Starred Review from Publishers Weekly

It’s been another exciting day for this debut writer! I woke up to find my very first starred review in this lovely piece from Publisher’s Weekly. Here’s the takeaway line:

“Empathetic, bold, and entirely herself at a time when women were dismissed as weak, Drest shines in this fast-paced adventure.”

Now, book review stars, as my book critic husband always tells me, are not a science. Critics assign them just when they really love the book at hand. So I feel especially chuffed to have someone at this well-known publication feel so enthusiastic about The Mad Wolf’s Daughter.

Thank you, Publisher’s Weekly!

Here’s my beautiful old cover, which was updated to the beautiful new one on the website. I post it just to share what’s on the review, as this is the cover for the ARC. The incredible art for both is by Antonio Javier Caparo.

Story Bite #4: On Conflict

Conflict is an essential part of any good story. It’s what you throw at your characters to make their lives difficult. Conflict can be as universal as someone/something threatening destruction of the world, or as personal as trying to avoid hurt feelings. Conflict is what stands in the way of your character’s attempts to achieve a goal, or what makes the goal necessary, or what just makes your character miserable.

For this writing prompt, please take a look at one of my best friends at the National Museum of Scotland: the Megaloceros giganteus (or giant deer).

I love this exhibit. I want to put this skeleton in a novel one day… Photo: Diane Magras

Impressive, is it not? This 12,300-year-old skeleton from the Isle of Man dominates the end of a long, bright, airy space. I’ve always seen it surrounded by light.

Light! I love this museum too, if you haven’t guessed. Photo: Diane Magras

But let’s imagine Giant Deer in the museum in the dark, at midnight, with only tiny security lights blinking about the room. And let’s imagine that it’s alive.

What does Giant Deer want?

To get outside?

To go to sleep forever?

To see/chat with/destroy (gasp!) the other exhibits?

Merely to talk a walk around the museum?

Pick a goal from this list or create your own goal for Giant Deer, ask yourself why it wants that, and then answer this: What is preventing it from doing what it wants?

That’s your conflict.

Conflict is especially powerful when it pits two people (or creatures, or a person and a creature) against one another. So you may want to create a second character to make Giant Deer’s conflict especially tense.

How about a kid who’s there as well, having sneaked into the museum after hours?

Now this can get deliciously complicated. But we need to know a few more things before we go on, namely what the kid is doing there:

To test his/her/their courage?

To escape a monster (human or supernatural)?

To run away from a dangerous situation at home?

To figure out how to save an exhibit that’s about to be put in storage or sold? (Perhaps to take said exhibit? And what if said exhibit is Giant Deer…)

Once you know why the kid is in the museum at night, start creating your story bite.

Let’s make this scene an encounter between Giant Deer and the kid, a meeting that shows your conflict (whatever that’s preventing Giant Deer from getting what it wants). You decide if the meeting goes well or not. Make it as funny, creepy, or dramatic as you choose. Write a paragraph or a page or more, if you’d like

Good luck with this one! And I hope you have fun!


If you’d like to share your story bite with me, please submit it through your teacher or with your school email address or home email address and include: your first name, grade, school’s name (or “homeschooled”), town, and state.

Teachers: if your make story bites part of a lesson, please let me know how it went. And share them! I’d love to see your students’ work.

Finding Beauty in Small Places

Sometimes the world can feel overwhelming. Illness (our own or that of loved ones), alarming happenings around us, or disappointments of professional or personal kinds can each drag us under the border of happiness like an undertow in the sea, and keep us down. This year has been a challenging one for many people for many reasons. For me, it’s been a powerful mix of excitement (seeing the final cover, blurbs, and first review of The Mad Wolf’s Daughterand visiting Scotland with my husband and son) and frustration (U.S. and U.K. politics). Every day, as a means to ground myself, I’ve made sure that I find something small to notice and appreciate. It has been a pattern in the early autumn ice, the changes I’ve detected in my son’s laugh as he nears age 11, a crow’s antics with a crust of bread outside my writing nook window, the pungent taste of the bittersweet chocolate I received as a gift. Finding ways to appreciate the little things of life can help us all feel comforted, and sometimes even strengthened. Intentionally finding those small glimpses of beauty in everyday life is something my mother taught me by her example in 2015 as she found ways to enjoy the life that ALS was taking from her.

Here’s my hope to all of you for a good year ahead, filled with many beautiful things large and small.

A tiny beauty: this minuscule plant growing in Craigmillar Castle’s curtain wall. Photo: Diane Magras

My First Trade Review

It’s thrilling to have my very first trade review for The Mad Wolf’s Daughter out into the world, on Kirkus’s website:

A screen shot of said review from Kirkus

And here’s the full thing!

Castle Scenes: Part 1

The great medieval castles of Scotland have always inspired me and helped me create my fictional worlds. In this series, I’ll share pictures of castle bits that have directly led to specific scenes in my novels.

For this post, let’s talk castle stairs.

I always knew that castle stairs were narrow, and spiral, and designed to make it hard for right-handed sword-bearing invaders to go up while right-handed sword-bearing defenders were going down*. I had a battle scene I was writing near the end of The Mad Wolf’s Daughter that I’d set in a hallway to give my characters room for dramatic sword moves. But when I saw these stairs at Craigmillar Castle in Edinburgh, I realized that I was missing an opportunity.

