Thursday, August 30, 2012

Heat, Fictionally

For those of you who don’t know me well, I live in a tiny town called Cambria, on the Central Coast of California. I moved here 27 years ago to briefly stay with my mother and get a summer job. I was leaving a relationship in L.A. I needed my own car, and first and last months’ rent.

Before I moved away from L.A., I spent five years in Sherman Oaks, in the San Fernando Valley. In a home with no functioning air conditioning. Every summer it would get up to 106-107 degrees and stay there for about a week. Even night didn’t help much. I remember sitting out on the back patio in the dark, waiting for the heat to break, and the best relief it could manage was somewhere in the 90s.

It may seem like a bizarre statement., but Cambria doesn’t get hot. The reason my mother chose this town (other than it’s beauty, and proximity to the ocean) is because it’s never life-threateningly hot or life-threateningly cold. A couple of years ago I tried to explain to a friend in Kentucky that summers are never hot in Cambria. I think he found it hard to believe. So I linked him to a Weather Channel page of average temperatures, with a graph line for the average high that never varies more than ten or so degrees above or below a center line in the 60s. Before you think I’m being smug, or bragging, I should mention that being in the fog belt offers a combination of cool and damp that leaves many feeling they can never get warm. I’m not one of them. I’m just saying it’s not everybody’s ideal weather. But to me it’s heaven.

Thing is, I love the desert. I love the feel of it. I love the red rock, the cactus, the variegated mountains on the horizon. So I go visit in the winter. But I send my characters there in the heat.

The thing I love most about fictional heat is that it can be a character in its own right. Because you can see it, in addition to feeling it. You can see it in the sweat rolling down from people’s hatbands and disappearing under their collars. And you can describe a beautiful, stark desert vista with panache, but doesn’t it take on a whole new dimension if your character is viewing it through wavy bands of heat distortion?

My first novel Funerals for Horses (not suitable for teens) was set for the most part in the Navajo Nation in Arizona. I wasn’t the last time I brought my characters into heat. Because not only can heat be a character, it can be conflict. And we all know that without conflict there’s no story. My forthcoming novel “Walk Me Home,” out next year (adult but with some YA crossover potential), begins with 16-year-old Carly and her kid sister Jen walking their way across much of Arizona, alone, wandering deeper and deeper into the desert heat. Of course the fact that they’ve been recently orphaned is conflict, combined with the fact that they can’t get in touch with the ex-stepfather Carly is sure will take them in. But through every minute of every long day, it’s just them versus the heat.

Extreme cold has many of the same fictional qualities. And you can see cold, too, because your characters’ very breath becomes visible. And it can certainly provide life-threatening conflict. And, having grown up in snowy Buffalo, New York, I know it well enough to write about it. But somehow, for sheer mood, I’m more likely to choose heat.

I feel connected to the natural world, and so I’m unlikely to write about people only, shut inside their little man-made houses and malls, separated from the sky, the rain, the earth, the weather. I think that’s one reason I love road stories so much, and return to them again and again. Because it puts people out in the real world.

In real life, I love the road, too. I love to get behind the wheel and go places. But mostly in the winter. When it’s not so hot. I love heat fictionally. I’m happy to let my characters experience it for me.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people

There's not much I can think to write about burning (except maybe that it was the topic of my first book). Instead, let's wind down the month with some scary pictures.

Book burning, Nazi Germany.

Comic book burning, Alabama, 1948.

Harry Potter book burning, 2002.

Book burning, Minnesota, 1982.

Jack Chick tract.

Beatles Record burning, Georgia, 1966.

"Every burned book enlightens the world."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson

(the title quote is by Heinrich Heine)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Summer heat

I grew up having summer vacations that stretched from late June through early September, and those were some of the best and most important seasons in my life. I nurture a not-so-secret hope that we won't make all kids go to year-round school, that they'll get to experience summer vacations, too. And I realize that summer vacation doesn't mean the same thing to everyone, but these were mine:

Early summer had a timelessness to it, a relaxed feeling. Along with the freedom of being released from my school schedule (which required me to get up at the barbaric hour of 5:45 AM), there was the casualness of going barefoot, wearing shorts or swimsuits, relaxing outdoors. As we get older, our lives get increasingly crowded and hectic. Summer back then meant free time: more than enough. Sometimes I would even get bored, and have to figure out how to entertain myself. Boredom is a luxury, and it taught me how to take charge of my own schedule and learn how to fill it.

