Happy New Year

Time, like the rules of society, is an agreement we all make that certain things will be done a specific way. Time is all one piece. There are no endings and no beginnings to time, which means that the concept of the New Year is really kind of silly.

It means we don’t have to wait for a specific day of the year to change ourselves for the better. Every day, every breath, is an opportunity for a new beginning. Most of us waste them. I’ll admit – I waste most of mine, too.

So this is my vow for our agreed-upon new year: I won’t waste my moments. My hope for you, dear reader, is that none of yours are wasted either.

Sing the song, write the book, climb the mountain, speak your heart, or just lie back and contemplate the world. Whatever you’re wishing for in your deepest, darkest heart… Don’t waste your moments. Go out and make it happen.

Review: Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig

This is the second book in Chuck Wendig’s Miriam Black series. It was released from Angry Robot on August 28th. Continuing the tradition of the first in the series, Blackbirds, this one also has a kick ass cover.

The Blurb

Miriam is trying. Really, she is.

But this whole “settling down thing” that Louis has going for her just isn’t working out. She lives on Long Beach Island all year around. Her home is a run-down double-wide trailer. She works at a grocery store as a check-out girl. And her relationship with Louis–who’s on the road half the time in his truck–is subject to the piss and vinegar Miriam brings to everything she does.

It just isn’t going well. Still, she’s keeping her psychic ability–to see when and how someone is going to die just by touching them–in check. But even that feels wrong somehow. Like she’s keeping a tornado stoppered up in a tiny bottle.

Then comes one bad day that turns it all on her ear.

The Review

If I had a literary id, I think Miriam Black would be the personification of it. She’s a broken, vulgar-mouthed, anti-social, unapologetically selfish woman who seems to be developing this nasty habit of risking her life for the sake of other people’s. If we met in real life we’d either be instant friends or enemies for life. Maybe both. What is a certainty is that neither one of us should ever work retail again. I love Miriam because she’s just so damned fascinating. It’s like she can’t help herself but to make bad choices, and reading her is like watching a slow-motion train wreck made of blood and broken steel and sarcasm.

If you’ve read Blackbirds (and why haven’t you?) and you thought that story was a twisty mind-fuck of a tale, then you’re in for a real treat with Mockingbird. Just the title, that seemingly deceptive single word, contains layers of meaning that echo through the whole book. That’s some damned talent. So much talent, in fact, that it just makes the writer in me sick with jealousy. Sick, I tell you.

I was waxing poetic here about broken stained-glass and how this book’s complete picture is both unknowable and cutting. But you know what? Fuck that noise. This is a good damned book that’ll scare the daylights out of you, and if you like that kind of thing you should read it. Chuck Wendig is the only author I know of who can manage to be subtle with his message while beating you bloody in the face with the violent action of his story. Like I said: that’s some damned talent.

[xrr rating=3.75/5 imageset=default]

Open Your Mind, Clenching is Bad For You

Maurice Sendak, the guy who wrote the iconic WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE died recently. It was reported today, but I’m not sure when it happened, and for the purposes of this post, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that he was an author that was beloved by a very great many people.

I liked the book. I didn’t love it the way that it is obvious that many people did, but I liked it. Ever since it was read to us in school, way back in the days of story time and laboriously hand-printing individual letters out on broad-lined paper, I’ve liked the book.

So when I mentioned briefly, over the lunch table today, I expected to hear things like, “Oh, wow. I used to really like that book.” Or, “I still love that book.” I’d have even been happy with, “I’ve never heard of him, but that sucks.” For the most part, those are the reactions I received. Except one.

This is that exchange.

“Oh, I’ve never seen that.”

“… They made a movie out of it. But it’s a book. I’m talking about the guy who wrote it. It’s a kid’s book.”

“No, I don’t read that stuff.”

“It’s a really popular kid’s picture book. They read it in school’s all the time.”

“No, really, I don’t read things like that.”

Each time, the words were said with a sneer. It was very nearly a hateful sneer, and this isn’t the first time I’ve gotten it. When I mentioned wanting to go see The Hunger Games, to see if it matched the book, I got the sneer. Whenever I mention a book I may be reading, I get the sneer. The Handmaid’s Tale? Sneer. The Avengers movie? Sneer.

The most messed up part of this is: this girl watched Twilight. But she didn’t watch it because she was a fan. She didn’t watch it because she was passionate about it. It’s obvious she watched it because it was popular and she’s a follower.

There are certain people who are so sheltered and so prejudiced in their opinions (and I’m not mentioning names here specifically because I’m not fond of libel suits and this paragraph does not necessarily relate at all to the person mentioned above, just to be perfectly clear) that they can’t see anything else. It’s such a narrow scope.

Like the girl who doesn’t read fiction because she “doesn’t believe in make believe” and only wants to hear about things that happen “in real life”. Well, good luck with all those serial killer biographies then. I’d much rather read about fantasy monsters than real ones. Like the guy who doesn’t read about vampires or zombies because “they’re stupid”, not realizing and not willing to hear that these creatures are metaphors for humanity’s own darkness. Not wanting to believe that genre fiction can say anything true or real.

Well, genre fiction is true. It’s more real most of the time then any crappy Nicholas Sparks book you could pick up. The Belgariad taught me values. The Rowan showed me that women can be more than baby-making machines — though there’s no harm in being that *and* saving the world while you’re at it. I Am Legend taught me that there’s two sides to every story. The Dark is Rising and A Wrinkle in Time taught me that science and truth and good can triumph over evil. The Wheel of Time brought me out of one of the darkest times in my life.

