Picture drawn by Maggie Stiefvater, 2009. Header made by S.F. Robertson, 2010.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Kiss Me Deadly: Stories of Paranormal Romance Edited by Trisha Telep

NEWS: The wonderful Holly Cupala is hosting a What Bloggers Want two-month event on her blog, and I'm the featured blogger for Friday! So go check out my post and I think if you comment, you get entered into a huge contest, which is always fun. Thanks everyone! :)

Kiss Me Deadly: 13 Tales of Paranormal Love Edited by Trisha Telep
"If you can possibly thirst for more mysterious metaphysical accounts of love, Trisha Telep has organized some of the greatest and most thrilling tales of paranormal paramours since The Eternal Kiss. She presents the acclaimed literary talent of thirteen unique authors, creating a collection of stories that will undoubtedly capture the imagination of every soul who dares to read them. Werewolves, ghosts, zombies, vampires, and fallen angels drive the plot of these riveting romances.
Kiss Me Deadly includes the exceptional writings of several authors, including:

• Sarah Rees Brennan (faeries)
• Becca Fitzpatrick (angels)
• Caitlin Kittredge (witches)
• Karen Mahoney (vampires: sequel to story from The Eternal Kiss)
• Daniel Marks (ghost kids)
• Justine Musk (sorcerers)
• Diana Peterfreund (unicorns)
• Michelle Rowen (demons)
• Carrie Ryan (zombies)
• Maggie Stiefvater (werewolves)
• Rachel Vincent (banshees)
• Daniel Waters (zombies)
• Michelle Zink (gothic ghosts)"- summary from Amazon

If you're looking for a fun collection to read for Halloween or even to keep the spirit going a few days afterward, this is the collection for you. It wasn't intentionally released for Halloween but I do feel it fits. Some of the stories are pretty creepy and feature some scary scenes.

I'm not going to go through each story (if you do want that, go to Khy's blog where she's doing a wonderful three-parter review of the book.), but I did really enjoy the whole collection. It's a great gathering of fantastic writers.

I really enjoyed Sarah Rees Brennan's story, which took on Peter Pan and was pretty hilarious. There's humor in her Demon books, but in this short story, she really lets loose with some dry humor. Michelle Zink's story was really interesting and I love the Assassin idea with some paranormal aspects to it. I could definitely see this being longer.

Both Diana Peterfreund's and Carrie Ryan's stories take place in their own world from their respective series. But, for some reason, while I enjoyed both, I thought Carrie's was a bit been-there-done-that and I'm itching to see something new from her outside of the zombie world she's created. Yet I didn't feel the same about Diana, even though both stayed within their worlds for this anthology and Zombies vs. Unicorns. I'm not sure why.

Becca Fitzpatrick's short story took place in her Hush Hush world but happened way before the events of those books. It was interesting reading about these characters and the whole story was very dark, mysterious and she set the atmosphere of it really well. Maggie Stiefvater's was really cool and I loved seeing her fairies take the stage again as well as the ties to Celtic lore and music. It was a wonderful story to read.

Overall, a great anthology for an even better price. I don't think you could go wrong with this book. Definitely a keeper.

FTC: Received finished copy from publisher. Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Fragment Friday- Fall for Anything by Courtney Summers

Book Signing News: On October 31 in Richmond, VA, Maggie Stiefvater and Jackson Pearce are having a Halloween bash, courtesy of Fountain Bookstore! I'm going to be there- anyone else going? Tickets cost $8 (but that can go toward buying a book).

Fragment Friday is a weekly meme hosted here on this blog where you read an excerpt from either your current read or one of your favorite books and post it on your blog to share with others! It's a fun way to learn about new books or to hear a sample from a book you're dying to read.

Today, I'll be reading from Chapter 6 of Fall for Anything by Courtney Summers. She released the first five chapters on her blog and I thought it'd be nice to give you all just a bit more of the story! You can read the first 5 chapters here. Hope you all enjoy!

Put your link down in the Mr. Linky below!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore
"Nine of us came here. We look like you. We talk like you. We live among you. But we are not you. We can do things you dream of doing. We have powers you dream of having. We are stronger and faster than anything you have ever seen. We are the superheroes you worship in movies and comic books—but we are real.

Our plan was to grow, and train, and become strong, and become one, and fight them. But they found us and started hunting us first. Now all of us are running. Spending our lives in shadows, in places where no one would look, blending in. we have lived among you without you knowing.

But they know.

They caught Number One in Malaysia.
Number Two in England.
And Number Three in Kenya.
They killed them all.

I am Number Four.

I am next."- summary from Amazon

EDIT 11/15: After reading about what James Frey is doing with this series and other books coming from his book packaging company, I cannot endorse this book anymore. Please do not support it.

FTC: Received ARC via Dark Faerie Tales ARC tour. Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ask Book Chic (14)

Did you guys miss this in the last two weeks? I sure did. Hope you guys enjoy this latest edition of Ask Book Chic!

Em asks "If you could live in the world of any book, which book would you choose and why?"

Probably a Meg Cabot book, because then I'd probably have a boyfriend by now. Also, everything would be hilarious. And, depending on the book, I could be a princess or someone who saved the president, or have my brain transplanted into that of a supermodel (maybe one on Project Runway?). WOO!

Brent asks "Oh, then a question. Here: Do you review every book you receive?"

I definitely do my best, but blogging for over three years means LOTS of books have been received at a rate that I can't handle being, yknow, human and only a slightly fast reader. So I seriously have several bookcases full of to-be-reviewed books. It may seem like a daunting task, but I know I'll get around to all of them eventually. It'll take a LONG time, but it will happen. I don't have many November titles (5 in total) in my TBR pile right now, so next month will be filled with books released in the past few months as well as some that were released last year. It'll probably be the same with December. That will help with my TBR piles, and will also mean I can donate titles to my library, in the case of finished review copies I've received.

jpetroroy asks "How do you decide which books not to review? Are there ever any times you just don't have anything interesting to say about them?"

There have only been like one or two instances where I haven't reviewed a book in my entire blogging life and they were did-not-finish books, so I didn't get far in before putting it down. Other than that, I review pretty much everything I read, except for like the occasional library book I get.

In regards to saying something interesting about a book, it's never really that I don't have anything interesting to say, but rather I have nothing to elaborate on. When that happens, my reviews just end up being really short. The two books that come to mind for this is The Espressologist by Kristina Springer and You Wish by Mandy Hubbard. It's not like they weren't good books, but rather I just didn't have much to say beyond "This is a cute, fluffy read." Longer reviews mean I connected more to a book and that there's a bit more (or a lot more) substance there.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler

Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler
"'Thou art the Black Rider. Go thee out unto the world.'

Lisabeth Lewis has a black steed, a set of scales, and a new job: she’s been appointed Famine. How will an anorexic seventeen-year-old girl from the suburbs fare as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

Traveling the world on her steed gives Lisa freedom from her troubles at home—her constant battle with hunger, and her struggle to hide it from the people who care about her. But being Famine forces her to go places where hunger is a painful part of everyday life, and to face the horrifying effects of her phenomenal power. Can Lisa find a way to harness that power—and the courage to fight her own inner demons?"- summary from Amazon

I really enjoyed this clever intertwining of an issue book with a paranormal aspect to it, especially since it's one that deals with the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which is hardly ever seen. While we're on that topic too, I really liked Kessler's characterization of Death, and I loved it almost as much as Terry Pratchett's Death in his Discworld series. Hopefully we'll see more of him in the future books.

It hurt to read this book at times because of how Lisa treated herself when it came to her weight and anorexia. Kessler, having been through a similar eating disorder situation growing up, doesn't pull any punches when it comes to this serious issue and it really made the book better.

I was really amazed at Kessler's take on the Horsemen of the Apocalypse and how Lisa chose to use it eventually. It was really interesting and just made the book even more compelling.

Also awesome? The fact that this is a paperback (if this were a hardcover, I'd probably kill someone because it's only 175 pages) and an $8.99 one at that, with some of the proceeds going to National Eating Disorders Association. So go out and grab a copy!

Overall, a wonderful, compelling start to a new series with some intriguing twists and turns. I can't wait for the sequel!

