The Heart Blade Guide To Connecticut

Most of the first book in the Blade Hunt Chronicles is set in Connecticut, which – oh, hey! – just happens to be where I live. I moved here from Brazil almost four years ago, and was surprised at how heavily wooded the state is. I live in the Farmington River Valley, which although technically ‘suburbia’, gets plenty of wild visitors, like the black bears that like to make seasonal appearances in the area, besides coyotes, bobcats, foxes, beavers, and many others.

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Bear taking a casual stroll through my neighborhood

The Farmington Valley is where a good deal of Heart Blade takes place. I don’t specifically name the area in the book, but it was definitely the inspiration. In the stretch between New Hartford and Granby, the Farmington River meanders about in a wide U shape, adding grace to the small towns that nestle in and around its bend. If you want to get up close and personal with the river, Farmington River Tubing operates out of Satan’s Kingdom. And yes, that’s the real name of an actual State Recreation Area.

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A quiet stretch of the Farmington River

Heart Blade starts in Connecticut’s state capital, Hartford. Chapter 1 finds my character Del arriving at Union Station. She sets off along Asylum Avenue, which leads past the Connecticut Historical Society Museum and Library and on toward beautiful Elizabeth Park. The park straddles Hartford and West Hartford, and in summer runs a popular series of outdoor concerts.

Another scene in Hartford finds Del and Ash outside the Connecticut Science Center. This is a great place to visit, especially if you have younger kids in your group, as the museum has a huge range of interactive displays on a wide variety of subjects. The CSS is right next to the Connecticut Convention Center, where ConnectiCon takes place every July. Lots of con attendees end up over at the CSS for lunch, so if you time your visit right, you might end up sharing a table with a bunch of cool cosplayers.

Just over the state line into Massachusetts, Old Sturbridge Village shows up in chapter 2, when I introduce Ash and the sentinels. This living history museum provides a nice opportunity to step back in time and see how life used to be in the 1830s. If you want to experience Sturbridge at night, as Ash does, they have a fantastic event that takes place on weekends in December. It’s called Christmas by Candlelight, and recreates traditional Yuletide activities such as carol singing and ornament making. There’s a big bonfire on the green, and visitors can buy mulled wine and other seasonal treats.

Go Huskies! Ash’s dad expects him to remain nearby after high school, and go to the University of Connecticut or another local college. Established in 1881, UConn’s main campus in Storrs is home to some 30,000 students from the USA and around the world. UConn has the top women’s college basketball team in the country; they recently suffered their first loss after a record-setting winning streak of 111 games stretching back to 2014, including two national championship runs.

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UConn Men’s Basketball at the XL Center in Hartford

Famous for it’s pizza, New Haven, on the Long Island Sound, also makes a brief appearance in Heart Blade. Here, you can tour Yale University, and make a stop at the Peabody Museum of Natural History. If you drive a little further up the coast, near public beaches such as Hammonasset and Rocky Neck, you’ll find Mystic Seaport. Like Sturbridge, Mystic is also a living history museum, but this time centered on New England’s maritime heritage. For boat lovers, the yearly WoodenBoat Show at Mystic is a real treat.

It was so much fun including in Heart Blade some of the places I’ve visited over these past few years. Book 2, Night Blade (out later this year!), moves a little further afield – there are still scenes set in Connecticut, but we also get to go to Toronto, Canada, and the Adirondacks, in upstate New York. I’m looking forward to sharing some new book locations with you soon!

*all photographs used in this blog post are my own*

 

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Have Book, Will Read #14

After a ridiculously long hiatus, I’m back with more mini reviews. Have Book, Will Read has been on hold for way too long, and I figured it was time to dust it off and let it out of the dark, dismal e-basement its been hiding in. I’ve read a lot of great fiction since my last book update, and here are a few of the highlights.

Recent Reads: A little bit of this, a little bit of that… A little bit of everything, really.

First off, something I don’t read a lot of nowadays, though I’ve definitely read my share in the past: romance. Suzanne Jackson’s The Beguiler is a fantasy story, set in a world and time reminiscent of our Regency period. Told in Jackson’s clean and elegant prose, this is the tale of Rebecca Vasteer, a young witch living in a society that has outlawed witchcraft. On the run from both the town marshals and the feared Rangers, Rebecca is saved by a Witch Trader with reasons of his own to stay out of the Rangers’ way.

