Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Heart of a female assassin + giveaway

Seriously, I am not the blood-thirsty type. So I was really surprised last year, when I picked up Grave Mercy, by Robin LaFevers, and fell in love with it. Granted, it's not just about a female assassin - it's about a whole convent full of assassins and killer nuns-in-training. The bizarre twist of killer nuns was enough to hook me, but it's the heart of this book that kept me going long after satisfying my curiosity about a convent with such a controversial calling.

And now the next book in the His Fair Assassins series is coming out, Dark Triumph, and I can't wait until April 2nd to start reading. When one of my favorite book bloggers, Shelver of Shelvers Anonymous, asked me to join in a blog tour for Dark Triumph, I jumped at the chance. At the end of my musings here on the heart of a female assassin, there's a rafflecopter for a giveaway of the new book Dark Triumph (and an extra goody, too).

So why am I so excited about another dark book about assassins, when dark and vengeful is really not my cup of tea? Is there something twisted in my psyche I've been hiding from myself? So I took this opportunity to dig a little deeper about this whole idea of female assassins.

First of all, a few facts you might not know: there were attempted assassinations of both Stalin and Mussolini by women. Both succeeded in shooting, but not killing, these infamous dictators from the 1930's and 40's. With just a little googling I found quite a few other historical female assassins, including one from the Bible, honored by God: Yael (or Jael), an Israelite woman who lured an enemy leader into her tent with the promise of food and rest, and then drove a tent peg through his head while he slept. Yikes!

But the female assassin that is most memorable in my mind is a fictional one, from the 1990 foreign film Nikita, also known as La Femme Nikita. (More about the Fair Assassins series in a moment, I promise. You gotta hear about Nikita first).

Nikita is a young, out-of-control drug addict who kills a disarmed police officer, and as a result is sentenced to life in prison, and then given a lethal injection (or so she thinks) in secret. She awakes believing she is dead (wow I remember that scene so well, it's so powerful). Instead she learns she will pay her debt to society by becoming a government assassin. She's extremely talented at her job, with one exception: she hates it. Every time she has to kill someone, you see how it kills her a little bit, too. (Warning, this film is very graphic, much more so than the young adult His Fair Assassin books).

Okay, back to Grave Mercy. Stop thinking sharp-shooter guns, and start picturing swords, daggers, and poisons. And knights in armor (sorry, couldn't help myself)

In Grave Mercy, set in the 1400's in Brittany when women had almost no rights, Ismae isn't given much more of a choice than Nikita: become an assassin or be married off (after she's just escaped a brutally abusive marriage, who can blame her choice?)  But here's the difference, Ismae discovers she loves her job. Her convent serves St. Mortain - the saint of death. She's death's handmaiden, serving her master by taking lives for the greater good. Then something happens with one of her assignments that changes her perspective - and it's not what you'd expect, so I can't give it away.

There's also a talent that Ismae has, that goes far beyond making her a great assassin - something she doesn't discover until near the end. It also relates to the "I love you but I might have to kill you" relationship she has with Gavriel Duval... which is also another reason why kept turning pages very late into the night. Hoping to discover another surprising secret and dangerous relationship in Dark Triumph.

Dark Triumph is about another girl from St Mortain's convent, Sybella, brought to the convent in chains, insane from some horrible thing done to her - we can only guess.  I'll be reading the book because I want to see, like with Nikita and Ismae, how this tortured soul finds her heart again, after insanity and revenge. The attraction of the darkness (at least for me) is how its shadows make the light of hope even brighter.

Here's your chance to win a copy of Dark Triumph along with a nice set of essential poisons oils, similar to this one (actual set may be different).