Summer was when I got to read more than ever: armfuls of books lugged home from the library. I played in the yard more often, inventing my own stories for my sister and myself to act out. (A story-teller is born!) It's when I made my first attempts at writing books.

Summer was melting ice cream, hot pavement, the whirring blades of an electric fan. It was standing in the frozen-foods aisle at the supermarket or going to the movies for temporary relief. It was lying in the grass with a new library book. It was the pungent chlorine of my uncle's pool, and wrinkled fingertips from staying in the water too long. It was barbecue smoke and sweating pitchers of iced tea, and the clop-clopping of flipflops. It was a day at the beach, the salty taste of sea spray, the cry of gulls, and the feel of powdery sand underfoot.

What did summer vacation mean to you?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

boiling point - Alisa M. Libby

I fear I will stray toward the burn of anxiety instead of the burn of romance, as I have been identifying so strongly with some of those posts this month. This is what is SO difficult about writing, and so terrifying about not writing or being stuck/uninspired: I tie so much of my sense of self-worth and self-esteem to my writing. Not my published books so much, but what I happen to be writing AT THE MOMENT. So if I'm not feeling the good, juicy muse vibe, then I feel down on myself. Which gets me worrying about my writing career, which makes it more difficult to write because of said anxiety and the pressure I put on myself, which makes me worry all the more.

Phew. It wore me out just to type all of that. Deep sigh.

So what does a writer do? I can't say "Just Relax, it will be fine" because I have certainly wanted to punch people for saying as much to me. But I will say this: feeling bad about myself as a writer, or as a semi-productive human being, has done me no good. I do not recommend this tactic. Some things that may work better, which I have tried over the five years that I have suffered spurts of writer's block (and developed bad habits along the way): visiting art museums, watching movies, watching well-written television shows, listening to very loud music that manages to push all of the bad stuff out of my head - preferably while taking a vigorous walk. Singing out loud, and badly. Oh, and writing what I want to write, regardless of whether or not it's trendy. And, just as important for me - sticking with an idea for the long haul.

Okay, I've covered the anxiety part. But since we're talking heat, I want to post something mildly naughty - but it's BBC, don't worry! This has to be the most bizarre flirtation I've seen on television in a while...and therefore, my favorite. Here we have Sherlock Holmes meeting Irene Adler, who later states that "Smart is the new sexy." I could not agree more.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Heating up after a burn out (Stephanie Kuehnert)

This year, I've been experiencing a lot of writerly burn out. I worked my way out of one slump  in February only to fall in to another one last month. This time the cause was something Julie Chibbaro so perfectly summed up in her YAOTL post earlier this month, "Anxiety Burns."

Earlier this year I wrote a little over 100 pages on a project that I was so excited about. My agent was crazy excited about it too and decided that even though the market has gotten tougher, we should try to submit it on partial. As Julie described in her post, there has been a lot of waiting and a lot of rejection. I know this is how it goes. It took over a year to sell my first book, I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE. But this time the anxiety was getting to me really really badly. Maybe it's because I also have an adult book on sub and it's been so long since I've had a book on the shelves (2009) that I'm starting to have massive career doubts. Maybe it's because I've never done this before, put something out on submission and continued to work on it. I've submitted on partial before, but then went on to work on something else while I waited to hear on it. Actually, it was another version of this book that got submitted and didn't sell, but I really really love the concept and the characters and I reworked some of my ideas into a new version that I really believe in. I also plotted, plotted, plotted way more than I usually do, and with that as a guide, I felt like this time I should be able to keep writing while it went on sub.

I was wrong. The nerves were too much. After a lot of stopping and starting and venting to my critique partners and worrying to my agent, everyone began to encourage me to just work on something else. It's been hard because as burnt out as I felt, I was still so in love with the project. Like all projects, it had completely infiltrated every corner of my life. The decorations in my office remind me of it. I've recently bought clothing and jewelry that reminds me of it. I have over 100 songs that remind me of it. I don't want to let go! But I knew I needed to, for the sake of my sanity (and probably my husband, agent and CPs sanity, too). Since I feel this project so intensely, I know I'll be able to step back into it again easily when it either A. sells or B. doesn't sell and I need to decide if I want to tackle it another way again.

