Titan Magic: Body and Soul is throwing an informal cover reveal for its happy-looming-publication party. If you’d like to attend, check out any of the participating blogs on Friday, November 15th. Hope to see you there!
I just found out Doctor Who is back on the air! That’s how out of touch I’ve been. I missed it, and I’m probably going to miss some more because THINGS ARE HAPPENING. My life could change dramatically very soon in so many different ways, and it all comes down to just a few factors. For this reason, I’ve been in high-anxiety mode. When I’m not running around trying to figure things out and get things done, I’m busy fighting insomnia. So I haven’t been blogging, I haven’t been tweeting, I haven’t been very active on Goodreads or DeviantArt, and I’m sorry.
One thing I have been doing is working to get my books to a wider audience. You may have noticed Chemistry, my contemporary YA retelling of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, has been having a bit of a coming-out party in the form of a free e-book event. It was nurtured and sheltered by Amazon for its first several months in the world, and now it’s time for the little book to grow up and meet new vendors like Kobo and Barns & Noble. Maybe even iBooks, if iBooks is sweet.
If you missed the first few days of Chemistry‘s event, don’t fret. You can still grab the book for free at Amazon all day today and tomorrow. Please do, in fact! Compared to Titan Magic, Chemistry has been kind of an odd duck—a socially awkward, shy little book. It needs to get out there and dance with new readers.
And I need to get my life in order so I can sit down and have a very serious Doctor Who marathon night.
People often ask me why I write what I write. Usually, the question is followed by a suggestion that I write something different: mystery-suspense, short stories, picture books. The truth is I tend to write what I crave to read but haven’t been able to find.
I fell in love with Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris (or The Hunchback of Notre-Dame) many years ago. A good friend loaned me the book, assuring me I would adore it, and he was right. The story was this perfect mixture of tragedy, comedy, and romance, with just a touch of satire and social commentary. Every character was one I could both love and hate. They all made horrible mistakes even though I was practically screaming at them not to. But that’s the nature of tragedy.
I realized I had seen several film versions of the story, but none of them had won my heart the way the novel did. I think that’s because they were so simplified. The villains were villainous, and the good guys were so very good. And Claude… Oh, Claude Frollo was the most changed of all. In Hugo’s novel he is a good man—a fantastic man even—who looks after his fellow orphans like a father and does his best to be both wise and virtuous. But his standards for himself and others are untouchable. When he can’t live up to his own idea of goodness, he believes himself to be a monster and ends in fulfilling his own prophecy. And when the girl he loves turns out not to be the angel he took her for… Well, way too many people pay the price for that.
To me, the original novel is not one story, but many, all tangled together in an inescapable mess. I have always wanted to see it retold in a way that didn’t try to dichotomize good and evil, and since I haven’t been able to find a version that did this, I tried to make my own. I chose to tell just one of the stories—that of Claude Frollo, the one I felt received the most radical changes in other retellings—and I chose to tell it in first person. It wasn’t fun being in his head. Claude is a person who wants to be good, but who has unexamined very-bad-ideas, unhealthy obsessions, and unrealistic expectations. But that’s also what makes him so human.
The idea to set the story in a modern high school came from reading Claude’s first confession of love. It was so desperate, so frantic and clumsy, it reminded me of how it felt to be in love at that age. But setting it in a modern high school also had its challenges. Obviously, I was playing by a very different set of rules. But I hope I managed to retell this story by staying as true to the original as was possible in a modern high school. That was my goal all along.
So I hope you enjoy my new book, Chemistry, which is available now at Amazon. It will be free on October 30 and 31. The warning Claude gives you in the book description is a real one. This isn’t a pretty story; it’s a tragedy. But if you think you might like to get a modern taste of Claude’s untidied tale—complete with cobwebs, dust, and mildew—please feel free to give my little experiment a look.
And lastly, if you want an excellent soundtrack for reading either Chemistry or Notre-Dame de Paris, I recommend VAST’s self-titled album. I listened to it accidentally the first time I read Notre-Dame de Paris, and I listened to it again while writing Chemistry, just to relive the experience of discovering Hugo’s story for the first time. It’s perfect music for this tragedy. It’s brutal, passionate, primal in a way. I swear some of it came right out of Claude Frollo’s head. I’ve embedded a taste of the album below, probably my favorite song. If you like it, I’d wager you’ll like the rest of the album, too.
