Happy Holidays! 2016 has been a Twilight Zone of a year, but I hope you’ve had some good moments in spite of that. I have. Some highlights were finding out my third book, The Sower Comes, won a book award, and hearing that the Secrets and Shadows boxed set had become a bestseller in the UK. I’ve had some nice opportunities, like releasing Sunset Empire and telling ghost stories on the Astoria Trolley on Halloween.
My blog will be taking a hiatus for a few weeks so I can focus on my family, but I’m looking forward to 2017. My goals are to finish a book called Riverbound I’m co-writing with a friend, and to finish editing a vampire novel for another author. I’m also excited about two upcoming book events. More on all that in January. In the meantime, there’s a giveaway for Sunset Empire on Goodreads. I hope you’ll enter if you haven’t already.
What are you reading right now? I just started Trevor Noah’s biography, Born a Crime. It’s a fascinating and timely read which I highly recommend. It’s about him growing up in South Africa during apartheid, and his mother having to keep him hidden since he was bi-racial and interracial relationships were illegal. If they’d gotten caught, his parents would have been thrown in jail, and he would have been taken away and put in an orphanage. Here’s the book description:
Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.
Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.
The stories collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty. His stories weave together to form a moving and searingly funny portrait of a boy making his way through a damaged world in a dangerous time, armed only with a keen sense of humor and a mother’s unconventional, unconditional love.
I also recommend one of my favorite reads of 2016, The Fireman, by Joe Hill. It’s about a plague that causes the infected to spontaneously combust. What I found so compelling about the book was the way society unraveled in the face of an end of the world pandemic. Here’s the book description:
The fireman is coming. Stay cool.
No one knows exactly when it began or where it originated. A terrifying new plague is spreading like wildfire across the country, striking cities one by one: Boston, Detroit, Seattle. The doctors call it Draco Incendia Trychophyton. To everyone else it’s Dragonscale, a highly contagious, deadly spore that marks its hosts with beautiful black and gold marks across their bodies—before causing them to burst into flames. Millions are infected; blazes erupt everywhere. There is no antidote. No one is safe.
Harper Grayson, a compassionate, dedicated nurse as pragmatic as Mary Poppins, treated hundreds of infected patients before her hospital burned to the ground. Now she’s discovered the telltale gold-flecked marks on her skin. When the outbreak first began, she and her husband, Jakob, had made a pact: they would take matters into their own hands if they became infected. To Jakob’s dismay, Harper wants to live—at least until the fetus she is carrying comes to term. At the hospital, she witnessed infected mothers give birth to healthy babies and believes hers will be fine too. . . if she can live long enough to deliver the child.
Convinced that his do-gooding wife has made him sick, Jakob becomes unhinged, and eventually abandons her as their placid New England community collapses in terror. The chaos gives rise to ruthless Cremation Squads—armed, self-appointed posses roaming the streets and woods to exterminate those who they believe carry the spore. But Harper isn’t as alone as she fears: a mysterious and compelling stranger she briefly met at the hospital, a man in a dirty yellow fire fighter’s jacket, carrying a hooked iron bar, straddles the abyss between insanity and death. Known as The Fireman, he strolls the ruins of New Hampshire, a madman afflicted with Dragonscale who has learned to control the fire within himself, using it as a shield to protect the hunted . . . and as a weapon to avenge the wronged.
In the desperate season to come, as the world burns out of control, Harper must learn the Fireman’s secrets before her life—and that of her unborn child—goes up in smoke.
What to read in 2017? I meant to read Three Dark Crowns, by Kendare Blake, but I’ve run out of time. That will be top of my to-read list. Here’s what the book is about:
In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.
But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins.
The last queen standing gets the crown.
I haven’t yet read Stephen King’s End of the Watch either, so I’m going to have to rectify that. This book is the third of a trilogy. I love everything Stephen King writes, but this series has been a favorite. Here’s a description:
The spectacular finale to the New York Times bestselling trilogy that began with Mr. Mercedes (winner of the Edgar Award) and Finders Keepers—In End of Watch, the diabolical “Mercedes Killer” drives his enemies to suicide, and if Bill Hodges and Holly Gibney don’t figure out a way to stop him, they’ll be victims themselves.
In Room 217 of the Lakes Region Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic, something has awakened. Something evil. Brady Hartsfield, perpetrator of the Mercedes Massacre, where eight people were killed and many more were badly injured, has been in the clinic for five years, in a vegetative state. According to his doctors, anything approaching a complete recovery is unlikely. But behind the drool and stare, Brady is awake, and in possession of deadly new powers that allow him to wreak unimaginable havoc without ever leaving his hospital room.
