Dancing Queen

Courtesy of the Birmingham Royal Ballet

Courtesy of the Birmingham Royal Ballet

I’ve always loved dance. All kinds of dance. Like most little girls, I adored ballerinas, with their sparkling tiaras and fluffy tutus and elegant buns. I saw The Nutcracker for the first time in kindergarden, and was entranced by everything about the ballet; from the wind-up doll ballerina to the horrible rat soldiers to the dashing Nutcracker Prince. But most of all, I admired the Sugar Plum Fairy, gliding effortlessly across the stage en pointe, barely seeming to touch the ground as she performed pliés and pirouettes and arabesques.

Soon after, I discovered the great old classic musicals and fell in love with tap dance and ballroom. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers; Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse. I would rewind videos again and again to rewatch my favorite dance sequences, trying and failing to replicate the gloriously complicated and utterly romantic routines in my own living room.

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Dream a Little Dream

If you know me well, or have been reading my blog long enough, you have probably realized by now that I’m a leeetle bit obsessed with dreams. Not in a “Oh, dreams are pretty cool I guess” way, but in a “Why can’t I eschew the real world and live perpetually in the nonsense realm of my sleeping brain” manner. You may think this is strange, and that’s okay. It is. I’m generally a fairly strange person.

Yeah, a Nazi AND a wizard. Trust me, it's scary.

Yeah, a Nazi AND a wizard. Trust me, it’s scary.

My dreams are nearly always vivid, but they run the gamut in terms of subject matter. Complex. Silly. Terrifying. Trippy. Occasionally, I’ll even have dreams with recurring themes. Anxiety dreams are the most common of these themes; it’s finals week and I’ve just realized I haven’t been to calculus all semester. Harrison Ford weirdly appears in many of my dreams; more often than not he’s a Nazi-wizard and he’s chasing me. But recently, I’ve started having a new recurring dream. Nearly once a week for the past two months, I’ve dreamed that there’s a tall black stallion, wild and untamed, and I’m the only one who can ride him.

Whatever could it mean?

Before I continue, I’d like to say that while I’m not sure what purpose dreams truly serve, I do think they have the capacity to be symbolic. Jung hypothesized that our dreams contained universal archetypes derived from a collective unconscious; I think this may be going a bit far. Our minds are, however, bombarded with culturally significant symbols and images from a very young age, and it seems entirely plausible that these patterns would find meaningful expression in our dreams. It also seems likely that our own individual experiences could lead our unconscious minds to assign meaning to otherwise meaningless minutiae.

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The Cape Conundrum

"And what's your superpower, young man?" "I can...throw my shield. Really, really hard." Image belongs to Marvel Comics

“And what’s your superpower, young man?”
“I can…throw my shield. Really, really hard.”
Image belongs to Marvel Comics

I watched The Avengers last night for the first time (I know, I showed up really late to that party) and as I watched I was struck by how none of the superheroes were really very super. In fact, in terms of inborn or created abilities, there weren’t many superpowers to speak of. Among the Avengers, objects are the name of the game. Tony Stark flies around in a technologically advanced suit of armor–the only thing really special about him is his intellect. Hawkeye has a bow and arrow; Thor has a giant hammer; Captain America has a fancy shield.

Hulk…well, Hulk smash.

Superheroes have been central to the cultural iconography of America for most of the 20th century, and have undergone a marked renaissance in the 21st. Nearly every major superhero has enjoyed a movie (if not an entire franchise) dedicated to them in the past decade. Even superheroes who are considered “old-fashioned” (Superman) or less popular (Green Lantern) than heroes like Spiderman and Batman have been recently rebooted to suit modern times. And the Avengers, despite being more technologically reliant than many of their brethren, easily share the stage with more classically gifted superheroes like Superman, Spiderman, and the X-Men. So why the shift in modern times to a more technologically-reliant superhero? And what does it say about our culture’s fascination with superheroes in general?

