Monday, December 30, 2013

One More Day - Anthology Release

I am very pleased to be a part of the blog tour for One More Day, a new anthology featuring seven tales, including "Stage Fright," by Erika Beebe, a fellow Rockhurst alumna and a very good friend of mine.  

As part of the blog tour, I received an advance copy.  This was a highly enjoyable collection of stories which represent the full spectrum of speculative fiction: paranormal, paranormal romance, high fantasy, science-fiction, fairy tale and horror.  The stories share two common threads: one is that each story is told from the point of view of a teenage protagonist.  The other is that each of the main characters experiences a moment in which they look around to find that the world around them has stopped-- that time has stopped.  The how and the why, of course, vary widely from author to author.  The apocalypse, time machines, computer programmers-in-training, an absent-minded scribe, and a memorable retelling of Sleeping Beauty are but a few of the takes offered up by this talented group of authors. 

Erika’s story, “Stage Fright,” (excerpted below), is the story of a small-town girl, Hannah, who has moved with her mother to the big city after the death of her father in Iraq.  Hannah is trying desperately to fit in.  She’s been cast in the lead of the musical her school is putting on, which you’d think would be a leg up with the popular girls.  But no.  If anything, it has drawn the ire of the head Mean Girl.  So one day, during a particularly stressful rehearsal, Hannah suddenly finds everyone frozen in place—everyone except her, and a mysterious boy straight out of the spreads in her teenage heartthrob magazines.  Has Hannah suffered a serious break from reality?  Or is there something fantastical at work here? 

I really appreciated Erika’s story in that, unlike a lot of paranormal fantasy/romances, it actually uses the genre as a vehicle to confront greater teenage issues, like dealing with the death of a parent, the struggles of the high school social order, and the pressure to succeed.    

“Stage Fright,” like all of the stories included in this volume, is refreshingly well-written.  Usually, when I come across a collection of stories, I invariably skip one or two that don’t hold my attention.  That was not the case with One More Day.  I found each story thoroughly engaging and entertaining.  While the plots themselves aren’t exactly original, I think they will serve as a fine entrĂ©e for the YA audience into the greater possibilities offered by the genre—possibilities beyond vampires, werewolves and tedious love triangles.  To that audience, I’m sure, these stories will seem very new (assuming that many tweens today haven’t seen old sci-fi shows that thoroughly mined the stop-time conceit like The Twilight Zone).  My only real complaint, in fact, is that I feel like these tales sort of burst at the seams—the authors have stories that shouldn’t be limited to a short story word count, but need room to sprawl and breathe.  I was left wanting more.  And that’s hardly a complaint. 
Aside from “Stage Fright,” my favorite stories of the bunch were L.S. Murphy’s “The 13th Month,” an exciting take on end-times and battles between angelic beings, Kimberly Kay’s “Sleepless Beauty,” a hilarious version of the old tale about the chick who pricks her finger, and Danielle E. Shipley’s “A Morrow More,” which definitely needs to be a book.  I look forward to checking out full-length works by these authors. 

By L.S. Murphy, Erika Beebe, Marissa Halvorson, Kimberly Kay,
J. Keller Ford, Danielle E. Shipley, and Anna Simpson

What if today never ends?  What if everything about life—everything anyone hoped to be, to do, to experience—never happens?  Whether sitting in a chair, driving down the road, in surgery, jumping off a cliff or flying ... that's where you’d be ... forever.

Unless ...

In One More Day, Erika Beebe, Marissa Halvorson, Kimberly Kay, J. Keller Ford, Danielle E. Shipley and Anna Simpson join L.S. Murphy to give us their twists, surprising us with answers to two big questions, all from the perspective of characters under the age of eighteen.

How do we restart time?  How do we make everything go back to normal?  The answers, in whatever the world—human, alien, medieval, fantasy or fairytale—could, maybe, happen today.  Right now.

What would you do if this happened ... to you?

Excerpt from “Stage Fright” by Erika Beebe in ONE MORE DAY!

They warned me about the stage. It stretched out long, black and ice-hard with a curve around the edge, and Mean Girl, one of the cast members, stood at the perfect angle, a little behind me off to the left, but where I couldn’t escape her sneer. 

"Do you remember the last time you danced on the lake, right before the blizzard in the spring?” my best friend Jess had asked the night before, in a long overdue FaceTime chat—the closest we’d come to seeing each other in months. “Feel the ice, and dance.”

I sucked in a huge breath of air and pictured that day in my hometown, instead of the stage; the sky overhead had darkened, the rolling clouds pushed by a wind so strong, it whipped my long dark hair around my face. I remembered braiding my hair quickly and pulling my green stocking hat down over my ears and forehead. After grabbing my skates, I’d slung them over my shoulder and walked to the edge of the frozen lake.

I can do this.

About Erika Beebe:

Inspired by her first grade teacher's belief in her imagination from the first story she ever wrote, Erika has been a storyteller ever since. A dreamer and an experiencer, she envisions the possibilities in life and writes to bring hope when sometimes the moment doesn’t always feel that way. 

Working in the field of public relations and communications for more than ten years, she has always been involved with writing, editing, and engaging others in public speaking.  

Her two young children help keep her creativity alive and the feeling of play in the forefront of her mind.

Connect with Erika:

Contact Links for Other Authors in One More Day:

Don’t forget to sign-up to take part in blog tour giveaways here.   

Friday, December 20, 2013

Indie authors on Scribd

Hey, fellow readers & writers.  There’s a new way to support indie authors.    

