10 Special Books

My wife hit me in the popular Facebook meme that goes, “List 10 books that have stayed with you in some way.” Here are my 10. 

#10 Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke.jonathan_strange

Not only is Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell an incredible, once-in-a-generation piece of writing, it’s also meaningful to me on a personal level. My daughter was born a few months after this novel came out. She was a colicky baby who would calm down only if we were holding her or if she was in the baby carrier. For weeks, I spent hours roaming around the neighborhood with my daughter in the Baby Bjorn and my hardback copy of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell open in front of me. I read the whole book that way. It was great.

#9 I Am The Cheese by Robert Cormier.

The blurb for this 1977 YA thriller begins, “Imagine discovering that your whole life has been a fiction, your identity altered, and a new family history created.” I-am-cheese-cover

This novel is like the movie Memento, but with 10 times the psychological impact. It’s the story of a boy who doesn’t know how he got to where he is, and slowly begins to figure it out.

And, of course, being Robert Cormier, the big reveal is both explosive and marvelously disturbing. Robert Cormier is the only author who appears twice on this list. I read all his books in middle school and early high school, and it’s fair to say they have all stayed with me.

#8 Disclosure by Michael Crichton.

Do you have a book on your list that you feel like you should apologize for? Disclosure seems like a silly pick in comparison to the others on this list, but I can’t help myself. Yes, it’s a pop thriller that uses sexual harassment in the workplace as a jumping-off point to a huge corporate conspiracy. Yes, critics who say this novel trivializes sexual harassment by making it just another cog in a Michael Crichton plot are probably correct. Yes, the virtual reality scenes haven’t aged well and yes the movie with Michael Douglas and Demi Moore wasn’t very good. The book is special to me anyway.

I had a few years in my teens where books and reading got pushed into a corner in my life. My friends, my activities at school, homework, more time with friends, girls, after-school jobs, sports…most of the books I read from my sophomore through my senior years of high school were assignments from English class.

A notable exception to all this was Michael Crichton. I loved Jurassic Park and set out to read everything the guy wrote. I came to Disclosure when I was 19, and it reminded me of all the joy I had been leaving on the shelf. It’s a thriller you just can’t put down.

If you’re a reader of my novels, you can thank Disclosure for the Steve Garcia plotline in One Fall, or most of Jill Wentworth’s computer hacking in Girls Wearing Black. What can I say? I want to write novels that keep you up all night, and will always remember when Disclosure did that to me.

#7 The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris.

Best biography I’ve ever read.

#6 Holes by Louis Sachar.

The ultimate read-in-one-sitting novel. I think this might be the most tightly plotted book I’ve ever read. Engaging from the first sentence, fun, clever, heartfelt, and with a great message for young people. Even today, 15 years after the book came out, Holes is fresh and surprising. I predict kids will still be reading this one long after we’re all dead and gone.

holes

 

#5 The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier.

the chocolate war

There’s a book you read when you were young that changed the course of your life forever. We’re readers. We all have one. For me, this is it. I read The Chocolate War in 1988, when I was 12. I still remember the intensity of feelings this book brought out in me. The nature of good and evil in the world, the authority of our parents and our teachers, our entire purpose in this life–The Chocolate War helped me understand that there was nothing wrong with me or the subversive thoughts that began spinning around in my mind when I was a preteen. I think my encounter with this novel was one of the most psychologically healthy events in my life, which makes it all the more infuriating that this book is frequently banned and challenged in America’s schools.

#4 The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem.

fortress

We’re now entering the territory of ‘favorite novel of all-time.’ Every book that remains on this list has been my answer to that question at one point or another. The Fortress of Solitude is a brilliant, dense piece of literature that fills me with envy every time I read it. I wish I had the skills to write this novel. I frequently re-read it to remind myself of what I’m aiming to do when I put pen to paper.

#3 The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen.

Read these opening sentences of The Corrections and enjoy how quickly and effectively Franzen puts you in the mind of a dying man who is powerless to stop his world from coming undone.

The madness of an autumn prairie cold front coming through. You could feel it: something terrible was going to happen. The sun low in the sky, a minor light, a cooling star. Gust after gust of disorder. Trees restless, temperatures falling, the whole northern religion of things coming to an end.

corrections

Of course, lots of books start out with a couple pithy sentences. The Corrections is different because that intensity never lets up. On its surface, this novel is a simple story of a family struggling to deal with change. But underneath there is so much more. Trees restless, temperatures falling, the whole northern religion of things coming to an end. A few sentences later in the book, we’ll learn we are in Minnesota, and the idea of a northern religion of things coming to an end becomes much more meaningful. A change of seasons viewed through the eyes of a man who doesn’t want to accept his own fate becomes both setting and metaphor–there is so much happening in just that one paragraph, and the whole book is like that! This is art with depth to it. Jonathan Franzen is a virtuoso at what he does, and The Corrections is his best book.

