November 30, 2012

Adriana Ryan: World of Shell and Bone Cover Reveal

Getting to know other writers is fun. Learning about their books, their journeys through this amazing world of publishing...it's incredible. I love it.

I'm excited today to host my good friend and fellow Muse-author Adriana Ryan, for the Big Reveal of her brand-spankin-new cover of her upcoming novel, World of Shell and Bone (set to release December 7, 2012).

I met Adriana on Twitter when we realized we're both based here in Charleston. Then we discovered all the friends we also had in common. 

She's been a great new friend, and a huge cheerleader of my own novel, and I'm so excited to show you this gorgeous cover.  

So without further ado, here 'tis!!


Seriously, isn't it beautiful? And...slightly racy! I love it. 

The cover design was done by James Helps - find more info about him here.

And if that wasn't enough, here's what World of Shell and Bone is all about!

****

In a world ravaged by a nuclear holocaust, Vika Cannon knows there are no guarantees: no guarantees of safety, no guarantees that your neighbor is not actually a spy for the government, and no guarantees you’ll be allowed to emigrate to a new life in Asia. 

New Amana is dying. Food and water are scarce, and people suffering from radiation-caused mutations—the Nukeheads—are the new class of homeless.

Vika has just one purpose: to produce healthy progeny using a Husband assigned by the Match Clinic. Unhealthy children are carted away to Asylums to be experimented on, just as Vika’s little sister Ceres was, eight years ago. Parents incapable of producing healthy progeny are put to death in gas chambers. 

When she’s assigned a Husband shortly after her twentieth birthday, Vika expects him to be complacent and obedient. But Shale Underwood has a secret. He is a member of the Radicals, the terrorist group intent on overthrowing the government. And Shale has information about Ceres. 

As she learns more about the Rads’s plan, Vika finds herself drawn to Shale in ways she’d never imagined. When freedom calls in the way of a healthy pregnancy, will she betray her government and risk death for Shale and Ceres?

****

Adriana Ryan lives and writes in Charleston, SC. She is currently at work on a dystopian and an urban fantasy series. A huge fan of spooky stuff and shoes, she enjoys alternately hitting up the outlet malls and historic graveyards. 

Adriana Ryan is a member of the Romance Writer’s Association (RWA). 

Contact Adriana here (she's super-friendly and would love you to say hi!)

November 28, 2012

Stories: Comics and Graphic Novels

In my continued quest to contemplate stories this week, I'm thinking today about comics and graphic novels....

Last week, my husband was bugging me to read one of the many new comic books he'd picked up that day at our local comic book shop.

"It's so good, you have to read it," he said.

"I don't read comics."

He gave me The Look - you know the one. The one where you suddenly feel like you must have two heads or eight eyes or an ear growing out of your forehead. That's the look he gave me.

"What?" I said.

"Maus. Walking Dead. Locke & Key."

I hung my head and blushed.

Because I so read comics...I'd just forgotten.

Later that night I tweeted a rendition of that conversation and generated the most twitter-buzz I've ever created....which was entertaining, and sort of strange. But I thought that meant this merited more discussion. 

Right?

****

So. Comics. Graphic Novels. Apparently I love them.

To be fair, I don't do superhero comics. It's just never been my thing. I love superhero movies (the Christian Bale Batmans rank among my favorites), but the books have just...never caught my attention.

Up to a few years ago, I'd never even read a single comic. Never even an Archie. Because, you know, I don't care about pictures and drawings. I care about stories.

Then one day Charles handed me a copy of Maus. Have you read it?

In case you haven't: it's the tale of an Auschwitz survivor, as told to his son. Art Spiegelman, writer and artist, uses images of Cat Nazis and Mouse Jews to punctuate, and in some cases tell-without-words in some of the most powerful stories I've ever seen.

Seriously - there's a picture of a mouse, his mouth opened wide in a silent scream, that I can't look at without tears filling my eyes.

I actually couldn't read The Walking Dead, since the images of the dying horse in the FIRST ISSUE upset me so much I couldn't go on. I survived the scene in the TV show by closing my eyes - but you can't close your eyes while reading a story, can you?

