June 24, 2013

Author Interview: Madeline Ashby

I love my job. Have I mentioned that? Because every so often, I read a book and fall in love with it. Then, I learn there's a sequel coming. And THEN, I get a chance to chat with the author about her books, her life, and her plans for the series moving forward.

And I'm not even talking hypothetically! 

Because last year, I read vN by Madeline Ashby. This year, with her sequel, iD, which releases TOMORROW, I had a chance to talk to her. 

I think you're going to love this interview. Read on for more about the Godfather, X-Files, and a handsome android who deserved to have his story told.

LR: First off, thank you so much for coming over to the blog today to talk about your books. I read vN last year, and I have to say – it was a wild rollercoaster of a story. Such a fun ride. I’m excited to hear that your new book, iD, is also set in this same world, full of androids that look just like you or me. Did you always plan for vN to be part of a series?

MA: Thank you for having me! I'm so happy you enjoyed vN. In answer to your question: I didn't, actually. Angry Robot Books was good enough to offer me a deal on another book, and then I started thinking about what I would do with another one. Eventually, I decided that the second would invert a lot of things from the first: male protagonist instead of a female one, winter instead of summer, sex instead of violence. The two books sort of talk to each other that way. 

LR: What I loved about vN in particular was Amy, your main character, an android with the emotional maturity of a five year old who suddenly finds herself with the body of a gorgeous blonde bombshell, and has no idea what to do with it. I love how she was forced to grow up so quickly, to acclimate to a suddenly dangerous world. What was it like to write a journey like that? 

MA: It was really hard, to be honest. On the one hand it's an experience that many women go through as they age: both at adolescence and at menopause, there are these sudden changes where your body doesn't match up with who you think you are. One day you look in the mirror and you're just different. It's scary. And it's a hard experience to relate, accurately. So I chose to focus on Amy's understanding of her new body as a way of growing closer to the mother she's searching for. They have the same bodyplan, and through her new body Amy is able to understand her mother a bit better. Because that's also a thing that happens to people: you look at yourself and you see your mother (or your father, or grandparents, or other relatives). 

LR: I also loved Javier, the other android in the story. He was her guardian, her friend, and then more. I’m thrilled iD focuses on his journey, because I think it’s going to be a great story to read. What made you decide to shift the focus to Javier? 

MA: Thank you! I'm glad someone else loves him like I do. As for I decided to take this ride with him, I just thought it was his time to shine. He's a very active character in the first novel; he really speeds the plot up whenever he shows up. He's far more decisive than Amy. He doesn't waste a lot of time. And I thought that his perspective would be an interesting one to write from: his failsafe is still intact, and he has a lot more experience living as an adult than Amy does. He's a lot more jaded, but he's also witty about it. So I thought he had some important things to share. 

LR: Did you grow up reading/writing/watching sci-fi, or was it something you came to later on? 

MA: I grew up watching a lot of sci-fi, and reading a lot of both mainstream literary fiction and horror. I didn't start reading classic SF until high school and college. And even then, I was fairly selective. My real love affair with SF started with anime and manga. I just dove head-first into Neon Genesis Evangelion and Ghost in the Shell. I mean, I'd always been an X-Files fan, but this was the first time I started actively wondering about the potential of the technologies being discussed. 

LR: Your style of sci-fi has robots and futuristic technology, instead of spacecraft and faraway planets. I love that kind. But have you had anybody coming to you to discuss plausibility? Any snarky, “that couldn’t happen?” type comments? If so, how’d you handle them? 

MA: Oh, sure. It happens. And there are always snarky comments. If it's not about the technology, then it's about the plot. Or the language. Or something else. I mostly just ignore it. I don't really Google myself or my reviews. If I do, I'm careful to search for the title of the books, and not for myself. It's important to me that I find out what people think of my work, not what they think of me as a person. 

LR: As a kid, were you a compulsive reader? 

MA: I was! I would read everywhere, even the back of the car at night, waiting for the regular illumination of streetlights to slide over the page and give me another paragraph. I was constantly reading. I really just raced through books. Now I take them more slowly, because I want to see what the writer is actually doing. 

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

MA: Inevitably, I'm both. It takes an outline to sell a book, anyway. Your agent or your publisher will always want to see a synopsis. So inevitably you have to think things through. And then, just as inevitably, you change your mind. 

LR: Favorites time!! Favorite book(s)? 

MA: I have a few. My desert island novel is probably Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami. There's just so much that's good in it. It goes so many different places, and touches on so many different genres. So if it were the only book you had at your disposal, it would at least have several different books inside it. Otherwise, my gold standard is To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. I also have a deep love of The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje. That book made me a history major, in college. Ondaatje uses a style of prose I'll never be able to emulate and will always envy. If I got to choose more on my desert island trip, I'd probably take The Stand, by Stephen King. The original edition, not the one that came out in the '90s. We have an original copy at home on our King shelf and we guard it like a dragon's hoard. 

