March 27, 2014

A few books of note

As I chatted with a new friend recently, we got around to talking books. Both fans of sci-fi/horror, you'd think we'd have found some common ground in contemporary favorites quickly, right? 

But no. Not so much.

I struggled to come up with what I'd read recently and fell flat on my face. Authors she mentioned were frequently among those on my To Read list, but I hadn't read them yet. I grew a bit flustered, wondering...what the hell have I been reading lately?

Because I know I read stuff. All the time. Every day. Every night.

So I came home and looked at the stack of books beside my bed and remembered: when I'm writing (which I do pretty much all the time), I spend a LOT more of my reading hours on non-fiction! And I've read some pretty interesting NF books lately, so the time has come to share my notes. 

The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan


This book is fabulous. It tells the up-to-now mostly-unknown tale of a town that grew from nothing in Tennessee farmland, and became a central hub for enriching uranium during the height of the Manhattan Project. Following a handful of young women who left their homes and families behind to do their part to help the WWII war effort, the story is engaging and surprising. Most of the women had no idea what was being "built" in the rapidly-built factories rising from the mud and muck. 

I fell in love with these ladies, each of them working jobs they didn't fully understand, under constant surveillance, living in dormitories and "hutments" and making the best of a truly crazy situation. 

Kiernan's writing is light and easy, even when talking about some of the more technical details of the actual process of building an atomic weapon. I came away knowing much more about physics and chemistry than I knew before, and with a love for a city that, without the war, never would have been born.

Hitler's Furies by Wendy Lower


Let's just say this story of the women who worked for the Nazi regime during the height of the Third Reich is chilling at best. Because ohmigod, the stories Lower shares about the brutalities committed by people who didn't have to are so, so terrifying, showing a world so indoctrinated into hate and destruction that I can't even fathom it.

The Nazi regime was a huge one, requiring a supporting cast of women working desk jobs, keeping homes and families operational, and providing expert nursing care. The problem came when the women working desk jobs typed up mass execution lists, sending thousands of people to their deaths without even a second thought. The terror lay in the hands of the nurses, "humanely" slaughtering via poison injections the weak and the ill as they lay in hospital beds. The fury came in the form of wives and mistresses, walking through ghettos and concentration camps with their men, taking part in the violence and the killing.

The stories are terrifying. One mother killed a group of Jewish children because she thought it was the right thing to do. Another woman working for the Reich rode through a ghetto, gunning Jews down. 

If I have a complaint about this book, it's this: Lower spends a fair amount of time talking about her research process throughout the book, which takes away from the actual narrative. She doesn't dig in as deeply to the individuals as I'd expect, but still: it's horrifying. 

Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy Tale Endings by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie


I love this book. So much. The stories of hundreds of princess through the ages are compiled into one place, and these princess aren't of the Disney sort.

Women through the ages have held positions of power; how they got there and what they did with it is fodder for anyone's imagination. Some lied, cheated and killed; others were born into it, and their titles became the bane of their existences. Very few in the book led happy lives.

Following princesses from Ancient Rome through Egypt to much more modern times, McRobbie keeps things light and entertaining somehow, with a snarky, quirky style and a great sense of humor. I mean, if you can't joke about dismemberment, well, there's probably something wrong with you, am I right?

But the information here is intriguing, her research extensive. If you want a romp through history and royalty, I can't recommend this book highly enough. 

****

So there you have it. I do read. A lot. Just don't ask me to recommend fiction, because apparently that's not what I'm reading this week/month/year.

March 15, 2014

Publishing: A Family Affair

I've been toying (quite seriously) with the idea of publishing my next book myself. There are tons of reasons, but that's not why I'm posting today.

Today I'm posting because apparently, when one publishes one's own book, publishing becomes a family affair. And Zoe has taken on the task of creating the title AND cover art for this book.

What do you think?




Yep. That's "The Half Robot Girl," by Leah, illustrated by Zoe.

I, for one, am a big fan of the ears. 

March 11, 2014

Reading with Zoe: Nick & Tesla's Awesome Adventures

Zoe can read now.

You hear me world? Zoe can read now! And I don't just mean a little. I mean last night, I had to tell her three times to go to sleep because she was so into a Junie B. Jones book that she just had to read a little more and a little more and a little more after that. 