In the meantime, it's time to work on something new. Well, it's not entirely new. It's been my affair project for the past year or so when things were rough with my other projects, but now it is about to become my main squeeze.

It's a contemporary YA in the same vein as my first two published books. In fact, one of my BALLADS OF SUBURBIA characters even makes a cameo as a grown-up in this story. In many ways, it's me in my comfort zone doing what I feel like I do best--emotional, character-driven YA drama. After a couple of forays into new territory that I still have to patiently, anxiously wait to see if they work/pay off, this feels good. But while Jenny O'Connell is going from heat to a simmer, I need to get going from tepid water to a simmer to a boil.

I started by unwinding. I went to the Renaissance Faire and Chicago Comic Con, just to geek out and enjoy myself and then I started thinking and talking about my writing again, with my agent, my CPs, and my husband, who actually helped me immensely in visualizing a key scene. While I haven't come up with a playlist for this new book yet, I've stumbled on a few key songs and key bands before it. Here's a little sampling of it that I put together on YouTube for you:

I urge you especially to listen to the last song, which is my friends' band, The Wheels, who I find particularly inspiring right now, both because their music just fits with what I'm writing and because they are real people that I know doing the art that they love. Right now, my actual iTunes playlist for the book is made up of those two Hole songs, "Doll Parts" and "Northern Star," and then the entirety of The Wheels EP 1, of Farewell Continental's Hey, Hey Pioneers album, and of like three Dinosaur Jr albums. I've been listening to it super quietly as I write, which is new to me from my last project, usually I can't do that.

This week, I've been getting in a couple hours a day that range from 200 to 1000 words of writing, checking in daily through private messages on Twitter with one of my writer pals, and listening to that music, which is always how it begins for me. I'm not plotting, not setting any big goals or deadlines, just writing. Just warming up again.

I feel mostly content--I really do love these characters and this story already--but I'm still a little nervous and gunshy. So share with me, how do you get simmering on a new story? I could certainly use new inspiration and ideas!

Monday, August 20, 2012

beneath the clothes (Lauren Bjorkman)

The love interests in my novels tend toward the unconventional. This may have something to do with my own experience that the perfect specimens of manhood weren’t always the most desirable in other regards. With this in mind, I created a list. 

what’s hot               and             what’s not

When it comes to love, the coolest guy or girl …. 

tells a good story                                 has a bad case of braggadocio pox

has a genuine laugh                            thinks cracking a smile wrecks his image

touches your hair while you kiss        flips her own hair before you kiss

looks deeply into your eyes                 stares at self whenever a mirror is present

has a personal style                              wears what everyone else wears

geeks out over a passion                      is too cool to have a passion

likes to exchange ideas                        nods, but never removes earplugs

cheers you on                                      tries to outdo you

respects who you are                           tells you who to be

In my books, the love interest may get to swoop in on a horse or motorcycle or whatever and save the day every so often. But the main character gets to do some swooping of her own.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

What's hot... Summer 2012

What’s hot…
A completely random and unscientific list
according to Wendy Delsol

—Gabby Douglas’s poise and maturity at age 16. Congratulations, Gabby!

—Jeremy Renner as the next-gen Jason Bourne.

—BEAUTIFUL RUINS by Jess Walter, my current audible download. Brilliant!

—Hillary Clinton’s response when asked about her favorite clothing designer. Priceless. (Although this is a 2010 event, it’s only just hit the web recently.)
MODERATOR 1: OK. Which designers do you prefer?
CLINTON: What designers of clothes?
CLINTON: Would you ever ask a man that question? (Laughter.) (Applause.)
MODERATOR 1: Probably not. Probably not. (Applause.)

—Former Eagle Scouts returning their Boy Scouts’ medals in protest of the organization’s ongoing policy of excluding gays.

—Royal Pains. I just want to move into the guest house Hank Med occupies.

—The combination of dark chocolate and sea salt. Who knew?

—THE SWEET DEAD LIFE galley (by our own Joy Preble) that I scored at BEA (getting to hang with Joy was an added bonus). Loving it. My kind of protag: smart and sassy. Look for it in May 2013.

