Author: Diane Zahler

I’m the author of THE THIRTEENTH PRINCESS, A TRUE PRINCESS, PRINCESS OF THE WILD SWANS, and SLEEPING BEAUTY’S DAUGHTERS, all published by HarperCollins Children’s Books, and BAKER’S MAGIC, new in 2016 from Capstone Young Readers.

Travels with Diane: Where Are the Beers for Men?

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Basilica de Santiago

I spent a chunk of time this weekend booking my husband and son’s walking trip on the Camino Frances to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. Looking at photos of the spectacular landscapes, the ancient churches and monasteries, the weary pilgrims in their Tevas and backpacks, reminded me how much I LOVE to travel. (Not with Tevas and backpacks, but still.)

 

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Wall o’ Beer Labels in our apartment, Gent

I’ve been lucky enough to live in Belgium at three different times. Since Belgium is close to pretty much everything in Europe, during those years I visited as many places as time, energy, and budget would allow. I even created a travel blog during our last stint in Gent.

 

 

 

But there have been downsides to our travels.

 

 

mussels
my error in France

 

We’ve endured bouts of food poisoning. Mussels in France. Something we never figured out in Belgium. Most viciously, in Greece, where I realized we were on the wrong ferry heading twelve hours in the wrong direction at the exact moment that my husband realized he should NOT have eaten that rabbit stew.

 

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happening accidentally on the Mass of the Presanctified in Split, Croatia

 

We’ve spent endless hours, even days, hopelessly lost — but often being lost led to wonderful discoveries.

 

 

 

 

our youth hostile & little red riding hood ljubjiana
unheated youth hostel in Slovenia

 

We’ve passed nights in hotels without heating. We’ve shared rooms with insects I couldn’t begin to identify.

 

We’ve had more than one incident with a rental car that we survived but the cars didn’t. (Take the extra insurance!)

 

 

amigos-y-cerveza
hombres, with cervezas
men
Servicios, for hombres

We’ve lived through humiliations beyond counting (asking for the “cervezas por hombres” rather than the “servicios” ranks pretty high — most bars have a men’s room, but for some reason they don’t think it’s funny when you ask, insistently and repeatedly, for the location of the beers for men).

 

 

But one of the best things about my travels is finding settings that I can use in my fiction. I’ve taken bits and pieces of places I visited for each book, and each location becomes more vivid in my memory as I work it into a story.

 

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Chateau de Chenonceau

 The castle in The Thirteenth Princess is based on the chateau of Chenonceau in the Loire Valley in France. When I first saw this fairy-tale castle decades ago, I was completely entranced by it. The Loire River runs right underneath. In every room, you can hear the rush of water. I wanted to live there — so I did the next best thing, and made it the home of my main character, Zita.

 

 

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northern Norway

 

A True Princess is set in a fairy-tale version of Scandinavia. I’m half Norwegian, and I haveScan0013 family who live on a farm above the Arctic Circle in Norway. I visited them years ago. It was such a magical place — the mysterious forests, the fjords, the craggy mountains. So that’s where my character Lilia lives.

 

Glendaloch (ancient monastic site)
Irish countryside

My main character Meriel in Princess of the Wild Swans is Irish at heart. I’ve been to Ireland twice, once to Dublin, and once spending a week in a farmhouse on the Dingle peninsula. I loved Dingle.  The green of the Irish landscape and its contrast with the gloomy, lowering clouds, the uneven cobblestones I tripped over in every town, the sense that behind each mossy stone wall might lurk a magical being — this is the feeling I tried to bring to that story.

 

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cliffs of Normandy

The setting of Sleeping Beauty’s Daughters is, in my mind, the coast of France. I haven’t been to Brittany, where the chalk cliffs I describe in the book are. Not yet, anyway. But I spent some time in Normandy (before I ate the evil mussels that laid me low), so I mined my memories of those rocky beaches, those salty winds, those dark, choppy waters for details to use in Princess Aurora and Luna’s desperate journey.

 

I’m still traveling and still using what I see in what I write. I don’t know if taking part in a Lobster Quadrille in the Budapest baths will make it into a book, or if a character will ever sit in the Pickle Chair from our Belgian student apartment. But just the possibility gives those experiences a depth they wouldn’t have otherwise. (And, of course, it makes the trips tax-deductible.)

