Friday, March 30, 2012

WAKING STORMS


Review of WAKING STORMS by SARAH PORTER
(second in the LOST VOICES trilogy, review based on advance reading copy)

I adored the first book in this trilogy, LOST VOICES, but Porter raises the bar even higher with WAKING STORMS. As amazing as the book was, I find the lengthy list of characters and choices I want to discuss reigned in by my reluctance to give away too much. I lamented once, in my very first review on this blog actually, that mermaid fiction often circles the same plot formulas, but not WAKING STORMS! This series is utterly fresh, unique, and unpredictable. Not to mention layered. There are so many twists and climatic events all linked together in unexpected ways that it's easy to start revealing a little of the beginning and find I've outlined the entire book!

Suffice it to say: the boy’s back. Know who I mean? The boy Luce rescued, despite mermaid law forbidding such actions. Due to the unpredictable nature of this story, I honestly didn't know if we would ever hear more from him again. Certainly it seemed probable and highly possible that the boy Luce saved would come back to haunt her, but at the same time I could just as easily imagine that transgression fading into the back of Luce's mind, influencing her actions at crucial points in her life. However, WAKING STORMS actually opens in Dorian's perspective and he plays almost as great a role as Luce as the story shifts between their two viewpoints.

It shouldn't be that terrible a spoiler to reveal that a romance develops between Luce and Dorian. (The back cover tells you this, anyway.) However, Porter addresses a key question that similar young adult mortal/mythical romances annoyed me by sidestepping: does Dorian even love Luce or is he enchanted by her? Certainly, she doesn't intentionally manipulate him with magic, but her very nature not to mention Dorian's occasional obsessive, clingy, and desperate behavior hint that this isn't love - it's something else, a possibility that hurts Luce in ways she didn't know she could hurt anymore.

Along with a complicated but well-handled romance, tension builds between Luce and the tribe she abandoned despite her rightful claim as queen, characters I thought long gone make shocking re-appearances and characters I hoped would re-appear remain gone, new human girls turn to mermaids, Luce meets mermaids much older than her, we learn more of mermaid origin as well as how strictly other tribes adhere to the timahk, characters I feared would betray Luce help her at their own detriment while characters I entirely believed she could trust betray her, and, last but not least, the FBI might be on the verge of discovering the existence of mermaids, perhaps due to Luce’s violation of the timahk when she rescued Dorian.

Porter impresses me by avoiding even the slightest hint of a didactic tone anywhere in this series, a mistake especially common in young adult. Each characters becomes a person - ahem, or mermaid - with individual strengths, flaws, opinions, and morals, and Porter keeps judgment out of the equation, allowing readers to reach their own conclusions. There isn't a single character in this book that I agreed with 100% of the time, but neither is there a single pure evil antagonist. (Um, Anais comes close, though.) While I can always understand the logic and emotions behind characters' decisions everyone possesses that all too human capability to make choices that seem right at the time, but have disastrous consequences they didn’t predict.

However, my favorite aspect of this work has to be the incredible, fantastical metaphors for real problems young adults and adults alike face. Sex is a great example. Luce and Dorian lust for each other, but Luce's mermaid figure isn't designed for sex. This leads to the fear that Dorian might leave her for a human girl who IS capable of having sex, a dilemma that brings to mind when boys in real life leave a girlfriend who isn't ready for sex for a girl who is. Then there's Luce's concern that Dorian doesn't really love her, a concern we can see mirrored around us for countless reasons. Whether the "enchantment" is beauty, wealth, fame etc, many people struggle with similar fears to Luce's: does he love me for me? If not, would he stay if I lost what enchants him? In Luce's case, she's considering ill-advised, experimental attempts to turn human again. Along with the fact that Luce isn't even sure that's what she wants, she can't help wondering if Dorian would still love her if she lost the magical appeal of being a mermaid. And let's not forget the mermaid Nausicaa, a new addition in WAKING STORMS. Since Nausicaa has lived for thousands of years, she believes she can foresee the end results of Luce's decisions; after all, she claims, she has seen other mermaids make the same decisions more times than Luce can imagine. This puts me in mind of how adults often claim to "know what's best" for teenagers, simply because they have more life experience. "I know this story," Nausicaa tells Luce. While she might be right, Nausicaa's statement still smacks of self-righteous arrogance and Luce insists, "But I don't know this story."

