If you like it then you shoulda put a pin on it

I'm taking a break from my dystopian by era this week, because I'm finishing book two of The Crewel World trilogy and I have no more words.  Seriously, these are on loan with a scary interest rate.  I should probably use them to tell you something interesting then and not waste them on bad jokes. This is exactly what got me into trouble in college when the pretty plastic fake money came in the mail.


Are you on Pinterest?  Because I'm in deep smit with Pinterest (check out my boards here).  It's one of the best writing tools ever.  I use to google images to get inspired to describe a room or a dress or a setting, find one, and trot off to write scene.  The problem with that method is that I could never find the pictures again.  So now I pin them!  Genius!  Anyway I thought I'd share some particularly evocative photos with you that make me think of sci-fi and dystopian stories.

That's sure to impress your date.

Have a favorite pic on Pinterest?  Have a Pinterest board for writing?  Share it with us!

Anne Rice at the LA Times Book Festival

I was fortunate enough to speak on a panel at the LA Times Book Festival this past weekend. My panel was called “Future Tense” and also featured Marie Lu (LEGEND) and Cecil Castellucci (FIRST DAY ON EARTH), moderated by the wonderful Aaron Hartzler (RAPTURE PRACTICE, 2013). We enjoyed a great turnout on an unusually mild day on the USC campus.

I only had time to see one panel and I chose to see Anne Rice being interviewed. She was a natural speaker, talking from the heart, with the ability to make you feel like you were in a living room, just the two of you, as she shares her stories. What I’m relating to you here is my memory of that experience, and would be different if told by any other viewer in the audience.

She spoke about her challenging relationship with Catholicism, her connections to New Orleans, and the effect her mother’s stories had on her. In those days there were no DVDs or videos on demand and so if you missed a movie, you missed it. Her mother would relate movies to Anne, scene by scene. And radio was a big influence on her life, listening to the radio plays and imagining the visuals.

The most interesting part for me was when Anne spoke about the craft of writing. She said she originally tried to write what was in vogue at the time (during the 1970s) – small family stories. She said it just didn’t work for her, she was only doing it because that is what was big at the time. But once she started writing about the unusual, the strange, the monsters – it all opened up for her. And she said other authors have told her the same thing. Once they found their genre, they were able to take their feelings and passions and translate them into these stories. This was a time that is hard for many of us to imagine – when anything that wasn’t “real” couldn’t be good literature.

At the time, she remembered attending what used to be called ABA, but is now called BEA, and going to see the film “Star Wars” across the street. And she felt the strange mismatch, that the mainstream public wanted to see stories like this, about the fantastic, and yet the mainstream books in that book convention were not fulfilling that (of course science fiction was always published, just as a smaller niche then). She felt it was possible to bring the fantastic into the mainstream. And she did.

She had an early method of keeping close contact with her fans by having a special phone line where they could leave and hear messages. Now of course, she’s on facebook with over 600,000 fans. Sometimes, when she wants an opinion, she asks a question and prints out the answers and reads all of them. I just find that so impressive, that she has that kind of relationship with such a large number of fans.

When it came to her wanting to write about werewolves in her newest book, THE WOLF GIFT, people tried to talk her out of it. But she said she’s never listened to trends because she figures she’ll put her own mark on the subject. It’s easy to assume that at this stage in her career, of course she has that luxury. But I got the feeling that this has been her mantra from the time she decided the trend of realistic family stories didn’t fit her. So the lesson I took from this was the deep importance of discovering who you really are as a writer.

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A dream come true

As an avid Harry Potter fan, it was a dream to see the real sets and props of the movies. During my England vacation I finally got the chance to do the Warner Brothers Studio Tour in London. It was amazing to see the place where the actors had spent so much time over the last few years and to see their costumes and make-up and all. And as a writer it was fascinating to see how real a world that used to exist in someone's mind can become.

Now for your enjoyment a few of the hundreds of photos I took while touring the huge halls of the Harry Potter studios.
The Broom Closet

Part of the Great Hall

Gryffindor Common Room

Dumbledore's Office
Potion's lab

The Kitchen in the Burrow

Umbridge's Office

Privet Drive

The creepy Voldemort thingy

Diagon Alley

A model of Hogwarts

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Living my post-apocalyptic nightmare

Surprisingly often, the subject comes up of what I'd miss most if I were living in a post-apocalyptic world. I tend to answer "hot showers" (which is why I totally get why that girl in DOLLHOUSE let her guard down when she discovered the working showers and got capped).

