Category Archives: Books

You’re a Wizard, Harry

I traveled to Orlando in February for work and I absolutely took advantage of being down there to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for the first time. And my goodness, friends, it will not be the last.

As a teenager, I remember thinking that I wasn’t quite sure I bought into the idea of an afterlife, but if there was a heaven, it would for me be the ability to pass in and out of the innumerable fictional worlds that I loved. I still feel like this would be a pretty boss way to spend the life eternal, however unlikely it is.

But, at least I will die someday having spent time in Diagon Alley. Everything I read before our trip stressed that the meticulous and loving attention to detail in the parks is what makes them so special, and I couldn’t agree more. I wandered and wondered, making time to see (almost) everything. Rowling’s world as imagined in the films is so faithfully recreated I just sat down at one point, nursing an ice cream cone from Florean Fortescue’s and soaking it in. Every shop front was spectacularly eccentric, and once inside, most shops took advantage of high ceilings to extend the world building above patrons’ heads. I was liberal in my abuse of Instagram’s Boomerang feature, capturing parts of the rotations of various animatronics throughout the park.

I patiently waited my turn behind children to cast spells with the ivy wand that chose me – YEAH THAT HAPPENED – my favorite being the slightly sinister chuckles granted by the spells particular to Knockturn Alley.

I rode Escape from Gringott’s and The Forbidden Journey several times each, and the theming while we waited in line was just as delightful and immersive as the rides themselves. I love a good roller coaster, and dark rides are especially lovely for suspending disbelief. By the time I got over to Hogsmeade I was alone, so I didn’t even get to see most of the cool stuff in Hogwarts Castle – good thing I’m going back next year.

I’m not even sure that I can choose a favorite thing to see or do, but I will say that the wand choosing ceremony is a must – I only got to participate because it was just us when we went there right as the park opened, and I went again later to watch another, more appropriately aged individual brought up. My wand was also the only thing that I bought myself, and worth every penny galleon. Wandering the parks casting spells – and finding the secret ones! – is an unparalleled treat. Ollivander’s is honestly probably the most magical shop, though Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes is a very close second. I also loved the puppet show in Diagon Alley, and the ride on the Hogwarts Express was incredibly charming – and surprisingly intimate.

Have you been to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios? What did you love?

 

Author Life Month? Author Every Month.

The author’s photo a day challenge I am participating in on Instagram this month is absolutely sustaining me. It only feels fitting to be sharing it with you at the tail end of Valentine’s Day, as every new day feels like I’m adding a line to a love letter addressed to readers, to Eiren’s world, to the craft of writing. I’ve always had good intentions when it comes to photo a day challenges but have previously lacked follow through. Not so this February.

IMG_1418

The prompt for this one was “killed darlings,” and this was one of oh-so-many I had to choose from. I always write more pretty things of little substance than I need.

IMG_1366

And “where I write,” which I’ve elaborated on before. But I felt this one showed some love to the stickers so rarely seen on the back of my laptop.

IMG_1460

IMG_1463

These two were each collages of character inspirations, for Eiren and Gannet, respectively. You can read more on the original posts.

If you aren’t already following me on Instagram, please do. It’s the rare social media haven I can haunt on the regular right now – I feel rather guilty for my prolonged absence from Twitter and Facebook, longer even than was required for the heady rush of editing that consumed my January, and resulted in one of the strongest drafts I think I’ve ever written. Come May, I hope you think so, too.

The challenge carries on through the end of February and I think I’ll be looking for another one after. Any recommendations?

Five Favorite Reads of 2016

I’m not gonna lie, I really killed it in 2016. I always make time for reading, but as a working, writing, mothering adult I don’t usually manage quite so many books. There was a fair amount of escapist reading in there, but I’m still absurdly pleased.

Even if it makes picking five favorites rather more of a challenge this year than in previous years.

The Forbidden WishJessica Khoury’s The Forbidden Wish was a clear winner for me for 2016, though. I listened to it on audiobook first, and then I read it, and then I listened to it again. It has everything I need to absolutely lose myself in a book: a genuinely complex heroine, the supernatural, a rogueish romantic interest, and just enough authentic drama to keep me up at night – and mooning over the story the next day. If you read even one book I recommend this year, it should be this one.

