Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Interview with Maurissa Guibord, author of REVEL

Before becoming a writer, Maurissa Guibord’s work life consisted of slinging pizzas, alphabetizing things, and . . . oh, yeah, practicing medicine. Now she writes teen fantasy that’s mysterious and romantic with more than a touch of humor. (Even a sea god is human, after all.)

Maurissa’s first novel, WARPED (Delacorte, 2011) was a Rita Award finalist  for Best First Novel and Best Young Adult Romance. In a starred review, School Library Journal called it “imaginative, compelling,  and impossible to put down.”

With her second novel, REVEL, Maurissa moves from enchanted medieval tapestry to modern-day sea monsters—some of them the stuff that daydreams are made of. 

She lives on the coast of Maine with her husband and three kids. She’s a former Inkie, so we say: Welcome home, Maurissa!

Boy, Maurissa, you sure know how to show a girl a good time. In your first book, WARPED, you sent a modern young woman into a medieval tapestry to fight a dragon and an evil sorceress. And now, in REVEL, your heroine is trapped on a mysterious uncharted island complete with sea monsters. What propelled the leap from medieval England to a modern —but still harrowing—Maine island? What got you started on the road to REVEL?

So glad you had a good time, Ellen. I hope other readers will too! The idea for REVEL began with a visit to a real place here in Maine—Peaks Island. A ferry leaves from Portland several times a day to transport visitors and residents to this beautiful, rocky island. Each time I visit I’m impressed by the feeling of being very removed from everyday life on the mainland as well as a very distinct air of independence among the close knit people who live there year round.

Those features—the island being isolated from “real” life as well as the reserved nature of the inhabitants—just needed one more thing to get a story going in my head. Monsters!

I have to say, this book surprised me at every turn, and I NEVER would have predicted what happens to your heroine and her friends. Did you surprise yourself, or did you always know how things were going to turn out?

I had no idea what was going to happen or how things were going to be resolved. Even now I’m wondering what’s going on over there on Trespass…

Monday, February 25, 2013

Year of the Snake

2013 is the Chinese Year of the Snake. The view of the snake in Asian culture is conflicting. On one hand, snakes are venerated and considered wise and one of the twelve honored animals of the zodiac--it's considered unlucky to injure a snake in your house. On the other hand, the snake is also one of the five noxious animals in the Day of Five Poisons and treacherous people are considered to have a "snake heart."

And the view of the snake in fantasy literature is also conflicting.  Sometimes portrayed as wise, sometimes portrayed as evil--snakes are at the roots of many mythologies. Here are some famous snakes in literature:

 Basilisk& Nagini in the HARRY POTTER series:  Snakes in the JK Rowling's world were definitely on the evil side. Who can forget the enormous snake Harry battled in Chamber of Secrets? The Basilisk was the "King of Serpents," who could turn people to stone by staring at them was born from a chicken egg hatched by a toad.  And Nagini, the snake that was both Voldemort's pet and horcrux!

Madame White Snake: Famous in Eastern culture but virtually unknown in the West, is the story of a white snake who turns herself into a beautiful woman, falls in love with a man, makes him rich and bears him a child. He, turns on her after finding out she is a snake, causing tragedy. In most tellings of the story, the white snake is portrayed with sympathy.

Charm in Clare Dunkle's Hollow Kingdom books (suggested by inkie Amy Greenfield): The golden snake who protects the Goblin King's wives (even from themselves). curls around Kate's neck, flattening into the skin like a tattoo, and delivers marvelously snaky quips. A creepy but oddly appealing companion.

The Queen of Underland in The Silver Chair: CS Lewis has many biblical references and allegories in his  Narnia series, so it's no surprise that a snake/serpent would be the embodiment of evil--the anti Aslan! In The Silver Chair, the Queen of Underland actually turns into a green snake and tries to kill Prince Rilian.

There is also a significant snake in fellow Inkie Katherine Catmull's Summer and Bird: A World Snake, is gnawing at its roots of Yggdrasil, the World Tree. The snake doesn’t always stay at the roots. Sometimes it slides up the trunk to the very top of the World Tree, to see what it can see and when Summer and the snake meet...