Smashwords announced yesterday that it has signed an agreement with Scribd, a subscription ebook service (think Netflix for ebooks).  Which means that indie authors will now be available to Scribd’s audience of 80 million people worldwide.  Authors will receive royalties for each read.  

It should be noted: there are other ebook subscription services out there, and they also carry indie books: 
  • Oyster – has some indie titles on a limited basis. 
  • Nokbok – a new service, which will be launching in early 2014.  They are all about indies. 
I couldn’t be more thrilled that these services are out there and gaining popularity.  There are a lot of novels out there that couldn’t find a niche in the traditional publishing arena that will now be able to find their audience.  Netflix has done so much for obscure, indie and foreign films, or even some films that, for whatever reason, didn’t do so great at the box office (think Shawshank Redemption). 

As a book reviewer, this will also make my job much easier in terms of seeking out and accessing new authors. 
Best of all, Smashwords authors get Scribd for free for the next year—I’m signing up today. 

You should too. 





Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Just Another Feminist Rant

So a friend of mine recently shared this TED Talk on Facebook. 

I watched.  I liked.  I shared.

And almost immediately, three of my friends (who are Star Wars geeks) had MELTDOWNS because Stokes is taking potshots at their cultural touchstone, their sacred cow, their holy grail of fandom.  “Who is this putz?” they demanded.  “How dare he say that Luke Skywalker isn’t a hero?  That Princess Leia isn’t awesome?  WHY ARE PEOPLE LETTING TV AND MOVIES PARENT THEIR CHILDREN IN THE FIRST PLACE?”

Whoa, there, little dogies.  This wasn’t about the evils of Star Wars specifically, and nobody said Luke Skywalker isn’t a hero.  I think we’re missing the larger point here, hmmmm?

First of all, while I do think Stokes downplayed Princess Leia’s toughness, I have to admit, I have never found her to be that compelling of a character.  Like Stokes’ daughter, I much prefer Obi Wan, or Yoda.  If you were to ask me to make a list of my top female fictional characters, I'm sure I would get around to Leia eventually, but she doesn't spring to mind immediately the way other examples of fictional female badassery do.   Like, say, Dorothy Gale.       

Some may argue that Star Wars is a product of its time, and therefore the Bechdel test shouldn’t apply.  I call bullshit.  It came out in 1977, well after women’s lib, a scant two years before Ellen Ripley would be the sole survivor of the Nostromo.  (Not to mention, 38 years after the other film Stokes is submitting for analysis.)  And you mean to say that in the entire galaxy there were only two women?  And they are both related to Luke Skywalker?  Really?  Which means that their entire import is not based on whether they’re tough or not, or whether or not they’re leadership material, but only insofar as how they are connected to the hero.  Seriously, the only other female characters in the whole damn franchise were some female Ewoks, and that poor chick who became Rancor-chow.  (In the original trilogy, I mean.)   Would it have been such a stretch to give us a woman flying one of those X-wing starfighters?  

Not passing the Bechdel test is a common and distressing trend that is not improving.  Stokes is not the first person I’ve heard point out in that past year that even now, so few films have female protagonists (only 11 of the top 100 last year).  It’s not just about including more women of substance in our stories, though that would certainly be nice, but it’s also about changing how we view men’s roles.   

Meanwhile, The Wizard of Oz centers around three strong female characters and romantic entanglements with men never even come up.  It teaches that gentleness, cooperation and intellect can be heroic, and that it’s not unmanly to follow a female lead.  

But Stokes’ greater point is not just what all this teaches girls—it’s what it teaches boys. 

Too many stories send boys the message that it’s best to go it alone; that being embroiled in conflict makes you a man.  Movies not passing the Bechdel test teach boys and girls alike that women are marginal—they are supporting characters at best, and their entire roles are defined by how they relate to and/or support men.  But we’re not marginal—we can’t be marginal when we make up half the fucking population.  But this misogyny cuts both ways-- it teaches boys that there’s always a princess waiting for him on the other side of battle, and if he fights hard enough, she’ll just fall into his arms.  Stokes is making the same point—we need to break out of the old gender roles and start thinking about what an equal society looks like, and how that affects our storytelling.  

It’s so easy to make a film about men that’s just about men—bands of brothers, royal courts, and even twelve angry men.   

When I was ten or eleven years old, I wrote a futuristic/post-apocalyptic story about a band of women soldiers.  I did that specifically because of the crying lack of female warriors in films and books.  It’s not so easy to make a meaningful film about just groups of women, because, historically, there were hardly any places where women could exist without men running the show.  In fact, I can really think of only two places: convents and brothels.  Madonnas and whores, in other words.  No wonder people continue to struggle with that dichotomy.  

As for using the media as a proxy for parenting, I’m pretty sure that isn’t what Stokes meant.  Maybe it’s just because I’m a writer, but I take it for granted, as Stokes seems to, that stories do shape who we are.  We get so up in arms about worrying whether or not the TV/video games/Internet are taking the place of parenting that we forget that at the core of all those mediums are stories.  No one sees anything wrong with Mother Goose.  All stories have power-- humble fairy tales and nursery rhymes, literary leviathans, or even Dora the Explorer.  It's the parent's job to provide context.  

My first ambition, after all, was to be a Jedi knight.  My mother (who is an engineer) wanted me to be a doctor.  The fact that I happened to be born with XX chromosomes never even entered into the equation.