FTC: Received book at BEA. Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Book Signing Recap- Julie Kagawa in Richmond, VA

On October 16, I drove to Richmond to see Julie Kagawa, author of the The Iron Fey series, at a book signing. I got a late start and so rolled in about 10 minutes late, in the middle of Julie's reading. I felt very embarrassed and tried to not be noticed. This is hard to do when half of the audience knows who you are and therefore are staring at you and waving and all that. Anyway, Julie finished her reading (she did a wonderful job! also, apparently it was of Chapter 1 of The Iron Queen, coming out in Feb 2011!) and then we all packed away the chairs to prepare for the actual signing as Fountain Bookstore is a small space.

Before the signing started though, there was a little giveaway! Since I'd shown up late, I wasn't in the raffle so Susan put me in. I just went along with it. And then wouldn't you know it? I won! I got a Grimalkin rock, which is now on top of my ARC tower. It's awesome and everyone was jealous, including my non-bookish friends! But I was not giving that thing up.

After that, the signing started. I bought a copy of The Iron Daughter and got in back of the line. Kelly, a bookstore employee (maybe owner?), came down the line and gave us stickies with our name on them so they could be personalized. While in line, I chatted with Meaghan and Louise and then when I got to the front, Julie said "JAMES!" and I said "JULIE!" and we shook hands and it was fun. I even did a little jig of happiness. Susan was documenting the event and so took a picture of me jigging but it's hard to really tell. I'll do it again at the Maggie Stiefvater/Jackson Pearce event I'm going to on Halloween and we'll video it. It's quite possibly one of the cutest things you've ever seen.

Anyway, I thanked Julie for signing my book and then wandered off and chatted with Susan (when she wasn't photographing), Meaghan, Monica, Louise, and Andrea. As you can see from those names, I was the lone boy blogger, as always. But luckily, Julie's husband was there too, so I wasn't the only guy. YAY!

Julie then signed tons of leftover books and once that was all done, we all made our way over to Bottom's Up, this delicious pizza place a few blocks away. We had a ton of fun, chatting about books, how trilogies seem to be set up (sometimes), characterizations, Biscuitville, how the whole town of Lynchburg was abuzz with a new Walmart opening, book blogging, and also how to protect yourself from the sun when it's coming in from a window opposite you and completely blinding you so that you are unable to see half of the people at your table. Yes, it was a packed lunchtime, but full of laughs and the occasional thought-provoking topic.

After lunch, we wandered back to the parking lot and split up. All that was left was myself, Susan, Monica and Meaghan. I didn't want to go home just yet so I tagged along with them to a used bookstore where I proceeded to buy two used anime DVDs. Because that's what I do in a used bookstore. I buy DVDs. But seriously, I'd wanted both animes (Noir and X) for the longest time and they were really cheap! I was really excited.

Then it was time for us to part and I hugged everyone and went home. It was an awesome day and it was so good to see all my blogging friends that day as well as an awesome author!

Photo 1- Julie and I. She LOVES me! Also, I hate my mouth being that big. I need to tone it down in future photos.
Photo 2- Me doing my Jig o' Joy while Julie gives me a thumbs up.
Photo 3- It may look like Julie's just trying to figure out what to write in that book, but really, she's plotting her world domination.
Photo 4- Julie being forcibly dragged into the picture and also pretending to be Jesus. I think because of her world domination obsession, she thinks she's the Second Coming.
Photo 5- A group shot of all of us! From left to right (back)- Christin (though I thought I heard her name as Rachel *shrugs*), Andrea, moi, and Susan. From left to right (front)- Monica, Julie Kagawa, Louise, and Meaghan.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Fresh New Voice of YA- Adios, Nirvana by Conrad Wesselhoeft

Adios, Nirvana by Conrad Wesselhoeft
"When you piss off a bridge into a snowstorm, it feels like you’re connecting with eternal things. Paying homage to something or someone. But who? The Druids? Walt Whitman? No, I pay homage to one person only, my brother, my twin.
In life. In death.

Since the death of his brother, Jonathan’s been losing his grip on reality. Last year’s Best Young Poet and gifted guitarist is now Taft High School’s resident tortured artist, when he bothers to show up. He's on track to repeat eleventh grade, but his English teacher, his principal, and his crew of Thicks (who refuse to be seniors without him) won’t sit back and let him fail."- summary from Amazon

Before I start to get in too deep, the last sentence of the summary makes this book sound much more after-school special than it really is. This is a thoroughly realistic debut that doesn't sugarcoat anything and does a great job of dealing with Jonathan's emotions regarding his twin brother's death and the pressure he feels from everyone around him.

However, I will say there were times where I was thinking to myself "Oh my god, just get over it already and stop moping around!" but having not lost someone that close to me, I feel like I have no place to say anything.

I really loved the musical and poetic aspects of the novel because it made the character richer and more three-dimensional. But at the same time, Jonathan was so wrapped up in himself and his problems that the people most important to him (his friends and mother) kind of fell by the wayside, which meant way less characterization of them. The new people he meets at Delphi, a hospice, are given more room to be fleshed out.

The climax of the book seemed to be written almost stream-of-consciously and it just flowed so well. That's one thing I loved about the prose in the book- it was accessible but philosphical and just superb.

FTC: Received ARC at BEA. Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Fresh New Voice of YA Excerpt Vlog- Hold Me Closer, Necromancer

Before I start, guess what? So I read on Khy's blog that a quote from her review had been featured in the paperback of Going Bovine by Libba Bray, which is totally awesome. It got me wondering though if I had been included too- I mean, I was on the blog tour for the book. Well, I looked at the paperback while I was at the bookstore the other day and while I didn't see my blog name, I saw GuysLitWire on the back of the book. Occasionally (ok, almost all the time), I re-post a review I did here on that site when it's time for my monthly post and so I wondered if it was my review included. Well, it turns out that it was! So I've got a blurb on the back of a Libba Bray book!!! How cool is that?

Anyway, woo, Fragment Friday time again!! :)

Fragment Friday is a weekly meme hosted here on this blog where you read an excerpt from either your current read or one of your favorite books and post it on your blog to share with others! It's a fun way to learn about new books or to hear a sample from a book you're dying to read.

Today, I'll be reading from the other book I've been featuring this week- Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, which is out in stores now!

Put your link down in the Mr. Linky below!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fresh New Voice of YA- Interview with Conrad Wesselhoeft

1) How did you get the idea for Adios, Nirvana?

I stumbled on this quote: “In darkness, it slowly came to me that what happens to a man isn’t nearly as important as how he meets it.” The author of the quote was Victor Riesel, a labor journalist who was blinded when a mobster flung sulphuric acid in his face. I jotted Riesel’s words in my journal, then added, spur of the moment: “Story about a young man who becomes a stenographer/writer of a blind man’s life, and in doing so exorcises his own demons.” So right there was the seed--an old man experiencing darkness through blindness, a young man experiencing it through grief. I wondered what light might shine if those two darknesses merged. If I hadn't seen the quote and jotted it down, I probably wouldn't have written the book.

2) What was The Call like, the one you got when your book sold? Tell us all about it!

I'd been waiting for "The Call" for a long, long time--several lifetimes, it seemed. So when it came, it was like a multi-colored roman candle exploding inside me--the most delicious and natural high ever. Here's what happened: my agent was about to go to Greece. She asked me to spend a few more weeks polishing the manuscript, and then e-mail it to her no later than 5 p.m. on May 1, 2009. I worked up until the last minute, then hit "send." I thought, well, that's that, if it dies, it dies; at least, I gave it my best. When she returned from Greece three weeks later, she had e-mails waiting from two publishers: one was a solid offer; a second was "very interested." In fact, the second publisher made an offer three days later. So after years of literary poverty, I felt like I had stumbled upon King Solomon's Mine.

3) What book(s) are you working on now? Can you tell us anything about them?

I’m working on a YA novel set in the Southwest. I’m a bit superstitious about saying too much, so I’ll leave it at that.

4) Jonathan is a great poet and guitarist. Did you base any of that or other aspects of his character on you? Or is there another character that is closer to how you were as a teenager?

The guitar part is based on me. I've always messed around, but I don't read music. I keep various guitars planted on stands around the house—guitars should not be imprisoned in cases. Noodling on guitar is a good way to anchor and think. Playing with friends is pure joy. Jonathan (the protagonist) is a much better guitar player than I am. And Telly, his brother, was sublime.

