Monday, December 26, 2011

Boy Book Review - Revolver

RevolverRevolver by Marcus Sedgwick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Easy to tell why Revolver is highly honored. it's a thrilling historical story of adventure and survival for boys that girls and adults will also enjoy. It takes readers to a place most have never been before, the other side of the arctic circle. I spent some time in  took me right back.

We start in 1910 in Giron, Alaska inside a lonely cabin, with 14-year-old Sig and his father's corpse. The story question, what made his father, a veteran of the climate, try to cross the lake at a time and location where the ice was thinnest, and where he fell through and froze to death. The answer comes with a knock on the cabin door, and a man who has been chasing the family since they left Nome ten years earlier, looking for gold he claims Sig's father owed him, and that Sig knows does not exist.

The story moves back and forth between the events of 1899-1900 that sets a killer on the family’s trail, and 1910 when Sig has to face a man ready to kill for the gold he thinks the family has. We get a picture of the history of the Alaskan Gold Rush, where the only people who really made money after the original discovery were the service providers, saloons, and men like Sig's father who worked in an assay office. We learn about the Colt revolver in the lessons Sig’s father taught him about the way guns work and why they are sometimes the only answer to problems. We also learn lessons Sig's murdered mother tried to teach him, about Faith, Hope and Love. And finally, we learn the lesson Sig has to teach himself about survival as the boy struggles to save himself and his older sister from the invader killed his mother and intends to continue killing and raping until he finds the gold he believes this family living a subsistence life in the middle of emptiness has hidden.

The beauty, simplicity and total justice of the ending should appeal to young readers of all ages. Not to mention the real secret Sig's father worked hard to keep from taking to his grave with him.

Boy Book Reviews

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

The end of NaNo 2011

I am one tired writer.

BUT, thanks to NaNoWriMo- I managed to finish a damned book.  Leah is complete in draft format!!!

The LEAH story existed only inside my head on Nov. 1, I didn't even have an outline, just a vague idea about he girl and her family and their problems. 

Now I know, and I have a beginning, middle and end, all in 51,000 words.

Let the editing begin.

To be honest, I've been editing since about the mid-point. I changed the ideas a couple of times, and my inner editor screamed at me until I went back and fixed some of the issues. But I am now about to begin the wholesale edit.

Cast of Characters:

Leah Webster, aged 14, lives with her mother, Olivia Webster and older brother Jerome, an ex-gang member turned youth counselor (its a cliche, but only because it really does happen. And I needed him to have been in a gang.) At the beginning of the story she's in 8th grade, and just narced on her boyfriend when she discovers him selling drugs to the high school kids. By the end of the story she is a high school freshman. She is one of the two point of view characters, and needs to find out who is killing off witnesses to the fire that killed Madison Hammer ten years ago before the list of dead includes her brother, and maybe even herself.

Damani Ramsey, age 16, Leah's former boyfriend (before the drug arrest) begins the story in juvie, but returns and ends up back in school with Leah. He wants revenge, after all, he was only trying to raise money for his girlfriend. Besides, those weren't even real drugs, just placebos the doctor prescribed for his hypochondriac mother. Damani is the other point of view character, who quickly descovers that he has bigger problems than revenge on Leah if he is going to keep his family intact. Besides, underneath it all, he really wants to get the girl back.

Marcus Hammer, age 13, the son of the infamous George Hammer of Scorpion and Hammer fame. When Marcus was three, his older sister Madison died in a fire at a crack house where their father had taken her. Were she still alive, she would be 17. His father George has recently been released from prison, and Marcus lives with him, and hates him. Marcus is obsessed with fire and the idea of dying in a fire like his sister. When Leah is assigned to tutor Marcus, even Damani can see there's something between the two.

Anthony "Flake" Bradwell, Damaini's cousin and still a member of the gang. He testified against George Hammer at his trial, and now worries about his future after the man's release. He also councils Damani on the ways of revenge against Leah, the snitch.

George Hammer, deals with a rebellious son, the memory of a daughter he inadvertently killed, and the anger of the gang-leader who remains in prison for their crimes. Witnesses who survived the night of the fire been turning up dead since his release from prison.

Olivia Webster, Leah's mother, sunk into a deep depression after driving the car when her husband and younges son was killed, and her daughter critically injured. Now she finds herself falling for George Hammer and trying to find a way to tell her son and daughter that she too knows their secret.

Pastor Evan, anothe former gang member and a good friend of the Webster family, as well as the minister of hteir church. He is one of the few people who knows's Leagh's secret. He also testified against Mr. Hammer at his trial.

Jerome Webster, age 26, who left the gang after the death of his father and five-year old brother Terrell when he was sixteen to care for Leah, Terrell's twin, and his mother. He is under the protection of imprisoned gang general Tyrone "Scorpion" Johnson, so no one is allowed to do anything to him or any  member of his family. He is also a survivor of the fire. He Leah and Pastor Evan share a dark secret about that night.

As long as I've mentioned him, Scorpion Johnson spends the book in prison, but he still wields considerable power on the outside world. He's the villan whose hatred for George Hammer moves the story forward.

These are the main characters. We also have Latoya, a rival for Damani's affections, Martha Ramsey, Danmani's mother who has her own little problem, and Bakari, Damani's little brother.

Wish me luck.

BTW, I would love to hear about any other NaNo novels. Hope everyone who tried had a really productive month.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

NaNo Day 8

13,500 words. I'm on schedule to complete. Now I just have to worry about the plot.


Did I mention that Mr. Hammer and leah's mother are going to have a romance. Well, they've met, and Leah is less than pleased, although her Cousin Carl thinks its a big joke that she and Marcus might end up being brother and sister. Thank God big brother Jerome doesn't know what's going on between that ex-con and his mother, but he will find out soon. He didn't even want Leah and Marcus ever seeing each other, at all.

Leah has already discovered that Marcus has a thing about fires, he gave her a much too detailed description of what happens when a human being is burned at the stake when they tried to study history together (and no, that was not the subject they were supposed to be going over)  Now she needs to find out that he likes to set fires, and he has the burn scars on his body to prove it.

I know, it churns my stomach too, but he's still dealing with the death of big sister Madison in a fire, and it was all dad's fault.

P. S. Breaking News

I will be part of a panel discussing unconventional romances in YA at the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents workshop as part of the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) on November 21, 2011. I’m excited to be part of a panel with authors Stephanie Perkins, Sara Zarr, and my personal idol, Simone Elkeles.

Monday, November 7, 2011

NaNo Day 7

By hook and crook I'm at 11,000 words, almost up to where I should be by this time.

BUT, things get better. My intent for NaNo had been to concentrate on the new book, LEAH, and then, after I finished my daily word count (God willing) find the strength to continue editting my WIP - BEING GOD. But on Saturday, Day 5 of NaNo, a miracle happened. I realized exactly what I had to do to finalize the novel that could not come to a successful conclusion. No more knocking my head on the wall, or snatching hairs from my head - I knew exactly what to do. So I put my nose to that grindstone and did it, including ripping out two subplots that were more trouble than they could ever be worth and rearranging the ending, as well as changing the way the protagonist's brother dies - you have to be there to understand why that was crucial. And now it's done. In 260 pages, 68,000 words, Malik's problems have been examined and resolved - at least as much as problems can be resolved when you're eighteen.

Now I'm full time on Leah.

I've arranged for Mr. Hammer to meet leah's mother, and romantic sparks are flying. Trust me, neither Leah nor Jerome are thrilled. And Leah has discovered that her protege, Madison's little brother Marcus, is a fire starter. He not only lights fires, he burns himself. Explains why he couldn't find a foster situation to keep him for long, most people aren't keen on coming home to find their house in flames of the police at their door accusing them of abusing the little boy they agreed to take in. He's trying to recreate the fire that Madison died in seven years ago. I'm not sure if this counts as mental illness or not, but Leah's mother is definitly dealing with depression and Mr. Hammer looks a little OCD to me. 

