Kirkus.com and California Events Reminder

I hope everyone’s having a lovely holiday season!

A few days ago, Leila Roy of Bookshelves of Doom wrote a lovely feature about Pantomime & Shadowplay for Kirkus.com.

“[Pantomime] stars Micah Grey, an immediately likable and somewhat naive runaway who has some completely understandable trust issues. It’s a very personal story . . . at the same time, it’s also a HUGE story . . . Seriously, the worldbuilding is so excellent: rich and sprawling, but not overpowering . . . I very much enjoyed spending time in Ellada again, and I especially loved being behind the scenes of a magic show and a fake seance or two . . . So if you haven’t read Pantomime yet, DO. Go out and read it, and then read Shadowplay.” – Bookshelves of Doom at Kirkus.com

In other news, I’m back in California and it’s lovely so far to see friends and family again. It’s so bright and warm and sunny…why did I leave again?! Last night I had a reunion with a bunch of folk from my youth group as a teen. It’s so strange to see us all grown up now – some of them have children, and it’s interesting to see which fields and jobs people have fallen into. I’m also looking forward to my two California events:

January 4th at 3 pm – Shadowplay launch at Borderlands Books, Valencia St, San Francisco

January 8th at 6 pm – Reading at California State University East Bay, Carlos Bee Blvd, Hayward

Those both link to the Facebook events pages.

If you’re in the area, please do feel free to come by or invite others that you know who might be interested.

Shadowplay (Pantomime2) is Submitted!

ImageSo, a few days ago I pressed “send” and delivered Shadowplay to my editor at Strange Chemistry. It’ll be out on shelves in a little more than eight months, which is crazy to think.

It’s another one of those milestones in my fledgling writer’s life. I proved to myself that I could do it–I had more than one book in me, and I could write it over twice as fast as the other one. I could continue Micah Grey’s story and in the end, I’m really rather proud of how it turned out. In some ways, this is the beginning, as now it’ll start the process from manuscript to Real Book, but all in all, I’m pleased with my sequel. I think I raised the stakes and challenged myself as a writer. I definitely had my sticking points, overall the process wasn’t quite as difficult as I feared (I jinxed myself, though–my WIP is currently REALLY difficult to make up for it!).

Soon, I’ll go through the whole process I did with Pantomime again–more edits, a new cover, new blog posts, interviews, holding the ARC, reviews (though of course I have the fear that people won’t like the sequel as much as the first one! Ah!), seeing the finished books, sending it off into the world, hoping it flies.

But not quite yet. So, off goes my second book, which I can happily ignore for a bit while I get on with other projects, and keep dreaming and hoping.

Random Research: Magic, 1400s-1950s

Magic, 1400s to 1950s – edited by Mike Caveney, Jim Steinmeyer, Ricky Jay, Noel Daniel

Product description (from Amazon):

The scientists of showbiz. Magic has enchanted humankind for millennia, evoking terror, laughter, shock and amazement. Once persecuted as heretics and sorcerers, magicians have always been conduits to a parallel universe of limitless possibility – whether invoking spirits, reading minds, or inverting the laws of nature by sleight of hand. Long before science fiction, virtual realities, video games, and the Internet, the craft of magic was the most powerful fantasy world man had ever known. As the true pioneers of special effects in human history, magicians have never ceased to mystify by perpetually making the impossible possible. This book celebrates 500 years of the dazzling visual culture of the world’s greatest magicians. Featuring over 1,000 rarely seen vintage posters, photographs, handbills, and engravings in one 640-page volume, it traces the history of magic as a performing art from the 1470s through the post-WWII years. Through sensational images and clear and insightful accompanying text, “Magic” explores the evolution of the magician’s craft, from its early street performers to the brilliant stage magicians who gave rise to early cinematic special effects; from the 19th century’s “Golden Age of Magic” to groundbreaking daredevils like Houdini and the vaudevillians of the early 20th century.

Review and Response:

I bought Taschen’s giant circus book when revising Pantomime (see review here). I found it incredibly helpful and really wanted this book, but damn if it wasn’t expensive. When I got my book deal, my husband bought it for me as a congratulations present for my sequel. Well-played, husband, well-played.

