Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Artists and Monsters - Get thee to Amazon!

There's nothing quite as exciting as finding dozens of little pieces of yourself on your doorstep. 

I'll explain...

In Laini Taylor's delicious new fantasy, Strange the Dreamer, Chapter 16 is titled "A Hundred Smithereens of Darkness." It is one of the many hundred things I adore about Taylor, that she titles each of her Chapters in the most scrumptious ways. These titles aren't just poetic, they are teasing little morsels, always directly referenced at some point during that Chapter as it unfolds.

Now, I wouldn't exactly describe bits of myself as "Smithereens of Darkness," but there is an element of the dark in much of my work.

Before we get to the subject of my work, I simply must tell you more about Strange the Dreamer

Those Smithereens, they belong to Sarai, Taylor's new female protagonist. Sarai is Godspawn, blessed (or cursed) with a magical gift. She is the Muse of Nightmares and every night she yawns one hundred tiny, beautiful moths made up of the stuff of bad dreams. The delicate creatures light upon the brows of sleepers, allowing Sarai's consciousness entrance to the sleepers' dreams. During the nightly yawn, Sarai is omnipresent, seeing through each moth as he flies, peering into each dream the dreamers dream. She can manipulate these dreams into something sweet or into something terrifying. But each moth, each Smithereen, Sarai recognizes always as a tiny part of herself.

..."salt and soot."

It is that way, seeing for the first time dozens of copies of your work, bound and neatly ordered, baring your printed name. 

The book, my book, is called Tributaries: An Anthology of the Savannah Writers Group. And while my dream is to one day birth a fantasy novel that might sit on the same shelf (or at least some shelf very near) as the work of Laini Taylor, it is still pretty fantastic self-publishing a volume of stories and poetry from local authors.

...and seeing so many of them looking handsome all in a row.

The title Tributaries was partly inspired by the wickedly curving arms of the salty, marshy rivers in the Savannah area, which snake like lightning through landscapes painted by the sunset. They're reminiscent of the bundles of tangled Spanish Moss, which hang from creeping boughs downtown, casting shadows deep with history and intrigue. 

The Anthology is packed with fifty pieces, all penned by authors (over twenty of them) who call themselves members of the Savannah Writers Group. Many of the pieces pay tribute to a person, a memory, a mystery, a genre... Thus carrying a double meaning.

Tributaries: An Anthology of the Savannah Writers Group is on sale now in soft cover and e-book format on Amazon and the Savannah Writers Group is working on plans for a formal book launch this autumn. 

The role I played in the conjuring of this volume was mostly as an organizer and point of contact. I stumbled along, gathering hard workers to help me, creating a process, a method for collecting, curating, and editing the works we ultimately published. 

I have one poem and one short story in the Anthology. My "Smithereen of Darkness" is called "The Artist." 

Here is an excerpt:

It was Ahmed’s turn, and he had been giving very serious thought to which was his favorite animal. A guinea pig would not do. When Peaches appeared and sat down beside him; however, wearing a grin, he couldn’t speak. Ahmed, usually prone to arguments, was sure he was going to marry Peaches Blair some day and always gave the girl her way.
“Hello, Sydney,” Peaches said brightly.
“Hi, Peaches.”
“It’s my birthday tomorrow. Can you draw my name with some butterflies all around it?”
Sydney glanced at Ahmed. His lips seemed glued shut. “Okay,” she agreed.
Peaches placed a pack of colored pencils on the lunch table. “I brought you these to work with.”
“Thanks,” replied Sydney, who began work right away.
Cursive was not Sydney’s strong suit, but she rigidly scrawled Peaches’ name in loops at the center of a page. Then she drew butterflies all around the letters and colored them in. Peaches was in Sydney’s class but was not among the artist’s best friends, who were Ahmed, Colin, and Stacie. Peaches didn’t know what Sydney could do with her animal drawings.
Stacie recognized the look in Sydney’s eyes and smiled knowingly, stealing a glance at Ahmed, whose silent face held gentle anticipation. They both knew what would happen next.
Sydney was coloring one butterfly black and gold and began her mental chant. I wish you real, I wish you real. Without delay, a golden butterfly outlined in black floated down to the lunch table. Stacie and Ahmed made small smiles. Peaches laughed like the trickle of a fountain.
“Wow, look at that! A real butterfly. Cool.”
Peaches no doubt believed the incident to be a simple coincidence.

