Wicked Words – OUT NOW!

I’m a little late to the party, but WICKED WORDS is finally out! Actually, to be honest, we were able to release the anthology a few days before our official release date of October 1st, but the insanity that followed kept me from posting the update here. Pretty exciting though, yes?

I had ordered my copy the moment it was available, then sat in agony at work the next day after receiving the text alert that my book was at my local postal carrier, but wouldn’t be delivered for another 24 hours. If there’s one thing I have zero patience for, it’s waiting. On my lunch, I drove to the post office and begged and pleaded until the exceptionally kind postal worker searched through the packages in back just to find mine. There was a long period of time where I just sat in the car holding the unopened package, nervous to look inside. Finally, shaking all over, I held in my hands my very first venture into publishing.

It's really real!
It’s really real!

Sure, I’m still critical of my own work…there’s a giant glaring grammatical error in my story, but DAGNABBIT! It’s PUBLISHED! It happened! I can search my name on Amazon, and something I’ve written comes up! It’s real, and there are actually people out there in the world buying our book. That’s an amazing feeling to me, something I don’t have adequate words to describe, but that I won’t soon forget.

Want to get your own copy of this spooky collaborative effort from Wicked Wordsmiths of the West? You can buy the paperback copy HERE and the Kindle edition HERE.

I can’t express just how grateful we are to all of our readers! Thank you all so, so very much.

The Zombie Dilemma

Recently, a rather fierce plot bunny attacked me and sank its tiny little teeth in, refusing to let go until written. I haven’t been able to shake this idea for a story, and I have decided that it’s the perfect project for the upcoming NaNoWriMo season. Scenes are starting to form in my head and take shape in my outline, but I fear I’ve hit a snag. For, you see, I’m working with something entirely new to me… ZOMBIES.

My dilemma is this – In most anything I’ve read that involves these moaning and groaning monsters, it’s entirely too taboo to use the “Z” word. Call them “the infected”, “walkers”, “the living dead”, “undead”, etc….but never just zombies? I’m torn on how I feel about that.

The reason I’ve never written anything with zombies before is, well, because I thought they were pretty much the lamest monsters of all things that go bump in the night. Vampires? Yes, I’ll write those all day everyday. Werewolves? Sure, why not? But zombies? I didn’t see the appeal. There wasn’t anything scary about a monster that lurches towards you at the rate of a handicapped sloth. No, thank you very much. So, what changed? Someone turned me on to The Walking Dead recently. By recently, I mean, season five is starting next month, and I’ve marathoned all episodes up until where I’m at in season four. If I didn’t have to work and could sit at home with a box of Capri Suns and only my television for company, you can bet your bottom that I’d have not only finished all the episodes, but I would probably already be rewatching them all again. I thought I would hate it, honestly I did, but the biggest shock to me was that I just couldn’t stop watching. The storylines are compelling, I’m attached to the characters, and I’ll be honest…on more than one occasion, I’ve driven home in the pitch dark on the lookout for walkers.

Now I’m here with the beginnings of a young adult novel that has me more excited than any recent project I’ve worked on, and I’m stuck up against a fence full o’ zombies. What do I call them? Do I try to create some new alias for the creatures, use something familiar to readers, or do I just go ahead and drop the big “Z” bomb?

I asked a fellow writer for his opinion and received a somewhat unexpected answer. He said, “Call them what they are. Zombies. People get so caught up in creating other words for what something monstrous is, like how we have so many names for the Devil, but fear of a name takes away fear of the thing itself. Have a character rebel and refuse to call them anything but what they actually are – zombies.”

Interesting…I like it. I enjoy the name it, claim it attitude, and it could be used reasonably well alongside those less willing to acknowledge what’s around them. I can even see the character who would say it. At the same time, I can feel my main character staring at me scrupulously from across the table, arms crossed, saying, “Zombies? Really?! That’s what we’re going to go with?” And that’s when I bang my head into the keyboard repeatedly, waiting for some better idea to spill from my brain.

So what do you think? Would seeing the “Z” word in the back blurb of a book turn you off from reading it? What’s your favorite name for zombies? I’m looking for any help I can get, because right now my outlining is progressing at a dragging zombie-walk pace until I figure this out.

