The Book of My Heart: Imaginary Girls

thebookofyourheart-eThank you for reading the Book of Your Heart series this week, and special thanks to the authors who let me share their beautiful posts about their heart books. Today, on the three-year anniversary of Imaginary Girls, I wanted to tell you why I consider this book the “book of my heart” apart from all books I’ve written or will one day write.


In December of 2006, I was working as the senior production editor at Grosset & Dunlap / Price Stern Sloan, managing the copyediting of a great many mass-market children’s books and movie tie-ins and every known version of Mad Libs, and I was also quietly, in my downtime, a writer. I would get up early before work and write at a coffee shop near the office until it was time to go in. That December, I started writing a short story called “Werewolf.” (I may or may not have been listening to this song on repeat, from an album and artist my little sister introduced me to.) The story was about two sisters, the older one who lives with a violent, rageful man and the little sister who lives with her because she can’t live with their parents. The sisters dream of escaping to Paris. Instead they rarely leave the house. There wasn’t actually a werewolf in the story, but just go with it.

I wrote this short story on the side, cheating on the adult novel I was telling myself I should revise, again, and try to query agents with, again. The story started off as a diversion, a simple piece of writing that was entirely separate from the disappointment and hope and years of work that had gone into the novel. Untainted. Fun.

The original sketchy, unfinished file of “Werewolf” from December 2006 contained this paragraph from the POV of the little sister, Chloe, about her older sister, Ruby:

“I knew her another way. She did have a tongue, and she used it to lick peanut butter off a spoon, her most favorite snack. She was beautiful, truly, what I wouldn’t give for the way our collective features arranged themselves on her face, for the greener eyes, for the silkier hair, for the five distinct freckles that cast themselves over the bridge of her straighter, smaller nose. But he hadn’t seen her when we hennaed our hair, the mud we’d mixed for the most copper color dripping down her face and turning her ears orange. he hadn’t seen her after a crying fit, hadn’t seen her throw the rocks at our parents minivan when they picked up and drove it away. No one else had seen her that way, only me.”

I wrote that and sat up straight in my chair—or let’s say I remember I did. Let’s say I knew something important had happened. Let’s pretend.

In truth, I worked on that short story—changed its name from “Werewolf” to “Mythical Creatures,” but never changed the heart of the story between the two sisters, Ruby and Chloe, never ever let go of that—from the end of 2006 through 2008. I brought it to a short-story workshop with the full intention of polishing it up and sending it to a literary journal. That was its fate, if I were lucky, I figured.

I didn’t know it would become a novel.

I didn’t know it would become a YA novel, and that I’d become a YA author.

I didn’t know it would become the novel of my heart, the most true piece of writing I’ve ever set down on the page. The novel about my hometown. The novel about two very close sisters. The novel that became a love letter to my own sister—and though my sister is really the little sister, and I’m the big sister, pieces of us are tangled up in both Ruby and Chloe.

The novel that was wishful thinking. The novel that would become very important to me, in a whole other way.

Imaginary Girls hardcover coverImaginary Girls was published on June 14, 2011, three years ago today. Though Imaginary Girls wasn’t my first published novel (haha, you think that I’m talking about Dani Noir, don’t you? My first published novel was actually a paperback series novel written under a pseudonym, on assignment), and though Imaginary Girls wasn’t the first original novel I wrote (that was a novel called Bardo, which got me my MFA, but not much else), Imaginary Girls was my first true novel. The first novel that was really me and felt worthy at the same time. If I die tomorrow, the creative part of my life will have been complete because I wrote this book. I would have no regrets.

It’s the book of my heart for this reason, yes, and another. I’m going to tell you about the other.

I always knew that it was a book dedicated to my little sister, but something happened during the writing of this book. Something that feels so connected to everything the book is that I can’t now separate it.

While I was writing Imaginary Girls, she was going through some health problems and having difficulty getting a diagnosis. She was having trouble with her eyes. She kept getting tests. I was aware of this, and concerned, but it didn’t truly hit me until she called me one day with the news. I was under deadline, frazzled, a mess, doing revisions and unable to focus on anything else. But I remember stopping everything and sitting on my bed while she told me over the phone from where she lives in Philadelphia.

She told me that the test results had come back. She had been diagnosed with MS.

It was the summer of 2010. She was just about to turn twenty-six years old.

What can I say here to explain how I felt about my little sister so you can sense the impact? How much I love her? How when she was born, when I was nine and a half, it felt like she came into this world for me and only me? How can I explain how after that phone call it all came down on me and I didn’t know what to do and there was nothing I could do and my heart felt broken and I cried for two solid days? Why I had to suck it up and tell my agent what was going on, and ask him to please tell my editor, and that I wasn’t going to make the deadline because I couldn’t word an email to explain it myself? Because how could I work on a stupid book? How could I think anything I did was important when my sister, at not even 26, was facing this? How can I explain how I Googled “multiple sclerosis”—the symptoms, the treatments, the reality, the possible future—and how until that moment I didn’t realize what exactly this degenerative disease was, and that there is no cure? There is no cure. How can I even put to words how it felt to be so helpless, apart from my sister, knowing I couldn’t do a thing, realizing I had no true sense of what she was going through, and I didn’t know how to express to her how I would always be there for her, forever forward, until we were both old ladies, and how empty those words sounded? How much I loved her, how much I meant those words?

