Thursday, January 28, 2010

Win free books!

Okay, Jackie at Literary Escapism has dreamed up a really fun mini-challenge for the month of February. Anybody can play. You don't have to be a blogger.

Basically, you read and review at least one (but you can review up to 5) books written by a new-to-you author from the League of Reluctant Adults (a crazy little cabal of which I am the newest member. Yay!)

Current roster: Mario Acevedo, Michele Bardsley, Dakota Cassidy, Carolyn Crane, Molly Harper, Mark Henry, Stacia Kane, Jackie Kessler, Caitlin Kittredge, J.F. Lewis, Richelle Mead, Kelly Meding, Nicole Peeler, Cherie Priest, Jennifer Rardin, Kat Richardson, Michelle Rowen, Diana Rowland, Jeanne C. Stein, Anton Strout, Rob Thurman, and Jaye Wells

Rules, in a nutshell:
  • You read and review 1 book from a League author you haven't read (or as many as 5 if you want more chances to win) during February.
  • Post the review on a blog, B & N, Amazon, Goodreads, wherever (post the review twice for an extra entry, so you could get up to 10 entries if you are an ambitious reader and poster.)
  • Tell Jackie at Literary Escapism, of course.
At the end of the month, SEVEN randomly chosen winners will get to choose 5 books each from a giant list of book prizes. Books, sets and ARCs from some of my fave authors! The prize books will be flowing like mad. (Check out the list of book prizes!!!)

Mind Games won't be out in time for this challenge, but you could win Mind Games ARCs - two are up for grabs. Right now 30 people are signed up, so the odds of winning one of the seven multi-book prize packs are very excellent. Again, rules are here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Car fixed! And Angels' Blood update

Yay! it's fixed (Before picture to the right, after below. Part 1 of this saga here). Okay, it may not look all that fixed, but it does look sort of punk rock, doesn't it?

Also, you can't see this, but the other side has duct tape, too - the guy at our garage fixed the left turn signal, which was broken forever. It is so nice not to have to stick our hands out the window for turning.

Sigh. Poor 1994 Dodge Intrepid aka Millenium Falcon.

It's just a little too old to pour a bunch of money into, and really, we barely need a car. Mr. Crane walks to his office, and I work at home unless I have a meeting, or if I have to be onsite with a client or agency. And we walk to our grocery store and stuff.

And this bad boy starts no matter what the temperature is and gets us where we want to go. What more can you ask for?

Okay, yes, it would be nice to drive on the highway, but a mechanic advised us not to take it over 40 mph. But other than that. What else could you ask for?

Reading update:
Ooooh! My torrid love affair with Nalini Singh's Angels' Blood continues. I had to really force myself to put it down and go to sleep last night. I'm glad I'm reading it now, because the next in the series, Archangel's Kiss, is out next week.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Late to the Angels' Blood Party. But I brought pointy hats!

Great moments from last night's reading
Angels' Blood by Nalini Singh
Page: 58
Spoiler level: nil

I am just settling into this book, and I may be staying up quite late tonight--it's hooked me in a way other books haven't lately. The writing is lovely and dense, the world is so freshly imagined, but it's the H/H conflict that has really captured my imagination.

Again, I'm only starting it, so I may be off on some things. The plot, in short so far: Elena, tracker and hunter of vampires, has been hired/forced by uber-powerful Archangel Raphael to take a suicidally difficult job.

Here, a passage I came across last night. Raphael flies her to his office rooftop to discuss details of the case. Elena says:
If you think I'm going to follow you around like a puppy..."

He glanced over his shoulder. "I could make you crawl, Elena." No trace of any humanity in his face, nothing but the glow of such power that she wanted to shade herself from it. It was an effort not to take a stumbling step backward. "Do you really want me to force you onto your hands and knees?"

At that second, she knew he'd do exactly that.
And later:
Around her burned a million city lights, but up on this roof, there was only darkness--except for the glow coming off him. She'd heard people whisper of this phenomenon but had never thought to witness it. Because when an angel glowed, he became a being of absolute power, power that was usually directed to kill or destroy.
The power imbalance here is so colossal. At times I'm like, could Raphael truly be the hero? But yes, clearly he is. I found myself thinking there is no way this can work. He's far too insanely powerful a being to be in a relationship with this heroine, who isn't the type to be bossed.

And then I get to thinking: Will his power diminish? Will Elena's grow? Will love create a balance of some sort? Because, of course, love makes great beings vulnerable. What does Nalini Singh have in store here?