Louise the Larger in The Wind in the Door and other Madeline L'Engle books: Louise is a "teacher" who lives in the wall of the Murray's garden and is Sandy and Dennys' pet. Louise is definitely portrayed as wise--one of the more positive depictions of snakes!

What other snakes are there?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Interview with Jennifer Nielsen Author of The Runaway King

When I saw the cover and read the description for The False Prince last year, I knew it was a book I was going to love. I felt like I was in the presence of greatness since the author, Jennifer Nielsen, was also a fellow Inkie. So when the opportunity came up to read the sequel and interview her, I jumped at the chance. Here is the resulting interview with author Jennifer A. Nielsen.

At the end of The False Prince, you mentioned that a major influence was an Eddie Vedder song and two of your students. Was there another major influence for The Runaway King?

To write that story, it was back to music again, and for that matter, back to Eddie Vedder. His song, Rise, did a lot to drive the story of THE RUNAWAY KING. Nearly everything in that song has meaning, but I particularly love these lines:

Gonna rise up
Burning back holes in dark memories.
Gonna rise up
Turning mistakes into gold.

How long have you been writing? Did anything inspire you to become a writer?

Looking back, I’ve always been working on story in one way or another. My first real attempt to become an author was in 6th grade, but I didn’t become serious about writing until I was an adult. At that point, I knew there was no way to get the stories out of my head other than to put them down on paper.

Do you have any writing rituals? Do you listen to music while you write? Do you have a certain area or time of day that inspires you most?

I used to have my rituals, but things have been so busy in the last year that now I’m just happy to sneak in some writing whenever I can. I have a writing playlist that is great for some stages of writing: songs from Last of the Mohicans, Chronicles of Narnia, and music by T.J. Morgan.

What authors or books have inspired you?

The first author who made me want to write was S.E. Hinton for her book, THE OUTSIDERS. I inhaled that book – multiple times – and when I learned she had written it as a teenager, I thought there was no reason I couldn’t do the same (um, not true for me, by the way). Now as an adult, I draw inspiration from so many authors for various reasons, the way they turn a phrase, or their use of imagery, or the emotions they can dredge out of me as I get sucked into a great story. But I don’t know that I could name just one.

Have you ever encountered writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome it?

To me, writer’s block is almost always one of two things: first, that the writer just isn’t in the zone. If that’s the case, I’ve learned not to force the art because I’ll only hate it later on. I have to step back and remind myself what I love about the story, or skip ahead to a scene I’ve been dying to get onto paper, or just plain step away for the afternoon. The second cause of writer’s block, I think, is when the author is trying to force their character into a behavior that they never would do in real life. Characters may not be real, but they feel that way when I’m writing, and they will balk if I’m forcing them down paths they would never go. So sometimes I have to look at the scene and remind myself that character comes first, not plot. Then the writing flows again.

I really liked Imogen’s character in The False Prince…and I’m pretty sure Sage did too. Can we expect to see more of her in The Runaway King?

I’m a fan of Imogen’s too, but as to whether Sage likes her…time will tell. You will see more of Imogen in THE RUNAWAY KING, and her strength and courage really get a chance to shine in this book.

While reading The False Prince, I couldn’t help feel bad for Sage’s family situation. I imagine he must feel so completely alone in the world. Do things get any better for him in The Runaway King?

Sage has had it tough in his family situation, and there are some major issues he has to resolve if he is ever to be at peace, particularly with his father. He will learn more about his family in the second book, some of it good and some of it not, and you’re right, it does keep him feeling rather alone in his world.

Since this is a trilogy, did you have an idea of what would happen in books 2 and 3 as you were writing book 1?

Not so much during the writing of Book 1, but the more I revised it and the deeper that Sage burrowed into my conscious thinking, the more I realized that his story was far from complete in only a single book. The fact that Scholastic was interested in turning this into a trilogy was some of the happiest news I’ve ever had as an author. 

Do you have a title and a release date for book 3 yet?

There is a working title for book 3, but it’s still hush-hush, and I think the tentative release is set for March 2014.

Are you working on anything else besides this trilogy?

Right now, I am writing the sixth book for Scholastic’s multi-platform series, INFINITY RING. The other authors on this series have already written amazing stories and so I definitely want mine to be just as exciting, funny, interesting, and fun for kids. I’ve got to work fast though – it’s due for release in December!

