Recent Reading: And All The Stars

Okay, yeah, I finally read my first self-published book. Well, almost my first. Actually my second. The first was okay, more or less, in a decidedly mediocre kind of way. But this one was excellent. I picked it up primarily because of “>this review, by Heidi over at Bunbury in the Stacks. I’d seen a couple other reviews, but this one tipped me over the edge, especially when I happened across an offer of the title in kindle format for 99c. I mean, at that price, there’s no actual risk involved in the purchase, right?

Heidi winds her review up by saying, “I laughed, I teared up, I got very angry, I fist pumped, and I even slow clapped un-ironically, and at the end of the day there isn’t much more you can ask for from a book.”

Yeah, I feel the same way!

Here’s the back cover copy for AND ALL THE STARS:

Come for the apocalypse.
Stay for cupcakes.
Die for love.

Madeleine Cost is working to become the youngest person ever to win the Archibald Prize for portraiture. Her elusive cousin Tyler is the perfect subject: androgynous, beautiful, and famous. All she needs to do is pin him down for the sittings.

None of her plans factored in the Spires: featureless, impossible, spearing into the hearts of cities across the world – and spraying clouds of sparkling dust into the wind.

Is it an alien invasion? Germ warfare? They are questions everyone on Earth would like answered, but Madeleine has a more immediate problem. At Ground Zero of the Sydney Spire, beneath the collapsed ruin of St James Station, she must make it to the surface before she can hope to find out if the world is ending.

I LOVE that three-line teaser at the beginning! And it’s even accurate, because there ARE cupcakes, though possibly not all that front-and-center, but still.

This back cover copy is inaccurate only in that it implies that Maddie’s struggle to get to the surface will be this huge big thing. Well, no. She’s out right away, after which we find out that the world might in fact be ending, more or less.

I really enjoyed this alien invasion. I don’t know what to compare it to. It sure wasn’t your ordinary vision of an alien invasion, presuming you have a vision of what an ‘ordinary’ alien invasion should be like. Anyway, there are all these twists! You say to yourself: Okay, THIS is what they have to deal with. And then everything changes. That happens more than once. I can’t believe anybody would see these twists coming, and yet the most unexpected twist IS foreshadowed, you just miss it in the action.

I really loved the characterization, too. You know what this book reminded me of? John Marsden’s TOMORROW series, that starts with TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN. Which is pretty impressive right there, because that is a fabulous, fabulous series. And it’s not the Australian setting which makes Höst’s book seem like a natural companion to Marsden’s series: it’s the great job writing a bunch of teenagers striving to save the world. Except Höst does it all in one book, and her epilogue shows a happier ending. I don’t mean the whole thing is happy-happy-joy-joy, because no. There are certainly dark moments. But overall, you are going to find that this story has a very positive vibe.

Plus, the writing is excellent. Lots of wonderful dialogue — I hardly know what to pick. I laughed out loud when one character says shakily to another, “I almost wish she’d come at us yelling ‘Brainnnsss!’ Then I could justify running away.” No kidding, Noi, that was one creepy lady.

There are lots of wonderful moments where the characters play off one another; nice, vivid descriptions that don’t slow down the action; just plain good writing all through. No need to be worried about typos in this self-pubbed title: I noticed four missing commas and that’s it. Pretty impressive given the layer and layers of line editing it takes to clean up a manuscript.

So, anyway, yeah, this is a great book. On her site, Andrea Höst says she self-pubbed because “I wasn’t able to get anyone else to publish me.” Seriously, that’s amazing, and not in a good way. If you drop over at her site and read the “gory details” of her interaction with an unnamed publisher, well. I mean. I seem to be literally speechless.

I didn’t read that many 2012 books, and I think I will in fact nominate this one for the Hugo. I don’t know that it’s seminal or anything (what DOES make a novel ‘important’?), but it’s very good, it’s SF, and I think it would be nice to go ahead and set a precedent of having a really good self-pubbed title on the ballot for a major award.

The only unfortunate thing is that I now have EVEN MORE BOOKS to add to the TBR shelves. What with Höst’s backlist, and Martha Wells’ backlist, well. I don’t think I’ll be running short of reading material any time soon.

Okay, that’s the last book I plan to read until I get this ms. revision ALL THE WAY DONE.

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Very brief update(s) —

Puppy H has now come back up to her birth weight of 8.3 oz, up from a somewhat worrisome low of 7.4 oz. I’ve never had a puppy so slow to gain — except one who died — so I was a little concerned. But I’ve seen enough puppies by now to really think she looked okay. I think she just worked too hard to nurse before Kenya’s milk really came in, and then didn’t have the strength for the vigorous nursing that would have got her going after Kenya was finally set to feed her properly. I tube-fed her every five hours yesterday, goat’s milk Esbilac, and that supplementary nutrition that she didn’t have to work for seems to have done the trick. Hopefully I will now be able to retire the feeding tube!

