Thursday, September 24, 2015

Five at 5:00

  1. Some News: We replaced Thimba (our family vehicle).  I swallowed the cost, the girls grieved, and now we are very happy with our new vehicle, Shadow; he's pretty sleek.  Ivy insisted the new vehicle is male.  I informed her vehicles and vessels are customarily female, when personified, but she won't have it.  She knows what she wants.  Like her father, she also committed to another name for the family's new addition before settling on the permanent name...for an entire two days our new car was Jack Ebony.  Then, one morning she stood at the window looking out at the black SUV and said, "Nope, it's not Jack Ebony."  She takes naming pretty seriously.
  2. Fact: When the grass and benches are wet during a park visit and the girls warm up running around, I tie unwanted jackets to play equipment; I am not a holder of coats.  I have also been known to take a towel for drying swing-seats and slide-bottoms.  That sounds a little like slides have bottoms like people bottoms, and that amuses me greatly.  (Yes, if you scroll up, you'll see Exhibit A, pictured.)
  3. Ages: The girls are 2, 4, and 6 years of age, (from right to left in the image, above).  When I tell people this (because people ask a lot -- what with me gallivanting around with a child so obviously school-age, out of school), I find it hard NOT to a) carry on counting in twos, up to 8 and b) add a rhyme and cheerleader actions.  
  4. Game: In our old Honda CRV, whenever we saw another car like ours (it had to be the same colour too), we called out "Car like our car!" as though it was one long word.  (For a while Ivy called, "Car sounds like our car," but that is by the by).  Esky mourned the end of this game, since she would now have to cry, "Car like our old car!" and it lacked the same oomph.  I mulled some, then suggested a new game.  We now drive an OutlanderOutlanders are very common.  I suggested we play a similar game to the last, but that we call it"Lander."  Whoever spots an Outlander becomes the Lander (for having landed the sighting).  He or she has the title until someone else takes it from them.  All those who are not the Lander, are Out.  Get it?  Because Esky does, and the word play tickles her (a win for me).  Also: something about having a title / being the winner for a while has made this game more serious, to the players, than the casual announcements of the past.  The best part, is how seriously everyone takes this game, Haki and Mia included.  Haki prides himself in holding the title for an entire car drive.  I don't mind so long as I finish as the Lander, myself -- then I can be the Lander for days, even (so long as we don't go out).  The game is complicated by some people who live on the neighbouring street who own Outlanders; we round corners looking for them in their usual spots.  Mia calls "Lander!" indiscriminately and with much cuteness.  I wish this post was sponsored.
  5. Death:  My laptop died. It is really the family's laptop (we only have one computer aside from our phones), but we all call it mine, because I pay the bills, write, shop, sort photos, stream, prepare lessons, design, and do many other things apart from play math games on it.  So.  My computer died.  It was a sad time.  And an annoying one.  But I've gotta say, the blessings came in toot-sweet in an undeniable way.  I'm typing from something, aren't I?  Yes, yes I am.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A book I'd say is pretty much perfect
Number the Stars, Lois Lowry
This is an elegant piece of work.  I can't praise it enough.  I wish I wrote it.  Read it (it'll take you all of 3 hours, I suspect).

Monday, September 7, 2015

NZ YA SF Sequel Review + Interview: Stray
Stray, Rachael Craw
Yes, I created a thicket of abbreviations in my post title.  Deal wit' it, it's very Spark of me; abbreviations are how we keep reading through the science without stalling on the big words, folks.  I'll break 'em down for you here though; Stray is: by a New Zealand author, Young Adult, Science Fiction (my jam)In case you missed it, Craw's first book in this world  -- a ripper of a debut -- was very much my cup of sci fi and I cover what I like about the overarching premise and world of both books in more detail there.

What I loved about Stray:
  • The maternal-character in both books doesn't read like a weak extra or place-holder.  She is likeable, intelligent, important...and possibly my favourite.  I connect with her more than I do Evie...and I like Evie.
  • There are new characters.  I like them.
  • I think Book 2 is just as strong (or stronger) than the first book -- somewhat of a rarity in YA trilogies.
  • I love love love that this has significant SF content, as opposed to a sprinkling on top of an essentially generic love story.  
  • Great descriptions of non-verbal communication or thought-snapshots continue to add more colour to dialogue-rich scenes.  The contradictory, unspoken after-thoughts are a treat.
  • Superrrrr pacing, once again; I couldn't stop from mid-way.
  • Also still true: contains a little swearing, never disruptive, lazy or shocking. I'm glad Rachael doesn't feel a need to pepper her pages with profanity.
  • Sensuality level = rising.  The first book was pretty steamy, but things were kept PG.  Things heat up in Book 2, but again without indulging in teenage sex scenes.  I enjoy the love interest arc, and appreciate the story's young adults aren't raging in the sheets.
  • There is some violence, but it was a good level of action for me; female assassin-types in Destroyer Mode are always a delight, aren't they?
  • The art.  Both covers are great. 
Overall: loved it; happy.
You'll find more of my thoughts on Stray within my questions in my interview with Rachael, below.