—Jodie Foster’s essay for the Daily Beast defending Kristen Stewart, blasting fickle fans, and questioning the dark side of the media’s fixation with young celebrities.
Foster: “I’ve said it before and I will say it again: if I were a young actor today I would quit before I started. If I had to grow up in this media culture, I don’t think I could survive it emotionally. I would only hope that someone who loved me, really loved me, would put their arm around me and lead me away to safety.”

—Roger Federer’s 7th Wimbledon win and 17th Grand Slam title. Go Roger. #bestofalltime

—And, finally, the many variations of Ryan Gosling’s “Hey, Girl” meme dedicated to librarians and other bookish types. has an excellent collection. Sigh. Snicker.

So what did I miss? What's on your list?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

So Define Hot... (Cheryl Renée Herbsman)

If you take a look at some of the bestselling novels -- adult or YA -- you'll notice that many (not all) of them incorporate a high degree of heat. I'm talking about romance, sex, interpersonal connection kind of heat. And if you go by the current out-of-control adult bestseller, it would seem that sex is the necessary ingredient. But I beg to differ!

To me, heat isn't all about what happens behind the closed door (the one that often stays closed in YA lit.) It's about everything that leads up to that. It's about the slow simmer that turns into the rolling boil of desire. Heat is about chemistry. It's about what brings two people together, what turns them on to each other. To me, sweet, nurturing romance is even hotter than down and dirty lust.

I know there are many out there who read a romantic story and go back to reread the - shall we say 'explicit'  bits over again. But to me the real heat is in the parts that lead up to that. I want to reread the sweet sexy wooing bits, the scenes in which the characters' thoughts and actions act as a magnet to draw the other person in. I'm not saying the explicit elements aren't hot too. They are of course. But in my opinion, the relationshipy elements that create the path to the explicit elements are just as hot.

In YA circles there is a lot of talk about how far the characters can go. I personally believe there really aren't rules to this. Lots of folks say there are. But those rules have all been broken. I suppose if you want your book in every school library and in the school fairs, you've got to leave out the sex scenes. But truthfully you've got to leave out a lot more than that to get into those arenas. So I say let the truth of the story and the characters play out as each story demands. But in doing so, enjoy the fun in letting the heat show up long before it's played out in physical connections.

Where do you like to see heat in romantic stories?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Anxiety Burns -- Julie Chibbaro

Anxiety causes a distinct burn in my belly – not just my stomach up near my chest area (heartburn), but also in my gut, in my intestines (you know the one where you have to go to the bathroom too often).  For the last 8 months, I had this burn.  Sometimes, it was set to low (I was able to put anxiety on the back burner), sometimes, it was high (a very present burn.)  Always, it was there.

What was causing this burn?

Last summer, we sent out a manuscript of a new novel I’d written to about 8 houses.  We waited for response (burn number 1).  We were rejected, mostly.  After about six months, an editor asked me to make a small change to the beginning, as a sort of test for an idea she had about the book.  I made the change, and didn’t hear back for a few months (burn 2).  She made a verbal offer, and we accepted.  Tra la la, burn gone, right?  No.  We had no contract (burn 3).  Nowadays, contract negotiations are different.  Because so much is changing in the publishing world, we had to go over every single lawspeak line of the contract to make sure we didn’t give away electronic rights, and whatever the future held.  Months would go by before I heard about this now-infamous contract.  The burn worsened – would it ever come?  What if they changed their minds?  Would this book ever see the light of day?

I realize this is the story of a writer’s life.  Waiting, the burn of anxiety in the waiting.  Submitting, waiting for a response – whether to a beta reader, a professor, a peer, a spouse, the world at large – is the steady burn in my guts and belly.  What will they think?  That’s the main question behind the burn. 

About two weeks ago, I did finally sign that contract, after agreeing to a full rewrite of the novel (yep, another burn, but I believe in this editor).  Now, I have a new daily burn:  will she like this version?  Will anybody?

Am I the only one who feels this?  I know there must be others out there, and maybe you have some good suggestions for dealing with anxiety burn?  I’d love to have some relief.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Four Stages of "Trilogy Burn" (Anna Staniszewski)

It's been downright steamy in New England this summer, but I've been dealing with a different kind of heat as I start work on the third UnFairy Tale book. I've decided to refer to this particular heat as "trilogy burn." What is this strange phenomenon? Let's break down its various stages.