Wicked Words

While writing my bio for the Wicked Wordsmith anthology, I realized two things:
#1 – I need a more professional twitter account with less “colorful” language than my personal account. Thus, you can now find me @JulianneTillis
#2 – If I’m going to list my blog in my bio, I might want to actually start posting on a more regular basis. So, here we are!

I started a writing group about three years ago after my first NaNoWriMo experience. The Huntington region at the time did not have a ML, and so I unofficially took over and found a core group of local writers to participate in the write ins during November. At the end of NaNoWriMo that year, we’d all enjoyed the camaraderie so much that we wanted to make our meet-ups a regular occurrence. Wicked Wordsmiths of the West was born, and have met every month for the past three years to discuss all aspects of our craft and participate in creative prompts and activities. At the beginning of this year, we had the wild idea to start working on an anthology. A loose goal of a collection of creepy stories in time for Halloween was set, and we began drafting all varieties of horror. It has definitely come down to crunch time, but I think we’ve just about got it! Our cover release happened just the other day, and I’m pretty excited about it:

The cover for our first anthology - due out October 1st!
The cover for our first anthology – due out October 1st!

The photo in the bottom left corner happens to relate to my short story, “Flesh and Blood”, which you can read when Wicked Words is released October 1st. It will be available in both paperback and kindle format through Amazon, and I will be sure to post the link as soon as it’s available. For anyone who happens to be in the Huntington, WV area though, we will be having an in-person signing and release party October 14th at Empire Books and News in the Pullman Plaza. Hope to see you there!

Oh, and don’t forget to like the Wicked Wordsmiths of the West page on Facebook to keep up with all of our updates!

Off the Shelf: A Review of Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

Fair Warning — Spoilers Ahead!

The back cover of Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige
The back cover of Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

You see the back cover of this book? Did you read what it says? Do you believe that these will be the events that transpire within its pages? Well, DON’T. This book is a LIAR.

 

After finishing this book today, I tried to step away for awhile and examine the book as a whole, but I just couldn’t get past the disappointment that consumed me as I closed in on the final few chapters and realized that there wasn’t enough book left for anything to actually happen. Nothing. Zilch. NADA. This absolutely kills me because I had such high hopes for this book. My to-read list is a mile long, so when I want to immerse myself in a book, I’m extremely picky about which one I choose. The goodreads description of Dorothy Must Die interested me enough to add it to my to-read list, but when I happened to stumble across the Epic Reads site and saw how much hype and promotion they were giving this book, I figured it had to be something worthwhile. I ordered a copy for our Young Adult section, and I was also the first patron on the hold list. The day this book was catalogued, it was MINE, and I couldn’t wait to jump right in.

A little background on me: I LOVE retellings. Give me a fractured fairytale, and I’ll be a happy girl. My first NaNoWriMo project? A really poorly put together novel set in a fantasy world that combined characters from fairytales and classic lit, including the Wicked Witch from Oz. Another fun fact? I’m actually not-too-distantly related to Judy Garland through the Gumm family (I did enjoy the not-so-subtle homage in Dorothy Must Die’s main character’s name being Amy Gumm).

 

Things I wasn’t a fan of: 

What do I NOT love? Well, when it comes to this book, frankly, a lot. I had such high hopes for this one, and those hopes crashed harder than Amy’s trailer-ride into Oz. The biggest disappointment was expecting to see Amy take on the Tin Woodman, the Scarecrow, and the Lion individually to take back their gifts from the wizard, and instead, I got an entirely different story. *SPOILER* – Amy isn’t told she has to take out the three henchmen before she takes on Dorothy until the END of the book. You read that right! The WHOLE book is spent mainly focusing on Amy’s arrival in Oz, her training with the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked to kill Dorothy, and her infiltrating the staff of Dorothy’s palace so that she can kill the ruby-shoed princess. Sure, she encounters the other characters, but nothing is said about having to take out Dorothy’s biggest supporters until AFTER Amy flubs up her assassination attempt at the very end. Seriously?! You tell me on EVERY site’s book summary what her mission is supposed to be, and then she doesn’t learn that mission till the end? Sure, maybe I didn’t realize this was going to be the first book in a series, but what are you going to do now? Devote one book to each character Amy has to kill off? In that case, Dorothy will NEVER die.

