Gone Girl ruined women’s fiction

gone-girl

As part of my job, I review books, which means I receive about nine advance review copies a week. Yes, nine. My husband just loves the immense stack of never-to-be-read books piled willy-nilly in my office. Why will some books—many books—never be read?

Because they’re all the same book.

I’m not saying I blame Gillian Flynn for the current overbearing trend in women’s literature. In fact, I think she’s extremely talented and introduced a groundbreaking genre with her masterpiece Gone Girl. The publishing industry apparently agrees, considering they’re now almost exclusively publishing Gone Girl wannabes OR books about Sad Shit.

Allow me to quote some cover copy from upcoming releases:
“A provocative and relentlessly gripping novel about seduction and betrayal …”
“The heartbreak is overwhelming …”
“A suspenseful novel about a woman who fakes her death …”

There are troubled girls, missing girls, revenge, and ostensibly, everything is now Suspenseful, Stunning, and Shocking. (I guess alliteration is big right now, too.) In this new era of women’s fiction, everyone is betrayed or abandoned. Everyone is broken.

I used to get excited when FedEx knocked on my door with another specially-wrapped ARC from HarperCollins, St. Martin’s Press, et cetera. Now, I barely bat an eye, because I just know I’m going to open that package and see another book with a sad woman on the cover.

sad-books

Why won’t you LOOK AT ME?

(By the way, this is a trend we can’t blame on Gillian Flynn. There’s a joke that all Nicholas Sparks books should be called “White People Kissing,” based on the covers. Well, now, all women’s lit books are pictures of women facing away from the camera, presumably because they’re all crying. Yawn.)

I am so tired of a) suspense novels about disappearing wives/murder/deceit/dead children and b) sad ass stories about redemption and reconciliation. If I get one more book with “gripping” in the marketing copy, I might scream.

The publishing world is so oversaturated with depressing women’s fiction, I have to wonder if the big publishing houses are even paying attention. I understand they’re looking for the next Gone Girl or Girl on the Train, but I’ve had enough.

I’m not innocent. I do write some depressing stuff on occasion, but for the most part, I write stories so far outside the realm of reality, I dare to say I’m depressing no one. Take my novel, BITE SOMEBODY. It’s about an awkward, 80s-obsessed vampire named Celia who’s in love with the smell of her neighbor. She drinks A-positive blood because it makes her feel like she got a good grade.

Now, you could say, “Not another vampire book!” However, mine is different. It’s a vampire book that makes fun of vampire books. It’s also not particularly “gripping” or “provocative” or “shocking” (unless you count the bit about a pilfered Virgin Mary statue).

I’m really hoping someone notices the Gone Girl trend and writes a parody. It would be super simple. Just make the husband run away, have nobody notice he’s gone, and The End.

Thanks to popular publishing, we are now being fed the same book over and over infinitum. Do we blame Gillian Flynn? No. It’s not her fault her book was successful. However, she did start this whole mess, so perhaps, she gets a bit of my flack. More so, it’s the industry itself that can’t stop publishing depressing shit in an era when depressing is the last thing we need because, oh, terrorists.

I say go out and read something funny. Read something not under the umbrella of “suspense thriller.” Read something that isn’t about cancer or betrayal or infidelity. I realize that really cuts down on your modern literature options, but maybe, if we all huddle together and read funny books, the publishing houses will realize there are only so many incarnations of Nick and Amy Dunne we’re willing to read.

Anna Kyle reveals sexy new release Omega Rising

I’m sorry, but this book just sounds scorching. Today, the world gets its first look at author Anna Kyle’s upcoming release, Omega Rising (due to hit bookshelves this summer). Read on …

Cass Nolan has been forced to avoid the burn of human touch for her whole life, drawing comfort instead from her dreams of a silver wolf—her protector, her friend. When her stalking nightmares return, her imaginary dead sister’s ghost tells her to run. Cass knows she should listen, but the sinfully hot stranger she just hired to work on her ranch has her mind buzzing with possibilities. Not only does her skin accept Nathan’s touch, it demands it. Cass must make a decision—run again and hope she saves the people who have become her family, or stand and fight. Question is, will it be with Nathan or against him?

Nathan Rivers’ life is consumed by his quest to find the Omega wolf responsible for killing his brother, but when the trail leads him to Cass and her merry band of shapeshifters, his wolf wants only to claim her for himself. When evidence begins piling up that Cass is the Omega he’s been seeking, things become complicated—especially since someone else wants her dead. Saving her life might mean sacrificing his own, but it may be worth it to save the woman he can’t keep from reaching for.