The ending of WAKING STORMS is even more climatic than LOST VOICES. It teeters right on the edge of being frustrating for cutting off so abruptly while still finding a relatively nice closure point in an increasingly messy plot. I cannot wait to get my hands on the third and final book in the trilogy and, as I'm finding common with this series, I have absolutely no idea what's going to happen next.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Why Do We Like Dark Stories?


Discussion Topic: Why Do We Like Dark Stories?

Back in October 2011, someone commented on my review of LIPS TOUCH: THREE TIMES with the question: "why do people like such dark stories?" That wasn’t the first time I've been asked this and it's a good question. I started to type a response to that comment, but I found that I kept deleting my response and typing something else, which led me to the realization that I don't have an easy answer. So here's my long, convoluted answer!

I want to specify that I don't seek out dark books. Some people do (and they would probably have a different answer to this question), but I don't. In fact, when someone describes a book as dark (violent, scary, gruesome, disturbing, etc.), I'm more likely to steer away from that book than snatch it up. These ominous adjectives definitely aren't sellers for me.

And yet, a lot of my favorite books are very, very dark. In my attempt at an easy answer, I say it all comes down to how the content’s handled. I'm not inclined toward dark books, but sometimes darkness in a story can be beautiful, illuminating, and even healing. Dark books in the hands of brilliant writers can shake my entire worldview and/or make me learn something new about myself.

Pulling from my own experience, I have a handful of theories on why people might be drawn to dark stories. Of course, it really comes down to specific books and it's not fair to say any person loves all dark tales. I love fantasy, but I don't love every fantasy book. When handled with insight and compassion, though, darkness can actually be a strength in a story.

Finally, I'm getting to the why! The first possibility that springs to most people's minds, especially those who dislike dark stories, is morbid fascination. I like to believe that it's more than that. I know I prefer the focus on psychological and emotional ramifications of violence or trauma than gruesome descriptions of said violence. Along those lines, something interesting that I’ve noticed about myself is that I can tolerate far more violence in books than I can in movies or television. Probably because I don't like being forced to see something. With a violent literary scene, I can paint an image in my head as vivid as I feel comfortable, though authors with extraordinary skill can certainly force images into your mind with less help from your imagination than usual. But with television or movies, there’s no choice about how much to see; you see what’s displayed in front of you. (Unless you’re one of those people who hides under your sweater at frightening scenes, which I confess I have done before.) The point is that when reading a violent scene in a book, I tend to be thinking more about the emotions of each character than about the gore.

Humanity has a dark side. Very rarely do I read about a violent action that I don't believe is realistic. I love my happily-ever-after, nothing-too-terrible-happens stories, too, but I consider them a retreat from reality. Of course, there's an in-between with books that don't easily fit the descriptions "light" or "dark," and I enjoy those as well. In the end, I read to understand, and I would only be doing myself a disservice in terms of understanding people if I refused to consider their darker inclinations and only read the happily-ever-after type books.


Dark stories draw attention to real issues. Even though the darkness in stories mirrors the darkness in reality, most people's lives aren't nearly as trauma-invested as the darkest tales. For those people in safe, sheltered, and content lives, terribly dark books can force them to consider issues they would prefer not to think about, issues that whether they’re exaggerated, fictional, and perhaps even portrayed with a fantastical twist still reflect real problems. Sometimes these books motivate people into action.

Through reading, we learn more about ourselves and about the world. (This ties into my point above that occasionally readers will become so invested in an issue in a book that they take up the cross in real life.) I recently read a psychology study that concluded that people who read a lot of fiction are more empathetic and better at interpreting social situations than people who don't read very much or any fiction. When we read about characters' experiences, we put ourselves in their place. Almost always when I'm reading something, I wonder what I would do if I found myself in the exact same situation as the protagonist (or sometimes side characters), regardless of how incredibly unlikely said situation might be. This is one of the reasons that reading dark stories can be difficult, especially for highly empathetic readers: because, emotionally, they’re too close to living the painful experience. I’m glad I've never experienced the violent, traumatic events that many of my favorite characters suffered through, but I feel reading their story and thinking about what I might do, how I would feel, what I might think, how I would recover from something like that, has helped form my identity.

