Friday, October 31, 2008

Books That Go Bump In The Night

It's Halloween, baby. Samhain. All Hallowes Eve. The holiday that put the "death" in Death Pixie and my most favoritest day of the year! I thought it would be an excellent time to chat about some books that are so good they're spooky and so spooky they're good. I love paranormal. Pretty much, if it involves vampires, werewolves, zombies, or ghosts, I'll read it. Sometimes, it sucks. But sometimes you find something wonderful. Here are my recent favorites:
Generation Dead, Daniel Waters debut novel, is set in an America where some people who die as teenagers inexplicably come back to life as zombies. These kids have trouble moving and speaking and face huge amounts of prejudice from a society that fears them. But some of them continue to go to high school and try to lead normal "lives." Although the premise is outrageous, the book is an emotionally real story of how one group of friends goes from being apathetic towards the zombies, to being advocates for zombie rights. As a mom of a special needs kid and as a queer person, I resonated with this story of teenagers uniting against hate crimes. Plus, I love it when authors let their character's blog, and Water's character Tommy has an awesome blog at
Night Road, by A.M. Jenkins is one of those vampire books that takes it to a whole nutha level. Her vamps, called "hemes" are afflicted with a disease that makes them crave blood and allows them to live forever. Hyper-cautious, disconnected Cole is saddled with the training of a newly made rookie heme named Gordon and, through that responsibility, comes to realize that, although his life has quantity, it doesn't have quality. The characters are extremely well drawn and there is a less-is-more, indie movie aesthetic about the book-- a lot of it takes place in cars and motel rooms in the middle of the night, and the characters have no choice but to deal with each other and themselves.
And speaking of vampire books that are unique, Scott Westerfeld's Peeps and The Last Days
(stand-alone novels set in the same reality) give a fantastic scientific explanation for all the elements of the vampire myth-- plus lots of subterranean adventure, creepy cats, non-fiction asides about parasites, and the chance to revel in your rock star fantasies. What other books offer all that in one package?
But what if Halloween for you is not so much about monsters? Maybe fall is more a time to reflect on life, death and the afterlife? Then have you read Gabrielle Zevin's Elsewhere? It offers a brilliantly original vision of life after death-- which is a lot like life before death, except that we age backwards and have avocations instead of jobs. This lovely, literary novel is about
moving on, forgiving, and embracing life and it made me cry. Nuff said.
I could go on forever about paranormal books that make my day. But what about you? Any favorites? I hope you curl up with one tonight.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


It's that time of year, time to sign up for National Novel Writing Month.

It's become a Death Pixie tradition fueled by coffee, coke and potato chips. This year I'm very excited about the professional writers giving Pep Talks over the course of the month. They include Piers Anthony, Meg Cabot, Philip Pullman and Jonathon Stroud. That alone is worth the price of admission (free!).

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Mama J

Tonight, I was on the phone talking to my mother (Mama J, as I affectionately call her.) I was talking to her about school and entering into a MFA program in the next two years. Her response was the following:

Mama J
You and the rest of the Pixies, need to focus on getting published. Mother Johnson has spoken.

(Yes, in my family we often refer to our selves in the 3rd person present.)


I think the universe was throwing a smack down via Mama J. (God knows I am easily distracted by sparkly objects, ideas and boys.)

Friday, October 10, 2008

My Blockbuster YA Theory

I love to read the big "blockbuster" best-seller YA and middlegrade series and try to figure out what makes them tick. Why is "Twilight" or "Harry Potter" a phenomenon? What put "The Princess Diaries" in the NY Times number one spot? Why do kids write Rick Riordan every day to tell him that Percy Jackson changed their lives? Of course there's no one answer. The thing that makes a book go super nova may be as mundane as the publisher's promotions budget or as esoteric as tapping into a zeitgeist-- the book hit at the right cultural moment. But I think there are certain things that flip a YA reader's switch, and my theory is that one of them is this: the protagonist has to have an "enviable problem." Are you in love with a vampire who is driven to kill you (Twilight)? That's a problem. Is he also gorgeous, ageless, drives a porche and has a psychic sister who can predict the stock market? That's an enviable problem. The darkest wizard the world has ever known wants you dead (Harry Potter)? Problem! You're a hero to a secret magical subculture and a legacy kid at a school for magic? Enviable problem. Does every monster in the Greek myths want to eat you (Percy Jackson)? Too bad. Is it because you're dad is secretly the god Poseidon, and you can now control the waters and command flying horses? A problem anyone would envy.
The tricks are this: First, the problem and the enviable aspect must be inseparable. You can't have one without the other. Don't give your protag a killer problem, and them give them something cool and enviable in some other, unrelated aspect of their lives. It just won't work. Second, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, your protag can not revel in the enviable aspect of the problem. Harry Potter is never fully thrilled with his celebrity in the magical world. Bella Swan doesn't care about money or fancy cars. Percy Jackson may have a moment of feeling that it's cool to control the tides, but he's ambiguous and conflicted in his relationship with his divine father. The list goes on. The thing is, if your protag digs the enviable aspect of their problem too much, it will cancel out the negative part of the problem. The stakes will become too low, the reader won't care, and the story will jump the shark because it reads as wish fulfillment. More importantly, if the protag enjoys the perks too much they are claiming those perks for themselves-- and in effect taking them from the reader. As long as Bella Swan doesn't enjoy that new Ferrari Edward bought her, I can enjoy it. But if she starts to brag about how great her car is, it's not mine to enjoy any more. She has become someone I envy rather than someone I'm living through vicariously and so she has lost some of my sympathy.
This theory mainly works for fantasy YA (and there are many fantasy blockbuster YA novels) but also works with some non-fantasy that has a high wish-fulfillment aspect (Meg Cabot's Princess Diary series, Teen Idol, All American Girl, etc.) Of course it doesn't apply to everything, but I still think it's a fun game to play. Any thoughts?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

My inner 13 year old

My inner thirteen year old is still on the ceiling after yesterday's events.