Not surprisingly, Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom were flawless – and I told her so and she tweeted back to me so THAT HAPPENED. Bardugo is a national treasure. Each tremendously gripping and masterfully-crafted in their own right, they hung together in all of the right places and diverged in surprising, delightful ways. I do not typically enjoy books that switch perspectives, but her pacing was spectacular and I cared so much about everyone that I was all too willing to follow her characters anywhere.

Vassa in the Night

Sarah Porter’s Vassa in the Night was a grim, glorious little surprise. I’d read a review that said if you liked weird, you’d like this book, and do I love some weird. But there’s more to it, even, than that. Reminiscent of Kelly Link but with more to hold on to and a far greater investment in the lives of the characters she’s tormenting, I took my time with this one, savoring the strangeness of the world and the hot-beating heart at the center of it.

I read Lev Grossman’s The Magicians a few years ago, and Quentin Coldwater was such a selfish prick I almost didn’t finish the series. While I get he had some growing up to do, I found it so stifling to be limited to his perspective and spent most of the book wanting to throttle him. The Magician King, with Julia’s voice, was a breath of fresh air, and Quentin’s growing maturity was dynamic and believable. The Magician’s Land knocked my socks off, and I am so glad I gave the series another chance.

The Forgetting

The world-building in Sharon Cameron’s The Forgetting was inventive and unique, and I was bound to love a book where writing one’s own story played so central a role. I really enjoyed the narrator and the detail that was put into her culture, and the direction the story took was surprising. I appreciate when books aren’t what I expect, and books that remind me of some of my favorite episodes of Star Trek.

What did you read this year? What did you love?

Under the Covers

My second book has a publication date, a title, and now it has a cover – along with a matching refresh of the first book which will be re-released in paperback at the same time. I haven’t been belting it from the rooftops because I am wildly superstitious. If I celebrate too soon, it won’t actually happen, right?

But, it is happening, so I’m going to make a little noise.

Here’s this first lovely little mystery. I feel so lucky to have seen my first book baby realized in not just one but three separate covers, and this one has a sweeping depth to it that I really love. I also had the opportunity I am sure far more deserving writers have dreamed of: to revisit a few sticky places in the story and make small but mighty edits to a book that was first published three years ago.

The Hidden Icon

I want to go to there.

And here, too.

The Dread Goddess

The Dread Goddess follows Eiren in her flight from Jhosch, from Gannet, and from herself as she attempts to reconcile who she knows she is – a gentle-souled storyteller – with the monstrous dread goddess who dwells within her. There’s more of her world, more stories, identities literally and figuratively unmasked, madness and havoc and kissing. I am extremely excited about continuing her story and I hope that you are, too.

And I won’t be sitting on my hands until their publication on May 30 of next year – I’ll be working on the third and final book, partnering with the spectacular Nita Basu of Diversion Books on some promotional fun times, and blogging and reading and mothering and dreaming. If there’s something I can do for you or questions I can answer about how I am not going slowly insane managing all of these things, you know how to reach me.

Meet Me at CONjuration

I didn’t anticipate returning to Atlanta until next year’s Dragon Con, so I was surprised and delighted when I received a last-minute invitation to CONjuration, a fan-driven convention celebrating all things Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and other magical literature, movies, and experiences. It’s being held November 4 – 6 at the Marriot Century Center in Atlanta, Georgia.

I wonder if we'll get sorted? This lovely piece from rienfleche on DeviantArt is making me waffle about my hoped-for House.

I wonder if we’ll get sorted? This lovely piece from rienfleche on DeviantArt is making me waffle about my hoped-for House.

I’ve scrambled to acquire more copies of The Hidden Icon and also to assemble chapbooks of The Two Sisters to disseminate. I am positively stoked to be sharing a table in the vendor hall – aptly named Diagon Alley – with Lee Martindale, and trying to figure how many goodies I can squeeze into my suitcase along with clothes and a Yule Ball gown. Priorities, friends.

I’ll also be on a few panels.

