Sunday, June 29, 2014

NZ YA Debut Review + Interview: Spark

 https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20950716-spark
Spark, Rachael Craw
This book is fanfrickintastic news for New Zealand; now Elizabeth Knox has some stellar company in the Recent Release Domestic Super Club.  And this is an author's debut?  Say WHA'?  I realise I'm gettin' all colloquial up in heaaaa but you know untapped SciFi gives me the happy sweats! 

What I loved about Spark
  • Reading Spark and getting to know Evie took me back to a euphoric few days where I power-watched two seasons of the cyberpunk sci fi series Dark Angel (starring Jessica Hotness Alba) on DVD.  Dark Angel = also genetically-enhanced sexy super-soldiers affiliated with a covert and corrupt organisation doing damage control.
  • This is not to say Spark was a shadow or a slice of same-same -- no-hooo! -- I found the story's angle fresh, and I was happily surprised by characters' choices and narrative turns more than once. I remember inserting my digit-bookmarks, releasing the fanned pages, and taking deep breaths with my eyes closed while I thrilled over some possible turns I was pegging the story would take -- it was as though I believed if I paused and made conscious mental notes I thought I could later cry a substantiated "I knew it!"  Nope.  Didn't happen.  I did not know it.  
  • It's a Mystery Two-fer! Everybody loves a two-fer. You've got the intrigue of a covert and corrupt organisation (1), and then you've got an SF spin on an irresistible Whodunnit (2) -- only it's a Who'lldoit (like my beloved Minority Report, only way more grass roots)!  The latter mystery (2) was a teensy bit like Odd Thomas.
  • The characters are smart.  I'm particularly pleased that the male love interest isn't a jerk (I am tired of these stories where there's a dude being a jerk and the girl is crushing on him.  I know, how's about find another guy who isn't a jerk?)
  • The dialogue is witty and solid.  There's also some humour as relief in times of stress.  I like.
  • Craw's descriptions are intelligent.  I particularly love her similes.
  • Also like: the way she brings conversations to life with more than just verbal communication; like Patricia Briggs, there's a richness to the imagery of characters' body language.
  • The pacing is great.  I looked forward to reading. 
  • There's a little swearing, but it never seems out of place, lazy or shocking.   
  • Sensuality level = kept in check.  
  • Vile things = mostly left to the imagination.
  • As a fellow mother-of-three-and-an-English-teacher-by-training, I feel a bit fist-bumpy about Rachael Craw.  And can I say with small authority...she's really nice.
  • I think Spark would also appeal to fans of Divergent or Partials, and it is most certainly worthy of being classed with them.  I think it holds more promise, in fact.  If you read this (well, THESE, muahaha), and those, I'd love to discuss some themes and comparisons sometime.  Wanna?  Email meeeee.
What we must acknowledge:
  • It is a trilogy.  I don't mind.
  • It is SciFi.  But, you know what, it's a whole lot of "contemporary fiction" too.  I'd wager many haters could get past the SF content.  Me?  I'm lapping up the jargon and acronymns -- I.L.T.S.F.S. A.A.S.A.S.!  O.  ("I Love That Science Fiction Stuff and Acronyms Are Smart And Sciencey.    Obviously.")
And now, my dears, /rubbing hands together...
I am a huge sci fi fan.  Hard sci fi, a little sprinkling of sci fi -- I take whatever I can get.  When your initial concept of the protector, predator and the prey came to you in a dream, did you run through any other possible explanatory scenarios that weren't science fiction?  At what point did you know this was going to be a SF journey?
I knew the moment I woke up. This will sound entirely vague but it was the feel of the dream. Running through a forest at night with this incredible speed, lightning reflexes, unflagging stamina … it felt like being a bit of a superhero. Like radio-active spider bite material, or chemical X or gamma-rays in a dialled-down kind of way. Genetic engineering is a marvellously creepy idea. It raises immediate issues of injustice and the question of identity and free-will for those who’ve had their DNA tampered with. I loved its potential as a catalyst for the story.
I was thrilled by the story arc of Book 1, and I am salivating at the promise Book 2 holds!  Are there any particular organisations you've become engrossed in researching while writing about the inner workings of The Affinity Project? 
No specific organisation but I always loved the skin-crawling idea of a sinister puppet master (story wise) pulling strings beneath the surface of society. Conspiracy theories spin my wheels, though I’m no expert in the field. My ears prick up when I hear them mentioned. In Nelson there’s a group that believes the vapour trails that appear in the sky are mind control chemicals sprayed by the government. They advertise their meetings in the local papers. On the one hand I’d love to be a fly on the wall and snigger at all the crazy and on the other, imagine if they were on to something! I was a huge fan of the X-Files. I even had the ‘I want to believe’ poster Mulder used to have in his office, but more as a pop-culture nod than extra-terrestrial concerns. But in terms of Affinity they’re a bit like vampires with bunson burners and test-tubes. Society never sees them but they’re there in the background. Their core concerns are about remaining covert and managing their losses. The individual is irrelevant their primary objectives must be upheld. Collateral damage is inevitable.
Who/what inspires you in writing the dialogue between your characters?  Do you catch yourself jotting down things that make you laugh in conversation with family and friends?  Kitty, in particular, is a hoot -- is there a Kitty-muse out there?   
Ha! No, I can’t say I’ve ever jotted down anything I’ve heard, but I do have a deep, deep love of and respect for good dialogue. Often dialogue will make or break a story for me. The description can be evocative and powerful but if the dialogue is wooden it immediately disengages me. I tend to spend a lot of time playing things over, reading it aloud because the sound, timing and phrasing will often determine what works.  Jamie and Evie argue a lot like my husband and I do and Kitty definitely has my sense of humour. I suppose they’re all bits of me in little ways but I want them to have authentic voices of their own.
I think there's a lot of intrigue tied up in the history between Barb, Leonard, Miriam and Mama -- would you ever consider penning a prequel?
I recently wrote a prequel short story around the world of the Affinity Project which we haven’t published yet, involving some characters you meet in Stray. It might hit my website later in the year. At this stage all my emotional energy is focused on completing the trilogy. I’m not sure my brain has room for anything else. I might be ready for a break from genetic engineering by the time I get to the end of Shield. I’d love to have a go at some magical realism, but who knows. I’ll have to pray for another dream!
Which authors have inspired and influenced you over the years?
I am a devotee of Margaret Atwood. Have been since I was a teenager. I love Kate Atkinson (especially her magical realism). Alice Hoffman, Toni Morrison, Isabelle Allende (The Island Beneath the Sea!) Last year when I FINALLY discovered Patrick Ness his writing would keep me awake at night (even when I wasn’t reading) I would just lie there thinking about his work. I wrote my first ever fan letter to him. I’ve never written a fan letter to anyone before! I gushed like a 12 year old girl at a One Direction concert. I adore Elizabeth Knox, she makes me giddy too. I have huge respect for Kate De Goldi and I’m very impressed by new authors: Samantha Shannon and Leslye Walton and excited to see what more they will bring.

Tuesday, June 24 Diva Booknerd 
Wednesday, June 25 The Tales Compendium 
Thursday, June 26 Kids' Book Review & Happy Indulgence 
Friday, June 27 Fictional Thoughts 
Sunday, June 29 Striking Keys & Thoughts by J 

ARC and access via the lovelies at Walker Books.
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