What I'll admit (although I'd prefer to mostly cheerlead, on this one)
  • I think one of Spark's greatest strengths is its dialogue.  Initially, I found the dialogue in Stray lacked the polish Book 1 shone with -- maybe it was just me, needing to settle in.  I found myself having to reread exchanges between characters more than I had to in the last book.  But then things came together (or I got in the right zone), and we were away.  By no standard is the dialogue bad at any point.
  • The first scene isn't my favourite.  I thought, "Really?  Is this what we're doing?"  It doesn't feel very Evie -- but maybe that is part of the point.  I felt a knee-jerk dislike for how normal she is attempting to be, because I felt that even before she sparked she was not your average teenager, and the opening felt average teenager.  As the narrative progressed, I began hoping so hard for something in particular to happen, and that hurtled me past my petty dislike for party scenes.  So I hoped.  And then what I hoped for came to pass, and it was glorious.  In short: the jarring banality of the book's opening is forgivable as soon as the story takes its first turn; the break works.
I still think you would love these books if you like the cyberpunk sci fi series Dark Angel OR if you loved these books, I think a binge-watch of Dark Angel is in order.  Then, if you find yourself craving even moooore, the series Beauty and the Beast (2012, with a genetically enhanced soldier "beast") might just be what the blogger ordered. 

Interview time!

SK: I understand Spark's title came after a few other ideas, was the title Stray a lock after you went with Spark or did Book 2 have some other titles you could share with us, as well? The Craw: The very first draft of Spark was saved on my laptop as “By the Border River”. Then at some stage during the first draft I changed it to “The Keeper.” Back then the genetically modified characters were called Keepers, Seekers and Triggers. These labels stayed right up until the last 6 months before Spark went to print. Bearing in mind those were names I came up with over five years prior to publication, it would be fair to say they were looking a little ‘old’ and ‘tired’. By that time there were other books in the market using both Keeper and Seeker in their titles and the marketing team sensibly suggested I brainstorm for a new title. I had planned for each book to be named after one of the genetic modifications. When I changed the role from Keeper to Shield I knew I would need to change them all. It was a tremendously invigorating experience, creatively, and it brought me very close to my Dictionary App and online thesaurus! Spark was the next word that came to me to replace Trigger and then I realised I was on an alliteration pathway. Stray came to me, like the gloriously creepy thing it is, to replace Seeker. It’s probably my favourite of the titles.  Spark became book 1’s title because the whole story is about whether or not Evie can save Kitty, her Spark. I also loved the connotations of ‘the beginning’ and also the romantic element of the ‘sparks of first love’. It also suggests conflict and drama and sparks flying.  Stray works as the 2nd title as the whole story revolves around the issue of Strays, the attitude of the Affinity Project towards Strays and Evie straying from the prescribed path laid out by protocol (my alliteration is officially out of control here). Also I just love the word Stray and all the things it evokes. Shield, I like for book 3 because it addresses Evie’s identity within the organisation and explores themes around sacrifice and protection.

Which character are you most surprised to find people caring so much about? Is there someone in your story you never anticipated to grow as he/she did, or attract the fanbase he/she has? (e.g. What kind of following/fan art has impressed you, and why?) Am I allowed 3 answers for this? People love Miriam and Leonard. A frequent comment that surprised me in reviews of Spark was how much people enjoyed seeing parental characters fully engaged within the narrative. To be honest I didn’t know enough about YA to be aware then that adults are usually side-lined in teen novels. They are frequently absent, dead, neglectful, dim witted or oblivious, or marginally involved, or used as plot conveniences. Now that I’ve read LOTS of YA, I guess I see where people are coming from but I don’t find that trope bothers me if it’s handled well. In fact NO tropes bother me if they are handled well. But it was delightful to see Miriam and Leonard getting so much love and enthusiasm. There is a character in Stray who I believe people will be surprised by – someone I did not expect to fall in love with but I won’t breathe a word, I don’t want to give anything away.
In terms of fan art, most of it revolves around Evie and the covers. I am constantly amazed by the creativity and time spent and love given by the #SparkArmy. Lots of graphics and even a few brilliant gifs!

You seem to really stay on top of communicating with your readers and keeping the GoodReads community injected with energy; how would you sum up your work hours, as an author? I have no restraint. I’m addicted to Twitter. I’m pretty much always plugged in. I need an intervention. No I don’t. It’s part of my life. I love it. Also, writing is pretty lonely. I hardly ever leave my cave so getting online is a great way of getting out of my head and having a laugh and relaxing. I write during school hours and pop in and out of social media. After dinner I edit and deal with emails and more Twitter.

The combat content in Book 2 is one of its highlights, for me. Where did you draw information/inspiration for your action scenes? I didn't do any research for the fighting, but I am a very visual person and the books run like movies in my head. So, when it comes to combat scenes I simply write what I see in my mind’s eye. I find them challenging to write, especially scenes with multiple combatants, because it frustrates me being trapped by 1st person point of view narration. I need to keep all the players active while focusing on whoever Evie’s beating up.

