Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The End

So, recently a couple of my favorite series have ended.  Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely series’ last book came out yesterday, and Last Sacrifice, the final book in the Vampire Academy series, came out in December.  I’m usually okay with a series ending, as I’m a big believer of leaving before you’re thrown out, but I find that I’m not so anxious to give up some of my series anymore.
Reading a series is like eating comfort food: you know what to expect, you’re familiar with the flavor, and it always satisfies.  Sure, some books aren’t as good as others in the series, but I know the characters and feel like I have a vested interest in the outcome of their story from page one.  With a book featuring new characters I have to grow to like the characters.  Sometimes that never happens.  Sometimes I’m only sticking through their story because I’m waiting for that moment when everything falls apart. 
Either way, I much prefer reading a new book in a series than something completely new.  Maybe it’s because my reading roots are in fantasy, where a series can have eleventy billion books, but I hate leaving characters.
So, what do you think?  Are series something you like, or are you strictly a stand-alone type person?  Or do you just pick up anything that grabs your attention?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

On Ass-Kicking Heroines (and other women I have known)

Once - long, long, ever-so-long ago - I was a high school student. Now, I've written before about my insufferable dorkiness, and my loneliness, and the fact that I was out of step, out of rhythm and generally odd. But what I haven't blogged about was about my athleticism - and how my experience as an athlete changed how I thought about myself, how I thought about my body, and how it changed who I am as a writer now.

For a little context, though, let me tell you a little about the high school I went to: it looked like a prison. I say this without hyperbole or histrionics. My high school was designed by the same guy who designed the state prison in Stillwater, Minnesota. It had almost no windows - and those it had were narrow little strips of cloudy plexiglass that let in precious little natural light. It was built from slab upon slab of dull brown concrete, reinforced by steel. Inside, the rooms were lit by harsh, flickering florescent lights, and the doors could be locked from the outside in case of "emergencies"  - though we were never told what, in the opinion of the powers that be, constituted an "emergency". The student body was dynamic, involved and diverse in almost every respect - by economics, by race, by first-languages, by immigration status. We were one of the first high schools in America to offer four years of Native American language study (Dakota/Lakota and Ojibwe), and the first high school to have a Hmong student association. As a white person, I was a minority - an experience that precious few white people get to have in this country, much to their detriment, if you ask me. As a student body, we had all kinds of differences, but there was an over-arching spirit of comraderie and unity that sought to see the differences in our community as part of our strength - and we celebrated it.

However, there were problems. The school itself was situated in a neighborhood that found itself the unwitting setting for a gang turf war. Gunshots were commonplace - not inside the school, but we could hear them nonetheless. My freshman year, one of my classmates was shot in the belly at a party - he was wearing the wrong colors, apparently. (He lived, though barely) My sophomore year, my principal, upon learning that two rival gangs were facing off in the street in front of the school, was hit over the head with a crow-bar, and was brought in, blood streaming down his face, right in the middle of lunch.

To top it off, the parks (not to mention the vacant houses) nearby were riddled with crime - drugs, prostitution and some terrible attacks against women. The girls in my high school were given dark and sinister warnings about Places Where We Could Not Go and Things We Should Never Wear In Public and Things That We Must Never Do.

But then I became an athlete. And then everything changed.

To be scared of the world around you is to relinquish your personal power. There is something heady and marvelous about snatching that power back. I joined the cross country team. I got strong. I got fast. I was by no means the fastest kid on the team, but I was Varsity, could run a mile in five and a half minute, and could bench my own weight. I could beat boys bigger than me in arm wrestling matches and  hip check hockey players when they got fresh.

My body became an instrument of power - and I was drunk on it.

My friends were athletes too, and we took it as a point of pride to scorn any and every bit of safety advice that our teachers had given us. We ran in the dark. We ran through alleys and tough neighborhoods. We re-designed our routes to take us to the places where bad things had recently happened.

Bring it on, we were saying to the world. You mess with us and we will take you down. We will mess you up, then we will run ten miles. We are unbeatable, unstoppable, uncatchable. 

And the thing is: we believed it.

And nothing bad ever happened, though I wonder what would have happened if it did. I wonder how we would respond to the intersection of our perception of our own power and the harsh reality of true violence. Clearly, we lived in a fantasy of our own making, but despite the fact that we took some stupid, stupid risks, I feel like we deserved to feel that way. We deserved to be bad-ass. We deserved to be heroines.