I thought the Circus book was big. This one is even more gigantic–clocking in at 16 pounds and around 650 oversized pages. I could weight-lift with this thing. I could hit someone with it and do some serious damage.

The book is separated into subsections:

Foreword: Wizards of Wonder

Introduction: To Please and Cheat the Sight

Chapter 1: Conjuring Life and Death: The Essence of Illusion

Chapter 2: Devilish Deception: The Origins of Wonder

Chapter 3: From Black Magic to Modern Magic

Chapter 4: The Supernatural and the Spirit Worlds

Chapter 5: Masters of the Golden Age

Chapter 6: The Great Touring Shows

Chapter 7: Chains, Blades, Bullets, and Fire: Daring and Danger in Magic

Chapter 8: Magic in Vaudeville and Nightclubs

As with the Circus book, each Chapter was in English, German, and French, along with all the captions of the photos. The essays are well-written and give insight into overarching trends in the history of magic. So many magicians had different personalities and styles. This book touches on both the ones well-remembered today–Houdini, Thurston, Kellar, Carter–and some of the lesser-known ones, like Ionia. The lithographic posters are extraordinarily lovely, and some have two-page spreads. Some of them are quite rare. This book is absolutely gorgeous, and if you’re a magic afficianado, it’s a must-read to have a clearer idea of how magicians have evolved over the years to reflect the cultural zeitgeist. Through the years, we’ve grown more cynical, and the audience became increasingly aware that magicians were fooling us, but enjoying the tricks all the same.

Image from Erin Morgenstern’s blog

Want to see more magic stuff? Check out my Pinterest boards – Magic Posters and Magic Photography.

Random Research: The First Psychic

It’s been quite some time since I’ve done one of my Random Research blogs. Let’s bring that back, shall we?

The First Psychic: The Peculiar Mystery of a Notorious Victorian Wizard – Peter Lamont

Book Description (from Amazon):

He was simply the greatest psychic of all time. He was also the first – before him, the word ‘psychic’ did not even exist. The feats he performed were so extraordinary that Victorian scientists had to invent the term in order to explain them. The man who became the world’s first psychic was Daniel Dunglas Home. Now almost entirely forgotten, Home was a household name in Victorian Britain, a man of inexplicable ability who divided opinion wherever he went. Hated by Dickens and defended by Thackeray, denounced by Faraday yet mysterious to Darwin, insulted by Tolstoy but patronised by the Emperor of France and the Csar of Russia. The astonishing feats he performed, and the bizarre personal life that attracted so much controversy, are little known today outside the esoteric world of psychical research. He rarely appears in the biographies of the many great Victorians who knew him as few could openly admit to such a controversial acquaintance. This book will finally introduce one of the most remarkable and enigmatic figures in history, and the strange and seemingly inexplicable events that occurred in his presence.

Review and Response:

Reading this book, it is incredible that Home isn’t better remembered today. John Anderson, The Wizard of the North and Home’s rival, is better known.

Born in Scotland, near Edinburgh, he immigrated with his family to the US at a young age. He suffered from poor health. Throughout his childhood, strange events followed him–he predicted several deaths and recounted strange visions that proved to be true.

He eventually decided he simply must inform the world about Spiritualism, and traveled the world, offering seances and hoping for patronage. He became most well-known for his extraordinary levitations.

Scandal also followed him. A wealthy widow “adopted” him and gave him large amounts of money, who later recanted and claimed Home had tricked her under spritualistic distress and sued him. He married a young daughter of Russian royalty and Alexander Dumas was his best man. By all accounts, he loved her deeply, but she died of tuberculosis. He later married an older, wealthy Russian.

Home was a study in contradictions. He claimed to be fervently devoted to his cause. Most knew him as earnest and mild-mannered. Yet at the same time, what he did was most likely all trickery, meaning that his very personality might also have been a ruse. Did he manipulate most of those around him, or was he actually who he claimed to be? But if he was a fraud–he was never caught, despite how often people tried to expose him.

