April 30, 2010

Review: The Witchy Worries of Abbie Adams

Sometimes I complain about college. It can be a lot of work, no lie. But nothing makes it worth it like getting back a 14-page paper with a 3-page bibliography that you spent most of a semester on (and still need to revise and turn in again) that says: [A-] This is excellent . . . But basically this was a pleasure to read.

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By Rhonda Hayter
Available now from Dial (Penguin); Review copy
Read my interview with Rhonda

I want to branch into middle grade fiction more often. Why? It's important, particularly to kids who enjoy reading. Chapter books don't have the complexity to hold their attention, but young adult and adult books contain inappropriate content. I knew I spent several enjoyable years with middle grade authors like Bruce Coville, Mary Downing Hahn, and Willo Davis Roberts. Plus, I have two cousins who are the perfect age for middle grade novels. I don't just want to hook them up with what I enjoyed as a kid; I want to shower them with the best new books too! (What, you don't periodically gift copy boxes full of books to your relatives?)

It's a little strange reading a book for younger readers again. On one hand, THE WITCHY WORRIES OF ABBIE ADAMS felt highly episodic to me. The different threads like Abbie's school play and trying to get Tom home, rarely intertwine. They're mostly explored on their own. On the other hand, it feels perfect for reading at night. I'd always want to finish "one more chapter!", and it's much easier to get to bed after reading one that comes to an actual conclusion.

Abbie herself seems like someone younger readers can identify with. She's always getting in trouble due to her younger brother and she has trouble focusing on schoolwork when there are other things to do. While Tom Edison figures into the story, Rhonda Hayter doesn't use him as a means to be didactic. She acknowledges his importance in American history and goes on with the story. Tom's work ethic, however, does provide a nice contrast to Abbie's. (And whether his slang is accurate or not, it's fun.)

Generally, THE WITCHY WORRIES OF ABBIE ADAMS is a fun novel with a little bit of mystery and a little bit of fantasy - both genres I've always enjoyed. While I'm still refamiliarizing myself with the middle grade world and where things fit within it, I can tell you there are no dead dogs.

April 29, 2010

Interview with Rhonda Hayter

Rhonda Hayter is the debut author of the middle grade novel THE WITCHY WORRIES OF ABBIE ADAMS. She used to be an actress and now she's a mother writing a series about young witch who keeps encountering historical figures! This was a very fun interview, and I'm sorry that it took so long for me to arrange. I hope ya'll enjoy it to (and come back tomorrow to read my review).


1. I've asked many authors about the difference between writing for an adult audience and a young adult audience. But for a middle grade audience, you definitely have to be aware of content and language. What made you decide to write for children? Did you cut anything from the story that you didn't feel was appropriate for a younger audience? Did you add any content for the audience?

At the time that I first wrote Witchy Worries, I had a second-grader and a fifth-grader and was completely fascinated by, in love with, and focused on them 60 seconds a minute...as well as being around zillions of kids their ages on their play dates, their sports activities, volunteering at their school and so on. So it was no leap at all to speak to their age levels and find the voices for characters that age. At no point did I have to make any conscious choices about what was appropriate content, or how the language should be tailored, because I was living and breathing it 24-hours a day.

As to why I decided to write for children...well, I have to admit, there was no conscious decision there either. (Gee, I gotta start thinking about things more.) A middle-grade book happened to be what came out of me at that time, because that was my life...and the kids had just gotten old enough that I actually got five minutes to myself occasionally and could find time to write.

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2. One part of the plot of THE WITCHY WORRIES OF ABBIE ADAMS deals with returning young Thomas Edison to his proper place in time. How did you decide on the way time travel works in Abbie's world?

Well, as a teenager, I loved the sci-fi, baby. Later I become a dyed in the wool Trekkie and in my day job as a script reader for a movie producer, I read a lot of great sci-fi concepts too. So time travel and the kinds of anachronisms that can occur have always been fun things for me to dream about. I didn’t want to set up the idea that Abbie and her family could go back in time and start actually interacting with people back then because it all could get so complicated and take the focus off of Abbie’s daily life. I really wanted Abbie to be just a normal girl with normal problems that any kid could identify with...while sometimes encountering magical complications. So I made the rule that the witches can only observe the past and not change anything. Then when I wanted Abbie to get to know Thomas Edison, I figured I’d bring him into her time with the rule that when he goes home, he’ll have no recollection of it.

3. Before writing THE WITCHY WORRIES OF ABBIE ADAMS, you were an actress. Do you use any experiences or techniques from your former profession to write?

I love that you ask me that because when I wrote the book, I was so fascinated by how exactly the same it is that I couldn’t stop talking about it. The essential questions any actor has to ask himself in finding a character are: Who am I? What do I want? What’s in the way of getting what I want? What can I do to overcome these obstacles to get what I want? Of course it’s exactly the same for a writer finding the characters and creating a story line. And best of all... it’s just as much fun as acting but you don’t have to wait for anyone to hire you to do it. You get to become somebody else and live in a whole different world, in exactly the same way as you do when you’re acting. Every actor and ex-actor I know who writes says exactly the same thing. They’re so excited at finding something that gives them the same exhilarating rush that acting does.

