Waiting On Wednesday – 8 + Bout of Books Read-a-thon Day 2

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly event, hosted by book blogger Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

Today I have chosen Stolen Night (Vampire Queen #2) by Rebecca Maizel (expected publication: June 21st 2012 by St. Martin’s Griffin). It is the second installment in the Vampire Queen series and Infinite Days being one of my favorite books, I can’t wait for Stolen Night.

From Goodreads:

“Lenah Beaudonte should be dead. But having sacrificed herself to save another, she finds herself awakening with strange powers that are neither vampire nor human – and a new enemy on her trail. In her vampire life, Lenah had thought that being human was all she ever wanted; but the human heart suffers pain, heartbreak and loss. With her new powers growing and the dark force of the Nex after her soul, Lenah faces a choice: between the mortal love of gorgeous Justin, whose passion fed her human soul, and taking a different path to become the mistress of her own destiny, wherever that may lead …”

I interviewed Rebecca Maizel a couple of weeks ago, feel free to check out the interview here.

On another note…

Bout of Books Read-a-thon – Day 2

Bout of Books is a week long read-a-thon, which has started on Monday, May 14th and will run until Sunday, May 20th.

Find out more here: http://boutofbooks.blogspot.co.uk/

Follow the fun on Twitter here: @boutofbooks

I have posted my goals here: https://emcastellan.com/2012/05/12/bout-of-books-4-0-read-a-thon-goals/

My update:

Book I’m reading now: The Pledge byKimberly Derting

Number of pages I’ve read so far: 386/386 of Vixen by Jillian Larkin
Total number of books I’ve read: 1

How have you been doing? What have you been reading?

A Writer in the Spotlight – Rebecca Maizel

This week again I was lucky enough to have a YA author give me an exclusive interview! The idea behind the “Writer in the Spotlight” feature is that published (and bestselling) authors are the best source of advice for us, would-be-published writers. Today’s interview is with the wonderful Rebecca Maizel, one of my favorite YA authors.

Author : Rebecca Maizel

Genre : Young Adult, Science Fiction & Fantasy

Location:  Rhode Island, USA

Website : http://rebeccamaizel.com/

Blog: http://rebeccamaizel.blogspot.co.uk/

Twitter: http://twitter.com/rebeccajoym and http://twitter.com/VampQueenNovels

Books : The Vampire Queen series: Infinite Days (2010) and Stolen Nights (released July 2012)

Bio: Rebecca Maizel graduated from Boston University and the Rhode Island College master’s program. She teaches community college in Rhode Island and is studying to receive her MFA from Vermont College.

My interview (29/04/2012):

On Writing:

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve been writing since I was a little girl. When I was a kid most people were playing with Barbies, I was using my sister’s video camera to make movies starring my Barbies. I guess I was thinking in a narrative format even when I was really little! Also, I loved dance. I was in recitals and danced competitively until I was an older teenager. There was a connection for me between a choreographed dance and a choreographed scene. I haven’t gotten to the bottom of this yet  – but I will!

When and where do you write?

It really depends on the day. I write in my office at home, mostly. But these days if I’ve seen too much of my office, I’ll work at a coffee shop. In Rhode Island, I love a place called Java Madness which is fun because it’s right on top of the water. Mornings are best for me creatively but revisions I can do at night.

Do you ever experience writer’s block?

I try to listen to music, which is similar in tone to what I am writing. I go for long walks, I put the project down for a few days. Sometimes what helps is writing a letter from one character to another character within the story, writing from their point of view. For instance, in Infinite Days, I might write a letter to Lenah from Justin or vice versa. I usually do this with a character or situation I am having trouble pushing through.

What do you say to people who want to be writers? How difficult is it to get published?

You have to love the craft. Don’t write just to be published. Write because your characters deserve your time and effort. Write because this story is coming to you from the depths of your gut. Publishing will come in its due time. Hone your craft, perfect your sentences. Make it sing.