 

Here are some pictures of places that are making their way into what I’m writing now. Just a taste of setting, to make you wonder…

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MG work in progress
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PB work in progress

 

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YA work in progress

 

 

 

Villains and Monsters and Princesses, Oh My…

Every year one of our local elementary schools hosts an author/illustrator day. This was their ninth year — and the first year I was invited. There were at least fifteen other writers and illustrators there, and we were treated to a huge and fabulous lunch before going with our student escorts to classrooms to give presentations. I smartboardtalked about villains and monsters in my books to two fifth-grade classes. The teachers were helpful and eased me through my embarrassed ignorance of smartboards and Powerpoint. The students were attentive and asked great questions, and every single one had an opinion about which of my villains was the scariest.

 

Afterward, the authors and illustrators convened in the library, and parents came in with their kids to buy our books. I loved chatting with book-loving kids and parents, meeting new author-friends, and signing books for readers who were thrilled to be there.

 

The event was beautifully organized and a lot of fun. But something happened that disturbed me. There was a boy, eight or nine years old, who came running over to my table welcome106x160and announced, “I want a princess book!” I was really pleased — I’ve gotten enthusiastic emails and handwritten notes from a few boys who read my books, but not too many. But his parents were not pleased at all. They tried to steer him to other tables, claiming he wouldn’t like my books, that there were other books he’d enjoy more. The boy was quite insistent: “No, I want one of these princess books.”

 

Other parents joined in. One ventured the opinion that maybe it was the idea of knights in armor that interested the boy. Another pointed out that the books might have scenes with scary dragons that would be exciting and adventurous enough for him. The boy’s expression became more and more uncertain, but he kept repeating, “I want a princess book!”

 

At this point, I did something that I’m not proud of. I’d been listening to all this, unsure of what to do but pretty certain that I should maintain a low profile. Then I said — to the parents — “There are boy characters in each of the books who go with the princesses on their adventures.”

 

This wasn’t enough to convince them. The boy left without the books (though with a few princess bookmarks I managed to give to him). I was left with a bundle of reactions that I still haven’t completely sorted out.

 

There were so many things wrong with the scenario:

 

♦The boy wanted a princess book and wasn’t afraid to say so. But the adults, by trying to distract him, make excuses for his desire, and eventually refuse it, made him feel uncertain and ashamed. For wanting to read a book. A children’s book. A book about a princess.

 

♦I allowed myself to become part of the wrong. By pointing out that the books include boy characters, I showed tacit approval of the parents’ belief that the kid shouldn’t read princess books, or books that only have girls in them. I hate that I did that, because I don’t approve at all.

 

♦The parents judged my books by their covers. Because each cover features a princess, trueprincess106x160they automatically assumed that there would be nothing inside them that might — or should — appeal to a boy. Why should a book cover with a girl on it be only for female readers? Why shouldn’t a boy read a book about a princess?

 

I love my book covers. I think they’re absolutely beautiful. Yes, maybe the publisher intended them to appeal predominantly to girls. Maybe they could have instructed the cover artist to include the boy characters in each story on the cover. But should they have to?  Is there something wrong with books about princesses that show princesses on the covers?

 

There is an online movement called Let Books be Books, discussed here in the Guardian, that protests the idea of gendered marketing in children’s books. I wholeheartedly agree that no book should be labeled or marketed “For Girls” or “For Boys.” But this article, by the literary editor of The Independent on Sunday, takes the protest one step too far by stating that the editor will no longer review certain books.  She writes:

Any Girls’ Book of Boring Princesses that crosses my desk will go straight into the recycling pile along with every Great Big Book of Snot for Boys. If you are a publisher with enough faith in your new book that you think it will appeal to all children, we’ll be very happy to hear from you. But the next Harry Potter or Katniss Everdeen will not come in glittery pink covers. So we’d thank you not to send us such books at all.

That’s a lazy, unthinking position. It lumps all books with glittery pink covers together. It  Princess in Pink pink assumes that only girls will like certain books, and only boys will like certain other books, creating exactly the kind of compartmentalizing that it claims to revile. And worst, it excuses the critic from the far more difficult and important task of censuring the social mindset that allows people to assume that books snot 2 snot 1with pink or sparkly covers with girls on them are for girls only (and books about snot are only for boys). It focuses on the symptom, not the disease. It marginalizes my books and other books like mine in exactly the same way that boy’s parents did.

