** UPDATE: Crooked Castle, the book I talk about below, has been published! If you'd like to receive these notes when I write them instead of on the blog after the fact, be sure to sign up for my author newsletter. **
That’s right, we survived our Ozark vacation. We did all the water stuff: kayaks, paddle boards, a pontoon, river rafts, jet skis, tubes, lots of wild tricks off the swimming dock and in the pool. One time as I walked down the beach at dusk, a voracious Spider-Squid attacked me and I had to fight it with my bare hands. I won. But no one else was there to see it happen.
Since that trip went well, my wife Lindsay and I took the kids to downtown Kansas City, Missouri for a short visit last week. KCMO isn’t an adventure destination, but it is a barbecue and coffee mecca. It’s also a sort of river delta for our family. (See how I cleverly tied that back to the first paragraph.) Going back is like revisiting an early chapter of our origins story, which makes KC a fun but ghostly place.
Linds and I lived downtown for over a decade as we started having kids. We watched an urban arts renaissance happen, started an entrepreneurial venture that eventually failed, and had a tight-knit community for a while. Sitting on a deck overlooking the city lights and counting up our wins and losses, we decided we’d taken all the good things with us we could carry when we left: city exploration, a bias toward restoration, foodie leanings, love for the arts, live indie music, artisan drinks…
I guess it’s not a bad way to go through life, taking all the good you can with you when you move on. How about you? What’s a setting in your past that helped form you and gave you good things to carry into the future even if it also punched you in the face? What’s an early chapter in your origins story?
Ok, I haven’t just been being philosophical. I’ve also been revising CROOKED CASTLE hard.
I may have mentioned I’m lucky to collaborate with a talented editor, Lindsay SecretLastName.* In the eight years I’ve been seriously writing books, I’ve worked with a variety of editors in contest settings like Pitch Wars and Write Mentor, in-house with my small press, and with pro freelancers where you pay by the page. My current editor blows all the others out of the water, which is awesome—and means my last round of revisions is no walk in the park.
It’s great to see the story taking big steps forward.
HERE'S THE GIST: Airdropped by a dragon, a girl with blurred memories wakes up on a deadly island that feels nothing like California. CROOKED CASTLE is a contemporary fantasy about an orphan flung into a survival puzzle with a hulking mystery in the middle.
When Brook, an orphan with a knack for survival, is dumped on the cliffs at midnight by a beast that shouldn’t exist, all she knows is she’s far from her group home in Weed, CA. And haunted by a past that stays just out of reach.
Brook knows the towering castle at the island’s heart is her ticket to a better life. As near-death experiences stack up, she and her accomplice, Fox, make plans to infiltrate the stronghold. With room to breath, she’ll figure out who she is and why she’s on the island—no matter what the cost.
Possible comps for this book include Lost Boy (for the deadly island), LOST, the show (for the conceptual tease), Maze Runner (the central mystery), the Queen’s Thief books (general twistiness), and, although I hate to say it because it’s been so widely comped—Hunger Games (a fight to survive). However, in contrast to most of those, CROOKED CASTLE is sometimes funny.
Also, CROOKED CASTLE is my first Young Adult book. I was on the fence between upper Middle Grade and YA, but I’m leaning YA because the story has some darkness: orphans dealing with abandonment and real survival elements. Frankly, I've read middle grade books that are darker, but I prefer to err on the side of caution. That makes me think 12+ would be a reasonable reading age, although some will start sooner. (No teen romance, in case you’re wondering.)
Fun fact: CROOKED CASTLE is a contemporary fantasy, but could just as easily be classified as a contemporary fantasy-mystery-thriller. It ties directly into the Casey Grimes universe and would be ideal to read after Casey Grimes #2, Trickery School. My goal is still to have CROOKED CASTLE published in SEPTEMBER! (Holy creeps, I’ve got a lot to do.)
Well…I guess that’s it. I’m reluctantly and somewhat slowly bringing this to a close because when I sign off, it means I’ll have to get back to editing. Not gonna lie, chatting about the book is a lot more fun that pounding on the book.
Look out for Spider-Squids, especially on isolated beaches. And if there’s a river delta or ghostly city in your origins story, I’d love to hear about it.
* Or maybe not so secret.