Novel Promised Book Cover
About Birthmarked: "This science fiction adventure is a brisk and sometimes provocative read, thanks to solid pacing, a resourceful heroine, and a few surprise twists."

--Publishers Weekly


Posts Tagged ‘prized’

Prized Black Rice Soup

Readers tell me that Birthmarked makes them hungry.  They read about dark, crusty bread right out of the oven and their tastebuds swoon.  Unlike Harris’s Chocolat, that richly seductive book that makes me crave sweetness, (not to mention the even more troublesome movie version with Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche, (whose name, once you’ve become dessert-minded, invokes “ganache”)), my books tend towards the hardy and wholesome food groups: breads, soups, blueberries, and an orange.  An exception is the mycoprotein, provided as sustenance to people living outside the wall.  It exists now in real life as Quorn, but I’ve never tried it.  In Prized, one of my favorite chapters is called “Cinnamon,” for a scene where the absence of cinnamon in Sylum has caused a longing for it.

In real life, I’m an adequate cook.  I’m good at boiling food.  This means food poisoning is rare, but then, so is flavor.  Beyond the basics, though, I do have a couple of dishes I like to make, and one of them is a wild rice soup recipe I’ve adapted over the years to make my own.  It’s exactly the soup I imagine in Prized, only I use Minnesota wild rice for the fictional black rice.  It goes well, you won’t be surprised to hear, with fresh bread.

Prized Black Rice Soup

Prized Black Rice Soup

1 cup black rice

2 Tbsp butter

½ cup minced sweet onion

1 stalk sliced celery

2 Tbsp flour

4 cups chicken broth

2 shredded carrots

1 cup cooked chicken

1/3 cup slivered almonds

2 Tbsp sherry

1 cup cream

½ tsp black pepper

Rinse the rice.  Boil it gently for an hour.  In a separate pan, melt butter and sauté onions and celery.  Add flour and cook 4 minutes.  Add broth gradually, stirring.  Add carrots, chicken, almonds, rice, sherry, cream, and pepper.  Simmer until tasty.

On Writing “Tortured”

My short story “Tortured” (Birthmarked 1.5) came about as a dark experiment, the sort that goes wrong and stays with you.

At first, I was faced with a unique writing challenge.  The tie-in story was intended originally for readers who already knew Birthmarked (Book 1) but who had not yet read Prized (Book 2).  It was a precarious window.  I pondered: how could a story add something to both books and yet stand alone enough to work as a short story? When would it take place?  Who would it be about?  How could it not be a spoiler?  It couldn’t simply be a misplaced chapter.  It had to matter.

At the time, I had been routinely receiving emails from readers of Birthmarked who asked about a certain character, one who was doomed to suffer.  A visceral, pivotal scene began to formulate at the edge of my mind, and I had this insidious feeling I’d be forced to face it.  I didn’t want to.  I’d been creeped out enough by the twisted dungeon stories of opium-loving, cousin-marrying Poe, and I had little desire to explore the parallel side of my own mind.  Yet the more I resisted, the more I felt this powerful urge to see where my own dark side could take me.  Besides, I cared about my character.

So I started with this murky prison scene, and as it sucked me in, I followed along, letting events materialize before me.  It was told from a new perspective, not Gaia’s, but the setting felt deeply familiar.  I wrote with no concern for explaining anything to anybody because I assumed the characters and my reader knew all of the first novel as back-story, complete with its events and relationships.  A spare character from a story I’d written for my blog spontaneously came down the stairs when I needed him.  Working in reverse, I culled details from a character’s memory in Book 2 so the story would have satisfying continuity, backward and forward in time.

Despite its grimness, it was incredibly fun to write.  As I revised, I found holes, and then my editor found many more.  I had explaining to do, after all.  The story went through half a dozen drafts.  Then it went through copyediting and proofreading, just like the process for a full-length novel.  The art team worked on a cover, and when I said I wasn’t keen on my title, my publisher proposed a new one: “Tortured.”  “Ew!” I thought, squirming, and then realized that it fit.

How on earth did I, sunny as I am, become the writer of a story called “Tortured”?