4. I like the cover of your novel - I'm fond of cartoon covers and I especially like the way cat Tom looks. Do you feel the cover is a good representation of the story?

I screamed when I saw it. It was so adorable and exactly perfect. I think it absolutely catches the tone of the book, that it’s fun and magical but that there’s some learning in it too. And my best friend says that the picture of Abbie looks exactly like I did when she met me thirty years ago. It was so cool to see my ideas filtered through somebody else’s imagination; the jacket designer’s and the illustrator’s...to express what I intended. Kinda magical really (you should pardon the expression).

5. Abbie has a complicated relationship with her younger brother Munch, since she often has to use her powers to get him out of trouble when he uses his own at school. Is this relationship totally made up or based on something you've personally experienced? (Not the magical part, but keeping a sibling out of trouble. I don't mean to imply that you're a witch. ^_^)

The character of Munch is based on my younger son Ethan, when he was younger. I’ve told this story a few times now but when he was little, he looked like a little Valentine’s cherub, all dimpled elbows and curly golden hair and he was sweet and funny and wise for a little guy...except when he wasn’t. He had a problem processing really big feelings and if he got mad or frustrated, he’d disintegrate into these terrible, hour-long meltdowns. While coping with one of them one day, I turned to my poor stressed husband and said, “My God. It’s like he turns into a werewolf.” That gave me the idea for a little boy who really did turn into a werewolf when he got upset. So Munch was my first idea and then I thought about what it might be like if Munch was your little brother. I had a little brother of my own growing up, but I would imagine the fact that Ethan’s older brother had to live through the meltdowns too probably influenced that idea. By the way, Ethan’s twelve now. He’s outgrown all that...and he gets a kick out of the fact that Munch is based on him.

5. THE WITCHY WORRIES OF ABBIE ADAMS is your debut novel. Do you have any plans for future releases? Do you think you'll continue to write middle grade fiction, or would you consider writing for older audiences?

So nice of you to ask. I’m feverishly pounding away on Abbie 2, which is in revisions and I’ve got a good jump on Abbie 3. Abbie’s going to meet Harriet Tubman in number 2 and Susan B Anthony in Book 3. Complications will ensue. I’ve started about four other books too but they’ve had to be put aside for right now. It’s funny, as my boys get older, I’m getting more YA-ish in the newer books. Hey, by the time they grow up, I might be ready to tackle an adult novel.

Thanks so much for having me and for the great questions. Your question about why I write for children made me laugh at myself because I had never actually thought about it before.

April 26, 2010

For Your Consideration . . .

Did ya'll like Friday's post? Would you be interested in periodic academic reading content? I've answered two questions recently about King Arthur, so I've already half got a post in my head for that.

I mean, I've kept things pretty simple here. But I like getting into scuffles about preferred editions and what texts are important to read. Plus, some of ya'll that are still in school might find it helpful.

Now, I'm asking because these type of posts take a little more work from me. I don't want to say something totally boneheaded. But I do find it as fun as reviews and wonder if I have the audience for it.

April 23, 2010

National Poetry Month Blog Tour: The Romantics

Serena, of Savvy Verse & Wit decided to create a blog tour in honor of National Poetry Month. You can find a list of all the participating blogs and their topics here. Today, I'll be discussing the Romantics.

Nowadays, when asked to think about poetry, most people's minds will leap almost immediately to the Romantics. Blake, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats . . . you can't escape school without reading at least some of them. But, you might not really be reading them.

The Early Romantic Period lasted from the French Revolution (1789) to the electoral victory of the Whigs (1830). During this time, a monarchy would be overthrown, then there would be a counterrevolution, and then a monarchy restored. The Industrial Revolution was just gaining steam. It was the beginning of what we think of as modern times. People couldn't believe how quickly things were changing. It was a new world.

A new world needed new literature. The Romantics were the rebels of their day. It's all in the name: At its most positive, romantic means natural, optimistic, ideal. At its most negative, it means dangerously deluded by an illusions. Neoclassical writers, like Thomas Gray, used high diction, personification, and frequently alluded to the classics. The Romantics wanted, instead, to speak to everyone in a direct manner. Do not think of the Romantics as boring, the most poetic of poets. They were outsiders determined to change the system.

So how do you read the Romantics?

1. Read Milton. I'll be honest, I've only read some of his sonnets and excerpts of PARADISE LOST. But while the Romantics had many different ideas about what made good poets and good poetry, they'll all agreed that Milton was the biggest thing since sliced bread. Reading the Romantics without knowing Milton is like reading a hagiography without knowing the Bible. You may enjoy the story, but you'll have no idea how many allusions are being made. (Alluding to Milton is totally different from alluding to the Greeks, y'know.)

2. Learn the poetics. All of these men approached poetry from different ideas about theory, and each of their theories are key to interpreting their poetry.

