Friday, November 30, 2012

What Is Young Adult Literature?


Discussion Topic: What Is Young Adult Literature?

Okay, here's my simple, cop-out answer: literature marketed towards young adults.

But that's cheating. Anyway, before the marketing step, how does one decide what counts as young adult? Where's this so-called dividing line between young adult and adult literature? Every time anyone has ever defined young adult literature for me, I can think of exceptions. Even with my answer above! You'd think that's a safe response - young adult literature is literature marketed towards young adults - but sometimes adults find themselves drawn to YA titles or a title marketed for adults turns out to have more teenage appeal. In other words, sometimes even the professionals don't know what should go where.

First, I'll mention some definitions I've heard and why they aren't quite inclusive enough for me.

Definition #1: Young adult literature isn't as well written as adult literature. Well, I don't swear, but if I did, my response to this might be nothing more than a string of expletives. Adult fans of young adult literature have certainly encountered this mindset before: that YA lit is something we must put behind us as we age, because it's developmentally beneath adult lit. At least from my experience, though, most of the people who believe this don't read young adult. Those who read plenty already know this isn't true. Those who don't, well, go read some! I'm certainly not claiming every young adult book is well written, but there's the same spectrum of novice to genius workmanship in YA as in adult literature.

Definition #2: Young adult is lighter - in other words, less violence, less sex, less tragedy. Hmm. Again, I find myself wondering if those reciting this definition read young adult. Perhaps if you measured all YA and adult literature for a level of light to heavy tone and then found the average, YA might be lighter. (Anyone volunteering for that undertaking?) However, I have certainly read young adult literature weighing down on the extreme end of heavy as well adult fiction that is light, fluffy, carefree fun. Speaking of heavy YA lit, HUNGER GAMES, anyone? Then there's TENDER MORSELS, often considered young adult, which might be the most violent, horrific book I've read (though I may be a mild measure) and LOOKING FOR ALASKA by John Green, a deeply tragic YA novel that made me sob when I thought books couldn't do that to me anymore. WITHER by Lauren DeStefano takes place in a world in which males die at twenty-five and females at twenty, certainly a depressing hook, but one that presents teenagers with mortality, a theme they don't encounter as frequently as older readers. LIPS TOUCH: THREE TIMES by Laini Taylor, or rather the third and final story in that collection, actually sparked my earlier discussion post about why people like dark literature. Any light/dark measurement comes down to each individual book, but young adult lit is certainly as capable as adult in taking the reader to emotionally or graphically disturbing places. 

