Synopsis – Kid vs. Squid

This is the synopsis for Kid vs. Squid, a middle-grade contemporary fantasy. Some general notes and context. about my synopses here.

Evil sorcery. A head in a box. Jellyfish boys. Nasty pizza. These are just some of the threats faced by Thatcher Hill and his friends, superhero-in-training Trudy McGee, and Princess Shoal, heir to the throne of sunken Atlantis.

This wasn’t the summer vacation Thatcher was expecting. He was supposed to be traveling through Asia with his parents. Instead, he finds himself stuck in the small beach town of Las Huesas, California, helping his great-uncle Griswald run a seaside freak museum. His companions are a headless mummy, the FeeJee Mermaid, and the What-Is-It???, a sealed box that no doubt contains some disgusting thing probably better left unseen.

A week into his stay in Las Huesas, Thatcher awakens to the sounds of someone breaking into the museum. As usual, Griswald is off drinking with his salty old cronies, so it’s up to Thatcher to brave rocks and surf and dangerous crustaceans in pursuit of the girl-thief who nabs the What-Is-It??? But the girl is too fast, and Thatcher loses her on the moonlit beach.

The next morning, Thatcher meets Trudy McGee, superhero-detective-in-training, who’s been keeping track of the strange doings in town. She’s an odd girl who uses big words and reminds Thatcher of Batman. So, he likes her. Together, they track down the thief, a girl named Shoal, who happens to be the crown princess of lost Atlantis. The survivors from the sunken city suffer under a witch’s curse. For most of the year, they float like flotsam across the ocean. But in summer, they wash up on the shores of Las Huesas and are compelled to work the hotdog stands and tourist shops and midway games. Shoal stole the What-Is-It??? because it contains the still-living head of Skalla, the witch.

Skalla commands a cadre of human/sea-creature hybrids who do her bidding. Two of these, a pair of jellyfish boys, attack Thatcher, Trudy, and Shoal and make off with Skalla’s head. Thatcher and his new allies manage to get the head back, but not before the witch casts the Flotsam curse on Thatcher and Trudy. Then the witch falls silent, retreating into a power-preserving hibernation. The kids must find a way to reverse Skalla’s spell by the end of summer. Definitely not the vacation Thatcher was hoping for.

Things get worse when Shoal is swallowed by a giant fish of Skalla’s making. Just before disappearing down the fish’s gullet, Shoal urges Thatcher and Trudy to seek her father in the Atlanteans’ summer palace, a decrepit mansion on a hill outside of town. There, Thatcher and Trudy encounter Shoal’s family, including King Coriolis, Shoal’s father. Coriolis charges them with finding the Book of Keepers, a tome containing a spell that can force Skalla to speak and spill her secrets. Thatcher promises the king he’ll locate the book, a task that becomes absolutely crucial once the king’s sorcerer reveals that the Atlanteans will return to the Drowning Sleep not at the end of summer, but in a mere three weeks. And more, Skalla is planning a bigger spell of some kind, something catastrophic. The king and the rest of Shoal’s family are kidnapped by a band of raiding lobster men, more of Skalla’s creatures, and Thatcher and Trudy barely avoid capture themselves.

They find the book in the possession of the jellyfish boys, whom Thatcher learns were once just a couple of regular kids, not so unlike him, until they fell under the witch’s power. They also discover that Uncle Griswald is a nKeeper, a land-dweller devoted to helping the Atlanteans in their long struggle against Skalla. Using the book, Thatcher and Trudy cast the Spell of Compelled Interlocution on the witch. Skalla is forced to reveal that they can recover Shoal with the help of a minor sea god who calls himself the Beachcomber. A harrowing trip through the spooky Tunnel of Love transports Thatcher and Trudy to a lost beach. There, the Beachcomber helps them out by catching the monster fish that ate Shoal, but it’s up to Thatcher to hack his way inside the fish and retrieve her. In the depths of the fish’s belly, he finds himself in a funhouse made of guts, where his own reflections accuse him of being nothing more than a smart-mouthed lightweight, someone who merely uses words as armor. Thatcher’s determination to stand by his friends keeps him focused on the task at hand, and he leads Shoal out of the fish.

