July 24, 2014

Interview with Sarah Beth Durst, author of THE LOST

We've interviewed versatile author Sarah Beth Durst before--the last time was when we talked to her about her fantasy novel Conjured. We are thrilled to have her back for another interview, because her latest book, The Lost, is a bit of a departure from the last few: it's got an adult character, and it's labeled as "an adult book with crossover appeal." Tanita and I were eager to ask Sarah about this one after we reviewed it in tandem a few months ago--what it was like writing a story that doesn't cleanly fall into the YA or MG category, how she sees the book's genre, and much more. Luckily, the opportunity for an interview came along, and we seized it with gusto. Here it is!


Finding Wonderland: Do you consider your novel to be "new adult," or if not, how would you classify it (if at all)? Did you set out to write a book that wasn't YA/MG, or was that a decision that came later?

Sarah Beth Durst: For this book, I wanted to write about someone who felt empty, who felt as if her dreams had died, who felt lost. For me, that meant she had to be at least in her late twenties. And so I knew from the very start that THE LOST would be labeled an adult book with crossover appeal, since it (A) has a 27-year-old protagonist and (B) deals with the universal theme of loss.

In a way, you could say that the story chose the label.

THE LOST is about a woman, Lauren Chase, whose life feels empty. She abandoned her own dreams to work a dead-end job to pay her mother's mounting hospital bills. One day -- the day that they're due to hear the results of her mother's latest medical tests -- she gets into her car to drive to work and, instead of taking a left at the light, just drives straight... and drives and drives until she ends up trapped in a town full of only lost things and lost people.

FW: What was it like working with Harlequin MIRA, in comparison to working with a YA/MG publisher?

Most of it's the same: you're working with wonderful people who love books as much as you do. What's better than that? But one thing that I did notice is different is the timeline. In the YA/MG world, you have to turn in your manuscript about one year before publication. With Harlequin, it was more like six months.

FW: How was it writing THE LOST versus writing fantasy for a younger audience? Did your concerns as a writer change with the intended audience? If so, how?

No different. And nope.

Actually, this is something I feel rather strongly about. I think that if you're true to your characters, then everything else will fall into place. If your main character is twelve years old and you are true to her and see her world through her eyes, then the story will come out as MG. If your main character is twenty-seven and you're true to her... then it will come out adult.

FW: We have questions about the thematic and metaphoric aspect of losing, gaining, loss and identity -- are you trying to write a novel about moving on from parts of our lives, or do you feel like the novel is more about hope -- that nothing is ever really lost -- ?

Yes, and yes.

I wanted to write about loss and about hope and about finding light in the darkness, shaping a new future out of the shards of the past, and filling the emptiness.

I think that in a way, every novel is about hope, because writing a novel is one of the ultimate acts of hope. By stringing words into a story, you are hoping that life has meaning, that people can connect, and that experiences and dreams can be shared. You are hoping to touch another soul. And I think reading is a similar act of hope, of reaching out, of seeking escape or contact or even healing.

FW: Would you say that this a retelling of Peter Pan? It really does have elements of the whole Wendy, trying hard to launch herself, even as her essential self clings to belief in the real, the very loyal and changeable Tinkerbelle, the very moody and mercurial - yet helpful Peter Pan figure in the Finder... (Although, who, then, in this scenario would be The Missing Man? Who is really missing from the Peter Pan stories? A father figure? Lauren's father???)

Oh my gosh, I love that! Wish I'd thought of it. Actually, that interpretation fits really well, so can I just pretend I planned it that way?

I did deliberately reference Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, and the Wizard of Oz, because I believe one of the primary things lost in life is childhood and the innocence of childhood. So I wanted to have shreds of those tattered bits of lost childhood, twisted and abandoned in Lost.

And in case you were curious, you will learn a lot more about the Missing Man in the next two books!

FW: In reading this book, it felt much more like magical realism than clear-cut fantasy, as many of your other books have been. How would you describe THE LOST in terms of genre? Do you see it as a departure from your previous writing? Do you see this more of a mystery or a contemporary romance?

Definitely magical realism. So this was a new challenge for me. My other books have all been different flavors of fantasy (epic like my romantic desert adventure VESSEL, comedy like my vampire and were-unicorn book DRINK SLAY LOVE, etc.). Each flavor has its own feel and tone. For THE LOST, I wanted to create an atmospheric, disoriented kind of feel, and so I chose to use a very close first person, present tense pov. Many, many nights, this left me shaking my fists at the sky shouting, "VERBS!!!"

I love playing with different kinds of fantasy. Always have. I was that kid who was always checking her closet for a way to Narnia, who always put "magic wand" on her birthday wish list, and who really wished her school could be invaded by friendly aliens at least once. In retrospect, it was kind of inevitable that I'd end up writing it.

