Friday, September 28, 2012

Book Review: The Devil's Metal by Karina Halle

Almost Famous is one of my top-five favorite movies of all time, so when I heard that Karina Halle’s newest book, The Devil’s Metal, tells the 1970s-era story of a young female journalist commissioned by Creem magazine to follow and document a rock band’s latest tour, I knew I had to read it.  But The Devil’s Metal isn’t just Almost Famous…it’s Almost Famous meets a horror-movie version of Faust.  Now if that doesn’t make you want to drop everything and start reading right now, then…well…I really can’t help you!  So the question, of course, is whether The Devil’s Metal lives up to this amazing premise—and the answer is a resounding yes!

As in her popular Experiment in Terror series, Halle writes in a very casual, fun, readable, yet witty and evocative style.  Here our narrator is 21-year-old Dawn Emerson, a strong, intelligent budding music journalist with some major family baggage.  Dawn’s absolute passion for music, her guts and determination, her compassion and loyalty to her family, and her very relatable insecurities all combine to make a heroine you can’t help but root for.

In any book where music plays a large role, it’s absolutely crucial to me that the author describe the music in a way that I can really hear and experience it.  I’m happy to say that as a former music journalist herself, Halle really knows her stuff, and her descriptions of the music shine.  She captures not only the intricacies of the music itself, but the experience of being part of a live rock show, in passages like this one:

There were lights and smoke, from the stage and from the audience, and Robbie and Sage gave the crowd everything they had. They were dueling against each other, pushing themselves for glory, and by that act, pushing each other. They were both winners here with Robbie leaping into the crowd like a soaring Messiah, making love to the microphone pole, telling the world his secrets with the deepest of growls; and Sage slinking along the sides, surging forward to join his equal, then disappearing into the shadows of the stage, giving the audience only a glimpse of his blistering fingers and the incinerating peels of sound he demanded from his guitar.  It was an epic, flawless, tingling-deep-in-my-belly type of show.

Like any good music journalist—or rock musician—though, our narrator doesn’t take herself too seriously, and on the very next page she adds, “It was all the purple prose in the world,” which made me smile.

Halle has also clearly done her research into the 1970s rock scene, and while the band Dawn tours with, Hybrid, is invented, the book is full of real-life musical references.  There’s a visit to Creem magazine headquarters and a run-in with Lester Bangs; a live performance from an up-and-coming Tom Waits; and plenty of mentions of Patti Smith, Lisa Robinson, and Pamela des Barres.  In fact, one thing I really appreciated about the novel was the honest portrayal of women’s place in the 1970s rock culture, including the sexism they faced.  While Almost Famous touched a bit on these issues, as a story seen through the eyes of a teenage boy, it did romanticize the rock scene a bit.  The Devil’s Metal, on the other hand, tells it like it is.  In a particularly powerful scene early in the novel, Dawn is first belittled by the other (male) journalists backstage, and then she retreats to the band’s dressing room, where she finds the male band members’ behavior…well…hard to stomach.  (For the record, I didn’t find it all that bad…or maybe I just read too many rock star biographies.)  Overall, I was really glad that Halle showed the dark side of sex, drugs, and groupie culture as well as the allure.

Now I’m sure everyone is wondering, how does the horror element fit into this?  Can it possibly work?  The fact is that the horror in The Devil’s Metal works very, very well for a few reasons.  First off, Hybrid is a heavy metal band, and Halle really uses the black magic/occult/horror-movie-inspired aspect of metal to her advantage, with many references to Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath.  In addition, the late 60s and 70s marked a HUGE explosion in horror films, as the idealism of the early 60s shifted to the darker economic and political climate of the 70s.  George Romero, John Carpenter, and Wes Craven all debuted in this era, along with classics like The Exorcist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Halle doesn’t refer to any of these movies directly—which I think was a good call—but she definitely references the economic and social climate and its impact on the novel’s characters.  That darkness, combined with the eerie, supernatural, horror-movie-like imagery, infuses the novel with a constant, underlying sense of dread.  I also loved that Halle has Dawn reading a book called Carrie by “some new author”!

