Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Books I've Read: The Getaway


I know...  This isn't the kind of book I usually read.  But something about the cover intrigued me, so I picked it up at the library and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

Set in a dystopian future where sea level rise has wiped out most of the coasts and people are fighting for resources elsewhere, Jay and his family have found refuge in Karloff County.  Karloff is a gated resort for the super-wealthy and to ensure the guests get the best possible experience, a large staff of "helpers" live within the walls to run everything.  Jay's family are helpers and grateful to be there where they don't have to fight for scraps of food and where life feels relatively safe.  

Until Connie, one of Jay's tight group of friends, disappears overnight without a word.  And then a huge influx of the world's richest people start pouring into the resort and not leaving.  And these guests expect even more than the regular guests and are not afraid to use their power to get what they want.  

Desperate to figure out what is going on and why their safe little community has suddenly become decidedly unsafe, Jay and his friends start digging for the truth.  And what they discover is worse than anyone could ever imagine.  Karloff County isn't just a vacation spot - it's been designed to be a bolthole for the world's most powerful, a place to hide while civilization outside the walls crumbles and burns to the ground.

As Jay and his friends uncover horror after horror about the place they've been happy to call home, they have to figure out whether it is more dangerous to leave Karloff County or to stay.

I enjoyed this book far more than I expected to.  Dystopia is not usually my jam, but this world was so preposterous, so over the top, I kind of believed it.  I mean, if the world is ending, why not hide out in a place that's like Disneyland times ten?  If you can afford it...  The characters were well drawn and distinct and I enjoyed trying to figure out what was going on alongside them.

So I'd recommend this one.

But don't just listen to me.  Here's the blurb:  

Welcome to the funnest spot around . . .

Jay is living his best life at Karloff Country, one of the world’s most famous resorts. He’s got his family, his crew, and an incredible after-school job at the property’s main theme park. Life isn’t so great for the rest of the world, but when people come here to vacation, it’s to get away from all that.

As things outside get worse, trouble starts seeping into Karloff. First, Jay’s friend Connie and her family disappear in the middle of the night and no one will talk about it. Then the richest and most powerful families start arriving, only... they aren’t leaving. Unknown to the employees, the resort has been selling shares in an end-of-the-world oasis. The best of the best at the end of days. And in order to deliver the top-notch customer service the wealthy clientele paid for, the employees will be at their total beck and call.

Whether they like it or not.

Yet Karloff Country didn’t count on Jay and his crew--and just how far they’ll go to find out the truth and save themselves. But what’s more dangerous: the monster you know in your home or the unknown nightmare outside the walls?

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Weekly Goals 28-8-23

I have another stupidly busy week this week, so making any writing goals is silly.  Other than getting my next round of edits into my publisher.  As I suspected, more have come back...  Hopefully I can turn those around today.

I have one of those weeks where I'm out every night, so there's just no time for me to work on my own stuff. But maybe in the weekend...

What are your goals this week? 

Friday, August 25, 2023

Celebrate the Small Things 25-8-23


It's the end of the week, so it's time to Celebrate the Small Things...

What am I celebrating this week?

It's the weekend!

I got copyedits through on My Murder Year and have worked through those.  I suspect I'll get another round back because I rejected a few things that I'm pretty sure are in my publisher's style-guide.  I just find them really jarring to read and they ruin the flow of the writing.  So we'll see...

I have a pretty busy weekend planned, so again, not a lot of time to work on those edits to Guide Us.  I think I might have to take a day off work at some point to get through it.  But no point doing that until I know what I want to write.  Hopefully we'll get there soon.

The cats caught a bird yesterday and brought it inside.  It escaped in the kids' bathroom and both cats, plus one from down the street bailed it up in there.  Quite a commotion!  Not what I needed at 7:30 in the morning.  Luckily Lola caught it again and ran out of the bathroom.  I managed to get her to go outside and both the other cats followed.  She then dropped the bird and it flew away.  So it ended well, except maybe for  the cats.

