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Thursday, 28 February 2013

sparkle-free and angst-less

I just devoured the Elemental Mysteries - a very entertaining series of books by Independent Author, Elizabeth Hunter. Ms. Hunter has done something remarkable in these books; she created a new vampire mythology in an age of moody teenaged bloodsuckers. Her vampires have an inherited affinity for one of four elements (earth, air, water, fire) from which they draw power, yet her mythology maintains all the rules for vampires that make sense (death by sun and beheading, blood-drinking for sustenance, passing out cold during daylight hours, and age equals strength). They're not sparkly, or angsty, nor are they inherently evil, and the ones we hang out with spent a considerable amount of time training to fight when they were human, so their enhanced vampire hand-to-hand combat skills are Matrix-worthy and cool.

I come from a long history of contemporary vampirism-in-literature readership, beginning with Anne Rice (because why wouldn't you?), and leaving off most recently with Charlaine Harris - the books, not the show. Vampires have been done to death - yes, I went there - and it's a wonderful surprise to find something fresh, entertaining and new that doesn't break the obvious rules.

Even better? The first book, A Hidden Fire, is free for kindle on Amazon. And with over 500 five-star reviews it's hard to resist downloading it, even if it sits in your library for awhile (like my copy did). But then I went to Portland for a couple of days, and it rained... and rained... and rained, and I kept wandering across A Hidden Fire in the "if you liked this, you'll like this" sections on Amazon, so I finally opened it. And about eight hours later I spent the whopping $3.99 each for books two, three and four, and devoured them with the same relish and enjoyment.

Elizabeth Hunter has crafted wonderful stories set in a world that surprised and delighted me, even as it lured me into its provocative vampire mythology. It's a series worth the investment for pure escapist fiction, especially if you've ever, even secretly, enjoyed a book about vampires.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The big stuff

You know those days when you feel like you just put a chink in your kids' armor?

I'm having one of those days.

Maybe I've been up too late reading, or up too early not-writing (guilt, frustration, more guilt), or maybe I just woke up on the wrong side of the planet from friendly, warm, tolerant and patient. And even though the point I was making to my boys this morning about jumping to help when someone asks for it is a good/valid/vital point to make, I wasn't patient or kind. I was distant and annoyed, and I could feel the hurt pouring off both of them in waves. I didn't need to do it that way.

I think about all the ways we put ourselves together as human beings; the things we love, or dislike, the way we trust, or not, and the things we risk every time we try something new. Every disappointment adds a little armor, every success loosens the armor so it's not so tight and restricting. A lot of armor gets heavy and unwieldy, and makes walking through doors difficult. Not to mention the number it does on happiness.

As a writer, I'm always looking for ways to strip away my characters' armor; to take them to their most vulnerable place and then let them put themselves together again. That's usually when the story starts to get really good, when the reader becomes invested in the person whose imaginary struggles have just become something tangible. But as a parent, my job is to build up the confidence and self-assurance that makes armor obsolete. To give my kinds the sense of security that I'm not part of the problem, I'm part of whatever solution they're willing to let me in on.

I read a facebook post recently that said something like: "Listen when your kids tell you the little stuff now, so they'll come to you with the big stuff later. Because to your kids, it's all big stuff."

When I pick the boys up from school today they'll most likely have forgotten what happened this morning, or at least it will cease to matter in the grand scheme of friends and homework. But I will apologize to them for trying to teach a lesson from a place of annoyance and disappointment. Those are the places where armor gets made, and frankly, a foundry is too hot and uncomfortable to spend time in. I'd much rather be the parent who looks for the lessons in their greatness; who hangs out on the warm, friendly and tolerant side of the planet where Valentines get homemade and conversations about Lego castles and excavating the sand yard are the best ones of the day.

Because no matter how small it may seem, it really is all big stuff.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Cool Books

I just sent this list to Becky at The Book Frog, where I get to talk about books next month; other people's (which is really fun to do) and my own (which tends to make my guts twist up in little knots).