See what I mean? Scorching. Now, here’s the cover you’ve been waiting for:

OMEGA_RISING_Cover_Front_smaller (1)

A bit about Anna: She wrote her first story at age 12 on her dad’s old typewriter and hasn’t stopped since. Author of Skye Falling (2015) and Omega Rising (2016), Anna lives in the Midwest, surrounded by family and friends and dogs and horses. They’ve forgiven her (mostly) when they appear in her stories. She reads everything she can get her hands on, but romances, especially paranormals, are her favorite. Vampires, humans, Fae, shapeshifters, or demons, it doesn’t matter …  Anna’s heart goes pitter-pat for the Happily Ever After.

Her favorite equation? Hot heroes + strong, funny heroines = Awesome.

The book comes out June 7. Buy HERE. I know I’ll be scooping up a copy. Meow. For more about Anna, visit her website or find her on Twitter.

How’d you like to spend A Night in with Audrey Hepburn?

24862545I admit: when I finished Lucy Holliday’s A Night in with Audrey Hepburn, I almost went berserk, at the time unaware that this was the first in a three-book series. I calmed down (some) when Lucy’s publicist informed me I would soon have the sequel in my impatient hands … but that still meant I had to wait, like, a whole month. When you love a series, a month HURTS, okay? And I do love the Libby Lomax Series.

Libby is a failed actress who likes submerging herself in the pretend world of classic films, especially those featuring the beautiful, charming Ms. Audrey Hepburn. After a serious fudge up at work, Libby is prepared to sob her sorrows into her new, ugly, vintage couch until Audrey (yes, THAT Audrey) shows up and starts giving her advice about fashion, love, and what life is all about.

A Night in with Audrey Hepburn is hilarious and cheeky. Libby is the perfect mix of hysterical, level-headed, and lovable, as is Audrey, of course. However, as Libby’s life spins out of control, can even the famed Ms. Hepburn show her the way back to sane? Then again, how sane is it to spend time with a dead Hollywood icon? Well.

As I prepare to delve into book two (A Night in with Marilyn Monroe), meet author Lucy Holliday, a gift to the literary world and my world, as well.

What’s so magical about Audrey Hepburn anyway?

What’s NOT magical about Audrey Hepburn? Seriously, when I was first thinking about this slightly nuts idea about a magical sofa and Hollywood icons, Audrey Hepburn was the first, and most obvious, inhabitant of the sofa that sprang to mind. I don’t know if it’s her real life, which she herself always seemed to regard as magical (surviving the Nazis and then becoming a world-famous movie star) or the magic she displays on screen… A bit of both, perhaps? The more I read and wrote about her, the more “magical” she became, somehow. And even though I’ve always found her beauty to be quite magical, it’s actually more than that. She kind of exuded something more than “mere” beauty. Star quality? Kindness? Humanity? Magic…?

Do you have any personal experience as an actress?

Lucy, pulling her best Audrey pose.

Lucy, pulling her best Audrey pose.

I do indeed have a very little personal experience as an actress. I was a fully-committed stars-in-my-eyes thespian while I was at school (and I have a horrible feeling my daughter is headed the same way…) and then I had big ambitions to become a West End star of musicals. Only problem, I was nowhere NEAR good enough. Fortunately I realised this myself before having to make anybody else break the news to me. Oh, and I am in fact an extra, a bit like Libby Lomax, in one episode of a very well-known British sitcom called One Foot In The Grave. It was about 20 years ago and the main thing I remember is how exciting the on-location catering bus was. Perhaps that’s where Olly came from…

You are SO GOOD at humor. What are some tips for writing funny?

Tips for writing funny… er… that’s very, very difficult to say! Don’t try too hard to be funny. And yet, conversely, work really hard at actually crafting the jokes when you’ve got a sniff of them. But… yeah. Don’t try too hard. When I try too hard, it all goes horribly (and I mean HORRIBLY) wrong.

Libby hooks up with a serious celebrity hunk. Who’s your celebrity crush, and why?

Mmmm Daniel Craig mmmm.

Mmmm Daniel Craig mmmm.

Who ISN’T my celebrity crush? (insert blush emoji here…) I’m always partial to a bit of Daniel Craig, because… well, I’m alive. I have a sort of secret (not so secret now) and guilty crush on Christian Bale, because clearly I must have a Thing for intense men who look good in Batman costumes. Oddly, given these other two, I have a very soft spot for Eddie Redmayne, whom I once bumped into in Selfridges (and he apologised to ME) so in his case, I think the perfect manners and charm must do it. Hm, this all sounds too Brit-centric… I kind of love Matt Damon, too. I can imagine he and I would get on very well together. In fact, I once bumped into HIM (star encounters aren’t usually my thing, by the way) on the back staircase of a hotel in Cambridge, England. I was sleep-deprived and looked like a wild woman having just had a non-sleeping baby three months earlier. He was lovely, and smiled gorgeously at me, and said he was lost… obviously, if I HADN’T looked like a wild woman, this encounter would have ended quite differently. I mean, I feel sure of it. Right?