Other things I don’t enjoy include overly blatant foreshadowing and giving readers flashing neon arrows, as if we’re not smart enough to figure things out ourselves. Paige is guilty of telling, not showing. Such as when Amy is met by the mysterious Pete the gardener in an ever-moving maze. He lays the foreshadowing on pretty thick to where it reads almost like, “Dorothy and Glinda HATE this maze. They pretty much NEVER come here. They are SCARED of it. Now that it knows you, it will remember you and help you, Amy. Oh, you want to know why I’m telling you all of this? BECAUSE SOMEDAY YOU MIGHT NEED TO USE IT.” Do you really have to make it that obvious? Although, of course, much like the rest of the book, nothing happens and Amy doesn’t end up using this maze…so, unless it shows up somewhere in one of the sequels, this scene was pretty much useless.

Speaking of Glinda, where is she? She’s introduced once in Amy’s first few hours in Oz, as she sees her from a distance. After that though? She briefly makes an appearance towards the end. Sure, we get to see this twin sister of hers that happens to be Wicked, but I would figure she’d be a much larger character. Also, if she’s so close to Dorothy, then why isn’t she part of Amy’s mission? Glinda as a whole just seems underdeveloped and underutilized.

The last thing that tended to bug me was the way the author sexualized Dorothy to make her a villain. I 100% believe that female villains can be both attractive and evil, and frankly, those are the villains I enjoy. But Dorothy? It seems that most every bit of description had to be about her appearance – from her cleavage hanging out to the ruby red slippers turned f*ck-me stiletto boots. The only image I get when I picture this version of Dorothy are the show-some-skin, Leg Avenue Dorothy Halloween costumes. It simply makes me cringe because it comes off as overly cheesy. Make her every bit attractive as you want, but if that’s the only thing she’s got going for her, then the character is just going to fall flat. Yes, we do get to see some of her twisted cruelty (which I will give credit, is one of my favorite parts), but not nearly enough background or development to make me feel anything except disinterest in the character.

 

Things I enjoyed:

I’ll admit this is list had few and far between, but the book did have some redeeming qualities. I do like a fresh take on Oz. The world building was clear and intriguing, and it added to the overall mood. I did like the twisted portrayal of -most- of the familiar characters like Tin Woodman, the Lion, and especially the Scarecrow. When the depths of Dorothy’s cruelty involving her former head handmaid was unveiled at the ball, that was the highlight of the book for me. It was creepy enough to make my skin crawl, and that was when I finally felt an emotional connection to the characters. The casual nods to L. Frank Baum’s text and to the movie were a nice touch and not overly in-your-face.

 

My Predictions:

Unfortunately, I do predict this series will drag out Amy’s “mission” for several books, to spend time focusing on her taking out each of the supporting cast before going after Dorothy. Will I read them? Likely not. It’s sad, but I don’t even care to guess what will happen in the rest of the series because I was just so unattached to the characters.
My Rating:
2/5 Library Cards

I considered 2.5 to be generous, but I’ve taken my time putting this post together, thinking that eventually my opinion of the book would improve. Nope. Didn’t happen. I’m stepping away from it, clicking my heels together, and wishing I was reading a better book. Maybe next time.

*EDIT* – Found this image floating around Facebook today, and I’ve deemed it “What Actually Should Have Happened in Dorothy Must Die“.

20140604-165653-61013140.jpg

OFF THE SHELF: A Review of The Archived by Victoria Schwab

The Archived by Victoria Schwab
The Archived by Victoria Schwab

What originally led me to The Archived? Well, to be honest, laziness. In my downtime at work, I peruse goodreads for descriptions that strike my fancy enough to make me check our system for the book’s availability. I stumbled across the page for Victoria Schwab’s Vicious. I was intrigued by the description and the high rating, and a quick search of our directory showed me that our library had a copy available… four floors below me. I’m not terribly lazy, but I do admit that I made a mental note to go seek the book out the next time I ventured downstairs, and then returned to my goodreads browsing. The reviewers of Vicious seemed to continuously recommend Schwab’s other books, which just so happened to be…what’s that? Young Adult? Well, well, well… that just so happens to be my home turf.

