Friday, January 27, 2012

GINN HALE



Interview with GINN HALE

Ginn Hale resides in the Pacific Northwest, donates blood as a pastime, and tinkers with things. Her first novel, WICKED GENTLEMEN, won the Spectrum Award for best novel and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. She is also the author of the LORD OF THE WHITE HELL books and the RIFTER series. Her novella, THINGS UNSEEN AND DEADLY, appears in the Shared-world Anthology IRREGULARS.

What are you reading right now?

Right now, I'm reading through CULINARIA GERMANY, which was edited by Christine Metzger. It's an odd hybrid of history book, cookbook, and atlas. Very useful for research, since it directly ties the geography and culture of a place to its traditions and history. Also there are some beautiful pictures and a lovely section on witches!

THE EXTENDED PHENOTYPE by Richard Dawkins is a delight and quite brilliant. 

I've also been revisiting BY THE SWORD by Richard Cohen, which is a history of fencing and filled with fascinating information tracing the evolution of swordplay from a necessity of war to a refined almost artistic sport.

What first sparked your interest in writing?

I'm not a natural writer, I don't think. I don't have favorite words or much skill at word-play. But I've always loved stories - stripped down to their core plots they can often be as perfect and precise as really lovely algebraic formulas. It's always been the core of a story - that nifty little plot - that buoys me through the hard work of crafting the individual words that build characters, scenes, and worlds.  

What do you love the most about writing? The least?

I think that writing is beautiful in that simple bits of ink can evoke entire worlds - and that the experience of them can be quite real to the reader. I'm also fascinated by the fact that so very much of what an author creates is actually given life by the imagination of a reader. I think it's marvelous that every reader can have his or her own private version of Cadeleon and it's inhabitants.

What I hate about writing is the intense demand of the craft. For me books take years to write because the individual words do not come easily or naturally. But that's the life I've chosen and I've been very lucky to have met a great bunch of readers because of it. I certainly can't complain.

Tell us a little about your writing process.

My process is quite dull. (Sometimes I think I ought to attempt to spice it up, if only to have a better answer to this question during interviews.)

But alas the truth is that I simply read a wide variety of non-fiction and take notes while I'm cogitating upon a plot. Then when I feel like I've got a grasp of the story I want to write I create my outline as well as a rough atlas of the world I'm creating. Then I pick a song to listen to and I start writing. And I just keep writing until the book, novella, or short story is done.  

The only remarkable detail of my process might be that I only listen to a single song the entire time that I'm writing a work. There are songs that I've listened to for eight or more hours nearly every day for up to five years.  

What are your passions?

I really like science and I am very committed to LGBT rights; I don't, in any way, accept that my marriage to my wife poses a threat to anyone - except maybe the cats who might get bumped off the bed once in a while. And speaking of cats, I also strongly support the work being done by organizations like the Best Friend Animal Society.
 
What inspires you?

Nearly anything that makes me think is inspiring. That's why I tend to read so much non-fiction, particularly on subjects of biology, technology, and history. But anything can be inspiring to me if I try to find the inspiration in it. To me, that's part of the real beauty of the world: nothing is too small, common, or ordinary not to harbor some spark of interest. 

Why fantasy?

Well, both authors and readers can have quite a bit of fun with fantasy. There aren't many other genres that allow people to fly, animals to speak, and terrible wrongs to be undone with just a kiss. It's also a genre that allows a writer to raise difficult topics - sexuality, religion, social hierarchy, etc. - but removed enough from a real world context not to instantly provoke a knee-jerk reaction from readers. 

How were THE LORD OF THE WHITE HELL books born?

I'd just completed the five year project of THE RIFTER, (which required a huge amount of plotting and touched on some rather dark themes), and I wanted to write something more straightforward featuring younger, less hardened characters. A close friend requested a story set in a boys school, another friend asked for horses, and a third friend - the genius whom I based Kiram on - was going through some of the tougher adventure of becoming his own adult and inspired me greatly. 

I just went from there and two years later I'd written the books.  

Of all your published books, do you have a personal favorite?