Definition #3: The protagonist is a young adult. This might be the most common definition I hear, probably because it's simple and often true. But not always. Here comes the clutter of examples. It makes sense to start with THE CATCHER IN THE RYE. Many bookstores nowadays cross-shelve this one in both young adult and adult, despite the teenage protagonist and coming-of-age themes. As for when it first came out, well, young adult literature wasn't a thing back then! In fact, THE CATCHER IN THE RYE (along with THE OUTSIDERS by S.E. Hinton) is often credited with creating, or at least starting the creation process for, young adult as a separate genre. Now consider something like THE BOOK THIEF, which can also be found in either or both YA and adult, depending on where you go. Death narrates this story. We can assume he's an adult, although he's much older than a human adult! However, Liesel, a child, strikes me as the protagonist. So adult narrator and child protagonist - neither a young adult - but still this book frequently winds up in YA. Sometimes series even leap from young adult to adult, like Ann Brashare's SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS books. The original four novels, chronicling the friendship of four very different girls and their own coming-of-age stories, are all considered young adult. Recently, though, Brashares released another book, SISTERHOOD EVERLASTING, picking up with the same characters as they near thirty years of age. It's considered adult fiction, even as a continuation of a young adult series. NEVER LET ME GO by Kazuo Ishiguro follows three students in a strange, unsettling boarding school. While the characters are high school age, it's considered adult fiction. Perhaps because the story's all technically a flashback, told from the perspective of one of the students at thirty-one years old. However, PREP by Curtis Sittenfeld might be one of the biggest head-scratchers on this topic. It's a satirical, uncomfortable story following students at a prep school, one in particular who will sacrifice almost anything to be liked. My best guess as to why this one ends up in adult is the unforgiving tone. In some ways, PREP might be a more realistic portrayal, but it's a disconcerting, brutal take on the desire to fit in, especially at that age. How about after high school, though? Where's the cut off between adult and young adult? It's not eighteen, if the YA shelves are any indication. Maria V. Snyder, Mette Ivie Harrison, and Eva Ibbotson are three authors I enjoy who all tend to write female protagonists in their early twenties. However, Snyder (POISON STUDY, TOUCH OF POWER) is commonly classified as adult fantasy while Harrison (THE PRINCESS AND THE HOUND) and Ibbotson (MORNING GIFT, THE COMPANY OF SWANS) both end up as YA. Honestly, I couldn't tell you why; I can imagine all three authors in both categories. Of course, there are also those books that span a lifetime, or even generations. Tamora Pierce's SONG OF THE LIONNESS quartet picks up with a pre-teen child, but follows her well past young adult age. TENDER MORSELS by Margo Lanagan actually follows the characters even longer, from a young girl all the way to an elderly woman more concerned with her daughters' happiness than her own. Another book comes to mind that seems out of place by this definition. I won't mention the specific title, because discussing it in this manner includes a big spoiler, but click here if you want to know to which book I'm referring. In this novel, we're under the impression that the protagonist is a young adult, only to learn later that she's not. In fact, she's not even human. She's only been disguised as a young adult human for her own safety. The last trend I wanted to mention is animal characters. While WATERSHIP DOWN and DRAGON CHAMPION are considered adult (and one fantastical) takes on an animal's viewpoint, David Clement-Davies' FIREBRINGER and THE SIGHT, both sweeping fantasy epics with animal casts sit in YA. Well, there you go. I'm out of examples (and kudos to everyone who plugged through that whole paragraph!), but I hope that proves young adult literature isn't always literature with a young adult protagonist.

Now time for my definition! Young adult literature is about discovery; adult literature about re-discovery. I'm of the opinion that all fiction actually is about discovery, usually self-discovery: learning who you are, what you believe, and how you fit into this world. However, young adult lit often focuses on discovering who you are more or less for the first time. Childhood gives us a lot of freedom to slap on and rip off labels, interests, beliefs, but around our teenage and young adult years we're expected to "settle" a bit more. Thus, young adult literature analyzes this period of "settling into oneself." Whereas, in books marketed towards adults the protagonist often goes through some re-evaluation of their life that leads to another kind of self-discovery, a re-discovery and a shift within themselves. When you "settle," it's easy to get too comfy in a simple, labeled box, but adult literature often encourages its characters to peek outside and see where they still have room to grow. My definition, however, suffers from being highly abstract and that might make it a less desirable go-to explanation for an entire genre.

So how about you? What's your definition of young adult literature? How do you feel about the ones you read here, including mine? Any others you've heard that I didn't mention?

Monday, November 26, 2012

STORMDANCER


Review of STORMDANCER by JAY KRISTOFF
(first in THE LOTUS WAR series, based on a review copy)

If you're looking for unique fantasy, behold STORMDANCER! There's a quote on the cover of this book from Patrick Rothfuss: "What’s that? You say you’ve got a Japanese steampunk novel with mythic creatures, civil unrest, and a strong female protagonist? I’m afraid I missed everything you said after ‘Japanese steampunk.’ That’s all I really needed to hear.” Well, I was won over even more easily; Kristoff had me at “Japanese.” It took me a few chapters before I felt in synch with the voice (which is doubtless distinctive, a virtue or flaw depending on whether or not it resonates with you), but then the story absorbed me and I loved it even more with each new chapter and especially after the climatic, high-stakes ending.