Oh, maybe you know. If you’ve read Imaginary Girls, it’s there. The way Ruby loves her little sister, Chloe? What Ruby does and would do for Chloe to keep her safe?

It’s there. It’s all right there. It’s in the book.

That’s why it’s the book of my heart. For that reason and all reasons beyond it. Because it felt like the first real piece of me I published and put out in the world, because it features my hometown in the way I sometimes remember it, but mostly because the beating heart at the center of the book is really my heart beating.

It’s what I didn’t know how to say to my sister—before I even knew I’d need to say it.

I’d written it down already. It was in the book all along.

To celebrate the three-year anniversary of the book of my heart, I gave away signed copies of the book to three readers. Congratulations, Jessi S., Alessa, and Penny! I’ve emailed you for your mailing address.

Imaginary Girls hardcover cover
Imaginary Girls paperback cover

If you would like to order a copy of Imaginary Girls, some buying links are below.


The posts in the Book of Your Heart series:




The Book of Your Heart Series: Corey Ann Haydu

thebookofyourheart-eThree years ago as of this week, the novel I’d consider the “Book of My Heart” was published. Tomorrow, on Saturday, June 14, when Imaginary Girls is officially three years old, I will tell you all why it connects so deeply to me and why I’d consider it the book of my heart apart from all books I’ve written or will write. I’ll also hold a giveaway for some elusive hardcovers!

So what is a book of an author’s heart, you may ask—and why say such a thing about one book and not others, when we love all our books and put pieces of ourselves into every one? I’ve asked a few author friends to share the book that holds a distinct and special place in their heart and tell us why. 

Here is Corey Ann Haydu revealing how hard she tried not to write the book of her heart, but she did, and you’ll be able to read it in the fall of 2015. Here’s how it came to be…

Guest post by Corey Ann Haydu

corey-ann-haydu-1I tried not to write The Book of My Heart. I tried so hard not to write it, that I didn’t, in fact, write it. The first draft of RULES FOR STEALING STARS had most of the elements that are in the book today. Four sisters. A troubled family. A bit of magic. A girl named Silly.

But it didn’t have my heart.

The problem with writing RULES FOR STEALING STARS is that I wanted to write about a kind of grief that I understood, but without actually writing the hard parts. The parts where you watch your world crumble. The real panicked, hopeless moments that are sometimes part of families and childhood and life, in general.

So I wrote the After. I thought I was writing the hard part. I would have told anyone who would listen that I was writing the hard part. But I was writing the After. I was writing the moment after the hardest moment.

I was not asked to add the hard part. I don’t think anyone knew I had skipped the hard part except for me, and I only knew because of a note my editor gave me on my first draft. It was an open-ended, big picture sort of question which is the best kind of question to get asked by your editor. A question that makes you think but doesn’t give you the answer.

Something’s missing in the plot, she said. She didn’t say what. She mused about different characters and their journeys and how building up or tearing down bits and pieces of their journeys might solve the problem.

As soon as the question was asked, I knew the answer.

I had to write the thing I didn’t want to write. I had to write the messy parts of families. Not the after, but the before. The DURING. Not when something is already gone, but when you are in the process of losing it.

Sometimes a hard story is when something is taken from you. Lots of wonderful moments take place in the year after a death or a loss or a trauma. But the story of Silly and her sisters is one where they are watching things fall apart. I was scared to write those scenes. I know a little something about watching things fall apart.

RULES FOR STEALING STARS is the book of my heart not because I went through exactly what Silly goes through at the exact age she goes through it. It is the book of my heart because while I was writing it, I was also in the process of loss. The during. The watching and the waiting. Not the before and not the after. I wanted to write the after, I tried to write the after, because in some ways I wanted to be there. I maybe even thought I was there.

Sometimes when we’re writing we skip over the most important parts. The hardest parts. The emotional parts. We do that to protect ourselves. It takes some amount of hurt to write hurt, in my experience, and we skip those hard parts so that the characters don’t have to feel the full extent of the pain of life, and neither do we.

I skipped the hard parts, but it took a little while for me to see it. It was unpleasant to admit that I had written the wrong part of the book. That while I’d been congratulating myself for how brave I’d been, I’d actually shied away from the scary parts.

So I rewrote the book.

The revision process for RULES FOR STEALING STARS was the hardest I ever had. The emotional journey of the characters had to be reimagined, and the heart of the book had to grow and shift and find a new way to beat.