I don't have a favorite.

As a rule, the book I've just completed is my least loved work because all the trouble it caused me is still so fresh in my mind.

Right now the LORD OF THE WHITE HELL books and THE RIFTER series are both in the clear; it's my contribution to the IRREGULARS anthology that is my least loved creation at the moment. Though I suppose it will soon be supplanted, since I'm just now starting to write another book set in the Cadeleonian world.

Do you ever plan to return to Kiram and Javier’s story?

I plan to return to their world and I expect to find them there,perhaps not as primary protagonists, but certainly still there.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

I think most authors give the same, good advice: write every day and always with a creative but critical eye.

The only other thing I can think to add is that no matter how precious some ideas or stories might seem, you must be open to abandoning them for the better of the overall work.  Sometimes that means abandoning entire novels and moving on to a better, stronger project. Not every idea works out, but every effort is an opportunity to learn and improve.  Even failure gives a writer something to consider. That can be an inspiration in itself.

Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself?

Well, I'm not nearly so serious as I may seem in interviews or sitting on some panel fielding questions. In person, I tend to just kid around, tinker with things and talk too much about lichen.

Other bits of trivia: I'm left handed, I nearly live on black coffee, red beans, and rice but haven't manage to develop a taste for chocolate. Oh! And I've been challenged to add noodles into my next novel so there's something to look out for. Elezar Grunito versus noodles!

Friday, January 20, 2012

HOMICIDE IN HARDCOVER


Review of HOMICIDE IN HARDCOVER by KATE CARLISLE
(first in the BIBLIOPHILE MYSTERIES series)

I rarely read mystery, so HOMICIDE IN HARDCOVER is a fun change for me. It’s the first book in the BIBLIOPHILE MYSTERIES. Can anyone guess what attracted me to this particular series? Since reviews are highly rooted in taste, let me share upfront that I usually go for more whimsical, light, silly mysteries than meaty, grisly ones. Perhaps a break from some of the darker fantasy novels on my favorites list.

HOMICIDE IN HARDCOVER fits my description above. Enjoyable, amusing, comforting. I, obviously, related to the main character Brooklyn because she adores books, but she is above all real. I liked her and could identify with her, but she also irritated me at times. That’s actually a compliment! The point is that she definitely isn’t a flat character. Oftentimes if I agree with every little thing a character thinks or does it means the author is staying in safe ground. Not that Brooklyn did anything deplorable; I only mean that occasionally she struck me as slightly superficial or selfish. I’ve read my share of perfect characters, though, and I welcome ones that are likable without being annoyingly flawless.

I invested in both the murder mystery and the romance. I didn’t predict the murderer, but then again I can count the number of mystery novels I’ve read on one hand so I’m no veteran whodunit reader. The romance subplot doesn’t steal focus and when the author isn’t trying too hard that usually makes me invest even more.

Brooklyn’s the kind of character I can cheer on. I want her to solve the mystery. I want her to resolve any damaged relationships. I want her to win the guy. I want her to find resolution and closure. That wanting pulled me through the story to the end, which wraps up the murder nicely. And the very last part is a totally unexpected, hilarious twist!

Friday, January 13, 2012

TOUCH OF POWER


Review of TOUCH OF POWER by MARIA V. SNYDER
(review based on an advance reading copy)

I’ve read one other series by Snyder (the POISON STUDY trilogy) and I had to laugh after starting TOUCH OF POWER, because the opening is so similar. A young woman, wrongfully despised for crimes she didn’t commit, awaits her execution only to be offered a chance to live by a handsome stranger who could easily be a friend or an enemy. Of course, the specific details make these completely different books. In POISON STUDY, a woman accused of murder is offered a position as poison taster.  In TOUCH OF POWER, the woman is a magical healer. When fear and prejudice toss her in a cell, she finds herself rescued by men who need her gift.