So, how about Hadiyya? (“Gift”) She isn’t much of a gift, though, since I could perfectly well have gone to the best breeder in the country and bought their best available girl puppy, for what these two attempted litters have cost me. Throw in last year’s losses from breeding and I could have bought a fabulous young finished champion, probably. Sigh.

Okay, how about Haruko? That means “sunlight child”, and Hikari means “light”, and Hiroko means “abundant.” I could do with some abundance, if I ever have the nerve to try to breed another litter. Hotaru means “firefly”. Lots of great Japanese names; I would totally use a Japanese name if I had an Akita or Shiba puppy; not sure if I want to, for a Cavalier.

Heulwen means “sunshine”

Plenty of time to think about it. I won’t name her until she’s three or four weeks old and I’m dead sure she’ll survive.

Meanwhile! I’m kind of taking today off because I got sucked into a REALLY GREAT SELF-PUBLISHED BOOK. I started it today just to have something to read during breakfast, and now I’m forcing myself to take a break. Gotta go write guests posts for various blogs. I’ll post about this book tonight, I expect — and I expect to put it on my Hugo nomination form. I’ve been thinking and thinking about whether it’s really good enough to deserve a major award, but frankly I’m pretty impressed with it. Plus , seriously, wouldn’t that be a landmark, a self-published book making the ballot?

TOMORROW I hope I will start back over with the current revision. I’m ready to read it again straight through. The very final draft! Well, at last for now.

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Recent Reading: The Assassin’s Curse

Okay, how about this cover? For me, it’s nice, but nothing special. I like the scrolly lettering, though.

And here’s the back cover:

Ananna of the Tanarau abandons ship when her parents try to marry her off to an allying pirate clan. But that only prompts the scorned clan to send an assassin after her. And when Ananna faces him down one night, armed with magic she doesn’t really know how to use, she accidentally activates a curse binding them together.

To break the curse, Ananna and the assassin must complete three impossible tasks — all while grappling with evil wizards, floating islands, haughty manticores, runaway nobility, strange magic, and the growing romantic tension between them.

And you know what? This is pretty misleading, in one important respect. I mean, sure, all that stuff is true.

Except those three impossible tasks? The main characters don’t even find out what those ARE till right at the end. Yep, pretty much a cliffhanger ending. I mean, no one is stuck in a tower being tortured when the book ends, and THANK YOU BARBARA HAMBLY, for doing that to me in your Dog Wizard series. No, it’s not that bad. I’m just saying, you may want to wait till the next book comes out (in June) before you read this one.

So, THE ASSASSIN’S CURSE. It’s another Strange Chemistry book, which is one reason I picked it up. A bigger reason was this review, over at Ivy Book Bindings, which does make it sound really good. Plus, I always like assassins, as long as they’re not embedded in a Book Of Unrelieved Grimness. Instead of Unrelieved Grimness, this one promised pirates and magic curses and all kinds of not-very-serious fun stuff. And it delivers! I zippd right through it; it was perfect for my mood today.

This is a light, fun book, nicely written, with a slowly-developing romance between two great characters. I thought Ananna was a bit of an idiot for taking off like that in the first place, but then on second thought I don’t know. Her impulse to run certainly started the book off fast, and when we actually get to see the dreaded Isles of the Sky, well, actually, maybe I’d ditch my whole life and run, too, if some young twit I didn’t even know wanted to marry me and drag me off to adventure in ’em.

Actually, the Isles of the Sky? The one we actually see in the book? That is a great creepy island. I’m tempted to tell you all about it — the trees! The other trees! The enchanted water! Well, I’ll restrain myself.

In fact, I like every part of the various settings — I like the camels! I like Lisirra, the city that smells like cardamom and rosewater (at least the garden district). I like the desert, but we also get a very nice feel for shipboard life. Clarke is deft at building her world by sliding in details as she goes, no need for lengthy exposition here.

I like Ananna’s voice: “I ain’t never been one to trust beautiful people.” The assassin, Naji, is a much more educated person. Anybody can see their romance coming a mile away, except, of course, them.

I have some believability issues, yes. But hey, this reads on the the young end of YA to me, so what’s a really convenient asp or two between friends? I would like to find out sometime that the asp was arranged by a god or something, but whatever, I’m not going to dwell on it.

So, yeah, I really enjoyed this one. It was nice to read a book that was just fun. I’ll definitely be picking up the sequel.

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Recent Reading: PANTOMIME by Laura Lam: comments with four questions, but no spoilers

So, first, what do you think of this cover? I’ve seen a few comments around and about from people who hate it. This seems weird to me. I LOVE this cover. How about you?

Okay, here’s a link to The Book Smuggler’s review. Do not click through to read it unless you are okay with major spoilers, right?