This is the first in a three book series. The second one will feature Marilyn Monroe. How are you choosing your Hollywood icons? Can we get a teaser about book three’s featured guest?

The first two icons were chosen very easily indeed… like I say, Audrey just “came” to me, and Marilyn was a pretty close second. They’re just the two really obvious ones, when you’re thinking about true Hollywood icons, and fascinating women that other women can really relate to. As for the third… a BIG teaser… also a 50s star, another VERY iconic look, a muse of Alfred Hitchcock, and the inspiration for a famous Hermes bag… amongst other things!

Do you have a favorite picture of Audrey? If so, which is it?

audrey

The legend: Ms. Audrey Hepburn.

I had this image in my head a lot as I was writing. I think it shows the “real” Audrey, goofy and adorable, and how many of us could still look THIS beautiful when pulling THAT face…?


To buy this amazing book RIGHT THIS SECOND, head to Amazon. To keep up with all things Lucy Holliday, follow her on Twitter!

The Doldrums is perfect for Harry Potter fans and beyond

Nicholas Gannon: an author in his natural environment.

Nicholas Gannon: Author in his natural environment.

I love advance review copies. For a book nerd, receiving one on my porch is like Christmas every day. Sometimes, the book is just another Fifty Shades wannabe. Then, one comes along that makes you hit the ceiling and shout, “EVERYONE IN THE WORLD MUST READ THIS!” That’s how I feel about The Doldrums.

As someone who still mourns the death of the Harry Potter series, I’m always looking for books that give me that same feeling: like I’m a little kid and the world is full of magic. Although The Doldrums does not have magic, it certainly feels magical.

Three lonely children embark on a series of adventures filled with danger, laughs, and a bit of sorrow. From page one, I was hooked and utterly thrilled when I noticed the little “Book One” addendum on the cover, because that means there’s more coming.

In The Doldrums, meet Archer, who lives in the family mansion surrounded by taxidermy exotic mammals, but whose mother (due to the loss of his grandparents on an iceberg) won’t let him near anything exciting. There’s the boy next door, Oliver, who’s scared of life because his cat ate cement (long story). Finally, Adélaïde, the French girl with a wooden leg (supposedly eaten by a crocodile). When Archer decides to find his grandparents–who he’s certain are still alive–his friends go along, but of course, nothing comes easily, especially where icebergs are concerned.

I had the lucky chance to interview author and illustrator Nicholas Gannon about his quirky opus, and here’s what he had to say.

What inspired you to write THE DOLDRUMS?

doldrumsI didn’t set out to write a book, actually. It was sort of an accident. After graduating art school in NYC in 2008, I found myself working a construction job in upstate New York. It was there that I first sketched Archer on a two-by-four. He was the first character I’d drawn that truly resonated with me so I went on sketching him. (Now, his original drawings are all stuck in the walls of a home in upstate New York.) Adélaïde began as a sketch of a girl with knee-high socks but one of the socks didn’t look quite right so I turned it into a wooden leg.

I rented a top floor bedroom of a brownstone belonging to a renowned family. The bedroom had a balcony overlooking secret gardens and it was there that I began writing a small, fictional newspaper called The Doldrums Press to play around with writing and the ideas I had for Archer and Adélaïde. (I’d never written anything before.) Oliver grew out of that newspaper and the newspaper itself grew into the book. I’m still surprised by the whole thing.

Who is your favorite character in the book? Why?

Archer, Oliver, and Adélaïde are equal to me. Each one gives me a chance to do things I would miss if they weren’t in the story. Even Mrs. Murkley is loved. I will say I’d like to have Oliver hanging around my apartment.

What are some adventures you’d like to take … but haven’t yet?

I tend to be more of a coffee and cigarettes and staring out the window kind of person. But I do enjoy traveling and have done quite a bit of it. High on my “next list” is to visit Mongolia and see the Dukha with their reindeer.

THE DOLDRUMS is Book One. What’s next for the series?

That’s difficult to say without giving away some big question marks in book one. I can say the trio is still together and going strong and there’s snow—lots of snow. (It’s a long story.)

Who are your major influences, whether they be literary, film-related, or otherwise?

There are a great many. In terms of prose: P.G. Wodehouse, Hemingway, Vonnegut, Dahl, and Lewis.

World building: Dickens, Balzac, and Garcia Marquez.

I’m also a huge fan of film with the framing of shots in old movies like Lawrence of Arabia and Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Rear Window. The vignette storytelling of Tarantino influenced me as did the color palate of Jean Pierre Jeunet. I also love Dutch and Flemish painters of the 1600s.