LR: Favorite movie(s)? 

MA: I used to say it was Casablanca. And in many ways it still is -- everything you need to know about dialogue is in that film. While writing iD I probably watched The Godfather, Part II at least ten times. Just over and over, until I could figure out how Coppola had gotten a sequel better than its inspiration. I tend to watch the Godfather movies when I'm in need of some comfort, anyway. Especially now that they're on Blu-ray, so they can look their best. (I also watch Halloween when I'm feeling the same way. It invented the final girl formula, and when your life is in chaos it's nice to retreat into something formulaic.) And I watch The Silence of the Lambs fairly regularly, too. I just adore every part of it. I think people tend to miss that Clarice Starling is the one who transforms, by the end of that film. That she achieves what Buffalo Bill could not. I love that reversal. The way the camera lingers on the butterfly ornament spinning and flapping its wings open and shut. That's Demme making his point. 

LR: Favorite album or band? 

MA: My desert island record is The Fragile, by Nine Inch Nails. I listen to it every time I'm stuck, and it always works. 

LR: And finally, is there any one question you’ve wanted to be asked in an interview, but that no one has ever asked? If so, feel free to ask and answer it here. 

MA: Not really. :-)

Thanks so much, Madeline, for taking the time to talk to me today!

For more info on Madeline, check out her web site or follow her on Twitter

June 20, 2013

Apples and trees

Yesterday was a rough day. 

The long-awaited foal of my father's beloved horse, Abby, was stillborn. Fully formed, beautiful, and dead. I think it broke all our hearts a little.

(Yes, I know, the fact that I have parents with horses makes me sound spoiled rotten, but still...Abby is a pet, more overgrown puppy than horse, and this was her baby.)

(Also, I'm not spoiled. Okay, well, maybe I am, but it has NOTHING to do with this horse.)

Zoe loves Abby, and was looking forward to seeing her baby. Like the thoughtless jerk I sometimes am, I gave no thought into how to tell her the baby died. Instead, I hung up the phone with my father after he gave me the news, and I walked into Zoe's room. I sat on the ground beside her.

"I have some sad news, baby," I said. I might have been fighting back tears...but I'll deny it if you ask.

She looked up, all wide-eyed sweetness, and took my hand. "What happened, Mommy?"

"Abby's baby didn't make it. It died."

"Oh. That's sad."

She went back to playing. Later she grew concerned over the disposal of the body. "Where will they take him, Mommy?"

"A friend is going to bury him on his farm."

"Will there be a grave stone?" 

She's very practical, that child of mine. She's also a farm-kid, even though we live in the 'burbs. She has two aging dogs, two maniacal cats, and last year my parents lost their greyhound. Life and death are  simply a part of her world.


It stormed for over three hours in the afternoon. Charleston has been ravaged by rain in recent months. Downtown flooded during high tide yesterday, thanks to the rain, allowing kayakers to row down several main drags.

We were stuck in the house, bored and irritated, with two terrified dogs milling around, panting loudly.

Tempers were on edge. We argued. I hate arguing with a five-year-old. I never win, unless I pull out the Mom-card. 

"Enough arguing. This is ridiculous. Go to time out."

And then I feel juvenile and mean.

I hate afternoons like that.


But after dinner, the storm blew over, and a rainbow formed in the sky.

"Come out, Zoe!" I called into the house when I saw it. "There's a rainbow!"

She dropped everything and ran outside. When she saw the rainbow she began to dance, to hop, to wave. She couldn't contain her joy. 

I grinned.  "Want to go find the end of it?" I asked.

"And the pot of gold!" she replied.


For 45 minutes we walked through the neighborhood, splashing through puddles and searching for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

I felt like a kid, fun and happy.

During this time, Zoe didn't stop talking. Ever. Not even once. Normally that drives me crazy, but last night it was sort of amazing.

She talked about where the rainbow would end (behind the woods, behind our house). She talked about why the rainbow faded (because the last piece of gold was taken from the pot). She chattered at the leprechaun who obviously guarded the gold at the end of the rainbow (giving him instructions on how to communicate with us, asking him to let us see the gold).

She created this whole new mythology for herself about rainbows and leprechauns and pots of gold. I wish I'd had a tape recorder to capture the whole thing, because it was good and it was fun and it was lovely.

Until the end, of course, when she realized the leprechaun wanted to trap her, tie her up around the neck, and probably eat her for dinner.

She is definitely my child, and last night that knowledge helped make a bad day better.  

Searching for the end of the rainbow

June 17, 2013

You guys! World War Z comes out this week!!