Ah, the Japanese elements. I grappled at length about how and where to address this aspect of the book in my review. STORMDANCER has been harshly critiqued of late for its lack of accuracy and while I adored this book, I wouldn't feel right omitting mention of this controversy. First, let me step back and share my own background. I studied the Japanese language formally for five years with two different senseis (teachers). I've been to Japan for a short three-week exchange and have hosted Japanese exchange students myself. In summary, I'm no expert and though I continue studying the language, culture, and history of Japan on my own, I'm far from fluent in any of the three. Still I knew enough to pick up on instances in which something in the book isn't quite right. I think a quote from the author in this interview summarizes this debate, though: "If you can wrap your head around the idea Shima and Japan might look a lot alike, but aren't the same place, you'll have fun." This book is not set in Japan. Japan served as influence for a fictional land, Shima. Consider medieval fiction: often terribly inaccurate with just enough correct to give a flavor of the time period. Medieval-esque, I like to say. Well, STORMDANCER is Japanese-esque. Of course, the book's being aggressively marketed as a Japanese fantasy, so that's a huge part of why people are disappointed when they realize it's more like a parallel Japan. If it will bother you when a Japanese word is misused or you otherwise catch details that feel inauthentic by a Japanese measure, then you probably won't like this book. If you can set that aside and hop on board with the idea of a story influenced by a particular culture without being a mirror, there is an incredible story here.

Okay, disclaimer behind us. Let’s move forward. I adored this book. I don't even know where to begin, because so many aspects appealed to me that my list will surely forgot some. Despite the author's liberties with accuracy, I treasured a story influenced by Japanese culture when so much fiction feels so similar. I also liked the fantasy's focus on the griffin - or thunder tiger - because we see far fewer griffins these days than, say, vampires, zombies, dragons, fairies, etc. Not that I don't love dragons and fairies, but I'm always pleased to find less commonly used mythological beasts making appearances. The heroine - along with about everyone else - proves an intriguing, complex character. Her developing relationship with said griffin becomes the story's spine and Kristoff handled the shift in their relationship perfectly. This book made me laugh...hard...many, many times. It didn't make me cry, but certain parts did lead to a physical ache in my chest. The story has it all: family complications, a whiff of romance that doesn't steal focus, unexpected alliances, betrayals, political intrigue, folklore and mythology, passionate friendships, blood-chilling villains. Note: this isn't an all-inclusive list.

In particular, I want to single out what I consider two of STORMDANCER's greatest strengths: the writing and the end. If someone described the writing to me, I would be certain I would hate it. STORMDANCER has one of those grammatically rebellious writing styles that normally annoys me, except Kristoff pieces his words and sentences (and fragments) together so that everything feels right and I found myself fawning over specific word choices or grammatically-incorrect-but-emotionally-perfect sentence structures. As the saying goes, "The rules are meant to be broken." That's no excuse to break them without reason or a defense of poor writing, but if you can break the rules for the better, go for it.

As for the end, the story has that perfect build topped off by an unpredictable, nail-biting climax that, mapped out, would contain a few peaks and dips rather than one steady rise and fall. One dramatic line hit me as slightly cheesy (you can probably guess what one after reading the book), but that's really my only single complaint about the end whereas I have numerous aspects that I admired, which I won't list only to avoid spoilers.

If you're looking for a fresh and promising fantasy epic, STORMDANCER might just be the book for which you've been waiting.

Friday, November 23, 2012

LAUREN MCLAUGHLIN

 
Interview with LAUREN MCLAUGHLIN

I grew up in the small town of Wenham Massachusetts. After college and a brief stint in graduate school, I spent ten years writing and producing movies before abandoning my screen ambitions to write fiction full time. Though I fondly remember much of my time in Massachusetts—the marina, the beach, various teenage escapades—I cannot, for the life of me, remember my SAT scores, my GPA, or any of the numbers that once summed me up.

What are you reading right now?

I'm reading Junot Diaz's THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER. I adored THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO and have enjoyed some of his shorts. The weird thing about this new book is that I actually already part of it in the New Yorker. The New Yorker's strange that way. They seem to like printing shorts by current literary favorites who have new novels out. I think they did that with Zadie Smith recently. It's almost like they're publishing book trailers. At any rate, I just love Diaz's use of language. It's all extremely conversational and idiomatic without ever being cloying. And the Spanglish is wonderful for me because I used to speak the language really well.