 

The boy who wanted a princess book was being true to who he was.  The rest of us — parents, reviewers, me — are the ones who were false. We did the wrong thing, and for that boy, the repercussions may be far greater than we know.

Survivor: San Nicolas Island

Island of the Blue Dolphins. Blue_dolphins

 

This book had a huge effect on me as a kid. The idea of being lost, abandoned — it’s a theme that runs through a lot of children’s literature, especially fairy tales, and it reflects a very basic fear. Which of us didn’t get lost as a child? Who hasn’t let go of a parent’s hand in the mall or the park, looked around, seen only strangers’ faces? That feeling of dread and helplessness is familiar to most people.

 

But Island of the Blue Dolphins takes this primal terror one step farther. Not only is the main character, Karana, lost, she is abandoned by EVERYONE, completely alone on her island except for her brother and the wild dog she tames. As far as she knows, she will be alone forever. And yet…she survives. She figures out how to live. Even when the worst happens, she endures.

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Why am I writing about this? Because I visited the Mission Santa Barbara this week, and found out that the real person on whom Karana is based is buried there. There was a display about her — the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island.

 

The Lone Woman’s true story, as far as it’s known, differs somewhat from Scott O’Dell’s fictional version.  Her people, the Nicoleño, were killed in great numbers in clashes with fur trappers who came to the island in the early 1800s to hunt for otter. The Mission sent out a rescue boat to bring the remaining twenty or so back to the mainland (some versions suggest that the Mission wanted the Nicoleño to work their grounds, as they needed to replace workers who had died). Accounts state that the Lone Woman stayed behind or leaped off the ship because she had been separated from her child, but there’s no proof of this. She may simply have been forgotten. A storm blew up before she could be found and taken onboard, and the ship returned to California. People gradually forgot about her.

 

Eighteen years passed.

karana

 

When the Lone Woman was finally found in 1853, she had been living alone on the island in a cave. A trapper who had heard of her story located her and brought her back to the Mission. She was unable to understand or be understood by anyone on the mainland, though she enjoyed the company of people who flocked to see her. She was entranced by horses and clothing, and she ate as much fresh food as she could. But only weeks after her rescue, she contracted dysentery and died. After her death, she was baptized Juana Maria.

Hatchet my side

 

Scott O’Dell’s version is slightly more kid-friendly, making the Lone Woman several years younger than she probably was and giving her a brother and a dog as companions. But the basic story is the same. It enthralled me, the same way other tales of abandonment and survival did — My Side of the Mountain, Hatchet. Or even stories about kids isolated by their differences — Harriet the Spy, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, A Wrinkle in Time.  The idea that a young person can endure and even thrive in isolation helps, I think, to assuage the feeling of aloneness that all children feel at some point in their lives. And few characters in children’s literature are as utterly alone as Karana.

 

Juana Maria’s life is a testament to what humans can endure. Her story’s real, tragic ending was a blow to me when I read about it at the Mission — I didn’t remember having heard it before.  I’m glad I didn’t know it when I was ten. But I’m also glad that Scott O’Dell chose to immortalize the Lone Woman in a novel that kids still adore, even fifty-four years after it was first published.100_7211

 

Pressing SEND

I’ve sent off a new manuscript to my agent.

 

This is the

♦best feeling ever

♦worst feeling ever

Pick one. Or both.

 

I thought about the story for a year. Worked on it for seven months. Revised it. Revised it again. Made my husband read the whole thing at least twice. Got to the point where if it had stayed in my computer for ONE MORE MINUTE I would have gone mad.crazy-writer

 

Pressed SEND. Died a little.

 

 

 

I had an editor once who asked me, when I turned in a contracted manuscript, “Do you love it?” words-1

 

Um, yes. I wouldn’t have sent it in otherwise.

 

I think what she was really asking was, “Will it get starred reviews? Will it sell enough to justify its print run? Is it great?”

 

To those questions, if they had actually been asked, I probably would have replied:

 

I don’t know.yesno

I don’t know.

I don’t know.

 

 

I don’t think it’s my job to know these things. It’s my job to write the best story I can write and then press SEND. I can hope that it sells, that it gets good reviews, that it’s great. (I can really, really hope so.)