I could name dozens more. I bet you could too.

So all I’m saying is… If you’re one of those people who maybe wouldn’t read this or see that or enjoy whatever? Just unclench. Open your mind. Be willing to see value where maybe you didn’t expect it before. And if you want to be friends? Don’t fucking sneer at me.

How to Miss Out On Great Books

I said in a recent review that I would come back and tell the story of how I came so late to the Retrievers novels and Laura Anne Gilman‘s Cosa Nostradamus world.

Retrievers #1

It’s really quite simple and easy, but if you’re curious, here is Kiara’s Guide to Missing Out On Really Great Books™ .

  1. Hold tight to your tropes.
    • When I first picked up Staying Dead back in 2004 or 2005, I was really big into Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake series. (We’re all youthful and naive at one point or another.) The genre was just getting big on vampires and werewolves and kick ass chicks in leather pants. Staying Dead had none of these things. Here was a book with a nervous heroine whose “super power” was being ignored. What kind of kick ass chick was THAT?
  2. Scoff at anything outside the “norm”.
    • Electricity as a magic power? That was just too… normal… to be fantasy. Fairies that weren’t tall and coolly elfin and romantically aloof? A heroine who not only had never killed anyone – or even beaten anyone up, from the look of it – but who was afraid of guns?
  3. Dis the romance. Overlook the other relationships.
    • One of the major elements, I think, in the Cosa Nostradamus series is the relationships. Sure, Wren and Sergei have “a thing” blossoming, and that’s the only place I looked at first. “Romance,” I thought to myself, disgustedly. “Who has any use for a heroine who can’t even figure out her love life? Or one who even NEEDS a love life?” But the beauty of this series is that it looks at the ways different people interact with one another. I mean – I’m sure the author didn’t give her main character the ability to be overlooked because she thought it would be FUNNY, you know? Sure, it’s useful for a thief, but what does it do to the person inside – the one who’s being ignored? That’s just one of the incredibly subtle ways that Gilman makes a statement in this series.
  4. Dismiss anything unique as “silly”.
    • A demon who looks like a polar bear? I admit it, I scoffed. Sure, it was cutesy. But he was supposed to be a “fucking demon” (to quote Jason Lee in Dogma). Never mind that this gives a character who could very easily become one dimensional a depth and richness that moves his story from trite to significant. No one takes a monster who looks like a cuddly stuffed animal seriously, after all. So neither did I; I didn’t look any deeper.
  5. Don’t give a decent book a second chance. Or even a first chance, if you can help it.
    • I’m ashamed to admit that I only read Staying Dead a second time because I won a signed copy in a contest and – after months of seeing it still sitting on my shelf – I guiltily decided that I’d better at least READ the damned thing before I found another home for it*. That, and because I agreed with so much of what the author was saying on her website. SURELY, if I liked her non-fiction blogging so much, there must be SOMETHING to like in her fiction too, right? So I decided to read it again.

This was in fall of 2010 and I was in a much different place than I had been. When I first read these books, I was single and bitter about it. I was lost, lonely, and was just starting to gain back some of the confidence and self-esteem that had been destroyed by a bad relationship. Now, I have been happily married for a handful of years and have learned to say things like “No” and “I don’t need you in my life”. Back then, I was happy with a two-dimensional heroine who had what I thought I wanted in life (ruthless ambition, a pair of leather pants, and the power to make sure no one ever hurt her again). The more mature me of now has decided she’d like a little real life (a little moderation, a bit more than a wee taste of fun, and most definitely no chafing from leather pants) in her fantasy, please, kthxbai.

Moreover, now that I have grown a bit older (no comments from the peanut gallery, please) and have begun to take myself more seriously as a writer, I can look deeper into the story and see the grace and finesse. Now, I can appreciate Gilman’s obvious experience as an author and what she’s trying to do as an artist. I had previously (idiotically) been dismissing the very things that make this series so interesting and unique. I’m now three books into the series and I’m waiting to get my hands on the fourth. The only reason I took a break is because my TBR shelf was giving me sullen stares when it thought I wasn’t looking.

So, kiddies, don’t be like me. Just because you’re not in English Lit anymore and just because genre novels aren’t the usual college fare doesn’t mean that you have to turn your brain off when you’re reading a novel. (Although that’s fun sometimes, too!) So pay attention, be on the lookout, and don’t forget to eat your Wheaties. Oh, and give the Retrievers a look. You might be as surprised as I was on your first (or second) time through.

*And in case you’re wondering: no, you can’t have my copy. I’ve changed my mind. It’s not going anywhere.

 

Writer’s Resources for August 14th through September 19th

These are writers’ resource links I’ve found helpful and/or interesting for August 14th through September 19th:

Writer's Resources for July 18th through August 14th

These are writers’ resource links I’ve found helpful and/or interesting for July 18th through August 14th:

Writer’s Resources for July 18th through August 14th

These are writers’ resource links I’ve found helpful and/or interesting for July 18th through August 14th:

Writer’s Resources for July 1st through July 18th

These are writers’ resource links I’ve found helpful and/or interesting for June 9th through July 18th:

Writer's Resources for July 1st through July 18th

These are writers’ resource links I’ve found helpful and/or interesting for June 9th through July 18th:

Writer’s Resources for June 9th through June 29th

These are writers’ resource links I’ve found helpful and/or interesting for June 9th through July 18th: