Thursday, December 30, 2010

Live on Amazon US... At Last!

You can now pick up my debut novel (ebook format) for the low introductory rate of $0.99 by following the link directly to the Amazon store below:

If you don't have a Kindle or other e reader, go slap Santa Claus. Then download the Kindle ap (or...sigh...other e reader ap) for your laptop or desktop. They even have them for your phone! And yes, it's entirely possible and enjoyable to read on your phone or computer. Just think- you can indulge your inner teenager by reading my book on your laptop while the rest of the world thinks you're working or something. Win-win. If you haven't done so yet, go ahead and dip your toe in ebook waters and support some Indie writers of astonishing talent who've chosen to take on the NY6. Most Indie titles range in price from $0.99 to $2.99, and just like your favorite Indie bands, there are some real diamonds out there. Besides, everyone else is doing it, and that's a great reason for anything, right?

 It's exciting to see Gifts live and available, even though the book's description has yet to post with the actual book. It looks somewhat naked, unless you already know what it's about. But the details should catch up with the cover within the next day, or so I'm told. Here's the description (again):

Caspia Chastain, art student and barista, is gifted (or plagued, if you ask her) with the ability to draw the future, usually at the worst possible times. Her parents are four years dead; everyday she watches her brother Logan fight his cancer diagnosis. School, double shifts at work, drawing and painting, and even her usually vibrant small town can't keep reality at bay: life pretty much sucks for the entire Chastain household. Things get worse the day she draws an angry stranger framed by planes of light and violent, bloody images. That exact same stranger walks up to her out of nowhere mere hours later knowing things he shouldn't, like her name, her brother's illness, and her strange ability. That's when Caspia discovers her hometown is a refuge for supernatural beings both Light and Dark, and she and her brother find themselves caught up in a war between the two that predates their very birth. In order to protect herself and her brother, she turns to the one who seems to have started it all: the creature who walked out of her sketchbook calling himself Ethan. But Ethan has his own agenda, Logan's getting sicker fast, and Caspia finds that drawing the future isn't the only strange thing she can do. Meanwhile, someone really wants all of them dead. In a town where Dark doesn't equal Evil and Light isn't always Good, Caspia and Ethan find themselves making strange alliances and even stranger sacrifices in order to protect those they love.

Excitement abounds here at the Ides of March! There are a lot of really wonderful New Year releases, including some by my own personal favorites. The Grace Series' author SA Naeole just released the fourth installment, Day of Grace, not to mention Amanda Hocking's new My Blood Approves novella and a new one from Kait Nolan, Devil's Eye. Melanie Nillis' Starfire Angels series seems to be making something of a comeback, as well. Not to mention the fact that L.A. Banks, author of the long running New York Times' bestselling Vampire Huntress novels, just went Indie. Yep. Told the NY6 to stuff it and released a whole new series on her own. Radiohead's "In Rainbows," anyone? It's a great time to be a paranormal fan. Kind of like the paranormal Indie Rennaisiance.  But even if paranormal isn't your thing, there are all kinds of choices in the Indiereader universe. I will be happy to make recommendations in any genre for anyone who's interested in discovering a new, independent author but isn't sure where or how to find one. Leave a comment or email me at:     -Happy reading!   -V

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The British Win the War

Ok, it's not a war. Not even a race or a soccer game, but Amazon UK pulls ahead of Amazon US in delivery speed. Gifts of the Blood is available there now. I tried to buy it. I was even willing to switch currency to lay my hands on it. But alas, it was not to be. I was directed, politely but firmly, back to the US site. (They are so polite.) I shall have to wait.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The New Book is (Almost) Out!

Exciting things are afoot here at The Ides of March. Not the least of which are an impending new site design, and an upcoming new and improved version of my website And now, for The Book:

I have a deep and profound new respect for typesetters. Besides being a Founding Father, Benjamin Franklin is primarily known as a typesetter/printer from Philadelphia. I always just kind of blew that off. But never again. I cannot imagine doing by hand what we've been doing by machine over the last, what, week?

But it's almost ready. The cover is done, and thanks to Tribble Studios for a very fine job:

I'll be adding a soundtrack soon as well, so be sure to check it out.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Music That Doesn't Suck

So Robert Earl Keene's "Merry Christmas From the Family" has yet to be displaced from my personal #1 spot, so I'm not even going to address that here.  What's been great is a surprise challenger for spot #2, Glossary's new Christmas offering listed below my usual #2 favorite, Sharon Jones "Ain't No Chimneys In The Projects." I may have to split the spot this year.  There's really no way to compare them- completely different sounds, completely different moods, but they're all great. 

Here's Sharon, solving one of childhood's greatest mysteries for us.  Just how does Santa fit down the chimney with all those toys?  Oh wait...I forgot:

 And Glossary's Joey Kneiser, with Bingham Barnes on the bells:

A Fool's Christmas by Glossary from Joey Kneiser on Vimeo.
Merry Christmas!

The fireplace dvd/screensaver/whatever is great, as is Bingham's dapper scarf.  I tried to find one (the fire, not the scarf) but they all looked faker than suntanned snow, or had something else wrong with them.  Some of them just looked shifty-eyed.  I never knew fireplace screensavers could look shifty-eyed before.  Thanks, Glossary and Sharon, and Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Review: "Camille" by Tess Oliver

I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of this little indie book when I snapped it up for my Kindle. It's more romance than paranormal, and more historical than paranormal, but the writer certainly knows what she's doing. She knows her time period, and she knows how to write romance. I did get the sense the whole "werewolf hunter" thing was kind of tacked on to appeal to more paranormal markets. Not much werewolf hunting goes on at all, and almost all dealing swith the supernatural can be explained away scientifically. But as I said, Oliver's understanding of late Victorian England is rich and nuanced. The book itself is well written, the main character is an engaging, no-nonsense kind of girl who should appeal to modern readers, and the romance is convincing without being heavy-handed. 

The supporting characters are interesting in their own rights. The most ineteresting character is by far the main character's sister; through her, we get a tantalizing peek inside Victorian insane asylums.  Apparently, if you are a well-bred middle class young lady with well kept long blond hair, you do not get thrown in Seward's Asylum with Dracula's minion Renfield.  Perhaps Stoker's insane asylums were only for the poor.  Tess Oliver's asylum's are bright, airy, and altogether restful.  In fact, she's quick to assure us the sister isn't even truly insane.  Nope, she's normal, even though she spends all her time crafting intricate paper fairies with names, personalities, and whole backstories.  Oh, and she talks to them, too.  The faires, I mean.  Did I mention they were made of paper?  Oh, and the sister drinks laudanum and climbs dangerously precarious tree branches, endagering her life, but only by mistake, of course.  Good thing the narrator's werewolf boyfriend's there to save her!  The sister is only there because she needs a break from the real world, and to carry on a clandestine affair with a handsome orderly.  Now there's a fascinating story! I really like this sister character.  I wish Tess Oliver would do a whole spinoff series based only on her.  

I would definitely recommend this for middle teens and for adults who are looking for a light, sweet read.  In fact, Oliver has inspired me to start what I'm going to call my "Bon-bon List."  This book makes a great quickie sugary maybe guilty fix.  I say maybe guilty because that depends on whether you've cheated on your diet lately (done all your work/ homework? Read nothing heavier than OK magazine for a month?).  I have not cheated on my diet.  Ok, my book diet.  So this bon-bon was sweet indeed.  

Did that even make sense?3.5 stars, but higher on the bon-bon scale.  Looking forward to more from Ms. Oliver.

