May 28, 2013

Author Interview: Olivia Mayfield

I love Twitter. For writers, Twitter is a font of information. Agents, editors, publishers, spend their time tweeting about what they're seeking. Other writers talk about their projects, both in progress and released to the world. And it's a great place to find new books, new authors, and new friends.

I first heard of Olivia Mayfield's new novel, Ten Days, on Twitter. It caught my attention because it's a romance built up around the core of an old E.M. Forster sci-fi short story. I love the idea of taking something you've loved, and adding to it. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, for example. 


Here, Mayfield goes the opposite direction - instead of adding in the horror or sci-fi element, she adds in the emotional element sometimes lacking in our genre. She adds love. It's a fun concept, and I was happy when Olivia agreed to stop by the blog and chat about her books, her adoration of my favorite Christmastime movie, Love, Actually, and blue food.

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LR: First off, congrats on the release of Ten Days, your New Adult/sci-fi/romance! Whew! What a blend! It’s based loosely on a short story by E.M. Forster. So, what caught your fancy first – the sci-fi aspects of your story, or the romance? What gets more attention in the novel?


OM: Thank you! The original story is pure science fiction. But as a lover of romance, I thought, what happened if you had two people who fell in love in this story? Where love is considered uncivilized…and not only that, but their world was falling apart around them? The exterior plot was there in Forster’s short story, and I wanted to layer in more human emotion. That first awakening of love and sexuality and individuality. Hence, the start of my story.

LR: It’s a cold world in which Cally, your narrator, lives, isn’t it? No human physical contact, few actual interactions. What do you think – are we headed in that direction as a society? I sometimes think it’s creepy how some of the old sci-fi stories and movies now seem so…possible. 

OM: In some ways? Yes. Our world may be “smaller” than ever, but we spend an awful lot of time staring at a screen for our interaction. I miss face-to-face conversations. I’m not sure we may go this extreme, to the point where there is little to no interpersonal interaction, but we are losing some of those nuances that you just can’t experience through a computer/phone/tablet.

LR: Can you tell me something cool about Cally, something you absolutely love about her?

OM: Oh, good question. I love that Cally finds her strength, despite her fear. Courage has nothing to do with never being afraid. It’s doing what you need to do anyway, in spite of your fear.

LR: How about Marshal, the love interest? What about him draws Cally to him, to the point where she is willing to defy the Machine?

OM: I think Marshal helps draw Cally out into the forgotten world of emotion. He shows her she doesn’t need to be ashamed of how she feels. That she should embrace it.

LR: What’s been the most exciting part of this book’s release for you? Any fun emails from readers or cool comments from other writers?

OM: People have told me they read the book in 1 sitting. Wow—that just makes me smile all day thinking about it. 

LR: What’s next on your writing agenda? 

OM: I have an adult mystery romance series I’m working on! Finishing the last novella now. It’s titled The Inheritance. It comes out in the fall with Berkley. :D

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

OM: I have to outline or I’m a hot mess. Lol. I outline everything, scene by scene.

LR: OK, favorites time! First off, do you have any childhood favorite characters, like a boy character on whom you had a crush? Mine’s Calvin O’Keefe from A Wrinkle in Time. :D

OM: My first big crush was on Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre. Haha. He’s so awful and spiteful and cruel…and yet life made him that way. And Jane helps him drop those walls and be vulnerable, to find love again. *swoon*

LR: Favorite book(s)?

OM: I don’t think I can pick just one, lol. But Jane Eyre is definitely one of my all-time classic favorites.

LR: Favorite movie(s)?

OM: Ah, it depends on my mood. If I’m looking for something that kicks a little ass, I go to Kill Bill. Romance, I watch Love Actually. 

LR: Favorite music to listen to while writing?

OM: I pick music based on mood. In general I like orchestrated stuff, unless I need angst. Then, I may put on Coldplay. lol

LR: And finally, anything else you just feel like sharing? Could be anything – favorite ice cream, a random story from your day, whatever!

OM: I don’t like blue food. I know, it sounds weird, but I can’t make myself eat it. 

LR: Thanks so much for stopping by!!

OM: YAY, thank you for having me over!!! :D


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For more about Olivia, visit her at her web site or on Twitter!

May 23, 2013

More on nature...

