May 31, 2013

"Spare some change?" Another 5 & Dime Friday!

My dear, dear teacher friends, the universe has heard your cries. The school year is ALMOST OVER! And dear, dear student friends: hold on just that little bit longer... it's almost over. Also, dear, dear parents... well, the choruses of "I'm Bored" are about to begin soon. Brace yourselves!

Seriously, Happy (Nearly) Summer to all. My sibs are out, trying to sleep 'til noon (my parents are probably not better not be having it, as they made ME get up at six, even in the summer), and everyone is job-hunting and hoping to find space at the junior college for summer courses (woot! more educational funding for the State this year means there ARE summer courses), and the usual shuffle is going on. We're looking forward to summer changes here - AF is going on a long journey with a dark-haired man (and she didn't find this out from a fortune cookie!) and I might be packing up my house and moving... AGAIN!!! Meanwhile, as we live in the moment before the dice falls, here's some small change to rattle in your brains:

Because one must lead with the ridiculous: Jane Ayre Guitars. Brought to you by Lady Puns, and a quirky Hat Tip to The Mary Sue. You're welcome.

MARK YOUR CALENDARS: International Steampunk Day, June 14th.

Man, that Jeremy Lin: the Chinese-American basketball player who changed EVERYTHING for the NBA. Suddenly, it's not outside of possibility that a.) Chinese-Americans are tall, b.) Chinese-Americans are awesome at bball c.) that Chinese-Americans can be sports icons. It's amazing how much one guy did to change American perceptions - perceptions some of us may not have realized we've held onto. Imagine if something like this happened in children's lit. I kind of thought that once Gene Yang won the National Book Award with a graphic novel - blindingly taking people by surprise. Or, when Sherman Alexie had won the National Book Award that'd be a game-changer in terms of realizing that books about brown people didn't need to be relegated to the Books About Brown People shelf and/or section of the bookstore, but ... no. Change for books is, I guess, slower? (OR, ALA based? And no other awards matter?) CBC Diversity longs for our own version of YA Lit "Linsanity."

Come win this short-short story contest! My friend Ethel is the prize! Okay, only in the most esoteric manner of speaking. But, still: Ireland. Castle. Ethel. = YES!

Hat tip to Diversity in YA: May's diverse YA book releases. Hope June brings on even more fab.

Two words: email apnea. Oh, the big, black hole of SUCK that the internet can be. And now, it has health issues? Hat tip, Gwenda Bond.

In grad school, our professors talked frequently about the difficulties of writing other cultures. The rule was simply to do it RIGHT. In the category of Don't Be A Dork, here's how to use parts of other cultures in a way that isn't appropriating-because-I-think-it-sounds-cool. Sometimes that feels harmless... but is it?

I'm proudest of our recent interview with Shana Mlawski, (HAMMER OF WITCHES) because it covered so much intelligent, stop-and-think-about-it territory. Can't take credit for the sharpness of that interview, though: that's just how she rolls. Check her out at DiversifYA.


HEADS UP. This is longer piece I've collected that I want you to read, but it's well worthwhile; please set aside some time to really read this. It's about the unexotic underclass.

Don't know what that an unexoctic underclass might look like? Well, you've heard of it - Colleen @ Chasing Ray has talked a LOT about how YA writing excludes the middle class, and normalizes this ridiculous place of privilege (remember the girls hopping on the plane in The Traveling Pants - because EVERYONE can just GO to Greece when the mood strikes. Money, passports - sure). We had an entire "conversation" about this a few years back with the What A Girl Wants series. Why are middle-of-the-road families and people excluded in both literature and in technology? Because there's no fun apps for a lot of the "boring" world that regular people inhabit. Is there a way to make "regular" more real to those in charge of pushing change and growth in our world, through our literature, technology and media? While this piece from MIT graduate C.Z. Nnaemeka isn't at all about writing YA and fiction, it's to me so VERY indicative of a lot of what's behind the WHY of the single-story-dominant-culture-wealthy-Americus-generica. Remember author Chimamanda Adichie talking about the danger of a single story? Yes. This is when we start promoting other lines of narrative, in our heads, on paper, and in the world. This is how. Please read this. I know it's longer, but your attention span can handle it, I promise.


There's a lot of geekitude joy for me going on this summer. I'm going to my FIRST CON - and it's the Discworld Con, which is staggeringly squeeworthy unto itself, but I'm going to be on a panel - WITH Charlotte, and The Famous Cybilsian SHEILA, which is even better. I'm watching Charlotte on another panel talk about time-travel, I'll see costumes and might wear one - which is so much awesome it makes me alternatively twitch with happiness and want to hide. I'm also eagerly awaiting a new Tamora Pierce book this fall - which means, gosh, it's almost time to reread the whole Winding Circle group of books, so I'll be ready for BATTLE MAGIC. Man. There's nothing like waiting for a book from an author you love. NOTHING.

I may have mocked Texas in the past. Okay, I mock Texas frequently. I mean, Houston, we have a problem. Giant snails?? I cannot apologize, this is simply mockworthy (also: cringeworthy). It's not just Texas, of course, with the PROBLEMS. Australia has had issues forever: EVERYTHING there is meant to kill me. I am not going. Or, I wasn't... I just found out my friend Lana has returned to her native Perth after nearly as long as me in Glasgow, so now I might have to visit... also, I might be enticed to Oz for the giant pink fluorescent slugs. I mean, because Slugs! Giant! PINK! So, yeah. Australia. Is. Amazing. And still scary.

And my pockets are only holding lint! Much joy to you this weekend.

May 28, 2013

Nominations Are Open...

The Harlem Book Fair, televised annually by C-Span's BookTV and attended by thousands, will be held this year July 19-20, in, New York - Harlem, of course. The Book Fair features big-name authors, music, panel discussions, outdoor readings, food, writing workshops, and more, and this year they acknowledge their fifteen years in business.

In celebration of this event, QBR, a national book review exclusively dedicated to books about the African experience, and the diaspora, is now sponsoring The QBR Phyllis Wheatley Book Award. According to the website, The QBR Wheatley Book Awards "...recognizes the best African American books and writers in Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Children's books." Special honor will be also given for Publisher of the Year and Performance Poet of the Year. Nominations, dear bloggers, are where you and I come in. Even if you can't get to New York for the festivities, you have until June 15th, 2013 to nominate an author for the Children's Fiction categories. As you might guess, in a book festival dominated by adult titles, children's lit is invisible - and, since we always complain that African American children's lit is virtually invisible, I think that people need to get in there and make some noise on behalf of diversity and children's lit. Scroll down to the very bottom of the page, and recommend a title, with author name, for consideration in CHILDREN'S (Early Readers). Title must have been published in 2012. If everyone is only allowed one nomination (and I don't know that for sure), we all need to do it!

Past of Boston's Women's Memorial on Commonwealth Avenue & Fairfield Street.

May 27, 2013

Memorial Day Mishmash

Greetings from the tail end of a nice long weekend! A couple of links for your perusal as you attempt to slide back into the work week:
  • First, a fabulous idea courtesy of my high school friend Christine: she has christened June 8 the first annual Read Beneath a Tree Day, and you can find out more about it on the Facebook event page. That's also the book birthday of my new novel Underneath, AND Christine made a little video recommending books to read (beneath, of course, your chosen tree) and she included The Latte Rebellion, so I'm truly tickled. Help make it a runaway success--go RSVP!
  • In the Writer's Digest newsletter there was a link to a pretty good article entitled "15 Things a Writer Should Never Do" (seriously, how could I *not* click on that title?). Some good reminders in there for beginners and more experienced writers alike...especially that bit about not giving up.
Have a happy day and a great writing week!