The book of my heart has to be the book that is about the hardest parts and the things that break us. And because I am a girl who believes in the After and the What’s Next and the Surviving, it also has to be a book about hope. So it is both a book about the things that break us and the things that put us together. About the things that seem hopeless and the places we find hope.

It is a book about a girl and her sisters and the During. And the hope, hope, hope for an After.

Corey Ann Haydu is the author of OCD LOVE STORY (S&S 2013), LIFE BY COMMITTEE (HC, 2014), MAKING PRETTY (HC, 2015), and RULES FOR STEALING STARS (HC, 2015). Visit her at or follow her on Twitter @CoreyAnnHaydu.

The posts in the Book of Your Heart series:

Come back tomorrow for my own post about my book of my heart, and for the giveaway of Imaginary Girls!

The Book of Your Heart Series: Dahlia Adler

thebookofyourheart-eThree years ago as of this week, the novel I’d consider the “Book of My Heart” was published. On Saturday, June 14, when Imaginary Girls is officially three years old, I will tell you all why it connects so deeply to me and why I’d consider it the book of my heart apart from all books I’ve written or will write. I’ll also hold a giveaway for some elusive hardcovers!

So what is a book of an author’s heart, you may ask—and why say such a thing about one book and not others, when we love all our books and put pieces of ourselves into every one? I’ve asked a few author friends to share the book that holds a distinct and special place in their heart and tell us why. 

Here is Dahlia Adler revealing that her first book, Behind the Scenes, out this month, may not be the “book of her heart,” but we will soon get to read the one that is…

Guest post by Dahlia Adler

DahliaAdler (533x640)This month, I release my very first book. It’s called Behind the Scenes, and it’s fun and sexy and I’m thrilled it’s going out into the world. I worked hard on it, and I love it, and I hope readers will too. But there’s a truth behind it that I don’t talk about very much, and that’s this:

I would never have written it if I hadn’t had to shelve the book of my heart.

For most of my adolescence, I’d worked on a series of books set in one particular world, but then, about five years ago, I got an idea for something completely new. It started with a character’s name and something that’d happened to me in college and swirled out from there until it took on a life of its own. Then I got an opportunity to take a class on writing YA, and I took it as the ultimate sign that this book was meant to be.

I’d been writing for years, but this time, I was falling in a deep and true love I’d never felt before. I loved and related to my main character, with all her quirks and flaws and sense of humor. I loved the secondary characters, who made me laugh and challenged my comfort zone. I loved the love interest, who was so much more than that, and the way it was sort of a slow, tentative burn into the brightest, steadiest of flames. And I loved that I continued thinking about the characters and what was happening in their stories long after the end.

In nearly twenty years of writing, I’d always been reticent about sharing my work, but this time I happily threw it all over the place—to classmates, to friends…dear reader, I queried. Seriously. And I got a lot of requests, too! Such encouragement! Such love! People were going to adore my characters and story as much as I did!

Until they didn’t. Sure, they found things to love, but ultimately, it just wasn’t the right fit for any agents. And it took about fifty rejections until I got the one that made clear why:

The pacing was awful. The tone was completely uneven. The book was entertaining, sure, but it was like two different books crammed into one. It didn’t matter if people thought it was funny or romantic or thought-provoking—from a writing perspective, it was kind of a disaster.

So I shelved it. And I determined I would write a plot-driven, well-paced YA, one where I didn’t get so lost in my love for the characters that I was blinded to structure flaws.

behind-the-scenes-adler-coverThat book goes on sale in two weeks.

Since then, I’ve written many more books, but the characters of that first book—the book of my heart—have never left me. And even the story—that flawed, oddly paced story—still pulls me back. So when my editor, who’s also a friend with whom I happen to share reading taste, asked me for something fun to read one day, I actually thought to say, “Well, I do have this one thing you can read for fun that I think you’ll like…”

And she did. She fell head over heels for the characters the same way I did, and thought about them long after the end. The difference was, she had magic words at the end of that process: “If you want this to be your Book 3 [of your 3-book deal], I am totally cool with that.”

Just like that, the book of my heart had a pulse again for the first time in three years. And it’ll take a lot of work to get it to where it needs to be, but I can’t imagine work more worth doing. It’s like I’m going to get to introduce the world to my first love. And though with a release date of November 17, 2015, it’ll be my third impression on the world rather than my first, I hope it’ll charm its way into the hearts of both people who’ve read Behind the Scenes and Under the Lights and people who haven’t.

But the beauty of having a book of your heart is this:

When it comes down to it, it doesn’t even really and truly matter how much other people love it. Because when you write that book that lives on inside you no matter its publication fate; the book whose characters are practically family and whose setting feels so real to you that you can close your eyes and transport there in an instant; that book you love so much, that years later you’re still throwing it at people to read, and unknowingly saving its life in the process—you remember exactly why you do this in the first place. And there’s just nothing better than that.