I'll report in later on this, but I want to say that everything seems so impossible in such an interesting and challenging way--the relationship, the hunter task. I feel engaged, and curious. This book is so much fun, right out of the gate. Definitely no reading slump in the Crane house tonight.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Little CJ, what are you up to now?

Little CJ is missing! Where in the world could she be? What is she up to now?

Poor troubled little CJ, my childhood portrait painted by an elderly aunt, doomed to hang on my office wall and watch me work every day. Never aging. Not allowed to hang in the living room because my husband thinks she looks creepy and that her eyes follow him. And now she's gone!!!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Kati & CJ's Ponderings on tension in Brockway's All Through the Night

Kati (of Katidom!): All Through the Night by Connie Brockway is in my Top 10 favorite romance novels of all time. So, I was thrilled when CJ agreed to read it and blog about it with me.

Carolyn: I’m really thrilled we’re doing this, too, Kati. What a fabulous read, and even better, it’s one of those books that improves when you think about it afterwards, so I’m really excited to take a closer look with you. It’s no wonder this is one of your all-time faves.

Le book blurb:
A woman compelled. . .
In the glittering world of Regency England, Anne Wilder played a dangerous game. A widowed lady by day, by night she became a masked thief preying on society's elite. She roved high above London's black rooftops, compelled by phantoms from her past to take ever greater risks. Until her restless spirit led her into Colonel Jack Seward's trap. . . where seduction was her only way out.
A man obsessed. . .
She'd played him for a fool, taking advantage of his hungry response to escape from his clutches. But as Jack hunted for his thief, his heart fell captive to a self-possessed widow. Torn between illicit passion and tender love, Jack is duty-bound to capture the audacious criminal, even if it means ripping society apart to do so. Now he stalked her through the ton, never realizing the lovely widow who captured his heart was the same woman who roused his most violent passions.
A love that defied king and country. . .
~Warning: Spoilers abound in all areas EXCEPT area 1 and area 3~
Kati: CJ, what makes ATTN so successful for me is the tension throughout the book. There are so many varieties!
1. Colonel Jack Seward and his father, Lord Jamison

