Stars Above

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This recommendation contains spoilers for other books in The Lunar Chronicles, but not for Stars Above. If you haven’t read all of the previous books in the series, don’t read on! 

In a lot of cases, I don’t enjoy the trend of companion short stories and novellas that’s becoming common for YA series. In certain cases it works (Nicola recommends some excellent examples here) and in others it just feels forced. I typically avoid novellas as the main books in the series come out to preserve my reading process. Marissa Meyer’s collection, Stars Above was a great way to conclude the series.

The collection is a combination of prequel stories and one of the wedding stories we’ve all been waiting for. It was just what I needed to close down my love for The Lunar Chronicles. I’ll admit that Winter felt a little rushed for me. Even with the knowledge I gained in Fairest, I felt like Winter didn’t really get a fair shake as a character. Even at 800 pages, Winter felt like not enough.

For me, Stars Above added in everything I’d been wondering about. It closed the gaps in my understanding about characters and events from previous novels and gave me closure on a series I’ve loved and supported from the beginning. With Winter, the main thing I felt was missing (and had been missing since she was introduced as a character) was the reasoning for why Winter would choose to get Lunar sickness. Why wouldn’t she just use her power a little bit and avoid the mental torture of not using her gift? Yes, the story is relayed on a surface level in Winter, but with so much else going on, it lost its impact for me. Stars Above clears this up in heartbreaking detail.

My other favorite stories let us in on characters like Thorne and Cress, who Meyer always hinted had compelling backstories, but we never got to know them. Who is Carswell Thorne, really? All those reasons Cress loved him before she even knew him were supported in Stars Above. How did Cress end up on the satellite? Explained.

But my favorite story by far was how Wolf became Wolf. One of the most powerful things in Winter is Wolf’s tragic transformation. He is so ashamed of his beastly mutations, but Scarlet loved him exactly the same, if not more. Getting a chance to understand the depth of his revulsion at the lupine mutations made the whole series that much richer.

Not all the stories are sad, and not all are about main characters. I was surprised at the graceful range Meyer includes in the collections, and the ordering of the stories/novellas takes on a life of its own, as any good collection should. I felt it built to a meaningful conclusion in its last story. I felt satisfied about the series in a way that was lacking for me at the end of Winter.

If you’ve read all of the books, and even if you loved Winter and felt satisfied with the way it ended, I promise you will love Stars Above. It was wonderful to get more time with all of our favorite characters and so good to see them all again at the end in a story that feels like a real conclusion to the series.

Allison Carr Waechter is ready for Spring and reading in her hammock. 

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Tiny Bits of Magic: Holly Karlsson and Unusual Diction

51ESGy1tWFL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_A couple months ago I got an email from a woman who saw the Coven Book Club emblem and wondered if she could get in touch with the artist. Since the artist is me, I replied. Long story short, I drew a similar emblem for her business and was inducted into the Tea Coven which is a secret society for ladies who love tea. It’s mysterious and wonderful. As a result, I’ve met some truly lovely (and extremely talented) women and Holly Karlsson is one.

Holly Karlsson is an author and artist living in the mountains of Northern California, US. She currently writes short stories for her blog hollyjkarlsson.com, though she has published a collection of her flash fiction called Unusual Diction, which is only 99 cents on Amazon right now. This is such a steal because Unusual Diction will enchant you, and leave you wanting more.

I talked to Holly to get the lay of the land with flash fiction and to get news about whether or not we’ll see longer works from her in the future. Grab a cup of tea and sit down with us!

Allison: Holly, thanks so much for being with us today! I’m excited to talk with you about flash fiction, because I think most people don’t know much about it. What does “flash fiction” mean to you?

Holly: Delighted to be here! Flash fiction is essentially a brief glimpse into a story in a few hundred words or less. Unlike a short story or longer piece, I only have a single scene to draw the reader in, revealing a compelling character in a captured moment. I love the open-endedness of this form of storytelling, as it allows the reader’s imagination to fill in what’s left unsaid.

