Author Guest Post: Jennifer Archer, Author of Through Her Eyes

 Hello, everyone! Thanks to Mrs. DeRaps for inviting me to talk about my novel Through Her Eyes that will be in bookstores on April 5th.

Through Her Eyes was a lot of fun to write for many reasons, one of them being that the main character, Tansy, is the daughter of a horror writer. Tansy’s mom, Millie, writes under the pseudonym Millicent Moon, and Tansy describes her as “the female version of Stephen King, minus the mega bucks and movie deals.”  

When the idea for this story started brewing in my mind, I knew I wanted Tansy’s mother to be a writer, partially because I wanted to step into Tansy’s skin and experience vicariously what it might be like for my kids to have me for a mom! Children of writers have to put up with having a parent whose mind is always “in the clouds,” a parent who stays up into the wee hours of the morning working, or who rises hours before the sun to start banging away on a laptop. They have to put up with their friends’ teasing about “Mom’s embarrassing book covers.” (At least my kids did. I wrote romance novels for a while early in my career, so I had a cover or two that my sons wished they could hide from their friends!)

Through Her Eyes is a ghost story, so having Millie write horror seemed a natural fit. Besides, I’ve always been intrigued by the workings of a horror writer’s mind. For example, I used to think that Stephen King was brilliant, but that he must also be a tiny bit mentally disturbed to come up with the stories he does! Then I read his book On Writing, and although I still think he’s brilliant, I also think he’s a perfectly sane, extremely loving family man, who is incredibly wise. Why did I ever think anything else? As I said, I used to write romance novels, but that doesn’t mean I’m a hopeless romantic. (A romantic, perhaps, but not a hopeless!)

Tansy struggles with that same preconception – people believing her mom is a nutcase because of what she does for a living. She also struggles with embarrassment over the covers of the novels, and some of the titles completely mortify her. Tears of Blood and The Screaming Meemies, for instance. Tansy has to deal with a bit of teasing from classmates, too. One guy at her new school nicknames her “Zombie Girl,” because zombies play leading roles in most of her mom’s books.

I enjoy scary books, and I really love spine-chilling movies, as well; not so much the slash and dash kind, but the sort with a ripple of psychological suspense in them. The sort of movies and stories that don’t just terrify the audience, but make us think and question and try to figure out what’s going on. Books and movies in the genre that I’ve loved probably influenced me, at least in a small way, to make Tansy’s mom a horror novelist. During my twenties, I went on a Stephen King and Dean Koontz book binge, and I still read their novels from time to time; they’re the kings of the genre, in my opinion. If I’m in the mood for a horror novel with writing that’s a bit more on the lush side, I often turn to the writer I consider the queen of the genre – Ann Rice. Her novel The Mummy is a particular favorite.  Of course, the YA market also has many great horror titles, and in these my taste also tends to run more toward the psychologically creepy more than to vampires, werewolves and such, although I enjoy a good story in that vein, too. Some of my YA favorites are older titles, and a few of them are marketed to readers even younger than the typical YA booklover. I particularly enjoyed Coraline, by Neil Gaiman; The Folk Keeper, by Franny Billingsly; and Jade Green, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Owl in Love, by Patrice Kindl is also very unique and intriguing – it’s humorous as well as creepy, and it might very well have been the first shape-shifter novel.

As for movies that influenced me, my favorite chill-raisers are The Mothman Prophecies, Identity, and The Sixth Sense. Oh, and Shadow of the Vampire, which came out in 2000 is by far one of the creepiest movies I’ve ever seen! 

I hope readers of Through Her Eyes will experience a few chills of the same sort these wonderful books and movies induced in me! I invite you to stop by my website and my blog to check out the  book trailer and other information about Through Her Eyes, as well as my other novels.

Book Review: Sweetly by Jackson Pearce

Jackson Pearce's newest novel, due out in August, retells the classic tale of Hansel and Gretel. Rather than two young children lost in the woods after their evil stepmother forces them out of their home, this is the story of Ansel and Gretchen. They have been kicked out of their family home, but these characters are teenagers on a road trip to find a new life. When their car breaks down in the town of Live Oak, South Carolina, they are directed to a sweet shop to look for work.

