Friday, September 26, 2014

Cover Reveal & Author Interview: RUNNING AWAY by Julie Hutchings

Today is a very special day.

Approximately six years ago Julie Hutchings started writing what would become her debut novel, Running Home.

Pictured: Fantastic, Unique Achievement
Julie is a phenomenal human being, exemplary mother, and to say she is a talented author is a gross understatement.
Pictured above: My gorgeous friend, Julie
Julie’s debut novel, Running Home, giving you vampires with a Japanese mythology pants kicking is available through Books of the Dead Press. Julie revels in all things Buffy, has a sick need for exotic reptiles, and drinks more coffee than Juan Valdez and his donkey combined, if that donkey is allowed to drink coffee. Julie’s a black belt with an almost inappropriate love for martial arts. And pizza. And Rob Zombie. Julie lives in Plymouth, MA, constantly awaiting thunderstorms with her wildly supportive husband and two magnificent boys.

So imagine how honored I am to have her as a guest on the blog today.

We're here to celebrate the release of the sequel to Julie's first novel Running Home which is entitled Running Away, and reveal the cover!!!

Unfamiliar with Running Home? Here. Educate yourself.

I was (am) one of the first to be critical of "vampire books". Julie didn't write a vampire book. She wrote what those books aspire to be. Rooted in Japanese mythology the Shinigami series is the most original take I've seen on the creature-of-the-night mythos. The woman's words and creativity are treasures.

I asked Julie if she would be amenable to doing an author interview for the cover reveal for Running Away and she was gracious enough to clear out a piece of her schedule for little ol' me.

Without further adieu please welcome Mrs. Julie Hutchings:
Let's just dive right in! Okay so, Running Away is the second part of a trilogy. In the first book you rose above the traditional and trendy vampire formula to create this fantastic mythology and these breathtaking characters - what do you hope the second book accomplishes aside from driving the story forward?

Gah, thank you! I was determined to one up the first book. I really wanted to give you the same level of unexpected, how the hell is she going to get out of this moments but make sure the characters grew powerfully. I didn't want to give more of the same. I wanted to give deeper. Hehehehe

Ah, I don't think anyone here as an objection to giving deeper ;-) What is the most surprising thing you learned while writing Running Away?

That I could make up a man that made me turn my head from Nicholas!
Blasphemy! If I recall, Nicholas looks something like this:

There's no turning your head away from that, but I'll take your word for it.
Being as spoiler-free as possible, what are you most excited about the audience seeing/discovering/experiencing in Running Away?

Ooooooh, I can't wait for everyone to see Eliza change. *zips mouth*
You terrible tease (don't stop!)
From the beginning you knew Ellie's story was going to be a trilogy. How did Running Away evolve from what you initially thought it would be to what it is now?

Oh lord, so much more than I ever thought possible. I had no idea how strong a vampire she was going to become. She's a powerful person, and it makes her a kickass vampire. I also had no idea I was going to wind so much more mythology throughout. I had no idea Kieran was going to EXIST.

Rumor has it that a portion of Running Away takes place in Japan, what did you do to research that aspect of the story? What is the most unexpected or fascinating thing you learned?

The whoooooole thing is there. Oh lord, you name it, I researched it. People thought I was nuts for looking up seasonal fruits of Japan. The train stations and stops. How to behave when you enter a temple. The language, the differences between the trees on different sides of the mountains, I stopped at nothing. I have a notebook full. I loved learning about what a person in mourning is viewed like in a ceremonial temple! I won't tell you, but wow.

The tone of Running Home shifts at the end more toward the Dark and Twisty. How would you describe the overall feel of Running Away? And as a writer, where did this story take you emotionally?

Dangerous. Grim. Unsettling and sexy. This story was important to me because Eliza really takes control and questions her life, seeking answers instead of being at the receiving end of them. It was really difficult to watch Eliza cut her losses and leave New Hampshire, to never fully win, but I'm so proud of her for becoming who she has that it still chokes me up.

What is the one thing you think readers will enjoy most about Running Away? What is something you hope they'll notice?

I really think readers are going to enjoy Kieran as much as I do, and the way he interacts with the other vampires. And I hope people notice the possibility of one or more side stories that might become something more.  

Now THAT makes me sit up and take notice. All eyes are going to be on this mysterious Kieran.
I love the author's personal connection to their characters. Truly these people who exist only in pages and words become every bit as real as each of us. When Eliza looks in the mirror who does she see?

Grim though it may be, death. She sees someone that carries death with her before she sees the person Nicholas fell in love with and the person who will change a race of vampires. But I will say that before the end of this book, the first word that pops into her head when she looks in the mirror is Shinigami.

What is a question you've wanted to answer that hasn't been asked?