What first sparked your interest in writing?

I can't remember a time when I wasn't writing. I wrote my first poem at age 7 and basically never stopped. I switched from poetry to screenplays in my early twenties, then to fiction in my early thirties. I pretty much always have several stories going in my head. It's useful when I'm trapped in a boring conversation with someone. I can just keep nodding and smiling while disappearing into a more interesting world. Every once in a while I get caught doing it though, which is always socially mortifying.

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

What I love most about writing is falling in love with my characters. At some point in the process they become startlingly real. I begin to care about them as if they were friends (troubled friends always). I begin to feel a sense of responsibility to them. Which brings me to the worst part of writing, which is the heavy responsibility of completing a project in such a way that the initial spark isn't snuffed out by all the mechanics of rewriting. Things can and do go wildly awry during the writing process and the majority of my time is spent trying to get things back on some kind of track. Each novel should feel like a journey. The reader doesn't necessarily have to know where they're headed, but once they get there, they have to believe it was worth the ride. 

Tell us a little about your writing process.

It's constantly changing. I used to do a lot of very detailed outlining, but the outline rarely survived the first chapter of the first draft. For my latest, I scrapped the outline and just took off for points unknown. At the end of each chapter, I asked myself, "If I were a reader, what would be the most thrilling thing to happen next?" I had a vague sense of where I wanted to end up, but by the time I got there, the novel had become something very different from its initial inspiration. This led to tons and tons of painful rewriting, a slog-fest from which I am only now beginning to emerge. I'm still in search of The Perfect Process. So is every writer. If you find it, please tell me. In the meantime, I shall resign myself to a life of slogging through rewrites.

What are your passions?

Besides writing, I love to dance, especially swing dancing. I'm an avid runner. I love baking. I throw lots of parties and enjoy having as active a social life as my writing schedule and three-year-old daughter will allow. I'm passionate about people. They fascinate me. I love meeting new people and getting to know familiar ones more deeply. 

What inspires you?

People inspire me. Especially people who overcome difficulties. I'm inspired by people who work twice as hard as I have ever had to work in order to get half as far in life. I'm inspired by what I see as a dangerous trend toward massive income inequality in the U.S. I'm inspired by technology, which has the capacity to empower people but also to subjugate them. 

Why science fiction?

I can't live in the future, but by writing science fiction, I get to participate in it somehow. I love imagining the ways in which today's technology will mutate into something unfamiliar and even scary. Thinking about these things challenges us by pointing out our prejudices. For example, with SCORED, I wanted to imagine what would happen if everyone (or almost everyone) embraced ubiquitous surveillance. I was already familiar with the critique of ubiquitous surveillance, but what I kept seeing was an unmistakable trend of more and more surveillance all the time. At the same time, I was not seeing an increase in the numbers of people complaining about it. As anyone who reads my book will know, I believe that we are inviting a surveillance state. I wanted to explore what that might look and feel like from within.

Why young adult?

Teenagers are great readers. They have few literary prejudices. They haven't yet settled into any genre loyalties. They'll read SF, fantasy, horror, romance, biography. You name it. This frees up writers who don't have to worry about blurring or crossing any genre conventions. I think if SCORED came out as an adult SF book, SF fandom would complain about the lack of hard core technological specifics in it. They have certain expectations based on the majority of books in the genre. It can start to feel like a bit of an echo chamber and I didn't want to be in it. I wanted no limitations whatsoever on what I wrote. In Young Adult you have that freedom. The only real limitation is the age of the protagonists. But I love writing about teens because they don't have any psychological baggage yet either. They're still in the process of inventing themselves. This is much more exciting to me than writing about adults.

How was CYCLER born?