Jennifer lives at the base of a very tall mountain in Northern Utah with her husband, three children, and a perpetually muddy dog. She loves the smell of rainy days, hot chocolate, and old books, preferably all at once.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Fantasy, Ethnic Identity, and Monsters That Eat People's Livers

I know what you're thinking - "Mike who? Whuzzat? Who are you again?" I'M A FOUNDING INKIE, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, way back when the Inkpot was still on LiveJournal. I just, you know, left for a while. Now I'm back, which is not what you want to read about so yes yes, I'll get to the real point of this post.

Want to read an awesome gumiho story?
Go check out
I'm working on a new book that's very, very different from my debut, Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities - this new book is easier to describe as fantasy (Geeks tends to be described as science fiction), and it also taps into my personal history in a way that I haven't attempted before. I don't want to spill too many beans about the story's details, but the fantasy elements are rooted in Korean mythology, particularly the dastardly gumiho, a nine-tailed fox that gets its kicks out of seducing unsuspecting dudes and chowing down on their livers. Yes, that IS awesome. It's got the full-on Enchanted Inkpot vibe, am I right?

More importantly, the personal element that I'm mining for this book involves ethnic identity, with all of its psychological and cultural complexities. My debut novel isn't devoid of emotional truth or personal meaning (I think, anyway), but the personal issues it focuses on are more about perceptions of self-worth and adapting to new roles. It's been described as "fun" more than anything else. This new novel won't be devoid of fun - that's, um, not what I want - but the emotional truths at its core traffic much more in family history, communication breakdowns between generations, and cultural alienation.

Whoa dude, serious, huh? I don't want to give the impression that I'm attempting to stop being a supposedly humorous and light-hearted author and reinventing myself as a solemn chronicler of identity crises in bloom - at this point in my career I don't know if I'm even capable of doing something that difficult. But I am exploring aspects of my own life that have provoked complicated feelings, including confusion, regret, resentment, loss, and shame.

I really don't know why I keep using this photo.
Seems like unrestrained masochism, doesn't it??
I'm a child of immigrants. My parents were born in Seoul, but they both immigrated to the U.S. in the early 60s for educational purposes, and despite their original plans to return to Korea they were captured by inertia and stayed permanently. As a result I was born and raised here in the States, and when my family moved to New Jersey I ended up spending some of the most formative years of my life in a community dominated by people of white European descent. In a fairly short time I drifted away from my family's ancestral culture, and started down the road to the place I currently occupy, where I call myself "Korean-American," but identify far more as "American" than "Korean."

One of my favorite articles in the realm of Asian-American identity is this piece about current professional basketball player Jeremy "Linsanity" Lin, written by Jay Caspian Kang during Lin's time at Harvard. I'm not approaching the topic with Kang's journalistic intent or depth of intellectual inquiry, and he writes about it on a broad societal level, while I'm writing the story of one character's experiences within a single, specific context. However, Kang touches on many of the internal conflicts that are informing my book. What does it mean to lose contact with one's ancestral roots? How do we perceive, think about, and react to the "race to whiteness"? How much of our racial identities do we define for ourselves, and how much is defined for us? What is the relationship between external and internal perception? Is it possible, necessary, or defensible to weigh the validity of a person's self-defined ethnic identity?

Which brings us to the question of "Okay Mike, that all sounds good, but with all this heavy-duty stuff about culture, ethnicity, and personal history in the mix, why are you writing it as a fantasy novel?" Good question. It might seem reductive and misleading to say "Well, I just WANT to, because I LIKE fantasy fiction, and thousand-year-old foxes who eat people's livers are AWESOME," but that statement (which is admittedly a bit flip) is very true.

The fact that I'm exploring issues with a great deal of emotional relevance to me doesn't change the fact that I also want to write stories that are fun, fast-paced, and humorous. I believe those lighter, less solemn elements are every bit as personally relevant, emotionally meaningful, and psychologically resonant as the heavier, more serious ones. I love reading and writing fantasy - those stories suffuse my being with undeniable plenitude, and the layers of metaphor and symbolism they create in my heart and mind are nearly fathomless.