Shoal realizes the witch made a mistake by letting her stew inside the fish’s belly, for when Skalla works her magic on a living being, some of her magic and intentions remain inside the creature. So now Shoal knows what Skalla’s plans are: She’s building a new Atlantis in secret that she can rule with absolute power, and she’s going to summon a tidal wave to drown Las Huesas. To do this, she needs to recover the magic she invested in the kidnapped Atlanteans when she cast the Flotsam curse. And King Coriolis’s sorcerer was wrong. Skalla’s not going to make her move in three weeks. She’s going to do it in three days.

After returning to the Las Huesas boardwalk, the three friends are captured by kelp men, minions of the eel sisters, all of whom are former creatures of Skalla. The eel sisters are up to their own no-good. They want what Skalla wants, only they plan to rule the new Atlantis themselves. Their scheme requires access to magic, which they attempt to obtain by bleeding Thatcher, Trudy, and Shoal dry. But using his gift of gab, Thatcher talks the kelp men into turning on the eel sisters and letting them go free.

By deciphering the encoded hieroglyphs the witch uses to cast her spells, the three discover that the Atlanteans are being held at the decommissioned Ferris wheel on the boardwalk. When they arrive there, everything is in place for Skalla to enact her plan: hieroglyphics, a deep pit containing the new Atlantean palace, and the Atlanteans themselves, strung up on the Ferris wheel, ready to be bled of the magic in their blood.

The kids launch a desperate rescue effort, but they can’t overcome Skalla and her creatures, especially not the worst creature of all, a squid the size of a three-story building. But just before being torn asunder by the squid, with a huge tidal wave thundering toward shore, Thatcher realizes that Skalla’s hieroglyphics reveal something about her, something that she didn’t even know herself: the mummy in Griswald’s museum is Skalla’s body.

Thatcher proposes a deal. Back at the museum, Thatcher, Trudy, and Shoal let the witch draw on the magical residue she left in their blood when she cast the Flotsam spell on them. Skalla’s head is once more united with her body, and she is restored to youth and health. In return, Skalla releases the Atlanteans, undoes her curse, and abandons her plan to destroy Las Huesas.

Thatcher goes back home to his parents and school in Phoenix. He’s more confident and less compelled to speak without thinking. But he feels adrift, no longer fully at home in Phoenix. He’s become like flotsam, floating between places. But when he returns to Las Huesas the next summer and finds Trudy and Shoal still there, he knows where his anchors lie.

Dragon Coast cover reveal

Hey, look, here’s the cover to DRAGON COAST, the conclusion of the California Bones trilogy, coming out September 15, 2015. Check out that dragon, will ya?

Dragon Coast

My mom

My mom, Elizabeth Teresa van Eekhout, died last week after a series of illnesses. I still have to write a proper obituary, making sure I get dates and place names right — when was she in Semarang and when was she in Sumatra, and what years did she live in Holland after the Japanese occupation and the Indonesian revolution, and did she arrive in the United States in 1959 or 1960? — but for now, I don’t want to write about her biographical details. I just want to get down a few words about who she was to me.

As Lisa and I were going through my parents’ house, we found an old lock box that contained, among other things, order forms for a book club, and among the titles my mom ordered were Green Eggs and Ham, Go Dog Go, and Hop on Pop. I remember those books, and the dinosaur books, and the Babar books and the Curious George books. They were my first obsessions.  I remember them, and I remember the walks to the Venice library, only two blocks away, but still an adventurous journey because my mom chose a route that took us through alleys overgrown with ivy and thorn trees and charming, unkempt, slightly scary back yards. She gave me books, and she gave me reading, and I am a writer because I had those things, and she gave them to me with hope and love.

I remember so many trips sitting in a basket on the back of her Schwinn three-speed, Mom pedaling away to take me to kindergarten, or to feed the ducks along the canals. I remember so many bus rides (Mom never learned to drive) to places that aren’t there any more.

My mom drew with colored markers on my brown bag lunches. I remember parrots and killer whales. I don’t know if she ever drew anywhere else.

The longest job she held was at the Linwood E. Howe Elementary library, which was also my school library. She was careful not to call herself a librarian. Her actual job title was media clerk. But she curated a collection of books she thought kids would like, and she maintained a safe, book-centered space, and she encouraged kids to read and protected their right to read the books they wanted. A parent once objected to the presence of Harry Potter on my mom’s library shelves. Mom was stubborn. So stubborn. Her stubbornness wasn’t always good, but this time, it was great. Harry Potter never left those shelves.