CYCLER began its life as a screenplay. I don't honestly remember how the initial idea was born. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that I grew up as a tomboy. In fact, when I was about seven or eight years old I remember telling people: "I'm not a girl. I'm not a boy. I'm a tomboy." I actually believed this was a separate gender and that you could choose it if you wanted to. I think what I liked about the tomboy identity was that it had no limitations. At least in my mind. I could climb trees and get dirty. And I could also do gymnastics and cheerleading. In my mind, there was absolutely no incongruity between these two things. I must have been starting to sense the encroaching limitations of society's rules about gender. That's probably what made me so militant in my self-identity. With CYCLER I wanted to explore what would happen to a girl who desperately wanted to conform to society's rules about gender, but couldn't because her own body kept betraying her. That's what we do with protagonists. We ask "what's the worst thing that could happen," then we make that happen and watch them squirm. It's cruel, really. 

How was SCORED born?

I was living in a rough neighborhood of London on a street where cars were constantly having their windows smashed in. On the same day that I noticed there hadn't been any smashed windows for a while, I also noticed a bunch of new surveillance cameras. The thieves had gotten wise. They'd simply moved on to a different street with no surveillance cameras. The take home message was clear: install cameras everywhere and you'll eliminate theft. This was a lightbulb moment for me because I realized I liked having those surveillance cameras there. They made me feel safe. That's when I got really scared because I realized that ubiquitous surveillance would come to us, not through coercion by an overzealous government or an overreaching corporation, but by invitation. 

Do you consider SCORED a possible future in reality or a fictional “what if”?

I think the world of SCORED is already a reality. We just haven't gone whole hog yet. Education is already reduced to test prep in many places. There's certainly no trend toward reducing the number of cameras in schools. If anything, they're increasing. I don't think it's possible to predict the future accurately, but I don't see any shift in the cultural trends of surveillance and high stakes testing away from the dystopian vision of SCORED. If anything we're moving closer to it.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

The most important thing for an aspiring writer is to read a lot and write a lot. Whoever you are - and no matter how talented - you're going to write a ton of rubbish. Successful writers know how to wade through that and spin it into gold. It's about time served, words typed, drafts completed. There's no way to do it but to sit there and write. A lot. When you've finished something and you've sent it off to editors, agents, your writing group, your teacher, or what have you, start writing something new. It'll be better than what you've just written. Repeat ad nauseam. If you're lucky, you'll get published, and then your troubles really begin. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

DAYS OF BLOOD AND STARLIGHT


Review of DAYS OF BLOOD AND STARLIGHT by LAINI TAYLOR
(second in the DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE trilogy, based on pre-publication copy)

Let me allay your fears: DAYS OF BLOOD AND STARLIGHT lives up to DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE!

I felt a little perplexed by the opening, though. After the cliffhanger ending of DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE, I wanted to know what happens next to Karou right away, but she remains absent from the story until about fifty pages in. In fact, the opening scene follows secondary characters, human characters, trying to make sense of what appears to be magic. The opening tone also surprised me, since Taylor sets aside the heartbreak of the last book for humor. At the time, I gratefully took this as a sign that the forthcoming story wouldn't be all gloom and doom...but be forewarned, it's an awful lot of said G&D with only Zuzana serving as blatant but necessary comic relief.

Taylor has a knack for presenting her characters with absolutely heartbreakingly horrible choices. No one's hands are clean. It's not so simple as good guys and bad guys. Simply said, this is a depressing book. When I reflect on DAYS OF BLOOD AND STARLIGHT, negative emotions wiggle to the forefront, not because it's a bad book (it's incredible), but because it's a heartbreaking story. For one, Taylor doesn't shy away from the horror of war and much of this middle book seems devoted to a game of "which side can do the worst things to the most innocent victims just to nettle the leaders of the other side." (This always triggers a debate in my mind about using violence to send an anti-violence message, but that's a looooong post for another day.) Another way to put it: DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE is a hope-filled book that ends in despair and DAYS OF BLOOD AND STARLIGHT is a despair-filled book that ends in hope (er, hope wrapped in despair). While I consider DAYS OF BLOOD AND STARLIGHT an amazing book, in regards to taste it's probably just a little too dark, too violent, too gory for me and I'm crossing my fingers that the third in the trilogy won't be nearly as intense.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Shh! Don't Tell Me!