Incidentally, I did a little snooping because hey, I'm me and I can't resist literary snooping... er... research.  Tess Oliver is the pen name of an author of two Harlequin Silhouette romance books from the early '80s.  Two tiny little things.  Can't even remember the names.  As of this writing, I can't find much else out about her.  Most authors today are pretty up front about their identities- web pages, blogging, whatev.  Oliver's two newest offerings are so slick, and smack so much of an established romance writer, I have to wonder if we aren't dealing with someone old school writer testing the ebook waters.  Just a theory.  Or a conspiracy theory.  Or something.  I did go on about that asylum, didn't I?  And my last blog was about pre-launch insanity, wasn't it?  

But my two week's indulgence isn't up yet, so no men in white coats or butterfly nets yet.  I'll keep you posted on the book, which is going well.  Waiting on a cover and formatting.  And final edits, but that's kind of a writer's joke.  I don't think there is such a thing as a final edit.  I'll be editing until I upload.   

Friday, December 10, 2010

Pre-launch Insanity

The countdown to a book release is like the bastard hybrid offspring of a wedding, freak show, a final exam, and opening night, all rolled into one.  It's like a progressive illness with semi-predictable stages but no one thought to tell you what disease you have.  Or like giving birth, only it's very likely you won't be the proud parent of a new baby girl or boy.  Oh no.  For you, there's a bizarre third option, or even a fourth or fifth.  Something with antennae, or wings, or pyromaniac tendencies.

This is just a quick post intending to thank everyone for putting up with me, especially those closest to me (i.e. my family) and the one person forced to put up with me (i.e. my spouse).  However, as I slip further into pre-launch insanity, I realize what they actually deserve is an explanation of sorts.  Perhaps if they know the signs, they can foresee when to duck.  And perhaps, after my book has eaten me alive and regurgitated my shiny white bones, they will be able to honor my memory by officially naming a new disease in my honor: Keire Syndrome.

Daniel shall be forced to spell it correctly at the memorial banquet. (Insert evil laugh)

Part one:  Stage fright.  It starts as a curious rolling sensation in the belly, as if you mistakenly awoke on board a ship and have seasickness.  But no.  This would be much too fortunate, for it would mean you had been kidnapped by pirates and could therefore forget about the whole book launch fiasco entirely.  After all, a pirate kidnapping would be entirely too fortunate for the likes of you.  No, instead you wander aimlessly for a bit, staring at your coffee cup, wondering why you can drink as much coffee as you want but food has no appeal.  Perhaps you've been turned into a vampire and now there's simply no point in worrying about either solid food or book launches....

Part two:  Delusions.  No, you silly idiot.  Vampires do not exist, no one gets kidnapped by pirates in the 21st Century, your stomach is queasy because nerves + too much coffee= little appetite, and books do not launch themselves.  No, they do not.  You, yes you, must fight your urge to hide under the comforter and do it.  At this point you become convinced that you have written....

Part three: The. Worst. Book. Ever.
Yep. That pretty much sums it up.  At this point, things begin to resemble the more familiar stages of grief model.  There is bargaining.  I'll just do this once and never again presume to be An Author.  I'll do it on the sly.  I'll do it in the dark.  I'll do it and not tell anyone.  There is grief.  No one will read this.  I have wasted my life.  My book will be nothing more than a painful memory and the bitter taste of mockery and failure.

And maybe, just maybe, there is acceptance.  I will do it anyway.  I will put myself out there.  I've already done the hard part, right?  Written the thing?  So what if everyone hates it?  Or worse, so what if no one reads it?

I'm not totally at that part yet.  I bounce around between the other stages pretty solidly, though.  What I do have are...

Treatment options and Coping mechanisms:
1.  Loud music.  Oh, thank you, thank you, benevolent muses, for the gift of music.  And to the 21st Century for the technology to make it loud and as varied as I want to get it.
2.  Take out.  Although this is getting old.  Perhaps the saddest thing I've heard throughout this whole project was when my son asked for dinner that didn't come out of a bag.
3.  My own work space.  A place set away from the main house with a door I can shut and lock.  Where I can play music as loudly as I want, that's fully stocked with art supplies, books, a lightening-fast computer, and Internet.
4.  The freedom to have the occasional meltdown, and chalk it up to: Keire Syndrome.  And the blessing of being loved and supported despite it all.  

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Whips and Carrots

Another month over?  Another holiday gone?  Really?  As in, really really?   Wow, this time I was afraid I wasn't going to make it.  Thank god for catering.  And husbands who cook.

I spent the first part of Thanksgiving break flat on my back with the migraine from hell.  Two and a half days of skull-morphing agony, skulking in my bedroom, glaring at random piles of laundry as constant reminders of my slovenly ways.  And then there were the books.  So many lovely books, and I didn't dare read them.  Did I mention the army of angry gnomes who took up residence in my brain with tiny pickaxes and other gnomely instruments of torture?  And you can tell from my other post I was soooo looking forward to the holidays anyway.

Maybe it's just a regional thing, but both of the universities where I teach give us a whole week off for Thanksgiving break.  The kids still only get Wed.- Fri.  Usually it's heavenly, with lots of good homecooked food, looking forward to Christmas, visits from relatives... but Daniel's got his record label, and I have this book, so we're hobbitt-holing it a lot these holidays.  Code for "Um, not a good time.  Visit next year.  Oh, and do you know a good caterer?"

So I'm flat on my back.  It's day three.  My eleven year old son comes to me.  He sits down on the bed and asks me, very somberly, with these soulful brown eyes of his, "Mom?  How much writing did you get done today?"

Expose heart.  Insert stake.

I had a really complex reaction to that (not so) innocent question.  Guilt, of course.  Primary, intense, and immediate.  But also pride.  I mean, an eleven year old boy is actually paying attention to the fact that his mother is writing a book???? Enough to ask her how it's going????  How sweet.  How unexpected.  How wonderful.  I put it in my pocket to save for uphill days.

Because it was exactly what I needed to hear.  Headache and all, I dragged myself out to my office and wrote. And wrote and wrote.  So that's the whip part.  The carrot?  I will not let myself go see the new Harry Potter until I finish this book.  I'm close enough that it's bearable, but still have enough to do that it's killing me.  I want to see it really really bad.  But I won't.  Carrot, right?

Funny thing.  Max and Grace spent their post-Thanksgiving holidays with full social schedules.  Max's included a trip to see HP7 with friends.  Oh well.  I suppose he deserves a carrot for being such a convincing part of the whip.

Monday, November 22, 2010

We Are the Grown-Ups Now

I am so not in the holiday spirit this year.  In fact, I'm more than a little annoyed they exist at all, selfishly managing to intrude upon my hard-earned hobbitt hole time.  Thanksgiving looms on the horizon as nothing more than a grim reminder that I forgot to buy a turkey in time for it to thaw properly.  That means either buying a fresh one or paying someone else to cook one for me.  Or we could eat ham.

Why do I hear a Marie Antionette-like echo in the distance?

Perhaps it has to do with years of programming.  I am learning the delicate art of self-employment (in the arts, no less) coming from a family, and a world in general, that's ruthlessly corporate and thus runs on corporate time.  Now that D has launched his own LLC (in the arts, no less), we have double the creativity, double the strange hours, and double the stress.

Yes, stress.  Who knew that creativity and being able to set your own hours created a unique kind of stress?  Part of it is predictably financial; being self-employed means an erratic income stream.  That's no different from any number of professions, though.  But being able to set your own hours upsets some people very much.  If I pull three ten p.m. to eight a.m. shifts in a row because I have a deadline coming up, and crash during "normal" lunch hours, and someone like, oh, say, the FedEx guy comes by, it's shocking the kind of dirty look you'll get.  I mean, how dare I sleep from eight a.m. 'til noon?  Don't I know there's a recession? Nevermind that the hypothetical FedEx guy just woke me up during what my body is screaming at me is the middle of my night... my bright, sunny night when the television is infested wth cartoon characters and talk shows...

