On April 13, Stephenie Meyer's first adult novel, The Host, will be released in paperback. Little, Brown has big plans for the new edition, which includes a bonus chapter and a telling "author of the Twilight saga" stamp on the cover. (Check out the handwritten Q&A Meyer did with BookPage when The Host was published in 2008.)
But are Meyer's future projects doomed to be overshadowed by the sparkly vampire juggernaut? Sure, The Host sold more than 2 million copies in hardcover, but the fourth Twilight novel, Breaking Dawn, sold 1.3 million copies in its first day of release.
All that may change when the film version of The Host is released. According to a Little, Brown press release, the movie rights have been "optioned by Nick Wechsler and Steve and Paula Mae Schwartz, the team that produced the film of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Andrew Niccol of Gattaca and The Truman Show will write the script and direct." Meyer has said though she preferred relative unknowns for the film version of Twilight, she'd enjoy seeing actors like Matt Damon, Casey Affleck and Ben Affleck starring in The Host.
Confession: I've read the Twilight saga AND most of The Host, which features body-snatching aliens and, yes, another love triangle. Meyer told Vogue that she sees The Host as a story about body image. "I'm not critical of others, but I am very critical of myself. . . . When I was working on this, I had to imagine what a gift it is to just have a body, and really love it, and that was good for me, I think." She has two sequels mapped out, but no pub date has yet been announced.
Other readers who found the male-female dynamic in Twilight slightly troubling will have even more to chew on with The Host, whose heroine endures actual physical abuse in order to prove her love/loyalty. (You can download a PDF excerpt from The Host by clicking here.) Anyone else read both books? How do you think they compare?
Author (and double Gemini!) Bonnie Hearn Hill launches a new young adult series, Star Crossed, this month. In a guest post, she explains how astrology can help a writer get to know her characters. Share your thoughts on her post in the comments by Friday, April 2, and you'll be entered to win a copy of the first book in the series, Aries Rising.
When I first started trying to write fiction many years ago, I was told by a well meaning teacher that I needed to decide if I was writing action-driven fiction (thrillers), voice-driven fiction (literary) or character-driven fiction. That didn't make sense to me even then. Isn't all memorable fiction character-driven? An intriguing character can save a mediocre plot, but the best plot in the world can't rescue a mediocre character.
Can using astrology help you create memorable characters? I think so. It's helped me, but then I haven't relied on it alone. So you need a proactive protagonist, and you say, "Okay, Aries is the Ram, a Fire sign. That's proactive enough." True, but Aries is not always a finisher. Or you say, "I want an emotional sign, so I'll choose a Water sign like Scorpio." But many Scorpios are too secretive to be proactive. You need to know more about your character than her Sun sign. Much more. That information should come from her.
Some of my writer friends believe in the character charts that ask everything from hair color to family history. Those lists make me feel as if I am taking a multiple-choice test. "Eyes? Blue! Hair? Black!" Although they request all of the pertinent information, the quizzes seem too left-brain to let me create organic characters.
When I began my Star Crossed young adult series, I had to hear the voice of Logan, my protagonist. I asked her to write me a letter. I've done this before when characters elude me. I ask them to write something like: "Dear Bonnie, My name is Logan McRae, and I was born . . . I live in . . . I have no siblings, and my mom spends most of her time on a golf tour. I miss her, but I'm happy she's living her dream. At least that's what my dad and I tell each other. My problem now is . . ."
These letters from my characters are usually five or more pages. Of course, I resist this exercise because I want to do the "real writing," but I know the writing won't be real until I truly know my character. Once I do it, and once I hear my character telling me about her life, I can say, "She's not an Aries. This character is an Earth sign who is willing to work hard for what she wants. She sounds like a Capricorn."
Use all of the tools you have. Start with the character's voice, and then you'll be ready to shade in the rest with astrology. Here's the down and dirty on the different signs. Don't let it limit you, though. As Logan learns in the Star Crossed series, the Sun sign is not the sum of a person's personality.
Fire signs: Aries, Leo, Sagittarius
They get things done. Aries rams. Leo likes attention. Sadge travels and talks.
Earth signs: Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn
They keep things stable. Taurus is stubborn but loyal. Virgo is detail-oriented and sometimes critical. Capricorn works really hard and may worry about money when young.
Air signs: Gemini, Libra, Aquarius
They are the communicators. Gemini spreads the news, often without filtering it. Libra speaks frequently of self as if trying to understand what to do. Aquarius speaks from an intellectual plane and with a desire to do well for all.
