Catherine Stine's IDEA CITY

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Interview with Victoria Strauss on Passion Blue

Today, Idea City interviews Victoria Strauss, a seasoned author of novels for teens and adults about her new novel Passion Blue!

What are the two most important themes in Passion Blue?

Following your dreams, and facing up to your mistakes. Giulia, Passion Blue’s heroine, is separated from readers by centuries of history, and her actual situation, of being forced into a convent against her will, isn’t something that teens are likely to encounter today. But her struggle against huge odds to find her heart’s desire, and her realization that she must take responsibility for her actions and do her best to atone for her errors, are things that transcend historical differences. I think modern readers will find a lot in Giulia to recognize and identify with.

Which character would you want to spend a day with? Why?

I'm going to be predictable and say Giulia! My characters always become very real to me as I write them; having Giulia in my head for the past couple of years has been like making a new friend (yes, I know that sounds kind of schizophrenic!) and I would love to spend some real time with her. I could help her in the workshop, grinding minerals into pigment powder for paint. I could walk with her in the 15th century streets of Padua, with their shady arcades and bustling traffic. She could cast my horoscope, and tell me what’s in my stars.

Give us a hallmark line or two from Passion Blue.

"And all at once, by some strange turn of memory or perception, she was in the sorcerer's house again, the zodiac underfoot and the constellations overhead and the candles burning with flames that were not natural, and she heard the sorcerer say what he had told her when he placed the talisman in her hands: Be very sure you know what your heart's desire is, or you may find yourself surprised by what you receive."

Give is a line that reveals the antagonist’s intent, motivation or character.

“My father is a great man. But he’s not always a good one. He can tolerate no rivals, even among the men who work for him. I am a woman, and I would have been his rival.”

What inspired you to write this novel?

The seed of the idea came from an editor who'd read one of my other YA books, and told me she'd always wanted to read a historical novel about astrology. The idea grabbed me, and I started researching, choosing 15th century Italy because it's a time and place that has always fascinated me. At the same time as I was finding out all sorts of interesting and obscure facts about astrology, I found myself drawn to the wonderful paintings of that time and place, which I've always loved more than any others. In the end, from a book about astrology, Passion Blue became a novel about painters and painting, with astrology, and a magical astrological talisman, as its fantasy element.

What do you enjoy doing besides writing?

Reading, watching movies, knitting, running, biking and hiking with friends, hanging out at the beach on a sunny day. But my favorite thing in the world is gardening. I have a big perennial garden that I've built up over the years, with hundreds of different plants. I love working with plants--watching them mature, seeing them come back to life every spring. It's about the only artistic thing I can do (I can barely draw stick figures)--painting a picture with living things that are constantly growing and changing. It's a form of meditation for me, one of the few activities where I'm just in the moment, not thinking about the past or worrying about the future.

Please provide one piece of important advice to aspiring writers.

Educate yourself about publishing before trying to get published! Knowledge is your best ally, and your greatest defense. I'm co-founder of Writer Beware, a publishing industry watchdog group that tracks and warns about the many scams that target writers. We hear from so many writers who get caught up in scams because they don't know enough about how publishing works, and aren't able to recognize bad business practice when they encounter it. Whether you're looking for an agent to sell your manuscript to a big publisher, or submitting to small presses, or getting ready to self-publish, you'll be most successful--not to mention safest--if you take some time beforehand to educate yourself about your chosen field.

A hint of what you’re working on next?

I'm writing a sequel to Passion Blue, which will take Giulia out of the convent, and into intrigue and danger in the exotic (and sometimes sinister) city of Venice. After that, I'm thinking about putting my plant knowledge to work in a gothic fantasy about a girl who tends a garden of deadly plants for her father, a professional poisoner. Then, one day, a fugitive thief climbs in over the walls...

Where to find Passion Blue and Victoria on the Web:
Passion Blue in hardcover and kindle from Amazon
Passion Blue from Barnes & Noble
Victoria's website

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thankful for Great Books! And a review of a New Steampunk series

Alison Deluca is a fellow YA and tween author, who’s written an excellent steampunk series called The Crown Phoenix.

My review of Book One, The Night Watchman Express:
Miriam’s comfortable world is thrown into chaos when her father dies and his so-called business partners, Virgil and Theodosia Marchpane move in take over the mansion. They’ve brought along their spoiled son, Simon, and his friend of more modest means, Neil. Upon the horrid realization that Theodosia is intent on moving Miriam up to the attic and installing Simon in her room, Miriam is not going down without a fight. She throws things, she curses, and is relegated to her room for days with only bread and water.

Book Two

Book Three
Mysterious, steampunky elements appear: twelve silver circles set in the stones near the shore, a seemingly magical night train that inspires strange dreams, and Miriam’s secret possession: her old-fashioned Crown Phoenix manual typewriter, which takes on a larger aura. Miriam overhears Virgil and Theodosia’s whispered business dealings. She reads their private papers and learns of shocking details. The Marchpanes hate her snoopy ways and hire a governess to keep Miriam in line.

Enter Manalapata Postulate, a character every bit as trippy as her name suggests. As Miriam’s new governess, she has a hypnotic hold on everyone—for instance, the very racist Theodosia cannot recall saying yes to hiring Miss Postulate, who is the color of dark chocolate, yet Theodosia’s signature’s on the contract!

At first Miriam rails against her new governess, but soon Miss Postulate, or Mana, not only turns Miriam into a proper lady, she has also, to Theodosia’s horror, charmed young Simon and Neil. When Miriam asks Mana why she’s being so nice, we wonder too! Everyone has a nefarious motivation that is big fun trying to figure out. Danger lurks, and finally, the kids learn that Mana has been taken. Upon trying to rescue her, Simon and Miriam are whisked away on none other than the Night Train that inspires their fearful dreams.