5) What's your favorite Jelly Belly jelly bean flavor?

Definitely Pomegranate, for its mystic healing qualities. A handful a day cures all of my ailments, including vertigo, lumbago, and halitosis.

6) What book(s) are you reading right now, or are about to start?

I'm a pretty eclectic reader. Right now on my bedside table, I have: "Mark Twain, A Life," by Ron Powers; a TV script ("The Glades," by Clifton Campell); a screenplay ("Hiroshima, Mon Amour," by Marguerite Duras); and a pile of YA novels, including "Crazy," by Han Nolan, and "The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl," by Barry Lyga. I keep Kit Carson's autobiography close by; it is the world's driest volume and best sleep aid. I recently finished--and highly recommend--Holly Cupala's YA debut novel "Tell Me A Secret," which I found deliciously poetic and gut-wrenchingly real.

7) Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Abide by the three P’s and one B: Practice, patience, and perseverance. (The greatest of these is perseverance: Never give up!) The “B” is believe in yourself, because at first editors and agents won’t believe in you. They will likely say “No” many times before they say “Yes.” Read great books, both the classics and contemporary. Read books on the craft. My own favorites are: “Hemingway on Writing,” by Larry W. Phillips; “Zen and the Writing Life,” by Peter Matthiessen; and “Story,” by Robert McKee. My favorite memoirs by writers are: “Education of a Wandering Man,” by Louis L’Amour; and “On Writing,” by Stephen King. Finally, don't let your good ideas slip away for lack of note-taking. Jot them down. Treasure them. Write them.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Fresh New Voice of YA- Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride

Note: Today's the last day to enter my GLBT Week contest, so go enter by 11:59 PM EST tonight!!

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride
"Sam leads a pretty normal life. He may not have the most exciting job in the world, but he’s doing all right—until a fast food prank brings him to the attention of Douglas, a creepy guy with an intense violent streak.

Turns out Douglas is a necromancer who raises the dead for cash and sees potential in Sam. Then Sam discovers he’s a necromancer too, but with strangely latent powers. And his worst nightmare wants to join forces . . . or else.

With only a week to figure things out, Sam needs all the help he can get. Luckily he lives in Seattle, which has nearly as many paranormal types as it does coffee places. But even with newfound friends, will Sam be able to save his skin?"- summary from Amazon

I want to just leave the review at "GET THIS BOOK NOW! YOU WILL LOVE IT." but that's not what you guys come here for. You come here for at least some details as to why I love a certain book. So here we go.

First off, this book is absolutely hilarious. But it's also pretty freakin' scary at times. McBride is able to balance the two really well and it makes for a fun, refreshing paranormal read.

Secondly, the story is fairly original. The only other necromancer story I've read is Kelley Armstrong's YA series, but what sets this apart is a)the male main character (hard to find those in YA, isn't it?) and b)the humorous aspect of the book, which seems to permeate every page.

Thirdly, I really enjoyed how the story unraveled and I got to learn more about the paranormal underbelly of Seattle and all the secrets of the past in regards to our main character Sam that he's just now finding out about. It kept me turning pages and eager to read more.

My favorite characters would probably have to be the women though- Brid, Brooke, and Ashley (especially her introduction into the book). They were all so quick-witted and sarcastic and I loved whenever they were in the scene. But the characters aren't just funny and there to tell a joke- there's more to them and while I got to see some of it, I hope these get more explored in the sequel, which I want right now.

The story is mainly told through the first person perspective of Sam, but occasionally, there's a third person omniscient that flits between Douglas, Brid, and a few other characters. It was a bit offputting at first, but I got used to the style as I got more engrossed in the book. I think that sort of stylistic choice was used really well here.

Overall, I am a fan of Lish McBride for life (the book also makes tons of geeky references, which I absolutely love) and will read anything she comes out with. This is definitely a book to get, even if you may seem tired by the abundance of paranormal lit. If you liked Paranormalcy by Kiersten White, you'd probably like this book too.

FTC: Received ARC at BEA. Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fresh New Voice of YA- Adios, Nirvana Excerpt Vlog

Here's an excerpt vlog from Adios, Nirvana by Conrad Wesselhoeft, which will be out in stores on October 25!

Not only that, but guess what's coming out today? Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick! For the past 12 weeks, the fan site Fallen Archangel has been doing little video teasers and at PAYA back in August, the wonderful ladies behind the site asked me and four other bloggers to take part and the video's finally up! Check it out:

So go out and get a copy of Crescendo, and then while you're there at the bookstore, pre-order a copy of Adios, Nirvana! :)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Fresh New Voice of YA- Interview with Lish McBride

1) How did you get the idea for Hold Me Closer, Necromancer?

I wrote a short story in alternative school when I was bored (I didn’t last long in alternative school) about a fast food guy who kept getting bombarded with these terrible customers who also happened to be vampires and werewolves and such. The story was awful, but I thought it was funny. Then I put it away and didn’t think about it for about five or so years. I found a local college that had a creative writing program and I joined. When I was trying to find stuff to work on for classes and to use for my portfolio to get into graduate school, I thought of that story and decided to redo it. That’s where Ramon, Frank and Brooke came into the picture. The story was still pretty awful—the characters were flat, but there was enough to it that a few people told me to keep working on it and maybe turn it into something longer. Somehow, I got into a graduate writing program, and I worked at the writing thing and got better and kept thinking about Sam. Things just kept evolving. I’m not sure when I decided to have him be a necromancer. Probably when I threw in the zombie attack (which was later cut).

I’m not really sure if that answered your question or not. My ideas come from lots of places—lack of sleep, creature encyclopedias, over caffeinated discussions with my friends. I think a lot of books are written magpie-style with lots of little pieces coming in from everywhere.

2) What book(s) are you working on now? Can you tell us anything about them?

I’m editing a follow up to HMCN. Yes, there is a follow up. Holt was kind enough to contract me for a second book when I sold the first, which was very brave of them because the summary for book two was pretty vague and I think at one point I just put ‘hilarity ensues’. If they do well, I’m hoping I get to write more. Ensemble casts can be a bit of a headache, but the nice thing is that if I ever want to take a break and give one of the other characters a book, I can. I don’t want to say too much about book two because we’re still editing and so many changes are still being made, but Sam and his pals are back and you get to see more of Douglas’s house…and his gnomes.
I’m also working on an unrelated third project. I’m keeping that under wraps for now. Mu ah ha ha ha!

3) What was The Call for publication like? Tell us all about it!
So, I’m really new at this, you know? Which means that sometimes I don’t understand things properly. For example, I’d spent a week talking to different editors at various publishing houses. They were all very nice and had different visions of the book, which was cool, and I liked talking to them even though the whole thing had a bit of a surreal feel to it. The last interview I had scheduled was with Reka from Holt. We had a good conversation and her ideas for the book were great and very much in vein with the way I think. At the end of the conversation she said, “Oh, and let Jason (that’s my agent) know that I had a meeting with the requisition committee so he should be hearing from me soon.” I said okay and pretended to know what she was talking about. So when I checked in with my agent I told him all about the phone call, ending with her comment about the committee. He got all excited and said, “Why didn’t you mention that sooner!?! You don’t bury the lead like that!” At which point I had to remind him that I had no idea what the requisition committee was. My agent has been really patient with me and he’s great at explaining what’s going on. So much of the publishing process is shrouded in mystery for some reason and it makes it kind of hard to navigate. Anyway, he explained that meant Holt was putting together an offer. We accepted. It was a good offer, I liked Reka a lot, and quite simply, they got there first. I did a happy dance and told everyone I know. The whole thing still doesn’t feel real, to be honest.

4) Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Read constantly. You need to know what’s out there, and writers should always be learning and the best way to do that is reading. I don’t trust writers who don’t read. That’s like a mechanic who doesn’t drive and it’s weird. Write all the time. Keep it all, even the stuff you think is crap. You never know when you’re going to need something to work on, or when you might get an idea on how to fix something.

Find people kind enough to read your work, but strong enough to tell you what’s not working yet. A good reader is priceless. I have a handful of writers I bounce stuff off of, which is great and I love them, but I have a group of people that also just like to read and I bounce stuff off them too. (And when I say “bounce stuff off them” I mean ideas and chapters, not things like toasters. Don’t hurt your friends…or your toaster. Both should be treated with respect.)

