Wednesday, August 31, 2011

It's a new two-book deal!!

It posted in Publisher's Marketplace today so I guess I can finally talk about it!:

Jaclyn Dolamore's DARK METROPOLIS, about a city in which corruption and vice are rampant and disappearances warrant a shrug from the authorities: when a girl vanishes, her best friend must search the city's underground, only to find that here, people who die don't necessarily stay dead, to Catherine Onder at Disney-Hyperion, at auction, in a six-figure deal, in a two-book deal, by Jennifer Laughran at Andrea Brown Literary Agency (World English).


This book has a bit of a fascinating story. I started it back in 2007, if I recall correctly. Fritz Lang's 1927 film Metropolis happens to be one of my favorites, and I was pondering a story based on it where the workers are all revived from the dead. I wrote the first chapter and I thought the voice came out sounding both more sophisticated and tense than anything I'd written up to that point.

And frankly, I didn't feel ready to write it. I didn't know what it was really about yet, but I knew I couldn't do it justice.

Last October, my cat died. I nursed her through cancer until she had to be put down, and the last months of her life were traumatizing for me, but she remained the cat of my heart, a cat who always spent her nights melted against my stomach like a baby in an invisible womb, with her paw tucked inside my hand. I didn't write much in November once I turned in Magic Under Stone, and in December I had a talk with my agent and decided to work on a middle grade.

But that Metropolis-story kept poking at me all of a sudden. I realized it was kind of a book about death. And until Tacy died, I hadn't been close enough to it to write that book. Even though I was "supposed" to be writing a middle grade I started writing this instead.

About a week after THAT, my agent told me that her client Lisa Madigan had advanced pancreatic cancer. I knew she would die. That isn't something people really make it out of. Lisa wasn't a super-close friend, but she was close enough that we had exchanged quite a few emails, that I had a ceramic mermaid that was a gift from her hanging by my desk. A lot of people loved her, because she was generous and funny and just a wonderful part of the writing community.

She died while I was writing this book, and in a funny way I think she helped me write it (although, obviously, I'm sure that was not her intention...), and a part of me sort of wanted to write an awesome book that my agent would love and sell well to cheer her up because we all loved Lisa, not that a book is any replacement for a PERSON, but...anyway. I finished this book really fast. It was a cathartic thing to write. It was the first thing that really made me cry.

Although it is not really a sad book, I don't think. And it has a romance--two romances, in fact, one with a girl and a magical silver-haired boy and one with a girl with strange magic of her own and another girl. It has my usual love of describing food and fashion! It was tremendously fun to research, even though it is not quite the real Weimar Berlin, because the real Weimar Berlin sort of had nothing to do with the plot of Metropolis. Still, you wouldn't know that from all my particular Googling of what hat styles were in fashion in 1927, and 1920s political theater, and other things. I listed to a lot of the Threepenny Opera.

It is tentatively scheduled to be a summer 2013 release, and I am SO very excited to be working with Hyperion and Catherine Onder, as I have heard wonderful things about both! I hope you will enjoy it!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Yes, I am an anime fan

Sometimes fans/bloggers/other writers will see me mention a Miyazaki movie or something and say, "Oh, you're an anime fan?"

Well, yes, I say. Haven't kept up with it much in recent years. But yes.

And in fact, I was thinking this week about how much Japanese storytelling has shaped my life. I became an anime fan in 1996, when I was 14, the same age as Sailor Moon, who happened to be on American TV that year. But really, it started before that, didn't it? It started with the Super Nintendo game Final Fantasy II. I knew it was Japanese but I didn't really think about it much at the time. After all, RPGs back then all played off of western fantasy conventions.

But even then I was starting to pick up bits of Japanese myth (kappas), visual storytelling culture (why does a bubble come out of a character's nose when an enemy casts a sleep spell on them??) and storytelling tropes in general (men with androgynous good looks? yes please). I was obsessed with Final Fantasy almost beyond any other obsession of my life. The amount of fan fic, fan art, and board games I concocted based on it...