But more than books or films or Dutch painters from the 1600s, I’d say music has the greatest impact on me. I played trumpet up until eighth grade and had fantasies about Julliard. I played in a brass ensemble, and we performed with members of the New York Philharmonic and also did a Christmas concert at the White House. I don’t play anymore, but it stayed with me. It’s very similar to writing. I listen to a lot of contemporary classical music and soundtracks.

What do you hope readers learn from THE DOLDRUMS, child and adult alike?

I’m mostly just interested in books as escapism, but I think it’s impossible to write something and not have a theme arise. In book one of The Doldrums, the major theme became: who you are versus who you want to be. Each of the main characters faces this question in their own way. And the result is three children who come together with the intention of running from their lives who end up running for their lives. Ultimately, that’s probably the message. It’s not what you do or how you do it but who you do it with.

About the Author: Nicholas Gannon studied illustration at Parson School for Design and held a number of odd jobs before becoming a full-time author. He now resides in Brooklyn. For more, visit his website: http://nicholasjgannon.com/.

To buy The Doldrums, head to Amazon. (Really, like, right now.)

Picture association with Clockwork Crown author Beth Cato

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Today … that’s right, TODAY … the much-anticipated sequel to Beth Cato’s Clockwork Dagger is available for purchase all the world over. Because I’m, like, important and stuff, I already read the sequel, Clockwork Crown, months ago, and I’m not exaggerating when I say you should buy your copy now.

Just for fun, I decided to pick Beth’s brain in the weirdest way possible: PICTURE ASSOCIATION! I sent her pictures; she sent me the first thing that popped into her head. Most of the images relate to Clockwork Crown, so enjoy this little visual tease and join the Cato Club today!

Tobias Sheck / Flickr

Tobias Sheck / Flickr

“What a moody, grim scene. It makes me think of the city of Mercia within my world of The Clockwork Dagger. It’s a massive sprawl of skyscrapers and factories, and no plants survive there. People suffer all kinds of respiratory illnesses and cancers. I could see this being a rare stand of woods downwind.”
Gremlin

Inti / Flickr

“AHHH. Scary 1980s gremlin! I never liked those movies when I was a kid. They were too creepy. I did want to channel some of those monstrous elements in my version of gremlins, though. My books show them as beings both cute and hideous. Plus, my gremlins can get wet AND be fed after midnight. Preferably, some cheese.”

Herbs

Sonny Abesamis / Flickr

“Herbs remind me of my heroine, Octavia. She needs particular blessed herbs to be able to call on magic to heal her patients. Gardening and herbs are her happiness.”

Kiss

The Prophet / Flickr

“Everything about this pictures screams TENSION. It’s ragged breaths and sweat and need. This is what I hope I’m evoking with Octavia and Alonzo. It’s a steampunk society and the gender dynamics are very Edwardian. I don’t depict any sex or raunchiness–heck, I’ve had reports from multiple 11-year-olds who loved The Clockwork Dagger–but the passion is there. The need is there. They may not be able to act on it, but when they eventually do? Oh yeah. Fireworks.”
Steampunk

Davide D’Amico / Flickr

“Gadgetry! This is one of the funnest things about writing steampunk. It’s an age of invention and whimsy. A lot of the action in my first book takes place on an airship. It’s not a fancy vessel but there’s still an air of sophistication about it.”
Tree

subflux / Flickr

“This pictures smells. Do you smell it, too? There’s the rankness of rotting leaves and drenched bark. Octavia worships a world tree known as the Lady. The Tree is the source of Octavia’s magic, her peace, her hope. You don’t often see a positive lead character of faith in fantasy novels, but Octavia definitely bucks that trend.”
White-Dress

Vanessa Porter / Flickr

“Octavia wears an enchanted white dress and apron that stay clean no matter the muck or blood. The magic absorbs the filth and uses it like energy. I really like the simplicity of the gown in this picture. It’s closer to my vision of her dress than the one on the first book cover; they needed to make the steampunk genre stronger as a selling point, and a World War I-style nurse outfit wouldn’t have evoked that. It all makes sense.”
Sad-Skeleton

University of Liverpool / Flickr

“Ah, bodies and bones. This actually puts me in mind of a certain character in Clockwork Crown that I can’t even mention because it’s such a big spoiler. Read the book and I bet you’ll think of the same person when you look at this image again!”
Just-for-Fun
“This cat makes me think of gremlins again–my gremlins! My main gremlin is Leaf, and he’s based a lot on my cat Palom. The frenzied antics, the mews, the demand for attention … those were all signature Palom. He succumbed to cancer a few years ago, and I pay tribute to him in the acknowledgments for Clockwork Crown. Here’s for you, furball!”
To buy your copy of Clockwork Crown, head to Amazon immediately. You’re gonna love it!