Allison: What got you interested in flash fiction?

Holly: I can’t remember now how I stumbled upon it, but in looking for writing challenges online, I found a group called The Prediction. Every week we would be given 3 words and challenged to write a story in 100 words or less. I found this very exciting, as I could create new worlds and characters continuously. Somehow the 3 words would always inspire me, regardless of whatever writing block I’d have when sitting down to write for my novel.

Writing can be a very solitary life, and flash fiction gives me a chance to interact with other writers, as well as remind myself that my stories are actually enjoyed outside my own head. It’s easy to doubt yourself when it takes a long time to finish a story.

Allison: This is very true. I have a ride-along reader for just this reason — someone who reads my pages as I write them. I’d never considered that flash fiction could eliminate help banish some of that weird in-between time where you start wondering if you’re the only one who likes your characters.

As a reader, I found that so many of the stories in Unusual Diction are so intriguing and engrossing that I was bummed not to get to immediately read another chapter. Do you have plans to develop any of them into longer works?

Holly: Thank you! There are a lot of characters I’ve created that I’d love to go back to, and do plan on writing longer stories for them in the future. Currently I’m working on a fantasy novel about a spymaster’s daughter who is caught up in a plot to remove magic from the world, which I hope to self-publish sometime next year.

Allison: That sounds amazing! I’ve always loved stories about spies, especially when magic is involved! Tamora Pierce’s Daughter of the Lioness books are some of my favorites. What authors do you feel have had an impact on the way you want to write?

Holly: I haven’t read her books yet, but they sound amazing! Definitely adding to my to-read list. There are so many authors that inspire me. One of my favorites books is The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I loved how magical and vibrant her world was, and all the different characters. Her writing is beautiful, and I strive to instill a similar richness in my own writing. Juliet Marillier, Robin McKinley and Neil Gaiman also have that beautiful, magical quality to their stories that I love; pure inspiration!

Brandon Sanderson and Terry Goodkind are two of my favorites for epic fantasy. Their world building is so immersive, and their stories intense and enthralling. I’d love to have the same power with my stories; I want my readers to care deeply about my characters and believe the worlds are real.

Allison: I am also a huge fan of The Night Circus. It’s one of those books that’s unique enough that it’s hard to recommend what to read next if you loved it.  Unusual Diction has a lot of great fantasy stories, but there’s also some awesome steampunk in here. Who are some of your favorite steampunk authors?  

Holly: I love how creative and inventive the steampunk world is, though most of my experience with the genre is from film and artwork. I’ve only read a few steampunk stories so far, so would love any good recommendations you have! One of the books I enjoyed is The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. It has a magical feel to it (daemons and mercenary bears!), but is filled with scientific machines and obvious steampunk flair.

Brandon Sanderson’s wild west steampunk book, The Alloy of Law, is another favorite, as well as Charlie N. Holmberg’s The Paper Magician. I love to think of new forms of magic, and enjoyed his use of paper as a medium.

Allison: I love the His Dark Materials books. I’m in the process of re-reading them right now, actually. I’ve also enjoyed Charlie Holmberg’s Paper Magician books, they’re so fun and remind me a bit of Diana Wynne Jones’ style. I think if you’re looking for some fun steampunk to read next then you might enjoy Cassie Clare’s The Infernal Devices series, which is a part of The Mortal Instruments universe, but is decidedly steampunk, by most accounts. Also, Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate and Finishing School series have been popular ‘round these parts. And I recommended Monstress last week, which is gorgeous and totally steampunk-y…

Girl, I’m gonna shut up now about books and ask you a hideously unfair question: out of all the characters in Unusual Diction, do you have any particular favorites, folks who kind of hang out while you sip tea and wait around for their next moment with you?

Holly: Kensi is one of my favorites, from Off the Grid and Good Enough. She’s defiant and wild, and lots of fun to write. I would often bite my nails thinking of all the trouble she was going to get into, and I know she’s waiting for me to continue her story.