1. I just wrote Book 2 and now I have to dive into Book 3!
There's nothing that will make you sweat more than turning in a sequel to your editor, taking a deep breath, and then starting work on the next book in the series. It's a messy process that requires a lot of brain power...and a lot of chocolate.

2. I have to wrap things up?
I'm beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to write a trilogy, but figuring out how to bring everything together is a little mind-boggling. There are a lot of expectations involved, enough to require an extra application of deodorant in the morning.

3. It has to be BIGGEST OF ALL!
The truly daunting thing about writing a third book in a series is realizing that the climax needs to be bigger than anything that's come thus far. No pressure, right? Please hold while I go get a frosty drink and give myself brain freeze...

So obviously, there are a lot of sweating opportunities involved in wrapping up a trilogy. But the heat isn't all bad. In fact, "trilogy burn" has one more stage:

4. This is awesome!
I've had the chance to create characters, watch them grow, and lead them through a story that's changed both their lives and mine. If that isn't the kind of heat that warms you to the core, I don't know what is.

Anyone else experiencing "trilogy burn" at the moment? How do you deal with all the crazy levels of heat?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Turning up the Heat--Jan Blazanin

If there ever was a summer to talk about heat, this is the one. Here in Iowa we’ve had record heat, record drought, and near-record bitching about the weather. (I’m going for the gold in that category!) For those of us who love cool, rainy days, this summer has been the worst in memory.

However, authors know that story heat is an absolute necessity. As I see it, in YA novels, heat comes in three categories:

 Weather—Several years ago, I was lucky to hear beloved author Sid Fleischman speak at a writing conference. One piece of advice he gave was to “give the weather report” in our stories. Weather affects everyone, and our characters are no exception. Extreme heat makes us sweaty and cranky; extreme cold makes our fingers stiff and freezes our nose hairs. And a beautiful, sunny day in contrast to a character’s black mood accentuates her depression.

      Romance—There’s nothing like romantic attraction to add heat to a story.  Unrequited love, suspicion, jealousy, rivalry, and steamy physical contact ignite sparks that keep readers flipping pages.

     Tension—Plot tension is the ultimate form of heat, and authors know they need to have it in every line. Here are some ways to create plot tension:

Raise the stakes—Give the main character a compelling reason to meet her goal.
Increase the pressure—Make the consequences of failure unbearable for your main character.
  Double the conflict—Add internal conflict to the external forces working against her. Let her angst over whether or not she’s making the right choices.
  Force the circumstances—Drop your character into an unusual or uncomfortable setting and watch her squirm.
  Set a deadline—The shorter the amount of time she has to reach her goal, the higher the tension.

             Heat. Love it or hate it. But in YA fiction you’ve got to have it.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Writing In Summer Heat (Sydney Salter)

I adore my school year writing routine. Coffee, a writing exercise, maybe a wee bit of email, and a nice chunk of time for my WIP. Just me and my cat...

But it's summer now, and my writing routine has to become almost as creative as what I'm writing. This morning I woke up early for some quiet time before I take the dogs to the vet and carpool to soccer camp. I volunteered to drive both ways all week, so that I can plunk myself down in the bagel shop (free coffee refills) and write for three solid hours without the summertime busyness at home (nine pets, a teen, an almost teen, a husband, a granny, and appliances that keep wanting to break).

Summer writing is a bit easier now that my daughters are older and more independent; sometimes my 16 year old sleeps so long, I send her sister to check if she's breathing. I do have more time now, especially if I get up early, even if I don't have a routine.

A few summers ago, I got a lot of writing done in McDonald's play land. Later we graduated to the bookstore where I'd buy the girls frothy concoctions and send them off to the kids section with strict instructions not to talk to me for an hour. I've spent plenty of time crouched over my notebook or laptop at those little tables too. Anything to get words down.

Often I meet people who tell me that they'd like to write a novel, but they don't have time. I smile and nod, but I'm thinking, "no, you'd like to write a novel, if you'd like to write a novel."

We can always find the time.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

When the Heat Turns to a Simmer

The heat is on when your agent is awaiting a book you promised him about a year ago. And then he says Aug. 1 would be great!! Being a deadline-driven person (i.e. lacking any intrinsic ability to motivate myself without external fear of disappointing someone), that lit a fire under my butt.