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Here's some other bloggers participating in the Dark Triumph release party, with more thoughts on assassins  and more to give away, too:

Tuesday, March 26: Robin LaFever's Top Five Heroines of All Time at Bookshelvers Anonymous

Wednesday, March 27: Why I love the His Fair Assassin series at In Which Ems Reviews Books; Fairy Tale Influences of Dark Triumph at Bookshelvers Anonymous

Thursday, March 28: True Love = A Maggoty Carcass (A Dark Triumph post) + giveaway at Mary Gray Books; Cover Love #25 (The HFA edition) at Bookshelvers Anonymous

Friday, March 29: Review of Dark Triumph at Girls in the Stacks; Interview with Robin LaFevers at Bookshelvers Anonymous

Saturday, March 30: An Assassin In Love (The Unlikely Romance in Grave Mercy) at Bookshelvers Anonymous (a guest post from Molli at Once Upon a Prologue)

Sunday, March 31: Review: Dark Triumph at Bookshelvers Anonymous

Monday, April 1: Review: Dark Triumph + giveaway at In Which Ems Reviews Books;The Mythology of the Nine at Bookshelvers Anonymous

Tuesday, April 2: Author Interview with Robin LaFevers (+Giveaway!) at Blue Sky Bookshelf; A Special Message from St. Mortain at Bookshelvers Anonymous

Wednesday, April 3: Interview with a fellow fan at Burgundy Ice; Giveaway! at In Which Ems Reviews Books; Tour Wrap-up at Bookshelvers Anonymous

So, what's your preferred poison? - a medieval assassin like Ismae or Sybella, or a modern day one like Nikita?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Spring Cleaning Giveaway

 I'm giving away two recent books as part of the Spring Cleaning Giveaway Hop (go here to see lots of other giveaways)- What's Left of Me, by Kat Zhang and Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff.

Let me stress, I'm not giving them away as a result of spring cleaning my bookshelves. I'm giving them away because these are darn good books and I want them to find more readers that will love them!

There will be two winners, enter the Rafflecopter of your choice!

Here's the short info on What's Left of Me.  All children are born with two souls in one body, but after six or seven years, one soul becomes dominant, and the other one fades away. In Eva's case, she doesn't fade away. She stays aware, in the same body as her sister Addie, no longer having any control of her body but still Addie's closest friend. But her hidden presence, if discovered, could mean devastation for both of them.  (Scroll down to read my thoughts on this great book).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And here's the short info on Stormdancer: Japanese steampunk with samurai wielding chainsaw swords, and a girl not afraid to fight to save the last of the mythological thunder tigers (a very cool version of a griffin with lightning in his wings). Chock full of richly detailed and wildly imagined world-building and action. Here's my review on Goodreads.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And here's my review of What's Left of Me. 

The premise of this book was fascinating, two souls in one body. I went into this book practically salivating and came out chewing over ideas and implications. When I read the Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman I was entranced by the idea of a person's soul existing outside his body, contained within an animal, and all issues this raised in the story.

So two separate souls sharing one body - ah, I figured there had to be some interesting implications! Such as control issues - which soul is in control of the voice, physical movement, etc. Romantic issues - another soul always present when you want to be alone with someone? And that's just the tip of iceberg.

This story delivered on its premise, in some ways that I expected, in other ways that surprised me. The author came up with some really neat, unique traits and implications of hybrids (people with two souls). Here's just one of them, for a little sampler. If only I'd had the ability during college...
Mr Conivent quarantined Addie and me at a table close to his desk during study time. Every few minutes, he would look up and stare over at us, checking to make sure we were doing our assignment.... Maybe he assumed we were safer when doing math problems. Maybe he thought they were keeping us occupied, that if our head was a jumble of matrices and obtuse triangles and long division, we wouldn't have room for things like escape plans. It might have been a safe assumption, if we weren't hybrid. Between the two us, Addie and I solved math problems and had all the space in the world to figure out the important things.

What's your center?

Tomorrow I'll be giving away two recent books as part of the Spring Cleaning Giveaway Hop - What's Left of Me, by Kat Zhang and Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff.

But let me stress, I'm not giving them away as a result of spring cleaning my bookshelves. I'm giving them away because these are darn good books and I want them to find more readers that will love them!