Sophia Kelly, a mysterious but kind girl, owns the shop and finds lots and lots of odd jobs for Ansel to help out with. Ansel and Gretchen lose track of time and the weeks roll on. Being so close to the woods, Gretchen can't help but be reminded of the twin sister she lost when she was little. This sister was taken by a witch and never seen again.

Gretchen is determined to be ready to fight off a witch the next time she sees one. But, there seems to be other dangers crawling around Live Oak, and in the house she's staying at. There are lots of unexplained disappearances of teen girls and Sophia Kelly seems to be to blame. When Gretchen discovers that Sophia id hiding lots of information from Gretchen and her brother, the entire ruse starts to unravel.
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There are some fairy tale re-tellings that work rather well, and there are others that don't. There were some aspects of this story that I enjoyed, and I did read it to the end to figure out what would happen, but there was just too little in common with the original to make this story appealing to me. 

At times, Sweetly almost felt like a whole other tale. I was dismayed that the elements that I loved in the original Hansel and Gretel are nowhere to be found in this adaptation.  That said, there are some merits to this story. I enjoyed the fact that Gretchen and Ansel are teenagers, that the "witch" is about their same age, and I liked the setting of a candy shop rather than a house made of candy. 

Also, in the original tale, Gretel outsmarts the old witch and in this story, Gretchen is definitely the heroine. She was definitely my favorite character. 

I wish that I could gush and rave about this book. I really, really wanted to love it. I will continue to read Jackson Pearce's books and fairy tales re-told. I open to re-tellings of old favorites, even if they are not as close to the original as I would've liked!

**ARC received from Book It Forward ARC Tours**

Character Interview: Melissa from Cris Beam's I AM J

Cris Beam's I Am J tells the story of "J," originally called Jennifer. Ever since he can remember, J has felt out of place in his own body. Because of this disconnect, J goes to great lengths to alter his appearance so that he will feel and be seen as a male.

Anyone who knows anyone who identifies as transgendered and anyone who'd like to know more about this experience should read this book. This interview takes place between myself and J's best friend, Melissa. She's a super spunky and complex character herself. Here's what she had to say:

When you first met J, you were much younger and taking a photography class with him. The teacher is refusing to call J anything but Jennifer. You step in and defend him even though you don’t know him. Why do this?

Oh my god, I totally remember that day! That teacher was a fool, and so uptight! Here was J, the new kid, looking completely embarrassed, and I couldn’t stand it. I mean, I’m for civil rights. My mom taught me about that when I was like five years old: nobody gets to tell you who you are. I think it’s because I’m biracial. My mom’s pretty intense, but she practically drilled that into my head.

After meeting J, you offer him a Picasso quotation: “Art is a lie that tells the truth.” What truth are you trying to tell with your dancing?

I love that quote!!!! I don’t think I’m any more “true” than when I’m dancing; it’s like I can say things with my body that I can’t say in words, even though I talk a lot. For me, dancing cuts below the bullshit, because it moves impulsively at first; it’s not trying to prove anything, the way I am when I express myself in other ways. But it’s also a lie, because what you see in dance may not be what I’m expressing exactly, but there in that seeing is a different kind of truth. There are so many layers! Oh, I can’t say it right. Just come see me dance!  

Though J is the primary focus of this story, you have a lot going on in your life. Why do you cut yourself? J brings it up a lot in conversations with you. Does that bother you or does it help to talk about it?

I don’t cut anymore, but yeah, I used to. And it used to drive me insane the way J would constantly bring it up like it was nothing. I think he thought I was doing it to get attention, but now I recognize that he was worried. I cut because it brought me relief: sometimes all the crazy thoughts in my head would get so intense, the only thing that would make it better was this direct and focused pain. It’s not really logical when you think about it in one way, but it made some kind of sense when I was really suffering. And yeah, now it does help to talk about it, but I have to talk about it with the right people. I go to a group. And sometimes now, when I think about cutting, I’ll do something like put an ice cube on my wrist until it really hurts. That stops the thoughts, and I don’t do any real damage.  

You and J have a back and forth relationship, but underneath your bickering there seems to be a deep respect between the two of you. Why do you think this is?