And Locke & Key - damn, I'm addicted. It's a horror comic (btw - typing the words "horror comic" makes me think of The Lost Boys, and now I'm remembering Corey Haim talking about "horror comics" with love and affection), and it's brilliant. Scripted by Joe Hill and drawn by Gabriel Rodriguez, it follows three siblings as they return to their murdered father's childhood home.

Only the house? It's not what it seems...and there are dangers there, living and dead, seen and unseen. Magic keys that let you see into your own head, walk through into the realm of the dead, and grow to monstrous proportions can help, but the children must fight for themselves...and each other.

It has to be the most imaginative story I've read in years.

And Rodriguez's images? They're gorgeous. They're powerful. They make me turn away in fear, and flip to the next page to see what he comes up with next.

I love these books. I can't recommend them highly enough. 


****

I guess years ago I, a book purist, may have said that pictures could take away from the stories people wanted to tell. But really, the graphics, when used well, enhance....and sometimes begin to tell their own stories.

So...next on my list are Saga and Mind MGMT. What's next on yours?

November 26, 2012

Stories: The Middle Grade Version

This week I'm taking some time to think and write about what makes good stories. I hope you enjoy.

****

Before I started writing, I had no idea what Middle Grade fiction was. I didn't know the books which made up my early childhood were primarily Middle Grade; I surely didn't know the original Harry Potter was, too.

Then once I learned, I promptly forgot how much I loved those books. This is terrible, but I almost turned up my nose at Middle Grade fiction, thinking I was better because I was writing for grown-ups (though my 13-year-old cousin has read Zombie Days and loved it).

Luckily, I pulled my head out of my arse, and in the past year did some Middle Grade reading as an adult, and you know what I found out? The books I loved as a kid, I STILL love (A Wrinkle In Time ranks up there as one of my All Time Favorite Books)...and there are some AWESOME new books being written for this age group.

Here are three I've read this year that have stuck with me.

****

Flawed Dogs: Berkeley Breathed

My niece handed me this book last March, when Zoe and I were visiting my brother for a long weekend. I was dubious - the cover showed a goofy-looking dog with a soup ladle for a leg. But I picked it up that night, after Zoe'd awoken with a raging fever and there was no way I'd find sleep  anyway...


...and three days later, I found myself wiping tears from my eyes as I read the final chapters.


Actually, in all honesty, the tears started on the first page (it has to be one of the most heart-rending openings of a book I've ever read), but at the time I blamed those tears on being far from home with an alarmingly ill child.

The story follows the life of a Dachshund once destined for a life of glory, but through circumstances outside his control (and the doings of an evil poodle), he lives a tragic life of barely-requited love and affection.

Sound trite? Maybe. But not if you love dogs.  I dare you - pick it up. Let me know if you get through without crying. 

And to me? That tells me a Middle Grade novel can evoke real emotions from kids and grown-ups alike.

****

The Graveyard Book: Neil Gaiman

Ok, well, it's Neil Gaiman. That should equal "enough said," that I should just shut my face about any lingering Middle Grade doubts, but still...I had to read it to understand.


Gaiman's book is scary. Terrifying in parts, actually. It follows the tale of Bod, a young boy whose family is brutally murdered and who is brought to live in a graveyard to be raised by ghosts and among goblins and all kinds of other creepy-crawlies.


He's a marked boy, that Bod, with an ancient network of bad guys looking to destroy him...and his adventures through various pieces of the underworld are nothing short of breathtaking. Seriously - Gaiman is, I think, at his best when writing for children. He doesn't talk down to them. He doesn't pull punches.

And to me? That's inspirational.

****

Professor Gargoyle: Tales from Lovecraft Middle School: Charles Gilman


I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Quirk Books will never steer me wrong. This is the publisher's first Middle Grade release, and I'm not lying when I say that once I picked it up Saturday night, I didn't put it down until it was finished.


Because....when a story's written for kids, but includes barely-veiled references to Poltergeist (one of my All Time Favorite Scary Movies) and has an utterly adorable two-headed rat named Pip and Squeak...well, it becomes so loveable and fun that you have to keep reading.