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Books I've read: Someone is Always Watching


This was a weird one.  I really wanted to like it more, but I found it difficult to relate to any of the characters and none of them really felt 100% real to me.  Which may have been the point, on further reflection...

The book is set in a small community in which almost all the parents work for a single company.  Their kids all go to the same school and largely hang out with one another as a big friend group.  Blythe is a good girl, always doing what she should.  Unless Tucker is involved.  He seems to be able to encourage bad behaviour in her, and has been able to since they were small children.  Now they're banned form seeing one another and it's hard because Blythe thinks she might actually be in love with Tucker.

When one of their other friends, Gabrielle, appears to have a breakdown at school, things start getting weird.  Especially when the principal shows up dead and Gabrielle is covered in (his???) blood.  And then there are the weird dreams and memories of things that never happened that keep flashing through Blythe's head.  Is she going as crazy as they say Gabrielle is?  Or is something much more sinister going on?

It probably comes as no surprise that yes, it is something more sinister.  I won't say what though, because that would ruin the book for you....  

I found this a fast-paced read.  There was enough intrigue to keep things interesting and the pages turning.  I enjoyed the focus on memory and the unreliability of it.  I just wished the characters were a little more fleshed out.  They all seemed very privileged, living in this tight community where everyone's parents had a good, stable job and any major problem could be taken care of by someone at the company (which became a little sinister as things began spiralling for Blythe and her friends).

It's not the best book I've ever read, but it was entertaining enough and kept me turning the pages right until the end.

So I'd recommend it if you like thrillers and don't care too much if the characters have layers and depth to them.

But don't just listen to me.  Here's the blurb:

Blythe and her friends—Gabrielle, and brother and sister Tucker and Tanya—have always been a tight friend group, attending a local high school and falling in and out of love with each other. But an act of violence has caused a rift between Blythe and Tucker . . . and unexpected bursts of aggression and disturbing nightmares have started to become more frequent in their lives.

The strange happenings culminate in a shocking event at school: Gabrielle is found covered in blood in front of their deceased principal, with no memory of what happened.

Cracks in their friendship, as well as in their own memories, start appearing, threatening to expose long-forgotten secrets which could change the group’s lives forever. How can Blythe and her friends trust each other when they can’t even trust their own memories?

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Weekly Goals 20-8-23

 Work is so busy at the moment it's hard to make and really substantial goals.  I just don't have the time or energy to achieve them.  I kind of knew this was going to happen so I'm even more frustrated with myself that I didn't get through all the revisions on Guide Us before I went away on holiday. Especially since I have a book coming out in early October and am going to have to switch to promo-mode for that soon.  I probably should have started that now, to be honest...

Why aren't there extra hours in the week?  Or an extra day, just for getting your own shit done.  Would be so useful.

So this week I'm going to continue working through Guide Us to make sure the changes I already made are well bedded in.  I'm hoping this might help me to figure out what I need to write in those extra two chapters I think I need toward the end...

What are your goals this week?

Friday, August 18, 2023

Celebrate the Small Things 18-8-23


It's the end of the week, so it's time to Celebrate the Small Things...

What am I celebrating this week?

It's the weekend!

And boy do I need it!  This week has been nuts.  I threw my back out on Monday (tying my shoe - yeah, I'm getting old), so that wasn't a great start to the week.  It's feeling much better now, but still a little twingey, so I'll be taking things easy for a while.

Work has been super busy and it doesn't look like it's going to calm down much in the near future.  And between my brain travelling at a million miles an hour trying to get through everything I need to do and my back hurting, I haven't slept a lot this week.

So the weekend is very welcome.  I'm going to curb my movie withdrawal symptoms and catch up with some of the mainstream films I missed during the Festival, starting with Barbie and Oppenheimer.  My partner has a client working here all weekend, so it's probably a good idea for me to get out of the house.

I'm working through Guide Us, hoping the changes I made are working.  I'm not hating them so far, although I am wondering if there may be too many party scenes.  Is it too much to have three parties?  I mean, high school kids would probably go to at least three parties in a six-month period, right?  And each is for a different purpose - one is a general rager, one a birthday party for the twins and one the cast party at the end of a show.

