving across the states, if I were taking very long slow blinks.

After having spent much time reading up on knives and knife fighting for The Lost and Wren, I find it both a nice change of pace (no more hunching awkwardly over the computer screen, wondering how to explain if anyone catches me watching YouTube clips on carrying concealed blades), and a little overwhelming. So many facts, and so many things I could easily focus on for months. Maybe not the Pats, or guitar picks, but the others. The world is full of fascinating things, and time is so unfairly limited.

Still, I’d like more images. Not glossy coffee table book pictures, but snapshots by travelers, peeks at roadsides and city benches and the unpolished places a young wanderer might find herself. Those things feel much harder to find. If you know of any good places to look, please let me know–here, via email, by fireworks or flag semaphore, whatever suits you. Blue will be most grateful.

Sunday morning snapshot

The house smells of curry. My hands do as well, faintly, the tips of my fingers a little yellow from messing about with spices. Stronger than curry is the scent of clementines when I touch my face. That, more than anything, more than the snow outside, more than the chill wind that blows in when someone opens the door, tells me winter’s coming.

There are chickpeas bubbling on the stove. There’s bread rising on the counter. There’s a new sourdough starter fermenting in the corner. Ripley, the “young” cat at seventeen, is migrating around the house with the sun, finding a warm patch here and there.

(Have I told the story about how Ripley got her name? She came to us at one week old, when her feral mother dropped her by the side of the road. Aside from being much too young to have no mother, she also had been exposed to distemper in utero and had a terrible case of the shakes. I felt like she needed a tough name in order to survive, and at that moment the toughest one I could think of was Ripley, mighty fighter of aliens.)

Our old lady dog is sleeping on the recliner. It’s a break from my son’s bed, which she believes was bought for her and which she generously shares with him. She likes winter coat season because coats that drop to the floor are also fair game as beds.

There’s tea that’s already been drunk, and tea still to be made. I owe my dear spouse a chapter of Crossroads, and owe myself another game of solitaire. I still have carrot soup to make tonight as well, and it seems like the kind of day when all I should do is bake. Almond…something with almond, because that is what I want when things turn cold. There’s the threat of a nor’easter this week, and that brings out the chipmunk in me, stashing food around the house. I’d be grateful to pass through another winter without any of the weeklong power outages we’ve had every few years of late.

But that is not today. Today is blue sky and brisk wind and pines dancing in the back yard. The kind of day I could find fox tracks in the fresh snow if I were to look. The kind of day to close my eyes and start to imagine a Montana blizzard, and a seventeen-year-old girl wandering out into it and finding…well, that’s mine to write.

Things to do when people are in your basement, tearing apart your heating system

1. Make pizza sauce. From scratch. From a pile of tomatoes. Because it makes you feel useful. And focused. And normal, in a way that a slightly feral, overly imaginative, often anxious homeschooling mother might not feel when strangers are looking in.

2. Make bread. Why? See above.

3. Try not to listen to the sounds of blow torches and draining pipes and clanging metal and occasional loud voices. Definitely try to not imagine a disaster down there.

4. Tell the dog everything is just fine when she sees a unfamiliar truck parked in the backyard and barks. And barks. And barks. Watch the dog go back to sleep.

5. Drink tea that went cold while doing steps 1-4.

6. Remember you are a writer. Realize that you don’t have to be here, that you have a teenage girl named Blue at a bus stop waiting for you. She’s been waiting for a day or two, and you’re the only one who can get her out of there. She doesn’t care about the hot smell of the newly welded pipes, or the thud of something very heavy falling to the floor. She just wants to get on that bus, the one you have to send her way, so she can find her sister.

7. Write.

Introducing Crossroads

The other night I had a fabulous dream about what I should write next. Not the dream about the fuzzy caterpillars climbing all over my arm–that turned out to be the cat’s tail. No, this was one of those dreams where you wake up thinking THAT’S IT! Of course, it’s brilliant!

And then you wake up just a little more and go boy wizards…I think that’s already been done.

No, no boy wizards here. Instead, just Crossroads. I’ve been trying to come up with a good introduction to Blue Riley and her story. It’s hard because I maintain a certain level of superstition around talking about unfinished work, namely that if I say too much it will all flutter away in the breeze. The flip side, though, is that talking about it can also force me to stay the course, because who wants to be the person who doesn’t finish a book after publicly announcing she’s working on it? Not me. You’re a scary lot out there.

So…Crossroads. Let’s see what I can say.

On a cold October night, armed only with her dead mother’s guitar and her own pure heart, Blue Riley waits at the crossroads for the darkest of dealmakers. Two years ago, her older sister Cassie disappeared, leaving Blue in the care of her aunt in the middle of rural Maine. Blue’s ready to do whatever it takes to bring Cassie home.

But the devil in the red dress waiting for Blue at the intersection offers her a game, not a trade. One year and a pair of hiking boots that sense the paths Cassie traveled to bring her to her sister’s side. If she doesn’t make it, she forfeits her soul–and Cassie’s. Easy enough. After all, there’s only so many roads her sister could have taken. Right?

The devil rigs every game she plays, though, and the kiss that that seals the deal steals Blue’s voice with it. Penniless and mute, Blue hits the road with her boots and guitar, on a journey that will take her through diners and cults, underground cities and rundown roadhouses. Only the game Blue’s playing has nothing to do with the deal Cassie made, a deal with a force much more destructive than the antiquated collector of musicians’ souls who watches Blue’s every move. To find her way to Cassie and bring them both home again, Blue will have to confront both the devil she knows and the one she doesn’t.

April update

More snow! Yes, for all my talk about how winter must end, it simply won’t. Yesterday I had the pleasure of a) having my teeth cleaned; b) doing my taxes; c) calling the IRS to clarify something I’d received conflicting information on, listening to the same thirty-second music loop for an hour, and then being hung up on; all while d) sleet pounded on the windows.

But we have frog eggs in a wading pool in the backyard, and the phoebes have returned to work on their dilapidated nest, and the daffodils are blooming, so I’m holding fast to my belief that warm days will come.

I’m putting the finishing touches on a novelette this weekend, one that was supposed to be a nice little short story. It isn’t. I’m finally feeling back in the writing groove (yay!). I’ve also been doing research for Crossroads. It’s been a very very long time since I’ve worked on any novel outside of the Aware world, and it’s taken me a while to switch tracks. It’s hard to believe I’ll ever have the same closeness with another set of characters that I have with Wren and Isis and Juno.

But I think Crossroads, which I keep trying to write as Crosswords (the story of a girl who trades her soul for a chance at winning the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament) (hey, wait a minute, that actually sounds like something fun to write…), will be something good. Blue Riley (Really it’s Sapphire Blue, but my mom was weird that way) has this determination to her that I love. And hiking boots, worn leather hiking boots, and bravery, and…well, I’m getting there. We’ll be friends yet. There are some sections of her story that I’m dying to write.

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