Teen Killers Club, by Lily Sparks

Sometimes books read like TV shows. This is one of those times. Hardly surprising, given that the author has a background writing for TV dramas. She does a good job of it here, too.

Lily SparksTeen Killers Club handled me roughly. I loved it. Riding its ups and downs, I felt emotionally whipsawed and had to set it aside a few times to take breathers and regain equilibrium (something our poor narrator never has a chance to do). By the time I finished, I felt like I’d just gotten off a roller coaster. I wandered around in a daze for an hour or so, still locked in admiration for the ways the story had pulled me back and forth time and again. Because for all that I’d been on a ride, it was an impressive ride. Sparks knew how to grab my heartstrings, and she did it fearlessly. The book had caught me and reeled me in, and pulled me along for the whole thing.

Well, not quite the whole thing: at the start I was partly distracted by needing to finish another book. But it was easy to slip back into it after finishing the other book. Then, of course, it was hard to put it down.

And yes, I’m on board for reading the sequel (which I suspected would exist, but wasn’t certain about until writing this). I’m a little concerned about it, for reasons that are lightly spoiler-y and which I’ll share in more detail below. Blandly put, I’m not sure which genre tropes the story-to-come will follow. There are a variety of options available, after all. But the story’s overall tone could go in several directions, and I won’t know how well it will fit my palate until I read the dang thing—which I will definitely do.

All of which is to say, if you like YA teen drama and serial killers and murder mysteries, this is a great book for you. Be ready for a heck of an emotional ride.

Now.

I can’t go into detail about this without implied spoilers for the book. But this series of observations are eating my brain, so here goes.

*IMPLICIT SPOILERS*

This varies by subgenre, but dramas don’t like to kill characters or let them stay dead. This is especially true of TV dramas, which often suffer from what I’ll call a dramatic conservation of characters.

I say suffer, but in moderation this conservation is a positive thing. Because dramas build up value in their characters, investing them with growth, backgrounds, and relationships that make them richer and more interesting, these dramas are loathe to sacrifice their developed main characters or let them die—even when that death would make sense. This dramatic conservation of characters feeds into the “main character glow” or “plot protection” that shields developed characters from death. But this conservation also provides the audience with reliable narrative focal points, and both encourages and rewards the audience’s emotional investment.

Some stories are more prone to this than others, but I think it’s especially prevalent in character dramas that specialize in arranging (and rearranging) their characters along various social faults of contention. Characters twist or are twisted into new disagreements, the situation is milked for all the drama it can hold, and then some new development arises that prompts another realignment. The longer a story runs, the more realignments happen, and the more strange situations people end up in as the writers try to deliver new and exciting stakes. This is the process that leads to jumping the shark. It’s also the process that results in somebody being caught in a terrible accident or dangerous what-have-you and then miraculously surviving (possibly with some character-altering development, like amnesia).

Usually, dramatic conservation of characters is maintained. Usually the characters don’t actually die, or if they do they aren’t actually gone for all that long. That’s part of the reason that so few character deaths are treated seriously in these stories… or at least, why so few are treated seriously amongst these stories’ audiences. The genre-savvy know from past experience that characters don’t usually die or stay dead.

This, sadly, only makes it harder to actually up the stakes in these genres.

It doesn’t help that these stories sometimes try to up the stakes by killing off people the audience has little attachment to. Instead of demonstrating that the situation is dangerous, this only reinforces the relative safety of the main characters. Scalzi’s Redshirts is all about this trope as it exists in Star Trek. Other stories try to demonstrate how dangerous and gritty they are by killing off characters seemingly at random—sometimes this works, and sometimes it just feels like the author is trying to be edgy.

I think character death in these stories usually works best when it’s given space and weight, or at least makes an impact on other characters (I’ve written a bunch of posts about this). There are a handful of exceptions.

But the thing that’s eating at me, the thing I’m concerned is going to happen in the sequel, is that Sparks won’t let characters die when they really ought to… or will kill more characters just to show that she can. She’s set herself up for a tricky path going forward, and I suspect *EXPLICIT SPOILERS* based on the end of the book that she won’t let characters stay dead when that would actually fit her story well. But I don’t know! Maybe she’s just lulling me into a false sense of security. As I said above, I’ve got to read the sequel to find out. *END SPOILERS*

Still on board for YA drama about teen serial killers, with some murder mystery on the side?

Get thee to the library (or bookstore).

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Paladin’s Grace, by T. Kingfisher

Paladin’s Grace went by quickly. I was hooked early, and pulled right on through. The many good things I’d heard about Ursula Vernon’s work feel like they apply here too.

Side note: T. Kingfisher and Ursula Vernon are the same person, T. Kingfisher is the pen name used for a whole suite of Ursula Vernon’s projects. I’ve meant to read Ursula Vernon’s work, especially Digger, for a while now. When I learned about her pen name, I signed up for these books right away. Easier to get them as ebooks from the library than to find a good, physical omnibus of the comic.

I was a little surprised, however. I hadn’t realized this would be romance. I think I might have enjoyed Paladin’s Grace more if I’d known beforehand that it was. But I did enjoy it, and it’s my own fault for not reading any of the book’s theming data—besides which, the fact that the story is romance is pretty abundantly obvious when, soon after the cishet meet-awkward, the narration is overtaken by constant thoughts about the other party.

My genre-revelation wasn’t a problem. I already knew that I enjoyed some fantasy romance (thanks Naomi Novik & Lois McMaster Bujold). If you actively dislike romance (in this case, lots of wistful thoughts and mostly-unfulfilled lusting), you may not like this book. If you can tolerate romance, this book has a bunch of other good stuff in it too, things that usually don’t end up in romance stories. After all, as Ursula Vernon acknowledges in her author’s note, most romance doesn’t accompany grisly fantasy murder mystery, dead gods, and legal drama. The perfume and frequent discussion of scents is perhaps the most normal detail. The fact that one of the leads is a perfumer may be a little less normal, as are her frequent attempts to mentally reconstruct nearly every smell she comes across, no matter how foul.