Sometimes you just have to embrace the megalomania.
I have to confess that there's more than a little creative ambition at work here too. Creating balance is a challenge, whether it's between humor and solemnity, action and reflection, or realism and fantasy. Can a book be serious in an emotionally profound way AND funny in a completely irreverent way? Can it deal with slice-of-life realism AND over-the-top fantasy? Yes, in fact. Why not? It's easy to perceive (rightly or not) certain dichotomies when writing a novel, but in reality there's no cosmically inviolable rule that says any one of those elements automatically takes precedent over the others. I want to write a story that encompasses all of those things. I don't know if I'm enough of a writer to genuinely pull it off, but I'm just egomaniacal enough to want to try.

It's fascinating, gratifying, and thoroughly engaging to be exploring these questions of culture, ethnicity, and identity within the mingled context of traditional Korean mythology AND contemporary North American society. It also feels like I'm clawing open a bunch of scabbed-over, decades-old wounds and pouring big, chunky handfuls of rock salt in them, which is, um, not entirely pleasant. The whole endeavor feels very, very complicated, but that's okay. It doesn't have to feel easy to feel good or worthwhile. I'm ready to put in the work, and hopefully I'll manage to combine those complicated autobiographical ingredients with those cool, scary, fun fantasy ingredients in a way that results in a strong, cohesive serving of emotional truth. Give me a fist bump, yo. *fist bump*


Mike Jung is the author of GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic 2012). He's also kind of a basket case, but he's able to tap into the basket case thing for the purpose of writing, which may or may not mean anything to you but there it is.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Interview with Anna Staniszewski: My Epic Fairy Tale Fail

If you've ever been plagued waiting for that second book to come out in a series that captured your heart, I sympathize. Some say it's the waiting makes it sweeter, but I think of it more as torturous agony waiting to see the friends you miss most after a long, cruelly-enforced vacation. These are the friends closest to our hearts, the ones who made us laugh and care and took us on the wildest adventures once upon a time and we just can't wait for more! So you can imagine my excitement when I heard that Anna Staniszewski's sequel to My Very Unfairy Tale Life, My Epic Fairy Tale Fail was due out and I got the chance to interview her for her launch at the Enchanted Inkpot!


In an age of teen angst and dark tales, your characters are light and fresh and funny. How did you come up with hilarious characters such as Anthony the Gnome and Sir Knight?

From the start, the UnFairy Tale series was meant to be playful and funny. In My Epic Fairy Tale Fail, Jenny visits the Land of Tales which is the place where all fairy tales originated. I really wanted to play with the expectations we have of fairy tales. For example, a fairy tale land must have a brave knight: thus, the overly-heroic Sir Knight was born. I exaggerated his need to rescue damsels in distress until it became completely ridiculous (picture him saving fair maidens from swooping pigeons). I had a lot of fun weaving in fairy tale elements and then twisting them until they were wacky and over-the-top.

I'm all for wacky and over-the-top and this book delivers! I am also a huge fan of fairy tales and mythology and the Land of Tales is where, in your world, it all began. It's true that many cultures share remarkably similar stories, which fairy tale is your cross-cultural favorite?  

A fairy tale that I only discovered as an adult was "East of the Sun, West of the Moon." It's a beautiful tale that's reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast, but in it, the heroine must go on a quest to rescue the prince (instead of the other way around). I think this tale was in my brain when I began working on the first book in the My Very UnFairy Tale series. I really wanted the main character, Jenny, to be the kind of girl who wouldn't hesitate to go rescue the prince. 

Or one of her friends. If there's one central theme in this book, it's friendship. I love the friendship between Trish, Melissa and Jenny and the loyalty of Princess Nartha, Aletha and Sir Knight. Do you think this lies at the heart of the best fairy tales?

Oh good question. In the more traditional recorded tales (the Grimms', etc) the characters don't have a lot of psychology to them. We get to know them purely through their actions, so on the surface, it doesn't seem like friendship is a huge part of the story. Yet, a big theme in many fairy tales in sacrifice, which I think goes right along with the idea of friendship. Maybe that's part of why fairy tales continue to feel relevant, because ultimately they focus less on magic and more on relationships.   

Yes! And, just like in reality, some "relationships" are saner than others. Your witch, Ilda, is a "crazy with a capital Q" teacher; so who was the craziest teacher you had in real life?