And we deserved, for just a little while, to feel that sense of unchecked power.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A new butt-kicking supergirl for paranormal fans.

Riley was hoping to trap a simple Biblio-Fiend making a nuisance of itself at the library -- one of her first traps on her own -- but instead of making a name for herself as a decent trapper she's ended up all over the web in a video that makes her look like a total spaz. You know, books flying, shelves toppling, the Biblio nearly escaping.

She's the only female Trapper in the Guild, and the old boys' club already thinks the only reason she's an apprentice is that her dad is the legendary Paul Blackthorne. This so isn't helping. And the last person she wants to see is the first person who shows up -- cute but obnoxious Beck, a guy who idolizes her dad and treats her like a little kid. And he doesn't believe her when she says that the demons must be working together -- a low-grade Bilio-Fiend can't create that kind of chaos on its own.
It's not long before things get even worse, when the unthinkable befalls Riley, Beck, and the entire Guild. It's a tragedy that makes stresses like Riley's crush on fellow apprentice Simon and her strained friendship with civilian Peter and even the economic upheaval that is her hometown of Atlanta seem like small potatoes. With a whole new -- and scary and tragic -- look on life, Riley has a new mission: find the Grade Five Geo-Fiend who created this disaster and put an end to it all.

Set in a post-apocalyptic-y Atlanta that most of us wouldn't recognize, and built on intricately woven mythology, THE DEMON TRAPPER'S DAUGHTER by Jana Oliver is a fast-paced, exciting read. With sparks of romance and bone-chilling fight scenes, the intrigue and the action compel the reader forward with each turn of the page. I am eagerly anticipating the sequel, set for release in fall of this year. In the meantime, if you've loved the tough heroines in series like Lili St. Crow's STRANGE ANGELS and Richelle Mead's VAMPIRE ACADEMY, get thee to a bookseller or library and pick up THE DEMON TRAPPER'S DAUGHTER.

Friday, February 18, 2011

How Much Time Do You Spend Online?

I spend a lot of time on the computer. A lot. At least, I dunno, 14-15 hours a day? And when I’m not on the computer, I have my trusty Droid phone in my right hand – just in case my agent needs me or my editor needs me or Alex Pettyfer needs me. (Kidding, kidding)
How much time do you spend on the computer?
I have a day job, and then I come home and write and do social networking and watch great videos on YouTube (a Tribute to Gwildor from Masters of the Universe, anybody?).
All very important things.
So I recently had the opportunity to read an ARC of AWAKEN, by Katie Kacvinsky. It comes out on May 23, 2011. Here’s a description: 
Maddie lives in a world where everything is done on the computer. Whether it’s to go to school or on a date, people don’t venture out of their home. There’s really no need. For the most part, Maddie’s okay with the solitary, digital life—until she meets Justin. Justin likes being with people. He enjoys the physical closeness of face-to-face interactions. People aren’t meant to be alone, he tells her.
Suddenly, Maddie feels something awakening inside her—a feeling that maybe there is a different, better way to live. But with society and her parents telling her otherwise, Maddie is going to have to learn to stand up for herself if she wants to change the path her life is taking.”
I enjoyed this book and it made me think a lot about my own life. In the book, Maddie does most things from her own bedroom, and her dad likes it that way because it keeps her out of trouble and keeps her safe, etc. Maddie’s never been kissed, never been on a real date, never done much of anything.
I have a hard time making friends in real life. I have a hard time going out to dinner with a random group of people I don’t have anything in common with. I even get upset when work colleagues who aren’t friends ask me to get coffee.
It just makes me uncomfortable.
For a long time, I wrote my stories in solitary, with only my husband and my dad as beta readers. I got all my “energy” from myself, from doing the things I enjoy like reading and getting coffee by myself (or with my husband) and eating Mexican food. Sure, I have friends, but it’s best to have friends who share your passions. My passion is writing, so I felt lonely for a long time.
And then I discovered the online writing community, and my world blew up. I talk to so many authors every day. And I enjoy it. I’m comfortable with it. I’m more social than I’ve been in years, since college. What’s even better is that I can control who I talk to and for how long.
What I liked best about AWAKEN is that the author showed that what’s most important is balance.
In that regard, I’ve met some online writing friends at conferences, and I really enjoyed it. It didn’t feel forced. And we got drinks and Mexican Food!, and talked “in the real world.”
I’m still working on finding the balance in other areas of my life, but I am very grateful for the online writing community. I’m grateful for all the great friends I’ve made.
How about you all?
Do you prefer being online, or meeting people in person? What makes you most comfortable?
Can you imagine being a writer and NOT having the online writing community?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Books that would be better with explosions.