This isn’t a light and summery love story. Jackson’s world is rich and dark, filled with tales of witch magic and the brutal Ranger skills that aim to contain that power. The story is deliciously unpredictable – every time you think you have the plot figured out, it twists away once again, keeping you guessing every step of the way.

I finally got around to reading the last book in Jo Zebedee’s terrific Inheritance Trilogy. The third and last volume, Abendau’s Legacy, does a great job of tying up Kare Varnon’s epic story in a wonderfully realistic manner that’s neither too neat nor too pretty. This is the final confrontation in a war that has lasted since before Kare’s birth, and what a ride it is!

As always, one of Zebedee’s strong points is that she does a great job of showing us the consequences of her characters’ actions, crafting tales with just enough of a dark underbelly to please both ‘grimdark’ fans and those who like a lighter touch to their space opera.

I’d read the first two volumes of Claudia Gray’s YA Firebird series last year, and been blown away by this exciting tale of multiverse hopping and true love. The concluding book, A Million Worlds With You, hits the ground running after the cliffhanger she left us with in Ten Thousand Skies Above You.

Marguerite Caine and her allies across the multiverse have to stop the Triad Corporation before thousands of worlds are doomed to annihilation. But Marguerite is faced with additional challenges: an evil doppelganger from an alternate dimension, intent on her destruction; and the battle to keep her beloved Paul from completely falling apart after his soul was splintered and put together again.

An interesting – and challenging – read was Nik Abnett’s Savant. The first few pages are hard going: Abnett throws us straight into the deep end in her world, and its highly specific language and terms. But once I settled into her tale, I found I was fascinated by this story of love and devotion at a time where everything is highly compartmentalized, institutionalized, and methodical.

Savant is set in a future version of Earth where a living mind mesh cloaks the planet, defending it from alien invasion. When one of the ‘Actives’ that maintains the shield is compromised, global government races to stabilize the system. This is not an easy story, but it’s definitely one well-worth reading. You can read my SFF World interview with the author here.

For fantasy lovers in search of something a little more traditional, Exile by Martin Owton is a good bet. This first book in the Nandor Tales introduces young master swordsman Aron of Darien, an exile without a homeland, and with an oath of revenge to fulfill. Aron gets sidetracked into a quest to rescue the heir of Nandor, and soon finds himself in the thick of another land’s problems.

Duels, daring rescues, subterfuge, magic, and the (lovely but distracting) temptation of love. In Exile, Owton delivers a nicely polished tale, with all the classic elements that fans of epic fantasy will enjoy. The second volume, Nandor, is already out, and I look forward to continuing the story.

I need to mention a non-SFF ARC I read recently. Out in June 2017, Carrie Firestone’s The Unlikelies is a contemporary YA with a lovely, feel-good, summer vibe to it. This is the story of a group of high school kids who become friends at a Rotary Club ‘Home Grown Heroes’ lunch, and decide to put their summer vacation to good use with a series of ninja-style anonymous good deeds.

Firestone’s novel deals skillfully with some pretty dark themes (bullying, heroin addiction), balancing them out with friendship, romance, and some incredibly funny moments. Her snappy dialogue shines throughout, as do her diverse and lovely characters.

Now Reading: Guts and Glory.

I’m currently in the middle of Snake Eyes, by Hillary Monahan. Part of the Gods and Monsters series by Abaddon Books, this is the story of Tanis, a lamia who gets tangled in a war between her own kind and the vengeful Gorgons. I was a little reluctant about this one at first, as I know of Monahan’s reputation as a horror writer, and I don’t really do horror. But – dark, bloody, and foul-mouthed as it is – this is more of an urban fantasy, and I’m finding it hard to put down. The pacing is relentless, and Monahan’s descriptions and dialogue have me straight out laughing aloud at times.

Over the last couple of months, I’ve also been dipping in and out of Journeys, a fantasy anthology by Woodbridge Press that has one of my own stories in it. With a stellar line-up of authors, this is a great read for fantasy fans – and not just because I’m in it. There’s a bit of everything, to please all tastes, and it’s been interesting seeing what directions my fellow authors have chosen to take.

To Read: There’s magic afoot…

I currently have a ridiculously long to-read list – and that’s just considering what’s already loaded on my Kindle, or sitting in paperback or hardback on my bookshelf. So here are just a couple that I can’t wait to start.

I’m a huge fan of Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus novels, and the last one left Alex in a really dark place. I’m part excited for and part dreading the new volume, Bound, because Jacka is a master at making his characters suffer. If you love urban fantasy, and haven’t tried Jacka, please do!