Dahlia Adler is an Assistant Editor of Mathematics by day, a Copy Editor by night, and a YA author and blogger at every spare moment in between. You can find her on Twitter at @MissDahlELama, and blogging at The Daily DahliaYA Misfits, and Barnes & Noble. She lives in New York City with her husband and their overstuffed bookshelves. Behind the Scenes is her debut novel.

The posts in the Book of Your Heart series:

Come back tomorrow for another Book of Your Heart guest blog! And look for the giveaway of Imaginary Girls on Saturday, June 14!

The Book of Your Heart Series: Brandy Colbert

thebookofyourheart-eThree years ago as of this week, the novel I’d consider the “Book of My Heart” was published. On Saturday, June 14, when Imaginary Girls is officially three years old, I will tell you all why it connects so deeply to me and why I’d consider it the book of my heart apart from all books I’ve written or will write. I’ll also hold a giveaway for some elusive hardcovers!

So what is a book of an author’s heart, you may ask—and why say such a thing about one book and not others, when we love all our books and put pieces of ourselves into every one? I’ve asked a few author friends to share the book that holds a distinct and special place in their heart and tell us why. 

Here is Brandy Colbert telling us why her debut novel, Pointe, was, from the very beginning, the book of her heart…

Guest post by Brandy Colbert

Brandy ColbertWhen I was ten years old, a TV movie aired called I Know My First Name Is Steven. If you’re of a certain generation, you’re probably nodding right now, remembering, at the very least, the title—but probably more so the horrifying true story it was based on.

In short, the movie tells the life of Steven Stayner, who was kidnapped at the age of seven and returned to his family when he was fourteen. The film was a two-parter and I remember dreading the sight of the television the second evening. I wanted to finish the movie but I was so terrified by Steven’s story that I’d barely slept the night before. And I knew it would take a long time for me to stop thinking about him and everything he’d endured . . . but I sat down and turned it on because I had to see it through to the end.

He and I didn’t have anything in common, really. Along with our racial and gender differences, he was living in California and I was being raised in southwest Missouri. He was also fourteen years older than me, but seeing what had happened to him as a child made me realize just how vulnerable I was because of my age. It was the first time I understood that truly unspeakable things happen to kids—and that even though I came from a stable household with two loving parents, they might not always be around to protect me.

His story faded over time, but I never stopped thinking about Steven, and I couldn’t stop grieving for all the children who were in his situation and never made it out.

From the very beginning, I knew Pointe was the book of my heart. The story revolves around Theo, a seventeen-year-old ballet dancer whose best friend, Donovan, disappeared four years earlier. When he’s returned from captivity at the top of the book, the reader soon learns Theo was connected to the abduction. To anyone who knows me well, the book’s premise wasn’t a surprise: I’d danced for a long time growing up, and I’d been interested in long-term kidnapping cases since I first heard about Steven Stayner. I’d even periodically look for news on anyone involved in his story years and years after he’d been found.

But I only recently understood that Pointe is so special to me because the story that inspired it taught me the meaning of empathy.

pointecoverI’ve always felt things deeply. Growing up, I was often called sensitive, and it’s taken a while to accept that yes, I am—but that being sensitive isn’t a character flaw, nor does it mean I am weak. Of course I sometimes wish I could be the person who doesn’t sob over stories about people and animals in faraway cities and countries, obsessing over lives and situations that have nothing to do with mine. Because there’s always that feeling of What can I do?, and that question can eat away at us sensitive types. Luckily, writing—and writing fiction, in particular—has always been the best way for me to deal with these big, insistent emotions that seem to take over with no warning.

Pointe isn’t about the abducted friend; in fact, Donovan hardly shows up on the page. Pointe is about what would happen if that abducted kid was your friend. And it’s about what would happen if you found out your biggest secret had contributed to the years of sexual abuse and violence forced upon your friend.

I’m thrilled anytime someone connects with the book, but I think one of the biggest compliments has been hearing that for some, the novel is not only realistic but also empathetic. Theo has to make some tough decisions over the course of the narrative, and I think, ultimately, she must choose to give in to her empathy or ignore it completely to move on with her life.

A couple of weekends ago, I took a road trip up to Northern California for a book event. On the way, I saw a sign announcing we’d entered the city of Merced. I immediately sat up straight in the passenger seat and stared down the sign until we’d passed: “Steven Stayner is from here.” Then I proceeded to tell my friend everything I knew about him, including that Steven had died in a motorcycle accident four months after the movie about him premiered, and that in 2010, Merced had built a bronze statue of him to honor the courage he’d shown in rescuing himself and another kidnapped boy when he was only fourteen.

