Posts Tagged fairy tales

The Counterclockwise Heart: Cover Reveal and Excerpt

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The Counterclockwise 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 COUNTERCLOCKWISE 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 COUNTERCLOCKWISE HEART:

The Counterclockwise Heart

The Counterclockwise 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 COUNTERCLOCKWISE 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.

THE ODDMIRE: Book I Changeling & All Sorts of Magic!

We have another amazing author visit today here on The Mixed-Up Files!

Despite being a debut author in the middle grade arena, this author might already be familiar to you. It’s William Ritter, the author of the New York Times bestselling Jackaby series, which deserves a major round of applause. But he’s here to share his intriguing #mglit tale of vanishing magic, the Wild Woods, goblins, and more! And to top all this newness off, William shared with me that this is the first time his own illustrations are being used in one of his books. Super cool!

Hi William, it’s such a pleasure to speak with you again. We’re very excited to have you here. Tell us, what books did you find most memorable as you were growing up?

I loved so many books growing up. As a teen, I liked the witty language of PG Wodehouse and the silly situations of Douglas Adams. When I was a middle-grade reader, the standout was probably Patricia Wrede’s fantastical Dealing with Dragons.

Do you think they’ve influenced you as an adult? As a writer?

The stories I loved as a kid are deep in my bones now—and they definitely influence the books I write. Wrede’s series, set in the Enchanted Forest, borrows all manner of classic folktale tropes, turning them on their head and reimagining them in clever, playful ways. My MG debut, The Oddmire, is set in the Wild Wood, and it is absolutely following in Wrede’s literary footsteps.

Speaking of THE ODDMIRE, let’s show the readers your book.

Magic is fading from the Wild Wood. To renew it, goblins must perform an ancient ritual involving the rarest of their kind—a newborn changeling. But when the fateful night arrives to trade a human baby for a goblin one, something goes terribly wrong. After laying the changeling in a human infant’s crib, the goblin Kull is briefly distracted from his task. By the time he turns back, the changeling has already perfectly mimicked the human child. Too perfectly: Kull cannot tell them apart. Not knowing which to bring back, he leaves both babies behind.

Tinn and Cole are raised as human twins, neither knowing what secrets may be buried deep inside one of them. Then when they are twelve years old, a mysterious message arrives, calling the brothers to be heroes and protectors of magic. The boys must leave behind their sleepy town of Endsborough and risk their lives in the Wild Wood, crossing the perilous Oddmire swamp and journeying through the Deep Dark to reach the goblin horde and discover who they truly are.

In this first book in a new fantasy-adventure series, New York Times bestselling author William Ritter takes readers on a journey of monsters, magic, and discovery.


Love this cover! And the story sounds like a non-stop race and adventure. What was your favorite part of writing this story?

Making my own kids laugh. I have two boys (the inspiration for the Burton twins in The Oddmire). MG readers are a very discerning audience with little patience for boring prose—so when I read my drafts to my boys and they laugh at the funny bits or demand to hear the next chapter, it makes my heart happy.

Okay, this answer just made my heart all squishy. Was there anything that surprised you while writing The Oddmire?

There are always tiny ideas that grow into huge elements as a book evolves. The character of Fable wasn’t even in my earliest outlines, and I can’t imagine the story without her now. The Queen of the Deep Dark similarly began as a simple boogeyman, but the more I explored her character, the more depth I found.

*Note future writers: this is a teeny peek into what it’s really like to develop characters. And it is so much fun! What do you hope readers find within the pages of this story?

Having a family that looks different or comes together in an unconventional was is not a bad thing. Family can be messy & difficult, but real family is about love, not about clean, simple genealogy.

Gosh, this is truth and such a wonderful message for kids to grasp. Okay, we know this is a series. Any sneak peeks into what’s to come?

Changeling is centered around the Burton twins. They meet many fun characters along the way, but in the end, it’s their story. The Unready Queen bring the twins back, but turns its focus toward the enigmatic Fable, a girl from the Wild Woods. It’s her turn.

*flails Kermet arms* This is very exciting! It will be great to get to know Fable even more.