Reading is safe. I can stop reading at any time. I can shut the book and never pick it up again. If a scene is too violent, I don’t have to keep reading; sadly the ability to cut off violence before the worst part in real life is rare to nonexistent. We choose what we want to read and I read to learn and to understand. I would rather learn some empathy for people with tragic experiences through reading vivid, sensitively painted stories by amazing authors than by experiencing the same darkness firsthand. We all meet people in real life with their own emotional scars. We shouldn’t have to go through the exact same trauma to connect, but devouring countless fiction stories and exposing ourselves to fictional characters of every mindset and background imaginable helps us to understand where someone might be coming from even if our life experience has been so different.


Stories can, and do, help us make sense of reality. The dark side of humanity is a painful truth, a truth many prefer not to think about, to tuck away. Well-told stories have a poignancy and sense of overarching meaning that can help us make sense of our demons. Heroes, villains, plots, and themes can all organize something that is hard to understand.

For some of us, we’re trying to understand something we’ve never been through, simply to help with our lifelong goal of understanding the world and each other. For others, who have actually been through something traumatic and perhaps similar to what they’re reading, they can relate. Sometimes they’re relating more metaphorically. Take, for example, the children’s book SYLVESTER AND THE MAGIC PEBBLE. That book scared the bejesus out of me when I was a kid! For anyone not familiar with the story, Sylvestor is a donkey who collects pebbles. One day he finds a very special pebble that grants wishes. Then a lion approaches, and, scared and not thinking straight, Sylvester wishes he was a rock. The lion sniffs him and moves on, so he’s safe from that threat, but then he’s trapped as a rock until years later when his parents happen to picnic on him (as a rock), find the magic pebble lying nearby, and wish Sylvester was there with them. Now in the most shallow interpretation of that story, there’s nothing overtly terrifying about it. As a kid I couldn’t even name why I found it so frightening, but as I grew older I realized it was the utter lack of control, the complete and thorough helplessness. There are situations from which heroes and heroines can escape if they’re competent enough, but then there are ones in which they have no choice but to pray for luck or help from someone else. I highly doubt anyone can directly relate to being turned into a rock, but that book resonates strongly with people, adults and children alike, who have felt powerless. Reading well-handled stories that relate to one’s own trauma can be healing even if they have plenty of external support, but especially in cases where the individual hasn’t shared what haunts them with anyone stories can reach out and call to them. In fact, I have both met and read about many authors who wrote books on dark topics, say suicide, eating disorders, rape, abuse to name a few, and were contacted by readers who felt reading the book saved them. Either quite literally from killing themselves, or perhaps saved them from retreating inside themselves and letting the trauma take over the rest of their lives.

Sometimes villains get their punishment in the end. I think of these books as "dark happily-ever-afters." Ones where terrible, disturbing things might happen, but the bad guy never slips away and the victims find comfort in healing relationships with good people. While it can be hard acknowledging the realistic violence, it's comforting to read about worlds where justice seems to be its own force. These are my favorite dark stories.

As I've reiterated, I don't seek out dark books nor do I like them all. Far from it. For every book I read that does an incredible job at tackling a painful topic, I read one where the same topic seems tossed in there for shock factor without any effort to address the real emotional repercussions of such trauma. I touched on this a little in my review of WHO FEARS DEATH. There's a rape scene in there, among other awful, terrible events, that made me squirm in my seat and, no exaggeration, repeatedly look away from the page. I love that book and I’m glad the author made the rape so hard to read. On the reverse, I read another book (that shall not be named) where there's a "big revel" that the protagonist was raped, which seemed more designed to shock the reader. That rape scene was described fairly in depth, too, but what troubled me the most was that this character felt like a disservice to all women in real life who have been raped. She had no emotional scars whatsoever - the rape was just something that had happened to her - and even entered into a romantic, sexual, healthy relationship without a single speedbump along the way. The rape was clearly meant to give her character more depth, but because the author didn't follow through on the emotional repercussions, it did the reverse. Those are the dark stories I cannot stand.


