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 brandycolbert.tumblr.com 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!

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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?”

         “Ambitious.”

         “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 TessaGratton.com.    

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 cometparty.com and follow her on Twitter at @cometparty

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