The cover for AN EMBER IN THE ASHES  was revealed this morning on the Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy Blog!!!!! Here’s the link to the reveal and the interview. Much appreciation to Penguin’s designer Emily Osborne, as well as design shop Art Machine. Their vision and skill and general radness led to this sick cover and I’m SO excited about it!

Interview with Matthew Jobin, Author of The Nethergrim

I recently met Matthew Jobin during a MG reading at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, CA. Matt is an anthropologist and professor whose MG book, The Nethergrim, (Philomel/Penguin) came out recently. The Nethergrim is about a young boy, Edmund, facing off with an ancient evil that’s come to roost far too close to home. It’s a great read–a story with the depth of  The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the action and excitement of The Ranger’s Apprentice. 

Matt was kind enough to agree to an interview about his book, his childhood and his thoughts on being a writer.
Thanks for taking the time, Matt. First question: How did you come up with the idea for The Nethergrim and how long did it take from inception to deal? 

The earliest elements of the Nethergrim came from exploring in the woods as a kid, reading adventure stories, and playing games of imagination. The grown-up additions to the ideas behind the series have come from my experiences in graduate school; learning about the nature of humanity and its panoply of cultures and ideas.
It took me four years to find my agent, the very talented and insightful Eleanor Jackson at Dunow, Carlson and Lerner, and then only six months after that to find my publisher, Philomel Books. I can laugh at those years of searching now, but at the time they felt eternal!

Can you tell me a little bit about where you grew up? Did your surroundings as a kid influence the setting of The Nethergrim?

Very much so! I grew up in suburban Ontario, Canada, and right near my house there was a little forested creek where I used to run off and play, sometimes with other kids but often on my own. I made a little map of the place, long since lost, and imagined peoples and places out beyond its borders. At the same time, I enjoyed making up stories, and would often use stuffed toy animals or action figures to act them out. I was fascinated with different ages and eras in history, the Medieval era prominently among them. Somewhere back there, a little village started taking shape in my mind, one that later formed the basis for Moorvale.

What were your favorite books as a Middle Grader?

I loved the loneliness of books like Robinson Crusoe and the Keeper of the Isis Light. I adored the spiritual, fairy-tale feeling of A Wrinkle in Time and the Narnia series. I think I read The Lord of the Rings when I was eleven, and what I remember best about it was its air of stately melancholy, its exploration of heroism as a desperate act done for the right moral reasons but without the hope of reward. Watership Down and the legends of Robin Hood told me about the group having the potential of being greater than its members, and how everyone can contribute a special talent in pursuit of a common goal—something that will be very much in evidence in the lives of Edmund, Katherine and Tom.

I found the parent/child relationships in The Nethergrim to be particularly fascinating. In so many MG fantasies, parents are pretty absent. What made you decide to keep them around, and in the case of one parent, have him play a major role?

While it is surely horrible to contemplate the idea of being an orphan, it is in many ways more complicated to have living parents. The dead are safe and unchanging. Living people, including parents, change as they grow older. Some grow in wisdom in spirit, blossoming into their best selves in old age. Others grow hard and bitter, and decline. It is a moment of real awakening for a kid to see that his parents are human and fallible—and in danger, physically and morally. What that tells them is that their own journey does not stop when they reach their full height, or when they leave school, or when they one day have children of their own. Life is an adventure all the way through.

Without giving anything away, can you tell me how you came up with the main villain of your book?

The Nethergrim found me when I was nineteen. Early drafts of the books did not use that voice in its full form—largely because, deep down, I was afraid of it. To realize the potential of the story, though, I found that I had to let that voice out and give it free rein over the world. Once I did, a long shadow fell over my little village of Moorvale, and I have certainly never since wondered whether my villain was evil enough!
C.S. Lewis once said that writing the voice of the devil Screwtape was easy, but not at all enjoyable. I must admit that I concur with that sentiment. The Voice of Nethergrim finds its way out through my fingers with the greatest of ease, and there are times when I wish it was not quite so easy.

Is there anything you care to share with fledgling writers that you wish you’d known before getting published?

For starters, don’t become a writer because you think it might be fun to “be” a writer. From my experience so far, writing is much harder than a normal job! In fact, more than any other thing I have ever tried to do, writing is something where I am acutely aware when I am making less than my full effort. A person can slow down a little in school or at the office, and try to get by on half-measures, but in writing, at least for me, there is a sharp difference between thinking deeply and thinking shallowly, and the latter can never substitiute for the former.

That said, the fruits of your efforts can be sweet indeed. The first thing I notice when I am working hard on a book is that I can look back at my own life, and the world around me, and see it all in a new light, both more rationally and at the same time with a greater tenderness. The best way to describe it is that I grow in wisdom. Some people get into writing to become famous, some because they want to exercise their talents, some because there is a story inside them trying to kick its way out. Those goals are all subordinate to the one great goal—to write is to think, and the more you think, deeply and bravely, the more that you become your truest self.

Thanks so much Matt. I look forward to reading the next installment of your series and can’t wait to see where you take the story next.

Thursday Morning Beats

I’m supposed to be working on edits but I figured someone out there might need a good song this morning as much as I did. This is Grouplove, “Let me in” off TFIOS soundtrack. If the music is any indication of the movie’s awesomeness, I’m going to be a mess by the end.