I won't name any names, but I had a science teacher who used to flex in front of the whole class while he was lecturing. He'd literally point at the board and flex his muscles, body-builder style. I don't know if he did it on purpose, but it was completely distracting and pretty disturbing.  

HAHA! (and Yikes!) Last question: Witch's cottage or store-bought goodie, what is your favorite flavor of Jelly Belly?

Definitely watermelon. For some reason, I'm a total sucker for fake watermelon flavor.

Fake watermelon is an epic win! And so is My Epic Fairy Tale Fail, coming March 1st.

Thanks, Anna!

Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. She was named the 2006-2007 Writer-in-Residence at the Boston Public Library and a winner of the 2009 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award. Currently, Anna lives outside of Boston with her husband and their adopted black Labrador, Emma. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time teaching, reading, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. Her first novel, My Very Unfairy Tale Life, was released by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky in November, 2011. The sequel, My Epic Fairy Tale Fail, is coming March 1, 2013. Visit her at

Monday, February 11, 2013

Our Favorite Fantasy Couples

“I know I would crumble if I lost you.”
Shannon Hale, ENNA BURNING

`Tis Valentine’s week, reserved for the celebration of romance, that special someone, and the promise of love. Romance writer, Debbie Macomber, said that we enjoy reading romantic stories because “we all need to be loved, to feel that we belong, and that’s what romance novels give us. The sense of being loved.”

Many of our favorite YA fantasy novels are often steeped in that pursuit of love. One of the best things about romance for this age group is it often involves first loves, with all its intensity, volatility, and possibilities for the future. So with that, here are some of the Inkies’ favorite YA couples in fantasy!

There was a lot of love (no pun intended) for Clary and Jace, from Cassandra Clare’s MORTAL INSTRUMENTS series. Resentment turns to attraction turns to love, then a struggle to stay apart. Readers were hooked on this couple early on.

 “There is no pretending,” Jace said with absolute clarity.
“I love you, and I will love you until I die, and if there is life
after that, I’ll love you then.” – CITY OF GLASS

Our own Inkie, Cindy Pon, wrote the beautifully romantic SILVER PHOENIX. When the young heroine, Al Ling, embarks on a quest to find her father, she also learns the shocking and sometimes frightening truths about herself and eventually lead her to the evil Zhong Ye, who threatens to stand between her and the man she loves, Chen Yong.

“She was drawn to Chen Yong as if she had been starved for months
for warmth and light. She closed her eyes a moment, trying
to slow her racing pulse.” – SILVER PHOENIX

Former Inkie, Cinda Williams Chima, also created a romance in her SEVEN REALMS series that made our hearts beat a little faster. The ex-thief, Han, and Princess heir, Raisa, become entwined in royal politics, a magical amulet, and of course, romance. 

“She had never felt more alive than when she lay dying
 in Han Alister’s arms.” – THE GRAY WOLF THRONE

The WOLVES OF MERCY FALLS trilogy by Maggie Stiefvater involves a dangerous and growing romance between Grace, and Sam who lives a dual life between wolf and human. Sam must choose between Grace and protecting his pack, and both our heroes must fight to overcome the true price of love.

“You’re beautiful and sad,” I said finally, not looking at 
him when I did. “Just like your eyes. You’re like a song
 that I heard when I was a little kid but forgot I knew until 
I heard it again.” For a long moment, there was only the 
whirring sound of the tires on the road, and then
   Sam said softly, “Thank you.” – SHIVER                                                       

Readers were also treated in this past year to GRAVE MERCY, the first in a trilogy from former Inkie, Robin LaFevers. The assassin Ismae and noble Duval are at times rivals and occasional allies to protect a young Duchess. But at all times, there is a fabulous tension as their love and attraction grows.

“Surely He does not give us hearts so that we may
spend our lives ignoring them.” – GRAVE MERCY

And another nod goes to Viola and Todd Hewitt from the CHAOS WALKING trilogy by Patrick Ness. As Todd reaches the age of becoming a man in his town, he discovers a silence in the noise, traced back to a girl named Viola. Difficult decisions must be made if the two will ever be together in peace.

“It’s not that you should never love something so much that it 
can control you. It’s that you need to love something that 
much so you can never be controlled. It’s not a weakness. 
It’s your best strength.” – THE ASK AND THE ANSWER

In Melissa Marr's WICKED LOVELY series, Aislinn can see faeries, and that isn't a good thing. When  they become aware of her, there is more than her love for her best friend, Seth, at stake. Her life is also in danger.