Anyway.

I absolutely recommend this book if you want solid fantasy fun. If you hate romance, that’s more complicated. If, like some of my friends, you only find romance palatable when it’s queer… I’m sorry, this book will not satisfy you.

But if you’re as intrigued as I was by a story about a paladin whose god has died, have at it. I had a good time.

The Monster in the Middle of the Road is Me, by J.P. Romney

monstermiddle

Aside from having a name long enough to make my post-title formatting sensibilities cringe, this was a pretty good book. I had some other thoughts about it too, which I’ll address after the break, but at first blush it’s good fun: a young adult paranormal mystery set in Japan. I’m glad my friend gave it to me when I asked for something new to read.

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Child of a Hidden Sea, by A.M. Dellamonica

Wheee, portal fiction!  When done well, this stuff is great.  I got this book for free somehow, though I can’t remember why.  I’m glad that I did.  It’s quite enjoyable.  I’ve already seen the next book in the series in my local library, and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on it.

I don’t want to spoil the fun for you, but I do want to say a few more words in favor of you reading this book.  It’s got a female protagonist and non-hetero characters, it’s got lots of sailing and boats, and it has a climax that I found very appealing.  Lots of fun.  It’s intrigue and sea-adventure wrapped up in a portal fiction premise.  What’s not to like?

Flash Fiction: J.S. Bach: Goldberg Variations – Variation 14

This is goofy.  I’m writing a new piece of flash fiction from Chuck Wendig’s usual challenge (I’ve skipped a few, my apologies), and, well… I’m not sure what to do.  The challenge involves using a random song as both your title and as inspiration for the piece itself.  I’ve done that before; so far, so good.

I shuffled until I got a named track (my first result was “Track 9” from an untitled trance album), and now (as you can see) I’m writing a story called J.S. Bach: Goldberg Variations – Variation 14.

In case you don’t know what that sounds like, here’s a video (the piece is roughly two minutes, though the video continues afterwards).  I’ve tried embedding it, but the time-specific feature doesn’t seem to be working.

My version is played by Glenn Gould, at roughly twice that speed, clocking in at 59 seconds. Please excuse me while I stare into space and figure out what the hell this means story-wise.

Right.  Got it.  This might be a little odd, but I think it works.  Enjoy!

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Playing with Monster Stories #2

Last Friday I mentioned that I was trying to write something for Molotov Cocktail’s Flash Monster contest, but that I wasn’t sure I had what I wanted.  Well, last night I wrote another thing I enjoy and this time I’ve submitted it.  As I said before, if you’re associated with Molotov you should probably wait on reading this.  If you’re not, enjoy!

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Flash Fiction: The First Is The Worst

Bloody.Hand.with.knife

This week’s flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig involved a 1000 word story that starts with a dead body.  I ended up with this piece without even knowing where I was going, but perhaps you’ll like it.  In case you’re wondering about the setting, I think it takes place in my Elven Progenitors story-world (though I still feel like it desperately needs a punchier name).

Enjoy!

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Flash Fiction: Mustn’t Bother Mummy

1364266818_humphrey-bogart-maltese-falcon

I’m doing Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge again this week, as I have since January, and I’ve had some trouble.  This week’s prompt is a new version of the same subgenre blender that inspired me to write Dreams of Drowning.  I got a very different combination this time (it’s a different random table, after all), and now I’m supposed to write a whodunit / comic fantasy.  In 1500 words.

I’m about 3/4ths of the way to stumped.

I have written this with the whodunit firmly in mind.  But trying to intentionally make comic fantasy?  I’m really not sure what to do with myself.  I’ve written pieces that I thought were comedic, or which people told me were funny, but that’s always been an incidental sort of thing; I guess the truth of it is that I don’t write those moments thinking “now it’s time to write some comedy.”

Anyway, I don’t know that I’d call this particularly comic, but I do hope you enjoy it. Continue reading

Last Days of Loneliness: Crucial Exposition

I’ve solved some of my problems in Last Days of Loneliness, I think.  If you read my earlier posts about how things were terrible and how I couldn’t figure out why Amanda knows to kill the eggs with fire, rest assured, I’ve stumbled across an excellent workaround.

I had very similar conversations with Ben and my brother Nate about how to solve my narrator’s knowledge problem, in which they basically said that I should make someone else in the town or cult tell her to use fire to kill the eggs.  I, of course, resisted their advice at first.  I’d had similar thoughts many times previously, and always dismissed them because I thought it made no sense for someone to break the cult’s taboos and try to warn Amanda.  But after talking with both Nate and Ben, who both made it sound so plausible, and then reading some of George Buckenham’s rules for making games on Rock Paper Shotgun, I decided what the hell; I’d go ahead and do as Buckenham suggested.  So I tried the stupid/simple solution.  And I liked it.

Go figure.

What follows is the scene that I thought wouldn’t work, but did.  It comes some time after a scene in which Amanda goes to the police station and overhears an interesting conversation, and long before her ultimate recognition of the information that she is given in this scene.  Enjoy.

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Flash Fiction: Blood in the Desert

moon

This week’s dose of flash fiction comes inspired by Chuck Wendig, as per usual.  This time around, I was supposed to start a story with one of the sentences submitted last week as my prompt.  I chose the edited version of a sentence submitted by The Story Hive.  After realizing that I had to rewrite what I’d initially created, I used this week’s project to experiment with timing in narration.  I also tried to continue with a character that you’ve seen before.  You’ll probably still enjoy it. Continue reading