Discussion Topic: Spoilers

Last year I read about new research that suggests people actually enjoy a book more if they already know how it ends. This struck me with a strong, immediate reaction of "Not me!"

First: a little about the research. At UCSD, undergraduate students read stories assigned to them. Some read the stories as they’re originally written without spoilers, some with the spoiler carefully inserted within the story so it appears the author intended to give away the ending, and some with a spoiler preface. Afterward, the students rated their enjoyment of the story. The conclusion drawn is that people seem to enjoy the stories more with spoilers.



I’ll pause here to list some links to the articles on this subject as well as the UCSD webpage on the research:

However, I see a few potential flaws in this experiment and the final conclusion:

1. The sample pool seems much too small.  At least thirty students read each version of each story, but that still doesn't seem a large enough group to draw assumptions about a significantly larger human population.

2. It sounds like all the testers are undergraduate students at UCSD. That, too, is problematic. If anything, it proves something about that demographic, not people overall.

3. I also think the number of stories used is too small. In truth, I believe that this spoiler preference comes down to particular stories and we cannot make an easy generalization. There is certainly merit to the fact that some people prefer to just know the shocking revelation off the bat and find out how we reached that point. Yet there are other stories where that moment is so well handled that I would never want it ruined for me with prior knowledge. With only twelve stories, it's very possible the results only indicate a preference for spoilers regarding those stories, not all writing.

4. When the findings are displayed in a bar graph, the spoiled stories are rated higher, but by such a small fraction that it barely counts as significant.

My nitpicking aside, the research does have an element of truth that I can’t deny. In a few of my reviews I have either complained about or complimented the suspense of a book. It's a fine art: withholding information from the reader, as I discussed in my post about cliffhangers. I have certainly read books where I don't believe the author pulled off a twist and I wanted to know something from the start or at least earlier than it was revealed. Sometimes trying too hard for suspense only leads to stories that fixate more on shock factors than actual characters and emotions. Yet I've read books for which I would never trade my experience of not knowing.

Really, this all comes down to preference and perhaps those who like their stories spoiled do outnumber those who don't. I indeed know people who read the ending of a book before even starting so they can get that pesky suspense element out of the way. For me, though, when someone tells me too much about a book I usually don't bother to read it. The few times I have, I felt it wasn't worth the investment after already knowing what happens. I love the journey of discovery; it's such an important part about the magic of reading. Yet it's a fine balance. I also avoid books that are too mysterious. If I read the back of a book that doesn't really tell me anything, there's no way it's going to make it onto my lengthy to-read list with books that have given away an interesting part of the story in order to reel me in. As I've said, suspense/spoilers/cliffhangers/revelations - they’re all a fine art, which is why I admire the authors who can pull them off.

How about you? Do you hate to have the ending ruined? Or do you actually prefer it?

Monday, November 12, 2012

JUDITH TARR

Interview with Judith Tarr

Judith Tarr is the author of numerous novels and short stories including the World Fantasy Award nominee for Best Novel, LORD OF THE TWO LANDS. As Caitlin Brennan, she has written a middle-grade novel, HOUSE OF THE STAR, as well as the WHITE MAGIC series for adults. She lives near Tucson, Arizona, where she raises and trains Lipizzan horses. Her new novel for young adults, LIVING IN THREES, will be published in November by Book View Cafe.

What are you reading right now?
I just finished reading a draft of the sequel to Kari Sperring's THE GRASS KING’S CONCUBINE. About to read another unpublished manuscript. Also on the pile: CANTEENS: writing and art by Harlem seventh-graders, which I backed on Kickstarter.

What first sparked your interest in writing?
Ummm…learning to write?

I can't ever remember not making up stories.

What do you love the most about writing? The least?
Most:  Being attacked by an idea and dragged off to its lair and held hostage until I've written its story.

Least: Proofreading the final draft.

