Caroline Carlson

Signed Copies

I’m very excited that my great local independent bookstore, the Penguin Bookshop in Sewickley, PA, will be selling signed copies of MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT. You’ll be able to find the book in the store, but if you don’t live nearby, you can order a copy from their website and I’ll sign it for you! Thanks to everyone at the Penguin who is doing the tough, wonderful work of running a small store and providing great reads to the community.

Pie, Sneak Peeks, and Giveaways

I’m sitting at my computer and eating pie for lunch, which is a completely appropriate thing to do when it’s the day after Independence Day and you still have seventy-five percent of a homemade pie sitting in your refrigerator. In such a situation, eating pie for every meal is both responsible and practical. Don’t let anyone try to tell you otherwise.

This piece of pie may be one of the most exciting things in my life right now, but some other exciting things have been happening too. MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT’s publication date is only 2 months away, and the final files have been sent to the printer, which means that it is now too late to fix that giant mistake on page 174 where, for several paragraphs, all of the characters turn into red pandas. (Actually, have you seen a red panda? Those little guys are ridiculously cute. Maybe this wasn’t such a big mistake after all.)

I’ve also nearly finished revising VNHLP book 2 (which does have a title, though I think I’ll hold off on sharing it for a while longer). Here’s a weird fact about the publishing process: Since it can take a year or more between the time when a manuscript is finished and the time when the book is published, authors can often write an entire second book before their first book hits the shelves. By the time MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT is released, I’ll be working on copyedits for book 2 and starting to write book 3. In other words, I’m already planning the end of this trilogy when almost no one has gotten a chance to read the beginning of it yet. Weird, right?

So I thought I’d catch you up by sharing a sneak peek of a few things you can expect to see over the course of the books.

In MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT, you will find:

  • an enormous carpetbag filled with cucumber sandwiches
  • unscrupulous gentlemen traveling on a train
  • a cabin boy dressed up as a beet
  • a pirate wearing a feather boa
  • plenty of sheep dancing the hornpipe
  • a picture postcard of some grumpy Victorian children on vacation
  • more hidden pirate treasure than you can shake a stick at
  • and a gargoyle who is fond of Shakespeare but really prefers Keats.

In VNHLP book 2, you will find:

  • the memoirs of a gargoyle
  • a floating bookshop and magic dispensary
  • a rather aggressive flying harpsichord
  • an enchanted cutlass
  • an explanation (finally) for all of those dancing sheep
  • far too many explosions
  • the most eligible bachelor in the kingdom
  • a secretive group of evildoers
  • and a pirate who prepares his chocolate mousse with just a hint of gunpowder.

I haven’t written the third book yet, so I’m not quite sure what you’ll find in it. Maybe you could leave a comment letting me know what you think should be in book 3.

One final piece of business: The fabulous team at Harper Children’s is holding a giveaway of 20 advance copies of MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT! You can enter the giveaway through Goodreads.

New Website and New York

As I’m sure you can tell if you’re reading this post on my website, the site’s gotten a bit of a facelift in the past few days. I think it’s absolutely beautiful, and I hope you do too! My writer-and-illustrator friend Ingrid Sundberg drew all the illustrations, and WebsyDaisy designed and built the site. Please check out more of their work and get in touch with them if you’re ever in need of a new or updated site–they are both wonderful and talented!

A quick note about the artwork: If you scroll down to the bottom of this page, you’ll see that the aliens are eyeing a stack of books made up of some of my favorite titles: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, Half Magic by Edward Eager, The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, and I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. Some of the books in the stack don’t have titles visible–I imagine those are the books the aliens chose, and I’m not entirely sure what their taste is like.

I had a great trip to New York at the end of May, speaking on a middle grade panel at BEA and signing galleys for lots of lovely booksellers, librarians, and readers (and parents of readers). Thanks to everyone who came by to say hi or grab a copy of Magic Marks the Spot! We ended up running out of galleys at the signing, so if you were waiting in line and didn’t get one, I’m really sorry! I hope you got lots of other excellent books to tide you over.

During my couple of days in NYC, I got to meet lots of the wonderful people at HarperCollins who are working behind the scenes on my book and the rest of the children’s list. It was very exciting to meet them, especially since I’m not at all used to meeting people who have actually read the book. (Usually, if I start talking to strangers about pirates and gargoyles, they give me funny looks and edge away slowly, but these nice people did no such thing.) I also got to spend time with some good writer friends, and at the end of my trip, my lovely host Kathleen Wilson indulged my inner tourist and showed me around Central Park and Rockefeller Center. I have been catching up on sleep ever since.

Let me know how you like the new website, or if anything’s not working the way it should. Hope everyone’s summer is off to a brilliant start!