#2 Harry Potter by JK Rowling.

The Facebook meme requires us to choose 10 books. I’ve picked 9 individual volumes and one series of 7. Is that cheating?

If it is, then is it cheating to put The Count of Monte Cristo on the list too? That book was originally published as a multi-volume series. What about the great serials of Dickens, which we now read as individual volumes? Or The Green Mile?

Or Lord of the Rings?

harry-potter-books

If you want to know my favorite Harry Potter book, I’ll tell you #6, The Half-Blood Prince, which begins with the author throwing Professor Snape into a bind that we readers can’t possibly see him escaping, and then toying with us about his true identity for the entire novel (and the next one too).

But choosing one book in the series doesn’t feel right. Harry Potter is about three friends who take a journey into adolescence together. I can’t separate out one book from the series when the story is so much more powerful and complete if viewed as a whole.

The plots of these novels are snappy and fun. The characters are memorable and engaging. But lots of authors write books with snappy plots and great characters.

What makes Harry Potter stand out is the setting. Everything in JK Rowling’s universe is teeming with personality. Hogwarts feels real because there is so much humanity inside its walls. The clothes the characters wear, the books they read, the places they go–Rowling thought in fine detail about every facet of her universe, and then used her considerable skills to bring it all to life.

And the fact that she worked to make the books bigger and better as the story went on made all the difference in the world. Having spent the last 3 years of my life working on a series, I have tremendous admiration for the discipline and grit JK Rowling showed us when she kept her story building through seven fantastic novels. In my mind, the Harry Potter series is one of the great accomplishments of our time.

#1 Dune by Frank Herbert.

duneWe read books to entertain us, to enlighten us, to relax us…we read to connect with others, and to achieve understanding. Reading gives us empathy. And perspective. More than any other activity, reading puts us directly in the mind of someone else.

My first go at Frank Herbert’s Dune remains my favorite reading experience ever, because every time I opened that book, it brought me deep into the mind of a genius.

I was a teenager when I picked up a worn paperback copy of this gem at Birdsong Used Books in Albuquerque. I was familiar with the book already–Dune was the bestselling science fiction novel of all-time long before I read it. I had seen the movie too. Everyone saw that movie in the 80s. It was a rite of passage. You watched Dune, then you walked out of the theater and said, “What the hell was that?”

For many of my friends, the strange David Lynch film was reason enough to stay away from this doorstop of a novel. That, and the fact that everyone you knew who read it was totally weird. I spent a lot of time bumming around the campus of the University of New Mexico when I was a kid, and many times I saw a student, professor, or general campus oddball reading Dune, and invariably the reader had an unkempt beard, a ratty comic book T-shirt, and hadn’t showered in days.

I don’t remember the moment I pulled Dune off the shelf and decided to buy it. But I do remember the walk home. I started reading Dune on the sidewalk outside the bookstore and read it during the entire walk back to my house. I was dead to the world for the next few days. The spice, House Atreides, the Bene Gesserit…good grief, just writing those words makes me want to push everything in my life aside and start Dune at page 1. There’s so much to love in that novel!

It’s a hero story about a young man who becomes a god. It’s a space opera with warring families fighting for control of interstellar trade. It’s a thought experiment about ecology and man’s place in the ecosystem.

It’s a psychotic drug trip captured on the page, a treatise on economics and politics, an exploration of Nietzche’s thoughts about “eternal recurrence.”

It’s a book that can turn a normal teenage boy into an unshowered bum in a ratty comic book T-shirt, reading science fiction on the lawn next to the duck pond on a weekday afternoon.

I’ve re-read Dune many times since that incredible first go at it when I was young. It holds up brilliantly. There’s something new to find in it with every read.

And no, I haven’t read all the other books in the Dune universe. I read Frank Herbert’s originals, and found all the sequels paling in comparison to the first, and I read five of the Brian Herbert/Kevin Anderson books before declaring myself done with them. I’d rather re-read a great book than stumble about in a mediocre one.

I guess that’s what this list is all about. 10 books I adore and am glad to open up and visit again and again.