I also have a fascination with Elstet and Elaeya, from Fate and Talents. Their world is dark and spellbinding, and I love the poetic way their story flows. Some mornings when I sit down to write in the lessening darkness, my thoughts drift to their world. I think they have a lot more to say, but will definitely be a challenge.

Allison: Kensi’s one of my faves as well. I love a badass babe. However, the Twice Born have stuck with me and I want to give our readers a taste of your gorgeous way with words before we go:

All the twice-born girls were shackled at their first blood. Silvery iron, so thin it could have been mere spiderweb, linked every girl to a watcher. Beauty came with first birth, but the power, able to destroy man and worlds, unravel even time, came with the second. It was for this, that the watchers were bound to the earth-breakers.

See? Gorgeous and completely intriguing. Many thanks to Holly for talking with me today and you can buy Unusual Diction on Amazon or head over to her blog to read what she’s got cooking this week.

Allison Carr Waechter is going to tackle her TBR over Fall Break and try to see if she can replace all the water in her body with tea, science be damned.


Down a Dark Path

49011 I don’t know about you, but I have always loved scary stories. I loved Disney’s fairy tale movies as a kid, but I knew from reading that they didn’t tell the whole story. I knew that Snow White’s evil stepmother was supposed to dance herself to death in molten iron shoes. I loved brave Vasilisa and her encounter with Baba Yaga. I loved all the scary parts of real fairy tales as much as ghost stories. In real fairy tales, the prince doesn’t always save the princess, lots of times she saves herself.

One day, long after my childhood was over, I stumbled across a copy of Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. I read it over and over. It was the first time I’d ever read a fairy tale re-telling and I wholeheartedly adored it. From cover to cover, each story is haunting, lyrical and downright terrifying. Carter digs into Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast and many others in such a way that feels true to the original tales, but also completely expands what you feel you already know.

In stories like “The Courtship of Mr Lyon” or “The Tiger’s Bride,” the source of the story is obvious (Beauty and the Beast), but Carter’s spin pulls out themes from the original tale and amplifies them. In other stories, like “The Lady of the House of Love” (Sleeping Beauty) Carter only loosely evokes the original tale, spinning something different, both beautiful and horrific. And perhaps this is the heart of Carter’s magic: humanity is sick and strong, horrendous and dazzlingly beautiful. We hurt one another deeply, but can love with the same depth. Fairy tales are always amplifications of human nature, using the supernatural or paranormal to tell us something about ourselves and Carter does this beautifully.

I taught The Bloody Chamber for many years in first-year writing courses. I watched with glee as students pulled apart the stories with fresh horror each semester. They were alternately horrified by the sometimes grotesque nature of Carter’s storytelling and fascinated by how the stories stuck with them.

It’s a testament to how powerful Carter’s writing is that when I ran into a young man I’d had in Fall semester his freshman year, the first thing he mentioned was that he tells people to read “The Snow Child”and “The Company of Wolves” if they want their minds blown. This was three years later and he was still deeply affected by the work. We chatted for almost twenty minutes about the things he still ponders from time to time about the book. Then, before he took off, he said that he and a group of my former students all got drunk together and waxed poetic about The Bloody Chamber; they didn’t know one another before that night, but bonded over reading the book in my class. That’s something, friends. Most of my first year students barely remember my name three years later, but Carter sticks with them.

Eventually I began teaching business writing, rather than freshman writing seminars and my days of reading Carter with the kiddos were over. It was a long time before I read another book that even remotely resembled Carter’s seminal work, but eventually I started picking up copies of scary fairy tale retellings from time to time and I always react with a shiver of delight when I hit on a particularly good collection. I dearly love novel-length retellings, but there’s something very powerful about short, scary fiction that I enjoy.