Come to think of it, I like vampire hours just fine.

But the holidays are like some vast global reminder that everyone must stop and celebrate the same approximate thing at the same approximate time every year.  Whether it's religous or secular or even plain 'ol material, the globe pauses to take a collective breath around this time of year.  Which is nice.  Sorta.  I usually like it.  Hobbitt hole time.  Fuzzy socks and pretty lights, family, good food, and presents.  And people are usually in a pretty good mood.

But this year, I have a deadline.  I forgot about the turkey.  I will have to remember, and often repeat, a life-saving mantra taught to me by a much wiser soul:

We are the grown-ups now.  We can change the rules.

If that means eating out for Thanksgiving, then so be it.  But more likely it will mean Thanksgiving ham and Publix pumpkin pie, with an early resolution to do better next year.      

Friday, November 19, 2010

Review: "Torn," by Amanda Hocking

I've been thinking about boundaries and edges a lot lately since picking up Amanda Hocking's newest release Torn, which she was kind enough to let me review early.  The title alone suggests such things:  Edges.  Boundaries.  Thresholds.  Wendy Everly and nearly everyone she cares about stands at one of these in Hocking's second installment of her acclaimed Trylle trilogy.  Friends, family, enemies, and Wendy herself remain caught in cross-currents of political and class struggles, navigating complex personal ties that alternately bind and strangle, all the while confronting the eternal question of self-definition.  Who is Wendy Everly?  Who does she want to be, and at what cost to herself, to Forening, to her family and friends?

These are not new dilemmas.  Readers face them, or some variant of them, every single day.  They are endemic to the human condition.  And yet Amanda Hocking makes them not only new, but magical, distilling them into one not-quite human character who is wildness made flesh, a woman-girl who runs barefoot and wild-haired through woods and palaces alike, her sometimes angry, sometimes shy steps dogged by the sound of the baubles she loves and the scent of ancient magic in her blood.  That, and the routine righteous rantings of an American teenager, for Wendy Everly is nothing if not doubly cursed.  Or blessed.  For therein lies one of Hocking's greatest gifts, and one she shares with her late great idol, filmmaker John Hughes: the ability to capture young adulthood as the threshold it is, that immortal breath between child and adult when all seems possible.

What is it about the age of seventeen that makes everything so raw, so intense, and so magical?  Hocking knows, and in Torn, as in all her books, she manages to pin it for a moment, if not capture it outright.

Even mere mortals sense it.  I know I do:  At seventeen, I lay the wrong way on an old sofa in a darkened theatre inches away from a boy I loved so fiercely I felt us pulse between us like a living thing, an abyss so powerful we dared not move or speak its name.  So we lay there together instead, our backs where our butts should be, and looked up at the distant dull metal ceiling and invented constellations, awed by this new power between us.  What was that thing, and why was it so powerful?  What is the nature of the thing that makes usually obedient young people sneak out bedroom windows or refuse, out right, to stop seeing "that awful boy," even if it means losing the cell phone until social security kicks in?  Hormones?  First love?  Lust?  Rebellion? Need?  Compelling explanations, and probably true, but I prefer Ms. Hocking's:

Magic.  In the threshold between child and adult, we all have a breath of magic in us.

For Wendy Everly, the Trylle changeling heroine of Amanda Hocking's latest novel Torn, there is actual magic involved as she begins to master both her stubborn temper and her gifts of persuasion, telekenesis, and a few nifty new ones that make their presence known for the first time.  But Wendy also must navigate the two most difficult experiences anyone, Trylle or not, ever has to face: love and family.  As Wendy matures (delightfully so, in fact), love and family only become more and more complicated.  Her own life choices are highly restricted by unfair rules and a racist class system she neither supports nor helped to create, and yet she finds herself expected to not only obey this system of laws, but to one day be its supreme enforcer.  If she doesn't, her world will be engulfed in a brutal war, killing many of the people she loves.

And I thought picking a college was hard.

Within her limited range of choices, Wendy makes good ones.  In this sequel to Switched, we watch as Wendy cobbles together some acceptance of her past and her dual heritage, both Trylle and human. Not ready to forgive and forget (nor should she be), Wendy nonetheless comes to understand Elora, if not love her, even as she remains unapologetically attached to her human family.  She carves out pockets of peace for herself in Forening: a patch of garden, a view of the sky.  She ventures beyond the palace to see how other Trylle live, where the societal cost of her people's parasitic existence becomes real for her in uncomfortably personal ways.  She goes where she shouldn't and speaks (er...yells?) when she should be silent.  We learn quite a lot more about Troll culture, including its history, the rival Vittras, and the ancient Tryllic language.

I've got to give Amanda Hocking props for her research here.  In my research on her research for the Trylle trilogy (if that made any sense), she at one point wrote about how the genesis for the series came from a line in a book about Scandanavian mythology, and the idea kind of caught fire from there.  I was intrigued; there is nothing new under the sun, after all, but never before have I encountered an engaging YA read about trolls.  In fact, I don't think I've ever read about trolls as anything other than rock-eating monsters.  I had to know more.

***Alert: Research blatherings ahead.  Romance resumes exactly one paragraph below***So when a group of characters in Torn encounter an ancient tome written entirely in Tryllic, the ancient tongue of these elegant, enlightened beings, I was stunned to see that Hocking had phonetically written it in Cyrillic letters, a variant of Old Church Slavonic, which would have been what the region's oldest myths were first recorded in.  Lose you?  Bore you to death?  Sorry.  It's just that she's obviously done some serious research here, chosen authenticity over fluff, and my pulse raced more than a little when Wendy got her hands on that lovely Cyrillic Tryllic. The research that goes into crafting a well-written book so often slips under the radar, and I didn't want to let this one slide.  Indie books are often criticized for basic grammatical/typographical errors, and yet here we have one that not only evades these most basic of indie writing pitfalls, but reaches beyond into the kind of deep world building that marks territory previously cordoned off only for "serious" writers. You don't get much more serious than Old Church Slavonic; the last book I read to tackle it was by Orson Scott Card, and even he didn't reproduce its actual alphabet.  It's one of the reasons I love her writing: it maintains the fresh, experimental voice of the indie writer with occassional forays into the realms of "serious literature," and yet manages to be, above all, entertaining.  Excellent, Ms. Hocking.  We need more like you.  So then.  Where were we?

Romance?  Let's talk Finn.

Yes, Finn.  He's back, with his fierce black eyes and overwhelming protective instincts.  He's still determined to protect Wendy's honor from the danger he poses to her as a lowly tracker.  (She's really gotta do something about that caste system.)  And although all the elements of a great romance with Finn are there, from sizzling jealousy to help-I-can't-breathe-'cause-you're-looking-at-me moments to daring Vittra rescues, Hocking introduces a maddening new element: competition.  See, Wendy's grown up a bit. She's coming to terms with this Princess thing. She's more self-confident and her hair has better manners.  She's making peace with her wardrobe.  She's taking less crap, and when she gives an order, it's usually obeyed.  And the boys are noticing.  All of them.  There are the ususal suspects, of course, from Switched, including Finn and, to an extent, Rhys, but we also meet a sexy new one.  He's hot (very- think motorcycles and leather jackets), he's edgy, and if your mama didn't warn you about him, she just hasn't met him yet.  He can offer Wendy the one thing no one else ever has, or maybe even can: complete and total freedom, from Forening, from the Vittra, from everything.

And then there's Tove.