At first, I resisted. I wrote a zombie book (ok, so far I've written two), but so what. That doesn't mean I need to define myself by zombies.

But then....well, let's face it. I love zombies. They let me write my first book, and they'll always have a special place in my heart.

I don't go to movies much - I still haven't seen Warm Bodies, though I am dying to - but it doesn't matter. I'm going to see World War Z in the theaters somehow! I have to see it.

I didn't love the book, if I'm being honest with you. The way it jumps from character to character with very few recurring people left me with no emotional connection to anyone, so I hardly cared about what happened.

But the movie seems to have given me no less than Brad Pitt about whom to care, and I say....long live Brad Pitt! And long live the zombie genre!!

I plan to watch this trailer daily until I can go see the movie.

And for you, dear readers, if you need a book to whet your zombie appetite, let me know. I think I can probably recommend a few...

June 11, 2013

On women, writing, and *^*%&* sexism

Once, I was told by a respected Mississippi judge with a seat on a relatively high court that, were I to pursue a legal career by attending law school, I'd be a welcome addition to the "Harvard student body."

The way he looked me up and down, eyes lingering places I'd rather his eyes have not lingered, there was no mistaking his intent.

Throughout my career in the tech world, I've been told to tone down my bubbly personality, as it kept people from taking me seriously. Because I'm a bubbly kind of girl. I've had inappropriate jokes lobbed my way with abandon. I've worked in environments that felt more like men's locker rooms than an actual, professional workplace.

(I should also add here...I've also made some of the best male-friends of my life, while working in this same tech industry. Men I'm proud to call friend...and, in one case, husband...there are two sides to every coin. But still...I digress.)

This year, it made national news when Marissa Mayer accepted the position as Yahoo's new CEO, and then revealed she was pregnant. Her every move, throughout her pregnancy and her (sooooo short) "working" maternity leave, was then analyzed. How would her actions affect women around the country, and around the world? If she was so tough, and resistant to taking a break to be with her child, should all women reflect that mentality. Had a man accepted that job, with a wife who was pregnant, NONE of that speculation would ever have existed.

Issues like these can be frustrating. Infuriating. I thought "women's lib" happened back in the 60s, but  there are sill glass ceilings so low you can touch them, and male-female double-standards everywhere you turn.

This week, a few influential writers in the SciFi/Fantasy have stepped out to talk about sexism in the writing industry. Anne Aguirre, Delilah Dawson, and Chuck Wendig have all weighed in with some pretty dismaying stories. Stories of women being treated with blatant disrespect and, worse, dismissiveness, at Cons. Stories of books being ignored for their female perspectives, for their inclusion of love and sex. The fantasy worlds created get belittled amidst the taboo label of "romance."

It's dismaying, to say the least, to learn that these stories are more norm than exception. When I first started writing horror and scifi, I thought Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, and Ursula Le Guin had already broken down these walls.

Perhaps not.

What I'm glad to see, though, is this discussion is being carried out by writers I love and respect. I admire them for putting themselves out there, for without discussion, nothing can change.

As for me, I've not yet experienced any of this. But then, I'm a microscopic amoeba in a really big writer-pond. I've never even been to a Con. 

I have no doubt I'll run into some of these attitudes at some point. I am, after all, a reasonable-looking girl trying to make it in a male-dominated industry.

But let me tell you - I'm going to keep writing. I'm going to keep working in the genres I love, and I'm going to do my best to help fashion a world in which we girls are as respected as the men.  Because....just because they got here first, doesn't mean there's not a space for us as well.

So cheers to y'all, Anne, Delilah and Chuck. Thank you for speaking out, and I'm with you 100%. Even microscopic amoebas have a voice in the Land of the Internet. We are, after all, living in the future.

This is me, saying cheers.

June 10, 2013

Guest Post: an excerpt from Secret for a Song by S.K. Falls

Not long ago, I was excited to show you the gorgeous cover for my friend, S.K. Falls', new novel, Secret for a Song. Now the fabulous Ms. Falls (Seriously, friends, she's fabulous. As in, I can't wait to hang out with her again!!) is here to share with us an excerpt from the book, straight from her to you. I hope you enjoy, and I hope you rush out to buy!

Recently I've been thinking about how much my life has changed in the past few months. More on this later. But really, I've met so many new people, learned so many new things. Sharing my friends' books with you is just one of the tiny bits that make me love my new writerly-life so much.
Drew waited with me as I stood on the sidewalk outside, letting the snow dust my head and shoulders.  “You look good in snow,” he said.

I laughed, my cheeks heating up as I tipped my head back to look at him. “Are you drunk?”

He stepped in closer, blocking out the streetlight that glowed orange in my eyes. “Maybe just a little tipsy.” He smiled. “I really meant what I sang in there.”