A very interesting and recommended read.

So Many Books, so Little Time

I’m drowning in books I want to read. But as I’m ploughing through my draft as quickly as I can manage, I’ve had less time to read. But here’s the stuff I’m currently trying to make time for. All product descriptions are ganked from Amazon.

1. My friends’ books. I’ve a bunch of talented friends. Here’s a few I need to get through sooner rather than later. I’ve got a lot more friend’s books to get through, but here’s a sample of ones I’ve bought lately.

The Alchemist of SoulsAnne Lyle

Summary:When Tudor explorers returned from the New World, they brought back a name out of half-forgotten Viking legend: skraylings. Red-sailed ships followed in the explorers’ wake, bringing Native American goods – and a skrayling ambassador – to London. But what do these seemingly magical beings really want in Elizabeth I’s capital?

Mal Catlyn, a down-at-heel swordsman, is seconded to the ambassador’s bodyguard, but assassination attempts are the least of his problems. What he learns about the skraylings and their unholy powers could cost England her new ally – and Mal Catlyn his soul.

Why I’ll read it: This book ticks so many of my literary boxes: alternate humans with an alien culture, Elizabethan setting, psychic powers, swashbuckling, spies, a girl dressed as a boy, and a theatre setting. Yes, please. I’ve beta-read the sequel MS, so it’ll be really interesting to see how the early strings fit together, as I never read series out of order.

AngelmakerNick Harkaway

Summary: From the acclaimed author of The Gone-Away World – a new riveting action spy thriller, blistering gangster noir, and howling absurdist comedy: a propulsively entertaining tale about a mobster’s son and a retired secret agent who are forced to team up to save the world.

All Joe Spork wants is a quiet life. He repairs clockwork and lives above his shop in a wet, unknown bit of London. The bills don’t always get paid and he’s single and has no prospects of improving his lot, but at least he’s not trying to compete with the reputation of Mathew “Tommy Gun” Spork, his infamous criminal dad.

Edie Banister lives quietly and wishes she didn’t. She’s nearly ninety and remembers when she wasn’t. She’s a former superspy and now she’s… well… old. Worse yet, the things she fought to save don’t seem to exist anymore, and she’s beginning to wonder if they ever did.

When Joe fixes one particularly unusual device, his life is suddenly upended. The client? Unknown. And the device? It’s a 1950s doomsday machine. And having triggered it, Joe now faces the wrath of both the government and a diabolical South Asian dictator, Edie’s old arch-nemesis. With Joe’s once-quiet world now populated with mad monks, psychopathic serial killers, scientific geniuses and threats to the future of conscious life in the universe, he realises that the only way to survive is to muster the courage to fight, help Edie complete a mission she gave up years ago, and pick up his father’s old gun…

Why I’ll read it: It has clockwork bees! Sold. Sounds almost like a contemporary steampunk spy thriller with an old lady. Awesome. And even if I hadn’t met the charming Harkaway at Eastercon this year, this amazing review by Patrick Ness would have sold me as well, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about it.

The TestimonyJames Smythe

Summary: A global thriller presenting an apocalyptic vision of a world on the brink of despair and destruction.

What would you do if the world was brought to a standstill? If you heard deafening static followed by the words ‘MY CHILDREN, DO NOT BE AFRAID’?

Would you turn to God? Declare it an act of terrorism? Subscribe to the conspiracy theories? Or put your faith in science and a rational explanation?

The lives of all twenty-six people in this account are affected by the message. Most because they heard it. Some because they didn’t.

The Testimony – a gripping story of the world brought to its knees and of its people, confused and afraid.

Why I’ll read it: The book is told from a global perspective, flipping between peoples’ different testimonies, with some appearing more than others. I find that a really intriguing concept and want to see how it works. Plus, it sounds damn cool.

Also, I couldn’t mess with the visual symmetry of 3 books in each category or it’d drive me batty, but an honourary 4th shout-out to The Rising by Will Hill, the sequel to the best-selling Department 19, which I plan to buy.