If you’re curious about the timing of this story, I can tell you it was originally intended to be e-published for free in October, a month before Prized was released.  That’s the part of the experiment that went wrong.  Ironically, though neither my publisher nor I will earn anything for the story, we still needed a contract for it, and since this was new ground legally, vetting the one-page agreement took longer than expected.  In the end, however, I think this timing is fine.  It will work to read the story before or after Prized because it adds a layer, either way.  Now the story matches these dark, gray days of December.  I would read it curled up beside the fire.

What stays with me about this dark experiment is how it changed the way I see my “Tortured” characters, not to mention myself.  Now that I’m revising Promised, Book 3 in the series, this new perception is useful.  I know my characters better for having stepped outside the novels and spent one key night with them.  Like campers who sneak out for an ill-fated tryst after lights-out, the characters from “Tortured” and I share a special bond.

“Tortured: A bridge story between Birthmarked and Prized” is available on Kindle and Nook for free, starting Tuesday, December 6th.  It will also be featured on on Thursday, December 8th, for those without e-readers.  Be warned: the story is a spoiler for Birthmarked, so read it at your own risk.

Hometown Girl at the Red Balloon

Attentive listeners at the Red Balloon, Friday, November 18, 2011

Visiting my hometown always gives me a kaleidoscopic feeling as new experiences are superimposed over old ones, and last Friday night I added another by returning to the Red Balloon Bookshop, in St. Paul, MN, a favorite spot place I’ve stopped into regularly since it opened in 1984.  New co-owner Holly Weinkauf welcomed me with charismatic warmth and we were joined by my extended family, friends from my old neighborhood, girlhood buddies from the Visitation and SPA/SS, college friends, a book group I know through Skyping, and their children.

An unduly large percentage of attendees had already read Birthmarked, so I didn’t worry about spoilers and jumped right into reading from the first chapter of Prized.  Reading aloud is a sort of split-personality experience, because my main mind is deep into the story, far away from the present reality, while a smaller, aware side of me knows I’m in a room full of people, and I need to keep my place, speak clearly, and glance up a bit when I can.  I think I like best the brief moment at the end, when I reach the last words and stop, and a moment hovers there, like everyone’s still waiting for a little more.

Then we get on to the cake, and all is well.  Books are about bringing people together, and I’m happy to be part of such a rich community.  Many thanks to Holly and the team at the Red Balloon.  I had a lovely time in your bookshop and I’m so grateful you had me in for a reading of Prized.

Birthmarked Bannie en France and Prized in the U.K. and Australia

Je suis très contente que le deuxième roman de la série Birthmarked soit édité aujourd’hui en France.  Merci beaucoup à Juliette Saumaude, qui a fait la traduction, et à mon editeur brillant, Sarah Millet à Fleurus Edition.  J’espère que les lecteurs francais s’amuseront bien avec la suite de l’histoire de Gaia.

I’m delighted that Prized is out in the U.K. and Australia today from Simon & Schuster Children’s.  Many thanks to my editor Jane Griffiths for her careful work with the project.  I hope readers will enjoy Gaia’s next adventure in the series.

A Happy Launch for Prized

Suzy Staubach and the kind team at the UConn Co-op put on a fun launch for Prized last night, and I was touched that so many of my friends came, including one from college I haven’t seen in years.  She and her daughter came all the way from Rhode Island to surprise me.  Madness!

The local high school had their concert rescheduled to last night due to the power outages last week, which accounted for a shortage of singers in the audience.  Nevertheless, it was a special night for my family and me.  I especially appreciated the thoughtful questions and the no-nonsense advice about the mic.  It’s nice when you can count on people to speak up frankly.

Thanks to Suzy for her generosity.  Thanks to my friends for coming by.  I don’t know a luckier writer in a nicer community.

On Dedicating Prized to Nancy Mercado

This entry is cross-posted on MacTeenBooks and MacKids today.

Nancy Mercado and I talk to each other rarely.  We’ve had fewer than a dozen phone calls over the past three years, and we’ve met in person three times total.  In a way, I know my editor most vividly as a disembodied voice in the margin of my manuscripts, and yet, because of the focused nature of our relationship, Nan has surprised me countless times by how completely she gets how my mind works.  It’s almost uncanny, really.  We laugh a lot, too, but almost never in the same room, at the same time.