Is it better to outline and plot your novel or “go with the flow”?

Well, I think it really depends on your story. I always find it best to outline. There’s that dreaded ACT II of your book that somehow always needs the most work. I find it helpful to outline as best as I can. I usually veer off from it but if the major act points are there, I know the direction of my scenes. You can still “go with the flow” even if you have a direction.

Do you set goals for yourself as you write?

Outside of my editors’ deadlines? No. I write as scenes come to me. I get my best work done when I’m driving listening to music. Then I rush home, and get them down on paper. Sometimes this takes hours and I have a rush of scenes. I make sure that I write a 4-5 hours every day and make some progress. Sometimes progress means reading because I need inspiration.

On “The Vampire Queen” novels:

To write this specific series, where did you get your inspiration from? Were you aware of the coming vampire trend in YA literature when you wrote it?

I started to free write one day. I literally sat down, started writing and Lenah’s voice came through, I let her tell the story and 8 months later, I had a draft of Infinite Days. I wish this story were more exciting. I should say something like, I fell down, cracked my head and when I was in the hospital, I had A VISION! A near death experience! But no, I was in a dark library free writing.

After I had written the novel, I started to read everything in the genre so I could see what else was being published. Someone recommended the Twilight series to me and I thought (after reading it) “wow, this is huge. I wonder if there is room in this genre for me?”

Lenah Beaudonte: How did you come up with this (awesome) character?

I connected to her voice. It was so strong; and sinister and tragic. I wanted to tap into that sorrow and darkness. I wanted to bring this person, whoever she was back out to light. It turned out that she was a vampire and thematically, it worked. Every person out there has done something they aren’t proud of. And whatever that thing is, they have to live with it – forever. That’s Lenah but times about a million! I just started writing one day and there she was with a motive, a purpose, and some really scary enemies.

What type of music do you listen to when you write this series?

I listen to music when I write but it has to be music without lyrics. Most of the time its operatic or choral music like a soundtrack from a movie or ambient. I know a lot of writers use music to illuminate the mood or atmosphere of a scene, I know I do. Listening to music as I write helps me imagine a scene more clearly in my head. It’s strange to think of fiction in “scenes,” like you would a movie but I think it’s easier that way.

Some tracks:

1. None Can Die – Tristan and Isolde Soundtrack

2. Little Women Soundtrack

3. Tall Ships – Bill Leslie

What are you working on now? Is it a “Vampire Queen” novel?

I have started Book 3. I am working on other books as well but they are very top secret.

When is “Stolen Night” finally coming out?

July 5th in the UK! Soon thereafter in the US.

Reading advice:

Which authors inspire you now?

AM Jenkins, Franny Billingsley, Coe Booth, An Na, and many many others. I’m inspired by beautiful language and hot fictional boyfriends. 🙂

Which YA books would recommend?

Last great books I read:
Gina Damico – Croak
AM Jenkins – Beating Heart
Laini Taylor – Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Coe Booth – Bronxwood

Liked this interview? Check out my interview with Rachel Caine (author of the Morganville Vampires series) here and my interview with Beth Fantaskey (author of Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side) here.

Fantastical Intentions – Beginnings

Fantastical Intentions is a feature featuring Hannah and Naithin of Once Upon A Time and Jacob of Drying Ink. They decide on a fantasy related topic and everyone is welcome to join in. If you would like to participate, write a blog post of your own and leave your link in the comments.

This week’s topic is: Beginnings!

My pick is the beginning of The Passage by Justin Cronin.

“Before she became the Girl from Nowhere-the One Who Walked In, the First and Last and Only, who lived a thousand years-she was just a little girl in Iowa, named Amy. Amy Harper Bellafonte.”