As a lifelong writer, I’m so grateful to have published a novel, particularly one focused on topics I’ve felt so strongly about for decades. And heartbreaking as it is, I’m especially grateful that Steven Stayner chose to share his own story with the world. He risked his life to save the child his captor had recently abducted because he didn’t want that little boy to go through the manipulation and abuse he’d survived all those years. Heroic? Absolutely.

But that bravery was most certainly spurred by a deep sense of empathy.

Brandy Colbert grew up in Springfield, Missouri, and has worked as an editor for several national magazines. She lives and writes in Los Angeles. Pointe is her first novel. Visit her at and on Twitter @brandycolbert.

The posts in the Book of Your Heart series:

Come back tomorrow for another Book of Your Heart guest blog! And look for the giveaway of Imaginary Girls on Saturday, June 14!

The Book of Your Heart Series: Tessa Gratton

thebookofyourheart-eThree years ago as of this week, the novel I’d consider the “Book of My Heart” was published. On Saturday, June 14, when Imaginary Girls is officially three years old, I will tell you all why it connects so deeply to me and why I’d consider it the book of my heart apart from all books I’ve written or will write. I’ll also hold a giveaway for some elusive hardcovers!

So what is a book of an author’s heart, you may ask—and why say such a thing about one book and not others, when we love all our books and put pieces of ourselves into every one? I’ve asked a few author friends to share the book that holds a distinct and special place in their heart and tell us why. 

Today I have Tessa Gratton here to celebrate the book birthday of her new novel The Strange Maid, the second United States of Asgard book, and to tell us why she considers it a book of her heart…

Guest post by Tessa Gratton

Tessa-Author-Pic-Fall-2011-2MBWhen I think of “the book of my heart” I think of dragons. The monstrous sort who remove their hearts from their chests and hide them inside heavily guarded boxes. I imagine a book holding my heart hostage, or secretly delivering my heart to others.

I haven’t ever been sure what “a book of my heart” means, and there seems to be no strict definition. It’s “the book that means the most to me” or “the book about themes or issues that mean the most to me” or “the book I love the most.” I could answer every one of those questions with a different book. But only after the fact, once the book is published and I regain some perspective.

When I’m actually writing a book, my heart has to be fully committed, or I’d never make it through. In that sense, every book I write is a book of my heart. Though I feel differently about different books, and I love them differently, I love different things about them.

My heart is the house of my passion and the home of my courage. My heart is the part of me that empathizes with fictional characters, and struggles to connect with real people. It is the piece of me that longs for communion.

My heart is the reason writing is so hard. While my mind plays with structure and learns how to efficiently break rules of grammar, how to communicate and outline and plot and connect ideas with ideas with ideas into complicated patterns of story, my heart is the voice that constantly asks why.

Why am I doing this to myself? Why struggle to tell this particular story? Why make myself be brave? Why go to the hard places when an easier one might do just as nicely for the plot? Why try and try and try again, through rejection and hundreds of thousands of deleted words? Every single book has to answer those questions.

For me, it’s just not worth it if I’m not emotionally invested.

That isn’t to say I can’t write for fun: I desperately want to have fun as much as possible when writing. It’s just that I also need that one thing connecting myself—my heart—to the story.

Strange Maid Final Cvr mediumBut now THE STRANGE MAID is coming out, and I am really upset. I feel like anybody who reads it will have the terrible, terrifying chance to see my most intimate flaws. Not only my characters’ strengths and flaws, desires and mistakes, but all of mine whether they have anything to do with the book itself or not. This book suddenly has made me feel vulnerable in a way no other book has. Does that make it a real “book of my heart”?

I’ve been trying to write it since 2008. It’s been through a dozen iterations. I’ve come back to it again and again in some form between my previous novels and projects. I rejected entire concepts and directions and drafts. But I kept coming back to it. It’s been a historical novel, it’s been high fantasy, it’s been a road trip adventure. Signy has been an orphan, a priestess, a debutante, and a daughter of a Valkyrie.

While I struggled, I wrote four other novels, three of them published by now. I wrote them for plenty of reasons, and pieces of my heart are imbedded inside them. But with THE STRANGE MAID, I kept returning to the same core: a strange little girl who gives herself to terrible darkness because of how passionate she is for everything. And that passion is her strength. She doesn’t understand why, but she embraces her own dark, strange, mad heart. And people are afraid of her for it.

I realized (finally) that this book I kept pushing at, kept returning to and struggling with (kept being terrified of) is about our fear (and hope) that what girls desire could turn them into monsters.

Which is something that I’m always arguing against: this societal fear of teenaged girls being powerful in and of themselves, and loving things for no other reason than they love them. It’s something I felt when I was a teenager. I was afraid of myself, because I loved things I was not supposed to love. I was terrified of being a bad person because of what I wanted—sometimes just because I wanted anything at all. Don’t be too ambitious, we say. That thing you scream over is stupid, we say. You’re too emotional. You aren’t allowed to feel desire of any kind.