 

But I can’t know anything for sure except that I’ve written the best story I can write.

 

And I’ve pressed SEND.sendq

 

 

 

 

I Resolve Not To

It’s December 22, and I am sick. In bed, with aching muscles and tissues and cough drops and enough On Demand TV to turn my brain to mush. sick-teddy-bear1I’m pathetically up to date on Househunters, so I’ve started to think about what one thinks about as the new year approaches — resolutions.

 

I hate resolutions. I actually stopped making them years ago. The ones I made were always the same, and I never achieved them. I got tired of facing certain failure every January. I preferred not to resolve.

 

But this year I have a few writerly resolutions. They are really non-resolutions, resolutions NOT to change certain things I do. All this means is that I’ve learned to recognize my li100_6400mitations and have found ways to make the best of them. I am accentuating the positive here. Isn’t that a better way to ring in the new year than pledging to lose five pounds while swilling champagne and stuffing your face with caviar-topped deviled eggs?

 

1. I Resolve Not to Stop Reading My Reviews. Even the Stupid Bad Ones.

I used to admire writers who said they never read reviews. Not the ones who didn’t read them because they were hurtful — you need a thick skin to survive in the writing world, and if you can’t take a bad review, you certainly can’t take the years of rejection that you’ll have to endure. But for a while I was impressed by the writers who claimed they just didn’t care and, even more, by the ones who implied they didn’t read reviews because they didn’t want to dirty their Process with outside influences.

 

The more I thought about it, though, the more that seemed wrong to me. Most of us don’t write in a vacuum. We actually write for an audience — maybe not a particular audience, or one that we have in mind as we compose, but the readers who will, eventually and if we are lucky, read our work. And to me, those readers matter.

 

Yes, there are readers who will completely miss the point. There are readers who will be cruel or snarky just because they can be. (I will never forget the Kirkus review — not bad-online-reviewsof my book, thank God — that called one title a “lugubrious piece of bilge.” Ouch ouch ouch.) But if you ignore those reviewers, you also ignore the ones that say your work opened up new worlds for them, or got them to love books when they never did before. And you might miss the group of reviews that claimed your main character was undeveloped or your plot grew murky in the middle or your historical details were inaccurate. If enough people are saying it, it just might be true. It’s too late to change things in that book, but you can pay more attention in the next.

 

2. I Resolve Not to Stop Envying Others Who Are Better or More Successful Than I.

I am aware that envy is one of the Seven Deadlies.envy But I’ve found it can serve a positive purpose. I do envy writers who are better at their craft than I am. I lust after their gorgeous turns of phrase, their beautifully structured plots, their fully-drawn characters. I notice how they do what they do as I read. I pay attention to the effect. I try my best to absorb their skill. I want to become a better writer, and how else to do that than by learning from the best?

 

As for the more successful — well, to those writers who are better and more successful, I find I can say mazel tov, you deserve it. It feels good to say this. And I mean it. For those who are more successful but maybe…not so much better, I can grind my teeth and say it’s a quirk of fate, the luck of timing, whatever. It also feels good to say that. And it reminds me that what I really want is to be better, not just more successful. (Don’t get me wrong, more successful would be great. But it’s not the ultimate goal.)

 

3. I Resolve Not to Stop Using Adverbs.

I don’t even know when the idea that adverbs were the devil got started. It drives me crazy.adverb

If you see an adverb, kill it. — Mark Twain

I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs. — Stephen King

 

How many  writing websites and blogs say dump the adverb? There must be dozens. Hundreds. Maybe thousands.  No one wants to kill the adjective or the verb or even the pronoun, which is misused far more often than the adverb. But though Twain and King advocate violence against this humble part of speech, I found three adverbs on the first page of Stephen King’s 2013 Doctor Sleep, and one each on the first page of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Most great novels swarm with adverbs. They’re going to find their way into your writing no matter what. Just let it happen. I say harness the adverb, don’t murder it. Let it know who’s boss, and then allow it to work its wonders for you.

 

So, there are my resolutions. Three bad habits I will not change in 2014. I’m sure you can come up with a few of your own, if you think about it. Feel free to tell me what they are and why you intend not to change them…unless, you know, they’re not legal. In that case, please keep them to yourself.

Happy-New-Year

(I also intend to keep swilling champagne and eating caviar-topped deviled eggs. But those don’t really count as bad habits, do they?)

