Case Cracked: Editing Mystery Novels

This post was originally posted on the Lee & Low blog.

 

http://i0.wp.com/blog.leeandlow.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/192e8a7c5b856f76b5331623d80cf7cf.jpgI’ve long been a fan of mysteries. Trixie Belden was my BFF as a third and fourth grader. Nancy Drew was another favorite. Veronica Mars updated the teen sleuth idea, bringing the storytelling form to a new generation.

When I got the chance to work on Valynne Maetani’s Ink and Ashes, our new YA mystery which comes out in June, all of those mysteries and more were going through my mind. Claire, the main character, has the spunk and curiosity of Veronica Mars and all of her predecessors, but she’s also a little different. And to honor those differences in the editing process, I needed to refresh myself on what’s out there right now in the teen mystery/suspense genre, and the mystery genre in general.

As I was editing Ink and Ashes over the course of about a year and a half (which spans two developmental edits and a line edit), between edits I was reading mystery after mystery. I stocked up on Agatha Christie, I rewatched Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and read the first book of the series it’s based on (Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood), I read multiple YA suspense, spy, and murder mysteries.

Miss Fisher ABC
Miss Fisher from the TV show “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries”

That reading reminded me that a great mystery read requires the same elements as any good read: well-paced plotting, characters the reader cares about enough to want to know what happens next; even world-building, though that’s a term we generally associate with speculative fiction, is tremendously important in setting the stage in a mystery. But my rereading of classic and contemporary mysteries also showed me that more than in any other genre, a sense of suspense and danger must permeate the mystery book, must drive the reader to breathlessly wonder what will happen next.

Ask probing questions

One of the biggest challenges in this edit—with any edit, really, especially with an author you’ve never worked with before—was discovering how to bring the author’s vision of the characters fully to life. An editor’s job is often to just ask questions: Why is this happening right now? Why would that character decide to do this? What is the goal here?

In that way, figuring out the goal allows the editor to ask further probing questions on what the solution might be—figuring out how current plot points and character decisions hamper the desired effect.

“The plot thickens” turns out to be trueink and ashes cover

The biggest thing I learned while editing Ink and Ashes and reading all these mysteries is the importance of plot escalation. In the original draft, clues did of course build up into a frenzied final few pages of conflict that were very enjoyable—that’s one of the reasons the book won our New Visions Award. But comparing the early manuscript to mysteries I enjoyed the most, I realized that there were so many ways that the narrative could be complicated. (Valynne was on the same page. As she waited for the results of the contest, she was also already thinking of ways to improve the manuscript. That kind of editor-writer synergy makes a huge difference in any book project like this.)

We looked at the end goal, and discussed the plot points that got Claire and her friends to that point. In particular, we discussed how the inciting incident—the moment that gets Claire to veer her course to investigating whether her father and her stepdad ever knew each other—might be complicated and how those complications would have a ripple effect that would improve multiple other plot points, and increase the pacing.

In other words, escalation. If the reader didn’t feel the suspense at every page turn, we had work to do.

Valynne worked very hard on making that happen, and I’m very happy with the results! In answer to all my probing questions, Valynne improved on an already-well written manuscript to bring what was an interesting read to the level of an exciting page-turner that’s getting readers hooked. That’s the end goal for any editor and author: Creating a final book that readers can’t put down. I’m happy to say, we succeeded with Ink and Ashes.

#diversityinSFF is not superficial

Over the weekend, a discussion of diversity in SFF magazines has been brewing in SFF circles. I don’t read many SFF magazines, so I hadn’t been aware of the discussions until Janni Lee Simner pointed someone in the discussion to Tu as an answer for finding diversity in genre. So I won’t address the specifics of a need for diversity in SFF magazines, except to say, yes, it’s important.

Rather, I feel I need to address an article, and a tweet from the author of that article, who takes the position that diversity is “superficial” and therefore unnecessary.

Summer of the MariposasI couldn’t disagree more that diversity in SFF is superficial. In fact, it is at the root of some of the deepest, well-told stories I’ve read. Take Guadalupe Garcia McCall’s Andre Norton–nominated Summer of the Mariposas. It would be an entirely different story if it were set in a Midwestern town starring white girls of European descent, or set in Vancouver or Maine and crossed the U.S.-Canadian border. The entire weave of the worldbuilding is centered around the girls’ identities as both Mexican and American, and the multiple identities that “Mexican” entails—that of both Aztec ancestry and Spanish-influenced Catholicism. The magical people and goddesses the girls meet are straight out of Mexican folklore. There is nothing superficial about anything regarding the Mexican influences within the book.