S7945295o, without further ado, whether you’re just hearing about The Bloody Chamber for the first time, or you’re a fan who’d like to read something similar, please let me suggest the two following works:

My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, compiled and edited by Kate Bernheimer (great authors like Shelley Jackson, Aimee Bender, Neil Gaiman and Joyce Carol Oates all contributed)

Spinning houses and talking birds. Whispered secrets and borrowed hope. Here are new stories sewn from old skins, gathered by visionary editor Kate Bernheimer and inspired by everything from Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” and “The Little Match Girl” to Charles Perrault’s “Bluebeard” and “Cinderella” to the Brothers Grimm’s “Hansel and Gretel” and “Rumpelstiltskin” to fairy tales by Goethe and Calvino and from China, Japan, Vietnam, Russia, Norway, and Mexico. Fairy tales are our oldest literary tradition, and yet they chart the 6490566imaginative frontiers of the twenty-first century as powerfully as they evoke our earliest encounters with literature. This exhilarating collection restores their place in the literary canon.

There One Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales, by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya 

Vanishings and apparitions, nightmares and twists of fate, mysterious ailments and supernatural interventions haunt these stories by the Russian master Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, heir to the spellbinding tradition of Gogol and Poe. Blending the miraculous with the macabre, and leavened by a mischievous gallows humor, these bewitching tales are like nothing being written in Russia-or anywhere else in the world-today.

I hope you’ll give some of these a try. Folks who love ghost stories, fairy tales, or just traveling down a dark path to see where it leads will all enjoy any of the selections I’ve mentioned here. Start with Carter, if you haven’t read her and move on. I can’t promise you’ll love every story, but I can probably guarantee there’s one you’ll want to talk over with a strong drink and some good friends. Invite me over when you’re ready.

Allison Carr Waechter has only days left of summer school teaching and wishes she could throw it all away and talk with her business writing students about “The Snow Child.” Alas, it’s personal branding and application materials for the next few days. Check on her on Twitter if you want to know how she’s holding up in the sweltering Missouri heat. 


Freaky Friday: Sara Dobie Bauer and Forever Dead

Happy Friday the 13th and welcome to Lit Witches’ first Freaky Friday, where we’ll discuss texts that are dark, sexy, and otherwise subversive. Today we’re talking with Sara Dobie Bauer, author of the short story Forever Dead.

Forever-DeadEven centuries didn’t prepare Dario for Zach Mede and a love that took his vampire heart by storm. But loving a mortal holds dangers of its own. A mortal can be murdered … and murderers are everywhere.

Allison: In Forever Dead, the world knows vampires exist and the story hinges on the conflict that produces. What made you want to write about a world in which vampires and humans are openly struggling for power?

Sara: Isn’t someone always struggling for power in this world? Someone is always against someone else, whether they are Republican or Democrat, gay or straight, male or female. I simply made vampires another subculture, fighting for equality, because let’s face it: no matter how different we are, we deserve to be treated equally.

Allison: This is one of the things I like most about Forever Dead. It’s fun, scary and sexy, but it’s tackling some big emotional/political issues with grace and without “pushing” an agenda. In other words, it’s truthful and real. I think good fantasy grounds itself in the deeper reality of people’s everyday struggles.

Sara: Exactly. I mean we’re not all super buff homosexual vampires (unfortunately).

Allison: Right? That would be so great.

Sara: I would be such a homosexual vampire slut. But back to reality …

Most of us have been in tumultuous relationships. Dario and Zach love each other, even if they’re loath to admit it. They love each other, but their relationship is in serious conflict as one of them is being hunted. Plus, everyone has to die—even vampires, in certain cases—and I often wonder: what happens to love when the one you love goes away?

Allison: Even though this is ostensibly a love story, your main character Dario is still pretty scary. He’s not trying to drink animal blood or wallowing in guilt about the humans he consumes. He seems comfortable in his vamp skin. Lots of authors in the genre equate love with humanity and that seems to result in guilty-acting vampires. Dario is a vampire rights activist in love with a human, why isn’t he brooding in the corner over his lost humanity?

Sara: Ha. I know you’re talking about Louis in Interview with a Vampire. I never liked Louis. I was more of a Lestat girl, which is probably where Dario comes from.