The story follows Robert as he learns his brand new middle school has a ton of dirty, supernatural secrets....and all the students around him are in danger.  It's creepy without being over-the-top scary, it maintains a great sense of humor, and seriously - I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of the second in the series: The Slither Sisters.  (Great title, right??)

And to me? That's all just plain fun and I love it and want to be a part of it.

****

So. Middle Grade. Apparently I adore it. Because in Middle Grade fiction, what's important, more than anything...more than fancy writing or literary allusions or similes and metaphors....what's important is the story. And the story can be whatever you want it to be.

I'm actually working on a Middle Grade horror novel in my spare time...and it's been one of the most fun things I've written thus far. So....stay tuned for further info on that as things hopefully develop.

November 21, 2012

My Annual Thankful Post

Let's face it: I have a lot for which to be thankful this year.

Every year, really.

And while I got to say a lot of thanks in the Dedication and Acknowledgements pages for my first novel, some of that info isn't listed on the Amazon version of the files. So I'll share them here and now.

So....Undead America: Zombie Days, Campfire Nights, is, first and foremost:


For my dad, who started it all.

For Charles, for buying me a Louisville Slugger.
And for Zoe, who wants to be a Zombie Raccoon this Halloween.


Here are my acknowledgements:


This book could not have happened without the time, input, and support of dozens of people.  And I know people say that all the time, but really, it’s true.


First of all, Jen and Marissa – you both made me believe writing a book was possible.

To my mom, for…well, being ever-supportive and mom-like. I don’t tell you I appreciate it enough.

To my brothers, Daniel and Jonathan, for being my first ever readers, and giving me the exact feedback I needed to keep going.

To all my other beta readers, cheerleaders, friends, writing-buddies (Andrea, this means you, too!), I thank you.

And to Charlie, for making the coolest book trailer I ever imagined possible.


****

Other pieces of my life for which I am exceptionally thankful include:

  • The health of my family and friends. Seriously. Thank you.
  • This country: it may not be perfect, but it's home, and it's safe, and it usually pulls through when we need it to.
  • Charles and Zoe. Enough said.
  • The amazing opportunities this writing life has provided this year. I still can't believe I have a book out. That's sort of incredibly unbelievable to me.
  • My readers! I have readers! Some of them have liked my book page on Amazon, and my Facebook page, and some of them have even left the kindest reviews I could have ever imagined. I'm so grateful people are enjoying my little zombie tale; I hope they continue to do so!
  • My new friends at LitReactor, the most fabulous writing community I could've hoped to find. I may be a little shy/quiet on the community boards still, but I lurk, and everyone there is super-cool and helpful and generous with their time and advice and it's great to be a part of it.
  • As always, coffee, red wine and chocolate. Without you, I'd be really bored. And tired.
  • Publishers who entrust me with books to review - that is fun and awesome.
  • Cinnamon-scented candles.
  • Running.
  • Yoga.
I think that about covers it. I know I forgot things. My guess is I'll add to this post tomorrow. But for now, I'll leave you with this: I hope you have a happy, healthy, delicious, and fun Thanksgiving Day.

November 15, 2012

Milk and Honey: Contemporary Art in California

We've all had a moment like this: someone you don't know, someone you've never even met, leaves our world for another. And even though you've never met that person, you feel like our world's lost something beautiful.

That happened today.

Justin Van Hoy was an artist living in California. He beat leukemia not once but twice, only to die last night due to a freak accident at dinner.

I didn't know Justin, but I've known of him for years. One of his oldest childhood friends is now one of my closest friends, and through her I grew to care about him.

Because...when someone inspires the love my friend clearly felt for him? That's impressive. She visited Justin and his wife in LA throughout his illness, and his wellness. She campaigned for marrow donations, hoping to help save his life, and the lives of others. Together, they all fought bravely, and they won.

When he was well, I quietly celebrated, and drank a toast in his honor.

And today, when my friend heard of his death, I mourned with her.

I wasn't going to blog this. This isn't my story to blog.

But then I realized, there's one thing I can do: I can tell you about Justin's book.

Milk and Honey: Contemporary Art in California was his. Perhaps it's his legacy. No matter what, it's beautiful. 