Now, the reason The Book Smugglers were okay with writing a review with a big reveal front and center, which they usually avoid, is that in their opinion, the plot twist comes early enough in the book that they aren’t going to mess up your reading experience by putting it in. Or, what seems likely to me is that they simply really, really wanted to discuss this aspect of the book. Which, yeah, I get that! I want to discuss this plot twist too, but but I’m not going to, at least not directly. So talking about this book is going to be a challenge! But I’m going to try.

Okay, both Thea and Ana were disturbed by the extremely misleading back cover copy of the book. Just how misleading is it? IT IS VERY VERY MISLEADING. Now, I know firsthand that sometimes the back cover copy can be written before the actual book, for advertising purposes, and then you can sure get some misleading ideas from the back cover because the author totally changes her mind about where the plot is actually going. You can see this in the third Griffin Mage book,if you want to go compare the back cover copy with the actual plot.

Or, a different issue, the back cover copy can wind up misleading because the publisher feels that it’s just too hard to boil the complexity of the plot down into the space available on the back cover, and therefore writes something more-or-less-kinda relevant that really does not accurately reflect the plot, but is felt to potentially appeal to readers. You can see a good example of this kind of misleading back cover copy on the back cover of HOUSE OF SHADOWS, as you may recall. I can assure you that many readers did not like this. (Plenty of others didn’t care.)

OR, a DIFFERENT issue, the publisher may deliberately write very misleading back cover copy because they are trying to conceal a major, major plot element. That is the case in PANTOMIME, no question about it. Here is the back cover copy for PANTOMIME:

R. H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic is the greatest circus of Ellada. Nestled among the glowing blue Penglass—remnants of a mysterious civilisation long gone—are wonders beyond the wildest imagination. It’s a place where anything seems possible, where if you close your eyes you can believe that the magic and knowledge of the vanished Chimaera is still there. It’s a place where anyone can hide.

Iphigenia Laurus, or Gene, the daughter of a noble family, is uncomfortable in corsets and crinoline, and prefers climbing trees to debutante balls. Micah Grey, a runaway living on the streets, joins the circus as an aerialist’s apprentice and soon becomes the circus’s rising star.

But Gene and Micah have balancing acts of their own to perform, and a secret in their blood that could unlock the mysteries of Ellada.

That sure implies that a romance is going to develop between Gene and Micah, doesn’t it? Or maybe, as Thea points out, that they are going to turn out to be siblings. (I was betting on romance, but I can see how you could interpret it the other way). I will provide this much of a spoiler: no. Neither.

So, first question: in general, how bothered are you by a misleading back cover? A deliberately misleading back cover? Here’s the first comment on The Book Smugglers’ post, cropped to avoid spoilers: “Thank you soooo much for this review. I’m very glad to hear I was not the only reader who took issue with the deceptive description. OMG did it offend me…”

On the other hand, my personal answer to this question is: not very. I don’t expect much of the back cover, really. I’ve been burned too many times by SFBC descriptions, which have coaxed me to buy books that I turn out to really dislike — whether or not the back cover is accurate or not. Those SFBC people, they can really write good back covers! :(

These days, I buy books by authors I don’t know almost exclusively because I read a review by someone I trust, or because I read the first couple of pages, but basically never because of the back cover copy.

Second question: How bothered are you by a back cover deliberately written to disguise a major plot element? Thea and Ana found this problematical because of the kind of plot element being disguised. I don’t know. I can see it either way. To me, it seems that a reader might really get a kick out of coming to this plot reveal unspoiled. I can see it going either way. It’s true that the book might appeal to quite different segments of the readership depending on whether the readers are told up front about this aspect of the book.

Just how obvious IS this plot element to the naive reader who hasn’t been reading reviews? Ana and Thea think it is “very clear from the get go.” I don’t know. It’s hard to say. I read their review before reading the book, and so I was paying attention, and I can tell you: this plot element is made explicit on page 91. This does not count as the beginning of the book, in my opinion.

How early should an astute reader pick up on this plot twist? The FIRST PART of the plot twist should, in my opinion, be obvious the very first moment Gene is introduced, on page 43. That does count as the beginning, since it’s Gene’s very first scene. The SECOND, and more important part, of the plot twist, is in my opinion NOT obvious until page 91 — unless the reader already knows it’s coming.

Second question, part b: how much does it bother you to know about major plot twists ahead of time? It doesn’t bother me very much — usually — because the details of how we get there are more important to me than where we’re going. In this case, I honestly can’t tell whether I would have been surprised / enjoyed the book more if I’d read it before reading The Book Smugglers review. Unfortunately, no replay button for this one. If any of you reads this book cold, let me know what you think, okay?

Issues of structure and pacing: Thea says, “I like the alternating style of the book and the way the novel builds to join the two storylines, as we finally learn why Gene runs away from home and becomes Micah. It is a horrific, heartbreaking reveal and I think done very well. That said…the two storylines drag out a little bit too long (Gene’s in particular), and there is some clunkiness when it comes to the integration of the two, especially where the fantasy elements are concerned. Similarly, the frenetic ending of the book after such a long slow overlapping series of alternating chapters feels…abrupt. Similarly, the setting of the circus is really well done, but it’s kind of tired – a magical circus, capturing the wonder of all who enter, has been done, and done, and done.”