Allison: We can be in the “I heart Lestat” club together. From Lestat to Damon Salvatore, I’m drawn to the big bad sexy vamps. That’s not to say that I hated Angel or that I don’t appreciate some of the tamer blood-suckers out there, but the bad-boy, slightly scary ones give me the shivers–in the best possible way.

Sara: We should make “I Heart Lestat” t-shirts!

Allison: I would wear mine everywhere.

Sara: Seriously, I’ve always been a huge fan of anti-villains. The most obvious, perhaps, is Hannibal Lecter. I mean you root for that crazy cannibal!

I like bad boys who own their badness. Dario isn’t afraid of his own bloodlust. He doesn’t feel bad about attacking Zach (who inadvertently ends up being the love of his life). Bad boys can love. Going back to Lecter, he obviously cared immensely for Clarice. Dario cares for Zach.

Dario hasn’t lost his humanity; his humanity has merely changed. He is a villain to love, and I love that. I relate to monsters that embrace their own monstrosity, because no matter how much we deny it, the darkest parts of ourselves are often our favorite parts.

Allison: YES. I’m really into reading stuff that tackles the idea that we’re all little monstrous in some way. Embrace the darkness, I say.

Sara: Embrace it but also exorcise it. I’ve often said that if I didn’t write (and work out religiously), I would be a psychopathic murderer.

I did a photo shoot as Marla Singer (of Fight Club fame) as a form of exorcism. I’ve always associated with her smoking and self-abuse. In the words of Tyler Durden, “At least she’s trying to hit bottom.” If not for the people who love me, I would be Marla. Playing her in character was very cleansing … as was playing a murderer in a short film. My screenwriter friend told me, “I have this role that’s perfect for you. She’s a psycho who murders her neighbor over a Frisbee.” (In hindsight, was that a compliment?)

Allison: I’m going to go with yes, totally. I agree about writing-as-exorcism; most of my own writing is about getting the spooky stuff in my head someplace where it does me, and hopefully other people, some good.

Sara: Even though we writers write because we HAVE TO, we also write to make other people feel not so alone. I’ve had many people come up to me and say, “I feel like you wrote this for me.” That is the highest form of compliment.

Allison: I know you’ve got another vamp-story brewing. Are the characters in Bite Somebody: A Bloodsucker’s Diary living in the same world as Zach and Dario, or is this a different world altogether?

Sara: Bite Somebody is a novel written in diary form, and it is nothing like Forever Dead. Bite Somebody is comic-romance set in a world where vampires are still “in the closet.” Yes, the lead character, Celia, is a vampire, but she’s awkward and totally unsure of her new vampire tendencies. She falls in love with the smell of her neighbor but has no idea how to approach him. Her antics are laughable and embarrassing. Whereas Celia is a blundering innocent, Dario is villainous with a soft spot for one man: Zach Mede. Forever Dead is violent, erotic, and filled with shadows. In contrast, Bite Somebody is hilarious, light-hearted, and cast in the light of a moonlit beach.

Allison: I’ve gotta say, I like the idea of vampires on a moonlit beach. Count me in. Thanks so much for talking with me about your work.

Hunt Sara down:

Sasara-dobie-bauerra Dobie Bauer is a writer and prison volunteer in Phoenix, Arizona, with an honor’s degree in creative writing from Ohio University. She is a book nerd and sex-pert at SheKnows.com, and her short fiction has appeared in The Molotov Cocktail, Stoneslide Corrective, Blank Fiction, and Solarcide. Her short story, “Don’t Ball the Boss,” was nominated for the 2015 Pushcart Prize. Read more about Sara at http://saradobie.wordpress.com or on Twitter.

 

AllisIMG_0237on Carr Waechter is a voracious consumer of all things vampy. If she woke up undead, she’d bite you post haste and abuse her newfound power. For now she satisfies that urge by writing about a mentally ill vampire who’s in an epic fight with his sister. If you’re worried about how that’s going you can check in on her at http://acwaechter.com or on Twitter. (And she does not look half as cool as Sara, but wanted to show you this picture of her dressed as a steampunk pirate princess. As you do.)