I'm not sure, but this may be the first time I discuss changes I've made to Acacia in preparation for the trade paperback editions. I don't think it has anything spoilerish in it. Mostly, I talk about GRRM and about the new stuff I'm working on.
Has she achieved what she was after? The notoriously cranky people at Kirkus Reviews seem to think so. In a starred review, they wrote:
"This lean, sinewy, visceral
narrative, set forth in extraordinarily vivid prose full of telling
detail, conveys a remarkable sense of time and place, where the
characters belong to the landscape and whose personalities derive
naturally from it. Though the book is not self-contained, Bear provides
this opener with enough of a resolution to satisfy while whetting the
appetite for more. Gripping, perfectly balanced and highly recommended."
Frame that and put it on a wall.
I've got my e-copy, trying hard to clear the decks so I can actually read it...
As of today, my middle grade novel - The Shadow Prince - is seeking a publisher.
Last week I got the last round of editorial suggestions from my agent and a couple of other readers at ICM. I penned responses where appropriate over the weekend, and yesterday I sent back my final manuscript. Sloan approved, and he's going to work with it.
We have a rather specific plan in place. I shouldn't blab too much about it, but certainly if it works out I'll let you know all about it.
Funny thing is that this - my first kid's book - is heading for consideration after more editorial input than any novel I've done so far. My wife and kids read it. Several beta readers (all former MFA students of mine) read it. My agent and at least three over people at ICM read it, and some folks at Curtis Brown (my UK agents) read a portion too. Mary Robinette Kowal read a little bit, as did my neighbor (an Egyptologist). Even my librarian read some! All gave feedback and helped shape the novel. I'm sure it's much stronger for it, and in the process I've learned a great deal about writing for kids.
Among other things, I've learned that I really, really enjoy it!
“I’m going to wrap up a number of deals here,” said agent Marcia Wernick of the Wernick & Pratt Agency. “That hasn’t happened for me in at least 15 years.” Overall, attitudes were positive throughout the show, with strong interest in both middle-grade and young adult fiction...
Nice. I'm not saying that The Shadow Prince was doing the rounds there, but it's nice to know there's optimism in general!
Seems like the Acacia Trilogy is getting a flurry of series-wide reviews.
Neth Space has another one up, in which he says interesting things like:
"Durham wants to show what a progressive message in epic fantasy can look like. Not the conservative, nostalgic end so common and not a cynical response to that conservatism. He presents a truly progressive move forward rather than backward or a simple reestablishment of a status quo – a vision of hope that could translate into our own lives and society."
Or just do a search. Plenty of stories out there. They'll tell you about a teenage boy that got shot to death while armed with Skittles, a bottle of iced tea, and a cellphone. He got shot because a paranoid neighborhood watch vigilante seemed to really be afraid of black males he didn't know. Despite the fact George Zimmerman weighs 250lbs and had a handgun (compared to Martin's 140lbs and convenience store items) he claims to have felt his life was in danger. With gun in hand, he shot. An irreversible action. The local cops accepted that. Didn't even arrest him.
When I was a teenager I looked much like this boy. (I would post a photo of me at the same age if I had one with me.) He could be me. He could be my one of my friends. He could be Chris, or Omar, or the other Chris, or the other David, or Dwayne or... I could go on. Neither I nor any of my friends ever did any crime more serious than teenage mischief. None of us got arrested. None of us were a danger to anybody.
Like Trayvon... accept that we were luckier than him.
There was a time in college when I - influenced by eye-opening African-American history and literature courses - went a bit Afro-centric in my look. Grew my hair out a bit. Wore a knit cap with a Rastafarian vibe. Sported t-shirts with African themes. The more convincingly I grew into my African appearance, the more I noticed how differently people looked at me. Librarians that I'd known for years didn't recognize me. People seeing me approach them on the street grew clearly nervous. And...
I will always remember one time on campus, when I came out of the stairwell in the English Department. It was late in the day, maybe 7pm or so. I came face to face with one of my professors, a middle-aged white man with whom I'd taken two courses the year before. Apparently, I'd changed enough that he didn't recognize me. He flinched, and slid to one side of the hallway and... bolted passed me.