SPIN: A dark, twisted, time travel novelette by Tiffany Michelle Brown

c/o Bald Pirate Photography

c/o Bald Pirate Photography

Thank goodness Tiffany Michelle Brown writes the creepy stuff … because, in person, she’s actually a very cheerful woman, and I fear she might be a serial killer if she didn’t write.

Her work has been published internationally in horror journals and will soon be included in a dark erotica anthology. Brown knows her “dark stuff,” but she always finds a way to weave a touch of humor (and sex) into her work.

SPIN is the newest addition to her arsenal: a time travel novelette that follows guilty guy Walter as he uses a fantastical record shop to travel back in time to fix something. I can’t tell you what, because you have to read to find out. The novelette is being released today, so if you like the cerebral and weird, buy your copy.

First, though, check out this interview with author Tiffany Michelle Brown. Get to know the woman before SPIN makes you rethink every decision you’ve ever made.

If you could time travel, would you?
I would be the first girl with a ticket! I would absolutely time travel, but for very different reasons than my characters in SPIN. I wouldn’t go back in time to try to change anything that’s happened in my life, but I would go back to have one hell of an adventure and to experience something new. I’m a big believer in doing things that challenge and scare you and get you out of your comfort zone, and wouldn’t time traveling be an awesome way to throw yourself off balance? I’d be a bundle of excited nerves at the prospect.

Follow up: where/when would you go?
I haven’t really thought about the “where” a whole lot, but I would definitely travel back to the 70s. SPIN is basically a love letter to what I consider a golden age of music. A lot of my personal vinyl collection is from the 70s. Marvin Gaye, Queen, Aretha Franklin, Cheap Trick, and Bill Withers: does it get much better than that?

Cover by Bryan Mok.

Cover by Bryan Mok.

Having my Walter, the protagonist of SPIN, travel back to the 70s was a real treat for me. As I was writing this story, I lived vicariously through Walter and imagined myself wearing bellbottoms, going to concerts, and making love like my life depended on it in the 70s.

What was the hardest part about writing SPIN?
Figuring out the middle of the story. Going into SPIN, I knew how the story would open and I had already determined the ending, but the middle was a mystery to me … just like time travel. I’m one of those authors who buckles herself in and enjoys the ride. I develop a setting, characters, and a conflict, and then I wait to see how it will play out. I surprised myself with the middle of SPIN. Characters appeared that I hadn’t dreamed up before I wrote them. Little plot twists suddenly exploded on my computer screen. And I was able to guide all of that back to the conclusion I wanted, which felt really amazing.

Gimme your SPIN fantasy movie cast.
Ooh, fantasy cast! Yes, let’s make this a movie! Okay…
Walter (old age) – Chris Noth
Walter (young) – Miles Teller
Max – Idris Elba
Ebony – Candice Patton
Faith – Rosario Dawson
Marie – Emma Watson
Jennifer – Christina Hendricks
Harrison – Dermot Mulroney
Andy – Chad Michael Murray

How much power does the past hold over us?
I think the past does hold power over us, but only as much as you’ll readily give it. Regret can be debilitating if you hang it around your neck and let it drag you down, which is the case for Walter in SPIN. Forgiveness is powerful and sometimes you have to forgive yourself for mistakes.

I’m a firm believer that everything that’s happened to me up until now has shaped who I am and how I interact with the world. If I dwell too much on the mistakes I’ve made (and there are many), it’s a quick tumble back in time and to a bad place. But if I recognize my past, make peace with it, and move forward, I have ultimate power over my destiny. And that’s something my past can never take away from me.

What do you hope people gain by reading SPIN?

First and foremost, I hope they are entertained and I hope they enjoy the ride! I also hope it allows readers to ask themselves that age old question: If you could go back in time to change something, would you? And would you be willing to endure the consequences should a paradigm shift occur?

Buy your copy of SPIN on Amazon today (and on Smashwords, too). To read more about Tiffany, check out her blog or follow her on Twitter!

Quotes from a Matt Haig alien: Remember how to live

I love British author Matt Haig for The Radleys, Dead Father’s Club, and now, The Humans, perhaps my favorite of his books—which is saying something. The Humans is about an alien who comes down to earth in the body of Professor Andrew Martin to erase the solving of a mathematical equation that could alter the course of human history.

However, the more time the alien spends among “the humans,” the more he becomes human. Instead of a book review, here are favorite quotes that trace the alien as he becomes more human but also quotes that speak to us as humans.

PS: Buy the damn book.

