The Counter Clockwise Heart: Cover Reveal and Excerpt

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The Counter Clockwise Heart Cover Reveal

It’s always a great day when we get to reveal a brand new book cover … artwork means a book is one step closer to reaching readers. Today, we have an extra special treat: an excerpt from THE COUNTER CLOCKWISE HEART, by Brian Farrey, set to publish in February 2022 from Algonquin Books.

But first, the moment we’ve all been waiting for (drum roll) … THE COUNTER CLOCKWISE HEART:

The Counterclockwise Heart

The Counter Clockwise Heart Cover Artist

Stunning, isn’t it? The cover artist is Rovina Cai, from Melbourne, Australia, who says, “I love creating haunting, poetic imagery, and believe that one of the most valuable things an illustrator can offer is their unique and personal perspective. I have meticulously crafted my distinctive style to reflect this.” (From her website)

Illustrator The Counterclockwise Heart

Visuals of the Story

MUF had a chance to get Brian’s reaction to his new book cover; here’s what he had to say:

MUF: What do you love about the cover artwork?

Brian: What I love most about the cover artwork is that it’s nothing like I imagined. I love watching illustrators add their own special stamp to how they see the visuals in the story. And that is ALWAYS better than anything I imagined. I also love the sheer scale of the cover and how it captures one of my favorite characters. IT’S GORGEOUS!

MUF: What do you feel you did differently in this book as compared to your other works?

Brian: With The Counterclockwise Heart, I wanted to attempt something epic in just one book–a stand alone–that involved lots of moving pieces, characters in conflict with each other and with themselves, and challenged readers to question their own assumptions and perceptions.

We’re all about books that allow us to question our assumptions and perceptions! Here’s a taste of THE COUNTER CLOCKWISE HEART, which publishes in February 2022.


The Boy Who Talked to Stone

It was the coldest winter morning ever on record in the empire of Rheinvelt when the people of Somber End awoke to find the Onyx Maiden in their tiny village.

The night before, they’d gone to bed, fireplaces blazing to ward off the bitter chill, safe in the knowledge that a statue of Rudolf Emmerich stood watch over the village center. Emmerich, Somber End’s long-deceased first burgermeister, was a beloved figure in the town’s history even to that very day.

So you can imagine the distress when dawn broke and the shivering residents scurried across the roundel in the village center on their way to work, only to find chunks of Emmerich’s statue everywhere. A hand here, a kneecap there. Clearly, there would be no repairing the venerated idol, as much of its considerable girth had been ground into dark-gray powder.

Where Rudolf Emmerich had once stood, gazing wistfully over the town he’d helped settle, something far less reassuring now held reign: As tall as a two-story house, a maiden made entirely of rough, dappled onyx loomed over the roundel. Adorned in armor, she appeared to be in the midst of a battle. Her right arm was thrown back, ready to strike with a cat-o’-nine-tails covered in rocky spikes. Her wild hair, blowing in an unseen gale, reached out in all directions, like a demonic compass rose. Most terrifying of all was her face—frozen in a permanent angry scream.

“Who could have done this?” some villagers murmured. The empire’s most contentious neighbors, the mysterious denizens of the Hinterlands, were unlikely culprits. No one had ever seen these creatures (they were, again, mysterious). But the feral howls that rang out from the barren landscape to the west didn’t come from anyone who might deliver an arguably symbolic statue.

“How could it just appear?” others asked. If the statue was the height of a house, it must have weighed twice as much. Moving it would have been tricky at best. Few ventured theories, because the most obvious answer—given the fate of the Emmerich statue—was that the Maiden had simply fallen from the sky.

Still other villagers asked a far wiser question: “Why did this happen?” These were the people who understood that sometimes whos and hows didn’t amount to nearly as much importance as whys.

When the rulers of Rheinvelt, Imperatrix Dagmar and her wife, Empress Sabine, received news of the Maiden’s mysterious appearance, they sent emissaries throughout the land, seeking answers. Master scholars pored over ancient tomes but found nothing. The Hierophants— keepers of the most mystical and arcane knowledge—had recently fled Rheinvelt, it was rumored, afraid to speak the terrible truths they knew. Soothsayers far and wide cast bones and consulted the ether. They all offered the same dire warning: One day, the Maiden would waken and bring a terrible reckoning. Not just to Somber End, but all throughout the empire.


Thanks for letting us have a peek into your new book, Brian, and for sharing your new cover with MUF readers. Congratulations!


Cover Reveal: The Counterclockwise Heart


Brian Farrey is the author of The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse, winner of the 2017 Minnesota Book Award, and the Stonewall honor book With or Without You. He knows more than he probably should about Doctor Who. He lives in Edina, Minnesota, with his husband and their cat, Meowzebub. You can find him online at and on Twitter: @BrianFarrey.