So on Aug. 1 my agent had my book. Just in time for vacation! Now the boil has been reduced to a simmer. And it feels great, not just because I'm at the beach having fun without thinking about my characters and what they're up to but because suddenly my brain has been freed up to think about them in entirely different ways because there's no pressure. And I'm thinking about the next two books I'm writing, too. My brain has been liberated and creativity has come back to life!

Now when I get my agent's comments back I'm so ready to go! Lots of ideas on ways to improve the story. And all it took was turning down the heat. It may take a boil to get something done, but sometimes a simmer is what you need to figure out how to make it better.

And those two girls up there? That's my daughter on the right and my best friend's daughter on the left. And they're in a dressing room on Martha's Vineyard trying on winter PJs and having a blast before school starts again in a few weeks. For them, our island vacation is the simmer leading up to the boil of high school. Sometimes a simmer requires putting on funny pajamas and laughing a lot before jumping back into the pot of bubbling water!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Guidelines For Bringing on the Heat

I just got back from the 41st Annual Summer SCBWI Conference in LA. Over the course of the long weekend I was mulling over the topic for this blog--heat. I kept trying to find a connection that worked for me.

Back home and with a little perspective under my belt, I realize that while there were many conference themes that kept appearing over and over again--one of them did have to do with heat--the kind of heat that is caused by pressure.

Writers feel an enormous amount of pressure in this business. The tension and criticism that we experience can result in a rash, less than thought out explosion of emotion. It makes us feel immediately better to let off some steam, unfortunately this usually just adds more fuel to the fire. So I thought I would give you some tips and thoughts about navigating the heat that comes along with being a writer.

*If you MUST write down your anger and frustration--try a rough draft on paper first. Work some place where there isn't an easy SEND button. What goes on the internet, stays on the internet. Writing in the heat of the moment usually makes us feel better--we're writers for god's sake--it's what we do! But I've seen too many people burned by their words, even when they haven't been that incendiary. A well crafted blog post, will still be a well crafted blog post if you wait a day to get some perspective. A fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-rant will not likely look as attractive in the morning. Give yourself the gift of time when you're angry. Or better yet, channel that emotion right into your manuscript, sell that baby and kiss Karma because she was looking out for you. 

*Find out more information before you jump to conclusions. Life is like a giant game of telephone and you have no idea where you are in the translation. Someone might start the game by saying...

Kittens wear mittens while writing in script. 

But by the end--the last person might hear...

Kitty, won't touch your manuscript, even if she's wearing mittens.

That B*&ch!!! I hate Kitty!!! I can't believe she said that. I'll tell her a thing or two...Oh, wasn't Kitty the agent? And she wasn't even talking about my manuscript? Oppsies. Be sure you know what you're talking about before you respond to it. Avoid jumping into flash mobs of angry people--flash mobs of dancers are perfectly fine though.

The LA12SCBWI Hippie Hop Flash Mob for Lin Oliver and Steve Mooser!!!

*You're better than that. Sure, we all loose our minds from time to time. I'm not ashamed to say that once when I got mad at my husband, I hid all the bath towels and admired the wet foot prints on the floor in the morning. We are human and stuff happens. BUT, throwing a temper tantrum in the privacy of my own home is different than throwing one at work. I find it hard to imagine that when I was a teacher, I'd ever sneak into the principal's office in the middle of winter and make off with her coat. Even if her name was Kitty and she wanted me to be outside for recess when it was too cold. You just don't do that.

The "office space" for a writer is vast. We are being watched constantly. And I don't just mean published authors. Pre-pupblished authors MUST conduct themselves as if they are already in the business full-time. This is not negotiable. Jill Corcoran spoke at the SCBWI LA agent panel about NOT signing certain writers once she saw the things that they were saying on social media. It is hard enough to get published without shooting yourself in the foot. Remember what your office space is.

*Grow a set for the things you believe in. Yeah, so this is counter intuitive to all the advice I just gave you, but it's the truth. There will be times you need to speak out. There are people starving in the world, there are miscarriages of justice that need defenders. We see the children who need a voice because theirs has been stolen. Without a doubt, there are things worth getting fired up about and it's my personal opinion that if you take the time to carefully craft your statement to the world, do your research, understand that not everyone is going to agree with you AND you can live with that--then you'll probably be someone's hero.  And that is a very awesome thing...maybe even HOT!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Red Hot Blood: ANASTASIA FOREVER (Joy Preble)

In ANASTASIA FOREVER, the third and final book of the DREAMING ANASTASIA trilogy—which releases today!—things heat up. Even the cover reflects this: Books one and two were the typical paranormal YA books blue and purple covers. But book 3 is red. Lots of deep, blood red, lots of darkness. Both our heroes – Anne and Ethan – turn darker in this final installment, and the cover reflects that. The simmering romantic heat between them intensifies as well, and let’s just say it’s a hard-won happily ever after. Lots of scary stuff for these two before that final kiss.