I managed to have my photo taken with one of my favorite author's Neil Gaiman.
This is a NOT so serious photograph, I purposely requested we take a fun picture.

This moment has inspired me to do the following:
1) Buy a real camera and actually use it.
2) Learn how to use Photo Shop.
3) Keep writing and sending stories out.

PS...Thank you Neil, for pausing to take this!

Before Bedtime

Last night, I went to see Neil Gaiman read from his latest book entitled, The Graveyard Book. While sitting in the audience I realized how much I enjoyed being read to. There is something utterly magical having words read aloud from the page paint pictures inside your head.

Growing up, my parents use to read us stories before bedtime. Truly, that was my favorite part of the day. When my parents quit reading to me, the time before bed evolved into my personal reading time. I read before bedtime until I went to college. (My pleasure reading was traded in for exploring the night life.)

Last night, made me realize how much I missed being read to. (I know there are audio books but it’s not the same.) I still read for pleasure but there is this aching void.

Who knows, I maybe calling up my favorite local authors and Death Pixies up for a bedtime story.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Joseph Campbell

I fell in love with Joseph Campbell in AP Humanities, 10th grade. I remember reading interviews with him and Bill Moyers thinking to myself, finally people who understand the power of story.
It was Joseph Campbell’s ideas on the journey of hero that taught me how to effectively plot my hero’s arc in my screenplays & stories.
Lately, I’ve had a string of stranger than usual dreams. In one particular dream, there is a Joseph Campbell book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, is sitting on a table. I open it up to a series of pages that are book marked with little post it notes. Now, here is the annoying thing, I can’t read what the little post it notes! The dream is reoccurring which makes it even more frustrating.
I’m not sure what this all means, only that I need to re-visit Campbell and continue to write my own mythology.
My interested to know from the Death Pixies: what, who inspires you to tell stories? When did you fall in love with stories?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

YA Fatigue

To be a writer, you have to make yourself vulnerable to critique. To write YA, you have to spend a lot of time reliving the awkwardness of your adolescence. Tonight those two things combined into a perfect storm of insecurity for me. I have been writing and reading a lot of YA for this Loft class I'm taking and tonight I hit some sort of YA wall. I just couldn't stand to spend another moment in any one's fictional high school. I suddenly wanted to put on my most grown-up clothes and drive myself to a PTA meeting or something. I had OD-ed on cute quips and slang and prom dates and fights with parents. So I'm writing this to you folks to keep myself from writing any fiction tonight, because I'm afraid that if my insecure, vulnerable writer self spends any more time with my inner teenager, I may need therapy.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Quote of the Day

Recently Charles Guarino, co-publisher of "Artforum" magazine, was quoted as saying that in the art world he has found "enough odd-ball, over educated, anachronistic, anarchic people to make me happy." That's pretty much how I feel about the Death Pixies in particular and about the world of science fiction and fantasy writers in general. My four year old makes a distinction between "bad weird" (stuff he's afraid of) and "good weird" (stuff that's odd, but he likes it). Our little subculture is darn good weird.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Finding Creativity

The other night, I met with an intuitive that coaches writers. We talked a great length about (my) creativity and writing process. I have to admit she helped me understand how my mind works (and accept it.) Maybe this will help you too.
What helps my creativity process:
Creativity for myself comes in waves. Some days are better spent editing & revising, while others are best spent giving birth to new ideas.
Exercising on a regular basis helps focus my energy.
Getting out of the house to write.
Beginning my day with writing, so, the rest of the day can be spent guilt free accomplishing domestic duties.
Storyboarding my ideas out. (Spend less time on how and more time on creating.)

Through the last three years, I’ve been activity with the Death Pixies. I’ve attended countless workshops on process. There is a common message that appears over and over again: find what works for you, it’s a matter of trail and error to discover what helps and hinders.
Have realistic expectations of yourself. If you don’t write because of (insert reason here) acknowledge it. Own it. (Don’t beat yourself up) Move on.
Happy writing!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

31 days of early morning insanity

Oh dear.  I may have finally become one of those writers.  You know, the ones who gleefully say that they get up at 0430 to write and get 18 pages done before breakfast?  Of course, an awful lot of those people are published, so who am I to argue against success?

My life has become absolutely insanely busy over the last month or so, and shows no signs of letting up.  My former schedule left writing until the end of the day, and more often than not that meant it didn't happen.  While I would typically say that late evening is my best creative time, when that evening is the end of a crazy day of meetings, errands, and other insanity there just isn't any brain power left.

Darned if I'm going to let my job get my best brain power.  Especially if it doesn't need it.  So I'm trying something.  For the month of October, I'm getting up early.  5 am, to be exact.  And pounding out a few pages over oatmeal and a cup of tea.  It's not my first choice, but it's what I need to do.  And I've promised myself that if October 31 rolls around and I hate this, I can try Plan B (whatever that means).

I'll keep you posted on how it goes.  In the meantime, send your early AM creative vibes and caffeinated beverages my way - I'm going to need all the help I can get.