No Peeking!

004Remember when you were a kid, and you tried to figure out what was in those boxes under the Christmas tree? (Maybe you still do.) Perhaps you grabbed a box and did the shake test to figure out its contents. (With the shake test, you run the risk of it backfiring if you are particularly vigorous and the package’s contents particularly fragile.) Or, maybe you were bold enough to tear off a tiny corner of the wrapping paper, which you later blamed on the dog or cat or a sibling, especially after a parent told you, “Hey, no peeking!”

If you’re anything like me, you didn’t wait for presents to be added to the tree. You went looking for them. I usually did, especially after hearing my older brother say, “I saw something in Mom and Dad’s closet.” Yes, I was gullible enough to take him at his word. And of course I didn’t find anything in the closet. But I continued the search by poking under their bed and in the living room closet. And you know what? My parents were way ahead of us. With three curious children, they didn’t bother hiding gifts in the house. A locked car trunk ensured that our Christmas gifts remained unopened until Christmas Day.

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Hello Kitty wants to peek inside this gift. But the tied string thwarts her. Poor Kitty. She failed to realize that the gift is in the envelope. The thing on top of it is a crocheted Christmas tree light stuffed with cotton.

What is it about surprises that make us try to figure them out beforehand? Some surprises, like wrapped Christmas gifts, are all about delayed gratification. But in our instant, I-can’t-even-wait-a-second-for-my-download society, we have to know NOW. “I’ve gotta peek,” we tell ourselves. But does learning the outcome right away make getting the gift any better? (I hear some of you murmuring, “It sure does.”)

Waiting is part of the magic of Christmas. Think about it. When a parent refused to give in to any demands to tell you RIGHT NOW what’s in those packages, the anticipation was all the more heightened. Consider how excited you were as you lay in bed, counting the seconds until you could spring up and rush to the tree.

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This season, is there anything for which you’re waiting? What can you do to regain that delightful sense of anticipation if you haven’t felt it for a while?

While you think about that, let me move on to another item of business. Those of you who waited for the Christmas book giveaway reveal, the wait is over! (Wondering what I’m talking about? Look here.) Drumroll, please . . .

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First up is a preorder of Audacity by Melanie Crowder.

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The winner of is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Courtney Stein!

Next is The Terror of the Southlands by Caroline Carlson.

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The winner of is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Nancy Hatch!

Last, but not least, is Caminar by Skila Brown.

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The winner is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Laurie Morrison!

Congratulations, winners! See? You didn’t have to shake a package or look in a closet or under the bed. Merry Christmas! When you confirm below, please provide an email address. Thanks for commenting.

Christmas gifts from ivysays.com. Santa hat from dcafterfive.com. Drumroll from funylool.com.

Deck the Halls with Three Good Books (Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la)

santa 9Ho ho ho! Santa’s got a brand-new bag. (If you’re a James Brown aficianado, you’ll have “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” in your head now. Mwahahaha!) Today on the blog, I’m thrilled to welcome three great authors and fellow VCFA alums: Melanie Crowder, Caroline Carlson, and Skila Brown. They agreed to a quick interview without any coercion from moi or that cupcake-wielding supervillain, Hello Kitty. If you’re totally confused by that last statement, go here.

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Melanie, who also wrote Parched, is here to talk about her upcoming young adult historical novel-in-verse, Audacity, which will be coming to a bookstore near you on January 8, 2015 (published by Philomel Books/Penguin). Melanie is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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Caroline is here to discuss The Terror of the Southlands, book 2 of her middle grade series, The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates, published by HarperCollins. If you were around last year, you’ll remember that Caroline stopped by just before the first book of her series debuted. (See here and here.) Good times. Caroline is represented by Sarah Davies.

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And last, but certainly not least, Skila is here to talk about her middle grade historical novel-in-verse, Caminar, published by Candlewick Press. Skila is represented by Tina Wexler.

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After our discussion, I’ll talk about a holiday giveaway that I hope will be an annual thing.

El Space: Greetings and welcome to the blog. Could each of you provide an elevator pitch for your book to bring readers up to speed about it?
Melanie: Audacity is the inspiring story of Clara Lemlich, whose fight for equal rights led to the largest strike by women in American history.

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Caroline: Hilary Westfield is a full-fledged pirate now, but if she doesn’t prove her boldness and daring by rescuing a kidnapped Enchantress, she’ll be kicked out of the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates for good.
Skila: Set in 1981 Guatemala, this novel-in-verse tells the powerful tale of a boy who must decide what it means to be a man during a time of war.