Anne’s bloodline connects her to the Romanovs. Which also connects her to the villain Viktor. And to the doomed rusalka Lily. And ultimately by extension to the witch Baba Yaga. It’s Anne’s blood that twice opens the door to Baba Yaga’s forest.

One thing I toyed with while writing ANASTASIA FOREVER, was when and how to let Anne realize the full nature of the blood bargain she’s made with the witch Baba Yaga in book two. In one early version, I wondered what would happen if Anne’s inner witch heated up much earlier on… say while she and Ben and Tess and Ethan were all out together. In this draft of book 3, Anne is still torn about dumping Ben for Ethan. So what better time to unleash her witchy powers, and put Ben in danger. Huge danger. Your girl friend is about to chow down on you danger. Ultimately, this is not the route I took, but here is a HOT deleted scene that plays with a very dangerous what if! Enjoy.

We stop at the base of the Grand Staircase - all pretty marble and elegant looking. I’ve always loved those stairs – regal in a way that most things aren’t these days. Once when I was five, David chased me up and down the stairs until we were both red-faced and out of breath and Mom was pissed that we wouldn’t settle down and let her show us the paintings. The stairs were more fun.
“My stomach hurts,” Tess observes.
“It should,” Ben comments testily. “You just ate your body weight in Red Vines.” Then to all of us: “Coffee’s in the other building if that’s what you want.” Since we walked into the lobby, he’s been directing his comments sort of generally into the air.
 “In a minute. Let’s run to the top. I need to stretch.” I don’t wait for group agreement, just lope up the stairs and assume they’ll follow me, which after a few beats, they do.
 On the second floor landing, I stretch my arms into classic ballet third position – arms over my head, elbows rounded, palms inward but fingers not touching. My gladiator sandals aren’t the best footwear for this, and I’m wearing a pair of gray cargo pants and a short white tee – hardly ballet clothes -  but that’s okay. Until I’d started back subbing at Miss Amy’s, I’d forgotten in the mess that is my life, how much I love dance.
“Your form needs work,” Tess says. She rises up on her toes as much as she can in her black Chucks and skinny jeans and pirouettes around me. She’s a way better dancer than I am these days, even goofing around. Of the two of I us, I’d always been more focused and disciplined. Not any more.
 “Coffee?” Ethan asks again. “Wasn’t that the plan?” I know he thinks this is a waste of time – and also dangerous since everything’s at risk for girls who make bargains with witches. Ben needs to man up and move on. But I can’t just push Ben under the metaphor bus like that, and I’m sure he knows this.
I ignore his cranky tone and try out my arabesque - also in need of some serious work.
“Let’s get that coffee.” It’s Ben’s turn to sound cranky. He beckons toward the stairs. “You know that first movie won an award at Sundance. It’s really--”
 “Your after shave is really strong.” The comment pops out of nowhere and I feel my cheeks redden. What a stupid thing to say. But suddenly the smell of his cologne is all I can think of. My stomach rumbles, embarrassingly loud. Maybe I should have had some of that popcorn.
I jump on the coffee train. “You know what? A latte would be great right now.”
I’ve just spent almost four hours trying not to fall into a coma while watching Swedish people look unhappy and occasionally have sex in metro bus stations and in one instance, a barn. My fingers feel all tingly. My skin feels sticky and clammy. Am I having a panic attack?
Other museum-goers stream around us. The light overhead through the huge skylight dims noticeably. I look up. Thick gray clouds. The faint sound of thunder rumbles. My heart kicks into overdrive. Am I about to throw up? Maybe it’s the flu.
“You want to talk,” Ben says. “So let’s talk. You’re right. I can’t keep pretending all those things didn’t happen. I dream about them, you know that? Your boss, Mrs. Benson? Those things – those mermaid things – they surrounded her. I heard them breaking her into pieces. You know that, right?”
“Ben.” I’m feeling sicker now, but Ben doesn’t want to be interrupted. He glances at Ethan  - something dangerous brewing in his eyes and the set of his jaw.