Kati: First: the tension between our wily hero, Colonel Jack Seward and his father, Lord Jamison. You see, Jack is a bastard. Raised in a workhouse, and plucked by Lord Jamison when he discovered he couldn’t have children, Jack, who was seven at the time, and Lord Jamison strike a horrible bargain. Jack will be taken from the only life he’s known, one of poverty, and Lord Jamison will shape Jack into his very own weapon. Jack is educated and bought a commission in the military, where he has tremendous success and ends up working for the war department.
The thing is, there is no love between Lord Jamison and Jack. Jack knows his duty, and does it without complaint, but he also understands that there is no love lost between the two of them, and that Jamison will do anything to get what he wants. In this case, it’s a letter that was in a box, stolen by the Wrexhall Wraith. Jamison doesn’t just task Jack with getting the letter back, but also with capturing the Wraith and killing the thief post haste.
Carolyn: Agreed - the tension is so rich in this relationship. What especially made things dramatic for me was that this was the shadow of a father/son relationship. Jamison is such a monster for shaping a child to his dark means, yet part of me felt like somewhere deep inside, Jamison had to want a son of his own, and Jack Seward surely longed for a father. I felt so much pain there right under the surface here. I agree that there is no love here, but I think there is pain and longing covered over by hate and anger. For example, I’m thinking of Jamison’s anger at Jack’s rejection of his control. And Jack Seward, burying his vulnerability. I think it connects to what you say later, that Jack wants the Wraith to “pay for introducing in him more lust and attraction than he’s ever felt.”
2. Anne and Matthew Wilder
Kati: Second, the tension between Anne and her practically sainted dead husband. You see Anne was a bit of a hoyden when she and Matthew Wilder wed. He was single minded in his pursuit of her, and their marriage was one that the ton envied as a love match. Since Matthew’s death, Anne is a changed woman. She’s calmer and has invested much of herself and her energies into soliciting funds for her home for injured soldiers. Anne founded the home after Matthew led the men under his command into an ill advised battle where many were killed or maimed.
Only Anne knows that Matthew was a much more selfish individual than anyone in society knows. He’s been practically canonized in public, and each time someone speaks positively of Matthew, Anne is wrenched by guilt that she didn’t love him enough, that their relationship isn’t what everyone thought it was.
Carolyn: I think I mentioned to you that one of the things I loved was how Brockway let the reader’s understanding of Matthew dawn alongside Anne’s - that he was actually a sort of twisted, controlling, emotionally abusive husband who made Anne feel horrible all the time for not loving him enough. “What’s the deal with Matthew” is like this little mystery at the center of the book that created great tension.
Also, for me it was a really cool parallel to Jack and Jamison’s supposed father/son relationship. A marriage that was twisted instead of loving. And the pain of that, with endless ripple effects. And it made Anne hate herself.
3. Anne and Society
Kati: Third: The tension between Anne and society. Anne has a position as the chaperone for her hoydenish niece, Sophia, who spends as much time flirting and using bad judgment as she does circulating in society. Anne uses that position to solicit support for the home for soldiers. Only Anne knows that many members of society pledge support for the home, but then renege on those pledges. It makes Anne a bit of an outcast in society. People are uncomfortable around her.
Carolyn: Oh, such a good point - people are definitely uncomfortable around Anne. it’s really a great tension because there is so much that’s unspoken in her interactions with people at these parties. A big elephant in the room wherever she goes. Weirdly, it just occurred to me that this is another kind of relationship where falseness creates tension - those people reneging on their pledges, as you point out. And then Anne, as Wraith, works to make them good for their word!
4. Jack and the Wrexhall Wraith
Kati: Fourth: The tension between Jack and the Wrexhall Wraith. Chapter one opens with the Wraith in the midst of a robbery and being caught by Colonel Seward. “No joy there, I’m afraid.” Jack tells the thief. The thief immediately realizes that there is only one thing to do. Take Jack unawares. How? The thief has an ace in the hole. Jack is justifiably mistrusting of the thief. The thief invites Jack to pat him down to ensure himself that he isn’t carrying any weapons.
“I believe I will, at that,” Seward murmured, pulling the black and wool-clad figure against his hard chest and securing his wrists. Quickly and efficiently he swept his free hand down over the thief’s should and flanks, hips, thought and legs. He moved back up, his touch passing lightly over the thief’s chest.
He stopped, pale eyes gleaming with sudden intensity, and quickly jerked the slight body forward by the belt. His hand dipped down, clamping hard on the juncture between the legs in a touch both violently intimate and absolutely impersonal.
“My God,” Seward said, dropping his one hand as if burned, though the other still clenched the belt, “you’re a woman.”
Kati: Thus begins a cat and mouse game. The Wraith tempting, teasing Jack, evincing in him an immediate sense of ownership, but more than that, attraction. Jack will hunt down and capture Wrexhall’s Wraith. And make her pay for introducing in him more lust and attraction than he’s ever felt.
Carolyn: Firstly, can I just say you have chosen excellent excerpts? Ahem. Yeah, the tension here was so delicious, and even dangerous. Jack needed to get her, needed her in a way. As the Wraith, Anne brought out a kind of visceral humanity in Jack that was both horrifying and compelling to him—and to Anne as well. And she had this drive to be the Wraith. I saw the Anne-as-Wraith/Jack interaction as almost the flip side of the Jack/Jamison and Anne/Matthew stuff. Anne out being wild instead of the perfect widow, and Jack being an unruly human, instead of a cool operative.
5. Colonel Jack Seward and Mrs. Anne Wilder
Kati: Fifth: The tension between Colonel Jack Seward and Mrs. Anne Wilder. As Jack gets to know Anne, he realizes that she is his feminine ideal. She’s smart, possessed of a very sharp wit, and he is immediately attracted. Overwhelmingly so. He contrives to put himself in her path over and over, tempting himself and unknowingly, her. She feels the attraction too, but of course, Anne knows what Jack does not. That she is, in fact, Wrexhall’s Wraith. And the cat and mouse game that she is playing with him is more dangerous than he can ever know.
Carolyn: Hello. This cat and mouse game was one of the funnest lurve obstacles I’ve ever encountered in a historical!
Kati: Every encounter between Jack and Anne/the Wraith oozes tension. As the Wraith, Anne is reckless, tempting him over and over culminating in a scene where she ties him to a chair and seduces him by touch and then she flees, after Jack is forced to swing her to safety. As the widow, Anne is proper and demure, and everything Jack thinks he wants. There is awkwardness between them after Jack presses what he think is an unwanted advance upon the widow Wilder. It is at a ball when she finds herself in his arms and terrified that he’ll realize her secret.
Carolyn: You were like, did you read the chair scene yet? LOL. So great. And here below, omg, again you’ve chosen such a fine excerpt, Kati!
She averted her face, unwilling to meet his gaze, and after the first few strains of music, she made no attempt to keep her artificial smile on her lips. Indeed, they trembled and lost all hint of pleasure, mirroring her distress far too clearly. They had been soft beneath his kiss, soft and tender and, for the space of a heartbeat, yielding.
He wanted her. He wanted her as much, no, more than he wanted the thief. Which was impossible.
Pain washed through him, pricking him with the knowledge of his inconstancy. He pulled her nearer. Her gave flickered to and from his face and she recoiled from his embrace.
He would not let her. He would never hold her again, never have her in his arms, never touch her, and he would not-not for manners’ sake, not for her sake, not for his own peace – let her rob him of even one short moment. [….]
He closed his eyes and pulled her closer still and breathed deeply. She smelled warm and angry and clean, devoid of any masking properties of perfume or soap –
His eyes opened slowly, like a man who knows he will witness some horror. His breath grew shallow. Strength and passion, no betraying scent. Dear God, no. […]
Jack’s body shook. He had never been closer to losing every aspect of self-control. How fortunate for her that they were not alone. Because, just at this moment, he was not at all certain that he wouldn’t have killed her.
He grasped her shoulders and stared down at her. She gazed up at his defiantly, with eyes lit up like a midnight pantheon of dying stars.
“My thief,” he said.
Carolyn: What a moment this was! Leading up to it, I felt so bad when Jack thought Anne didn’t like him. Because again, I saw Jack as a man in so much pain, like he’s unlovable. And Anne felt like that, too. So the tension just cranked higher and higher when they’d meet as their different selves, culminating here in this scene. And wow, wasn’t it great that he catches her mostly by smell? I was actually a little surprised he didn’t recognize her eyes during the chair scene, but I rolled with it.
Kati: There are so many aspects of this book that work for me. The “mystery” part of the book is fully integrated into the romance. The romance itself is full of unexpected turns and strongly built relationships between the characters. But it is the tension that Brockway creates between almost every character that makes All Through the Night one of my all time favorite romances.
Carolyn: So right, it’s not like a bunch of separate items - everything is integrated, and the tension just crackles across every single relationship! I need to read more Brockway. This totally erases the Black Jewels caper! LOL. Thanks for doing this, Kati!
You can visit Kati anytime over at her blog, Katidom!
Images from Wikimedia: Boy and Rabbit by Sir Henry Raeburn; Woman: Hayez, Francesco Porträt der Antonietta Vitali Sola. Victoria Memorial, London Author: F. Feldhofer