Similarly, Ana says, “For most of the book … I felt that the book was going nowhere. There is a world building that seemed interesting – with the long-forgotten magic and different mythologies – but barely touched upon to the point where it makes Pantomime read like a prequel, and this feeling becomes stronger upon the novel’s cliff-hanger ending. There is a question of pacing as well, very slow chapters leading to a monumentally hectic ending.”

Now, I have discovered over the past few years that I seem to be way, way out on one end of the curve on my perception of pacing. I LIKE a slow book. I loved DRAGONHAVEN by Robin McKinley, for example, and my own agent rolled her eyes at its slow pace. But I like a slow buildup. I like a slow denoument, too. I mean, I guess there are limits, and in fact the writing has to be extremely good or I will get bored. But I’ll get bored with a fast-paced book, too, if the writing isn’t up to par. So you’ll have to take my perception of PANTOMIME with a grain of salt. But for what it’s worth: I liked the pacing, mostly. I didn’t care especially where the story was going, since it’s really a character study and not a plot-driven story. And I didn’t notice any clunkiness with the way the two storylines are interwoven. However, I definitely agree: the ending is frenetic, and it certainly makes it very clear that this book is the first in a series, not a standalone. Personally, I would like a warning for any book of a cliffhanger-esque endings, since I seldom choose to read the first book of a series until the whole series is out.

Third question: If you’re reading a novel that is really a character study, does pacing matter to you? I mean, do you want a vibrant adventure as well as a character story? The reason I loved DRAGONHAVEN was the flawless voice of the protagonist; it had almost nothing to do with the plot.

And question four: Just curious, but do you find that circuses have been done to death in YA? Because I have thought and thought about it, after reading that line of Thea’s review, and frankly I can’t think of ANY circuses in YA fantasy. Or adult fantasy. Is this really a big thing and I’ve missed it? That’s certainly possible. Or is this a thing only to someone in the book biz who might be more aware of trends than normal readers? That seems possible to me, too. What do you all think?

Okay, there is so much more I can’t get at, even obliquely, which is frustrating. So I’ll just end by saying that I think Ana and Thea address real concerns, but may discount the value of the potentially surprising plot twist to the reader, possibly because they might find practical marketing concerns raise by the deceptive back cover copy more important.

Also, I expect you may well now be wondering whether to read PANTOMIME yourself so you, too, can have an informed opinion about all this stuff I’m not quite talking about. Great! Let me know what you think of the book. I will say, in the interests of not raising unreasonable expectation, I did not really fall in love with the main protagonist or the world. To me, the actual writing seemed cumbersome and predictable in some ways. But, let me just add, The Book Smugglers loved those aspects of the book, and my reaction may not have been quite fair, as I am still upset about Kenya losing all but one puppy (AGAIN) and the various repercussions therefrom, and besides the puppy is actually not gaining weight the way I think she should, so I am fairly distracted. It would have been tough for ANY book to really grab me, just now.

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Stories I might be nominating for the Hugo —

I got these story recommendations from my brother, whose taste isn’t exactly the same as mine, but we definitely agree that we dislike gloom-and-despair stories. Of which there are a lot. I started reading last year’s Apex stories and those stories I linked to a few days ago, the ones that Rachel Swirsky recommended, and frankly I just gave up — too grim, too awful a view of human (and other) nature.

But it turned out Craig had been reading tons of 2012 stories, and he picked out a handful. And then the list of Nebula nominees came out, and since I can vote on that, too, I guess I’d better read them as well(I haven’t yet, but I’m including links here in case you’re interested).

Here are the ones my brother picked out:

Ken Liu, The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species, Lightspeed #27 Aug 2012

Now, the fact is, I won’t be nominating this one, because it’s not a story. It’s a series of descriptions, with neither characters nor plot. But compare it, if you dare, to this story by Kij Johnson. Which is also not a story, but rather a collection of descriptions.

Ken Liu’s nonstory, about alien books, is beautiful. Kij Johnson’s nonstory, about how “mantis wives” torture their husbands, is horrible. If you click over and read it, well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Here’s another story my brother recommends:

Charles Stross, A Tall Tail, tor.com 7/20/12

This one is a humorous story, based on chemistry, and in fact based on this substance, which real chemist Derek Lowe wrote an extremely funny post about, which is what I linked to here.