But today, please forgive me, but I have to gush about Rise of the Guardians. My girls and I just watched this movie, so it's fresh on my mind (and I'm for sure going to be reading the books in this series too).

I realize it's not everybody's cup of tea, because maybe you don't like your ideas of Santa and other magical childhood traditions getting messed with. And when "Santa" is a tall Russian guy with tattoos and Yetis for helpers instead of elves, that might be pushing it too far - but not for me. (I love sighting mythical creatures in new settings!)

In one scene, Nicolas St. North (aka Santa), asks Jack Frost what his "center" is, as Jack's not sure why he's been picked to be a Guardian. North shows Jack his set of Russian nesting dolls, each doll revealing some aspect of his character.

The smallest doll has big eyes, and North says:

Yes! Big eyes, very big, because they are full of wonder. That is my center. It is what I was born with, eyes that have only seen the wonder in everything! Eyes that see lights in the trees and magic in the air. This wonder is what I put into the world, and what I protect in children. It is what makes me a guardian. It is my center, what is yours?

I love that: "this wonder is what I put into the world, and what I protect in children" - and adults too, please! I love how some books and movies can ignite that old sense of wonder again. (As an aside, when I wrote a review for the Blue Sword, one of my all time favorite books, I went off on a riff about wonder). I'm a bit of a wonder junkie, but then again there's also this side of me (or one of my nesting dolls) that loves to have a story challenge my thinking, force me to look places maybe I don't want to look, sort of like another movie I watched recently, Flight.

I could go on and on about centers and layers and so forth, but whew it's after midnight. Real quick, I'll share that love is what I want my center to be (though I have a lot of days where frustration seems closer to the mark).

What's your center, or some of your nesting dolls?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Star Wars, writing and life

The seven-point story structure has been around maybe since stories began, with some simpler and some more complex variations. On one of my favorite blogs, the Cockeyed Caravan,  Matt Bird adds a fascinating element to the seven-point story structure with examples from the two heroes in Star Wars, Han Solo and Luke Skywalker.

This is what he added from advice he received from another screen writer: every hero should first be endangered socially, then physically, then spiritually.

The social danger comes at the beginning of the story, with the inciting incident.
By the midpoint, the danger has escalated to physical danger.
At the plot climax, near the end, the hero faces his greatest test as he/she are in danger spiritually (their beliefs are tested).

Matt Bird also does a fantastic job showing how Han and Luke have different character arcs that complement each other.

I already had the seven point structure down, but when I applied these three different escalating dangers to my latest work-in-progress, WOW!

And then when I applied the different but complementary character arcs (building on my existing character profiles) to my main character and main secondary character, double wow.

This made my brain spark with so many exciting ideas that I then did the wildest thing of all: I applied the seven point structure to my life.  I actually did this twice, once to the first 21 years of my life, then again to the second 21 years of my life (I was brave enough to share the first half of my life but not the second. That's still too close).

So here's how Star Wars showed me the story of my own life.

1)  Opening: We meet a hero who knows what they want but not what they need. They’re clever and responsible about pursuing their short-term goals, but clueless about their own true nature.

Luke: wants to join the rebellion, be a pilot, do something more exciting than be a farmer “if there’s a bright side to the universe, you are on the far side of it”

Han is hiding out in a wretched bar after screwing up his last job. He gets a huge opportunity to do a sketchy job that will get him the money to get him out of trouble.

Me: At the beginning of my senior year of high school, we're encouraged to make plans for our next step in life. I really have no clue what to do.  Most of my friends plan to apply to colleges, some of them really top-notch schools. My parents encourage me to do the same. Why not?

2) Inciting incident: They discover a scary-but-promising opportunity to get what they think they need. This often happens with a disaster in their social situation that pushes them to leave their comfort zone and  get started on the path.

Luke:  R2 leads him to Obi Wan, who tells him about his greater destiny. He waffles on this, until the Empire makes the decision for him by killing his aunt and uncle.