Monday, January 18, 2010

Nicole Peeler: the next Katie Couric?

Nicole Peeler, author of the fabulous Tempest Rising, is interviewing me today over at the League of Reluctant Adults! For the love of all things holy, stay away from this woman! Please come say hi!

We had a great time, and she went out of her way to make me feel comfortable. Wow! What a disturbed and utterly horrifying creative, thoughtful person she is! And full of surprises.

I've been a lurker at the League for a long time and I can't say what she did to me what an honor it is to be included over there!

Seriously, I'm very thrilled and excited, and Nicole was so much fun. Come visit!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Intrepid: noooooooo!

Look at our poor baby! Our 1994 Dodge Intrepid, aka The Millennium Falcon.

This is the result of two ice-sliding accidents in the past week. Nobody was hurt - these were like, 5 mph accidents with Mr. Crane behind the wheel.

Mr. Crane is an excellent driver, but he is also an expert on city shortcuts, with a great fondness for little side streets. Unfortunately, the little side streets of Minneapolis are icier than anyone can remember. In fact, some are like ice skating rinks with grooves in them, and some of the grooves take cars to the side.

Into parked cars.

So he comes home very upset and tells me about the first smash-up. We attempted to repair the damage (do you like the pink duct tape?).

Then, a day later we're on our way to a friend's place, via a little side street, and I had just gotten done suggesting we take a better-de-iced main road and he was like, naah, we're fine, but he slowed to humor me. And then the next block, thunk. It was like this invisible force just slid us into a parked car!

So we got out to leave a note, and two neighbors came out to say that each of their cars had also been hit that week in the very same way, and they got notes, too. Obviously this all sucks very much on the financial front.

Luckily, the second car wasn't very damaged, but our duct tape and rope fix deteriorated to the point where the rope, as you see, is decorative at best. So it's going into the shop tomorrow.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Great moments: Men of the Otherworld

Great Moments from Last Night's Reading
Men of the Otherworld by Kelley Armstrong
Page: 52
Spoiler level: low

Bitten by Kelley Armstrong was my first urban fantasy read, and it remains one of my faves. It came to me in a roundabout way some six or seven years ago; I was at a writer friend's home, about to take an 8-hour train ride later that day, and had nothing to read, so she pulled a hardcover off her shelf--a novel she'd been sent to review.

