Friday, June 28, 2013

Someone once asked me if I'd read the Twilight series.
I sighed.  "I read the first one."
"That's all?"  He asked, disappointed.  
"Yeah," I admitted.  "I tried to read the second, but I only got as far as the pining, one-word chapters. Besides, I never got the weak-kneed Bella thing.  I was always more of a Buffy fan."
"Oh...so more like, Pow!?"
"Something like that." Could it be he'd never seen it?  Just Bella, no Buffy?  Sad, so sad.

I only wish Joss Whedon wrote novels.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Magic on Monday Release Day! Wandering by Heather Sutherlin

Heather Sutherlin's new novel, Wandering, has been released today! 

Wandering is Book #2 in The Wandering Series.  The first book was Seen, published earlier this year.

When you’ve travelled between worlds, there’s nowhere left to go but home.
Rory has never been so cold in her life. But the biting wind only reminds her of another pain that grows more intense with each passing day. Each night Jaron’s beautiful voice sings in her dreams, and each day her footsteps draw her closer to his side. Danger and intrigue at every turn, no distance is too far when you’re returning for true love.
Rin has spent the last five years searching for Rory across two worlds. Now a series of visions have him convinced he’s growing closer to finding her. But when Rory slips through another portal, taking his visions with her, he finds himself back at square one. To find her now he’ll need the help of an old friend and a little otherworldly magic.  This time he intends to bring The Wanderer home for good.

Two books in Heather's other series, A Light in the Darkness and  To Light the Path, were published last year.

You will find information on the book and author below, but please also know that during the month of June, Heather is donating $1 for every book sale to help support adoption.

Links to purchase Wandering:
Amazon
Nook
iBookstore

Author Bio

1999 – B.A. in Elementary Education from Harding University
2009 - Created Write Start, a workshop for young writers.
2011 - 1st Place White County Creative Writers’ Conference First Chapter Contest
2012 – Debut novel, A Light in the Darkness, is released along with its sequel, To Light the Path.
2013 – Seen and Wandering, two books in a new YA fantasy series, released this year.
Featured Author – Arkansas Literary Festival
President - Fiction Writers of Central Arkansas

Heather Sutherlin lives in Arkansas with her husband and three children. She loves all things creative and enjoys the worlds she dreams up, longing to live the adventure alongside her characters. When she’s not at her writing desk, she is busy exploring and learning with her children or cooking big, elaborate meals in the kitchen with her husband.

You can see more of Heather at her website, HeatherSutherlin.com
Or, email her at HSutherlin@gmail.com





Friday, June 21, 2013

Friday Reads: A Review of Beautiful Creatures by Christine Locke

There are a few spoilers here, but, hey, a movie's been made, and I guess it won't much matter....

You know what's wonderful about this novel--other than the fact that it's far, far better than the movie in almost every respect?  What's wonderful about this story is...it's LONG.  Nice and comfy and settle-into-a-big chair and know there's some still left for tomorrow long.  In a reading world (and viewing world, for that matter) where relationships with character and setting last hours rather than days, getting to carry a paperback around long enough to wear the cover edges a bit becomes a rare joy.

The Southern stereotypes in the movie were a drag for me, but even more so for my teenaged daughters who would never, never quote their "mama" to friends.  Yet, stereotypes are not as strong in the book, or, at least, the stereotypes are drawn here with more compassion and a great deal of love for what is good in this place.  And, like Ethan, in the end we do not want to leave--or, at least, I didn't.

But before I imply I hated the movie, I need to say that watching Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson square off in a sort-of acting showdown was an absolute delight.  Emma Thompson's portrayal of a Southern church lady possessed by the darkest witch of them all...ahh, it was like good-for-you dark chocolate with red, red wine...decadent bliss.

Having said all this, what's left to say is that this is the Southern gothic I am coming to love: honest but endearing, more Harper Lee than Flannery O'Connor.  And, yet, there's that traditional gothic supernatural thing that a few of us find natural in a Southern setting.  Rambling houses--more than one, and a library, too--, ghosts and dreams and real things that can't--just can't--be real anywhere else, anywhere but here.

Two other traits of the New Southern Gothic that I've noticed but I did not get to in my last post on the subject:

1. Writers in the New Southern Gothic are not neccessarily Southern natives.  In this case, one author is, the other isn't.

2. And here is one that is VERY interesting to me: ALL of the books I've mentioned as sharing similar traits involve something that has not necessarily been a part of the gothic genre.  All the tales employ time travel, usually associated with either the rambling house or a meaningful object associated with that house, or both.

In case you missed that post and you're interested in drawing comparisons, here's the list I've constructed so far for what I'm calling "The New Southern Gothic:"

The Aurelia LaRue series by Kira Saito
The Beautiful Creatures series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Amber House by Kelly Moore and her daughters, Tucker and Larkin Reed
The Legacy Series by Christine Locke

Enjoy!  And, if you have any novels that should be included in this list, I implore you to mention them in comments.  Perhaps I'll return to grad school after all, because I see a disseratation in this somewhere....