So on Friday Miranda posted about how much she loves love. Like, she loves love in contemporary stories and she loves love in dystopian and fantasy stories but mostly she loves love in realistic stories. And of course, I was all like, oh Miranda, what book ISN'T better with an explosion? Because, you know, love is great and all, but explosions are kinda where it's at. And you know what? THAT MIRANDA NEVER ANSWERED. So here, for you (and Miranda), I present a very short list of books that would be better with explosions.

1. ROMEO & JULIET. I mean, we all already know what happens in ROMEO & JULIET. There are no surprises when you get to Freshman English and your teacher hands out Dover Thrift editions to the entire class and you are all like, oh, hey, star-crossed lovers. BUT, what if the Capulets were all, check it out, we have TNT! And ILLEGAL FIREWORKS FROM OVER THE COUNTY LINE! Yeah, violence never solved anything, but it's perhaps more entertaining (and, weirdly, a lot less macabre) then the age-old tale of double suicide in the name of romance.

2. MOBY DICK. Okay so I haven't read this book in, well, forever so I think there might actually be an explosion somewhere in its later chapters, but as you might remember I am of the PLEASE JUST MAKE IT STOP contingency when it comes to Melville. So I'm thinking that if the boat exploded and the whale exploded and Ishmael exploded and everything exploded in, say, chapter 2, okay, yeah. I think I'd read that book. All 20 pages of it.

3. EVERYONE POOPS. Just kidding. This might be the only book that wouldn't be improved by an explosion.

3. BLUBBER. Okay, we all know how I feel about THE JUDY, right? I love her and want to be her and think she's like sort of maybe a demigod. But here's the thing, imagine if BLUBBER were more like CARRIE. And, yeah, I know the mean girl gets her just desserts in this book, but what if the girl getting picked on could SHOOT LASERS FROM HER EYES. That'll learn some mean kids real fast, no? Or, you know, at least make for an EXPLOSIVE plot twist. Like, edge of your seat stuff. Think about it, THE JUDY. Dystopian robot girl BLUBBER could be your next bestseller.

4. BLUEBERRIES FOR SAL. Oh how I love Robert McClosky. And in this classic tale of a girl picking blueberries with her mom, and a bear cub doing the same, there is just so much cute and sweet you sort of, well, explode. But picture this: the bears are not bears but aliens. And they do not want Sal near the blueberries that they have travelled LIGHT YEARS to collect as data. So the BEAR ALIENS go on the offensive. Yeah, Sal. You had better take your pail and run, because it's about to get epic up in here. Fire and brimstone style.

5. TWILIGHT. Hey, I'm not knocking it. I read all four door-stop volumes. But I'm just saying. Wouldn't TWILIGHT be better if something BLEW UP? I know, I know, there's that car accident where Bella ALMOST DIES and Edward is all TO THE RESCUE but it's not an explosion. There is no fire. No debris propelled at high speed into someone's eyeballs. I seriously think Meyer should look into incorporating explosions into her next work of fiction. I think that, maybe, if there had been an explosion, Jacob would have had a chance. And as a member of Team Jacob, I'm totally into that. I mean, Edward would have a hard time rescuing Bella from EXPLOSIVE FIRE, since, you know, fire kills vampires. Jacob would just get sexy scars from the ordeal. WIN.

So there you go. Five books that would be better with EXPLOSIONS. Not that I endorse violence. No, actually, I do. Just, you know, IN FICTION.

What books do you think would be better if stuff blew up? Tell me in the comments! TELL ME!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Contemporary Love vs. Paranormal and Dystopian Love: Which Do You Love More?

I love apocalyptic and dystopian stories. LOVE them.