Simply changing the color of a character to “blackwash” them for diversity’s sake is far from what anyone who truly advocates for “mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors” is looking for when we seek more characters of color, LGBT characters, etc. We’re looking for the heart-deep diversity of experiences that so seldom are reflected in science fiction and fantasy. We’re asking for the genre to deepen its idea of “what it means to be human”—a question that SFF excels at asking. Yes, we’re all human and we have common experiences, but how we answer the deepest questions of humanity’s existence vary with culture, ethnicity, religion, country, community. (Are we communal or do we seek individuality? To whom are people loyal? Who is in control? How do we judge goodness?) It has to do with power dynamics and experiences of privilege and the lack thereof, and how privilege is intersectional. And the genre is richer when we explore that full breadth, even when we have dragons and aliens as part of the mix.

Diversity in SFF is about human protagonists that not only welcome readers who might not feel welcome in the genre, but about opening up the world of the reader who isn’t familiar with the culture or personality of a protagonist from a community that hasn’t been as well represented in the past. It’s about awesome worldbuilding, excellent storytelling, and finding inspiration in places that aren’t the same old Western European tropes—tropes we love, sure, but they’ve been overplayed. There are fresh ideas and characters to be found from authors with different perspectives, in places and cultures that haven’t been as well represented.

What those of us advocating for diversity want is simply to see the world as it is reflected in our literature.

So for anyone who thinks that diversity is superficial—that the only thing it has to do with is the color of one’s skin—you’re the one missing the point.

Diversity is one of the most important things this genre needs right now, for the sake of great storytelling.

Another review roundup

Awakening Final cover low resThe Horn Book Guide reviews have come out for several of Tu’s recent books. Thought I’d share a couple of the highlights.

Review of Awakening by Karen Sandler

“The innovative premise, detailed world-building, and ethnically diverse cast make this a must-read for science fiction fans.”—Horn Book Review

Review of Diverse Energies edited by Tobias Buckell and Joe Monti

“Riveting protagonists—many LGBT and/ or characters of color—in eleven short stories by authors including Paolo Bacigalupi, Malinda Lo, and Ursula Le Guin grapple with agency, exploitation, disDiverse Energiescrimination, and familial tensions in impeccably built dystopian worlds. With robust treatment of an array of topics (global warming, robotics. mythology, etc.) this is compelling YA social science fiction.”—Horn Book Review

————-

ACat Girl's Day Offnd then the other day I discovered a short but sweet review of Kimberly Pauley’s Cat Girl’s Day Off on Amazon by Geography Club author Brent Hartinger: “Pauley, who’s been pretty good at reviewing books for years, has turned out to also be very good at writing them. Who knew? A breezy delight.

————–

The prices from our Friends & Family sale are slowly changing back (it takes time for these things to process, even though the sale ended on Friday), but so far they’re still reduced on several vendors, so if you haven’t had a chance to check out Cat Girl or other books published by Tu, you might still be able to snap up a deal on the e-book versions. Only, be quick about it—they’ll go back up soon.

If you’ve already taken advantage of the sale—or have already read our books—please consider leaving a review on one of the online booksellers, or on your own blog. We’d love to hear what you think!

Tu Books fall Friends & Family sale: a reader’s guide

If you haven’t noticed me talking about it EVERYWHERE, this week is Tu Books’ Friends & Family sale! We’re offering some pretty amazing discounts on our books—in particular, Cat Girl’s Day Off by Kimberly Pauley and Vodnik by Bryce Moore are only $1.99 in e-book format! And all our paper books are on sale for 35% off plus free US shipping. See the sale announcement for more details.sale

There’s not much time left, so hurry and take advantage of the sale while it’s still available!

And please share this link on with any friends or family who you think might be interested. Books depend on word of mouth to succeed, and no books more so than those published by small presses. If you believe diversity in books for young readers is important, or you just plain think we’re publishing awesome books, please spread the word!

For those who have already bought/read the books, please consider reviewing the books on Amazon or requesting the book at your local library if it isn’t carried there. Here are a few more things you can do, too.

If you’re not really sure what you should pick to read, though, I have put together a handy guide, according to interests and mood. Find your next weekend read here!

For older readers (young adult and adult):

If you’re looking for comedy, or you’re a fan of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, or you love cats, or you have always wondered what your superpower would be, read Cat Girl’s Day Off—Kimberly Pauley’s love story to Chicago, John Hughes, and snarky cats who talk. Not to mention mystery (kidnapping of a celebrity blogger, murder plots) and adventure (literal cat herding).