"Sometimes love means letting go when you 
want to hold on tighter." - INK EXCHANGE

Other couples that have held our imagination? Day and June from Marie Lu’s LEGEND, Katsa and Po from Kristen Cashore’s GRACELING, Briony and Eldric from Franny Billingsley’s CHIME, Karou and Akiva in Laini Taylor’s DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE trilogy, Cassel and Lila from Holly Black’s CURSE WORKERS trilogy, and Sam and Jin from Kate Milford’s THE BROKEN LANDS.

Many thanks to Inkies William Alexander, Lisa Amowitz, Hillari Bell, Ellen Booraem, Lisa Gail Green, Amy Greenfield, Mike Jung,  Laura Williams McCaffrey, Dawn Metcalf, Ellen Oh, and Cindy Pon for their contributions.

Now for our readers, what about you? Do you have a favorite couple from YA fantasy? Or how about a favorite romantic quote?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


Hi, P. J. Hoover here, and today at the Inkpot, I'm thrilled to feature one of our very own, MIRIAM FORSTER, celebrating the release of her debut novel. It's an amazing story from one amazing gal!

CITY OF A THOUSAND DOLLS by Miriam Forster (February 5, 2013, HarperTeen)

And now, here is Miriam!


PJHoover: You’ve run into an old classmate from high school and you tell them CITY OF A THOUSAND DOLLS just came out. They ask what it’s about. What do you say?

MiriamF: A girl in a caste-based society who has to solve a murder. It’s a poor description, but I’m really bad at summarizing my own books. :)

PJHoover: I love hearing happy publication stories. Can you tell us the path to publication for CITY OF A THOUSAND DOLLS?

MiriamF: Gosh, it’s a pretty simple story really. Girl writes book. Girl revises book and sends book out to agents. Girl gets rejections. Girl writes another book, revises first book and sends it out again. Girl gets more rejections. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Two years and four books later… Girl completely tears first book apart and rewrites it. On the last very submission before the book gets shelved, she finds an agent who loves it. Revisions ensue. Agent finds an editor who loves it, but wants some revisions before offering. Revisions ensue again. Book gets sold. Girl flails. A LOT. Much editing ensues.

Eighteen months later, girl holds final book in her hands. Girl cries, but is also happy because SHE NEVER HAS TO EDIT THIS BOOK AGAIN.

The end. :)

PJHoover: I love the world of CITY and how it feels so parallel to cultures in our own world. Can you tell us what your various inspirations for the settings, cultures, and characters were?

MiriamF: Most of the setting, like the teak forest, the weapons, and the food, is based on South Asia and certain things, like the asars, the caste system, and the different kinds of bowing are specifically drawn from India. There are a handful of details that I borrowed from Japan, like folding fans and the nobles using poems to communicate. The part-animal, part human Sune were also inspired by the Japanese legends of the kitsune. The abandonment and disregard for girls is, sadly, a very common phenomenon all over the world.

PJHoover: There are tons of books out there. What are five awesome reasons why CITY OF A THOUSAND DOLLS should be the one for them to read?

  1. Talking cats
  2. Political intrigue
  3. Murders
  4. Makeouts
  5. A woman who can turn into a fox

PJHoover: If the apocalypse came, would you still find a way to write? If yes, then how and why?

MiriamF: I think if the apocalypse came, I’d move to oral storytelling. Paper’s too fragile, and while pens are good for stabbing people with in a pinch, I’d rather save the room for something more effective. But telling stories out loud, around a fire, that’s part of what makes us human beings and I don’t see that going away even if the apocalypse happened.

PJHoover: When it comes to marketing, what do you think makes the biggest difference in whether a book is successful?

MiriamF: Everyone wants to create that elusive “word of mouth” that makes books into bestsellers. But no one really knows how to do it. I think the really vital things are: a good cover, good distribution, and a well-edited, readable book. You should also have some sort of updateable website for info.