"The Artist" is about dueling child-artists in the third grade. It is about a gift and how it can be used to bring light or to bring darkness. When I wrote it, I thought it would make a lovely episode of The X-Files.

If you find you like my short speculative fiction you will also love "Snakebit," which re-imagines the Greek hero Perseus and the Gorgon Medusa as a modern day criminal profiler and serial killer. Snakebit takes place in the south and pays subtle tribute to the work of filmmaker Michael Mann. You can find it also on Amazon in an Anthology called 9Tales From Elsewhere.

...Now that I think on it, Snakebit would also be a spectacular episode of The X-Files.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Dreaming of YALLFEST - Notes from November 2016

Happy Summer Solstice, ya'll. That's right. It is summer 2017. I'm booking my trip and making my plans to visit Charleston this fall for my second adventure at YALLFEST (which is happening this November), and yet I am just now getting around to blogging about my first visit to the Young Adult Book Festival, which occurred back in November of 2016 in the beautiful city of Charleston, SC.

Did I have fun at the two day event? Of course! I was as happy as a southern girl with a sweet biscuit! Nom nom nom. On my first night I had the delightful opportunity to stand in a short line and have #1 New York Times Bestselling Author, Renee Ahdieh sign my kindle, say hello, and stop graciously for a photo! (I'm on the left and Renee is on the right.) Renee wrote The Wrath and the Dawn, its sequel, The Rose and the Dagger, and the new book, Flame in the Mist. I'm dying to read Fame in the Mist for the simple fact that is involves SAMURAI! *drools*

In The Wrath and the Dawn, daring young Shahrzad gives herself in marriage to the murderous boy-king, Khalid, knowing that he strangles each of his brides on the morning following their weddings. How does she survive? She tells him a story so beguiling that night after night he must learn what happens next. Though her intent is to stop the monster once and for all, what she discovers instead is that she is falling in love with him.

The best thing about YALLFEST was the numerous opportunities to see a diverse bunch of writers in different settings. There were times I wasn't able to meet someone, but I was still able to hear him or her speak, answer questions, and even pose for photos. In one such case, I came face to face with Jay Asher, who has written three novels, one of which is Thirteen Reasons Why, the book, which inspired the intensely binge-able Netflix series of the same name. Jay walked the YALLFEST red carpet at the Charleston Public Library just before giving a great talk with several other well-known writers. The event was packed--standing room only. I stood joyfully for the whole event!

Jay was joined on the red carpet by the divine Libba Bray. The Bram Stoker Award winner has written a whole slew of Young Adult novels, just one of which is Beauty Queens, which holds a very unique brand of dark humor. Its literally a Miss America competition crossed with Lord of the Flies.

Pictured above is a gentleman who would have won the title for most enthusiastic red-carpet-walker. He struck many fun poses and had the shades to match his dark suit. His name is Brenden Reichs and his latest book is called Nemesis

YALLFEST spreads itself across several blocks of downtown Charleston, but all of the events are easily within walking distance and some of the locations are super fun. Above you can see blogger (and one of my besties) Flora, meeting the beguiling Alexandra Bracken--where else--in a toy store! We love her Darker Minds series and are super stoked it will become a film! But her newest masterpiece is called Passenger. It's being called an atmospheric time-travel story with a killer ending.

The highlight of Flora's time at YALLFEST was meeting her literary hero, Jennifer L. Armintrout, a super star of YA paranormal romance. Aren't they adorable?? Half-Blood, for instance, is her first book in the Covenant series.

The absolute worst thing that happened to me at YALLFEST was that my besties and I (Flora the fiery Greek pixie, and Seelie the tall, wise fae) stood about dying to win an ARC copy of Roshani Chokshi's A Crown of Wishes and totally walked away empty handed. 

