Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Guest Post: Meradeth Houston

The Starting Line

Thanks so much for hosting me today! Before I forget, I have a contest running for my blog tour—all commenter’s are entered into a drawing for two copies of my book, and one person will win a $25 giftcard to Amazon or Barnes & Noble. There are more details on my home blog, if you want to check it out!

Today I thought I’d talk a little about opening lines and paragraphs in books. For writers, they are so vitally important, and some say they can make or break your book. As someone who regularly browses books by reading the first page, I know this is the case! If I don’t really like the opening, it takes a lot to get me through the rest of the chapters, let alone spending money on it. Now, a first line doesn’t have to be magical and captivating, but it does have to draw me in. Some of my favorites include:

“It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.” The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (so telling and so bleak. I am in love with Steifvater’s writing!).

“It was a dark and stormy night.” A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L’Engle (this opening has received a lot of flack, but I still love it. It’s a bit cliché, but because of that I want to read on!).

“Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling (it’s the “thank you very much” in this one that not only makes me want to laugh, but begs the question of why they’re so concerned about being normal).

“The first time, November 6 to be exact, I wake up at two a.m. with a tingling in my head like tiny fireflies dancing behind my eyes.” Unearthly by Cynthia Hand (I love the voice in this and the details of the date and fireflies).

These are just a few of many that I’ve loved. Do you have a favorite opening line? I’d love to hear it!

And just for fun, the opening of my novel, Colors Like Memories:

“I greeted his tombstone the way I always did—with a swift kick.”

A bit about the Colors Like Memories:

Julia has a secret: she killed the guy she loved. It was an accident—sort of.

Julia is a Sary, the soul of a child who died before taking her first breath. Without this 'breath of life' she and others like her must help those on the verge of suicide. It's a job Julia used to enjoy, until the accident that claimed her boyfriend’s life—an accident she knows was her fault. If living with the guilt weren't enough, she's now assigned to help a girl dealing with the loss of her mother, something Julia's not exactly the best role model for. If she can't figure out a way to help her, Julia's going to lose her position in the Sary, something she swore to her boyfriend would never happen.

Release date: May 11th 2012 from MuseItUp Publishing.

A bit about Meradeth Houston:

Meradeth’s never been a big fan of talking about herself, but if you really want to know, here are some random tidbits about her:

>She’s a Northern California girl. This generally means she talks too fast and use "like" a lot.
>When she’s not writing, she’s sequencing dead people’s DNA. For fun!
>She’s been writing since she was 11 years old. It's her hobby, her passion, and she’s so happy to get to share her work!
>If she could have a super-power, it would totally be flying. Which is a little strange, because she’s terrified of heights.!/MeradethHouston

If Colors Like Memories sounds like something you'd like to read you can buy it at Amazon or Muse It Up Publishing.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Book Review: Shift

Aura’s life is anything but easy. Her boyfriend, Logan, died, and his slides between ghost and shade have left her reeling. Aura knows he needs her now more than ever. She loves Logan, but she can’t deny her connection with the totally supportive, totally gorgeous Zachary. And she’s not sure that she wants to.

Logan and Zachary will fight to be the one by her side, but Aura needs them both to uncover the mystery of her past—the mystery of the Shift.

As Aura’s search uncovers new truths, she must decide whom to trust with her secrets…and her heart.

I read Shadeby Jeri Smith-Ready at the end of last year, and I held off on Shiftuntil closer to the Shinerelease. I liked Shade a lot, but I liked Shift even more!

Shift picked up right where Shade left off. Logan died and turned shade in front of so many people who had come to watch his send off into the light. And after he turned shade, he disappeared. His girlfriend, Aura, is waiting for him to return, hoping to help him turn back into a ghost.

Aura is the first. The first child born with the gift of seeing ghosts. Zachary is the last. The last child born before Aura. Ghosts flock to Aura while Zachary scares them away. And the two of them are investigating the "shift". Why did it happen? How did it happen? Meanwhile, others are investigating it as well, and it means that Aura and Zachary aren't necessarily safe.