It's...awesome. 

But just because Zoe can read doesn't mean we'll stop reading together. For us, it's as much about spending quiet time with one another as it is about finding new books and sharing stories we love. I have no plans of ending that any time soon...or ever. 

And recently, we found a new story that we love....



****

Nick and Tesla are eleven years old, and they've just been sent to spend the summer with their Uncle Newt, all the way across the country in California while their parents are in...in...

Well, they're supposed to be in Uzbekistan studying soybeans or something, but evidence suggests something else might be going on.

And Nick and Tesla understand evidence. They are scientists, after all, and when things around their mad-scientist Uncle's small-town neighborhood seem to go wrong, Nick and Tesla are there to save the day.

****


There are two books so far in the series: Nick & Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab, and Nick & Tesla's Robot Army Rampage, both by "Science Bob" Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith (Best. Author names. Ever.). Zoe and I are a little more than halfway through the second, and let me tell you - these books are great! They're smart and funny, with enough grown-up humor and childish goofiness to keep us both laughing. The writing is solid and the stories are action packed (think: growling Rottweilers, a kidnapped child, and a rash of neighborhood robberies). Honestly, there have been times where I've had to resist the urge to read ahead, because I read much faster to myself than I do aloud to Zoe.


Woven into the stories are DIY "experiments," kind of like science fair projects. You can make robots, a burglar alarm, and all kinds of other things. I will admit that, with Zoe being only five and me being...well...less apt to run to Radio Shack than I care to admit, we haven't done any of the experiments yet, but I have a feeling in a few years Zoe will be hounding me to take her to the store so she can try.

I love these books. Seriously. Nick and Tesla are a twintastic team. When Nick is cautious, Tesla steps up and is extra brave (and ohmigosh, how much do I love that the GIRL is the "brave" sibling????). When Tesla is being outrageous, Nick reigns her in. They take care of each other, and their friends. 

Plus, they've got Zoe all KINDS of interested in science, and mysteries, and I can't say enough good things about Nick and Tesla.

Seriously. If you have a kid who's up for an adventure, check out these books. You won't regret it.

March 5, 2014

Stealing Memories: An Essay

The human brain is fascinating, no? It's capacity to think, to feel, to love, to compute. To remember.

Remember when... 

It's a frequent conversation starter among people everywhere. Remember when we were little, and that man chased us while we rode our bikes? Remember when we were in high school and we played Spin the Bottle? Remember when we were in college and we got so drunk we fell asleep on the floor of some random guy's apartment, our arms around each other like we'd been best friends forever, even though we'd only met a week before? 

Do you remember?

I do.

But what happens when you stop remembering? When your memories slip away like sand through a sieve? What happens to you then?

It's a topic that fascinates me, in a morbid and morose sort of way. The father of a friend of mine once told me that if he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, that disease that rips away your memories with diligence and without mercy, and there was still no cure, he'd go home that night and put a bullet through his head. His father had died of the disease, you see, and it had been long, and drawn out, and excruciating. 

The idea was terrifying, but also exhilarating. Why not take control of things, when control will so quickly be ripped from your grasp? Why not save your family the pain of watching you go...while still your body remains? 

****

An aunt on my husband's side was in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's the first time I met her. She sat in a wheelchair in an old-age home, her husband long-dead, her only child having all-but abandoned her. A caretaker by her side, I approached with my then three-year-old daughter. The aunt's eyes were vacant. Her expression didn't change...until her caretaker asked my daughter to sing "You Are My Sunshine."

It was like magic. The aunt's eyes came to life. She watched my child and sang along. It was beautiful, and over all too soon for everyone.

Can you imagine what it's like, to be mostly afraid, mostly alone, mostly unaware of why you sit in a room all day and all night, recognizing no one and nothing. And then to suddenly be turned on, just for a moment to remember...something.

That sounds like the worst kind of torture devised by the wickedest science fiction bad guy around. At least to me.

****

Memories work the opposite ways, too, though. Have you ever stolen a memory? Stolen an experience? Taken something that wholly belonged to someone else and made it your own? Integrated it into your life?