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Books I've Read: Wanderers


This is a LOOONG book.  Long enough I had real trouble holding it to read in the bath.  It kind of reminded me a lot of The Stand, but more contemporary.  Very much more contemporary.  Eerily so, to be honest.  This book was published in 2019, so was written well before COVID first reared its ugly little head, yet reading it now, you'd never believe the author hadn't already lived through 2020.  Does Chuck Wendig have a time machine?  An uncanny psychic brain?  Access to his own invention, Black Swan?  

I don't know.  But he sure got a lot of stuff right.

The book starts with a teenage girl, Shana, finding her sister, Nessie,  in the throes of a mysterious affliction.  She walks, seeming without purpose, and can't be stopped.  If she's grabbed, or detained or in any way thwarted in her progress, her temperature rises and she starts swelling.  Obviously Shana lets go.

Soon another walker joins Nessie. The another and another.  Every couple of hours a new one joins what becomes known eventually as "the flock".  Police are called, but when they try to detain one of the walkers, he basically explodes.

Then the medics are called in.  The disease control specialists.  Is this some new plague?  Aided by a seemingly sentient computer called Black Swan, Dr. Benjy Ray gets called in to help.  An infectious disease expert, he's been out of a job for a while after falsifying some data during a previous case.  He's only allowed back in now because for some reason, the AI wants him and only him.

The book wanders with the flock and the disease experts as they traverse the country, following the increasingly large crowd to an unknown destination.  Meanwhile, a small-town priest tries to make sense of what is going on through his own lens and winds up capturing the attention of some white suprematists who are using this strange plague to further their own agenda.

I won't spoil the book for you by telling you exactly what happens, but I found it odd how neatly the plot captured so much about the world COVID left us with.  The way the world has become so divisive.  The growing power of these terrifying right-wing organisations with their guns and sense of superiority.  The fear of disease and attendant fear of other people.  The government's seeming unwillingness to do something before it was too late.

Like I said, did the author travel through time?

I enjoyed this book, even though I felt like it meandered a bit.  I didn't mind that though because it really captured the daily boredom of following something like this.  The doggedness of wanting to know what's going on, but being unable to make sense of any of it.  The way humanity can be at both its best and its worst simultaneously.

So I'd recommend it.  

But don't just listen to me.  Here's the blurb:

Shana wakes up one morning to discover her little sister in the grip of a strange malady. She appears to be sleepwalking. She cannot talk and cannot be woken up. And she is heading with inexorable determination to a destination that only she knows. But Shana and her sister are not alone. Soon they are joined by a flock of sleepwalkers from across America, on the same mysterious journey. And like Shana, there are other "shepherds" who follow the flock to protect their friends and family on the long dark road ahead.

For as the sleepwalking phenomenon awakens terror and violence in America, the real danger may not be the epidemic but the fear of it. With society collapsing all around them--and an ultraviolent militia threatening to exterminate them--the fate of the sleepwalkers depends on unraveling the mystery behind the epidemic. The terrifying secret will either tear the nation apart--or bring the survivors together to remake a shattered world.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Weekly Goals 14-8-23

 The film festival finished last night so my writing break is now over.  This week I want to get back into editing Guide Us. I think as a first step I need to read through what I've done to make sure it works, and then I may be able to figure out what needs to happen in those two extra chapters I have to write.  Hopefully, anyway...

So what were the last few days of the Festival like?  Great, actually!  

Subject: A fascinating documentary about documentary subjects.  The film focused on three or four people from relatively well known docos, diving into their experiences of making the films and the aftermath of having being a part of them.  At the same time the film dove into some questions of ethics and responsibility regarding the subjects.  It was really interesting and made me realise just how many docos I've seen over the years - there were only about three o four referenced in the film I hadn't seen!

Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret:  My colleague and I both grew up on Judy Blume books and when we saw that this was going to screen as part of the Festival, we jumped at the chance to see it.  Very sweet, very wholesome and very close to the original book.  Judy Blue even has a sneaky cameo as one of Margaret's New Jersey neighbours.  Enjoyed it very much. It was interesting to contrast this with Tiger Stripes that I saw earlier in the week.  Both about pubescent girls dealing with their changing bodies.  Both coming to the conclusion twelve-year-old girls are diabolical...

Theatre Camp: My inner high school theatre geek rose to the surface seeing this one.  It's a rockumentary about a summer camp for talented theatre kids.  When the camp founder winds up in a coma after an unfortunate school musical related accident, her son is forced to take on running the camp.  With no experience, this narcissistic, self proclaimed business entrepreneur looks set to run the camp into the ground.  But the loyal team who teach there, and the kids themselves, might just manage to save it.  Funny, sweet and so true to every theatre programme I've ever been to (and there were many... so, so many) I loved this one.

Fallen Leaves: A Finnish film from one of my favourite directors, Aki Kurismaki.  Like most of his films, the characters are largely deadpan and entirely understated as they navigate the often bleak world in which they live.  Yet somehow, amongst the job losses, poverty, heavy drinking and scrambling just to make ends meet, two characters find each other and fall in love.  The perfect way to end the festival!

Back to usual programming from here.  And now I'll finally be able to go and see Barbie and Oppenheimer (and Asteroid City).

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Celebrate the Small Things 11-8-23


It's the end of the week, so it's time to Celebrate the Small things...

What am I celebrating this week?

It's the weekend!

And boy do I need it!  It has been a crazy week (again).  I should probably stop saying that since I think it's going to be nuts from now until the big Arts Festival finishes in mid-March next year.  

The Film Festival finishes this weekend and I have four films left to go to, all of which I am very much looking forward to.  Verdict to come on Monday...

And what have I seen this week?

Actually, not a whole lot.  As I mentioned, work has been very busy and I've had a couple of functions I've had to work on instead of going to films.  But I have seen two.

Kim's Video: A doco about an iconic video store in New York that closed when streaming took over.  This was no ordinary video store - its collection was huge and filled with stuff you couldn't find anywhere else.  So the owner wanted to find somewhere for the collection live and continue to be enjoyed.  There were a few options, but the best seemed to be a small town in Sicily that was looking to reinvent itself in the wake of an earthquake.  But when the filmmakers headed to Salerni to see what had become of the collection, things got weird.  And then even more weird.  This is exactly the kind of doco I love - a story so strange, it can only be true!

Tiger Stripes: A horror movie from Malaysia in which a pubescent girl basically turns into a demon when she gets her period.  Very enjoyable even if the premise is more truth than metaphor.  I mean, what teenage girl doesn't turn into a demon?  At least for a few months/years.

As I do every year, I'm going to miss the Festival, but it will be nice to get a few more of my evenings back to do other things.  I may even get back to work on revising Guide Us.  No, I will get back to revising Guide Us.

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Books I've Read: Forget me Not

This was a sweet book.  I picked it up because of the Eternal Sunshine reference in the description.

Stevie and Nora are madly in love.  That kind of do or die love that only seems to happen when you're a teeneager.  They live in a small town where they don't feel like they can live their love out loud.  So as soon as graduation is behind them, they're planning to blow town and start their real lives in California.

But then Stevie has a fall and wakes up with no memory of the past two years.  She doesn't even know who Nora is, other than the girl who found her and got her to the hospital. 

Stuck in a world where she's living in memories of herself at fifteen, Stevie struggles to figure out who she'd become as she discovers she'd abandoned her long-time friends, become estranged from her parents and has a crush on the boy working at the diner.  None of this feels right to her, and the only person she's able to find comfort with is Nora, a stranger.

As Stevie struggles to reconcile her past and future selves, Nora has to face a world in which her true love has forgotten her and may never remember their love.  But as the pair spend more time together, the same spark ignites between them.  Will their love follow the same path this time?

I enjoyed this book because I'm fascinated by memory and its subjective nature and fragility. The idea of losing two years of life is terrifying, but also so intriguing.  Imagine being two years older, but having no idea what happened in those two years?