Submit. Get rejected. Don’t take it personally. Sometimes, it’s just timing or finding the right editor. Revise—this is very important. Good writers revise. Great writers revise and submit some more. Never give up, never surrender.

5) What book(s) are you reading now, or are about to start?

I have a fantastic stack waiting for me now that my last round of editing is off in Holt land. I’m going to start Terry Prachett’s new Tiffany Aching book (love, love, love Prachett) and I have two collections in my pile: Zombies vs. Unicorns and My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, both of which look really good. Also the new Dexter book, Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde, and some Eoin Colfer. I’m partway through a Colin Dexter book—I have a strange obsession with PBS mysteries, and I love the Inspector Morse series that are based on his books. So I decided to pick those up. I find mysteries to be kind of soothing lately, especially if they’re the more “cozy” kind. I think it says something about my stress levels. Anyway, I’ve also been listening to a lot of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers while doing dishes (I’m not anti audio book). And of course, I’m reading some comics, too. My friends just lent me some Goon graphics and Scott Pilgrim (I’m a little behind with that one) and I’ve been reading Fables. I read a lot. I just finished the latest Parasol Protectorate book by Gail Carriger, and I’m hooked. I’m anxiously awaiting the new Kelley Armstrong book of course, and the new Riordan. I’m like a book junkie. Oh, and the new Dresden Files book—the cliffhanger he left us with is freaking killing me.

6) What's your favorite Jelly Belly jelly bean flavor?

There’s so many flavors now, I feel like every time I turn around there’s more and it makes me feel behind in the land of candy. I like watermelon and green apple, and I’m one of the weirdos that like buttered popcorn. I don’t eat them often, though, because they’re made with gelatin and I’m a vegetarian, but sometimes I make exceptions—like marshmallows for smores and jelly beans and gummi candy…I’m a terrible vegetarian. I tried the bacon one when they put out the Harry Potter flavors. I had to spit it out. A little too much like bacon. Okay, now I want jelly beans. Thanks.

7) In your bio, there's a mention of your love for movies, comics, and zombies. What are some of your favorite movies and comics? Also, whose brand of zombie is your favorite?

I don’t think you want to ask me this question because I will go on, and on. I love pretty much anything Edgar Wright touches. (Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim…) Better off Dead, So I Married an Axe Murderer, The Three Amigos (I love Steve Martin), Monty Python, Wet Hot American Summer, Clue, Ghost Busters, Goonies, Black Sheep (the weresheep movie out of New Zealand, not the Chris Farley one), I love Mel Brooks, Labyrinth, Legend (but not the director's cut where Lily keeps singing), the Evil Dead movies, the Muppet movies…this list is kind of endless and it changes all the time. I’m also trying to get my life to be more like Joan Wilder’s from Romancing the Stone. Either that or Jessica Fletcher’s from Murder, She Wrote, because I think that would freak people out.

Man, comics are just as bad. I loved The Tick growing up, and Usagi Yojimbo. Preacher is amazing, but dark as hell. I’m a bit obsessed with the online comic Questionable Content, and you have to love Penny Arcade (also online, though they have graphics now). The Walking Dead is great, but it depresses me, so I had to stop reading it. We have them all though, because my man-friend is obsessed. I like the comic renditions of the Anita Blake series and the Dresden Files ones, of course. Fables has been pretty awesome, and I love Sandman. As my friend Danny would say, Neil Gaiman sort of rocks my waffle. Squee, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and I Feel Sick, Marvel 1602, Bone, Castle Waiting, Hellboy, Battle Pope, My Monkey’s Name is Jennifer, and I read some Wolverine, Batman—the Killing Joke was great, and I loved the origin stuff they did a few years back on Wolverine and the Fantastic Four (where they made them teens), and Spiderman and Gray Hulk…with super hero stuff, it’s hard for me to keep track since it usually is whatever my friends bring over and tell me to read. I really like Alan Moore and Frank Miller, but I have to read them in small increments because they depress me. The Civil War books were pretty interesting. Ugh, I need to stop talking now. I feel like I’m leaving stuff out, though…

Favorite zombies, huh? I tend to lean towards funny, as you might have noticed. I love zombie films but my problem is that biological zombie movies pretty much always end with everyone dead, so it’s hard for me to commit to watching something where I know everyone is going to die. It’s a numbers game—when you add a highly contagious virus to a population, odds are pretty high everyone is going to get it. Or get eaten. That being said, I loved the set up in Shaun of the Dead and Fido, because it sort of brings the whole zombie thing to a constructive place. (Zombies are our friends!) I really liked Wild Zero (Japanese zombie film) but that’s because the singer of Guitar Wolf attacks the mother ship (alien space crafts somehow spread the disease) with a samurai sword and the main character Ace just really wants to be cool. Plus, Ace is adorable and everyone keeps shouting “Rock and Roll!”. I liked BioZombie because it has a great scene where a zombie keeps giving these cheesy figurines to this girl he’s in love with. Ultimately, though, I think I prefer magical zombies because you don’t have the same numbers game. I was really sad when they cancelled Pushing Daisies because I thought it was an amazing show and I liked the idea that you could bring anyone you touch back for one minute. Plus, there was lots of pie. I love pie.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Weekly Retrospective

I had a wonderful time yesterday at Julie Kagawa's signing in Richmond at the Fountain Bookstore where I hung out with Julie as well as fellow bloggers Louise, Rachel, Susan, Monica, Meaghan and Andrea.

Here's my weekly retrospective:

Monday- I interviewed Brent Hartinger, author of the forthcoming Shadow Walkers (Feb '11), and started a contest for 6 GLBT books. The contest will end October 20 at 11:59 PM, so there's still time to enter!

Tuesday- I interviewed James Klise and reviewed his book Love Drugged, which is out in stores now.

Wednesday- I posted a guest blog from April Lurie, author of The Less Dead, and reviewed Scars by Cheryl Rainfield, which is out in stores now.

Thursday- I interviewed Scott Tracey, author of the forthcoming Witch Eyes (Fall '11), and reviewed I'll Get There, It Better Be Worth the Trip by John Donovan.

Friday- I posted my Fragment Friday, where I read from Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde, and also interviewed Martin Wilson, author of What They Always Tell Us.

Saturday- I posted a guest blog from Cris Beam, author of the forthcoming I Am J (Mar '11), and reviewed Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde, which is out in stores now.

And now a cute cat photo. We were getting out our Halloween decorations and one of our cats decided she wanted to be given away on Halloween instead of candy.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

GLBT Week- Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde
"Elle is a loner. She doesn’t need people. Which is a good thing, because she’s on her own: she had to move into her own apartment so her mother’s boyfriend won’t have to deal with her.

Then she meets Frank, the guy who lives next door. He’s older and has a girlfriend, but Elle can’t stop thinking about him. Frank isn’t like anyone Elle has ever met. He listens to her. He’s gentle. And Elle is falling for him, hard.

But Frank is different in a way that Elle was never prepared for: he’s transgender. And when Elle learns the truth, her world is turned upside down. Now she’ll have to search inside herself to find not only the true meaning of friendship but her own role in jumpstarting the world."- summary from Amazon

This was a really interesting book and the first one that I've read with a transgendered character. I really liked it and Elle was a great character to get to know over the course of the book. I think it was an accurate portrayal of thinking someone is one way and falling in love with that, and then later finding out they're not what you originally thought (I don't mean in a bad way either) and having to deal with this new information and how it affects what you feel for that person. Hyde manages to capture these thoughts, feelings and questions so well.

Overall, it's just a really amazing book with a wonderful cast of characters and is definitely a book for everyone to check out.

(Sorry for the short review. This is because a)I'm in a hurry because I'm going to a book signing two hours away that starts at 2 (It's 11:10 right now) and b)it's a short book and I don't have a lot of thoughts of it, other than the fact that I really enjoyed it, lol. Hope it's still good enough for everyone!!)

By the way, thanks to everyone for commenting and supporting this event this week! I really appreciate it and please spread the word. The contest is still going for a few more days, so get those comments in!!

FTC: Received ARC at PAYA (Thanks Skyanne!). Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.

