Archive | February 2014

Behold, the Sparkers Cover!

I’m very excited to share with you the cover for Sparkers! Here it is:


When I first saw this cover, I was delighted to see the snowy wood. You know how much I love snow. And the whole thing is just so atmospheric… I love the texture of the painting/drawing too. That’s Marah and Azariah tramping through the forest at night, and the cover does depict a specific scene from the book. It’s pretty magical to see how an artist you’ve never met imagines your characters and world and brings them to life on a book cover with your name on it, when for years your book has just been a Word document on your computer. The artwork is by Chris Sheban and the cover design by Nancy Brennan and Eileen Savage.

As you can see, Sparkers has a blurb from Ingrid Law, who wrote the middle grade novel Savvy. (Which I highly recommend, by the way. It perfectly combines the serious, sweet, and funny, and it does very well some things that I feel are too often not done at all in children’s books, namely, treating religion as an everyday part of life and including adult characters who are actually present and not clueless but also don’t keep the young characters from being the central actors in their own story.) In case the blurb is a little hard to read up there, here it is again:

“Rich with music, magic, and devotion to friends and family, the world of Sparkers will ignite your imagination.”
-Ingrid Law, author of the Newbery Honor Book Savvy

When I first received this blurb, I could hardly believe it. It makes me very happy. And as if that weren’t enough, I actually have a second blurb:

Sparkers will draw readers in to an incredible world where magic is real—and dangerous—but a brave pair of kids can make all the difference. The twists and turns and surprises kept me riveted all the way to the end.”
-Margaret Peterson Haddix, author of The New York Times bestselling series The Missing

I’m amazed and thrilled. I have quite vivid memories of reading Haddix’s Among the Hidden and Running Out of Time when I was younger. (I mean, in the case of the latter book, imagine thinking it was the 1840s and then discovering that it’s actually the “future” and you live in a living history museum where tourists you can’t see are watching you go about your daily life. It left an impression on me.)

To go along with the cover, here’s the official description for Sparkers:

In the city of Ashara, magicians rule all.

Marah Levi is a promising violinist who excels at school and can read more languages than most librarians. Even so, she has little hope of a bright future: she is a sparker, a member of the oppressed lower class in a society run by magicians.

Then a mysterious disease hits the city of Ashara, turning its victims’ eyes dark before ultimately killing them. As Marah watches those whom she loves most fall ill, she finds an unlikely friend in Azariah, a wealthy magician boy. Together they pursue a cure in secret, but more people are dying every day, and time is running out. Then Marah and Azariah make a shocking discovery that turns inside-out everything they thought they knew about magic and about Ashara, their home. 

Set in an imaginative world rich with language, lore, and music, this gripping adventure plunges the reader into the heart of a magical government where sparks of dissent may be even more deadly than the dark eyes.

Also, I have a precise expected publication date now! September 30th, 2014. That’s almost exactly seven months from today.

I’m currently in the midst of reviewing first pass pages. This is the first time I’ve seen my book typeset, with pretty fonts and drop caps at the beginning of each chapter, and it’s quite exciting.

Wow, that was a lot of news! I’ll finish with one last thing: Sparkers is now on Goodreads, in case you are too.

Juvenilia, or Musical Orphans at Boarding School

I think it sounds a bit pretentious to refer to my own juvenilia, but it’s a strangely compelling word (I can’t decide if it sounds more like a disease or a flower one would find in a conservatory). And the fact is I have hung on to a lot of my old writing, whether in the form of notebooks or files floating on my computer. Sometimes, for fun, I go back and reread these stories. Recently, I discovered a document on my computer entitled Miscellaneous Writing. Apparently the summer before I left for college, while undertaking a massive cleaning of my bedroom, I typed up a number of handwritten story fragments so I could recycle the paper but still preserve what I called testaments “to the imagination and eccentricity of my younger selves.” Sifting through this material, as well as the abandoned novel beginnings cluttering my computer, I noticed the following motifs (representative of my writing between the ages of 9 and 14 or so):

Boarding school
Best friends

These often appear in combinations like Orphan Goes to Magic Boarding School (ahem), Princess Goes to Magic Boarding School, Orphan Best Friends Study Magic, and Best Friends Go to Music Boarding School. There are fairly obvious reasons for some of these preoccupations. It’s often necessary, or at least convenient, to get parents out of the way in children’s stories, and orphanhood and boarding school are obvious (and time-honored) ways of accomplishing this. When I was younger, the idea of boarding school was incredibly romantic to me. Harry Potter probably had a lot to do with that, but so did other books, like the Charlie Bone series.

The fixation on music is something I haven’t shed. If anything, it’s grown more pronounced. In my college fiction workshop, I was known as the person whose stories always involved music somehow.

All the princesses are a bit more mystifying to me. Actually, maybe there weren’t so many of them; out of quite a few works, I counted just two novel beginnings with princess protagonists and two stories featuring princesses as secondary characters. And interestingly, all the princesses get out of their palaces pretty fast. One heads off to boarding school (obviously), one is sent to live with farmers for her own protection during a time of unrest, one flees with her maidservant when invaders attack, and two more escape their tyrant father’s castle and join the merry band of commoner heroes. So maybe I wasn’t actually that interested in the royal life after all.

In closing, here are a few amusing sentences from a couple of the oldest stories:

“Clarence sat with the one friend he could find.…They talked about how unfair math was.” [This scene takes place at Helantonworth Orphanage. Seriously.]

“And through all twelve years of my life, I had been slightly different from my five elder siblings. They were all ridiculously obedient and calm.” [This was one of my princesses.]

Chicken of the Woods

I have nothing in particular to muse about this week, so I give you these views of an extraordinary mushroom that grew in my family’s backyard last summer.








Culinary Pursuits

Chinese New Year was last Friday, and since I wasn’t home with family, I cooked my own miniature feast for myself:


This was the first Chinese New Year I can remember that I did not mark with some communal celebration (that is, of Chinese New Year; I did go to Kartvelian Chorus and go out to eat with my fellow singers after rehearsal). Before college, and last year, I was always at my family’s gathering. At Swarthmore, the Chinese Department would host a party at the Friends Meetinghouse that involved intensive dumpling making and slightly embarrassing performances by those of us in the various Chinese classes. The year I was in Grenoble, I went to a Korean New Year celebration.

Anyway, it’s the Year of the Horse! I was born in the Year of the Horse, so as it turns out, my first book will come out in my year, which is pleasing, in a way.

In addition to Chinese New Year noodles, I also recently made far breton, a simple, delicious dessert from Brittany:


Custardy goodness!

Far slice