Please consider buying Justin's book. You'll gain something so gorgeous and tangible, and you'll support Justin's wife and family as they begin to pick up the pieces left in the wake of losing something so gorgeous and intangible.

November 11, 2012

Author Interview: Emma Trevayne

One day on Twitter I found a new author to follow.

Coda by Emma Trevayne
May, 2013
Running Press Kids
She was mentioned by another author, and honestly, I followed her because her avatar was a pinky-purple unicorn that made me think of My Little Ponies, and it made me laugh.

Since then, I've found Emma Trevayne, author of the upcoming YA cyperpunk novel, Coda, to be funny, and friendly...and the girl's got killer taste in music.

(True story: it was Emma who told me that Mumford & Sons (one of my fave recent bands) had covered The Boxer by Simon & Garfunkel (one of my all-time fave songs). Had I not followed her, I might still be in the dark!)

I'm very happy to introduce y'all to her today, and hope you'll check out Coda when it releases in May of 2013.

****

LR: I just saw that CODA is available for pre-order on Amazon, even though it’s not coming out until May, 2013. That has to feel pretty cool, to already see the space for your book.  What did you do the first time you saw it?

ET: I think in layman's terms it's called a “heart attack”? Seriously, I actually think I tweeted something like, “Uh, hold up a hot second, since when is Coda available on Amazon?” And then I giddily emailed my editor and agent.


LR: Tell us a little about Anthem, who’s got the coolest name ever, by the way.  What can you tell us about him that we can’t read in the synopsis on Amazon?

ET: Ooh, good question. I can tell you the first piece of music he ever heard was Ravel's Bolero. That's not even in the book—exclusive right here, folks. Like all the other “named” characters in Coda, he chose the name himself. Something like an online handle. But at the time, he didn't really grasp the enormity of the word. He's good at sewing, wears a lot of guyliner, and stomps around in some pretty lethal-looking boots. He balances a lot of complex relationships—with his father, younger siblings, ex-boyfriend/best friend, and the girl he's desperately in love with—and isn't always successful at it.

LR: Where’d he come from? Was he a dream? Or a waking idea that wouldn’t let go?

ET: This would depend on your definition of “awake.” I was really sick with the flu when I first had the idea for Coda, so my eyes were open but what with all the NyQuil I'm not sure how lucid I was. The hook came first—music as a drug—and Anthem followed moments later. I had a very clear picture of him in my head very quickly. This character on a dance floor, blond-haired and blue-eyed, dressed in black and steel that caught the whirling neon lights, high on the music itself.

LR: Can you talk a little about your journey to becoming a writer? Was it something you always did, or something you decided to try out on a whim?

ET: I've always loved writing, ever since I was a kid. (I think this is true for a lot of authors.) I started to get fairly serious about it several years ago, and have a huge chunk of a Middle Grade manuscript from that time that I will one day finish and turn into something coherent. Coda, though, was almost a whim, a strange idea that distracted me from that other manuscript, held on to my brain with vicious claws, and filled me with a sense that maybe this was something. I knew really early that I'd finish and query with it—thoughts which hadn't consumed me with any other project.

LR: When writing, are you an outliner, or a seat-of-your-pantser?

ET: I've learned recently that, for me, this depends on the book. Coda was pantsed all the way. (Basically. I knew a few key events and the ending.) The book I've just finished, which is a return to Middle Grade, didn't work until I plotted it fairly carefully.

LR: Ok, so…childhood favorites question: was there any particular book character on whom you had a crush when you were a kid? (Calvin O’Keefe from A Wrinke in Time is totally mine – you can’t steal him!!!)

ET: Gilbert Blythe. I think I probably had a lot of competition for him. (LR: Me too! I loved him!!) 

LR: All-time favorite movie?

ET: Dead Poets Society.

LR: All-time favorite book?

ET: This changes depending on when you ask. Right now, I'm thinking The Mists of Avalon. I've read a few books from this year that might be contenders, though.

LR: I know you love music – that’s one of the reasons I’ve enjoyed following you on Twitter so much. Many times, you’ll tweet about a band that’s just been on my own playlist for a bit. And CODA has a lot of musical themes going on within.  Was there any one particular band or album you listened to while writing? Do you feel like it influenced the story?