The Passage is a very long book (almost a 1000 pages) and it’s the first installment in a trilogy. To be honest, it’s not the easiest read in the world despite a great theme and an interesting plot: the story takes a (very) long time to unfold and I thought some editing would have been needed for some parts of the book. That being said, The Passage has one of the best beginnings I’ve read in my life. The first 250 pages are just amazingly gripping and incredibly well written. Entitled “The Worst Dream in the World”, this part 1 of the novel describes how the world comes to an end in less than half an hour.

“It happened fast. Thirty-two minutes for one world to die, another to be born.”

This beginning is a race against time and a great introduction of the main characters.

It is an outstanding example of what a beginning should be in a novel.

What beginning did you choose?

A writer in the spotlight: Rachel Caine

Today I’m starting a new blog topic: writers’ interviews. I figured published (and bestselling) authors were the best source of advice for us, would-be-published writers. And the wonderful Rachel Caine has agreed to be the first author to be interviewed!

Author : Rachel Caine
Genre : Urban fantasy, paranormal, young adult literature, short fiction
Location:  Texas, USA
Website : www.rachelcaine.com

Books :
The Weather Warden series (9 books, 2003-2010)
The Red Letter Days series (2 books, 2005-2006)
The Morganville Vampires series (15 books, 2006-2013)
The Athena Force series (1 book, 2007)
The Outcast Season series (4 books, 2009-2012)
The Revivalist series (1 book, 2011)

Bio:

Rachel Caine is a New York Times, USA Today and internationally bestselling author of more than 30 novels. She had received numerous literary awards and attended over a hundred conventions and conferences in the past twenty years. She has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Texas Tech University and she has worked in many jobs, before becoming a full time writer in 2010.

My interview with Rachel (24/03/2012)

On writing:
1.    Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
Oh NO! I was going to be (in order) an astrobiologist (age 9), a detective (age 12), and a professional musician (ages 14-30). I was a *hobby* writer. But I wrote consistently from age 14 onward.
2.    When and where do you write?
I do my best work in the mornings, the earlier the better, so I try hard to get up at 5 am or so, and work about 8 hours, then knock off for lunch. I usually run errands in the afternoons and work on business items at night.
3.    Do you ever experience writer’s block?
Sure, I think everyone does — but it’s really more of a “day off.” It’s easy to let that day off turn into two, then a week, then a month, and that’s when you’re in trouble. So I never let myself take more than one day off, unless I’m sick. If I get stuck on a story, I try reading it from the beginning, which often does the trick, or if it doesn’t, I jump forward to the next thing I want to write in the timeline.
4.    What do you say to people who want to be writers? How difficult is it to get published?
That’s a complicated question now — much more so than when I started. The easy answer is “not difficult at all” because things like Kindle Direct make it possible to write something and put it out for sale digitally immediately. The HARD part of that is that when you do that, you’re likely doing it way too soon. Becoming a writer is a craft and a skill … something you acquire slowly over time, usually. Your first efforts probably won’t be that great (mine certainly weren’t). In fact, your 10th effort may not be great, either. People grow at different rates in their craft — and the way you find out you’re not ready, in traditional publishing, is that you compete with others for the limited opportunities available. The better you get, the more chance you have to grab that chance. It’s a process that creates not *more* writers, but *better* writers, which is why I still like it.
But more than likely, things will change even more over the next few years … so the answer is: yes, it’s probably pretty easy now. But easy isn’t always a good thing. And it’s still hard to get in with the big professional publishers, and always will be.
5.    Is it better to outline and plot your novel or “go with the flow”?
That depends. Some people work better to go “seat of the pants” … and some won’t start a road trip without a map. I’m a bit of both … I like a road map, but I’m not averse to taking interesting side roads too. I usually have a loose outline.
6.    Do you set goals for yourself as you write?
The deadlines really set them for me — I have a book due every three months, at 100,000 words, so that means I have to write a thousand words a day. The more days off I take, the higher that number gets!