I think your stories work great over in America -- where I can buy into a project like Affinity functioning and having an intricate web established.  New Zealand? Unlikely. Do you feel any pull to set a future story in New Zealand, or will story always come first and the setting follow? And have any new stories begun to percolate in the wings now that you're working on the final book in this series? Is more SF or magical realism more likely, if you had to choose? I agree that the Spark trilogy makes great sense in an American context and it never occurred to me to try and make up a reason for it to be set in New Zealand. Considering the original experiment was launched in the 1970’s with the intended application of military, corporate, industrial, commercial espionage, it didn’t seem to fit a kiwi context. However, there are people who’ve disapproved or assumed the setting was a mercenary ploy on my behalf to ensure American marketability. If only such things did open doors! HA!  I love your question about whether setting will be determined by obligation, desire or story. I’m afraid the story always wins. I will set my next book wherever it demands to be set whether that is Timaru or Timbucktoo. I have a few seeds of ideas for future projects beginning to send out roots into my brain but for now all my attention and creative energy is focused on finishing the Spark Trilogy. Yes, I am very keen on magical realism – I would love to try writing it!

Which sci fi texts (film, literature, radio) have you especially enjoyed?
I have read very little in terms of adult science fiction. A little bit of William Gibson, which I loved, but that’s about it. I hadn’t read any YA sci-fi until after I wrote Spark but I loved sci-fi films. I’m especially fond of grimy near future societies in decline, built on the detritus of obsolete technology, like Blade Runner. Other favourite sci-fi films: Star Wars (originals – obviously), Dune, Total Recall, Matrix, Terminator 2, I Robot, Minority Report, Aliens … should I go on?

Thank you, Walker Books team and Rachael, it has been scrummy.   Bring on Shield!

Monday, August 31, 2015

I've read the sequel to Spark, guys...

...and it's no weak filler-book, people.

My review of Book 1 (Spark) and first interview with author Rachael Craw here.

Book 2 :: Stray :: Blog tour starts tomorrow;

September 1
September 2
September 3
September 4
September 5
September 6
September 7
I'll be posting my spoiler-free thoughts on the sequel along with another personal interview with Rachael.  See you on the seventh!

Friday, August 28, 2015

A Wicked World-build of a Read: The Age of Miracles

The Age of Miracles, Karen Thompson Walker
I love talking about this piece of speculative-fabulist fiction.  I have thought of scenes or moments from the book so many times since, and find myself bringing the book up in conversation, attempting to lay out the world and its problems for whoever will listen. I fail to do it justice every time -- because something Thompson Walker does very well is layering; The Age of Miracles is, at first, our world, but layer by layer it exquisitely becomes Other.  A quickie book rec fails to reproduce those layers without some serious butchering or spoiling.  While reading the final fifth or so, I felt like putting down the book and clapping -- for having reached an entirely new, complex (fairly absurd) planet filled with intriguing problems I'd never considered a book that started off familiar and known.   I think the concept is clever, the style is engaging (I didn't want to stop reading and finished it in a day), and all of the characters have meaty depth to them.

Despite the grand premise, there is some very honest content in there, imbuing the mundane with a power that hit me hard in the chest a few times (these pangs were usually the result of peer cruelty).

I think the term "The Slowing" is delicious.  I think it is incredible that this is a debut novel.

Things I like less:
  • There is some pretty mature content, for younger readers, whom I'm sure will be attracted to the young heroine and the young faces featured in marketing materials.  References to middle school sexual activity, for example, would be a bit much for many middle-schoolers I know, to read.  I think I would pin this for Ages 15+ (in conservative circles, i.e. my kids)...but a kid who has already seen a lot of our world's darker side won't bat an eye at 12 or 13.
  • Some adult choices in the book are pretty affronting, so screening this one before reading alongside your own child may be the best route (I think these have potential to kick into overdrive the over-active imagination of a child already suffering from anxiety...I know a few like that).  
  • I didn't feel depressed when it was over, but I didn't feel good or excited, either.  The worth of the book came a week or two later -- a slow burn.  It was after some time I thought, "That really was fascinating."  This isn't a terrible thing, but it isn't my preference; I prefer the immediate reward of closing a cover and feeling I have devoured greatness or I am breathless after coming back down to earth.  This didn't do that for me; it finished...and slowly burned until the residual warmth got my attention.  Then again, it is an End of Days are not all roses, by definition!

Overall, I'm very happy I read it, and I think most adults who enjoy more somber speculative pieces will find some pleasure in this too.  I think it's a toned-down but similar-feeling match for Station Eleven -- younger protag, less violence, single perspective -- but similar foreshadowing promises of decline and gradual progress from normal to far from it.   If you've already read The Age of Miracles, I'd love to hear your thoughts.  If you try it soon, same me!

P.S.  I have seen this being called dystopian.  Um, I disagree -- I think it's time to quit throwing that term around.  This might be deemed: soft sci fi, post-apocalyptic, speculative, fabulist, and coming of age...but I would not say dystopian.
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