I flew into NYC on Saturday and checked into my pricey hotel (all decent NYC hotels are pricey, this is not me bragging about staying in a suite at the Four Seasons or anything).  And what do I discover? NO HOT WATER.  This lamentable situation continued for another 48 hours, and I got a taste of my post-apocalyptic nightmare.

My husband and I had to find creative ways to get clean.  His involved going to yoga classes and using their shower. Mine involved wet wipes and getting a wash and dry at a nearby salon (and yes, I realize that these would probably not be options in an actual post-apocalyptic situation).

Fortunately, the hotel was apologetic about the lack of hot water and comped us two nights - making this one of our cheapest NYC stays ever.  And the hot water came back just in time for me to have one scalding shower before we continued on in our travels.

What would you miss most in a post-apocalyptic world?

Ashfall, Ashen Winter, and Oral Surgery

I'm off to the oral surgeon today. One of my molars has been missing for six years, but until I got my first royalty check in February, I had lacked the funds to replace it. I'm told they're going to drill a hole in my bone and jam a titanium screw into the hole. I can't say I'm looking forward to that, but it'll be nice to have all my teeth again. Maybe I'll have Alex and Darla engraved on it, like this guy did:

Or maybe an ASHFALL cover would look better? I could put my two two books side-by-side like this on the new tooth and the one next to it:

I got this lovely screen printed cake at Appoquinimink High School, and if they can screen print cakes, why not teeth, right?

 On second thought, maybe I'll just settle for naming my new tooth. It'll be named ASHFALL, of course.
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Science Fiction Dystopian by Era: 1960s

A Clockwork Orange (1962)
I don't know where to begin with this.  It's strange and experimental and possibly brilliant, but since it's so complex you can never really get a handle on it.

Logan's Run (1967)  
When the percentage of people under the age of 21 reaches critical mass in the all important year of 2000 (sheesh! what a letdown that New Year's Eve was), the government begins to require that people are terminated at a certain age.  But most importantly the film adaptation is where we get the classic line: "I want to live! LIIIIIIIVE!"

Planet of the Apes (1968)

So if we were to name someone the greatest dystopian actor ever, it would have to be Charleton Heston, right?  Planet of the Apes for those of you who haven't seen is about astronauts who crash land on a strange planet where apes are in dominion over man.  It's twist ending is well known, but it's still the stuff of legend!

The idea for dystopian by era came from the song "In the Year 2525", so take a listen.  It's getting pretty clear that dystopian is more than a current trend, huh?

Will Work for Tarantulas

Your life experiences all add up to make you a writer.

Oh, I’ve had weird jobs, good jobs, bad jobs. My worst was probably when I was paid to participate (they make it sound like so much fun, you’re “participating”) in a study dealing with fear.

So they had me wired up like for a lie detector test, and I sat in a chair that faced the narrow end of a long table that was angled down. The edge of the table closest to me was probably two feet away. At the far end of the table was a little curtain. What was behind that curtain?

They raised the little curtain and there was a toy train with a tarantula tied to the top of the locomotive. Only his feet were tied so he could move and wiggle.

And he did.

There were markings beside the track relating to the distance the hairy creature was from me. Ten feet, nine feet, etc. I don’t recall at what point I pressed the button that made the train stop and quickly run in reverse, pulling the beast away from me and behind the little curtain.

Don’t ask me what they were testing, but this event probably will show up in my writing at some point. Because it was so visceral, it was accompanied by a lot of emotion, and I remember it quite clearly.

So if you want to be a writer, the lesson is to go for the really weird jobs.

Event note: Dear League readers, I will be speaking at the LA Times Bookfair this Sunday at 3:30 at the YA stage, on a panel called “Future Tense.” Also with me will be the wonderful authors Marie Lu and Cecil Castellucci. No tickets required, signing immediately after. Happy to meet you, if you’re coming to USC.

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Ways I Earned Money Writing (and Not)

Mike's post yesterday inspired me to share my assortment of odd jobs with you today.

I love reading those short one-paragraph author biographies. Especially the ones where an author was a strawberry picker, circus acrobat, and anaconda trainer.  Ok - I made that up, but an author with experience like that has to be able to tell an fascinating story, right?