More will be revealed.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

NaNo Day 2

The good news, I have over 5000 words. The bad news, already I feel the flame going dim. Which is odd, considering that fire has a major role in the story of LEAH.

And oh does it hurt not to start editting.

Anyway, Leah and Marcus have met, they now share a classroom. She's been asked to help tutor him, a task she doesn't dare tell her brother about, he's too worried about them even being in the same school.  His father is out of prison, but so is the major villain, Big Snake.

I still have to mix in Leah's cousin, the only relative other than Jerome that she ever trusted with her secret. Turns out her cousin is Carl, one of the players from my published novel, PULL. He needs more face time, and since he has his own problem, it felt good to put the two of them together as the only people they dare share their secrets with. 

I also have to introduce Mr. Hammer, who went to prison for his role int he death of his daughter.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A NaNoing we will go

This is my sixth time doing NaNoWriMo. I'm going to keep a diary of progress.
Nov 1 - I began a new YA/MG novel, title LEAH after the main character.
I don't yet have a formal outline, but I know what I want to do with her - and does she have a backstory to die for, almost literally. 

CAST of Characters
  • Leah, age twelve, a precocious seventh grader (or is she?)
  • Jerome, Leah's 26 year old brother, a former gangmember, now youth counselor
  • Mother, 39, still emotionally crippled over the death of her husband and younger son in a car accident she caused
  • Marcus Hammer, a self-styled tough guy, age twelve, someone from Leah's past
  • Darnell Hammer, Marcus father, recently released from prison following his sentence for the fire that caused the death of his then seven year old daughter Madison
  • "Big Snake" Johnson, also recently released from prison, also involved in the death of Madison
NaNo diary, Day 1 - 1752 words
Leah and Jerome refuse to accept accolades for turning in a schoolmate dealing drugs. Leah admits that she remembers "everything," including how her brother returned home late the night of the fire that killed Madison Hammer, and that his clothes smelled of smoke.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Men like YA books too

Last Tuesday my local library, the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, sponsored me as their guest at the Illinois Library Association conference in Rosemont Illinois. While there, one of my readers came up to me and told me he was almost finished with my book and he loved it. Part of my goal in writing PULL was to attract boys back to reading, so the gender of my fan wasn't a surprise.

His age was.  He was an adult male.

This is the third time this has happened to me. I have been told, by adult MEN, that they enjoyed the book, did not find it childish or "young adult" (the protagonist is a 17 year old African American male living in Chicago's inner city) and felt that I accurately captured what it meant to be a boy.  BTW - all three men were middle-aged and white.

I have heard some negative comments--mostly from mothers--about the language, the sexual situations and, especially, the ending. None of the men had a problem with either of these. Nor have teens, although one girl wrote that she couldn't do what David, PULL's hero, did herself, but she fully understood why he did it.

I find it interesting,  unexpected, and strangely exhilarating to think that my book has crossed-over from the YA shelves into the hands, and hearts, of adult males.

What made this most interesting is that a week earlier I gave a presentation at the Ohio Educational Media Library Association, on Attracting Teen Boy Readers.  One of the attendees mentioned how difficult it was to find male role-models who would admit to reading, and that even the Principal at her school seemed proud to announce that he "did not read."

Maybe she could think about a father-son book club, armed with male-oriented YA books

Obviously, PULL should be first in line.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Doing The Happy Dance

Last week I discovered something about my novel, PULL. Somebody out there really likes it. And, they have nominated the book for two really big honors.

PULL is a nominee in the Cybils Awards Young Adult Fiction category. This is the Children's and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards, and some blogger or fan liked the book enough to enter it. (I promise I did not enter it myself, I did not even find out until after I was nominated) There were over 1100 nominees in ten different categories:
  • Book Apps
  • Easy Readers/Short Chapter Books
  • Fantasy & Science Fiction
  • Fiction Picture Books
  • Graphic Novels
  • Middle Grade Fiction
  • Non-Fiction Picture Books
  • Non-Fiction Middle Grade & Young Adult
  • Poetry
  • Young Adult Fiction

Just as my heart rate returned to normal, I got a second piece of news. PULL has been nominated for the Fiction category of the 2012 YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers List.  This is especially gratifying, because when I wrote PULL I set out to reach reluctant readers, and it's great to know that someone feels I was a success.

While it will take months to know if I make the finals in either area, I'm just happy knowing that my work is being recognized.

Now, on to finally finish the sequel, Being God.  (Formerly BAMF, Downside Up, and a host of other titles. I can't even name it, no wonder I can't seem to make this story end.)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Blogging with Romancing the Genres

Today I'm blogging about blogging, would you believe it?  I'm over at Romancing the Genres Blog, and telling why I blog, and revealing a piece of me inside. This month I and my sister genre-istas are going over the whole blogging experience, looking at what it means to us to reach out and reveal ourselves to you. Hope you'll join us.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Yes Boys Do Read

Advertisers will tell you, it's always easier and more cost effective to keep an existing customer than to go out and find a new one, or try recapturing a lost one. So it is with readers.

No, I'm not talking about my readers (well, yes I am, but only as a tangent)  I'm talking about so-called reluctant readers.

I've visited a number of schools, and have personal experience with the recognized phenomena of boys falling behind female readers as they move through elementary school. In all too many cases the boys declare themselves Non-Readers, and shut down. On Oct 13 I will be talking to educators and librarians in Columbus Ohio, speaking at the Ohio Educational Library Media Association conference on this subject. Because we don't want to keep loosing readers.

Friday, September 30, 2011

A few weeks ago I posted on the problems with prologues. I admit I’ve seen some awesome prologues in published works. I’ve also seen some great ones written by unpublished writers. Even the best have problems. I remember a prologue set in the past that was so well written and so vivid I fell in love with the place and situation and wanted to know what happened next. What did happen was chapter 1, present day world, with a different voice and situation that I couldn’t care about because I loved that darned prologue setup so much and chapter 1 tore me away from it. Had this been a book instead of a contest entry I would have tossed it in frustration.

Published prologues don’t do that to me. I think part of it is the writers have more experience and knowledge of how to use the prologue to pull a reader into the present instead of leave them hanging. Or they use them for something other than supplying backstory.

One of the best prologues I’ve seen in ages is the one in Infinity by Sherrilyn Kenyon. That is characterization and stage-setting at its best (I promise I get no royalty for saying this) and whether you are a die-hard Dark Hunter fan (and I am) or a newbie to the universe, that prologue works.

Another prologue that left me unable to put down the book started with an unforgettable scene – a woman awakens in a strange bed in a strange house. She is groggy, confused, naked and its obvious her body has been sexually assaulted although she remembers nothing. She staggers from the bed and looks out the window. Below her is a swimming pool with a dead man floating in it. She collapses. And I HAD to read that book. That prologue set up a load of story questions and I could not rest until they were answered.

My third prologue wasn’t a prologue at all. The author skillfully took the events of six months earlier, events that forever changed the hero’s life, and made them chapter 2. Nor did he use something as trivial and ordinary as a flashback. Following chapter 1 where we meet the hero in his normal life and get to know him and understand what we think is his problem, the reader turns to a very short chapter 2 where he awakens from a recurring nightmare. And we watch as he struggles with the emotions that nightmare brings. In the space of two pages we learn his inner torment, what he hides from everyone else, and his motive for doing everything he does on the following pages. It could have been done as a prologue. But letting us get to know him first made the revelation more powerful.