For our reading writers, what’s the most valuable writing advice you’ve ever received?

E.B. White (Charlotte’s Web) once said: “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” Truth! Sometimes you’ll feel truly inspired—other times you’ll have to drag each word out. Sometimes you’ll write in a clean, tidy office—other times you’ll be sitting on the back seat of a city bus. Sometimes you’ll write in the quiet morning light on a vintage typewriter with a steamy cup of tea beside you—other times you’ll poke letters into a cell phone notepad in the middle of the night because you woke up to a screaming baby and then got an idea for a new story. Readers will never know which passages were written under “ideal” circumstances and which you scraped out of the muck. Just let yourself write.

Such wonderful advice, William. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and your work with us. Looking forward the The Oddmire’s release on July 16! Your friends at The Mixed-Up Files will be cheering you on.

Reports of William Ritter’s birthplace are unreliable and varied, placing his hometown either in a series of mysterious Catacombs in Malta or in a quiet town in Oregon. His parents, it can be confirmed, raised him to value intelligence, creativity, and individuality. When reading aloud, they always did the voices.

At the University of Oregon, William made questionable choices, including willfully selecting classes for the interesting stories they promised, rather than for any practical application. When he wasn’t frivolously playing with words, he earned credits in such meaningful courses as Trampoline, Juggling, and Seventeenth Century Italian Longsword. These dubious decisions notwithstanding, he regrets nothing and now holds degrees in English and education with certificates in creative writing and folklore.

He currently teaches high school language arts, including reading and writing, mythology and heroes. He is a proud husband and father. When reading aloud, he always does the voices. Find out more about William – WEBSITE | TWITTER

Readers, do you like fantasy middle grade like The Oddmire? If so, what do you like about fantasy?

An interview with author Delia Sherman on her latest middle grade fantasy

imgres-1Congratulations to Delia Sherman on the recently published The Evil Wizard Smallbone, and thanks for joining us here at the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors.

How did you come up with the idea for this book?
It began with a short story I wrote for an anthology called Troll’s Eye View, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. The theme of the anthology was to retell a classic fairy tale — from the point of view of the villain. As I always do when I want to build a good, juicy fairy tale retelling, I went to Fairy Tales From Many Lands, a book I’ve had ever since I can remember. I’ve long wanted to retell the story of “The Wizard Outwitted,” a Russian fairy tale full of shapeshifting and trickery and wizard’s duels (because, I ask you, who doesn’t love a good wizard’s duel?), so I did that. In 3500 words. Which didn’t actually leave me room for the wizard’s duel. Or, indeed, many of the things I wanted to say. So I thought some more about Nick’s training and development and went to the Blue Hill Fair (the very same fair Wilbur attended with Fern in Charlotte’s Web), where I talked to a trapper about gray wolves and coyotes in Maine and to a pig-farmer about pigs, and it all came together somehow.

There’s quite a bit of shape-shifting in this novel, and the descriptions are so vivid. Did you research wolves and coyotes, for example, to capture them so well or perhaps you have observed or spent time with these animals?
It was all research. My terrible secret is that I’m horribly allergic to all animals, and can’t have one and breathe at the same time. Which is why I suppose I almost always end up putting animals in my books—they’re guaranteed to be hypoallergenic. But I digress. I read a lot about wolves and spiders and rats and coyotes (and some other animals that I ended up cutting out because the book was getting too long. Nick turned into a crow once. I was sorry to see that go.) But I think my best source ended up being nature video on You Tube, where I learned what a rat sees and what the fox says, pretty much first hand.

What was the hardest thing about writing about wizards?
Figuring out the magic. I didn’t want it to be “Alakazam, wave my hand, you’re a frog”-type magic. And I didn’t want it to be too formulaic and scientific. I wanted it to seem as if it could really work and still be mysterious and wonderful. So I read about folk magic (think horseshoes for luck and salt to keep evil away) and formal magic (pentagrams and chants) and mixed them with things I personally think are cool (books that talk back to you and magical snow-blowing).