May 23, 2013

Thursday Review: THE SHORT SELLER by Elissa Brent Weissman

Reader Gut Reaction: Elissa Brent Weissman's earlier novel Nerd Camp won the 2011 Cybils Award for Middle Grade Fiction, so although I don't read/review many middle grade books, I was eager to get my hands on this one. Plus, the premise is fantastic (and I do love me a book about a moneymaking scheme that goes awry, ahem…).

Seventh grader Lindy Sachs, who is home sick with mononucleosis, is bored, bored, bored until her dad gives her a hundred dollars and an online trading account. Lindy isn't great in math at school—in fact, she's just been demoted to the regular class from advanced math (woe!), and she's seeing a tutor on top of it all—but the hands-on application of math to the stock market makes sense, and something clicks…and she's shockingly good, it turns out, at the whole day-trader thing. Too good, in fact.

Concerning Character: Lindy is funny, bright, and easy to root for. She is extremely well-meaning but, of course, she also has her flaws, and it makes her very relatable. In particular, I think a lot of young readers (and older ones) will relate to her math mental block. For me, middle school was a big jump when it came to math; because I was younger than most of my classmates, and because of a not-so-great teacher I had in the 5th grade, I had some catching up to do, and I struggled a bit through 6th grade math and 7th grade pre-algebra, and even on into 8th grade algebra. Of course, conceptually, not everyone is in the same place in middle school, but Weissman deftly conveys the idea that just because a person has trouble in math CLASS, it doesn't mean they're hopeless at it in general. Lindy, in fact, is quite smart, and when she focuses her attention on learning all she can about stock trading, her hard work pays off…literally.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Realistic middle grade novels with a lot of humor and high-spirited characters that can't help but land in trouble: if you enjoy characters like Theodosia or Gilda Joyce, or books like The Higher Power of Lucky or The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, you may want to check this one out.

Themes & Things: There's quite a bit going on in this book besides the main plot of Lindy and her stock scheming, and that gives it all depth and realism, making it a believable story as well as an entertaining one. For instance, while Lindy's out sick and can't see her friends Steph and Howe, inevitably her relationship with them changes, and not necessarily for the better. And, of course, Lindy's financial machinations do have ramifications, and not all of those are good, either, which puts strain on her family relationships. But she's got a loving family who want her to prevail (even her occasionally attitudinal teenaged older sister Tracy), and the strong bonds they have mean that Lindy's got a chance to come out on top in the end…or at least break even.

Review Copy Source: Publicist.

You can find The Short Seller by Elissa Brent Weissman online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

May 21, 2013

TURNING PAGES: Weather Witch by Shannon Delany

Since A.F. finished HER review of DARK TRIUMPH before I could finish the book (!) I am going with my second string review for today.

Reader Gut Reaction: I loved the alliterative title of this book, which helped give me reasons to pick it up - I'm a sucker for that kind of thing. Coupled with an attractive cover, I was easily reeled in to a tale of a witch in trouble.

While initially I was excited about the novel, I realized that I was two-thirds in before the action really started. I felt like a lot of time better spent in developing the plot was spent on setting the scene. I was disappointed with where the novel ended - with a missed connection and no real understanding of what was going on. Let me explain...

Concerning Character: Something is coming. In his tower in the Hub, where he takes power from the captive Weather Witches to fuel the lights of the city, Bran knows. It is not the rumor of steam power, which will make his job redundant, and make the Weather Witches ordinary citizens. It is something real - not the rumor of steam, but something dire, something fell, something dark as night. But... what?

Elsewhere in the city on this dark night, Jordan Astraea shines. She is one of the stars in the firmament of society, ranked Fifth in the Nine Great Families of Holgate, Philadelphia. Well-bred and ornamental, dressed in a gown of sparkling wire and filmy gauze, Jordan knows her duty - to make the most of her looks, and make a good marriage for her family. She believes that she is fortunate in her friends - and on the night of her seventeenth birthday, Catrina Hollingdale, her best friend, and Fourth of the Nine, and her sometimes-beau, the flippant, light-hearted Rowen Burchette are by her side. Catrina even gave her the glorious dress she now wears.

When the Wardens march on the party and accuse the Astraea family of harboring magick, everyone and everything drops away from Jordan - except Rowen. Abruptly not empty-headed and light-hearted, defying his mother, Rowen refuses to shrink from the family, or Jordan's mother. It's a mistake, he insists. Even when Catrina tries to engage his attention elsewhere, he insists it's a mistake. He sets out to defend her honor -- and sets off a chain of events which end in him leaving home, banished, and unsure of anything except that he wants to see Jordan again.

Jordan, meanwhile, waits patiently and stubbornly for someone to say that this is all a mistake. She has no more magick in her than she has six arms. As the dress grows dingy and she grows bruises from riding to the Hub in cages, she realizes no one is coming to save her. And, as the terrifying man in the Hub brings out his knives to find the root of her power, she realizes if she's going to survive, she might just need to save herself.

ALL of this sounds good, and the premise here is loaded with glittery descriptions, and subtlety that is perhaps necessary to tell the full story with all of the knotty plot issues smoothly laid out. However, I found myself disappointed that the novel ends before anything really happens, and certainly before anything is resolved. So, know going in: This is BOOK 1. You might want to read slowly, because BOOK 2 is going to be awhile.

Recommended for Fans Of...: THE AMULET, by Alison Pensy; WITCHLANDERS, by Lena Coakley; BORN WICKED, Jessica Spotswood

Cover Chatter: I am fond of the silhouette cover. It's being done to death at the moment, probably, but I like it anyway. The swirl of light around the girl's head I take to be the power/light that is drawn out through the Hub to power the pre-steam/post-coal world of 1840's Parallel Universe Pennsylvania.

Authorial Asides: There are tons of people who are fans of the 13 to Life series written by this same author, and many of them are familiar with her style. I think this book has received such high marks elsewhere because people know they can rely on Delany to follow through on the deeply involved, labyrinthine, detail-laden plots she puts together. That kind of confidence is good - I don't think this is a series which would have held up under its weight with a brand-new writer. Though I'm still disappointed that this novel didn't give me more, the writing is strong, the descriptions, world-building, and sense of place is vivid, and I have confidence that the series won't further disappoint. Just... don't expect to be told even a full episode of the story first thing. Bring your patience to the table, and enjoy a good read.

FTC:This book was an ARC sent via NetGalley, and courtesy of the author. The review is otherwise unsolicited.

AFTER IT JUNE 25th RELEASE, you can find WEATHER WITCH by Shannon Delany online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

May 20, 2013

Monday Review: DARK TRIUMPH by Robin LaFevers

Reader Gut Reaction: I adored the first book in the His Fair Assassin trilogy, Grave Mercy (reviewed here), so I was all over reading Dark Triumph and continuing the story of the deadly female assassins dedicated to Saint Mortain. In the first book, we were introduced to Ismae, who fled a sordid live and abusive marriage in 15th-century Brittany to join the convent at Saint Mortain. The second book continues the story, which left off as Ismae fled to Rennes with a small group of loyalists devoted to the young duchess, determined to fight off both the invading French and the scheming, dangerous Count d'Albret.

This installment proceeds from the point of view of another of Saint Mortain's blessed, the seemingly harsh and careless Sybella—who finds herself questioning her faith and the abbey of Saint Mortain's methods as she is assigned to a horrifying task: returning home to Nantes to work undercover on behalf of the abbey and the duchess. In return, the abbess promises Sybella that she will be able to have her revenge on d'Albret and her entire revolting family, but of course nothing is as simple as it seems.