As I said before, I’m not against prologues. But here’s my own personal experience. I had a prologue in one of my manuscripts, convinced it was necessary both to explain the hero’s horrific past and provide an aura of dread behind his first meeting with the heroine. My first letdown came when a critique partner said she had no feeling of dread at all, the events were too far in the past. Then I entered the MS in contests, sometimes with the prologue, sometimes without. Shock city, I got pretty much the same scores and comments either way. So I took the prologue out and entered the MS in the 2010 Golden Heart where it became a finalist. The information I once thought was so vital readers had to know it up front is now buried in chapter 8 as part of the hero’s reminiscing about the past with his brother. Not that important to know about up front after all. My lesson – readers do not need to know the entire history of the universe on page one.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Losing Friends

Growing old means growing in wisdom, I guess. But it also means loss, and I have lost a dear friend--again.

His name was Ernie Swirles, and many years ago we agreed to disagree about the Chicago Cubs. He ushered at my Church, Trinity United Methodist in Mt. Prospect, and was the kind of character everyone loved, especially his passion for the aforementioned team and anything related to Capone. Yeah, that Capone.

He was 69, and died on July 30 after a long battle with cancer. He went in for surgery a few months ago, and never came home, spending time in and out of nursing facilities and finally hospice. I didn't realize when he went in I would never see him again. His pain was so bad he couldn't have visitors or phone calls right until the end.

For the last few years my old pal and I had a not necessarily friendly bet on the finish status of the Cubs and Sox. Only a dollar and no matter what their records, we always battled about who really won. I don't want to win this year. I'd give anything to be able to hand him that dollar come fall. For the one and only time in my life, I have to say, Go Cubs.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Those that can...teach

Maybe I should have been a teacher the way my high school instructors claimed. I enjoyed teaching my on-line Man Talk class with the Low Country RWA chapter. And last week I loved being part of the guest faculty at the DePaul University Summer Writing Workshop. (As the new kid on the block I got the Sunday slot for the weekend workshop, but even though that meant driving into downtown Chicago at an ungodly hour, I still loved every minute)  All you introverts out there, there is hope, I am a bona-fide member of the top three percent in introversion, and yet I've learned to do, and love, the public speaking thing.

I was part of the YA writing tract, along with fellow authors Jim Klise (I own a signed copy of his book Love Drugged a story about a gay teen struggling to go “straight,” and Trina Sotira. I enjoyed their lectures. Jim discussed Nuts and Bolts for Revising a First Novel for Teens and Tina lectured on Make Your Fictional Characters as Complex as Their Readers.

My topic was Writing for Young Adults and New Adults and I'm happy to say some people dropped in because they wanted to hear about the New Adult market. My students even gave me new ideas, including working with an improve group to help grow new characters.

It’s true, the best way to really learn something is to teach it…and to listen to your students.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

DePaul University Summer Writing Workshop - Day 1

Friday was day 1, and my first time there as an instructor. The opening speaker was electric. Alex is the author of "There Are No Children Here" and other non-fiction works where he gives people's life stories. SOme of his excerpts had people crying in the seats.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Book Review - Viscious Little Darlings

Vicious Little DarlingsVicious Little Darlings by Katherine Easer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sarah and her three friends adopt a fawn, name it Hope and hid it in their college dorm room - sounds like a comedy, right? But all three girls have secrets - and for one of them, the secret means life and death.

Sarah wants to feel like she belongs to someone, maybe anyone will do after a mistake with Brad--who totally wasn't worth it--makes her angry grandmother send her to a far away all-girls boarding school. There she meets Agnes and Maddy who let her and the fawn into their group as they move off-campus into a house paid for by the very righ Agnes. They give Sarah everything she wants, including the feeling she belongs. But the fawn's death is a herald of bad things to come as Sarah notices a cold undercurrent. Everything comes with a price, because someone is going to die, and that someone is willing to make a sacrifice to avoid her own death.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Romancing The Genre's

Did you ever want to just be in charge - be the god or goddess of your own world?

I decided to be a goddess and in the process learned that those who say absolute power corrupts absolutely must know a writer or two, because  more...

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Lazy weekend

I'm attending a writer's workshop hosted by Illinois SCBWI at Villa Maria in Lake Springfield. I'mmeeting  a great group of people, and had an exciting critique session with a group of other YA and MG author. The food is good, the people better, and I'm getting some work done.  I'm hoping to finish Being God (formerly BAMF) at long last.

Off now to relax in the sun and get a little more sleep. Maybe Malik will have his final crisis while I do, and then we're finally complete.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

PULL Wins the National Reader's Choice Award - part 2

PULL's 2010 Reader's Choice award for it's first place in Young Adult books arrived in the mail today. I understand why it is affectionately known as a tombstone.  Since I could not be in both New York for the RWA conference where the award was given, and in beautiful, if muggy, New Orleans for ALA and a booksigning, my Chicago North RWA chaptermate Jennie Carney stepped in to pick up the prize and attend the Champagne breakfast I missed. 

Jennie mailed the tombstone to me and the package arrived today. My fumbling hands undid the tape so I could find my prize.

Here I am, tombstone in hand
Now my friends here at the library where I volunteer are oohing and aahing and doing the happy dance with me

Just holding the thing is inspiring me to finally finish the darned sequel, which has gone through so many metamorphoses I don't know how to handle it. (The title along has changed from B.A.M.F. - if you're a teen you know what those initial stand for - to Being God. Go figure)

Tomorrow I head off to a weekend writing retreat hosted by the Illinois SCBWI in a resort by Lake Springfield.  Here's hoping the atmosphere will bring that story to a close.

P. S.  I missed the RWA champagne, but not the beer and fun at ALA. Here are some of the pictures from the YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) get-together and bourbon street.

The fountain caught fire during the YALSA reception

Bourbon street - no, it's not Mardi Gras time so I could actually move

And of course, I have pictures of my friends and fans.

A fan

More fans

And friends

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

YA books and censorship

Early in June I went to Chicago's Printer's Row book festival, an annual weekend celebration of the printed word. I shared a booth with Barbara's Bookstore - totally coincidental - and the Chicago Writer's Association. I spoke to a family about PULL, and as I talked to the parents their son picked up a copy and started reading. My opening hook did it's job and he quickly interrupted us to tell his parents, "I want this book."

When they turned to me to purchase it a small feeling of responsibility jumped in, he looked very young. I asked, then told me their son was eleven. I mentioned that PULL was intended for 8th grade and up, and that there was language and sexual innuendo. They smiled. Their son reads voraciously, if he wanted it, that was enough for them.  They intended to read the book as well--after he finished with it.

No censorship in their house.

I contrast that with a recent experience I had in a library. I was in the paperback section, where multiple genre's are jumbled together. A girl was with her father, looking for a book. She looked to be twelve to fourteen, although you can't always tell just by looking at a kid. (At least I can't)  She picked up a book, and her father immediately told her to put it back. The cover, while not racy, made it clear this was a paranormal romance. Dad's comment, "Your mother wouldn't want you reading that." They eventually left without getting any books.

I won't fault any parent for what they do and do not let their child read. They know their individual child best, and have every right to decide about the age appropriateness of material. Where I would find an issue is someone deciding that no child should read something. And that undercurrent keeps turning up in discussions and blogs.

I myself moved from the children's section to the adult section around 7th grade. Somehow I made it through books laden with sex and violence and mass murder without ever become a killer or drug user myself. Go figure.

My return to reading YA came when my daughter was a teen and brought some into the house.  I learned that today's YA has depth and theme and a passion that is sometimes missing in adult books. There is sex, violence, drug usage and mayhem. Should every child read about books including these themes? Absolutely not.  But should they not even be written, as one source tired to claim recently - again, absolutely not.