"How much money can I give you and will you please take all these reptiles and keep them forever?" My answer is you can give me all your money and I'll take care of you and I'll take all the reptiles to keep forever.

Ha! Keep writing books like this, and you can have all of my money. I'll gladly hand over all the reptiles. *shudders*
The fun question: A Genie appears and offers to grant you three wishes...what do you wish for?

I'm such a jerk, I totally would wish for immortality for me and everybody I love, including you. (This clearly comes with a huge amount of money because of all the years between us and all, so I don't have to eat up a wish on THAT. And YES I would absolutely feed the world and build all the homeless homes and take care of everyone.) I'd wish to be able to fly. And I'd wish for everyone to have one day with a person they never thought they'd meet or never thought they'd see again.
That last wish gives you a perfect insight into this woman's incredible heart. Thank you Julie. There aren't enough superlatives to convey how truly tremendous you are.

Now for the thing you all came to see...

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the COVER for Running Away by Julie Hutchings:

"Eliza Morgan is desperate to escape the horrors of her mortal life and understand why death follows her, leaving only one man, Nicholas French, in its wake. He’s the one she loves, the one she resents, and the one fated to make her legendary among the Shinigami– an ancient order of vampires with a “heroic” duty to kill. He’s also decaying before her eyes, and it’s her fault.

On the ghostlike mountaintop in Japan that the vampires consider home, Eliza will be guided by the all-powerful Master for her transition to Shinigami death god. When Eliza discovers that sacrificing her destiny will save Nicholas, she’s not afraid to defy fate and make it so—even when Nicholas’s salvation kills her slowly with torturous, puzzle-piece visions that beg her to solve them. Both Nicholas and his beloved Master fight her on veering from the path to immortality, but Eliza won’t be talked out of her plan, even if it drives the wedge between Nicholas and her deeper.

Allying with the fiery rebel, Kieran, who does what he wants and encourages her to do the same, and a mysterious deity that only she can see, Eliza must forge her own path through a maze of ancient traditions and rivalries, shameful secrets and dark betrayals to take back the choices denied her and the Shinigami who see her as their savior. To uncover the truth and save her loved ones, Eliza will stop at nothing, including war with fate itself."

At this very moment you can buy both Running Home and the sequel Running Away. You're most likely reading this on your phone or tablet and whaddya know - you can be reading the e-book version of these babies less than 30 seconds from now.

Go ahead and get your read on. I'll wait here.

Until we meet again get to know Julie better:

Julie on Goodreads:


Don’t forget to join in on the book buzz using hashtag #RunningAway

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Thoughts on Censorship from a Sheltered Kid: Banned Books Week

In case you were unaware we are in the middle of Banned Books Week.

We live in a culture that is so full of ire that there is a week where we pay tribute to expensive pieces of time-sucking entertainment that people hate so much that they don't want anyone else - specifically children - to experience it.

I was loathe to write this post because I don't feel like I'm imparting any new or useful information to you, dear reader. I know that if you're reading this then I'm most likely preaching to the choir, or at the very least to the converted.

Alas, I saw THIS today. THIS yesterday. And Many More things in days and weeks prior.

So instead of being a silent, disapproving observer I'm telling you what censorship and everything it entails means to me.

I was a sheltered kid.

My mom was a Momma Bear. I didn't go play in the front yard unsupervised. I didn't walk down the street to play with the neighbor kids. I didn't stay home alone until I was twelve - and even then it was for only two or three hours. I didn't cross the street. I didn't...well, you get the idea.

Indoors. No after school friends. Adult within speaking distance if not within reach at all times.

Mom worked nights, and remember she was a Momma Bear so even my grandparents (who watched me in the evenings/mom's working weekends) abided my Mom's rules Or Else. Everyone in my family obeyed Mom's rules for me. Because...Mom.

Naturally, television and books became my best friends during my formative years.

Strangely enough - considering my career of choice and favorite pastime - no one in my family is a reader. My Nanna (grandmother) reads only on occasion; so maybe one to two books per year. Weird, right?

I can thank R.L. Stine for my nearly religious fervor when it came to reading. At seven years old (second grade) I began devouring GOOSEBUMPS books.

Gore. Dead people trying to kill kids. Monsters chasing kids. Executioners stalking kids with an axe. Kids becoming monsters. Cameras that predict how you die when they take your picture. Ghosts looking for revenge.

Those were all Goosebump books, and by the time I was 9 I had read them all.

Later I started reading the Animorphs books, and the original 14 L. Frank Baum Oz books. But those are easy...those (to my knowledge) are unobjectionable.

When I was 11 I was at the local Books-A-Million and saw THE STAND by Stephen King.

It's a beast of a book. A little over 1100 pages. It was the beginning of the summer, and I was with Mamaw (my great grandmother) and the paperback was $7.99 - fifteen minutes later I walked out with what I didn't know would be one of the greatest books I ever read.