If you love rich worldbuilding, inspiration from less-well-known fairy and folk tales, sympathetic characters, and complicated, dark humor,  read Vodnik—about a teen trying to avoid being drowned by a creature out of Slovak tales to capture his soul and put it in a teacup. Oh, and having to make a deal with Slovakia’s goddess of death to accomplish it.

If you’re looking for a (literal) kick-butt superheroine in a post-apocalyptic world, defending her family from despotic rulers and making the world safe for humankind, read Killer of Enemies—postapocalyptic Apache steampunk.

If you like dystopian tales with strong science fiction and human rights issues elements, read Tankborn and its sequel Awakening—hard science fiction with a romantic subplot set in a strict caste system in which “non-humans” are at the bottom rung.

Love books about reinterpreting old stories anew? Looking for a complicated father-son relationship, or love stories about genies and monsters and golem? Or a magical coming-of-age set in a rich historical time period? Read Hammer of Witches. Also the perfect classroom tie-in to a unit studying the events of 1492, particularly Columbus’s first journey westward, and particularly for reluctant readers who might need a “fun” story to get them into the history.

Read Summer of the Mariposas if you’re looking for a strong sisterhood story with no romance, a Mexican American retelling of The Odyssey, or a book that can best be described as Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants meets Weekend at Bernie’s. This is a great gentle read for your advanced older middle grade readers and young teens looking for a clean read, as well as a great classroom tie-in to an Odyssey unit.

Wolf Mark is great for readers who love paranormal romance and science fiction. It’s best described as Burn Notice with werewolves—Abenaki skinwalkers, actually, written by one of the best Native American writers working today.

Diverse Energies is a collection of 11 dystopian stories that all star people of color—if you’re looking for where the people of color are in the future, here’s one collection of tales exploring that lack elsewhere. Stories from Malinda Lo, Cindy Pon (both of Diversity in YA here on Tumblr), Paolo Bacigalupi, Ursula K. Le Guin, and more.

For younger readers (ages 8-12), we also have a couple of fun books: The Monster in the Mudball and Galaxy Games: The Challengers.

Monster in the Mudball is the perfect first “real” middle-grade novel for your readers who have just graduated from chapter books, and it makes a great read-aloud as well. I like to think of it as Warehouse 13 for kids–an artifact inspector comes to town, and Jin, our main character, has to help her find the monster that hatched from the artifact before it eats Jin’s baby brother!

Galaxy Games: The Challengers is a hilarious romp of a book that basically involves the Olympics in space. Aliens come to Earth to recruit Earth kids for the biggest sporting event in the galaxy—and our hero is mistaken for the best kid athlete on Earth because he got a star named after him for his birthday.

Fantastic yet realistic Columbus Day reading

Columbus Day is a complicated holiday—after all, we really shouldn’t be honoring a man who introduced the slave trade to the Americas for “discovering” the New World. His legacy includes the decimation of native Caribbean and American populations, a greedy search for gold that involved horrendous atrocities, and all sorts of other terrible things. Love him or hate him, though, Columbus’s first journey marked a huge turning point in history, and it’s one that young readers should know the true history of (at a developmentally appropriate level).

If you’re looking for a book for teens or mature middle readers that explores the complexity of the year 1492 in a fantastic setting, you should be reading Hammer of Witches by Shana Mlawski. The book is about a boy’s journey with his half genie friend to find his father, but he boards Columbus’s ship as part of that quest. And it includes a thorough author’s note detailing what we know and don’t know about that era, and what the author made up—a handy reference for use in schools. The only content warning I’d note for young readers is that the book doesn’t flinch away from the truth of what happened on Ayiti to the Taino—though it doesn’t show it in detail, there is reference to rape and other atrocities.

On the back cover of the book, we printed a short quote from award-winning and prolific Abenaki author Joseph Bruchac, but that isn’t all he had to say about it. Here’s his full review (my emphasis added):

This is a truly enjoyable energetic tale, a hero’s journey that is filled with as much magic—and wry humor—as I’ve ever seen crammed into one story. The narrator is intelligent, engaging, and grows throughout his New World voyage of personal discovery in as way that should make him truly sympathetic to any young adult  reader.

A more or less historical fantasy, it’s an altogether original take on one of the most important events in human history—the first voyage of Columbus. In fact, with its emphasis on a totally different point of view—that of a converted Jewish Christian in late 15th century Spain who finds out his father is actually an infamous Moorish warrior and magician—it turns history and storytelling upside down.

Interesting, though this is an action-packed fantasy filled with everything from genies and giant monsters to magical caves, it is grounded in real history.