Concerning Character: Ismae had an underlying sweetness that made an intriguing and satisfying backdrop for both her difficult life and her new deadly skills. In contrast, Sybella is difficult, angry, and conflicted—and with good reason. Her family's entire modus operandi is treachery, violence, fear, abuse, and manipulation. And in order to enact the ultimate revenge on her family and d'Albret, she must become the very thing she hates. Is this really what Mortain wants for her? Her struggles with faith and identity are wrenching and feel very realistic, though this is at heart an imaginative historical fantasy; the strength and vividness of Sybella as a character carry this story along and keep us rooting for her even when it's hard to see how she can survive unscathed.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Fantasy with strong female characters—the Graceling books by Kristin Cashore, for instance, or anything by Tamora Pierce.

Themes & Things: You are not your family: this is the message that Sybella must learn to accept over the course of the story. She is torn apart inside by her hatred of that unavoidable link with her almost impossibly horrific family, and the fact that she has an ally in her brother Julian is no less repulsive, because love and fear and wrongness are all mixed up no matter which way she looks. In a family where abuse is constant and commonplace, Sybella's service to the convent seemed like a heavenly escape. But sometimes the only way to banish one's demons is to vanquish them face to face. It seems like an impossible task—impossible that she'll succeed, and impossible that she can survive intact. But courage and love and faith come in many forms, too; there's not necessarily one right path, and learning this gives Sybella the strength to find her own way. Um, with a little help from a rather impressive arsenal of assassin's tools….

Review Copy Source: Purchased e-book copy.

You can find Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

May 17, 2013

Pennies from Heaven? Nope, it's 5 & Dime Friday...

A fabulous week, which means there was 100% less SWAT team in my neighborhood. That alone is worth pennies from heaven, but you know what happens when people throw change from up high... DUCK!

Otherwise known as America's Sweethearts, Melissa Wiley and Scott Peterson are ridiculously adorable. I mean, adorkable. Behold, the cartoonist's proposal. Go ahead and sigh, girls, he's well taken, and has been for nineteen years. Happy May 14th, guys, and many happy returns of the date.

RESPECT to the fat kid: Or, we wish YA fiction had some respect for body diversity. But, too often, weight is a Problem Novel focus, with the most desperate attempts to get over it, and only then is the character granted absolution from the sin of thick thighs. In YA fiction being fat categorizes you as victim or bully. Why can't larger characters just be larger, without penalty? CBC Diversity guest blogger Rebecca Rabinowitz takes apart something we rarely talk about.

(True Confession: In A LA CARTE, I wrote a lot about food, and Lainey's weight - her mother's belief that she was fine, and her own belief, based on what she saw from her peers, that she was NOT fine, but I have to admit that I went back and added more anxiety about Lainey's weight, after a comment made me feel like I should, like she should be more concerned, or I was encouraging my readers to be not healthy. Which, looking back, is something a novice writer did, and it was stupid. Don't let others should all over your writing, people. Write the true.)

Additional to the reasoned, considered and considerate conversation in the comments, Fat Girl Reading has a booklist.

This is such an important topic... but it's not one that gains traction in conversation. People duck the discomfort of talking about weight like its invisible second cousin ethnicity (they're related by discomfort levels). Maybe Maureen Johnson can say a word or two about over-sized-12 figures on book covers?? And then maybe people will listen? Who knows.

Speaking of invisible cousins, Betsy Bird and Varian Johnson want to know where all the black boy books are this year. In a word, "Dunno." :sigh: Is it just that we're all so attention deficient in this field that we're only able to give one thing our attention at a time? Once, it was all about getting boys reading. And then, it was about getting heads on the girls on the covers of the YA novels, and de-pinkifying them. Can the topic du jour be something more substantial again, soon?

Speaking of cover art - how about making your own? Merriam-Webster's made a contest. Hurry, photographers - this one ends soon.

Under the heading PISSANT OF THE WEEK: Really, Belizean construction company?? A twenty-three hundred year old pyramid, and ... you used it for road beds? Really?? You lazy skinflints.

Do you hear it? Those solemn martial strains, kind of like the Olympic theme... meh, well, it's stopped now. The tune marked the historic changing of the guard in the realm of the 48 Hour Book Challenge. Pam "Mother Reader" Coughlan has passed her mantle onto Mrs. Yingling and Abby the Librarian, who will wear it with enthusiasm and pride and make another fun and crazy 48 Hour Challenge pass most Bookishly.

And to Pam, thank you.

I've been following the Vivian Maier stories since her photographs were uncovered. I cannot WAIT to see this documentary... Sneaky Vivian Maier, who called herself V. Smith, and sneaked as close as she could to strangers, and photographed them. Private, unique Vivian the nanny, who had a massive lock on her door, and lines her charges knew not to cross. I cannot help but this how much she would just HATE all of this hoopla. Just. Hate. It, with a near feeling of violence. I know I would. But, I still want to see the movie.

In addition, enforcing how similar we are as human beings provides a helpful boost; many minority students fall prey to the concern that they will not be accepted by their peers in school, but researchers found that if they reframed that concern as a part of life, rather than race—essentially showing them surveys and stats that proved fitting in was the concern of all teenagers everywhere—it had an incredibly positive impact.

Writers: when you use shorthand in the form of stereotypes, you perpetuate suck. Don't do it. I used to get sick of myself in grad school talking about the "commonality of the human experience," but that was one of the most valuable life lessons I've learned: all suckitude is spread pretty equally, both by ethnicity and gender - on most things, anyway. This kind of knowledge? Effects kids' self-esteem, and it behooves us as writers to think twice about the silent messages we send.

Well, geez, Texas, you've had t-storms this week, vicious tornadoes in the North, and those monster snails in Houston... and now this!? There's not a Hallmark card to cover having the Loch Ness monster's cousin hunting from your waters, but ... geez... the rest of us are really sorry. And, also, really glad we don't live in Texas.

May 15, 2013

TURNING PAGES: Reaper's Novice, by Cecilia Robert

It's not every day that you read a book set in Vienna that has really nothing to do with the stereotypical Vienna. I mean, there's the odd schnitzel, a few mentions of Mozart, but only in a passing kind of way. It's funny how some cities seem to fit into middle grade and young adult lit only as historical settings or vacation destinations. What also interested me was that the character was biracial, living in Vienna. There is a realistic mention of racism and some Austria-for-Austrians action which leaves emotional scars. All in all, this is old European city is made modern in this story, which points to an author who lives in Vienna today. This book is published by Trestle Press, which is, as near as I can figure it, the bridge between Smashwords and the printed word.

Reader Gut Reaction: A two-word description of this book would be "emotional roller-coaster." Okay, maybe that's three, but bear with me. Ana Tei, a seventeen-year-old senior, is at first deeply embroiled in the crisis of her parent's fighting. Her brother, Anton, is fourteen, and pretends he doesn't care, but little sister, Lucy, is only seven, and it all cuts her deeply. Three unhappy siblings nestle into a single bed until the fighting is over. It is never explained why they fight, but there is a Grand Plan to Fix Everything in place: the family is going to Italy to spend four memorable days together. However, before the family can get off on their vacation, a car accident threatens everything Ana holds dear. When Ernest - aka the Grim Reaper - appears, Ana's Grand Plan to Fix Everything shifts into high gear. She's sure there's something she can do.

One of the drawbacks of this novel to me is a lack of start-to-finish story arc. It's difficult, when writing a trilogy or a series, to get just enough of the storyline into the first book, and make the reader eager for more, without playing the game of dangling information and leaving ALL the strings untied, instead of tying enough to make a coherent story with a beginning, middle, and end. For instance, at one point, Ana plays her violin, and someone bleeds. Why? Is it the tune? The listener? The violin? What does her playing have to do with soul reaping, and why is her music conservatory important - or unimportant? We'll have to read the next book to hopefully find out.