Writing Process Blog Tour

The spectacularly rad Kelly Loy Gilbert (here’s her Twitter) tagged me on her My Writing Process Blog Hop. Kelly and I met after a group of Bay Area writers got together a few months back and I can honestly say that her kindness and practicality have restored my faith in humanity. Kelly’s book Conviction comes out in Summer 2015 from Disney Hyperion and it’s going to be amazing.

Now to the blog hop questions:

1.   What am I working on?

I am working on the final edits for An Ember in the Ashes these days. I’m also working on a second book, which, like Ember, is a YA Fantasy.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I never set out to write something different. My goal is always to write something true. This might seem odd since I write fantasy and a fantasy is, inherently fantastical. By “true”, I just mean that I want the emotions of my characters to be realistic and relatable. I want their stories to reflect the reality of our world. I want their struggles and victories to really resonate. Good YA fantasy—books like The Scorpio Races, The Naming, Finnikin of the Rock and Graceling—do exactly that.

If my work does differ, it’s only in that it reflects my personal style of writing, as well as my interest in inside-outside narratives and hefty internal struggles.

3)     Why do I write what I do?

So lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of experimental remixes. The type of stuff you find on SoundCloud that makes you feel like a god of musical discovery. (This story has a point, I swear.) And you know, these remixes are great and fun and I love them. But every now and then, I’ll shuffle my music and an old-school (to me, anyway) rock song will come on, like “Closer” or “Low” or “Gouge Away” and it’s pure bliss. It’s home.

That’s what fantasy is for me. I love contemporary fiction, science-fiction, non-fiction, poetry. But fantasy is home. Much like how I’m never not in the mood for a rock song, I’m never not in the mood for a solid fantasy book. I was attempting (failing) to write a contemporary adult fiction novel when I got the idea for Ember. After I switched over, everything changed. I started to look forward to writing. I wrote obsessively. Even when I was struggling, I couldn’t wait to get back to my story. I finally felt like I had to write. Once that happened, I never looked back.

4)     How does your writing process work? 

I’ve found that I’m a combination plotter/pantser. If I plot too much, then I find myself over-thinking things and getting bogged down in details. But if I don’t plot at all, then I find myself wandering around in my story like a sheep without her flock and my revisions take much longer.

What works for me now is to get a rough sense of my characters goals for a book, as well as their overall arc. Then I do a very broad strokes outline which gives me a sense of what my plot points are and where they will fall. Then I fill in the blanks by free-writing. I shape the story significantly during edits—that’s usually what I spend the most time on.

Tag—you’re it! On to the next two writers:

Michelle Levy is a casting director and Colorado native who now lives in my favorite city and adopted hometown, Los Angeles. Michelle has written a YA contemporary novel called The End of the Beginning, which is out in Summer 2015 from Dial/Penguin. Her book is about two broken people who help each other survive and ultimately find love.

I cannot wait to read Michelle’s book! Her post will be up on May 19, 2015. You can follow her on Twitter here.

Sandra Waugh is the author of Lark Rising, a YA fantasy due out on Sept. 23, 2014. It is the story of a shy clairvoyant who is chosen to seek help for her besieged village, only to discover she’s on a journey of a far greater and more dangerous purpose: to reclaim the amulet of Life, which she attempts with the help of a gnome, a white horse, and a young man whom she loves but who’s fated to kill her.

Doesn’t that sound amazing? Sandra’s post will be up on May 19, 2015. You can follow her on Twitter here.






“Sheila, put the knife down.”

These days I’m working on my second book. It’s been a long time coming; between entering the publishing world and editing An Ember in the Ashes, my current work-in-progress hasn’t gotten much love. The time I did spend on it was almost exclusively focused on outlining. So when I finally sat down to write, I was quite excited. On my first day, I hit about 1,200 words.

Then I cut all of them.

Day two: 800 words.

But these words weren’t good enough, either. They weren’t strong enough. They weren’t the right words. So I cut them too.

It’s been so long since I started a book—more than four years, that I’ve forgotten what it feels like in the first few weeks, when you’re slogging your way through a draft. I’ve forgotten that nothing sounds right at the beginning, and that giving into the resulting frustration only results in long, agonizing days of staring at the screen and thinking “I can’t do this.”

So I made a rule for myself. No matter what I write, no matter how crap I think it is, I’m not allowed to cut. I’m putting the knife down. I’m letting this story happen instead of trying to engineer it to perfection from Day 1.

And today, Day 3, was different. I pounded out 1,500 words, some of which I even like. Not a single word cut.

I’m sure that will change later. Maybe I’ll cut half of what I wrote. Maybe all of it. But right now, while I’m still discovering the story, those 1,500 words are a solid start. Those 1,500 words are enough to get me to the next 1,500, and the 1,500 after that. And again and again, until I find my stride. Until I find my story.


Note: The song that inspired this post is below–”Sheila put the knife down” by Junior Prom. It’s got nothing at all to do with writing. As far as I can tell, it’s about a dude trying to stop his crazy girlfriend from going all Norman Bates on him. But you know me. I can always find a way to connect music and writing. :)