content by

Caragh O'Brien

Fiction and Excerpts [3]

Fiction and Excerpts [3]

The Vault of Dreamers (Excerpt)

, || The Forge School is the most prestigious arts school in the country. The secret to its success: every moment of the students' lives is televised as part of the insanely popular Forge Show, and the students' schedule includes twelve hours of induced sleep meant to enhance creativity. But when first year student Rosie Sinclair skips her sleeping pill, she discovers there is something off about Forge.


, || The bracelet sits in his pocket, patiently waiting to be slipped around Gaia's wrist. Leon needs to see her again. He finds out that Gaia is delivering a baby in the village, and he makes the trip to visit the sixteen-year-old midwife, only to find that the birth is not going too well. The bracelet—and what it means to the both of them—will have to wait.

The Vault of Dreamers (Excerpt)

From Caragh M. O’Brien comes The Vault of Dreamers, a fast-paced, psychologically thrilling novel about what happens when your dreams are not your own. Read an excerpt below, and look for it September 16th from Roaring Brook Press!

The Forge School is the most prestigious arts school in the country. The secret to its success: every moment of the students’ lives is televised as part of the insanely popular Forge Show, and the students’ schedule includes twelve hours of induced sleep meant to enhance creativity.

But when first year student Rosie Sinclair skips her sleeping pill, she discovers there is something off about Forge. In fact, she suspects that there are sinister things going on deep below the reaches of the cameras in the school. What’s worse is, she starts to notice that the ridges of her consciousness do not feel quite right. And soon, she unearths the ghastly secret that the Forge School is hiding—and what it truly means to dream there.

[Read an Excerpt]

sci fi tru luv: A Valentine’s Poem by Caragh O’Brien

give me sci fi tru luv
as the sky melts and my luver burns to ash
give me Ewoks dancing
and a killer virus cure
let me couch smell of space pirates
and travel me through lightyears
leave the prissy elves to the zombies,
but take me, me
mad aching and longing and true
snide, too, natch
take my gadgets in yer gentle, clever fingers
O geek of my heart
til the sun sets for the last time again
and the world’s orbit shrinks
and the sun shrinks too
for that matter
into an exploding marble
under the cat’s salty paw


Set in the world of Caragh O'Brien's Birthmarked Trilogy, specifically set between the second book in the Birthmarked trilogy (Prized) and the final book (Promised), “Ruled” offers a rare glimpse into the mind and heart of Leon Grey.

The bracelet sits in his pocket, patiently waiting to be slipped around Gaia's wrist. Leon needs to see her again. He finds out that Gaia is delivering a baby in the village, and he makes the trip to visit the sixteen-year-old midwife, only to find that the birth is not going too well. The bracelet—and what it means to the both of them—will have to wait.

This story was acquired and edited for by Roaring Brook Press editor Nancy Mercado.

[Read “Ruled”]

Writing The Second Book: Not Any Easier

When we reach the end of a sci-fi novel we love and discover the book is part of a series, we’re thrilled. More is on the way. As readers, our biggest problem is waiting with trepidatious hope to see if the next book will be as satisfying as the first. For writers, however, Book 2 is often a gnarly, perilous, fascinating project, with built-in constraints and a backdrop of pressure from deadlines, critics, and readers. Even with solid plans for a sequel, it’s not uncommon for writers to step into Book 2 intimidated, excited, and headed in the wrong direction. Guts are mandatory.

[Read more]


We invite you to enjoy this short story from Caragh M. O’Brien: Tortured. It is available for free download wherever ebooks are sold. Taking place between her novels Birthmarked and Prized, Tortured answers an important question:

“But what about Leon?” Caragh M. O’Brien answers her readers’ most common question with a tale of suffering and determination from Leon’s perspective. Be warned.

(SPOILER WARNING: The following spoils the ending of Birthmarked.)

[Read more]

Dystopian Birth Control

At first glance, birth control doesn’t seem to figure much in dystopian novels. Most of the characters we meet in dystopias these days are more likely facing a problem of infertility than a dread of pregnancy, and few of the novels take us into the privacy of our heroes’ bedrooms to see what protections are at hand. On closer look, though, we find that the most invasive dystopian societies don’t stop at controlling their citizens’ public behavior. They enforce systems to stymie reproductive freedom, and that leads to forced abstinence, bedding rituals, drugs, and implants. Such controls threaten our favorite characters where it matters most, and once pushed too far, they find a whole new way to rebel.

[Read more]

Imagine Not

I would like to thank Pablo and the team at for so kindly inviting me on as a guest author these last four weeks. I’m grateful for your help, and it has been a pleasure joining the game.