STEM Tuesday — The Living Seas– Writing Tips & Resources

STEM Tuesday



Ah, the world of scientific understanding. It’s exciting. It’s fascinating. It’s ever-changing. And with that comes some challenges for the science writer. How’s a writer supposed to commit to providing the “truth” about a topic when the scientific understanding is likely to change in the future?

And if you are writing about the ocean—a topic in which our knowledge gets updated on an almost daily basis—you could see that as a dark abyss, a sea of knowledge your little flashlight could never hope to illuminate fully. Or, you could see it as an opportunity . . . after all, ocean exploration is the perfect metaphor for open-ended inquiry.

Looking at this month’s Living Sea book list we can scavenge strategies used by science writers to navigate the uncharted waters of scientific understanding.

  • Showcase the nature of science and engineering practices
  • Focus on enduring concepts, skills, and/or messages
  • Provide hope for the future and inspiration for the future professionals

The Next Wave: The Quest to Harness the Power of the Oceans, by Elizabeth Rusch

When we present discovery and design as a timeline, it illustrates a trajectory, helping readers visualize future possibilities for science, engineering, and themselves. For example, Rusch follows individuals Mike Morrow and Mike Delos-Reyes from childhood (component-collecting with a screw driver or building a guitar from a badminton racket), to high school (Most likely to become Mad Scientist) to professional engineers (lighting Christmas tree lights with their prototype). Young readers can “see” the future through their path.

Rusch interweaves their story with that of others, conveying the variety of different possible solutions to an engineering problem, an enduring message all young readers need. In the book’s conclusion, Rusch provides literary snapshots of where the projects stand in their process. A look at a few lines indicates the hope she leaves readers with:

“When OPT gets the green light …”

“The Mikes have set their sights…”

“Columbia Power Technologies hopes to roll out…”
This is how a writer maximizes on the opportunities presented by ocean exploration!


Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion, by Loree Griffin Burns

In this book, Burns focuses squarely on the efforts of one scientist. She helps us see Dr. Curtis Ebbeseyer as an individual, to witness how his curiosity enhanced his career, and how his seemingly simple methods (tracking floating rubber duckies across the ocean) brought new understandings to light.

This Scientist in the Field approach provided opportunities to teach broad skills. Complementing engaging text with large maps of ocean currents, Tracking Trash encourages visual literacy and specific map-reading skills. Burns included sidebars on how readers can get involved themselves. And, presenting data graphically allows readers to practice chart-reading skills.

Anchoring the reader in the experiences of one individual also enabled Burns to illustrate the collaborative nature of science—from working with other professional researchers to engaging community scientists, Curtis’s story provides models for young readers.


Astronaut, Aquanaut, by Jennifer Swanson

An author’s unique approach to a topic can open reader’s minds to new possibilities. In this book, Swanson’s comparison of two professions opens the door to teaching enduring concepts and skills over and over again. For example, she models compare and contrast with “Differences” and “Similarities” sidebars. She asks questions about ethics “Should we have colonies on Mars?” She uses these high interest topics to teach concepts such as gravity, skills such as creating a model, and messages such as teamwork.

When Swanson discusses deep sea vents on page 71, the focus isn’t on the fun facts, it is on nature of discovery and how that changed scientists’ perspective on Earth’s crust. She concludes with “Makes you wonder how many other amazing discoveries lie beneath the deep.” It shows readers the nature of science and it inspires future scientists!

A few other tips gleaned from books on this month’s list:

  • In illustrations, avoid dated objects or use intentionally dated illustrations to convey progress through time.
  • Highlighting multiple projects increases the chance that a project from the book will be ongoing or completed once the book is published.
  • Use a different device (such as a diagram in a photo-driven book) to represent the imagined future of a project.

In what scientific subjects do you see the potential for new knowledge? Whip out your writer’s notebook and brainstorm strategies to capitalize on that brain-stretching potential!


Heather L. Montgomery inspires young readers to make their own discoveries! She concludes her recent title, Little Monsters of the Ocean: Metamorphosis Under the Waves, with a story of a six-year-old who discovered four new larval species! Learn more at

The Most Perfect Interview with Author Tricia Springstubb

Author Tricia Springstubb

I’m very excited today to welcome author Tricia Springstubb to The Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors! We’re here to talk about her newest middle-grade novel The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe.

Before we get started, let’s take a look at the book.

Eleven-year-old Loah Londonderry is definitely a homebody. While her mother, a noted ornithologist, works to save the endangered birds of the shrinking Arctic tundra, Loah anxiously counts the days till her return home. But then, to Loah’s surprise and dismay, Dr. Londonderry decides to set off on a perilous solo quest to find the Loah bird, long believed extinct. Does her mother care more deeply about Loah the bird than Loah her daughter?

