Sunday, September 30, 2012

Love Unmasked: Ironskin

Ironskin  is a magical steampunk fantasy Jane Eyre-like story and from the first page I was drawn into this original world that the author, Tina Connolly, brings to vivid life.
Jane Eliot was a survivor. There was a war. A war between the populace and the fey. The fey are a bodiless being highly skilled in a technology that supplied the locals with power called bluepacks that was so advanced that civilian power advancements are abandoned to such an extent that when the fey tire of  providing their energy source after creating a dependence... it's back to the dark ages for many. Not only that, after they begin a war on the same people they'd once helped, the fey having no bodies of their own, remember, would kill humans and take over their bodies so that the dead would turn and attack their friends and families until killed again with iron. Iron is all that can keep the fey at bay or kill them. Scary stuff. Many were lost in the war and many who survived bore fey scars. Scars which made their bearer feel amplified moods and affected those around them with an increased amplification of their own moods. Jane's scar being "rage", she keeps it contained behind the "ironskin" mask that covers one side of her face. Scarred as she is, she possess a quick and sardonic wit and a plucky sense of adventure so when she sees an ad for a governess position for a child "born during the war", she decides to give it a go and accepts the position.
"An ye be human...enter" an odd butler says to her when she knocks at the door of her new home.  She steps across the iron threshold and into a new life.
This life will introduce her to the master of the house, Mr. Rochart. He is a brilliant sculptor although the masks Jane takes in on the walls of his studio are hideous. He is also the father of five year old Dorie, a child both enchanting and frightening. Her "scars" are not visible. Dorie has the ability to command objects to come to her or float in the air without touching them. She can make blue lights sparkle around her. Fey light, perhaps.
 How and why Dorie came to possess these abilities is one of the secrets you will have to uncover yourself as you read this entrancing book. You will also find out what Jane discovers about Edward Rochart's other skills. Skills so remarkable they attract a bevy of beautiful women to pay calls on him (not THAT kind of skills! Get your mind out of the gutter! It's not that kind of book!), and begin to make Jane jealous. Jealous because she realizes she is coming to care for this mysterious man and his unusual child.  And what of Jane's sister who has married well and seems superficially happy in her letters but desperate to have Jane return to her. Intrigued? Then go buy a copy or request your local library to order "Ironskin" so you, too, can cross that iron threshold ...An ye be human... and enter this new and extraordinary world!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Interview With Author Daniel Waters!

The Recommender is thrilled to bring you this short interview with one of my favorite authors, Daniel Waters. Dan is the author of the groundbreaking zombie series “Generation Dead” and his new book “Break My Heart 1000 Times” has become one of my all time favorites, and has my favorite title of the year, as well. Thank you so much for taking the time to join us here on the Militant Recommender! 
 These were wonderful, insightful questions, so thank you. 
What I love about Break My Heart 1000 Times is the absolutely believable reality you’ve created. The ghosts seem so natural in their day to day haunting. How did you ever come up with this concept??
I think the original concept is one of those "Hadron Collider of the mind"-type things, where I can't pinpoint any single flash of inspiration that triggered the idea, but I can see a number of the particle trails that combined to form it. I love horror stories to begin with, and ghosts stories are my favorite among them--I reread The Haunting of Hill House every couple years, so that has to be in the mix. The Sixth Sense is a favorite movie, and the novel takes the "I see dead people" concept and changes it to "everyone sees dead people". Thoughts about recent tragedies, both historical and personal, figure in to the book heavily as well.
I loved the character of Veronica. She’s a very complex and sympathetic character. You are very good at creating believable girls which is one of the things I admire about the Generation Dead series. Were there any real girls or women who helped inspire your great characters?

