Danger: Elephant Ahead

People have been asking me, “Why a circus book?”

Circuses have had a place in my imagination for a long time. They’re part of my family mythology. When I was two or three years old, we all went to the circus. My brother was a baby at the time, so my mother was in charge of him and my older sister. My father was tasked with keeping me in line.

Easier said than done, apparently.

I got away from him, and a moment later, I was standing in front of a large elephant on its way to the big top.

According to family legend, I was completely unafraid, though the onlookers were horrified. I didn’t even come up to the elephant’s knee. It could have squished me like a bug.

Instead, we gazed at each other silently. Nobody dared to move.

Then my father saw me, and he sprang forward, grabbed me, and yanked me out of the elephant’s path.

I have no real memory of this incident, though my parents sure do. But I grew up with the story, and I tried to instill both the terror they felt and the fearlessness I displayed into The Marvelwood Magicians.

You may well have your own circus tale. Tell me about it! Your comment will enter you in a contest to win one of two signed copies of The Marvelwood Magicians.

Write a comment on the blog telling me why you love (or fear!) the circus. Two winners will be picked by random.org on October 20.

Good luck!

Another Day, Another Book

Yesterday was publication day for The Marvelwood Magicians. 

And the title of this blog is the EXACT OPPOSITE of how I feel.

This is my sixth novel; you’d think it would get old, right? But honestly, it doesn’t. Though the process gets a little easier, a little more familiar (sort of like giving birth to your sixth child, if you aren’t too squeamish for that metaphor), it’s still an utter thrill to bring a new book into the world. Knowing all those pre-orders are winging their way to readers (you pre-ordered it, right?), seeing it on bookstore  and library shelves, and hearing from people who’ve read it — all of that is just as much fun with the sixth book as it was with the first.

 

So go read! If you want to order a copy, just click on the cover. Let me know what you think! Happy book birthday to the magical Marvelwoods!

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 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.

IT WAS AWFUL.

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.)

Just…Wow!

So THIS happened: Marvelwoods announcement

 

 

 

I am pretty much in shock. And in heaven. And, most wonderfully, in London! It’s an embarrassment of riches.

 

You might wonder how I could have sold two books within a few months of each other. I don’t actually write that fast. And nothing in publishing happens that fast! I finished The Marvelwood Magicians before writing Baker’s Magic, but I decided to change the narrative point of view in The Marvelwoods, so I rewrote the whole thing. And because the editorial wheels spin at different paces, Baker’s Magic found a home first. I love both of these books, and I’m incredibly happy that each is with an editor who loves it as I do.

 

Now I’d better start writing that next book…happy writer