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The New Southern Gothic by Christine Locke

I'm seeing something interesting in the Young Adult publishing world these days, and you've all seen it in the movies.  Despite its mixed reception, the movie "Beautiful Creatures" illustrates the phenomenon I want to write about here.  And if you liked the movie at all, please read the book.  It's so much better.  These are just some beginning thougths on the matter.  I will add citations as I find them.  I would welcome any comments on this, as the exploration of "gothic" as a genre is a vast and lengthy journey, I find.

In the past, Southern gothic was a genre set in the present dealing with a primary conflict that was political in some sense: the effects of poverty/lack of education, the lasting effects of slavery, racism, etc.  I'm thinking of Carson McCullers and Faulkner and O'Connor, etc.  I noticed that many authors who are now called simply "Southern" writers were once described as Southern gothic.

How is this gothic? you might ask.  And it's a good question, too.  After all, "gothic" conjures images of haunted houses, rambling abandoned spaces, an ingenue in a white dress, etc.  When we think of American gothic, we think more of Poe than McCullers, yes?

Well, not always: I think to understand why Southern writers portraying social/polital conflict in their writings got classified as gothic, you have to go back to Poe's time and remember that American gothic storytelling was in part a response to the Transcendentalist philosophical movement.

Who were the Transcendentalists?  Well, for one thing, Emerson and Alcott and Thoreau and others believed that we humans could perfect our character by striving for what is best in ourselves and believing in what is best in others.  It's a very idealistic philosophy focusing on the best aspects of our human nature.  There's very little fiction or storytelling to be found amongst transcendentalist writings. 

Enter Edgar Allen Poe and company: they had less faith in the shiny, happy version of human nature, and they believed the human soul to be a dark place indeed.  And they did tell stories about this darkness and how it forms and expresses.  From the gothic storytelling movement, two more genres were born that intrigue us to this day: the detective novel and the horror story.

I would say that Southern gothic writers like McCullers were writing "gothic" tales in the sense that their stories were about the darker side of human nature, especially as expressed by humans living in the American south.  These Southern novels and stories are "gothic" in the same way that Poe was, focusing on humans' darker side.  It's not about the rambling mansions and ghosts for the Southern writers, though, but, otherwise, they were doing something similar to Poe by refusing to let human nature's dark side hide behind a pretty philosophy.  McCullers once told a friend that the reason she would revisit the South sometimes was to "renew her sense of horror."  I always found it interesting that these Southern writers often did not live in the South, having "fled" it in some sense (not unlike, I have to say here, a gothic ingenue fleeing the mansion only to return again).

But there's something new happening to the genre "Southern gothic," and I'm a part of it.  I found myself calling Open Door a gothic novel before I really realized what I was doing.  I thought, well, it's "gothic" in the old fashioned sense, a haunted rambling house, a young ingenue, etc.  I wasn't sure what I meant by "old-fashioned": Poe, maybe, or maybe the Bronte sisters.  I knew my tale had all the elements of the gothic story.  Yet, my story is also set in the American South, in Arkansas.

But I did not feel that writing a story set in the South necessarily bound me to address exclusively socio-political concerns or the darker side of human nature.  When I touch on either, it is incidental to the story, not a determining force of the story itself.  I thought I was alone in this, and I wondered if my little story would ever have a "genre" home, so to speak.

Then, I noticed that a few other writers are doing exactly the same thing.

The Aurelia LaRue series by Kira Saito

Beautiful Creatures series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Amber House and its sequels by Kelly Moore, Tucker Reed and Larkin Reed

In all of these tales, insofar as I've read them at this point, classic, Poe-like elements of gothic dominate a story that features plenty of the dark side of human nature and, yes, there are elements of Southern darkness present in these tales as well, like poverty, lack of opportunity, racism and prejudice.  Yet, unlike earlier examples of the Southern gothic, these series, and mine, dig up truths hidden in secret places (very gothic) in order to transcend to a new, brighter, powerful place for the main character (not characteristic of American gothic).  In the end, it's all more Jane Eyre than Telltale Heart, and I do think there are connections to be made between the British Victorian novel and what's going on right now in the genre "Southern gothic."

Yet, in this ultimate transcendence, I find a "full-circle" connection can be made toward the earlier point that the old-school Southern gothic stories employed the older meaning of that term, gothic, as a rebellion against Transcendentalist philosophy or even more general spiritual hopefulness.  McCullers stories of powerlessness and human evil remind me of The Castle of Otranto as much as Poe's work: the Southern gothic genre, and Poe's work, and the distant origins of the genre as displayed by Otranto all focus on darkness in human nature.  A common characteristic of these stories is that things don't work out well, because, after all, humans screw up.

More recent contributions to the American Southern gothic genre, however, my own writing included, starts in a dark, "gothic" place of human nature, BUT, through employing elements of gothic story, moves the characters out of that darkness and toward--if not into--light.  This might be the light of love (like British Victorian Jane) or knowledge, or something else.  And yet, there is something ultimately Transcendental in this new movement. 

