Looking Back, Looking Ahead

I was going to write a long post about all the things that happened this year, but I was having trouble finding a way to make it as interesting and touching as it *felt* to me, inside my head.  So here, in bullet form, are the high points of my 2013 writing life (in no particular order):

  • After a gap of several years, I published a new Jane Madison novel, Single Witch’s Survival Guide [Buy now!]  I continue to love, love, love Jane and David and the world of Magical Washington!
  • I saw the publication of Darkbeast Rebellion [Amazon | B & N | Indiebound], under my pen name, Morgan Keyes.
  • After several years of participating on the group blog, Magical Words, I sadly bid farewell to the site in its current incarnation.  I look forward to seeing how the site owners change MW, and I hope to participate in its future life!
  • I joined Book View Cafe, where I get to interact with amazing authors every day, as we work cooperatively to bring you the best ebooks possible!
  • I joined Twitter.  Finally.  (Please, please, please follow me.  It’s lonely in my corner of the Twitterverse!)
  • I reissued the As You Wish Series, with all new names and all new covers, better reflecting the feel of the series (Act One Wish One [Buy now!], Wishing in the Wings [Buy now!], and Wish Upon a Star [Buy now!]

And here’s what I’m looking forward to in 2014:

  • The Diamond Brides series (nine short romance novels, featuring the players on the Raleigh Rockets baseball team and the women who love them).
  • At least two writers retreats with some of my favorite writer-type folks, enabling me to meet my tight deadlines on the Diamond Brides.
  • At least three Super Sekrit Projects, which may or may not come to fruition, but which are fun for me to play with in the interim.
  • A massive Contest and Book Giveaway in January — watch this site for tons of free prizes!

So?  How about you?  What do you see when you look back on 2013?  When you look ahead to 2014?

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The DARKBEAST REBELLION Post I Didn’t Want to Write

Sigh.  I didn’t want to write this post.  But I think it’s important to share the news with you, my readers.  (That is, the readers of my pen-name, Morgan Keyes.)

DARKBEAST REBELLION is a victim of our one-bricks-and-mortar-chain-bookstore economy, here in the U.S. 

What does that mean?

As recently as a couple of years back, when Borders competed with Barnes & Noble (“B&N”) for readers’ dollars, each chain carried a different inventory.  Sometimes, Borders championed a book, series, or author.  Sometimes, B&N did.  Sometimes, both chains jumped on board.  An author who found herself with lots of sales at Borders could poke B&N and say, “Hey, look at what you’re missing out on!”  (And vice versa.)

When Borders folded, many authors worried they’d see substantially lower sales.  In part, of course, that was because readers had fewer places to buy books.  In part, though, that decrease would result from the lack of competition.  No one could say, “Hey, look at what you’re missing out on!” (Amazon, of course, continues to compete with B&N, but the reader-experience is vastly different between Amazon and a physical store.  Readers cannot browse books on Amazon the way they can in a physical store; they’re far less likely to discover a new-to-them author.)

Alas, the DARKBEAST series is a textbook case of what authors feared when Borders shut up shop.

Initially, B&N declined to stock DARKBEAST in its physical stores, despite uniformly rave reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, the Horn Book, and Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.  B&N’s decision was made, nation-wide, by one person, the children’s buyer.  Although I’ve tried very hard over almost 18 months to learn the reasoning behind that course of action, I’ve never heard a real explanation.  Various ideas have been floated:

  • The book uses vocabulary words that were beyond various State-approved and -recommended grade-level lists.
  • The book involves the potential of harm to animals (and actual harm to one animal, off-stage) and is therefore inappropriate for children.
  • The book tells the story of a child who rebels against the religion of the adults in her community, choosing individual action over blind faith.

After months of pressure from my publisher, Simon & Schuster (“S&S”), B&N finally agreed to carry DARKBEAST, placing a very limited number of copies in a limited number of stores.  (Nationwide, they bought in the mid-three-figures.)  Those books were shelved in the general middle grade fiction section, rather than the “New Books” children’s section, because the book had been out for several months by the time B&N agreed to carry it.

Shortly after B&N agreed to its very limited distribution of DARKBEAST, B&N and S&S entered into a business dispute, whereby B&N refused to stock the vast majority of S&S titles.  As a result, any store that sold its copies of DARKBEAST could not restock those books.  Ultimately, B&N sold slightly more than half of its tiny stock of DARKBEAST.