I enjoyed this, especially the way the two girls managed to reconnect, as if fate or some external force meant for them to be together.  And how differently they handled the relationship the second time around. 

So, I'd recommend this one.  It's not life changing, but it is certainly intriguing.

But don't just listen to me.  here's the blurb: 

Perfect for fans of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Five Feet Apart , this tender solo debut by the coauthor of New York Times bestseller She Gets the Girl is a romantic ode to the strength of love and the power of choosing each other, against odds and obstacles, again and again.

What would you do if you forgot the love of your life ever even existed?

Stevie and Nora had a love. A secret, epic, once-in-a-lifetime kind of love. They also had a to leave their small, ultra-conservative town and families behind after graduation and move to California, where they could finally stop hiding that love.

But then Stevie has a terrible fall. And when she comes to, she can remember nothing of the last two years—not California, not coming to terms with her sexuality, not even Nora. Suddenly, Stevie finds herself in a life she doesn’t quite understand, one where she’s estranged from her parents, drifting away from her friends, lying about the hours she works, dating a boy she can’t remember crushing on, and headed towards a future that isn’t at all what her fifteen-year-old self would have envisioned.

And Nora finds herself…forgotten. Can the two beat the odds a second time and find their way back together when “together” itself is just a lost memory?

Sunday, August 6, 2023

Weekly Goals 7-8-23

 The film festival is still going for another week, so I'm not setting myself any writing goals - I know I won't meet them!

So what have I seen since we last met?

Bad Behaviour: A New Zealand film made by Alice Englort (Jane Campion's daughter) about a mother and daughter reconnecting and the absurdity of wellness retreats.  It's not the easiest film and tonally it's a little all over the place, but Alice is definitely a filmmaker to watch as this is a very ambitious and promising debut.  

The Delinquents: An Argentinian film about the lowest key bank robbery in history.  My Festival low-light at this point.  A very long, tedious 3 hours after the promising set up.  The film seemed to lose sight of what story it was telling and ended up being almost incomprehensible.  Especially a long, drawn out flashback section that re-told part of the story we'd already seen in a different way.  Don't recommend...

Detour: A classic film noir from 1945 featuring possibly the most manipulative and obnoxious femme fatale of all time.  I thought I may have seen this before, and I definitely had, but it was certainly worth another look.  I just wish it had been a little longer and the ending didn't feel so tacked on and perfunctory.

Ennio: A wonderful documentary about Ennio Morricone, the film composer whose prolific career saw him create memorable scores for over 500 films - not just those Serio Leone Westerns he's best known for.  Directed by Giuseppe Tonatore whose Cinema Paradiso was scored by Morricone, this film was engrossing from start to finish and gave me a whole new appreciation for the art of scoring films.  Not to mention telling me a lot about Morricone as a man as well as a composer.  Recommend!

I have a pretty light week ahead due to work commitments, but have a busy final weekend ahead.  Will report back.

What are your goals this week?

Friday, August 4, 2023

Cover Reveal - My Murder Year

 It's that time....

I have a new book coming out on 6 October and I can finally reveal the cover to you!

Pretty isn't it?

But what is My Murder Year about?

Seventeen-year-old Stas Nonu has nothing more to worry about than looking like an oversized pumpkin in the bridesmaid dress her mother picked out for her wedding to her long-time partner, Mama K.  Her father’s newfound religious beliefs are annoying and starting to cramp her style, but nothing to be really concerned about.  Besides, Zane, the new guy she met at that party is way more interesting.

When Stas finds her mother’s dead body in a pool of blood, and evidence points to her father as the murderer, she realizes how uncomplicated things were before. 

Especially when two aunts she’s never met fly from her mother’s native Russia and start talking about her coming to live with them.  Then her father’s brother shows up with his own reasons for why Stas should live with him.

Unable to face the tug of war between her relatives, or the devastating effect it’s having on her beloved Mama K, Stas turns to Zane for comfort. But their increasing closeness is not enough to allow Stas to escape the reality of her fractured family.

