Wednesday, January 18, 2017

TBR Challenge: Incryptid Road Trip

Stories I read:
"IM" (Artie & Sarah story)
"Snake in the Grass"
"Swamp Bromeliad"
"Waking Up in Vegas"

For the January TBR Challenge, I read several short stories in Seanan McGuire's Incryptid universe.  The stories fill in and expand the history shown in the novels. Some are released for free as ebooks (mobi, epub, pdf) on McGuire's website, while others appear in published anthologies. I'm trying to catch up with the free ones, before I attempt to track the others through the library.

The stories cover different parts of the Healy-Price timeline, but I'm reading the Verity Price & Dominic De Luca ones set after the events of "Midnight Blue Light Special" and Verity's return in "Chaos Choreography." The stories are in the form of a road trip across America. Having decided to be with Verity, Dominic is getting a crash course in the family history in all its weird glory.  That includes undead aunts, lesser gorgons, Vegas hustlers, and psychotropic man eating plants. All the usual.

My favorite of the four stories I read was "Snake in the Glass", set in a Chicago hotel owned by a family of Lesser Gorgons, partly because I liked cryptid anthropology and meeting Aunt Lea. The arranged marriage subplot was interesting too. With so few families around, they can't be as choosy about offers. But romance shows up in unlikely places.

My least favorite was "IM" but that may be because it was so one-sided on Artie's perspective. I love Sarah in the novels and how her cuckoo nature is at odds with her personality.

The tension with Dominic and Verity's relationship shows up in odd ways. While Verity is showing Dominic her family haunts, he reminds her what he's leaving behind with the Covenant. He clearly wants more from his life than what the Covenant trained him for.

I would not suggest picking up these stories without reading the novels first. The earlier Fran & Jonathan Healy ones work better as standalone stories, but these are tied heavily to the events of "Discount Armaggeddon", "Midnight Blue Light Special" and the others. (I have not read the Alexander Price books yet, but I haven't noticed too many spoilers for the those books within).

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Finding the Romance Genre & RWA Literacy Signing

Times Square in 2011

While I'm a bit nebulous about when I first started reading romance, I know when I became a real fan of the genre that searched out new books. Every Christmas I visited my parents in Florida and I needed a book to read on my travels. My local Harris Teeter grocery store has a book section. A purple and green cover caught my attention: Amanda Quick's Perfect Poison from her Arcane Society series.  I had never read her before, but something about the blend of psychic powers and Victorian mystery appealed to me. I blew through that book in a week and wondered what else had she written. Er, quite a LOT apparently! I had not realized that Amanda Quick was the prolific Jayne Ann Krentz with multiple psuedonyms and styles. The Arcane Society made me appreciate all my years of comics collecting and crossovers, because certain trilogies would start in historical, jump to contemporary and end in futuristic.

And so my discovery of historical romances began. Ironically I've never been all that interested in 19th century history, but between Victorians and Regencies, I slowly started finding authors I liked. Mostly I followed authors I liked and started reading sites like SmartBitches and Heroes & Heartbreakers for suggestions. 

But romance is in some ways different than other genres. Romance Writers of America (RWA) is the national trade organization for the genre, encompassing writers, editors, etc involved in creating romance novels. Even the local chapters are geared towards would-be writers, not so much for the regular readers and fans. 

So each time I've seen opportunities to meet other romance fans, I've grabbed them, because they don't happen as often.  SmartBitches Trashy Books' Sarah Wendell had a reception for romance fans to meet and mingle at a cheese shop in DC before the preview of the "Love Between the Covers" documentary at Library of Congress. By chance, someone had a spare ticket to the preview and offered me the chance. I am so glad I went to see it. Laurie Kahn, the director, interviewed a ton of people, and gave a solid behind the scenes view of the romance industry from familiar authors to not-so familiar ones. Kahn explored why romance was so popular and what went into writing the books and sadly the stereotypes surrounding the genre. I loved that she included African American and GLBTQ romances along with the usual suspects. I learned that Beverly Jenkins was a force of nature and good god do not choose against her in the DABWAHA (basically think of "Sweet Sixteen of Romance") event because she knows how to muster her fans. The whole documentary was a positive message of "everyone deserves an HEA" no matter who they are or what they look like.

After that event, I lucked out in that my local library was hosting a romance swap event. The librarians were both romance fans and they were eager to share their favorites and show us where to find them in our catalogs. It sounds obvious, but when you consider they'd had to cut their mass market collection completely and romance is predominantly published in that format, you begin to appreciate the issues involved. What I learned was a) when the ebooks were updated b) the Harlequin Presents large type editions are bright pink/fuschia and easy to spot on the shelves.  I already used Overdrive heavily, so for me, it was more meeting other like-minded people and seeing what they liked.