Compiling the list was fun. First, the easy books - the ones that directly or indirectly influenced the story, characters, or writer (that's me) of Marking Time: On a Pale Horse, by Piers Anthony, Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card, Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon, The Name of the Wind, by the incomparable Patrick Rothfuss, and The Ivanhoe Gambit, by Simon Hawke. Those are piled in a precarious stack on the most beautifully useless piece of furniture in our living room - a display shelf made from a repurposed Indian wedding carriage that's too narrow to hold anything other than family photos. Which, in a room groaning with books, is totally wasted space.

The other books, the ones I buy extra copies of because I'm constantly loaning them out, or the ones I read out loud to the boys (my excuse for re-reading really cool middle-grade books), or the ones I burn through on my iPad at 4am when it's too cold to get up and write; those took some hunting.

On the living room shelves I found Dragonsong, by Anne McCaffery, the entire Charlaine Harris collection beginning with Dead Until Dark, The Liveship trilogy from Robin Hobb, all the Time Wars books (The Ivanhoe Gambit is in the easy book stack), The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart, all the Gregor the Overlander books by Suzanne Collins, and all of Diana Gabaldon's books including another copy of Outlander.

From the bedroom bookshelves I gathered Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor, Graceling, by Kristin Cashore, The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner, A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness, and The Graveyard Book, by the master of his genre, Neil Gaiman. Also in the bedroom were my favorite non-fiction books: Wild Stories, the best of Men's Journal, Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea, and Shadow Divers.

And the iPad holds my bargain YA books, the treasures I find as I troll amazon's kindle deals, and the indie authors whose work I've stumbled over in my random midnight "if you like this, you'll love this" searches: Divergent, by Veronica Roth, Time Mends, by Tammy Blackwell, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs, Under the Never Sky, by Veronica Rossi, If I Stay, by Gayle Forman, Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rae Carson, Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, and the not-YA books; Bloodsong, by Anthony Ryan and the entire Fever series, by Karen Marie Moning.

 And you know, the most exciting thing about doing this author-talk/book-signing event in a bookstore? Becky's going to build a very cool display of books "recommended by the author of Marking Time." Now that is cool!

*And because linking books makes the names turn blue (and unreadable) on this blog, here's the linked list in case anyone's interested. They're all linked to amazon, because that's easiest, but is an awesome place to find used paperbacks, and of course, your local independent bookstore (in my case, The Book Frog) is the best of all.

On a Pale Horse, Piers Anthony
Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
Outlander, Diana Gabaldon
The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss
Ship of Magic, Robin Hobb
The Ivanhoe Gambit, Simon Hawke
Dragonson, Anne McCaffery
Dead Until Dark, Chairlaine Harris
Daughter of Smoke and Bone,  Laini Taylor
The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern
Graceling, Kristin Cashore
The Thief, Megan Whalen Turner
A Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness
The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
If I Stay, Gayle Forman
The Mysterious Benedict Society, Trenton Lee Stewart
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
Gregor the Overlander, Suzanne Collins
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs
Under the Never Sky, Veronica
Bloodsong, Anthony Ryan
Girl of Fire and Thorns, Rae Carson
Faefever, Karen Marie Moning
Divergent, Veronica Roth
Time Mends, Tammy Blackwell
Beautiful Creatures, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

The Code Book, Simon Singh
Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond
Wild Stories, The Best of Men's Journal
Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea, Gary Kinder
Shadow Divers, Robert Kurson

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Something to be said for a great Vampire

Okay, I love this series. Book one, Dead Until Dark, showed up in my mailbox one day, courtesy of my college roommate. No note, just the book. I only knew it was from her because of the cool, curly writing on the package. So I started reading Dead Until Dark that night, and finished it that night, and haven't stopped recommending it since.

But this book, Dead to the World, is my favorite one. Charlaine Harris created a perfect vampire character in Eric Northman, the massive Viking boss of everything, one whose casting has been debated in my circles (the HBO show notwithstanding) with the likes of Jamie Fraser from Outlander. Eric, the most dominant man in any room... or continent... loses his memory and finds himself in the protection and care of Sookie Stackhouse, the perky psychic small-town girl who didn't date a lot of local boys because it was always a bummer to hear their less-than-flattering thoughts about her booty.

And since, of course, Eric's hot, and because it does strange things to women to have big, tough, alpha males need them, Dead to the World, with its Sookie/Eric mating dance, is the sweetest bite of the whole, wonderful, ridiculously addicting series.