Water signs: Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces
These are the emotional signs. Frequently they have difficulty breaking from the past. They can also be supportive friends. Cancer is loyal to family and will destroy anyone who challenges or threatens family members. Scorpio is secretive with unfinished business, and loyal to the end. Pisces is a dreamer who has earned the doormat reputation. He's also one of the most spiritual and creative signs.
A prolific, ambitious and talented writer, Louisa May Alcott was a public figure who nevertheless kept much to herself—so much, in fact, that a large portion of her creative output was not credited to her until decades after her death. In recent years, biographies like Eden's Outcasts and Louisa May Alcott have shed light on Alcott's private life, mining diaries and letters to create a portrait of a passionate, conflicted woman who understood the tradeoffs necessary to pursue a creative life.
In a buzzed-about debut, former English teacher Kelly O'Connor McNees uses the author's life as the foundation for a novel. On sale tomorrow, The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott (Amy Einhorn Books) is set during the summer of 1855, when the 22-year-old Louisa meets a young man who causes her to rethink her future aspirations. (Read our review of the book here.)
McNees took the time to answer a few questions about The Lost Summer from her home in Chicago.
Why Louisa May Alcott? What about her inspired you to tell this story?
While I had always loved Little Women, I never really knew much about Louisa May Alcott herself. A couple years ago I picked up the celebrated and controversial biography written by Martha Saxton, and from the first page I was completely engrossed. Louisa was complex, passionate and very surprising. So many assumptions I had made about her, based on the tone and story of Little Women, turned out to be incorrect. I had always imagined a prim and docile spinster, but Louisa was an activist, loved the theater, worked as a nurse in the Civil War. And she wrote countless stories that were nothing at all like Little Women, under pen names. There was so much more to her than I’d ever imagined, and I began to think about the question of how we should separate Louisa the woman from Louisa the historical icon. Who was she, really? That was where the story began.
As an English teacher, did you ever have the opportunity to teach Alcott?
These days, Little Women isn’t part of a typical middle-school curriculum. So no, I never taught the book. Though I often recommended it for independent reading projects!
In The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, Louisa's (fictional) romance with Joseph Singer ended up inspiring the Jo and Laurie romance in Little Women. Do you see other common themes between Little Women and your novel?
Little Women was intensely autobiographical and Louisa encouraged the comparisons readers made between the novel and her life. She modeled Jo on herself as a young woman and Meg, Beth and Amy on her sisters Anna, Lizzie and May. I tried to make these connections part of my story, but I also tried to examine the many aspects of Louisa’s real life that differed from the idealized world of Little Women. For example, Mr. March is virtually absent from Little Women; in the story he is an army chaplain away at war. This plot point does not parallel an experience in Louisa’s own life. Bronson Alcott was a teacher and philosopher and was very much present in the Alcott girls’ lives.
Biographers have made much of what they cast as Louisa’s choice to exclude her father from the story of her childhood. Saxton argued that Louisa felt so conflicted about her difficult relationship with him that she couldn’t grapple with it on the page. Geraldine Brooks’ magnificent novel March uses the details of Bronson’s life to imagine the missing story of Mr. March. Brooks disagreed with the view that Louisa’s authorial choice stemmed from psychological unrest; for Brooks, this decision was merely a fictional construct that forced the characters of Little Women to grow and change in ways that serviced the story.
I have no real opinion on who is right about this question, only an intense interest in the question itself. It is fascinating and problematic to try to discern 150 years later what Louisa’s intentions may have been. Little Women is a moral tale written for young women; it’s not a surprise that the story is a kinder, gentler version of the complexities of real relationships.
Can you tell us about your first encounter with Louisa May Alcott's work?
I’m not sure how old I was when I first read Little Women. Maybe 12. I think I was especially intrigued by the relationships between the sisters because I don’t have a sister and always wondered what that would have been like. The story always stayed in my mind and I reread the novel every couple of years. The most cynical person in the world can’t help but be charmed by the March family.
But I have to say that Louisa as a writer really came alive for me just a couple years ago when I first read A Long Fatal Love Chase. This is a novel that was not published in her lifetime, not even under a pseudonym, because it was deemed too sensational. (It was finally published in 1995.) It’s about a woman named Rosamond who is seduced by a man who looks and acts very much like the Devil. Soon she uncovers a lie about his past and tries to escape from him, hiding in Italy, France and Germany. He stalks her across Europe—it’s a truly captivating thriller. You can imagine Louisa writing it in one furious and exhausting session, ratcheting up the tension chapter by chapter.