It had completely different cover art than it has now (pictured right). It looked and felt like a literary novel. At the time, urban fantasy wasn't really a category, I think, so maybe that's how it was being sold.

I'll never forget how she described it: "It's about yuppies who turn into werewolves at night." I thought that sounded weird and interesting--I imagined something like Fight Club, and I took the book. Looking back, I think she didn't really read it. But I did, and I was hooked! It had super hot sexy scenes, paranormal creatures, exciting struggles. Way more fun than the stuff I was used to!

Last night I was feeling a little slumpy in my reading; I probably picked up three different books, but no, no and no. And then I spied Kelley Armstrong's Men of the Otherworld anthology by my bed, which was one of my fave reads of last year, and a total must-read for fans of Bitten, Stolen and the rest. It's two novellas centering on Jeremy and Clay, and two shorts that relate to Jeremy's parentage. Anyway, I just had to revisit some of the Clay and Jeremy stuff from the novella entitled Savage.

Armstrong usually does female narrators, but she gives Clay such a great voice here. In the early sections we learn about how he ended up a feral werewolf, alone in the bayou, and how Jeremy found him and worked tirelessly to bring him back into the world of humans.

This is a tale of small victories, and I just so love it. The interactions between these two are engaging and realistic, and they add wonderful dimension to these characters. A favorite moment: after days and weeks of patiently feeding Clay in the wilderness and finally getting him to put on clothes, Jeremy gets Clay to follow him to a motel, but of course Clay gets spooked at the motel room door and runs away to sleep under some nearby bushes, then:
Later that night, I woke up shivering. Louisiana was suffering through a cold snap that winter and even the clothing the man had provided didn't help much, I remembered that burst of heat from the motel room.

For a long time, I lay there, shivering, fear warring with discomfort. Finally I leapt up and dashed for the motel. The door was still open. Inside,the man was asleep on the bed. I curled up in the doorway and went to sleep.

And so I let myself be domesticated. In the end, like any stray, I was conquered by the promise of continued food and shelter. Trust would take longer.

For at least a week I slept in the doorway, not letting him close the door no matter who cold the night got. One day, another man came by. While I hid in the bushes outside,the other man yelled at my man, motioning at the door. Money changed hands and the other man left. That was the first of many such exchanged I'd see in my life--cash buying tolerance for my idiosyncrasies.

After a few days, with the right amount of food for coaxing, the man convinced me to come inside the room. He left the door open, so this seemed safe.
Armstrong's sensibility about the animal side of werewolves is one of the things that has always stood out for me in her werewolf tales; I always say, this is somebody who must spend a lot of time watching dogs, thinking about dogs.

I also love the voice here: smart but spare. I don't get into novellas much, and I don't do a whole lot of rereading, but as usual, I break the rules when it comes to Kelley Armstrong: the Clay and Jeremy stuff is so satisfying!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Some things nobody told me about being a debut author

When my agent sold my book last year, my release date (March 23, 2010), seemed soooo long to wait.

What I didn’t realize is that tons of exciting little things would happen along the way, and those things make it not so bad to wait. In fact, I find that every dumb little thing that happens is sort of exciting when you're coming up on being a debut author.

I was reminded of this the other day on Twitter, when Tez from Tez Says twittered me a link to an Amazon page (pictured here), humorously wondering what was up with it - why am I keeping people in suspense? (At least I think it was Tez - I can’t find the twitter now!).

I went and looked and check it out! My book #2 is there! This may not seem that impressive, but it’s super exciting to me. When you're having a book or series coming out, little things like this are always magically appearing.

Or sometimes my editor will email me, and that is always sort of a kick. Even when the email is blank, it's this little shot of fun excitingness. Or, the other day, she emailed me about a thing, and the same email was sent to a few other authors I admire the hell out of, like we're this group now.

The cover
The Spectra Bantam gang asked me about what sort of clothes my heroine, Justine Jones, might wear, and any suggested backgrounds. I had all kinds of opinions and ideas and sent a bunch of photos, of course, including this one (below) I found on Sartorialist, a fashion site that fashion-savvy galpal Kwana turned me onto. And this artist at Spectra worked it up into a really cool cover. Maybe I’m blathering here, but it was sort of amazing to me that some artist in New York was paid to spend time working on a cool piece of art to represent the world and character I created. When I first got the cover (see cover on sidebar), I could barely stop looking at it.

My agent would often talk about the “editorial letter” that was coming, but I didn’t think it would actually be a letter. But it was. I really loved that. The letter had all these little things to change.

In the letter, my editor said I could change whatever other little things I wanted to, even if she didn’t call for it in her letter. But, when I even changed one little word, I was like, am I sure this is a better choice? This might be the word that goes in the final book. Am I really really sure????