On “The Morganville Vampires” series:
7.    To write this specific series, where did you get your inspiration from?
In the beginning, it was the idea of the town itself … all the layers of secrets (Vampires! Sick vampires! Sick vampires who are the last of their kind! With a secret enemy! … and on and on.) That really excited me.
8.    How did you come up with those characters? Are they based on real people?
I don’t base my characters on real people as a rule, but some of the vampires are historical people. I started with Claire and figured out what she was like, and then filled in characters around her. (And continue to do that!)
9.    What type of music do you listen to when you write this series?
I listen to many different kinds of music, and I find I need NEW music every book … so the first thing I do when I start is pick a few songs to start out with, and look for more music as I go. I tend to like alternative music, with a good sprinkling of pop, rock, some classics, even soundtrack music.
10. What are you working on now? Is it a Morganville Vampires book?
It is! I’m working on Book 13, BITTER BLOOD. And it’s due next week!

Reading advice:
11. Which authors inspire you now?
Every author I read inspires me in some way. We’ve all got strengths and weaknesses as writers … I look for what the other writer does especially well, because it’s usually something I *don’t* do as well. Most of the writers I’ve met are inspiring people as well … beautiful and gracious people!

Oh, okay, if you want me to be *specific,* … Charlaine Harris. Richelle Mead. Melissa Marr. Kelley Armstrong. Jim Butcher. George R.R. Martin.

12. Which YA books would recommend?
There are SO many good ones! I will always recommend Jackie Kessler’s Four Horsemen series … it’s brilliant. Tough and uncompromising, but brilliant. Heather Brewer’s books. Suzanne Collins. Beth Revis. The fabulous Cassandra Claire. Ann Aguirre. And ALWAYS Holly Black. But that only scratches the surface … there are so many amazing writers in YA, and more coming daily — just dig in! It’s a literary feast!

Rachel Caine will be in England from May 4th to May 24th 2012. Check her website for more details.

Waiting On Wednesday – 1

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly event, hosted by book blogger Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

Today I’ve chosen Darkness Before Dawn by J.A. London (Expected publication: May 29th 2012 by HarperTeen)

From Goodreads:

“This electrifying new trilogy blends the best of paranormal and dystopian storytelling in a world where the war is over. And the vampires won.

Humans huddle in their walled cities, supplying blood in exchange for safety. But not even that is guaranteed. Dawn has lost her entire family and now reluctantly serves as the delegate to Lord Valentine, the most powerful vampire for miles. It isn’t until she meets Victor, Valentine’s son, that she realizes not all vampires are monsters….

Darkness Before Dawn is a fresh new story with captivating characters, unexpected plot twists, a fascinating setting, and a compelling voice. Written under the name J. A. London by a talented mother-son team, the trilogy is perfect for fans of True Blood and the House of Night and Morganville Vampires series.”

Does this sound awesome or what?

Vampire books

What’s on my bookshelf ? 1

Toward the end of the 1990’s, long before the craze about vampires that has taken hold of the Western world for the past 5 years, I started reading Vampire books. I have never stopped, and I now find myself with an entire bookcase dedicated to the genre, filled with the best and the worst of Vampire novels.

 If you’re interested in the topic of Vampires in literature, but don’t really know where to start, here is a guide of what to read first, and what to avoid at all cost. Then it is up to you to make up your own mind about these titles.

 

1-    Dracula, Bram Stoker

When diving in the huge pool of Vampire books, why not start with a classic? Dracula was written in 1897 and is still a landmark in the Vampire literature. It is an epistolary novel depicting the vampire Count Dracula in his attempt at relocating from Transylvania to England while Professor Van Helsing tries to destroy him. It is fast-paced, gothic, creepy and still attention-grabbing.

