January 6, 2015

Book Review: Mort(e) by Robert Repino

Ever pick up a book, knowing even before you start that you're destined to love it?

Ever have it exceed even those lofty expectations?

Mort(e) was sent to me several (many) months back. I'd been chatting with a PR person at SoHo Press about a different book I'd reviewed, and she mentioned Mort(e). "It's about a war...with ants...and sentient house pets..."

Or something like that.

Of course I was all, "Yes! Yes please! Send it! Send it! Send it!"

Because ants? Waging war against humanity? I mean, Them is only my absolute FAVORITE of the 1950s atomic-fear sci-fi flicks. And that's about ants! Giant ants! Giant ants that take over the desert!

So yeah. You had me at ants, SoHo. You had me at ants.

Mort(e) by Robert Repino
SoHo Press
January, 2015
Here's a confession: I read Mort(e) six months ago. I enjoyed it thoroughly, but as it wasn't set to release until January of 2015, I figured: wait until then to write the review.

Writing the review while the material was still fresh in mind was the other, smarter option, but it wasn't the one I chose. Because I also wanted to see if the book would stick with me. If it could make me remember, to wonder, to think about it for months to come. Because that, to me, is the mark of a really good book - a book I'm destined to love and re-read again and again.

Mort(e)....did it. I loved it. And it stuck.

I honestly feel like I read Mort(e) last week. It's stayed very fresh in my mind, coloring the ways I think about animals. The ways I interact with animals. And, most importantly, the ways I behave with my very own dogs and cats.

Because in Mort(e), a giant, mutated, sentient queen ant has decided to wage war on humanity. There are all sorts of complicated reasons for why she does it, and you can learn more by reading the actual book. But the long and the short of it is: she wants revenge.

Somehow, in her all-knowing, all-seeing state, she manages to create a serum that gives self-awareness to animals. It makes them grow, morph, become human-like in all but their original furry faces.

And the animals are pissed off at people.

I mean, think about it. Think about how you really treat your pets. Example: I walk my dog several times a week. He's not so great at "heeling," so I often have to tug on his leash to keep him on track. This pulls on his neck, sometimes jerking him off-balance. All in the name of getting him to behave.

When I leave the house, I put him in a crate - a box - to keep him out of trouble. I control when and what he eats. When he goes outside. I control everything.

And I'm a nice dog owner! Those are things a nice dog owner does!

Imagine what the mean ones do!

So it makes perfect sense to me that the animals, once sentient, rise up against the humans, killing the literal hands that fed them.

At least until Mort(e) comes along.

Mort(e) is a cat. He had decent owners that never really did anything too terrible to him. He managed to not kill them in his initial state of heightened awareness...mainly because Mort(e) loves Sheba.

Sheba is a dog, a neighbor's dog, and she disappears almost as soon as Mort(e) becomes self-aware. His life becomes a mission to find her.

Along the way, he becomes a soldier, a killer, a rescuer, and he uncovers a plot....

Never mind. You don't want to know. You're going to want to find out for yourself.

Repino is a fun writer. His prose is tight and focused, and his humor is black as night. He makes an obese, undulating queen ant seem almost sympathetic, until you care what happens to her almost as much as you care about what happens to the cat who wants to save the world.

Two weeks ago, I was asked to submit my favorite books of 2014 to the LitReactor staff picks...I wanted to put Mort(e) on that list. I loved it that much. Too bad it wasn't actually released yet.

I think I need to re-read it in the new year, mainly so I can put it on my 2015 lists. Because this book is that fun. That entertaining. That much of a ride.

So you, you sci-fi fans, you animal-fans, you book fans - you should read it too!

December 29, 2014

2014: My Year in Review

I spent some time last month putting together a photo book for Zoe, compiling some of my favorite pictures from the past 12 months, writing "witty" captions, and sending it to a photo company for printing. When she opened it on Christmas morning, she was THRILLED! A whole book about HER? OHMIGOSH MUST READ! She sat there with it, with unopened presents still beneath the tree, for a loooooong time, loving the look back at her year.

So I thought: t'is the season for retrospectives, right? Out with the old, in with the new?

I guess we all like to think about ourselves and our recent past, and it's definitely nice to look at a year in its entirety and ask yourself: What did I DO?

