The Story of Youtube

In 2012, after OWEN was written and sold, a video was posted to Youtube. It was a cover of a popular song, and what made the video interesting was that it featured five people playing the song on guitar. On one guitar.

I hadn’t even heard the original when I first saw the video (not uncommon for me), but I was hooked. This, I knew, was how Siobhan made her mark on the world. More accurately, this was how EMILY made Siobhan’s mark on the world.

I remember when American Idol first came out, and a bunch of my friends who are, uh, shall we say “choosy” in their music habits were all “UGH, this is terrible”. I was fascinated, though, because I felt like I finally got to see how music packaging works*.

(Side note: my dad’s favourite bands include ABBA and The Mama’s and The Papa’s, so from the time I was small, I was no stranger to music that was arranged rather deliberately.)

And this is Emily’s world. She is very good at the internet, and she’s the one who talks Siobhan into actually putting the music up for wider consumption. It never would have occurred to Hannah and Lottie (or Owen, for that matter), which is one of the reasons I like Emily so much, even though her scenes are a pain to write.

This was a bit of a shift for me, though, because the musician I had originally modelled Siobhan on was slightly different. Her name is Heather Dale, and she is a true bard. Heather started off writing for Renaissance Faires, and eventually recorded CDs and sold them, and travels a lot to perform. I really cannot understate how beautiful her music is. Every time I play it for someone new, they ask me who she is and comment on her words and voice and diction. She might be the best I have ever heard.

Heather has also made really great use of Youtube, as Siobhan eventually does, but the fact that they both got their start “off camera” gives them a slightly different style. It was a lot of fun to play around with. Heather’s music is intrinsically part of my concept of Siobhan herself and of Siobhan’s musical leanings (in particular THE ROAD TO SANTIAGO in The Story of Owen, and JOAN in Prairie Fire).

I think the BEST thing about music on Youtube, though, is that if you are talented, people will find you. It’s the “if you build it, they will come” mentality, only with music instead of baseball. Siobhan is very talented, and her music catches on because it is familiar…with a twist. My current Youtube infatuation is a duo that I think really captures every part of that.

(Also, check out their cover of TAKE ME TO CHURCH because: my heart.)

The Brooklyn Duo is a thing I never would have heard of, were it not for Youtube. And yet, because they recorded a video and put it on the site, and then someone brought it to Taylor Swift’s attention and she tweeted about it, and because I follow Taylor Swift on Twitter, I have heard of them, and I absolutely adore them.

This is how Siobhan’s music works. She doesn’t have to go town to town, singing for her supper (though she would if she did). Her music reaches farther than she imagined, farther than Lottie ever hoped, because it travels at the speed of WiFi, all around the world.

PRAIRIE FIRE is a bigger stage, and Siobhan’s not entirely ready for it yet, but she will be. She will be.

 

Prairie Fire comes out on March 1st, and is available for pre-order.

 

*So it’s not entirely a Youtube thing. Or even a CURRENT thing. Ed Sullivan was really good at finding niche acts to round out his show (my favourite is Gayla Peevey’s I WANT A HIPPOPOTAMUS FOR CHRISTMAS), but my father had to go to someone else’s house to watch that show. Youtube is much more accessible, and much more difficult to control.

 

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And then, a sequel

There are usually some pretty good reasons to write a sequel. Here are some terrible reasons I had:

  • I had promised Tessa Gratton that I would burn down Kansas.
  • I had a vague desire to sic a dragon on the town of Hinton, because one time I was working a contract there in December, and I fell in a creek and had to cut myself out of my snow pants.
  • A song I really liked was exactly the wrong shape for OWEN, but I thought might be okay for PRAIRIE FIRE.
  • I had already come up with the title.

But here is the real reason I ended up writing it:

  • I always knew this part of the story.

In May of 2011, before I sat down to write THE STORY OF OWEN properly, I stood on a bluff overlooking the Athabasca River just outside of Whitecourt, Alberta, and I knew that someday, Owen and Siobhan would go there. It was sunny and windy – too windy, we would learn – and not too cold. Everything about the day was perfect, until we got back to our hotel. “Oh, thank goodness!” the hotel owner said. “You’re the last field crew to come in. I’m so glad you’re safe.” Alberta, it turned out, was on fire. The flames were jumping fire-breaks and highways.  For the next week, the woods were full of noise; there were helicopters and smoke in the air. And that was how PRAIRIE FIRE started.