Thanks for tagging me, Julie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Linking to the Girls Wearing Black Q&A

Linking to a popular post to make it visible. Once you’ve finished the series, read this.

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Hey Look – A Real Author Bio

For a long time, I’ve had a really short bio on the right bar of this web page, and nothing else. A kind person suggested to me that I should tell you more. So, have a look at the menu atop this web page, and click on the Author Bio if you’re so inclined.

And, as always, thanks for reading!

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Recent Reads I Recommend

Highlights from my own reading pile over the last few months:

Libra by Don DeLillo

I’ve already posted about this one while I was reading it. I’m a DeLillo fan, and am closing in on completing his entire catalog. Libra, a novel about Lee Harvey Oswald in the years leading up to the Kennedy assassination, was marvelous. I’m calling it my second favorite DeLillo of all time, after Underworld. Recommended for people who don’t mind diving into the sort of dense, heady book you might get assigned to read in college.

 

Lacuna by David Adams

lacuna cover

Sci-fi novel about the world fighting off an alien invasion with a fantastic geopolitical twist. The US military isn’t front and center in this operation. Instead, the author represents many cultures of Earth in the fight. It’s kind of the opposite of the Independence Day model, where Will Smith does everything, and then the rest of the world gets shown for a 1-minute montage. Recommended to people who like space opera and military sci-fi, especially to those who (like me) had a childhood fondness for Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. Sample for book 2 downloaded on my Kindle!

 

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

This was a re-read of one of my favorite books. Still one of my favorites. Not easy to read though. This is one I turn to so I can crawl inside the head of a genius and see all the messiness, wacky humor, and huge ideas.

 

The Gauguin Connection by Estelle Ryan

gauguin coverRecommended in a comment on this blog by Girls Wearing Black super-reader Betsy, and now recommended for all fans of Girls Wearing Black by me! Who doesn’t love a great heist novel? If you enjoyed reading about Jill Wentworth sneaking around in vampire mansions so she could hack into their computers, you will love this one. AND…it holds a very special place in my heart because the protagonist is on the autism spectrum. As I type this, I am wearing an Autism awareness T-shirt. One of my little ones is on the spectrum as well. I love the way this writer zeroes in on the unique strengths of those with autism, because it’s true that someone on the spectrum would make a fabulous investigator! So many good things to say about this one. I’ve got the sample for Part 2 on my Kindle and am certain I will be clicking the Buy button when I get to the end of it.

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2 Quotes About Writing

An Internet meme showed up in my Facebook feed today with a bunch of quotes about writing. Two of them really jumped out at me.

The first was from George Orwell.

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”

I have felt that way more than once during the process of creating a book, particularly a few months in, when I’ve got hundreds of pages and I feel like I can’t use any of them.

But still I do it. Still, I’m being truthful when I say I love to do it. I think it’s because this quote is true for me too.

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” ― Ray Bradbury

I would modify that thought to include reading too. The world of books and writing is a source of constant strength for me. I’m betting it is for you too. It’s just how readers are.

EDIT: Okay, re-reading the meme, I see there’s a quote from Neil Gaiman in there too that just reminds me why I love him so.

Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that — but you are the only you.― Neil Gaiman

If you’re a Neil Gaiman fan like I am, watch this:

 

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Hey You! Finish Reading That Book!

The Wall Street Journal ran a very interesting piece last month called The Summer’s Most Unread Book Is…

The article creates a scoring system based on number of reader highlights near the beginning and end of various books. The more highlights there are near the end relative to the sales, the more we can assume readers are getting to the end of the book. The higher the score, the more likely it is that people are finishing the book.

Here’s the score on some popular books:

“The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt : 98.5%

A very high score. Lots of people finishing this book.

“Fifty Shades of Grey” by E.L. James: 25.9%

A surprisingly low score, or maybe not that surprising. I expect a lot of people start this book and then decide it’s not for them.

“Capital in the Twenty-First Century” by Thomas Piketty : 2.4%

The lowest score ever. This one makes me smile. What did you think you were doing when you paid $20 for a 700-page scholarly book on economics? Did you at least read the whole sample and enjoy it first?

A few years ago, I listened to Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson as an audiobook. It took more than a month to get through it, but was well worth it. I thought it was a fantastic book.

Two weeks ago, I saw Cryptonomicon in paperback on a shelf of used books my local library was selling. I bought it. Today I opened it at page 1 and started reading. I remembered why I loved this book so much and fully expect to spend the next two weeks reading the whole thing again.

When I got to Page 24, I found something curious. The page was dog-eared.

