BookTube video MADness!

Check out the official Mad Miss Mimic book trailer video:

A bazillion thanks to my writer/producer friend Lana Pesch for the slick professional touch (and the unflappable good humour). Thanks also to Ryerson students Kelly C., Madison S. and Rebecca T. for their participation.

talking it up

IMG_0081Today was a thrilling new experience for me: 5 minutes to introduce myself and Mad Miss Mimic at the Indigo Books Penguin Random House Spring Preview. A room stuffed with booksellers and buying reps (and I mean 50 people stuffed!) all waiting for me to tell them why they should look twice at my book let alone recommend it to customers.

Waiting in the lobby beforehand I was a little nervous quaking in my boots. But I could hear lots of laughter coming from inside the room, and that got me thinking about why all these folks were gathered. I thought, a) they’re here because they’re all readers, all born-and-bred book nuts, b) they’re here to get the scoop on what’ll be coming into their stores over the next few months, c) they’re here for a change of pace, to chat with friends and colleagues, to be wined and dined a little, to collect some free books, to hear from a few authors firsthand what went into the writing…in other words, they’re in no way sitting behind those doors waiting to judge or dismiss me and my newborn book.

IMG_0077This helped immensely with the nerves. Also it helped immensely that I had just the day before received my first copy of the actual printed book! I took it out of my purse and went into that room book-first. I started my little spiel by talking about the cover image: how happy I am about those flowers because they’re so pretty and mysterious but also because they’re opium poppies, and the story involves a drug plot with doctors seeking more potent derivatives of morphine to sell to their patients…

I may have rambled a bit. I almost certainly took more than 5 minutes. But the faces looked interested, I got a few laughs (e.g., “a Victorian London version of Breaking Bad“), and the questions afterwards were great.

Thank you, Sally Sparrow, for snapping (and tweeting) the pic from the back of the room. Nice to have a memento!


Mad Miss Mimic giveaway!

henstra_madmiss_otpbHead over to Goodreads and enter the giveaway to win a free copy of Mad Miss Mimic. Hurry, now- the contest closes April 5th!!




So I had to write up this synopsis of my book. 1-2 pages including all plot points and the ending.

A little more time-consuming, not to mention torturous, than I expected.

i heart my treadmill desk!

Lookit me; I’m walking as I type this!

Two years of low-back trouble has convinced me that human beings were never meant to sit at desks, especially not hunched over keyboards. Luckily I attended a reading by YA writer Arthur Slade, and during the Q & A someone asked him about the DIY treadmill desk featured on his blog.

Also luckily, I am married to Neil, who is one of the handiest men on the planet.

I stroll at 1 mph, as Arthur recommends. It took me a couple of days (and a keyboard-shelf height adjustment) to adjust to the choreography. And if I don’t snack, I can get a little carsick from the hip-swaying.

But here are all the things I love about my treadmill desk:

1. It does keep my back more limber than sitting. I still need to stretch, but I stretch more often now that there’s “exercise” happening by default.

2. It tires me out—makes me aware of the amount of time I’m working, and deters me from checking email and/or surfing in the evening if I’ve already spent hours at the screen. And I sleep better!

3. I am warm and thirsty after an hour of typing, which feels better than chilled and sluggish (my default state after deskwork).

4. I switch it up more often: I’ll take some reading over to the armchair or down to the dining table, then return to the treadmill to write.

5. I am hopeful that it’ll improve my writing concentration and stamina, as Arthur has experienced. Time will tell.

on voice

At ChiZine Publications’ Chiaroscuro Reading Series last night I encountered something rare and wonderful: a writer who voices her own work when she reads. Lesley Livingston may write her fantasy/romance novels specifically for young adults, but thanks to her voicing, her reading managed to win over the event’s older, primarily sci-fi/horror-fan crowd.

What does it mean to voice your reading? Most obviously, it’s about dialogue: choosing a different voice for each character who speaks, and maintaining this difference throughout. You don’t need to be a method actor to do this; even the slightest inflection or change in pitch does the trick. Lesley can do a decent British accent, but I know from other readings that a poor one, or a wholly invented one, will aid listeners’ suspension of disbelief just as well.

But voicing works in subtler ways, too. Lesley’s focalizer in Once Every Never is a disaffected teenage girl named Clare, and the story emerges from a blend between Clare’s observations and a slightly more “literary” and mature governing perspective. This means that Lesley’s narrative voice is different than her “real” voice, and you can hear this difference when she reads. To the words on the page she adds whatever’s called for in the scene she’s conjuring: expressive pauses, flabbergasted stuttering, ironic brow-lifting, upspeak, hand gestures and the occasional embarrassed giggle.

Bringing the actor’s skills to bear on a reading might sound like too tall an order to some writers. Some of us are introverts and quail before a crowd. But many more of us simply want to detach ourselves from our work when we present it, in case it’s not well received. Or we’re worried about sounding too smitten with our own words; we want the writing to speak for itself. This don’t-shoot-the-messenger impulse results in a reading voice that aims for neutral and dispassionate but very often comes off as mechanical and mumbly. Listeners have to concentrate intensely to follow and often end up with their eyes closed. It’s every public speaker’s worst nightmare to look out at a snoozing audience, but the only safeguard against it is to animate your voice!

It comes down to commitment. Can you take your own work seriously enough to risk bringing it to life? Can you throw yourself into it? Lesley Livingston sure can, and the rising success of her career proves that the effort is worth it!

vampire dreams

I can’t remember if I had frequent vampire dreams before vampires glamored the YA fiction market within an inch of its life. Sure, my Jungian upbringing taught me the vampire is a variant on the Demon Lover archetype that populates every girl’s psyche from puberty. But the teeth-in-the-neck thing seems more pop-culturally specific.

that's not SUNLIGHT is it???