Louisa loved stories of fantasy and danger. You might remember the plays Jo writes and performs with her sisters in Little Women; Jo grows out of her interest in these tales, but I think in her heart, Louisa herself never grew out of them. And something about that fact was very moving to me as I tried to understand her.
You did a lot of research for a work of fiction. What was it like reading Louisa May Alcott's letters and diaries? How did they compare to her fiction?
It was wonderful! After reading several biographies of Louisa, turning to her own words felt like the closest I was ever going to come to having dinner with her (if only!). Her voice in the letters and journals is different from her fictional voice. She is wry and friendly and casual, though still aware that a reader is listening. These documents are fascinating.
Your novel is a work of fiction, but it's based on a real person, who had her own life and her own history. Do you feel that there are certain lines one should not cross when writing this type of fiction, or a certain "code of ethics" that should be observed?
This is an important question, and I’m not sure I have the answer to it, though I’ve thought about it an awful lot. This may seem like an evasion, but it’s important to me for readers to understand that the Louisa in my novel is not the Louisa. She is the Louisa of my imagination. Another writer might have imagined her some other way. With that in mind, I think all a writer can do is try to be true to the spirit of the person who inspired this character and to write with integrity.
What do you hope readers take away from your novel?
As I worked on this novel (which, incidentally, I was sure would never see the light of day), I always told my husband that my greatest hope was just to write a good story. I had no illusion that it was going to be the kind of novel that changes a reader’s life, and I certainly had no intention of trying to compete with other novels written about the Alcotts and their contemporaries, such as March and John Pipkin’s riveting story about Thoreau, The Woodsburner.
My hope is that readers who loved Little Women will take pleasure in this story, will think about that novel in a new way, and will consider, maybe for the first time, the real woman who wrote it.
Find out more about Kelly O'Connor McNees and her debut novel by visiting her website.
But I have to say that I took a little more notice than usual when I read about another awards announcement over the weekend—for the Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year, sponsored by The Bookseller, a British book industry magazine.
Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes by Daina Taimina is apparently the oddest book title of the year, followed by What Kind of Bean is this Chihuahua? by Tara Jansen-Meyer; Collectible Spoons of the Third Reich by James A. Yannes; and other decidedly odd titles. Read the press release here and tell us—what's your favorite odd book title? (There are some gems out there; how about The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification?)
Another weekend, another post about the Masterpiece series on PBS. This week the spotlight is on contemporary British author Bernard Cornwell, who writes several different historical fiction series. Masterpiece Classic is airing a two-part series, Sharpe's Challenge, based on Cornwell's Colonel Sharpe series. Former naval hero Richard Sharpe is sent to India in the early 1800s in search of a missing British agent. It's a tumultuous time for the country, to say the least, and during the course of his search, Sharpe faces Indians who are less than happy with their English colonizers—as well as the seductive wiles of Top Chef's Padma Lakshmi.
The first episode airs Sunday night. Will you watch, or are you more a classic, "bonnets and breeches" costume drama fan? As much as I love series set in the English countryside, those bright saris might be a welcome change of pace. Read more about the Sharpe's Challenge adaptation here.
You can also check out the BookPage review of Cornwell's latest historical novel, The Burning Land.
What posts on book blogs did you enjoy reading this week? A few of my picks are below...
John Warner Tells You What to Read Next
Posted by John Williams on The Second Pass's blog
If you haven't been following the Tournament of Books closely, this post is a good point at which to jump in. Over at online lit publication The Second Pass's blog, John Williams highlights some commentary from the Quarterfinal round, in which Wolf Hall faced off against The Anthologist. The post will make you think about how and why we choose what we read:
The last two books I finished were Sam Lipsyte’s The Ask and Next by James Hynes. I read those because I loved their previous books. Their current ones delivered much the same pleasures as their last efforts. They were every bit as good as I hoped and expected, but I’d already tasted those flavors. Should I be forcing myself to be a bit more adventurous, to turn toward the unexplored territory, to occasionally pick pistachio over mint chocolate chip at Baskin-Robbins?