Now, this could have been nothing at all. Things happen to used books. They get pressed and squashed and put in luggage and who knows what else, and sometimes the pages get wrinkled.

But this page was neatly folded at a perfect right angle. Here, have a look.

Did a previous reader give up at Page 24?

Did a previous reader give up at Page 24?

I think the last person who owned this book got to page 24 before being done with it. I mean, it is the sort of book that someone could give up on. Nearly 1000 pages, jumping between history and the present, with all sorts of cryptography and even some math jokes tossed in there. The first few chapters are hard to understand. The humor is quirky and easily missed.

If you’re not willing to give this book your full attention, it isn’t any fun to read at all.

But man, when you do read it…what a masterpiece! To you, previous owner of my copy of Cryptonomicon, if you really gave up on Page 24 you missed out.

And to you, reader of this blog post, what are you reading right now? Are you thinking of giving up on it?

If you’ve just started, and the book is terrible, then sure, set it aside and read something else. But if it was a good read that has lost your attention for a bit, I encourage you to try it again, this time with your full attention focused on the book as you read it. No background noise. No reading only when you’re tired. Take that book with you somewhere, like a park bench, or a library, and give it your all.

Most books have their best scenes near the end. And all books are better when you finish them.

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Another Lois Duncan Novel To Become a Movie

I have a special place in my heart for Lois Duncan for all sorts of reasons. A great writer of novels that found me when I was most excited about reading, and from my hometown to boot!

News out today is that Stephenie Meyer is bringing Lois Duncan’s Down A Dark Hall to the screen.

I’m happy for all parties involved. I’m happy for Lois Duncan that yet another of her books is being transferred to film, I’m happy for Lois Duncan fans like me who will get to see it, and I’m happy for Stephenie Meyer that she seems to have really found her legs as a movie producer. What an unexpected and interesting second act for her!

down a dark hall book

I thought I read all the classic Duncan novels when I was in middle school. Somehow I missed this one. I have added it to the TBR list. I suggest you do the same!

And when you do…may I make a suggestion for the format? Don’t read this one on your eReader unless you’re just done with paper books altogether. Order a used copy on Amazon. The mass market paperbacks are free plus a couple dollars shipping. The book you’ll receive will be old, worn, read many times, and have that great used bookstore smell to it. As you read it, you can think about the kids who read the first edition in 1974, and wonder where they are now.

Just writing this is getting me stoked to go off and read something. Talk to you next time!

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What Are You Working On?

My next release will come not via Amazon and iTunes, but rather, through the in-app purchase store of one of the most popular smart phone apps in the world. More about that when it’s time. Right now, we’re still trying to nail down a release date.

But, of course, I’m also working on a novel. I’m always working on a novel. In the early stages, I try out lots and lots of ideas that I mostly set aside. I write scenes that don’t work. I create characters that aren’t right yet. For every one idea I keep, there are many I toss. This part of the process used to frustrate me, but I’ve learned to accept that it is inevitable. I wish super-fabulous ideas just poured out of my head with ease, but it’s never like that. You start with an idea that sounds good, start writing it, and realize it isn’t really that great after all.

Then you think about why it isn’t so great and start modifying it.

With The Bonding Ritual, I had this idea of an Agatha Christie-style, locked room murder mystery. One of my favorite novels is And Then There Were None, and I thought the vampires in Girls Wearing Black, with their penchant for using humans as playthings, could arrange a setup where the students were locked at school with a mystery to solve.

I worked on that idea for months and was never happy with it. But in the process of working through it, I got to know Daciana better, I realized that Art Tremblay needed to come back into the story after having been mostly absent from Rose Ransom, and I realized that, at this point in the story, Jill would be more interested in the bigger picture in the human / vampire war than in any game going on at school.

All of those ideas drove the creation of the version of the novel that worked.

For the past month, I’ve been playing around with an idea of setting a novel in the present-day, but writing it using all the tropes and conventions of the dystopian adventures that have been popular since The Hunger Games. I’m not really sure the idea is working, but I am enjoying getting to know a bunch of new characters after spending the past three years with all the students of Thorndike Academy.

I’ll keep you posted on the progress of this as-yet untitled project.

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Currently Reading – Libra by Don DeLillo

Every summer, my extended family gathers for a mountain vacation in Northern New Mexico or Southwest Colorado. Boating, hiking, fishing, kids playing in the woods, campfires, and reading. Lots of reading. I’ve been reading books on the porches of mountain cabins for more than 10 years now.