Then Elisabeth Lane of Cooking Up Romance decided to put together a DC Romance meetup group. We meet once a month at a local coffee shop and we talk about what we're reading. Sometimes we also talk about the genre in general and our experiences. The group has grown with each passing month as new people see the meeting notices.  We do seem to have a plethora of librarians, both public and academic.  

I hadn't planned on attending RWA conference in New York City, because I am mostly a reader at this point, and it's quite expensive. But then I learned about the literacy signing on Wednesday. Open to the public, the signing included 480 authors, with the proceeds of the books going to literacy charities. I started to waver when I looked at the list of authors with so many of my favorites. I had done whirlwind NYC trips before. Maybe I could swing that budget wise. And Elisabeth allowed as how she'd love the company on the train up. So I took the plunge.

The adventure started early on Wednesday morning when I took a Metro over to Union Station. I found Elisabeth and her husband after the boarding had started. The Northeast Regional train took three or four hours to finally roll into Penn Station. Then after examining the map on the way up, we determined we just needed to walk ten blocks up to where the Marriott Marquis was in Times Square.
On my last daytrip to NYC, I had effectively dodged Times Square, so I never appreciated the level of sheer chaos involved, filled with big screens and shouting ticket vendors. (I didn't take any pictures this trip, but I did take one of Times Square four years ago. I even went into that large Walgreens!)
The Marriott Marquis was right next door to the Lion King at the Minskoff Theatre, so I could see the whole theatre district laid out before me. The hotel was crazy. Hotel registration wasn't even on the ground floor. The smart elevators were ingenious (punch a number, it'll tell you which elevator to use), but working slow by the end of the day. I imagine as the conference wears on it'll get even slower. 

Elisabeth picked up her registration materials (lots of books!) and we went in search of her friend volunteering at the Goody Room. Elisabeth had arranged a lunch gathering with a few friends and graciously allowed me and her husband to tag along. The others were writers she corresponded with on twitter. The hotel restaurant did not have the speediest service, but they managed a serviceable burger. I had completely skipped breakfast, so I was famished. With the signing in the evening, I wasn't certain when I'd eat next, so it was good to have one big meal. 

After a quick trip to Midtown Comics at W. 40th street, I grabbed suitable caffeine and came back to the Marquis in search of the Broadway Ballroom to wait for the signing. The huge ballroom had been laid out with rows and rows of chairs, each with a roomy tote bag and a letter. The letter signified what section you were in (A,B,C, etc.) when they started sending people into the room downstairs. I was Dubious when I read the staging area would be on a different floor with all the hotel discussions, but surprisingly the whole thing went quite well. No one complained or bitched about their place. Compared to some bookstore signings, it went quite smoothly.

I sat down with some other romance readers and enjoyed going back through the list while I waited. The other fans were cheerful, even squeeful at meeting their favorites. I was struck by the range in age and demographic and everyone had their personal favorites, but wouldn't judge you if yours didn't line up. Two young women in headscarves behind us spoke with fannish glee over Sarah MacLean's books. I flagged down Sarah, an academic librarian I knew from the DCRom meetups. I am grateful for those meetups because as I confessed, I probably wouldn't have tried this, if I didn't know anyone. As it was, most of DCRom crowd were here, either for the conference or just the Librarians' Day event. Even Sarah spoke glowingly about how important it was to have these connection points to other readers.

Entrepreneurial writers, sensing a captive audience, came through with a pile of swag, usually pens or bookmarks/cards with free offers. Most were unfamiliar-to-me contemporary writers, although one was an urban fantasy writer I recognized that wrote with Sherrilyn Kenyon.

My signing loot
The massive Westside ballroom had most of the big stars at the corners, while the rest were lined up alphabetically. Sarah and I got in line to see Jayne Ann Krentz (aka Amanda Quick) first and I bought her newest hardcover "Garden of Lies". Krentz was a former librarian and she'd spoken at the Librarians' Day event, likening it to the Marines where once one, always one. I thanked Krentz for her part in getting me into romance and she said "Reading or writing?" Thinking about it, I said reading, but I might try writing sometime. "Maybe someday you'll be on this side of the signing table." So many hearts. I'd heard how frankly encouraging and supportive RWA was and I was getting some firsthand experience, even before dipping my hands into the writing side. 

Next was the lovely Tessa Dare, a favorite of mine. Tessa Dare had her two Castles Ever After books for sale, because "When the Scot Tied the Knot" doesn't come out until August! I bought a copy of "Romancing the Duke" because I didn't own a physical copy anymore. I remembered to introduce myself as one of her twitter followers.

Then Sarah and I split up to go find our various authors. I bought "Dangerous Books for Girls" from Maya Rodale and told her how much I enjoyed watching the livecast of the events on feminism and erotica. I met Julie Anne Long and bought one of her Pennyroyal Green books because a librarian friend keeps touting them. After taking her Regency politics class and chatting on twitter, I was also glad to meet Rose Lerner and get one of her books. 