A couple clicks later, and I’m staring at the screen, wide-eyed in awe of the description of The Archived.

“Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books.”

You have my attention.

Mackenzie Bishop has been selected to replace her grandfather as a “Keeper”, someone who tracks down the restless dead known as Histories before they can escape the Archive into the Outer (our) world. Not only must Mac cope with the grief of just losing her younger brother, but her responsibilities as Keeper begin to push her to her limit. She must balance her lies, her family life, and still keep her wits about her as she discovers someone has been altering the memories of the Histories. This threat could lead to the downfall of the Archive itself, forever cutting Mac off from her brother and her grandfather, Da.

I immediately located The Archived among our YA shelves, and happily carried it home, thinking I’d have a book to last me the weekend. Nope! My first day off, I spent utterly consumed by this book. Could NOT put it down. Maybe it’s just the librarian in me, but the thought of library shelves filled with shell bodies of the dead whose memories can be read like books… well, the premise just automatically appeals to my taste. Factor in mysterious murders and intriguing, secretive characters, and you have me hooked.

Things I enjoyed:
I was fascinated by the ins and outs of how the Archive worked, especially with how Mackenzie would track down the Histories in the Narrows (the space between the Archive and the Outer). There was a romantic angle (or should I say angles?), but it didn’t overwhelm the story, for which I was grateful. Heavy topics like death and unhealthy relationships, were touched on gracefully and with language that felt comfortable coming from a sixteen year old. Victoria Schwab hits it out of the park with her creative style, delicate weaving of story lines, and a pacing that builds anticipation in the last half of the book as Mackenzie starts to piece together mysteries from the past and present. Schwab doesn’t reveal absolutely everything about every single character, she reveals only enough to keep you wondering. Who should Mackenzie trust? What motivation does this character have and is it genuine?

Things I wasn’t a fan of:

At first, it wasn’t very clear that Da was Mackenzie’s grandfather. Had I not read it in some of the other goodreads reviews, I probably wouldn’t have caught on so quickly.

The semi-romantic interest in Owen felt a little strange and rushed. She may have been curious by him not slipping and felt pity for his story with his sister, but a lot of their romantic scenes where she’d take comfort in him just felt AWKWARD. You’re a Keeper, you know what Histories are and what is supposed to happen with them, and to go beyond overlooking all that, break who knows how many rules, and form some sort of bond with that History…well, it didn’t feel true to character.

Her best friend. Heck, I can’t even remember her name now, and that’s why it bothers me. Mackenzie’s best friend from before she moves makes appearances in the book only through phone calls and then an actual visit in the last few pages tying together a happy ending. Does she remind us that Mackenzie is still trying to be an average teenager with average teenage friends? Sure. Does she do anything to further the plot? Nope. This character mostly just feels to me like filler.

MY PREDICTIONS:
The sequel to this book, The Unbound, has been waiting anxiously on my Kindle for me to finish this post. I’ve definitely been having trouble resisting the urge to delve into it, but I forced myself to get my predictions in writing before beginning. So…SPOILER ALERT… here are some things I predict for The Unbound.

Wesley and his guyliner will definitely be back and making his way out of the friend-zone. Of course, Mackenzie will still be working through her feelings for Owen the Psychotic History.

I feel like Da will have a much larger presence in this book. It’s already been stated that the Librarians are the Histories of those who have worked for the Archive, so it just makes sense. What else is he going to do? Stay dead? I don’t think so. I fully expect Da to be a Librarian.

We already know that in this one Mackenzie will be starting her new school. Which I guess can only mean high school drama will be finding its way into her already stressful life. This should also give us new characters and new developments, and will somehow work into whether the Archive will remain vigilant or fall.

MY RATING:
4.5/5 Library Cards

So, there you have it! Pick up The Archived by Victoria Schwab at your local library, bookstore, or online, and let me know if you enjoyed it as much as I did!