In fact, anyone who reads this may end up learning more about this period than is taught in most classrooms—including about the complex Taino cultures of Ayiti.—Joseph Bruchac, author of Killer of Enemies and Code Talker

Read it today in e-book or hardcover! (Links to online booksellers on the book page I just linked, or you can ask your local bookseller to order it.)

Or sign up for our e-news, because there will be an announcement later this week about an upcoming sale on the hardcover…

 

 

5 Books for Hispanic Heritage Month and a little Colbert

Colbert is “celebrating his Latino hermanos and hismanos even more than usual because it is Hispanic Heritage Month!”

Summer of the Mariposas CoverAll joking aside, want to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month in a way that involves art created by Latinos about their culture? Over at the Lee & Low blog we’ve got five books for you to check out that truly celebrate Latino cultures, including Tu’s own Summer of the Mariposas by Pura Belpre Award-winning author Guadalupe Garcia McCall, which was nominated for an Andre Norton Award, got a starred review from School Library Journal, and was on several best-of lists. It’s a great read for older middle graders and young teens (a clean read!) as well as for older teens and adults. And for you teachers looking for ways to get your students excited about reading The Odyssey, Mariposas is the perfect book: it’s a contemporary Mexican American retelling of The Odyssey, but from the point of view of the eldest of five sisters. It’s a great mother-daughter read, too!

New books!

The Monster in the Mudball by S. P. GatesJust in case you haven’t been paying attention in every other social media stream, Tu’s fall 2013 books are OUT in the WILD, just in time for Halloween!

For anyone with a young reader in your life, be sure to check out The Monster in the Mudball by S.P. Gatesthe perfect read for your third and fourth graders, and any reader looking for his or her first real middle grade book now that they’ve mastered chapter books. It’s a Junior Library Guild selection, as well—funny with a lot of heart, about a boy who teams up with an artifact inspector to save his baby brother from the monster Zilombo. It’s kind of like Warehouse 13 for the very young middle grade set.

For older readers, check out Joseph Bruchac’s postapocalyptic Apache steampunk Killer of Enemies—it’s been getting a lot of great buzz, and you need to pick it up.

The books are orderable on the Lee & Low website right now, and should be available for order from Amazon and BN.com and other online vendors within a few days to a week (it takes some time for the books to get from our warehouse to theirs and to be processed, so just keep pre-ordering until it’s available via your preferred vendor).

Killer of Enemies by Joseph BruchacE-books will be available in another couple of weeks. We always try to time version releases to be close to each other, but it’s not always perfectly aligned. Keep an eye on your favorite e-book vendor, and I’ll post here with links when they’re up.

If you love Tu Books and want us to publish even more awesome diverse science fiction and fantasy, one of the best ways you can support us (or any small press you favor) is to be sure to walk into your local indie bookshop and ask for the book by name. If they don’t have a copy, ask them to order it. Indies are very happy to be sure their customers have the books they’re looking for, and the more demand they see for a particular book, the more they’ll pay attention to ordering stock to keep in the store. And at the same time, you’ll be supporting a local business that works to serve your community.

DragonCon and WorldCon

If you’re going to be at DragonCon, be sure to say hi! I’m going to be around all weekend, mostly haunting the YA track, though I will be wandering around the exhibit hall and other tracks as well. Such a lot to fit in one weekend, even if it is a long weekend. If you really want to catch me, let me know that you’re going to be there and let’s try to set up a time to catch up. It’ll be my first DragonCon, so I welcome advice, friendly hanging out, introductions, and so forth.

Summer of the MariposasIf, instead, you’re going to be at WorldCon/LonestarCon 3 in San Antonio, be sure to say hi to Guadalupe Garcia McCall, author of Summer of the Mariposas, who will be on several panels (check your program, though, to make sure these times haven’t changed). Her books will also be available in the Larry Smith, Bookseller booth. I’m sure she’d love to sign a book for you!

  • Mexican Folklore Saturday 10:00 – 11:00
  • Magic Realism Saturday 11:00 – 12:00
    Magic Realism, Science Fiction, Fantasy. How can you use these terms to describe the varied work of Angélica Gorodischer, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Laura Esquivel?
  • Poetry Inside Out: Bridging Cultures through Language Saturday 12:00 – 13:00
    Can you translate extraordinary poems from their original language and still reach a new audience in a different language with the same impact and images?
  • Mexican Female Writers of the Fantastic Saturday 15:00 – 16:00
  • Using YA SF to Boost Interest in Science Sunday 11:00 – 12:00

 

Great new review for Killer of Enemies

koe_cover_FNLFrom Kirkus Reviews:

This near future dystopia starring an Apache female superhero has the soul of a graphic novel, if not the art.