William Blake:

-Check out the incredible Blake Archive. There is No Natural Religion and All Religions are One lay out his basic theology and argumentative process well.
-Blake was an engraver by trade. He never printed his poetry without the accompanying image; the visual and text were one. Sometimes the picture is an important clue not to take his words at face value.
-Blake had what some would consider a blasphemous view of Christianity. He felt that redemption could be achieved during life, not after death. The first stage of life is innocence, wherein naivety lies in bed with ignorance, then experience, wherein disillusionment can blind one to the world's good. The ideal is to move beyond experience and realize we can all be Christ on Earth. (When you get down to it, Blake is a little wacky.)

William Wordsworth:

-Preface to LYRICAL BALLADS, 1802 edition
-After he split with Coleridge, Wordsworth rearranged the LYRICAL BALLADS and added a preface, which details his desire to be a man speaking to men, in the language of men. He used common, rural subjects because he felt they had an inherent morality lacking in the city.
-Wordsworth had a thing for nature. It was one of the sources of imagination, though superseded by human connection.
-His sister Dorothy also wrote, though she didn't think of herself as a writer. Her GRASMERE JOURNALS often detail the same occurrences as some of Wordsworth's poems. Much can be determined about their priorities by comparison of their accounts.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

-In the Biographia Literaria, Coleridge calls BS on Wordsworth. He also manages to formulate what will be modern literary criticism, including coining the term "willing suspension of disbelief."
-Coleridge believes the principle object of poetry is pleasure, which is greater than truth. The power of a poet is an ability to see the connections between two objects and transform them into each other, using imagination. (Think metaphor.)

Percy Bysshe Shelley:

-In A Defence of Poetry, Shelley answered his friend Thomas Love Peacock's satirical essay ("The Four Ages of Poetry") seriously.
-For Shelley, language is not just what separates men from beasts. It is the essence of how people think and needs to be constantly renewed as old phrases die. Poets keep language alive.
-Our thoughts develop through metaphor, through imagination. Shelley believed "the great secret of morals is love," or empathy, and thus we need poetry to treat our imagination so that we can be good.

John Keats:

-Though Keats died before he could write a coherent treatise on poetics, his letters show the evolution of his thoughts on poets and poetry. The letters to his brother and sister-in-law, George and Georgina Keats, are particularly important as they most often contained the drafts of Keats' poems.
-One of the important concepts he introduced is "negative capability," or the ability of a poet to accept the uncertainties of life.
-Keats really, really hated didatic, polemical poetry. He felt that poetry should seem like the reader's own thoughts. As such, he was not impressed by Wordsworth. (Shelley also disliked Wordsworth, because of Wordsworth's change in feeling after the Reign of Terror.)

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I highly recommend THE LONGMAN ANTHOLOGY OF BRITISH LITERATURE, VOL. 2A. It works to give a full picture of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century through its literature. It includes a wide range of writers, including the less studied Charlotte Smith and Felicia Hemans. I was going to recommend a good YA text on the Romantics, but it is unfortunately out of print.

Now, I'll finish with my favorite romantic poem.

The Sick Rose

O rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

--William Blake

Ask yourself: is the worm destroying the rose's life, or is the rose destroying the love of the worm?

ETA: I forgot to add important #3. Yes, the Romantics had a lot going on behind their words. Reading their poetry can be an incredibly rich experience. But there are many ways to enjoy it, even just reading aloud and hearing the sound. Wordsworth particularly believed in the resonant power of meter. So have fun!

April 21, 2010

Review: Read, Remember, Recommend for Teens

Before the review, two news items:

I've found a new, awesome charity: Project Schoolhouse. Their donations page offers three ways to help: PayPal, a check, or direct donations of Spanish language books. Project Schoolhouse works build new schools, provide clean water, and improve sanitation in rural communities of developing countries.

In addition, Children's Book Week is gearing up for this years celebration. You can vote here in the Children's Choice Book Awards. (SHIVER, which Rachelle recommended earlier today, is a nominee in the teen category.)

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By Rachelle Rogers Knight
Available now from Sourcebooks; Review Copy

Some things are harder to review than others. READ, REMEMBER, RECOMMEND FOR TEENS is probably best for people who like to stay organized and can keep up with things. Generally I try to, but I always forget tools like this and use them sporadically.

I like the list. They're a good way to keep track of what awards reward books you like and such. (I also learned I need to read more nonfiction and Canadian authors.) My main complaint is that there's no way to mark books that you've read but don't own. I suppose you could use the "Recommend" box, but personally, I don't like every book I read. I settled for writing "have read" in the margin. Sometimes there are mistakes on the lists, like Holly Black's KIN: THE GOOD NEIGHBORS being listed under "nonfiction."

One of the best things about the lists though was learning about awards that I'd never heard of, like the Alex Awards, which are for adult books with appeal to young adults. I'd only read a few of the winners, but many of the rest look like something I would enjoy. A number of the winners are books I'd heard of but wasn't sure if I'd like.