And then DARKBEAST REBELLION was released.

B&N passed on the book, saying they would not stock it because sales of the first book were too low.  (Yes, the sales they had delayed by months.  The sales they limited by making a tiny initial buy.  The sales they hampered by not re-ordering.)

Throughout this frustrating time, S&S has made valiant efforts to promote DARKBEAST and DARKBEAST REBELLION.  They have arranged readings for me at independent bookstores and at schools, and they have paid for me to attend various book festivals and independent booksellers conferences to promote the books.  They sent out dozens of copies of both books to reviewers and book bloggers, and they awarded dozens of copies to a variety of online contest winners.  They went back to a second printing on the hardcover of DARKBEAST, they printed DARKBEAST as a $6.99 trade paperback, and they intend to release DARKBEAST REBELLION as a paperback, down the road.

But where does that leave me today?

DARKBEAST and DARKBEAST REBELLION are novels of my heart.  They’re the type of book I loved to read when I was a child.  They *trust* middle grade readers to ask difficult questions and to confront hard truths.  And yet, these books are languishing, “hidden” from the vast majority of potential readers because our one remaining bricks-and-mortar chain won’t sell them.

What can you do?

  • Tell people this is happening — to me and the books I love, and to other authors, too.
  • Post links to this blog on your own blog, Facebook page, Twitter feed, or other social media.
  • Buy DARKBEAST (Amazon | B & N | Indiebound) and DARKBEAST REBELLION (Amazon | B & N | Indiebound) at stores that sell them (Amazon, B&N’s online store, or independent bookstores).

We’re not talking about a huge number of books to make a difference between success for the DARKBEAST series and failure.  Four-digit sales are all we need.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to be grateful for all the hard work that everyone at Simon & Schuster has done to promote DARKBEAST and DARKBEAST REBELLION.  And I’ll be brought to tears by the support of so many of you — my loyal friends and readers.  And I”ll continue to hope for the best for Keara, Caw, and the Darkbeast world….



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Southern Festival of Books

I had the pleasure of spending the past weekend at the Southern Festival of Books, in Nashville, Tennessee.  The Festival was held on the War Memorial Plaza — right near the State Capitol, various legislative buildings, and assorted other state buildings.  My panel was on Saturday afternoon — at the very end of the day — and it was held in a legislative room where visitors needed to clear security before being allowed entrance.  I feared that I would be alone in the room.

My fears turned out to be totally unfounded.  My co-panelist (Kristin O’Donnell Tubb) and I got to speak to a crowded room.  In fact, here’s the view from the last row:


(I’m the little red blob that you can see at the center of the panel, far, far from the back.)  Kristin and I each spoke for a few minutes, and we read from our books, and then we answered questions from the audience.  After the panel, we traipsed over to the War Memorial Colonnade, and we signed books.  I was thrilled to learn that the festival booksellers sold out of DARKBEAST, and they only had a handful of REBELLION left when I stopped by on Sunday afternoon.

The Festival was wonderfully well-organized.  They took care of shuttles to and from the airport, and when I checked in, they presented me with a fun goody-bag, full of Tenneessee treats (moonpies, Goo-goo clusters, cashew brittle, and Jack Daniels!)  Everyone was incredibly friendly and enthusiastic.

We had a good time in Nashville, aside from the Festival, as well.  We visited the Johnny Cash Museum and the Country Music Hall of Fame.  We hiked out to the Parthenon, near Vanderbilt, and we trekked up the hill to the Capitol, to see the gravesite of James K. Polk (the only president who went to University of North Carolina, and therefore of interest to one of the people in our party :-) )

We enjoyed great food — barbecue at Jack’s and chicken fried steak at Puckett’s and pancakes at the Pancake Pantry.  (For the latter, we met up with friends D and J, who drove into town to see us — we felt especially honored!)  And we generally felt like we were away from home for a very nice trip!

Now, I’m back at home, trying to catch up on all the exciting work that drifted in over the long weekend…

So?  Have you been to Nashville?  If so, what did you think?  And if not, what did *you* do on your weekend?

