So this happened:
That’s right, I have a new book deal!
This book will be my YA debut, and the hardcover will be hitting shelves in Fall 2017.
Here’s how this story happened:
While I was on contract with Kensington and busily writing my three AB&T books, a germ of an idea occurred to me. First, you have to understand that I’m a big lover of all things Great Britain. My parents are both from there–my dad is English, my mom Welsh–and I have lived in the UK for two separate (and heavenly) 6 month sabbaticals (during which I mostly wrote and traveled and shopped in the food section of Marks & Spencer). I drink tea in the afternoon, religiously. Sometimes I feel like a British ex-pat…I just happened to have been born here in North America.
Anyway, one of the many classic stories I love from the UK is Pygmalion (the play by George Bernard Shaw), which was made into the musical and film you know as My Fair Lady. It’s the story of a poor young woman, Eliza Doolittle, who gets plucked off the street by wealthy Henry Higgins and transformed into a proper lady, to satisfy a wager. So I started thinking: what if he didn’t do it merely for sport? What if he had something specific in mind for his young protege? What if he wasn’t just an idle gentleman, but in fact was part of something bigger, something with purpose?
At the same time, you know I love spy stories, right? James Bond, Mission Impossible, The Bourne Identity…I adore them all. I come by this love honestly: I grew up watching James Bond movies with my dad and devouring all his Lee Child and other unabashedly male action/adventure books. Now, when a new Bond movie comes out, my husband buys me flowers or a nice bottle of wine and creates scavenger hunts around our city (seriously, he did this for Skyfall opening weekend) to celebrate the event. The books I wrote featuring Cat Montgomery–a professional jewel thief–are clearly informed by spy books and film. Also, I have to tell you: my only living cousins in the UK? Their surname is…Bond.
I told you I come by this stuff honestly.
Anyway, the official history of the spy trade in Britain tells us that organized intelligence (in the form of MI5) was founded in 1909, a little before the first world war. But, with the overactive imagination of a writer, I thought…what if that wasn’t true? What if organized intelligence agencies started in England well before that? What if Christopher Marlowe–the playwright and contemporary to Shakespeare, rumored to be one of Queen Elizabeth’s spies–what if he *hadn’t* died when history said he did, and instead founded a clandestine spy institute?
And then I thought more deeply about one of my favorite historical time periods, the Victorian era. A time when there was very little tolerance for anything considered…different. There were tightly controlled rules and dictates of public behavior and etiquette–even though all kinds of shameful things happened behind closed doors–and there was a huge class divide (not that this doesn’t remain…but that’s another story). So I’m fascinated by Victorian England, but I started thinking about setting my story in a Victorian England that’s not quite the one we know. What if there was a fantasy element, a little magic? I began imagining an alternate Victorian England where certain people had special abilities–things that marked them out as abnormal, perhaps even dangerous, which caused the rest of society to regard them with suspicion and disgust. X-Men-ish, if you like, but in Victorian times. All the classic Victorian themes of class and norms, but woven through with fantasy.
Grabbing onto those three big ideas, I began imagining a story. My protagonist popped into my head almost fully formed: Felicity Cole, a 16-year-old flower seller from the slums of Whitechapel (the infamous location of the Jack the Ripper murders), an orphan who cares for her younger, more vulnerable brother. Early in the story, something dreadful happens–but it’s something that marks her as having a certain potential. And that potential is spotted by a gentleman spymaster, our mentor Henry Higgins-esque character…who is actually more like a badass James Bond-Charles Xavier mashup, a man who lies when it serves the higher purpose and has some pretty mad skills, himself. And then my imagination continued to spiral from there.
Needless to say, I had a TON of fun writing this book. My agent, Sandy Lu, loved it, and once we revised and had it ready to go out into the world, she began the search for a publisher, diligently working to find just the right home for it. Meanwhile, I can assure you I was nothing like this:
And then…ta da!! She found me the most amazing editor EVER, who believes in this story as much as I do, and I’m so excited to be working with her. Alison Weiss at Sky Pony Press (the YA imprint of Skyhorse Publishing, in NYC) will be the sherpa guiding GAME OF SECRETS out into the world.
It feels like there’s a long wait ahead–our release date will be sometime in Fall 2017–but I know it’s going to come fast. In the meantime, here’s a Pinterest board I’ve been working on that gives a visual sense of this story.
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Now where did I leave that bottle of champagne…