Her first book, The Star-Touched Queen is a total stand-out in the world of new YA fantasy. It is a feast, drenched in delicious descriptions so vivid that you can taste and smell them!

Well, I follow Rosh on Twitter and even though she was not headlining the event she said there was a very good chance she would swing by. I was walking away from the ARC giveaway disappointed and then...there she was, walking around like a normal fangirl. I started stammering and hopping up and down and she was just as cool as a cucumber when I rushed toward her all giddy like. She was super chill and friendly and as she signed things for us, she made sure to introduce us to J.J. ...aka S. Jae Jones. 

WHAT an exciting surprise!!! See that beautiful book pictured with twinkle lights?? Its called WINTERSONG and it is J.J.'s super daring and original first novel based on one of my favorite 80's films of all time...LABYRINTH. Had we known such a crazy happenstance might have occurred, we would have had the good sense to have J.J. sign some books. We hope to see you this year, lady!

Isn't Rosh fabulous? I think she's one of my favorite people, but then, there were so many humble rock stars at YALLFEST. 2016 was a very good year for me. The purple pin on my lapel in the photo was procured at the one and only COMIC-CON in San Diego that summer and the Penguin pin was a freebie from YALLFEST.

Here is the Goodreads description of The Star-Touched Queen:

Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…

But Akaran has its own secrets—thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most…including herself.

I always tell newbies to the convention scene to choose one or two events you can't live without and plan around those. There is no way you can be everywhere at once, even if friends stand in the line of one event to save a place for you while you stand in another. Often you're in line far in advance, meaning you are missing some events. Most conventions, YALLFEST included, hold multiple events at any given time slot. 

The event I decided I couldn't live without last fall was getting Sabaa Tahir's autograph. Authors usually sign the copies of their books that you bring along, but I asked most of the YALLFEST writers to pretty please sign my kindle cover. I had to wait about an hour to meet Sabaa, but I was near the front of the line and I got to take home one of her giveaways, a character card of my girl, Helene from An Ember in the Ashes, Sabaa's dynamite YA fantasy series set in a deadly Middle-Eastern flavored world.

To be so fortunate to wait at the front of Sabaa's line, I had to separate from Flora and Seelie. They kindly took my copy of Shiver to be signed by the one and only Maggie Stiefvater. I was unable to go with them (*cries a little*) so I hope to see her for myself next time. By then I should have a copy of her master work The Raven Boys, so that I can have that signed, too. 

The Raven Boys follows a maybe clairvoyant who sees her first apparition, the spirit of someone soon to die, which is a common occurrence for her mystical family members though it has never happened to her before. She is seeing the vision of him either because he is her one true love or...because she's going to kill him. That makes sense because our poor heroine has always been told by the other clairvoyants that she will certainly kill her one true love. ...Now what??

So, off on my own, hunting desperately for Sabaa's line, I nearly plowed right into the green-haired goddess, Ryan Graudin. I was able to pre-order a signed copy of her first book Wolf by Wolf and pick it up at Blue Bicycle Books, the sponsor of YALLFEST. I was embarrassed, but luckily didn't actually bum-rush Ryan. She remained unharmed, I swear. We later saw her in panel.

The panels were terrific. The DARK FANTASY panel was my favorite. Maggie Stiefvater was there, with Sabaa, and to my great excitement, Jay Kristoff and Kendare Blake.

I cannot say enough about Kendare's book THREE DARK CROWNS. We met her and collected her signature following the panel. It's about a set of triplets, princesses all. To be queen, one must murder her sisters... Kill or be killed. ...Love, love, love. Meet the ill-fated queens, each with a remarkable (deadly) gift, right here.

Did I mention how amazing it was to see Jay Kristoff? The dashing, imposing Aussie wrote Nevernight, among other exciting novels. Goodreads describes it thus: 

In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.

I won a copy of Rebel of the Sands while in Sabaa's line, too.  

Flora, Seelie and I are dying to meet Leigh Bardugo. It didn't happen last year, so that's our goal for the next YALLFEST! I'm reading Six of Crows now and it is easily one of the best YA fantasy novels I've ever read.