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The Story Paradox

“Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one.”   –Terry Pratchett

The first thing I usually do upon finishing a draft of one manuscript is to start thinking about what to write next. I have notebooks full of half-baked ideas and infant plot-lines, but the challenge when beginning a story–short- or long-form–is to judge whether or not it’s worth telling. And one thing I’ve come to terms with–as both a reader and a writer–is that not all stories are worth telling. And even if they are worth telling, they shouldn’t all be told the same way.

Why build a regular house when you could build this house? Habitat 67, Montreal, Canada

Why build a regular house when you could build this house?
Habitat 67, Montreal, Canada

I like to think of a story as a house. In the simplest sense, a house has four walls and a roof. Similarly, a story must meet some bare structural specification before it can even qualify as a story: some semblance of a plot, perhaps a character or two, maybe some dialogue. (James Joyce might argue that this is not the case, but let’s leave him out of it for now). But beyond those basics, a lot of variation is possible. How the story is created–what devices and structures are employed–that’s what makes the house a home, so to speak. Just as there are log cabins and chateaus and open-plan lofts, so there are a thousand and one ways a story may grow into something unique and compelling.

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This Is Crazy…Beta Maybe?

If y’all have been paying attention you’ll know that I’ve spent the last few months revising the heck out of the manuscript I completed this past spring. Now, the only step left before I can release this project out into the big, scary universe is to let people actually read it. So far I’ve let my mom and my husband read it, but that’s it. And they’re not exactly the most objective readers in the world when it comes to my work.

Not that kind of beta, silly.

Not that kind of beta, silly.

So, Uncle Lyra Wants You! Yes, You! Do you like words printed on paper? Do you like reading brand new manuscripts that haven’t yet seen the light of day? Are you a critical thinker and a careful reader? Are you bored with summer yet? Then you are the perfect candidate for being a beta reader!

Here’s a little bit of information about the novel in question:

Title: Blood King

Genre: Young Adult Urban Fantasy

Length: 106,000 words (that’s about the length of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, just to give you a comparison)

Synopsis: Dez Ashwood has only been King of the Blue Bloods for a few months when a spate of undead revenants threatens to upset the delicate balance between Life and Death. A stolen artifact, an ancient prophecy, and rogue necromancers owing fealty to a wraith bent on destroying the world; all are pieces of the puzzle that Dez must solve before time runs out. Will she be able to keep the streets of London safe from hordes of the undead? Or is it just her destiny to die trying?

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Life, and Other Animals

Howdy folks. As you may (or may not) have noticed, I haven’t been ’round these parts over the past few weeks. Things have been pretty madcap and hectic on my end; between a destination wedding, finishing the second draft of my manuscript, and moving house and home all the way to Boston, I haven’t been finding much time for this here blog.

Plus–as if all that wasn’t enough–due to a series of incredibly unfortunate events I had my laptop stolen last week. Fortunately for my sanity, I had just backed up the second draft of my WIP to the Cloud, otherwise I would currently be enjoying a very close relationship with yellow wallpaper and reciting lines from the Scottish play (sorry, old theater habits die hard). But even though I had made sure to back up all the most important things, like completed manuscripts and wedding photos, so many of the smaller tidbits that accumulate in a hard-drive were lost for good. Incomplete short stories. Camera-dumps from college, many of which I never bothered posting to Facebook or other social networking sites. Old emails. Term papers. Midnight ramblings. Music. Lots and lots of music.

All gone.

"Billions of blue blistering barnacles." Pretty much my reaction...

“Billions of blue blistering barnacles.”
Pretty much my reaction…

I’m trying not to think about it too much, because it’s often the case that the things you rarely use you don’t particularly need, and if I don’t think too much about the small things I’ve lost I’ll eventually discover that they weren’t very important after all. Still. After a certain point, a hard-drive becomes an accumulation of a life being lived, and part of me feels like I’ve lost some vestigial limb. Yeah, I might not use it that much, but the fact that it was there was somehow important.