There's a "To Read" section, which I might use to jot down things I see interesting reviews for. I wouldn't actually write down what I'm planning to read as I tend to change my mind about that too often. There are 64 boxes in which to record your "To Read" books. Next are a series of "Journal Pages" to keep track of what you're reading - you can put it in a simple list or fill out more detailed cards. Helpful for some people, but I'd forget to do it after a week. Same with the "Recommendations" section.

The section I really love is the "Loaner Lists." Title, loaned to, when borrowed, when returned. There are 132 boxes to fill out, which allows me to lend plenty of books and know who has them. As this is information I am always forgetting, I like having a place to put it.

The final section is "Resources." This contains other places to find lists, definitions of literary terms, blogs and other book websites, author websites, and an index. I think the author website list is more helpful than the blog list. It's hard to find every YA blog, and some of the ones Knigh listed aren't my favorites. The literary definitions are well-done, but fairly superficial (mostly defining genres and such). Of course, I'm an English major and have an entire dictionary of English terms.

If you like to journal, lend out a bunch of books, or want to find something new to read, READ, REMEMBER, RECOMMEND FOR TEENS might be a good addition to your shelf.

Rachelle Knight Recommends . . .

Rachelle Rogers Knight is the author of bibliobabe.com as well as READ, REMEMBER, RECOMMEND and the recently released READ, REMEMBER, RECOMMEND FOR TEENS. Rachelle is hosting a contest for each of her Traveling to Teens stops. Be sure to check out her page for In Bed With Books - the contest ends 5/12. In addition, be sure to stop by later today for my review of the journal.

The theme of the READ, REMEMBER, RECOMMEND FOR TEENS Traveling to Teens Tour is "Great Summer Reading". For each of my guest posts on the tour, the blog host and I will both recommend a book we feel would be worthy of some sunny weather, summer reading.

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Have you been missing tales of furry, cuddly wolves - who might also make great boyfriends? If so, Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver series is the ticket to some exciting summer reading, without the worries of a pesky vampire to spoil the fun.

Grace is a cute, smart, slightly introverted seventeen year old girl in chilly Minnesota. She is completely normal, except for her obsession with the wolves that live in the Boundary Woods behind her house. When she was six, she was pulled from a tire swing by these same wolves and bitten. A horrible death was barely avoided by an aggressive male wolf - with beautiful eyes. Since that time, Grace watches for 'her' wolf, taking pictures, leaving scrapes of food, and watching for any news concerning the welfare of the pack.

When another teen turns up missing (and ultimately dead), Grace's hometown reacts by hunting the wolves. When a wolf is shot, Grace's questions about her wolf are answered. In that moment, Grace not only gets a new cute boyfriend, but that boyfriend is the human form of ‘her’ wolf. What happens next is an exciting romance, filled with suspense, longing and fear.

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Sound like the 'stuff' of a good summer read? Good news! SHIVER continues with the July 20th release of LINGER, the next in the story of Grace and Sam - a werewolf love affair to remember.

Accolades for SHIVER:

  • Indies Choice Book Award Finalist
  • ALA Best Books for Young Adults
  • ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers
  • Amazon Top Ten Books for Teens
  • Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2009
  • Border's Original Voices Pick & Finalist
  • Barnes & Noble 2009 Top Twenty Books for Teens
  • CBC Children's Choice Awards Finalist
  • SIBA 2010 Book Award Finalist
  • Junior Library Guild Selection (Shiver and Linger)
  • Colorado Blue Spruce Young Adult Nominee
  • Glamour's Best Book to Curl Up With


Now for my part!

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Since Rachelle recommended SHIVER and LINGER, I have to recommend Maggie Stiefvater's LAMENT and BALLAD. Both are available for paperback, which makes them more affordable and more transportable than SHIVER, for those who want their summer read on the go.

Stiefvater's modern faerie tales will particularly appeal to music lovers. And for those who are tired of weak-willed paranormal romance heroine's, BALLAD's Nuala will be a welcome relief. I know it's sometimes harder to find Flux books in a brick and mortar store, but these two are usually in stock due to SHIVER's success.

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April 19, 2010

Just for Fun

The London Book Fair (among other things) has had a few problems due to the volcano, so The Guardian posted a quiz about volcanoes in literature.

Apparently, I haven't read much about volcanoes.

April 16, 2010

Important Question

I know that an advanced degree/continuing education is not necessary to enter publishing, since it's an apprentice style field. But I also know some programs are good for making connections and finding jobs immediately, which is important in a popular industry without many openings. Now, I've been researching programs in the U.S. for awhile. But . . .

I want to try for a one-year Marshall Scholarship.

Therefore, I've spent three or so days on various websites trying to figure out what universities offer publishing programs, the reputation of the universities, and the reputation of the program. Currently, I think the MA in Publishing at University College London or Oxford Brookes University look the best to me. But I wanted to ask people who are more familiar with the United Kingdom or the industry for input. I don't know if there is anyone reading this blog who I could talk to about this, but if there is, please leave a comment or e-mail me.