Well, J is my best friend, and I think he always will be. I would probably marry the guy, if he didn’t stuff his emotions so much! Seriously, underneath all that stuffing, J is really patient. I’ve lost friends over the years because of my temper and my big mouth: I always say what I think, even if I haven’t thought about it first. J has always weathered my storms, and he’s always stood by me. He’s very loyal, and I have a lot of respect for that. I think for J maybe, I help bring him out of his shell. At least I like to think I do.

I loved your performance at the end of the book. Without giving too much away for those who haven’t read this book yet, where did you get the strength to perform this “threshold” piece?

I don’t know if that dance was strength—or desperation. That dance came at a really bad time in my life. J had already started hormones, he was going to get into college and move away—I just knew that would happen—he had this big world ahead of him and mine was closing down. I was going to finish high school and I had screwed up my college applications. Plus, my mom was gone all the time and wasn’t paying any attention to me. Nobody was paying attention to me. I was going to be a dried-up dancer at eighteen. Or that’s what I thought. I had this big pain inside that I couldn’t talk about, so my only option was to dance it in front of everybody.   

At the end of this story, we know what happens to J, but I’m not quite sure that I know where your story is going. Everything okay with you?

Yeah, I’m really good! I have a new group of friends from my support group, and I’ve been doing some speaking at high schools for kids who cut. I’ve started taking salsa classes which is weird because I thought I only liked modern dance and especially solos, but there’s something really beautiful about partner dancing and, as my teacher says, “learning to yield.” I have a crush on this guy in my class who’s blind, and I want to ask him to teach me how to read Braille, because I have this idea about choreographing a dance to raised dots on the floor. I’m going to reapply for college in the fall, but until then, I’m just taking the days as they come and appreciating the good things in my life. Like this interview. Thanks for talking with me!

Thanks for the conversation, Melissa!

For more information and a complete list of the stops on this book tour, 
please visit The Teen Book Scene!

Audio Book Review: Radiance by Alyson Noel

Radiance is a middle grade story that deals with a topic that is hard to broach with this age group: death. It can be difficult to talk about death with children, particularly in cases where the person who dies is very close to a child or where the person who dies is very young.

The main character of this story, Riley (only twelve years old), has just died along with her parents and dog. She references her life on the "Earth Plane" briefly, but does not appear to dwell on his previous life too much. Instead, her days are filled with Here and Now. She has the ability to manifest whatever she desires--clothes, money, food, excitement and entertainment. But, the novelty of this ability does not last long. Quickly, she looks for something to do. And it's not long before the The Council comes looking for her to give her a job.

She's paired with Bodhie, a teen whom she describes as "dorky," but who seems to have been cool at one time. Bodhie takes everything a little too seriously for Riley's taste, and she spares no time in telling him just how lame he is. Their conflict feels more like a sibling rivalry than a thinly disguised flirtation, which is nice in a middle grade story.

On their first mission together as "Soul Catchers,"where they try to convince souls who have remained on the Earth Plane to cross over to the other side. Riley's first assignment is one no other Soul Catcher has been able to crack, despite hundreds of attempts. Lucky for her, it involves spirits of the annoying ten year-old boy variety, a demographic she's dealt with extensively on the Earth Plane. I won't tell you what happens, but it is one of my favorite scenes!

I don't always love to read middle grade novels, but this audio book appealed to me because of the subject matter and its relevance to my life right now. My mother-in-law just passed away on Wednesday after a long battle with a variety of cancers. I listened to this book thinking that it might be of some comfort to the pre-teen nieces in my family. I think that, once they've had time to deal with their grandmother's passing, they will find solace in a vision of heaven where the elderly get to pursue all of their interests and dreams.

The reader for this novel is Kathleen McInerney and she does a wonderful job. It must be hard to find a reader who can capture the spirit and energy of a twelve year-old, but McInerney does it well. Also, this book is a quick listen at less than four hours. I can see this book being a staple of middle school libraries. I bet middle grade readers will identify with Riley and maybe even relate to some of what she goes through in the book.

Narrator: Kathleen McInerney
Length: 3 hours and 55 mins

**This audio book counts toward my participation in the 2011 Audio Book Challenge from Teresa's Reading Corner and Whisper Stories in My Ear Audio Book Challenge**