GLBT Week- Guest Blog from Cris Beam

Hi, and thanks for letting me blog on your site, and for NCOD! My book, I Am J, isn’t officially “coming out” until March, so it’s fun to be able to write about it before I’ve even seen a real copy.

The main character in my book is a young transguy named J, who lives in New York City. When I was J’s age—seventeen—we didn’t have a coming out day, and we certainly didn’t have blogs or even the internet. (Okay, I sound like a hobbling old grandma now, but I promise, I’m not. This wasn’t so long ago.) Anyway, what young queer kids had was books. Whenever we could venture out of our stuffy little closets, crammed with mixed tapes and Doc Martens, we would sneak to the library or bookstore to find ourselves reflected. In my case, because I lived in San Francisco, I had A Different Light.

A Different Light was a fabulous bookstore. Located on Castro Street, nestled next to (if memory serves) a Mrs. Fields cookie shop, it was floor-to-ceiling gay. Muscle men with their dogs would rifle through beefcake magazines, and women in black leather would peruse the vampire titles, long before vampires were hip. I sat on the floor reading Jeanette Winterson, hour after hour, breathing in the chocolate smell from next door and feeling, finally, safe and somehow seen.

I didn’t want to be too seen though, at least by the shopkeepers, because I could never buy anything. I couldn’t risk bringing anything queer-related home. I just read my books, and put them carefully back on the shelves. And the employees just let me be and one day, one of them offered to buy me a coffee since I had been sitting there so long.

I knew, scrunched up on the floor of A Different Light, that one day I wanted to write books for young people and provide a similar lifeline. What’s funny is the way, when you read fiction, you want to see yourself reflected. When you write it, an entirely different person comes out.

My character, J, doesn’t like to read books, and he wouldn’t be caught dead walking into A Different Light. He’s spent a lot of his young life fighting against the taunts that he’s a dyke; he’s seventeen, and he wants to pass—as a straight man. Like, yesterday. So he has an uneasy relationship to this whole “coming out “ idea.

National Coming Out Day was first conceived, in 1988, in conjunction with the Second March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. Like so many other factions in the movement, the “T” was added later—and for transpeople, coming out can have very different implications and meanings. I think it’s important to talk about the “T” (as in transgender, and as in truth) on coming out day. Because it’s not just an extra letter, and it’s often not the same.

When transpeople come out, it’s a wonderful and honorable thing. They’re showing cisgender and transgender folk alike that gender is varied, and they make the world a safer and better place. In real life, I have a transgender daughter, and she would not be where she is had there not been many transpeople before her who spoke openly about their choices and their pain. In book life, J would not be able to choose to live quietly as a straight man, who doesn’t want to disclose his status, were there not such out and open trans activists clearing his path. (Then again, he’s only seventeen; maybe if I write him again when he’s 30, he’ll have changed.) My point here is, it’s a choice. Coming out as gay and coming out as trans are not the same thing, and ideally we’d allow for distinctions and nuance. For many trans people, living safely as their target gender is their goal and ultimate haven, and coming out is a violation of a long personal journey. For others, coming out is a relief, as they find community, friendship, possibility. And for others, it’s a radical act of courage especially when, for example, their personal definition of gender doesn’t fit one of the two, three or five boxes provided. Coming out becomes one long explanation, again and again and again.

So, in a roundabout way, this brings me back to books. On National Coming Out Day, I’d like to posit the theory that not all of us need to or want to or should “come out” in the same way. I’d like to broaden the conversation, and really think about what coming out means to trans and gender variant people—and not just as an extension of GLB. And a big part of conversation is listening to, and reading, transgender stories. And smelling the cookies next door.

Please read my book, I Am J, when it’s released from Little, Brown in March, 2011.

Friday, October 15, 2010

GLBT Week- Interview with Martin Wilson

1. How did you get the idea for What They Always Tell Us?

The novel grew out of a short story I wrote—basically what is now Chapter 1. An editor at Random House liked that story and eventually published it in a literary journal for young adults called Rush Hour (it has since, sadly, gone defunct). The same editor asked if I had a novel. So, to make a very long story short, my agent told me to write a novel, and I went back to that short story and decided I wanted to explore those characters even further. I wanted to know more about Alex, more about Henry—and more about a character who was off the stage in that story, James, his older brother. What was James’s story, his take on what Alex had done? I wanted to explore how people could misunderstand each other, and how each person has his own unique perspective on a situation.

2) What book(s) are you working on now? Can you tell us anything about them?

Well, I’m only working on one book, my second novel. I’m actually a few weeks away from finishing a draft to turn into my editor. It has been a long, sometimes frustrating process, but finally, I’m almost there! It’s about a boy who moves to Texas with his parents and gets involved with a secret high school fraternity. That’s all I will say about it for now. I hope you get to read it soon, maybe in 2012.

3) What was it like growing up with so few GLBT books available to you? 

Well, I didn’t admit to myself that I was gay until I was in college, so it’s hard to say. It’s true that there were very few YA GLBT books at the time. But there were, of course, plenty of gay adult books, though I’m not sure if my high school or even public library carried any. And if they had, I might not have gone anywhere near them. I remember some high school classmate telling me to read Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray in high school and I put it down after a few pages because it was, I thought, too homosexual. It freaked me out—that’s how in denial I was.

But, once I accepted the fact that I was gay (see the questions below), I did turn to books for comfort. I remember reading and loving Jim Grimsley’s Dream Boy. It made me feel less alone. It’s kind of a dark, sad book, but it’s also beautiful and sexy. It may have been the first time I read a book about gay people. It put into words the desires and emotions that I felt. It was a revelation.

4) Nowadays, who/what are your favorite GLBT authors/books? 

There are still so many great GLBT books that I haven’t yet read, so I know there are significant holes and gaps in my list of GLBT favorites. But of the books I have read, some of my favorites are Dream Boy by Jim Grimsely (which I mentioned earlier), An Arrow’s Flight by Mark Merlis, I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip. by John Donovan, At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O’Neill, The Rose City by David Ebershoff, Getting Over Homer by Mark O’Donnell, The World of Normal Boys by K. M. Soehnlien, The Hours by Michael Cunningham. Though he’s not gay, William Maxwell’s The Folded Leaf is, in my mind, a gay book—and one of the loveliest, most moving books you will ever read. Mark Jude Poirier’s Goats is a wonderful coming-of-age story. The author is gay, but the protagonist of this book isn’t—but it’s still just a charming book with a loveable protagonist. I also love the works of Allan Gurganus, Bret Easton Ellis, and Peter Cameron. Two of my friends—Patrick Ryan and Bill Konigsburg—have written great gay-themed YA novels. A writer whose work should be better known is Keith Banner. His story collection, The Smallest People Alive, is stunning—visceral, edgy, heartbreaking. And E. M. Forster is amazing, though I must admit I haven’t read his one true gay-themed novel, Maurice. It’s on my “to-read” list, and has been for a long time! And there are plenty of other “classics” on that list.

5) What was your coming out process like? Did you find it hard to accept yourself? What obstacles, if any, did you have to overcome?

Gosh, such a good question. Not sure I can do it justice without going on and on for an eternity, but I shall try. And I apologize for being so long winded!

I didn’t admit to myself that I was gay until I was a junior in college. In another environment, maybe I would have recognized this about myself sooner. Maybe if I’d known any gay people I would have come to that realization sooner. But no, I grew up in the south—a small city, not the country, mind you, but still, not the best environment for a young homosexual trying to find his way in the world. I think not knowing any actual gay people was the biggest reason I couldn’t admit to myself I was gay, even though it was clear I was attracted to boys. But the only gay people I saw represented in culture were stereotypes. It wasn’t until college where I saw the gay student association’s leader from afar—he was a normal-acting (whatever that means!), cleancut, cute guy. Smart and articulate, someone to admire. It was like a light bulb going off. So, I thought, gay people are just like you and me, except they are attracted to the same sex. Okay, that IS me. This guy—I never outed myself to him, never really ever spoke to him. If he only knew the impact he had on me.

After that I still had a year left in college, and I made the decision to stay in the closet. That was just what felt most comfortable at the time. Still, inside myself I felt a new kind of calm and acceptance about who and what I was. I wasn’t self-hating or tormented. I realized I was born this way. And I was happy to finally stop having to pretend to like women in a romantic way. Of course, like many gay men, I had tons of fantastic female friends, many of whom probably adored me because I was so unlike all the straight guys they had to deal with.