Concerning Character: An attractive girl who plays violin and has a fine net of scars around her neck and wrists from an odd rash during childhood, Ana is secure in her friend Lea's love, and Reiner has been her best friend since grade school. That Lea and Reiner are now together is even better. It's quickly apparent that Ana will do anything for her those she loves - whether they deserve it or not. Her family first, but her friends are a near second. It is this tenacious love which will both charm and baffle the reader - there are times in the book when the average person would cut their losses and say, "Wow, I can't fix this," but Ana tries to fix it all. This makes her both endearing and exasperating.

Emotional relationships in this novel are incredibly detailed or sparse. Ana and her boyfriend, Rolf, are deeply emotionally involved. It's less clear why Lea loves Ana so much, as most of her emotional attention is spent on Reiner and Rolf, and then, later, on her friend, Zig. Ana's early anguish, at her parents' vicious fighting vanishes in a puff of smoke as circumstances change, but it's never clear how Ana feels about that - and, frankly, I keep expecting things to go back to "normal." The new normal, however, persists - everything is just fine... which seems a little sinister to me.

Without giving anything away, it becomes clear midway through the book that some things have been going on, unbeknownst to Ana, all her life. She is characterized as wanting to know everything -- but her curiosity is imbalanced by emotional reaction - she gets hit with an awful lot of information about her past, her future, and her life -- and she merely wants to know more. In some ways, the pacing disallows the main character a moment to let things sink in, which, in such an action-packed book, leaves the reader kind of dizzy.

Recommended for Fans Of...: THE NEW POLICEMAN, by Kate Thompson; CART & CWIDDER, and others in the Dalemark Quartet, by Diana Wynne Jones; THE CIRCLE OPENS books, by Tamara Pierce; HARPER HALL trilogy by Anne McCaffrey, especially DRAGON SONG. Books where including headstrong and heedless main characters, enigmatic guides, family, friends, and music.

Cover Chatter: There are always plenty of covers a book goes through before arriving where it's going to be. Two covers came from this novel - the Kindle version has the swirly background, and show a girl in her late teens, looking like she's part of neither here, nor there. I like the outlines of the people around her, showing the potential of souls. I like the architecture, which says "ancient European city" there. I don't love the pig tails, though; there's not much time spent on Ana's looks in the novel, but I'd remember that. Of course, I don't pay as much attention to ebook covers, so the print cover is the one I appreciate most. The model appears both biracial, and capable of holding a violin as if she can play it. Two wins! The European architecture, plus the violin seem to speak more to the character, and the swirly light around her body also ties in to the story.

Authorial Asides:Cecilia Robert is Kenyan, as is the father character in her novel. Themes of home are certainly strong in this novel, home and family, two things the author has spoken of, and holds dear. Cecilia Robert doesn't do too much that is overt to introduce Ana's two ethnic backgrounds into the text - it flows really naturally, and you know that she's a product of a darker father, and a fairer mother - but it makes no difference to anyone important to the story.

I find it interesting that the major question Ana faces is where is home, and who is most important - the Reaper and that world, or the family she thought was truly hers? It's a question we'll surely see answered in sequels...

You can find REAPER'S NOVICE by Cecilia Robert online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

May 13, 2013

Random Monday Tidbits

Just tuning in with a few links on a lazy Monday--lazy because we're in Hawaii, at our friends' house on the Big Island, enjoying a much-needed vacation. Sadly, I did bring some work with me, but only a minimum of such, which, for me, is pretty good. The importance of our trips to the Big Island--besides visiting good friends--is getting the chance to slow down our pace for a while. That is not normally my strong suit.

Anyway, I've saved up a few interesting items for your perusal:
  •  First, a few writing-related articles from the Writer's Digest newsletter: a rather useful set of tips on how to avoid and fix word repetition (I am extremely guilty of overusing "just" and "really"...) and some thoughts on writing a satisfying ending.
  • Recently, we interviewed the authors of the graphic novel Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong and asked them five questions about the process of writing and crafting. For another inside peek, and a very different set of questions, check out David Elzey's interview with them on Guys Lit Wire.
  • Lastly, I got an e-mail announcement regarding the launch of the new Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination at the University of California, San Diego: "The center will honor the late author and innovator, and will be an interdisciplinary center where researchers in the arts, sciences, medicine and technology will come together to unlock the mysteries of imagination." How cool does that sound? I so wish I could check out some of the launch events, but I suppose I'll have to content myself with planning some sort of future visit next time I'm in SoCal.

May 10, 2013

Shake, Rattle & Roll: It's Five & Dime Friday

I think I love this ad more than I thought possible. Because Tech Boy is into All Things Tech, including cameras, he was especially interested in lenticular printing for digital photography... but he passed it along to me because it's for kids. Imagine an ad with specific details visible only from your height - directed at you. This is the ONE AND ONLY TIME I'm happy to talk about advertising directed at minors, because that advertising is a toll-free number to get them help if they or a friend feel they need it. Viva empowerment.

Hey, Ally's back @ Hyperbole & 1/2, making us laugh some more about depression!

...Speaking of empowerment: one of the worst things is an adult who talks down to or thinks down to or writes down to a young adult. This week, TIME put together a big slap-down to the teens and young adults in this generation, calling them the ME, ME, ME Generation. The Atlantic posits, "Same song, second verse," and uses more statistics to remind us all that every generation blames the one before. Sing it.

EEEEEEEEEW: Gigantic snails in Houston. I don't think we need say more.

Dear Comic Book Peoples: There IS a way to draw a sexy character w/o being sexist. No, really.

In case you missed it, here's a link to Huffington Post than Maureen Johnson's Tumblr for her Coverflip Project. It's kind of both eye-opening and brow-wrinkle-inducing: it's about gendered covers. Next, I'd be interested to see what different covers books would have if written by people of color - or not. As always, Maureen starts us thinking...

Speaking of ethnicity - and gender - This, That, Neither, Both is a paper I ran across this past week, which was accepted for the peer reviewed paper session at YALSA’s third annual Young Adult Literature Symposium held November 2-4, 2012 in St. Louis. The charming thing about it for me is that Our Very Own A.F.'s novel was used as an example of biracial characters being confronted with an idea of self that remains inconsistent with their own view. Huzzah, and don't miss this really thoughtful and well put-together treatise.

It's all about the books right now - old books, and books into film: the inimitable Lizzie Skurnick will, from her new imprint be reprinting some "forgotten" books from the 50's - 80's - authors like Ernest Gaines, M.E. Kerr, and Lila Perl are going to get a fresh look with new covers and a new audience. I LOVE the new cover for DEBUTANT HILL. It's just -- wow. Skurnick mentioned the enduring quality of "classic" YA lit that was geared toward guys... and that little comment in a news release weeks old now reminded me that it's almost time for the CHOCOLATE WAR REBLOG. Hosted by Kelly from STACKED with Liz from the SLJ Tea Cozy blog and Leila from Bookshelves of Doom, this will be a slightly unsentimental journey through what is considered a piece of classic young adult literature. What makes it classic? Is it? I'll be interested to see what a revisit to the book will bring...

Kirkus says this looks to be THE summer for SFF novels-into-film. Leila mentioned awhile back that Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell was optioned by BBC America, and we all squeaked briefly about that, but Larry Niven's RINGWORLD has been optioned, too. AND! This just in from Book View Cafe: Pierce Brosnan playing Louise Quatorze in a Parallel History Fantasy by Vonda McIntyre's THE MOON AND THE SUN - you know, the one where Louis was trying to become immortal...? I can imagine the costumes will be lush, not to mention the special effects. Here's hoping that this one gets good distribution.

