Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Sneak Peek: The 13th Sign

Twitter and Facebook have been all abuzz today thanks to this article in the LA Times announcing a “new” zodiac. I’ve never been so excited to see the Twitter trends in my life, friends! My next middle grade novel, The 13th Sign, is all about the awakening of Ophiuchus and the lost sign of the zodiac. I'm delighted that everyone finds this as interesting as I do! My Fabu Editor gave me permission to give everyone a “sneak peek.” So here it is, a preview of The 13th Sign, coming from Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan in Fall 2012!


In the blue light of the attic, I held the pin next to the lock. The snake on the pin was an exact match: tiny, intricately carved scales, a diamond-shaped head, a thin, slithery split tongue, emerald-green eyes. Identical snakes, tangled together by fate.

Before I considered the coincidence too much to scare me, I jammed the end of the pin - the point of the staff and the curl of the snake’s tail - into the lock on my new book.

It fit.

I turned the key in the lock, and the bodies of the snakes began to untangle. The heads of the snakes twisted away from one another and toward me, sizing me up with blank emerald eyes. The heart of the lock cracked slightly apart.


It was likely a tiny click, a small satisfying opening. But to me, that click echoed around this dark space, and I could feel it in my gut.

“It worked!” Ellie said. She shot upright and slammed her head on a rafter. “I can’t believe that worked!”

“Me either,” I muttered.

The lock had split apart just enough for me to remove the chains binding the book. Which I did, carefully. The cover was warped and crinkly stiff.

I folded the book open, and its spine creaked. A yellowed piece of paper, obviously torn from the book, slid from the pages and floated to the floor of the attic. It was blank. Or wait, no – it wasn’t blank? A picture of the lock – the heart and snake lock I’d just opened – appeared in the middle of the page.

Ellie nodded eagerly. “Put the lock there,” she said, nudging my shoulder. I couldn’t see for sure in the dark attic, but I knew her eyes twinkled with anticipation.

I picked up the lock, key still embedded, and placed it on the piece of paper on the floor. I twisted the lock until its position matched the illustration. The paper and the lock felt almost magnetized, drawn to one another in the pull of attraction, clicking precisely into position. The moment it was aligned, the eyes of all three snakes – the two on the lock and the one on the key – flashed a burst of blinding green light.

Hisssssssssssss! I jerked my hand away. A fine mist rose off the paper, a smoky, swirling, hissing mist. It stank like sulfur, like rotten eggs. The eyes of the snakes dulled but continued to glow, pulsing in the dark attic.

“What is that?” Ellie whispered, lifting her sweatshirt collar over her nose. I shook my head, too mesmerized to speak.

The mist began to float and wind and twist to the outer edges of the piece of paper, revealing ink. Moving, liquid-like ink. More snakes. Black-ink snakes, darting and slithering toward one another, first forming letters…

Unlock it.

And then a chart.

The ink soaked into the paper and I saw: It was a zodiac chart, round like the sun, divided into equal parts, one for each horoscope sign.

The mist cleared, the hissing faded, the pulsing green eyes lowered to a dull glow. But the sulfur smell remained, stinging my eyes and throat. The lock, the paper, the chart remained as well.

Something was odd about this chart, aside from the fact that it had literally appeared from mist. Nina was a staunch believer in astrology, so I’d seen plenty of zodiac charts, divided into the twelve horoscope signs. This one was different.

And then I figured it out. This zodiac chart had thirteen signs. Thirteen, not twelve. I counted twice to make sure.

“Thirteen signs…” I muttered to the paper. A new zodiac. I didn’t believe in horoscopes or zodiacs or signs of any sort. And yet, staring at that new, crowded zodiac chart, a zing shot down my spine.

“A sign between Sagittarius and Scorpio,” I said, studying the thirteen-sign chart, but still refusing to touch the paper. I located my birth date. “Ophiuchus. My new sign is Ophiuchus.”

Ellie flipped through the brittle pages of the book. “Hey, Ophiuchus is listed in here.” She read the description of the sign:

Ophiuchus, the snake. Ophiuchus, thou art overlooked. Thou hast a hunger, then, that thou strive to fill with knowledge, and thy seek the truth above all. Because of this, thou art a favorite among authority figures. However, know that with hunger comes jealousy; the jealousy of the hungered cannot be matched. Too, this black blood masks a vicious secretive streak, so that thou art wildly misinterpreted. Because of this, thou lack trust and commitment. And yet, thy friends art thy lifeline; thou define thine own identity through the lens of others. Should thou overcome thy crippling anger, thy healer’s hands have the power to revive lost souls.