April 15, 2010

Review: The Snowball Effect

By Holly Nicole Hoxter
Available now from HarperTEEN
Review Copy

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I won this copy forever ago, and thus needed to reread it before writing this review. It took me a little while longer to read it this time. Almost always, I pay more attention to detail and how things fit together the second time, whereas the first time I'm racing along because I must know what happens next.

What I really admire about Holly Nicole Hoxter is the way she makes Lainey Pike's grief so true while still making Lainey an appealing character. Lainey's goals in life are quite different than mine, which sometimes puts me off. She's just graduated high school, but she already knows she's marrying her boyfriend Riley as well as attending community college with him. But things in life always happen unexpectedly, and her stepfather, grandmother, and mother died in short order. Now she's parenting her troubled brother Collin with her estranged sister Vallery.

It's lucky for Lainey in this difficult time that she has Riley, who understands her moods and doesn't mind keeping an eye on Collin. Unfortunately, Lainey wants to hurt. Though she sometimes seems callous to the deaths, she's still processing them, especially her mother's suicide. Riley is too good at comforting her. Being around him makes her feel better, and she can't have that. What she can have is the new guy in town, Eric. He's a nice guy - if not Riley - and interested. He doesn't know what's going on, which gives Lainey a comfortable space.

But I find the family sections as compelling as the romance. Vallery and Lainey want to do well by Collin, but at the same time neither of them are close to being responsible parents, especially to a boy who had behavior problems even before he lost both of his adoptive parents in short order. It's interesting to see them try to act as siblings and parents at the same time - they accept their new responsibility, but it's a grudging acceptance. While much YA seems to happen in a shiny world where money is endless, Vallery and Lainey are quite aware that their jobs are not enough to support a family of three, which is an extra burden on top of all the messy emotions.

Things progress wonderfully, as the small things finally allow Lainey to grieve for each of the people she lost. The things that cause her transformation are logical yet illogical, which is very true. You never know what will finally push you over the edge - or if it will push you over in a good or a bad way.

In some ways, THE SNOWBALL EFFECT is a difficult book. There are no action scenes. A romance is central, but it isn't a sweet and giddy or angsty and forbidden. It's part and parcel of a small, meditative world, where a teen girl is simply trying to moving on when she's become an adult too quickly. THE SNOWBALL EFFECT will definitely attract readers who are interested in character driven novels. Lainey's voice is appealing even as she tries to push away from everything she's known. (In a sideways manner, she reminds me of Parker from Courtney Summer's CRACKED UP TO BE, except I like her far more.)

April 13, 2010

Review: Beatrice and Virgil

By Yann Martel
Available now from Spiegel & Grau (Random House)
Review Copy

Note: This review looks at BEATRICE AND VIRGIL holistically. If you object to knowing anything about the ending, please do not read this review. Simply take this statement with you: I devoured this book and I am thinking rather hard about it . . . perhaps too hard.

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AVC: You said that your next book is almost finished. Do you have a sense of when we're going to see it?

: I would think, the fall of 2008. It's two things, the next one. It's a novel and an essay. The reason I did that was that as I was writing the novel, I had certain questions and approaches and things I wanted to discuss which didn't fit in the genre of the novel. They'll be published back-to-back, upside down, what the trade calls a flipbook. In other words, a book with two covers. And they'll have the same title: A 20th-Century Shirt. They share the same fundamental metaphor to do with the shirt and to do with the laundry, and they both have to do with the Holocaust.
-from an A.V. Club interview by Tasha Robinson

In his first novel since the wildly successful LIFE OF PI, Yann Martel decides to approach the Holocaust through a postmodern perspective. He blurs the line between fantasy and reality - and if the above quote is to be believed, he changed the position of that line sometime after November 6, 2007.

BEATRICE AND VIRGIL is told in the close third perspective, through the eyes of Henry, an author with an extremely successful first novel whose second novel was savaged by his editors. That second novel was a flipbook, a novel and an essay about the Holocaust. But that novel is not A 20th CENTURY SHIRT. A 20th CENTURY SHIRT is a play by a taxidermist, which Henry eventually rewrites and adapts into a memoir: BEATRICE AND VIRGIL.

Like LIFE OF PI, BEATRICE AND VIRGIL is a story about how we tell stories. The survivors of the Holocaust are dying, but the event cannot be forgot. The Jews, the Poles, the homosexuals, none of the victims can be forgotten. But how will the story be told by those of us who weren't there? We've grown up with a fairly standard Holocaust narrative. It is tragic and somber. As Martel points out, only a few storytellers like Art Spiegelman use fanciful flourishes. I am surprised that Martel did not mention the work of G√ľnter Grass.