Sure by now you've heard of the 17-year-old coder who figured out a way to remove SPOILERS for her fave TV shows from her Twitter account? Sooo, what did you do this week?? Ah, well - even if you weren't 100% brilliant, witty, and smart the whole week, I'm sure you had your moments, as did we all. It's Friday - enjoy the weekend you've earned.

May 09, 2013

Toon Thursday: Who Wants Pie?

The latest pie chart: presenting the truth about writing retreats. Please note: pie chart is a work of creative non-fiction. Your experience may vary.

May 08, 2013

BLOG TOUR: The Hammer of Witches

Welcome, all of you who have wandered this direction from various tweets and posts, and to our regular Wonderland crew. We're here with author Shana Mlawski, author of THE HAMMER OF WITCHES, and today, Shana's gonna give us some author-chat on... rape.


Yeah, big downer, huh? And yet: if you're writing historical fiction... history is the story of violent conquest. Period. And, unfortunately, devastatingly, rape is a part of violent conquest - historically and presently.

You might be wondering, why did we ask Shana to talk about this? -- and make no mistake, we did. We invited her to talk about this because it is uncomfortable. Mucho uncomfortable. There was a squickness about a few scenes in HAMMER OF WITCHES that we didn't want to shove under the rug. Baltasar Infante is a product of his culture and time. And rape was also a product of that conquest and that history... but, there's just no good way - nor good reason - to talk about it... Or, maybe there is a good reason?

Should We Write About Rape?

by Shana Mlawski

Writing about rape is tricky.

I know: understatement of the year, right? The thing is, I don't want to write about rape. I wish it didn't exist, period, but barring that I wish it weren't such a major part of our history and our lives in 2013. I hate writing about it. I have to write about it. Maybe we all have to write about it.

HAMMER OF WITCHES is a book for young people. It's a fun adventure story filled with genies, witches, swordplay, and a little romance. But it's also set in 1492. We can't know exactly what happened when the Spanish began their conquest of the Americas, but various reports suggest brutal acts of violence, including rape, were not uncommon. This is not to say there was no rape in the Caribbean before the arrival of the Spanish. There's evidence that the indigenous people of the West Indies “stole” women, too. There's also a “charming” story in Taino mythology about a trickster god who went around raping provincial leaders' wives. The patriarchy: it's everywhere! But the Spanish had special incentive to attack Taino women. The women weren't Christian and therefore were not considered quite as human as the ladies back home in Europe. Use your imagination. Or don't. It's depressing.

In any case, we know rape exists in the world and has existed for a long time. The question writers must ask themselves is, “Should we write about it, and, if so, how?”

As I said, these questions are tricky. I can't give you an answer, but I can show you how my thought process went when I was writing HAMMER OF WITCHES. Behold!

OTHER SHANA: “Shana, you're thinking about writing a rape scene? Why? Does every book featuring a female character nowadays have to have one? It kind of seems that way.”

SHANA: “I hear ya. I hate that 'rape is a fun backstory that makes female characters into badass superheroes' trope. But there WERE rapes in the Caribbean in the 1490s and 1500s, Other Shana. If I don't mention them, it would be a harmful act of whitewashing, a lie!”

OTHER SHANA:“This is a young YA book, First Shana. It could almost qualify as middle grade. Parents and teachers don't want their kids reading about this stuff.”

SHANA “That's absurd. Young adults already know about rape. They go to the movies. They hear the 'jokes.' Doesn't TBS run Law & Order: SVU reruns twenty times a night or something? And as miserable as it is to say, we have to acknowledge that too many young adults have been raped themselves.”

OTHER SHANA: “Ugh, I can't even bear to think about that right now. Fine, I'll mention rape in the book, but I won't use the actual word. I'll say 'the Taino women were taken advantage of' or something.”

SHANA “That's ridiculous! That blunts the violence of the thing! Readers need to feel in their gut how horrible it is! Use the damn word!”

OTHER SHANA: “Okay, okay! Wow. I'll use it once. Maybe twice. But I won't show it.”

SHANA “I'm with you on that one. When you show rapes in books, it can seem pornographic. The last thing we want to do is titillate young readers with a description of one of the most horrific crimes there is.”

OTHER SHANA: “Yeah, that... but mostly I really don't want to write a rape scene. That is not something I can handle doing right now.”

SHANA “Fair enough. We'll have it happen off-screen.”

OTHER SHANA: “But if it happens off-screen, will it seem less horrifying to readers? As I said before, they need to feel how horrifying it is.”

SHANA “Then we'll have one of our protagonists see it, and she can report back. She'll tell us how horrifying it was.”

OTHER SHANA: “Let me get this straight. We're going to have a named character talk about unnamed characters being raped off-screen. Are you saying the raped women don't need names, because they're not really people, you're only using them to make a political statement? Tell me that's not what you're saying, Shana.”

SHANA “Yeah, I can see there are unfortunate implications there. But the book is from the perspective of European characters. I can only 'see' what they see and know what they know. Argh! This is why I need to write a sequel from the point of view of a Taino character! Blerghhhhhhhh!!!”

OTHER SHANA: “Interrupting your blergh-ing for a second. If your named European character is at the scene of the crime, why doesn't she stop it?”

SHANA “She only sees the aftermath. Why? Should I have her fight the rapists?”

(IN SWOOPS MY AMAZING EDITOR STACY, WEARING AN AMAZING SUPER EDITOR CAPE!): “Yeah, have her fight the rapists! She has magical powers. Let her use them!”

OTHER SHANA (WAVES GOODBYE TO STACY AS SHE SWOOPS AWAY, BATMAN-STYLE, TO SAVE ANOTHER NEUROTIC WRITER FROM OVER-LONG INTERNAL DEBATES): “Thanks, Stacy! I'll do that. But wait. Now doesn't it look like the Taino women are mere objects to be raped and then saved by white Europeans?”

SHANA: “Yep. It probably does look that way. But to be fair there are other parts of the book where Taino people save white European characters. There are White Saviors here, AND Taino Saviors, AND Other Race Saviors. So it's not like we're being totally racist here.”

OTHER SHANA: “Sure. You keep telling yourself that, Shana.” (BOTH SHANAS CRY AS WE FADE TO BLACK.)

And there you have it. Did I learn the one true way to write a rape scene? No, clearly I did not. But I picked a way, and although I have some concerns about it I'm mostly okay with how it came out. Rape is not a major part of the book, but it's there, hanging around the margins, a reminder of the terrible reality of Columbus's celebrated voyages.

For all you writers out there, my feeling is that there's no single right way to write about rape. All I ask is that you think about what you're writing as you're writing it. Think about what your artistic choices might say to readers. If you find the implications make you uncomfortable, consider a rewrite. If you're fine with what the scenes imply, more power to you.

Keep writing.

"But history is history. I'm not going to whitewash it. We have plenty of people doing that already. In the year of 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue—and Spain conquered Moorish Granada, the Inquisition tortured people, the decimation of Taíno civilization began, and the world's largest Jewish population was sent into exile. It's a complex, fascinating era, but it's a tragic era, as well." - Shana Mlawski

And, so, here you have it: there are no good ways to write about some topics. And yet -- those topics still need to be written, especially within the context of historical fiction, where reality and story conflate to bridge the gap between real people's stories and today's living history, to enable us to take the lessons from the past and use them to illuminate today.

Thanks again, Shana, for coming by and talking about a topic both challenging and potentially divisive - and for sharing your thought process.

Yesterday, Shana was at The Reading Zone, talking about writers writing reviews - yea or nay? Next Monday she'll be at The Book Cellar, and the following Thursday at Margo Dill's blog, Read These Books and Use Them!