The answer, for me in 2014, is (no matter how much I felt like I frittered away too much time): a LOT. And I'm actually sort of excited about it...and about 2015 and what's to come!

So here goes. 2014: My Year in Review.

January:

January was a rough month. Or at least, it started rough. We said goodbye to our Molly, a sweet, beautiful Dalmatian who'd been a part of Charles's life for far longer than me. She had cancer. It ate up her abdomen slowly at first, but then the end came far too quickly for any of us. We had her put to sleep on January 2, 2014, one of our hardest-ever days.



Later that month, in a quirky twist of fate, we welcomed little Bennett into the fold. He and our other dog, Quentin, had a rocky start, but by now they're buds.


I mention all this because it had a big effect on our lives. We lost a friend. We gained a puppy. Suddenly my quiet little days at home were turned upside down by this crazy little spaz named Bennett. He needed to be watched. Walked. Cuddled (a LOT). Trained (a little).

At the time, I thought: Well, there goes my writing career....

Or better: The dog ate my writing career....

And yet...

February: 

By February I was editing my first-ever, straight-up science fiction novel. These days I call it The Mothers of Taremu. It's set on another planet, far-far away, and it's by far my best work to date.  I hope one day you can read it.

March:

In late February/early March, I wrote Jenna's War, the final book in the Undead America series. It was incredibly hard to know this was the last time I'd see these characters...I hate saying good-bye. More on that later, though.

Also in March I went to my first-ever Con - the Captain's Comic Con here in Charleston. It was...amazing. I had copies of Zombie Days, Campfire Nights to sell, and it amazed me that people bought it! They bought all the copies I had! I sold out by 1:00 in the afternoon, which was not something I ever expected to say. It was AMAZING!

April:

In April I started editing Jenna's War, and....I hated the ending. Hated it. I've never hated my own writing more. I hit a wall and got really, REALLY burnt out.

Luckily, we had family vacation time in NYC to bail me out of trouble. I put the book away, focused on my family, and by the time we got home, I knew what I had to do.

In late April, I trashed the final third of the story and completely rewrote it. It was much more in-tune with what the characters would do and say and be, and I was MUCH happier with how it all turned out.

May:

May was all about Jenna's War, and getting it ready to send to my publisher. By late May, though, I stared work on a new book. Right now I call it The Death Words, and it's a Holocaust tale. More on that later....because suddenly school let out and life got truly crazy!

June:

June was cool. I made a decision to independently publish my book, Jo, so I got to work editing that. With Zoe home for the summer, though, work was slow and not steady. We went to the beach a lot, the pool a lot...we began a summer of fun!

June was also the month I went to Louisville, Kentucky, to do my first ever live reading at Books & Booze Louisville. It was...incredible! I made new friends, caught up with an old one, and survived reading a story OUT LOUD to STRANGERS! Phew. I want to do it again!


July:

July found me at the beach, going to a friend's wedding in NYC, and still editing Jo. I found an amazing cover artist who made me the most gorgeous cover I've ever seen. And Zoe and I? Man, we had a good time together.


August: 

As I began to wrap up editorial work on Jo, we dropped everything to go see my oldest brother get married in Mexico. Ooooooh, Mexico. It was SO pretty and SO good to spend so much time with my family

September:

Jo came out in September!!! I was so excited to share this story, and early reviews have been pretty darn positive. I'm proud of my little Frankenstein-girl, and hope that, if you read her tale, you stopped by Amazon to leave a review. I love reviews on Amazon!

Once Jo was out, I went back to work on The Death Words.  It's the hardest thing I've ever written. I spent many days bashing my head against a wall of frustration.

In September I also spent a LOT of time helping my parents out. They bought property in the country, and I helped them move. I helped them (along with my brother) clear off land. I helped them set up their new house. I spent a lot of time there, all so I could eventually look like this:


Yes. They have horses. Snuggly, sweet horses. *giggles*

October:

Wow. Two books in two months. October saw me frantically working to get Jenna's War ready for release. It came out on Halloween, and again, reviews have been great! I love releasing books. I love the stress, the anxiety, the excitement. I love it all.


November:

The first week of November found me hunched over my computer. I was close to the end of The Death Words. I could see the ending. I could feel it. I knew I could do it.