That left two on the end for my tour – Courtney Milan and Sarah MacLean. Having followed them on twitter for awhile, it was nice to interact with them. I hoped I wasn't being too ridiculous asking Courtney how her blue streaked hair was holding up in the room. I'd recognized her at lunch chatting with an author and editor earlier.  

I only regretted not meeting two authors. Nalini Singh's line went clear back to the other side of the room at one point, almost rivaling Nora Roberts' on the other side. I knew I'd be there til nearly the end of the signing, if I stayed. Tiffany Reisz's line was also crazy busy, practically blocking the aisle. I was curious about her books, but not enough to stand in the crush of people.

I only grabbed a handful of buttons and swag from the writers I saw. I have my own "Doubt Not!" button from Tessa Dare's "Romancing the Duke" because I am a fair maiden of Moranglia… er… an unrepentant fangirl. I also grabbed one of Rose Lerner's saucy "Spoiler: The Butler Did Her" as a promo for her upcoming Lively St Lemeston book. 

I paid for my purchases and discovered I had made it under my budget. I had nervously worried I might go over with some of the higher priced trades. Luck was indeed on my side. I met up with Sarah after she was done and we spent some time chatting on the 8th floor concourse area before it was time to march back up 7th Ave to Penn Station. 

Or so I thought. I discovered that there was a demonstration/rally being held at 42nd street, so I couldn't go any further.  Undeterred, I remembered that NYC was like DC and built on a grid system, so I figured I could simply go over and around. My legs were dying by the time I reached Penn Station. I was relieved to still have an hour to find a quick bite to eat and then wait for boarding call.  DC's Union Station is fairly straightforward compared to Penn's maze of Amtrak and commuter rail.  But I somehow managed to find both my gate and the lovely lovely Amtrak quiet car for my blissful ride home.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The autumn of spies: Gail Carriger & the Lit Up Ball

Autumn is in the air and the time is for spies? Apparently so, judging by book calendar.

October 18th marked the library's Second Annual Lit Up Ball held at the Artisphere in Rosslyn. The theme was James Bond, so attendees went all out dressing 1950s/1960s vintage style or costumed as their favorite Bond character. A live big band played an array of tunes while couples danced away on the floor. Or they could sip their Vesper cocktails while playing a fun spy game where you unscrambled clues and found the right people for the answer. The night was quite a lot of fun, if a bit loud. If they do it again next year, I'll start thinking ahead of time for costume ideas, because last minute shopping and plus sizes is difficult at best.

The library commuter club meets November 20th to discuss John Le Carre's "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy". I finished reading it quite early to my surprise. I would be interested to comparing it against the filmed versions to see how they tightened the narrative.

But this afternoon it was back to school at the International Spy Museum to finally meet Gail Carriger, author of the Parasol Protectorate and Finishing School series. I've been following her books since nearly the beginning, but alas schedules have never quite agreed. This year she was attending the World Fantasy Con in DC, so she did two additional signings in the area at Bethesda Library and the Spy Museum. Having liked the venue and slightly easier commute, I chose the Spy Museum one.

I was running late because I realized I actually owned a teal/turquoise sweater that suited the color theme of Waistcoats and Weaponry cover, which I paired with my book necklace I bought a few years back at Small Press Expo. (Carriger has been coordinating her dresses to go with the release, so all of hers are similar colors.)

I arrived about ten minutes late, so I don't know how many questions were asked before or if Carriger gave any sort of introductory speech.

I was following two lovely ladies dressed in full steampunk attire with corsets and bustles. They were quite a sight to behold on the DC Metro and they won copies of the book and a beautiful parasol for the costume contest. I talked to them while waiting for our books to be signed. Quite enjoyable getting to hear about their costuming ideas. One had not read any of Carriger's books, but was big into the steampunk aesthetic.

I quite enjoyed meeting Gail and explaining who I was. There is even photographic evidence (exhibit A) so I must be a terrible vampire if I show up on film.

What I remember:

- The Parasol Protectorate books have been optioned for television and the deal has been renewed a few times, but beyond that, no particular news. She doesn't hold out a lot of hope because her books will be expensive to create with the period costuming, locations and CGI involved. Also they've optioned the world and the character, not necessarily the actual story, so it could wind up very different (i.e. True Blood/Charlaine Harris books). She'd love if one of the Japanese animation houses like Studio Ghibli would adapt them, because her books are so popular over there.

- Favorite spy methods seem to involve something deadly. She's worries she's a bit more of an assassin than spy. But she likes the codes and communication methods. She loves writing dialogue and it's fun to write a conversation without necessarily things being spoken aloud. She likes showing the range of the girls' abilities so we can see girls like Sophronia with her skill set compared to say Preshea or Monique with their rather different ones.