FW: When can we expect a sequel? Is that what you're currently working on, and if not, what ARE you working on right now?

THE LOST is the first book in a new trilogy. The second book, THE MISSING, will be out on November 25th, and the third book, THE FOUND, will be out at the end of March 2015. My next YA book, CHASING POWER, will be out in October, and I am currently working on an MG novel, THE GIRL WHO COULD NOT DREAM, which will be out in fall 2015. I'm extremely excited about all of them!

Thanks so much for interviewing me!



Thank YOU to Sarah Beth Durst for stopping by our blog again and intriguing us even further about her upcoming projects!

July 23, 2014

TURNING PAGES: HOW TO FALL, by Jane Casey

Summer reading - this is a shove-it-in-your-beach-bag book for sure. A quick, non-demanding novel which will leave you feeling a little leery, and carefully observing your friends. It's a tale of falsehoods and friendship in a tiny English beach town. The cover doesn't exactly match the reality as described in the novel, but it ups the drama. Enjoy!

Summary: Sixteen-year-old Jess Tennant is accompanying her newly-divorced mother from their home in London to the tiny seaside town of Port Sentinel. There's nothing there for Jess -- all her friends, and her father are back in London -- but for her mother, there's a whole childhood and young adulthood, a lifetime of memories, and a twin sister, her husband, and her three children whom Jess has never even met.

And, there's essentially the ghost of Freya. Freya, who was her cousin. Freya, who was almost identical to Jess. Freya, whose battered body was found in the sea below the sheer cliff on Sentinel Rock, who may or may not have flung herself off.

Jess finds the stares and the pointing disturbing -- yes, she looks just like her dead cousin. Get over it, all right? But what she doesn't expect is to be thrust into the weirdness of a small town - the internecine squabbles, the labyrinthine loyalties. Nobody wants to talk about what really happened to Freya -- how she really died. And, too many people are warning Jess to stay out of it.

Maybe that's how they play things in small towns. That's not how it's going to go down with Jess. Freya was family -- and though they've never met, Jess feels responsible - and a responsibility to find the truth.

The View from the Peak: I love family stories - and I love a well-constructed family, where people have natural roles, and ebb and flow in an organic fashion. Freya's family is grieving her loss. Her bedroom is exactly the same - but tidied - her sketchbooks and her things in the art room are the same, but tidied away, though it's been a year since she's been gone. The siblings tell jokes, but just as often step back, with sadness clearly haunting them. It seems like their grief is mostly proceeding normally - some days are worse than others, but over all, they've accepted that she's gone. The descriptions of the seaside town are lovely and quaint, and remind me a great deal of Oban and Largs in Scotland -- little seaside towns in Britain apparently have a lot in common. The characterizations of the village residents are also quite detailed and you can easily imagine yourself there.

The smaller family of Jess and her mother are a little less organic, a little less naturally situated, which leads us to...

The Rest of the Mountain: The "villains" of the piece were easily read and were presented early and clearly, so it's not at all that this was intended to be a mystery. I was more troubled by some of the characterization of Jess herself -- she's meant to be from London, she's sixteen, which means she's fairly independent, nearly done with school, and well able to get around and take care of herself -- and yet, several situations get out of her control, and she's at times oddly passive about them. People kiss her, and she just... lets them, even though internally she objects strenuously. A man touches her, and she feels he's gone WELL over the line, and she flees in fear. She's characterized as being a no-nonsense, sharp person who stubbornly decides to prove what happened to her cousin, and yet seems stopped by things which should not have tripped her up. I suspect the author is laying some ground for a sequel, and that some of the things which disturb me might not have bothered anyone else.

But what truly troubled me was an inability to feel a true connection to the characters of either Jess or Freya, though arguably, we "see" Freya for a much shorter period. We're told that Jess becomes obsessed to find out what happened to her cousin, but I found that I didn't feel any reason for this -- that is, I felt no emotional connection between the girls, and couldn't understand why. I found that to be the weakest part of the book; I was unconvinced that Jess either suddenly or gradually came to so love her lost relative so much that she simply HAD to know the last moments and details of her life. She hit the ground asking questions like a London detective, but few reacted with sincere horror at what should have seemed like a macabre interest. Instead, she got nicely suspicious anger. She asked questions, but more from a sense of pique, it seemed; she could see no one wanted to talk about it, thus she did.

There was no real diversity in this book - of faiths or ethnicity or gender or sex, which is perhaps unsurprising in a small town in England, but it was a tourist town, so it was surprisingly undifferentiated. Most of the characters were from the same class, the same ethnicity, and the same age group. While I felt a little... led through the narrative arc in this story, a little herded through a maze, as it were, the plot unfolded neatly with few surprises for me. Those who enjoy mild thrillers and summer stories will enjoy the heroine's stubbornness, the bad people's ...badness, the hint of romance and the rest of the tight-knit cast of the small town of Port Sentinel.