 Thank you. No one consciously--but my daughter is close to Veronica's age, and she is a very complex and sympathetic character. Her friends are all great kids too so I'm sure that knowing them helps the writing of my female teen protagonists. Of course, she was in grade school when I wrote Generation Dead, so that might be a fairly recent development.
 The image of Ronnie’s father appearing in the kitchen each morning is almost unbearably moving. The details of his apparition doing something mundane, reading the paper, drinking coffee and his wife and daughter positioning themselves each morning so that it appears he’s still there and about to speak to them is just beautifully conceived. What gave you the idea for this particular haunting?
The story is essentially about the idea of loss, the loss of loved ones, and how it affects people. Each character in the book is shaped by loss; loss has toughened Ronnie, it has caused her mother to put her life on hold, it has reduced Janine to a bundle of nerves, it has, and it has broken Bittner. Even Kirk, who hasn't felt any direct loss himself but has been witness to it in others feels its effects.
The scenes with many of the ghosts, especially Ronnie's father, come directly from personal experiences with loss. If someone dies or drops out of our lives it leaves us feeling haunted; even remembering the happy times brings a painful sting.
 Ronnie and her friend, Janine, walk to school and pass a house where every morning the ghost of a girl appears at the front door and knocks. They note it is the home of their history teacher. Early on we find out he’s a pretty creepy character. You have a real ability to bring the reader’s empathy to even the most despicable character, not giving anything away, as we hate giving away too many details, that is a real art. When you created this character how did you decide to bring that aspect to him, which makes him more 3 dimensional, as opposed to just a black and white bad guy?
Thank you for the drawing you did of the scene you just described; by the way. I love it. Villains to me are almost always more interesting when the are reasons behind that villainy; I also love when I'm reading about a villain and you can sense the moment he or she chose evil over good--or maybe that decision was made for them. There are plenty of fictional villains around that are pure evil from birth or early childhood, especially in horror and supernatural fiction, and I think that is a bit unrealistic. Most of the truly evil people throughout history didn't think they were evil; in their warped way they thought they were the good guys. I think it is fascinating to try and figure out how they could possibly have though something so opposite of what the majority of us believe.
Then again, I'd like to explore true and pure unsympathetic evil someday.
Some people live with the idea of the ghosts as a fact of life in your book while others lived in a constant state of fear and anxiety like Ronnie’s friend Janine. This also seems very realistic and equates, in a way, with how people in our society got on with their lives after Sept. 11, and others seemed to see terrorists everywhere. Was that what gave you the idea for the ghost world and life after the event?
September 11 was definitely on my mind when I wrote the book. I was away from home and in D.C. At the time of the attacks, and I spent the greater part of the following week or so apart from my family assisting with the cleanup of the Pentagon. I'd never honestly contemplated the idea of never seeing my wife and kids again prior to those days; but that's where my thoughts were running. Two high school classmates of mine died in the fall of the towers, and like everyone else in America, if not the world, I think about what those first days and months afterwards felt like.

And then later--surprisingly not a very long time later--it would strike me that people go on with life. Holocausts happen, genocides, plagues, terrorist attacks--and we go on, somehow manager to avoid dwelling on the horror 24/7. We cope. We find ways to love and laugh again. Civilization wobbles but doesn't crumble. People manage to go on with life even after the most horrific circumstances. I thought about an event, a cataclysm, where there was a loss of life hundred of thousands times more than that of 9/11, and in some ways the prospect of returning to "life as normal" after something like that was more terrifying to me than a descent into a post-apocalyptic mire. I think that is what would happen, no matter the scale of the tragedy.
But of course we never really move on completely from tragedy, do we? The ghosts are always with us. And we don't want them to go away.

And finally, I was very excited to read that Break My Heart has been optioned for a movie and the screenplay has already been written. It is such a strikingly visual book you can picture each scene. As a reader I feel a loyalty to the integrity of the characters and story and worry that a screenwriter might mess around with it. Did you have script approval? Were you happy with the results?
I was ecstatic with the result. I didn't really have approval, but the producer, Paul Brooks, was kind enough to send me the script when it was finished and I made a couple suggestions. Really minor suggestions, because Jason Fuchs did an amazing job on the script that I was thoroughly pleased. The script is very faithful to the characters and the tone of the book, which is very difficult as what makes a book thrilling and exciting is not always the same thing that makes a film thrilling and exciting--especially with a ghost story. There's a few new scenes in the script and they are among my favorites!
Although I love the Hemingway quote about dealing with Hollywood, which goes something like, "stand on the Nevada border, throw the book over the fence to California, have them throw the money back, and run like hell", I don't feel that way at all. I think I would be just as pleased with someone doing a takeoff or riff on one of my works as I would an adaptation that was note perfect.
Links to Dan's online media:
WatersDan on Twitter