- Favorite comedy method: she loves bad puns and will slip into chapter titles.

- LOVED Tamora Pierce books when she was young. She recalls how she'd have to get the release dates from the librarians so she could acquire them from the bookstore. She contrasted Pierce's main heroines: Alanna the hero vs Kel the general.

- Carriger describes herself as a "militant outliner". She mentioned using Rachael Aaron/Rachel Bach's 2K to 10K ebook with a layering outline approach for her next book. She also claims she can spot a pantser when reading and really has no interest in going on a discovery with this author. She'd rather a nicely planned adventure.

- Has developed a large timeline of character ages and dates she has on her wall, so she can look at a glance and see how old someone was and whether they'd fit into certain adventures.

- Sophronia and her friends are basically her and her best friends. One friend is basically Dimity and is still a beta reader. Carriger told a funny story of how she only picked up on who Dimity was about fifty pages into the book and then went "Heyyyyy..." like "I resemble that remark." Said friend was her character beta, so she could usually spot when someone was OOC or not working. The funniest ones are the unintentional ones. Friends were surprised she'd included one gentleman with red hair and tight pants. To his credit, the inspiration of Tunstall was very aptly cast because he declared he'd change his hair and wear the pants for the next book signing!

- described herself as a "failed goth girl" because she couldn't with all the black. Was thrilled to discover steampunk embraced color (i.e. brown). She loves fashion and dressing up. Mike Perschon (aka SteampunkScholar) dubbed her faction "Carriger Pigeons" for their tendency to dress in a wide plumage of colors.

- her time management skills were complimented by one person, especially for also doing various blogs and etc. She has an assistant that handles a lot of the day to day itinerary type stuff, but sometimes she'll give her specific research-y questions she doesn't have time to look for. It's very very very easy to go looking for one detail and find yourself still reading three hours later and you haven't written a thing. (Oh, how well I know this!)

- wants to write some other short stories or novellas set in the Parasol/Finishing school world after the books are done and she's had a bit of a breather.

- talked a bit about her archaeology work and why she finally had to make a choice between the two. She's a ceramicist and her work mostly focuses on the transition between two types of firing ceramics. She's a materials specialist, so her work is not region specific, so she went wherever the technologies cropped up, rather say focusing on Egyptians or Minoans. She mentioned two digs, an Etruscan one and one in Peru that she quite enjoyed. She was quite fortunate to be able to make a living as a writing now but really reiterated what I've heard elsewhere about not giving up your day job. She'd reached a breaking point when she'd developed carpal tunnel from typing PHD thesis, grading papers, and then going home and writing all night. So something had to give. She still keeps in contact with the archaeology job, but choosing was hard. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon

I signed up for the Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon because I needed something to nudge my reading this year. I've been suffering a weird slump this year where I could start books fine, but couldn't finish them. My plan was to finishing some pesky books on my TBR shelf and maybe mixing in some short stories/ graphic novels, if I was lagging.

What I managed to finish:

1. Mary Robinette Kowal's Lady Astronaut of Mars is her bittersweet Hugo Award nominated novelette. This felt strangely timely now thinking about my aging family members.

2. The Mask of the Red Panda TPB: I've listened to a lot of Decoder Ring Theatre's Red Panda Adventures audio show, so it was easy to "hear" the main characters. What is harder to adjust to is the artwork, since the "theatre of the mind" means you provide how you think the characters and world should look like. Best example was Max Falconi aka the Stranger who I pictured more as a Zatara/Mandrake type, not the Zorro half mask. As the Red Panda, it's a "interesting" problem to have!

3. Robin Bridges' "Unfailing Light", the second book in her Katerina Chronicles, is set in a fantasy embued version of 19th century Russian court of the Romanovs. This has stubbornly been on my TBR pile for awhile, so I finished the last fifty-sixty pages of it today. I also started book three "The Morning Star" but don't anticipate finishing it tonight.

4. Seanan McGuire's "Ghosts of Bourbon Street" is a short story set in her Incryptid universe featuring the stars of the first two books on a road trip to meet the family... if your family is slightly less traditional than most. Along the way, they get a peek at the ghost world. This is a great setup for "Sparrow Hill Road", although you might want to read it after "Half Off Ragnarok".  

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Brandon Sanderson signing

I’ve done a number of author signings over the years. Most have been on the smaller scale, nestled into an independent bookstore or library. But it has been awhile since I’ve been a signing for a bestselling author at a big chain bookstore, where you needed to worry about tickets and time and endurance. Such was the case Thursday night. I was used to a nice easy sprint. I was unprepared for a full out marathon.