I am not sure why it’s so fun to watch Los Angeles get destroyed by tornados in The Day After Tomorrow, considering people are dying and all, but any time this movie is on, I stop to watch it. Same goes for 2012 and Independence Day and Dante’s Peak and Volcano and…

I guess I’m an Armageddon whore. (pun intended)

But when it comes to the actual romances in these movies, I could care less. Jeff Goldblum is having problems with his lady friend in Independence Day? Who cares? Did you just see the White House get blown to smithereens? Who cares that Jake Gyllenhaal can’t tell Emmy Rossum he likes her in The Day After Tomorrow? A giant wave just took out Manhattan! And helicopters are freezing in midair!

When it comes to books, I feel the exact same way.
A lot of people loved MATCHED and TWILIGHT and DELIRIUM because of the longing.  The characters in these books couldn’t be together because of some outside force. Sure, I care if the guy and girl get together or not, but it’s not the main reason I’m reading and loving these books.
For instance, in I AM NUMBER FOUR, there’s a big romance, but I honestly didn’t care that much. I was more interested in how John had to change his life all the time, and the logistics involved with that. How did he get his money? How did he blend into society so seamlessly? How did he buy all new things every time he had to adopt a new persona?
In MATCHED, I was interested in the 100 poems, 100 books, 100 songs, etc. The government in this book decided that there could only be 100 of any given thing, and the rest would be destroyed. I thought, how did the government choose which books to save? Which books would I save? Which songs? I was way more interested in imagining those scenarios than whether the main character chose Ky or Xander.
And with TWILIGHT, which I still love of course, it’s not like any guy I’ve ever dated has thirsted for my blood. (I hope)
I guess what I’m saying is that “I’m Not Feeling It.”
I didn’t cry when I read DELIRIUM or XVI or ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, even though I loved the books. However, I bawled like a baby when reading WHERE SHE WENT and AMY AND ROGER’S EPIC DETOUR. Hell, I even cry when reading Elizabeth Scott’s books and Simon and Schuster Romanic Comedies.
I got really upset when reading PROM AND PREJUDICE for crying out loud.
I think I’ve realized that I relate more to contemporary love stories, and feel more for the characters, because I can relate. Because “that could happen to me.”
I could want to be with the hot Will Darcy of the nearby prep school, but because he told me he doesn’t like scholarship students, and I am a scholarship student, I’ll never speak to him again. Even though I want him.
Or maybe this guy wants to be with me, but I want to be with his brother, and then eventually come to realize that the first guy was the better choice. But he’s moved on to another girl. That could actually happen!

Or maybe I want to be with this guy who’s in a gang, but I live in the ritzy part of Chicago, and he’s involved in all sorts of life-threatening drama. That could actually happen!
Now compare that with MATCHED and DELIRIUM. The government won’t let two people be together? How can I relate to that? I highly doubt I’ll wake up tomorrow to find that the U.S. Government won’t let me date the guy I want.
I didn’t cry while reading MATCHED or DELIRIUM, but SWEETHEARTS by Sara Zarr? You best your ass I did. J
Don’t get me wrong – I did find the guys in these dystopian books very swoon-worthy.
On the flip side, I recently read and loved WITHER. I was most surprised when I actually started getting interested in the love story. I had thought I’d be more interested in the virus destroying Earth’s population.

What kind of love story do you prefer?
Did you feel more while reading these dystopian and paranormal stories than I did?
Do you all think I’m a nut now? J

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Lost Art of Consistency

I'm terrible at being consistent.  I'm one of those "put the fires out as they light" kind of people, which means I'm usually running in several directions at any given time with no idea what I'm going to do when I get there.  I am not the person you want to ask to plan a large event.  I'll show up ten minutes before the party starts with a couple of pizzas, some two liters of soda, a cake that says "Happy Birthday Ethel", and a mass text message to everyone I know asking them if they want to stop by for Bobby's birthday party.  I am the definition of "phoning it in."

But it kind of makes me mad when some of my favorite authors do the same thing.

Recently I've read several books by authors I rely on, and they've been, well, pretty lame.  And when I say "lame" I don't mean that I've read them in one sitting only to find the world's worst cliffhanger (although that also irks).  No, I mean the book has sat on a shelf half-read for over a month because either the writing, the characters, or the storyline are so boring that I start to nod off every time I read a page.  It's a tragedy, and I want it to stop.