When I first watched anime itself I thought it looked awfully weird, but then I quickly became so hooked I would watch anything I could get my hands on, even if it was episode 9-10 of something I'd never seen episodes 1-8, even if it was boring, even if it was unsubtitled. Anime was still a hot, rare commodity at that point, not as much so as it was for 80s anime fans, but still. I joined the Japanese Animation Club of Orlando, which showed an evening of anime once a month, one movie and several episodes of various ongoing series. Then you could check out a couple of videos from the library as well. This is where I first saw all the Ghibli movies, even ones most people still haven't seen like Only Yesterday and I Can Hear the Sea.

Oh, and the guy who gave me my application to join the club? I thought he was nice, although I didn't see him again for awhile because he had moved to West Palm Beach. That was 1997. Now Dade and I have been together for 12 years. Who knows where I'd have found a partner if not for anime...

My first job also happened to be in anime, although only for a few days. My sister and I worked a dealer's room booth for one of the vendors. I mostly handled the anime CD section because I could read enough Japanese to find CDs fairly quickly. We were paid in merchandise and worked about 10 hours with no lunch break. At one point the boss would send someone on a McDonalds run just before his employees started fainting. Good times. After the day was over, though, he would buy us all dinner at Kobe.

There comes a time in every anime fans life when they feel compelled to cosplay. This time also came for me too. First I concocted a half-assed Vampire Princess Miyu out of my karate gi, then I joined an actual cosplay group (with a mom in the group who sewed everything for us, SCORE) and it was Miaka from Fushigi Yuugi in her Suzaku no Miko costume, and then Black Rose Duelist Wakaba from Revolutionary Girl Utena before I finally just started wearing a dark blue school uniform to conventions.

Which, by this time, we were actually running ourselves. Dade and his friend Fred had organized Anime Festival Orlando, floating the first one on Fred's credit card, a wing and a prayer. People showed up and the convention still happens to this day, although we no longer have anything to do with it. I handled the merchandise table, where I could also make a few bucks selling sketches of people drawn like anime characters. At one point I drew 20 people in one hour.

The thing about being an anime fan that I find so fascinating in hindsight is that it isn't uncommon to just plain get drawn into Asian culture in general. For one thing, Japanese culture begins to feel like a part of your life in a way no other culture does except whatever you grew up with. I studied the language, I learned to use chopsticks, I started seeing not just a man in the moon but also a rabbit pounding mochi, I ATE mochi, I bought Japanese fashion magazines and made my own strange fashion combinations, I learned about Momotarou, kitsune and tanuki, and who Nobunaga Oda was... The list is endless.

Japanese entertainment also tends to draw a fair bit from Chinese history and myth, so that can also lead to a fascination with and knowledge of at least some aspects of Chinese culture, so you start to also know about trickster monkeys, Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei's oath in the peach garden, a variety of adorable little hats and shoes, and the sad, beautiful sound of an erhu. And my quest for anime stuff led me into Orlando's Vietnamese district, a part of town that we NEVER went to when I was a kid, but as teenagers we begged our mom to take us there all the time, which led to us getting acquainted with bowls of pho in Vietnamese restaurants with little shrines by the door, and spending time in Vietnamese markets, sometimes striking up conversations where we learned to use clever kitchen tools or how to decorate for the Lunar New Year.

I don't know if anime is like this for everyone. But it occurs to me that I ended up growing up with this other culture, one that I had no genetic claim to at all, one that changed everything about me--the foods in my pantry, the way I dress, the way I tell a story. I don't really have any deeply profound comments about this, but it strikes me as a good thing, a step toward a world that is more inclusive of different cultures and traditions, more open to new stories. I think that after I got into anime I became more open to everything...different foods, different music, different stories. I am grateful that I have both the western and eastern to draw from, a long history with each.

I've been thinking of this lately in particular, because after several years of running conventions and dealing with fans in a particularly...annoying way, at times, we were all burned out and stopped attending conventions, stopped dressing up, stopped, for the most part, even WATCHING anime. I never stopped reading manga, as I love that form of storytelling far too much, but I saw very few anime in my mid to late 20s. I actually felt kind of turned off from it. So many ornery cosplayers out there. So much bad anime. So many ornery cosplayers dressing up as characters from bad anime. I was tired of seeing white kids yelling "Chotto matte!" at their friends instead of "Wait up!" (come ONNNN), kids wearing Tri-Gun jackets at the local mall... I guess it's what everyone goes through when their niche interest goes mainstream, but it also felt kind of like I was just growing out of it, I guess.