That first week of the month, I wrote something like 20,000 words over the course of five days. It was unreal. But I finished it. I finished a story of death and survival, of love and destruction. I drank a lot of champagne that night (thanks, Charles!). It's impossible to describe the relief I felt at finishing something that was consuming by brain for so long.

I've also been "shopping" The Mother's of Taremu around, and in the final months of the year I've had some nice little nibbles that I hope lead to something cool for it in 2015.

Of course, by late November, the holidays begin....which leads us to...

December:

Whew. The holidays are a whirlwind in our house. Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years, events at Zoe's school every other day. I need to remember: make no plans to ever do actual, real work in December.

****

Throughout the year I've also kept busy writing dozens of articles and columns and things, both for LitReactor and The Charleston City Paper. I got to do things like go to a trampoline park with Zoe (and write about it), or go visit some friends at their book binding studio (and write about it).

I also went to every school event. I volunteered in Zoe's class every week. I attended most of her soccer practices (twice a week, starting in the summer), and all of her games. It's felt so hectic at times. So ridiculously, insanely hectic.

But the year has been rather amazing. I released two books, wrote another, started another (more on that in 2015), and I did it all while staying home and being with my daughter, my husband, our beasts, and yeah....whew. When I write it all out like this...

I'm pretty proud of myself.

So tell me: what are you proud of? What cool things have you done this year? If you think about it, I bet your list is even longer than mine! :)

December 22, 2014

Proud Mama Moment and my thoughts on the new Annie

Oh! My poor, sad, lonely, neglected blog! It's been years since I've spent any time on you!

Admittedly, I've spent much of 2014 chasing deadlines and writing books and being a mom and wife and all that stuff, but I'll admit: I miss my blog.

So! I resolve in 2015 to do better! To blog more! To share more! After all, isn't that what a blog's for? 

Thus, in the upcoming week, I plan an official 2014 recap (new books, new pets, and a whole lot of writing), a list of 2015 plans and resolutions (Will 2015 be the year I find an agent and land a giant book deal and take the literary world by storm? I don't know but I already also resolve not to stop trying!), and at least one book review (I wrote one today that's due in January, and it felt so good, I decided to write MORE reviews! Hooray!).

But for today, how's about something more simple? A proud mama moment, for starters, and then a brief discussion of the new Annie.

Proud Mama Moment

Y'all. Zoe has so many toys. Too many toys. Toys bursting from every nook and crevice in her tiny little bedroom. 

I feel terrible that she has so many toys. I feel like I've done something wrong. That I'm somehow uncharitable. But I guess we live in a consumer society, and we're very lucky in that we can afford to purchase a toy or a book for our only child pretty much whenever we care to.

Apparently, we care to a lot.

A LOT.

So. Her room has gotten out of control. Stuff is always on the floor, her closet is a Matchbox car short of a national-level disaster, and there are always stuffed animals staring at me, no matter where I go.

It's a nightmare.

A beautiful, amazing, ridiculous nightmare (for which I'm incredibly grateful, I swear!).

And in case you haven't noticed, IT'S ONLY THREE DAYS UNTIL CHRISTMAS! AND WE'RE ALREADY ON THE SIXTH NIGHT OF HANUKKAH! AND OHMIGOD ALL THE TOYS! ALL THE TOYS TOYS TOYS TOYS!

*ahem*

*excuse me*

*Dr. Seuss moment*

Last night I made a decision. Something had to be done about at least a few of the toys. So I found a Post-It note and a black Sharpie, and I did something I'm a bit ashamed of.

I wrote a note to Zoe, on behalf of her little Elf on the Shelf, Ruby.

"Dear Zoe," it said, in handwriting not-at-all reminiscent of my own. "Santa and I wondered: can you donate ten toys to needy children this week?"

I signed it, "Love you! Ruby."

I'm not proud of this. I'm not proud of the manipulation, the deviousness, the utter maniacal plotting on my part.

But I am proud of her response.

Today, while I was in the shower, Zoe picked out ten toys to donate to needy children. Some were large, some weren't. Some I had to veto due to "you don't actually own that toy, honey." We dropped down to eight, and then she found two more.

At ten, when she was supposed to be done, she said, "I want to give away more."