Han: While Han is deciding to take the risky job, a bounty hunter comes to kill him but Han shoots first, forcing him to commit

Me:  I discover an Ivy League university only 3 hours away from me, and it includes a state college where I can get reasonable in-state tuition. It seems perfect: close by, affordable, and prestigious! But my guidance counselor says "I think this university is out of your range. Pick some back ups." I'm offended by this - I'm smart enough to get into an Ivy League. I'm going to succeed even if it kills me.

3) Second quarter: They pursue this goal the easy way and have some fun doing it. It looks like they’re going to get a lot of gain for a little work.

 Luke:  gets a chance to rescue the princess, whose holo message cry for help entranced him way back at the beginning

Han: his new clients turn out to be honorable guys and he impresses them with his lightspeed piloting. Gets a chance to earn extra money by helping Luke rescue the princess.

Me:  I beef up my grades and extra-curriculars like crazy. It's hard work, but an exciting challenge, now that I am motivated.

4) Midpoint crisis (often a physical crisis, or a massive failure): Everything comes crashing down. They lose their place of safety, and stand to lose more than they hoped to gain, but it’s too late to go back now…

Luke and  Han finds themselves flushed down the garbage chute surrounded by enemies. Even the girl is unimpressed with them.

Me: I get rejected from this dream university that I had just spent 6 months working like crazy to get into. My life is over. I've failed. But I still want to go to college...

5)  Third quarter: They start over, doing it the hard way, and begin to make real progress, but this progress ironically makes the task even more personally painful, due to both external and internal consequences that it brings about for them.

Luke rescues the princess and gets to be fighter pilot for the rebellion, his original goal. But the Death Star is moving in to destroy the Rebel base.

Han gets his ship back, impresses the girl, and even gets paid! heads off to pay his debt even though his new friends feel like he's deserting them.

Me:  After I lick my wounds, I figure out that I can go to a less prestigious college for a year, then transfer to my dream university.  I keep working at it, don't give up, and a year later, I'm in!

6) Darkest moment/spiritual crisis: As a result of their hard work, the hero finally confronts what they haven’t wanted to admit about themselves (either an inner strength which they finally accept or an inner flaw which they finally reject)

Luke: All the other pilots have failed to blow up the Death Star. It's up to him, but he has to trust the force to accomplish this, and this seems counter-intuitive to him

Han has to put someone else first (his friends, and the Rebellion) before himself, which is counter-intuitive to him because he's used to putting himself first.

 Me: Oh my goodness. This university is brutally hard. The competitiveness is killing me. I take a long hard look at my motives. The main reason why I wanted an Ivy League degree was for the prestige.  But I'm really not the kind of person who values prestige. What do I really value? Turns out I value being able to express myself artistically much more (mainly through writing).

7)  Final quarter: adding their newfound inner breakthrough to the external progress they’ve been making since the midpoint, the hero resolves their problem in a way that gets them what they need, without necessarily getting them what they originally wanted.

Luke (with Han's last minute help)  saves the Rebellion by destroying the Death Star. They are heros! Han originally wanted to get his debts paid and get rich. He discovers he really want to help his friends in a worthy cause.

Luke's a little harder, because in the beginning he wants to to escape his boring farm life and become a fighter pilot for the rebellion, and that's exactly what he gets. The change he goes through is that he starts out thinking he'll accomplish his goal one way; he ends up learning he has to accomplish it another counter-intuitive way altogether.

Me: Strengthened by my new found discovery about what I want out of life, I stop competing like crazy, and  I still manage to get my degree but with a lot less stress, making time to include writing and other ways to express myself that brings fulfillment.  I originally thought I wanted prestige. Turns out I really wanted artistic (writerly) expression.

Applying this same structure to the next twenty years was equally eye-opening, dealing with big things such as love, failed relationships, career, and a long battle with depression and other issues. Last fall, I had my seven point "breakthrough."

No wonder why human beings crave stories that follow this simple, archetypal structure. In some mysterious way, it's built into our own lives, our own stories.