Other random things:
  • Being a writer, I guess I assumed I would/should write the back blurb, which I figured would be a version of my query, but then the Spectra gang sent one that they made to me, and goddamn if it wasn’t nine million times better than I could’ve ever done. Even though I tweaked it a little.
  • “Front sales.” Just in case you’re wondering, that’s the passage at the front of the book, often sexy, that’s pulled out from somewhere inside. I didn’t realize I would even have one, but one day it appeared in my inbox. I was so surprised by the passage they chose, and they sort of stitched a few things together to make it, but I thought it was smart.
  • Writing is such a zero-collaboration zone, so suddenly having all these people with me on the project who are really good at what they do, I never expected it.
  • If I ever get a tattoo, it should be the rule for using lay, lie, lain, lied etc. Because apparently I will never get that right. In fact, after the editing experience, whenever I’m about to use the word, I think what it should be, and if I decide lay, then I use lie. And vice versa. That is my new system.
  • Oh, and also, guess who uses WAY too many exclamation points!!!!! If you were my twitter friend you would see how terrible I am about this. (And if you’re not my twitter friend, why not? … @carolyncrane)
Anyway, maybe someday I will be more jaded about this. I hope not, though, because I feel so lucky. Okay, now I'm really thinking about that lay/lie grammar rule tattoo. It would be sort of funny if I got it around my arm, like the way people get barbed wire there. Do you think I would regret it??

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Random meditations on Road Trip of the Living Dead

Another notable book I read on my winter blog break: Road Trip of the Living Dead by Mark Henry, the second in series about the notorious Amanda Feral, zombie fashionista. Whoa!

Road Trip is a weirdly entertaining combination of gore, violence and startling humor alongside surprising kindnesses and vivid characters. And on the level of the sentence, it's studded with brilliant gems. Like an insane and raunchy pirate's treasure chest.

Being the writing style wonk I am, I really got into the fun inventiveness here. (FYI: if you don't have a hidden streak of teenage boy lurking deep inside you somewhere, you may not think it's as funny and cool as I did.)

Deep thoughts
But more, Road Trip made me really think about monster/paranormal first person heroines (or heroes). In my UF reading experience, first person heroines--fae, vamps, shifters, whatever--tend to operate within my Midwestern American middle class ethical standards.

For example, when I look at another heroine I really enjoy, Succubus Georgina Kincaid, she does "bad" deeds to some extent, but her reasoning process feels normal and good. Even when she is having sex with some guy and sucking out his soul for eternal damnation, it feels right in a certain way, like she has no choice, or the guy deserves it.

Or there's Anita Blake, who famously worries aloud sometimes if she's becoming as big a monster as those she hunts (I've often wondered if that's actually Laurell K. Hamilton talking). Or, I think about Dexter who of course chops people up--while they're alive--but the show plot goes through contortions to make it feel like a good idea. Frankly, I think a lot of writers stress out about their first person heroines/heroes not being moral enough. I know I stress about it. A lot.

Mr. Mark Henry apparently does not stress out about this. Which is something that makes this book different and good.

Zombie Amanda Feral looks at children in cars as snacks, or gleefully eats homeless guys - because they're less likely to be missed, so there's less chance of trouble for her. (Of course, she also eats guys who deserve it, too, but her staple is the homeless.) Road Trip takes a deep monster point of view--Amanda Feral's thoughts and actions are more alien and, well, more monstrous, than any other UF heroine I've read. I can't say how much I enjoyed that!!

You just get plunged into this zombie's head, her culture, and this is her world and this is what zombies do and how she thinks, and she's not trying to be like a human. It made me realize that I got used to monster heroines more or less reflecting my values, and what's up with that? This constant consideration added a cool dimension to the experience.

Sympathy, comedy
But at the same time, I had a ton of sympathy for Zombie Amanda. She is incredibly three-dimensional and vulnerable, which makes her likable. It's an intense combo, like when you eat that kind of chocolate that has hot spice in it.

Reading this brought to mind an interview I heard with the Farrelly brothers, who made the movie Dumb and Dumber. They were talking about this part where the Jim Carey character sells a dead bird as a pet to a blind boy, and they said they knew that would push the envelope of the audience sympathy, so they put this scene in before it where Carey's character got evicted and lost his job, just to create sympathy balance.* It worked. And it works here.

You have Amanda raunching around as a zombie, but then she is suddenly going all out to help her friends (albeit grudgingly), or yearning for her mother's approval (buried in tons of snark) and she's achingly human again. And bad people are after her, too, which always helps.