A few weeks back I posted this essay about nature reclaiming man-made items, especially here in the deep south. I meant it as sort of a hint that, no matter what happens in this world, all the craziness around us...nature will always win in the end.

It was one of my better-received posts....people commented and shared it on Facebook (cool!!!), and I even received a few emails about it. Now I have a bit of a follow-up.

An old (so old...he's four whole months older than me!!) friend of mine has been stationed in Afghanistan for the past year. He emailed me after the essay went up, saying how over there, old Soviet tanks and the other detritus of war have become part of the desert landscape. They're rusted out and falling apart, never to run again, but now they provide shade and homes for desert creatures. Sand piles around them, altering but no longer destroying the land they once tried to dominate.

It's an interesting addition to my argument. These tanks are old, but they're not falling apart like things do here. But still, they become part of their world, integrated into the sand dunes and mountains.

I had thought this was a fairly southern phenomena, this nature-taking-back thing. I thought it was the humidity, the swampy air, the overgrown jungles of our forests. But no, it's everywhere, with each different climate doing its best to take back the things man has left behind.

Photo credit: Shawn Brennan

Photo credit: Shawn Brennan

To paraphrase my buddy, let's hope the Americans leave less trash when we go...

May 21, 2013

Book Review: The Resurrectionist

Every so often a book comes along that is so different, so beautiful, that it's jarring. Surprising. Baffling and confusing and exciting.

The Resurrectionist, by E.B. Hudspeth via Quirk books, releases today, and it is is one of those books.

The Resurrectionist
E. B. Hudspeth
Quirk Books
May 21, 2013
208 pages
Two-books-within-a-book, The Resurrectionist came about when Hudspeth, an artist/sculptor, began researching the question: if angels were real, how would their wings be attached? He cared about the anatomy of the question, seeking to make his sculpture as realistic as possible. He drew how they could have existed, sketching skeletons, trying to determine how their bones would be shaped by studying birds and other winged animals. He added tendons, muscles, layering each drawing with more and more possibilities.

Thus was born the story of Dr. Spencer Black, a mid-19th Century doctor who becomes obsessed with proving that physical deformations are caused not by accidental misfires of the gene pool, but by latent evolutionary changes that sometimes make reappearances in modern-day species.

In short, a person with an extra limb? Perhaps their ancestors included the harpy, a winged mythological creature.  Conjoined twins? Perhaps their ancestry evolved from chimera, a multi-headed beast.

Clearly this is a work of fiction, but the beauty of the book lays, in part, with the author and publisher's willingness to treat it as nonfiction. The book is presented as part biography (Dr. Black's life as gleaned from found letters, journal entries, etc.), and part his life's work: the Codex of Extinct Animalia.  

The biography half is an eerie, unsettling read. Where most writers get dinged for telling a story, and not showing the reader how it unfolds, in this "biographical" form, the telling works like a charm.  We see through the eyes of the "biographer" how Black grew up under the influence of his father, a grave-robbing anatomist who'd have done anything to find just one more cadaver to dissect and study. We see Black's promise as an upstart young physician crumble as his obsession with these physical deformaties grows. We see his experiments take a turn for the morbid, and dangerous. Even deadly. And then we see him dissolve into pure madness, trying to create modern-day examples of these "extinct," mythological creatures.

And where the biography is creepy and weird, the Codex of Extinct Animalia is...well, it's beautiful. And also creepy and weird. It is illustrated with Black's (Hudspeth's) drawings. I'm not a doctor, so I don't know that they're all anatomically correct (i.e. would the muscles really look like that if they were trying to hold on the chimera's heavy third head?), but honestly, I don't care. They're beautiful, in a freakishly morbid way. Stunning in their detail. Impressive in their sheer volume and raw imagination. 

I don't know what else to say about The Resurrectionist other than this: you really need to see it to believe it. To get it.  

And it's so drippingly gorgeous, oozingly lovely...it's 100% worth getting.

For more on The Resurrectionist, be sure to check out the book trailer, and also this conversation with E. B. Hudspeth, talking about the creation of this incredible story.

May 17, 2013

Preschool Graduation: A Thank You Letter

Three and a half years ago, we moved Zoe to a new school when we grew increasingly frustrated with the daycare in which she spent her first year of life.  Aside from the first few days, when my confused, terrified 18-month-old cried for hours on end, we have never regretted choosing Daniel Island Academy as her home-away-from-home.