ET: I listen to music all the time while I'm writing; I can't write without it. A lot of bands either inspired Coda indirectly by just fostering my love of music, or were particularly fitting for specific scenes/moods in the book. Every chapter has at least one “theme song” and I'll share the whole soundtrack at some point. Some of those bands are important enough to me and the book that I thanked them in the acknowledgments, but I'm not sure I'd say they influenced the story. More that when I arrived at the scene in question and knew what I wanted to say, I then knew what song had to go with it. At that point I'd listen to it over and over while I wrote, trying to capture that feeling as well as the song did. Maybe one song drove the story in a small way, but as it's the one for the final chapter, I can't say what it is. Also I didn't need to think about what the first song was, since Anthem decided it for me.

The Prodigy's Voodoo People had a lot to do with coming up with the idea. When Anthem took up residence in my head, he was on a dance floor and the song playing was Animal Collective's In the Flowers, which contains this one breathtaking, indescribable moment. (This is the song for the first chapter.) Several Cure songs, especially from their Wild Mood Swings album, were played on repeat. Hospice, an album by The Antlers, goes on an endless loop a lot because I can always write to it, no matter what I'm working on. Less because of its subject matter, I think, than because it constantly reminds me to try to craft beautiful things.

It says something that this was my longest answer, doesn't it?
  
LR: And then…all-time favorite album?

ET: Oh, man. I can't. If I had a week and a half in a dark room to do nothing but think, there's a small chance I could narrow it down to about thirty.

LR: Is there any interview question you’ve been hoping to be asked, but haven’t yet? If so, feel free to answer it here and now.

ET: Well, this is the first interview I've done since I got to hold advance copies, so I'll pretend you asked what that was like. Coolest. Moment. Ever. I grinned and shook with nerves and danced around. The “Dear Reader” letter my editor wrote in the beginning made me cry. So it was all very emotional. I'm insanely grateful to everyone who helped me get here.

Thanks so much for having me, Leah!

****

Nope. Thank YOU, Emma, for dropping by! 

If you'd like to know more about Emma, check out her twitter account and web site.

November 7, 2012

Guest post: Jason Halstead's Child of Fate

I met Jason Halstead on Twitter. It's funny how that happens, how you suddenly get to know someone based on 140-character posts. He writes sci-fi/fantasy, is entertaining, and we've both got new books out.

Seems like a great time to share my little blog-home with him, and I think you'll enjoy what he has to say!

Welcome, Jason! I hope you enjoy your stay here!

****

What Could Happen? 

High fantasy has long been the realm of wizards, warriors, witches, demons, and dragons. Great stuff for the typical sword and sorcery junky. It's a genre rife with violence and romance, as well as fantastical feats and creatures that give the genre it's name. Child of Fate is the first book in a new series called the Blades of Leander that joins the busy ranks of this genre. 

Since the earliest days of fantasy story telling writers have struggled with originality. Child of Fate spins away from epic storylines and introduces a young boy who doesn't understand himself, let alone what the world has to offer an adventurous young lad. 

Fate intervenes by way of goblin raiders that leave his father injured and their remote farm in danger. Alto, the young man, must venture into the wilds to seek help for his father. Along the way he encounters both new friends and foes, as well as a few people who seem capable of earning both titles. There are surprises aplenty as well, including a fearsome troll in search of a new friend. 

What sets the Blades of Leander series apart from established and traditional fantasy isn't the twist on storylines that date back to the days of Robert E Howard's Conan and Kull pulp fiction—everyone does that. Child of Fate established complex and strong characters, the kind of people a reader can identify with and care for. They're not unstoppable super-heroes, they've got quirks, fears, and weaknesses to overcome. Sure, they have their talents and strengths, but these characters answer the questions we often ask ourselves about what would we do if we were trapped in a mine overrun by monsters. Okay, maybe not everybody asks that question, but you have to admit that you're wondering about it now. 

Why not find out what could happen? Pick up your copy of Child of Fate at any of these sites: 


To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at www.booksbyjason.com.

November 6, 2012

Oh...my...GOODNESS!