Let's backtrack.

My mother was very young when she had me. I watched all the typical cartoons a kid watched in the late 80's early 90's, and I had a broad selection of Disney films to watch to be sure. But my earliest years while my mom put herself through nursing school we were nearly inseparable. Which meant that oftentimes I watched what she watched because my mother was an adult, and she loved me...and I was almost always within arms reach.

I do remember walking out of my room playing with my toys and Mom leaping in front of the television to block what I now know to be "The Color Purple" from my view.

But I also remember sitting on her lap in our tiny apartment watching what I now know to be "Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors".

My mom shielded me from racism, but not from gore.

While watching "NIghtmare On Elm Street 3" on my mother's lap anytime something spectacularly disgusting was about to happen she would nudge me with her knee and I would turn my head and look at the unicorn picture hanging on the wall next to our front door. It was a tiny 5x7 of a white unicorn up on its hind legs against a dark blue starry background. I would hear screaming then she would nudge me again, and I continued playing with my toys and watching the movie.

I never suffered from nightmares - at all. And to this day I LOVE a good scary movie.

Now I was not allowed to watch "Child's Play" (you may know it as "those Chucky movies") during those early years. I had a My Buddy doll who slept with me...Mom knew where to draw the line. Though what she doesn't know (until she reads this post) is that when we went over to her friend's house to watch the first Child's Play I saw the opening sequence from the hallway. (I have a hint of Sneaky in me.)

I saw John Carpenter's "Halloween" on Halloween night when I was 9. It was the first scary movie that actually scared me. Occasionally I still have a bad dream about being stalked by Michael Myers, but they occur as frequently now as they did then; which is to say once every couple of years.

I was the fourth grader raving about the awesomeness of "Scream" to my friends at school. I had the entire movie memorized by the fifth grade.

Basically I saw every good (and bad) horror movie before I hit junior high.

I remember my mother taking care before letting me watch "Amistad", though.

I didn't see "The Color Purple" until I was 21.

My mother was Excellent at conveying the difference between fantasy and reality. Freddy Krueger, Jason, Michael Myers, Chucky - those classic, bloodthirsty movie monsters were Not Real. Mom said so. They couldn't get me because they weren't real, and Mom said so. I was scared of the dark, of course, but not from the monsters in my closet.

Once I was in bed (with all the lights on - as usual) and on my comforter not eight inches from my face was a cricket.

I let out the shrillest scream.

While I was mid-scream Mom appeared - she didn't "run in", "burst into", or "erupt" she fucking Appeared - in my room wielding a metal baseball bat with a crazy look in her eye.

Then she was furious with me for screaming about a cricket.

But I never worried about a monster in my closet, and Mom was more than a match for anything under the bed.

But racism, hateful violence...those things were real. Those were the things she didn't let me see. I couldn't watch the cartoon G.I. Joe, but I could watch scary movies.

As viscerally as people react to movies like "Insidious" or "The Strangers" that's how I react to "The Help". The courtroom in "Amistad" is a much more harrowing scene for me than Michael Myers stalkng Jamie Lee Curtis through a dark house.

When I read about Ferguson, Missouri I'm more scared of being pulled over by my local police officers than any James Wan film.

We are taught what to fear, and what to hate.

Which brings me to Banned Books Week.

(I hope you enjoyed that tangent.)

We all know Harry Potter turns kids into witches. I mean, duh. It's the most famous and also one of the most challenged so let's get this out of the way...

Church-people hate Harry Potter. I won't call them Christians because I call myself one, and...just No. We'll call them Church-people.

Church-people believe that Harry Potter promotes witchcraft. Plain and simple. Had they a modicum of knowledge of a pagan belief system they would see that it does not. Alas, I don't think anyone who has ever sought to ban Harry Potter has ever read the book. Thus, true to form Church-people perpetuate the stereotype of being biased, unaware, and unreasonable.

Hunger Games. Challenged for its violence. Kids killing kids for sport. Nevermind that these people aren't challenging MMA, Professional Wrestling, or most blockbuster films.

I've noticed Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series challenged because it: "Offends religious sensibilities" - because once an eleven year old - a READING (most likely somewhat intelligent and self-possessed) eleven year old - gets her/his hands on a Percy Jackson book they're going to start....praying to Zeus?

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - written for teenagers and it has sex/masturbating in it. Your teen already knows about sex. You had sex to have your teen. If you have a teenager who does not know about sex or masturbating then your teen is lying to you, or you can expect to be faced with some very interesting/expensive challenges in the next couple of years.

There are many comprehensive lists of books that are banned for one reason or another. Some I guarantee you won't even understand what they could possibly think is wrong...but, hey, 'Merica.