On this year’s vacation I read Libra by Don DeLillo. Published in 1988, Libra is a piece of speculative fiction about the events leading up to the assassination of President Kennedy. The novel focuses on Lee Harvey Oswald, blending fact with fiction. It was nominated for the National Book Award that year and makes its share of lists of the greatest novels of the 1980s.

As with everything DeLillo, I’m pretty blown away by this book, and would like to quote for you from page 261, about an odd habit of a minor character.

The character (named Beryl) gets out newspapers and scissors every night and cuts out clippings from the newspaper. She then sends those clippings to her friends. By itself, that is the sort of quirky trait that makes for memorable characters. In Delillo’s hands, this quirky trait turns into something wonderful. Here’s the quote:

There were a thousand things to clip and they all said something about the way she felt. He watched her read and cut. She wore half-glasses and worked the scissors grimly. She believed these were personal forms of expression. She believed no message she could send a friend was more intimate and telling than a story in the paper about a violent act, a crazed man, a bombed Negro home, a Buddhist monk who sets himself on fire. Because those are the things that tell us how we live.

Setting aside the beautiful writing and the poignancy of the last line, what really struck me about this passage was that it was written in 1988, about life in the 1960s! Without knowing he was doing it, DeLillo was making a pointed social comment on a future where we all would share links to news stories on our Twitter accounts and Facebook timelines, doing so because these stories that tell us how we live are intimate and telling.

When Jules Verne writes about submarines decades before the first submarine appears, I’m impressed. When Don DeLillo not only writes about our future social customs, but does so in a way that makes the reader stop and reflect about the meaning of what we’re all sharing on social media, and does it all 30 years before Facebook even exists, I’m blown away.

Great fiction not only tells us the truth. It tells us truth so universal it can predict the future.

 

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Girls Wearing Black Q&A – SPOILERS!

Thank you everyone who submitted questions for this Q&A. I’m excited to answer them for you!

First, the SPOILER tag. If you haven’t finished all four books yet, turn back now. Some of the questions I got deal with the ending of The Bonding Ritual, and I hold nothing back in my answers. If you haven’t read the book yet, this blog post will spoil all the surprises for you, so please, finish book 4 and then come back!

For the rest of you, here we go!

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Q: Why can’t vampires get into Nicky’s head?

 A: Nicky doesn’t fully understand why she is the way she is, and since we are limited to her point of view, we don’t fully know either.

But we get some hints from things Falkon and Sergio say to Nicky about the way her subconscious locked away the most painful memories from her childhood.

Nicky is uniquely gifted at controlling her thoughts. It’s a strength she was born with, but also one she was forced at an early age to develop. The memory of what happened to her mother in Italy is so traumatizing to little Nicky that the only way she can deal with it is to stuff it so deep she’s completely forgotten about it.

Every day of her life since that horrible night in Italy, that memory tried to break free, but Nicky kept it repressed. Think about how good you would become at repressing your own thoughts if your brain was practicing it every day, all the time. Without even realizing what she was doing, Nicky was sharpening her mind’s ability to compartmentalize. By the time she had her first encounter with Melissa, her conscious mind was incredibly strong, because it had daily practice repressing subconscious memories that wanted to come out.

Of course, there was one notable time when a vampire did get into Nicky’s head, albeit in a roundabout way. When Sergio and Nicky danced, that repressed memory that had been trying to break free for years finally got out. If you’ll recall, Sergio told Nicky that, now that the memory was loose, she had to deal with it before it ruined her.

So, in short, the reason vampires can’t see in Nicky’s mind is because she was born with a unique ability to compartmentalize and control her thoughts, and, without even knowing she was doing it, Nicky has spent her life strengthening the control her conscious mind has over her subconscious.

Genetic gifts combined with daily training — she’s like the Adrian Peterson of thought control. Or maybe the Kacy Cantanzaro.

 

Q: Why didn’t Nikki give in to Serigo, it was apparent they had feelings for one another?

A: She definitely considered it. At times during that final semester, she was trying to rationalize the idea that it would be okay if she and Sergio bonded. She thought about how her mother became a vampire out of love for her son, and in so doing, saved the world, and told herself, maybe it’s okay if I become a vampire too. She thought, if I bond with Sergio, he won’t be making any new vampires, and isn’t that the whole point?

But she realized these thoughts were in conflict with everything her life had been up to that point, and had to make a choice about who she really wanted to be. Was she a vampire or a vampire hunter?