ETA: Synchronicity! Shana's at Diversity in YA's Tumblr today, too! Don't miss.

Final quote and author photo courtesy of Lee & Low site.

May 07, 2013


This has all the earmarks of a great series: an engaging, realistically flawed main character, stupendously detailed world-building, and tons of new-things-per-page. It's got adventure and heart -- but felt uneven. I wasn't aware this novel would have a sequel, and the novel didn't wrap up enough for me to be able to feel the story was finished. I'm hopeful Strange Chemistry puts out the sequel fairly quickly, which could answer a lot of reader questions and make the whole feel more complete.

Reader Gut Reaction: One thing I really, really liked about the world-building in this book is that it isn't working. On one level, this is a novel about tries and failures. At one time there was a greater organization on Mars, as well as research bodies, business and education and other social strata which has fallen on hard times, due to politics. The loss of an exovet, as described with the first chapter, is the first crack in a disintegrating system, because space ships, powered by massive alien animals, are ...vanishing, often with the full complement of crew. Are they all dead? Are they all alive? No one knows, and further, no one knows why...

The second failure is a failure of politics. The relationship with Earth is finished - and has been for awhile. There is no trade nor safety net beneath. As the Mars colony fails, those who can no longer farm, due to sheer bad luck, due to irreparably damaging the fragile balance between the altered Martian landscape or due to simply not knowing enough to survive have moved to join a filthy, sprawling human slum on the outskirts of the largest town.

And "HUMAN" is the important word in that scenario. The third failure in this novel is the social breakdown. Xenophobia is a huge, huge problem on Mars. Some humans keep to themselves, others prefer to live for their corporations, as if they're on Earth, and ignore the Martian "issue" altogether. Still others refuse to get too close to native Martians, including sentient insectoids like Hamish or those aliens with the living tattoos beneath their skin, or many others, so now that Earth is out of the picture, and has left the Colonists to fend for themselves, they're falling into old racial groupings. Too many humans believe that folk of other species have nothing to offer and that the Terrans who consort with them are tainted. The "pure human" movement is a politically divisive, dangerous and crazy-making point of view. The colonists are divided, and Townies will have nothing to do with kids raised on farms; kids exposed to alien workers or those dangerously odd Martian farm animals.

Not considering this excellent world building set-up, another thing delights about this book and that is that it's a "work" book -- the kind of book that lets the reader know just how much work it is to do something. In this case, it's the work it takes to become an exoveterinarian. Exovets study animals that are "off'wa" -- off world, alien species. In this case, the animals are native to Mars, and they're a varied mix of scorpion-like, whale-esque, and cow-like -- only on a massive, larger-than-a-barn like scale. Some of the animals have advanced intelligence enough to learn to communicate - whether through sign-language or modified speech. Others are simply vicious ...they want to EAT those who study them, they give no quarter, and have no sympathy. How often does one run across that in SFF? No modified treecats, no six-fingered whatsits whose only role is the be the Magical Alien and somehow miraculously and intelligently help the all-important human. These are animals. This is like that one horse book you read to death at twelve. This is the part of the story that is simply awesome.

Concerning Character: Zenn desperately wants two things: one, to be a exoveterinarian. Two, to figure out what's going on with her father. Her mother, presumed dead these many years, was the center of his life. After the accident which might have killed her - nobody knows for sure - he's been distant emotionally, and then physically, taking a job off-planet as a lawyer, and leaving his daughter in the care of his brother. Zenn blames herself for her mother's disappearance - ridiculously - and yet, it's clear that she's not enough to anchor her father to Mars. She is fairly convinced that everyone eventually leaves, so she has a Rule to which she adheres strictly: no one gets past her inner circle. That means she doesn't love anyone wholeheartedly except for animals. That 17-year-old Zenn feels she is able to connect with the ginormous Martian animals on a psychic level is intriguing - and not believed by those around her.

The novel is set primarily at the Ciscan Cloister Exovet Clinic. Ciscan Cloisters were places of both worship and study, but years into the future, this last cloister only pays lip service to its religious roots. Though there is still an abbot and a sexton, there is, sadly, no chanting, and very few other novitiates. As a matter of fact, there are NONE. Only the title character, and her uncle, now that her mother has been missing for years, and her father has gone away.

My problems with this otherwise well-structured novel begin in the last half to the last third of the story, where it becomes apparent that things will NOT be wrapped up in the next twenty or so pages. Emotional inconsistencies abound, and are entangled in the character of Liam, one of the few "available" boys, but a Townie. While Hamish is hilarious, Zenn's interactions with her uncle believable, and even the slightly two dimensional "villain" was working for me, without revealing specific spoilers, Zenn's reactions, after she is in possession of all the facts, are deeply unrealistic. Because has held herself to a standard of behavior - with reasons - for years, and is focused and intent on her studies, I have a hard time squaring those characteristics with her actions - and lack of reaction - to events toward the end of the book. The conclusion seemed hurried and non-specific, and the emotional intensity which it should have had was simply missing. Zenn seems punch-drunk from so many changes and revelations, and just ...limply goes along to the next thing. I, as a reader, don't feel pulled along by the plot's momentum in any way, and I felt angry and disgusted that a thin romantic impetus is used to bundle away what sharp edges Zenn should have, and sort of diffuse what should have been her incisive and intelligent judgment, which has served her well in the rest of the book. Yes, her "Rule" is the result of being hurt, but it's a protection that she seems to shed abruptly and without much thought, especially in the last scenes. The shriek of "WHAT!?" I emitted was pretty loud.

Recommended for Fans Of...: CLAY'S ARK, by Octavia Butler, Kenneth Oppel's Matt Cruise series, including STARCLIMBER; S.L. Viehl's STARDOC novels; Sherri Tepper's GRASS; James White's Sector General novels. None of these are considered YA, but they all crossover pretty well.

Cover Chatter: This novel wins on a lot of levels - technically, the writing is good, the details of exobiology are good, the detail is wonderful. It's details like the planetary atmosphere depicted on the cover which make it special. Mars, in Zenn Scarlett's case, isn't terraformed entirely -- it's too big, and there are too few colonists, and any water put into the land would simply boil off into the atmosphere, so, there's a work-around. In the author's words:

"In Zenn Scarlett, I proposed a mini-terraforming approach where, instead of going to the colossal expense of making the entire surface of Mars livable, my colonists devised a technology that enabled them to put a “roof” over some of Mars’ great canyon systems and live and raise crops on the canyon floor. This was achieved by employing barymetric ionizing generators on the canyon walls and projecting a thin, translucent layer of coherently energized molecules that would trap oxygen and moisture beneath it, allow sunlight to pass through, but keep out the frigid, near-vacuum of the thin Martian atmosphere above." - Christian Schoon at Valia Lind Writes

Whether this could really work or not, it feels believable, and it gives the cover designers the amazing "roof" of Martian atmosphere to work with for the cover, which is striking, and something that looks unique and adventurous enough for readers to give it a second look.

Because SYNCHRONICITY EXISTS, today Christian Schoon is also up at Scalzi's "Whatever" for a Big Idea post. Don't miss.

This ARC courtesy the publishers, my review is unsolicited, and my views are my own.