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

"The Raven Boys" are what Blue calls the students at local Aglionby prep school, those larger than life entitled boys who have everything and wear a school sweater that bears an image of a raven as their crest.
Blue is not your average high school girl with an after school job at the local pizza place. Her Mom, Maura,  is a psychic. She never knew her Dad. She lives in a house filled with women, all her mother's friends who are all psychically inclined and do readings for civilians and occasionally more questionable members of normal society who make their way to the house.
Blue, herself, does not have psychic abilities. That's not to say she isn't special. Her secret power is the ability to amplify or make the vibes clearer and louder for whatever readings the women are doing.
There is a downside to all the psychic fun and games. Blue has been told that if she falls in love and kisses her true love...he will die. So, what's a girl to do? Especially when her mother's beautiful half-sister, Neeve, a psychic celebrity with a TV show, shows up and takes Blue out on St. Mark's Eve  to the ruins of an old isolated church to greet the spirits of those that would die in the next 12 months. The future dead have to follow a corpse road through  the church gate. Neeve asks their names as they pass... and Blue writes them down. The information has always been a useful part of Maura and her circle's job, letting people know that they, or a loved one, would die that year.
But tonight, though Blue has made things louder for Neeve... she "sees" someone, herself. A boy, a murky image, but there all the same, wearing slacks and a sweater, making his way slowly toward the gate. "Get his name" Neeve tells her. Blue goes closer... it's an Aglionby sweater. A raven boy. "What's your name?" she asks his wavery, indistinct image. "Gansey" he tells her. "Is that all?" asks Blue. "That's all there is..." says Gansey. She watches as he falls to his knees. "Neeve!" Blue cries out..."He's dying!"
"Not yet" says Neeve.  "Why can I see him," Blue asks. “There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”
Where do we go from here? It's a breathtaking beginning to a non-stop ride that will continue through 3 more volumes. There IS a Gansey, and we will meet him and his Aglionby posse and learn that there's more to these prep school boys than money, image and status. There's a quest, and there's the mystery surrounding it. A mystery that may have already caused one death. How Blue and the boys come together and join forces makes for a very addicting entry into this series. Can Blue keep what she knows about Gansey from happening? We shall see.
 *A note on author Maggie Stiefvater. "Scorpio Races" was the Recommender's favorite book of last year. She's  an amazing writer with the ability to create worlds much like ours... until suddenly a carnivorous sea horse rears up and tries to take a chunk out of someone, or the cute boy turns into a wolf. She has a magical way with words and can hook you into her reality like few writers can. "The Raven Boys" provides further proof of her virtuosity!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Jepp Who Defied the Stars

Jepp is a boy who was raised by his single Mom and brought up in a tavern/rooming house that she runs in the small (fictional) town of Astraveld in Holland. He is relatively content, is pretty smart having learned to read and write and is much loved by the few locals who depend on the inn for their livelihood. He is also a dwarf. Something he doesn't really dwell on... unless travelers to the inn happen to point it out.

He has never known his father, something that does bother him, but has not made an issue of finding out his identity. One day a stranger arrives at the inn. He is worldly with a long title but called "Don" for short. He has a proposition for Jepp. How would he like to live a grand life as a member of Coudenberg, the court of the Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia and her husband Archduke Albert of Austria. As a court Dwarf.
Surely his mother wouldn't want to part with him? But she wants him to succeed and advance himself and this seems like a perfect entrance into a better way of life. Is it? We shall see. So begins this intriguing story set in the late 1500s with a truly unique protagonist that we care about and  root for from the opening page.
 "It is lucky you found me" Jepp says to Don on their coach trip to Coudenberg. "There is no luck", Don confides, "Only the stars. That is where our fortune or lack of it resides". Puzzling words. The stars play a role throughout Jepp's life. It is a time of great belief in astrology.

Jepp arrives in Coudenberg and all that Don describes is true! A luxury apartment, fine clothes, exotic and tasty food, and, oh yes, there are 3 other dwarves who reside there. It takes a bit of the spotlight away, but one of them is an attractive young woman. Things are looking good! Or are they? And, Don never mentioned anything about a pie. A rather large one.

This is just the beginning of Jepp's journey, a journey which will open his eyes to the intrigues and whims of those in charge of his destiny. He will learn to keep some things secret and who can be trusted... and who can't. And we will learn with him (plus what the title means). This book will be released in October so put in your pre-order request and find out just where Jepp's journey, and those stars, will take him. This is the first book the Recommender has read by Katherine Marsh and I will definitely look forward to reading anything else she's written!