 

2-    Interview with the Vampire/The Vampire Lestat, Anne Rice

Moving on from Dracula, the next landmark in Vampire literature is the work of Anne Rice. Written in 1973 (published three years later), Interview with the Vampire is the most famous of The Vampire Chronicles series. It tells the story of 200-year-old vampire Louis, as he himself recounts his life during an interview with a reporter in New Orleans. My favorite novel in the series, however, is The Vampire Lestat, written in 1985. The book tells the story of Louis’ maker, a French vampire called Lestat de Lioncourt. 560 pages long, the novel is incredibly well-written and fluid for its length, and wonderfully gripping.

 

3-    The historian, Elizabeth Kostova

A debut novel and a masterpiece. Published in 2005, the book mixed three different narratives to tell the stories of Vlad the Impaler, his fictional equivalent Dracula and a history professor looking for Vlad’s tomb. Filled with amazing descriptions of setting and rich themes, the novel also has a riveting plot and an eerie atmosphere. It refers to a long tradition of gothic/Victorian/detective/horror/historical novels as well.

In the 1990’s, Vampire novels moved on from the traditional stories centered on the vampires themselves to introduce human heroes (usually heroines) having to deal with vampires. However, since Anne Rice had proven earlier that vampires didn’t have to be the bad guys of the story, this new kind of vampire books often showed the vampires in a good light, turning them into the heroine’s love interests. Among those books, you can have a look at:

 

4-    Blood Books, Tanya Huff

A strong-willed PI investigates strange cases and comes across a 500-year-old vampire in Toronto, Canada. Together they face supernatural threats, while slowly falling for each other. What I enjoyed about this series was the vampire character, Henry Fitzroy, who is witty and just creepy enough. The books have been turned into a Lifetime TV series called Blood Ties in 2007.

 

5-    The Southern Vampire series, Charlaine Harris

As of today, the series has 12 titles and has been turned into a very successful TV show called True Blood by HBO. I have only read the first two books, as I wasn’t very fond of the main (human) character Sookie Stackhouse and of the fact that vampires are only a background to the main story. If I’m advertized vampires, I want vampires!

 

6-    Undead and Unwed, MaryJanice Davidson

A hilarious book, first in a series of 11 books (so far) published since 2004, Undead and Unwed is a sort of Sex and the City with vampires. It tells the story of a thirty-something unemployed former model who dies in a stupid accident and wakes up a vampire. From then on, it’s mostly a romance novel, with some very funny pages and an original plot. I have only ever read book 1, so I wouldn’t be able to say if the rest of the series keeps up with the witty and original quality of the first book.

After the 1990’s shift in Vampire literature, came the 2000’s landslide of teen vampire books.

 

7-    The Twilight Saga, Stephenie Meyer

Everything has probably been said and/or written on the Twilight Saga, but there is no denying that the series has put vampire literature back in the spotlight. Published between 2005 and 2008, the four books depict the love story between the human narrator, a teenage girl named Bella Swan, and a vampire called Edward Cullen. I personally waited until 2007 to read Twilight and its sequels, and I have to admit it is an easy read with a few original ideas (“sparkling” vampires and the warfare among supernatural beings). However, I was annoyed by the focus on the human girl rather than the vampires, whose characters were, to my mind, rather under-developed. I wish it had been the story of the Volturi rather than Bella’s. But that’s just me.

 

8-    The last vampire, Christopher Pike

An example of vampire books rediscovered after the success of Twilight, The last vampire (published in 1994) tells the story of a 5000-year-old vampire girl named Sita. To my mind, it is a very strange book, primarily focused on the history of India and the Hinduist religion. It reminds me of Anne Rice’s books, as Sita is a very old vampire who is depressed and trying to find a way to die.

 

 9-    The Vampire Diaries, L. J. Smith

First published in 1991, the series has found a new success after the release of Twilight. It is about a human teenage girl, Elena Gilbert, who falls in love with two vampire brothers. The books have been turned into a TV show by the CW in 2009. An easy read, The Vampire Dairies are mostly romance novels, which, you’ve by now guessed, are not my cup of tea.