After May 7, you can find ZENN SCARLETT by Christian Schoon online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

May 06, 2013

Monday Review: THE DIVINERS by Libba Bray

Reader Gut Reaction: The Diviners is a tome. There: I said it. I have to admit that my first reaction was to be a little gobsmacked at the size of the hardback library edition. But once I started reading, I got so absorbed in this supernatural mystery, set in the 1920s—paranormal powers! mysterious strangers! ancient evil! creepy old neighbors! flappers and Ziegfeld girls!—that when I got to the end I was relieved there's going to be a book 2. Also, I was happy to see Libba Bray going back to historical fantasy, because she imbues past eras with a lot of life and wit, as in her Gemma Doyle trilogy. While I felt certain aspects of this book were overwritten—there was the occasional rather lyrical, omniscient-viewpoint, sweeping-cinematic-style intercalary chapter, and for me, they interrupted the action a bit more than I wanted—I found myself happily carried along as events in the book got increasingly suspenseful.

Concerning Character: This book is rather epic in terms of its characters, too. The main character—the one for whom the majority of the action takes place—is Evie O'Neill, who has been sent off to New York to live with her Uncle Will after she horrifies her Ohio family one time too many with her scandalous behavior. Naturally, as a modern flapper, she takes to the big city like a fish to water. And, rather appropriately, as it turns out, her Uncle Will owns a museum of the occult.

Evie, who is stubborn, troublesome, and irrepressibly fun-loving, has a supernatural secret of her own…as do many of the characters in this book. Memphis, a young black numbers runner…Theta, a Ziegfeld chorus girl who lives in Evie's apartment building…even Jericho, who works for Uncle Will at the museum. All are intriguing, and all are to play a vital role in thwarting an insidious evil that is spreading around the city and leaving a trail of bodies in its wake.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Epic good-vs-evil supernatural battles in an urban fantasy setting, as in Cassie Clare's Mortal Instruments trilogy, or The Unnaturalists by Tiffany Trent (reviewed here), especially if there's a mystery/whodunit element.

Themes & Things: The Roaring Twenties—what a setting to provide a glittering backdrop, and what an enjoyable way to sneak in historical material like the rising tide of Marxist political thought, the strange-but-true beliefs of fringe religious groups, and the increasing prominence of women and African Americans that was happening at that time in America's past. Besides the grand historical themes, though, there is the overarching idea of adhering to what is right and good, and holding onto love even in the face of unspeakable evil and overwhelming odds.

Review Copy Source: Library.

You can find The Diviners by Libba Bray online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

May 04, 2013


It's a busy month for Tanita and I, this merry month of May, so we've decided to feature a couple of guest posts and interviews over the next few days--on the 8th, we're part of Shana Mlawski's blog tour, and today, we're proud to be part of the blog tour for Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks' graphic novel Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong (which you can sample online here). We reviewed it here a few weeks ago, and you may recall me gushing about it. So of course I'm extra excited to present the following Five Questions with the authors of the book, in which we grill them (nicely, of course) about how the project got started, what the making-of process was really like, and what their favorite comics are. As someone who is hoping to create a graphic novel someday, I always enjoy reading about the process behind the final product, and I hope you enjoy it too!

Special thanks to Gina Gagliano at First Second for arranging the interview.

Finding Wonderland: We're curious how a collaborative graphic novel works. On the book's website, it says Prudence did the writing and Faith, the artwork--but did you share both aspects of the project? What did the process look like?

Pru: Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong started its life as a novel called Voted Most Likely. Faith and I got hooked up by First Second, which had acquired the story with the intention of adapting it as a graphic novel. Faith handled the adaption, and our interaction on the story side mostly involved a little back and forth over how to compress a pretty long book into what turned out to be a pretty long graphic novel, but it all went remarkably smoothly from my end. I think it helps that we appear to share a sense of teenaged humor.

Faith: Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong was originally a very funny prose novel that Prudence wrote and I adapted from prose to comics. So I had to take this long story with lots of words and no pictures and cut it down into a 250-ish page graphic novel. Which was really hard! I had to cut a lot of stuff. Nate actually had a family in the original novel, but he doesn't in the comics. I assume he just lives under Charlie's porch or something ... Anyway, I read the book that Pru wrote originally and made a story outline based on that book, where I picked out all the scenes and story moments that I liked best, and that I felt would contribute to a great comic. That outline got sent to Pru and when she approved it, I went back and wrote a script based on that outline and the original novel. Lots of trimming and hacking away here! I cherry picked dialogue that I liked best, re-arranged stuff so that it fit better in the overall story, and added things here and there for clarity. After the script got approved by Pru and our editor, Calista, I drew all 280 pages of the comic. I maybe went a little insane drawing the robot fight scenes, they were hard.

FW: Where did the initial idea come from for Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, and what were the beginning stages of the project?

Pru: The initial idea for the book really grew out of a pretty fixed scene: a bunch of teenagers roadtripping it to a battlebot competition. It was important to me from the start that they did this in a car that had been "borrowed" from one of their parents. As I started to expand on the story, I realized I wanted to bust as many typical teenage conventions as possible, not just break barriers between geeks and jocks, but to point out that all of these divides and demarcations are completely artificial. At our core we're all insecure weirdos, especially when we're teenagers.

Faith: For me, my editor at First Second, Calista, approached me and said she had this novel that they were planning to adapt into a comic, and was I interested? I read Prudence's original novel in a coffee shop over the span of a couple days, and liked it very much, so I signed on.

FW: What was the biggest challenge for you both in working on this? Faith lives in Halifax and Prudence in NYC--were there geographic hurdles, or did the internet fix everything?

Pru: Got it in one. The internet is magic, truly.

Faith: For me the biggest challenge was drawing all the robots! There wasn't really an issue of geography as we weren't working closely. I had regular discussions with our editor in New York, and that's all done by phone and email. That's the nice thing about this information age, I can live practically on the very end of Canada, in the cold of the Maritimes, and still work for a New York publisher.

FW: Speaking of the internet, this book also exists as a webcomic. For each of you: what is your favorite format for comics? Webcomic? Serial comic? Graphic novel? Why?
Pru: I dig webcomics as well as graphic novels. Webcomics because they're kind of our digital equivalent to the funny pages, and you can consume so many different art styles and personalities, everything from Bad Machinery to Sinfest. For the purposes of Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, I think that the web comic format could be a touch torturous, as the way the story is structured is meant for reading in a graphic novel format.

Faith: Graphic novel, for sure. I believe very much in the importance of digital comics and webcomics, but for actually sitting down and reading something, I like a nice thick graphic novel. I do most of my reading in bed, and I don't have an iPad. I like webcomics a lot, but I mostly use them as previews: if I see a webcomic I like, I'll buy the book version of it.

FW: What originally got you interested in reading (and writing comics)? Do you have a favorite comic or GN you've read recently?

Pru: At heart I'm still a prose storyteller, and I definitely got my start reading books like Little House on the Prairie or watching TV shows like The X-Files and wanting desperately, desperately to be allowed in on those adventures. In some way I'm still writing for the same motivations; I'd have killed to be in that stolen SUV, driving to Atlanta for the Robot Rumble. As for comics, I grew up on manga and Chinese graphic stories (illustrated versions of classics like Journey to the West and a Dream of Red Mansions and various ghost stories and fairytales), so the format of pictures to go with the words has always been really pleasing. On the subject of serials, I'm really only just getting into those, having been seduced by the new Hawkeye comics.

Faith: I've always been very attracted to the comics medium, although for years I didn't read many comics due to issues of availability (the town I grew up in didn't have a good comic store, and this was before libraries began stocking graphic novels). As a Canadian kid, I read a lot of Tintin and Asterix growing up, but then stopped reading comics in my teens when there wasn't much being published that was, well, something that a girl could read. So I started making webcomics, and made the type of comics that I wanted to read, and just fell in love with the medium. And then it was five years later and I'd drawn nearly 1,000 pages of comics ... it was a bit crazy. As for what I've read recently that I really liked, I liked Bad Machinery volume 1, I loved the conclusion of Naoki Urasawa's manga epic 20th Century Boys, and I got Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind box set for Christmas, which was amazing.