When I went to the Tim Burton exhibit at the MoMA in NYC a couple of weeks ago, it was understandably mobbed. We visitors rotated along the walls in a tightly-packed horde, gaping and pointing. For the most part, we were reverently quiet enough so that it was startling when the fubsy guard next to the Edward Scissorhands mannequin yelled out to somebody to put a camera away. It was unbelievably cool to be that close to the nuts and bolts of someone’s imagination, especially one so wild and playful and sinister.
I was happy to plant myself with my nose a few inches from a drawing and let the people bump past me in slow-mo. I liked to take in the gist, then see how Burton used the color to fill in the lines, and most of all, I liked to see the eraser marks from where he’d changed his mind. I felt like a genius myself because I could spot, right there: that’s where Tim Burton revised. I wanted to show my niece, so I looked up to find her and saw instead these dozens of packed people.

That’s when something strange hit me. We were all there, en masse, to appreciate a mind remarkable for its singular imagination. Furthermore, we could never have as much fun looking at Burton’s stuff as he must have had making it in the first place. Something was wrong.

[Read more…]

Mac ‘n’ Cheese: Everybody’s Favorite

In the awesome Barenaked Ladies tune “If I Had a Million Dollars,” the guys postulate on what luxuries they’d bring to their tree fort if they were rich, and then they have a great epiphany:

We wouldn’t have to eat Kraft dinner

But we would eat Kraft Dinner

Of course we would. We’d just eat more.

It’s a beautiful moment. Speaking as a person without a million dollars this gray Monday morning in February, I’d like to argue for the little experiences we wouldn’t trade away for any sum. I’m not talking about the big, obvious ones, like the birth of offspring or getting married or riding Space Mountain at Disneyland. I’m talking little.

I have a theory that the more unique we think a little memory is, the more universal it’s likely to be. It’s the small details that connect us as humans, just as mac ‘n’ cheese can sometimes be precisely what I want most for dinner and I can trust that’s true for someone else, too. So, at risk of publicly proving myself wrong, here’s a handful of my small-time favorite experiences.

In the pre-seatbelt era, one hot summer afternoon, I rode in the back seat of a station wagon piled in with bare-limbed siblings, and around my neck I sported a candy necklace just bought from the Marine General Store. I stretched the thin white elastic to fit into my mouth and bit off one candy at a time, savoring each sweet colored disk. That was bliss.

[Read more…]

Dystopias Rock

What I love in a dystopia is that the folks in charge usually think they’re doing things for the right reasons. They want everyone to be equal (“Harrison Bergeron”) or faithful to their religion (The Crucible) or fully united and like-minded all the time (Anthem). An obvious exception is 1984, of course, where the leaders use war as an excuse to crush and brainwash the middle class. The Hunger Games falls somewhere in between, offering a twisted form of child abuse as entertainment. The problem is, once everyone accepts the rules of the dystopia, well-intentioned or not, those people are essentially dead. They’re stagnant in a vacuum of free will where they can no longer choose or change.

It is here that the pending road-kill watcher in me takes over, the part that wants to see how and if an individual can awaken to the dystopia and struggle to resist it. I like to see a fight against all odds. I’m rooting for the hero to escape somehow to somewhere else, preferably some innocent garden where he or she can start all over.

I did not deliberately set out to write a dystopian novel when I started Birthmarked. Rather, I was imagining how a future society would adapt to climate change, and I thought of how strong the survivors would have to be, how resourceful. Since I’m an optimistic person who believes human nature is inherently good, I thought the forward-looking rulers of my Enclave society would invent a good system.

It became a complex, morally twisted mess of compromises.

[Read more…]

Gadgets and/or Words That Are Fun to Say

1. T0 start, there’s syzygy, always a surprise that something so crazy can be a real word, and the similarly astronomical -gee words like apogee and perigee. I only found out a couple of years ago that the moon seems so huge sometimes because it periodically gets closer to the Earth in its orbit. It wobbles in a freakish way, too, if you can believe NASA.

2. Qat is very useful in Scrabble. Which reminds me: I used to play an on-line Scrabble-esque word game with my mother until she beat me so frequently I conveniently managed not to have enough time to play her any more. When she reads this, I’m toast.

The summer camp category: Widjiwagan. Tapawingo. Tamahay. Mary WeHaKee returns every summer as a ghost to her eponymous camp near Hayward, Wisconsin. One night it was my CIT privilege to huddle in the bow of a canoe while another CIT sterned, and I attracted mosquitoes by shining a flashlight on a blanket-swathed, cursing, 90-pound kitchen staffer who, as Mary’s ghost, balanced upright in the middle of the canoe. As I’m sure you’ve guessed, our noble efforts served to stage a romantic and mysterious, (dare I say supernatural) scene for campers agog on shore.

4. Spatula makes this list because it’s miraculous how that soft rubber blade can go around inside a bowl and actually slick out all the batter.