Derek Lowe says (he is himself quoting this snippet, but his whole post is well worth reading, trust me.): “It is, of course, extremely toxic, but that’s the least of the problem. It is hypergolic with every known fuel, and so rapidly hypergolic that no ignition delay has ever been measured. It is also hypergolic with such things as cloth, wood, and test engineers, not to mention asbestos, sand, and water-with which it reacts explosively. It can be kept in some of the ordinary structural metals-steel, copper, aluminium, etc.-because of the formation of a thin film of insoluble metal fluoride which protects the bulk of the metal, just as the invisible coat of oxide on aluminium keeps it from burning up in the atmosphere. If, however, this coat is melted or scrubbed off, and has no chance to reform, the operator is confronted with the problem of coping with a metal-fluorine fire. For dealing with this situation, I have always recommended a good pair of running shoes.”

Okay, another good story: Gwendolyn Clare, All the Painted Stars, Clarkesworld #64 Jan 2012

This one is an alien-viewpoint story, a first contact situation. Craig says it’s his favorite. I don’t think it will be mine, but I liked it a lot, for a short story.

And another one: David Klecha and Tobias S. Buckell, The Found Girl, Clarkesworld #72 Sep 2012, which my brother describes as: “A post-singularity vignette, drawing on some evocative contemporary mythmaking among street children”. Sure, I guess. It is definitely evocative, and sad, but not with the grim hopelessness so popular in fiction today — this is the sadness of growing up and leaving childhood behind.

And my personal favorite: Gene Wolfe, Dormanna, tor.com 3/7/12

Craig described this one as “Zenna Hendersonesque.” Are you all familiar with Zenna Henderson’s stories about the People? Because they are really charming and if you’ve never read them, really, you should go see if you can find copies of her books and stories. And you should read this, too. I didn’t know it was possible for me to like a Gene Wolfe story; I mean, I know that objectively he’s a great writer, but he doesn’t do it for me personally. But I really enjoyed this.

Meanwhile, have you run across the short story nominees for the Nebula? Here they are (and thanks, Linda, for sending the list to Craig, because I knew the nominees were out but hadn’t got around to looking for them yet):

Robot“, Helena Bell (Clarkesworld 9/12)
Immersion“, Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld 6/12)
Fragmentation, or Ten Thousand Goodbyes“, Tom Crosshill (Clarkesworld 4/12)
Nanny’s Day“, Leah Cypess (Asimov’s 3/12)
Give Her Honey When You Hear Her Scream“, Maria Dahvana Headley (Lightspeed 7/12)
“The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species”, Ken Liu (Lightspeed 8/12
Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain“, Cat Rambo (Near + Far)

So you see, only one repeat, and it’s the one I’m least inclined to nominate. I haven’t read any of these yet, but I have to say, the “Give Her Honey” title is not the sort of title that makes me feel like reading the story. Sounds too much like “I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream.” Which I’m sure you’re all familiar with, right? Shudder. Honestly, my life is complete without inserting extra nightmares. But I guess I will have to read his story so I can vote properly.

Out of curiosity, how much would it bother you, to nominate a piece with neither characters nor plot for a major short story award? And do you think you would vote for a grim, horrible story if it was really effectively nightmarish, compared to a more positive story that was also good?

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Just a general update

First, Puppy H:

So, yeah, I got about 2 hours of sleep last night, in bits here and there — all very normal for the first night. Puppy H was a loud little creature, which means of course that she wasn’t getting enough milk. The angry cry of a puppy that is nursing but not getting enough milk is completely distinct from the much more desperate cry of a puppy that is cold. For a newborn, cold is a huge threat. They cry immediately and loudly when their mom stands up and leaves them exposed to the chilly air. (For a newborn, anything under ninety degrees counts as chilly, but obviously the mother would be waaay too hot if you put the temp up that high.)

Interesting tidbit: I’ve never seen a Cavalier mother actually respond to the “I’m cold” cry of a puppy. The possible reason for this: in fact I always step in so fast they probably never have a chance to.

Anyway, I tube-fed the baby 3 cc of formula at midnight and another 3 cc at six this morning. That’s less then half what I would feed an actual orphan, so I’m assuming she’s getting a some milk. She’s down to 7.6 oz, which means she’s lost about 9% of her body weight, certainly not a crisis, but I wouild like to see her stabilize her weight today and start to gain a bit. Once they start to gain, they usually do fine.

The mother: Kenya is eating and drinking well and doesn’t appear to be in pain. She’s moving well on walks and wants to go down the three front steps by herself. I lifted her up, though, on the way back. How much pain the mother suffers after a section varies so much, even with the same girl in different litters, but even a tougher recovery makes human women look like absolute wimps. It’s just amazing to see how unaffected Kenya is by the surgery. Not that she is voluntarily doing anything right now but lying in the whelping box with her puppy.

The other dogs: Pippa knows all about this kind of thing, so she’s blase. Adora ought to have been having her puppies in a week, but of course lost them a month ago, making this year an even worse disaster than last year. Her hormones are still whispering about motherhood to her, though, and she has made it clear that if Kenya doesn’t want her puppy, she wouldn’t mind stepping in. Poor Adora! I *really* wish she was still scheduled to have some of her own!