She went back to her closet and piled on a bunch more toys, and then made the decision to finally give up her giant collection of Lego Duplo blocks which she's been playing with consistently since she was two years old. 

It was a huge step.

We packed up all the toys (minus the Duplos...Charles needs convincing there...he's attached) and dropped them off for Lowcountry Orphan Relief, all before noon on a rainy, nasty Monday. 

Maybe her room's still a mess. Maybe she only gave away her toys because she thinks Santa will reward her.

I don't care. A whole bunch of kids are going to have new toys to play with, all because Zoe was finally willing to share her wealth of playthings.

This makes me happy.

So of course we had to celebrate. We did this by seeing the all-new movie production of Annie. Which brings us to...

My Thoughts on the All-New Movie Production of Annie

Look. I grew up on the original Annie, with the impish redhead and the bald Daddy Warbucks. I didn't expect to love Jamie Foxx or Cameron Diaz, and the truth is...I didn't.

But Zoe did.

Man, she loved this movie. She sang! She laughed! She danced in her seat! 

She didn't care that Cameron Diaz can't sing (and...gorgeous as she is...she really, really can't sing). She didn't care that Jamie Foxx's singing voice was far too high pitched for my taste (ha!). She didn't care that Rose Byrne was fairly stoic and boring as Grace. 

She fell in love - hard - for the new Annie.

And truth be told, so did I.

Quvenzhane Wallis is adorable. She's impish. She's quirky and fun and spunky and silly. It's impossible not to love her. 

She'll be the saving grace of this production.

To Zoe, it didn't matter that the whole movie felt a bit flat. She got to learn about things like foster homes, and she got to listen to songs she loved, and she found new songs to learn. She got to see dancing other than tap, and she got to laugh at the bits with the dog. 

I don't know. I was still expecting more. But my child came away from the theater singing "It's a Hard Knock Life" at the top of her lungs, and I guess I can't ask for anything else.

It was a good day here in Charleston.


December 3, 2014

Jane Austen Cover to Cover: For the Austen Fan Near You!

Tee-hee!! I am a lifelong Jane Austen fan. Did you know?

I mean...I love my Stephen King and my Neil Gaiman and my Robert Kirkman, too, but really, Jane Austen's been with me a long, long time.

I read Pride & Prejudice for the first time when I was in middle school, and I was captivated by the accounts of fancy dresses and fancier manners. It struck me as so different, so other from the life I was used to...I couldn't put it down.

High school found me, in my infrequent spare time, working my way through the rest of Austen's opus. Emma. Sense & Sensibility. Northanger Abbey. Persuasion.  I read them all.

And while the initial draw was the fancy dresses and other-ness, what kept me coming back was the comedy. Austen was a sharp satirist. She was a critic of the sterile manners and crusty classism of Victorian England, and she used her wit to poke fun at the parties, the frivolity, the seeming insanity of her world.


The results are often hilarious, and that's kept me coming back to these books year after year after year. 


Especially Pride & Prejudice. Hands down, that one's my favorite. I've had the same paperback copy since high school. It's starting to fall apart, but who cares.

So yeah. Jane Austen. I know!

****

When my friends at Quirk Books told me they were publishing a new retrospective on Jane Austen, called Jane Austen Cover to Cover, I was all over it. Of course I wanted to learn more about her, and about the images/bindings that have made up the covers to her awesome books through the years.

Why wouldn't I?

Especially with Quirk behind it - because, as you may or may not know, Quirk Books are the publishers of the great literary classic, Pride & Prejudice & Zombies! Clearly they love Austen as much as I do. 



Written/compiled by Margaret C. Sullivan, this book is gorgeous and fun. Sullivan is obviously a fan herself, and she seems to have fun talking about not only the covers, but the history behind each publication.

Like...did you know Austen only ever sold the rights to Pride & Prejudice? All her other books were published in such a way as to allow her to keep her rights, and to receive commission. Sound familiar? Oh yes. It's how some small presses work these days, and it's a lot like self-publishing.

And did you know that on some of the earliest covers, Jane Austen's name wasn't even included? Nope. It was thrown out in favor of displaying the name of the more well-known illustrators. 

I know, right?!

