Prized by Caragh M. O’Brien

The set-up: Gaia has run away from the Enclave (the story of Book 1 in the series, Birthmarkedfor that review, click here) and now finds herself in another community, Sylum, which is just as twisted as the place she escaped. Twisted in different ways, of course, and plagued by mysterious reproductive problems. (Translation for “reproductive problems”: all kinds of juicy issues that are scintillating yet tastefully handled.)

Main character’s goals: At first, Gaia’s only goal is to care for her baby sister, but as she adjusts to the customs of Sylum, her goal warps into something that even she cannot recognize, and it takes a good (excuse me) verbal bitch-slap from an old favorite to get her back on track. I hope that isn’t too spoilery; I’m being purposefully abstract.

My reaction: Just as impressed with Prized as I was with Birthmarked. I even had to email the author right away to tell her how much I enjoyed it. The prose is beautiful, Gaia’s character arc (and dip and arc) is rewarding, and the pace is quick. It’s the kind of book I’d be proud to say I wrote. Am also relieved that it doesn’t bear similarities to what I have in mind for my own Book 2 (I had some “issues” with Birthmarked; you can read that review – link above –  if you’re curious).

Of interest to writers: Once again, we have an ending that begs for the next book, yet everything is resolved. Please, please please please! everybody follow the rule of wrapping up your story line even when writing a series. O’Brien’s done an excellent job of that with both books. I’m satisfied in a way that leaves me eager for the next installment. It’s a delicate balance, and one we should all strive for.

Second point of interest: Gaia’s antagonist, the Matrarc, was a fascinating character. She totally pissed me off, but even the bad things she did, I could understand, and I could even sympathize with her reasoning. That’s the mark of a good antagonist.

Bottom line: Very satisfying.

To visit Caragh O’Brien’s website, click here.

For my interview of Caragh, click here.

Reminds me of: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.


NiFtY Author Caragh O’Brien

A few weeks ago, I read this excellent book. The first couple of chapters, though, were pure torture, and not for the reasons you might think. The eerie coincidences between the first chapter of this book, Birthmarked, and the first chapter of my own manuscript were so similar it was sickening. (To read my review, click here.)

After I got over my nausea, I really got into the story. Caragh O’Brien has crafted an excellent tale, and in the interview below, she’ll tell us a little about it, and a little about her writing in general.

Interview with Caragh M. O’Brien March 3, 2011

BH: We have a really exciting sequel to look forward to in November, but in the meantime, can you tell us a little bit about Birthmarked here (for those in our audience who haven’t already read my review)?

COB:  Sure.  Let me first say thanks, Beth, for inviting me by.  Your review made me laugh so much when I first read it.  I was completely drawn to your honesty and the awful coincidences between our books.  Birthmarked is the story of Gaia, a teen midwife who is compelled to “advance” babies into a privileged society within a walled city.  In a dystopian future after climate change, Gaia’s society is divided by the wall into haves and have-nots.  Justice is uncompromising, and Gaia spends much of the book trying to save her parents from the Enclave.  It’s a pretty dark, twisted, fun book.

BH: Tell us a little about your path to publication.

COB:  Starting when?  Ha.  The short version is that I wrote a lot, quit to become a teacher, started writing again because I couldn’t help it, and then wrote Birthmarked while I was on a leave of absence from teaching.  I sent out forty-five email queries to agents, received four offers of representation, and ended up with Kirby Kim of William Morris Endeavor.  He sent out the book, and a month later we had three offers.  The best was a three-book deal with Nancy Mercado at Roaring Brook, and I was delighted.

BH: When you wrote Birthmarked, did you plan to create a series?

COB:  No.  I thought Birthmarked was a stand-alone.  When Nan offered me a three-book deal, I discovered it was a trilogy.

BH: Your blog post about Birthmarked being translated and published in Spain is truly inspiring (click here to read it)—even more amazing is that you got to meet Eva Rubio, the woman whose blog and Facebook page started the fire. What can other writers learn from your experience here?

COB: It was such an unusual situation, and I was so fortunate to meet Eva and her friends in Salamanca.  It isn’t the sort of thing I could have ever prepared for.  I suppose it helped that I sometimes do a Google search for my book, and when reviews turn up in other languages, I’m willing to push that translate button to see what’s there.  As you know, I’ll sometimes write to express my thanks to a blogger who posts an outstanding review, and that follows for overseas bloggers, too.  I am genuinely grateful for the kind reviews Birthmarked has received.

BH: What other project ideas do you hope to pursue after the Birthmarked series is finished? (Um, not too many details please…although, what are the chances we’d have another duplicate Agnes birth scene?)

COB:  We are doomed to write identical books no matter what we do, Beth.  I’m pondering three different ideas, all YA, but they’re inchoate at this stage.  I need to finish up a solid draft of Book 3 before I can let my mind go play in a new place.

BH: What does your workspace look like?

Gerbils!

COB:  I have a MacBook on my lap.  Sometimes I sit on the plaid couch in the library where I can see the gerbils, and sometimes I sit on the brown couch in the living room where I can see the slope of the yard.

BH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

COB:  I learned from Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. Other than that, I read a lot of fiction so really everything is a lesson in craft.

BH: What is the best writing advice anyone has given you?

COB:  I’ve been thinking about this lately, actually.  The most important writing advice I received was from Ed Epping, an Art teacher at Williams college, when he told me “Paint only what is interesting to you.”  It freed me.  It redefined what art was supposed to be.  I never again had to waste time on what I thought was unimportant, or if I did, I understood it was an assignment for someone else, not for me.  I can still do boring work for others if I must, but there’s no room for it in my own writing, ever.  On a practical writing level, this means I skip any sentence, paragraph, scene or book that doesn’t interest me.

Thanks again, Beth, for having me by, and good luck with your own writing.

BH: Caragh, thanks for visiting, and for laughing at the sad coincidences between our books. Now that I’m not throwing up about it anymore, I can laugh with you!

To visit Caragh’s website, click here. To check out Birthmarked on Amazon, click here.

Spirit Bound by Richelle Mead

The set-up: After Rose failed to kill her ex-lover, Dimitri, who turned Strigoi (evil vampire) in a previous book, Dimitri sends her creepy-stalker death threat messages. Meanwhile, Rose graduates from the Vampire Academy and goes to the Moroi (nice friendly vampire) Court. From there, everything falls apart. Not the plot, really, although the thread of it winds around, but Rose’s life and handle on the world.

 

Main character’s goals: Rose wants to change Dimitri back from his evil vampire state (think Buffy wanting to save Angel), but failing that, she is determined to kill him (think Buffy wanting to stake Angel).

My reaction: BIG SPOILER HERE, BUT IT ISN’T REALLY A SPOILER BECAUSE THE BOOK DOESN’T EVEN HAVE AN ENDING….Please please please can we just have a beginning, middle, and end in a YA fantasy anymore? Please? I thought this was the last book. Imagine my surprise when instead of a happy ending we are left with Rose about to go to trial for murdering an important Moroi vampire. Imagine the swear words that poured from my mouth in a very un-mommy-like stream. Mmmkay, spoiler over.

Of interest to writers: You CAN write a sequel-begetting ending without cliffhangers. I have seen it done before and done well. Try Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien, for one of my favorite examples, or The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, which I have reviewed here and here, respectively.

Bottom Line: I love Rose Hathaway. She’s tough and gutsy and not afraid to call the Moroi queen a “sanctimonious bitch.” Bella Swan would pee her pants even thinking about doing that.

Second Bottom Line: I have had it with YA fantasies not ending. I am now all about the contemporary fiction. Well, after I read the last in the Vampire Academy series.