I didn’t “come out” until I had graduated and was living in the “real world,” in Austin, Texas. The responses from people were almost universally positive. My brother and sister were amazing, my closest college friends—guys and girls—were great. My parents were great too, though Mom cried at first and blamed herself. It’s harder for parents, no matter how great your parents are. They wonder what they did wrong, as if they are to blame. But to blame for what? I was, and still am, happy being gay. It was like having brown eyes—I was just born with it. It was a process of acceptance for them. Their love for me never wavered. They just worried about whether I would be happy, and they know that it’s still no easy for gay people in the country.

Once I was out to a few people, it felt so good, so freeing, that I just never looked back and never again kept that secret.

I guess I can sound sappy and nostalgic, but it was a momentous and compelling and, I must say, exciting time in my life. You find out who your real friends are. I lost some friends over this. Or some people didn’t react too well and even though we stayed friends, deep down my connection with them was severed in some un-repairable way. Life’s too short to deal with people who don’t accept you 100%. Because life is also full of people who WILL accept you for that.

6) Do you have any advice for anyone thinking about coming out, or questioning their sexuality?

Come out when YOU are ready, when YOU feel comfortable. Trust your instincts. Don’t rush things. Everyone has a different experience. Some people know they are gay at 13, some don’t admit it till they are 40. Get to know yourself first. Love yourself. And then you will know when you are ready to come out.

For those questioning? Be open to experiment. Don’t hold yourself back. I think we are all, to varying degrees, bisexual. Only women seem willing to admit this, sadly.

7) You wrote an essay for the 40th anniversary edition of I'll Get There, It Better Be Worth the Trip by John Donovan, recently published by Flux. How did you get involved with that? What's your personal story with that book?

I came to the book late in life, but once I read it I fell in love with it and wished I had come across it sooner. Besides being such a monumental book—and being an inspiration, because at the time I was an aspiring YA writer—I simply think it’s a beautifully written, almost timeless story.

I wrote an essay about I’ll Get There that was published in Tin House (a literary journal) a few years back. When I found out the novel was being reissued, I got in touch with the editor at Flux and told him I would love to contribute an essay. Luckily it worked out. I am so so thrilled to be involved with this reissue. It’s really a special book, and I’m so glad it’s back in print for new generations to discover.

GLBT Week: Fragment Friday- Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Fragment Friday is a weekly meme hosted here on this blog where you read an excerpt from either your current read or one of your favorite books and post it on your blog to share with others!

Today, as part of GLBT Week, I'll be reading an excerpt from Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde, as well as talking about two really important things. Jumpstart the World is out in stores now, so go pick up a copy!

Please check out these links:
It Gets Better Youtube Page
It Gets Better Project
The Trevor Project

And I didn't mention this in the video because I just found out about it after the fact, but there's another wonderful organization called Live Out Loud doing some fantastic work. Read all about it here.

Put your link down in the Mr. Linky below!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

GLBT Week- I'll Get There, It Better Be Worth The Trip by John Donovan

I'll Get There, It Better Be Worth the Trip by John Donovan
"When the grandmother who raised him dies, Davy Ross, a lonely thirteen-year-old boy, must move to Manhattan to live with his estranged mother. Between alcohol-infused lectures about her self-sacrifice and awkward visits with his distant father, Davy’s only comfort is his beloved dachshund Fred. Things start to look up when he and a boy from school become friends. But when their relationship takes an unexpected turn, Davy struggles to understand what happened and what it might mean."- summary from Amazon

This is the first time I've read this book, but it's not the first time I'd heard of it outside of this anniversary edition being published. A couple years ago, I did my Critical Analysis paper for the class of the same name on GLBT YA literature in the past 50 years. Obviously, this book was included in my research and spent a bit of time on it as it was the first YA novel to really deal with homosexuality in a frank manner.

While this book would be considered tame by today's standards (the two boys only kiss twice), it's such a refreshing read. Today, we're all about making out and sex right away, so it's nice to see this friendship slowly bloom into something more, but not too much more (the characters are only 13, so this is best, lol). I'd probably use the word "quaint" to describe this book, in an affectionate manner.

Davy is a wonderful main character and the way Donovan writes him is just so well done. The prose seemed very much stream-of-consciousness to me and there isn't much of a filter for what Davy thinks and says- typical of a young kid. In one of the essays included in the back, it was mentioned how Davy sees through the crap that adults say and I loved that about him. Children shouldn't be so underestimated; they're smarter than we think and it's amazing how we lose sight of that as we grow older.

I loved Davy's memories of him and his grandmother and seeing how he and his dog Fred interacted, and of course the friendship between him and Altschuler. Their friendship was handled realistically- it was almost laughable how they went from fighting and hating each other back to being friends again. It showed off middle school dynamics well.

I've already rambled on for way too long but I just wanted to mention two things. The first is that OMG DAVY'S MOTHER IS INSANE. Like, literally insane. It was scary reading about her whenever she was in a scene because she was like bipolar or something. The second thing is that I loved the foreward (written by Donovan's niece) and the three essays included in the back from Brent Hartinger, Martin Wilson, and Kathleen T. Horning. They were insightful and much fun to read and provided a fun extra to the story.

FTC: Received final paperback from publisher. Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.

GLBT Week- Interview with Scott Tracey

1) Your debut book, Witch Eyes, will be published by Flux in fall 2011. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Sure. Witch Eyes is a modern Romeo and Juliet set amidst a world of witchcraft and magic. Braden Michaels grew up suffering from a curse of visions that force him to cover his eyes at all times. When the visions turn to warnings and his family is threatened, Braden runs away in hopes of finding the cause and stopping it. What he finds is Belle Dam, Washington - a town divided by an ancient, magical feud. Both sides want Braden desperately, and they'll resort to anything to control him.

2) What are your book plans for after Witch Eyes? Can you tell us about what you're working on?

Right now, I’m working on the sequel to Witch Eyes, which picks up where the first book leaves off. After that, my next project kind of got chosen for me. I wrote a short story on my blog called "The Dream Thief" and some of my friends decided to-very insistently-demand it be made into a longer novel. So that's my next project.

3) You're part of the YA Rebels vlogging group. How did you get involved with that? Do you enjoy doing vlogs every week?

My involvement started because I was already friends with some of the Rebels. Originally, I was going to be a fill-in who vlogged infrequently on Saturdays, or when someone needed a day off, but as we got closer to the date and talking about the topics we were going to discuss, I decided to become a full time member.

Vlogging is a lot of mental work, just like writing. Plus, you always want to be interesting and have something to say. After I'm done, I'm always glad I did my video, but some weeks it’s really hard to gear up and get something filmed. The response we've gotten so far has been great, and I'm looking forward to seeing where we're at a year from now.

4) What was it like growing up with so few GLBT books available to you? Nowadays, who/what are your favorite GLBT authors/books?

I didn’t actually read a lot of GLBT books until after I’d already started to come out. So I never really noticed the gap.

My favorites run the gamut – I love Christopher Rice’s books, and the way that sexuality is really important to his books, but at the same time his characters aren’t defined by it. Alex Sanchez, Malinda Lo, Nick Burd with The Vast Fields of Ordinary was one of my favorite books from last year. And then I love Cassie Clare and Holly Black for the way their supporting cast represents GLBT youth.

5) What was your coming out process like? Did you find it hard to accept yourself? What obstacles, if any, did you have to overcome?

I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school for twelve years, so “accepting myself” was something that took a lot of time. Even after I stopped going to church and distanced myself from religion, it wasn’t easy. I stayed in denial for a long time.

Part of what changed for me was that I changed my environment. I started associating with people who were more supportive, I was living on my own, and there wasn't anyone telling me that I was bad or wrong in some way.

6) Do you have any advice for anyone thinking about coming out, or questioning their sexuality?