Brandon Sanderson is an author of epic fantasy, including his Mistborn trilogy and his current Stormlight Archive. He was also tapped to fill the shoes of the late Robert Jordan in finishing his “Wheel of Time” series. He co-hosts a Hugo-award winning writing podcast and teaches creative writing. His books regularly appear on the New York Times best sellers lists.

All of which goes to say Sanderson is not a niche author by any stretch. So I should have been worried when I saw the notice yesterday afternoon that his event at the Tysons Corner Barnes & Noble would be a ticketed event. You’d need to buy his latest book to get one of the fabled wristbands that allowed you to get your books signed. The bookstore ran out of his backlist fairly early on, not that seemed to deter anyone. That should also have been my first warning.

But what really alarmed me was the mob scene I saw at the store. The upper floor was crowded with people with nary a seat to be had. The spillover were standing by the bookshelves and surrounding the signing area several people deep. The first people showed up when the store opened at 10AM! If I’d known it was going to be so crowded, I might have taken some time off work.

The bookstore was quite well organized as far as the actual signing. The wristbands were broken down into zones, like boarding a flight, so when they called your section, it was time to line up. By the time I arrived, they had already handed out bracelets through zone E and at least one more zone behind that one. The line wound its way up and down and around through the fiction and science fiction sections, so we had plenty of time to window shop. Or mock cover trends unceremoniously. Sanderson warned people outright that he would be there all night, so if we wanted to go off and grab a bite to eat and maybe catch a movie, he’d understand.

Sanderson gave out little Szeth stand up cards for people that asked questions and wore costumes and even to the guy that showed up the earliest. He enjoyed flinging the cards towards the person like a frisbee. Sometimes it came close to its target and well other times… let’s just say it was entertaining?

To start, Sanderson did a quick 15 minute speech that explained about his books and his career. Then he’d do a question and answer session and reading and finally the actual signing. The pre-signing stuff took about an hour all told, which is probably fine when you’re sitting down, but brutal when you’re on your feet. I was grateful for the comfortable shoes, but my knees gave out a good way into his talk.

Sanderson started as a chemistry major of all things, but eventually studied creative writing. He used to be a professor until his schedule prevented it. Now he teaches one class on writing sf/fantasy, which he’s trying to keep. He wrote twelve(!!!) horrible books before he was published. He was working on the original incarnation of Way of Kings when Elantris (#4) was bought. He dumped everything he loved about epic fantasy into Way of Kings and didn’t care how long it wound up. So if it wound up 400K instead of the usual 100-200K for epic fantasy?

He showed the original WoK to them when they asked innocently “What else are you working on?” In what sounds like a trend in Sanderson’s career, they looked at the idea and went “Brandon, what are you thinking? Artwork?” But he willingly admitted there were problems with the original and he decided to shelve it for awhile.

Sanderson only touched on briefly the enormous privilege and honor of being asked to continue Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time books, describing them as “enormous freight train”. He mentioned how he’d learned some things from writing those books. Jordan could weave multiple arcs/POVs very well. On the other hand, Sanderson could also step back and recognize some of Jordan’s flaws. Ironically this gave him the courage/confidence to think “Yes, I can write Way of Kings now”. His editors were of course more concerned about getting the *other* books on his plate out on time. Stormlight Archive is planned as 10 books with two sets of five books.

Words of Radiance started life as what he described as a horrible Dragonlance book. Sanderson originally had all his titles for the Stormlight Archive all mapped out with the idea each would named after a fictional book from the universe. (I can only imagine his editors/publishers/marketers going “Oh god, writers, there is a reason we don’t let them name things.”) He was convinced however that maybe naming “The Book of Endless Pages” was perhaps not the best choice for a 1000+ page behemoth. No sense in giving the critics more firepower. So suddenly he had to come up with a completely new title and work it into the book somehow. He called “Words of Radiance” the hardest three words he’d written for this book. It took so long to come up with one that the marketing material all read “Unnamed Brandon Sanderson Project” for the longest time.

The Mistborn books are envisioned as three sets of trilogies -- one trilogy is epic fantasy, one is urban fantasy, and another science fiction. Alloy of Law and its followup are not part of these books. He did them when he realized how long it’d be before he’d do this universe again. Again his editor/agent is going “Wow, you’re certainly... ambitious” whenever he’d give them these crazy ideas.

Throughout the speech & Q&A, he’s nimbly going back and forth on all his different projects. I amazed he can keep them all straight, especially given how tired he must be during a book tour. He loves jumping around between different projects, so he’ll write one Stormlight book and then a Steelheart book and then he’s onto the Arithmatist, rather than working on one project continuously.