I stood there thinking, "What just happened?" Not only had he been my professor for two courses, he'd given me A's in both of them. He knew that I edited the college literary magazine. He'd been in the jury that awarded me the college fiction award. At least, if he'd recognized me he would've known all those things. But that evening he didn't see the young man he knew. He saw a black youth that scared him. Instead of saying, "Oh, hi David. You gave me a fright," he bolted like his life was in danger.
That's what concerns me. This professor had no reason at all to think his life was in danger. He should've recognized me
from hours in his classroom - hours in which I consistently earned top
marks. I was on campus, entering the department in which I had an office
(as the magazine editor). And yet he ran from me because I looked - in
that moment - like someone he thought was scary. How was I scary?
puffy hair and a funny cap. Oh, and I was black.
I've never forgotten that moment, but I hadn't thought about it for awhile. I hope that anyone reading this will have sympathy for
Trayvon Martin's family. I also hope you'll ask for actual justice to be
applied to his killer, and to the police that didn't feel this boy's death merited criminal examination.
If a law says you can shoot someone because you're afraid - as the Florida law apparently says - innocent people will die (are dying). Being outraged by the misguided act of an individual is one thing. Being outraged by organizations and politicians that facilitate irreversible violence in another.
It's not what you might think, though. It's not the Spartacus novel. That one's going to take awhile yet.
No, what I've completed is a middle grade fantasy set in Ancient Egypt. A kid's book called The Shadow Prince. It grew on my by surprise, took over, beat Spartacus into submission, and then asked for a few dedicated months of my time. I'm so glad it did.
What's it like? Well, if I had to give it a sub-genre it would be "Solar Punk". It's not a very historical novel. Instead, it's one that takes all the funky stuff of Egyptian mythology and spins it playfully into a full-on fantasy. Weird shape-shifting gods with crazy powers? Yep. A demon fighting voyage into the underworld? Of course. A group of kids that have to save the world against impossible odds? Totally.
It's not exactly like any one series in particular, but I think of it as being similar in ways to a number of series. The demon fighting element was influenced by Jonathon Stroud's Bartimaeus novels. I tried for the playful, mild-peril of Angie Sage's Septimus Heap books. I wanted to keep the pacing brisk, like Kai Meyer's Wave Walker's books. And I have to admit to wanting my Egyptian setting to have some of the exotic - and yet contemporary - feel of the anime series Avatar: The Last Airbender. (Not the film based on it, and not, of course, the James Cameron Avatar movie either.) I'm not saying I achieved the quality of any of these artists; I'm just saying I tried.
I'm really excited about it. My wife read the new pages aloud every night to my kids (aged 10 and 12), so I got immediate feedback from the target audience. (I also got to hear it brought to life by a lovely Scottish voice...) I've had several beta readers look it over, with very positive responses (and useful feedback!). It's now in the hands of my agent. Hopefully, we'll soon be talking to publishers.
I really hope this works. I'd love for this to grow into a series. I'll still write historical works and adult fantasy, but writing for kids scratches a different itch. And, for once, it's just plain fun!
In the process of ordering a birthday present for a certain young man (keep that quiet, though) I recalled something.
It's from a few years back. Sage had fallen in love with Naomi Novik's Temeraire books from listening to the first couple on audio. Later, he picked up a copy of the third book at the library, anxious to read it himself. He got home and dashed up to his room, book in hand, ready for some dragon action.
I go up to his room at some point, and find him in bed, red-faced and teary. Crying.
It took me a little while to get out of him what was wrong. It was that he couldn't yet read the book himself. The sentences were too long, vocabulary above his reading level, words too small on the massmarket pages.
Much hugs ensued. My boy, brought to tears because a book he so wanted to read was, at that point, hard for him.
I've been there too. Haven't we all?
I don't mind saying that he chews through big books now with nary a tear. Times change. Kids grow.
My daughter, Maya, recently had a school project that involved coming up with a story board for a short film. It was supposed to be something that all the students in her class could be in.