16130537“The manners and social customs too are a baffling enigma at first. The conversation topics are very rarely the things they want to be talking about, and I could write ninety-seven books on body shame and clothing etiquette before you would get even close to understanding them. Oh, and let’s not forget the Things They Do to Make Themselves Happy That Actually Make Them Miserable. This is an infinite list. It includes shopping, watching TV, taking the better job, getting the bigger house, writing a semiautobiographical novel, educating their young, making their skin look mildly less old, and harboring a vague desire to believe there might be meaning to it all.” (1)

“Everything in human life was a test. That was why they all looked so stressed out.” (33)

“I had read a lot of Isobel’s work and so I knew that the whole of human history was full of people who tried against the odds. Some succeeded, most failed, but that hadn’t stopped them. Whatever else you could say about these particular primates, they could be determined. And they could hope. Oh yes, they could hope.” (164)

“But what happened in Heaven? What did you do there? After a while, didn’t you crave flaws? Love and lust and misunderstandings, and maybe even a little violence to liven things up? Didn’t light need shade? Didn’t it?” (167)

“Love is scary because it pulls you in with an intense force, a supermassive black hole, which looks like nothing from the outside but from the inside challenges every reasonable thing you know. You lose yourself, like I lost myself, in the warmest of annihilations.” (187)

“In every human life there is a moment. A crisis. One that says, what I believe is wrong. It happens to everyone, the only difference being how that knowledge changes them. In most cases, it is simply a case of burying that knowledge and pretending it isn’t there. That is how humans grow old. That is ultimately what creases their faces and curves their backs and shrinks their mouths and ambitions. The weight of that denial. The stress of it. The single biggest act of bravery or madness anyone can do is the act of change.” (249)

“Happiness is possible for me now. It exists on the other side of hurt.” (250)

From the chapter “Advice for a Human:”

  • Don’t worry about your abilities. You have the ability to love. That is enough.
  • Sometimes, to be yourself you will have to forget yourself and become something else. Your character is not a fixed thing. You will sometimes have to move to keep up with it.
  • Tragedy is just comedy that hasn’t come to fruition. One day we will laught at this. We will laugh at everything.
  • Happiness is not out here. It is in there.
  • Don’t aim for perfection. Evolution, and life, only happen through mistakes.
  • Failure is a trick of the light.
  • A paradox: The things you don’t need to live—books, art, cinema, wine, and so on—are the thing you need to live.
  • You are lucky to be alive. Inhale and take in life’s wonders. Never take so much as a single petal of a single flower for granted.
  • You don’t have to be an academic. You don’t have to be anything. Don’t force it. Feel your way, and don’t stop feeling your way until something fits. Maybe nothing will. Maybe you are a road, not a destination.

“To experience beauty on Earth, you needed to experience pain and to know mortality. That is why so much that is beautiful on this planet has to do with time passing and the Earth turning. Which might also explain why to look at such natural beauty was to also feel sadness and a craving for a life unlived.” (271)

“If you came to Earth looking for logical sense, you were missing the point. You were missing a lot of things.” (278)

An endnote from Matt Haig:
“This is why I became a writer. I discovered that words and stories provided maps of sorts, ways of finding your way back to yourself. I truly believe in the power of fiction to save lives and minds.” (281)

Also, please watch this video Matt made entitled “How To Be A Writer,” because you’ll laugh until you cry. Especially if you’re a writer. Cheers.

BOOK REVIEW: Hate List by Jennifer Brown

Five months ago, Valerie’s boyfriend, Nick, opened fire in their high school cafeteria. He targeted people who made their “Hate List:” a collection of people who harassed them, picked on them, and made their lives at Garvin High a living hell. Valerie had no idea he was going to go this far, but in his way, Nick did it for her. To stop the bloodshed, Valerie ended up getting shot before Nick took his own life.

Now, Valerie must return to her high school with an injured leg and face the consequences of Nick’s actions and their shared Hate List—which of course made the news. People aren’t sure if she’s a victim, a hero, or an accomplice, and many students are shocked Valerie even returned. How dare she show her face after the pain she and her boyfriend caused?

6316171Hate List is author Jennifer Brown’s debut, and what a way to arrive on the literary scene. Hate List is very dark, but interestingly, Brown is a two-time winner of the Erma Bombeck Global Humor Award. Obviously, she’s multi-talented.

As you may expect, Hate List is not—not—an easy read. Despite beautiful flowing prose and a likeable protagonist in Valerie, I spent most of my reading time in tears. This book is considered YA fiction, but for me, it read like a ghost story.