I love the romance between Aura and Zachary. I'm not much of a Logan fan. He is the "bad boy" in the (semi) triangle. I understand that he loves Aura and wants to be with her, but sometimes I find him just plain selfish. He died. He's a ghost. How can he expect Aura to want to be with him? So I completely get Zachary's frustration. And Zachary is simply swoon-worthy with his kilt and his accent. So I sometimes find myself frustrated by Aura. How can she not be all about Zachary? Jeri's writing is fantastic. She sucks you in early and keeps you interested. Story-wise... as much as I loved this book, there were a few aspects that bothered me. I actually had to remind myself that this is a paranormal book, and anything can happen. Even if it doesn't follow the conventional paranormal rules. Despite the parts that bugged me, I really enjoyed this book. I'm very excited to pick up Shine soon.

Meeting Authors: Kristin Cashore

I got the opportunity to meet Kristin Cashore (again) last week when Bitterblue released. I had met her a few years ago when Fire came out, and I had had such a great time, I had to go back to Politics and Prose to meet her again.

She started out by talking about the writing process for Bitterblue. All three books she wrote by hand and transcribed once fifty or so pages have been completed. (She kept the notebooks in a waterproof/fireproof box.) The first draft of Bitterblue took two and a half years, and came out to be 777 pages. After she turned it in, her agent requested a re-write. So Kristin re-wrote the entire book by hand-writing between the printed lines of her original manuscript. She said that she outlines, starting with a basic outline, and then adding as she goes. She said the Bitterblue outline ended up becoming 94 pages long, but she never even referenced it.

After talking about writing Bitterblue, she fielded questions from the audience. There were a questions about names and being published in other languages. Kristin said she named her characters to sound interesting, and to fit each character. For example, Leck is a horrid character, and his name doesn't sound nice when spoken aloud. All of the Leinids have a name with a color in it. Po and Katsa both had to be changed, once each, when the book was translated. Po became Bo in the German edition because Po is similar to the German word for "butt" and Katsa became Katya in the Italian edition because Katsa is similar to the Italian word for "penis".

So... now that Bitterblue is out, what is Kristin doing now? She said she's working on a contemporary novel. And that it may or may not be published. Kristin said she hopes for it to be, but one never knows if things will work out. But she has an idea for another fantasy novel after that, and she would kind of like to write another book set in Fire's world. Stemming from that question, she was asked why she had decided to write a fantasy first. Kristin says that her characters is where the story starts. They come to her fully formed. So when you have characters come to you with powers... a fantasy setting is natural. Trying to put special powers into a contemporary simply wouldn't work, as it doesn't fit the definition of contemporary. Also, she said that Katsa, Po, and Raffin came to her first. They were arguing, and she needed to figure out what the fight was all about.

Kristin said that she feels lucky to be able to work from home. She said she has special work pajamas. Whether that's true or a joke, I'm not sure. But I think it sounds like a great plan. Everything I've read about working from home says you should dress differently to get your mind in gear for work. She also said that she feels lucky to be able to travel to research her books and to promote them.

One of the more interesting questions that was asked was about the feminist drive in her books. Interesting because of the way it was worded. The woman in the audience basically said "There are very strong feminist themes in this book, and it surprises me to find that in a book for teens. Can you talk about that?" And my mouth almost dropped open. The woman who asked this question looked to be in her early to mid-thirties, and I'd wager that she doesn't read much YA. Melissa Marr, Kelley Armstrong, Rachel Vincent, and Jeri Smith-Ready (to name a few) all have very strong, smart female protagonists. It kind of concerned me that having strong female leads in books targeted at young women was a shock. We want our girls to grow up knowing that they are strong and smart, that they don't need to and shouldn't take a back seat to the other sex. Having strong female characters in books is not only relatable to me, but I think it sends an important message to teens today.

And... getting back on target. Kristin said a big reason these themes show up as a driving point is possibly twelve years of Catholic school. She said a lot of it made her angry, especially thinking back to what it would be like to be a woman in certain times/civilizations/situations... And I completely get what she meant by that. Women have every right to be as empowered as any man. But she said her religious school background showed up in other ways. The word "grace" means a gift from god, and "grace" is also the name of the powers. When asked who some of her writing inspirations were, she named Tamora Pierce, Robin McKinley, and Jane Austen. Growing up, some of her favorite books were Nancy Drew and Anne of Green Gables.

A few little odds and ends... Bitterblue was harder to write than Fire, and Fire was harder to write than Graceling. She also said that she felt Bitterblue related to her most because she didn't have powers. Bitterblue was more like a daughter because Katsa and Fire were too awesome to be her daughters. She made note that she does not have a daughter. Haha! And the final question was "Why did you do that horrible thing to that character that I love? It made me cry." And Kristin's response was... "Because that's the story." As most writer's I've met, Kristin contributes the characters for writing the story, and she just wrote it down.

