Thursday, July 28, 2016

Guest Post: Intertextuality in Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood

I had the pleasure of moderating a panel for the Barnes & Noble Teen Fest with the fab authors Jessica Spotwood, Kate Hattemer and Lisa Maxwell. We got to talking about intertextuality and l noted to Jessica that I loved her shout out to Noelle Stevenson's graphic novel NIMONA, which I had just read. Of course, Jessica's main shout out is to a poet - but I'll let her talk about that.

Take it away, Jessica! 




WILD SWANS has changed a lot from its original conception – perhaps the most of any of my books – but the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay has always played a role.

Back in the fall of 2013, I’d just read April Tucholke’s brilliant BETWEEN THE DEVIL & THE DEEP BLUE SEA. I loved the creepy-gorgeous atmosphere of it and admired how the Citizen Kane, the family’s crumbling old mansion by the sea, functions almost as another character. I’ve always loved setting-heavy books, and I’d just finished my historical fantasy trilogy and wanted to write something completely different. I set out to write a sort of Gothic-flavored contemporary mystery. I decided that the setting of my new book would be an old white farmhouse on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, with the Chesapeake Bay right in its backyard.

In the book’s early incarnation, the house was haunted. Not – as it is now – figuratively, by the weight of being a Milbourn girl. (Everyone in their small town knows what it is to be a Milbourn girl: Talented. Troubled. Cursed.) Originally, there was the ghost of a famous novelist, Dorothea, who had written one Great American Novel and then, like Harper Lee, become a recluse. Over the course of the summer, as Ivy worked with her granddad’s cute poetry student to archive Dorothea’s journals, they discovered a series of clues that perhaps Dorothea hadn’t written the novel after all. Perhaps she’d stolen it. Perhaps she’d murdered someone to keep that secret. And perhaps her ghost was willing to murder again to make sure it stayed secret. One of the clues that Ivy and Connor would stumble upon was the Millay poem “Dirge without Music.”

Unfortunately, I don’t actually know how to write a mystery. I am constantly surprised by TV whodunnits. I do not have a suspicious, logical, clue-parsing mind. The book, in that incarnation, was clearly not working.

An editor who read the beginning suggested that perhaps I could take the ghost and the mystery out and still have a summery, character-driven novel. And so Dorothea became Ivy’s great-grandmother, who was selfish and talented and troubled, but not murderous. Now the plot revolves around a family legacy of both artistic talent and mental illness. Ivy and Connor still work together to archive Dorothea’s journals, but Dorothea’s a famous poet, not a novelist.

And Connor is a poet, too, with tattoos of poems he loves. Ivy loves his talent and his passionate focus even as she's a bit jealous of it. One of those poems – one that means so much to him that it’s tattooed right over his heart – is “A Dirge Without Music.” (I’ll let you read the book to find out why, but it's a subject of fascination for Ivy - and not just because seeing it means seeing Connor shirtless.) In early days, lines from "A Dirge Without Music" were the epigraph for the book, but unfortunately it is not in the public domain.

My editor, searching for a title, read some Millay and came across “Wild Swans.” She suggested we use that as the title. And when I read it, it felt like a perfect fit:

I looked in my heart while the wild swans went over.
And what did I see I had not seen before?
Only a question less or a question more;
Nothing to match the flight of wild birds flying.
Tiresome heart, forever living and dying,
House without air, I leave you and lock your door.
Wild swans, come over the town, come over
The town again, trailing your legs and crying!

To me, this poem speaks to the yearning that the Milbourn women feel. Ivy, like her mother and grandmother and great-great-grandmother, is ambitious and ambivalent about small-town life. She clings to the comfort of it even as she finds it suffocating. House without air, I leave you and lock your door – this line particularly resonates with me; it is exactly how I think Ivy’s mother feels about the house and the town. Erica is desperate to escape the version of herself that she is there, even if she hurts her own daughters in the process.

I’m so happy that this poem is in the public domain, so I can share it here and as the book’s epigraph.

(NOTE: A variation of this post was originally published on Miss Print's blog and is modified and reprinted here with permission)

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Book Talk: Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies by Lindsay Ribar



I love that this novel works on so many levels. On the surface, it is a fun paranormal story with a breezy tone (and a genuinely creepy reveal regarding the source of the magic), but beneath that it is a thoughtful examination of free will with incredibly high stakes.

Aspen has gone through life with a gift of "reaching" - that is, if he touches something that belongs to someone, he can see inside them and take away anything from motivations to aptitudes for math or even physical markers like freckles or burn scars. Because of this, he's quite selfish and entitled. He uses his power for his own gain without much thought of the consequences to others, despite evidence that his magic has caused people serious harm. He doesn't know them personally, so he thinks "so what?" His justification lies in a family secret: they are the protectors of the town, and if they don't perform a ritual to keep a magic cliff satisfied, the cliff will crumble and the town will be crushed. It's the sacrifice of a few for the greater good argument - but is that what is really going on here? Aspen starts to have his doubts after questions arise about the truth of his cousin's death ...