Valerie is haunted by the memory of Nick, the boy she loved. The intimate flashbacks of how they met and fell in love make his ultimate murder spree all the more painful. Nick and Valerie were happy together. They acted like teens in love, stealing kisses, laughing, chasing each other around kitchen counters over the sound of Valerie’s giggles. The memory of Nick haunts her, and she still can’t believe what he did. When they talked about their Hate List, suicide, and murder, how did she not see that he was serious?

Valerie is the town villain when she returns to school, and she’s surrounded by a cast of characters you either like or thoroughly dislike. Her parents are an absolute mess and blame her for the shooting (as do many of her fellow students). She finds solace in her supportive therapist, Dr. Hieler; in unlikely classmate Jessica; and in crazy painter lady, Bea. Still, Valerie’s healing has nothing to do with them—not really. On her own, she needs to say goodbye to the past and forgive Nick. Forgive herself.

This book made me rethink so much of my own high school experience. How many people did I wrong? How many mean things did I say? Since my friends and I were nerds, we had a nickname for the popular girls: Snob Squad. I channeled my hate into cutting myself, but what would I have done, pushed to the edge like Nick?

stop-bullying-sourceNick the shooter is one of the most sympathetic characters in Hate List. We see him through Valerie’s flashbacks, and he was charming, sweet, and abused by his fellow classmates. Even though the cafeteria shooting scene is horrific, I couldn’t help but feel attached to the ghost of this young man. If only someone had saved him before it was too late. He haunts the pages of Jennifer’s Brown’s debut. He haunts me now.

I wish this book could be required reading in junior highs across America, but Lord knows, it would get banned. Much like the idiotic principal at Garvin High who wants the media to believe the students have recovered from the massacre and that they’re all lovey-dovey after the fact, the world wants us to believe “the kids are all right.”

The kids aren’t all right. We never were. How many of us suffered through depression and thoughts of suicide in high school? How many of us had friends who actually went through with it—ended up hanging from their parents’ chandelier in Small Town, Ohio? I did. Although I did not have a Hate List, I hated people. And hate leads to nothing good.

I suggest Jennifer Brown’s debut to teens and adults alike (especially adults with children). There is a lot to learn here about love, forgiveness, and the poison of bullying turned to anger and violence. How do good kids become monsters? The step by step process is there if we’re willing to look. Instead, we turn a blind eye.

Well, open your eyes. Hate is real, and its consequences are devastating. Buy the book HERE.

STEAMPUNK REVIEW: The Clockwork Dagger by Beth Cato

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Thanks to Urban Dictionary, I can better explain steampunk. (Ah-hem.) Steampunk literature “is a subgenre of speculative fiction, usually set in an anachronistic Victorian or quasi-Victorian alternate history setting. It could be described by the slogan, ‘What the past would look like if the future had happened sooner.’”

AH! See, I get it now! I didn’t get it until I got the chance to read my very first steampunk novel, The Clockwork Dagger by Arizona author Beth Cato. There was some further confusion when I realized a “clockwork dagger” is not actually a shiny knife covered in Rolexes. Nay, a clockwork dagger is one of the queen’s spies and assassins. But I’m really getting ahead of myself.

Octavia Leander was orphaned as a child but brought up under the tutelage of Miss Percival, who taught Octavia to be a medician, otherwise known as a “healer.” Octavia showed extreme promise. That’s because she’s a super-duper medician, devoted to the Lady: a higher power personified by a mysterious, lost Tree.

BethCato-steampunk-headshot300x450When Octavia comes of age, she is sent on a journey. She will take an airship and become the medician of a small town far away from Miss Percival and Octavia’s upbringing. Octavia is excited at the chance to save people and travel. Her excitement is heightened as she boards her airship and meets hottie-hot steward Alonzo Garrett (who has a secret). Octavia is also tailed by the overly friendly Mrs. Stout (who has some big secrets of her own).

Octavia’s trip is interrupted first by a swarm of mechanical gremlins, one of whom she befriends and names “Leaf.” (I love Leaf!) Then, Octavia’s life is threatened. It would appear someone wants her dead. Her brush with death brings her ever closer to the charming Alonzo. (Yum.) Together, they must figure out why someone would want to kill Octavia. Does it have to do with the rebels who fight against the Queen? Is a clockwork dagger perhaps aboard the ship?

Cato knows how to write, and hey, that’s saying something in a literary world oversaturated with young adult melodrama. She has created a well-rounded, detailed world. I’m especially fond of Octavia’s medician powers, as well as Octavia’s faithful, unquestioning devotion to the Lady. Oh, and Octavia’s outfit! She wears this all-white dress that soaks in stains. (I need one.)

The Clockwork Dagger is action-packed from page one, and the conflict moves along swimmingly and with ease. In fact, even the reader is conflicted. For one, who are we to trust: the rebels or the Queen’s men? Is the Lady as all-powerful and loving as Octavia might think? When is Octavia going to KISS ALONZO? See? Conflict.