The premise of TOUCH OF POWER is really fantastic and encourages debating. While there are a few different kinds of magicians in this world, our story focuses on healers. Healers can, well, heal people. Of course, it’s more complicated than that. They have a faster curative rate than normal humans and a magical ability to absorb wounds and illnesses from a patient into themselves. This means that they can “take” someone’s pneumonia or stab wound etc. and then heal much faster than the patient would. However, they feel the wound or illness as would anyone else, so this gift isn’t without sacrifice. Here’s where the bigger problems enter: years back a plague spread that healers couldn’t stop. They quickly discovered that, were they to absorb this particular disease, they wouldn’t recover. There are about one hundred healers in the world and this plague spread all over, so the Guild decided it simply wasn’t worth the sacrifice and forbid healers to cure anyone with the plague. Unfortunately, that decree was misinterpreted and people believed healers spread the plague themselves and then refused to treat it. Thanks to that massive miscommunication, all healers must erase their old identities and live in hiding, which means absolutely no magical healing. Discovery means death.

Now on to our protagonist Avry’s individual problems. She has the intellect and survival skills to be a great fugitive if only compassion didn’t lead her to heal someone on the brink of death, usually a child, every time she finds a safe hideout. The men who rescue/kidnap her from prison want her to heal a prince with the plague. Not only does Avry know she will die if she heals someone with the plague, but this particular prince stands for everything about the world that she hates. While she’s prepared to give up her life for some people, not for him.

I noticed more similarities between TOUCH OF POWER and POISON STUDY than just the beginning. In fact, a lot of parallels can be drawn between the two stories. Many characters are mirrors of each other. Avry from TOUCH OF POWER doesn’t seem that different than Yelena from POISON STUDY. Kerrick reminded me of Valek. And so forth. However, it should be said that if Snyder’s plot occasionally seems formulaic, it’s a formula that works. I was totally hooked from start to finish and even where I noticed these similarities, it didn’t take me out of the story. There’s plenty to differentiate the two books.

One writing habit that did distract me, though, is the overuse of present participle clauses. (I noticed this in POISON STUDY as well.) Grammar nerds know what I’m talking about. If you’re not a grammar nerd, then never mind; it’s an amazing book. If you are a grammar nerd, be warned that there is a present participle clause (or two or three) on almost every page and perhaps as many as half of them are grammatically incorrect.

My only other complaint is also something I noticed in both books: the absence of women in the story. While the protagonist is a woman, she’s surrounded by men: friends, enemies, love interests, but all men. Most of the women who pop up play very, very minor roles, and those that play larger ones are evil.

As I approached the ending, I inwardly cringed. It appeared that the author intended to leave a bunch of a plot threads dangling for the next book to pick up. I should have had more faith. The ending was extremely satisfying. It wrapped up everything I wanted some closure on in this book, but, since this is the first in a trilogy, left the bigger plot threads to be resolved over the rest of the series.

After nitpicking a little, I have to repeat that TOUCH OF POWER riveted my attention. I didn’t want to put it down and whenever I had a few spare minutes, I would snatch it up to read a couple more pages. I found Avry easy to empathize with, especially since she so frequently found herself in tricky emotional, intellectual, or political situations that made me ask, “What would I do?” It’s the first in a new trilogy, so I can’t wait for the next one!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Favorite Books Read in 2011


For those who have been following my blog throughout the year, the books on this list won’t come as a surprise. I write long reviews, though, so below you can find much shorter descriptions of my favorite books from 2011. All the books I reviewed or authors I interviewed are linked to the original post.

Note that these are books I read in 2011, not necessarily books published in 2011. At first I attempted to sort the titles in terms of my most favorite, but ultimately decided to sort them by author’s last name. The order of most favorite probably changes a little (or a lot) every day and it feels like a disservice to those near the end even though they’re all on this list because I loved them! I also decided, rather than go for an even number like “favorite 10” or favorite 25,” to simply list those that I adored, whatever the number.

1.     DAUGHTER OF THE BLOOD by ANNE BISHOP

If I had stuck with my original plan of sorting these books in terms of how much I enjoyed them, this one would still deserve a place near the top! Bishop not only creates a detailed, distinct fantasy world, but her story appeals to both my emotion and my intellect. The plot raises so many questions about major aspects of humanity, such as: sexuality, gender, violence, love, honor, and, oh, I could go on! (My review of this book is the longest review I have ever written!)