Okay, so maybe it's a little weird that I'm linking to a post about coloring books, but bear with me. The Taro Gomi coloring books (and books by other artists) that this blogger writes about on Nosuch Book are way more inventive and fun than the generic princess books I used when I was a kid. And even if you don't know a little one who'd be entranced by these doodles, adults are getting in on the action, too: "Playfulness returns with the bright sun and warm breezes of spring. With lots of reminders everywhere to not forget how to be a kid. Want to color with me?"
Books Podcast #70: Books for the Plane Ride
Posted by Books on the Nightstand
Going on a trip any time soon? Michael and Ann at Books on the Nightstand chat about what makes a great airplane book, and agree that a thriller is the best way to pass time on a long flight. What is your favorite airplane book? Share your picks on their blog (and here, too!).
There are plenty of big-name author releases I'm looking forward to this fall (Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, to name one). But a lesser-known British writer, Scarlett Thomas, is also up near the top of that list. Her inventive The End of Mr. Y blended fiction, philosophy and physics to create a fascinating and memorable read. The novel was filled with ideas and had enough plot to carry you through them—I was thinking about it long after the last page was turned.
Our Tragic Universe (HMH), her next novel, seems to have a similar surrealist angle—and a similar, smart-but-down-and-out heroine in Meg Carpenter, a woman caught in a dead-end relationship who's struggling to complete an overdue manuscript. When she takes on a writing assignment to review a book by an author who claims to have discovered a way to live forever, Meg has to wonder—would anyone really want to?
Consulting cosmology and physics, tarot cards, koans (and riddles and jokes), new-age theories of everything, narrative theory, Nietzsche, Baudrillard, and knitting patterns, Meg wends her way through Our Tragic Universe, asking this and many other questions. Does she believe in fairies? In magic? Is she a superbeing? Is she living a storyless story? And what’s the connection between her off-hand suggestion to push a car into a river, a ship in a bottle, a mysterious beast loose on the moor, and the controversial author of The Science of Living Forever?Smart, entrancing, and boiling over with Thomas’s trademark big ideas, Our Tragic Universe is a book about how relationships are created and destroyed, how we can rewrite our futures (if not our histories), and how stories just might save our lives.
There's a new review on our website that will appeal to people who liked Running with Scissors. . . or who are intrigued by families that have 14-bathroom apartments. Or who put hamsters in frying pans.
When I first heard of Wendy Burden's memoir, Dead End Gene Pool, I was skeptical. I reviewed Tad Friend's Cheerful Money in the October edition of BookPage, and I wondered. . . how much is there to say about fallen WASPs? (Friend's ancestors came to America in the 17th century and his father was president of Swarthmore College. Burden's great-great-great-great grandfather was Cornelius Vanderbilt. Both memoirs address the dysfunction in later generations of privileged families.)
I think I'll have to reconsider my position. Although Dead End Gene Pool doesn't hit shelves until April 1, our review is available now online. Nonfiction editor Kate Pritchard called Burden's memoir "darkly funny," writing:
Burden herself is a delightfully strange character, especially as a child, when her fascination with all things morbid was at its peak. (In one episode, she attempts to drive off one of her mother’s suitors by dressing up like Wednesday Addams and trying to cook her pet hamster in a frying pan.)
Sounds like we're not the only ones who've taken notice of this memoir. On Wednesday there was a lengthy write-up about Burden in the New York Times, which includes a slide show of her Portland home. (Note the camel skull on her coffee table.) Penguin also released a video interview with the author which features photos of family members in the book (watch the video after jump).
What do you think—is the WASP memoir a hot genre? Will you read Dead End Gene Pool?
The Romance Writers of America announced the 2010 RITA Award finalists today, and many of the titles are recommended in BookPage by our romance columnist, Christie Ridgway.
Before I get to that, though, we want to give a shout out to Christie for getting not one but two of her own nominations—for Dirty Sexy Knitting and I Still Do. Former BookPage romance columnist Barbara O'Neal is also a finalist for The Lost Recipe for Happiness. Congratulations, ladies!
Click here to view the complete list of finalists. Among the titles covered in BookPage are Fireside by Susan Wiggs (for Contemporary Series) and Laura Lee Guhrke’s With Seduction in Mind (Historical Romance). I was also happy to see that Ally Carter got a nomination for YA romance (I interviewed her in December), and Kristan Higgins got a nod for Too Good to Be True. (We ran an interview with her in February.)
The Awards will be announced on July 31 at the RWA’s National Conference in Nashville, and you can bet there will be BookPage bloggers in attendance to report back on all the fun.
What’s your favorite romance novel?