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I need to write-up a post about the amazing time I had in Nashville, attending the Southern Festival of Books.  Before I get to that, though, I wanted to let you know about an interview I completed for my friend Maria V. Snyder.  You can read her fun questions and my answers over on her blog:


And just to encourage you to comment on that interview — I’ll be giving away books to *two* commenters!  Check out the interview and leave a comment now!

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Are You Near Nashville This Weekend?

If you are in or near Nashville, Tennessee this weekend, I’d love to see you at the Southern Festival of Books!  At 4:30 on Saturday, October 12, I’ll be on a panel with Kristin O’Donnell Tubb, called “The Weight of the Worlds:  Teen Quests in Fantastical Realms”.  We’ll be in Room 29.  At 5:30, we’ll be signing our books in the Signing Colonnade.  (I’ll be present in my “Morgan Keyes” persona.

I love book festivals — the variety of authors, the love of reading, the discovery of new books for my personal to-be-read shelf.  I’m sure that Nashville is going to be no exception — so stop by and see us!

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The BBF That Was

I went up to Baltimore yesterday, for the third and final day of the Baltimore Book Festival.  (Alas, I didn’t make it up there the other two days.)  I’ve been to the BBF a couple of other times, and yesterday was — hands down — the most gorgeous weather I’ve ever enjoyed there!  (Not a huge amount of competition, alas.  The first time I went, I was nearly electrocuted by the *rivers* of rainwater that ran through our tent, over the cords for lighting and microphones.  And the second time I went, it was grey and soggy from previous days’ rains.  Yesterday, it was clear-blue-sky and sunny for the entire day.)

I parked in the garage they recommend for authors and staff, and I was amused by the writers’ license plates I saw as I drove up the ramp, looking for a space.  (There were about a dozen variations on WRITER, with different spellings and from different states.)  Over at the hospitality suite, I immediately ran into Laura Anne Gilman (who was imitating my “smash and grab” trip of last weekend, only in reverse — she got an early morning train from NYC, spent the day in Balto, then headed home by train.)  After making sure my former editor had enough caffeine to make it to her morning panel, I headed over to the Maryland Romance Writers’ tent.

Alas, I wasn’t able to participate in programming with MRW; my schedule had been up in the air when they were setting their schedule.  I *was* able to visit with lots of friends, though.  The tent was already filling with guests, even though the first panel had not yet begun.  (I also got to commiserate with poor Laura Kaye, who was trying to figure out the best way to clean up after someone who had walked a dog — or maybe an elephant, judging by the pile left behind — on the edge of the MRW tent grounds.  The owner had failed to clean up, and Laura had no appropriate clothes or tools for the job.  I don’t know how the matter was ultimately resolved, but the grounds were clean when I returned later in the day!)

I next swung by the SFWA tent, where I had the good fortune to chat with Julie Czerneda, who was signing books.  I lured her back to the hospitality house for a quick snack before her 1:00 panel, and we (along with Julie’s husband, Roger) toured the upstairs of the house — a gorgeous space with wood paneling, intricate ceiling paintings, built-in bookshelves that would make any author drool, and other fine appointments.

Ultimately, I caught up with Stephanie Dray and her white knight, Adam.  We chatted until around 2:30, at which point they went off to peruse the festival, and I decided to take an early look (before my 3:30 panel) at what was going on in the Children’s Bookstore tent.  It was a good thing I wanted to do that — times had been switched from what I had in my calendar, and my panel was actually at 3!

The panel went very well.  Emma Casale, one of the bookstore employees (and an author of fantasy fiction in her own right!) was very prepared with discussion questions that we could all address.  Jonathan Auxier was his usual entertaining self (although without yo-yo accompaniment this time!).  Kit Grindstaff was brilliant as she launched her first novel.  Maile Meloy and Eden Unger Bowditch each made their alternative-history-with-magic novels sound fascinating.

And then we got to sign books.  I was *thrilled* to meet so many young readers (along with their patient, generous parents.)  Much to my pleasure, I signed several copies of both DARKBEAST and DARKBEAST REBELLION to boys (who are sometimes turned off by the rather girly covers.)

All in all, it was a wonderful way to spend the day.  I had an easy drive home (the Orioles game had recently let out, but fans were staying on the sidewalks when I drove by the stadium.)  Now, I have a couple of weeks without a single book event (!), so I can write new stories…

How about you?  Have you ever attended a book festival?  If so, what did you like best about the event?

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