  • Saturday, 4:00 PM, Tail and Tongue: Don’ t Step on the Worms – Grima Wormtongue and Peter (Wormtail) Pettigrew both get a bad rap. Yes, they were pawns of their evil lords. Yes, they betrayed their own kind. Could they really help it or were they victims, too? Did their deaths give them any redemption or did they just confirm their roles as tragic characters and tools cast aside by their masters?
  • Saturday, 6:00 PM, Stranger Things: The Magical Influences – Drawing from such influences as Dungeons & Dragons, Tolkien, Magic: the Gathering, Stephen King, and the movies made by Chris Columbus and Steven Spielberg, the supernatural, enchanted elements of Stranger Things fairly drip from the screen! The series’ surreal atmosphere is propelled forward by humanity’s lack of understanding of the paranormal. The unknown science is magic!

In addition to some seriously cool programming – really, I don’t know how much I’ll be willing to stay at my vendor table because everything looks so fun – there are opportunities to win House points, live performances, and of course, a Yule Ball. I am also over the moon excited to meet Juliet Marillier, who will be launching and signing her latest book at the event, and whose writing has been influencing and inspiring me for more than a decade.

So, if you’re in the Atlanta area, I don’t think you’ll want to miss this, and I won’t want to miss you.

Books are Forever

ShelfieWhile I love me some libraries, I’m also thrilled to finally be in a financial position as an adult and grown ass woman to buy books (almost) whenever I feel like it. For Christmas this past year my husband gave me a year-long membership to one of my favorite local booksellers, and I began working within a block of another. And if I was going to take advantage of the discount at the first, I really ought to grab a coffee and a paperback on my lunch break at the second.

Filling the shelves – and the mantle – of my new home with novels that lack the used college bookstore sticker on the spine has been an absolute treat.

It used to be I would only buy books I knew that I loved, and even those, rarely in hardcover. There’s a book festival in Cincinnati where I’ve been caught up in the happy moment of chatting with an author and purchased an unread story, because it makes everybody feel good, and leads sometimes to beloved friendships.

This year I have bought more books than ever, and while I’ve certainly loved some of my acquisitions less than others, I’m keeping all of them. When my girls are grown I want what I wanted as a child: a room full of books and books in every room. My parents weren’t readers, but they went out of their way to be sure that I was. They provided me that early and everlasting love of libraries – I’d be warned when I started reading books in the car on the way home from our local branch that it would be a whole week before I would have new ones – and a handful of yard sale-acquired paperbacks you can still find peeking out from in between weightier tomes on my shelves.

I was a reader well before I was a writer, and when I am a mad, half-blind old woman raving about the way paper books used to smell, I expect I will demand that one of my great-great grandchildren read me the latest Margaret Atwood.

A few years ago I vowed to buy an eBook for every overpriced cup of coffee I bought, but I was pretty broke that year and am also desperately addicted to coffee. I didn’t commit. But, I am trying to make up for it. One of my 34 in 34 goals is to read as many books, and ideally, I ought to own them. I suppose I’d like you to think, too, about how you could bring more words into your life. Please read, and please talk to me about what you’re reading. Show me what it looks like on your digital and literal shelves. Because you’re not just pumping blood into an author’s heart and vital air into their lungs, you’re bringing friends into your home. Adventure. Whimsy. Gravity.

Clothes and coffee are temporary treasures. Books are forever.

Meet Me at Imaginarium

Excitement! I’ll be participating in the Imaginarium Convention this coming weekend, 7 – 9 October, in Louisville, Kentucky. I’ve been trying to attend this convention pretty much since it began, and my babies kept being born and preventing me from doing so. If you’re local to the area, it looks to be a pretty fabulous event for reading, writing, gaming, and cosplay. I’m on a few panels with some cool folks and I’m practicing my jokes so they aren’t lame.

Except, my rehearsed jokes are possibly lamer than the spontaneous ones.

I'll be at Imaginarium Convention in Louisville, 7 - 9 October.