2.     HOUSE OF THE STAR by CAITLIN BRENNAN

This is a must-read for horse fanatics, but a great book for other bibliophiles. Elen lives in a universe where different worlds are connected by magical roads across which only special horses can travel. She desperately wants to become a trained rider on one of these horses, but that means going to Earth (the only planet on which the horses can breed) and working alongside a perceived enemy.


In the ONYX COURT series, a fey court lurks beneath the mortal one in historic London. Each book is set in a different century and, with fascinating attention to detail, Brennan examines how the fey must adapt if they wish to survive in a human-dominated world.

4.     WARRIOR by MARIE BRENNAN

The very premise of this book could be posed to a class on ethics. Miryo is a witch in training, but she learns that before she can harness and control her magic she must kill her doppelganger. Murder might seem like the obvious unethical option, but if Miryo doesn’t slay her doppelganger, her magic will ricochet out of control and kill many more than one innocent person.

5.     LOVE INC by YVONNE COLLINS and SANDY RIDEOUT

I adored this book! Very few books actually hook me so that I don’t (or can’t) put it down, but here’s one that did! Three girls meet in a counseling group for teenagers with separated or divorced parents and realize they’re all dating the same guy! Spurred by their own romantic failure along with that of their parents, they start a hilarious if morally questionable business devoted to solving other people’s romantic problems.

6.     WITHER by LAUREN DESTEFANO

A good test of how much you enjoyed a book is how much you remember and think about the book months later. I still can’t get Rhine’s world, where men die at twenty and women at twenty-five, out of my mind. I can’t wait for the next installment, especially because I have absolutely no idea where the second book is headed.

7.     GOOD OMENS by NEIL GAIMAN and TERRY PRATCHETT

This work (and these authors) is pretty established by now and has many devoted fans, but for those who haven’t heard of this title: it’s a hilarious take on the apocalypse. And I’m not talking a handful of great jokes. I mean almost every line is funny.

8.     DRUIDS by BARBARA GALLER-SMITH and JOSH LANGSTON

Fantasy and history find a nice blend here. The authors are actually very minimalist in their use of fantasy, which only makes the real magic all the more exciting. Set during the Sertorian War, the story focuses on fictional characters but crosses paths with historical figures.

9.     A TALE DARK & GRIMM by ADAM GIDWITZ

This middle grade novel tackles Grimm’s fairy tales and actually manages to stay fairly true to the original story without traumatizing younger readers. Each chapter is a twist on a specific Grimm fairy tale. However, the stories are all connected with the characters Hanzel and Gretel, who just want to find a real happily-ever-after.

10. AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES by JOHN GREEN

This book is laugh-out-loud, read-quotes-to-innocent-bystanders hilarious. As the cherry on top, it’s intelligent humor, too. Child prodigy Colin might have peaked too early, but after being dumped for the nineteenth time by yet another girl named Katherine he attempts to put his genius to work determining a mathematical formula for how long a relationship will last.


Ginn Hale’s LORD OF THE WHITE HELL duology wins the prize for hardest books for me to put down this year. I not only stayed up ridiculously late to finish the first one, but I found myself desperate and impatient to get my hands on the second book ASAP! Kiram accepts a scholarship to a foreign school, but they dump him (the outsider) with the least desirable roommate. Er, make that least desirable to most people. While others fear Javier and the strange magic that curses him, Kiram feels an instant attraction - not a problem where he’s from but male-male relationships are forbidden in this land.  

12. DRAGON CHAMPION by E.E. KNIGHT

Auron’s story is a tale about survival. By the way, Auron is a young dragon. In his world, dragons are being hunted into extinction and this book, though stuffed with fantasy, echoes with the sad reality of endangered species.

