Caroline Carlson, Children's Book Author

Caroline Carlson

Giveaway Winners and Your Favorite Diana Wynne Jones Books

Thanks to all the readers who entered my giveaway of advance copies of THE DOOR AT THE END OF THE WORLD! I’ll be mailing ARCs to the six winners: Julia V., Kit G., Katie W., Magan, Aylea W., and Jennifer M. If that’s you, please check your email! And if you didn’t win, I hope you’ll put THE DOOR AT THE END OF THE WORLD on your list of books to read when it’s released next April. I wish I could send every one of you a copy! Whether you read the book sooner or later, I very much hope you enjoy it.

I also wanted to let you know how giveaway respondents answered the question, “What’s your favorite Diana Wynne Jones book?” Howl’s Moving Castle was the runaway winner with 7 votes, but there were 2 votes each for Charmed Life (one of my personal favorites) and The Pinhoe Egg, which I was excited to see on the list since I’m not sure quite as many people know about it. Other books that got one vote each were The Spellcoats, Archer’s Goon, Hexwood, Conrad’s Fate, A Tale of Time City, The Lives of Christopher Chant, Witch Week, and Diana’s book of essays, Reflections: On the Magic of Writing.

What’s my personal favorite? Honestly, I’m not sure how any of you were able to choose, because I’ve been trying to answer this question for days now and I still haven’t settled on one title. I love so many of the ones you all mentioned. But of the books that weren’t mentioned, I particularly like Fire and Hemlock. Oh, and Deep Secret. And The Crown of Dalemark. And Enchanted Glass. And anything that features Chrestomanci showing up somewhere in his dressing gown. I can also tell you that I’ve spent about a quarter-century wanting to eat a butter-pie from A Tale of Time City, so maybe that’s the book that’s made the greatest impact on me over the years.

Congratulations to the giveaway winners, and thanks to all of you for helping me celebrate Diana Wynne Jones! She would have turned 84 years old yesterday, August 16th, and I think she would have been thrilled to know how many readers around the world loved her books.

A Fantastical Giveaway

If you’ve ever heard me talk about my love of children’s books, or if you’ve ever asked me for book recommendations, you probably know that one of my favorite authors is Diana Wynne Jones, who wrote dozens of funny and wildly imaginative fantasy novels over her long career. My hometown librarian introduced me to her books when I was a kid, and I still have vivid memories of listening to Charmed Life on audio cassette during family road trips. I wrote my graduate school thesis about Fire and Hemlock, a book I’m still not sure I entirely understand. When I was at a low point in my writing life, I reread Howl’s Moving Castle and found such joy in the reading that I ended up drafting Magic Marks the Spot in four months flat. And when I signed my first book contract with HarperCollins, I was thrilled that my own books would be published by the same house that’s brought so many of Diana’s books into the world.

A lot of my own work–and a lot of the other work being done by children’s fantasy authors writing today–owes a debt to Diana Wynne Jones. She was particularly well known for her world-hopping fantasies, which is why when I attempted to write a world-hopping fantasy novel of my own, I did it in honor of her. On the dedication page of The Door at the End of the World, you’ll see that the book is written in Diana’s memory.

The Door at the End of the World won’t be in bookstores until April 2019, but this week I’ll be giving away six advance reader copies! You’ll be entered into the drawing if you visit my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter, but you’ll get extra chances to win if you tell me which of Diana Wynne Jones’ books is your very favorite. And if you’re a teacher, librarian, or bookseller, you’ll get some extra chances to win as well. The giveaway is open internationally and ends on Friday, August 17th. Good luck!

Click here to enter the giveaway!

The Door at the End of the World

There’s no signpost to mark the end of the world, so you need to know what you’re looking for: a gatehouse, a garden, a tall brick wall overgrown with flowering vines. . . and the door. You’ll have to wait a while, too, since the Gatekeeper likes to take her time. Traveling from one world to the next isn’t something a person should do on a whim, and she wants to make sure you mean it.

What begins as a rather unremarkable Thursday quickly turns to disaster when Lucy, the Gatekeeper’s deputy, discovers that her boss has vanished, the door connecting Lucy’s world to the next world over is broken—and it might all be Lucy’s fault. To save the Gatekeeper and set things right, Lucy must break the rules for the first time ever and journey with an otherworldly boy, a suspiciously sneaky girl, and a crew of magical bees into the seven worlds beyond her own.

But Lucy isn’t the only one breaking the rules. As curiosities and dangers gather around her, she learns she’s up against a sinister force that’s playing with the delicate fabric of time and space, no matter what the deadly costs or consequences. Lucy’s never had to save the world before—and now, somehow, she’s got to find a way to save eight of them.