My resume is not nearly so exotic.  My first paying job, when I was in 4th grade, was walking the neighbor girl to the bus stop.  For $5 a week, I had to endure a brutal kindergartner who regularly knocked me over and made me eat grass.

Later I babysat (though the kid who stripped naked and burned the fur off the family cat ended my short career), tutored math (this makes me laugh now), and wrote articles for the teen page of the Dayton Daily News.

In college I worked in catering, graded German papers, was a Sandwich Artist at Subway, and taught English to a Japanese preteen who was in love with Leonardo DiCaprio (all our conversational lessons revolved around him).

When I worked at a call center for an office supply company, I handled the Spanish speaking customers (who invariably wanted balloons printed with Jesus te ama! on them). To get away from the phones, I volunteered to write the company newsletter (writing!).

My first internship in advertising in Germany led to my copywriting gig, which led to my freelance writing/editing/translating business.

And now I'm writing novels and picture books. Hopefully when I do school visits one day, no kindergartners will tackle me and make me eat grass.

What I Did Before I Was a Writer, Writing Advice, or Maybe Just the Awesomeness of Michael Grant.

It's Sunday night, and as usual, I have no idea what to write here. (Apparently I'm a better novelist than blogger. I have no shortage of novel ideas.) So, I have turned to Twitter for help, and Twitter has delivered in the person of Matt Agius (@LoosedGrunt). He suggested writing about all the jobs I had before I was a writer, which reminded me of Michael Grant.

I spent Thursday and Friday stalking Michael. I met him at Kids Ink Children's Bookstore, followed him to dinner at Binkleys, and sat in on his raucous presentation at Ben Davis High School the next morning. (I also slept in the hall outside his hotel room in the Hyatt, just to listen to him snore, but please don't tell him that. It might be a shade on the wrong side of creepy.)

He's touring to support his latest and best work yet, BZRK. If you like scifi thrillers, buy a copy. Now. It's got a secret war conducted nano-sized predator drones, a dystopia-in-the-making, and a fabulously wealthy, tough-as-titanium heroine bent on avenging her family.

One of the many subjects we discussed was writing advice. My stock answer to "How do I become a better writer" is this: 1) Read a lot, and 2) Write a lot. As it turns out, Michael agrees with me on points one and two but adds a third, which I will henceforth rip off. (And this is the only time I plan to give him credit.) His writing advice is: 1) Read a lot, 2) Write a lot, and 3) Live a lot.

What he means by this is that you have to get out there and do something so you'll have something to write about. Otherwise, all modern novels would be about laptop computers. I'm dying of boredom just thinking about that prospect.

And this brings us around to what I did before I was a writer. As it turns out, Michael Grant and I have a lot in common. We both dropped out of high school, lived overseas, became champion roach killers, and married women smarter and tougher than us. I can certainly see the richness of Michael's life in his novels, and I hope readers can see the same in mine.

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Science-Fiction Dystopian by Era: Vintage 1970s

My apologies for the delay in posting, I started drafting this but never actually got it to the blog.

For my next few Friday posts, I'm going to feature dystopian sci-fi by era, and first up, I'm going to give you some examples from the 1970s.  Let's call this Vintage Dystopian.

Star Wars (1977)
Considered a science fiction classic, there's a strong underlying dystopian theme to Star Wars - a totalitarian government, an ultimate weapon they can use to control the masses, a growing resistance, and a young hero ready to strike out and save the day.

Future World (1976)
I feel like I should feature it's predecessor Westworld, but since I haven't seen that one, you get Future World, which is most likely an inferior sequel.  I stumbled upon this gem late at night in my on demand, and just look at that tag line.  Is this you...or are you you?  Deep thoughts, dear readers.  Deep thoughts.  The story tells of a perfect theme park that allows you to live out fantasies in a futuristic world, or one from the past, utilizing robots, but - oh dear!- they're turning people who visit into robots.  There is of course a very dystopian reason for this.  The movie is worth watching for the bad acting alone.

Flow My Tears the Policeman Said (1974)
Trying to narrow any Philip K. Dick story into a sentence or two is just wrong, so I'll leave you with this. Police state, genetic engineering, parallel realities, and subterranean communes in 231 pages.  No writer can pack as much into so little as Dick.  If you haven't read him, go to the bookstore and buy everything you can find, and if some of the stories seem familiar, that's because half of the good sci-fi movies of the last 20-30 years are based on his work.