Ribar has a gift for banter and writing complex relationships between flawed, authentic characters. The magic system is imaginative and logical. I loved the parallels between his romance with Brandy and his parents failed marriage, and the examination of how even our negative qualities are necessary to shaping our identities.

Reminded me a lot of Maggie Lehrman's The Cost of all Things, which I also highly recommend.


And guess what? It's out today!

Buy it on Amazon.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Book Talk: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness




This is the type of novel I love - great, high-concept premise, relatable characters, unique structure and storytelling. And it's SO different than the Chaos Walking series (which I also adored) so plus points for that too.

Let's start with the premise. Basically, Ness pokes fun at the "chosen one" trope by making his protagonist just an ordinary guy who lives in an extraordinary town. Mikey is not an "indie kid" so he doesn't have to worry about being the one who is essential to fighting off demons or vampires. He has his own stuff going on: his sister has an eating disorder, his dad is an alcoholic, his mom is running for office, and he has OCD and is in love with a friend of his.

So structure-wise, there's a short run-down at the start of each chapter telling us what is happening in the "main plot" and then Mikey tells us what's going on in his life for the rest of the chapter - and it's clearly much more interesting and authentic.

I love the underlying theme of being the hero of your own story, and I rooted for Mikey the entire novel.

You'll enjoy this if you like meta-fiction, originality and gentle satire.



Saturday, January 2, 2016

Books Read in 2016

YA Fiction

The Emperor of Any Place by Tim Wynne-Jones
Calvin by Martine Leavitt
The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larsen
The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig
A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz
I Crawl Through It by AS King
Juba by Walter Dean Myers
Rocks Fall Everyone Dies by Lindsay Ribar
A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Rook by Sharon Cameron
Tyrell by Coe Booth
Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley
Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood
Land of 10,000 Madonnas by Kate Hattmer
Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff
Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston



Fiction

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

MG Fiction

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Doll Bones by Holly Black
Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
The New Kid on the Block by Jack Prelutsky
Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park
Schooled by Gordon Korman
Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo
Love that Dog by Sharon Creech
The Thief of Always by Clive Barker

Non-Fiction

Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer

Graphic Novels

Prez by Mark Russell
Hereville by Barry Deutsch
Scott Pilgrim Vol #1 by Bryan Lee O'Malley
Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta (Lunch Lady, #3) by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson


Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 in Review: Movies and TV

Even though I don't usually blog about movies or tv, I do like my year end list summaries.

2015 Movies I saw this year

Mad Max: Fury Road
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Insurgent (DVD)
Spectre
Trainwreck (plane)
Pitch Perfect 2 (DVD)
The Duff (DVD)
Sleeping With Other People (plane)
Paper Towns (plane)
Jupiter Ascending (TV)
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Jurassic World (DVD)
Minions (DVD)
Home (DVD)

Total of 14 (four more than last year)


Notable movies I saw in 2015 that were released before 2015 

Whiplash
Birdman
Stormpiercer
Mockingjay Part 1
If I Stay
Wild
Interstellar


2015 movies I still want to see

Mockingjay Part 2
Joy

TV series I watched in 2015 


Mad Men Final Season
The Bates Motel Season 3
12 Monkeys Season 1
The Last Ship Season 1+2
Camp Cutthroat Kitchen
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver


How was your year in movies and TV?

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

My Awesome Reads of 2015

I read over 90 books in 2015, and annotated all of them for my MFA program at VCFA, though I didn't talk about many of them here. As you can see by the handy Goodreads graphic below, many of them were backlist. If you click on this link, you can find out more about each of my favorites. Also, see my Awesome Reads of 2014 which I just posted now, one year late!


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015 In Review: Music

I bought 220 new songs this year (way more than last year) including 4 albums, Every Open Eye/Chvrches, Beneath the Skin/Of Monsters and Men, Song Spells #1/Sea Wolf, Art Angels/Grimes



2015 songs on heavy rotation (* indicates top 5)

*Flesh Without Blood - Grimes 
*Leave a Trace - Chvrches 
*Happy - Marina and the Diamonds
*True Confessions - Blondfire
*Breaker - Deerhunter
The Shade - Metric
Lightning Strike - A Silent Film
Grey Days - Chelsea Wolfe
1998 - Chet Faker feat. Banks
Trip Switch - Nothing but Thieves
I of the Storm - Of Monsters and Men
Body Talk - Foxes
Hiding - Florence and the Machine
High - Zella Day
Step Brother City - Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin
Strange Hellos - TORRES
Greek Tragedy - The Wombats
Little Wanderer - Death Cab for Cutie
Begin Again - Purity Ring
The Labyrinth Song - Asaf Avidan
White Lies - Milo Greene
A Beginning Song - The Decemberists 
My Least Favorite Life - Lera Lynn
Empty Gold - Halsey
Blame it on Me - George Ezra
Anything - TOPS
Too Late to Say Goodbye - Cage the Elephant
Water Slides - Mew
Molecules - Atlas Genius
I Feel It - Avid Dancer