Grass's work is also postmodern. His magical realist novels tell of the horrors of the Nazi regime, focusing on the invasion of Poland and the changes within the city of Danzig. The exclusion of Grass soon fell to the back of my mind, only to be recalled when I reached the end. In 2006, Grass revealed that he had been a member of the Waffen-SS. At the climax of BEATRICE AND VIRGIL, Henry realizes he's been wrong about the taxidermist's narrative of the Holocaust. The taxidermist was a Nazi. His point of view changed, Henry rejects the taxidermist's story. How can Grass be ignored?

There is more to BEATRICE AND VIRGIL's crabbed structure than just this bending of Martel and Henry's identities. The philosophical musings on how we talk about the Holocaust are offset by an allegory of the Holocaust: the play-within-the-novel, BEATRICE AND VIRGIL. It's an explicitly Beckett-like production. Two characters, talking to each other. They're hungry and lost. They're surrounded by a world of meaning but don't understand what it means. They're trying to decide how to talk about what has happened to the animals. That's the taxidermist's concern: the destruction of animals. It's an allegory that, as Henry discovers, can be valiant or monstrous.

Then there's also Henry's home life, with his pregnant wife, cat, and dog. There's his careers, as a thwarted writer, a waiter and an amateur actor. There's quite a bit happening in few pages. It is a lovely work, but I think some of Martel's own narrative is lost in the way he drives the mind off the page to think about story and the Holocaust and the way reality and fiction fit together.

April 12, 2010

Interview with Melissa Marr

I doubt Melissa Marr needs much introduction. She's the author of the popular Wicked Lovely series, the fourth book of which - RADIANT SHADOWS - I reviewed earlier today. You might want to check out her lj, linked above, which has the details of two live chats she's participating in this week . . . plus links to the free e-copy of WICKED LOVELY.


1. Did you expect the popularity of the Wicked Lovely series? Did success affect your writing process?

To be honest, I had no expectations. I wrote a short story (in 2004) that lingered in my mind, so (in 2005), I turned that short story into a novel. At that time, there was no YA paranormal boom; TWILIGHT hadn’t even released when I wrote WICKED LOVELY. So, I had no indication that there was a readership for a YA-romance-urban-fantasy-crossover.

By the time WL hit the shelves, I was already writing what turned out to be the core of the 3rd book in the series, so . . . no, it hasn’t really been a factor for me. By the time it could’ve been an issue, I was revising the 2nd book and writing the 3rd book, and by then I was so far into the world to notice much of anything. The major way the exterior world impacted the books was in the amount of time tour and conferences took time away from writing, so I had to learn to write in airports and hotels too.

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The one thing that has been a little unnerving was re-visiting the first book for the film while I was writing the 5th book. A few times that really tripped me—especially as an image I used in the fifth book (DARKEST MERCY) was one the screenwriter (Caroline Thompson) came up with to add to the first book. It was an eerie similarity, but I’m a believer in Universal Order so I took it as a good sign.

2. You made your adult fiction debut with "Two Lines" in the UNBOUND anthology last August. Do you have any more plans for adult fiction or are you going to keep writing YA?

I think my directions are entirely dependent on the stories I need to tell. “Two Lines” (and a couple other short stories before it in semi-pro mags) had to be adult; GRAVEMINDER (my debut adult novel, tentatively set for early 2011) had to be adult. I’m not migrating to adult or leaving YA; without spilling details, I can say with certainty that there will be more YA from me. I have short stories in TEETH (a YA folklore-based vampire antho), NAKED CITY (an adult urban fantasy antho), and another adult urban fantasy antho. I like short stories, but there are both YA and adult novels in my future too.

3. I am very excited about the Smart Chicks Kick It tour, since it starts in Austin and Houston (so I should be able to attend 1-3 days) and features some awesome, well, smart chicks. How is a large tour like this organized?

I’m not sure how it should be done, but in this case, it’s been a bit random. In 2008 and 2009, I did a few events with authors whose books I liked (including Kelley Armstrong). I had fun, and then, honestly, I just get urges to try something new. Organizing a giant tour was new, so I started asking authors I knew my readers liked or thought they would like. From the start, Kelley, Holly, & Cassie were involved. A few months in, we invited Alyson. Then, we started adding more and more people--so much so that the original plan of 6 cities in 6 nights has evolved into 12 nights in 11 cities and twice as many authors as I had proposed. I’ve done 3 tours and a bunch of other events, so I emailed a few booksellers I knew, and they all said “oh yes!” Kelley started an online presence. More stores invited us. So, in one way, “organizing” is probably the wrong word. It grew waaaay beyond my organizational goal. So, Kelley and I talked, decided we were going to become crazy without help, and proposed that we hire a publicist to handle the details. We suggested the idea of a publicist to the group; they agreed. Kelley and I still do the bulk of the organization-coordination-with-authors, but Media Masters took over working with the stores. Then, various Smart Chicks have taken on things like website, Twitter, swag design, etc. I’m sure there will be snags, but it’s new and a challenge, so IMHO, it’s all good fun.