Like her famous Chiracahua ancestor, Lozen too is a warrior, but unlike her namesake, it’s by coercion. Her masters are four semihuman rulers of Haven, a walled fortress in what was once Arizona. Much of humanity perished when the Cloud, a mysterious force that’s rendered human technology useless, arrived from beyond Jupiter. Although their bio-enhancements no longer work, the despotic overlords that survive rule. Holding Lozen’s family as hostages, Haven’s rulers send her out to battle gemods, genetically modified monsters left over from pre-C days. Lozen complies while working toward her family’s escape. On each trip, she caches supplies, food, weapons. Allies—natural and supernatural, known and hidden, at Haven and in the wild—offer guidance but not rescue. For that, Lozen must rely on her wits, tracking skills and weaponry (guns have survived the Cloud), drawing strength from her warrior heritage to dispatch monstrous birds of prey, a giant anaconda and more (the cartoonish tone helps mute the graphic violence). Lozen’s tactics and weaponry are detailed at length but within a cultural framework that fosters respect for the planet and its surviving natural inhabitants.

A good bet for fans of superhero fiction and graphic novels and readers in search of superpowered female warriors.

And if you didn’t see it, here’s a post on how that great cover came to be.

Awesome blurbs for fall list of Tu Books!

We’re going to be doing a cover reveal for both of my fall titles soon, but to tide everyone over till we see those AWESOME images, we have some AWESOME blurbs from authors who have had a chance to take a look at the books a little early.

mim_jacket_06First up, our middle grade title The Monster in the Mudball by S. P. Gates, which was just named a Junior Library Guild selection. It’s a funny adventure for young middle graders that is a great fit for your 3rd and 4th graders. It’s been described as “Nerds if it had been written by Diana Wynne Jones.” Here’s the flap copy, to give you an idea of what a fun book it is:

A MONSTER IS LOOSE IN LONDON! And it’s kind of Jin’s fault that Zilombo the monster got loose.

Jin tracks the monster, but he can’t figure out how to get her back into the artifact from which she hatched. Then Jin meets Chief Inspector of Ancient Artifacts A. J. Zauyamakanda—Mizz Z, for short—who has arrived to inspect the artifact. She and Jin team up to find Zilombo.

Joining them is Frankie, Jin’s older sister, who has lost their baby brother—and Zilombo is the most likely culprit for his disappearance. Zilombo gains new, frightening powers every time she hatches. Now the monster is cleverer than ever before . . . and she likes to eat babies!

Will Jin’s baby brother be next on Zilombo’s menu? As the monster’s powers continue to grow, Jin, Frankie, and Mizz Z must find a way to outsmart Zilombo!

And the enthusiastic review:

Monster in the Mudball is a light-on-its-feet adventure full of surprises, humor, and heart!—Jessica Day George, New York Times bestselling author of Wednesdays in the Tower

Next, our other fall title is Joseph Bruchac’s follow-up to Wolf Mark (not a sequel or in the same world—just his next YA title for Tu Books). This is Joseph Bruchac’s first foray into steampunk (or at least, steampunk-adjacent), and we’re all VERY excited about it. In fact, it’s postapocalyptic Apache steampunk about a hunter named Lozen. The book can best be described as a science fiction retelling of an Apache legend, combined with a reimagining of a real historical figure, Lozen, who fought for Apache freedom in the late 1800s. Oh, let me show you:

This is not a once upon a time story.

Years ago, seventeen-year-old Apache hunter Lozen and her family lived in a world of haves and have-nots. There were the Ones—people so augmented with technology and genetic enhancements that they were barely human—and there was everyone else who served them.

Then the Cloud came, and everything changed. Tech stopped working. The world plunged back into a new steam age. The Ones’ pets—genetically engineered monsters—turned on them and are now loose on the world.

Fate has given seventeen-year-old Apache hunter Lozen a unique set of survival skills and magical abilities that she uses to take down monsters for the remaining Ones, who have kidnapped her family.

But with every monster she kills, Lozen’s powers grow, and she connects those powers to an ancient legend of her people. It soon becomes clear to Lozen that she is meant to be a more than a hired-gun hunter.

Lozen is meant to be a hero.

The gushing review:

Killer of Enemies is a wild teen adventure-fantasy that starts fast, gets faster and never touches the brakes. A mind-bending fantasy that smashes across genre lines to tell a story about survival, courage, and lots of monsters. Joseph Bruchac brings serious game. Highly recommended!”—Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Fire & Ash and Extinction Machine