But this year we started watching the original Gundam series, a classic older than I am, and I have to admit, I fell in love with it all over again. I always though Gundam was about giant robots in space, but it's really about war--capturing so well how war can seem utterly futile, destructive and horrible, yet inevitable, important and sometimes even necessary all at once. It's good stuff. Although it is also about giant robots in space. And I think that's one of the best things about anime--it can be so unabashedly commercial and yet so deeply profound, all at once.

And now? I really want some Vietnamese food. Damn.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Dark, twisted, beautiful writing, and pushing my own boundaries.

Today I was pondering my next YA. I'm working on a middle grade now, so I'm just knocking around ideas for this in advance. I want it to be a companion for the last YA I wrote, which was the darkest, creepiest thing I have written to date. The hardest thing I've written, too. I realized that in a lot of scenes, I was shying back. I don't want to spoil you on that book, so let me tell you about a scene that was hard to write in Magic Under Glass.

(Stop reading now if you haven't READ Magic Under Glass and don't want to be spoiled!)

It was the scene where Nimira sees clockwork man Erris with his face appearing perfectly human but his skin removed, so all his clockwork innards are visible, and the villain is twisting his key, hurting him, and forcing him to speak in front of people who see him as somewhat of a monster.

I've had quite a few people say, "I loved Magic Under Glass! Especially that scene where..."

It's always that scene.

And I feel a certain relief and say, "I love that scene too." Because I DO. But it was hard to write. Not because I felt bad for Erris. Nope. Because I LOVE TORTURING HIM SO MUCH.

But I never really thought about that consciously. I just realized I shy back from a certain kind of scene. And today I had a revelation as to what that sort of scene is. I think it's a marriage of something positive--like love or bravery--with something disturbing.

In the Hunger Games, for example, I think part of the reason these books are such page turners is because Katniss's strength and bravery is paired with the brutal deaths of so many people all around her. It is so unflinching. But one of the very best examples of it, I think, is the Queen of Attolia. (So, more spoilers if you haven't read that.) In the beginning of the book, the Queen of Attolia cuts off the hand of the protagonist, Eugenides. This is unflinchingly described, too, and Gen has to deal with all the aftermath--pain, humiliation, having to learn to do things over again, never being able to do certain things... This is compelling enough but what really makes it memorable is that he then FALLS IN LOVE with the Queen of Attolia.

And as a reader, this is precisely what I want to happen. This exquisite combination of pain and love is a rush to read. As a reader, I adore it, even though for some reason I feel perhaps, a little ashamed. Why am I so delighted by such circumstances? In real life I wouldn't find it exciting at ALL if me or one of my friends had their hand cut off and then fell in love with the person who had done it! But as a reader, it also doesn't matter if I find strange, uncomfortable situations delicious. It isn't like the whole world is reading with me, measuring my heart rate. Nor do I think, "Goodness, this Megan Whalen Turner is certainly twisted!" It's not like the Queen of Attolia is some kind of crazy erotica novel or full of gratuitous violence.

As a writer, however, it feels different. It feels uncomfortable to be sharing with the world something that is deliciously painful. It feels like...well, I shouldn't enjoy it TOO much. If I do, I am probably going too far! ANYBODY could read this and go, "Goodness, this Jaclyn Dolamore is certainly twisted!"

With my last book, I kept pushing myself to go farther. To make things more horrible. To describe unpleasant sights and conflicted, shiver-inducing emotions in more depth. I sensed my discomfort but I pushed past it because I kept thinking, "The book will be more memorable for it." But it was...surprisingly hard, actually. I didn't really realize why until I was thinking about it just now. I also didn't quite realize until just now why that made the book more compelling. It was more of a subconscious thing.

So, huh.

I guess that Jaclyn Dolamore is a bit twisted. And people seem to like my writing better for it.

I was thinking today maybe this feeling in writing is kind of like the flavor "umami". The savory flavor that we didn't quite have a name for and didn't quite realize we needed...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

In defense of true love forever in YA

I just want to make a brief vent about this.

It irks me when I see people complaining because all the true love forever in YA isn't realistic. It reminds me of the feeling I would get when I was in a group of girls complaining about how much men suck. Maybe the men they knew sucked. But I knew men, as a whole, did not suck. Maybe not everyone is ready, or should be ready, to enter into a committed relationship as a teenager, but that doesn't mean some people aren't.