Tove, you say?  WTF?  I know, I know.  But don't count him out.  Tove is instrumental in this second installment of the Trylle trilogy; because of his Trylle gifts, in many ways, he's the closest thing Wendy has to an equal. He makes an excellent teacher, pushing Wendy to the limits of her powers even as he reiterates, over and over, the need for change and his confidence in her abilty to bring it about. Hocking exercises a deft touch here. I mentally conflated "Tove" with "Toad" for a variety of reasons that should be obvious to Switched readers, but in Torn, suddenly I turned the page to find an altogether decent guy.  It's like that moment when your best guy pal for like, forever, whips off his shirt one hot summer afternoon when you've been mowing lawns or something equally grimy and you just sit there, quietly stunned, wondering when the hell the fairies stole your dorky friend away and replaced him with someone you would actually date.  Awkward, but also cool and sexy in a squirmy, embarrassing kind of way.  And an incredible feat of character building for any writer.  Bravo.

All in all, Torn offers up a thoroughly entertaining read with all the things we have come to expect from Amanda Hocking's writing: engaging characters with fresh voices; a well-crafted world; solid writing with professional editing and packaging; an energy and connection with her readers that is somewhat harder to define.  She continues to be, in my opinion, one of the very best indie writers in the industry: edgy, hard working, whimsical.  I'm very much looking forward to the third installment in her Trylle series, along with whatever other offerings she throws our way.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Review: "Glimmer" by Stacey Benefiel

** spoiler alert ** When I saw that "Glimmer" had been released, I rushed to download it on my Kindle. I have been eagerly awaiting this sequel, and I was excited that I might be one of the first to read and review it. I rushed through the reading part- just like its title, "Glimmer" shines with wit, the return of beloved characters, unexpected twists, humor, romance, imagination, and that aching mixture of sexual attraction and innocent love most of us only experience around the magical age of sixteen or so. But then, when I got to the actual reviewing part, I stalled out a little, because I realized I had something worth thinking about on my hands. Something new, I think. Not just a good story, but an emerging talent in a vibrant new genre. Let me come back to this point. First, the book:

Did I mention humor? Stacey Benefiel outdoes herself here. I laughed out loud more times than I can count. I recounted parts of the book for friends, who laughed along with me. Just a taste: Zellie, wondering just what the heck you do with your dream boy once you have him panting in your arms, thinks: "I guess if you make a guy talk like Yoda, you're not completely messing up." I almost choked to death when I read that, I laughed so hard. Since then it's kind of gotten stuck in my head at the most awkward moments: "Mmm. Kiss you I will. Love you, I do." My husband thinks I'm crazy. Really disturbing, I know, and it's all your fault, Stacey Wallace Benefiel!

Many of the things left hanging in "Glimpse" get addressed here: we discover a lot more about the mysterious Benjamin; about the Society of Retroacts and their Lookouts; Zellie and Avery's impending little brother; and how family ties, so badly shaken in "Glimpse," wind up merely stirred but settled in "Glimmer." I loved reading about the Pacific Northwest. Without giving too much away, I have to say that setting is more important in this sequel. I loved the way Benefiel writes small towns. If you live in one, or come from one, you will recognize the authenticity with which she writes. My two wishes for this series: I would like to see a more thorough exploration of gay characters, and perhaps a deeper understanding of how they operate as Retroacts and/or Seers. Also, even the best of them come off a bit creepy. I wonder if Lookouts ever get jealous of their sister's powers? It seems to me they have a lot of grunt work and little glory.

A warning: Benefiel writes realistically, and humorously, about teen sex. She handles it in a responsible, straight-forward manner, and the actual writing is incredibly tender, highlighting the strengths and vulnerabilities of both characters. The "sex question" has got to be one of the hardest things for a YA writer to navigate, just as it is for real-life teens. I think Benefiel's handling of it is magnificent; it irritates me when people freak out about things like this, but some of them do, so consider yourself warned. What is even more curious is Benefiel's blending of Zellie's religious upbringing with her powers as a Retroact and her burgeoning sexuality. Raised to be in church every Sunday and then some, Zellie must suddenly navigate both the supernatural and the sexual, and she's not finding her answers in her father's bible. I love the way Benefiel portrays church life as not just "holier-than-thou". It's also wacky and irreverent, and the place to pick up boys. "Glimmer" is, in part, the story of a young woman who must carefully pick through the values her parents have so carefully instilled in her to find the ones that will work for her bizarrely unconventional life. She makes mistakes, of course, but Benefiel has lain enough of a small-town, family- and moral-centered universe that we can watch Zellie stumble and still hope not to see her fall.

On the whole, I think "Glimmer" is a better book than "Glimpse." Perhaps my favorite thing about reading it was seeing the ways in which her writing had become more sophisticated. "Glimmer" is a tighter, more focused book with a more cohesive magical system. I look forward to learning more about her world of Retroacts, Seers, Lookouts, of finding out more about Zellie and Avery, of finding out what happens to Benjamin, and, in general, just losing myself in her world. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Review: Darkest Mercy, by Melissa Marr

On the day I received my copy of Darkest Mercy, I was late. I'd just driven five and a half hours through one of the poorest regions in the United States after teaching most of the day on very little sleep. It was hot. I was frightened; I had never seen the kind of poverty I'd just driven through, solo, to get to a book signing in Jackson, Mississippi. I slid into a metal folding chair next to a man who looked at me funny. I didn't blame him. I had no idea what was going on and I probably needed a shower.

Many fine writers graced a low stage. They spoke in hushed, cultured voices, answered questions, and gave away prizes.  They laughed and seemed to know each other.  One, in particular, was the reason I'd come: Melissa Marr. I had, in fact, claimed that I would crawl through glass to meet her. One writer said something about trivia questions and more prizes. I remembered a crossroads in lower Alabama where children played in front of a burned out building next to a liquor store. It was the only business for twenty miles. Too badly rattled, I knew I was going to suck at the trivia questions. I would never win. I dug for a mint in my enormous teacher's bag and tried to stop shaking.  Melissa Marr said something about "only four copies."  The man next to me looked at me funny again.  None of it made any sense. I was late and glad to be alive. Then Melissa Marr walked down the aisle. She looked as if she was praying and if she might trip, so I stood up to help her. She put a book in my hands and I thought, "Oh. She must want me to help with the trivia questions." 

It was Darkest Mercy. One of four copies in the world. I didn't realize what I had done until the man who periodically looked at me funny leaned over and gave me the low-down.  "You know, Jessica wants to read that too," he said as I gaped at the cover.  Jessica?  Who the hell was Jessica?  "Verday," he said, taking pity on me at last.  "The writer?"  

Oh, hell.  He was married to one of the writers.  I smiled and told him I was looking forward to reading his wife's book.  Privately, I felt sorry for him, that he had to sit next to late clueless me, and wondered why I had gotten a reprieve from the trivia questions.

Fools and children; separate gods: there is no other explanation. 

I absolutely loved it. It definitely merited the emergency hotel room all-night read. I can truly say that the ending of the series fulfilled the promises of the beginning. Several times, when I'd come to grips with a character's fate, she threw a wrench in it. I cried a couple of times. I threw the book across the room once and yelled, "Melissa, how could you?" She took my least favorite character away from me by making me feel sympathy, understanding, and yes, love. Gross! At the very end I smiled, misty eyed at the beauty and logic of it all. This is not a tale of Happily Ever After, however. Rather, Marr leaves her meticulously crafted universe and deliciously wicked faeries room to breathe and grow, if only in our own imaginations. Fans of specific pairings and.. er... arrangements will be satisfied, but to my mind everyone is in for surprises.

What surprises, you ask? There is no way I'm spoiling, but I will say this: Use Your Brains. Re-read the books *carefully.* Marr is nothing if not methodical and her world, although one of fantasy, has consistent rules that she does not break. The answers to some of my most burning questions were gracefully obvious. It made re-reading the series feel like finding buried sub-plot treasure. 