So where I'm going with all this is that I think there's a New Southern Gothic sensibility forming, at least in the realm of Young Adult literature.  Writers are employing traditional gothic elements to tell stories of transcendence.  I find it beautiful, and I watch and participate with joy.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Friday Reads by Christine Locke

It's a day late, but here are thoughts on recent readings.  I have so much to say about Madeleine L'Engle that I'm leaving her for next week.  Meanwhile, here's some more summer reading, an indie series that may soon be a movie (squeal!!), and a non-fic pic as well, for you might like it better than I did...

Inferno by Dan Brown

Ok, a lot of people are giving this novel pretty tough reviews: it drags on, the facts aren't straight, it's too long, the characters chase about and don't really move the plot by doing so, etc.  And all these criticisms possess an element of truth.  This novel did not grab me like Brown's others.  BUT--and this is a big BUT--you need to hang in there.  Although the story does drag a bit, Brown performs a surprise in both character and plot development about 3/4 through.  It is worth the wait, and you have to read everything that comes before in order to appreciate what he does.  Brown got me.  I've never seen anything quite like it.  And it was an interesting subversion that intrigues me as a writer, too.

I do wish Brown's fact checkers would do a better job, though.  Other reviews have commented on this at length.  The one tidbit I can contribute is that the Nazis are not the ones who coined the term "eugenics."  That term was already in use by the late years of the nineteenth century and was being used in discussions of birth control and population manipulation even then.  I mean, come on, Google much??

So, even though it's not my favorite book by Brown and even though I think some of the criticisms are spot on, Inferno might be the only Dan Brown novel I'll read more than once.

Punished by Kira Saito

Ahhh...I love this series.  It has everything I want in a story: a lovely heroine starting out in life battling tough odds, the setting a grand old house both beautiful and secretive, hints of a love tiangle, a goofy but lovable best friend for comic relief, and at least one wise older woman to advise our heroine and guide her.  But Saito does more than just give us a lovely example of classic gothic literature set in the American South.  She also knows a lot about voodoo, for her heroine is a voodoo queen.  You learn a lot about this practice by reading the books.  I have to say, Saito's breadth of knowledge on the subject and ability to relate it to the reader is impressive.

Punished is Book Two in this series.  In it, you get to watch the characters introduced in the first novel become more fully developed, and Aurelia, our heroine, learns more about who she was born to be.  I like the unique way that travel in time/space gets handled in this book, and it's worth noting that these kinds of travel are increasingly being portrayed in stories that are otherwise Southern gothic in genre (I'm also thinking of Amber House and its upcoming sequel, Neverwas,by Kelly Moore and Tucker and Larkin Reed, and my own series including Open Door and In Time).  It fascinates me that several contemporary writers are including a particular fantasy element in the gothic genre, and I love the way Saito does it in Punished.

At the end of the novel, I was eager to read the next to find out how Aurelia gets herself out of this mess--or deeper into it.  I'm so happy this series is NOT a trilogy: there's more fun to be had in book four, too.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Oh, dear.  I hate to say it, but this book was a stinker.  There's some interesting information about what it takes to achieve proficiency in a particular endeavor and what it takes to achieve excellence in your field (not necessarily what you'd think), but the generalizations here, especially the ones relating to race and region, are uncomforable at best and offensive at worst.  Knowledgeable reviewers on amazon have already responded to the cultural assumptions regarding rice growing societies and the descriptions of airline safety.  But the chapter that appalled me with its assumptions was the one on the "culture of honor" in the American south.  Gladwell cites a study done at the University of Michigan as evidence that this attitude still prevails in young men from our southern states (never mind that the study is from the 1990's and not exactly up to date).  The study involves insults dealt to young men from northern states and to young men from southern states and supposedly shows the southern young men were more offended by the insults.  Therefore, Gladwell claims, they have been inculcated by the "culture of honor."  Ok, well, this whole "study" sounds asinine to me.  Yet, if we're really going to call something like this a "study" of human behavior, shouldn't it be noted that the "northern" young men were in their home state or at least their home region (hello?  Michigan?) and the "southern" young men were not?  Something tells me that being far from home and being singled out for unprovoked insults might be more stressful and therefore draw a stronger reaction from a subject than receiving an unprovoked insult in one's home environment where one is more attuned to cultural cues.  I'm certainly open to the possibility that Gladwell did not represent the study faithfully.  Perhaps the University of Michigan professors were far more careful than the book makes them sound; perhaps they made allowances for this.  But, if they did, Gladwell does not say so.

Yet, having said all that, I have to say the book ends very well.  Some reviewers have assumed that the outlier featured in the final chapter is Gladwell himself.  I think the chapter is about Gladwell's mother.  It is a heartbreaking story about slavery's legacy and racism, and Gladwell is breathtakingly honest about the painful realities involved.  This chapter will break your heart; but, his mother's honesty and grace, fueled by her faith, allow her to perceive her own racism even when she is herself a victim of racism.  Her son learns from her ability to forgive herself and others who sought to persecute her, and that is a story from which we can all learn.  I didn't like the book, but I loved the last chapter.