4. What media influenced your writing? What were your favorite things to read (or watch) as a kid?

I didn’t (and still don’t) watch much TV or film. We had a television, but we only had 2 channels. On the other hand, the library had thousands of books. There was never a contest for me. I remember watching the Wizard of Oz, Yogi Bear, football, boxing, the Muppets, and the local news. I’m sure there were other things I watched, and I know we went to the movies sometimes and one of our family friends had a VCR. Then when I was in high school, we got a VCR. I remember watching Blade Runner, the original Star Wars movies, Indiana Jones, anything with Clint Eastwood, and all of the James Bond movies. I’m not sure how any of those influenced me beyond an appreciation for the fantastic. In high school and college, I went to movies on dates, but that was rarely for watching the movie. By grad school, I didn’t watch much of anything other than boxing, Buffy, or soccer. These days, I watch documentaries (with my son) and Vampire Diaries (with my daughter).

Books, however, were definitely an influence. I grew up with fairy tales, folklore, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Rossetti, bags of paperback romances and SFF from yard sales and the flea market, boxes of mysteries and philosophy from my uncle, and stacks of library books. I learned to read before I started kindergarten, and once I knew how, I read daily (still do). My omnivorous reading choices continue now, too. As of this moment, my nightstand has a stack critical articles from Folklore journal, two romances, a fantasy novel, a horror novel, 2 YA, 1 MG, and a picture book.

5. Do you ever have trouble making deadlines? Are there any scenes or characters you've had particular trouble with?

*grin* I’m a bit of a workaholic. I’ve turned every novel in ahead of deadline. DARKEST MERCY (WL #5) isn’t due until July 2010 (it’s in my editor’s hands already); GRAVEMINDER was due in December 2009 (I turned it in November 2009); and RADIANT SHADOWS was due in June 09 (I turned it in February 2009). Part of it, honestly, is that in contracts I ask for deadlines later than I expect to need, so if I have any crises, I already have emergency time in the schedule. I work far in advance of deadline—generally starting books 2 years ahead of due dates. It’s a little neurotic, but I’m old-fashioned on this topic: if I say I’ll do it, I’ll drive myself to the ground doing it. (And I expect the same from those in my personal and my business life.)

Struggle scenes . . . Leslie’s hazy addicted period in INK was hard to write emotionally; Ash’s grieving in FRAGILE was frustrating to write (I wanted her to toughen up, but that would’ve been imposing my approach to stress, rather than letting her be her); and one scene in RS and another in MERCY (which I can’t say for spoiler reasons—but both made me weep). It’s less about the story than my discomfort with lingering on the vulnerable moments. I’m very blunt, but I’m also inclined to be private with the tender emotions. That makes it hard for me to dive into them to write them. My family knows if someone is about to experience any tear-causing-event because I get intense urges to do anything other than write then.

Review: Radiant Shadows

By Melissa Marr
Available April 20 from HarperCollins
Review copy for Traveling to Teens Blog Tours

Book Cover

RADIANT SHADOWS is my favorite book in the Wicked Lovely series, right after WICKED LOVELY itself. It goes down as smoothly as my roommate's strawberry cream pie, unlike FRAGILE ETERNITY, which didn't pick up until the second half. It begins with a couple of teasing scenes from Devlin's past - two times he disobeyed his sister Sorcha, the High Queen. Of course, his simple acts could change everything since Sorcha is constantly worried he'll betray her to side with Bananach, his other sister-mother.

Ani is one of his instances of disobedience. When he spared the half-mortal, he spared the only faery to feed through touch and emotion. If the Dark Court could gain her abilities, they wouldn't be dependent on strife. But others either don't want the Dark Court or want her power for themselves. Devlin just wants Ani.

That's what makes RADIANT SHADOWS succeed. Amidst the sweeping backdrop of faery politics, there's a hot and believable romance. FRAGILE ETERNITY let the political imbalance overtake the emotion.

Fans of Melissa Marr's previous Wicked Lovely novels should love RADIANT SHADOWS. Newcomers to the series might suffer from Continuity Lock Out. While Keenan is missing and Aislinn only has a cameo, Seth and Sorcha (and their relationship) play a large role in the plot of RADIANT SHADOWS. Devlin figures out what Sorcha did to Seth, but it is never explained explicitly for new readers. Aside from Devlin and Ani's relationship, most of the plots are a furtherance of conflicts already introduced. Marr provides context, but as I am familiar with the series I'm not sure if it's enough for newbies.

I love that I'm familiar with the series and can fully revel in the awesome. RADIANT SHADOWS ends with an interesting development and I cannot wait to read how everything plays out in DARKEST MERCY. Marr knows how to end a book on a high note.

April 8, 2010

Open Season

I know updates have been irregular lately. To make up for it, I'm declaring open season for a week. You can ask me any question about myself. Some people have told me they like it when I mention things about my life, but I never have a clue what is interesting versus boring when it comes to myself. So here's your chance to get to know the girl behind the blog.

Now, I don't promise to answer everything. I may choose not to answer something if I think it's too private or if answering would reveal my true identity. But other than that . . . anything you're curious about?