I was a sheltered physically, but my reading was never censored.

I finished THE STAND, IT, THE SHINING, and was about to start reading THE TOMMYKNOCKERS when I saw the film "Interview With the Vampire". I liked the movie so much as soon as I knew it was a book I started reading it. I was 12.

The homoerotic tone of the novel is clear and almost ever-present. As a kid just coming to understand his sexuality, and being the only homosexual in my social sphere, I was very uncomfortable. These characters were saying/doing/feeling things that I was struggling to hide at that time in my life. I was a zealous Church-Person Christian, and I couldn't reconcile my feelings within myself, and within those pages were characters who had sexual feelings similar to mine, and I couldn't get behind them (Ha! Crass pun).
I put the book down.

Animorphs ended, and I picked up K.A. Applegates next series, EVERWORLD. Again, I was 12, or almost thirteen. The first book came with a CD that had one song that sort of represented each of the five main characters. It was all punk/alternative rock to my recollection. I don't remember the songs exactly, but I do remember thinking that if Mom heard me listening to this music she would wonder WTF was going on.

The kids in Everworld cussed, drank, and had sex. NOTHING like my beloved Jake, Rachel, Cassie, Marco and Tobias from Animorphs.

Their behavior made young, Britney/N'Sync/Top 40 hits me uncomfortable.

I stopped reading them.

I expected that behavior when I picked up a Stephen King book. Not when I picked a book out of the colorful, brightly lit, kid's section of a bookstore.

An ugly fact of our world is that not every kid loves to read. I only like to read books that I enjoy! (That is my sideways confession of not reading more than ten pages of GREAT EXPECTATIONS my freshman year of High School. Just. Awful.)

My point is that kids who do read for pleasure are masters at governing themselves. They are already aware of Fiction and Non-Fiction. They know their own limits and what they expect of the characters and stories in the books they choose.

Two years after I put down INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE I picked up QUEEN OF THE DAMNED on Valentine's Day (the movie was coming out, and I thought - 'eh, let's give it a chance'). QUEEN OF THE DAMNED is the best of the Vampire Chronicles (and one of the worst films ever made). It got me to read the rest of that series of books. By then I was almost two years older I was more at peace with myself and had come to certain decisions as to how to handle my life and situation. Thus, reading Anne Rice's immortal man-on-man pseudo-sexual but very romantic love stories between creatures of the night didn't bother me in the slightest.

I loved the world of Everworld. Mythology has been my jam since I was ten. I went back a year later (because then there were kids at my school rumored to have sexual relationships and sneaking drinks from their parent's liquor cabinets) thus the lives of the teenagers in the Everworld books wasn't so deviant from the people I went to school with every day. (Also yes, sex and alcohol was common knowledge - commonplace for some - when I was 13).

I read those things that bothered me when I knew I was old enough to accept and handle them. I was subconsciously aware of my own immaturity, and it wasn't the book or author's fault.

Censoring books doesn't protect your children. Censorship doesn't protect your children. Being alongside them, Fighting for them, Teaching them - Those things protect your children. You raising your kids well protects your children.

If you judge something your child is reading (and they like it) you're judging them. You're saying that part of them, this thing they love, is dirty and unsatisfactory - they need to change.

You could learn why they love it (or hate it). You'll learn things about them that way - trust me, no matter how much you think you know your child - you don't. (How well did your parents know you?)

A reading child is something to be lauded and guided. When you fear the unknown, something different, and you take no care to understand it you pass that willful ignorance on to your child. This world has enough hatred and fear.

If you really feel such passionate hatred for a book (a BOOK of all things!) instead of trying to hide what cannot be hidden, know it, read it, and point out to your child the why and the wherefore you believe what you believe and why they should to.

God help me if that creates another bigot, but at least it'll be a critically thinking one. At least it'll be a somewhat intelligent mind that eventually may open to the world around them.

Perhaps I'm too optimistic.

My theory is that if a proponent of censorship truly tried to understand what book they're so fervently arguing against then we wouldn't have a Banned Books Week. Everyone would shut the hell up and at least say, "hey, we'll agree to disagree".

But limiting a child's freedom - the freedom to read whatever they wish - you're teaching them that it's okay to limit the freedom of others. And worse, you're teaching them that even the most unsound, unreasonable arguments can be legitimized under the umbrella of "for your protection".

As we can see on the news every single day the "for your protection" argument has far-reaching and damning consequences.

So read a Banned Book, especially if you're trying to ban one. One of the best ways to win an argument is to advocate your opponent's point of view first. So do that - if you have a problem with a book read it. Understand why people have an overwhelmingly positive reaction to it, and formulate your opposing position accordingly.....but I sincerely believe that if people did that I wouldn't be up here teetering on a soapbox.

Shut up and read a book.

Until we meet again...