Another urban fantasy novel I recently picked up is the latest in Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid series, Magic For Nothing. So far, McGuire has introduced us to Verity and her brother Alex. Now it’s time to meet the youngest Price sibling, Antimony. Ever since Book 3 in the series, when we switched from Verity’s story to Alex, I’ve been hoping for a closer look at the infamous ‘baby’ of the bunch, so I was delighted when I found out who the protagonist of Book 6 was going to be.

A quick shout out to Rick Riordan, whose latest novel, The Dark Prophecy (Trials of Apollo, Book 2), recently landed in the bookstores. I’m a absolute fan of Riordan’s work, and my kids know that their mother always gets first dibs on any new novel. I’m sorry, did you say ‘It’s a kids book’? I couldn’t hear you over the sound of my unapologetic fangirling.

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I’ll get there, eventually!

Villains We Hate To Love (Part 2)

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“I am Loki, of Asgard and I am burdened with glorious purpose…You WILL kneel before me!”

Yeah, yeah. I know they’re the ‘bad guys’. I KNOW, all right? Sheesh, stop shouting. It’s just…why did they have to be so darn awesome? The fact is, some villains are too cool for school, and although we know we’re supposed to hate them, we end up loving them instead. I’m not talking about ‘grey’ villains, ones who have redeemable qualities, who deserve understanding even if ultimately they still do All The Wrong Things. I’m talking about characters who are clearly bad to the core, but who we can’t help adoring anyway.

An example is Scar from Disney’s The Lion King. It’s hard to find a villain as delicious as Scar, voiced by the amazing Jeremy Irons. His particular brand of suave yet petty nastiness blew everyone away when the movie first came out. Scar telling Simba that his surprise is “To die for”? *shivers*

I haven’t seen the Lion King musical. But if we were casting Scar nowadays, he would have to be played by Tom Hiddleston. And speaking of Tom: Loki, in Marvel’s The Avengers. We’re supposed to dislike him – rather intensely, I imagine – but come on, that’s hardly fair! The character’s quiet yet supreme arrogance is played so beautifully by Hiddleston that Loki quickly emerged as one of the highlights of the star-studded movie.

Another character I can’t help rather liking is Bellatrix Lestrange from Harry Potter. In part, perhaps, because on-screen she’s played by the inimitable Helena Bonham Carter. But book Bellatrix is also fabulous. She definitely fits in the ‘hate to love’ camp. I think, with Bellatrix, the attraction is her completely unapologetic devotion to evil. She’s not just old Voldy’s right hand lady, she truly enjoys being horrible. With crazed giggling pleasure.

I think it’s easier to find ‘bad guys’ that we love on TV and in movies, than in books. In visual media, a dashing portrayal by a charismatic actor can be enough to make us fall for a villain, however heinous their crimes. (Hannibal Lecter, I’m looking at you.) In books, once an author starts adding charm and depth to an evil character, that character risks ending up in the ‘grey morality’ zone, where we know they’re bad but we understand their motivations and sympathize with them. Which is not really what I’m looking for here: I’m going for characters we KNOW are evil, but can’t help falling for anyway.

Take CW’s Supernatural, for instance. Over the show’s 12 seasons, the audience has embraced outright evil characters such as demon Crowley, played by Mark Sheppard, and Lucifer himself, played primarily by Mark Pellegrino. Both characters are fan favorites, and Sheppard and Pellegrino are for sure the reason behind this. In Arrow, also a CW show, recurring character Malcolm Merlyn is a slippery, self-centered jerk. But actor John Barrowman consistently woos the audience, over and over.

Sometimes I wonder what it’s like for an author or show creator when a villain suddenly takes off as a fan favorite. I imagine it goes something like this:

Fans on Twitter, Tumblr, etc: WE LOVE THIS CHARACTER.

Creators: No, they’re actually the villain, you’re not supposed to like them.

Fans: LOVE.

Creators: I don’t think you understand, see, they’re bad?

Fans: *Fan art everywhere. Make a million gifs. Write thousands of words of fan fiction.*

Creators: But…

Fans: Looooovvvveeeeeee………………..