In the end, it was the memory of what the vampires had done to her mother, her father, her brother, and Frankie that helped her make the choice. She was absolutely in love with Sergio. But Sergio was a killer. If she let him live, thousands of innocent people would die to keep him fed. And if she bonded with him, thousands of innocent people would die to keep her fed too.

More than anything else, this idea of loving a vampire, but also recognizing that a vampire is evil, was the reason I wrote these books. From page 1 of the first draft, I knew Nicky and Sergio were going to fall in love, and Nicky was going to have to deal with the implications of what it meant to love a vampire. While many other themes and storylines emerged in the writing of the story, Nicky and Sergio was the big idea that got me excited enough to set aside all my other works in progress and write these books.

 

Q: What would have happened to Nicky if the Network found out she was ‘different’?

A: That’s a good question, and the best answer I can give you is, it depends.

If Jill knew the truth about Nicky and Sergio, she would have done everything she could to end the mission and get Nicky out of there. But Winnie, who holds more sway in the Network than Jill, would have seen it differently. To Winnie, nothing was as important as getting Sergio Alonzo and his ability to create a new vampire every year out of the picture. If Winnie thought that Sergio and Nicky might bond, she would have been all for it, and then she would have set the Network to killing Nicky as well as Sergio.

 

Q: If Nicky had bonded with Sergio, would the bond have held or would she have become like Sergio because of her mind? Why does she see his ghost at the end of the bonding ritual?

A: I’ll answer both these questions at once.

The bond would have held. The reason Sergio’s bond with Daciana didn’t take is because Sergio is one of those people who is truly meant for one person only. He was meant for Nicky. Had they bonded, it would have been the strongest bond in the clan. Ridiculous, obscenely passionate, absolutely true love—that’s what Nicky gave up when she chose to kill Sergio rather than bond with him.

That’s also why a ghost of Sergio lives on in Nicky’s mind. A vampire bond is a love so powerful it is all-consuming, and even though Nicky chose to walk away from it, a part of it will always be with her. The sad truth for Nicky (a beautiful sadness though, I think) is that she won’t ever be able to love again. In his way, Sergio will have her heart for the rest of her life.

 

Q: Was Mary just using Art, or were they a genuine couple?

A: I love this question, in part because I feel like I didn’t answer it adequately in the novel.

In early drafts of The Bonding Ritual, we learned a lot more about Art and Mary, but I cut it all out in the final draft. I thought the story moved more quickly with Art and Mary mostly on the sidelines. More importantly, I really liked the surprise of having Art giving the money to Mary, seemingly out of nowhere, with Jill, and hence the reader, only realizing what was going on after it was too late.

In those early drafts, in the scenes that got cut, we learned that Mary got together with Art because she needed someone. She thought she was on her way to dying alone. This is a girl who grew up wealthy, beautiful, and popular, but after Jill gave the Ransom money to Samantha, Mary found herself totally abandoned. In last place in the Coronation contest, in a position where even her wealthy father couldn’t bail her out, Mary became isolated from everyone at school and her family. They all treated her like a pariah. At one point in those early drafts, Mary described it as how the elderly must feel, where people don’t think you’re worth their time because you’re going to die soon anyway. That thought ties nicely into Mary’s nightmare where she looked in the mirror and was old, and I’m sad I had to cut it, but, as Faulkner says, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”

Poor Faulkner didn’t even get to do a Q & A on his blog where he could talk about some of the darlings he killed!

Anyway, Mary and Art didn’t have a healthy relationship. They both were just so lonely. Mary needed a companion. Art, as we know from earlier books, is a bit of a raging inferno of hormones. Mary insisted they keep the relationship a secret, and Art was happy to comply.

Because Mary entered the relationship with Art in a headspace where she thought she was going to die, once she knew she was going to live, she quickly started losing interest. By Ryan’s funeral, she and Art aren’t officially broken up, but you’ll note Art is nowhere near her, and she doesn’t think about him even once. In my mind, she ended it with him shortly after Ryan’s funeral.

 

Q: Won’t people be suspicious of two boys coming out of nowhere to attend Thorndike, after the same thing happened with Nicky?

A: Eddie and Patrick won’t be nearly as out of the blue as Nicky was. With all that happened in the clan after Sergio and Daciana died, Thorndike has come a little unglued and lost quite a bit of its luster. Families in Washington are still eager to send their children to Thorndike because they’re still holding out hope that somehow, the old ways will return. But outside of Washington, the wealthy elite are looking in at Thorndike with more skepticism now. They’re fearful of getting close to the chaos surrounding the clan.