The number-one reason the horror works so well, though, is that as in all the best horror movies and books, the scares take their resonance from real-life situations and emotions—situations that are just amplified to a supernatural, metaphorical extreme.  Everyone who’s watched an episode of Behind the Music knows that seeking fame and fortune, especially in the rock-and-roll world, is a bit like selling your soul to the devil.  Most of the issues the band faces—the drummer who was hired out of necessity and doesn’t really fit in, the emotionally unstable female bassist whose band-member boyfriend cheats, the seemingly psychopathic groupies—are very believable, just taken to a newly terrifying level.  In addition, Halle skillfully combines many of the scary scenes with Dawn’s memories of and pain over her mother’s death.  Grounding the supernatural elements in true-to-life emotions makes them feel all the more real, and all the more horrifying.

Of course I can’t end this review without saying something about our love interest, Sage Knightly.  Sage is the ultimate dark, brooding, tortured rock star, and he is HOT.  While Sage is, of course, a handsome guy, it’s his talent and love for music that really makes him attractive.  Sometimes I have a hard time believing the tortured love interest is a real person, rather than an idealized character, but Halle gave Sage enough faults and insecurities to make him feel very real.  In addition, Halle’s writing has a wonderful physicality to it (and I’m not just talking about the sex scenes…) that makes Sage a powerful, authentic presence throughout the book.

As for the ending…I had a sneaking suspicion about something throughout the book, and just when I’d decided I was wrong, the author caught me by surprise!  I also had a how-did-I-not-realize-what-that-meant, smack-myself-on-the-forehead moment, and I always appreciate it when a book does this!  Overall, The Devil’s Metal has a satisfying conclusion…along with the perfect horror-movie ending that sets us up for the sequel.           

Monday, September 24, 2012

Blog Tour!

So you may have noticed the beautiful new banner on the right side of my blog...that's right, Defy the Stars is going on tour!  I've followed book blogs and seen other books go on tour for years (it's kind of like the books are rock stars, isn't it?), but I never would have had the initiative to organize my own blog tour at this point if the wonderful Nereyda from YA Bound hadn't offered to organize one for me!

Now, when Nereyda told me it was a five-day blog tour, I thought that meant one blog per I was shocked when she sent me the schedule last week and I found that 36 BLOGS will be featuring Defy the Stars with either a review or promo post between the 5th and 10th of November!

Seeing my banner up on some of these blogs, knowing the tour will be happening in just a little over a month, just makes the whole publishing experience seem so much more real...

I've just been so thrilled with all the online support from the YA and book blogging community, and I'm so happy that I made the choice to put this book out there on my own!

Now if November could just get here...

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Being an Author in the Digital Age

I actually meant to discuss this topic as part of my “Author/Reviewer Controversy” post a few weeks ago, but since that post was getting a little long, I decided to do it separately.  It’s definitely related though: it’s the internet that allows indie authors to publish and promote themselves, and it also allows traditionally published authors to promote and interact with readers in new ways.  With these opportunities, though, come obligations: it’s pretty much a requirement for authors, whether they’re indie or traditional (or both—I’m hoping to become both myself, and I certainly don’t think they’re mutually exclusive), to blog, tweet, facebook, etc.  And navigating these fairly new digital waters, handling relationships with readers and reviewers, can prove challenging.  Authors make mistakes, which has led to so much of the drama in the book blogging/GR community lately.  Also, some people are just batsh** crazy.  (STGRB, anyone?)