Excerpts. Here, a scene from a skinhead bar that Amanda and her friend Wendy attack:
To my left, Wendy had taken out the gorilla's genitals and abdomen, leaving him looking like a cartoonish bow-legged cowboy, albeit dripping with blood. In the next instant, she tore into the closest guy, snapping his head clean off before he had any awareness of what was happening.
Some workers and patrons turn zombie:
The bartender dragged his legless torso from behind the bar, a swath of intestines draped from his mouth like a gory handlebar moustache - never a good look.
Amanda on a recent sexual encounter:

Granted, that last time with Martin didn't end so well--unless you're looking at it from the perspective of a black widow...
Here, Amanda is off to rescue some pals and has a horrible fall in a cavern:
I tried moving my arms, which although sore didn't seem to be broken. My legs worked, too. I must not have been that far off the ground after all. Standing tentatively, an awful crunching sound echoed though the space, followed by a wet sucking sound. One of my lungs had been punctured. When I looked down, I could see a thin piece of bone protruding from my shirt, surrounded by a thick yellow and gray ooze. [...]

Despite the obvious horror of this, it didn't feel too bad. The rib ached, sure, but had I been alive that lung would have kept me down.

I reached up and slid the rib back into place, cringing at the sloppy goo that dropped out in the process, but otherwise proud. A quick unbuttoning of my blouse and tying it off just under by chest seemed to do the trick.
Cringing at the sloppy goo but otherwise proud? LOL. Also, I love how Mark Henry thinks through the zombie existence on a physical level. Later this little bit of really nice description, perfectly in Amanda's voice:

Stalactites or mites or whatever stretched from floor to ceiling in columns resembling streaked bacon.
I actually think the zombie gore and grossness (red alert: there is a ton of it here) obscures the fact that Road Trip is a deceptively well-written book. For example, this last little excerpt: stalactites do look like streaked bacon, and leave it to a zombie to relate things to meat. RTOTLD also featured a character journey that was subtle, satisfying and unexpected. Amanda Feral coming to something. But in a zombie way.

Book #1 , Happy Hour of the Damned, is being reissued in mass market form in January, followed by this one, Road Trip, in February. I'm glad to see this; I like the idea of these in mm better than in trade. Get more info and excerpts here.
Kissing photo: Zombie Love by Jeremy Keith.
*Thanks to my fab sister in law Pam aka @LegendarySucker for reminding me of this Dumb & Dumber fact!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

It's still Tuesday in Hawaii, right? (Book trailers!)

Okay, I really fell off the horse on Book Trailer Tuesday! And I see my Trailer Tuesday inspiration at BirdBrain(ed) book blog has, too. Oh well, that's the great thing about blogs, huh? Not like she's going to get fired from her position as head blogger over there.

Okay, a few trailers that recently caught my eye! All three of these approaches are so different - the trailer for Release by Beth Kery (created by Lea of closetwriter) goes straight for the plot instead of being quirky or oblique, and sets a saucy mood with the music. I think it's a super smart choice to do it this way for this book, because, okay, let's face it, the plot is hot! And juicily mysterious, and Beth Kery totally delivers, so you know you will get the goods here. (Book releases in early February.) Anyway, trailer #1, for your perusal...

Our second trailer: Jeff Somers. A quirky, author-made trailer (or, it feels author-made) that I also really like. This trailer has little to do with the books at all. Really, I don't think it would be easy to describe the books in a trailer - they're these mad, wonderful, futuristic, breathless dystopian things. I can't help but wonder how many people will send him the bar code for pants.

Okay, I was reading about this last trailer on Avid Book Reader's Morning Report. I think it actually appeared on TV! Is that something new for a book trailer? I wonder what shows it ran on. Anyway, it's 15 seconds long. And again, it's nothing about the plot of the book, though you get a very sly nod to Stephen King's Misery here, don't you?

So what do you say? Seen any good trailers lately?

Monday, January 4, 2010

How my post on Meredith Duran's 'Bound by Your Touch' got hijacked!

Former post title:
Meredith Duran, You're killing me!
Former post intro:
Okay, that title sort of doesn't make sense. How about, "Meredith Duran, you are blowing me away with how good your book is!" or "Meredith Duran, I am so loving your book!" but those titles just don't have the same drama. I'm going to cob the synopsis off Barnes & Noble's site.