My schedule:

  • Friday, 5:00 PM, Slow Down, Hot Stuff! – If you’re into waiting a solid six hundred pages before characters jump into bed together, instead savoring meaningful glances, heated accidental brushing of hands, and lots of dancing around feelings, have we got some book recommendations for you.
  • Friday, 8:00 PM, Author Signing in Vendor Hall
  • Saturday, 11:00 AM, How to Fracture a Fairy Tale – Fairytale and mythic retellings are a popular storytelling device – some might say too popular. How do you pull it off in a way that feels fresh and interesting?
  • Saturday, 5:00 PM, What’s In a Name? – How to create names for your characters that fit your world’s language and culture.
  • Sunday, 1:00 PM, Bad Boys (and Girls)! – The anti-heroes, the lone wolves, the ones so bad they are good. Why do we like the bad boys and anti-heroes sometimes more than the white knights?

Guys, I bought the good treats for my signing and will have paperback copies of The Hidden Icon available for sale – the very same editions you can no longer buy on Amazon, or ever again, as it will be re-released along with the second book next year. Consider yourself bribed.

What’s Your Fictional Type?

I definitely have a “type” when it comes to fictional characters. These are the sorts of folks who I wouldn’t find myself associating with in real life: they’d be unbearable to be around, impossible to talk to, or just intimidating as hell. But on the page or the screen? It’s true love.

The Strong, Silent Type

John Thornton

Dudes who are supremely self-contained, whose moods occupy the eye of the storm until they are the storm itself, who communicate volumes with their eyes alone… it’s no surprise I love them, right? One of the first – and possibly most embarrassing – fictional crushes on this sort of fella was Conner McDermott from Sweet Valley High: Senior Year. When you identify strongly with bookish, rule following Elizabeth Wakefield as a teen, it’s kind of hard not to fall for the boy you 100 percent shouldn’t. But, this archetype is an interesting one, and has appealed to me the longest possibly because I want to believe there are hidden depths to everyone… or want to justify my tendency to lose my tongue in the company of quiet, steely-eyed, handsome dudes. Noteworthy SSTs: Bran from Son of the Shadows, Mr. Darcy, John Thorton from North & South.

The Scoundrel

Malcolm Reynolds

I really ought to know better about this one, and while I’ve certainly crushed hard on some real-life troublemakers in my time, I much prefer the fictional variety. No consequences with those – and no need to confront the reality that you neither can nor should try to change who someone is to accommodate your love of law and order. This guy can make a girl laugh even when he’s about to get her killed. I’ve not found many mischievous book characters I find believable or likeable, which makes me worry about attempting to write this sort of person myself. But I’m sure someday I’ll try. Noteworthy miscreants: Han Solo, Sky Masterson, Malcolm Reynolds, Rosto the Piper from Tamora Pierce’s Terrier and Bloodhound.

The Boss Bitch

Aeryn Sun

I want to be her and I want to be her best friend. She’s tough, smart, and capable. There’s not a day in her life she’s taken shit from anybody. I like that these women are strong, physically and emotionally, and I swear half the reason I’ve been working out lately is to be more like the fictional women I admire. I doubt my capacity to ever write this sort of woman, though, because I am, regrettably, too much of a pleaser. I blame being raised in the Midwest, and, as my best friend recently pointed out to me, the sort of person who apologizes when other people bump into me. Noteworthy bosses: Katniss Everdeen, Beka Cooper from Terrier, Bloodhound, and Mastiff, Garth Nix’s Sabriel, Aeryn Sun.

So, who’s your type?

Kristy’s Great Idea

As a reader, I have always felt the need to be able to sink into a character, to identify with their moods, their actions, their motivations. As a young reader, this kinship was more superficial: did I look like the character? Were they interested in the same things as me? How much were they like me, and how much were they like I wanted to be?

There are few book series that enabled this tendency more than The Baby-Sitters Club. Reading about capable, creative, independent teens a few years shy of entering those golden years for myself not only contributed to my skewed perspective of adolescence – Saved by the Bell is also to blame – but also provided my weird little soul several comfortable archetypes to try on.

DawnI wanted to be Dawn. She was cool, easy going, and could wear an embellished denim jacket with effortless style. Her hair was hippie-long and blonde, two things mine would never be. She cared about the planet and people listened.