Like everyone else, I love certain Courts and certain pairs.. er...arrangements more than others. I traded away my Summer Court bracelet for a Dark Court one, if that gives you a clue. But the beauty of Marr's universe is that she creates a place where everyone, and I do mean *everyone*, can find bits of themselves, both bright and dark, broken down and reflected back in new and sometimes beautiful ways. Tempestuous temper tantrums become a Summer Court asset. Nightmare scenarios of drugs and sexual abuse become the Dark Court's greatest strengths: the fierce loyalty and resilience of the survivor. Darkest Mercy continues the series' astonishing power by taking expectations, shattering them, then rearranging all the broken pieces into a strange new reflection, and asking, simply, "Have you considered things this way?" 

No, I hadn't. I hadn't known that nightmares could be beautiful, that lies could be more honest than truth, that summer and winter really had nothing to do with temperature, that I'd come to love a character I didn't like at all. 

As a storytelling vehicle, Darkest Mercy is not my favorite. I would have to rank it second or third among all five books. This probably has something to do with a thing that happens that I wish didn't but that's all I'm going to say about it now. I mention it to point out that I wasn't entirely happy, but so what. Some others will be thrilled. Ink Exchange was actually my favorite book, which is not at all usual. When considered against the arc of the entire series, Darkest Mercy ties up loose ends but still leaves the universe room to breathe. Which is exactly what a good finale does.

My favorite part of Marr's writing, and what so often goes unrecognized, is her sheer narrative brilliance, and this is by far my favorite part of Darkest Mercy. Yes, I said it. I have advanced degrees in English Literature to back it up, too. (Yes, I'm touchy about that.) Marr has managed to invent Faerie Courts with their own distinct stylistic traits, including characters, settings, mannerisms, and even Internet hit squads. But she has also given each Court their own unique narrative technique. I'm going to expound, with the caveat that if you're here for the spoilers or Seth's piercings or Irial's British accent (Iri!) you might get a bit bored. (Irial!) Where was I? Narrative technique, right. 

Part of what make's Marr's universe so strong is that the very language she uses to create it reflects the Court it represents. Winter and the High Court are both written with more formal diction, complex sentence and paragraph structure, etc., to highlight their cold, remote natures. But with the Dark Court, Marr plays with time, warping character's perceptions of it to emphasize emotional power. As readers know, the Dark Court feeds on emotion. Marr uses one of the most innovative narrative techniques I have recently encountered by compressing two points of view to warp time; after all, time loses all meaning in the grip of strong emotion. The stronger the emotion, the greater the warp. I first encountered this in Chapter 30 of Ink Exchange: 

" 'It's been a long day,' she murmured as she swayed under his caresses. She closed her eyes and asked, 'The second day will be better, right?'
'It's been a week, love.' He pulled the covers up over her. 'You're doing much better.' " (272). 

This brief exchange caps less than a page of a powerful montage of addiction and loss in which time is an unreliable marker of reality. The emotional connection is the real power here, once again underscoring a key Dark Court trait. Marr is just that good- she's created a unique stylistic technique that is nothing short of (dare I say it) literary brilliance. (I invite my colleagues who disagree to examine pages 271-72 of Ink Exchange. I'll be right here on Good Reads, waiting.) Darkest Mercy serves up more of the same masterful writing, and that is why I love it so. 

The reasons why we love the books we do are so often tangled and messy. Part of why I love this one is because it is The End to the series that taught me that Faeries and Literature are not mutually exclusive. It hurts me to say goodbye to the characters I love so much, and even the ones I just kind of tolerate.
But Marr makes sure that her Faeries are happy enough to suit their natures. After all, if she didn't leave them with enough conflict to scheme and plot and be wicked and lovely then they wouldn't really be happy, would they? And neither would we. 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Review: The Demon's Lexicon, Sarah Rees Brennan

This book was a pleasantly unpleasant surprise. The opening was vivid and engaging; it definitely pulled me in and kept me wanting to know more. However, about a third of the way in, I found myself increasingly disturbed by the main character in almost every way. So much so, in fact, that I fought with myself. I knew I should put the book down, but I just couldn't make myself. 

I'm not sure I've ever had a reaction to a book like this before. It alternately disgusted, terrified, and attracted me, so, of course, I loved it.  Being inside Nick Ryve's head was one of the most disturbing experiences I've recently had in my frequent forays into YA paranormal fiction. Rees Brennan's choice to use Nick as her protagonist and third-person point of view turns this book from just another teen read into something gut twisting, but in a kind of pleasant way, like feeling slightly sick after too much cotton candy when getting off the roller coaster. 

Something is wrong with Nick, very badly wrong, and it's obvious from the first third of the book in. Two-thirds of the book in, I started to think perhaps he should have been drowned like an unwanted puppy at birth, which says a lot because drowning puppies is about the sickest thing I can think of. But the truly twisted thing is that I found myself falling for this sick, twisted character. Yes, you heard me. Even though some part of me knew there was something bad and evil and wrong with Nick Ryves, I pulled for him and wanted to see him succeed. 

Nick has exactly two speeds: frozen, and kill. The only thing resembling affection is an overwhelming desire to protect his older brother Alan. At all other times, Nick floats through the narrative very much the dispassionate observer. Even when he kills, even when his own mother can't stand to look at him, Nick merely observes, and feels nothing. He feels no fear, and this makes him the Ryves' family's most effective defense against the deadly magicians who hunt them. Through Nick's dispassionate eyes, we see his brother Alan's fierce and very human love for him, and it is this relationship that proves to be Nick's saving grace. 

Enter two other teenagers, a relatively normal brother and sister who show each other the kind of affection that leaves Nick baffled and strangely on edge, and I realized Rees Brennan had created a character who was more comfortable killing people than hugging. This kind of emotional lockdown could only stem from deeply buried trauma, and from then on, I was hooked, eagerly turning pages as I tried to discover what hidden event had so deeply scarred the Ryves boys that they'd rather face scores of evil magicians than their past.

I was not disappointed. The ending, when it came, was unique in teen fiction. Tragic, hopeful, part Neverland, part Sleeping Beauty, with a little of the Matrix thrown in, Rees Brennan's conclusion to The Demon's Lexicon grappled with heavy questions about the nature of love v. duty, the power of language, and whether getting one's heart's desire is ultimately a blessing or a curse.

Along the way, Rees Brennan offers perhaps the most compelling modern interpretation of Christina Rossetti's classic Pre-Raphelite poem "Goblin Market" I've ever encountered. Her magical world centers around this fabled Market. I loved the way she developed Rosetti's original epic poem, which also features siblings and salvation, into a vibrant magical universe operating just on the fringes of our own very mundane world. Anyone delving into her "Demons" series would benefit from reading the original poem, as much of Rees Brennan's trilogy center around the Market. Moreover, the Market highlights Rees Brennan's own strengths as a writer: she is no literary lightweight. She knows magic, she knows literature, and she knows how to skillfully mix the two

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Review: Breathless by V.J. Chambers

Holy #$%^! Where has this book been in my indie author wanderings? V.J. Chambers pushes YA to the absolute edge. The sweet, delicious edge. This is one of those books that crosses over- paranormal, urban fantasy, thriller, YA, adult, romance, horror, apocalypse, conspiracy, adventure, and more. Wow. I don't even know how to categorize this. Other than brilliant. It's definitely that. Brilliant. Tell your friends. Tell total strangers. This book rocks.