The Q&A session followed his initial talk. He tried to avoid spoilers for his books, which I appreciated. Questions ranged from what he looked for in artists to what would happen if Hoid appeared in our universe. Sanderson pointed out Hoid is only here when there is a presence of magic, so we might have a reason to be worried. He was also asking about his tendency to give his magic systems a scientific approach, rationalizing that most of his worlds would at least have reached the Renaissance and the basic scientific method. He is one of the few authors I've encountered to consider technological progress into his worldbuilding; most seem to stop at medieval.

After the Q&A session, Sanderson gave a short reading. Instead of reading from one of his books, he read an unpublished short story he wrote in between “Steelheart” and “Words of Radiance”. He hopes to go back to the story at some point.

Then came the waiting for my zone to be called. I had a snack and drink in the B&N cafe and rested my feet for awhile and listened to the conversations around me. The ages ranged widely from teenagers to older fans. You could choose to have your books personalized or if you were in a hurry he was pre-signing some books so you could grab and go. In retrospect, if I’d know how late we’d run, I might have considered it.

By the time I wound up at the table to get my books signed, the store had officially closed, unless you were there for the signing. So yes, we closed the store and possibly then some, since he was still signing books when I left nearly at midnight.  I was physically fried, but it was nice to say hello and to thank him for the Writing Excuses podcasts I’ve enjoyed. I had to hoped to ask him for encouragement/advice when the writing isn’t working, but that’ll have to wait for another day.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

NoVaTeen Book Festival

Last weekend I was able to spend a day indulging in my recent love of YA fiction with NoVaTeen Book Festival sponsored by One More Page Books and Arlington County Library. Held at the local high school, the festival included an amazing lineup of 23 Young Adult authors, featuring Phyllis Reynolds Naylor and Marie Lu.

Inside the event, the festival had tables set up from One More Page Books with books from the authors, free swag, and most importantly snacks. This last bit can't be overstated because the high school, while easily within walking distance of Metro, is pretty far from restaurants and cafes. So it was good to be able to grab a quick bite and hydrate before the next panel. Unfortunately the initial part of the event was a comedy of errors as the poor OMP booksellers valiantly tried to get wifi to work so they could sell all those books in their nice piles. You were allowed three outside books, so I brought my copy of Victoria Schwab’s Unbound and bought Meagan Spooner and Amie Kaufman's These Broken Stars and Marie Lu's Legend. The event ended with a mass signing at Arlington’s Central library.

The opening focus panel was on Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, author of the Alice series and Newberry-award winning Shiloh. I had heard the name before, enough to be impressed, but had never had occasion to read her books. Checking her bibliography suggests I was just off the generation for her books.  By the time she was popular, I was at college and discovering new science fiction authors. She talked about growing up in the Great Depression and how it impacted her family and how much she'd look forward to "story" time where her family would read from the classics. She's had such a wide career from writing little short stories for a church magazine to her novels to even her autobiography. She'd never intended the Alice books to become the long ranging series, covering 28 books! She talked about how they'd become the most challenged and banned books in the country, because she covered topics that were considered taboos. As an example, Naylor picked a sequence from "Alice in April" where she is struggling with the changes of puberty and the cruelty of boys.

After the Naylor speech, I went to the first breakout panel. These were smaller focus panels where two authors would talk and answer questions, held in one of the classrooms. Each breakout panel was named after a song title, so Victoria Schwab and Marie Lu's was "Wrecking Ball". Schwab and Lu both described at length how they'd become writers and their respective publishing careers. Their trajectories were eerily similar in some ways.

Victoria Schwab came from a poetry background originally and discovered writing novels when she was trying out other forms of writing. She also changed majors SIX times in her college career, which makes my one switch pale by comparison. But she'd taken classes in nearly everything and discovered  narrative in all of them. Her first book had sparkling prose that everyone loved, but no plot. This confused people no end. Near Witch, Schwab’s first published novel, was a dark fairy tale where all the children disappear after a stranger comes to a town. Setting wasn’t a focus in fairy tales. They could literally happen in any little village or any forest. Marie Lu had thought about becoming a lawyer or doctor, a nice stable career, which her family heartily approved of, until she had the opportunity to get a video game internship and took a chance on the creative side.

Lu also gave a wonderful final speech as the featured author, so I learned even more about her background. She learned to write because her mother made her to improve her English after they’d emigrated from China. Their first experience of American culture was seeing Mardi Gras in New Orleans! But I felt very old when Marie Lu described living in Beijing at a tender age of five and seeing the "local" Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. I was graduating high school two weeks later. Perspective.

 I laughed a little learning that Marie Lu had written fanfiction in her youth. She loved animal stories, so her favorites were Brian Jacques' Redwall and Sonic the Hedgehog. As a sf/fantasy fan of Eddings and Tolkien, Lu wrote her own horribly bad books, including the dread behemoth book of a party going after the shiny object and… even she willingly admitted "okay, yes, it was Lord of the Rings."