At the end of May, I’ll be in New York City to attend Book Expo America, where Magic Marks the Spot is featured as a middle grade buzz book! There will be advance copies of the book available at the HarperCollins booth, so if you’ll be at BEA, you can find out what happens to Hilary and the gargoyle three entire months before the rest of the world does. (You’ll also get a peek at the wonderful interior art by Dave Phillips.)

For expo-goers, here’s the handy list of VNHLP-related events at BEA. All these events will take place on Friday, May 31:

  • 11:00-11:50 a.m. Middle Grade Editor Buzz Panel, featuring my brilliant editor talking about Magic Marks the Spot
  • 1:00-1:30 p.m. Middle Grade Author Panel, featuring me talking about Magic Marks the Spot and five other authors talking about their upcoming middle grade titles
  • 3:00-3:30 p.m. I’ll be signing advance copies of Magic Marks the Spot at Table 9 in the autograph area. Please come say hi.

The Most Useful Thing I’ve Learned (So Far) About Writing a Sequel

(originally posted at Through the Tollbooth)

For the past several months—or possibly the past several centuries; it’s sort of hard to tell—I’ve been writing the second book in a trilogy. If you’re wondering whether writing a sequel is easier or more difficult than writing a stand-alone novel, I am here to tell you with complete confidence that I have no idea. The only thing I know for sure is that no book comes easy, and this one hasn’t been much of an exception.

To be fair, writing a sequel does have its perks. When I sat down to write the first draft, I already knew my main characters and their world. I was intimately acquainted with everyone’s personality quirks, backstories, neuroses, and food allergies. I didn’t have to worry about figuring out the story’s magic system, since I’d already hashed that out in the first book, and I knew exactly how long it would take my characters to travel cross-country via train, horse-drawn carriage, and pirate ship. I even knew where my plot was headed, since I’d done my best to set my characters up for further adventures at the end of book one.

Emotionally, however, I was stumped.

I mean, my emotions were okay—or at least as okay as the emotions of a debut author writing a second book under contract can possibly be. But at the end of book one, I’d brought Hilary, my protagonist, to a stable and happy emotional place. She couldn’t remain stable and happy all throughout the sequel, could she? No; that would be boring, and it wouldn’t give readers a reason to care about her adventures. Would I have to tear Hilary down again? Would I have to undo all the emotional strength she’d built up in the first book? That didn’t seem right, either; I didn’t want to write the same story twice or cancel out everything good that had happened in the series’ first installment. Just as I’d designed the plot of book two to build and expand on the events of book one, I wanted my characters’ emotions to build and expand in a natural way. But I had no idea how to accomplish this.

At this point, for probably the millionth time, the superheroic community of Vermont College students and alums came to my rescue. Even though I’m no longer a student, I still rely on my MFA program friends to offer smart perspectives on the craft problems I’m wrestling with, so I handed off the question to them. “Hey,” I said (more or less), “I’m working on this sequel, and I have no idea what to do with my characters’ emotions. Should I give them something new to struggle with? Should they just repeat the same old struggle they overcame at the end of book one? Can I please, please, please write a book in which no one has any emotions at all? ‘Cause that would be much easier.”

I got lots of great responses, but there were two in particular that helped me see the emotional trajectories of multi-book series in a new and really helpful way. Val Howlett mentioned that in some of her favorite series, the characters’ emotional struggles aren’t fully resolved at the end of each book. Take the Harry Potter series as a familiar example: Harry is constantly wrestling with the loss of his parents, though that wrestling match takes a different form in each of the seven books. “In all the series I’ve loved,” Val said, “there were these emotional needs that were big enough to grow and shift, but remained at the heart of the series.” In other words, a good series has an emotional core that runs through each of its books. That emotional core is part of the connective tissue that holds all the books together and unites them as a larger work.

Val’s response helped me decide that I needed to return to the core of Hilary’s emotional struggle in book one—her desire to earn her dad’s respect—but I still wasn’t sure how to do that without making my sequel repetitive. Jessica Leader gave me a great solution, though, when she said, “When the author pans back to show the reader and the character the bigger problem, it mirrors the process of maturation: at first, you can only see your world, but gradually, you gain the ability to think about your place in it, and then the world itself. So there’s built-in character development at the ready!”

That’s when it clicked for me: Each book in my series could focus on the same core emotion, but it could look at that emotion in increasingly broad contexts. If the emotional core of my series was Hilary’s desire for respect, maybe she’d search for that respect first (in book one) from her family, then (in book two) from her immediate community, and finally (in book three) from the community at large—and from herself.

This concept of an emotional core that expands in scope from one book to the next has been incredibly helpful to me as I structure my series. I know I’ll be able to apply it to future stories, and I hope it’s useful to other writers, too. Most of all, though, it reminds me that a writing community is priceless, and that when we don’t have the answer to a tough writing problem, it’s not the end of the world. It’s probably just time to start brainstorming with our friends.