What was the easiest thing writing about wizards?
Stuff that is magic as well as used to do magic, like Smallbone’s coat and hat, Fidelou’s pelt-cape, enchanted bookstores and talking books. I’m sure I borrowed many of them from folk lore, from old fairytales, from books I read as a kid and don’t even remember reading, but they all felt as if they just showed up when they were needed, demanding to be added. So I did.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?
A little bit of both. When pantsing leaves me without anywhere to go, I plot for awhile until I can see my way forward, and then I go back to making it up as I go along. That’s the first draft, though. For all other drafts (Evil Wizard took seven), I have to make a plan, or I just make things worse.

There are so many surprises and unexpected reveals. How did these plot twists come about?

Now that I come to think about it, it has to be fairytales again. You read enough of them, you realize that one of the patterns is this: The hero has an adventure, which leads to another adventure, which develops a side-quest, which gets him embroiled in another adventure altogether. I guess I’ve read so many fairy tales over the years that that kind of thinking is just part of the way my mind works.

How much were you aware of both following the wizard apprentice tale type and how much did you consciously deviate from it?
Well, I was working off a fairy tale, and I have seen Disney’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and read The Sword in the Stone, although the Wart is not really Merlin’s apprentice. Setting the story in modern (more or less) Maine was a big deviation, as was Nick’s original complete lack of interest in being a wizard—or even believing that magic exists. I think what really happens when I retell a fairy story is that at some point the story I’m writing takes off from its roots and grows into something slightly different. Except for the wizard, the shape-changing, and the wizard’s duel, there are not really a lot of similarities between Nick’s story and the original.

This is set during a hardscrabble winter in New England, and it’s very cold and described so well. Is this a climate/area you know first-hand?
I began to write this story when I started staying at my friend’s house on the coast of Maine. I’ve never been there in winter, mind, but I’ve read books set there (also in Finland, which is very like Maine in many ways). I spent one of the coldest, darkest, and most uncomfortable years of my life in an inland town a long time ago, and I lived in Massachusetts for a long time, some of it in a house heated by a wood stove. So I do know plenty about snow, wind, cold, and even chopping wood.

Why did you write this book?
I haven’t the foggiest notion. All the time I was writing it, I kept thinking maybe I should be working on something else, that it wasn’t really the kind of book I write, that Nick was difficult and I don’t know anything about motorcycles or small towns (I grew up in New York City, after all). And yet, I kept working at it. I guess the real answer is that I’m a lot more like Nick than I thought.

The wizards in this novel are quite idiosyncratic. How did you come up with the idea for such a grumpy wizard (SmallBone) as well as his nemesis (Fidelou, the wolf wizard).
There are lots of grumpy wizards in literature. Even good wizards like Gandalf and Merlin and Dumbledore and Chrestomanci can be plenty crabby and short-tempered. Another thing wizards have in common is that they tend to be loners. You don’t read much about wizards with lots of friends and family (except in Harry Potter). So I just took that crabbiness to its logical extreme. Fidelou, on the other hand, is only interested in power. He wants it all, no matter what he has to do or who he has to hurt to get it. That, in my opinion, is what real evil is.

The main character, 12 year-old Nick Reynaud, can’t really read at the beginning of the novel. One of the main changes is that he learns to read and grow in confidence as well as security. How did the choice for Nick to be such a struggling reader come about?
Well, he says he can’t read; he can actually read perfectly well, and has a taste for science fiction and fantasy, just like his Mom. Still, I suspect he hasn’t read much until he gets to Evil Wizard books, partly because Uncle Gabe doesn’t have any books in the house and partly because he can’t see the point of the books he’s expected to read in school. He’s indignant when the bookshop gives him E-Z Spelz For Little Wizardz, but he reads it because he really, really wants to learn magic. I guess I believe that having a reason to read something is more motivating than just being told that it’s good for you.

Hillary Homzie is the author of the Queen of Likes (Simon & Schuster MIX 2016), The Hot List (Simon & Schuster MIX 2011) and Things Are Gonna Be Ugly (Simon & Schuster, 2009). She can be found at and on her Facebook page.