The Best Part

As anyone who’s been published or wants to be published or has worked in publishing or has known someone who works in publishing knows, the business has its upPublishing-images and downs. Publishing houses open and close, spawn new imprints, get swallowed up by giant multinational corporations. Keeping track of who owns the rights to what is nearly impossible. You might as well just assume it’s Rupert Murdoch and be done with it.

 

Editors come and go. You may find an editor who’s an exact fit for you as a writer — but a year later, she’s off to a better job at a new house.  You torment yourself with indecision: Do you follow her? Leave the publisher who has snatched ringoyou from obscurity, promoted your books? Or stay and try your luck with the unknown editor who is a decade or two younger than you are, who may have been surprised to learn that Ringo Starr had a gig before he was Station Manager on Thomas the Tank Engine?

 

 

Sales are unpredictable. What you thought was your best work is barely a bsales charlip on BookScan. You flagellate yourself: Why didn’t I fly to (name the smallest airport you can think of) so I could visit their local bookstores and promote my book? Why did I print bookmarks instead of flyers? Why didn’t I force absolutely everyone I know even slightly to write a positive review on sales and review sites?

 

Reviews…well,Publication1 I don’t even have to go there. But I will. The self-flagellation continues: Why didn’t I include that car chase, that zombie/vampire/sexy angel, that fascinating plot twist in the book? Why did I put that cardboard character, that zombie/vampire/sexy angel, that inexplicable plot twist in the book? WHY, WHY, WHY DID I EVER READ THAT REVIEW?

 

 

But the one thing that I can always count on for pure delight is readers’ responses. Those emails and, on rare occasions, actual handwritten notes from kids who have read and loved my books. There is nothing to criticize, nothing to second-guess. everything to love about them.

 

Is there a movie of the thirteenth princess? And if not why is there no movie?

 

My favorite book you wrote is “A True Princess.” Will you be writing anymore new books? When I grow up, I want to be an author too. I have already written some stories but they are not published yet. Do you have any advice to write good stories?

 

I love your books and hope to read The Princess of the Wild Swans which I know will be great. P.s I really love the covers of the books they are really beautiful.

 

Please write more books. I just finished Sleeping Beauty’s Daughters, all your books are so wonderful I always want to read more!

 

And the one that I go back to any time publishers, editors, or reviews really get to me:

 

I absolutely love your books. I hated reading before I read your books.

 joy2

What could be better than that?

The Last Giveaway. Maybe.

It turns out you can do a Goodreads Giveaway for a couple of months after a book is published — so I am! This time, of course, it’s for a hardcover copy of Sleeping Beauty’s Daughters. And I’ll sign it, too. So click on the widget below and sign up. Good luck!

 

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Sleeping Beauty's Daughters by Diane Zahler

Sleeping Beauty’s Daughters

by Diane Zahler

Giveaway ends October 18, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

 

Books of Wonder(ful)

The Books of Wonder Great Middle-Grade Reads event was so much fun! Joining me at the table were three other great middle-grade authors:

 

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Dan Poblocki, presenting his really scary new book, The Haunting of Gabriel Ashe. And Morgan Keyes, with the second book in her fascinating Darkbeast series. And, all the way from Australia, Catherine Jinks, presenting How to Catch a Bogle, set in Victorian England.

 

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Jennifer Dee (@rifflemg) live-tweeted the event — a first for me! — and my HarperCollins editor, Andrea Martin, stopped by.

 

And as always, owner Peter Glassman and the enthusiastic and well-prepared bookstore staff were the perfect 100_6880hosts. They made us feel just a little bit like rock stars — a pretty amazing feat, considering the real life of children’s book writers…

Sleeping Beauty’s Daughters Leaves the Nest

Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a bookstore as wonderful as Oblong Books and Records ne100_6833arby, nor a bookstore owner like Suzanna Hermans, who offered to host a launch party for Sleeping Beauty’s Daughters.

 

Nor an agent as fabulous as Jennifer Laughran, who came up with the idea for the party,

 

dessertmade the glorious cake pops,

 

 

 

 

 

and created quill pens as giveaways for book buyers. (If you want to know why quill pens…you’ll just have to read the book.)100_6836

 

 

 

 

 

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Lucky me — it was an incredible way to send my book out into the world!