Friday, February 17, 2017

Resistance is NOT Futile *GIVEAWAY*

November 8th was a Very Bad Day, especially for anyone who's read any amount of dystopian fiction.

My fellow booksellers at The Curious Iguana and I watched in horror as we slid into the darkest imaginable timeline; an administration that's turned the US into some kind of distorted, carnival horror show. Like that scene in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas where two guys walk into the Circus Circus casino high on ether. Of course, in the days of helplessness that followed when no one really knew WHAT to do, we realized that we could best serve our customers by being a place where they could come and talk and be surrounded by good words written by smart and compassionate people.
In following with our mission to "get to know your world" we've started the Read Broader initiative to encourage people to read outside their comfort zone and listen to voices they might not have heard before. (if you'd like to join us, no matter where you are, the program materials are available here.)

Me? I've been able to take out my frustration on our chalkboards. While I've been slightly afraid of going too far, my boss (being of the same mind) has always been tremendously accommodating. I took heart from an article in the New York Times
that examined the trend of indie bookstores being #Resistance "hubs". Operations Manager of Word store, Hannah Depp, asks herself, "How far can we push it? How high can we turn up the heat?" I mean, as a business, you have to consider your bottom line, but luckily, The Iguana is a store where social responsibility is PART of the bottom line and I'm super proud to work there.

My own #Resistance acts are also important to me. My daily calls and faxes to my Senators and congressman have become part of my morning routine. I also call the office of our governor, who has been troublingly silent on all matters involving the new administration. (When you're a GOP governor of a blue state, there's a good chance you're only going to serve one term.) I was also lucky enough to have raised over $3000 for Emily's List from this design, (which is still available, all funds going to EL) inspired by Senator Elizabeth Warren's censure by Mitch McConnell over Jeff Sessions. #SmallActs are important right now. And I KNOW how scary the phone can be. I would rather have Steve Bannon lick my entree and then have to eat it than use the phone. There are amazing websites like that take a lot of the scary out of the telephone by giving you numbers for your representatives and then a handy script to read to get your message across. If the phone just isn't for you, you can use FaxZero to send your reps a fax free of charge. Check for local Indivisible groups. Show up at town halls, which GOP members of congress seems to be studiously avoiding. And most importantly, take some time for self-care. As so many others have said, this is not a sprint, but a marathon. We're going to have to stay angry for a long time, but we've GOT to take breaks. Go outside, read a book, hang with your kids, your friends, play a game, disconnect. Refresh yourself and then get ready to dive back in.

The world seems like it's falling apart, but with all of us working together, we can definitely make a difference. To remind you of that, I'm doing a giveaway of a fabulous journal and two inspiring literary pins. To enter, just complete the Rafflecopter form below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, December 9, 2016

Exciting News

There are a lot of reasons that people don't let other people know they're writing.

It's "the look", mainly.

Every writer knows that look. It's the same look that people give children when they say they want to be an astronaut when they grow up. The look that says they want to chuck you under the chin and say, "Reach for the stars, champ!" while they're thinking, "You're going to be a mid-level executive in a factory that makes hinges and other door parts if you're lucky."

So, what you do in the meantime, if you're really lucky, is talk to other writers. Other writers know "the look". Other writers don't believe you're bound for a hinge factory. Other writers, if you're really, REALLY lucky, will encourage you every step of the way and on the day when you're finally able to announce that all of your hard work's come to fruition, will celebrate your victory like it's their own. (Can you tell that I found that group of writers?)

Three years ago, I started working at The Curious Iguana, an independent bookstore with a global and social justice focus. During my first month, I bought this button, because I had faith. I had faith that I could eventually write something worth publishing.

So, today, that happened. I'm going to have a real live book out there. Two real live books, actually. The first, Heartseeker, will be published in Spring 2018.

 The deal is with Putnum, which, it's worth mentioning, was Edgar Allen Poe's publisher. Not that I'm comparing myself to Poe, but it gives a little bit of historical perspective as to how long G.P. Putnum and Sons was around before it was acquired by Penguin Random House. I'm thrilled. Beyond thrilled. And totally terrified.

But I also have faith, that as I begin the revision process (my first editorial notes also came through yesterday) that I'll be up to the challenge of turning a promising lump of coal into a diamond.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Curious Iguana Chalkboards

One of the most fun things about my job is that I get an outlet for my artsy side. Every Tuesday, I do new sandwich boards for the shop. These are some of my recent favorites!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Spring Reads

It's been a while since I've stopped to think about all the great stuff I've managed to get through during the spring, so here's a quick round up.