I hope many of you feel as I do, that no matter how edgy the theme or voice, books that touch the reality of young lives need to be written. And there is an audience out there that needs to read them to find hope.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Book Review - Robopacalypse

RobopocalypseRobopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I looked at the cover and thought about the movie A.I. I read the prologue and thought about Terminator. But this book is its own entity. It reads a lot like Asimov's robot stories (not the I, Robot movie, but the actual set of short stories about humanity interacting with robots). After staring at the cover for severalmonths and passing over it for other books, I finally picked it up - and could not go to bed until I had finished it.

In Robocolypse things go horribly wrong when a scientist creates Archos, a machine brain that is self-aware and interested in studying life, but without the messy interference of humankind. Thus begins a war that most humans aren't aware of until they are trapped by the machines that turn against them on what became known as Zero Hour.

This novel is told in vignette’s, short stories of the Hero's, a little girl who's doll threatens to hurt her brother unless she gets her Congressman mother to vote down a robot control bill, an old Japanese bachelor who sincerely loves his robot girlfriend, even after she literally takes a bite out of him, a teenager who gets so incensed when a prank he stages fails to get the news coverage he thinks it deserves that accidently uncovers the head of the robot conspiracy and is forced to flee for his life. In the end all of these people become heroes in a resistance they don't yet know humanity needs to survive.

This is a very mechanized future, where all but a few grandfathered vehiclesinclude computer brains that enable them to talk to each other to avoid accidents - and that let them trap helpless drivers once the war begins. Where robots encourage the return of animals while they create new and better machines to kill human beings. Where human survivors are herded into camps to serve the machines as cheap workers and experimental subjects. And where some human beings come together to become more than they ever dreamed possible.

Make no mistake, this is a science fiction war story, some scenes are both violent and emotional, and characters we come to care about disapppear into the camps or die, sometimes in horrible ways.

One thing I liked most about Robocalypse is that it doesn't take place just in the United States. In addition to pockets of resistance in America, this novel highlights efforts and heroes in Japan and Afghanistan, and acknowledges efforts and fighters and sacrifices in the Middle East, China and Russia. And in the end, some humanoid robots side with humanity and make their own sacrifices for freedom. In what seems to be a tradition in books like this, it leaves several openings for possible sequels, including the future of humanoid robot and human relationships, and the possibility that Archos is not really dead.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

PULL Wins the National Reader's Choice Award!!

I just returned to Chicago from the American Library Association meeting in beautiful--and incredibly hot--New Orleans.  When I arrived I was greeted by the news that this morning, at the OK RWA breakfast during the Romance Writers of America contest in New York City, PULL was awarded first place in the National Reader's Choice Awards.

I wish I could have been in New York at the reception, but I had to make a choice and ALA and librarians won. I had a friend aaccept my award (and my wonderful breakfast) for me.  This is a major honor that I hoped for, but didn't dare expect. It's just great to know that there are people who believe that books about teen guys can be just as wonderful and enjoyable as those about teen girls. PULL features a multi-cultural cast and two gay boyfriends, and themes involving both domestic and sexual abuse.  I am so glad the book is finding an audience that appreciates it.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

PULL moves on in Nerds Heart YA contest!!

PULL has made it through the first round of the Nerds Heart YA contest!!  Special thanks to ARI from the  Reading In Color blog who interviewed me for the contest.  My judge, The Rejectionist reviewed PULL and its competitor, Efrain's Secret, and gave the final nod to PULL in what was termed The Agony of Indecision.

The next round will be in July. Right now I'm doing the happy dance.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Plotting vs. Pantsing

I am a plotter. I've tried pantsing it, and I get lost every time. I need to understand my beginning, middle checkpoints and ending before I can write word one. Especially I need that end, something for me to aim toward.

That said, things change a lot between word one and the time I can write THE END.

Truth be told, I think I'm more of a "puzzler" as I've seen it called on another thread. I have the big picture, my beginning checkpoints and end as I said, and then I write individual snippets of the story, not even remotely in order, and spend the rest of my time stringing those snippets into working scenes. I have never actually written a book that conforms to the original outline or synopsis, although the checkpoints are almost always solid. Just another reason why I don't bother with a synopsis until after completion. I generally need to be around the 40K word mark before I'm really sure of the structure. I would love to be a writer who can, as they say, begin at the beginning, go all the way to the end and then stop. But it's never happened so far and I have no reason to believe that will ever change. It's my process and I've learned to accept it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

This too shall pass

Part of me knows how vulnerable I am, but all the modern conveniences have dulled the idea that I too live on the edge. We had a storm last night. Not one of the huge disasters that leave thousands dead, than God. The sky went dark, trees fell over, and a transformer blew, plunging my neighborhood into darkness.

I admit to being petty enough to envying the people on the other side of the street that still had power. How unfair, I thought, that I live on the wrong side of some boundary line I didn't know existed.

This too shall pass, I realize that even as I cope with a day of no electricity.  By tomorrow at the latest things will be back to normal.  So many people around the world have suffered worse disasters, so I've already left my pity party behind.  No electricity just means an inconvenience to me, no air conditioning, no TV or radio, no automatic garage door opener.  But it's also a reminder of how fragile my world is, and how little it would take to plunge my life, and the lives of my neighbors and friends, into real trouble.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Book Review - Evenfall

EvenfallEvenfall by Liz Michalski

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I loved the premise, a ghost, Frank, not giving up on his love for the woman he did not marry, Gert. Gert is unmarried and in her eighties and dealing with Frank's recent death. Her thirty-something niece Andie has come back home to nurse her wounds after the end of a three-year relationship with Neal and to help her aunt. She stays at Evenflow, Frank's old farmhouse where his ghost now resides. The story is told round-robin from the points of view of Frank, Andie and Gert.

I loved reading this women's fiction story that involved two mature women. And I really the heat between Andie and twenty-three year old Cort ("little Cortie" the boy she used to babysit). Cort loved her back when he was eleven and watched her go out on dates with the older boys. Twelve years later, he's man enough to do something about his feelings when she comes home.

I enjoyed watching Andie and Cort, saw the love and felt both their pains when they fought. Of course, her old boyfriend turns up right at that vulnerable moment. This book unfolds slowly and deliberatly, as I rooted for Cort to fight for Andie and for Frank to find some way for a ghost to interfere with the living.

The biggest problem for me was the ending. It was flat, sudden, unpredicted, and, for Gert and Frank, at least, left issues unresolved. Unfortunatly the back cover information does not match what I found in the pages. If this book hadn't been touted as the story of the ghost trying to win her back I don't think I would have found the ending so unfulfilling. As much as I enjoyed reading about Andie and Cort's steamy relationship, I kept waiting and hoping for more between the Gert and the ghost. I wanted to see their development and character arcs (as much as a ghost can have one). I just didn't see that in this book.

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Friday, June 17, 2011

I've been interviewed

I have been interviewed by Jo Ramsey about my writing journey on her blog, Where Fantasy and Reality Collide.  Join me there, and read an excerpt from PULL.

I hope you'll visit ... and comment - it's lonely out there.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Book Review - Amelia O'Donahue

Amelia O'Donohue Is So Not a VirginAmelia O'Donohue Is So Not a Virgin by Helen Fitzgerald

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is so not about Amelia O'Donohue.

It is about secrets, and the danger of keeping them too well hidden.

Rachel keeps secrets. Not her own, she keeps everyone else's secrets. She knows who had an abortion, who sneaks out in the middle of the night, who throws up to keep thin, and which teacher is messing around with which student. People tell her their secrets because she never tells. Once, years ago, she shared a secret that resulted in personal tragedy. Now, no matter what, she will not tell and secret, for any reason.

Until she opens a cupboard door and finds the biggest secret of all.

Now she struggles with what to do, because this secret is alive and needs his mother. This time the owner of the secret has to come forward. Someone has to reveal the truth.

Rachel just can't be the one to do it.