I wasn't going to post tonight. I am focused on the election, eating all the food in my house (I'm a stress-eater), and wrangling my four-year-old.

But I wanted to share some information about Superstorm Sandy relief efforts.

If we're friends on Facebook, you probably know I was trying to do my own little part to help the people of New Jersey. It's my home. The lives of some of my friends have been completely altered by this storm. Homes have been destroyed. People have lost everything (except, thank goodness, each other).

I started collecting addresses to send care packages to children affected by the storm. My list grew quickly.

I also collected some clothes, and directed people to send items to a friend on mine in my hometown. 

Another friend made a request for boys' clothes of specific sizes; I asked on Facebook on her behalf, and within minutes there were boxes on their way to her door.

People are really amazing sometimes, aren't they? 

This was all done via Facebook. Amazing that a tool so many of us use for fun can also be used to aid each other.

Tonight I'd like to share some data, some stories, and some other ways you can help.

****

So...data first.

I collected addresses for children in over 30 families. I found "sponsors" for over 15 of those families; they'll get care packages from strangers, which is sort of cool. In one case, a teacher at a school in Colorado (she's a cousin of mine) has her students collecting goods of all shapes and sizes to send to two of the families on my list. The intent is for the families to share with their neighbors.

I have no doubt they will. 

I received three large boxes of clothes to send to my friend in my hometown. I also directed at least three other people to send her more items.

I received funding that paid for care packages for the 15 or so "unsponsored" families. The funding came from amazing people who I didn't solicit. They just wanted to do their part as well, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart. Every dollar I received has been spent on the families who I promised to help. 

Today, I carried all my care packages and my three large boxes to a small, private (i.e. not FedEx or UPS) shipping place. Turns out, the owner is from Jersey, too. I told him about my project, he set me up packing all my little care packages, and...well...he donated all the packing supplies and part of the shipping costs. 

Wow. I'll admit...I teared up a little.

I surely didn't ask him to do it. I didn't expect it. He just did it. And since shipping is more expensive than I anticipated, that...helped. So much.

He doesn't have a web site that I can find, but it's Qwik Pack & Ship on Daniel Island. If you don't know Tom, the owner, you really should. 

****

So. Who are we helping?

A family of five who had to evacuate their house in the middle of the storm when the Raritan River breached its banks in a most violent way. The house now been condemned, and they're trying to salvage what little they can.

Parents of a friend of mine from high school. Their house? Also destroyed by the angry river. I remember hanging out at their house back in high school, and now it's gone.

An older couple, the parents of a doctor who helped save my friend's baby's life last January, who lived down the shore, as we Jersey people like to say. The storm surge washed an entire beach club building into their home, whisking the mother into the bay; the father saved her. I can't imagine how. Morning found them barricaded into a room in their house, floating on a couch in floodwaters. They were freezing, petrified, but they were alive. Now, they are homeless.

As the days go by, the stories continue. I can't believe this happened in my own back yard.

****

I'll continue to share info as I get it, either here or on Facebook. For now, if you have items you'd like to ship to some of the damaged areas, send me an email and I will get you an address of a trusted distributor. They'd also appreciate gift cards to places like WalMart and Target, as well as cleaning supplies, food, blankets, towels...anything you can spare.

If you'd like to make a monetary donation, the American Red Cross is on the ground and is doing great work, as always. Additionally, the mayor of my hometown has set up a private relief fund. You can mail checks to:

Sayreville Storm Relief Fund
167 Main Street
Sayreville, NJ 08872

Honestly, I can't believe I've typed these words. Sayreville, my home for 23 years, needs relief. 

It's unbelievable.

****

Still, though. I'm heartened by the generosity I witnessed in my little week-long project. I want to do more. Please let me help you do more, too.

November 5, 2012

Book Review: The Dead of Winter

I'm starting to think Angry Robot Books will never steer me wrong.

I requested a hard copy of Lee Collins's debut novel, The Dead of Winter, when I heard they were available. There was little reason for my request, other than the line: True Grit meets True Blood.

The Dead of Winter
Lee Collins
Angry Robot Books
October 20, 2012
384 pages
Well, ok. I'm still a sucker for a good Western (I know you loved watching Young Riders in the 90s, too, right??). And True Blood is my Sunday night guilty pleasure (oh, Eric, how do I love thee?).