Favorite finds from previous years (* indicates top 5)

*Algiers - The Afghan Whigs (2014)
Cecilia and the Satellite - Andrew McMahon (2014)
*Black Soap - Ex Cops (2014)
Go - Grimes (2014)
*Lover - In the Valley Below (2014)
Black Mambo - Glass Animals (2014)
* Lover, Where Do You Live? - Highasakite (2014)
Zigzagging Toward the Light - Conor Oberst (2014)
Lust and Lies - The Ramona Flowers (2013)
*Teen Idle - Marina and the Diamonds (2012)
Sun - Two Door Cinema Club (2012)
Hold On - Alabama Shakes (2012)
My Secret Friend - IAMX (2010)
Christmas Won't Be the Same Without You - Plain White Ts (2009)
I Don't Believe You - The Magnetic Fields (2004)
August - Rilo Kiley (2001)




Live Music in 2015

+ Alt J with Wolf Alice (Feb 7) in Offenbach, Germany

+ Rachael Yamagata (Feb 20) in Frankfurt, Germany

+ Sea Wolf (May 21) in Frankfurt, Germany

+ Of Monsters and Men with Highasakite (July 1) in Frankfurt, Germany

+ Death Cab for Cutie with Twin Shadow (Sept 19) in Columbus, Ohio

+ Landmark Festival in DC (Sept 27) with Chvrches, George Ezra, TV on the Radio, Lord Huron, Houndmouth, In the Valley Below

+ Deerhunter (December 17) in Columbus, Ohio


I'd love to hear about your favorite music of the year - share with me!!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Book Talk: Spoils by Tammar Stein



It's not too often I come across a character in a novel named Lenore, so this was a nice surprise. I asked Tammar how she came up with the name, and this is what she said:

About Lenore...Well, it's a gorgeous name, of course. You know this already. My main character's names always pop into my mind rather mysteriously. I never have to sit and think about it. It's usually names that kind of surprise me, never the name of someone I know with that name. With Leni, I just knew it was Leni. And then I thought, who names their kid Leni? It's probably a nickname...and it went from there. I liked the thought of her taking ownership of her name, changing it to something she felt comfortable with. I feel like Lenore is a name you have to grow into (though I suppose you would know better than I would.) Maybe a young person wouldn't feel comfortable with such a majestic name. I bet by the time Leni finished college, she'll reclaim her full name.
Interesting! Lenore is indeed a pretty majestic name, though I suppose I grew into it early.

So - the book itself. Lenore is the youngest daughter of a family who won the lottery and then spent the money wildly over the years until there's nothing left. Lenore's parents expect her to give up her part of the money when she turns 18 (it has been in a trust) to keep them afloat, and she is ready to do this until her older sister confesses that the money is dirty and that whatever Lenore does, she needs to get rid of it completely.

So that's the mystery - what's wrong with the money? Turns out, a lot. Lenore is visited by an angel who also warns her to get rid of it - and she only has a week until her birthday to figure out what to with it.

The novel explores the idea of the universe having checks and balances on good and evil - when evil is thwarted by good, it seeks out weaker targets.

I really enjoyed this one! Find out more at Tammar's website.  

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

First Draft Pod!



This summer, the fabulous Sarah Enni was in Paris and asked me and Amy Plum to be guests on her podcast series called First Draft in which she interviews writers about books and life. The episode is now live (we discuss travel and how writing letters and blogging got us into publishing) and I'm excited to go back and listen to the other 59 episodes.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Playlist October featuring The Summer After You & Me by Jennifer Doktorski

I love music and I love books, which means I really love book playlists. So all through October I'm going to be posting book playlists. I've invited a bunch of authors to contribute, so hopefully we'll all discover some great new music and good reads.



Jennifer Doktorski is here today to share some of the resonant lyrics from her playlist for her new novel THE SUMMER AFTER YOU & ME.

Here's the book summary:

When Superstorm Sandy sweeps up the New Jersey coast, local shore girl Lucy Giordano is brought together for a few intense hours with her longtime crush/part-time summer neighbor, Connor Malloy. Lucy believes their connection is real, but in the hurricane’s devastating aftermath, nothing is the same and Lucy is left to pick up the pieces of her broken heart and home.

 And Jennifer's playlist!



“Crazy For You” Stars on 45

Every single word that you say
Every little thing that you do
Hits like a hurricane
When I'm secretly crazy for you


“Absolutely Still” Val Emmich


We were running from the same noise
We were stuck in the same pursuit
Now the door's locked
And I find that this dizzy madness is bleeding through
Promise me you'll never leave this room


“Every Breaking Wave” U2

Are we ready to be swept off our feet
And stop chasing
Every breaking wave


“Riptide” Vance Joy

Lady, running down to the riptide
Taken away to the dark side
I wanna be your left hand man


“Come to Me” Goo Goo Dolls

Fortune teller said I'd be free
And that's the day you came to me
Came to me


Find out more about Jennifer and her novels at her website: www.jendoktorski.com