After that, it comes down to what the author can do comfortably and genuinely. There’s nothing worse than trying to be friends with someone online who’s only there because they think they have to be. Unless it’s trying to be friends with someone who only ever talks about their book. I think it’s important to contribute to the conversation and be able to give something back to the online community. But if you can’t bring yourself to do that, don’t despair. The most important thing you can do to help your book succeed is to write a stellar second book. (And then a third one, and a forth one, etc.)

PJHoover: Finish this sentence, and tell us why. Writing is a lot like…

MiriamF: Cooking stew. You put a little bit of this and a little bit of that, let it simmer and then you pour it into a word document. And sometimes, you have to scrape the bottom of the pot and it’s annoying and painful and leaves you feeling hollowed out and empty. But then people eat it your stew and like it and you’re happy again.

PJHoover: What is next? WIPs? Future publications? Please tell all!

MiriamF: I have the companion book to City of a Thousand Dolls, set in the same world with some of the same characters. (That’s coming in 2014.) And I’m working on a Secret Middle Grade project that may or may not be sellable. We shall see!

PJHoover: What has been your favorite experience as an author thus far?

MiriamF: I got to do a little 20 minute signing at the Pacific Northwest Bookseller’s Association fall tradeshow last year. It was right around the time that ARCs had come out and I got to sign books and talk to booksellers. It was amazing. There are so many kind and brilliant and passionate people in the book world. It makes me happy to be a part of it.

PJHoover: Please share your favorite inspirational thought!

MiriamF: Feel the fear and do it anyway. I’m a naturally anxious person and I worry a lot. It’s important to me that I not let those fears and worries affect what I do. I can’t always choose my emotions, but I can choose my actions.

PJHoover: Thank you so much for being here!

MiriamF: Thank you for having me!


About the book:

The girl with no past, and no future, may be the only one who can save their lives.

Nisha was abandoned at the gates of the City of a Thousand Dolls when she was just a little girl. Now sixteen, she lives on the grounds of the isolated estate, where orphan girls apprentice as musicians, healers, courtesans, and, if the rumors are true, assassins. She makes her way as Matron's errand girl, her closest companions the mysterious cats that trail her shadow. Only when she begins a forbidden flirtation with the city's handsome young courier does she let herself imagine a life outside the walls. Until one by one, girls around her start to die.

Before she becomes the next victim, Nisha decides to uncover the secrets that surround the girls' deaths. But by getting involved, Nisha jeopardizes not only her own future in the City of a Thousand Dolls—but also her life.


About Miriam:

Miriam Forster learned to read at the age of five, wrote her first story at the age of seven and has been playing with words ever since.

In real life Miriam is a recovering barista, a terrible housekeeper and a bit of a hermit. But in her mind she’s a deadly international assassin-ninja AND a fantastic dancer. When Miriam isn’t writing, she plots out fight scenes, obsesses about anthropology, nature shows and British television, and reads far too much. CITY OF A THOUSAND DOLLS is her debut novel.


P. J. Hoover is the author of the upcoming dystopia/mythology YA book, SOLSTICE (Tor Teen, June 2013), the upcoming Egyptian mythology MG book, TUT (Tor Children's, Winter 2014), and the middle-grade SFF series, THE FORGOTTEN WORLDS BOOKS (CBAY, 2008-2010). You can read more about her and her books on P. J.'s website or blog.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Virgin Saviors and Murderous Succubi

"The Maiden and the Unicorn" by Domenichino.

I presented a round table this last Fall at Sirens Con titled Virgin Savior to Murderous Succubus: Women's Sexual Roles in Fantasy and Folklore. The interest was due to the fact that I was writing another fantasy set in the Kingdom of Xia and my heroine discovers that she is half human and half serpent demon. The serpent demon in Chinese folklore is always a woman--and often portrayed as a predator of men and a succubus. It made me wonder about the role of the hypersexual almost always beautiful woman turned monster--so prevalent in fantasy and folklore across multiple cultures. While on the other side of the coin, the virgin. Almost always female as well, in the original lores--her virginity as something pure and precious--the only person capable of taming unicorns. 