Going back though... someone asked Kristin about fanmail. She spoke a bit about the backlash of fans unhappy with the Graceling ending. And I had read a bit about that shortly before reading Bitterblue. Katsa and Po end up together, but... they don't marry. She said she received an email from a woman who said she loved Graceling until the end because Katsa and Po not getting married was like finding cockroaches in her ice cream. First... ew. Nothing can be that bad. Second... wtf? This is a YA. Katsa and Po are teens. And despite this being a medieval-esque world, they are very progressive. Sex before marriage is okay. Being gay or bi is okay. People falling in love, being together, and not getting married is okay, too. And this is where my post turns into a bit of a rant. I apologize in advance.

I wanted to end this post on the marriage, or rather the lack of marriage, in the books because I actually feel very strongly about this. So often in books - mostly adult books, not YA - characters meet, fall in love, and get married. Well, guess what... not every woman's dream is to marry and give her husband babies. I'm 29. I have no desire to get married. I've never wanted to get married. While my friends in school used to dream of the day they got married, all I wanted was independence. Living on my own. Having my personal space and not have to share it. Going where I want and not having to check in about it. And I'm pleased to say that that is what I have right now. So I'm not sure why there are so many fans who have an issue with this. It really boggles my mind. I'm sure there's more than one, but the only YA book I've read in which the teens in the book got married was Breaking Dawn. Not to bash Breaking Dawn, but no one should strive to write a book like it. Two characters who meet and fall in love and get married and have the most unhealthy relationship ever.

It makes me sad that people are complaining about these two characters not getting married. Personally, I think it's ridiculous. And I would like to commend Kristin Cashore for writing these books the way she felt they needed to be written, and to not change things to fit what fans would like to see happen. Because myself and plenty of my friends are exactly like Katsa in that respect... having a healthy relationship filled with love, but not afraid to spend time apart, and just being happy with the way things are. A relationship doesn't need marriage to succeed. *end rant*

If you ever get the chance to go meet Kristin Cashore, do it! She is intelligent and funny and she always has an interesting event. And don't forget to read Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue. I'm generally not a fan of high fantasy, but I LOVE these books!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

ARC Giveaway: The Drowned Cities

I received an ARC of The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi, and I'm giving it away. To enter:

1. You must be a follower of this blog.
2. You must be 13 or older.
3. You must live in the US.
4. You must fill out this form.

Winner drawn midnight on Thursday, May 17.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Book Review: Bitterblue

Eight years after Graceling, Bitterblue is now queen of Monsea. But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisors, who have run things since Leck died, believe in a forward-thinking plan: Pardon all who committed terrible acts under Leck’s reign, and forget anything bad ever happened. But when Bitterblue begins sneaking outside the castle—disguised and alone—to walk the streets of her own city, she starts realizing that the kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year spell of a madman, and the only way to move forward is to revisit the past.

Two thieves, who only steal what has already been stolen, change her life forever. They hold a key to the truth of Leck’s reign. And one of them, with an extreme skill called a Grace that he hasn’t yet identified, holds a key to her heart.

Bitterblueby Kristin Cashore is a book that's been on my "to-read" list for a few years. Publication kept being pushed back, but I must say... it was well worth the wait. Gracelingand Firecame before, and while they aren't exactly in a series, they are set in the same world. And all three are fantastic.

We meet Bitterblue in Graceling. She's a young girl then, and in danger from her father, the evil King Leck. Now she's almost all grown up, and she's the queen of her kingdom. But she doesn't know anything about her kingdom, or the people living there. Her advisers are trying to protect her, but that's not helping the kingdom get past what Leck did to them. Forced to sneak out of her castle at night, Bitterblue learns about the evils that are still in her kingdom and meets up with rebels who are trying to make their world a better place

Bitterblue brings back characters we fell in love with in Graceling and a few unexpected surprises. If you liked Kristin's first two books, you'll love the newest installment. And if you aren't familiar with the Seven Kingdoms trilogy, check out this free Kristin Cashore eSamplerfrom Amazon, containing two chapters from each of the three novels and exclusive never before seen content. So... you'll want to download it even if you have read all three books!