Tell us a little about your writing process.
My process is an iceberg. Massive amounts of process happen under the surface. Ideas germinate, develop, and mature before they ever hit page or screen. At a certain point I'll start jotting down notes in what I call "Ideafiles"—developing characters and plot, building worlds, whatever the story needs. When I have enough (for values of "enough" that are completely idiosyncratic and specific to the project), I'll start writing.
I almost never do exploratory drafts. All that happens in my head. By the time the words go on the page, I'm pretty clear on structure and story. Sometimes I'll come at the story from the wrong angle and have to start over, but again, I'll do most of the rebuilding in my head, and only put it on the page when I'm clear on how it should go.
With novels, the first 100 pages/10 chapters/25,000 words are the most tentative and take the longest, as I find my way into the story. Once those are working (and I may go back and layer on new material as I go), the rest is pretty much a straight drive to the end.

I have never had to cut material, but I have often had to add. So I'm a sketcher rather than a kitchen-sinker. I'm also very linear. I never write ahead, though I may go back and recast what's already there. Nor do I skip around the story or write chapters out of order. I'm kind of anal that way.
 
What are your passions?

Writing. Horses. Cooking. History - especially non-conventional, non-white-guys history.

What inspires you?
Lots of things. The natural world - from animals and landscape to stars and galaxies. Watching the moon come up over the mountain, through a horse's ears. Human history. Human range and variety. Art and music.

Why fantasy?

That appears to be the way my brain is wired. I take straight history and pretty soon it skews. I love writing about magic and wonder and things that aren't real but ought to be.


How was HOUSE OF THE STAR born?
I submitted a manuscript to Susan Chang at Tor Starscape (it was, in fact, an earlier version of my Kickstarter novel, LIVING IN THREES, which will be published by Book View Café on November 20th). She passed on it, but she asked, "Would you possibly be interested in writing a magic horse story for us?" I had an idea, Susan liked it, and it grew from there.

Elen and Ria both exhibit intense prejudices while still remaining likable. In that regard, were they challenging characters to write?
Not really. I just engaged my inner kid, and let it rip. (I'm very Method when I write. The kind of writer who hears voices in her head. You know. That kind.) Originally the main viewpoint was Sara's, but a couple of drafts along the line, Susan asked, "Are you sure you have the right viewpoint character?" After I finished cussing and stomping around, I realized she was, of course, right. The real story was Elen's. And I had to go back and write it all over again from her point of view. Now that was hard. Also, a lot of work. But I think it was worth it.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Don't try to write to market. Write the story that's in you. The one you love - that you can't not write. The market will find you.

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

When I'm not writing I'm working and playing with horses. The ranch in HOUSE OF THE STAR is based on my little farm in Arizona. Blanca and Moondance are real horses. Someday I'll write a sequel - there are so many more stories to tell about Rancho Estrella.

Friday, November 9, 2012

PERIL IN PAPERBACK


Review of PERIL IN PAPERBACK by KATE CARLISLE
(sixth in the BIBLIOPHILE MYSTERIES series)

After a run of heavy, depressing, and plain heartbreaking fantasy books, PERIL IN PAPERBACK came as a refreshing change of pace in my reading trends! If you're looking for a grisly, action-packed, procedural murder mystery, the BIBLIOPHILE MYSTERIES series will disappoint. However, fans of whimsical, cozy mysteries designed more for comforting entertainment than nightmare fodder or psychological analysis will find themselves delighted once again. For a measure of the tone, consider this: if you listed every instance of violence in one column and every delicious, tauntingly described edible treat that Brooklyn consumes in a second column, well, the latter list will stretch significantly farther down!

Brooklyn's love interest and now boyfriend, Derek Stone, disappears for this book, though Carlise still works in a romantic conflict despite his absence. Near the very start of the novel, Brooklyn calls Derek, who’s on assignment as a bodyguard, and a woman answers his cell phone. This leaves Brooklyn something to obsess over when she needs a break from thinking about murder! As one might expect, that particular plot thread doesn't resolve until the end, leaving plenty of pages for Brooklyn to consider how much trust her new relationship holds...and if that trust could be misplaced.

The series is certainly very indulgent and subscribes to karmic philosophies. Bad guys, even if they're not murderers, get theirs in the end. Even simply rude or mean people receive punishment of some kind. Characters fall into simple good or bad categories with a nearly nonexistent gray zone and Brooklyn can be rather self-absorbed even in the midst of murder investigations, but both those factors keep the tone light and casual.