I’ve been thinking a lot about vampires. This may have something to do with the fact that I’m watching the first three seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I’d only ever seen from season four on), or it may be that I’m feeling the temporary loss of True Blood (it’s gotten to be a kind of family tradition ’round here). Whatever the reason, I’ve realized something has been bothering me about modern vampires.
I know vampires are folkloric creatures, and it’s kind of ridiculous to grumble over what is and isn’t supposed to happen with “real vampires” (I actually heard that phrase blurted outside the theater after a showing of Blade). I’m probably one of the only people who didn’t love Twilight and yet wasn’t bothered by the sparklepires… vamparkles? I actually thought it was kind of cool that Stephenie Meyer made her version of the undead into a kind of on-land Anglerfish. That’s not sarcasm; I truly thought it was awesome. Anglerfish are scary as hell.
But there’s one common change that actually does bother me, and that’s due to my preference for the old idea that a wooden stake through the heart is not supposed to kill a vampire. I’ll say that again, in case you missed it. A stake through the heart should not kill a vampire. You don’t shoot a toothpick at them and have them melt into a pile of guts. You don’t drop them onto a fence post and have them explode into ashes. It’s not that simple. The stake is only there to hold them down. Remove the stake, and the vampire gets back up and kills your stupid ass.
You may say I’m splitting hairs about this, but let me make a case for it.
There’s one very important thing I love about vampires: they’re the commingled representation of sex and death.
Vampires traditionally seduce and corrupt young “virgins” by exchanging um… fluids with them. And if you don’t think that’s a representation of sexuality, try to remember the last time you heard an on-screen vampire victim scream the way you might if your date suddenly stabbed you in the neck with two pencils. Close your eyes and just imagine it for a second. Two pencils. Getting stabbed into your neck. You’d howl like someone was holding your hand to a red-hot stovetop. You wouldn’t make slight-discomfort-plus-pleasure noises while you were getting bitten. I promise.
But vampires also represent a part of our existence we don’t particularly like to think about: death. And not the lacy, quiet, romantic death you read about in poems. I mean the kind of death you see when you find a dead animal in the road—a shriveled thing that used to be full of movement and thought and decision. You can’t just kill a vampire; it’s already dead. It is death in the flesh—undeath, in other words. All you can do is incapacitate it by tearing it apart.
So all the religious, holy-water, scared-of-crosses nonsense aside, vampires are a folkloric symbol of the ultimate creative act and the ultimate destructive force existing in the same body. They’re the walking, talking circle of life. That’s why it’s important to me that a vampire sleep in its coffin during the day. And when you drive a stake through its heart, you do it so the unholy monster doesn’t get up and kill you while you’re decapitating it.
Our folklore is there to remind us of every aspect of our lives, even those we don’t like to think about. I don’t think a representation of death should be romantic or convenient. It should be terrible, like opening a coffin, finding a corpse, and driving a stake through the heart of someone you loved so they stay dead.
What do you think?
I have this recurring dream. It isn’t a nightmare; it’s actually a lot of fun (except for the one with the corpses, but we won’t talk about that). In the dream, I’m in a house. I head to one room and find that there’s a labyrinth of rooms tucked away behind it. The rooms are usually of increasing size and varying color, theme, and style. Some rooms have whole apartments in them, kitchens and balconies like hotel suites, or small beds all in a line as though laid out for a number of children. Sometimes there are gardens in secret courtyards or hidden treasures in dark corners. In the end the inside of the house turns out to be far bigger than it looked on the outside.
Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus is a lot like that recurring dream. It’s a labyrinth of sets and scenes and characters, each one introduced slowly and with great care. The story is secondary to exploration. Discovery and mysterious whimsy are more vital than characters. It plays out like a new world, all folded up like origami and found in the shape of a book.
For me, Reading The Night Circus was not unlike reading The Monsters of Templeton (without the nightmarish ending). The narrative was rich and full and delicious. But at some point I wanted the book to end, I think because I had the same feeling all the way through. I never became angry or elated for any of the characters. I only ever felt a kind of pleasant dreaminess, which was lovely, but exhausting after a while.
That said, I loved the book overall. It’s not a story to be read so much as experienced. The sights and sounds and smells—the whole flavor of the circus is so vivid, I wished I could have visited it myself. And I did like Marco and Celia and Baily and Poppet and Widget and all the other characters that won me over in the long run.
The Night Circus was a fantastic experience, in the truest sense. And while my sad state of an attention span often struggled with it, I’m glad I read it.