Seemed like a good fit!

Definitely.

Collins's Old West world, a silver-mining boom town outside Denver, Colorado, is dripping with undead creatures. Vampires? Check. Hell hounds? Check. Werewolves, witches, and various other monsters? Check, check, and check.

And in this world, lifelike in its depiction of ultra-masculine marshals and barkeeps and miners, and women who exist solely to pleasure the men, Cora Oglesby is front and center. 

She's coarse. She's brash. She drinks whiskey and spits. And most importantly, she hunts all those nasty spooks and undead critters with her trusty friends, Colt and Winchester, and her husband, Ben. 

She's the expert the beleaguered local marshal, Mart Duggan, calls when an unidentified monster kills some of his townspeople in an especially brutal, bloody way. She's the one who has to find the bad guy and get rid of him, for once and for all. And she's up for the task.

Or is she?

This is...an ambitious novel. Collins has a lot going on. 

He has a host of characters to keep track of: an angry bartender, a beautiful whore, a bizarre Englishman who happens to be a vampire expert, and a kind, loving priest, are just a handful of those minor characters who have a major impact on the story.  I spent a lot of time wondering: will be pull this all together at the end? Will it all work?

The thing is, it does.

There are also a lot of red herrings...maybe I'm just too cynical, but I spent a lot of time being suspicious of even the most obviously good characters. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop from one of their feet.

I won't tell you if any shoes fall. I will, however, tell you that the book will indeed keep you guessing, and that it twists and turns in many, many.

Collins is great at monsters, by the way. He's a throwback writer, really, channeling all the old-time theories on vampire slaying. You know: want to kill a vampire? You need garlic, a good crucifix, and a lot of silver bullets. But I like that. I love the classic vampire flicks. It's nice to read about non-sparkly, non-moon-eyed vampires for a change.

(Although I still love your brooding, Eric Northman...)

The action sequences are exciting. Cora as a strong female character is excellent (if abrasive at times). And Mart Duggan as her foil (brave and strong himself, he's calm and understated, and I like it) is lovely.

All-in-all, I'd call this book an entertaining journey through a much more threatening Old West world. If you like Westerns, and you're into horror, this is totally the book for you.

November 4, 2012

The one book that brought them together...

This is a happy story for a Sunday afternoon.

I've been focused all week on two things: book release and Superstorm Sandy relief efforts. 

By Friday, I was exhausted, worn out, and ready for...something different.

Zoe and I had the day off, and luckily she had a great idea for....something different.

An adventure, of sorts.

"Mommy," she said, early that morning, crawling into my bed with a book.  "Can we go see the spots in my Hermy book?"
I looked down at the book she held. It was this: Hermy the Hermit Crab: The Adventure Begins.

We've read it a bunch of times - it follows a baby hermit crab who grows up off the coast of Charleston, where we live. He sees some local sights along the way, including several beaches, the Charleston Battery, and the old Slave Market.

Zoe's not been all that interested in spending time downtown thus far, which is weird to me. I love downtown: it's thick with history. Old graveyards, cannons, dungeons, you name it. I love it all.

So this seemed like a good opportunity to introduce her to some of it.

We started by walking in and around the Battery, at the tip of the Charleston Peninsula, where cannons once defended the city from pirates and Union soldiers. Then we walked to the Exchange Building, which boasts a dungeon that housed criminals all through the city's history.  

Zoe took one look at a creepy pirate in the dungeon, and we turned around and walked out.

Our next stop was the old Slave Market (aka Market Street), which today houses crafts instead of people. Thank goodness.

In the market, Zoe wanted to see the "Sweet Grass Basket Ladies." More than anything.

The Sweet Grass Basket Ladies sit in the market (and at various locations throughout the Low Country) making amazing baskets from different grasses, pine straws, and various other natural supplies. They make art from other people's trash, and it's beautiful.  

Zoe had never shown interest in them before, but on Friday, they were her ultimate goal.

We found a Sweet Grass Basket Lady, and she looked nice. I nudged Zoe into her stall to look at her wares; to my surprise, Zoe walked directly up to the lady, holding her Hermy book out like a peace offering. Her eyes were huge. She looked as though she was meeting royalty.