I do that sometimes, though my thefts are less than nefarious. 

I didn't grow up watching basketball. I went to a small college in New Jersey with a small, unsuccessful basketball team. When I began dating my husband ten years ago, I'd have even said I hated basketball. Who cares. Right?

My husband cared. He went to the University of North Carolina, with all its storied basketball legends (Remember Michael Jordan? He went there.). His college experience, too, was the stuff of legend. Waiting in line for tickets for hours, cheering on the team, hanging out on Franklin Street in downtown Chapel Hill after a big win. He did it all and more.

He used to share these stories with me, and I ate them with a spoon. I loved them. I wished I had lived them. 

We began to watch UNC basketball together early on in our relationship. The first year, the team, led by Sean May and Raymond Felton (Remember them?), won it all. The NCAA Tournament Championship. I remember standing there, watching them win, and hoping it would always be that way for this group of players I'd come to love throughout a single season. 

Of course it wasn't. 

Through the years they've won and they've lost. I've seen new legends emerge from the UNC locker room (Remember Danny Green and the way he hit a string of 3s in the Spurs playoffs?). I've wanted to throw things at the TV, and I've stood up and cheered.

Through those same years, I've heard more stories. I've gone to Chapel Hill, though never for a game. I've begun to consider myself a UNC girl, though I never attended the school. The end of their alma mater goes: I'm a Tar Heel born, I'm a Tar Heel bred, and when I die, I'm a Tar Heel dead. Me, I was neither born nor bred, but I  married into the family and I embrace it as my own.

Nowadays, when I see a game at Chapel Hill, I'm nostalgic for a world in which I never actually lived. Images of Franklin Street and the Old Well make me almost as warm inside as a long shot of the New York City skyline (which is much closer to where my true roots lie). I've stolen my husband's memories and they've become a part of me.

****

North Carolina's basketball program is still home to a living legend. Dean Smith coached the team to over 850 victories in his decades-long career. Now, over 15 years after his retirement, he suffers from advanced dementia. He's lost the memories of a lifetime. Of family. Of friends. Of teams coached to incredible victories, and teams supported through loss and recovery. 

My husband send me this article earlier today, and reading it brought me to writing this essay. It's heartbreaking to see someone lose everything they ever did, especially when they've done so much.

Reading through the article on Dean Smith, I felt a weird mix of emotions. Sadness, sure. Anger that we still can't save people's memories somehow? Definitely. 

But what I felt most was loss. Loss for a man who coached a team long before I even knew it existed. How could I feel loss for that? 

****

Memories. They're tricky things, aren't they? They can be stolen, they can be lost, and they can be shared. But once they're gone, it's impossible to get them back. 

Keep telling your stories, everyone. Keep sharing your memories. You never know when you're going to need them.

March 3, 2014

This weekend! Captain's Comic Expo!

Hey you guys!

Live in Charleston? 

Like comic books?

Like Scooby Doo?

Like Star Wars?

Like...zombies???

Well, this Saturday, March 8, is the Captain's Comic Expo, run by the amazingly awesome and spectacular people of Captain's Comics & Toys and Rose's & Ruin's Tattoos! It's going to be fantastic! Not only will there be dozens of comic book vendors selling their wares, a Scooby Doo Mystery Machine on hand for photo ops, and a regimen of Star Wars Storm Troopers...which are all super-great!...

But I will be there, too! Yes!!! I'll be selling copies of Zombie Days, Campfire Nights, the first book in my Undead America series! I plan to bring snacks and bookmarks and excellent conversation (remember, I'm shy...but I love when people say hello!!), and if you like, I'll sign your book too!

This is me, at an event last year, so you know who you're looking for.
I'll have about 25 copies on-hand to sell, so if you're worried about me selling out before you get there, feel free to order ahead from Amazon (if you have Prime, it'll get to you in time). Here's the link. If you bring a copy with, I'll sign it!! Because I'm cool that way (and really because HOLY SHIT SOMETIMES PEOPLE WANT ME TO SIGN THEIR BOOKS AND THAT'S CRAZY AND AMAZING!!!).

So. Here's all the info you need. In postcard form. I really, REALLY would love to see you there! And tell your friends, too! It's going to be a GREAT event!!