El Space: Awesome. So, tell us what inspired you to write your book.
Melanie: Clara’s story just wouldn’t let go of me. I first discovered her in 2010, while looking for topics to try my hand at picture book biographies during the second semester of my MFA at Vermont College. But the more I read about Clara, the more I was captivated. I began to suspect that this would turn into a novel-length book. And then her voice showed up—in free verse, no less! I had to follow. . . .
Caroline: The Terror of the Southlands is a sequel to my first book, Magic Marks the Spot. I wanted to continue the story of Hilary’s adventures on the High Seas, explore more of her world, and learn more about the characters I’d created for the first book. Also, I love detective stories, and this book, while not a traditional mystery, is absolutely swarming with detectives. Pirates too, of course!

pirate_clipart_ship_2Skila: I spent a long time reading and learning about Guatemala’s Armed Conflict and the role that the U.S. played in that violence. It made me angry—angry about what happened and angry that not many people know about it. There are so many things I can’t do about so many issues in the world. But one thing I can do is tell a story. So that’s what I did. I told a story about a boy who survived. I think survival stories are the best kind of stories to read.

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El Space: You’ve all intrigued me! If you had a choice of educating, astounding, amusing, or challenging a child or a teen with your writing, which would you choose? Why? You can pick a combination of two if you wish.
Melanie: Challenging. Definitely. This is a book for teens, and Clara was a teen when she became an activist. I absolutely want readers to find her story and to know that they, too, can change the world.
Caroline: I love reading and writing humor, so one of my main goals every time I sit down at the keyboard is to amuse both myself and my eventual readers. That said, I hope that while kids are laughing, they’re also being challenged, astounded, and only very occasionally educated.
Skila: Challenging. I was the kid who loved to be challenged and also who loved to challenge. There’s always that one kid in every class, right? Raising her hand in class to say, “I think you’re wrong,” to the teacher. I would love the idea of my book challenging what you might believe about war, or the way you think about the world, or the capabilities of a child. I love books that make me think. I hope Caminar is a book like that.

El Space: If your main character had a Christmas stocking or made a Hanukkah wish, what would this character wish for? Why?

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Melanie: Books! Clara loved poetry, and she loved learning—languages, social theory, literature—all of it!
Caroline: Hilary’s Christmas stocking would probably include a sword-polishing kit, a packet of homemade cookies from her governess, and a good book she could read aloud to her gargoyle.
Skila: Carlos would probably wish for food, for obvious reasons. But on a lighter note: candy! And maybe a radio.

Thanks, Melanie, Caroline, and Skila for stopping by! I’d love to have you guys come back again!

And if you’ve popped over to check out these authors, thanks for stopping by. There are other places where they can be found. Looking for Melanie? Look here. Looking for Caroline? Look here. Looking for Skila? Look here. You can find each wonderful book by clicking on its title:

Audacity (preorders only)
The Terror of the Southlands
Caminar

You can also find each book at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. If you’ve been wishing for more books this holiday season, your wish is about to be granted. I’m giving away a preorder of Audacity and a copy of The Terror of the Southlands and Caminar. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winners will be announced on Monday, December 22.

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Jordie and his archnemesis have agreed on a truce during the holidays. Each is hoping Santa will bring him/her books by Melanie, Caroline, and Skila. Um . . . yes, Jordie and Hello Kitty still believe in Santa. Don’t you?

Christmas ornament from realestateyak.com. Hanukkah menorah from tucker-tribune.blogspot.com. Christmas stocking image from dryicons.com. Santa bag from its-so-cute.blogspot.com. Pirate ship from free-clipart-pictures.net. Strike photo from historymatters.gmu.edu.

Check This Out: A Gift of Shadows

Welcome back to the blog where my guest today is the très fabuleuse Stephanie Stamm. She’s here to talk about A Gift of Shadows, book 2 of her Light-Bringer trilogy, which launches today!

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Woot! Here’s a synopsis:

shadows_promoSome Gifts come in Dark packages.

The Making gave her wings, but two months later, Lucky’s Gift has yet to appear. When it finally does, she’s in Lilith’s Dark world, and the Gift comes as a deadly power that causes Lucky to question everything she thinks she knows about herself. Her only support is her boyfriend’s brother. While Lucky struggles with her Gift and her feelings for Kev, tensions escalate between Dark and Light, and the barriers between worlds start to fail. Can Lucky and the Fallen find their way through the deepening shadows?

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Jordie received a dark package and wonders if his Gift is in it. Or is this just a gift?

Um, moving on, isn’t that cover très cool? But wait. There’s more. You can have this very book, thanks to a giveaway I’ll mention after I talk with Stephanie.

Happy-Release-DayEl Space: Happy Release Day! Though you’ve been on the blog before, I still have to ask you to supply four quick facts about yourself.
Stephanie: I can pretty much live on different kinds of soup during the winter.
I’ve never been able to write a fast first draft without editing as I go.
I’m fascinated with psychology, spirituality, and the inner journey.
I get cranky when I’m too busy to have time to read fiction.