The youngsters, Folly and Giedre? They have NO IDEA what this little squeaking thing is in here, or why I’m ignoring them. Poor girls! They will just have to be patient since they won’t be meeting the new arrival for weeks. Hopefully I will be able to pay more attention to them in a few days.

The cat? This isn’t HIS first rodeo, not by a long shot; he was already on the scene when I bred my very first litter. I would NEVER let him in the room with tiny puppies, because he is a hunter, but in fact he has never shown the SLIGHTEST inclination to attack a puppy. He even plays with them gently when they are older, and he never puts his claws out. An amazingly tolerant animal. I mean, with puppies. I don’t suggest anybody but me try to stroke him.

The revision I’ve been working on: actually, I had *just* finished the first run through the ms before the section. So it’s in a good stopping point. Which is good, because I definitely won’t want to touch it again until at least tomorrow. What I’ve done so far is simply go from chapter to chapter making suggested changes. The next and last step will be to read through the whole thing from front to back, checking for flow and tweaking things here and there and trying to decide if both protagonists have the clear character arcs they’re supposed to.

Current reading: Since trying to get work done is hopeless right now, I’m reading PANTOMIME by Laura Lam. There are LOTS of bloggers talking about this book, but my advice is, don’t go looking for reviews unless you’re okay with major spoilers. In a day or so I will post some non-spoilery thoughts, because this is indeed a very interesting book, marketed in a very interesting way.

I’m also reading ROSE’S HEAVENLY CAKES, which had been on my wishlist for ages and which my twin brother gave me for our birthday. Which is actually not till Friday, but I opened it early because, hey, I needed a lift. Isn’t that funny: a book as a birthday present, that lets you bake your own special birthday cake? I have no idea which cake I will make first, but I know I love the “cake science” that’s all through this book. My plan now is never again to bake a non-perfect cake.

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Bad news, mostly. . .

Puppy H

Although Kenya’s puppies were all still alive as of last Friday, all but one were dead as of the c-section this morning. This puppy is a girl, 8.3 oz — which is a good size — beautifully marked except for a very definite smudge on her face. The smudge is not a total killer in the show ring, but it is definitely not desirable.

There is no reason to think this girl will fail to thrive, but one puppy out of two attempted litters is definitely a disaster. This is even worse than three living puppies from two litters last year. I may be done breeding: let everyone just get their puppies from puppy mills. But today is probably not the right day to make big decisions like that.

So . . . no way I can do any useful writing today. I’m going to go read a book. And sit with Kenya while she decides to accept her puppy. Experience leads me to suspect that her maternal instincts will switch on tomorrow or the next day. Earlier would be nice.

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Here’s a really fabulous review —

Of RED MOON AND BLACK MOUNTAIN by Joy Chant

I’m almost sure that a long time ago I posted a link to somebody’s review of this beautiful book by Joy Chant. I’m too lazy to go look for that, and anyway it doesn’t matter to this review , by Erin Horáková at tor.com.

This review is different and extraordinarily thorough, and raises fascinating questions about plot structure and the value of writing that is beautiful but not necessarily innovative and the role of the author’s cultural context and all kinds of things.

The whole thing is well worth reading, but I was particularly taken by this comment: “RED MOON’S denouement stretches on at unexpected length, and has its own tensions to resolve. The denouement isn’t really a victory lap or a tying up of loose ends so much as the result of the novel’s commitment to psychological and metaphysical follow-through.”

That caught my eye because I very often love the denouement of a story and want to linger over it — but not if it’s merely a “victory lap.” I think this kind of denouement is precisely what I love, though I never thought of it that way before. The comment was particularly eye-catching for me particularly, because just the other day I happened to read a review of HOUSE OF SHADOWS where the reviewer didn’t like the long denouement — which is my favorite part, and which I had written in my head LONG before I sorted out unimportant details like the climax. So, very interesting!

If you’ve never read RED MOON, here’s the quote that Erin Horáková chose to illustrate the writing. It is beyond beautiful:

“Easter was early that year. It fell in blackthorn winter, when the blossom on the sloe could have been taken for frost, and the hawthorn had barely sprouted its buds of green and copper. Every morning the grass was patched with white, and there was iron in the air.”

There was iron in the air! Gorgeous! I swear, it makes me want to run downstairs and pull this book off the shelf, and I’m sure I re-read it only a year or so ago.

It makes me sad to think how many wonderful forgotten books there must be that I’ve never heard of. But hey, at least this one is in my library!

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A little sample —

Of BLACK DOG.

I checked with my new editor and she says it’s fine to post an excerpt. So that’s great! Only I have been dithering for days over which excerpt to actually post. Today I officially gave up trying to make actual decisions about this. I’m just going to post the first few pages. You can meet the protagonists and get a tiny, tiny taste of the world, which I hope you find evocative.

Let me just add that if you remember waaaay back when I posted an excerpt, after I “finished” this book the first time? That was the first couple pages, too, but I think you will find these pages completely different. This is because I eventually wound up adding a new first chapter to the front of the book.