2. Books by People I Don’t Know. 

Indigo SpringsA. M. Dellamonica

Summary: Indigo Springs is a sleepy town where things seem pretty normal . . . until Astrid’s father dies and she moves into his house. She discovers that for many years her father had been accessing the magic that flowed, literally, in a blue stream beneath the earth, leaking into his house. When she starts to use the liquid “vitagua” to enchant everyday items, the results seem innocent enough: a “’chanted” watch becomes a charm that means you’re always in the right place at the right time; a “’chanted” pendant enables the wearer to convince anyone of anything . . .

But as events in Indigo Springs unfold and the true potential of vitagua is revealed, Astrid and her friends unwittingly embark on a journey fraught with power, change, and a future too devastating to contemplate. Friends become enemies and enemies become friends as Astrid discovers secrets from her shrouded childhood that will lead her to a destiny stranger than she could have imagined . . .

Why I’ll read it: A.M. Dellamonica has been making the blog rounds recently with her upcoming sequel, Blue Magic. I really enjoyed her discussions of gender in this article especially. I’m interested by the idea of “ecofantasy,” and Dellamonica looks like she’s experimenting with form. Very excited to read this book and its sequel.

City of DragonsRobin Hobb

Summary: Once, dragons ruled the Rain Wilds, tended by privileged human servants known as Elderlings. But a series of cataclysmic eruptions nearly drove these magnificent creatures to extinction. Born weak and deformed, the last of their kind had one hope for survival: to return to their ancient city of Kelsingra. Accompanied by a disparate crew of untested young keepers, the dragons embarked on a harsh journey into the unknown along the toxic Rain Wild River. Battling starvation, a hostile climate, and treacherous enemies, dragons and humans began to forge magical connections, bonds that have wrought astonishing transformations for them all. And though Kelsingra is finally near, their odyssey has only begun.

Because of the swollen waters of the Rain Wild River, the lost city can be reached only by flight—a test of endurance and skill beyond the stunted dragons’ strength. Venturing across the swift-running river in tiny boats, the dragon scholar Alise and a handful of keepers discover a world far different from anything they have ever known or imagined. Immense, ornate structures of black stone veined with silver and lifelike stone statues line the silent, eerily empty streets. Yet what are the whispers they hear, the shadows of voices and bursts of light that flutter and are gone? And why do they feel as if eyes are watching them?

The dragons must plumb the depths of their ancestral memories to help them take flight and unlock the secrets buried in Kelsingra. But enemies driven by greed and dark desires are approaching. Time is running out, not only for the dragons but for their human keepers as well.

Why I’ll read it: If you know me at all, you know I’m a huge Hobb fangirl. Her books are one of the biggest influences of my writing and I just love sinking into the worlds she creates. I probably won’t get to this one for awhile, as I’m currently re-reading the Tawny Man trilogy and will want to re-read The Dragon Keeper and Dragon Haven as well. 2012 is my year of reading a lot of Hobb, it seems!

FleshmarketNicola Morgan

Summary: Fleshmarket is set in the 1820s in Edinburgh, a city of cruel contrasts between the lives of the rich and poor, and home to the infamous Burke and Hare, who sold their murder victims to brilliant anatomist Dr Robert Knox. This is the often harrowing story of a boy who must survive the pain of his mother’s death at the hands of Doctor Knox.

Why I’ll read it: Burke and Hare is featuring obliquely in an upcoming novel of mine, so it’s technically research. But I’ve also seen Nicola Morgan’s articles floating about the internet, and it looks like an excellent, interesting read.

3. Non-fiction Books.

Prague in Black and Gold – Peter Demetz

Summary: From the Velvet Revolution to the disturbing world of Franz Kafka, from the devastation of the Thirty Years War to the musical elegance of Mozart and Dvorak, Prague is steeped in a wealth of history and culture. “Prague In Black And Gold” is a first class history of this unique city, allowing us to unravel layer upon layer of startlingly symbolic sites and buildings to reveal the real Prague. ‘”Prague In Black And Gold” is an exceptional work – and exceptionally reliable …I am sure that this will be an important and exciting guide for all who wish to learn more about the famous people and important events in the history of the Czech lands and their capital’.