“Which part?” My words were just a breath, curling into the air.
He brought his head down to mine, so our noses were almost touching. “I’ll tell you a secret, I’ll sell you a secret for a song,” he sang softly; the same song from the bar. “Someday I’ll tell you, and take you back home where you belong.”
I wasn’t one of those girls who cried at every emotional thing they saw or heard; I’d never been that way. That might’ve explained why, when the tears cascaded down onto my cheeks, I felt with my fingers to see what the hell was going on with my eyes.

“Hey,” Drew said, catching one of the tears with a fingertip. “Are you okay?”

I opened my mouth to say I was, but all that came out was a sort of sob-whine, and more tears. Drew responded by putting his free hand around my waist and covering my mouth with his.

I’d like to say that in that moment, I kept my head. That I remembered that I was lying to him, that my entire existence in his life was only because of a huge untruth, and that I intended to extricate myself from him and the rest of the group. I’d like to say that I stopped the kiss.

But in that instance, the only thing I felt, the only thing that mattered, was how hard I was falling for Andrew Dean.

I was falling for this scared, lonely, broken, brave man who sang songs about secrets, who lulled me into a whole new universe using nothing but his voice. I wanted him, all of him, and I pretended that I belonged. It was the biggest lie I’d told up to that point, and for someone whose entire life was carved out of lies of different colors and shades and shapes, that was saying a lot.
Buy it here: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Goodreads

Bio: A huge fan of spooky stuff and shoes, I enjoy alternately hitting up the outlet malls and historic graveyards in Charleston, SC where I live and imbibe coffee. My husband and two small children seem not to mind when I hastily scribble novel lines on stray limbs in the absence of notepads.

Since no writer’s biography is complete without mention of her menagerie of animals, you should know I have one dog that doubles as a footstool, a second that functions as a vacuum cleaner, and a cat that ensures I never forget that my hands are, first and foremost, for pouring cat food.

Visit S.K. Falls: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

June 3, 2013

A Birthday Giveaway - Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children!!!

Hey you guys! It's my birthday week!! This Friday, I'll celebrate...well...SOME anniversary of my 29th birthday - I won't tell you the exact number because I'm a girl, and I don't have to. 

Hee hee.

Anyway, I love birthdays. In particular, I love MY birthday. And I came up with a fun way to celebrate this day with all of YOU!

So. A little history. About a year ago, I bought a book at Barnes & Noble called Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. It was published by Quirk Books, the same people who put out Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, and the cover had a creepy old photo on it, so I figured it would be good.

Now, I don't normally read much young adult lit, but this was...riveting. Fun. Super creepy, and speckled with more bizarre old photos, some of which I couldn't look at after the sun had gone down. I loved this book.

In fact, it was one of my favorite reads of 2012, hands down.

Also in fact, Miss Peregrine was one of the main reasons I reached out to the good people at Quirk Books, and am always delighted when one of their new books appears on my doorstep (thank you, Eric! You're the best!!).

Now I have a brand-spanking-new paperback edition of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.  They sent it, since it releases this week (June 4th - could they have timed it better??), and it has some never-before seen photos, a Q&A with author Ransom Riggs, and the first chapter of the upcoming sequel (for which I cannot wait). 

So now, to celebrate my birthday, I'm offering to you, dearest readers, the chance to win EITHER my already-read hardback (mint condition - I always take off dust jackets before reading), in case you're the type who likes to collect hardbacks, OR my brand-spanking-new paperback edition. It'll be the winner's choice, and I'll send it to one lucky winner. I'll also include, if you like, one of my Fancy Schmancy Signed Undead America Postcards - one day it'll be a collectors item, I swear.

To enter this contest, here's all you need to do. Any one (1) will do.

  • Leave a comment here on the blog - fun and easy and I always, always love comments. Be sure to give me a way to get back in touch with you.
  • Tweet something to me this week, either about my web site, Undead America, or any of your favorite Quirk Books. Let's spread the word about either dear old me (so old...) or my favorite publisher, thus spreading the love around the internet!
  • Facebook something about the same and send me the link, thus spreading the love around the internet!
Any or all will do. If you do multiple things, I'll enter your name into the hat multiple times.

The deadline for entry will be Friday at 7:00 p.m. EST. After that, I'll literally put all the names in a hat (I wasn't joking about the hat earlier) and let my kiddo pick a winner. I'll email the winner, and also update this post, so check back then!!

So yay. Birthday happiness everywhere. You could win a spectacular book, and I'll have lots of birthday fun. Good luck to all, and to all a good Leah's Birthday Week!

****Update with winner!!!*****

After a random drawing performed by the kiddo....one day late because I forgot on Friday night...the winner is....MARISSA!!! Yaaay! Marissa, I'll get you the book this week!

Thank you all for playing!!