Toward the end, she lost her ability to speak, and there were times when whatever she was thinking or feeling couldn’t reach me, and I could no longer reach her. But I was able to show her my new book, and she held it in her hands, and she smiled in a way I’d seen thousands of times, and I knew holding my book made her happy and proud. Which made me feel good, of course. Her last gift to me.

How do you memorialize a person you’ve known  your entire life, who loved you that entire time in a way nobody else really can, because nobody else is your mom? I don’t know. You just keep on loving her, I guess. You be grateful and you love her for the rest of your life.

Amelia, the new dog

Meet Amelia,  adopted just a few hours ago from The Barking Lot. Why Amelia? Because she’s ridiculously cute, friendly, outgoing, and we just had a feeling she’d be a good companion for us and for Dozer.

Why the name Amelia? Because her mom is named Earhart. I floated other names but they all got shot down, including Micro, Spitfire, Dagger, Lockheed, and Breadcrumb. But that’s okay. I like Amelia just fine.

The shelter lists her as a corgi/Coton de Tulear, though one of pieces of paperwork says she’s a Maltese mix.  We saw a pic of her mom and she’s definitely got corgi proportions, but it’s not really evident in Amelia. So, yeah, she’s scruffy mutt, which is my favorite kind of dog.

She’s about seven months old, born to Earhart in Kern County as the runt of the litter. She’s tiny now and will probably remain quite small.

We know that she seems to get along fine with other dogs, is curious about people, can apparently down a large piece of salmon in no time, and likes to carry fallen leaves in her mouth when she walks.

Dozer’s a little jealous, but we’ve already made some good progress with that just this afternoon. He likes little dogs, and we think they’re going to be good buddies. It just might take some work.

Here’re a couple of pics. The first one is her shelter pic, and the second one is her as we set out on the drive home from the shelter. She spent most of the time curled up in my lap, resting and napping while I fell in love with her.

lettie-the-corgi-dog-picture-1-53dacc4c36da3756bd000063
amelia-home

 

 

Far As You Can Publish

FarAsYouCanGo
Cover by Jenn Reese at Tiger Bright Studios

So I’m dipping my toes into the pond of self-publishing, or independent publishing, or indie writering, or whatever we’re calling it these days. (I call it consignment selling primarily through the systems and controls of the giant, powerful corporation, Amazon.) And I’m doing it with a short story, “Far As You Can Go,” which previously appeared in my chapbook from my friends at Tropism Press, in Gardner Dozois’ Year’s Best Science Fiction (24th Annual Collection), in podcast form at Podcastle, and on various illegal download sites.

Here’s why I’m doing it: Because self-publishing is not going away, and I imagine at some point in the future I’ll be self-publishing novels either out of choice or necessity. Ideally, it’ll be out of choice, and it will be in conjunction with traditional publishing, and I’ll be a happy hybrid author. Or I’ll be self-publishing because traditional publishers will no longer be interested in my books, and self-publishing will then be my only viable option. I hope that situation never arises, of course, but a smart writer prepares for more than one eventuality. In any case, I want to start accumulating self-publishing experience now, with low-stakes projects, so that I know more or less what I’m doing if I need to or want to self-publish higher-stakes projects.

Right now the story is available (with an awesome cover from Jenn Reese’s Tiger Bright Studios, whom I can’t recommend highly enough) on Kobo, Nook, and Kindle. I’m pricing the Kobo version the lowest ($1.00), since Kobo partners with independent bookstores, and I like to encourage readers to shop at independent bookstores whenever possible. As I write this, the Nook and Kindle versions are at the same price ($1.99), but that’s only until Amazon processes the pending price change I made to make the Kindle version the most expensive ($2.99).

I also want to sell through Apple on iTunes, but they’re taking a long time to authorize my vendor account (they say it takes an average of seven days, while the other services did it in a couple of hours or less). So, whenever Apple gets around to that, I’ll make the story available there as well.

Again, I’m doing this as a learning experience, and any money I make is swell, but right now it’s not my primary motivation. If it goes well (meaning I make some money from it and don’t find it to be a colossal pain in my butt), I’ll probably start putting up other previously printed stories. And my main short-term goal is to write a long-ish short story or novella that serves as a sequel to The Boy at the End of the World. I get a lot of email asking when/if there’ll be a sequel, and self-publishing seems like the ideal venue to make that happen.

So, please don’t look at this blog entry as an exhortation to buy my stuff, but rather as me chronicling my first foray into indiehugecopororationconsignmentwritering.