No wonder it was hard. I was writing a book about trolls and Valkyrie and riddles and gods of poetry and love and betrayal, and oh yes: a whole lot of my own personal baggage.

And now other people are going to read it.

Launch is always exciting and/or panic-inducing. You know your methods are imperfect, you know that there will be failure involved. You might not succeed in communicating anything to readers—the entire point of writing. You’re putting this thing you created from nothing into the world for strangers, to try and communicate something to them, whether it’s entertainment or issues or themes or to scare them or make them cry.

So when your heart is in a book, part of that thing you’re communicating is yourself.

For better or worse, THE STRANGE MAID is definitely a book of my heart.

I fight to create every book into a book with my heart embedded inside. I think a book of my heart is one that begins there.

An excerpt from The Strange Maid by Tessa Gratton:

We make camp in the shell of a farmhouse, surrounded by mostly intact troll walls. There’s no fire, but we have a small battery-powered lamp. Its even light is more eerie than flickering flames might have been, illuminating rotting old chairs and a table still set with a runner and vase. I sink onto the worn rug while Unferth settles with a groan on a short old sofa printed with dull cabbage roses. He sips his screech and says, “Tell me, Signy, why you love Valtheow the Dark most of all.”

         I reach for the flask. The blistering trail it leaves down my tongue gives fire to my words. “Nothing about her was half-done. She did not symbolically bleed, she poured her own blood out for sacrifice. She tied a rope around her neck. She… embraced passion and war like they were poetry, not only things to be described by it.” I gather my knees to my chest. “Since Odin first told me her name I knew she never hesitated to embody death, the way it feeds life.”

         “Why do you want to be like her?”

         “It’s exciting! It – it thrills me. It’s this…” I close my eyes and recall my Alfather again, arm around me so my ear presses to his thrumming heart. “An itch like madness, that I was born with. That drives me forward.”

         “It’s dangerous.”

         “Everything worth doing is dangerous, Unferth.”

         He contemplates me as he drinks, one hand loose on the arm of the couch, his injured right leg stretched out so his pose is languid. The more I talk about this the more I want to make him understand, to press it into him if I have to. Instead I grab the flask from his hand and plop down beside him on the couch. My legs hook over his outstretched thigh and our shoulders touch as I drink. He sets his head against the wall. I let the vertigo of liquor sway me against him until I’m leaning. The upstairs floor groans gently. The electric lamp buzzes. I can hear the rush of my own blood in my ears.

         “What would you do with that power if you had it?” he asks.

         “Change the world,” I murmur contentedly.

         “Don’t you mean destroy your enemies and paint your face with their blood?”

         “Isn’t that the definition of change?”


         “No good reason to aim low.”

         His shoulder trembles and I realize he’s laughing. I poke his ribs and he catches my hand. He turns it over and smooths out my fingers until he can see the binding rune. As he taps my scar with his thumb, a hot line sears from my palm to my belly. “Death chooser,” he says, “Strange maid.”

         “What?” I whisper. The runes bound together into my palm are an odd variation of death and choice and servant. After parsing them out years ago, I had assumed they only meant to mark me as a Valkyrie. A death chooser.

         “This binding rune is from a very old thread of language…” his breath touches my temple, curling down my cheek until I turn into it. There are his rain-colored eyes. He says, “Death is linguistically connected to otherness, to foreigners and… strangeness. Death and stranger, like different fruit on the same linguistic branch. You can trace all kind of names through the binding rune. Like… Alfather – Valfather. Valborn, Valkyrie, Valtheow, death born, death chooser, servant of death, death maid… strange maid.”

         My breath catches in my throat.


The Strange Maid is on sale today!

Tessa Gratton  has wanted to be a paleontologist or a wizard since she was seven. She was too impatient to hunt dinosaurs, but is still searching for someone to teach her magic. After traveling the world with her military family, she acquired a BA (and the important parts of an MA) in gender studies, and then settled down in Kansas with her partner, her cats, and her mutant dog. You can visit her at    

The posts in the Book of Your Heart series:

Come back tomorrow for another Book of Your Heart guest blog! And look for the giveaway of Imaginary Girls on Saturday, June 14!

The Book of Your Heart Series: Camille DeAngelis

thebookofyourheart-eThree years ago as of this week, the novel I’d consider the “Book of My Heart” was published. On Saturday, June 14, when Imaginary Girls is officially three years old, I will tell you all why it connects so deeply to me and why I’d consider it the book of my heart apart from all books I’ve written or will write. I’ll also hold a giveaway for some elusive hardcovers!

So what is a book of an author’s heart, you may ask—and why say such a thing about one book and not others, when we love all our books and put pieces of ourselves into every one? I’ve asked a few author friends to share the book that holds a distinct and special place in their heart and tell us why. 