Why I’ll read it: Research for a book I’m outlining that will most likely be set in Prague. Looks like I’ll have to visit Prague at some point as well–the trials of being a writer, honestly. 😉

Delusions of Gender – Cordelia Fine

Summary: It’s the twenty-first century, and although we tried to rear unisex children—boys who play with dolls and girls who like trucks—we failed. Even though the glass ceiling is cracked, most women stay comfortably beneath it. And everywhere we hear about vitally important “hardwired” differences between male and female brains. The neuroscience that we read about in magazines, newspaper articles, books, and sometimes even scientific journals increasingly tells a tale of two brains, and the result is more often than not a validation of the status quo. Women, it seems, are just too intuitive for math; men too focused for housework.

Drawing on the latest research in neuroscience and psychology, Cordelia Fine debunks the myth of hardwired differences between men’s and women’s brains, unraveling the evidence behind such claims as men’s brains aren’t wired for empathy and women’s brains aren’t made to fix cars. She then goes one step further, offering a very different explanation of the dissimilarities between men’s and women’s behavior. Instead of a “male brain” and a “female brain,” Fine gives us a glimpse of plastic, mutable minds that are continuously influenced by cultural assumptions about gender.

Passionately argued and unfailingly astute, Delusions of Gender provides us with a much-needed corrective to the belief that men’s and women’s brains are intrinsically different—a belief that, as Fine shows with insight and humor, all too often works to the detriment of ourselves and our society.

Why I’ll read it: I’m extremely interested in gender studies, and my friend Lorna recommended this to me.

Ghosts, Apparitions and Poltergeists: An Exploration of the Supernatural through History – Brian Righi

Summary:

Skeletal remains rotting behind cellar walls, temple priests removing brains with iron hooks, phantom locomotives roaring across midnight plains—Brian Righi isn’t making this stuff up. The ghost stories he finds in history are far more chilling than any Hollywood horror scene.

Join the seasoned paranormal investigator on a tour through mankind’s millennium-old obsession with death and the afterlife. Ghosts, Apparitions and Poltergeistssurveys 4,000 years of hauntings and ghost huntings—from the embalming rituals of ancient Egypt to the Ouija boards and séances of nineteenth century Spiritualism—highlighting a few outlandish tales and colorful characters along the way.

Why I’ll Read it: A bit of research for the WIP and for another book I’m planning. I’ve always been fascinated by ghosts, even though I’m a skeptic at heart.

 

Random Research: Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible – Jim Steinmeyer

This is one of the main resources for my WIP, the sequel to Pantomime.

Back copy:

In 1918 Harry Houdini performed a single illusion that has been hotly debated ever since: he made a live elephant disappear on stage. How did he do it? The answer lies in this dazzling tale of innovation, chicanery and keen competition that is the backstage story of the golden age of magic. Hiding the Elephant chronicles the race among history’s most legendary conjurers to make things levitate and disappear. A master illusionist and captivating storyteller, Steinmeyer introduces us to the eccentric personalities behind floating ghosts, disembodied heads and vanishing ladies and takes us backstage to reveal the mechanics of their mysteries. He carries us to a time when Queen Victoria held private seances and all of England believed in magic.

‘Simply the finest, best told, most graceful history of the Golden Age of magic I’ve ever read. It belongs on that elite shelf of historical explorations, like Longitude or The Professor and the Madman, which are so entertaining, so informative, that the reader with no prior interest will feel educated and enthralled on every page… A terrific yarn.’ — Glen David Gold, author of Carter Beats the Devil

I’d agree with Gold. The language and organisation of this book was perfect. I sank into it almost as I would a fiction book, which is high praise indeed. Steinmeyer obviously has such an overwhelming interest and love of magic, and that comes through the pages. It was fascinating to learn more about the greatest magicians of the age.