Although it’s not always my neck. Last night my vampire paramour (who I must say looked a lot more like Johnny Depp than Robert Pattinson), after losing the struggle to control his (blood)lust, bit me in the armpit.

It was totally hot.

Probably my vampire dreams are a result of the six months during which I read Twilight, cover to cover, a total of thirteen times. In a turbulent work year it was a highly effective self-soothing technique. I would go to bed with a pounding stress-headache, my thoughts a flywheel of anxiety. But four or five pages later I’d drift blissfully off with a nothing in my head but a muzzy cloud of cliches and threatened chastity. Ovaltine in print.

I never seriously scrutinized my attraction to this book–we literary types need our junk food, too–until I recently read Gloria Feldt’s searing feminist critique of the Twilight phenomenon.

Seal Press, Hardcover, 9781580053280, 384pp.

In her excellent book No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, the former president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America argues that Twilight‘s popularity (among adult women as well as teens) exemplifies women’s co-optation by oppressive discourses. Sure, there’s pleasure in the fantasy: like the series’ heroine, Bella Swan, I need develop no meaningful sense of myself, no aspirations or goals, no coherent views on the world or my place within it. Instead I can simply wait until He comes along–the Man who will pursue me, overwhelm me, mark me, transform me, possess me, complete me. Then I will have His baby, even–or maybe especially–if it kills me.

This is the ultimate opt-out solution to the latter-day feminist struggles over workplace equality, career/kids balance and the leadership gap. It’s what Feldt calls the “psychological glass ceiling.” No matter what advances we’ve gained, so long as women allow the Bella Swan fantasy to flourish, we remain barefoot and pregnant in our minds.

Where do you go for your escape, and why?  I guess that’s what Feldt is asking us.  Of course, Jung would say that my dream-vampire is myself: a predatory, potentially self-defeating part of my own unconscious self that I need to see, to embrace, but also to question and eventually to banish.

My 11-yr old son is reading book two of Stephenie Meyers’ series, New Moon.  Here is the kind of questions he asks: “Can Jacob turn into a werewolf on purpose, too, or just by accident?” “What’s he waiting for; why doesn’t he just make Bella a werewolf?”

Different gender of reader, totally different fantasies.

original witch YA

Do people still read this book?  I found this copy (circa 1978) at a garage sale in the spring.  It sent me straight back to the summer days I spent at age thirteen trolling the understocked library in Abbotsford, BC for romance novels whose covers might slip past my mother’s censorious eye (she thought me too young for Harlequins).  Speare’s book seemed to fit the bill: the Barbie-doll heroine in the wind-swept marsh, the blurb proclaiming “suspense and romance…”.

Even back then the book was dated: Elizabeth George Speare wrote it in 1958.  While a little light on the romance, the story was—is—enough of a page-turner to have kept me interested.  It’s 1687.  Kit Tyler has been raised on Barbados by her freewheeling grandfather, but when he dies she goes to live with her Puritan aunt and uncle in Connecticut.  Kit can swim.  Kit nods off at Meeting House services.  Kit has the school-kids enact Bible scenes—play-acting God’s Holy Word!

If The Crucible and Anne of Green Gables got married and had a baby, and if that baby wasn’t as smart or as literary as its parents but charming and likeable anyhow, that baby would be The Witch of Blackbird Pond.  Okay, maybe it’s not really a surprise when the goodwives want to see Kit burn, and okay, maybe her last-minute rescue is a tad tidy.  But re-reading this novel recently sent me into such a blissful oblivion that I didn’t even mind when we all had to get off the malfunctioning subway at rush hour and spend the next 20 minutes shuffling shoulder-to-shoulder toward the exits.  I didn’t even mind.

the werewolf I wanna be

I’m all for bandwagons when it comes to fiction.  If something is selling well, we should make more of it–that’s basic market wisdom.  And the laws of innovation dictate that each generation of product should improve on the last.  So while Stephenie Meyer updated the timeworn Gothic Wolfman by giving us native-American werewolves whose destiny is to protect humans rather than savage them, those riding her wake are stretching the type even farther, in all directions.  We’ve now seen a hero who’s only human once a year, in Shiver, a heroine adopted by werewolves in Raised By Wolves, and–my personal favorite–a Scottish Lykae Wolf-Clan king who falls for a half-vampire, half-Valkyrie girl in A Hunger Like No Other.

But before all this (before Twilight, anyhow) came Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D.  She wrote a bestseller called Women Who Run With The WolvesAs an undergrad I had the poster on my dorm-room wall: decorated with Aztec-esque designs, it listed the various “Wild Woman” archetypes in world myth as described by Dr. Estes in the book. 

La Loba, the mythical wolf woman, gathers dead bones in the desert and sings them back to life.  As an archetype she is patroness of all artists busy with the work of invention and creativity.  “A healthy woman,” says Estes, “is much like a wolf: robust, chock-full, strong life-force, live-giving, territorially aware, inventive, loyal, roving” (p. 11).

To me this werewolf is more tantalizing and romantic than the repressed and oppressed wolf-boys of recent fiction.  The idea that it’s not an either/or scenario–that “loyal” and “roving” can go together, that we can live civilized and responsible lives but call on our inner Loba‘s feral tenacity to create our art–holds real promise and power.  Now that’s a wolf I can work with.