Here is Camille DeAngelis—author of the incredible Mary Modern, Petty Magic, and the forthcoming Bones & All (St. Martin’s, March 2015), which I am dying to read (hint-hint, Camille!)— sharing the book of her heart…

camille2Guest post by Camille DeAngelis

This is a tale of two novels, written in the same year. Both have very young protagonists. One novel, Bones & All, I didn’t so much write as exorcise; it is a dark and deeply unsettling story and I never really expected we’d find a publisher for it, but we did. I worked on revisions in a weird mood mix of gratitude and melancholy, because it’s the second novel—the one without a publisher—that’s the book of my heart.

* * *

A hundred years! It was beyond imagining, like setting out for the moon on foot.

* * *

I read Philippa Pearce’s wonderful novel Tom’s Midnight Garden in fourth grade, and like all the very best books, it redrew my definitions of what was possible in art and in life. Years went by, I forgot the name of that novel, but I never forgot the story itself and the deep delight it gave me. I’d do a web search every now and again, but without the title or author’s name I could never seem to find it.

I was in my mid twenties when I discovered it again, one evening at my friends Ailbhe and Christian’s house in Galway. We were relaxing with talk of books and writing (probably over red wine in proper glass goblets; I have classy friends), and when Ailbhe spoke the words Tom’s Midnight Garden I practically imploded with excitement. (The book is a classic in the U.K. and Ireland, but in America, sadly, people usually haven’t heard of it.)  That night I ordered a copy online and loved it just as I had when I was nine. I promised myself I’d come up with a story that would give me as much joy to write as Tom’s Midnight Garden had been to read.

* * *

The girl smiled up at him as if  she’d looked straight through the lens into the future. It was a sad smile, no parting of the lips, but her pale eyes seemed alight with secret knowledge. Her hair—brown, probably—was pulled softly away from her face with a ribbon, and it fell, barely tamed, down her shoulders…

Of course she must be dead by now—she’d be more than a hundred and ten otherwise—and yet it seemed preposterous, somehow, that those eyes could be closed forever.

* * *

A time slip is a particularly satisfying plot device—travel is premeditated, but a slip is an accident. There can be no planning for marvels, no arranging for adventure!

Then I wondered about a time slip without the slip—like a pen pal from the distant past (or distant future). What if you could get to know someone really well, love him even, all the while knowing you could never touch his hand, never look upon his face?

Around the time I reread Tom’s Midnight Garden my sister, inspired by our niece and her baby brother on the way, said,  “Think of all the people we’ll love who haven’t been born yet.” Two characters took form, a girl and a boy—two characters living in the same house, sleeping in the same room, but not knowing each other, never seeing each other. They’re twelve years old and a hundred years apart.

How to bring them together? I knew there’d be letter writing involved, albeit a one-way correspondence—but there had to be something else to initiate that connection. I’d been reading up on Spiritualism and mediumship for a different project, and the tidbits I’d collected began wending their way into this one. A talking board? Why not?

* * *

Josie laughed. “My mother isn’t as mysterious as everyone seems to think she is—not by a mile.” A picture loomed up: of her mother as a wild-haired voodoo priestess dressed in a mantle of feathers, wearing an alligator-skin belt studded with tiny dolls all stuck through with pins. She laughed again.

“I do wonder, though,” said Mabel. “Perhaps there are things you’ve never noticed…”

* * *

The novel poured out of me. I breathed it, I dreamed about it. I loved my characters like they were real people, my own family. I thought of them and welled up as if I’d actually known them.

I wrote about two sisters living under the thumb of their mother, who is charismatic and cruel and has frightening supernatural powers (or so it seems). The younger sister is a tenacious, spunky little kid, the truest portrait of my sister that  you will ever find in my fiction; and I particularly relished the scenes involving her favorite plaything, a filthy old doll named Mrs. Gubbins who is possessed “in a good way” by a protective spirit. It probably goes without saying that the elder sister is a twelve-year-old version of myself, bookish and serious, taking on responsibility for everybody else’s happiness. And I wrote about her best friend, a boy from the future who does everything he can to be able to say to her, “you’re going to be okay, both of you.” That said, I tried my best to temper my sentimental impulses. I didn’t answer every question or tie up every loose end. I used “big words” and gave my characters feelings they couldn’t articulate.

The Boy from Tomorrow has a more overtly fantastical plot than Bones & All, and yet it’s dark in a much more realistic way. The protagonists have to deal with divorce and child abuse and mortality—not so much their own as their loved ones’, which is actually much more terrifying. In a very practical sense, these characters help each other to grow up—to paraphrase Garrison Keillor as “Mr. Blue,” they learn that life offers more to those who ask more of it. And so they ask, and they are that much happier for having mustered the courage.

* * *

The one good thing about the worst day of your life is that, by definition, all the days to follow are bound to be better; but that is not much comfort while you are in the thick of it.