 

 

 

 

Villains We Love To Hate (Part 1)

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A few great villains from my bookshelf

What makes The Ultimate Villain™? Now, I’m not necessarily talking about the Big Bad in a story; for instance, we all know the Emperor is the puppet master behind everything in Star Wars. (Gaaasp, spoiler alert!) But the Ultimate Villain in the original trilogy isn’t the Emperor, it’s Vader, with the all-black ensemble and the heavy masked breathing. He’s the one on all the t-shirts, the one who sells the action figures and LEGO kits. True, he had his moment of redemption at the end of Return of the Jedi, but for the majority of screen time in the trilogy, he was fabulously and unapologetically evil.

Darth Vader got me thinking about some of my favorite screen and page villains, and what makes them so fun to hate. In Vader’s case, I think his utter calm and coldness, allied with the distancing his black outfit, gloved hands, and mask produce, makes him a frightening on-screen presence from the moment he appears in New Hope showing off his Force choke.

The Narnia series was my childhood passion, and you don’t get any nastier than the witches that C.S. Lewis came up with. The scene in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe where the White Witch throws Edmund into her dungeon was one I always found chilling: Edmund trusted her (okay, he was also partially bewitched. And an idiot), and she treats him worse than dirt until he’s eventually rescued. The Green Lady in the Silver Chair was also a great villain, with her poisonous sweetness and terrible hidden schemes.

Like Star Wars, the Harry Potter series is another where side villains are often more compelling than the Big Bad, Lord Voldemort himself. Take Dolores Umbridge, for instance. (No, really, please take her, she terrifies me!) She’s tremendously effective as a villain, I think perhaps because most of us have come across that particular brand of petty nastiness at some point in our lives. A schoolteacher, a supervisor at work, an authority figure. Not someone with the power of life or death over us, just someone who can make our lives acutely miserable if they choose. The Harry Potter books have many ‘evil’ characters who we can’t help but understand, at least a little (there’s no way NOT to feel sorry for Draco Malfoy by the end of the series!), but Umbridge certainly isn’t one of those. And oh, boy, do we love to hate her.

Children’s and teen books do this sort of irredeemably nasty character very well (look at Miss Trunchbull from Roald Dahl’s Matilda, or President Snow from The Hunger Games), but even in adult fiction, you can’t have a decent fantasy or sci fi novel without a great villain. Or villains, plural. Sauron may have been the Big Bad in The Lord of the Rings, but I always particularly loathed Saruman for his backstabbing, tree-slaying, self-centered behavior. The sequence where the ents take down his fortress will always have me cheering wildly, no matter how many times I read it.

I know the trend nowadays is to have villains that readers/viewers can understand, with tragic backstories and deeper motivations that place them in a sort of moral grey zone, rather than the old-fashioned black-or-white of older stories. And I’m all for that, don’t get me wrong. It makes for a hugely compelling story. But sometimes it’s just so fun to be handed a character we’re unabashedly allowed to love to hate. So authors, producers, creators: grey zone your villains as much as you like, but please, please, please toss us an Umbridge every now and then? Go on. You know you want to.

NESCBWI 17: Expand & Diversify Your Portfolio

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This past weekend, April 21-23, some 700 kid lit authors, illustrators, and industry professionals got together in Springfield, Massachusetts, for the yearly Spring Conference of the New England region of the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators), which this year was named Expand & Diversify Your Portfolio.

This was my second time at this event, and it has definitely established itself as one of my favorite places to be. Not just because of the interesting panels, workshops, and keynote presentations, but because it tends to be a friendly, laid-back sort of thing, where everyone chats to everyone else, and new friends are made all the time. There is always lots of catching up to do with writer buddies I usually only see on social media, and time flies by all too quickly!

So, what were my highlights for 2017? To start with, this was my first time at a SCBWI event as a published author. I loved seeing Heart Blade up on the big screen with all the other attendee’s work, and it was great spotting it in the con bookstore.

This year, I attended several workshops on social media and marketing. Jess Keating encouraged us to brainstorm our platform with adjectives and images to get a feel for ourselves, and for the tone we want to set on social media. She urged us to think about who we are, rather than who we think we should be, and to remember: ‘you are the expert at being you’. Anika Denise suggested that an author platform is a stage where you connect with your audience, and reminded us that author platforms aren’t built in a day, nor should building them eclipse putting time and effort into the actual writing. For those who were unsure what to blog or tweet about, she suggested mining your book’s content for underlying themes you can dig into. Allison Moore showed us examples off her own Twitter feed, and reminded us (as did everyone lecturing about social media) that promoting your own book has to be something done in small and sporadic doses. To top it all off, Jen Malone gave us great tips on public speaking, and told us that “speakers who are real, honest and can share their passion have the greatest impact on their audience.”