If Stas can’t figure out a way to prove Mama K is as much her mother as the woman who gave birth to her, she might find herself banished to Siberia.  Or somewhere even worse.

My Murder Year will be out on 6 October and is available for pre-order now!

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Celebrate the Small Things 4-8-23


It's the end of the week, so it's time to Celebrate the Small things...

What am I celebrating this week?

It's the weekend!

It has been a really, really busy week at work, and I've had films to go to almost every night too.  

The Film Festival has been pretty good so far although I haven't seen anything absolutely life changing yet.  But there are still more films left!

So what have I seen since we last met?

I Like Movies: a really sweet Canadian film about a kid who really, really likes movies and what happens when he gets a job at the local video store.  I suspect I was a little bit like this kid myself as a teen...  

I Am Alfred Hitchcock: A doco about Hitch by Mark Cousins.  It purported to be in Hitchcock's own words, but obviously wasn't.  The guy whose voice narrated it was a little annoying and the whole film was a little too long for me, but it was an interesting way to look at the master's films across six themes.  The dude was prolific, that's for sure!  I thought I'd seen a lot of Hitchcock films, but there was stuff referenced there I'd never even heard of.

Perfect Days: My favourite film of the Festival so far.  A very quiet film by Wim Wenders (whose films I've loved for decades) about a toilet cleaner in Tokyo and the very small moment that make up his life.  I have a reverence for those little, everyday moments and this was an entire film made up of them as well as showing how even small changes to to routine can be major life events.

More on Monday. I'm seeing four more over the weekend.

What are you celebrating this week?

Oh!  And come back tomorrow.  I'll be revealing the cover of my new book!

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

IWSG August

 It's the first Wednesday of the month, so it's time for the Insecure Writers Support Group!

The awesome co-hosts for the August 2 posting of the IWSG are Kate Larkindale (that's me!!!), Diane Burton, Janet Alcorn, and Shannon Lawrence!

This month's question is a goodie!

Have you ever written something that afterwards you felt conflicted about? If so, did you let it stay how it was, take it out, or rewrite it?

This is something that often happens to me.  Because I don't plot my stories much, my characters lead the way as I write and they often do or say things that when I go back and read the book, maybe don't sit quite right with me for some reason.  For example, in Standing Too Close, my 17-year-old protagonist has a sexual relationship with a much older woman.  I didn't plan it that way, but as I wrote the story, it happened.  And it made me uncomfortable, especially since she was a teacher.

I thought about re-writing that section of the book to take that aspect out of the story, but it didn't really work.  As an abused kid, my MC has a lot of confused ideas about love and intimacy and what all those things mean, and a big part of his journey toward adulthood is learning the difference.  Without that section of the book, the rest of his growth as a character just didn't work. So I've left it in.  For now.  Who knows what might happen if this book ever gets picked up for publication...

I was conflicted about so many things when I wrote Stumped.  A book about teenage sex and disability? The entire concept is controversial and there was no way I could shy away from things that might make readers uncomfortable.  There's one scene in particular that's so outrageous I really wasn't sure I could keep it in the book without losing readers. But it was so in character for my protagonist, Ozzy, that I just had to leave it in! So I did.  And strangely, it's not the scene that most people comment on.

But there are other things I have taken out of books because I felt conflicted by them.  When I wrote An Unstill Life, my first few drafts had a very different family dynamic with a lot of the things that Livvie ended up doing herself being done by an older brother.  I loved him as a character, but his presence in the story was a barrier for the other characters, so I reluctantly wrote him out, even though I was conflicted about whether this was the right choice.  And the book is better for it.  I just wish I'd found another story for him because he really was a great character. Maybe someday...

Overall, I think there are always going to be things you write that you're conflicted about.  But as long as whatever they are, they're consistent with the characters you've written, I think you owe your character the right to do them.  Especially if they're important to the character's arc.  Even though Blue and Jude's relationship in Standing Too Close still makes me feel uncomfortable, I know it's a part of the man he becomes, and that without that, he wouldn't make some of the more mature decisions he makes later in the book.

How do you deal with things you write that make you feel conflicted?