One of the reasons I get an author's follow up is because I feel like I can depend on it to be good.  That's the covenant of repeat business.  You give me a good product, I will continue to buy said product.  No one wants to plunk down twenty bucks for a "meh" book, and one of the reasons people don't try new authors (not me, I love debuts) is because they are spending money on an old favorite.  But what do you do when the old favorite disappoints?  To me, it's actually more irritating than when a debut isn't the greatest, because there's an expectation of something there that never develops.  With a debut, there's no expectation, or at least not as strong of one.

It's depressing when I have a book with a bookmark gathering dust.

Does it bother you when a favorite author's book doesn't move you?  More importantly, do you continue to buy their books, or find something else to read?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Art Intersecting Art Intersecting Art

One of my favorite museums on earth is right here in my hometown - The Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Now, the reason for this particular favoritism has a little to do with the quality of the art itself (though, it's astonishing) but has more to do with the relationship I've had with this museum over the years. It's where we took our Elementary School field trips. It's where I once went on dates when we were past the mini-golf stage but weren't yet of drinking age. It's where I took my kids when they were little and we just needed to get out of the house. 

The MIA has, over the years, worked hard to make itself an inclusive place, to democratize art - it's free, for one; it has a play room and programming for children; it features free tours and lectures and music on Sunday mornings and hands-on art projects that parents can pretend are for their children to do, but secretly enjoy that odd satisfaction of decoupage and clay and tempura paints.

So, I love this museum. And I try to come over here at least once a month. But I do so on my own, on the sly and for my own particular reasons.

I come to the institute because it makes me a better writer.

It started out with one painting. (Doesn't it always?) Once, when I was much younger than I am today, I came to the museum on a date with a young man who was, let's face it, something of a dud. No imagination, no spark. Hot? Yes. Smart? Not so much. Since he wasn't much for conversation, I focused my attention on the art. And then I saw her. 


Lucretia. Despite the fact that her story has been told and re-told by men (always men) - her resistance to Titus, her refusal to allow herself to be made a pawn, her suicide, not as acquiescence, but as defiance to the perversions of power - no matter who is telling  the story - Shakespeare, Chaucer, Heywood, St. Augustine, and Livy, to name just a few - the person of Lucretia remains: The woman who stood up for herself, who called rape what it was, and by her death, spawned a revolution, a government, a republic, and a new way of life.

Go Lucretia.

And this painting, when she is standing in front of her husband and father, when the knife is still wet with her blood and her tears shimmer at the rims of her eyes - I know that Rembrandt gets her. Go Rembrandt. 

So I kept coming back, always to see Lucretia. And her voice has whispered in my work - her defiance, her impatience with power, her willingness to hold wrongdoers accountable, even if her own death was a requirement to move the wheels of justice - has insisted its way into my pages again and again.

And it isn't just Lucretia. Given that I am not a visual artist, and never could be, and despite the fact that I am not a visual thinker at all, I am still thrilled by the visual arts. The hands that lovingly carved Saint Catherine of Alexandria, for example: 
Saint Catherine of Alexandria
have made their way into a story that I'm working on now. Notice the man she's standing on. Notice the serenity on her face as she presses him into the ground. I've always been a big fan of Saint Catherine (despite the fact that most folks tell me that she likely didn't exist. I don't care. In my heart she existed, and continues to exist, so really, isn't that enough?) and I absolutely love this statue. In my story, my heroine has a very specific reason to portray these two people in this - ahem - rather compromising position. More on that later. 
And the painting of this panel: The Elevation Of The Magdalen found its way into one of my stories a number of years ago. Currently, there's an exhibit that's on tour called "The Mourners", which were originally carved for the tomb of John the Fearless in Dijon, France.
 These statues are delicate, heartbreaking and utterly, utterly thrilling. Each one demonstrates his grief in his own particular fashion, and each one communicates that grief to the viewer through gesture, stance and expression. And it isn't the individual expressions of grief that is so stunning to me. Rather, it is the assertion that grief is a communal emotion. Grief is something we share, it is something we burden one another with, and by burdening, release one another as well. I stood in front of these statues, transfixed, hardly breathing, my mouth and eyes wide open and astonished.

I'll probably be back tomorrow.

I will probably steal . . . something. A shrug, a turn of the neck, a delicate unfurling of the hand, and sneak it into a story. More as that develops.

So here's my question for the lot of you: What are the museums or paintings or sculptures that call out to you? What pieces of art has fed you as a writer or a reader or just as a person?