This is a book about serious problems, but Cato doesn’t take herself too seriously. There are moments of laughter and romance. There’s nothing depressing about Clockwork Dagger. In fact, I left this book hungry for more. Thankfully, there’s a sequel already in the works. I highly suggest this thrilling debut—my first foray into steampunk—and a welcome addition to an ever-expanding, interesting genre.

For more about Beth, visit http://bethcato.com or just head over to Amazon and pre-order your copy of The Clockwork Dagger now.

An H and Five Ws with debut steampunk author Beth Cato

BethCato-HCVBeth Cato writes about wild adventures on airships. She writes about mechanical gremlins and sexy (sexy) stewards with long hair. She is a Steampunk Goddess. She is also soft-spoken, beautiful, and fond of spending time with neurotic other writers, namely me.

Our husbands set Beth and I up on a blind date over a year ago, because we were both “artists.” We fell into friendship easily, because indeed, we were both “artists” with quite a lot in common (including a love for British TV). When the news came that her debut, The Clockwork Dagger, had been picked up by Harper Voyager, I was one of the first to hear … and REJOICE! I mean, seriously, if there ever was a reason for celebration!

The Clockwork Dagger will be published September 16, but because I “know people” (um, Beth), I got a look at an ARC. My full review will be posted Thursday, but in the meantime, take a gander behind the red curtain and learn more about a girl who’s about to take steampunk by storm.

An H and Five Ws with Debut Steampunk Author Beth Cato

How did you come up with the world of Clockwork Dagger?

A number of years ago, I wrote a steampunk story I was unable to sell. A while later, I was trying to figure out a new novel concept and I hit on the idea of doing Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, but on an airship with a healer as the main character. I decided to use the same world from that old short story, though I had barely developed it there. The characters from that story do show up briefly in my novel as well.

Who is your favorite character in your novel?

Oh, that’s such a hard question. I have to say Mrs. Stout. She’s inspired by one of my favorite television characters of all time, Mrs. Slocombe on the British comedy Are You Being Served? Mrs. Stout is a fifty-something woman with a loud voice, loud hair, and loud clothes, but as vibrant as she is, she carries some terrible secrets. She’s so over-the-top with her mannerisms that she’s a delight to write.

ClockworkDagger_PB_Final1What is the best thing about being a writer? Worst thing?

Best thing, no question, is seeing people react emotionally to my writing. If I can make someone cry or feel angry or cheer out loud, it’s the most amazing thing in the world. The worst thing … rejection. Always rejection. Soon enough, I’ll have that in the form of harsh reader reviews, too. I fear my skin will never be thick enough to deal well with that.

Where have you felt most inspired?

I took a cruise to Alaska last summer. One morning, our ship traveled through the fjords to view a glacier. I sat by our open balcony door and wrote in my journal and read a book. We then did a day trip by bus and train from Skagway up into British Columbia. I breathed in that crisp air, as if I could store it in my lungs as long as possible. I knew I needed to write about characters going to these places. In my next book, I hope to do just that, though it will be hard for words to do justice to that wild beauty.

When (if ever) have you wanted to give up on writing?

I have an urban fantasy novel that I wrote and rewrote and wrote again. It was near and dear to my heart. The problem was, I worked on it for ages but I never had anyone critique it an an early stage. When that finally happened, the feedback was devastating. The book, quite simply, did not work. You can’t accept all critiques (some people are just plain wrong) but I knew this person was right.

I spent about three days in a horrible depression. I could barely eat or sleep. I really debated if I should completely give up, but then the next question was, “What am I going to do if I don’t write?” I couldn’t think of anything else. So, I figured, I need to fix this book. I need to prove I can write. I tore the novel apart. I rewrote it yet again. I had it critiqued by a whole group of people. Six months later, that novel is what snared my literary agent.

Why steampunk fantasy?

Adding magic and mythological creatures in with history makes things fresh. I made things a little easier on myself by setting the novel off Earth, so I didn’t need to rely on strict historical details, though a lot of World War I-era research still went into it. I had the chance to think about so many what-ifs: “What if battlefield medical wards could use healing magic alongside standard surgery? What could limit that magic? What if your enemy in trench warfare had fire magic … and airships?”

Airships in particular are a trademark of steampunk. I was obsessive about making them as realistic as possible. I based the principal airship in my book on the infamous Hindenburg, down to the room descriptions and the angles of the promenade windows. For me, those historical details make it more real and believable, even with the heavy reliance on magic. Plus, it’s just plain fun to write and to read!

Learn more about Beth at http://www.bethcato.com, and look forward to my review of The Clockwork Dagger Thursday!