Upon further reflection, I realized that my fascination with this dichotomy is deeply rooted-- ever sense I fell in love with Anne Boleyn and her daughter, Elizabeth I. Years before the Tudors had become as popular as they were in recent years. Anne Boleyn, second wife to Henry VIII and the "cause" for England's break from Rome and the Catholic Church, was beheaded for treason, adultery and incest. All of which could have been avoided if only she had given Henry a healthy son. What is incredible are the charges against her--not only was Anne accused of having had sex with her own brother, but six other men--with allusions to more transgressions. She could not be an ordinary woman who had an affair. No. She had to have bedded her own brother and much of the court as well. Anne was made to appear hypersexual and monstrous (she was said to have had a sixth finger and dabbled in witchcraft)--all of which was justification for hacking her head off. When again, in truth, her worst downfall was never giving Henry a healthy son.

Her daughter, Elizabeth I, in turn, managed to take the throne under circumstances that again made life stranger than fiction. And the only way she felt that she could hold on to power, to put off all her advisors constantly asking: When? When will you take a consort and make an heir? was to take on the role of the Virgin. Elizabeth I would never take a husband, and was instead (by her own words) married to her country and her people. Artists and writers portrayed her as a virgin and a goddess--not an ordinary woman. One has to wonder if she learned some hard lessons from her mother's life, and through Boleyn's infamous demise. 

From my research online, here are just a few examples of succubi types in myth and lore from across the world:

Lilith, created from earth as Adam was--unlike Eve, who was made from his rib. Would not submit to Adam, even in the matters of sex, refusing to take the missionary position. She fled Eden, and chose the demons of the world as her lovers, spawning thousands of demonic children. Yaweh sent three angels to retrieve Lilith to bring back to Eden for Adam. They threatened to kill her demonic children if she refused. Lilith replied that she'd rather suffer through her children's death and her own before ever submitting to Adam. In turn, she cursed newborns and their mothers in childbirth, and threatened to steal men's semen while they slept--to make more demon babies. She is known as the female night demon, mother of demons, the howling one, the first Eve or the first woman.

Indian "mohini" appears to bachelors dressed in a white sari and with her hair unbound and flowers woven in it. She lures men to take her as a wife then kills him by sapping his strength.
Japanese "kitsune" sharing similarities to the Chinese "hu li jing" and Korean "kumiho". Seen alternately as trickster and seductress or guardians, friends, lovers and wives. Common belief in ancient Japan was any woman encountered alone, especially at night or dusk was most likely a fox.
Japan's "hone-onna" or literally, bone woman. she lures men into bed as a beautiful woman then turns into a skeleton and sucks his soul dry.
Huldra from Scandinavian folklore. Often appears as a naked woman with unbound hair but from behind looks like the hollow of a tree. She is found in the forest and sometimes has an animal tail depending on which area the folklore is from. She is known to lure men into the forest for sex, killing them if she isn't satisfied. Some simply lured men into the underworld, and others were said to steal human babies and replace them with changelings. 
And some online research on virgins:
Literally means "maiden".
Vestal Virgins: priestesses of Vesta, Goddes of the Earth. They were chosen between age six and ten and had to devote thirty years of their life to the priesthood and celibacy. 
Virgins taming unicorns rooted in various mythos and cultures. Most popular in the Middle Ages and mentioned in a Greek bestiary. The unicorn is attracted to the virgin maiden's purity and scent, and is tamed after being stroked by her, or suckled, depending on variation. 
One explanation is the unicorn representing Christ and his humility by laying his head in the virgin's lap, and the virgin is represented by the Virgin Mary. There are also paintings featuring the unicorn with the Virgin Mary.

The legend that unicorns have the ability to detect non-virgins and would kill them. Virgin detection ability have also been attributed to the stag, lion and elephant.
Despite Christian influences, the sexual overtones of the unicorn and the maiden depicted in art and folklore are frequent. The virgins are often nude or in states of undress and the horn can alternately be taken as a symbol of purity or virility.

What are your thoughts about virgins and succubi and their portrayal in fantasy novels? Can you think of any novels that uses these types of lore?

Cindy Pon is the author of Silver Phoenix (Greenwillow, 2009), which was named one of the Top Ten Fantasy and Science Fiction Books for Youth by the American Library Association’s Booklist, and one of 2009′s best Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror by VOYA. The sequel to Silver Phoenix, titled Fury of the Phoenix, was released in April 2011. Her first published short story is featured in Diverse Energies, a multicultural YA dystopian anthology from Tu Books (October 2012). Cindy is also a Chinese brush painting student of over a decade. Visit her website at