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
I've never been a huge Bronte fan, but have liked pastiches of both her and Austen a great deal more. I was drawn in by the large quote on the back declaring, "Reader, I murdered him." Where Jane Eyre suffers quietly under her indignities, Jane Steele has no such intention. While Ms. Eyre is handwringing, Ms. Steele gets stabby. While it retains a measure of Bronte's darkness, Jane Steele's determination and backbone make it more of a rollicking Victorian adventure with secrets, action, romance and the voice of a heroine who hopes the deeds of her past won't impede the happiness of her future.

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Having two kids, a job and writing to do doesn't often afford me the gluttonous luxury of inhaling a book in one day. But on a sick day in April, I got to do just that with this incredible YA sci-fi. Told though e-mails, chat windows, journal entries, ship to ship communications, classified documents and some excellent first person narration from a sentient computer, we follow the survivors of a raid on a mining planet by a rival corporation as they try to escape their pursuers. Pulling together all the best parts of great sci-fi/horror, Kaufman and Kristoff tell an outstanding story that has left me dying for the next installment, Gemina, which comes out in October.

A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly

Some reviewers have declared it a heady mix of Peaky Blinders and The Night Circus, which is a pretty good description. The 1920's of Kelly's novel has seen sorcery, rather than alcohol, driven underground by Prohibition, leading to dens where practitioners perform for the clientele before offering a hit of 'shine'- a concoction of distilled magic that offers a wondrous and addictive high. We meet Joan Kendrick and Alex Danfrey, both driven into this criminal underworld for different reasons; Joan, to aid her struggling family, Alex, as an informant with a troubling past. Together, they have to navigate the seedy world of gangsters whose only interest in magic is how much money they can make off of it. A cracking good read!

The Devil and the Bluebird by Jennifer Mason-Black

I've been anxious for this one to finally see the light of the bookshelves, because I was so utterly charmed by the ARC. Blue's life has been turned upside down more than once- by her mother's death from cancer and her sister's disappearance. So, when she's given a chance to find her lost sister by The Woman in Red at the crossroads, Blue takes it, no matter the conditions. The story is a beautiful journey woven though music, love and heartbreak, examining our need for meaning, the people we choose to call family and what we're willing to risk in exchange for a much longed for prize. For a kid raised on folk music, this was such a delight for me.

Delilah Dirk by Tony Cliff

My girls are huge fans of graphics and I've really grown to love them too. The Delilah Dirk series was such a brilliant find- a no-nonsense, take no prisoners, sword wielding, ass-kicking Indiana Jones type heroine and her traveling companion, the loyal tea making Selim from Constantinople, make the world their playground in this fantastic series of adventures. I'm very pleased to own a Delilah "travel" poster advertising 'London-The Pinnacle of the Civilized World'. Of course, Ms. Dirk is kicking one of his majesty's soldiers out a window.

Bitch Planet by DeConnick, DeLandro, Soma and Wilson

I have a particular place in the house where I keep MY graphic novels so that they do not get mixed up with my 9 year old's graphics. This is an amazing, angry indictment of a not-too-distant-future where the dominant patriarchal society rids itself of 'non-compliant' women by shipping them off to a desolate penal colony colloquially known as "Bitch Planet". It follows some of the unfortunate inmates as they navigate the horrifying world of corrupt guards and mental torture as well as shedding some light on what brought them to the penal colony in the first place. The stories are well fleshed out and moving--so looking forward to the next volume being released in September of this year.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Fading Colors

As I waded through my morning Twitter feed (which consists of animal pictures, swearing and book news in equal measures) I came across a tweet from literary agent Jen Laughran that got me thinking a bit about cover art. Recently, Laughran found herself in an airport bookshop on a quest to find a Young Adult work by an author of color which also featured a person of color on the cover. Unfortunately, this proved to be a vain search.

I thought to myself that it must be the bookshop's location- an airport shop is going to have a limited selection compared to an indie. So, when I arrived at work today at The Curious Iguana, I thought I'd go on my own hunt. Surely, I thought, with our shop's focus on social and global issues, we could do better.

But after about 10 minutes of searching through the shelves, I realized that while we had a good deal of works by authors of color, the cover art didn't reflect the content.