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Your chance to win big

The clock is ticking - The Nerds Heart YA blog is featuring a reader contest where one of the prizes includes an autographed copy of PULL. There are only a few entries, and the contest closes at midnight June 13, so anyone entering has a huge chance of winning. - see contest rules at

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Characters - Part 2

Today I am doing my once a month blog post at Romancing The Genres. I'm going deeper into the subject of creating characters readers love--and love to hate. Come join me and tell me about your favorite characters.  This is a follow-up to my first blog last week as a guest at Gemstate Writers

Monday, June 6, 2011

Book Review - Long Drive Home

Long Drive Home: A NovelLong Drive Home: A Novel by Will Allison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those stories that reminds us that we are all interconnected, and every decision we make can have far-reaching, and sometimes tragic, consequences.

Glen, an ordinary man, drives his daughter home, flips off a cop, succumbs to a moment of road rage, and changes his life and the lives of his family and of strangers, forever. He never intended to hurt anyone, just to vent a little frustration. But after one thoughtless deed his life moves forward on a course he cannot correct. The law never finds him guilty of a crime, but over the next few years everything he holds dear, including his wife and daughter, is stripped from his life.

The story is a true page turner, it moves fast and I found myself both blaming and sympathizing with the protagonist. No one is a real villain in this story, not Glen, not his wife, not the young man who dies. Glen is not the only one who suffers for his misdeed, and when he almost gets away blameless, I felt a mixture of relief and pain. The one true feeling is his determination that his daughter never suffer any feeling of guilt for his actions that night on the empty street.

The Long Drive Home is an emotional journey for the reader, and one that may make the reader stop and think every time he or she feels herself giving in to the temptation to act first and worry about the consequences later.

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BOOK Review - The Doomsday Box

The Doomsday Box: A Shadow Project AdventureThe Doomsday Box: A Shadow Project Adventure by Herbie Brennan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book first, before it's predecessor, The Shadow Project. It's the first time a book sent me on a mission to finds it's prequel. Turns out this is even better than the first book, all the suspence and pace with none of the confusion.

The three teens from the first book are joined by a new member, Fuchsia, with a new power, one she is still developing. The four British teens working for MI6 find their way from Britain to New York where they are to investigate a long-forgotten CIA experiment in time travel, one that never really died. Seems you can rip a hole in the space-time continuum, but you can't put it back together again even when you shut off the power.

Just as the teen Shadow Project crew determine there is no danger at the site of the rip, danger appears, in the form of a box a military man opens to unleash a virulent plague, one that kills in less than a day and leaves billions at risk unless the kids, who have been vaccinated, go through the rip into 1962 to stop the man who will eventually unleash that plague on the 21st century. The catch - that man is a CIA agent who doesn't know what he will do in the future. The other catch - if they can't persuade him they have to kill him.

The kids end up back in the height of the cold war, travel to Russia, and end up captured and interrogated by the KGB and a pair of torturing twins you never want to meet in a dark alley. Young readers will see the height of the Cold War for the first time, older readers will revisit the dark days before the Cuban Missile Crisis, and see an alternate scenario that would have plunged the world into nuclear war before those dark days in October. One member of the Shadow Project team is an African prince, and he gets to see a touch of 1962 racism as well. Fuchsia’s developing power reveals that the 21st century plague they were sent to stop has to take second place to a nuclear holocaust due to begin in weeks and plunge the world into an alternate future in which they and billions more are dead.

It’s a high-stakes story, a true cross-over book, one that middle grade, young adult and adult readers will all enjoy.

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Friday, June 3, 2011

Characters - Part 1

Todat I'm doing double duty - attending the Love Is Brewing In Milwaukee conference, and guest blogging at Gem State Writers.

My post there is the first of two blogs I'll be doing on ways to make characters walk and talk and act  real.

Please stop by and tell your own tactics.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Book Review - The Shadow Project

The Shadow ProjectThe Shadow Project by Herbie Brennan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first in a series, and highlights Danny, a teenaged thief in Britain, who steals to take care of himself and his grandmother and handle his self-esteem issues rising from being jeered at by snobbish schoolmates, and ends up in the wrong house where a sum of errors allows him entry into a top secret MI6/CIA facility in time to see a paranormal agent being prepped for a mission.

Turns out he has a few paranormal abilities all his own.

The story line was confusing at times, too many people with too many powers, including Danny's capabilities as a natural born Sohanti or with doctor who can fight and destroy demons. But I enjoyed the cast, and the idea that the intelligence agencies had to use teens to combat terrorists because only the young have brains malleable enough to allow them to literally control out-of-body experiences. Turns out the terrorists are using demons to accomplish their ends. Or is that vice versa.

The pace was fast, the premise strong, and I thoroughly enjoyed the story. And don't let me forget the interracial romance between the young African teen and the daughter of the projects leader.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Young Chicago Authors - the Area 17 ceremony

May 25, 2011, the culminating ceremony for the Area 17 Chicago Young Authors celebration was held at the Dr. Alexander Bouchet Math & Science Academy, and I was there as a guest of the coordinator, Tina Franklin-Bertrand. 
Author B. A. Binns and Area 17 Youth Authors Coordinator Mrs. Franklin-Bertrand
Many of the winners were stories I judged last Friday.  
Primary, Intermediate and Middle school students arrived early to read each others books and get their well-earned rewards. It was my pleasure to see all the Area 17 students, Honorable Mentions, Excellent and Outstanding, in the audience and marching across the stage.
Students, teachers and supporters of the young authors.

For the Primary grades,
Trip To The Zoo by C. Patterson took home the Excellent prizeThe Return of Super Marcus by M. Frazier the Outstanding prize.
For the Intermediate grades,
A to Z Math Terms by C. Tareef took ExcellentI Wish Horses Were Blue by A. Burks the Outstanding prize.
For Middle School,
Why Me? by K. Cruse took ExcellentTimes Get Hard by L. Anderson won the Outstanding prize.
Times Get Hard, the Middle School Outstanding book, is a group of poems that I had the pleasure to judge.  Having read it already, I was not surprised when it won the top Middle School honor.  In spite of the title, many of the poems contained in the slim volume showed hope.
 After reading this and a number of the other Honorable Mentions, Excellent and  Outstanding stories, I can honestly call all the writers in the room winners, along with their parents, teachers and supporters. Everyone deserved their medals.  As I was able to tell all the students in the room, welcome to the world of writing. I consider all of them my hard-working companions in this endeavor we call writing.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Things I learned from being a contest coordinator

I'm in the final stages of being contest coordinator for my RWA chapter's writing contest - I know, I did it before and you'd think I would learn, but for some reason I agreed to do it again. 

We have an all-electronic contest now - last time we tried to allow people to submit either electronic or paper because it was the transition year. I remember the conversion year, and every time I hear people say the RWA Golden Heart, with over a thousand entries, could easily convert, I cringe.

Judging isn't easy - and never unanimous
For 2011 we had 120 entries, everyone found at least one pubbed judge per our rules.  I did see some strange things, we have a system to allow for an extra judge in the face of discrepancies, such as one judge giving a manuscript a 95 and another a 50 (I kid you not, we had that kind of differences in opinion). Thanks to the system, that entry went on to become one of the finalists because our rules  require the opinion of a third judge in those situations.

Contest Results
We had a number of requests from the agents and editors who served as final judges. And that's where I learned most. As the coordinator exchanging emails with these judges, I became privy to something that doesn't often happen with generic rejection emails.  Several of the judges provided reasons for their ratings.  One had excellent writing skills but the work did not feel like a Romance.  Some felt  a particular manuscript had little market potential, or that the dialog was unrealistic.  No one seemed to worry about the dreaded prologue, but they did have problems with too much backstory up front.

I've kearned that the things we're told about in workshops and discussions, meeting reader expectations, keeping up the pace and good dialog.  It's not the occasional comma or type; it really is all about the writing and having a strong theme. And recognizing that agents and editors are people too.  