Monday, November 5, 2012

THE CITY OF EMBER



Review of THE CITY OF EMBER by JEANNE DUPRAU
(first Book of Ember, based on a review copy)

THE CITY OF EMBER opens with an intriguing prologue. The dramatic irony leaves the reader wondering how on earth the characters will ever figure out this mysterious, long lost secret. Prospects don't look good.

DuPrau introduces readers to this world with the immersion approach. No info dumps in these pages. Instead the alternating perspectives of preteens Lina and Doon establish that this world differs from our own - might be futuristic, potentially even post-apocalyptic. For starters, basic words confound Lina and Doon when they stumble across "old stuff." The characters interpret the words "heaven" and "tree," among many others, as nothing more than nonsense. Also their struggling city suffers from slim and rigorously rationed resources and supplies, yet no one ever ventures outside of Ember. Pitch-black, constant darkness coats everything outside. In one amusing, revealing scene, Lina colors the sky blue in a drawing, since she only has a blue pencil, and then muses how funny it would be to have a blue the sky; everyone knows the sky is black.

The crux of the story, though, narrows in on the city's problematic blackouts, increasing in frequency and length. Panic spreads that one time the lights won't come on again and the city will be forever plunged into dense darkness. Doon in particular rages at the apathy of everyone around him. He's determined to find a way to save Ember before it's too late. Lina, though, might possess their first clue.

This book is a fun, fast read with a stellar ending that completely satisfies, but still left me eager to start the next book ASAP.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Random Acts of Reading - Backlist Titles


SHADOWS AND LIGHT


Review of SHADOWS AND LIGHT by ANNE BISHOP
(second in the TIR ALAINN trilogy)

The second book in this trilogy mostly stars the Fae lovers Lyrra and Aiden, who, after the events of the first book, start questioning the ways of their kind. While Lucian and Dianna blame everyone but themselves for what happened at the end of THE PILLARS OF THE WORLD, Aiden and Lyrra take a more thoughtful look at the information they’ve learned and make it their personal mission to spread the word to the other Fae that the survival of the human witches is essential to the survival of the Fae. Lucian and Dianna, though, still refuse to accept that the Fae could need anyone, let alone humans, and do everything they can to undermine Aiden and Lyrra’s credibility.

Those hooked by the Ali and Lucian drama in book one will find less of that hot and passionate brand of tension. If you’re waiting for the explosive moment when Lucian and/or Dianna discover Ali is still alive, don’t hold your breath - doesn’t happen in this book. Ali actually plays a much smaller role. I’m still glad we see peeks of her life, though, since I wasn’t convinced she has any feelings for Neall beyond friendship and it’s rewarding to see that she is happy with the life she choose. Of course, Lucian, Dianna, the Black Coats, and other threats constantly loom in the background, threatening to shatter that peace.

THE PILLARS OF THE WORLD starred Ali, even if others played big parts. In Bishop’s THE BLACK JEWELS trilogy, there’s a crowded cast abundant with powerful characters, but one woman - Jaenelle - overshadows everyone else’s magical ability to an almost comical degree. In SHADOWS AND LIGHT, the characters start to balloon out as more and more enter the story (don’t worry; Bishop’s skilled at keeping so many names organized), but every time you think you’ve just been introduced to the jaw-dropping heroine whose power (and personality) rivals any other, just wait a few chapters. I adore the BLACK JEWELS, so I don’t mean anything against that series, but I did like that there’s a better balance of strength in the TIR ALAINN trilogy. Power doesn’t run on a scale, like it seems to in the BLACK JEWELS. People in this series possess strength in different ways, often magical but not always. Two characters can be equally intimidating with their own strengths and weaknesses. Who has the upper hand, if anyone does, depends on the circumstances.

Yes, SHADOWS AND LIGHT has a little of that “middle-book-building-towards-the-big-fight” sense, but Bishop makes every moment of it enthralling and heartfelt.