Report on my trip to the Toadstool

Yesterday I bravely set out from home and drove far, far to the north (an hour and 25 minutes, which is a lot for a Rhode Islander) to the Toadstool Bookstore in Milford, New Hampshire, so that I could enjoy a panel entitled “Writing Fantasy for Children and Teens: Insights from Seven Authors.”

And a lovely panel it was--here are the seven authors, and the topics that each discussed with eloquence and charm:

Ellen Booraem (The Unnameables) --Character as starting point, and how to write distinctive characters
Chris Brodien-Jones (The Owl Keeper) -- Creatures and their creation
Leah Cypess (Mistwood) -- Description and fantasy
Marissa Doyle (Betraying Season) -- What is YA fantasy?
Deva Fagan (The Marvellous Misadventures of Prunella Bogthistle) --The relationship between fantasy and the real world
Angie Frazier (Everlasting)-- What is historical fantasy?
Kate Milford (The Boneshaker)-- Mythology and folklore in fantasy

Although all were interesting, it was Leah Cypess' discussion of description that was most fascinating to me. She suggested that the writer should try to channel description through the point of view of the characters, killing multiple birds with a single paragraph. Not only do you get a description out there for the reader, you also get the chance to show the character's opinions, their mindset (what they notice tells a lot about them), hints about the nature of what is being described, and even a bit of foreshadowing. Here's the example that she used from Mistwood; it's the scene where Isabelle, the central character, meets the princess Clarisse for the first time:

"The girl kept smiling as she moved forward, the motion of her legs almost invisible beneath her long silk shirt. She was wearing a dark blue dress with a tight bodice and flared sleeves that would be impractical in a fight." (page 13)

It was the sleeve detail to which Leah drew our attention--that Isabelle would be thinking of a fight shows both what sort of person she is, and foreshadows the tensions between the two characters. And I think, although Leah didn't say so, that Clarisse's fixed smile and invisible leg motion are rather telling too...

The nicest part, though, was chatting to folks at the end, informally. I'd never met Deva before, never even really emailed her, but I felt like we were old friends. And it turns out that Marissa and I actually were old acquaintances--we both went to Bryn Mawr, both wanted to be archaeologists, and she was in fact my designated Mentor at an event pairing upper and lower class(wo)men.

I was also able to help Kate Milford viz the central character of her new book. It is about a girl named Charlotte, so I was able to share insights on what being named Charlotte is like, and how tricky a name it is to pair with last names (my own, Charlotte Taylor, stinks. Also, names beginning with N, or any vowel, are bad. Unless you want your daughter to be vexed by people thinking she is named Sharla, Charlene, or Shirley....). Kate's new book sounds fascinating, by the way--Kate sounds likes she has had a blast with her city building for it, which you can see for yourself for yourself here at Nagspeake Online, the official site of the Nagspeake Board of Tourism and Culture.

And speaking of new books, it was very pleasing indeed to hear all about the new books everyone has in the pipeline! Lots of good reading to come....We saw the cover to Ellen Booraem's Small People With Wings, for instance, and it sounds like great fun, as do Deva Fagan's forthcoming intergalactic circus books. And I'm happy as all get out that Leah Cypess has a companion novel to Mistwood coming, and that Marissa Doyle has a prequel to her series; Angie Frazier has two new books coming too, one a sequel to Everlasting!

I shall stop here-- I am half way through The Owl Keeper, and a third of the way through The Boneshaker, and must finish those....and then I must read Everlasting, which sounds lovely too!

(The Toadstool in Milford, incidentally, might not look all that enchanting, set as it is in a strip mall, but it has the best YA section I've seen in an independent bookstore. Well worth a trip!)


  1. That does sound like a great panel, Charlotte. I just finished Mistwood myself, and remembered that very line of description when you (quoting Leah, quoting herself!) quoted it.

    Are you reading The Owl Service by Alan Garner (which I am attempting to read now!) or The Owl Keeper by Brodien-Jones, about which I am very curious?

  2. That sounds just fabulous! Strip mall stores can actually be quite nice - and it looks like Toadstool makes this whole line of shops worthwhile.

  3. Oh goodness, Anamaria, I did indeed mean The Owl Keeper--that's what comes of trying to write a post with children hanging on one's neck, waiting for the computer...

  4. Thanks for coming, Charlotte! It was great to meet you in person!

    And yes, Toadstool Milford seemed like such a great bookstore -- that's the first time I've seen shelftalkers on books in the kids section, and the staff seemed really knowledgeable and excited about kids books.

  5. How fun! And it sounds like a great panel, definitely worth the hour and a half drive. (I won't mention where an hour and a half gets me out here in the middle of the country...) Thanks for sharing.

  6. Thank you for coming, Charlotte, especially given the distance you traveled! I'm so glad you liked my descriptions talk. I'm sorry the invasion of my kids prevented us from getting to talk more, but it was great to meet you in person.

  7. Hi Charlotte,
    It was so great to meet you in person! Thanks for driving such a long way to attend our fantasy panel, and thanks for blogging about us too!
    I loved listening to what everyone had to say and I thought the Toadstool Milford staff were terrific hosts. I worked in this store one summer in the late 80s - it was located in a big brick building back then - the best part was getting to open the boxes of books that arrived every few days. Heaven!
    I hope you'll like The Owl Keeper~

  8. Charlotte, thanks for coming! It was wonderful to meet you. I'm excited to have been introduced to your blog, as well :-) You're right about the Toadstool--it's unassuming on the outside, and inside it's warm and welcoming!

  9. It was such fun to meet after...um...well, maybe I won't say how many years ago. Funny how we both ended up connected to kidlit, though.

  10. Late to the party, but ditto on how lovely it was to meet you, Charlotte! Having a look at travel grants, as you suggested.

  11. Late to the party, but ditto on how lovely it was to meet you, Charlotte! Having a look at travel grants, as you suggested.


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