Do you think you could apply the seven point story structure to your own life?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Vicarious Experience

What's the main reason why readers fall in love with a book?

Lisa Cron, at her post here at Writer Unboxed,  lists five reasons why readers love a story, and why (thanks to the dopamine buzz they get from it) reading a good book often feels exactly like falling in love.

But what really jumped out at me about this post, is she says it's more than great characters, a good plot, or a vivid writing style; what readers love about a book is the vicarious experience. Reading about someone else (and putting ourselves in there right along with them) as they go through an experience, even if we've never been through it ourselves.

That is so true! At least to me. I love to "experience" situations or places that I haven't in real life. It broadens my life; it reminds me of the quote that through reading we don't get to live just one life, we get to live many lives.

In my own writing it's the same, it's experiences that I think are fascinating (like my current book which starts out in a regular American high school  but ends up traveling through space) or another story I've written that goes back in time.

But I think we also crave vicarious experiences for other reasons. Most stories include a lot of bad, even terrible things happening... like failed relationships, betrayal, getting fired, losing a loved one, etc. Part of the vicarious experience here is going through these struggles with the character and seeing them (hopefully) find their way through to a happier, or a least a wiser, ending (personally, I love a happy ending that is just a touch bittersweet, too, because that's closer to real life).

If you are currently going through a bad time or a huge disappointment (and I confess that's where my family is at right now), part of the enthralling vicarious experience in a book is that if the main character can make it through their bad times, well maybe there is some hope I will too.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Top ten famous cars

What's your dream car?  I have a whole list depending on my mood (classic mood, attention-getting mood, "don't mess with me" mood). One of the fun things about writing fiction is that I can put my character in any one of them without going to a great deal of painful expense like you'd have to go through in real life.

There really aren't any famous cars in books, though, except maybe that Stephen King demon car Christine. These things are meant to be seen and not just read about.

Since I haven't done a non-bookish Top Ten in a lonnnnng time, here's a list of my favorite famous cars I've seen from the movies and TV shows. 

10. The Italian Job - Mini Coopers 
I didn't appreciate these little beauties until my stepdaughter bought one (just like the one in this pic) and I actually started driving it once in a while. So. Much. Fun. 

9. The Cannonball Run - Lamborghini Countach
I couldn't believe such things could be real, when I saw this movie for the first time in the 1980's. 

8. Back to the Future - 1981 De Lorean DMC-12
Unlike the Countach, the De Lorean hasn't managed to retain its "cool factor" so much. It looks very dated. But it will always be cool because of the movie. 

7. From the movie Transformers: Bumblebee transformed into a Chevrolet Camaro, always updating to the last model (wouldn't that be nice in real life). 

6. From the TV show Knight Rider - "KITT" 1982 Pontiac Firebird TransAm. When I was 13 years old, this was the ULTIMATE car. I always wondered if you could buy it with that cool moving red light in the front. 

5. From the movie Gone in 60 Seconds: Mustang 1967 Shelby GT 500 "Eleanor" (a rare original can sell for several million at auction!) 

4. Thelma and Louise: 1966 Ford Thunderbird convertible. If you are going to die in tragic style, this is a good way to go.  My Dad had a similar model in his swinging single days (he's still alive, fortunately). 

3. Ferris Bueller's Day Off: 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder SWB. Because if you're going to skip school this is the way to go. 

The last two are not yet made famous by movies or TV shows that I know of, but should be!

2. Knight XV ($295,000) - like a Hummer on serious steroids. Surprised that this kind of "don't mess with me" vehicle hasn't gotten famous yet from a movie, like the ones above. 

1. This is actually the car that has Margo written all over it. I don't know why - I just think it's pretty. Go ahead, guess what it is and how expensive. (In real life, when I can't steal my stepd's Mini Cooper, I drive a Chevy Uplander. Oh well. It gets the job done). 
Now you gotta tell me what your dream car is!
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