Part two brings us to the island of Lampala where Miss Postulate grew up. She’s been kidnapped and Neil is determined to search for her. It's here that DeLuca crafts her most original setting and language, a testament to her vivid imagination and prowess as a storyteller. Neil is charged with watching a native girl, even more impossible than Miriam ever was, and the earlier plot is echoed in his own creative ways of bringing Riki around. The more serious task is to rescue Mana, who they find hanging in a cage off the edge of a cliff! I admire DeLuca’s quirky sense of adventure, and expertise at weaving together all of the mystifying threads without dropping any. Her prose is gorgeous. Tweens and middle-graders will love this series, as well as teens and even adults.

Where to find Alison and The Crown Phoenix series:
The series on Amazon
At B&N for Nook: Night Watchman Express, The Devil's Kitchen, Lamplighter's Special
Facebook author pageTwitterPinterest, Google+
Book Trailer

What book are you thankful for this November?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Celebrating the Launch of M Pax's The Renaissance of Hetty Locklear

Today, Idea City is helping M Pax, speculative author extraordinaire, celebrate the launch of her new adult urban fantasy, The Renaissance of Hetty Locklear. It's the first book in a new series. And it’s out! The main character, Hetty, is a twenty-two-year-old, stumbling about in an effort to become a full-fledged adult. She struggles with self-esteem, weight, relationships, and making the transition between college and the real world.

Graduation from community college isn’t the magic elixir Hetty Locklear counts on for becoming an adult. Her parents, who work the Renaissance fair circuit, insist she spend part of the summer with them. Hetty doubts pretending to live in the Middle Ages will help her find her way.
 To make it worse, an entity haunts her at her dead-end job, warning her of a dangerous man she doesn’t know. The ghost leads her to a lover who has a lot of secrets. He pulls her farther into peril and into a strange, hidden world of genetic experimentation.
New Adult Urban Fantasy with a contemporary sci-fi twist. Mature content.

Available as an ebook at Amazon / Amazon UK / Smashwords / iTunes / Kobo
Visit for more links.

M. Pax is celebrating her latest release with a jousting tournament and contest at Cheer for the knights to help them win the grand prize, and you’ll be put in a drawing to win an ebook copy of The Renaissance of Hetty Locklear. Five will be given away. Huzzah!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Frankenstorm, a Personal Report

Flares replace traffic lights downtown

We’re watching news as I’m posting snarky weather updates on Facebook: “If the power gos out you can always hold a séance with your meditation candles.” Then, actual concerns begin, as the wind picks up and rattles the windows hard. We hear of trees down, flooding on Seventh Ave (west side) and Ave C (east side). A gigantic explosion sounds (Generators blowing at the 14th Street Con Ed Station).

The TV and lights splutter off. We stumble around for candles.
Stare out into the black streets. Blink at each other. Hunker under heavy quilts.

The next morning, every store is shuttered. Banks are closed. Trees have crashed down and awnings are ripped. I ask a lone cab driver whether there’s any power in the city. “Above 42nd St.,” he replies. The garage guy painstakingly extricates cars from the cavernous pit with one mini flashlight. My Nissan Cube becomes our chariot of deliverance because no cabs, subways, or buses are running, and gas? “Fegeddaboutit!”

Uptown, one diner is open and mobbed. No waitresses. The cook, speaking only a smattering of English takes all orders. “You’re a hero,” I say, “and your boss should pay you a lot today.” He smiles big. We drive around, shell-shocked.

We buy a jar of instant coffee (Yechh), cringe through a meal of cold, precooked sausages. Amazed that 24/7, colonial people lived with no electricity. Pick up a camping stove, it's broken. Hunker under many blankets and coats. We get out 20 year-old phones that actually work!!! And a battery operated radio. Hear the news for the first time. Stunned that this ancient technology outshines all of the new. I feel like I’m in that show Revolution, and if this continues, maybe The Passage. Weird knowing that people are now shopping uptown at Bloomies and Macy’s as if there’s no blackout—further alienation from uptowners.

Walking at night, we find that the new coffee place has its own generator. Thankful for twenty-something owners who’ve anticipated the apocalypse! Tons of neighborhood types stream in to charge their electronic devices. The valiant coffee baristas work their espresso machine practically to death. Many cool conversations ensure. One man pulls out four live chinchillas from his shirt! There is more than one way to keep warm in the Frozen Apple.

NYU charging station
Doggie charge-up
 New York University opens its doors to the public! We take shelter in the “Quiet Room” and write for two whole days. So much work gets done! NYU is now my hero. People charge up everywhere, even in the ladies’ room. We are mad at Con Ed; how dare they have a stranglehold on the entire city! We need emergency backup systems, sea walls, and a breakup of the conglomerate. We feel terribly sorry for people in Staten Island and Breezy Point, who lost everything.

Still, driving is super-fun now. All parking rules have been suspended! Many have left town, so there are lots of parking places. And none of the traffic lights work. You can go from 14th Street to 125th Street in a matter of minutes. Everything is dark, dark, dark. It’s a giant game of chicken at every intersection. Yee-hah!

But we are filthy. We decide to drive to a friend’s in Queens for a shower. Driving’s no fun when there are massive traffic snarls and lines for gas that snake on for blocks. Is cleanliness really worth it? Maybe so, we feel reborn. Just as I’m sort of getting used to the candles and early bedtimes and games of Crazy 8, and meeting all of the folks at the coffee joint, I’m in the kitchen when I see it—a glow from our robotic vacuum cleaner. I scream, “It’s back on!”

Having been through the apocalypse, I won’t easily forget. Appreciate the little things: a candle and a match. Warm shoes. A teaspoonful of instant coffee. And community. Even the friggin’ crazy Chinchilla guy. Did you lose power? What was your story?