April 7, 2010

Review: Burning Ambition (+ Contest)

By Jonathan Bernstein
Read my interview
Available now from Razorbill
Review copy

Book Cover

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
-from "The Second Coming" by William Butler Yeats

BURNING AMBITION begins much quicker and with more excitement than HOTTIE. Unfortunately, the Department of Hotness has peaked (which you can read in an excerpt here). There are no supervillians in Beverley Hills and soon the friends begin fighting. Dorinda and Kellyn both fall for David. T, the boyfriend, insults Alison. So, Alison hangs up her crime fighting gear to become an intern at her favorite magazine, Jen.

At first things go well. But fifteen-year-old editor Pixie Furmanovsky is close to the edge due to her father's neglect . . . and then she gains superpowers. But the Department of Hotness is in no shape to keep her at bay - they lack the convention to stop her passionate intensity. To win the day, the young teens will have to overcome their hormones to take down the tyke tycoon, and we all know how difficult that is when you're fifteen.

Sometimes BURNING AMBITION gets anvilicious. Ignoring your friends is bad. Ignoring a single coworker is bad. Ignoring your children is bad. Torturing people to get them to date you is bad. (Okay, so the last isn't really anvilicious. But it bears repeating.) Of course, BURNING AMBITION needs a strong moral center to counter-act the running joke of pee-filled balloons.

On the other hand, BURNING AMBITION is mostly just a fun and quick read. Alison isn't a typical post-THE DARK NIGHT RETURNS superhero. She's a girl into fashion and her boyfriend, who sometimes has trouble helping her friends with their issues because she's too wrapped up in her own. Though the friends have issues, they fit well together. Unlike most books I can take the main characters fighting with each other because they take steps to be happy. As mentioned above, when upset with her boyfriend, Alison finds a job that she finds fulfilling. Yes, she wants to reconcile with him, but she doesn't just lay around moping about it. Or the fighting works because it's cartoony. Kellyn and Dorinda definitely go over the top trying to win the boy.

If you need something quick this summer, you might want to pick up HOTTIE and BURNING AMBITION. Both are good beach reads. And when you read them on the beach, no one you know will see the atrocious covers.


I have two copies to giveaway. This is a lightning contest: first two to comment get it.

April 2, 2010

Review: Love in Mid Air

By Kim Wright
Available now from Hachette (Grand Central Publishing)
Review copy

Book Cover

To be honest, I haven't finished this book yet. I like the premise - Elyse is married to a good man, but she hasn't truly been happy for some time when she meets another man on an airplane. To paraphrase something I heard recently, "Cheating is always black and white. It's wrong. But the circumstances around it are nuanced." Elyse has tried. She's made therapy appointments, she talks to her friends. Yet nothing changes the fact her marriage has failed.

So why haven't I finished it yet? Because it took me a long time to reach the part where Elyse chooses to pursue her own happiness and thus starts an affair with Gerry. (At least, I assume that's where she begins choosing her own happiness. She is still married.)

Right now, I've been having a hellish semester. I am extremely eager to be done with college and actually working, but at the same time I'm apprehensive. I've been going to school since I was five or so. Yes, I'm tired of it, but it's a known quantity.

And part of getting out of school isn't just getting and job but moving on with my life and becoming a true adult, if there is such a thing. The beginning of LOVE IN MID AIR is one of the most depressing looks at marriage ever. Kim Wright writes:

"What she means," Nancy says patiently, as patient as a saint, "is that in novels women run off with their lovers. In real life, women stay."

"Women stay" becomes a refrain. To me, it's a terrifying one. I don't want to stay in a situation that doesn't make me happy. I know I might. I know other people do. It's a very cynical worldview, and I am too young to be that cynical.

Of course, one of the reasons women stay is their children. For instance, Elyse has elementary-aged Tory, who gets along wonderfully with their father and whom she wonders about, how much she knows about her mother's discontent. The answer, from a girl with divorced parents who has spoken to many of her peers: We know. Your children know that you're unhappy. Sometimes we need to be twelve or so to get it, but we do. You don't make us happy by making yourself unhappy.

I'm still reading LOVE IN MID AIR. And I'm going to keep washing it down with happy-go-lucky romances for balance.

This is part of a blog tour. Today's other participants are:

April 1, 2010

Daisy's Pick of the Month (1)

Book trailers are a new art form and are just starting to break beyond the clunky slide-show picture style of the early days. The recent trailer from Carrie Ryan's best-selling series is one such standout example. In fact, the trailer for "The Dead-Tossed Waves" ran in front of the Tim Burton flick "Alice in Wonderland" in several theaters around the country, according to Ryan. What works about this trailer are several elements -- it moves quickly, it feels like a movie preview rather than a homemade book slide show, and it's got real fast-paced action, drama and a bit of romance. Oh yeah, and a hot kiss too!

Watch on Youtube

--Daisy Whitney is author of the forthcoming teen novel THE MOCKINGBIRDS and is also a new media reporter, producer and podcaster, with an expertise in online video trends.


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