So, anyway, if you’re part of the online book community, particularly the YA community, you already know all this.  What I really want to talk about is my personal experience with blogging so far.  The thing is, I KNOW I need a blog, especially since I don’t have the budget for a professional website right now, but blogging is actually very difficult for me.  (I swear this isn’t a whiny post—I have a point!)  My issues are:

1.       I’m naturally a pretty private person, and I’m not naturally inclined to write about myself several times a week.  Yeah, I know, I can do book reviews, profiles of other authors, writing tips, etc….but all of that still IS writing about me, in a way writing novels is not.
2.       (related to 1) It’s hard for me to come up with interesting stuff to blog about. In fact, I’ve already convinced myself this blog post will put everyone to sleep, but I started writing and I need to blog, so it’s going up!
3.       As much as I think about what I’m blogging before I post it, I’m sure I’ll get foot-in-mouth syndrome at some point.
4.       Writing is draining for me, and rather than blogging I could be working on my manuscript reading awesome books watching Arrested Development.

So that’s why I find blogging difficult, but there’s something else, too, and I know I have a very unpopular preference here: I actually don’t like to read other authors’ blogs.  I LOVE book blogs, but I feel like when I read author’s blogs I get too much of a sense of their personality, and it interferes when I read their work.  At the very least I try to stay away from authors’ blogs and twitter accounts until AFTER I’ve read their books.  And there are a few very high profile YA authors whose voices are so loud on multiple blogs, vlogs, websites, etc. that I really can’t get their voices or faces out of my head while reading their work.  This does make it much harder for me to get into and enjoy the book, especially if it’s a male author writing a female POV or vice versa. 

Now again, I know my opinion is not the norm and that most readers love following author blog/vlogs/etc., and authors love being able to share their opinions online.  I know that I can just stay away from the author blogs, and that they’re doing much more good than harm.  Just wanted to  share my experience—and if there’s anyone else out there who shares this quirk, I’d love to hear in the comments!

So, the (sorta-kinda-does-she-have-one) point of this post…blogging may seem like a chore, and may create potential problems and drama.  HOWEVER, I also think blogging and interacting on twitter and goodreads can be key to avoiding drama, and that’s why I’m ultimately so grateful that I have these opportunities to express myself online.  Authors interact with readers all the time.  It’s a fact.  It’s a different dynamic than movie star/fan (except for JK Rowling and Stephen King, and maybe a few others…).  Therefore, I think both traditionally published and indie authors have a responsibility to use these online resources available to us, and, through them, to show that we are reasonable people who won’t attack readers or reviewers for expressing an opinion.  That we as authors appreciate readers whether they buy our book or not, whether they like it or not, whether they review it or not.  Because without readers, we’d be out a paycheck and a purpose—and that’s more true in the digital age than ever before.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Some Poetry for Your Weekend

I've been working on another interview for a book blogger, and the blogger in question asked me a great question--whether I like poetry and if so, who are some of my favorite poets?  I do like poetry, although I've accepted that I'll never be able to understand what makes some poems worthy of The New Yorker while others aren't...  But that's a whole different discussion.  Anyway, since I was thinking about my favorite poets and happened to be at the library today,  I decided to pick up a few books by one of my favorite contemporary poets, Louise Gluck.  And some of these lines are so beautiful, I just wanted to share...

So here's a little poetry for your weekend.  These are all from Louise Gluck's collection Vita Nova if you want to read more:

from "Vita Nova:"

Surely spring has been returned to me, this time
not as a lover but a messenger of death, yet
it is still spring, it is still meant tenderly.

from "Aubade:"  (title means a song for the dawn--I had to look it up!)

I had two desires: desire
to be safe and desire to feel.  As though
the world were making
a decision against white
because it disdained potential
and wanted in its place substance.

from "The Queen of Carthage:"

Now the Queen of Carthage
will accept suffering as she accepted favor:
to be noticed by the Fates
is some distinction after all.

from "Formaggio:"

The world
was whole because
it shattered.  When it shattered,
then we knew what it was.

It never healed itself.
But in the deep fissures, smaller worlds appeared:
it was a good thing that human beings made them;
human beings know what they need,
better than any god.