When Nicky got in, the idea of an outsider taking a coveted spot was unheard of. But now, the school is eager to take anyone who is willing to pay the steep tuition, and the clan is in such disarray that Jill’s little spies will be ten steps ahead of Fu Xi and the other vampires before they even think to look.

 

Q: What color was Dumbled… oops, wrong book!

A: Ha! For those who didn’t already know, I’m a huge Harry Potter fan, not just in a fandom way (although I did attend midnight release parties when the books came out), but also as a writer. I spend a lot of time studying my favorite authors to figure out how they make their books so great, and there’s no one I’ve studied more than JK Rowling.

At the risk of getting a little off topic here, for anyone out there who wants to write fiction or get better at writing fiction, here’s something I do. I not only read and re-read my favorite authors (and re-read them again), I also open up their books sometimes and start typing down the words as I read them. Here’s why.

When I was a kid, I was really into playing the trumpet, and I wanted to get better at playing jazz. I took some lessons from a jazz musician in Albuquerque, and he told me to put on Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong CDs and learn to mimic them exactly. He said this was a technique that all the great jazz artists used. Learn to play along with Miles Davis, playing the exact same notes, with the exact same tone and inflection and dynamics, and the ability to play like Miles will translate into your own improvisation.

I never got very good at improvising jazz, but that same practice technique has helped me immensely with my writing. Something about writing down JK Rowling’s actual words (and Jonathan Franzen’s words, and Jonathan Lethem’s words, and Susanna Clarke’s words) makes your brain more attuned to what they are really doing. Suddenly you start to see little tricks they’re playing with their sentences, and hints at future plot points that are so subtle the reader may not even see them, but will still get the effect.

I’m rambling here, I know, so I’ll wrap it up and just reiterate that, to me, JK Rowling is on the highest pedestal, and jokes that reference her books are always welcome on my blog!

 

Q: Did you always plan to finish it in 4 or was it a trilogy that grew?

A: I actually planned to finish it in 5 or 6 books. The idea of a trilogy is something that reviewers and bloggers started to say and I didn’t do enough to clarify for them. I really need to post more here on this blog and on my FB page, I know. As soon as people started talking trilogy in Amazon and Goodreads reviews, I should have written a post saying this is planned to be larger than a trilogy to make my intentions absolutely clear. To any of you out there who bought Rose Ransom expecting it to be the final book, my apologies for not communicating more.

When I began The Bonding Ritual, I thought I was writing a book that might end with Sergio’s true intentions for Nicky being revealed as a cliffhanger that led into Book 5. One draft in, I knew the book would be better if I revealed Sergio’s intentions early, and then made this book as long as it needed to be to take us all the way to the end.

I also didn’t have the game with the safe and the numbers when I started the book. Originally, Daciana was going to have the students play a murder mystery sort of game where someone actually got killed, but that game wasn’t really working. Once I decided that I wanted to write one book that carried us through the entire second semester, I started thinking about Coronation events that could last for the entire book and tie everything together. That led to the game with the numbers and the safe.

 

Q: Did Renata kill her bond?

A: Yes.

 

Q: What happened to Shannon?

A: Poor Shannon is a mess, as she has to be. She has a lot to overcome. Her parents are liars who will do anything to make a buck, even put their daughter’s life at risk. She learned some of that behavior from them, and probably inherited some of it in her genes. And right before her senior year of high school, her family had to fake their own deaths and disappear. She had to go to a new country and learn a new language, and just as she was starting to get her feet under her, her parents were murdered. Then, the people she trusted in Brazil robbed her and left her to rot on the streets.

Is it any wonder she isn’t good at relationships?

Shannon and Annika needed each other when they got together, but in truth, they aren’t a great match. Shannon needs to work through her own issues before she’ll be able to have a functional relationship with anyone. When we left her, she had enough money to live off of for the rest of her life if she’s careful with it, but she won’t be. In a couple years, she’ll have spent it all. Fortunately for her, a couple years is enough time to get acclimated to her new life, to master the language, and to get settled enough that, when the money runs out, she won’t be destitute like she was before. I see a future for Shannon where she takes a long time to grow up, but eventually does. By the time she’s in her forties, she will have it together, living a middle-class life in Brazil, hopefully with a wife who is right for her. She’ll always be bitter about what her life might have been, but over time, she’ll learn to be thankful that she didn’t die in that house with her parents.

 

Q: Does every bond that doesn’t ‘take’ create a ‘gigolo’ vampire like Sergio or was he just unique? What are the odds of a bond not taking?