But she didn’t eat chocolate, and I just wasn’t down for that. So I couldn’t, wouldn’t be Dawn.

Mary Anne was closer to home. She was bookish, reserved, wore a lot of sensible skirts and saddle shoes. She had brown hair – bonus – and her dad was super strict and picked out all of her clothes. My mother may have dressed me through eighth grade, maybe. Not telling.Mary Anne

But Mary Ann had Logan, and for a girl who didn’t get kissed until just before her eighteenth birthday, I felt that Mary Anne’s ability to acquire and keep a boyfriend was essential to her character. And fraternizing with boys? Not my strong suit. Mary Anne just wasn’t me.

In retrospect, I was really a Mallory. Anxious, eager to prove herself, with literary aspirations enough for the whole BSC. Glasses, braces, wild hair. Her family was a mess and her best friend her life line. I just never wanted to be Mallory. She didn’t feature prominently in any of the Super Specials, which were my favorite because they were thick and featured the girls’ handwriting fonts. She was a junior member – and thus junior in my esteem.

MalloryAt the time, none of the baby sitters felt like a perfect fit, which I judged as a personal deficiency, rather than an issue with an ensemble cast of fictional, suburban tweens. I had the same problem with The Nancy Drew Mysteries, The Unicorn Club, Animorphs, with any middle grade fodder offering me more than one female character to latch onto. I wanted to see me in what I was reading, or at least someone near enough that I could use their behavior as a model in the rocky waters of middle school.

Is the impulse to find a representative in books still there? Sure. It’s complicated now by the fact that as I get older, the heroines I admire, and the heroines I feel compelled to write, are younger than I am. They’re grappling with the challenges of youth, new love, and self-discovery, while I am a woman in her mid-30s, married, with two young children and a relatively sound understanding of my heart and mind. Books about women in my situation bore the hell out of me, but I’m quite happy with my life.

Perhaps what’s possible now that I’ve grown up off the page is the ability to let go more easily of who I am because I know exactly who that is. I have the space to let a character be, without needing them to be me.

Books to Grow On

Writers are always readers first.

In a Dark Dark Room and Other Scary StoriesIt’s Children’s Book Week, and I’d been thinking all about my girls and what they love to read before a post from my best library reminded me of my own favorites as a child.

I distinctly remember making a weekly visit to the library in my hometown (it was such a small place it was actually a home village) and checking out as many books as my mom would allow – and beginning to read them in the car despite her warning that if I finished them all before the week was up, I’d just have to wait until we could make it back to the library again. I was used to lingering in the early readers, repeatedly checking out In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories because my oldest daughter didn’t get her Wednesday Addams tendencies from thin air.

I was in third or fourth grade when I decided I wanted a BIG book, and pushed a stool against the shelf of juvenile fiction and selected the largest tome I laid eyes on among the As. It was Avi’s Bright Shadow, and in addition to being the longest book I’d ever attempted to read, it would be my first fantasy, too.Bright Shadow

I remember the book feeling mysterious and dark and possible, the magic delicious and different, and I remember, too, the extreme satisfaction of finishing. Even just seeing the cover again gives me tingles. There’d be no going back to Cam Jansen, now. I’d seen what a character-driven narrative arc could do, and I wanted more.

Favorites in later years included Julie of the Wolves, A Wrinkle in Time, Island of the Blue DolphinsThe Secret Garden, A Little Princess, Anne of Green Gables, The Boxcar Children, Pippi Longstocking, Heidi, Little House in the Big Woods, The BFG, and so many more. As a child, I was not a particular reader – I would read anything. My mom and dad would pick up stacks of books for me at yard sales or flea markets and within fifteen seconds of thanking them I would be invisible behind the spine of one of my latest acquisitions. I enjoyed, and still do, books about uncanny girls and strange happenings and compelling, believable settings, whether historical or otherwise.

There’s still something about that Avi, though. A young girl? A friendship? Struggling with how to spend the last five wishes in a whole kingdom? Feels to me like the beginning of just the sort of thing I’d spend the rest of my life hoping to write.