THE DOOR AT THE END OF THE WORLD

Friends, I’ve got a cover to share!

THE DOOR AT THE END OF THE WORLD, the book I crashed into and stumbled through, will be published by HarperCollins Children’s Books next spring, in April of 2019, and I am so pleased and excited to be able to tell you a bit more about it. It’s a world-hopping fantasy adventure for young readers, starring characters I adore–smugglers! bureaucrats! royalty! bees! There’s a sprinkling of magic, a whiff of science fiction, and, I hope you’ll find, a substantial amount of fun.

Here’s the beautiful cover, illustrated by Poly Bernatene:

The Door at the End of the World

Here’s a little more about the book:

There’s no signpost to mark the end of the world, so you need to know what you’re looking for: a gatehouse, a garden, a tall brick wall overgrown with flowering vines. . . and the door. You’ll have to wait a while, too, since the Gatekeeper likes to take her time. Traveling from one world to the next isn’t something a person should do on a whim, and she wants to make sure you mean it.

What begins as a rather unremarkable Thursday quickly turns to disaster when Lucy, the Gatekeeper’s deputy, discovers that her boss has vanished, the door connecting Lucy’s world to the next world over is broken—and it might all be Lucy’s fault. To save the Gatekeeper and set things right, Lucy must break the rules for the first time ever and journey with an otherworldly boy, a suspiciously sneaky girl, and a crew of magical bees into the seven worlds beyond her own.

But Lucy isn’t the only one breaking the rules. As curiosities and dangers gather around her, she learns she’s up against a sinister force that’s playing with the delicate fabric of time and space, no matter what the deadly costs or consequences. Lucy’s never had to save the world before—and now, somehow, she’s got to find a way to save eight of them.

And here are some of the research questions I asked as I wrote:

  • How does a Model T Ford work?
  • How far can bees fly from their hive?
  • What part of the world is antipodal to central Europe?
  • What American city is roughly halfway between Switzerland and New Zealand?
  • Can eight spheres of different sizes all touch one another simultaneously?
  • Is it really true that cows can’t go down stairs?

I’ll share more information about how you can get your own copy of THE DOOR AT THE END OF THE WORLD as publication day approaches, but for now, you can add it to your reading list on Goodreads.

Stumbling Into Story

When I visit schools, I always tell kids about my writing process, and I always say that I’m a plotter: I won’t start writing a book until I know exactly what happens at the beginning, what happens at the end, and a number of details about the scenes in between. I tell kids that at some point early in the drafting process–certainly no more than halfway through the first draft–I outline my story. I tell kids that I can’t sit down, stare at a blank page, and start typing away without knowing what will happen to my characters on that page.

It turns out, though, that I haven’t been telling the complete truth. Not that I’m a liar! The process I’ve just described is, in fact, how I wrote my first four books, and it’s how I’m writing the story I’m working on right now. But that’s not at all how I wrote my upcoming book, THE DOOR AT THE END OF THE WORLD.

It was the middle of 2016. I’d just finished copyedits for THE WORLD’S GREATEST DETECTIVE. My daughter was an infant; I was intensely sleep-deprived and covered in spit-up. I owed my editor a book that was going to be uncomfortably late. And when I finally sat down to begin working on the middle grade fantasy I’d been thinking about for a year or two, I only had to write one page before I knew: the book was not going to work. The idea didn’t excite me. The words weren’t flowing. I wasn’t having fun. This was not the story I needed or wanted to tell.

Now, I can’t remember the exact details, but I think that around this time, I talked with my agent, Sarah. It might have been months earlier; all time runs together when you’re sleep-deprived and covered in spit-up. Anyway, Sarah asked if I had any book ideas in the pipeline, and I told her the truth: I only have one idea at a time. I’m not a writer who has a million stories bubbling up in her brain, just begging to be told. I get passionately excited about one story, and I write it (or try to), and then when it’s at the end of its life cycle (ideally a published book, but sometimes an abandoned computer file stuffed into a folder I’ve optimistically called “Incubating Projects”), I hope that somewhere in my imagination, a green shoot for one more story will sprout. It feels a lot like faith.

But I also told Sarah that I can sometimes prompt these ideas to sprout by assigning a tiny, unconscious part of my brain to work on them. And when the book I’d been planning for a couple years fizzled after only one page, that’s what I knew I had to do. Actually, this time, I needed to assign a much larger and more conscious part of my brain to come up with a new idea. Forget tiny story sprouts that self-seed as if by magic; I needed to visit a story nursery, buy a mature story hosta, and stick that thing in the ground ASAP. “I need a new idea!” I told my husband. “I need a new idea!” I told my baby. “I’m going to take a shower.”