13. THE MERMAID’S MIRROR by L.K MADIGAN

On the surface, this story sounds unoriginal, but what brings it to life is the characters, each real, unique, and flawed. Madigan avoids the didactic trap some young adult writers fall into and lets her characters be selfish and make mistakes without ruining their likability.

14. SEPULCHRE by KATE MOSSE

Mosse utilizes a similar format to that of her first book: a fantastical twist and interwoven modern and historical plotlines that crash together at the end. The main characters are not likable, which can be an issue for some readers, but they are nonetheless believable and their story engrossing.

15. HIS MAJESTY’S DRAGON by NAOMI NOVIK

Set during the Napoleonic Wars, this world doesn’t seem so different from our own except that there’s an extra branch of the military: those that train and ride dragons. The novel holds together with solid research and details, but the themes of chivalry and honor and the strengthening bond between the human Laurence and “his” dragon Temeraire are what hooked me.

16. WHO FEARS DEATH by NNEDI OKORAFOR

This is not an easy story to read. Okorafor doesn’t hold her punches with the graphic violence, but the story transcends morbid fascination with brutality and presents nightmares like war rape and circumcision as traumas real women endure. Not to mention that this isn’t a flat story about violence. There’s depth here in a painful exploration of humanity’s propensity for aggression and cruelty.

17. ZAHRAH THE WINDSEEKER by NNEDI OKORAFOR

This book is much lighter in tone than Okorafor’s WHO FEARS DEATH while still managing to give the reader little scares with strange, frightening monsters. The foremost theme - being an outsider - is universal in young adult literature.

18. LOST VOICES by SARAH PORTER

This story was a breath of fresh air. (Sorry for the cliché.) Sirens are usually depicted as monsters that lure men to their deaths for no particular reason other than that it’s in their nature, but Porter delves into this myth and gifts these mermaids and their devastating songs with the layers and backstory they deserve.

19. THE GOLDEN COMPASS by PHILIP PULLMAN

Pullman’s trilogy is one of the most complex works I have ever read. Every detail from characters to setting to plot seems carefully thought through. Also, it’s hard not to like the defiant eleven-year-old protagonist Lyra and I dare say impossible not to be caught up in her journey, which is peppered with characters who each seem to have their own, intricate story and packed with obstacles of all kinds.


Like Porter, Simner also takes material that has become fairly repetitive in literature and molds something new. This is a post-apocalyptic fairy story! Simner’s writing has an easy flow that tugs you along and she treats every character with compassion so you can understand where everyone is coming from even as they disagree or, well, try to kill each other.

21. DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by LAINI TAYLOR

This book was not only an incredible find, but it led me to the author Laini Taylor. I devoured all of her work after discovering this book and now consider her one of my favorite authors. Her writing zings with her own distinct style and she creates some beautiful metaphors so apt that I marvel that I’ve never read them before. In DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE, Taylor also demonstrates brilliant pacing. The story pulled me along, making me want to know more, but I never found myself frustrated. Details were always divulged at the exact moment I most wanted them.


These two books follow Magpie the fairy. At first she might seem like your fairy stereotype - small, cute, whimsical - but this fairy pre-teen spends most of her time hunting down demons that humans foolishly release into the world.

23. LIPS TOUCH: THREE TIMES by LAINI TAYLOR

Three stories fill this collection connected by themes of longing not to mention the fey. The first follows the type of girl the goblins desire: the girl who longs so badly to be popular that the goblins can almost taste her longing…and it tastes delicious. The second story details a cruel curse that prevents a young woman from ever speaking. And in the third, by far the darkest, children are nothing more than toys and hosts for the fey.

24. UGLIES, PRETTIES, SPECIALS, and EXTRAS by SCOTT WESTERFELD

This series is such a quick, easy read that it’s tempting to put intellect on pause and just enjoy a fun story, but once the questions start coming you realize there’s quite a lot to think about and debate. Tally lives in a far future society where everyone is required to have a surgery at age sixteen to make them “pretty.” I actually don’t like Tally, who wants nothing more than to do what’s expected of her, but her friend Shay, the one who questions the surgery and urges Tally to do the same, definitely belongs on my favorite characters list.