What begins as a sweet but compelling YA romance morphs, midway through, into something dark but even more romantic and, at the same time, sickly humorous.  I cannot count the times I found myself laughing out loud then looking over my shoulder a little nervously because Chambers manages to make the inappropriate and the forbidden approachable and even funny.  If it shouldn't and can't be happening, it will and does.  This is not a book for the faint of heart.  Chambers tackles teenage sexuality in plain language.  Characters make disturbing, sometimes even illegal, life choices, but Chambers follows through by showing the consequences of their actions.  High school is well-rendered in all its insular pettiness.  However, she also lets moments of greatness we can all relate to poke through and shine, like the one teacher who encourages free-thinking or the maddening, magical moment when you realize you would throw it all away because of one single electric kiss.

Azazel and Jason both make compelling leads.  Both are strong, intriguing, and have great chemistry.  Jason is spot-on as the strong, mysterious, but oddly vulnerable boy who defends Azazel from bullies and even relatively mild insults with militaristic fervor.  His intelligence and logical arguments are refreshing in a YA romance.  Azazel is bewitching as the center of her offbeat hurricane of a family.  A little hitch here for me:  Jason's longing for normality is understandable, but Azazel?  Hmm.  Beyond that, though, they are brilliantly polymoral characters.  They aren't meant to be entirely likeable.  They are... complex, and therein lies their charm.  Azazel and Jason do not move in a good v. evil, black v. white world, although everyone around them behaves as if they do.  They are continuously forced to make black and white choices in a shades of gray world.  

Chambers hits some pretty deep themes hard and heavy almost from page one: the nature of good and evil, and how young people can best construct their own moral identities in a world that constantly lies, fails, and uses them.  Jason and Azazel are both blessed and cursed in this regard.  They are at the center of relentless, pervasive violence and betrayal, but Chambers gives them the gift of each other: their deepening love becomes an unwavering moral compass that guides them through the madness of their worlds turned upside down and shaken sideways.  This drives them closer together, but it also forces them into choices that mark and scar them.  Chambers leaves us with the hope that together, there is not only healing, but destiny as well. However, she leaves us hanging as to whether that destiny will be a happy one, or a further descent into chaos and destruction.

Thank goodness for book two.  And no waiting, either.

Review: Trembling by V.J. Chambers

The stakes are higher, the heat is on, and tensions mount in book two of the Jason and Azazel trilogy. Did I mention intense? Our characters grow darker, but in typical Chambers style, darker doesn't always equal evil or bad. In fact, the definition of evil and the nature of choice and free will is at the very heart of this second book as Chambers tackles some very heavy issues for any YA book. This is what I love about her books, though. She unapologetically does not hold back. As Jason and Azazel struggle with their twin darknesses and a world that has used them and thrown them away, they must also navigate the rocky shores of teenage love. This is a tall order for any teenager, or even most adults, but when those teenagers happen to be a trained killer with anger management issues and a messiah complex and a pagan cult's goddess-incarnate-on-the-run exploring her first tastes of freedom and sensuality, things are bound to get... complicated. And dark.

This was another book I could not put down. This is another book that begs for more attention, more marketing, more publicity, more exposure. This book needs to be read. So. Once again, please tell your friends, their friends, your grandmother and her friends, and total strangers on the streets about these books. They are the rarest of finds among indie books- an original, brilliantly-executed story coupled with nearly flawless editing

Review: Tortured by V.J. Chambers

**spoiler alert** (May contain spoilers)
In the third Jason and Azazel installment, their connection deepens as their world gets darker and more violent. Like, incredibly violent. And incredible deep. Jason and even Azazel descend into depths of violence and darkness that make me pretty sure they are indeed Chaos and/or the Devil incarnate. However, this is not the most disturbing part. The most disturbing part?

I liked them anyway.

That's right. I said it. I liked- no, loved- them anyway, and rooted for them the entire way. I wanted them to succeed. I wanted them to successfully mass slaughter entire buildings. (OK, arguably, these guys deserve it.) Azazel thinks the same thing about Jason at one point in the series. It may be in Book Two. Her brothers make her watch hours of videotape of Jason, smiling, during killing spree after killing spree, and she decides it doesn't matter. She'll love him no matter what he's done, or who he is, or who he's done it with. And he feels the same about her. Gut twisting, but masterfully so.

By the third book, we're pretty deep into the whole Sons of the Sun and the Satanists or the Rabbits or Chaos conspiracies. Oh, and you have to love it when the Catholic Church gets involved, as well as a couple of very fringe cults for good measure. And then Chambers throws in the coming Mayan Apocalypse. Conspiracy fans and Apocalypse nuts will *love* this. Part of me thinks this is foreshadowing for a future series, but fans be warned: she lays it on pretty heavy here with the conspiracy stuff. I needed a score card at times. But then, I think that's part of her point: when people start fighting over good v. evil, it all devolves into a game of deadly ridiculousness at some point. In Jason and Azazel's case, extremely deadly ridiculousness.
Because, as Azazel so insightfully points out, anything can be justified once your opponent is "evil." 

The novel is not without its moments of tenderness, humor, teenage angst, and romance. In typical Chambers style, she does not back down from the tough subjects. Safe, healthy teenage sexuality is unflinchingly examined as two characters have to deal with the consequences of uninformed, and therefore unsafe, sex. Jason and Azazel struggle with intimacy. There is something so real in the way it is easier for Azazel to kill someone than to tell Jason he isn't satisfying her sexually. And the way she manages to sit through a group self-help session (or perhaps intervention) on the female orgasm is perhaps the bravest thing she does in the entire series. Such things are not easily discussed, yet Chambers does so with humor and grace. If only one of her readers learns from Azazel's experiences, then Chambers has done the world a huge service and deserves a medal.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

It's Never Going to Stop

If I'm lucky, if everything I want and dream of comes true for me, weeks like the past several will not only NOT get better, they will get worse.  Or rather,  faster.  Time is speeding up for me, I swear.

Let me be clear(er): the past several weeks have been great.  I've been immersed in writing, reading, connecting with other writers and immensely creative people, ideas are flowing fast and furious. Ann's comments about Worlds Burn Through not only make sense, but I know which of the 4-6 current story arcs I need to whittle down to 2-3.  I know which narrative vehicles are not going to work as they are written.  I must constantly ask myself "Is this logical?  Would he/she/it really do this?" as I review every single chapter.  I have to ditch Callista's diary and the Queen of New Orleans, compress ley lines and Cherokee mythology into one magical system, and gradually transform Alexander Ravenwood III into the Emperor of Fire.  Things must speed up; characters are running out of time.  Remember that although I love Miranda this is not her story.  Accept that romance between two alien teenagers who are even more alien to each other will be awkward but powerful, especially since one of them has more experience killing than kissing, and there can be grace in that.  Oh, and I'm going to sorta kill someone major.  Sorry, but it has to be done.

While I've been figuring this out, Ann's having picnics in the outback, drinking wine and looking at stars.  This is good.  At least, I thought it was.  I thought, "Oh good, I'll have a break before I talk to her again."  I decided that I, too, could take a deep breath and a vacation.  Not to the outback, but a writing one.  I promised myself I would stop in on the little town of Whitfield, and see what kind of supernatural hijinks have been brewing while Chloe and Eliot needed my help in "The Chronicles of Nowhere" Trilogy.  You know, have a little fun.  It turns out a very very powerful being just showed up.  He's giving one of my regulars, Caspia Chastain, the tarot-card artist and brilliant barrista, a hard time.  Bad luck for him, because he's about to become very very weak, and then 'normal' Caspia will have quite a lot of power over him.  Good thing she's such a nice girl... or not.  I promised myself I would have this 50,000 word novella, Season of Heaven, posted to Kindle by Halloween.

Then things got complicated, in a wonderful turn-your-life-upside down kind of way, which will be the subject of a post all its own.  Or four.  I'll just say I think the fates, or whatever (insert fearsome deity), have their eye on me, and I'd better damned well be ready for whatever they're about to throw my way.