I took a shower.

If you are ever stuck in your creative life, you should take a shower.

(You should shower for other reasons as well, of course.)

Anyway, by the time I got out of the shower, my new story idea had announced itself.

It was a distant relative of the story that hadn’t worked, which had been about a girl who travels to a place so remote that she thinks it’s the end of the world. In the shower, I realized: what if I wrote a fantasy novel about the literal end of the world? The place where our world, the real world, bumps into the next world over? And what if there was a door between the two worlds? You’d need someone to guard the door, of course, or you’d have people constantly stumbling from one world to the next without understanding what they were doing. You’d need a Gatekeeper. And a Gatekeeper’s assistant, a girl who’s trying to learn the ropes….

That was pretty much all I knew after my shower. But I also had a strong sense that this idea was going to work. It felt like a book that would be a joy to write–if only I could figure out what happened next.

I never outlined; I never had the time. When I sat down to write each morning, I didn’t know much about what I’d write that day. I certainly didn’t know what I’d write the next day. For a plotter like me, it should have been terrifying. But this was the book I wanted and needed to write, so I kept on going. And, mostly, it was a sheer delight. When I got to the end of my first draft, despite a few wrong turns, I could tell: it was a book-shaped thing. Somehow, stumbling from blank page to blank page without a map or a flashlight, I’d found my way through the story.

(Then I ended up completely rewriting a good 40% of the book in revisions. But that always happens!)

Now, a couple years later, I can share that THE DOOR AT THE END OF THE WORLD will be published by the crackerjack team at HarperCollins next spring, in April of 2019. I can’t wait for you all to read it. And I really can’t wait to share the cover art with you, so I’ll be posting it here on my website on Monday morning! Stay tuned….

Who Are We Writing About? Who Are We Writing For?

#KidlitWomen logoThis post is part of the #kidlitwomen initiative. We’re celebrating Women’s History Month with 31 days of posts focused on improving the climate for social and gender equality in the children’s and teens’ literature community. Join in the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

I’ve always loved snuggling up with a good book, and now that I’m a mom to a toddler, I love it even more. There’s not much I can think of that’s nicer than letting my daughter crawl into my lap, drawing a blanket around us both, and reading stories together. When we point at objects we recognize in the illustrations, talk about the characters, and recite our favorite lines from memory, I hope I’m teaching my daughter to love books just as much as I do.

Sometimes, though, I wonder if she’s learning unintended lessons from the books we share. In more than a few of the stories we’ve read together, most of the characters are male. Sometimes they’re all male. In one recently published book we love about animals at a zoo, every character in the book—animal and human—is identified in the text with male pronouns. The first time we read that book together, I was genuinely surprised it hadn’t been written decades ago. None of us live in an entirely male world. There are women in our lives, whether they’re our mothers, siblings, children, friends, colleagues, mentors, or enemies. There are genderqueer and nonbinary people in our lives, too. In a world as diverse as ours, if you write a book in which the vast majority of characters are male, you are making a political statement whether or not you intend to.

And most of us don’t intend to. All of us who’ve been raised in American culture have been taught—implicitly if not explicitly—that the “default” gender is male. This is a bias that anyone of any gender can hold. I notice it in my own thinking constantly: when I’m reading wordless picture books with my daughter and we’re pointing out the animals in the illustrations, I have to consciously remind myself not to call them all “him.” Holding this bias doesn’t make me a bad feminist, a bad writer, or a bad person; it’s a reflection of the culture I’ve grown up in, and it makes me want to work as hard as possible to change that culture for today’s and tomorrow’s readers.

If you’re a writer who feels the same way, I hope you’ll join me in making a conscious effort to notice the characters who populate our fiction. Take a close look at your cast: not just the protagonists, but also the people wandering around in the background of your story. If you’ve written a book with a fantastic female protagonist surrounded mostly by men, you have more work to do. If your only female characters are love interests, or if they’re described only in terms of their relationship to the men in the story, you have more work to do. If you’ve written a book full of characters who hew to gender stereotypes, you have more work to do. If you describe a strong, smart, brave female character as being “not like other girls,” you have more work to do. Challenge yourself to introduce a non-male character with a speaking role in the first chapter of every book you write. Challenge yourself to write only books that pass the Bechdel test. If a character’s gender isn’t an important part of their role in your story, don’t automatically make that character male. Remember that not everyone identifies as male or female; that gender doesn’t determine a person’s interests, skills, or qualities; and that kids of all genders will be reading your stories and learning unintended lessons from them. I’m doing this tough work right alongside you. Let’s help one another change the default.