I came home from Alberta and wrote THE STORY OF OWEN. Then I sold it*, and got an agent. “Is it a trilogy?” my agent asked. “No,” I said. “Can you pretend it is?” he asked. So I did. I pretended there was a second and third book, even though I had no idea what happened in Book 2 and didn’t really want to write Book 3. And everything was going swimmingly until we started editing, and Andrew kept asking questions like “How does the Oil Watch work?” and “No, really, what is up with Sadie?”, and I did my best not to think about it.

But I was. I was thinking about it a lot. I was thinking about it so much that I had come up with a dragon for them to fight and a couple of new characters, and a whole “new” city**. And then I got on a plane to fly to Texas, and listened to THE FIREBIRD SUITE on my iPod, and cried a bit, and wrote, quite fatefully After the Thorskards came to Trondheim, we always had a permanent dragon slayer.

I emailed Josh (“Remember that time you asked me if there was another book and I told you there wasn’t another book? I’m writing another book.”), and Josh talked to Andrew, and I wrote Chapter 1, and then we had a deal for it, and then I buckled down to write the rest.

I was terrified that I would experience Second Book Trauma, but I really didn’t. Instead I had regular old physical trauma, and was unable to sit in a chair (at Starbucks, or anywhere), and so had to mostly write in bed, which is not a lot of fun. Unlike my previous books, which I wrote mostly in one place, I never wrote PRAIRIE FIRE in the same place twice. It was very weird. Also, I had to send the last ten chapters to Emma while she was on her honeymoon, which will be funnier after YOU have read the last ten chapters, but then you’ll understand why John, her husband, gets a spot in the acknowledgements.

The thing I like about PRAIRIE FIRE is that it’s the third book in a trilogy. Sort of. Sarah Rees Brennan has famously said that the basic breakdown of a trilogy is: Meet Up, Make Out, Take Over The World, and I am following that model, but skipping Book 2 (it’s not even because of the kissing! It’s because the whole plot is about small town/rural Canadian politics and NO ONE ALIVE cares about that enough to read it in a book, even if the book has dragons). My apologies to Sadie Fletcher.

I really liked the bigger world, higher stakes, and [redacted for spoilers] that came with writing PRAIRIE FIRE. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

PRAIRIE FIRE comes out on March 1, and is available for pre-order now.

 

 

*Slightly more complicated than that.
**Blog posts to come, obviously.

Two Important Things

1. THE STORY OF OWEN is nominated for the 2015 Morris Award!

the story of owen

I am beyond thrilled about this, and very excited. Thank you to everyone for all of your support.

2. At a writing retreat in Tennessee in October, I made some Oreo truffles that were sort of epic.

SONY DSC

They are quite appropriate for Christmas, and dead easy to make, so here is the recipe:

Step One – Buy two bags of oreos, one block of cream cheese (not low fat), some hard candy mints (or a couple of candy canes), a thing of baker’s melting chocolate.

Step Two – Crush oreos. Mix with cream cheese. Roll into balls 1″ in diameter. Put in fridge for 20 minutes.

Step Three – Crush mints.

Step Four – Melt chocolate. Drop oreo balls into chocolate, roll around for a bit, then pick up with a fork. Allow to drip for a second, then place on waxed paper. Sprinkle with crushed up mints.

Step Five – Put in fridge or freezer until hard.

Step Six – Become the hero of whatever small town it is you are from.

You can also decorate the tops with different colours of melty chocolate and mix the candy canes right in. It really depends on your aesthetic.

Cap salutes

Panic and Publishing

Recently, I got to go to Minneapolis and meet my editor, Andrew Karre. It was was a lot of fun, and I had this whole plan to do a blog post about it, but it was at the end of huge trip, and since I’ve got home I’ve had a massive head cold and a tooth extraction, so I only really remember two salient points:

1. It’s pronounced “Nine”-a’s.
and
2. The following conversation:

Andrew: [something about the editing schedule]
Me: I’m not really a panicker.
Andrew: I’ve noticed.

So yes. I went to Minneapolis and told my editor something he already knew (and a thing about Shakespeare that he suspected, but I can’t tell you what that was yet).