Though this book was published in 2013 in Britain, after August 26th, you can find HOW To FALL by JANE CASEY in America online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

July 18, 2014

5&Dime Friday: Serious as an Art Attack!

OH, my word, it's the weekend -- and it makes us want to flee! Anywhere! Well, anywhere there's water and sun, probably. Or, barring that, lovely rain, and a good bookstore with a nice coffee shop. And tights. Even if we can't pop off to Futurama in 3D, we can still find some awesome change in the couch cushions for the weekend. Dig in!

♦ For all that speculative fiction exists entirely in our imagination, there's a serious lack of ... extensions on the imaginations of some. I think Ebony Elizabeth at The Dark Fantastic calls it "the imagination gap" -- that point of failure, that last little jump that many creators in the dominant culture simply cannot make, to expand their imaginary worlds to include people of color. And yet, this week Marvel announced a female Thor and an African American Captain America. Is that enough? Actually... no. Not that it isn't cool, but to make up for an imagination gap? Friends, we've got to IMAGINE.

Which is why I thought this year's diverse anthology, LONG HIDDEN was a great idea. A book of fine short stories, the cover art really made it special -- and so I was SUPER excited to find out that the artist, one Julie Dillon, has a Kickstarter going for what she hopes will be an annual art project called IMAGINED REALMS. The artist, in her fabulous style, will be featuring positive and diverse representations of women in fantasy and science fiction. The women are all ages, all sizes, all colors and they are the leads to their own visual stories. It's an amazing, wonderful project and you can bet I'm a backer on it. Imagine being able to give a framed illustration to a kid who fears princesses only have yellow hair. Imagine the expansion of the imagination! We don't normally shill for Kickstarters - and this artist can make it without you... but I'm pretty sure you or someone you know needs a little boost in the imagination department. Hat tip to SF Signal.

♦ Two words: Jules. Betsy. Okay, technically those are two names, and the two words really should have been WICKED and FUNNY. WILD THINGS is the name of a slightly subversive pre-quel book site put together by Jules and Betsy in advance of their book by the same title. The site hosts tons of stories they've had to CUT from their book on the wild side of children's lit, and the bits therein are amusing - awful - alarming, and a whole lot of other things, including oh, so very human. Children's authors: not really made of sugar and spice at all. Nor are children's illustrators. Or, for that matter, nor are children. A fun romp, full of sacred cows (did Beatrix Potter actually smack someone?) and Harpy boobs (no, seriously. HILARIOUSLY stubborn artist, there), and a tale of six editors -- a nightmare tale, really. Do check it out, and I'll put in a plug for dear friends: buy the book in August! Thank you.

♦ I'm so privileged to be on the planning crew for the 2014 Kidlit Con. It's so nice to get notes from publishers saying, "A Con in our own backyard. I'm in - how can I help?" (Thank you, Lara from Chronicle Books!) It's great to see it blogged and tweeted about (thank you, quite a few people!) and it's so exciting to see things coming together, little by little -- authors confirming, panels coming together (#WeAreSoExcited), spreadsheets adding up properly (!), emails flying, then leapfrogging as we realize we sent poor Charlotte sixteen emails, but she's okay with that (*cough* Sorry, Charlotte).

It's HAPPENING. And, if I delurk on your blog (Hi, Multiculturalism Rocks! and Magical Urban Fantasy Reads!), and invite you personally, please don't freak. If you are an INTROVERT and think that a Con is the second coming of evil, I promise you, there will be time for quiet, actually READING the books we blog about, and non-scheduled bits. We just want ALLLL the bloggers to come! And talk! And have really, really good snacks and lots of time to hang out in the Con Living Room. We have a weekend to figure out the meaning of life and diversity and blog and swap books and ...stuff. And, I'm really hoping to see you there.

♦ There's a lot of talk about girls and gaming -- from the stupidity of manufacturers like Ubisoft, who don't see a need to have girls in their realities, to the other end of the spectrum, where both representation and diversity take form in games like Never Alone. This conversation opens it up just that little bit more -- and talks about gaming for teen girls:

Raven looks up. "Robots aren’t scary Dad."
"How about ..."
"Zombies aren’t scary either."
I’m getting a little tetchy with this unreceptive design group. I ask Raven, "So what are teenage girls scared of?"
Raven thinks for a moment. She looks sad. "Other teenagers," she says.

A Dad learns some hard truths -- that both make him a better game developer, and a hopefully, a better Dad. Hat tip, Tech Boy.