When we revise a draft together, certain ongoing exchanges take on a life of their own.  We’ve recently worked on “Tortured,” a short story we plan to use as an experimental tie-in to The Birthmarked Trilogy.  Here’s a screenshot showing our Track Changes comments around a particular revision.  You can figure out who’s talking even when she jumps in my red box with her caps

Click to Enlarge

I ended up taking her advice on that one.  I usually take her advice, frankly, or pull my brains out trying to figure out why I shouldn’t.

As much as I value the small-scale editing, however, what I really cherish is the way Nan pushes me deeper into my own mind with her questions during large revisions, and how she supports when I need to take a risk.  Prized brings up a sensitive issue, the sort of topic that can divide my extended family and set tempers flaring.  A character’s unwanted pregnancy had been hovering at the edge of my story through eight drafts before I finally said to Nan, I don’t know what to do with this.  I thought she might advise me to drop it, which I could have done, but instead, she suggested I bring it forward.  Face it.  See what happened.

Until that point, I had not realized how much I’d been censoring myself.  I was afraid to write something that might make people, especially people I loved, upset with me.  I didn’t think I could write well enough to be fair or true.  Over the next weeks, grappling with the novel also involved discovering what responsibilities I had as a person and a writer, especially a writer for teens.  Nan patiently waited me out, postponing deadlines, nudging with her questions while I hewed away, rewriting and revising, rippling the consequences of my decisions through the rest of the story.  I trusted Nan would support me regardless of what I wrote, as long as I wrote honestly.  The final novel feels right to me, hard but right.

I know I would not have developed Prized the way I did, nor stretched who I am quite this way, without Nan’s support, and so when it came time to pick a person to dedicate Prized to, Nan was my only choice.  I put her name in the manuscript just before the copy edits stage and sent it in.  When she wrote back to ask if I was sure, I was caught in a funny, awkward moment.  She modestly said that writers usually pick family members, and I thought, Oh, no.  She’s declining. I couldn’t exactly write back and say Nan’s like family to me.  She isn’t.  Nan’s like my editor to me.

In the end, fortunately, I convinced her.  Prized is dedicated to Nancy Mercado.

Prized is Out Today!

My blog tour wraps up today at The Book Muncher, where Rachael and I came up with playlists for Birthmarked and Prized. My daughter contributed some of the songs, too, and I found it interesting to see how different songs evoked the characters, their struggles, the settings, and the themes.  Rachael has the solution for the code, too, which came about because of her suggestion.  Today’s live chat on Goodreads appears to be having technical snags, but we can hope for the best.

My warmest thanks to all the bloggers who had me by to their sites over the last two weeks.  A nicer, smarter, funnier, more thoughtful group would be hard to find, and I loved swapping ideas with you!  Thank you!

From my couch this morning, everything looks the same, but word has it that Prized is out in bookstores today.  I hope readers enjoy the continuation of Gaia’s story!


Tomorrow PRIZED comes out

I loved school when I was a kid, but even so, I had a gnawing belly every single day when my dad drove me to school.  The Convent of the Visitation School had a long driveway that sloped steadily downward, so I could see the building growing larger over the dashboard as we approached. The gnawing increased as we veered right around the playground fence toward the big doors of the Montessori Level II wing.  I’d have my bookbag, my shoe bag, and some project or other so my hands were too full for the door handle, so my dad would reach across me to push the door open.  He didn’t say good-bye.  He’d say, “Sock it to ‘em!” and in I’d go.

Today, the Prized blog tour takes me to Taming the Bookshelf, where among other things, Tara asks me about my e-short story, “Tortured,” which will be out in December.

What’s Next from Caragh?

I'm currently working on a new YA sci fi series with the first book,The Vault of Dreamers, due out September 16, 2014 from Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan.

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Audio Books
The audio books of BIRTHMARKED, PRIZED, and PROMISED have been released by Tantor Audio. They're available through Tantor, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and