There will be at least one longer excerpt posted later (much later), as we get closer to the actual publication date. And I have a short story that is set before the novel, which will become available sometime, but don’t ask me when; lots and lots of time to make that decision, too.

Without further ado:

———————————————————————————————————————-

With one fingertip, Natividad drew a pentagram on the window of the bus. It glimmered faintly, nearly invisible, light against light: protection against danger and the dark and all shadowed things.

Well, almost all. Some, anyway.

The glass of the window was cold enough to numb the tip of her finger. The cold was always a shock; she somehow never expected it, even after all these days of travel. It was cold even inside the bus, but she knew it was much colder outside. Of course winter temperatures here fell way below zero, but she hadn’t guessed what that would be like. She hadn’t known that air could be so cold it actually hurt to breathe. She knew it now.

The countryside framed by her pentagram’s pale glimmer was as foreign and comfortless as the cold. The mountains themselves were almost familiar, but Natividad recognized nothing else in this high northern country to which she and her brothers had come. Driven by enemies behind and hope ahead . . . though now that they were here, this didn’t look much like a country of hope. But they had had nowhere else to go. No other choices.

Natividad glanced surreptitiously sideways, reassuring herself that, even in this cold and unfamiliar country, her brothers hadn’t changed.

Her twin, Miguel, in the seat next to her, was reading a newspaper he’d scrounged somewhere. That was certainly ordinary. He turned the pages carefully in a vain attempt to avoid irritating Alejandro. Across the aisle, Alejandro was staring out the opposite window, pretending not to be annoyed by the rustling pages. Natividad saw the tension in his shoulders and back and knew how hard his dark shadow pressed him. Despite everything she could do to help her older brother, his temper, always close to the surface, had been strained hard – not only by the terror and rage and grief so recently past, but by the unavoidable awareness that they were running into danger almost greater than they’d escaped.

All the strangers on the bus didn’t help, either. All along, wanting no one behind them, Alejandro had insisted that they sit together in the rear of the bus. Though it was nice to sit in the front so you could get off faster when the bus stopped, sitting in the back was all right if it helped Alejandro keep his shadow under tight control. Even if it was harder to get a good view of the road. Natividad looked out her window again. She could still see the pentagram she’d drawn, though by now it would be completely invisible to ordinary human sight.

Out there in the cold, mountains rose against the sky, white and gray and black: snow and naked trees and granite and the sky above all . . . the sky itself was different here, crystalline and transparent, seeming farther away than any Mexican sky. The sun seemed smaller here, too, than the one that burned across the dry mountains of Nuevo León: this sun poured out not heat, but a cold brilliant light that the endless snow reflected back into the sky, until the whole world seemed made of light.

Beside Natividad, Miguel leaned sideways to look past her, curious to see what had caught her attention.

“Nothing,” Natividad said in English, as she had insisted on speaking nothing but English since they had crossed the Río Bravo. Miguel and even Alejandro had looked back across the river, toward the home they were leaving behind. She had not. She wanted to leave everything behind: all the grief and the terrible memories – let the dead past drown in that river; she would walk into another country and another life and never look back.

“It’s not nothing,” her twin answered. “It’s the Northeast Kingdom. It’s Dimilioc.” His wave took in all the land east and north of the highway.

“Just like all the other mountains,” said Natividad, deliberately flippant. But Miguel was right, and she knew it mattered. Since St. Johnsbury, all the land to the east was Dimilioc territory. She said, “I bet the road out of Newport is paved with yellow bricks.”

Miguel grinned. “Except the road is lined with wolves instead of lions and tigers and bears, Dorothy.”

Natividad gave him a raised-eyebrow look. “‘Dorothy?’ Are you kidding? I’m the witch.”

“The good witch or –” Miguel stopped, though, as Alejandro gave them both a look. Alejandro did not like jokes about Dimilioc or about the part of Vermont that Americans called the Northeast Kingdom – almost a quarter of the state. Natividad knew why. Americans might be joking when they called this part of Vermont by that name, but if you knew the truth about things, you also knew there was too much truth in the joke for it to be funny. Dimilioc really was a kind of independent kingdom, with Grayson Lanning its king – and everyone knew he did not like stray black dogs. They were all nervous, but Alejandro had more reason to be nervous than Miguel and far more reason than Natividad. Being nervous was hard on his control. Natividad ducked her head apologetically.

“Newport,” Alejandro said, his tone curt.

It was. Natividad had not even noticed the exit signs, but the bus was slowing for the turn off the highway. Newport: the town where all the bus routes finally ran out. Just visible past Alejandro’s shoulder, Lake Memphremagog glittered in late afternoon light. Natividad liked the lake – at least, she liked its name. It had pizzazz. She stretched to catch another glimpse of it, but then the bus turned away from the lake and rolled into the station and she lost sight of the bright water.