We've been incredibly happy with each of the teachers who have touched her life (Marybeth, Janelle, Andrea, Jenny, Brandy), and she's learned and grown more than I ever could have imagined in those early, bewildering days of being a working parent.

Three months ago, when we made the decision to pull Zoe out of DIA to begin our homeschooling adventure, I had only one regret: she would not be able to "graduate" preschool with the amazingly adorable friends she's made through the years (Skylar, Ellie, Rex, Wesley, Liam, Abby, Sydney, Isabel). I wouldn't be one of those parents, tearing up as their child walks down an aisle wearing an ill-fitting cap and gown.

But still...our adventure awaited, and on we went, promising to join her class for field trips and also to go back to watch their graduation ceremony.

Today was that ceremony. Zoe, Charles, and I met in the school's lobby, said hi to our favorite front desk girl (Stacie) and headed back toward the multi-purpose room.

"Zoe!" came her teacher, Jenny's, voice from behind us.  "Zoe, come on! Do you want to graduate with your class?"

In her arms were an extra cap and gown. She already had Zoe's certificates printed, her gifts made. Zoe was about to graduate with her class.

Charles and I weren't expecting it. Neither was Zoe. She grew shy and overwhelmed, and I had to walk her down to the classroom where sat the familiar faces of children I've grown to love. They were busily getting ready to graduate. 

When my child entered the room, the children began to chant. "Zoe! Zoe! Zoe!" 

And then they hugged her. As a group. And I had to leave before I started to cry.

Zoe walked down the aisle with her friends today, wearing her very own ill-fitting cap and gown. She watched them sing songs she hadn't been present to learn, and she received two certificates. One was her diploma.  The other: the "candy award" given to each child, a candy-representation of their developing personalities. One child received Red Hots for her fiery spirit, another Ouch Bubble Gum for his tendency toward epic wipe outs.  Zoe's was my favorite of all (of course). She received the Dove Chocolate award, because she is and always was the peacekeeper of the classroom.

I was so very proud.

And I am so very grateful that we got to experience this with our child. 

Of course, Charles's iPhone was in the Jeep, and my Droid takes terrible photos. Friends will send me pictures they took (thank you Amy and Misty!!) after they finish moving to Atlanta, but for now, I have this: the singular proof that this amazing day existed. I'll remember it forever....and so, I'm sure, will Zoe. Thank you, Jenny and Brandy. It meant so much.

May 9, 2013

Book Review: Countdown City: The Last Policeman II

Ok, here we have another book review...and I'm being all kinds of premature about it, since the book won't hit shelves until July...but I'm posting early because you can get the first book in the series TODAY and have it read before July and it's so much fun and you just have to read on!

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Last summer, while losing a battle with insomnia, I had a lot of middle-of-the-night reading hours to kill. It would have been smart, looking back, to read something soothing. Some Austen, maybe, or even some Alcott. Books I've loved since my childhood, and that have no mystery left for me. Elizabeth will wind up with Darcy. Beth will die. And so it goes.

Instead, I kept picking up a book that was annoyingly engrossing, and freakishly good. A book where I had to keep on turning the pages, to see what happened next. A book that kept me reading for HOURS into the long nights.

Now, I'm not blaming that book for that insomnia, but it surely didn't help fix it!!

Countdown City
By Ben H. Winters
Quirk Books
July 16, 2013
320 pages
That book was The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters, and it was sooooo good. It followed a young cop as he navigated a pre-apocalyptic world in which a massive asteroid bears down on Earth, leading to humanity's near-certain doom. He investigated a murder that looked like a suicide, and I'm not lying when I say I couldn't put this book down.

So when I heard there was a sequel available, I might have begged my contact at Quirk Books for a super-early copy. Maybe. Maybe he complied because he knows how desperate I was to read it.

My expectations were high, remembering how much that last book affected me.

And I'm happy to report: my expectations were met (though thankfully without an insomnia-repeat).

Seriously, it was SO GOOD it deserves ALL CAPS. Countdown City isn't coming out until July, but let me tell you now - you WANT to buy this book!