It was me.

I hovered above the paper, studying this new zodiac chart – this ancient zodiac chart, according to what Ellie read in The Keypers of the Zodiack. There were actually thirteen constellations in the path our planet took around the sun. Thirteen signs, not twelve.

’When the Babylonians first developed a zodiac chart,’” Ellie read, “They rightly included all thirteen constellations. The twelve-sign zodiac evolved later, from the Greeks. The Greeks based their zodiac on the Legend of the Twelve Labours of Hercules. In this myth, Hercules had angered King Eurystheus, and the king demanded that Hercules perform Twelve Labours, or challenges, to spare his life.

“’As Hercules achieved victory after victory, he honored his challengers by casting them into the heavens as constellations. These twelve groupings of stars, the Greeks believed, were given the power to control our personalities.’”

Ellie continued reading. ’Over time, the twelve-sign zodiac became the standard. The thirteenth sign, Ophiuchus, was forever lost.’”

A lost sign.


So, friends, what do YOU think of the new zodiac? Does your new sign “fit?” (Me: I’d be

a Capricorn, not an Aquarian. And I relinquish the title very begrudgingly, thank you! :-))

Please, chime in!

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

the word of the year is...

Irene Latham, author of the lovely middle-grade historical Leaving Gee's Bend, posted this week about choosing a single word to help guide you through the year. A one-word resolution, if you will. Irene, ever the poet, selected "deeper" as her word. Isn't that a wonderful word? And if I weren't so authorly-opposed to plagiarism, I might've just adopted that one, too. ;)

Irene's idea to choose just one word really made me think. I've always been a huge fan of New Year's Resolutions - I do them every year, and I did them again this year. But to have one word that is your, well, crutch for an entire 12 months is appealing. There are far too many opportunistic moments that tiptoe by, and noticing them by thinking, "Oh, wow! That relates to Resolution #14-b" just seems unrealistic. (For the record, NO, I don't number my resolutions this way. As far as you know.)

So let me start by sharing some of the words that were *almost* The Word, and the reasons why I ulmately passed on each:

-"Content." It was the first word that came to mind when I started really thinking about this, and it's a perfectly lovely word. It's also something I do need to work on - being content, realizing how very blessed I truly am. But ultimately I passed on "content," not because I don't wish to count my blessings, but because I felt it carried an undertone of being stagnant. Learning and improving myself are very important to me. So "content" was shelved.

-"Brave." I thought of this one, originally, in the writing sense. I'm in the middle of crafting a fantasy novel right now - my first. I'm learning to try new things and take chances, and honestly, it's scary. But I passed on "brave," too, because it felt like it might correlate with "stubborn" once I considered...

-"Open." This one was really, really close, folks. I love everything about "open" - how, by its very nature, it means that new things have entered the picture. Things that need opening. Unlocking. It applies to spirituality, to family and parenting, to writing. And it, I believe, encompasses "brave." After all, you have to be brave to truly open yourself, no? So why did I pass on it? It feels passive to me, like that old portrait of a writer smoking a pipe and waiting for his muse to visit. Like waiting. Those of you who know me well know that "passive" just ain't me.

So ultimately, the word I went with is... (drumroll please)...

-"Present!" As in, to be present, in everything I do. One of my worst habits is rushingrushingrushing ahead, overcommitting, thinking of next hour, next week, next month, next story, nextnextnext. "Present" is the anti-next. It, too, applies to the most important aspects of my life: family, spirituality, writing. It's active, and it has such wonderful *other* connotations; who doesn't love presents?! To be fully present in one's writing, to be fully immersed in the story, in the character, in the NEED - that's what we're striving for as writers, isn't it? The immediate nature of this word, of how it roots you firmly in the now but still allows you to grow, is why "present" is my word of 2011.

So how about you? Have you ever selected one word as a guidepost? If not, give it a try! And if you have or do select one word, please, share! I'd love to hear what is guiding you and your art!