“Outside,” I gasp. What the hell is wrong with me?
“Anne?” Ethan’s voice rises above the buzzing in my head, but I ignore him, too.
I turn and stumble down the stairs. My ears are ringing. Or is it just the thunder getting louder? I shouldn’t be doing this. But I can’t seem to think of anything but putting distance between myself and Ben. In my head, I see us a few weeks ago – my hands burning his face. Me running then, too, and calling Ethan.
I’m in the lobby now, shoulder against the heavy front doors of the Art Institute. Out onto the cement landing and then down the stairs - running onto Michigan Avenue. It starts to rain – small drops that get larger and fatter, falling on my head, my face, my hands. Even in my panic – it is pure panic right now, mixed with something else I can’t identify – I wonder if it’s somehow me that’s making it rain.
 “Anne!” All three of them are calling my name – Ben and Tess and Ethan. The sound of it echoes in the air around me.
On the sidewalk, standing between the two huge lion statues that flank the Art Institute steps – the ones David and I used to love to shimmy so we could straddle their backs while Dad snapped pictures - I force myself to stop. This is ridiculous. Why am I running? What is it that I’m afraid of? My heart skips then steadies, then skips again. That weird feeling skates the inside of my stomach.
I turn. Ben’s reached me first and he puts his hands on my shoulders. His hair is wet from the rain and a drizzle of water inches down the side of his face.
“Should I be afraid?” he asks, his face serious now, his brown eyes locked on mine.
It’s the question that sparks everything inside me like a lit match falling on dry wood.  Not  What’s wrong? or What do you need? But “Should I be afraid?”
“Ben,” I say slowly because I understand now what’s happening and I don’t know if I can stop it. “I think you need to run. I think you need to do it now.”
He stares at me like I’m crazy. “What are talking about?”
“You need to get away from me,” I say again, but I can see that he’s not going to. That even after everything he’s seen, he still doesn’t get it. “Oh God, Ben. Go. Ethan!” I look blindly around me and even though I’m sure Ethan is right there, my vision is red and hazy and I can barely make him out. “Oh no. Ethan. You  have to--”
I’m her then, not completely, but more Baba Yaga than me. Her power stretches inside me, a spiderweb of fury. I clench my fists; try to hold it back.
Ben doesn’t get it yet – how could he? He presses a hand to my cheek, palm against my skin.
“You’re burning up,” he says. And all I can think is how good he smells. How good he’ll taste.
Ben pulls his hand back. I lean toward him, my face close to his. Someone – Ethan maybe? Maybe him and Tess? – tries to pull me back, but I’m too strong. I hold my ground. Watch the confusion in Ben’s eyes.
No one should underestimate your power, says a voice inside me that sounds like Baba Yaga’s.
Anne, says another voice that I think is Ethan. Don’t. Don’t give in to it. Hold on.
“I can’t.”
“Can’t what, Anne? Anne, are you okay?” Ben sounds scared.
I try to stop. I really do. But I can’t. Or maybe I don’t want to. This scares me more than the sound of Ben’s voice.
Lightning, I think.
It shears through the sky.
Thunder, I think.
It crashes overhead.
Roar, I think.
And the two lion statues open their mouths and howl.
I press my lips to Ben’s. Will him not to pull back. His eyes widen as I sink my teeth into his lower lip – hard, then harder - until I draw blood. I lick it from his lip. Swallow. My stomach muscles ripple, seize, ripple again. My jaw loosens; the bones pop. My breath comes in ragged gasps. Pain. Red hot and everywhere.
“Anne!” I hear my name again. “Anne.”
My jaw loosens some more. I press my lips shut, a tight seam, desperate to stop it. My teeth dig into my lower lip so hard that blood starts to trickle. The taste of it mingles with the taste of Ben. The combination is suddenly the best thing I’ve ever tasted. I’m not just hungry anymore. I’m ravenous.
Understand crashes through me. No. God no. If I open my mouth, it will unhinge like hers. I know it. I know it.  It’s not Ben’s cologne. It’s just Ben. He smells so good because he smells like food. And if someone doesn’t do something right this second, I’m going to eat him whole.