These were the only four covers I could locate where the characters of color in the stories were depicted in the front artwork. Laughran herself pointed out that YA covers tend toward the abstract as well as graphic fonts, but I found it hard to believe that these were really the only four. (It's worth mentioning that the talented Robin Talley is not an author of color, but a member of the LGBTQ community. Her novel focuses on two teens on opposite sides of the civil rights struggle in 1956 Virginia.)

On wandering into our mid-grade section, the cover-art situation seems to be a little rosier. Titles in mid-grade tend to have much more literal art, so that the reader can easily identify things of interest. Books with characters of color have those characters displayed prominently. Just in middle grade fiction (excluding early reader, graphics and series) I found 45 titles with characters of color on covers.

Obviously, publishers of mid-grade lit want kids to be able to readily identify with the story inside. It's easier for a child to look at a picture and say, "That looks like me," and want to read it. I found myself wondering if teens might not benefit from the same concept.

Being a teenager is hard. Being a teenager of color is harder. In an environment where you may already feel isolated, wouldn't it be lovely to be able to walk into a bookstore and see your face staring back at you from the shelf?

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Stepping Up for Diversity

There's been so much important discussion in the children's book world over the last few years about diversity and about the proportional representation of people of color, but it's obvious that there is still some tone deafness out there.

After Scholastic's disastrous decision to publish George Washington's Birthday Cake (which depicted slavery as a cheerful condition) There were a fair number of activists in the community who wanted to organize an all out boycott of the publisher, which is the largest distributer of children's books in the world. But after seeing how this action could impact negatively against the communities they were trying to serve, the #StepUpScholastic campaign was born, the brainchild of several different networks including Teaching for Change, the Ferguson Response Network and American Indians in Children's Literature.

Tweets from @LeslieMac, one of the campaign's organizers should be read from the bottom up.

While Scholastic's partnership with The We Need Diverse Books campaign is a good beginning, the books being offered to every school aged child in the US and overseas need to reflect the lives of their readers. 

Want to keep up with the campaign? Follow @LeslieMac on Twitter or the #StandUpScholastic hashtag.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A Bookseller's 2015

I have a dream job. I get to talk to people about books all day on the days when I'm not writing them. The Curious Iguana is a small indie in Frederick, MD with a global focus. We work closely with the WNDB campaign, Kiva and with global and local social justice charities through our monthly B-corp donations. It's a huge joy and a privilege to work for a business that takes its corporate responsibility seriously as well as being a place where people can come and discuss great books.

My Goodreads list has gotten a little out of control since joining the Iguana team. Working for the big box book stores, I never spent any time in the stock room opening deliveries--my knowledge was kind of limited to what I shelved and other things I took a particular interest in. But I'm finding that being the one to open all the boxes doesn't half put a dent in your wallet. ("I'll have that one, and that one and OH MY GOD, I DIDN'T KNOW THAT WAS COMING OUT.")

I've not had quite as much time as some of my fellow booksellers this year to read--partly due to writing and partly due to small people who seem to want juice all the time, but I've managed to knock out a little of 70 titles, some new and some old. So, without further ado, (or any organization in order of favorites) here's what's kicked my ass this year.

The Mapmaker's Trilogy by SE Grove

I'm a sucker for amazing world building and this series has some of the best that I've seen since I read His Dark Materials many years ago. The world Sophia Timms inhabits is one that is shaped by the Great Disruption--an event where different parts of the world were flung into different time periods. She and her uncle Shadrack, a cartographer, live in Boston, but when he's kidnapped, Sophia's forced to make some unlikely alliances to get him back. The "disrupted world" that Grove builds is fascinating, as is the art of mapmaking in a constantly changing landscape. I'm looking forward to the conclusion of the series, The Crimson Skew, in July of 2016. Definitely a cross-over title with YA as the language and concepts (that include time travel and biology) are delightfully complex.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

This is the first title of two on my list written by North, which is a pen-name for British author, Catherine Webb. I LOVED her Midnight Mayor urban fantasy series (which she wrote under the name of Kate Griffin) so I was pleased to finally get around to this title, which was published in April of 2014. Stories about people getting to live their lives over and over again have always struck a chord with me, so I seriously enjoyed this tale of Harry August, who literally lived his life over and over. The same life, every time. Harry is an Orobouran, and he's not alone. Slowly he learns about the existence of others like him and this draws him into a relationship with the dangerous Vincent Rankis, who's determined to use his strange relationship with time to change the world forever. North's storytelling is marvelous as well as her well thought-out ways for these time travelers to send messages back and forth through the ages. A cracking read.

