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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Q&A Coming Later Today

Thanks everyone for your questions! I’m working on answering them now. I think I’ll have the Q&A up on the site by 1:00 pm Mountain Standard Time. See you then!

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Hi Friends,

Now that the series is done, and the most devoted among you have had time to read, I am making myself open to any questions you have about the Girls Wearing Black books. These can be about anything at all related to the four books, from things that happened in the series to my vision of what became of characters to why I made choices I made in the writing..you know, anything at all! Next Thursday, I’ll write a post with a big old spoiler tag on it and answer them all!

You can put the question in the comments, or, if you’re not comfortable with that and want to remain anonymous, you can email the question to me and I’ll answer it in the post next week without revealing your name.

And don’t fret if you haven’t had time to read yet! We can certainly do this again in a few months, and you’re always welcome to email me at any time and you’ll get a response!

Have fun! Look forward to hearing from you.

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So What’s Next?

I’ve been working on the Girls Wearing Black novels since 2011, spending about a year per book with short works written under pen names sometimes tossed in between.

What happens now that the Girls Wearing Black books are over?

At present, I am wrapping up work on a storytelling project with the producer of one of the most popular smart phone apps in the world. The project might be classified as “transmedia.” I think of it as an audiobook where the smart phone allows the user to be just a little bit more involved than a typical listener.

I’ll tell you all about that project in more detail as we get closer to the release date. Right now, I’ll just say that I’m really stoked about it and can’t wait to share it with you. I’m thinking that project will be available for purchase this fall.

And of course there’s another novel brewing, a novel that may or may not become book 1 of a new series. I’m playing around with a dystopian theme right now. It’s too early to know exactly where this project will take me, but right now, I’m imagining the book as the answer to this question: “What if the kind of dystopia we like to imagine in popular novels is already here, and we’re living it right now?”

I’ll keep you posted.

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Yes, We Are On Schedule

I will update this site and Facebook when I see the book is live on all the retailers. I expect Amazon to be first, with the book for sale early tomorrow morning. The others are a bit more unpredictable, but I’ll keep watching and let you know.

I can’t wait for you to read this book!

 

Update 1: Amazon US is live (as many of you have already discovered!)

Update 2: Amazon UK is here.

Update 3: Kobo is here. Still waiting on Apple and Barnes & Noble.

Update 4: Barnes & Noble is now live. View it here. Of the major retailers, we’re only waiting on Apple now.

Update 5: Still waiting on Apple as of Tuesday July 1.

Update 6: Wednesday July 2. Still no-go on Apple. Come on, Apple! As it seems I do on every book release, I encourage those of you who don’t want to wait to download the free Kindle App for your Apple device so you can get the book from Amazon right now!

Final Update: Apple is live! Here’s a link. We still have a couple small distributors like Smashwords left to go but we are now live on all the major retailers. I hope everyone enjoys!

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The Bonding Ritual – Coming June 30

The Bonding Ritual, Girls Wearing Black Book 4 is coming on June 30. Here is the blurb. Enjoy!

It’s a new semester at Thorndike, and a time for new beginnings.

For Daciana Samarin, it is a time to take control of the school after a lengthy absence. Eager to inject some excitement into a contest that has one girl far ahead of the others, Daciana rolls out a relic from her past, and invites the girls wearing black to explore its mysteries.

For Jill Wentworth, it is a time to evaluate priorities, and determine if the potential rewards of her assignment at Thorndike are worth the risks. Ever the rationalist, Jill believes Washington has become too hot for the mission to continue. But with a changing of the guard atop the clan, there are new opportunities for the Network to explore, including one that just might keep Jill in town, despite the danger.

For Nicky Bloom, it is a time of discovery. Having learned the truth about her family, and the memories that drew her across the ocean, she is prepared to face the truth about herself, and what she wants most in life. When she was in Italy, she had a chance to kill Sergio Alonzo and she didn’t take it. Now it is time for her find out why.

The fourth and final book of Girls Wearing Black follows the seniors of Thorndike Academy in their final semester, when they will conclude the contest that will see one of them become a vampire, and another the vampire’s first victim.     

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Hello Friends,

I have spent the past month in furious edits and rewrites of the book that has consumed my life for the past year. I am so happy with how it has turned out, and I am eager beyond reason to put it out there and have you read it.

But even after a whole month of nonstop work, I am still nervous about a June 23 release date.

The book is written and the story is everything I want it to be. But my wife and I need a little more time for final proofreading. I’ve spent the past year carefully creating this manuscript in hopes that you will have an incredible reading experience. I’d hate for a few too many typos to spoil that effort.

My edits and rewrites have consumed the better part of this month, and as of tonight, we haven’t yet done the careful final read-through that a book like this requires. It’s a project that can’t be done properly in a weekend.

And so, I’m pushing the book out a week. The new release date is Monday, June 30th.

Thanks for your understanding.

Spencer

 

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The Bonding Ritual (Coming June 23) Cover Reveal

Have a look at the cover for Book 4, which will be released on June 23rd!

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Hello Friends.

The fourth and final book of the Girls Wearing Black series will be titled The Bonding Ritual.

I will click publish on all the major retailers on June 22nd. These days, Amazon and Apple are going live within 24 hours of clicking publish, so I’m calling June 23rd the release date (although Barnes and Noble and the smaller sites will probably be a few days after that).

In the coming weeks we’ll do a reveal on the blurb, the cover art, and more! I’m so excited to share this book with you!

This book has been far and away the most difficult one I’ve ever written, which also makes it the most rewarding now that it’s finally coming together. My favorite compliment I’ve received on the Girls Wearing Black series is that the books keep getting better and better as the series goes on. To me, the fourth book continues this trend. I hope it will for many of you as well.

And now I’m diving back into my hidey-hole, where I am furiously editing the very long manuscript that I hoped would take a few months and instead has taken nearly a year!

As always, thanks for reading my words. I could not be more grateful to have all of you as readers.

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