Launch Day for TORCH and a Second Star!
Today is a long-awaited day — the launch of my YA historical novel Torch. It’s especially long-awaited because the novel went out on submission at the beginning of August 2019, and less than a week later, Amy Fitzgerald at Carolrhoda Lab (the trade fiction division of Lerner Publishing) called my agent to express interest in publishing it. By the beginning of September I had a formal offer, with a tentative publication date of fall 2021.
Then the pandemic hit, and with it the massive supply chain issues. Paper and ink grew scarce, businesses fought for space to transport their goods, schools went online, and bookstores ceased offering in-person launch events. Although Torch was a completed manuscript, its publication date was postponed an entire year. Yes, I was disappointed at the time. Now I consider the delay the best thing that could happen to the book.
In the first place, it gave my editor and me the opportunity to do a thorough, unhurried revision. Torch is so much better for the extra time we spent with it. Multiple reviews have pointed out the moments of happiness that my characters find when they are with each other. Those moments arrived in the course of the revision; they were not in the 2019 manuscript submission. Lída’s dream of becoming a filmmaker did not figure in that original draft. It took my work on Film Makers — a project that I started with Tee in fall 2020 — to develop her character in this direction and give it the prominent role her dream plays in the course of the story.
Then, larger world events have helped this historical novel to resonate in the present. It is said that historical fiction says as much about our current situation as it does about the events of that time. I did not, however, anticipate another Bad Bear invasion to crush a sovereign neighbor’s desire for freedom and democracy. And while I did see the possibility of liberty rights eroding in the United States, I did not anticipate how quickly it would occur, and how much restrictive new laws would affect all our lives.
In August, Torch received its first starred review, with Kirkus calling it “Equally terrifying and captivating.” For a long time, I didn’t see any other reviews, and I was hoping for more simply because a lot of libraries require two positive reviews to justify ordering a new book. Then, on Thursday night, I found out Publishers Weekly had posted a review — and it was a starred one as well! Calling it a “searing historical novel,” the PW reviewer writes:
Miller-Lachmann deftly balances moments of happiness and hope within an ominously rendered narrative marked by fear and potential catastrophe. This captivating political thriller is perfect for Ruta Sepetys fans.
I’m particularly thrilled with the favorable comparison to Ruta Sepetys because her books, from her debut Between Shades of Gray to her most recent I Must Betray You, showed me that these stories can find publishers and appreciative readers, thereby opening up opportunities for other stories of this kind, from other perspectives. My characters in Torch live in a totalitarian communist regime, but they also reflect the diversity of people in those places and the ways in which the regime tries to stamp out difference and make everyone the same. Štěpán is gay, a means by which the secret police can abuse, ostracize, and discredit him. Tomáš is autistic and threatened with institutionalization if he doesn’t follow the rules and become an informant. When Lída fails to stand up for a Roma classmate, she resolves to become a better friend.
Did I mention all the amazing work my editor, Amy Fitzgerald, put into this book? It’s what she does for all her books with Carolrhoda, and PW has also recognized her efforts. Several weeks ago she made the longlist for PW Star Watch, an award given to outstanding publishing professionals. In all, 41 people made the longlist, and last week, she became one of five Star Watch finalists!
I’d like to recognize as well the work of my brilliant agent, Jacqui Lipton, who worked with me to get Torch into shape to submit — a process that required cutting 10,000 words from the second half of the book — and the talented cover designer Kim Morales, whose multi-layered cover surely deserves an award as well.
Throughout the week, I will be appearing on various blogs to talk about aspects of Torch. The first post, on the blog El Space, went up last week. In it I talk about the Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland who inspired Torch and also appears as one of the subjects of Film Makers. Launch day features my interview with Sandra Nickel on her blog, What Was On…, followed by a guest post for Teen Librarian Toolbox on the School Library Journal blog about the juncture of historical and dystopian fiction. Lerner Publishing Group, of which Carolrhoda Lab is an imprint, has a blog and is featuring Torch and me with an interview. TeachingBooks.net will be featuring my essay on writing about tough topics for teens, and at the beginning of December A Novel Mind will run a piece by me on the abuse of psychiatry to punish and discredit dissidents in the former Soviet Union and its satellite states. I’ll post the links as these pieces go up and any more that happen in the next month or two.
I’m available for both virtual and in person school visits; please contact me for more details if you’re interested. I look forward to seeing Torch out in the world and talking about it with readers of all ages!