Friday, May 30, 2014

Year of the Wolf by Heather Heffner

This novel is excellent. Of all of the indie novels I have read over the last few years, Year of the Wolf is by far of the highest quality in terms of writing and story sophistication, and it's better than many traditionally published novels I've read. I am seriously impressed with Heather Heffner. The novel will please those who like vampire and werewolf stories. The interesting thing about that is I really don't get into those stories (anymore--I was really into them for a while a few years ago and had my fill) but I really enjoyed this book because of the innovative approach to the genre. I found all the aspects drawing on Korean culture fascinating. I give this novel my highest recommendation.


I do have some critiques of it, but you have to understand, these critiques are on par with critiques I would give any excellent novel, because no novel is perfect. So here we go.

First off, the story includes a subplot you see a lot of in books with werewolves: the main character, Citlalli, is a new werewolf, and the only other notable female werewolf character hates her on sight and wants to challenge her at every turn because that's what female wolves do to establish their hierarchy in the pack. I'm not a huge fan of the genre largely for this reason. I find pitting female characters against each other in this way, especially when there's additionally a male they are fighting over, really really tiresome. I wish that people would stop writing this story--it adds nothing new to the genre. And if it's not possible to write a werewolf story without revisiting this kind of conflict, why not go with a different kind of shifter? In Heffner's universe there are all sorts of shifters. The weretigers sound particularly intriguing.

Compounding the problem of the female wolf rivalry is that the rival in question is Korean. In fact, this story has several Korean characters and they are all supporting characters, yet it is set in Korea. None of them are very effective at dealing with the problems they are faced with. They need Citalli, a Mexican-American who has settled in Korea, and her love-interest, another Latino, for that. And hey, it's really cool and refreshing to see nonwhite characters throughout the book, it's one of the things that makes it so original. Still, I got the sense that even with as much knowledge as Una, a kind of shaman, had or the leading werewolf, also a Korean, had, they just weren't going to be the heroes in any way shape or form. To me, that's a problematic storyline. Not as bad as say, The Last Samurai, but it does have some similar issues.

Finally, the ending. Heffner took a big risk with the ending--it is an out-and-out cliff-hanger. No resolution at all. No satisfaction for the reader at all. IMO, you save that kind of ending for book 2. Otherwise I'm left feeling like this author is just going to mess with me. I felt that way when I read the first book in The Lying Game series. And I had no interest in buying the second book as a result. I may buy the second book in Heffner's series, Year of the Tiger; I haven't decided yet.

I do hope a lot of people read this novel, as the writing and plotting are excellent, and many people will not have the problems with it that I had. Again, I highly recommend it.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Hop Against Homophobia and Transphobia, 2014

It's hard to believe it's been a year since the last time I posted for this event, but here we are. Things have gotten a little crazy around here, and I almost forgot to get the blog post done. Nevertheless, here I am.

Two things come to mind this year as I contemplate homophobia and transphobia. First of all, a student of mine--let's call him Nate--is consistently homophobic, and this really depresses me. It depresses me in Nate's case more than most, because in other ways Nate is among my most enlightened students. He's African American and when he first came to our school, which is majority white, he used to get a lot of laughs by making jokes that were racist towards black people. This is something I've encountered a couple of times before in mostly-white communities. A person of color, in order to gain acceptance, will be the first to make jokes and declarations against his/her ethnicity. But the thing about Nate is, he evolved. I don't know for sure what did it. I'd like to think some of the content in the classes I teach helped, but I really don't know. In any case, he's now one of the kids I can count on to say something intelligent about diversity as it applies to race, and I'm always so pleased when he shares a personal story. I just wish he'd get over the homophobia. He talks about people he knows that he thinks seem gay and how unforgivable that is. He suggests that if a gay man approached him, he'd beat him up. You get the idea. I know it's not realistic to expect a kid who has come so far in terms of how he addresses race to somehow also be able to address LGBTQ stuff with an equivalent level of maturity and security in his own identity. I just wish that's how it worked.

The other thing that comes to mind is the passage of California's so-called "bathroom law." It's actually a law requiring schools to allow transgender student to self-select bathrooms, locker rooms, sports teams, and other gendered options. A very vocal part of the local community here is totally freaking out about it, and screaming about their (straight, cis--or at least so they believe) kids' privacy rights. That would be bad enough, but the school board has said, out loud, at a time during the school board meetings when doing so meant talking out of turn, that they agree with these people and that they will do everything they can to resist implementing the law. I cannot express to you, dear readers, how very disgusted and fed up this makes me feel. These people (and these school board members) seem genuinely convinced that their children are the ones who will be preyed upon due to this law. They have no understanding and no interest in learning about the reality of the situation for trans students. I heard recently that there will be three (or is it two?) seats opening up on the school board and we'll be voting new people in this election. Which sounds good, right? Except the nutjobs are campaigning whole-hog for those seats. I don't know what alternatives we'll have, but if I have to write-in Hannah Phylactic Shock, that's what I'm going to do.

Anyhoo... I'll try to remember to check back with the election results. In the mean time, post a comment here to enter a random drawing (I'll use an internet randomizer) and you may win an ebook of The City Darkens in the format of your choice.

Also, be sure to visit the HAHAT blog to find out about other cool blogs participating in the event.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Just updating for the sake of updating...

The good news is, I'm writing again, without feeling like I have to force myself. It's the first time I've felt that way since last summer, so I'm really pleased about it.

What's not so great is that this comes at a time when I'm feeling exhausted and have a lot on my plate, so I actually haven't had much time to do the writing. Still, I've managed to add about 3,000 words to The Cradle and the Grave (the fourth novel in my Veronica Barry series). It may not sound like much, but I'm glad it's happening.

Now all I have to do is get the rest of the nonsense sorted and I'll be able to finish this novel and add to the series.

In other news, I tried submitting The City Darkens to two agents. One represents Jacqueline Carey and one represented Marion Zimmer Bradley. Several of their novels are inspirations for TCD. Both agencies turned me down, though. The folks who represented MZB were nice about it--I got a personal email, and they said the setting sounded interesting. They didn't tell me why they were turning it down, though my suspicion is that it's because I've already self-published it. I may try again in a bit. I'm thinking of tracking down Cynthia Voigt's agency next. Maybe Sarah Monette's. I don't feel particularly in a rush. I'm mainly doing this because I need to feel like I'm putting my writing out there. I've been sending TCD to book bloggers but since those that have agreed to review it have all let me know it will be a few months, it just feels like I need something else as well. It would be cool to be accepted by an agent. Like a stamp of approval. I think what I've experienced with self-publishing is that while I like everything that comes with self-publishing, like having control over every aspect (especially the cover), I feel like I'm a speck of sand in a beach full of other self-published authors, and most of them have published their first novel without the benefit of a beta-reader or editor. Which means that most readers will assume I'm publishing my first novel without the benefit of a beta-reader or editor, and that is a damn shame, considering the outstanding quality of my beta-reader, Kathryn. Anyway. My hope is that if I do end up getting traditionally published, maybe I will at least not be a speck of sand in a polluted beach anymore. I don't know what I'll be, but at least not that. That's so far down the road, though. Like I said, I'm in no rush, and I think I may have to wait until I write something new--not a Veronica book or a City book--before I'll really have a shot at interesting someone. Time will tell.