An inspiring wee stairway at Craigmillar Castle. Photo: Diane Magras

What if my characters didn’t have space to use their masterful swordplay, but were crushed on the sides of the stairs instead? What if my characters were the ones going up, facing a disadvantage? How easy would it be to battle on those tiny, narrow steps? Some practice moves on these steps in my hiking boots helped me experiment with what my characters might do. (I was a bit more careful than they would have been, though; my life wasn’t depending on it, and I really didn’t want to fall!)

You can find that scene late in the book, and you’ll know the stairs it came from!

Many thanks to Historic Scotland Environment for maintaining and keeping public so many inspiring properties like Craigmillar Castle.

* Apparently, lefties faced discrimination during medieval times, and might even have been charged with accusations of witchcraft, so I think it’s safe to assume that people training to be knights would be taught to fight with their right hands. That said, anyone who could fight with the left hand (as does Drest, the protagonist of The Mad Wolf’s Daughter) would have quite the advantage! But religion entered into this discrimination, and, with the holy vows knights took, most knights probably fought the way they were trained.

Making the Rounds

November is the month for a couple of important conferences: one for school librarians and one for English teachers, adults who I hope will have a chance to read my book and recommend it to their students. I was delighted to see that Penguin Young Readers had included advanced reading copies of my book at these events:

First, at the American Association of School Librarians conference November 9 through 11 (third shelf down, on the far right):

Photo: @PenguinClass (from Twitter)

and later at the National Council of Teachers of English convention November 16 through 19 (fourth shelf, on the far left):

Photo: @PenguinClass (Twitter)

I’m very honored that Penguin Young Readers is treating The Mad Wolf’s Daughter as a lead title in this way, and thrilled to know that school librarians and English teachers—some of the most important people in my childhood—will have an early peek at my debut novel.

The Mad Wolf’s Daughter on Sale!

Things change suddenly in publishing, and one thing that has just come up for The Mad Wolf’s Daughter is the many bookstores where it’s suddenly on sale. My husband and I have had fun checking out our favorite indies from around the U.S. and seeing if they have my book for preorder (so far, they all have!). It’s flattering, breathtaking, and a bit unreal.

Here’s the link for IndieBound if you want to try this too!

Story Bite #3: On Food

Last month’s writing prompt was about setting. I hope your mouth won’t water too much over November’s prompt, which is about…food!

For this month, write either nonfiction or fiction. Write as yourself, or pick a character (create your own alter ego, or go ahead and pick someone from your favorite book).

Here’s a visual to start:

Afternoon tea, made by eteaket Tea Room in Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo: Diane Magras

This, friends, is an extravagant afternoon tea. Pastries at the top, scones in the middle, and Brie and pesto tomato sandwiches at the bottom. It was one of my favorite meals in Edinburgh this summer (and no, I did not eat the whole thing).

Now ask yourself or your character the following:

What was one of your favorite meals? What was the occasion? (A birthday? A holiday? A celebratory occasion? A certain person you were sharing the meal with?)

What did you like most about the meal? What were the different foods and what did they taste like? What made the food or drink special?

Was there anything you would have liked to have changed? Do you have any regrets about what you ate, or didn’t eat?

What do you want others to know about this meal (the kind of food, how it was made, or the experience)?

And did you play a part in making it, or just eating it?

As usual, answer as many of these questions as you’d like. Write a paragraph (it can be just two sentences, or a whole page).

I hope you have fun with this prompt.


If you wish to share your writing:

Submit your story bite to me through your teacher or with your school email address or home email address and include: your first name, grade, school’s name (or “homeschooled”), town, and state.

If I have a moment, I’ll post a story bite that I’ve received the month before and say a few things that I like about it.

Teachers: if your make story bites part of a lesson, please let me know how it went. And share them! I’d love to see your students’ work.

Cover Update

The world of publishing can be a complicated business, a special journey with paths that a debut writer could not easily foresee. As I’ve said a few times when I meet new situations, I’ve learned a lot. And one thing I’ve learned recently is that a cover you love can change.

But before you freeze or cry out in shock, just relax for a moment and know that it often happens for the best.

If you’ve followed me on Twitter or here on this blog, you’ve heard me gush about the magnificent work of Antonio Javier Caparo. With input from Penguin’s brilliant designer Maggie Edkins, he created my first cover, which you can read about in another post.

With input from Maggie, he also created my newest.

I am honored to have his work in this new cover for The Mad Wolf’s Daughter. The focus is exclusively on Drest, my young wee lass of a protagonist, so there’s no doubt who the book stars. As much as I loved the dark intensity of the last cover, I love the openness and light of this one. In this, Drest and her beloved sword stand out clearly, and Faintree Castle, her destination, is distinct.

Detail is this artist’s forte: Note that gloriously fierce expression in Drest’s face, one that challenges the viewer. There’s no sneer, but there’s a trace of humor in her narrowed eyes. And her grip on her sword shows that she’s ready for anything. And those fingernails are perfect for a lass who grew up where she did.

Some of the other characters will appear on the back or the jacket flats of the printed cover. But for now, meet the new cover. And meet Drest, front and center, with her sword Borawyn, just as she appears in the printed page.