Decide for yourself. Don’t ever let anyone else influence you to come out, or not to come out, or tell you who you are. Everyone does things on their own timeframe, at their own pace. If you're not comfortable with coming out, or you're still questioning, then take the time to wrap your head around it. Those decisions, and those choices, will still be there tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

GLBT Week- Scars by Cheryl Rainfield

Scars by Cheryl Rainfield
"Kendra, fifteen, hasn't felt safe since she began to recall devastating memories of childhood sexual abuse, especially because she still can't remember the most important detail-- her abuser's identity. Frightened, Kendra believes someone is always watching and following her, leaving menacing messages only she understands. If she lets her guard down even for a minute, it could cost Kendra her life. To relieve the pressure, Kendra cuts; aside from her brilliantly expressive artwork, it's her only way of coping. Since her own mother is too self-absorbed to hear her cries for help, Kendra finds support in others instead: from her therapist and her art teacher, from Sandy, the close family friend who encourages her artwork, and from Meghan, the classmate who's becoming a friend and maybe more. But the truth about Kendra's abuse is just waiting to explode, with startling unforeseen consequences. Scars is the unforgettable story of one girl's frightening path to the truth."- summary from Amazon

This book was so haunting, raw, emotional, yet still filled with hope; Rainfield did a great job balancing all the emotions in Kendra's story. What I also really loved about this book is how it treats the lesbian aspect- it's definitely there, but it's not at the forefront or anything and a big deal isn't made about it when it does come up. Kendra already knows and has accepted that she's lesbian; yes, there is the requisite parental blowup about it but it's handled well in the scene where she comes out and they work toward accepting their daughter.

Anyway, the main focus here is Kendra's sexual abuse when she was younger and the cutting she does now to help with the pain and trauma as a result of that abuse. She has no idea who her abuser was, but as the book goes on, more memories come to light and we see the finger being pointed in several directions. It's a hard mystery to solve, and the last 50 pages were read in one big gulp because the climax and reveal were so compelling. I was honestly really shocked at who the abuser turned out to be.

The romance in the book was handled really well too. It starts off with them being friends and growing closer with each interaction and the secrets they let each other in on. I thought Kendra and Meghan made such a cute couple and I loved the scenes they had together. I also loved seeing Kendra's neighbor Sandy, a gay man, and their interactions, as well as those that involved Emil, Sandy's boyfriend. It was nice to see that she had that kind of support system outside of her family, due to her mom being a bit of a bitch and her dad being barely home.

Overall, this was a great, powerful book that featured a compelling, haunting yet hopeful story and some well-written, fleshed out characters. I did have a small complaint (though I guess it's really more of a thought than complaint) about it but it's pretty spoiler-y so if you want to discuss it with me, send me an email.

FTC: Received hardcover at ALA (signed!). Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.

GLBT Week- Guest Blog from April Lurie

This article first appeared in Hunger Mountain, a literary journal for the Vermont College of Fine Arts. It's a different kind of guest blog for this type of event, but I think you'll all still find it interesting. The book she's talking about here is her most recent one, The Less Dead (click on the title for my review). Thanks April for participating in this event and to Hunger Mountain for letting us reprint it here!

Organically Grown Thrillers by April Lurie

I have a confession to make. When I was asked to write this article, I was flattered. Apparently I had achieved a level in my career where I could offer advice, a strategy, a few pearls of wisdom. But after accepting the offer, I began to panic. What did I really know about writing a mystery/thriller? Yes, I’d read the young adult masters such as Robert Cormier, Nancy Werlin, and Gail Giles. Yes, I wrote a book in this genre, but was there a method to my madness? I wasn’t quite sure.

So I hit the local library and checked out all the Mystery Writing for Dummies titles I could find. Now you’re probably wondering why I didn’t do this sooner, say, before I wrote a mystery, but I wanted my story to be organic. I didn’t want a formula to seep into my brain and corrupt it. One of my favorite lines is, “You’re not the boss of me.” (My husband will confirm this.) No book was going to tell me how to write my next novel. So there you have it.

But after skimming through my stack of library books, I was relieved to discover that my story had a sleuth, a victim, and a villain. It had a suspenseful plot. I’d thrown in a red herring or two. There were surprises along the way, and a few twists and turns. At the climax of the story, my sleuth confronted my villain, saved his own life and the lives of future victims, and solved the case. I wasn’t an imposter.

At that point I was able to sit quietly, reflect, and figure out what I’d learned on my journey. So here we go.

April’s Organically Grown Thoughts on Writing a Mystery/Thriller.
1- Don’t decide to write a thriller. Decide to write a story that fascinates you–a story you’d like to read. If it happens be a thriller, go with it.

I have another confession to make. It wasn’t my idea to write a book about a serial killer. After finishing The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine (Delacorte 2008) I had planned to write a historical novel set in Paris during the time of the impressionist painters. It was going to be lovely and lyrical and bring to life Degas’ sculpture, Little Dancer of Fourteen Years. When I told my editor my idea, she said, “Um, instead, how about a serial killer story?”

I was stunned. My editor is sweet, reserved, soft spoken, not a person who thinks about murder. On top of that, she’s French! Why wouldn’t she like a story about Degas? Anyway, I told her I would think about it. And I did.

Soon, Son of Sam popped into my mind. When I was fourteen years old, David Berkowitz, aka Son of Sam, was shooting and killing blond, blue-eyed girls in my Brooklyn neighborhood. Needless to say, this was a bit unsettling, especially since I was a Scandinavian girl living among a majority of Italians. I remembered the panic, the fear of walking the streets. Suddenly I realized I had an emotional connection to serial killers.

Next, I thought about how David Berkowitz had professed to become a born again Christian in prison. So, I wondered—what if there was a religious, homophobic serial killer who thought he was doing God’s will by killing gay, homeless teens? With my evangelical upbringing, knowledge of the Bible, and strong feelings regarding the way some Christians view homosexuality as a sin, I knew I could write this story. In fact, I had to write this story. I was hooked.

2- Write a synopsis with as many details as possible
You have no idea how much it pains me to say this. “I don’t do outlines” is my motto. But if you’re going to write a mystery, it’s a good idea to know where you’re going. Believe me, writing that five page, single spaced synopsis for The Less-Dead was grueling, but necessary. And don’t worry if your brain isn’t big enough to plot every detail ahead of time. Mine’s certainly not. But do some planning, and of course, leave room for your characters to surprise you. This will keep you on track, and allow for many organic moments.

3- Don’t just know your villain, become your villain.
This activity is not for the faint of heart. Thankfully I have a penchant for the macabre—my favorite musical of all time is Sweeney Todd—but realize that you are going to be spending a lot of time among devils. You may even need to visit hell a few times. When I decided to write The Less-Dead, I began reading books about serial killers. I read their biographies, their interviews, and visited their crime scenes (via books and videos). At times I felt so contaminated I’d be yearning to watch an episode of The Waltons or Little House on the Prairie. But you have to go there. You have to get inside your villain’s mind and understand what makes him tick, what makes him want to kill, torture, or psychologically brutalize another human being. If you don’t, your villain will most likely be two-dimensional and his actions won’t ring true.

4- Your character’s inner journey always comes first.
When I finished the first draft of The Less-Dead and sent it to my editor, I imagined her calling immediately and saying, “This is brilliant, April! Simply riveting! I couldn’t put it down!” But of course that wasn’t the case. Instead she said, “It feels a little flat.” After a sudden wave of nausea, I said, “Really? But, wasn’t the mystery element, like, pretty good?” Silence. “Well, the mystery was okay,” she continued. “It needs some work, but I’m more concerned about Noah. He doesn’t grow and change. He’s still basically the same person at the end of the story.”

I was heartbroken. But she was right. (She’s always right.) And after mulling things over, I realized that I had become so wrapped up in the intricate details of the plot and all the twists and turns, I forgot to give Noah his own personal journey. Sure, he’d learned some things along the way, he’d grown to appreciate his father, and he’d forged better relationship with his friends. But there was nothing gut-wrenching about his change, nothing memorable.

Now here’s my third (and hopefully last) confession. I didn’t know how to fix it. But thankfully, my editor offered a suggestion. She said, “I think Noah is too accepting of Will being gay and his having a crush on him. I think Noah needs to give Will the brush off. Reject him as a friend.”