A: Yes, when a bond doesn’t take, you get a libertine. It’s a very rare occurrence, like once in a thousand years sort of thing. And when it happens, it’s dangerous to the whole order, which is why Daciana’s decision to let Sergio live was totally taboo.

 

Q: Who is your favorite character?

A: With these books, I was trying to show young adults being strong and courageous. Nicky, Ryan, and Jill are all examples of what I think good people are and what strong, courageous people do. Nicky is someone who had the worst childhood imaginable, but found a way to get through it and use it to motivate her to do good. Ryan had to give up the girl he loved when Kim blackmailed him with the truth about Jill’s mother, and he did it. Then, when circumstance required him to sacrifice himself for Jill again, he did it without hesitation.

Jill, in her way, had the most to overcome. She was born into a family and a world that was offering her everything anyone could want, but she knew it was all laced with sin and greed. She chose to do the right thing, even though doing so was against everything her family stood for.

I guess I’m saying I love all three of our heroes in Girls Wearing Black. Of those three, it’s probably obvious that my favorite to write was Jill. She and Nicky were supposed to share the limelight throughout the series, but Jill kind of took it over. For Nicky, being a spy was easy. For Jill, it was terrifying, and I enjoyed writing her because I admire someone who can face her fear and get on with what needs to be done anyway.

But the character I most looked forward to writing about was always Kim Renwick. By the last book, when Kim’s story was done, I looked for opportunities to let her take the reins just because I think she’s a great narrator. Kim’s snarky attitude allowed me to see Thorndike and Washington in a way that was amusing to me, which made it all a lot of fun.

 

Q: I’ve never read a series like Girls Wearing Black before. It was fast-paced and fun, like popular fiction. But it was also thematic and literary. Can you recommend another book or series like yours for us to read while we wait for your next novel?

A: First of all, thank you for your kind words.

My first recommendation to people who like Girls Wearing Black is The Passage by Justin Cronin. It is book 1 of a trilogy. It’s a story about a vampire apocalypse. It’s a more challenging read than my books, but well worth the effort. The third and final book in the series comes out this fall, and the first two books are BIG, so if you start this month or next, you’ll be finishing up with Book 2 just in time for Book 3 to come out.

 

 

Q: Will there be more books in this universe?

A: Probably not. As much as I enjoy all these characters and this world, sometimes I think it’s best to let the stories end. On this, I apply what I will call my Dexter vs. The Wire Rule of Writing, based on two popular TV dramas.

When the TV show Dexter started on Showtime, everyone thought it was brilliant, and rightly so. The first four seasons of that show were incredibly compelling.

But every season of Dexter after that just got worse, and the final season was just terrible. To top it off, the series finale was confusing, rushed, and infuriating to everyone.

Contrast that with The Wire, which ended at the height of its popularity, with a final season that viewers adored.

Today, when people talk about the greatest TV drama of all time, The Wire is in the conversation and Dexter isn’t, even though Dexter had much higher ratings and those first four seasons of Dexter were critically acclaimed.

Although I would never claim that my vampire books reached the level of writing on The Wire, I still would prefer to follow their model. Leave a good thing alone.

Dune might be my favorite novel of all-time, but it felt a little less special to me after I read the inferior sequels, and way-inferior prequels by the author’s son.

Ender’s Game and its sequel, Speaker For the Dead, are also on my greatest novels of all-time list, but they too have lost a little shine because of sequels and spin-off books that weren’t as meaningful.

Right now, just thinking about Dexter, and thinking about what it would have meant had they just ended that show with the outrageous Season 4 finale…man, what a missed opportunity. However much money they made on the remaining seasons must be balanced against the damage they did to their story and their characters.

To me, it wouldn’t be worth it.

I’m onto the next story, in the next universe. Speaking of…I hope I can bring all of you with me on the next one, even though we’re about to jump mediums. My next release won’t be for your eReader, but rather, your smart phone. I’m not done writing novels…not by a long shot. But recently I became very excited about the potential for smart phones to allow for a new kind of storytelling, and have been working closely with a European company to make something. Although we don’t have an official release date yet, I’m thinking September is a possibility. Watch here for updates.

And keep asking questions! I always answer reader email and Facebook messages. Thanks everyone who put in questions for this Q&A. I love you all. The audience for Girls Wearing Black is a small one, but, in a way, I’m glad for that. I feel like I get to interact on an individual level with lots of you, and I mean it when I say, it’s a special experience for me. You all are the best. Have a great weekend everyone!

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