Things get worse yet when Loah’s elderly caretakers fall ill and she finds herself all alone except for her friend Ellis. Ellis has big problems of her own, but she believes in Loah. She’s certain Loah has strengths that are hidden yet wonderful, like the golden feather tucked away on her namesake bird’s wing. When Dr. Londonderry’s expedition goes terribly wrong, Loah needs to discover for herself whether she has the courage and heart to find help for her mother, lost at the top of the world. 


The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe is available for preorder now and releases June 1, 2021.

MH:  When and where did you get the idea for The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe?

TS:  A writer’s mind is a wild, unpredictable place. Ideas lurk about. You glimpse one from the corner of your eye but before you can catch it, it has slipped back into the shadows. Maybe you get another chance–this time it lingers long enough to walk beside you for a while before it disappears again, leaving you to puzzle out what to make of it…

…which is my devious way of saying, I don’t exactly know where I got the idea for Loah!  If I look at my files, I can see I first tried to write about her back in 2017. The files have names like Loah After Retreat and Loah After Mary Jane’s House(two of many places I worked on the book) and Loah Yet Again. I set out to write a historical novel, something I’d never done. I did research, which I loved, and began a story about a timid, turn of the century girl who lived in an ambiguous European country in a spooky house with her ancient caretakers. Her beloved older sister vanishes; an orphan seeks refuge. But my world-building was shaky–I kept making things up rather than sticking to established historical facts. After many tries and lots of frustration, I had to admit I lacked the discipline to stay within set bounds of time and place.

But by then I was too in love with Loah to let her go. She became a timid contemporary girl who lives in a spooky house with ancient caretakers. It’s her beloved mother who vanishes, her new friend Ellis who hides out with her. The birds came winging in on their own. Birds have flitted through so many of my books–a sparrow even gets its own little arc in Every Single Second–and here they settled in and became central to the story.

MH: Was there a time you thought you might give up on this book? What did you do to get through that?

TS: More than one time! I especially remember one gray January afternoon. I’d been working all morning, and had just introduced a brand new character, a snarky woman wearing a hat made of faux-giraffe-skin. What in the world was she doing there? I went for a long, desolate walk. Getting away from the desk helped me realize that I was writing loony scenes in an effort to distract readers (and myself!)  from the fact that I’d lost my story’s thread. I needed to think more deeply about who Loah was, what she needed and wanted. What was my story about, and what was it reallyabout? The woman in the giraffe hat got the axe (though who knows–she may yet turn up in a different story, where she actually belongs).

I do endless revisions for all my books, but usually one thing remains constant the–the setting, the situation, the conflict. For The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe, it was Loah. She may be my favorite of all the young heroes I’ve written.

MH: What do you like about writing for MG readers?

TS: Pretty much everything! Kids this age brim with curiosity. They love to laugh. They are vulnerable and brave and they will commit to a story like nobody’s business. Middle grade readers demand strong plots, but they’re also sophisticated enough to appreciate nuance. Their sense of justice and their hopes for the world make me want to be a better person as well as a better writer. Their eyes are so wide and their hearts so big!

MH: Was this your original title?

TS: Yes, except for all those working titles I mentioned when Loah’s story was a different book. The title was a gift that came to me during my research. It’s drawn from a quote from the nineteenth-century naturalist Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who wrote, “I think that, if required on pain of death to instantly name the most perfect thing in the universe, I should risk my fate on….”

Well, I am not going to give the rest away!

Wouldn’t filling in that blank be a fun classroom writing prompt?

MH: Tell us something fascinating you discovered while researching this book.

TS: Each year Arctic terns make a round trip migration of up to 25,000 miles, the longest recorded migration of any animal on the planet. Much of their route is over water–how do they do it without the GPS lady? Sadly, due to climate change, Arctic terns, like far too many species of animals and plants, face increasing challenges to their habitat and survival. Research made me even more aware than I’d been of Earth’s precious, fragile inter-connections. We can all help protect and preserve. The Audubon Society has wonderful suggestions for how we can become nature’s advocates, starting in our own neighborhoods.

MH: Now time for a Quick-Answer Finish-This-Sentence Round. Ready?

          TS: Sure!

MH: Recently, I’ve been very interested in learning about…

          TS:   … dogs, for my new novel.

MH: The best thing that happened to me yesterday was …

           TS:  … helping my neighbor get a vaccine appointment.

MH: I can’t help but laugh out loud when …. 

            TS: … my tiny granddaughter imitates Elsa.

MH: I’m looking forward to ….

           TS: … visiting schools and young readers for real.

MH: I really like the smell of …. 

           TS: … licorice.

MH: If I weren’t a writer, I might like to be a …

           TS: … person who delivers flowers.

Well, if Tricia Springstubb showed up on my doorstep with flowers, I would welcome her smiling face! But I am very, very happy she’s writing thoughtful, engaging, entertaining middle-grade fiction for all of us.  Thank you, Tricia!

Tell us about your favorite Tricia Springstubb book! Leave a comment below.