At first I didn’t want to do this. I loved Noah, so how could he possibly be intolerant? Without realizing it, Noah had become a reflection of me, and I was a kind, tolerant person, right? But then I remembered the time when I was seventeen, a freshman in college, and a girl approached me in a way I wasn’t used to. (I suppose it didn’t help that I was unknowingly sitting in an area where a gay and lesbian group met.) I was horrified, weirded-out, and I ran! Literally. This is something I’m not proud of. Sure, I was young, inexperienced, and stupid, but still, imagine how that young woman must have felt. So I asked myself, why wouldn’t Noah react the same way I had?

Finally I had discovered the heart of my story. Noah had to face his own prejudice. This became the memorable life-changing event for him.

5- Your character’s loss can become his catalyst.
When your character makes a grave mistake (like Noah rejecting Will’s friendship) there’s a price to pay. A loss that can’t be recovered. I knew what that loss would be for Noah. He’d never get to make it right with Will before Will is brutally murdered. That loss turned out to be Noah’s catalyst—his driving force for hunting down the killer, no matter how dangerous his situation might be.

Sometimes it hurts to write a story. Sometimes we have to face things about ourselves that we’re ashamed of. But I think that’s what makes good fiction. Revealing the ugly truths about our own lives allows others to do the same. Isn’t that how we all grow and change? Isn’t that how we become organic?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

GLBT Week- Love Drugged by James Klise

Love Drugged by James Klise
"If you could change who you are, would you? Should you?

Fifteen-year-old Jamie Bates has a simple strategy for surviving high school: fit in, keep a low profile, and above all, protect his biggest secret-he's gay. But when a classmate discovers the truth, a terrified Jamie does all he can to change who he is. At first, it's easy. Everyone notices when he starts hanging out with Celia Gamez, the richest and most beautiful girl in school. And when he steals an experimental new drug that's supposed to "cure" his attraction to guys, Jamie thinks he's finally going to have a "normal" life.

But as the drug's side effects worsen and his relationship with Celia heats up, Jamie begins to realize that lying and using could shatter the fragile world of deception that he's created-and hurt the people closest to him."- summary from Amazon

I really liked this book, though it was hard for me to really relate to the main character because I never wanted to change who I was. I do think though that this book will definitely help out a lot of kids who do feel that way. But the premise was very intriguing and it brought up some interesting issues about sexuality and modern medicine.

I pretty much flew through this book because of the storyline, the characters, the humor, the emotions. I loved all the characters and they were all written really well. My favorite interactions were the ones between Jamie and Celia and I think if Jamie had been honest from the beginning, I could see the two of them being really good friends (gay man and his fag hag, lol).

I had a couple of complaints though- one that's more personal preference, and one broad one. The personal preference had to do with the romance (or lack thereof)- I'd really been hoping for Ivan (a hottie) and Jamie to get together once Jamie accepted himself. And they didn't, and that made me a bit sad. The more broad one has to do with the ending, which felt a bit rushed to me. As I was nearing the end of the book, I kept thinking "How is this all going to wrap up in 30 pages?" It didn't feel as natural and flowing as the rest of the book to me.

Overall though, a really good, interesting debut and a wonderful book for gay teens that I think will help them come to terms with their sexuality and realize that a) it's not something you can change or grow out of and b) it's something to be proud of.

FTC: Received final copy from publisher. Link above is an Amazon Associate link; any profit goes toward funding contests.

GLBT Week- Interview with James Klise

1) How did you get the idea for Love Drugged? It’s a unique premise.

First of all, James, thanks for asking me to join you for GLBT Lit Week. It’s a pleasure and an honor and, considering recent news events, very timely, too.

Okay, as for the origins of Love Drugged: In the summer of 2005, I was getting my MFA at Bennington College. Bennington is a very small Vermont town where one of my all-time favorite writers once lived and worked: Shirley Jackson. Do you know her work? Jackson wrote the HUGELY famous story “The Lottery,” among other things. When I was in 7th and 8th grade, I was obsessed with Jackson’s novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle. The story is about two sisters who live in a crumbling hilltop mansion with their senile, wheelchair-bound uncle. The other members of their family have been poisoned, murdered. All the people in the village hate them. And then things only get worse. Can you tell already that it’s a wonderful novel? Everyone should read it.

Anyway, many years later, I went to the Bennington College library and borrowed the novel. Reading it again after so long, it struck me, more than anything, as a story about extreme isolation—a level of isolation that can drive you crazy. How weird, I thought, that this particular novel appealed to me so much when I was young. After all, I lived in a big loving family, surrounded by lots of neighbors and friends… Of course, I was isolated, too. I was too clueless to know I was gay then, but I guess I felt “different enough”—deep in my gut—to identify with those two crazy sisters.

After I reread Jackson’s novel, I began writing about a teenage boy who was trapped in a large house against his will. Originally he was trapped in the mansion’s library. The only thing was, I didn’t know why! I had to write nearly a whole book to get him there. It did not take long, however, for that teenage boy to become my freaked-out narrator, or for that private library to become a private laboratory.

I should add that Love Drugged is very, very different from Jackson’s great novel. But sometime I wonder: If I had not re-read her fantastic, spooky novel about extreme isolation, would I ever have remembered how extreme isolation makes us feel and act so crazy?

2) What books are you working on now? Can you tell us about them?

I’m just finishing another stand-alone novel. Like Love Drugged, the new one is set in Chicago, and it’s a dark twisted, funny story about a very elaborate scam. Love Drugged is about a scam, too. It seems I am drawn to writing about con artists, but I promise I am a very honest, responsible person!

3) What was it like growing up with so few GLBT books available to you?

Great question. Ah, the 1980s…Well, remember, there wasn’t simply a lack of GLBT books back then. At my Catholic high school in Peoria, Illinois, twenty-five years ago, there wasn’t a single out-and-proud GLBT person I could look to as a role model. AND there was no one on television, and no one in movies, and no one on the radio, and no one in sports, and no one in government, and no one in business, etc. Also, of course, the Internet didn’t exist yet. Back then, GLBT people were invisible to my eyes, except for the drag queens I occasionally saw on daytime talk shows. While the drag queens seemed brave and funny and fascinating to me, their glitz and camp was light-years from my own experience, or what I thought my future might be like. (Also, importantly, quite different from what my present life is like. The diversity within the GLBT community is one of its greatest strengths.)

Because of this absence of role models, it took a bit longer for many gay kids to even recognize we were gay (like I said, I was clueless!) so I didn’t actively search for GLBT books when I was in high school. The funny thing is, we were reading GLBT authors in school all along: Willa Cather, Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, EM Forster, James Baldwin, Tennessee Williams, and so many others. I loved them all as great writers long before I knew what we shared in common.

4) Nowadays, who/what are your favorite GLBT authors/books?

I read everything by Michael Cunningham, Sarah Waters, Alison Bechdel, Stephen McCauley, David Leavitt and the playwright Tony Kushner. Plus all the great YA writers who are writing GLBT material. Of these, I particularly admire Down to the Bone by Mayra Lazara Dole, about a Cuban-American lesbian teenager. It’s a big hit with my students in Chicago!

5) Do you have any advice for anyone thinking about coming out, or questioning their sexuality?

Hmm, a big question! The process of coming out is different for everyone—so much depends upon circumstances. First I would ask: Where do you live? What is your family like? What is your high school like? What resources are available where you live? Due to all these circumstances, some people can come out when they’re 15; others feel they need to wait until they’re 35 or older.

At any age, being closeted feels like a huge cloud, visible only to you—a cloud that casts a shadow on all the other elements of your life. But once you start to tell people, that cloud goes away. I promise, it does! In fact, once it’s no longer a secret, being gay will seem less important to you; over time, the other elements of your identity will take priority. You’ll be known for how you spend your life, your work and your accomplishments, not for being gay or lesbian. Being gay or lesbian is fairly common. You, however, are not fairly common.

If you’re not ready to come out now, wait a while. Take your time. Instead work on all the other aspects of your life that will help make your future interesting and meaningful and fun. Explore your passions. Develop useful skills. Make lots of good, open-minded friends. Become the best, strongest version of yourself that you can be.

And then come out when you’re ready to. Check out some of the great links on my site. Once you do come out, all that old anxiety will disappear and you’ll feel much less alone. (And think how happy your future beloved will be to finally meet you!) You should come out when the time is right for you. And you are the only person who knows when that will be.

Thanks for asking such great questions, James. And most of all, thanks for hosting this GLBT week!