5. Nose-hair clippers. I don’t own any and the very idea makes me sneeze, but what a gadget. In fact, let’s open up the entire medicine cabinet category of tweezers and pink earplugs. Thermometers—remember when they had mercury in them, and they broke with a cheery clink, and you could role a little drop of mirror around on the palm of your hand an inch from your nose? Speaking of poisons, how about:

[Read more…]

The Every Other Day Ice Cream Diet and Virginia Woolf

For those of us partial to scarfing down ice cream daily, cutting back to eating it only once every other day is a deep diet sacrifice, especially when we’re forgoing coffee ice cream with chocolate chips on top.

Yet it’s possible. You can get through the odd days sans ice cream by feeling noble and reminding yourself you can have it the next day. What’s more, the system is simple to remember. You can check with yourself by asking, “Hey, Caragh, did I have ice cream yesterday?” If not, you’re good to go.

About now you’re wondering how much I weigh.

I’ll never tell.

The problem arises when we try to apply Puritan discipline to other aspects of our lives, like writing. I’m an English teacher (who isn’t?) and trying to balance the writing and teaching lives is gnarly at best. When you add in the obligatory grading, teaching is a six-day-a-week job. So where’s the writing supposed to fit and what does this have to do with eating?

The writing must happen during lunch, naturally.

[Read more…]

Tower, Wall, Obelisk

Ladies bicycle in fur coats and high heels in Ferrara, Italy. They carry umbrellas and smoke cigarettes as they bike, too, as if they had three hands. It’s amazing to see them winding their ways down the medieval, cobblestone streets, as if balance and gravity and even time operate on different laws of physics there.

My family lived in Ferrara a few years back, and I bought an old, beat-up red bike of my own.  In time, I could bicycle with bags of groceries hanging from my handlebars just like the Ferrarans. You just have to start up slow, not sway too much, and watch it on the turns.

There were other charms to the city, too. I walked my three children to school every morning, often in fog so dense that the great obelisk of Piazza Ariostea would materialize only suddenly and very near. We visited the Castello Estense so frequently that we knew its dungeons, towers, moat and orange terrace by heart.

When I started imagining the setting for my upcoming novel, Birthmarked, I didn’t consciously think of the walled city of Ferrara. At the time, I was walking regularly in the hills of Tiburon, overlooking San Francisco Bay with its own version of fog. The hillsides mounded treeless and arid; the California poppies bloomed their impossible orange. Hungrily soaking in the views, I began to picture a similar landscape, but even more dry. I’d been to Lake Superior as a girl and I’d studied in Death Valley, and those places mattered, too.

Then, as the story progressed, and I juxtaposed a future, technologically superior society with a community living in primitive, medieval conditions, I needed a wall to divide them.

[Read more…]


I wore full slips under my dresses when I was a kid. We Vis girls wore tights and bloomers under our jumpers at school, and I had my share of tiptoing from the car to the house trying to keep my slippery, black, patent leather party shoes out of the snow. Good girls had party dresses and regular day dresses, knee-length and long. If we wore shorts, culottes or overalls, we knew we were daring into tom-boy territory.

Then, about the time I hit the self-consciousness of puberty, my neighborhood baby-sitter Cathie Hartnett gave me a tee-shirt with a cross-stitch design on it declaring: NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF A WOMAN. The irony of the cross-stitching, the labor of patience and pigeon-holed creativity, went way over my head, but the shirt garnered plenty of reactions from my brothers and my father’s friends, who took delight in cracking jokes about women’s lib.

In short, it was fashion that clued me in to how the world was changing for women and girls back then, and now in the time-travel method of memory, I feel like I’ve just written a book for the teen I was.

Strong girls are clear winners in sci fi these days, and if it seems like they’ve popped out of nowhere, it’s because their predecessors—Meg from L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and Offred from Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale obviously come to mind—have been far outnumbered by their brother protagonists.

[Read more…]

The Great Science Fair Project

I’ve swum in Gitchigumi, though not for long.  It’s cold, even in August, and instead of sand along its shoreline, wave-rounded, head-sized rocks force hardy walkers to choose their steps with care.  In another bay, granite shelves sprawl into the water, and in yet another, sandstone cliffs drop into the crashing waves.  You probably know this body of water as Lake Superior, and if you’ve stood among snowy birches in January looking down at its gray ice, or paddled above its sunken boulders in your wooden canoe, you know you can’t see across it, even on a sunny day.  It’s huge.  It’s the biggest fresh–water lake in the world.

What an opportunity.  Let’s drain it completely dry.  Let’s turn it into Unlake Superior.  Canadian Prime Minister Harper won’t mind, will he?

I’m joking.

More or less.

[Read more…]

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