I promised myself I would post Season of Heaven because it's time.  It's time to launch.  I'm not sure how I know this, but we writers are weird, and something I can describe only as forces are propelling me forward.  Signs, portents, forces, and sometimes things literally falling in my lap.  (More on that later.)  So.  I'm a bit nervous about the big reveal.  Every time I start wondering how the hell someone like me can make something like this work, I refer myself to the deeply seated instinct that seems to be driving all of this.  I did warn you writers were weird, right?  It's this deeply seated instinct that's telling me to hold on to my keyboard, things are about to get crazy (ier)...

I am waaay too fond of the ellipses.  Oh well.  There are worse vices.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


It's been two days since emerging from the bowels of the Hyatt in downtown Atlanta, and I really do feel like I've just time travelled or spent almost a week on an alien planet known as DragonCon.  I'm still trying to adjust to regular sunlight, normal food and clothing, and the freedom to move around at will.  If you haven't been to DragonCon, I know this will sound strange, but it's the truth.

Costumes everywhere.  Bizarre costumes for which I have no context and some that made me stop and say, "Hey! I remember that cartoon/book/comic!"  I don't recall eating.  I remember that I did it, but it was usually done on the run from one room full of bizarre creatures discussing equally bizarre things to another room or even building.  I actually forgot to eat several times and don't remember being hungry.  I remember sitting in on one particular panel when my stomach wouldn't stop growling.  I kept telling myself that this meant I was hungry and I needed to remember to eat, but I don't remember actually being hungry.  If you know me at all, you will recognize this as extremely bizarre behavior.  The one thing I do remember wanting and consuming constantly was coffee.  I think, by day two, I had a blood coffee content far above the legal limit.  Good thing I wasn't driving.

I lost the freedom to move where and when I wanted.  It was so crowded that not only could you not sit, you couldn't stop moving.  If I paused for any reason, a staff member or an Atlanta police officer was there to say, "Move along!"  And so I did, even though often it meant moving in a direction I didn't want to be going.  Daniel and I were frequently swept away from each other, just like being caught in a strong ocean tide.  I have truly learned the meaning of the words "swept along with the crowd."  Disney World on New Year's Eve and Bourbon Street on Fat Tuesday might possibly come close to the press of bodies crammed into four or so square blocks of downtown Atlanta.

At any rate, I feel like I'm coming down off hard drugs or a really long drinking binge.  Of course, being me, nothing of the sort happened, but that's how I feel.

What did I learn?  Well, I'm still decompressing from all of that, and I probably won't be able to write coherently about it for several days.  If then.  So, a few jumbled points:

1. Steampunk.  Second most active track for me, and by far the coolest thing at the con.  I'm looking forward to learning more about it so that I can write Steampunk and make beautiful costumes and weapons of my own.

2.  Writer's Track.  I was most active here.  It should be no surprise that this was not the most exciting track, but I learned a lot, and it was my favorite.  I got to see old friends who are as much writing nerds as I am.  I got autographs from obscure authors I like a lot.  I got my first ARC!!!!  I even found myself on my feet in the middle of the aisle, giving an impassioned speech about how the traditional publishing industry, just like the music business, was going down hard and fast and that we'd all better be ready to adapt or die.  This during a panel where the editors of major traditional publishing houses were present.  Everybody freaked.  It was great.  But most importantly I learned a lot and got to see my peeps.

3.  YA fan tracks.  Good to know what's on reader's minds, and to discover that 60 year old gay men to gawky ten year old girls to mid-thirties moms to twenty-something jocks all read and love YA.  Who knew?

Anyway.  Enough for now.  It's over.  It's time to return to the real world of work, family, and more work, aka writing/ reading.  I can catch up on reviews I've been meaning to do, edit and revise my book in progress, and start on another project that will continue to drive me crazy until I bring it to life.

And blogs?  Did I mention blogs?  Much to do on that front.

Friday, August 27, 2010

At long last! Wisdom!

Funny, because I haven't read "Wisdom" yet.  But I am just so d*** excited it's finally out.  I've been following Amanda Hocking's ascent since I first picked up "My Blood Approves."  I've read every one of her books.  Amanda's great because her work is 1. good 2. professional and 3. indie and 4. accessible.  She's what I think most indie writers, or any writers, for that matter, aspire to be.  

If only reading didn't detract from my own writing.  I swear it's all I'd do.  

I've got a meeting with my editor in roughly a week.  Wait, no.  A week from tomorrow.  But also a meet-up with some writing friends.  I have this feeling that I'm not ready, Ann's going to hate what I've done, I won't measure up, blah blah.  It's a lot like the feeling I get when I dream about shopping/working/being pulled over by a cop and realizing I'm wearing no clothes.  So it's probably about as realistic.

Anyway.  This isn't supposed to be about me.  It's supposed to be about Amanda.  Oh well.  Lame blog today.  I'd gotten out of the habit, so I guess I just needed to pound keys.  

Resolution:  I will not read "Wisdom" until I've finished editing the middle section of "Worlds Burn" and given it to D.  

We'll see how long I can hold out.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bad Indie Writing

Many of the review sites I've visited lately have nothing but glowing reviews for indie writers that, in my opinion, suck.  Come on, people.  We'll never gain acceptance for Indie writing if we keep peddling crap.  

On a lighter note, for an example of some really bad writing, self-pub, of course, check this out:


Making Writing and Working Work

I was really thrilled to host the band Glossary and one of my fav singer songwriters Duquette Johnson this past weekend.  It was great show, even if the crowds were smaller than hoped for. I'm glad we were able to put them up for the night, and only wish I had more palatial surroundings to offer.

It was great being able to watch the band and run barefoot in the grass, chasing children and puppies under the stars to the backdrop of great music, to hit the BLT bar if I wanted, and generally soak up the restorative creativity that is Standard Deluxe.  (Thanks Scott!)  But what was really awesome was to meet a group of hard-working indie musicians and see just how much effort they put into what they do.  Those guys work HARD.  And not for much money.  They do it because, as creative souls, they have to; and also 'cause they love it.

There are a lot of intersections between the music and book industry these days.  One of my weekend guests described it this way:  "It's a way to find out the difference between the ones in it for the money, and the lifers."  So, yeah.  Hard work, but if it's really in us, we're lifers.  Whether "it" is music, art, or writing, we do it first 'cause we have to, and then 'cause we love to.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Review: Kept by Zoe Winters

Don't judge a book by its cover, because what's inside Winter's debut novella is even better than the sexy cover design and professional layout.  In short, Kept is an entertaining foray into a well-crafted, original universe, and it's worth every penny of its more than modest cover price.

Winter's approach to paranormal romance is refreshing.  She manages to take some of the best elements of the genre and condense them into a compelling quick read.  Her ideas are original without being labored, which is a real boost to a genre that may be hitting its saturation point.  My only real criticism is that Kept is perhaps a bit too short.  I wanted to know more about these characters and the world they live in.  I'm not sure wanting to read more of an author's work really counts as a criticism, but it's all I've got.  As an indie writer, Winter's execution is flawless.  Her writing is top notch, as is the editing.  There are no awkwardly worded sentences to stumble through, no holes in plot or character, and the layout is as good or better than some of the trad publishers I've read lately.  Her website and supporting online material for the series is innovative and accessible.  Check out to see what I mean.