After a little back and forth, we came up with a zombie story. Maya put her artistic skills to work, and before long she had what I think is a tight little film sketched out.
Now, the idea was that all the students would show their story boards, and then they'd vote on the one they wanted to actually film. Problem is that Maya finished hers on time. Others took a few extra weeks. And then today, when it was time to show the story boards, Maya couldn't find hers.
She had to describe it instead. Needless to say, that put her project at a disadvantage. A different one got chosen for filming.
Frustrated and yet proud parent that I am, I'd like to offer her story here, for your consideration. It's called Zomberfeldy Academy.
I've known this for a few months now, but I can finally say it publicly: I'm going to France again for the Imaginales fantasy conference! This is major awesomeness. It's a great event that takes place in the lovely city of Epinal in northeastern France. In a way, the conference takes over the town, with attendees walking out along the lovely lanes, going to great restaurants, just generally enjoying things French. And books! And writers! And readers!
And lovely people wearing full body paint... It is France, after all.
I know a lot of French writers from my last trip there, and I very much look forward to reconnecting with them. And I'm thrilled to finally get to me the German writer Kai Meyer. My whole family are fans of his. We read his Wave Walkers and Dark Reflections books for younger readers, but Kai has written many books for adults too. He's sold like a million and a half copies just in Germany, with lots more in translation all over the world. The best part about all this is that we've been internet friends for some time now! It'll be great to finally meet him in person.
Considering that - and that I'll be hanging out with Naomi Novik - my kids are seriously jealous!
I'm so grateful to my publisher, Le Pre aux Clercs, and the festival and the town of Epinal for bringing me back. It will be fabulous. I've no doubt about that whatsoever.
A few weeks ago, a former student of mine wrote asking me about a particular low-residency MFA program. It was a different one than the one I teach at. She was particularly interested in the genre fiction possibilities, as she writes in the paranormal arena.
In responding to her, I mostly ended up talking about my program. I didn't mean to make it a hard sell, but I honestly believed the stuff I wrote. Makes me feel like saying it publicly, to. So that's what I'm doing.
Here's what I wrote:
Let me begin by saying I've nothing against the program you're interested in. I don't know that much about it, except that it exists and does popular fiction. I do know a bit about low-residency programs, though, and I think they can be really great for professional writers. I'm a bit advocate for them.
That said, I have a vested interest in another low-residency program. Do you know of the Stonecoast MFA Program? It's a based in Maine. I teach there. Have for the last seven years or so. I was more part-time with them when I was at Fresno State, but I'm back full time now and loving it. The program has a VERY strong popular fiction concentration. It's grown like crazy over the last few years.
Our faculty is terrific. Award winning, actively publishing authors. Since it's SFF that you're interested in, I'll mention that we have James Patrick Kelly (multiple Hugo and Nebula winner) and Elizabeth Hand (multiple award winner and this year's main guest of honor at the World Fantasy Convention and Nancy Holder (who writes horror, YA romance and lots of things in the Buffy universe). Catherynne Valente currently mentors some students too. We've also got other faculty working in other genres!
We're having the paranormal romance writer XX (X's added because I'm not sure if I can ID her yet) visit this summer, and we've had the likes of Nalo Hopkinson and Jeffrey Ford visit recently. Our students are terrific, many of them actively publishing in their genres - or preparing to.
What else? Um... Our residencies happen on the rocky coast of Maine. Everyday we're in a historic building, the Stonehouse, with views of the ocean. Our winter accommodation is in an awesome, rambling historic inn - the Harraseeket Inn. In the summer we stay at Bowdoin college's campus. Not quite as nice, but we may soon move the summer residencies to an inn as well.
Yeah, I'm very enthusiastic about the program. It's the most honest, useful, supportive and welcoming graduate program I've ever been a part of. (Fresno is high on my list of welcoming programs too, but Stonecoast, for me, exercises both my literary and my popfic inclinations - and that's hard to beat.)
So, if you're looking at low-residency MFA's... do give us a look!