So, there's interesting history, and gorgeous pictures of old books. Really old books. I have no idea how she found all these images, but it's impressive. First editions of British and American printings, rare, illustrated editions...Sullivan's found them all. 

It's an awesome book, assuming you're a Jane Austen fan. I mean, if you're not, it's still lovely, but it probably won't be your thing. 

That said, it is definitely MY thing. If it's YOUR thing, too, I highly suggest you ask Santa to slip a copy under your tree this year. And maybe, if you're as nerdy as me, you'll find the page with a picture of your very own old, tattered paperback cover....and you'll of course have to snap a shot of it and post it on your blog. :)


Yep. I'm a dork. Deal with it. :)


November 24, 2014

Bundle up for winter, Zombie Fans!

Hi everyone! I know I've been quiet lately - been dealing with some deadlines, and still have a couple more big ones to meet - but today I have news! I tweeted about this last week, but here's some exciting information about the entire Undead America series!!

My publisher and I decided that, now that the series is released in its entirety, we could bundle all three books together and sell the series as one! It's sort of like a box set, only in eBook form! Check it out!


Isn't it pretty? 

It's available for pre-order now (links below) for the bargain basement price of $3.99. The price'll go up after the holidays. This would make a GREAT Christmas present on a zombie fan's Kindle or Nook, and it's a great way to purchase the series if you haven't already!

So please! Tell your friends! Your families! Your...BOOK CLUBS!! Undead America, the series....coming soon to an e-reader near you!!


November 13, 2014

Friday night at the Windjammer - Help Save a Life!

Hey you guys!

I don't often advertise events here on the blog, unless I'm directly associated with them. You've heard all about rUNdead, sure, and now Atomacon, but this is something different. I won't be at this event, but I wish I could be. 

You see, a friend of mine is trying to help a friend of HIS, a friend who's battled cancer not once, but THREE TIMES! And I want to help him spread the word! Because cancer sucks and it's stupid how much it costs to treat it, and far too many people in this world have their lives turned upside down by that awful disease.

So yes! Let's help!

My friend Tyler Boone is a singer/songwriter here in Charleston. His friend, Dan Rainey, is a musician with a bunch of local bands, including Tyler's. This guy Dan has already had three cancerous tumors, and now he needs chemotherapy. Medical bills have already piled up, and are threatening to get completely out of hand. 

So now, the Charleston music community is ready to help. If you can, head out to The Windjammer Friday night for the concert event, A Little Help from my Friends!


This line-up is pretty awesome. If you're local and you listen to The Bridge at 105.5, you'll know a lot of the music. Also, Box from the Box & Kelly morning show will be performing with some of the bands. Since I already know Box plays a mean air guitar, I imagine the results will be epic.

For more information, check out this page at the Coast Records web site.

The Charleston music community is small and tight. They're all good people. If Tyler says Dan needs help, then we should all help. Cancer sucks. 

If you are free Friday, you should definitely check out this show. All proceeds will benefit Dan directly, helping to pay down his medical bills. If I were free Friday, I'd be there - for the music, sure, but more importantly for the cause.

Fuck you, Cancer. The Charleston music community is coming for you.

November 10, 2014

Atomacon 2014: Where I'll Be

This is new! I've never had to do this before! But I'm a guest at this year's Atomacon in North Charleston, South Carolina, and as a guest....I have a SCHEDULE!

Yes, that's right! I'll be taking part in a generous handful of panels, talking about books, zombies, and publishing, and I hope to see YOU there!

And if you're asking, "What's Atomacon?" I have an answer! It's the Low Country's first Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Science and Technology, AND Gaming convention. There will be panels! Vendors! Cosplay! And MORE!

Here's info about how you can get in, and here's the full schedule (there are all sorts of different "tracks" to follow, and all kinds of awesome guests besides me), so do check it out.

And if you'll be there, here's where you can find me:

Friday:

6:00 p.m. Local Author Spotlight

7:00 p.m. Diversity in Literature panel

10:00 p.m. The Walking Dead panel (featuring Greg French and Mike Mundy, two Walking Dead walkers)


Saturday:

8:00 p.m. Pen and Sword panel (using weapons in your writing)


Sunday:

1:00 p.m. Zombie Survival Guide panel (talking about what YOU need to survive the apocalypse)