Newport was the town closest to Dimilioc that did not actually fall within the borders of the Northeast Kingdom. It was smaller than Natividad had expected. Clean, neat, pretty – all the towns this far north seemed to be clean and neat and pretty. Maybe that was the snow lying over everything, hiding all evidence of clutter and untidiness until the spring thaw should uncover it. If there was a thaw. Or a spring. It was hard to believe any spring could thaw this frozen country.

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Exciting book news! About a new book!

Yes! A new book!

It’s taken a couple of weeks to work out the details, but my agent’s just given me the green light to announce a new book sale! [Insert happy dance here!]

I’ve just signed a two-book contract with Angry Robot for a YA duology. Yay! Let’s have some faqs:

Q: Angry Robot?

A: Angry Robot — actually, Strange Chemistry, their YA imprint — is a small UK press that you might have heard of, if you pay attention to these things. Angry Robot was established in 2009 and started releasing books in the US in 2010. ZOO CITY by Lauren Beukes was one of theirs — it won the Arthur C Clark Award and was nominated for the World Fantasy Award. [Clears throat: I’ll admit here that I didn’t actually like ZOO CITY, but I thought it was really well written and I could see why it was winning stuff.] And they’ve had other award nominees and winners, too, so they plainly know how to get books noticed.

In 2012, Angry Robot spun off its YA imprint, Strange Chemistry, which released five titles that year. In 2013, Strange Chemistry has 11 titles scheduled for release — including EMILIE AND THE HOLLOW WORLD, that YA by Martha Wells, which of course catches my eye because I’m a fan of Wells’ already.

MY BOOK will be on Strange Chemistry’s line up for Spring 2014. Which really is right around the corner!

Q: Why did you go with a small press? Are there advantages to going with a small press?

A: My Random House editor didn’t think a paranormalish darkish contemporary-ish fantasy was right for her line, which of course is perfectly reasonable, though I hope and expect to work with her in the (near) future on other books. And WHOA the Big Six are NOT LOOKING at paranormals right now, let me tell you! But yes, actually, I’ve chatted with plenty of other authors in the last few years about their experiences with Big Six vs smaller presses, and I’m really pleased to have the opportunity to see what it’s like working with a smaller house. Plus, if you check out Strange Chemistry’s website, you’ll see they’re really on the ball. Easy to navigate, inviting, hooked into social media and Goodreads, buy links that are obvious but not obtrusive, links that let you read pages — seriously, it’s a GREAT website, you should click over and explore.

Q: And about your book? Seriously, it’s a “paranormalish darkish contemporary-ish fantasy”?

A: Right! Right! I forget that you don’t actually know the details! This one is a werewolf story, sort of. You can blame Patricia Briggs: I’ve never met her or anything, but I would never have thought of writing a book like BLACK DOG if not for falling in love with her Mercy Thompson books.

Not that BLACK DOG is much like the Mercy Thompson series. At all. Don’t want to give you the wrong impression.

BLACK DOG doesn’t have any vampires in it, let me just say. It really is paranormalish, though the romantic subplot is not quite as front-and-center as you generally get with paranormals. You might call it Urban Fantasy, except it mostly takes place in rural Vermont. It is more or less contemporary, except that the world is a bit sideways from our world. The main pov characters are Hispanic, though their native Mexico is not quite our Mexico.

BLACK DOG probably is a bit darker than some of my other books, but I hope you will all love it! I admit that when Caitlin told me she was getting some interested responses, I kind of [clears throat] re-read the entire ms from front to back. It’s been a while since I wrote it, and I guess I’ve recovered from the revision process. And — this is always a relief — I have to say, I still really love this book!

Q: Why are your main characters in BLACK DOG Hispanic? Was that tough for you to do?

A: They walked into my head that way. Seriously. Who knows why these things happen? There were some plot advantages to having my main characters be from Mexico and newly arrived in Vermont; plus it’s not like there’s an overabundance of Hispanic main characters in YA fantasy; plus it was fun to slip the Spanish words and phrases in there. If by “fun” you mean a challenge. My friend Abi Borrego was indispensable in fixing my hopelessly bad Spanish. Luckily I think she liked the first book enough to help out with the second!

Q: Hey, didn’t you say, this was a two-book contract? Does that mean you have the second book written?

A: Um, not to say written. No. I have 50 pages and a lot of vague ideas. But, hey, that’s plenty to go on with. And I always meant to finish a BLACK DOG sequel this year, among other things.

Q: But that’s not what you’re revising now?

A: No, right now I’m revising a completely unrelated WIP, and after that I need to revise yet a different unrelated WIP.

Q: So you’re simultaneously working on multiple unrelated books? Does switching back and forth like that give you whiplash?

A: Yes. Ow. I work on this revision, then turn off the computer and immediately start to write scenes in my head for the BLACK DOG sequel. My goal is to have both revision 1 and revision 2 both out of the way really soon. Then I can switch over to the BLACK DOG sequel without feeling like I’m being pulled in all different directions!

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