What do you think, should I do this again?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Book Review - On These Silken Sheets

On These Silken SheetsOn These Silken Sheets by Sabrina Darby

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My guilty secret - this is one of the books that taught me to enjoy erotic romance. There are four inter-related novellas about the goings on at Harriden House, ont of Regency England's most exclusive gentlemen's clubs run by the secretive Madame Rouge. She, and three of her friends meet men, have sex and fall in love -- in that order.

In Harriden House every possible sexual act between consenting adults can be purchased or observed or both. But its not only about body parts as the men discover when they meet the right woman. Even Madame Rouge herself finds a soulmate. And in the fifth and final vignette, readers get an epilogue that shows that Happily Ever After doesn't always have to mean love and marriage.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Young Chicago Authors are GREAT writers

I spent today in Chicago judging at the annual Young Chicago writers competition, that includes poetry, fiction and instructional stories by kids from first grade through 8th. I am amazed at the quality of some of the writing there.  My very first read - a book of poetry of all things (I am not usually a poetry fan) blew me away. I would have paid money for that book, the author was that good, and I hope to see her at Printers Row in June as one of the winners.

The competition is divided into three groups, 1-2 grade, 3-5, and 6-8. Every manuscript was a finalist at the local level, what we read were the best of the best. I joined other authors, educators, and administrators in reading and judging the stories. My hat is off to the students of Chicago, and the great writing they exhibited.  I have judged adult contests where the writing did not pull me in as deeply as some of these entries did. Congratulations to all the students who entered and showed they could write interesting and compelling works.  Not to mention cover and interior artwork.

It was nice to see something good coming from today's youth, and I've already marked my calendar to participate again next year.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

My Fifteen Minutes of Fame

Yesterday was my day for stardom. I was a guest on the Laura Dion-Jones Radio Show, WRMN 1410 AM broadcasting from Elgin, Illinois. (Someday I will have to put a radio program in one of my books).   Naturally I alerted all my friends in the area - both of them (haha) - so they would listen in while I promoted myself and my book, PULL.

The people at the station were gracious. I arrived early, good thing because I needed time to catch my breath after climbing the long flight of stairs to the studio.  The Green Room where I waited - well, it wasn't green. It was the employee lunge, that wasn't a lounge, more a combination mail room and kitchenette. I'm detail oriented, always thinking of the next book.

The minute the show began everyone became professional. Laura had a script that she didn't need to use, looks like it was there more to mark off topics as they were covered, probably just something to use "just in case." She never needed it. Only the guy doing the commercials read from his paper - have to get the names and facts exactly right.

I never stuttered once, even with the microphone right next to my mouth. I swear I used to be an introvert, and somewhere deep inside I still am, but I've learned to hide it well.

And I even got a fan email afterward.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

What's wrong with bookstores

I h ave a friend who wanted to buy my book. She doesn't like Internet shopping, so don't tell her about Amazon or other online venues - yes, such people still exist. I sent her to the local Barnes and Noble. The didn't have the book in stock and told her to go to the Internet and order it herself.  She went to a second store and got the same answer, no we don't have it, no we won't order it, do it yourself.

In the end I sold her one of my copies, because she wanted the book and I wasn't going to let a fan down. She's an old-fashioned type doesn't purchase online - such people do still exist in droves. She was willing to drive to not one but two different stores to make the purchase, and both stores failed her.

Is it me, or is something wrong with the world? I just can't understand why a brick and mortar Barnes & Noble didn't want to make the sale themselves. Has the world of book selling changed that much?

Book Review - My Invented Life

My Invented LifeMy Invented Life by Lauren Bjorkman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Roz decides to pretend she's a lesbian because she's in love with her sister's boyfriend. There's a lot to like about this story, but a lot is anit-climatic too. As she dips into her pretend world she, and the reader, learn something about being homosexual. She even finds a gay best friend - these guys are all over the place in books these days. The good news is she manages to help him deal with his family issues because of his gay status, and she helps her sister, the real lesbian in the family.

There's a lot of humor in this story involving a drama group and their attemps to put on a show in the midsts of Roz's shenanigans.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Do you remember your first time?

That's what I'm blogging about today on Romancing the Genre's. No, it's not what you think, but yes, I hope you will enjoy reading about Young Adults and what it takes to write for them, so come over.  Added bonus, you get a chance to win a huge blog launch package of prizes.

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Monday, May 9, 2011

Book Review - I Am J

I Am JI Am J by Cris Beam

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I went to this book at the recommendation of a friend. The beginning was slow, without that recommendation I would have put this aside. I'm glad I didn't. I am J deals with a boy born into a girl's body by mistake. He has no doubt what he is and bristles at being called a lesbian. That may be the one big fault I found, his homophobia which he does overcome after spending time with other GLBTQ people. J is clear that he is a boy, and has realized this since he was two or three. It's his body that's wrong. He goes to great lengths to push aside traces of femininity, binding his breasts and studying how other men walk and act so he can be more himself.

He is lucky to have friends who accept him, and are willing to help his journey toward getting T - testosterone, the hormone that will allow him to be more himself. His family poses a continued problem along his journey. I found myself hurting for him, and rooting for him to find himself and for his family to come around and accept him.

In many ways this reminded me of Luna, a book about a girl erroneously born into a female body. That story, told from the POV of the girl's younger sister, is an interesting contrast and companion piece to this one. Crossing Lines would form the third part of the transgender triangle, a story of a transgender girl fromt he POV of a homophobic boy who can't understand the boy dressing in girl's clothing. Having read all three and their very different approaches to the issue, I feel I understand things better now.

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Book Review - Time Traveling Fashionista

The Time-Traveling FashionistaThe Time-Traveling Fashionista by Bianca Turetsky

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a cute book with a cute premise, a girl with a taste for vintage clothing and dresses that take her back to the time when they were made. I had a hard time buying Louise as a seventh grader and an even harder time beleiving that she could spend time in school studying the Titanic, then wake up in the body of an actress on board a White Star Line boat amid a crowd of famous people who died on the Titanic and still spend a day not realizing where she was. Instead she marvels at the fashions, and gushes over one of her favorite historical designers. She finally finds a ticket for the Titanic, recognizes the famous staircase from having seen the movie and even wishes Leonardo (di Carprio) was there with her and attempts to get people to listen to her and change course before it's too late.

This book will appeal to girls who gush over clothing, and includes numerous full page spreads of vintage outfits.

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Friday, May 6, 2011

Chapter one of the sequel to PULL

This only took forever. But I finally have things on a roll. Take a look at how it begins.

Chapter 1:
The trip home from prison always lasts forever. After spending Saturday with robbers and killers and the man who murdered my mother, the chartered bus can’t get me back to Chicago soon enough. I have four weeks until I head back downstate for another fun-filled visiting day inside the walls. I’ll need every second to recover from today.

“Did daddy say anything about me?” my eleven-year-old sister Linda asks as I push our Aunt Edie and her wheelchair into the house. She’s careful to keep her eyes on her coloring book. Not even her voice cracks. The teeth biting her lower lip is the only crack in her mask.

“Not a word,” I assure her before our aunt can answer. The old woman sighs but doesn’t reveal my lie. We both remember what happened after the first visit, when we returned and told Linda the truth about what Father said.

Linda puts down her crayon and stares at the floor. Her fist tightens and she nods before jumping from her chair and heading upstairs to her bedroom.

My aunt reaches up and touches my arm as I push her wheelchair into her first floor bedroom. “I still think it’s wrong to keep her from her father.”

“There’s no way I’ll ever force my sister to sit through visiting day inside prison, I told you that already.” Aunt Edith makes me go with her when she visits her little brother, isn’t that enough?

“Linda’s so young, I understand why she hasn’t forgiven him. But you forgive, don’t you, Barnetta?”