One of my favorite workshops this year was Dana Meachen Rau on injecting characters with emotion, something I find my plot-focused brain often struggles with. She reminded us that plot elements are great, but without emotion, who cares? The plot provides the external story arc, but emotion provides the internal story arc, and becomes the engine that moves your character forward. When a reader reads a book, they go on the same emotional journey as the character, and it is this shared experience that makes a story unforgettable.

For a fun learning experience, Friday night brought Pitchapalooza, the now-traditional event hosted by The Book Doctors, Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry. Names were drawn, and contenders got to pitch their story for a minute, on the clock. Then a panel of agents and editors critiqued each attempt, explaining in a positive manner what worked, and what didn’t.

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The crowd at Pitchapalooza

There were three amazing keynote talks, by authors Barry Lyga and Jane Yolen, and author/illustrator Melissa Sweet, who had the prettiest PowerPoint presentation I’ve ever seen. Jane urged us to “listen to the work, not the fears”, a sentiment I think all writers can relate to on the dark days. On the writing the rainbow panel, Kevin Lewis reminded the audience that we should always endeavor to create environments in our work that ‘are as diverse as the world we live in.’

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Jane Yolen inspires us over breakfast

I headed home on Sunday happy and exhausted, bearing pages and pages of notes, a pile of business cards and bookmarks from people I want to keep in touch with, and a ton of fresh inspiration to give my work a much-needed boost. Thank you to all the hard-working volunteers at the NESCBWI for putting together a great event, and see you next year!

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Relaxing on Sunday evening with peppermint tea and Melissa Sweet’s biography of E.B. White

Spring Updates

Connecticut finally has its Spring on. Tiny baby leaves have tiptoed over the treetops like a green mist, and forsythia is blazing in glorious yellow splendor. The sun is shining. I have daffodils in the garden, and Easter chocolate is on sale everywhere you look.

So, what’s new in my world?

I’ve finished Book 2 in the Blade Hunt Chronicles, Night Blade. Now the manuscript is off being looked at by eyes other than my own. Until I get all the revision notes back, I can’t do anything else on that front. I’ve already outlined a lot of what will happen in Book 3, Star Blade, and I’m really excited about it, but I’m holding off getting a start on writing that one until I know if I have any substantial changes to make in Night Blade that might affect my Book 3 plot.

What’s in Book 2? No spoilers, but I can tell you there’s a heist, and Rose may have bitten off more than she can handle. Del gets to wear a ballgown. And you all get to meet my lovely new character, Ben Kelley. He’s a witch and, well, you’ll just have to wait and see.

I’m trying to get my head back into a stalled sci fantasy YA while I wait for Night Blade revision notes, but it can be hard switching worlds and projects, and to be honest it’s been slow going. I’m looking forward to this weekend, where I and some 700 or so New England kid lit authors and illustrators will gather at the NESCBWI Spring Conference for workshops, panels, and lots of great conversation about books and writing. I always go home revved up and inspired after these events, so this should be just the kick I need to get back into my rhythm again. Follow the #NESCBWI17 hashtag on twitter this weekend for lots of kid lit pearls of wisdom tweeted by event participants.

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New bookmarks, ready for NESCBWI 17

The Pixel Project’s Read for Pixels fundraiser is almost over. The donation page will be open until April 29th, though the main event has ended. I contributed three Heart Blade paperbacks with character art postcards to this, which were bundled together with 1st Edition hardcovers from bestselling YA Fantasy authors Kimberly Derting (The Taking) and Alyson Noel (Unrivalled). I was very happy to hear from the organization that all three bundles were snapped up.

You can find my mini interview on the Pixel Project blog.

What else… Heart Blade had a sale! (Yay!) The sale is over… (Boo!). But you can still find the Kindle version at a very reasonable U$ 3.99 on Amazon. *waves cheerleader pompoms* For those interested in a paperback, I’m planning a giveaway on Goodreads in May, so keep an eye out here and on GR itself.

And last (but not least), today I received a lovely letter from blogger Marguerite Gibson with two beautiful handmade book plates that I’ve promised to sign and send back. It’s always wonderful to hear from readers, whether on social media, or in reviews, or by snail mail, like Marguerite from Australia. Gives me warm and fuzzy writer feels!

Happy Spring to all. May your words be plentiful, your flowers beautiful, your mornings sunny and bright…and may your leftover Easter chocolate last many, MANY days.

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