Anyway, life keeps on going, and I’m sure I’ll get a new computer and fill it with all the crap I accumulate over the next seven years of my life. I’ll write new short stories (and maybe complete them). I’ll take new pictures, and write new emails. And sometimes loss is a good thing, because it reminds us of all the valuable things we still have, and how to better protect the valuable things we’ll find or create in the future.

So I guess thanks, Universe. Because this crappy experience will definitely make me more vigilant about saving the important things somewhere a thief can’t take them.

Thanks, but no thanks. I better have some awesome karma coming my way.

Have you ever had something like a laptop that died or was stolen? How did you get over all the things, big and small, that you lost? Comments welcome below!

Q&A with Author Kourtney Heintz

Today, I’m interviewing author Kourtney Heintz about her new book The Six Train to Wisconsin, out now in print and e-book. Hope you enjoy this insight into another writer’s process and decisions, and make sure to leave a comment at the end to be entered to win Kourtney’s exciting new novel!

The lovely author in the flesh!

The lovely author in the flesh!

Q: First off, tell us about you! Who is Kourtney Heintz?

I’m a former Wall Street girl, who took advantage of the economic downturn to try a new career as an author. I’m a firm believer in living the life you want and doing whatever it takes to make your dreams a reality. Even moving into your parent’s living room.

Q: When did you first start writing, and what inspired you to continue?

I’ve been writing since I was a kid. Fan fiction mostly. My own takes on the Wizard of Oz series. It wasn’t until 2006 that I decided to seriously write my own novel. It was the end of the Harry Potter series that brought it all about. I was so sad to part ways with Hermione and Harry and I realized if I wrote my own books I could stay with the characters as long as I wanted.

Q: Your debut novel, The Six Train to Wisconsin, has just come out in print and ebook. Tell us about the book!

The Six Train to Wisconsin is a work of speculative fiction. It focuses on a married couple, Oliver and Kai. When Kai’s telepathy spirals out of control, her husband Oliver brings her to the quiet Wisconsin hometown he abandoned a decade ago, where he must confront the secrets of his past to save their future.

Q: Where did the idea for the novel come from? Did anything in particular inspire you?

I was recovering from disk replacement surgery and thinking about how bad off I had been. How much care I needed. And the people who had to care for me. I wanted to tell that story. Both sides of it–the caregiver and the care-needer. The husband and his telepathic wife were born in that moment.

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Review: Kill Me Softly, by Sarah Cross

Kill Me Softly, by Sarah Cross

Kill Me Softly, by Sarah Cross

Mirabelle’s past is shrouded in mystery, from the cause of her parents’ mysterious deaths to her guardians’ evasive half-truths about her birthplace, Beau Rivage. But as Mira’s sixteenth birthday approaches, she hatches a desperate plan to run away to Beau Rivage and discover the truth for herself. But Beau Rivage is more than Mira bargained for: a disturbing town where nothing is what it seems and every resident harbors dark, impossible secrets.

There’s casino manager Felix, whose alluring blue eyes and suave demeanor instantly draw Mira in, but why does Felix’s rude brother Blue seem so insistent that Mira stay far away from his family? Why is pale, dark-haired Viv so obsessed with apples and glass coffins? Why are birds and woodland animals strangely attracted to handsome, chivalrous Freddie? Is it possible that in Beau Rivage, fairy tales come true in the most twisted, grotesque way possible? And if Mira was born here, does that mean she is cursed to live out her own Grimm tale? Will she find a way to outwit fate before she loses her heart, or worse, her life?

I picked this book up at the library on a whim. To be honest, the cover gave me pause: the graphics seemed vaguely Twilight-esque, but I didn’t have anything else to read so I decided to give it a whirl. And let me tell you, I’m thrilled that I didn’t judge this book by its cover.

I surprised myself by loving this novel. From the first chapter, I was hooked. I actually stayed up half the night finishing the book, and I don’t regret it. (Not that I ever regret sleep lost over a good book, mind you). Kill Me Softly is a dark, clever, sexy story; a twisted fairy tale that embraces the grotesque aspects of Grimm tales and then goes deeper and darker. Cross asks her readers, What if fairy tale characters aren’t guaranteed their happy endings? Because in Beau Rivage, true love doesn’t always win and the only thing more dangerous than an evil fairy’s curse is trying to outrun your destiny.