Last, I wanted to mention some of the books I’ve already reviewed and why I think the darkness works well in that story. It makes sense to start with the collection of stories LIPS TOUCH: THREE TIMES by LAINI TAYLOR since that’s what set this whole blog post into motion. The last story in particular spearheaded this discussion. Skipping over a lot of details and plot points, the story plays with the longstanding myths that fairies are fascinated by mortal children and like to keep them as pets. The queen in this story does exactly that, but she grows bored with the children as they grow older. This is where it becomes dark and disturbing. The fairies in this tale are capable of looking into a human’s eyes and then taking over control of their body. So when the queen’s pet children reach about pre-teen age, she and a male fairy each take over a female and male pre-teen human respectively and, controlling their bodies like puppets, force them to have sex. Then the female becomes pregnant, the queen can have a new mortal baby for a pet, and she can dispose of the annoying pre-teen humans however she wishes. Yes, very dark and unsettling, but I see it as yet another twist on the exact same subject matter handled in SYLVESTER AND THE MAGIC PEBBLE: complete helplessness. This isn’t just any rape, but it’s a rape in which the humans’ own bodies are being controlled by someone else.

Then there’s WITHER by LAUREN DESTEFANO. In this series, humans discover a cure for cancer and eagerly spread it to everyone only to realize too late that there was a flaw: women now die at twenty and men at twenty-five, cancer-free, of course. This dystopia has led to an increase in human trafficking. With so little time to spare, love and romance are luxuries. Now men, barely adults really, buy teenage girls for wives so they can try to reproduce in the few short years they have remaining. A critical examination can brush this premise off as twisted and morbid, but the author handles the content well. First of all, human trafficking is hardly a fictional construct, so it draws attention to real issues. Second, it raises questions about how we might actually live life if we really had so little time. Despite her intentions, the protagonist Rhine can’t help liking her captor as she realizes he is just another breed of victim.

The premise of LOST VOICES by SARAH PORTER is also rooted in the sinister. Her story follows a tribe of mermaids, but in her take on these creatures mermaids are human girls who were so poorly treated, often abused, that they melted into water, found the sea, and turned to mermaids. One point in Porter’s favor is that she doesn’t dwell on the negative. Occasionally a sign of a story that is utilizing dark themes more for spice is when the author almost seems to take pleasure in constantly reminding the reader of the horrors their character has been through, especially when the reminders aren’t necessary. We know by Porter’s construction that mermaids must have been through something traumatic to be a mermaid, but she lets that thought linger in the background rather than constantly reminding us the specifics of each mermaid’s depressing past. Also I adore this story because Porter employs the darkness to give more depth to a demonized myth. Mermaids are often portrayed as beautiful, wicked creatures that lure humans to their deaths for no particular reason other than the simple excuse: it’s their nature. Porter gave them a reason. Metaphorically this addresses how often we might wish to think someone who has done something horrible is simply a horrible person, but perhaps they were also a victim at one point, too.

Last, I have to talk about THE BLACK JEWELS by ANNE BISHOP. Not only is it one of my favorite series, but it’s one of the darkest series I have ever read and it surprised me to find how much I could love something so packed with violence. Rather than one traumatic rape, this entire world has an epidemic of sexual abuse. I would call it shameless spice if it weren’t for the way it’s handled. There’s so much depth to the story that I struggle to summarize it without leaving important bits out, but I’ll do my best. Bishop’s society brings discussions about gender to the forefront. In this world, it’s often women who rape men. Then there are also questions similar to those that Porter raises: is there such thing as a villain or are villains simply victims hardened towards cruelty? Most of the men who do the raping in this book were at one time abused themselves, implying that violence only creates more violence. Also Bishop has tied sexuality, power, and magic all together so they’re near impossible to separate from each other. Sex is described in a somewhat spiritual way, touching not only on a person’s soul and mind but on their magic. The connection during sex is so personal that if it’s abused it’s easy to “break” someone’s magic so they no longer have any. This explains why rape might become a tool to “break” potential rivals. It also creates discussions about with whom we choose to have sex. In this world, sex becomes much more about trust than about passion. A lusty, impulsive night with a stranger is a dangerous thing in a world where misplaced trust could lead to the loss of magic and, hence, any standing in a world where people are ranked by magical power. Therefore, most of the characters are highly selective about who they choose to sleep with, knowing it must be someone they would trust with their life, because that’s what they’re doing. I can think of more discussions, but I believe those above should serve as evidence that the darkness in THE BLACK JEWELS series forces its readers towards difficult but important questions.