Since the conversation, I’ve been trying to remember the last time I panicked*, and I think I’ve finally come up with it. The second time I was in Jordan, we went to a Turkish Bath at the end of the field season. After the sauna and the hot pool, it was time for the exfoliation. I have exceptionally clear memories of this tiny Jordanian woman saying “off the top, please”, and then reaching for my bathing suit when I stared at her blankly. I didn’t react when she pulled it over my head, and then it dawned on me that I was in a room full of women and I was half naked (I mean, so was almost everyone else. But for some reason that was different). I felt it start, that bubble in your stomach you can’t contain, and then I thought to  myself “Self, this is going to take half an hour. You can lose your shit** for thirty minutes, or you can calm down and deal with it.”

I dealt with it***.

Since then, there have been other moments, other times I felt that bubble start up. Most recently was probably when the doctor called on July 29 to tell me that my surgery was on August 1. But the bubble never forms. Somehow I reason myself out of it.

It’s not really “somehow”. It’s almost always “someone”. Either I call my sister or text Emma or channel Sydney Bristow, and everything evens out. I have an excellent support system.

Sometimes I think not being a panicker is weird in publishing. I see people on twitter and worry that I SHOULD be panicking, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. I think I got a lot of that worked out of me in my undergrad, when I had the Minerva McGonagall of Near Eastern Archaeology for a professor in almost half of my classes. Once you’ve gone through that learning curve, everything else seems remarkably straightforward.

So stress and worry, but not panic. I feel like I should offer advice, but I don’t really have any****. I think it comes down to the whole “do what works for you” adage that writers roll with. Some people panic, and it helps them. They tend to talk about it, so people who DON’T panic wonder if they’re doing something wrong. I can tell you that you’re not.

And I’m going to spend the next three days thinking that I’ve tempted the wrath of the whatever from high atop the thing, and there’s panic coming my way. But I’ll deal with it. Because apparently that’s what I do.


*Here, “panic” shall NOT be what I do when I have a flashback. Those are different and I deal with them differently. Maybe I should deal with them the same way, and then I’d have them less? This is probably another blog post.
**I didn’t really think this. I didn’t swear in 2005. The internet has ruined me.
***Turkish baths are the BEST, you guys. If you ever go to the Middle East, find a safe one and GO. Wear a two-piece. Your pores will thank you.
****Except to go to a Turkish bath, see above.

(Word) Crime and Pun-ishment

One of the things I loved the most about BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER was the way that the characters used words. I mean, every TV show and book uses words, but the BUFFY crew managed to do something really cool. Without inventing words or borrowing from other languages (both of which Whedon would do later), the show managed to be linguistically interesting. I could imagine real people talking the way the characters did, because it was such a natural extension of English.

Well, mostly natural.

Anyway, that’s what I wanted to do with my books. I was adding dragons to the world, and I wanted to think about any of the ways that dragons might have changed the way we talk, without changing the way we talk entirely. The key is that you have to know the rules to break them, and I do know the rules. That’s part of what makes it so much fun.

I batted around a bunch of ideas, but ended up deciding on one small change. Since dying, or at least the threat of dying, was so central to the idea of dragon slaying, the words I ended up fiddling with were two verbs: “to kill” and “to slay”.

we are going to die

I set them up as two entirely different words. If a dragons died, it was never, ever, ever “killed”. That word was reserved for humans entirely. I wanted a hard opposite for dragons, which was a problem, because “to slay” has a different form. You have slayed the dragon, but the dragon has been slain.

I didn’t want that. I wanted the word to always be the same. I decided to go with “slayed”, even though it was not entirely grammatically sound, because it was a good mirror for “killed”. Unfortunately “kiln” is not a word that I can use in this context, so it had to be “killed” and “slayed” right from the get go.

Now, I ran approximately a hundred million Ctrl F searches on “killed” and “slain” just to be sure I hadn’t made an oversight while I writing. The only thing I checked more obsessively was the number of syllables in the haiku at the end of the St. George chapter. My point here is that “slayed” is not a mistake. Ever. In the text, in the world of Owen and Siobhan, it is the only word that means you have ended the life of a dragon.

that's how we roll in the shire

I fought with at least one test reader over this from the very beginning, but I was determined to leave it as it was written. During revisions, I explained the world building to my editor, and got to keep it. A couple of reviewers have mentioned using “slayed” as a criticism, which is one of the reasons I’m writing this post. I’m very glad I got to keep my somewhat awkward word choice, though, and that it stayed as subtle as it is, because most of the world building I got to do was very subtle (well, as subtle as a dragon can be), and much of it was word based.

The other place I got to world build was, of course, with the dragons themselves. Here, it was mostly with the dragon’s names, thought obviously their historical impact also came into play.