Winter's real gift is characterization.  Greta and Dayne both have distinct personalities and great chemistry, complete with pesky quirks, fantastic dialogue, and believeable physical attraction.  Details make this book: Greta drinks milk straight from the carton, while Dayne is a bit obsessed with his gardening hobby.  Dayne delivers one of the best lines in paranormal fiction ever when he's navigating a sticky moral situation:  "Oh f*** it, I'm the bad guy."  Winters manages to get them involved in a physical relationship without falling back on any of the unrealistic "instant soul mate" formula that's so prevalent in the genre.  Their attraction is genuine and grounded in growing respect, attraction, and mutual need.  Greta struggles to maintain her independence while falling hard for Dayne; Dayne is pulled in two directions by his fear of intimacy and a powerful need to protect this woman who clearly needs it.  Make no mistake: this is a sexy book.  Sex, Winters-style, is realistic, prevalent, and hot, all without feeling like you've taken an anatomy lesson. 

She adds just enough detail to make not just her characters, but her entire world, believable.  Her magical system seems solidly grounded and contemporary.  No brooding ancient wizards and vampires or self-tortured shapeshifters here.  Her supernaturals are comfortable in their own skin(s) and matter-of-fact about their natures and needs.  One of several bumper stickers this book made me want to slap on my fender would read:  "Real Wizards Use the Internet."  Another?  "This Cat Always Lands on Her Back." Hee hee.  Bad of me, I know, but Kept just invites that kind of thing because it is, at its core, a FUN book set in an intriguing supernatural world I can't wait to read more about.  I will definitely read the next two.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Arcade Fire at Madison Square

D dragged me out of my hobbitt hole tonight to watch a live stream of Arcade Fire at Madison Square.  All  I can say is w.o.w.  We've had the new album for two weeks now-really good.  D has garnered some serious music connections, and he's always popping up with these albums weeks before they're out.  But anyway- if you haven't heard of them, or don't know them, the Madison Square concert is a great place to start.

They were once Indie musicians.  A tiny little band nobody knew.  But they had a great product and kept pushing, doing the footwork, and now, Madison Square Gardens.  You don't get much bigger than that.  It's like the Pulitzer, but for musicians.

Not sure why Indie writers haven't gotten the kind of support/ encouragement/ enthusiasm other Indie artists have.  I like using the music scene as a model because I think they're facing some of the same paradigm shifts that the publishing industry is, except those artisits have figured out a way to make it work. We're still feeling our way over here in book land, but we've come a long way.  See this article on "Bringing Sexy Back" to self publishing by Johnathon Fields over at Huffington Post.

So move over trad writers and publishers.  The Indie tribe is here and taking over.  Trad v. Indie.  It does sound sexier to be Indie than Trad.

But back to Arcade Fire.  Enjoying their encore now.  They're all covered with sweat and giving it all they've got.  Nothing beats seeing really gifted, talented people singing/writing/playing their heart(s) out.  This whole live concert is getting a playlist all its own when I get back to my novel, which I will do soon.  First thing in the a.m.  I swear.  No more ice cream until I finish that chapter.

Indie Book Review: Portal, by Imogen Rose

I had high hopes for this one, as there seemed to be a buzz about it, and generally favorable reviews.  The premise was interesting, and I see potential, but overall I have to say this book was a disappointment.

Portal switches back and forth from three character points of view- Arizona Darley/Stevens, her mother Olivia, and a third character not introduced until the very last chapter.  In fact, I think it's the epilogue, which really reads more like a preview for the sequel, Equilibrium.  The novel would have been stronger, in fact, if the epilogue had been rewritten a preview.  Introducing a new character at the end only made the whole thing more confusing.

If I could describe the book in one word, it would be: muddled.  Rose not only switches perspective, but also voice, jumping from a fairly compelling first person narrative to third person without warning or much transition.  The third person character, Olivia, seems flat.  I was left floundering as to whether she was a good or bad person.  The novel tries to set her up as bad, but her selfish, morally questionable actions have no negative consequences whatsoever. 

In fact, the whole novel is based on the idea of one life being switched for another, without the main character's consent.  Arizona supposedly hates her mother and wants to get back to her old life as a hockey playing tomboy with serious anger management issues, but instead she wakes up as a Barbie doll with a perfect life.  Instead of fighting to get to the bottom of things, she settles quite nicely into her new life, tweaking just a few things here and there to make herself more tomboy than Barbie.  Overall, Arizona seems quite happy in the new life she's supposed to hate. 

Her new life in the alternate dimension is so perfect it's disgusting.  Rich, beautiful, a perfect family, cheerleader, a solid member of the 'in-crowd," she has so few enemies and problems you can count them on one hand.  This is yet another muddled point: Rose veers into an entirely different genre.  I felt like I had gone from time travel drama to an episode of Gosssip Girl, then back again.  The entire book's fatal flaw is lack of conflict. 

On the other hand, Arizona is well-written, and deserves center stage.  She has a compelling individualism that shines through the novel's flaws.  Rose does well when she sticks to this first-person character.  Arizona's relationship with Kellan is one of the more intriguing aspects of the novel.  He alone seems to get it that Arizona Darley is actually Arizona Stevens, and he is both confused and attracted to the change.  The idea of falling in love with the fantastic girl who's been right under your nose your whole life is great, and kept my interest throughout the novel.  Their relationship seemed genuine and sweet.  Kellan himself is a strong romantic lead: sensitive, understanding, kind, loves family, and he's smart enough to figure out something's up even before the novel's double Ph.D. does.

Overall, I have to say that Portal is a decent debut, but it needs work.  I really think Imogen Rose has potential, and can only continue to improve as a writer.  I will read her sequel, Equilibrium.  I'm fairly certain it will outshine her debut.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Review: My Blood Approves #1 by Amanda Hocking

The first in what may be a five book series, My Blood Approves is a remarkable debut for an indie author.  Teen vampire romance fans will love this one.  Hocking manages to sidestep many of the mistakes associated with first-time self-publishing.  She solidly grounds her novel in a popular, well-defined subgenre of the exploding YA/teen market.  This allows her strenghts, namely characterization, setting, and dialogue, to shine, since readers will already have a rough template for plot.

Her crowning achievement is, by far, vampire Jack.  Alice Bonham's love interest is FUN.  He's like the opposite-sex best friend, perfect in every way, except getting involved with him doesn't ruin the friendship.  Not the dark and brooding type, Jack has great taste in music and fashion.  He manages to stay plugged into popular culture while staying solidly grounded in his own era: the eighties.

This yet another strength of Hocking's.  She manages to evoke two different time periods and weave them seamlessly into a well crafted setting: modern urban Minnesota, with echoes of an eighties pop scene.  The romantic tension between the main characters is complicated by a love triangle, also a conventional device.  Here her characterization stumbles; Alice and Peter's attraction, supposedly fated, lacks depth and passion.  However, the triangle presents a thought-provoking choice for Alice.  Should she fight for a relationship grounded in friendship, mutual attraction, respect, and, most importantly, choice, or succumb to a love-hate relationship forced on her by fate?  It's a real breakthrough for a genre that all too often depicts 'true love' as a relationship in which the characters are doomed to suffer.

 On the downside, the novel suffers from the same issues that plague indie writing in general:  a slow start, problems with pacing, and mediocre editing.  It takes Alice much longer to catch on than it should.  Given that the audience knows Jack's "secret" before they start reading, it makes it all too easy to feel contempt for the main character.  Readers may find themselves wondering about her I.Q., or fighting the desire to reach into the pages and shake her.  Hocking suffers less in the editing department than do other indie writers, but there are still places where a more experienced editor or proofreader would have caught mistakes or tightened sentences.  Sending the manuscript through two or three more critical self-revisions would have sufficed as well.

Besides Hocking's considerable strengths as a writer, she shines in perhaps the most important aspect of indie writing: self-presentation.  Hocking's website stomps those of more established, major press authors.  Stephanie Meyer, Melissa Marr, and others could take a lesson on web design and layout from her.