The Lathe of Heaven (1971)
One of Ursula K. Le Guin's most well-known novels - and that's saying something - the science fiction story is about a man whose dreams alter reality.  His attempts to control them slowly spell certain doom for the Earth.  Read it now!

Now, dear readers, what era shall we visit next week?

Game of Thrones

I’m one of those people who hasn’t read the books the HBO series GAME OF THRONES is based on, A Song of Fire and Ice. But I’ve watched every episode. I was lucky enough to see George RR Martin last year at Renovation and heard him speak about the filming and the challenges of adapting such an ambitious project. One thing that was particularly funny was a battle scene where men just appeared walking over a hill. It looked odd at the time and George explained it was because they had no budget at that point for the horses.

If you haven’t seen it, you should. Everything about the series is well-done, from the amazing title sequence to the brilliant, mostly Irish and British cast, each one so perfect you can’t imagine anyone else in the role.

Game of Thrones Infographic : History and Lore Timeline v1.0

A timeline.

Game of Thrones Infographic : Illustrated Guide to Houses and Character Relationships

It helps to have a scorecard to know the relationships between the characters. Just don’t be surprised if there’s a lot of crossover.

Now here comes my only complaint about this brilliant series – I want more dragons! We saw Daenerys hatch the babies and we got one brief scene last week where one was on her shoulder – for about 30 seconds.

And then she stuffed him away in this cage:

This week? Nothing. Now I love the show, but it feels like a long ways between the fantasy elements. There are plenty of brothel scenes, fights, backstabbing… can’t we have just a few more dragons, please? I know they’re pricey, but this is what we want to see. Like this one:

What about you? Are you getting all that you want from the show?

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Predicting the future

I sometimes ask myself how much of today’s dystopian and sci-fi books and movies depict an accurate picture of our world in 50 or maybe 100 years. Or at least of our technological progress.
Maybe a look into the past will help:

Take “Back to the Future II” for example. The movie was released in 1989 but parts of it take place in 2015. Not too far from today.
Hoverboard and automatic shoes

If we believe the movie’s prediction, we will use flying cars in three years from now, our kids will use hover boards instead of skateboards and our shoelaces will be automatic. I think we all agree that won’t happen. What I’m wondering: why didn’t the producers of the movie even consider mobile phones? Instead Marty uses a phone booth. ‘What’s that?’ a few of you might ask. ;)

Or take e-readers for example. In the movie a salesperson talks about dust jackets. A thing of the past in the movie, but are there e-readers? No. Instead books have multi-functional covers.

Many movies predicted that we’d live on the moon or other planets in this century. Especially older movies put much emphasis on space travel and space colonisation. Maybe the euphoria about space travel in the 50s and 60s led to this belief. As of now we’re still far away from moon colonies.

Let’s take a look at the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey”. It was released in 1968 and is set in 2001. The movie predicted space tourism with trips to Jupiter or Mars. Of course that’s not the case. Only very few, very rich people have got the chance to join a space crew so far and certainly not for a trip to Jupiter.

Another wrong prediction of the movie and of many other movies of the time is the predominance of artificial intelligence in the future. If many movies had been correct with their predictions, we’d all be using robots for cleaning and cooking. Alas, sadly that’s not the case.

And what about laser pistols? When will they come? Never?

But a few predictions weren’t totally wrong. In “Back to the Future II”, there are flat screen TVs. And some movies of the past predicted scary reality shows. “The Running Man” for example, where convicts try to outrun Stalkers who want to kill them. Though we don’t kill each other on reality TV yet, I think I’m not the only one who thinks that the majority of reality TV today is what many people of the past would’ve regarded as a downfall of society, and maybe it's true. Big Brother certainly shows some similarities to the movie “The Truman Show”.

"The Running Man" - hiding from the Stalkers

That leads to one conclusion regarding today’s dystopian literature: though I’m sure 99% of it is totally off, some things might come true. Probably the things we least expect!


Do you know any movies that got it wrong when they predicted the future? Or do you know any movies that got it right?
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Should Dystopian Romance be a Separate Category?

Recently on GoodReads, fellow Apocalypsie Jay Kristoff wrote the following rather provocative status update:

"Calling your book a dystopian when it’s actually just a romance with dirty windows is kinda like lying."