Remember the last sentence of my first paragraph? Yes, that’s a long scroll up on this post, so I’ll remind you: long and convoluted, I warned my answer would be. Humans are not simple creatures and dark stories help to emphasize that. There’s no one clean reason why we read dark stories and why some of us connect with them. Whether or not the darkness adds to the story is up to the individual writer, but when handled with responsibility and care dark stories can force us to ask some very complex questions not only about ourselves but about the world. These discussions, whether they’re with another person, multiple people, or even internal, help us to better understand ourselves, perhaps even learn something about our own beliefs that we never realized before. I read to enjoy, but I also read to think, and sometimes dark stories ask the hard questions.

Friday, March 16, 2012

HEIR TO THE SHADOWS


Review of HEIR TO THE SHADOWS by ANNE BISHOP
(second in THE BLACK JEWELS trilogy)

Anyone who read DAUGHTER OF THE BLOOD won’t be surprised to learn that HEIR TO THE SHADOWS opens with a depressing tone. Lucivar and Daemon switch roles in this book, in a manner of speaking. In the first book we opened on Lucivar, but then he all but disappeared from the plot while we focused on Daemon. Now in the second book, we open on Daemon and it isn’t pretty. Saving Jaenelle at the end of DAUGHTER OF THE BLOOD took all of his strength, leaving him right on the edge of tipping into that magical, dangerous insanity Bishop refers to as the Twisted Kingdom. He doesn’t remember what happened that night other than the feel of himself covered in Jaenelle’s blood. His enemies utilize this against both him and Lucivar, spreading the rumor that Daemon is the one who viciously raped Jaenelle. Combine that with Saetan’s decision that it would be best if everyone, especially her rivals, assumed Jaenelle dead while she heals and everything lines up for Daemon’s downfall. He doesn’t want to believe he could have raped a twelve-year-old girl, but here is what he knows: he remembers her blood all over him, he knows she was raped and he is told that she’s now dead, he might not have been attracted to the twelve-year-old girl but she was also Witch whom he fantasized about his entire life, and, last, he has snapped before. It’s enough to make him doubt himself and the thought that he could have destroyed the queen that might have set the world right tears him apart. When Lucivar buys into the lies that his brother Daemon raped and murdered Jaenelle, it’s the final straw that sends Daemon down into the Twisted Kingdom. Since he was ever strong and sexy in the first book, it’s refreshing to see Daemon’s vulnerable, helpless side. He becomes similar to Tersa, another Twisted Kingdom inhabitant, roaming and wandering and impossible to keep tabs on. Hence, Daemon fades into the background of this book while Lucivar finds his way to Jaenelle and the story focuses on the development of their sibling-like bond.

This book is lighter in tone than the first one, believe it or not from the paragraph above. Note, though, that I wrote “lighter” not “light.” Jaenelle’s trauma leaves a mess that will not be easily cleaned up. However, Bishop provides the readers with hope that at least Jaenelle is surrounded by countless friends who will love, support, and protect her. In DAUGHTER OF THE BLOOD, Jaenelle’s other friendships in unexpected places were hinted at, but now we meet the wide cast loyal to her. And it’s not just people! Jaenelle also bonded with several Kindred, animals with intelligence similar to human’s and magical power just like that of the Blood, with jewels marking their rank. It provides plenty of entertainment when a mob of teenagers and intelligent animals descend on Saetan’s home to cheer up his adopted daughter and wreck havoc of a more playful kind. I’ve heard some readers complain that too many characters start to crowd THE BLACK JEWELS at this point, but I’ve always preferred character heavy stories myself. Bishop does a good job of clarifying which names will pop up more often, and, though I don’t always remember every individual, the long list of names increases the sense that Jaenelle has formidable support backing her. 

Going back to the Kindred, this marks a turn in the series that I adore: the greater role animals play in the series from now on. Kindred can speak to the Blood telepathically, when they so choose. Bishop avoids middle book syndrome by stuffing the plot with an abundance of obstacles and climaxes, and quite a few revolve around the Kindred. Their existence has faded into myth, so Jaenelle shocks her fellow Blood when she introduces, say, Ladvarian, a small dog who wears a Red jewel (just three jewels lesser than Jaenelle!), and can be rather forceful about ensuring he gets his “walkies.” The problem lies, not surprisingly, with some of the crueler queens who do not recognize Kindred as anything other than animals. This problem escalates into violent wars when the Dark Council hands out “unclaimed territory” (Kindred territory) to Blood queens and gives them to permission to wipe out any “animals” who try to challenge their claim.