Thank you, Faith and Prudence (wow, that sure sounds...historical) for stopping by and revealing some of the secrets of the trade--I can't be the only one who thinks this was a fabulous collaboration, and I'm sure plenty of other readers are hoping to see more from the two of you, separately or together.

More info about the book and its authors:
Book website on Macmillan
Prudence Shen's website
Faith Erin Hicks' website
Our review of Faith Erin Hicks' first graphic novel, Friends With Boys

May 03, 2013

Cushion-diving for change: It's 5&Dime Friday!

Ohhh, it's hard to tell, from the thunder and wind and the snow and the heat, but it's the first weekend in May, wherever you are - and that deserves some especially shiny change, and the chance to see what else we can shake loose out of the couch for now...

It's Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, which means our efforts to celebrate diversity will include a special nod to all things Asian and Pacific American. In the category of "And Now You Know," the Library of Congress reminds us, "The month of May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. The majority of the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants." The Smithsonian's efforts to honor Asian/Pacific Americans this month includes a traveling exhibit which chronicles the migration of Asians into the Americas from the time of Columbus. Looks like some good stuff.

I know this is all over the internet by now, but I'm still bewildered as to how that cat in Daytona figured out where home was... I mean, without two dogs to walk with her to West Palm. Why is she trying to reenact The Incredible Journey without the dogs??

I'm always so happy to get links from Diversity in YA - while Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo no longer blog at the old site, Diversity In YA is now a Tumblr which means pithy posts, pictures, and the other day, a new link heralding DiversifYA, a spankin' new YA site devoted to questions and authors in diversity - not just racial/ethnic diversity but gender diversity, ability diversity, and more, all within the context of our best books. And you canNOT beat the cute outta that button. You just cannot.

While we're free associating about diversity, here's another little bright spot of the week:

I'm a quiet reader of a lot of news and information sites, and while I don't always delurk or comment, at times I'm at home nodding my head so hard I could stand in for one of those bobble dolls. This week I wasn't just nodding, I was kind raising brows and mumbling agreement from the back row. Sarah Ockler responded to The Atlantic Wire's YA for Grownups piece on race in YA with some old and new thoughts, and it hit me in a good way - mainly because it wasn't for me, but addressed from one Caucasian author to another:

One Café, Hold The Au Lait: A Primer for White Authors

Actively diversifying our fiction does not mean any of the following:
  • Giving a character almond-shaped eyes or coffee-mocha-latte-chocolate-hazelnut-caramel-cappuccino-colored skin. In fact, as a general rule, writers seeking inspiration solely from Starbucks menus probably need to dial down the caffeine.
  • Slotting in a random person of color for no other reason than to break up the whiteness (especially if you’re writing about a place that is mostly white. Like, a Rod Stewart concert, or maybe a deer hunt).
  • Sneaking in a few non-white celebrity guest appearances on a poster, an iPod, or a character’s favorite TV show. I mean, I love Fresh Prince as much as anyone, because Parents Just Don’t Understand, but no—that doesn’t count.
  • Including a non-white character whose only real difference from the white characters is the color of his skin and/or his snappy catch phrases. Word!
  • Conducting a find-and-replace in Word to change Breanna and Chad to Belicia and Chen. CTRL+F what?
  • Putting a sushi or taco bar in the school cafeteria. Which is one of those things that sounds like a good idea at the time, but usually isn’t.

I'm all about avoiding Starbucks metaphors, not over-doing the description-of-color, and finding new ways to think past the "default." There is much, much more at Ockler's blog; much that has been said before, and much that is all Sarah-flavored and new, which may help us think this issue through in new ways. Please check it out.

If you missed Publishers Weekly's Q&A with the articulate and thoughtful Sara Zarr, we've got it; you're welcome..

Well, it's the end of the first foray of summer out West, what with the crazy early May temps (Hi, 90°!) but Springtime resumes today, just in time for the weekend. And that is A GOOD Thing. Because there are bound to be some military action this weekend in the Empire - and it can get ridiculously hot in that body armor.

Wait, you didn't know about that?

Consider yourself schooled.

In a most happy combo-event, May the Fourth is also the first Saturday in May - Free Comic Books, y'all. Ewoks and comic books, Followed by guacamole, on NOT, not, not Mexican Independence Day, but the commemoration of a pretty good win in Puebla, Mexico, over French forces back in 1862. Viva El Día de la Batalla de Puebla!

Happy Friday.

May 02, 2013

Thursday Review: HATTIE EVER AFTER by Kirby Larson

Reader Gut Reaction: Kirby Larson is a familiar face to many of us old-school bloggers, since she's been to many a Kidlitcon and SCBWI conference. Her first book about Hattie Brooks, Hattie Ever After, introduced us to a (dare I use this hackneyed descriptor?) plucky young woman who inherits a rather miserable homestead plot in Montana from her mysterious Uncle Chester. Her hard work trying to prove up on the land, and working to pay back her uncle's debt, gave her a lot of valuable experience, but it also increased her determination to strike out and be a success on her own. She's been writing a lot, and she's caught the bug—she wants to be a reporter.

So, in Hattie Ever After, when Hattie gets a chance to Go West, Young Lady, she seizes it. After all, her friend Perilee is in Seattle, and—even more fortuitous—Hattie's just received a letter for poor dead Uncle Chester from one Ruby Danvers in San Francisco. Okay, so she's disappointing poor stalwart Charlie, back from the war, but how can she give up her dreams? Of course, being a reporter is less glamorous and more complicated an endeavor than Hattie originally envisioned…and then there are a few wrenches thrown into the works with competitive fellow reporters and a rather demanding new friend…but as a reader, I was confident throughout (even as I cringed at Hattie's inevitable missteps) that she would prevail in the end, and wanting to see just how she got there kept me turning the pages.

Concerning Character: Hattie remains as spirited, curious, determined and smart as ever. Of course, it's these very characteristics that land her into a sea of trouble from time to time—and help her pull her way out of it again and back onto firm ground. I'm always intrigued by how contemporary writers portray young women from previous eras, and I enjoyed how Larson depicts Hattie as both a girl OF her time and ahead of her time, modern, looking forward, as it's natural for younger generations to do, without making her too anachronistic. As for the side characters surrounding her, they are all the colorful, interesting sorts you might expect to find in 1919 San Francisco, and, being the kindhearted person she is, Hattie has no trouble winning friends. The problem is, some of them are not necessarily friends of the truest sort…

Recommended for Fans Of...: Realistic historical fiction from the early 20th century featuring strong female protagonists: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, perhaps (reviewed here), or Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher (reviewed here), Flygirl by Sherri Smith (reviewed here) or Mare's War by our own Tanita.

Themes & Things: Chasing your dreams—it's the hopeful side of the coin that is coming of age (the other side of the coin being, I suppose, learning things the hard way). Of course, Hattie DOES learn things the hard way, but then she uses that knowledge to set herself on the right path again and keep on forging ahead. As it says in the jacket blurb, she's got a resilient spirit, and that means she ultimately prevails where others might give up. That is an important message, in my opinion—learning to identify those goals that are truly important to you, going after them for their own sake and for the sake of your heart's happiness, and not giving up in the face of adversity.

Cover Chatter: That cute outfit! I want it! It's very similar to one described in the book, so that's perfect, and I love her reporter's notebook and determined expression. The cable cars, of course, are fitting…I'm not sure the background landscape really screams "San Francisco" but overall, I really like this cover, and the complementary color scheme of orange against blue really makes it pop.

Review Copy Source: Library

You can find Hattie Ever After by Kirby Larson online, or at an independent bookstore near you!