 

 

Letters from Lincoln Elementary School

Yesterday I got a pack of letters from fourth graders at Lincoln Elementary School in Ellensburg, Washington. They were awesome, each and every one. They told me about their favorite books and their favorite sports and asked me questions about The Boy at the End of the World, and many of them included illustrations of robots and last boys and mammoths and gadgets and weaponized prairie dogs. Getting letters like this is one of the very best things about being a middle-grade writer.

Here are just two of my favorites, each by a different Dylan.

kid-art-mammoths

Pacific Fire – Cover Reveal

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Here’s the cover Pacific Fire, the second book in the California Bones trilogy, due out January 27, 2015. Isn’t it swell? The art is by Cliff Nielsen, also responsible for the cover of California Bones and, incidentally, Norse Code. And here’s the cover copy penned by my publisher, Tor Books:

I’m Sam. I’m just this guy. 

Okay, yeah, I’m a golem created from the substance of his own magic by the late Hierarch of Southern California. With a lot of work, I might be able to wield magic myself. I kind of doubt it, though. Not like Daniel Blackland can. 

Daniel’s the reason the Hierarch’s gone and I’m still alive. He’s also the reason I’ve lived my entire life on the run. Ten years of never, ever going back to Los Angeles. Daniel’s determined to protect me. To teach me. 

But it gets old. I’ve got nobody but Daniel. I’ll never do anything normal. Like attend school. Or date a girl.

Now it’s worse. Because things are happening back in LA. Very bad people are building a Pacific firedrake, a kind of ultimate weapon of mass magical destruction.  Daniel seemed to think only he could stop them. Now Daniel’s been hurt. I managed to get us to the place run by the Emmas. (Many of them. All named Emma. It’s a long story.) They seem to be healing him, but he isn’t going anyplace soon.

Do I even have a reason for existing, if it isn’t to prevent this firedrake from happening? I’m good at escaping from things. Now I’ve escaped from Daniel and the Emmas, and I’m on my way to LA. 

This may be the worst idea I ever had.

Some Recent Guest Blogs & Interviews

Here’s some recent blathering I’ve done in various places about California Bones and a little bit of other stuff:

The Middle-Grade Question at Locus Online, in which I talk about writing for adult audiences versus middle-grade audiences.

You Are the Magic You Eat at Fantasy Book Critic

Interview with Paul Weimer at SF Signal

Interview at My Bookish Ways

Ask the Author at Goodreads, an ongoing thing in which questions are asked of me and I answer them with varying degrees of seriousness.

Planned Parenthood Giveaway

CABones-swag

Update: 

I just notified the winner of the signed book plus other stuff, which I determined by assigning each donator a number in the order in which they donated and then used a random number generator to select the winning number.

I don’t know how much was raised total, because not every donator revealed the amount of their donation (which I’m totally fine with, it was not a requirement), but I know we raised a minimum of $250. The money was donated directly to Planned Parenthood, and everyone who entered forwarded me verification.

I had originally planned just to give stuff away randomly, and I’m really happy folks chose to participate.

So, thank you very much!

How’d you like to enter a drawing for some stuff and donate to an important cause at the same time?

Here’s what it’s for: Planned Parenthood, a key provider of reproductive healthcare, education, and information.

Here’s what I’m giving away: A signed copy of California Bones, a Tor.com tote bag, a complete set of four character coasters, and a cool round card thing with the manhole cover derived from the dust jacket art.

Here’s how to enter: Make a donation to the Planned Parenthood U.S. national organization or a local chapter. Email (gregvan@gmail.com) to tell me (not Facebook or Twitter, because having everything in my email inbox will help me keep track of entrants). I’d love to see a screenshot of the donation verification screen, or a photo of your addressed and stamped envelope, but it’s not required. I want to make this easy. I would, however, like to know how much you donated so I can tally it all at the end.

I’ll choose one donator at random who’ll get the signed book and related swag.

I’ll keep the identities of all entrants and winner private unless the winner wants me to say who they are.

I will ship the stuff to you. Since I don’t want to have to pay a bunch for postage, I’m limiting it to addresses within the United States.

All donators will be entered into the drive up until Wednesday, July 9, 12:00 P.M. EDT. I’ll also retroactively count any donations made starting from Monday, June 30, 12:01 A.M.

I think that should cover it. Let me know if you have any questions.

Tour Book

Last week I asked people who came to my signings to sign my reading copy, and now I have a cool souvenir from my tour.
reading copy souvenir