Cross does a great job of creating a coherent mythology solidly rooted in both traditionally macabre Grimm folklore and modern Americana. In a genre already flooded by twisted fairy tales like ABC’s ‘Once Upon a Time,’ NBC’s ‘Grimm,’ and Alex Flinn’s Beastly, Kill Me Softly is fresh, original and compelling. Cross manages to make her world be both deadly and whimsical, sinister and hopeful; a place where a curse might end in true love and a blessing might spell tragedy. Either way, fate is inexorable.

The fairy tale characters in the novel are brilliantly irreverent. Each character balks the traditional assumptions of their archetype while remaining true to the overall ethos of the fairy tale. For instance, the character destined to play out the Snow White narrative jokes that she’s tempted to choke herself on an apple “just to get things rolling.” Freddie–“Prince Charming”– is kind and generous to the point of intolerability–the “princess” he is destined to wake from an enchanted slumber with true love’s kiss can’t stand being around him for longer than 5 minutes.

For anyone who enjoys a twisted fairytale with a healthy dose of snappy dialogue, steamy makeouts, and complicated characters, this book is a must-read. Mira’s quest for answers about her past sends her into a beautiful but deadly world of lies, intrigue, and maybe–just maybe–true love.

The Importance of Reading

“We don’t need a list of rights and wrongs, tables of dos and don’ts: we need books, time, and silence. Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever.”               — Philip Pullman

Marilyn Monroe, pretty and smart.

Marilyn Monroe, pretty and smart.

I was that kid. The kid who read all the time. The kid who brought a book with her wherever she went. The kid who had to be told to stop reading so much and go outside and play with my friends. I could be found reading under the table at family dinners. Reading on the way to school, reading during lunch, and reading on the way home. Reading under the sheets after my mom had told me–repeatedly–to turn the light off, I could finish the damn book tomorrow. Later, I was the girl who read all her summer reading in the first two weeks of summer break, and then spent the rest of summer at the library. I was the girl who threw silent hissy fits whenever she was assigned a book she didn’t like; not because it was a pain to read but because there was nothing–NOTHING–she hated more than disliking a book.

Long before the thought of being a writer ever crossed my mind, I was a reader.

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Look Away, Dixie Land

‘Tell about the South . . . What do they do there? How do they live there? Why do they?’     –William Faulkner, ‘Absalom, Absalom!’

Southern Live Oak.

Southern Live Oak.

Last week I wrote about how much my family moved around when I was a kid. But despite that, most of my formative childhood years were spent in Florida. And not the Florida you see in movies or TV; no white sand beaches here, and few palm trees to speak of. This is North Central Florida, where the humidity rarely drops below 90% and the live oaks stretch their great branches down to skim the ground. Sandwiched between the prairie and the swamp, my Florida is the land of sharp palmetto fronds, bayonet plants, and cypress knees. Of armadillos and gopher tortoises and red-headed buzzards. My Florida is the South, plain and simple.

I grew up in this Florida. I remember spending summer days knee deep in Hogtown Creek, hunting for sharks’ teeth and fossils, relics of Florida’s prehistoric past. I’ll never forget the sweet taste of fresh blueberries picked from the bush, still hot from the blazing Southern sun. Dancing in an afternoon downpour, building tiny dams out of pinecones and not caring that I was soaked to the bone. Diving into the aquamarine depths of a natural spring, the water as clear as glass and as cold as ice. Buying watermelons not from the supermarket, but from sunburned farmers on the side of the road selling them out of the back of battered and muddy pick-up trucks. Tubing down the Itchetucknee and kayaking on the Suwannee. Avoiding the cold, prehistoric gaze of six-foot alligators sunning themselves on the banks of Lake Alice.

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