One piece of writing advice I heard repeated throughout the day was that you often didn’t need just one spark of an idea, but several, often combining in ways you hadn’t imagined. Her Legend series came from two sources : rewatching the old Les Miserables movie with Liam Neeson, thinking a detective vs thief would be a fun idea. And a map showing the world would look if the freshwater ice melted, including destroying her hometown of Los Angeles. Rather than be horrified, she reacted like most writers "Oh cool I can use that!"

Schwab and Lu answered questions from the audience. Some questions were process related, others for encouraging aspiring writers. We were cautioned not to ask spoilerly questions, which was a relief from my perspective. We had a nice discussion about Word vs Scrivener. Scrivener worked wonders for Schwab with her multiple documents and windows – although she admitted it worked only when she started the project there, rather than import an existing one.

After the first breakout session, I grabbed a bite to eat and then headed into the auditorium for the next panel. "The Scientist" was all about the intersection of science and technology and morality. Jon Skovron was co-moderating. He'd been at the library's Shut Up and Write event I had attended last year. Fascinating topic. I wish I’d been more familiar with the authors to appreciate their answers more.

In between the panels, I was amused when the auditorium played music, including "Carry on My Wayward Son". I half expected to hear discussions of demon hunters in the next panel.

Instead the “Survivor" panel showcased authors with characters in difficult situations. Again I appreciated being introduced to authors I had not encountered and hearing more about their writing process. Meagan Spooner’s These Broken Stars proved a particular challenge, since it was written with her writing partner Amie Kaufman in Australia. One wanted to write about a shipwreck and one wanted a space story, so they combined the idea. What surprised (and gratified) them was hearing that one particular character was embraced by readers rather than ripped to shreds. Kirsten Simmons was imagining a world without the Bill of Rights and other statues. Simmons’ character remembered the way it’d been before, so there was a tendency to survive by just getting by, put head down and don’t attract attention, and whether that was the right way. Both Jessica Spotswood and Claudia Gray wrote about witches, but approached them differently. Spotswood’s books were about the power also of sisterhood and their combined strength. Claudia Gray’s witches had to maintain their secrecy, even when it prompted awkward questions. How do you tell that local boy that well… yeah, actually he *was* cursed.

The only thing that bothered me in the Q&A session was the question about world building. To me, just because something is set in the “real” world doesn’t mean I have to research or think it through any less than if it’s a Middle Earth style fantasy. There was, though, a hilarious sidebar on the research questions you’ve had to ask your friends in the course of writing. For instance, how *do* you explain to the State Department your fascination with dead bodies and massive injuries? And how your friends go from “Why do you need to know this?” to “Oh, it’s for a book, isn’t it?” in the course of knowing you as a writer.

The second breakout session featured Diana Peterfreund and Meagan Spooner discussing science fiction in YA. This was more low key and informal than the earlier breakout session. Lu & Schwab were very business-like in their approach, but quite fun and personable, where Peterfreund and Spooner gabbed like old best buddies having a grand old time. At length they discussed the covers for their books and the market struggles, especially the boy book vs girl book demands. Peterfreund had a librarian tell her that she loved her second Star book, but she couldn't get boys to read it because of the cover. Spooner admitted asking the publisher if they realized the cover for These Broken Stars would turn off potential boy readers. Publishers didn't care; they were perfectly okay with losing that potential market. Another unfortunate side effect of the pretty covers: you might not guess they’re set in outer space.

Markets and labels was another common refrain I’d heard throughout the day. Some writers were not allowed to call their books “science fiction” or “dystopia” because the Trend was over. Yet Jenna Black truly believed her “Replica” series where you can create a duplicate of yourself if you have enough money was a *true* dystopia, in that her science was intended towards “the good” and went horribly horribly wrong. But her publisher wouldn’t call it that.  It’s a bit of quandary for writers. But all of them dissuaded wannabe writers from “chasing the trend” because by the time your book is out the trend may be long over.

In the end, the first NoVaTeen Book Festival was a great success. I was exhausted by the end of it, but I quite enjoyed the book festival and meeting all the authors and hearing their experiences.  If I have a regret for NoVaTeen, it was that I wasn’t more daring.  I do lean more heavily towards science fiction and paranormal sides of YA in my own reading. Ah, well, judging by the bookshelves, there is plenty of time to learn.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Busy Fall

So it has been a busy month and a half, starting with two comic book conventions and then hitting a literal wall of book and reading events. In retrospect, I wish I'd gone to the Arlington Library's 813 Ball, a 1920s/Great Gatsby inspired fundraiser complete with band. The ball takes its name from the Dewey Decimal location for literature because well... librarians. The ball coincided with the fall book sale which was the usual chaos on opening night.

