Wednesday, July 25, 2012

My dad

My dad is in the hospital. Very weak. Fluid around his heart. A growth on his lung.

I feel like this hat. Lost. Beat up. Waiting for the tide to carry me to the deep, as it has too many times this past year.

You'd think I'd be used to it.

I am not.

I have a journal I gave him as a gift (blank), which he filled up and sent back to me some years ago. I'm reading it again, seeing his life through his eyes.

Here are a few lines from his lifelong love of travel and adventure:
"Our first stop was Bermuda...the island could not hide its beauty, and I knew I would visit it again sometime, somehow." (He did indeed return and ended up living there awhile with my mother and sister.)

"Fez is built on a hill, overlooking two valleys landscaped with date and palm orchards. The city is over a thousand years old and at one time had constructed a tall wall around the outer perimeter to protect themselves from enemies. Most of the buildings are white with red slate-tiled roofs and , as you approach the city from a distance it appears to be shimmering."

At the journal's end he wrote: "Well, at least I got as far as Shanghai. I'll get another book and continue..."

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Time for a little book love. This one has wings. Well, not the way you think...

There's one thing I have to say about Martha Brockenbrough's YA novel DEVINE INTERVENTION before anything else:

Great voice!

Seriously, I don't know how she found Jerome's voice but it is golden.  Jerome, a bit of a screw-up with attitude, gets shot in the head with his cousin's arrow and finds himself in soul rehab, where he's assigned as guardian angel to Heidi Devine, a girl with confidence issues. Of course, he immediately "loses" his guardian angel handbook and does as he pleases.

On her website, Ms. Brockenbrough calls herself an author of books for smart kids and juvenile adults, which couldn't be more on mark. This book is clever, hilarious, honest and insightful for almost any age.

 Can I, or may I, say again how great the voice is? Because I have to. The story is told in two POVs--Jerome in first person and Heidi in third.

 At the end of the first chapter when Jerome reflects on his failed school assignment in 8th grade to take care of an egg all week as if it were a baby, we discover he has some pretty complex layers: "At school the next day, I didn't tell Mrs. Domino it was my pop who ate my egg baby. Even with how things were at home, I have a rule about not ratting because I don't do that to family, no matter what. So I told her I did it, and that it tasted excellent. Because if you're going to get in trouble anyway, you might as well go out in a blaze of glory. That has always been my style. Which explains a lot about the thing that happened later with Heidi."

Life is messy and complicated and this story doesn't pretend it isn't. This is no angel saves the day tale. It is full of misunderstandings and mistakes made by Jerome and Heidi, but they both see the world and other people differently by the end, and, in one way or another, save themselves. And, speaking of the end, this one is a shocker.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Peace to you, Sage Stallone

The world has lost a fine storyteller with the untimely death of Sage Stallone at 36. My heart aches for a death so young and for the terrible loss to his family.

I interviewed Sage in 2006 when I was a features writer for a daily newspaper (The Press-Enterprise) and I annually covered the Palm Springs International Film Festival. Sage's short film "Vic" played the festival.

He was 30 at the time, and I was so impressed that he'd chosen to write and direct a character-driven film about an aging actor whose career and life were in free fall.

"All my life I've been into film and following the careers of actors who once their contracts expired they were nowhere to be found," Sage said in that interview. "It always intrigued me and bothered me at the same time." Some of those actors died in near-poverty, some took roles in low-budget horror films to get by.

 Because he knew actors like that he said he sometimes had trouble watching his own film. "It makes me sad," he said. "It affects my soul."

Sage paid his own dues as an actor and an assistant to cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond. When he was only 19 he used his earnings from film work to purchase the rights to horror classics, which he re-mastered and presented uncut on DVD. He was passionate about film.

I'm disturbed by conjecture about whether his death was suicide or drug overdose. I don't pretend to know the answer, but I do know the person I talked to was vibrant and compassionate and had a whole lot to offer the world.

My thoughts are with his family and friends.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Nine lives and counting with Sarah Wylie

Two-for-one! This post is longer than usual because it contains my Goodreads review of Sarah Wylie’s debut ALL THESE LIVES and a lovely interview with Sarah. So if you already read my review, skip on down to find out what Sarah has to say about writing, procrastinating and playlists.

 Review: If someone you loved was dying, what kind of deals would you make with God or the Universe or whatever might have the power to change things? What would you try if you believed you had nine lives and your twin had been granted only one and it was faltering? This is what drives Dani, the teen protagonist of ALL THESE LIVES.

 I loved this book. That's the first thing I have to say. Second, I've followed Sarah Wylie's blog since before she had a book deal. What drew me there was her humor, fresh take on the world and her oh-so-clever commentary. I pretty much figured I was going to like her debut novel, because I already liked her writing style and spirit. I not only like this book, I'm stunned by the risks Sarah took, or I believe she took, in developing this character, who is flawed and absolutely authentic. Dani tugged at my heart.