Countdown City follows our fearless friend and Last Policeman, Hank Palace, as he looks into the mysterious disappearance of his childhood babysitter's husband.

In this book, Palace is no longer a cop, most formal police squads having been dissolved in the face of humanity's end. Martial law is pretty much in effect, and civilian cops have by and large been let go. So Palace is on his own, searching for a man that people describe as noble, incredible. He doesn't have to try to help his old babysitter, but he does it anyway, to find a man who seems, well, too good to be true.

The thing is, he does it because he wants to help. There are no ulterior motives to be found anywhere in Palace, which is completely refreshing in today's cynical literary climate. 

Palace's journey takes him deep into a New England forest, a rebel-hippie-commune, and a hospital that operates on ether. *shudder* The cast of characters includes some old favorites, including Palace's oddball sister Neko and his dog, Houdini, who I adore.  

The mystery behind the disappearance was enough to keep me reading; the threat of annihilation for everything and everyone was enough to raise the stakes almost higher than my anxious brain could handle. But not quite...because really, anxiety-nibbled fingernails and all...I loved this book.

Winters is a pro, and his books are awesome. So now go! Get The Last Policeman now, and pre-order Countdown City. What are you waiting for???

May 6, 2013

Thoughts on almost-maybe-not-really finishing book #4

I'm in a weird place right now, writing-wise.

I feel like I'm very close to finishing my fourth book (which is weird, since I totally remembering finishing book 1, like, yesterday...but don't let me digress down memory lane...). I'm so close that I know a single day spent sitting in my room at my computer would finish it. A single day.

That's all I need.

I think.

But alas (and maybe not alas). My schedule does not allow for such things these days. I have Zoe around full-time; when she's not here for some reason, I'm probably spending quality time with Charles. Or exercising. Or running a gazillion errands. Or cleaning. Probably in that priority order.

Somehow, stopping my job has given me less in the way of writing time. Used to be I could call out, take a vacation day, and send Zoe to school to get that last bit of writing done on whatever timeline I'd set out for myself. But Zoe won't go to school again until August, when she starts kindergarten.

So now I write in spurts...from 6-7 in the morning, sometimes from 1-2 in the afternoon, if somehow I've already snuck in a shower and some cleaning. By the time Zoe goes to bed at 8, my brain is so muddled from hours and hours of conversations about poop and gravity and Scooby Doo and Junie B. Jones, I can barely string two words together, let alone anything coherent on a novel.

I'd say staying home is teaching me patience...if only I were successful at being patient.

I want to FINISH THIS BOOK. NOW. Because I love it. And I want to know exactly what happens at the end. And every time I think I know exactly what happens at the end, I accidentally throw in some plot point that sends me off in a new, and better, direction.

I used to think 50,000 words was an insurmountable goal. My first novel's first draft clocked in at 59,000, and I thought I'd climbed Everest. Subsequent books weren't much longer than that, at least not in the initial draft.

This book? This crazy mash-up of the London Blitz with a foreign planet with aliens and space travel? This morning I hit 88,000 words, and still, I have at least 10,000 more to go. At least. It's blowing my mind, how much there is to tell with this story. The important memories of these characters I've created that need to be shared. The way they all seem to have so much more to say.

I literally cannot believe it.

I write about 1500 words per morning, on a good morning. If I get that extra afternoon hour, I clock in around 2,000 - I am less productive when Zoe is playing loud pretend games with her cars and singing along to Fun. I can't help it - she's entertaining.

Basically, I have anywhere from a week to a month to keep writing on this thing, I think, if using this daily schedule.  Less than a month for sure. Maybe two weeks. Who knows.  After that, I will have a completely different experience than in any of my other books. 

I'll put it away for a month or so, and work on something completely different. That much remains the same. I have a short story I've been dying to write, and I want to go take a look at my Frankenstein-girl book again - I think there are some tweaks that need to be made to it. Then, after that, I need to sit down and do some world-building.

I never had to do that before! My books have always been earthbound...this is not. I need to plan out time-increments before I can get my timeline to make sense. Do they use years? Seasons? Something else? And I need to know how they measure distance, how they use money. All these things will help me to make my world cohesive. All these things are bits I've never had to worry about before.