The lady looked up from her basket. 

"Hello," she said.  "What's this?"

Zoe smiled, suddenly shy. "It's my book. You're in it."

The lady looked to me for an explanation, but then Zoe opened the book to the appropriate page.  Together, they sat down and began discussing the book, our adventure, and the baskets in general.  

They talked like old friends for almost ten minutes.

Finally, I had to interrupt.  "Zoe, honey, it's time to go," I said, my voice filled with regret. We were due at my mother-in-law's in twenty minutes, and we had a long walk back to the car. 

The lady smiled. "I have to give you something," she said, looking around her stall. "So you can always remember me and this day."

She picked out a small sweet grass wreath, and handed it to Zoe. It was purple, and matched Zoe's shirt. Zoe held it as though it was made of gold.

The lady wouldn't let me pay her; she wouldn't even hear of it. Instead, she held out her arms to Zoe, inviting her for a hug.

My child is shy. She doesn't talk to strangers. She doesn't let them high five her or shake her hand. 

She certainly doesn't hug them.

But for the Sweet Grass Basket Lady, the sky was the limit. Zoe threw her arms around her neck and squeezed her tight.

We left, Zoe content and excited, me filled with shock.

I didn't get the lady's name, I'm ashamed to say...but this Christmas, I'm going to go find her. We're going to bring her cookies and a Christmas Card and a most sincere thank you.

November 1, 2012

Reality...isn't as bad as it could be

I'm back to thinking about my hometown.

I haven't seen pictures yet, but I know it's bad. 

"Sayreville is underwater," I've seen on Facebook, again and again.

I know it's not the whole town (Sayreville is a rather sprawling borough in Central Jersey), just the parts near the Raritan River, but still...it's hard to hear.

It all makes me wonder...

Is Kennedy Park under water? You know, the park where, as kids, we swung on rope swings from splintering wooden platforms over rocky cement hills? (A safety hazard the likes of which I haven't seen since...) Where Canada geese took up residence in the early 90s and spread their waste across the track until you could barely walk without soiling your shoes? Where my brother spent hours hanging out in the clay pits with his friends, dreaming of places better than the clay pits of Kennedy Park?

Is that underwater?

Or the high school? Is that underwater? Is its library, which was added on shortly before I entered my freshman year? Which is tiled on the exterior with the school colors (blue and gray), which give it a vaguely bathroom-look? Is my high school underwater?

Is my childhood home underwater? Surely the basement apartment in which I grew up, with it's damp cement floors and bowed wooden paneling...surely that is underwater.

These are some of the questions plaguing me right now.

I've asked for pictures, but I don't want to see.

****

But, in the midst of all this....today, on the news I saw...

...the evacuation of Hoboken, after the floodwaters were miraculously drained by the National Guard. Troops helped women down from the backs of their trucks. They held babies so their mothers could get out. 

These were (are) people who have been through (and are still going through) a lot. Their apartments are likely ruined. They've not had power for days. They're cold and tired and scared as anything. The troops have been working nonstop since the storm, with little sleep or breaks.

But do you know what I saw?

I saw the women thanking the National Guardsmen, smiling with embarrassment (and entertainment) as the men in uniform carried them down.

I saw the National Guardsmen hugging those babies, comforting them when they cried out for their mothers and fathers. 

I saw caring. I saw gratitude.

I didn't see anger, or resentment.

That made me happy.  It showed me the resilience of my home state.  It showed me the determination of its people to make the best of a bad situation. 

It told me....that they're going to be ok.

*****

We, as readers and writers, are often obsessed with dystopia. We read books like The Hunger Games and watch movies like Blade Runner that show us how bad things could get. I write a LOT about the bad things people can do to each other, if given the opportunity.

But today I didn't see any of that. 

Today I see only the good. The caring. The love. The appreciation.

Maybe I'm wearing some rose colored glasses today. 

Who cares. 

*****

In the meantime, if you'd like to help the victims of Superstorm Sandy (silliest name ever, by the way), please consider a donation to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief. 

Every little bit helps.