Magicians are sneaky. Many of them had long-standing feuds, stole each other’s tricks and names, and found ways to slight each other. Some pretended to be from other countries to give themselves a more exotic air. Many of them became hugely successful, making relatively as much as an A-list celebrity would these days. But they were not easy lives, doing 2 or 3 shows a day 7 days a week for months sometimes, or traveling from city to city around the world.

Another aspect of this book that makes it very interesting is that Steinmeyer explains some of the famous illusions shown onstage during the Golden Age of Magic. The Circle of Magic probably wasn’t very happy about that. But I find that learning the secrets behind the trick does not take enjoyment away. It makes me respect them all the more, for some of these are so complicated and require everything to be done just so. Even with the description and the diagrams, I still didn’t quite see how they could work onstage.

If you have an interest in magic, this is an excellent starting point for an overview of the greatest era of magic.

Random Research: Hocus Pocus by Paul Kieve

I’m doing quite a lot of these random research posts just now…but there’s not a lot else to blog about. I’m spending my days writing and refreshing my inbox every 5 minutes. And so, onward!

When I listened to the History of Magic podcast series, one of the episodes interviewed Paul Kieve, who did some work on the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban film (hence the introduction by Daniel Radcliffe). Kieve mentioned that he had a book coming out, and so I picked it up as a starting point for my research on magicians.

The book is targeted at MG kids, and is framed around Paul, as a young magician in the Egyptian theatre, interacting with the great magicians of the past, who come out of their posters that line his office. Each magician explains his past and discusses the tricks he was best known for. The book is also dotted with some simple tricks for readers to try on their own at home.

It was a quick, delightful little read. The frame narrative made the book interesting and I could see it entrancing younger kids. From my other research into the history of magic, I came across so many instances of magicians seeing a travelling show when they were around 11-14, and that sparking their lifelong obsession with magic. However, once I worked my way into adult biographies of magicians, I did notice all the salacious details that Kieve understandably left out.

Definitely recommended for the MG age group.

Random Research: Smoke & Mirrors Podcast

For my day job, I work as a document controller, which is basically a corporate librarian. I issue documents to clients and ensure they adhere to our QA procedures. Excuse you–please cover your mouth when you yawn.

For quite a lot of my time per week, I’m saving emails and documents to a database. This is very boring. It is hard to concentrate on it for long periods of time. In fact, it’s impossible. Unless I’m listening to a podcast. I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting ones, so if you know any that seem to be in the vein of what I like to research, please do pass them my way.

Smoke & Mirrors is a 10-part podcast produced by Resonance FM and features various members and non-members of the Circle of Magic, or the British society of magicians. The earlier episodes speak a bit about the history of magic and also focus on the modern application of magic and the different types, with a bit of magical-related news thrown in for good measure.

I was enchanted from the first episode, when the Executive Librarian of the Circle of Magic (aka the man with one of the Best. Jobs. Ever.) speaks for a bit about the history of magic. Each podcast features a guest, such as: Paul Kieve, the magic consultant in the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban film, Marc Paul, a mentalist, Paul Daniels, who had a successful TV magic show for many years and inspired a generation of magicians, Professor Richard Wiseman, who is a psychologist as well as a magician, Jonathan Goodwin, an escapologist, John Lenahan, who was kicked out of the Circle of Magic for exposing secrets, Fay Presto, a female close-up magician who has performed for the Queen multiple times, and others.

My three favourite episodes were Epsidoe 1, which focused the most on the history of magic; Episode 3, which looked more at the theatrics of magic; and Episode 9, with Fay Presto, which examined the gender inequality in magic. Fay is the top female magician in the UK, and she is also trans. According to The Independent, she was kicked out of the Circle of Magic when she transitioned because females aren’t allowed in the group (to which I say–WTF). She makes fascinating arguments as to why there aren’t as many female magicians–using the props of magic can almost be considered a crutch, and many women perform openly without that crutch, for in dance and music the gender split is a lot more even. Fay is also a firecracker and I chuckled more than once as I saved yet another email. If you only have time to listen to one of the ten part series–listen to the one with Fay.