As she grows from a young girl of twelve to a young adult of nineteen, Jaenelle’s power shows more and more in its startling intensity. Some may find so much power in one individual annoying and overly dramatic, but it worked for me. In part, because regardless of how strong Jaenelle may be she does not work alone; she couldn’t do any of the amazing things she does without her huge circle of support, encouraging her, defending her, standing alongside her. And, as dramatic as it may be, one of my favorite moments in any book I’ve ever read is when Jaenelle tells the Dark Council “I’ll adhere to the Council’s decision when the sun next rises.”

Friday, March 9, 2012

SARAH PORTER


Interview with SARAH PORTER


Sarah Porter is the author of LOST VOICES and the forthcoming WAKING STORMS, the first two volumes in a trilogy about mermaids. Her stories, poems, and essays have appeared in publications including Open City, The New Review of Literature, and Teachers & Writers magazine. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband Todd and two very soft cats.

What are you reading right now?

Jenny Erpenbeck’s novel VISITATION. It’s lovely, austere, and elegant, following all the people who live on a specific patch of land in Germany across the twentieth century. Before that I read all the George R. R. Martin books in A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, which I absolutely adore, but after three months of being immersed in wars and dragons I was ready for something a bit more meditative.

What first sparked your interest in writing? 

Well, my dad is a professor of French and comparative literature, which helps. He was sending me books by authors like Bulgakov and Tournier while I was still in my early teens; not that I understood everything in them, but that didn’t stop me from loving them. And I was a lonely, introverted kid, so books were my refuge and support. It was so strange and striking as a child to realize that I felt loved and understood by the voices of writers who were long dead. It seemed pretty natural to make the transition from living for books as a reader to wanting to contribute something of my own to the dialogue.

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

What I love most? I think the surprise I feel both at the words that come to me and also at what I discover about the story as I go. I often have moments where I suddenly think, say, “Oh, wait, she’s in love with him! That’s why she’s been acting so weird!” And then I notice that all the hints and foreshadowing turns of conversation are already in place, but I didn’t even realize what I was doing when I wrote them in. What I love most is the sense that each book already exists somehow before I even start writing, and it’s my job to uncover it.

What I like least, for sure, is getting stuck. When the surprises stop coming and I doubt I’ll ever find the right words or the story’s secrets again, that can be really dispiriting.

Tell us a little about your writing process.

Each new project gets its own special journal for notes, questions, puzzlings-through. Whenever I feel stuck or confused I’ll go to the journal and try to hash it out. After that I just jump in. I do so much rewriting as I go that there isn’t really a second draft. I usually start the day by rewriting for a couple of hours, then move on to actually advancing the story.

What are your passions?

At the risk of sounding pretentious, the human spirit. Other species, as wonderful as they are, don’t do things like devoting entire lifetimes to understanding the migratory patterns of penguins. In some ways we’re the archivists of the world, gathering and preserving knowledge about as much of it as we can. I love our interest in things beyond ourselves and our immediate needs, our will to understand and recognize and record. And I love the aspects of the human mind that there’s no room for in public discourse, at our jobs or in school or even in a lot of families: the dreams and subtexts, the private worlds. Art and literature function as a kind of preserve for those parts of us.

What inspires you?

I’m not sure I can answer this well. I have a constant sense that reality is layered, that there are alternate worlds just below the skin of this world. I feel like I catch tantalizing glimpses of something hidden and vital, and I want to go after it. I can’t really name any more specific source of inspiration than this, except for maybe my students sometimes, or conversations with friends.

Why young adult?

I used to—and still do—write odd adult literary fiction, but that hasn’t been published beyond a handful of short stories. I switched to young adult after I’d been teaching creative writing in the New York public schools for several years as what they call a “teaching artist.” Being around junior high school kids recalled my own emotions at their age to a degree that was sometimes painful, especially because teaching poetry is necessarily pretty intimate. There’s a lot of intensity finding its way to the page, and to teach you have to really engage with that. So I was simultaneously an adult with an adult’s perspective and also reliving adolescent emotions, which is the same place you have to inhabit to write YA: in that turmoil, but also safely beyond it.