♦ Behold the awesome of the Secretary Bird, and nine other birds of crested brilliance. Because a good hair day is priceless. Also rare.

♦Happy Friday!♦

July 17, 2014

A Little of This, A Little of That...


I haven't done a links roundup in a while. That's mainly because I'm so far behind on my e-newsletters and other online reading that I've got an enormous backlog to go through. I put all that stuff in a separate email folder and instead of making me feel organized, it ends up languishing in there for months, making me feel guilty. So periodically I open up a few and find out what I've been missing, and now I'll share a few links with YOU in case you also missed them. Enjoy!
  • Ilsa J. Bick Talks with Read Roger in a VERY interesting interview for Horn Book, including some teasers about her next book, White Space, and why Ilsa Is Fearless despite all that scary stuff she writes.
  • I don't read a lot of actual memoirs, but I really, really like graphic novel memoirs, and I can't wait to read The Dumbest Idea Ever! by Jimmy Gownley, who wrote the Amelia Rules! series. GraphicNovelReporter has a nice review as well as an interview with Gownley, in which he talks about his book--which is all about how he became a cartoonist: "I never had a Plan B. I actually don’t believe in Plan B’s, because they are really just excuses to give up on your dream as soon as possible."  Yeah. What he said.
  • Also, in case you missed it, check out GraphicNovelReporter's Best Graphic Novels of 2013. My TBR list just got a lot longer...
  • Ages ago, I found a roundup of links on Writer's Digest on humor and writing--how to inject more humor into your work, lists of "funny words," and more. If you've ever agonized over the perfect way to word that hilarious phrase (I used to have a freelance job where I did that every day!), you might want to check it out.

July 15, 2014

BOOM: And we are LIVE!

Registration is OPEN.

Call for session proposals is OPEN.

The 2014 Kidlit Con, BLOGGING DIVERSITY: WHAT'S NEXT?, to be held at the stunning Tsakopoulos Library Galleria in Sacramento, California, October 10-11 is only
EIGHTY-SEVEN DAYS AWAY.

Rumor has it that some pretty superb panels and some wonderful authors have already indicated that they'll be coming. What about YOU?

Do you have something to share -- or are you wanting to attend to listen and learn?

Do you have questions, opinions, and friends with whom you've been discussing issues of diversity, difference, how to talk about it, how to write about it, and how to think about it? Are you a parent or teacher, wondering how to bring more diversity into your children's reading, or a librarian or bookseller who thinks they've got an answer or two? Do you code on your blog, find yourself mentoring newbies, prefer audacious indies, delight in mysteries or Middle Grade madness, and want to share with the rest of us?

Fill out that session proposal paperwork, then, let's confer - which is, after all, the root of Conference!

This is going to be AMAZING, I think. Really and truly hope to see you there!

July 14, 2014

Can You Quantify Successful Writing Style?

"Needs more adjectives."
I ran across an interesting news item in the Writer's Chronicle March/April issue entitled "Scientific Study Claims Ability to Predict Best-Selling Novels." Yes, I will admit there is a small part of me which is intrigued by the idea that such a thing is even quantifiable in any meaningful way. Using a computer algorithm that took into account various factors like writing style, storyline, and novelty (begging the question of how the heck do you get a computer program to analyze these in the first place? Or are there humans inputting those variable factors and then the computer just analyzes the probability of success? NEED MORE INFO), the program was able "to analyze a book’s commercial success to within eighty-four-percent accuracy."

More questions then occurred to me: Is 84% accuracy impressive? How does that compare to a human evaluator's predictive ability? And again, are the factors being used for evaluation inherently quantifiable or not? What the program did, apparently for 800 books in various genres, was "analyze text, comparing prediction results to actual historical information available regarding the success of the book."

What I found most fascinating, though, were the trends revealed by the research--the weird little commonalities that the computer program found in successful books.
Heavy use of conjunctions like “and” and “but,” large numbers of nouns and adjectives, and the use of verbs describing thought processes such as “recognized” or “remembered” were found in successful books. Conversely, less successful work seemed to use explicitly described emotions and actions such as “wanted” or “promised,” and use more verbs and adverbs.
Well, I suppose we've all been told to use fewer adverbs. But it's interesting to me that what we are often told in literary fiction is to be pithy, specific, vivid; to avoid filler verbiage and vague language; to not overuse adjectives; to imbue our work with action and emotion and select the right verbs. Plus, what the heck is up with that "and" and "but" business? What this tells me is that good writing, successful writing, goes so far beyond what you can deconstruct with an algorithm. You can't just insert random strings of adjectives and nouns and assume it will make you writing more popular. You can't just distill writing down to seemingly arbitrary rules of thumb.

Or can you?