No way. Never. “Of course I forgive him, he’s my father.” I take a deep breath. “Can you manage now, I need to get to work.”

It feels almost as good to leave the house as it did to watch the gray stone walls vanish in the distance. Lucky for me, Franks’ Place where I waitress three times a week is a big hangout for students at Farrington High School. Even late on Saturday afternoon the restaurant will be filled. The owner is understanding and accepted why I had to come late today.

I pull my jacket collar tight around my neck and lower my head as I head into the chill November wind. Walking helps me push aside the memory of the bumpy bus, the sad-faced visitors, tired prisoners, and vending machine coffee. And the grim faced guards who look at prisoners and visitors alike as if we were bugs they ached to squash. One of the few virtues of being a six-foot tall fourteen-year-old is that my legs cover distance quickly.

Cars rush down the street, speeding through yellow lights as if their drivers can’t spend an extra second in a part of the city where nearly every block is dotted with vacant lots and abandoned buildings. Christmas lights hang from trees, although Thanksgiving remains weeks away. Even in the so-called shopping district. Sale signs in brightly decorated windows beg passers-by to enter and spend. Darkened stores with boarded up windows warn what will happen if they don’t. Foreclosure signs in front of houses explain why they can’t.

A bus rolls past spewing dark exhaust that makes me cough. When I look up I see a man in my path, so close I have to jump to the side to avoid a collision.

“Sorry,” I say and start walking around him.

“Sorry don’t cut it, man,” he says in a voice that sounds like pieces of gravel rubbing together. He steps into my path.

I raise my head and see a guy only an inch or two shorter than me. He’s older than the usual high school crowd, maybe in his twenties, although his dark skinned face is as leathery as my father’s. His thick lips open into a grin revealing yellowed teeth. Two silver studs gleam in one of his ears, an unlit cigarette perches behind the other, and a silver chain holding a large crucifix hangs around his neck. He wears a red jacket with black markings, but I don’t need those colors to recognize a member of the Devil Dog gang, not after months living in this strange part of Chicago where people talk about blood and pain like it’s nothing. I’ve only been in this neighborhood a couple of months, but I’m not stupid nor a little girl. I know Double D is not just a bra size. I also know I need to get away from this guy as soon as I can.

He looks me over and smacks his lips. “I didn’t know you were a girl. You make one giant-sized shorty.”

I’ve heard that line a hundred times since I grew five inches and two big breasts in sixth grade. I hate guys staring at my chest. Don’t show fear, I remind myself. I have every right to be here. That’s what my therapist tells me.

“My name’s Darnell.” The rocks continue cracking against each other. “What should I call you, miss tall, dark and uhmmm tall?”

Let me pass and you can call me gone. I take a deep breath and try to appear confident as I start walking around this guy.

“Rude not to answer when a man talks to you, girl.” He moves into my path again, forcing me to stop. “Didn’t your momma teach you manners?”

When she lived, my mother taught me a lot. But she couldn’t teach me how to escape creeps because she never learned how to escape from the wrong man herself. The breeze brings the smell of alcohol and my mind flashes back to the long-ago months when my father came home every night soaked in beer or wine or whiskey and looking for an excuse to fight. I try remembering the things I’ve been told since moving to Chicago’s south side. One gang member alone isn’t too dangerous, not out in public, even if the sky is dark and gray and the sidewalk almost empty. One will just look and make a few crude comments and then let you pass. Two might be a problem, but things don’t become real scary until you have to deal with three. With numbers they enjoy that I-Am-God feeling and everything-I-want-I-take kind of power.

“I’m going now.” My voice shakes, but I take a deep breath that fills my nose with eau-de-bad-guy and continue forward.

Darnell grabs my arm, jerking me close. I hit at his hand without thinking. His grip tightens and his lips twist into something that might pass as a smile among his friends, but to me he’s a mangy alley cat waiting for the mouse trapped under its paws to stop kicking.

“Yo, Darnell,” a man’s voice calls from behind me.

From the corner of my eyes I see two men weaving through traffic to cross the street and reach us. Two plus one makes three; the dangerous number.

Three can kill you.

The newcomers come close and I recognize the taller one in spite of the reflective wraparound sunglasses that somehow don’t look out of place on him even on this gray day. Malik Kaplan, a senior at my school. He’s six foot four, with broad shoulders, all the muscles in the world, a killer grin, and an ugly heart.

His companion is several inches shorter and appears older. He and Malik share the same coffee with a touch of cream skin tone. He wears a moustache that makes him look like he’s laughing. They slow as they approach.

Malik’s movements radiate energy, as if he prepares to attack the way he does his opponents on the basketball court. I can’t tell if he’s after me or Darnell. Malik stops a few feet away and stands with his legs in a wide stance, arms crossed over his chest and head held high. He wears his grey and green camouflage jacket, the one he never takes off except when he’s on playing. It covers his body like indestructible armor.

“Hollah, Big John,” Darnell says to Malik’s companion.

“What brings you to our turf?” John replies with a solemn nod. The two men appear about the same age. They start one of those intricate handshakes I see guy’s use but don’t understand.

“That’s right,” Malik says, and the cool menace in his voice makes me shiver. “You have no business in my territory.”

“Your territory?” Darnell drops his hand and leans closer to Malik. The two are barely spitting distance apart, and I wonder whether spit or fists will fly first.

John touches Darnell’s shoulder and gestures with his chin. They move to the side.

Malik turns to me and puts his hands on his waist as if trying to make himself bigger. The little I see of his face below the glasses reveals no hint of his emotions. His head moves just enough to show he’s watching me from behind the lenses. It’s creepy, looking at the guy I once crushed on and seeing only my own distorted features reflected back.

“You don’t know much about the gang,” he says. “Life in the hood lesson number one: don’t mess with a Devil Dog.”

“If he doesn’t mess with me I won’t.”

“That’s not what I said and you just failed the lesson.”

“Is he supposed to be scarier than you?” My heart still pounds, but I won’t let Malik know how frightened I was.

“Nothing’s scarier than me, Barney.” Malik laughs, but his eyes remain cold as he says, “What are you doing out here?”

“Are you accusing me of something? For your information, I’m on my way to work. You know, that thing most people do because their family can’t toss them money and anything else they want.”

The wind picks up and I shiver. Strands of black hair pull free from the braid hanging down my back and fly across my face. I look across the sidewalk at John and Darnell who seem to be arguing about something and wonder why Malik doesn’t go over to join them.

“Shouldn’t you be over there helping your friend?” I ask after glancing at the two men as they stand talking. “Who is he?”

“My cousin John, and he doesn’t need help. Any Kaplan can handle a gang member or two.”

“I suppose I should say thank you.”

Malik’s thumbs hitch into his belt and he makes a suggestive move. “You know how you can pay me.”

There’s the Malik Kaplan I know and hate. He hasn’t changed. This was no rescue, he’s not here about me. This is about ruling the streets, pit bulls snarling over the same burial plot for their bone, while the bone itself didn’t matter. He’s still the pushy braggart and I can’t understand how I could have crushed so hard on a guy who only cares about himself. He’s a spoiled boy who gets whatever he wants handed to him, including the hot girls in school ready to give their all if he lifts an eyebrow.

“You’re smart enough to know that’s never going to happen,” I say and turn to leave.

“How’s that brother of yours?” he asks.

That brings my attention back. I don’t know why Malik mentions my older brother unless he wants me to remember just how scary he can be. I grit my teeth and answer, “David’s just fine. I’ll tell him you sent your love.”

Before Malik can say anything more, John returns. Over his shoulder I see Darnell moving on toward the end of the block.

John touches his moustache and bows. “I’ve cleared up the mess for you young lady.” He’s a definite step up the quality side of the Kaplan gene pool.