* * *

The Boy from Tomorrow has been “on sub” now for more than a year and a half. We came very close to an offer from one prominent children’s publisher, but I had to relinquish my cautious optimism when a sales rep expressed concern as to how his religiously conservative district would receive the book. “Could she take out the Ouija board?” the editor asked, and I could only react with a palm to my forehead.

I have amassed a virtual stack of complimentary rejections. Some editors say it’s too sophisticated, it’s not a children’s novel at all; two or three have said they’d be willing to read the next draft, though I’ve run out of ideas for improvement at this point. It’s been a year since the last revision, and I find myself feeling this book is everything it was meant to be.

Of course, it’s tempting to sigh, “It’s the best thing I’ve written and nobody wants it,” but I’m too old now—old as in wise—to indulge in that sort of talk. So what is there to be learned from a situation like this? Is it any different for me, handling this “failure” as an already-published novelist? Nope. It’s only a reminder that I write first and foremost for myself. And as I wrote on Nova’s blog back in early 2012—just as I was working on this “book of my heart”—listening to one’s ego at a time like this will inevitably lead to confusion and resentment, whereas I choose to be happy regardless of how many books I’ve sold or how much money I have in the bank.

I may give the very best of myself when I tell a story, but the resulting book is not a reflection of my worth, as a writer or a human being.  Yet I am a better person for having written The Boy from Tomorrow—a gentler, more compassionate person. I created people, not through motherhood but imagination, and these lovely, earnest, wise people became my teachers. I have learned through my writing practice that the more I love, the more I am able to love—and when I think on that, publishing the story starts to feel rather beside the point.

Camille DeAngelis is the author of Petty Magic, Mary Modern, and the forthcoming Bones & All. She’s vegan and writes about cannibals. Visit Camille at and follow her on Twitter at @cometparty

Come back tomorrow for another Book of Your Heart guest blog!

When You Start Writing (Again) Only for You

Something happens when you publish a novel for the first time. And I mean after the shock and thrill of selling the book and all those glorious and dazed dream-worthy moments leading up to when the book hits shelves, all tangled up with your hopes and expectations and the promises you may have been led to believe… I mean after, when people outside your writer friends and your agent and editor and significant other and the people who work at your publisher start to read the book. When you see how it performs in the world. How it’s taken, remembered or forgotten. How it’s interpreted, or misinterpreted.

All these other voices start seeping in. Critics. Reviewers. Bloggers. Readers. Goodreads-enthusiasts. Tweeters. Screamers. Whisperers. People at events who ask kind of odd questions. People who sound disappointed. People who seem confused. People who say beautiful things—even and especially the people who say beautiful things.

Maybe this is just me, but I started hearing a lot of voices after Imaginary Girls was published. When I was writing the next book, 17 & Gone, I was hearing them. During every draft, on every page, I was hearing these outside voices, considering their expectations and their confusions and their hopes and their dislikes and likes and food preferences. The little cocoon I used to write in was burst open and slashed by fingernails. I was never alone. My mind was never quiet, even at a writers colony. I couldn’t stop hearing all the things I would do wrong, would screw up.

I fought this and finished the book and it was published… But the experience changed me. I vowed to never put myself in that place again.

When I was writing The Walls Around Us, I decided to be simply and only myself. This led to me choosing a new publisher: Algonquin Young Readers. And this led me also to be honest with myself about what I wanted to do this time. I wasn’t writing for recognition. I wasn’t writing for commercial success, or should I say “success” because the idea of that changes with every new hoop I jump through. I stopped caring so much—honestly, I began to not care much at all—what would be expected of me from my next book or wanted from me or what would disappoint. I wanted to write this story the best way I could, and nothing more.

Like I’ve said before, I wrote this book for me. Completely and entirely for myself, in the way I wanted it to be. And in these past months while I’ve stayed quiet on this blog, I was revising and working with my brilliant editor who helped me reach my vision, and the book was finished, polished, sent off, and copyedited. Next there will be ARCs.

The other week, while I was reviewing the copyedits, I allowed myself one last read-through of the manuscript. A close, careful read. A scrutinizing read. A chance to pick myself apart and be honest about how I felt about what I’d written.

I kept my ears open for those voices I remembered flooding me during the writing of 17 & Gone.

…But there was a clearer voice. Mine. And I finished my last read of my book with this strange, new, itchy feeling inside me.


I’ve never felt so content with anything I’ve written—EVER.

I found this note on the last page of the copyedited manuscript:



It was wonderful to see that, and I will never forget it.

But the best feeling was knowing I stayed true to myself… and after a whole ton of work, because yes I did work hard on this, I was able to make the book into everything I’d wanted it to be. I stood there on the creaky, slanted, wooden floor in my living room, and I felt myself in my own skin, the weight of my well-read pages in my hands, and I told myself to remember this moment.

No matter what happens after (after the book comes out, after, after, after), I have this.

Remember the good things, writer friends. Hold them close. Keep them safe. Try not to let the outside voices drown them out.