Spy Museum Elizabeth Wein event

On September 19th afternoon, I went over to the National Spy Museum to see Elizabeth Wein. She was signing copies of "Code Name Verity" and the newly released "Rose Under Fire." It was a small event, so I was able to talk to her a little, how so many of my friends on twitter particularly had loved (and sobbed) through "Verity" but carefully hadn't spoiled me. Interestingly Wein warned me that the first chunk of "Verity" was a tough go, so wouldn't hold it against me if I didn't love it unconditionally. The Museum shop person had read "Rose Under Fire" to the underprivileged teen group she worked with and they were now reading Verity as well. Wein was bowled over by this news and all the acclaim for her work.

Then September 27th was the V.E. Schwab "Vicious" event at my local independent bookstore One More Page Books. Since the book is about superpowers and villains and heroes, the book event invited people to dress up in costume. She'd have masks (red for villain, black for hero) and a cool set of trading cards you could obtain for preordering the book or attending her signings. I'm not a natural cosplayer, but I figured I could enter the spirit when I saw this retro Black Widow t-shirt at the Spy Museum shop. (Romita doesn't actually portray Natasha wearing heels with that then new costume, I might add, but I love the style of art.) I paired it with an old goldish bracelet and OPI's "Affair in Red Square" nail polish for effect. I felt very Polyvore Black Widow. The other three people were pretty off the rack too -- a Lizzie Borden in black clothes and an axe as prop, a lady in a black cocktail dress and wand as Bellatrix and another in suit jacket / name tag as Agent Jemma Simmons from Agent of SHIELD because her name actually was Simmons. Bellatrix won mainly because Schwab admitted a love for the character.

A glimpse of my red nails and bracelet

Then Schwab gave a reading from "Vicious" and answered some questions. Some were book specific, like whether there was a traditional hero in "Vicious" or not. She also talked about the storytelling format since the book covers several time periods. She wrote it in order but then had markers to tell herself where things fit chronologically. She intended the chapters to be in short chunks like panels in a comic book. (I'm picturing some of the awful DC/Marvel captions where the story starts "NOW..." to cue you and so forth.) She wrote the book over about two years in between other book deadlines and wasn't originally about Victor and Eli. She had a different leading character and she was writing the backstory on the rival gangs and realized they were more interesting than she realized. She didn't tell anyone about the project for awhile. She talks a bit about writing "Vicious" on Scalzi's blog here and published a short story Warm Up as a lead-up to the release. (Hilariously they didn't mention it was tied to "Vicious" so some of the regular sf/fantasy commenters were confused everyone knew about some upcoming book and assumed it was spammy.)

She has now three publishers: one for middle grade (Scholastic), one for YA (Hyperion) and adult (Tor) and will publish 4 books next year. (EEP!) She was asked why Vicious couldn't be YA and it wasn't the ages as much as the tone and black humor that she didn't think fit that mindset. She hates cliffhangers, so even her series book feel like they can stand on their own. She's more of a classic Marvel comics fan, although she did her thesis on Bat-villains and how they're personifications of chaos/Batman's fears. She just prefers the Marvel shades of grey. She's an X-men fan, Magneto specifically.

What I find fascinating as a "no, no, don't tell the authors" fangirl of long standing is how Schwab has utterly embraced the fans, hoping someone will write the Victor/Eli epic of her dreams. She finds it the best compliment that someone wants to spend more time with her characters and world. She has since even started a forums for people to play in.

Then last week my local library hosted their first YA lit/writing event. They're gearing up for Nanowrimo in a big way, at least on the teen front. I've asked about the adult side of the coin and there is some furious discussions about the idea, so hopefully something will happen on that front. I didn't realize how much I missed having real people to talk to about writing. Not that the Internet isn't lovely (I do love you all really), it's just isolating at times, too.

For the event, they had several YA authors to answer questions, along with the teen librarian to give her perspective on Nanowrimo and reading. The first panel was all about "rough drafts" and the process, rather than the business/market side of things author events get bogged down on lately. The authors were Diana Peterfreund, Jessica Spotswood, and Jon Skovron. I was only vaguely familiar with Peterfreund; she'd done a book signing at One More Page fairly recently. Her "For Darkness Shows the Stars" is a science fiction version of Jane Austen's "Persuasion". The second book in the series "Across a Star Swept Sea" started life as Scarlet Pimpernel in space. The other two authors I wasn't as familiar with, but they gave some good advice about outlines and when to start projects and how to juggle real life/writing. (What I gathered from this is wishing my commute was longer -- mine is strangely too short for writing or podcasts/audiobooks anymore.) The event seemed very well attended and most would-be authors, whether YA genre or otherwise.

All in all, I'm a little worn out by book/author events, but encouraged leading up in Nanowrimo. As much as I love reading, I miss writing as much.