El Space: Tell us about this next part of Lucky’s journey. Nonspoilery of course. 🙂 How has Lucky grown?
Stephanie: Lucky has gotten stronger, tougher. She’s impatient to learn more. She has more agency. In the first book, she was more reactive, doing what she had to in response to what happened around her and to her. In A Gift of Shadows, she acts as well as reacts and makes more independent choices, some of which cause problems for her.

El Space: How has your world expanded in this book?
Stephanie: Lucky spends some time in Lilith’s world in this book. There, she learns more about Lilith and Luil and makes some friends and some enemies. Kev gets to explore more of the Dark and Light Realms. Some events still take place in Chicago, but the larger world Lucky now knows she’s a part of starts impacting the city as well.

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El Space: This is the middle book of your trilogy. What did you find challenging about writing a bridge book?
Stephanie: Recapping enough of the first book to refresh the reader’s memory without restating too much, and at the same time setting up for problems to come in the third book, while still wrapping up enough to give a sense of an ending. It really was a challenge. Whenever I found myself struggling, I took comfort in the comments I’ve read or heard from other trilogy authors about the difficulty of writing that middle book.

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El Space: In an interview with urban fantasy authors Kelley Armstrong and Carrie Vaughn here, the interviewer asked them to respond to the accusation that women are destroying science fiction and fantasy. How would you respond to that allegation? Remarks like that make my blood boil, by the way.
Stephanie: I’m picturing a “No Girls Allowed” sign tacked on a tree house.

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I’m not sure what it even means to “destroy” a genre. I would assume the people who make those accusations are referring to the growth of paranormal romance novels. I would call that an expansion of the urban fantasy genre, not a destruction of it. And the popular novelists in both urban fantasy and paranormal romance have both male and female fans.

men-vs-womenSome male writers have long complained that women can’t write science fiction—leading to the distinction between “hard” and “soft” SF, a not-so-subtle gendering through adjectives. The claim that women are destroying science fiction and fantasy is just a continuation of that argument, and it rests on an unquestioned evaluation of the “male” or “hard” version of SF as somehow better than so-called “soft” SF. The supporters of that claim seem to me to be fearfully clinging to their particular idea of what the genres can or should be, instead of allowing those genres to encompass whatever authors can bring to them. Frankly, I don’t even understand how one genre—or sub-genre—can be threatened by another. Each sub-genre will have its own readers and fans, some of which may cross over to the other. Seems like a win-win to me.

Incidentally, I loved Kelley Armstrong’s YA Darkness Rising series.

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Dont Stereotype MeEl Space: I agree with you! What stereotypes, if any, bother you in sci-fi/fantasy? How does your series challenge those stereotypes?
Stephanie: I’m bothered by the helpless or over-sexualized female. That’s changed in a lot of contemporary writing, with the kickass heroine becoming more of a norm. While the strength of that kickass heroine is a move forward, she can become a female version of the male idea of toughness, where any show of vulnerability is “feminine” or “weak.” The willingness to be vulnerable actually exhibits a different kind of strength. I tried to write female characters who are both tough and vulnerable. And I tried to write male characters who are both as well.

I’m also troubled by female characters who see other females as rivals instead of friends. I wanted to show strong female friendships in this book too. Romance is more central in Shadows than it was in Wings, but those female friendships are also very important.

El Space: What’s next after this series for you?
Stephanie: I’m incubating the seeds of a standalone fantasy novel based on figures from two different ancient religious traditions. I’ve got some research to do to figure out exactly where that book could go and how it will be shaped.

I also want to spend some time working on poetry, polishing some existing poems for submission and writing new ones.

Thanks, Stephanie, for visiting! You’re always welcome.

And thank you to all who dropped by. Since you’re here, check out this book trailer for A Gift of Shadows:

Looking for Stephanie? Look for her at her website and on Facebook. A Gift of Shadows is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords. Also, the eBook for A Gift of Wings is on sale for $0.99 to celebrate the holidays and the release of Shadows. You can get A Gift of Wings at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

You can be entered in the drawing to win one of two prizes Stephanie is offering—a paperback or an eBook of A Gift of Shadows—just by commenting below. And just because Christmas is around the corner, I’m offering a second eBook of A Gift of Shadows to a commenter. If you like, share with us your favorite female science fiction or fantasy author. I’ll start with some of my favorites: Lois McMaster Bujold, Juliet Marillier, Octavia Butler, Ursula Le Guin, and Robin McKinley. Winners will be announced on Tuesday, December 16.

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A Gift of Shadows has the Supervillain Seal of Approval.

A Gift of Shadows cover courtesy of Stephanie Stamm. The Rising cover from Goodreads. Book release image from mywrittenromance.com. Books from bellschool.org. No girls sign from whispermumstheword.com. Men vs. women sign from diniprathivi.wordpress.com. Christmas ornaments from ezdecorating.blogspot.com.