Marvelwoods Making Magic!


Early reviews on The Marvelwood Magicians have begun trickling in — and they’re excellent! I’m so excited for this circus family to meet the world. September 19 is the day!



From Kirkus (read the whole review here):

A hair-raising, exhilarating, big-top mystery.


And from School Library Journal:

The suspenseful plot moves quickly, and Zahler vividly portrays the unbearable pain of losing an innate part of one’s self.

VERDICT Bound to entice voracious and reluctant readers alike.


Booknews in Triplicate

There’s a lot of book stuff going on!

  • Baker’s Magic:  I did my annual school visit at Mill Road School this week (postponed after a blizzard happened on the original date), talking about Baker’s Magito groups of fifth graders. Authors Nancy Castaldo, Jennifer Donnelly, Jennifer Castle, Nancy Furstinger, and I had a great time. My PowerPoint worked, and the students’ questions afterward were excellent. I brought mini-Bouts buns, and nobody refused to eat them. And oh the pastries during the book signing afterward…!

The audiobook of Baker’s Magic got a starred review  from Booklist — my first starred review ever. And it’s on the Audiofile list of 20  Exceptional Audiobooks. I knew that audio was amazing. Especially whoever read the recipe at the end!


  • The Marvelwood Magicians: ARCs have arrived, and they are beautiful. I’m thrilled to see this story in almost-book form! The publication date is now official: September 19.


  • The new secret book: I’ve sent the finished manuscript to my editor. Now comes the waiting. I actually kind of like this part — before I know if she likes it or hates it, before I have to rewrite, before I know for sure what’s going to happen. I can imagine almost…anything.


The Magic of Bread

nopoliticsStuff’s been happening!

And I don’t mean the election. Luckily, this is a book-and-writing blog, so I don’t have to go there. Instead, I can talk about Baker’s Magic and try to forget about politics for a while.

portuguese-editionThe Portuguese edition of the book is on the shelves! In Portuguese, it’s called A Magia do Pão, which translates to The Magic of Bread. That works for me. And its first Portuguese review is here. I’m pretty sure the reviewer liked it — but if any Portuguese-speaking readers want to send me a translation, please do!


The audiobook is also out, and it is fabulous. I can hardly believe how perfectly Live Oak Media has realized the story that I had in my head. The voices are exactly right, and it’s a joy to hear these characters I’ve spent so much time with just as I imagined them.


The audio adaptation got a great review audiofile-logoin AudioFile Magazine. The issue isn’t published yet, so I can’t link to it, but I can give you a little taste:

A full cast works together seamlessly in this charming magical adventure….Scenes in the bakery are rendered with as much attention to detail as those on the high seas or in the mage’s castle–beware of listening while hungry.

And…it’s the winner of an AudioFile Earphones Award!

If you wantlive-oak to listen — and hear me at the end, reading the recipe for Bouts Buns (no easy task, see this post) — you can order the audiobook from Live Oak Media here


The View from the Sound Booth

Baker’s Magic is going to be available as an audiobook! And the company that’s doing the img_4366audio version is the wonderful Live Oak Media, run by my dear friends Debra and Arnie Cardillo. Live Oak is an award-winning company; its recordings have won 3 Odyssey Awards, 5 Audie Awards, and 2 Grammys.

Live Oak decided to record Baker’s Magic with a whole cast of voices, and they were kind enough to invite me to be a part of the experience. My job was to read the recipe for Bouts Buns at the end. Hard to screw up reading a recipe, right?

img_4346I got to the recording studio while Stephen DeRosa was reading in the sound booth. You may know him from his turn as Eddie Cantor on Boardwalk Empire. I’m a huge fan of the show — I watched every episode, even the ones where I had to cover my eyes to block out the excessive violence. And Stephen DeRosa was amazing, both on the show and as my villain, the evil Master Joris. In fact, he was so convincingly menacing that we werimg_4358_editede a little unnerved — until he also read the hilariously ancient, doddering Master Nicon and had us snorting with laughter as we tried to be quiet in the studio. Somehow, he performed his own magic to bring my words to life, using his voice to make my characters far scarier, more comical, more melancholy than they are on the page. It was a remarkable performance.

Then it was my turn. The sound booth is an unsettling place — just me, a microphone, and
a window looking into the studio where everyone is listening. The director, knowing she was working with a novice, decided to join me in the booth and encouraged me to imagine that she and I were drinking a Belgian beer together as img_4377I read. (I think she’d secretly been coached.)

My first line was, “Hi!”

It didn’t go well.

There were multiple takes. I tried a cheerful “Hi!” A perky “Hi!” A slightly reserved “Hi!” An exceedingly enthusiastic “Hi!” A merely happy “Hi!” At last I nailed it, and we moved on.

A few more lines needed several takes — who knew reading a recipe could require such delicate modulation? But I managed to earn a thumbs up from the director and the Cardillos (I wasn’t allowed to wear the headphones that would have transmitted what they all actually said about my performance, which was surely for the best). It wimg_4373as both exhilarating and oddly exhausting.

So look for the audiobook of Baker’s Magic, coming in October! You can order it here. And if you listen all the way to the end, you’ll get to hear ME reading my recipe.

And saying, “Hi!”

The Reluctant Reviser

photo-sample-dorothyparker“I can’t write five words but that I can change seven.” — Dorothy Parker


“Revision is one of the exquisite pleasures of writing.” — Bernard Malamud

I don’t know if I’d go as far as Malamud — “exquisite pleasures” may be a bit overstated. Then again, he probably chose those words very carefully. And I’ve found, over the course of writing six novels — well, nine actually, see below — that revision can be a real pleasure.

I have rewritten–often several times–every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers.” –– Vladimir Nabokov

My Teacher Loves My WritingI clearly remember, in high school and college, being deeply offended by the idea that I should rewrite anything. My prose was grammatical, my sentences carefully thought out. What could I possibly improve?

Then I graduated and went to work and wrote a novel and tried to get it published — and failed. After a couple of years I shelved that manuscript and wrote another one. That one failed too. So I went back and read the first one again.


Overwritten, pretentious, obviously half-stolen from E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  Bad. So, so bad.

I reread the second one. It was a little better than the first, but still bad. Very bad.

Somehow, in the years that had passed, it never occurred to me to rewrite the books. That’s probably a good thing, because I doubt they could be redeemed, but still…

“The wastebasket is the writer’s best friend.” — Isaac Bashevis Singer

Then I wrote a third one. It was better, though not good enough to get an editor towriters-block say yes. But I loved the story. So I rewrote it. And rewrote it again, based on an editor’s comments. Rewrote it a third time, based on an agent’s comments. I changed the point of view; the order of scenes. I cut, added, cut more. It still didn’t get published, but it became a much better story. It’s historical fiction, so traditionally a hard sell, but who knows — maybe someday it will be a book. And in the process, painfully and with plenty of resistance on my part, I learned how to revise.

The difference between the right and the nearly right word is the same as that between lightning and the lightning bug.” — Mark Twain

The Marvelwood Magicians, the book I’m polishing now for publication in 2017, has been seriously revised/rewritten three times. Plot, themes, characters are finally all clear aLost and Confused Signpostnd well shaped. My grammar is, I’m fairly sure, nearly perfect. So under the gentle guidance of an editor whom I trust, I’ve come down to the words themselves. Choosing the best word really is a pleasure for me. Understanding shades of meaning — the differences among “cried,” “wept,” and “sobbed,” for example, or “uneasy,” “nervous,” and “tense,” and deciding which is the right word for my sentence — is actually kind of fun. Entertaining. Satisfying. Pleasurable, enjoyable, gratifying!

Yes, it took a while, but I finally realized that Nabokov, Parker, Malamud, and pretty much all writers who have ever written about writing were right. Writing is rewriting — and rewriting is where you get to try and try and try (and fail, always fail) to achieve perfection.

“Throw up into your typewriter every morning. Clean up every noon.” — Raymond Chandler


(BTW, this post has undergone 15 revisions. So far.)

(Make that 16.)

Gallery of Buns

People have actually been making Bouts Buns! And I’m thrilled (and slightly embarrassed) to say that their efforts are way prettier than mine. If you try the recipe in the back of Baker’s Magic, send me a photo and I’ll add it to the gallery.

Jennifer Bushroe

Jennifer’s are JUST GORGEOUS



Curious Fox

Curious Fox’s are FABULOUS


The kids are KILLING IT


Britt’s are BEWITCHING


And here you can watch Britt make those beautiful Bouts Buns!

To BEA or Not to BEA

This year’s BookExpo America (a.k.a. BEA) convention was held in Chicago. Some authors think the convention is too big, too overwhelming, too crazy to enjoy. But when Capstone invited me to sign copies of Baker’s Magic in their booth, I was thrilled to go. Not only that, my son Ben was invited by his employer, Fordham Press, to work in their booth, so midwaywe could share a hotel room and flight (and he could carry my heavy bag!).


I made the mistake of thinking that Midway Airport would be easier and less crowded than the notorious O’Hare. And of believing that people who rave about Southwest Airlines were correct. I won’t inflict details — suffice it to say that Midway and Southwest were on the national news every night this weekend being castigated for the way they handled passenger overload and security lines.


Airports aside, the two days we spent in Chicago were wonderful. Our hotel had adee[ fabulous view of downtown (and of their own beehives on the 9th floor rooftop, whose honey they infuse into their house beer). We had a near-lethal martini to celebrate our arrival and went in search of deep-dish pizza, which I had promised Ben, an Arthur-Avenue pizza snob, that he would love. And love it he did, though he refused to call it pizza. “Pizza-esque casserole,” he allowed.


DSC01125I checked in with the Capstone folk on Thursday and then wandered around wide-eyed, amazed at the masses of people toting their swag or lined up to see romance and YA authors. I stopped by to see how Ben was doing at his booth, and then I signed books at the Capstone booth for an hour — 250 books, according to the Capstoners! I only know that my hand ached afterward, and that I spoke DSC01136to more people in an hour than I usually do in a year.


The experience became a little bizarre when someone with a guitar starred tuning up next to us and then broke into a rousing and extremely loud rendition of “Footloose,” with convention-goers clapping, cheering, and singing along. It turned out to be the Kenny half of Loggins and Messina, promoting his new children’s book. The surreality grew when the Capstone folk donned Batman pajamas and popped champagne to celebrate their new book, Bedtime for DSC01149Batman. If I’d known this was what BEA was like, I would have gone when it was in New York!


Capstone took its local and visiting authors out to dinner afterward, and we ate delicious Italian food and got to know one another.  My publisher’s generosity more than made up for the mile-long lines at the airport the next day. Thanks so much to April, Shannon, Sheila, and the other Capstoners and to all the librarians, booksellers, and readers who stood in line for Baker’s Magic. Let’s do it again sometime (but not from Midway)!





Bouts Buns Bakers Rule!

The Bouts Buns recipe at the back of Baker’s Magic works!


Of course I knew it worked. I’ve tested it and tested it. I have friends in England who’ve made them. But it’s so great to have confirmation from reader-bakers, too! This photo proves that kids can bake a better bun than I can. Maybe they were super-happy while they baked, so the buns came out super-beautiful.



Here’s the baking.







And here’s the eating. The bakers even agreed to share with their little brother!



Talking, Reading, Baking

As always, I loved appearing at Books of Wonder, the fabulous children’s bookstore DSC01014 in Manhattan. It was great to meet my co-panelists, Aimee Carter, J.A. White, and Leila Sales, and hear them read from their wonderful new middle-grade books. I bDSC01013rought mini-Bouts buns, which disappeared quickly, and got to meet my publicist, the charming and slightly virus-ridden April Roberts, who brought swag for the audience. And I was so pleased to see some old friends. Dave and Martha, Shani and Michael, Judy, and Susan (and of course Phil and Ben) — thank you for coming out for the event!

A couple of days later, I went to the Mill Road School for mill road schooltheir annual author/illustrator tea. They provided a delicious lunch for an impressively large group of writers and artists (the Hudson Valley is teeming with us). Then I talked to three fifth-grade classes about how Baker’s Magic went from idea to bound book (I called the presentation Baking a Book, which involved taking a metaphor and stretching it just about as far as it could go, or possibly slightly farther). The students asked loads of questions, some of them really challenging to answer. Afterward, I got to hang out with the authors and illustrators in the library, eat brownies and cookies, and sign books for students. Exciting, exhausting — fun!