Silver-tongued Viscount Sanburne is London's favorite scapegrace. Alas, Lydia Boyce has no interest in being charmed. When his latest escapade exposes a plot to ruin her family, she vows to handle it herself, as she always has done. Certainly she requires no help from a too-handsome dilettante whose main achievement is being scandalous. But Sanburne's golden charisma masks a sharper mind and darker history than she realizes. He shocks Lydia by breaking past her prim facade to the woman beneath...and the hidden fire no man has ever recognized. But as she follows him into a world of intrigue, she will learn that the greatest danger lies within — in the shadowy, secret motives of his heart.

Then the interruption
So I'm humming along doing this post and I didn't like the synopsis I found above--I mean, it doesn't exactly explain the plot, right? So I went for the Publisher's Weekly and check it out:

Publishers Weekly

Duran (The Duke of Shadows) delivers a competently assembled and entertaining Regency romance. The daughter of Egyptologist Henry Boyce, Lydia Boyce is herself a learned scholar. When she discovers that some of the antiquities that her father has been shipping back from Egypt to sell are counterfeits, she investigates, determined to defend her father's reputation and chastise James Durham, Viscount Sanburne, an arrogant dilettante. Their mutual dislike predictably leads to romance, and soon Lydia and James are uneasy allies in the quest for the fabled Tears of Idihet and the counterfeiter. Though the period details seem intended less to enhance the setting than to convince the reader that the author knows her stuff, historical romance fans will enjoy the adventure and look forward to Written on Your Skin, due in August. (July)

I was so startled by this review. I had just read the book thinking precisely the opposite--that the details are wonderful, and brought the period to life for me in a way other books haven't. So reading this really put me out of joint. The bolds are mine and as you may be suspecting, I couldn't disagree more with them. Not only do the details enhance the setting, but they enhance the characters, which is way more important, and one of the reasons I love this book.

Post goes off the rails
So suddenly, I'm consumed with how wrong the review is. I'm thinking about the opening scene in particular, which knocked my socks off. We've got Sanburne, fearfully drunk at his own party, contemplating the too-Grecianness of his marble floor, and then being called to manage his guests, who are all far drunker. It's such a rich and entertaining rendering of a night in the life of a wealthy ne'er do well. As an aside, I think it's risky to open with a drunken point of view, but this one gave me such a strong sense of the emotional geography of this character.

Later, he's at a carnival, and still later at a Regency era fight club. Not only did I love being immersed in these well-drawn places, but the world Sanburne chooses to dwell in is central to his character. At one point he implies that he'd love to go to Italy, but his father is still around, so he'll stay in London to sort of spite him with his behavior. Just so delightful!

The stuff about the Egyptology game formed a central part of the mystery clockwork of the plot, as well as part of the clockwork of a certain sector of this society. I was vaguely aware that Europeans and Americans made a practice of mining less developed nations for antiquities around this time, but it was interesting to see it up close, and how it worked as a form of one upsmanship.

Two other fave period detail moments:
1.) At one point, Sanburne wryly observes how orchids and plants were the new cool way to display wealth, and you get this whole hit about who he is, who he'd be if he were alive today.
2.) Lydia and the bustle, which was coming into fashion; it was funny how she saw it as a stupid and impractical garment. And then the bustle suddenly characterized women who did wear it. Okay, enough on that.

What I was really going to talk about all along: The Stairway Scene
You know what I love about historicals? The minute interplay of characters, and the emotional intelligence that operates underneath it. This book is really great for that. Like, there's this stairway scene around page 188 where--oh, wow it's just masterful!

Basically, an incident leads to hard words, which leads to Lydia and Sanburne hitting raw nerves on each other, and then a kind of mutual understanding develops, as well as a tiny notch higher in self understanding, like the H/H begin to alter and affect each other's mode of calcification against happiness. But it's all very small--a conversation going down a several flights of stairs. This, this, this is what I love about a good historical!

Do you know what I'm talking about? Passages like this? Carolyn Jewel does this really beautifully, too--oh, and I just read a Connie Brockway that did it. (*waving to Kati D.*) Sometimes I read those passages over and over and admire the crap out of them. I could never write one--emotional fine work like that isn't in my temperament (I'm a monster girl!) but that's okay, I just love reading them. Thanks, Meredith Duran.

In other Bizarro World news:
Chris at Stumbling Over Chaos has a comic of us working at a coffeeshop on Friday - I was editing (not my own stuff) and she was doing a post. And for the record, it wasn't the way she has it - I was the one bugging her! And does she really have a giant cat head? I'll never tell.

Images except cover from Wikimedia. In order: Head of Apollo (copy); Egyptian tomb Illustration from photograph © 1999 Greg Reeder; Painting of woman "Portrait de femme" by Teodor Axentowicz (1859-1938)