In OWEN, the dragons are mostly referred to by their Latin (or scientific) names. The corn dragon is my exception, because it’s also my joke: there is no word in Latin for corn, because corn is a North American crop. Accordingly, the dragon is actually called the wheat dragon, which is why it is stupid, and sometimes cannot tell corn from beans.

PRAIRIE FIRE has my favourite dragon name word joke, by far, and also my favourite dragon. But you will have to wait for that.

smaug

The Bayfield Writers’ Festival

I spent most of Saturday in my old stomping grounds, Huron County, where THE STORY OF OWEN is set. I had been invited to speak at the Bayfield Writers’ Festival, put on by the Bayfield Bookshop, and saying “yes” to the invitation was very easy!

Bayfield (named for Admiral Bayfield who, amongst other things, mapped a lot of Canadian coast of Lake Huron), is a gorgeous town, and the weather was bright and sunny. The other writers were all from Toronto, and the comments that kept getting repeated were all to the tune of “This place is so NICE!”

IMG_20140621_113938020

For real. I didn’t put the actual town of Bayfield in my book because I didn’t want to light it on fire. That is how much I love it.

Anyway, the festival was lovely! The town hall was full, and the other writers all gave excellent readings. I was a bit worried, as the only YA writer in the crowd (the audience was mostly retirees), but they all laughed at the right places during my reading, and the Q&A was great.

My favourite part was during the public Q&A part. When the moderator asked if there were any audience questions, there was the traditional 20 seconds of dead silence, and then a woman in the audience said:

“My question is for Kate. What is the Oxford Comma?”

(I mention the Oxford Comma in the jacket of my book, as part of my about the author. Because I am that kind of nerd.)

So I got to nerd out about grammar, and make everyone laugh a couple of times, and we all learned a valuable life lesson about the difference between peanut butter and jam and tuna sandwiches, and peanut butter and jam, and tuna sandwiches.

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After that it was off to the Lion’s Club Chicken BBQ dinner in Seaforth. It’s an elimination draw, along with your food. Once upon a time, the prize was a tractor. The only people I know who ever won it weren’t farmers, so they sold the tractor and basically built another house on top of their existing house. Now it’s money, but it’s a pretty big deal.

Anyway, while we were eating (the largest piece of chicken I have ever seen), and they were drawing (number after number after number), I got to catch up with all kind of people I haven’t seen in a long time, and then a funny thing happened.

One of the women I used to work with at the Nursing Home came over and asked to buy a book (I had brought a couple with me for just this purpose), and while we were talking, she mentioned that she had tried to buy the copy I donated to a charity auction a few weeks ago, except someone kept outbidding her.

I never donated a copy to a charity auction! But someone did! And there was a bidding war, because my co-worker wanted a copy (it was signed), and the owner of the family hardware store in town wanted it too (because his store is in the book, as Archie’s bookstore in Saltrock).

I signed the book, and we both went back to attempting to eat our chicken (thank goodness people kept interrupting and giving me a chance to digest, or I might still be there), and then there was lemon cake, and then we began the two hour process of trying to actually get out of the building.

Fun times, basically.

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Now that I’ve done a couple of school visits in Huron County, I’ve had more than one student be INCREDIBLY surprised that I could write a fun book about the place. I certainly would not have believed it myself, and didn’t, back when I was their age. And yet: a woman with a walker shook my hand and told me she was “mad for dragons”, and at dinner, there was hilarity and excellent food. They might not all be great stories to tell or hear, but they all have the seeds of them, I think, and that is how I do it. I find what’s there. And then I make a dragon attack it.

(Except in Bayfield. Bayfield is too pretty to die.)

Some Exciting News

*blows dust off of blog*

Sorry, wordpress. Tumblr’s just so pretty.

ANYWAY, there is some GREAT NEWS for Kate fans! I got to do my cover reveal on an in-universe tumblr the week before last, and I’m still not really tired of looking at it, so HERE IT IS AGAIN:

OWEN - Front Cover

But that’s not all!

CarolrhodaLab has put up their spring book list, so you can see my book, and all the books that will be released around the same time.

If you click here and scroll down a bit, there’s a link on the right hand side where you can download THE STORY OF LOTTIE, the first chapter of my book.

You can also pre-order it at the Lerner website, or at Barnes and Noble. If you want to tweet me about it, @ek_johnston, you will pretty much make my day.

Hopefully, I will have a Chapters link for you soon.

That’s all for now! But I am starting to get super excited, so I’m sure I’ll have something to blog about soon.