Stratford Zoo: Midnight Review by Ian Lendler

Those little people I spoke of earlier? BIG readers. And being their mother, I'd like to introduce them the the wonder that is The Bard as early as possible, so when these fabulous graphic novels appeared on the shelves, it was fate. One wouldn't think that anything could make the tale of Macbeth or Romeo and Juliet funny, but Lendler has it all figured out. He weaves a child friendly story with the cast of animals of the Stratford Zoo, who perform Shakespeare's works after the staff have gone home for the day. The stories are smart and entertaining while the main themes remain intact--revenge, guilt and corruption of power for Macbeth and tolerance, love  and the futility of grudges for Romeo and Juliet. Highly recommended for any mid-grade reader!

The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett

This one was very close to my heart. Pratchett was a particular favorite of mine--his gentle (and not so gentle) mocking of human foibles through humor has always really resonated with me. When he died earlier this year, I knew that this last book was not going to be an easy read. He concludes the tale of Tiffany Aching, witch of the chalk and successor to Granny Weatherwax, his leader-but-not of all of Discworld's witches. Shepherd's Crown is both melancholy and hopeful--a beautiful goodbye to a world that he created. In it, he even takes the time to write his own eulogy, which just about had me curled up on the floor in a ball after reading it. Through Tiffany, Pratchett reminds us to take care of one another and ourselves and that sometimes we must do the hard things that need to be done.

Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley

When you read a lot of sci-fi/fantasy, things tend to lose the ability to surprise you. Not to say I don't enjoy books that don't surprise me, but when you come across one that does a total left turn at the traffic lights, you sit up and take notice. Magonia is not the book you think it's going to be in the first 100 pages and it's such a treat to have your expectations confounded. The writing is beautiful, the world building is superb, the characters complex and I JUST WISH I'D WRITTEN IT. I'm so glad that Headley's getting the recognition she deserves for this in year end lists and that it translates into sales of the second book of the series, which is, as of yet untitled, in early 2016.

Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Another YA fantasy making year end lists from one end of the internet to another is Ember in the Ashes. It's got all the ingredients of an exciting and gripping series--a broken and brutal society, two world colliding, magic, privilege, rebellion, poverty and forbidden love. Tahir just binds it all together so well, drawing parallels with decisions that we're all forced to make at one time or another. The second volume, A Torch Against the Night, will be hitting shelves in August of 2016.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Although this isn't exactly the sequel to Fangirl,  anyone who loved Rowell's tale of college, family and fan fiction is going to want to pick this up. When I first heard of this book, I was under the impression that it was going to be a full length version of the fan fic that was the foundation of the previous story. Instead, it's the final book in the imaginary, Harry Potter like series that the fic was based on. It made me happy for a lot of different reasons, but mostly because I'm somethign of a lifelong professional fangirl myself. Knowing the protagonists of the previous book (Cath and Wren) got to read this book and see all their hopes for the series come true made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis

Anyone familiar with the work of the great Nelly Bly will know that late 19th-early 20th century insane asylum was not a nice place to be, particularly if you were a woman. Not to mention the fact that it was distressingly easy to get sent to one by a husband or loved one. Want all your wife's money? Get her declared insane. Daughter pregnant out of wedlock? Off she goes. This is the unfortunate circumstance of Madness's unlucky protagonist, Grace. Lucky for her, her talents of observation are discovered by a visiting doctor--a Sherlock Holmes-esque figure in desperate need of a Watson. Madness is a beautiful and raw historical thriller that combines McGinnis's skillful research and brilliant imagination.

Lockwood and Co by Jonathan Stroud

My world-building fetish was mightily satisfied by this fabulously creepy series of middle grade books by Stroud, who's known for his Bartimaeus novels. Set in a world where the dead pose a real threat to the living and the only people capable of keeping the population safe are children, Anthony Lockwood, along with his colleagues Lucy and George, run a small agency dedicated to eradicating troublesome spirits. These are quick and satisfying reads for the post Goosebumps generation.

Stray Souls by Kate Griffin

The second Catherine Webb title on the list. Set in the same London as The Midnight Mayor series, Griffin uses her trademark knowledge of the minutae of the city to tell the story of Sharon Li, a reluctant shaman and head of a support network for supernatural beings called Magicals Anonymous. Sharon, along with her misfit band of compatriots that include a troll, a banshee and germaphobe vampire are called into to investigate the disappearance of the Soul of the City as well as attacks by a giant slavering hellhound. Witty and fun and full of the otherworldly life Griffin breathes into a city that's close to my heart.