 

10- The Blue Bloods series, Melissa de la Cruz

I was really hopeful when I started reading this series in 2007, but I have to say I have been disappointed. Set in Manhattan, NY, the books are about a group of teenagers belonging to the city’s oldest and most influential families, who find out on their 15th birthday they are in fact vampires. To me, the problem with this series is that it is more about the Upper East Side, its private schools, its select parties and its shallow inhabitants than about vampires. And frankly, there’s only some much clothes descriptions that I can take before feeling I’m reading an ad for Barney’s.

 

11- Jessica’s guide to dating on the dark side, Beth Fantaskey

At last, a good teenage read about vampires. Published in 2009, the book follows the adventures of an adopted high school girl who finds out on her 17th birthday that she is a vampire royalty engaged to a complete stranger. As her betrothed invades her life in a hilarious attempt at winning her heart, she tries –and fails- to continue her life as a normal teenager. It’s funny, it’s witty, the vampires are (finally!) the main characters again and Jessica is a great narrator.

 

12- The Morganville Vampires series, Rachel Caine

With 11 books published since 2006, and 4 more to come, The Morganville Vampires series is about… vampires living in the town of Morganville, Texas. As the main character, a 16-year-old university student, finds out that her housemates are not all human, she embarks on a one-way journey into the secrets of the vampire-run city. The books are short but packed with action and suspense. Claire is a great example of strong-willed heroin and the vampires are delightfully complex characters.

 

13- Vampire Academy, Richelle Mead

I’ll probably lose a few readers by writing this, but Vampire Academy was to me an absolute disappointment. Praised everywhere, I dutifully read the first book, eager to see what the fuss was all about. To this day, I have no idea. Published in 2007, the novel has an original setting (vampire teenagers trained to protect the country’s royalties in a special school) but I felt it was more about teenage hormonal changes than vampires. Predictable and annoying, I wouldn’t recommend it.

 

14- Infinite Days, Rebecca Maizel

Published in 2010, this is the first book in what will be The Vampire Queen series. I am currently impatiently waiting for the second book, as I loved the first one. It is about a 500-year-old vampire named Lenah, who is given the opportunity to be a 16-year-old human again. She has to adjust to her new life while her coven seeks to have her back as their queen. It is an incredibly original plot, the kind of story you read and wonder: why didn’t I think of that? I highly recommend it.

Moving on from teen reads, these past two year have brought vampire literature back into the adult corner of libraries. I will mention two books:

 

15- The Passage, Justin Cronin

A 900-page novel, The Passage is the first book in a trilogy. Published in 2010, it is the story of an apocalypse: after a failed experiment in 2018, the human population is decimated by a virus which creates vampire-like creatures. The remaining humans struggle to survive over the next 90 years, desperately trying to find a cure for the virus, which they will find in the shape of a 100-year-old little girl. So, as of now, I am still undecided about The Passage. There are some beautifully written pages, as well as a wonderful main character (Amy, the “little” girl). But there are also huge chunks of the book that I personally think should have been edited/deleted. 900 pages is too long to tell a story that can, in the end, be summarized on a single A4 page. The author spends dozens of pages introducing characters who then just die. He describes settings forever without ever having any action actually happening in these settings. I really loved the first 100 pages, as well as the last 100 ones, but I believe the 700 pages in the middle could have been shortened into another 100 pages, making it a nice, readable and enjoyable 300-page book. But that’s just me.

 

 16- The Radleys, Matt Haig

Unlike The Passage, The Radleys is not long, and it’s a delight to read. It is also quite innovative, as it introduces us to a family of vampires living a quiet life in an English suburb. Published in 2010, the book is a nice change from the usual vampire literature, and I loved the idea of Dracula meets Desperate Housewives.

Still on my reading pile:

–          Lost souls, Poppy Z. Brite

–          Vampire Empire, Clay & Susan Griffith

Any suggestions on vampire books I should read ?