I am not defending, mind you, that it is exactly WISE to become a vampire to be with your sexy vampire lover forever. BUT. It also isn't quite fair to say that teenagers can't and don't make wise relationship choices and find their future husband or wife at a young age. In fact, have noticed there is actually a fairly high proportion of stable long-standing relationships among YA writers. Maybe there's something to that! Maybe we write YA together-forever romance well because we've actually lived it.

Not that there is anything at all wrong with having rocky relationships either, as a person, or in a book. Not at all! I just wish people wouldn't knock serious teen love as unrealistic. I got together with my boyfriend at 17 and I was VERY serious about the relationship. Very cautious, but very committed. Cautious, in fact, because I was committed. He was serious too. Of course, he was also 25 at the time. Scandal!! I'm sure to some outsiders I looked like a naive young thing and he seemed like an older dude looking for some hot young geek action, but believe me, it wasn't like that. We were very good friends with a lot of common interests, affection and respect for each other.

I'm sure if I wrote that as a novel everyone would say it was totally unreal, I should make the guy into a jerk and the whole thing into a cautionary tale of sorts, and have it end with the girl wising up and walking away.

The other reason, of course, for all the true love in YA, is that it's told from a teenage POV and even if the relationship would be doomed later, the MC isn't going to think that at the time. Of course, we could all end our books with the breakup instead of the happily ever after, but how much fun would that be? -_-;;

I think some of the source of this ire is actually how many bad, rushed, and even unhealthy true-love-forever relationships are in YA. But that isn't the fault of the basic premise. Just the execution.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Where I begin: A post on settings

A question that has popped up a few times is, "Do you start with plot or character?"

Really, the FIRST seed of a book is usually a premise that includes a hint of plot, character, and setting, such as, "A mermaid who likes to read falls for a winged boy."

But from there, I go to setting. Setting comes before plot or character for me, because everything else springs forth from it. From the moment a character is born, where they live makes a mark on them. Nimira grew up in a place that was warm and beautiful, with gardens and misty mountains, surrounded by female dancers who valued beauty and pride, who loved men but mostly lived in a separate sphere from them. From there, she went to a farm, a family unit where everyone was expected to pitch in because livelihood depended on the sweet potato crop, the health of the goats, and such. If she had STARTED in the farm, she would value family and community a lot more, probably. She'd be more of a team player, less proud perhaps, but any artistic side of her nature would either have to be carved out selfishly, or incorporated into the group life--singing while she worked, or in the evenings with her family. She'd have different skills, different tastes.

And that's just the two places she lived within her home country of Tiansher.

From there, of course, she came to the Victorian-flavored world of Lorinar, dragging her background with her. Magic Under Glass takes place mostly in Hollin Parry's manor house, and to Nimira it will always be seen through the lens of places she has already been, especially the royal palace of Tiansher. In Magic Under Stone she is once again needed for manual labor, stuck in a big house with a lot to do and few people who can do it, so she thinks back more upon her time at her uncle's farm.

Every character in Magic Under Glass comes from a different background, subtly influencing everything they are. Hollin Parry, an only child growing up in a wealthy but cold home, wishing for the exotic life of his traveling uncle. Annalie, another only child but a dearly loved and petted one. Her parents emigrated to Lorinar before she was born, so while she was fascinated by travel just as Hollin was, it was not an escape for her, but more of a curiosity about the "old world". Karstor Greinfern himself came to Lorinar as a teenager and has a different cultural mindset. Erris, of course, is a fairy whose youth was spent romping in the woods with a pack of siblings and dogs; being jovial comes easy to him but being serious and emotionally open does not. He probably rarely had any time with his parents, tutors or what have you where he was alone and encouraged to talk about worries or fears.

Even in a contemporary novel set in America, setting and background have a huge effect on people. Culture in America varies hugely. Even cookie cutter neighborhoods vary. And the ethnic background of your character will influence them too. My German branch of the family has certainly left a huge mark on me, from my taste for intellectual matters to my love of sour-tasting cabbage based cuisine. And I'm also conscious of where I diverge from my background. I've never loved hiking, but boy, don't tell that to my German relatives... -_-;;

Where is your work-in-progress set? Where are your MCs roots? And what is your favorite book for setting and background? I suspect my preoccupation with it may come from L. M. Montgomery. Emily and those Murrays!