Retired police detective Bill Hodges, the unlikely hero of Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers, now runs an investigation agency with his partner, Holly Gibney—the woman who delivered the blow to Hartsfield’s head that put him on the brain injury ward. When Bill and Holly are called to a suicide scene with ties to the Mercedes Massacre, they find themselves pulled into their most dangerous case yet, one that will put their lives at risk, as well as those of Bill’s heroic young friend Jerome Robinson and his teenage sister, Barbara. Brady Hartsfield is back, and planning revenge not just on Hodges and his friends, but on an entire city.
In End of Watch, Stephen King brings the Hodges trilogy to a sublimely terrifying conclusion, combining the detective fiction of Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers with the heart-pounding, supernatural suspense that has been his bestselling trademark. The result is an unnerving look at human vulnerability and chilling suspense. No one does it better than King.
Do you have any recommendations for my reading list?
Hope your holidays are wonderful, and all the best to you in the new year.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016
Now and again when life gets busy, I find I need to step back and think about what I’m doing and where I’m headed. Life has been like that recently, with the start of school for my kids and the start of the term at the college where I work, teaching writing classes and advising students. Sometimes things get so busy, I can hardly remember my own name. Who am I? What year is it? Don’t ask me how old I am, because I always forget. That probably means I’m old.
Anyway, taking stock…I’m sad to say I haven’t done much writing lately, but maybe that’s not terrible, because it’s given me space to think about my current writing projects and how I can improve them—fleshing out characters more and tightening scenes. A friend and I are co-writing a novel about a coastal town under siege. It’s been fun to think about our villains and figure out how to build the story around them. The project is in the early stages, so I can’t share much yet, but at some point I will.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the craft of writing because I’m teaching a class on short stories, starting Monday. Writing a short story is a different experience than writing a novel. You generally only have time to explore one major character and one conflict, and the writing has to be tight to be effective. You get in, you make your point, and you get out. You can’t afford to waste words. That’s a good skill to practice for writing a longer story too, because even though novels are more forgiving, each word should have a purpose. I’ll also be editing another novel for Barking Rain Press. I’m excited about this one because I loved the concept when I saw the author’s submission. No spoilers, but I can say the book portrays vampires in a way I’ve not seen before.
Besides the class and editing, October is filled with writing events. On October 8th, I’ll be at the release party for the North Coast Squid at the Hoffman Center in Manzanita, reading an excerpt from my short story, Sacred. This was my first time to submit work to the Squid, and I’m honored to be included in the publication.
On October 15th, I’ll be participating in the Written in the Sand Authors Fair, sponsored by Beach Books in Seaside. I’m thrilled to be a part of this, and grateful to Beach Books for all they do to support local authors. It’s a fun event for me, connecting with readers and other authors at one of the best bookstores on the coast.
Then, on Halloween, I’ll be telling ghost stories on the historic Astoria Trolley. This event was so much fun last year, and I’m excited to participate again. I’ll be talking about local legends and hauntings, as well as sharing classic ghost stories.
Although I haven’t done much writing lately, I have done some reading. I know—the time I spent reading could have been spent on writing. The thing is, if you want to write and you want to improve your skills, you’ve got to read, and you’ve got to have a critical perspective when you do, thinking about why the author makes the choices they make about writing. The more you read, the better you’ll write. The two go hand in hand.
So, what have I been reading? I just finished The Last Star, the third book in the 5th Wave series by Rick Yancey. This is a fantastic young adult sci-fi series, and it’s not just for teens. There are some big concepts in this one—genocide, and what it means to be human. The methods the alien invaders use to take over our planet are diabolical, and the books are full of twists I didn’t expect. If you saw the movie, don’t let it deter you from the books. As is true most of the time, the books are better because they have more substance. The movie had great action, but the story was abbreviated on film and there wasn’t time to get to know the characters. Read the books instead.
I also read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Although it’s an older sci-fi book, first published in 1985, it has a similar feel to more recent dystopian books. The world has changed drastically: society is controlled by a religious cult and women are property of the state, forced into roles where they have no rights over their own bodies. It’s well-written and an important read in thinking about human rights and equality. It’s a frightening read too, because even now, in 2016, there are places in the world where women don’t have rights and are forced into roles similar to what is described in the book. It is also disconcerting to read this book in our current political climate, where a certain presidential candidate makes misogynistic statements on a regular basis.
I have a number of books on my to-read list, but I’ll share one that stands out: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake. I loved Blake’s first book about a vengeful ghost, Anna Dressed in Blood, which hooked me from the start. She’s a talented and witty author. Her latest book is a YA fantasy about three sisters who must fight to the death for the crown. They all are thought to have extraordinary powers, but two of them might be faking. Even so, the strongest sister might not win. I can’t wait to dive into this world of intrigue and treachery.
What are you reading? Any recommendations?
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016