This started an intense debate in the comments about genre definitions, expectations, and the marginalization of female sci-fi writers. Author Phoebe North has a great post about the debate at the Intergalactic Academy. In it she questions the idea that the presence of romance in a dystopian work makes it somehow less sci-fi and states that woman writers get called out for including romance while male writers do not. She asks:

"Will women who write YA sci-fi have to try twice as hard to justify their genre credentials? Will they have to squeeze in an explosion to counterbalance every kiss lest their work not be seen as worthy of meriting intergender appeal?"

It's an interesting question, to be sure.  

For what it's worth, my genre definition of dystopia is fairly inclusive.  During my Dystopian theme months at Presenting Lenore, I include dystopians, post-apocalyptics and even some sci-fi with dystopian elements.  Having read well over 100 novels of this persuasion, I've discovered that dystopians can fall into a number of sub-categories, from horror (Alexander Gordon Smith's ESCAPE FROM FURNACE series) to satiric comedy (Megan McCafferty's BUMPED and THUMPED) to action/adventure (THE HUNGER GAMES, among many others).  

Some dystopian novels definitely come off as more romance-driven than others, but that doesn't mean they aren't "real dystopians." Though, as more publishers try to cash in on the label dystopian, often mislabeling books just to ride the trend, I can see where readers would feel betrayed. BUT this is not limited to the sub-genre romance.  In fact, my problems with mislabeling have come far more with action/adventure type books than anything else. 

Fortunately for readers, it's usually pretty obvious from the cover and summary of a novel what the main focus will be.  So if you don't want to read a "dystopian romance," stay away from "girls in pretty dresses" covers and run if the summary mentions "a mysterious boy".

What do you think? Should there be a separate category for dystopian romances? What about dystopian horror? Dystopian action/adventure? Dystopian comedies? Would stricter labeling be useful to you as a reader or a burden? Tell us in the comments!

The Dystopia of Starters

Two weeks ago in this space I wrote about Lissa Price's debut novel, Starters. It, like all great dystopian novels, is a mirror of today's society, rather than a window into a future world. If you haven't read it yet, well, you should--since you're reading this blog, you'll love Starters. It's about a dystopian society in which all but the young and very old have been killed by biological warfare. The old, Enders, control the government, media, and financial sectors. The young, Starters, are legally prohibited from working, and thus left to fight--literally--over the scraps the elderly don't wish to consume.

Starters presents an extreme view of the consolidation of power among the old and wealthy--or so I thought until I happened across this article last week. The article is titled The War Against Youth, which at first seemed like hyperbole aimed at selling magazines, but is really only barely an exaggeration. Here are the first three paragraphs:
Twenty-five years ago young Americans had a chance.

In 1984, American breadwinners who were sixty-five and over made ten times as much as those under thirty-five. The year Obama took office, older Americans made almost forty-seven times as much as the younger generation.

This bleeding up of the national wealth is no accounting glitch, no anomalous negative bounce from the recent unemployment and mortgage crises, but rather the predictable outcome of thirty years of economic and social policy that has been rigged to serve the comfort and largesse of the old at the expense of the young.
Stephen Marche goes on to catalog an extraordinary decline in the prospects of youth over the last 25 years.  Average net worth of those under 35 has fallen from $11,521 to $3,662.  The U.S. government now spends $2.40 on the elderly for every dollar spent on children. Older Americans have seen their wealth increase 42% while younger Americans have lost -68% of their net worth.

Is there any wonder why dystopian novels are so popular among teenagers? They depict the world we are bequeathing to our youth. All these novels are real. The gerontocracy of Starters, the brutal income inequality and reality TV distractions of The Hunger Games, the war on women of XVI and Truth, the environmental calamities of Shipbreaker--even the warped disaster response of my novel, ASHFALL: they all exist in our society today in some form.

We should celebrate the fact that so many adults are reading YA, Joel Stein notwithstanding. Perhaps they'll take something other than a few hours of enjoyment from our work. I suspect, however, that adults and politicians will fail to solve, or in some cases even to recognize, our society's problems. If the last 25 years are any guide, the best we can hope for is that they'll quit making it worse. If we must give our children a dystopia, perhaps the literature that accompanies it may inspire them to bequeath something better to our grandchildren.

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