So then, when I get all that figured out, I can begin to patch this book up. Repair it. I know now I have a story I love...soon I get to make it a book I love too. I can't wait to do that.

So there you have it. I'll finish this book...sometime. After that, I'll take some time away from it. And then I'll figure it all out. People love to ask about timelines for books, and I'm guessing I'm not alone in saying...um....anywhere between six months and a year? Maybe? If I'm a good, patient little writer and I dot my I's and cross my T's the way I like them dotted and crossed.

It's funny, how what you know sometimes makes what you don't know that much scarier. But it's all good. I'm doing what I love, and I'm loving what I do, so in the end, I should have something I'll be excited to share with y'all.

May 2, 2013

When nature reclaims us all...

I've been thinking a lot lately about the impermanence of our place on earth. Seems like there have been lots of events to spark that sort of thinking...potential nuclear bombs in North Korea, shooting after shooting here in the US, a bomb at the Boston Marathon, and here in Charleston, an election making national news thanks to a farce of a Republican candidate.

I wrote this essay while thinking and thinking and thinking...and as it will segue nicely with a book review coming early next week, I'm posting it here, now. I hope you enjoy. 

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Driving down Bees Ferry Road after a torrential downpour recently, I saw a John Kuhn campaign sign, neglected and alone on the side of the road. No one had bothered to pick it up after the congressional primaries in March. A few weeks of rain and construction work destroyed the sign, leaving it muddied and canted awkwardly to the left, with tall weeds entangling it and dragging it further down. 

Later that day, I walked behind my daughter as she biked around our West Ashley neighborhood. Our retention ponds were filled to capacity, with water lapping over the concrete drainage tubes, keeping the resident turtles from resting in the sun. In another area, the swamp that hugs the outskirts of our subdivision had risen until it crossed the sidewalk. We left muddy wheel tracks and footprints after passing through, and by the time the water receded, the sidewalk was tilted and buckled, creating a new obstacle for our daily rides. 

The next day I drove south on 17 into Ravenel farm country. Tucked away in the watery forest stood an old clapboard house, the roof long gone. Trees grew through the middle of this building that was once someone’s home. The remaining wooden frame was gray, and it rotted in the humid southern sun. 

They all had one thing in common: each manmade item – the sign, the sidewalk, the house – was reclaimed by nature, taken back by the wilderness of the Lowcountry. They reminded me of how impermanent our place on this Earth is, and of nature’s ability to take back all it has given. 

We build things constantly here in Charleston. Out in West Ashley, our swampland is being clear-cut and filled. Where trees once stood behind my house there’s now a street. Behind the street? Another neighborhood. Behind that? Still more development has begun, and dozens more apartment buildings now stand on land that was once a habitat for Swamp Thing (seriously – Swamp Thing was filmed in Charleston and John’s Island). 

We like to think we’re safe in our neighborhoods, with our rock-hard clay soil, carted in by the truckload, in which we plant trees whose roots are stunted by the inhospitable dirt. Our houses are small but solid, built to withstand crazy southern storms. But if you leave the neat little squares of our front yards and venture down the street a ways, you see sidewalks cracked by the roots of native trees in native soil. You see sinkholes forming deep cuts in retention ditches. You see centipede grass strangled by dandelions and clover. You see nature taking back its land. 

I sometimes wonder how safe we’d be in a real disaster, out here in the swampland. If another Hugo blows through, how will our little subdivision fare? 

If New York City and New Jersey are any indication, I think we’d be in serious trouble. Footage of water flooding into subway stations during Hurricane Sandy last fall was chilling. In my hometown, houses that stood for decades were washed clean away. History was lost in the blink of an eye as nature reclaimed its land. 

I keep thinking about that campaign sign, though, minor though it may seem. The reality is, time and money were invested in making that sign. The hopes and dreams of a congressional candidate were wrapped up in the red, white and blue lettering. At the time of its creation, that sign must have felt momentous. 

And yet, after just a few weeks and a couple of storms, there was nature, come to reclaim it. 

I think that’s a good thing to keep in mind these days. Everything around us is impermanent. Nothing ever stays the same. And no matter how the Supreme Court decides a case, no matter how many nuclear bombs North Korea builds, and no matter who wins a special congressional election in South Carolina, one thing alone is sure. One day, nature will reclaim us all.