 A few reader-reviewers have said they dislike Dani because she is sarcastic and sometimes verbally aggressive, but this is the very thing that is so real in this story. Dani wasn't always this way. She is doing what so many kids, or even adults, do when they're helpless and afraid, she's striking out, and because she's smart she often uses barbed words. Even she knows it's inappropriate. She does it anyway until she learns some things about herself, her family and her friends.

 What is so beautiful about Dani is the way she tries to use up her extra lives to buy her sister more time. Other people see a girl acting up or looking for attention when she does crazy stuff and gets hurt. She never tells anyone that she's bartering with the universe and doesn't believe she deserves to be spared while her sister is destroyed.

When I was a newspaper features writer I did a series of articles on a teenage girl with leukemia. She was undergoing bone marrow transplant, and I clearly remember her younger sister standing in the shadows of her sick sister, their parents, the doctors. It's a tough place for a kid to be. I was awed by how Sarah not only got that but built an unexpected story around it.

Recently, I wrote about Patrick Ness's A MONSTER CALLS, another book with a kid protagonist facing cancer in a close family member. That boy, too, acts out in frustration and tries to survive in a terrifying situation. Both Ness and Wylie found extraordinary ways to help their characters cope and grow.

 Sarah put a short prologue on this story that is breathtaking: This is how it feels to die. It starts from outside and works its way in. Your cuticles, the tips of your fingers. Fire under your nails that spreads into your bones, burning and freezing everything it comes into contact with. Your arms, your ankles, your teeth, your knees, your stomach, and the place where your heart should be. Your heart is always the last to go. One hundred irregular beats per minute, and then zero. But that's just the start. The start of dying. This is the rest.

 Sarah graciously agreed to an email Q&A, which I hope you enjoy:

 Q: How did this story develop? Did it begin with an idea of a girl who thought she had nine lives? Or with a character who is helpless in the face of her sister's illness? Or something else?

Sarah: At the very start, the story was going to be from Jena’s perspective – about her illness and her family’s attempts to cope with it. But as soon as her sister, Dani, showed up, I knew the story was hers. She had such a distinctive voice, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. The idea of Dani having nine lives came along later. I’d figured out that the story was Dani's, but I wasn’t quite ready to start writing it. Something seemed to be missing.

 So I did what I do best – procrastinate. Actually, I called it “making a playlist.” And in the process of doing so, I came across the song “All These Lives” by Daughtry, which isn’t about having multiple lives, but the idea for Dani’s nine lives popped into my mind, and I finally felt ready to write the story. Take-home message: er...procrastinate?

(Insert your goofy blog host laughing and loving that she can now make a playlist and her WIP will fall neatly into place. :D )

 Q: Did you have any personal experience that led to this story idea, or did you become interested through research in how siblings cope with traumatic illness? Was there anything surprising in what you learned?

 Sarah: Thankfully, All These Lives didn’t come from one particular personal experience. But the last few years, I’ve watched many people I care about go through enormous loss. There was a period of time when I was completely paralyzed by this fear of something happening to the people I love most, of being powerless and unable to help them in any way. I wanted to capture that a little bit in All These Lives. Most of the research I did pertained to the medical aspect of the book. I tried to trust the fear and uncertainty I’d been battling with personally in writing the more emotional aspects.

Q: Did the story change much from concept to final book?

 Sarah: I don’t think there were any huge changes to the story from concept to final book. The heart of the book, the characters, and plot were always pretty much what you see in the final version. Which isn’t to say that the book didn’t need quite a bit of revision, but most of the changes were smaller things; things like pacing and consistency (it turns out there are 26 hours in a day!). We also worked quite a bit on Dani’s belief that she has nine lives.

 Q: How would you describe the personal journey for you from idea to publication?

Sarah: The journey to publication has definitely been an adventure. It has been more than I ever thought it would be. In every sense of the word. More surprising, more eye-opening, more terrifying, more humbling. I’ve learned so much about the publication process (and writing! And revising!), but there’s still so much I’m learning. I feel really grateful to work with the people I do, and to have gone on this incredible journey.

Kirkus review
The Book Depository
Book trailer

Sarah's next young adult novel is scheduled for release in 2013.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Don't diss the dragons

There are dragons in my dreams. They tell me their secrets from when the world began and how our stories intertwine.
I never cared about dragons one way or another. I didn't seek out books about them or draw their pictures when I doodled. I didn't pay much attention as to why they pop up throughout the world in many cultures with their leathery wings and spiked spines and fiery breath.
But, for whatever reason, they sought me out, whispering tales in my ears and making them spill out my fingers.
And now I see them.