And since LOST VOICES was published, nothing has meant nearly as much to me as the responses of some of my teenage readers. I’m not sure you can hope for that kind of sweetness and fervor and generosity from an adult readership.

Why fantasy?

Because I feel like fantasy captures aspects of reality that realism can’t quite reach. Maybe I write fantasy because I experience more truth in metaphors than in direct statements. I know I couldn’t write realism without it being forced and artificial. I don’t believe in writing what you know, but rather in writing what you see, and this is what I see in my mind’s eye.

In WAKING STORMS, Nausicaa tells Luce “I know this story.” She thinks because she has lived thousands of years, while Luce is young for a human let alone a mermaid, that she knows how Luce’s life will play out based on the choices she makes. Is this an intentional metaphor for when adults presume to know better than teenagers what’s “best for them”?

An intentional metaphor? No… I love Nausicaa too much to be deliberately critical of her! I do think Nausicaa is making a mistake that a lot of adults in that position make, though: she desperately wants Luce to learn from example and be spared the pain of learning from direct experience. And that’s an unreasonable wish; Luce has to go through it all for herself.

But at the same time, Nausicaa has a point: Luce is at risk, and Nausicaa does have a lot more knowledge to draw on. And ultimately what Nausicaa teaches Luce does help save her. So, while I think Nausicaa is making a mistake, I can’t really blame her for trying to protect her friend.

One of the most tragic elements of Luce and Dorian’s romance is that Luce can never be certain if Dorian truly loves her or if he’s enchanted by her. Do you have an opinion (or an answer!) on that matter? 

Oh, I think he loves her! But he’s too angry at her, and at the power she has over him, to love her well. He’d have to work more on coming into his own strengths to be able to love her without resentment getting in the way.

The tragic element in their relationship is also Luce’s responsibility: not only because of her part in sinking his ship and killing his family, but also because of her insecurity and fear of abandonment. It would be hard for her to accept that anyone really loved her for herself.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Write for love, because love is the only thing that’ll keep you going through all the rejections. Read as much as you can, because the more ways of using language you’ve absorbed the more readily language will flow through you. Even read things that seem difficult and alienating, not just the books you find easiest to like. Give your truest self, because at the end of the day that’s all any of us can really offer.

Friday, March 2, 2012

THE LIES THAT BIND


Review of THE LIES THAT BIND by KATE CARLISLE
(third in the BIBLIOPHILE MYSTERIES series)

Oh, dear. Brooklyn has found herself smack in the center of another book-related murder. At least the cops seem to be growing a little fond of her and, though they tease her about being bad luck, don’t seem to consider her a serious suspect this time. Of course, by now looking into murders herself is a bad habit and Brooklyn can’t help but investigate, much to Derek’s frustration.

Speaking of Derek, by the third book in the series I’m growing as antsy as Brooklyn for something to happen between them, or at the very least for her to find some closure that nothing ever will. This time both of them are rearing to have a night alone, but every time they make romantic plans something, like a murder or other hard-to-ignore crime, pops up.

It’s natural that after three murder investigations in less than a year Brooklyn starts to wonder if she does have some connection to each case that she doesn’t know about. I’m glad Carlisle addresses what I know I would be wondering if I were Brooklyn, though it’s likely the string of murders will ultimately be chalked up to coincidence. However, I did get the nibbling sense that perhaps there is something more. Maybe over the course of the series connections will form between separate murder investigations and eventually we will learn that it’s no coincidence that Brooklyn winds up involved in so many murder cases. There might be a bigger story here. Or perhaps that’s just my hopeful skepticism speaking.

As long as it doesn’t turn out to be Minka! In THE LIES THAT BIND, Carlisle tiptoes around giving Minka a little more dimension, but never really crosses that line. I hope it’s a sign that Minka will develop more over the series, but I’m not holding my breath just yet.  

And once again I was far from predicting the murderer. Carlisle has a knack for lining up lots of potential suspects not to mention misdirects. I did suspect there was something more to the character who turns out to be a tad villainous but I didn’t think his/her secrets were of the malicious variety. Let’s see if I have more luck predicting the murderer next time!