“Thank you, Mr. Kaplan.”

“Henley,” he corrects me with a grim tone. Then he squares his shoulders as if shaking off a heavy burden and takes my hand. His voice grows smooth. “Helping you was all pleasure. I’d love an opportunity to show you just how much.”

“John, she’s fourteen.” Malik’s lips curl, as if my age ever stopped him from hitting on me.

John drops my hand but the teasing note in his voice deepens as he says, “She’s still a very fine looking young lady.”

My heart jumps. I’m six feet tall and a size sixteen and I get so few compliments from guys that John’s words send a spark down my spine. He looks sincere and I’d like to believe, only Malik looked sincere too when he pretended he liked me. There’s a million miles between eighth grade and high school, especially after months of therapy to stop me from spent trying to follow my mother. When you’re a nerdy, oversized freshman horse other kids snicker about, and the school’s badassed homecoming king says you’re the beauty he dreams about…well, I wanted to believe him.

But it was all a pretense, a way for Malik to score points against my brother.

“Look me up in a few years,” John says.

“She’s a giant, you must mean look down,” Malik says.

“I never hold a few inches against a pretty girl,” John says while I blink back angry tears.
What do you think?

Book Review - Fallen Graces

Fallen GraceFallen Grace by Mary Hooper

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fallen Grace is a wonderful historical YA story involving a strong heroine, fifteen-year-old Grace. We begin watching her struggles in Victorian London as she tries to find a way to get a decent burial for her stillborn child. Her grandparents disowned the family when her parents married, her father disappeared before her birth, her mother died when she was five-after charging Grace with the care of her sister Lily. Lily is older chronologically, but her mind is forever a child, leaving her prey to everyone and needing Grace's constant care.

Grace's attempt to bury her child puts her into the path of a conspiracy as people pretend to befriend the girls while trying to defraud them. The story shows the stratified London society. History oozes from this novel, and the death of the Prince Consort plays a major role in the story. We see what life is like in Victorian orphanages and workhouses, the sacrifices people have to make just to survive on a daily basis, and gain an in-depth look at the funeral business as Grace becomes desperate enough to accept employment as a Mute - a paid mourner for high-priced funerals.

The reader is told a secret early on, that Grace's child was not stillborn but instead given to a wealthy family that has suffered numerous miscarriages. At first we think this will be a story of how Grace is reunited with her son. But her journey is more convoluted than that, as people attempt to defraud her and her sister of a fortune left them by their late father, and she uncovers the identity of the man who raped her and fathered that child while she was in a workhouse.

Grace needs all her wits and determination to search for her missing sister, thwart the villains who seek her inheritance, and seek vengeance for all the girls who have been attacked by the villain. And to decide on the right future for her son.

I worried about both Grace and Lily, loved the devotion the sisters had for each other, and appreciated Grace's strength and determination to survive and care for the sister she loved no matter how big the burden was. Most of all, the ending was satisfying, and left me feeling hopeful for all their futures.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Where are those New Adult books?

I hear people saying they are interested in reading books about the 18-20 somethings, set in life after high school.  Here are a few I've found dealing with romance, mystery and adventure int he world of college, the workplace and beyond involving older teens.

KindredKindred by Tammar Stein The heroine starts in college, then leaves during her freshman year after a visit from an archangel (who is not the love interest, this isn't that kind of paranormal romance) and begins working for a newspaper in a small town. It deals with college, independence and seperation from parents. She finds a love interest in the form of the owner of the local tattoo parlor who displays his craft on his body. She also deals with health issues that she attributes to failing the mission handed to her by the archangel, and a conflict that puts her in direct oposition with her twin brother (a student at another college) who has been visited by the devil.

Spring BreakSpring Break by Kayla Perrin- This is a suspence story about three co-eds who head off to an island paradise for a spring break filled with sun, drinks, sand, boys and more boys. Until one disappears and all those boys morph into suspects. Technically they are not at college, but this does deal with college-aged kids and is good solid suspence.

We'll Never Tell - (by the same author as Spring Break) This is set on campus, as a prank leaves one girl dead and the survivors swear to remain silent to hide their guilt and feelings of responsibility.  Life in college is raw and frigtening as the killer works to evade discovery by any means necessary.

Vicious Little DarlingsVicious Little Darlings by Katherine Easer  Maybe college works better with mystery/suspence. This book deals with the heroine forced to go to an all-girl's school, her grandmother's alma mater, after an incident with a boy. She teams up with two other girls from a wealthy background and the three freshman move from the dorm into a private house off campus. A major mistake, because as their lives become embroiled we realize that at least one of the three is insane, one is suicidal, one determined to survive no matter who she has to kill to do so, and one ready to do anything to win the love of one of the others.  The question facing the reader right up to the last pages is which girl is which, and who, if anyone, will survive the insanity.

Zero Point: Bond (Volume 1)Zero Point: Bond by Jordan BecketThis one not only puts the heroine in college, it also gives her the kind of family problems that go along with this time in a New Adult's life.  It also gives an 18-year old a soulmate who happens to be 218. This paranormal romance features a college freshman who bonds with a mysterious crystal that gives her superpowers to help save the world from those who want to use the crystals for their own ends, while she tends her absent-minded professor mother and makes plans to ressurect the father who died when she was three.

The Adventures of GuyThe Adventures of Guy by Norm Cowie  I haven't read this one, but I've heard that, while it was originally written for and published as an adult book, the cover led YA readers to it in droves. This is about a bunch of college boys, Guy and his roommates. 

So, books involving the 18 and up protagonist, set in life after high school, do exist. As I mentioned in an earlier post, apparently college is a dangerous place, and serve as fodder for mystery and suspence.

Do you have any to suggest?

Click here to View my earlier post on the New Adult genre

Monday, May 2, 2011

Book Review - Love Sucks

Love Sucks!Love Sucks! by Melissa Francis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a good, fun, quick read. Although I have not read the first book in the series, Bite Me, I had no trouble following along with the plot or characters. We have a vampire teen fighting off her unsibling-like feelings for her stepbrother who is a wizard, and dealing with the development of her own powers. She teams up with a sexy vampire trainer while her mother prepares to give birth to a witch/vampire hybrid and her evil father reenters the picture and tries to use her as a key to something horrible. Somehow the author manages to make this not just another vampire story as the Ashe and her look-but-don't-touch stepbrother learn to trust and work together to save the baby and the world. And prepare for the "Love Sucks" prom.

View all my reviews

Friday, April 29, 2011

Here Come the Genre-istas!!!

Look Out! Look Out!! Here Come the Genre-istas!!!

May 1st marks the launch of Romancing the Genres group blog. Come check us out! as each of our twenty-one Genre-istas from nine states introduces herself (no men yet).

Our monthly May topic: what our sub-genre is, how you can tell it apart from another sub-genre, and why we love to write it. Each day (Monday through Friday) you can read a new post from a different Genre-ista talking about her take on a different romance sub-genre. May’s guest bloggers (Saturday) will be Reviewers.


Comment on one or more of our Introduction posts and be eligible to win a “basket” of twenty-one prizes from the Genre-istas.  - NOTE: A free spot in my May 5 Man Talk Class - learning to make your male characters more beleivable, is one of the prizes, just for coming and commenting.

Check out our guest reviewers and be eligible to win a prize. Our May 7th Reviewer is Night Owl Reviews so the prize will have something to do with owls.

Follow us through the month of May and be eligible to win a basket filled with books, candy, jewelry, and much, much more.


If you’d like a great place to promote yourself and get additional visibility consider donating to Romancing the Genres May Basket (drawing on 06/01/2011). Remember RTG is made up of 21 writers from 9 states with 20 FB pages, 9 Twitter and 7 LinkedIn accounts, and 21 additional blogs. If you’re interested or have questions, please contact Judith Ashley at for details.