Wednesday, November 19, 2014

So I hear you like Taylor Swift's 1989

I preface this with full disclosure that I have a significant fondness for Taylor Swift albums from Speak Now onwards. Her trajectory into pop music is a welcome change, because it's musical growth—even it looks lateral.

The thing to understand about country music, as a narrative genre, is that it's one inch deep at best. Also, it's tropes have become hyper-defensive of being ignorant. (I grew up listening to a lot of country music. It used to be more about narrative and less about Shut Up, Ladies, And Get Me A Beer.)

The best country music has got at troupe push-back is Girl In A Country Song. But that's about as far as the conversation has gotten.


This is context, so we understand where Taylor Swift is coming from. It's not a complex story-place. But what you can hear in Taylor Swift songs is her musical arrangements over the years have become increasingly varied. Why would she stay in a genre that isn't interested in trying new things?

She's trying things. She's growing. And her listeners are growing with her. Also, I dare you to watch the video for Blank Space and claim Taylor Swift isn't self-aware. Not only self-aware but speaking back to what is being said about her. (I love Blank Space because it can be a song about something being exactly what it is and not asking it to be something else.)



When I heard Shake It Off, her first single from 1989, my heart did a little leap in my chest. Taylor Swift was going to do synthpop. Taylor Swift was going to introduce 5000000000000 people to the glories of synthpop. Also, I proceeded to listen to Shake It Off 80 billion times because of that bass saxophone that's dancing along in the background of the song.


1989 is a gateway drug an accessible introduction to what I call synthpop and other people probably call something else. This is a blog post about whom to listen to next after your friends stage an intervention because you are tweeting about going through withdrawals if you don't listen to 1989 each day.

If you can't explain why you love 1989 other than it put joy in your heart. There's just something about it. You want something similar, something that will also feel familiar quickly and make you want to dance and sing along.

It is my pleasure to introduce you to Little Daylight. BEHOLD.



Little Daylight are from Brooklyn, and they draw their narrative influences from fairy tales which gives their album a great balance of sweet, synth and bass goodness with some darkness lurking beneath the surface. I've loved them since I saw them open for Bastille last year at the Phoenix. Any band that can get a Toronto crowd moving is working magic.

Their EP Tunnel Vision was about as perfect a thing for you as could exist until earlier this year when they put out their album. Go get Hello Memory. You can thank me later.


You have Bastille's Bad Blood, right? SO DO I. WE SHOULD BE FRIENDS. (ahem) Bad Blood is harder to love than 1989 on first listen because Bad Blood is an album that wants you to listen more than once and think about it and have conversations with it. For example, the first time I heard Things We Lost In the Fire, I didn't love it. And now I do. Because it's GREAT.




I already have Bad Blood. I MEAN WHO DOESN'T? So congratulations for being a person who has an ability to like lots of things, and please allow me to introduce you to Haerts. The album I waited a year for and love from first to last song no skips all good. It shimmers, it soars, and it does that thing where it gets better the more you listen to it. On a loop. For always.




1989 has a narrative structure. Yes, and it's the same as the one for RED. That's probably why we all like it so much. It's familiar; it just sounds different. This is great. It's comforting. But maybe you'd like the 201 course offering instead of the 101?

This is Wolf Gang. They have an album called Alveron, and I can map its character arc. Get me a pen. I'll do it. Also, listen to this song.


Is there sadness left in you? No. There isn't. And you haven't heard Black River, Last Bayou or Alveron yet. Your life is about to get so very, very good.


Wait is this secretly a Top Albums of the Year Post that you snuck Bastille back into?

Shh. Listen to this Lights song from her album Little Machines.



That Bastille album is the one you chose last year.

Have you heard Noosa? I love Noosa's Wonderland EP, too. (She cries glitter in this video.)



No, seriously, this was meant to be about Taylor Swift and and somehow become about your top albums this year.

Huh. Yeah it did. In that case, you should also get the Zella Day EP.




And if it really was a best of the year, then I'd be remiss not to mention this Bastille song.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Context

So here we are; the first week of the rest of my life passed into twilight. I imagine it's going to stop feeling weird soon. It may hit that this isn't a vacation, and I'm not going back to work next Monday. Because that hasn't hit, not yet, not really.

I've spent a week opening and closing a blank screen to post about leaving my job. I did quit. I wasn't let go or asked to step down; I wasn't fired. It's unfortunate to feel it necessary to clarify that, but Canadian Publishing is in an unfortunate state of letting a lot of people go.

I understand I held a position of enviable privilege. Or at least some perceived privilege. And I'm not going to say that wasn't an enviable thing. So why did I leave? Because I've been living in crisis-mode for the past sixteen months.

Here's the thing about crisis-mode. When you are in it, you are hyper-focused and hyper-aware. It's an adernaline-flooded state of Getting Shit Done. But when that's allowed to normalize, you cease being aware and become always under-fire. Everything is a threat. Everyone wants to fight. You are angry all the goddamn time. It makes one sharp-edged and brittle and toothy.

I've been baring my teeth at people a lot this year. A lot more than I ever wanted.

A couple months ago, I realized that I was still operating in crisis-mode a year after the supposed inciting crisis had passed. I had been so focused on keeping my feet one in front of the other that I'd neglected to look up and notice the path didn't lead to anywhere I wanted to be.

So I tried the easy way, and I applied to other jobs. I even got an interview at a place that I'd always wanted to work, but when I got there... I found out they didn't intend to hire me for that position. During our conversation it came up that they didn't understand why I'd leave Indigo Teen, and I couldn't understand why anyone would think I'd want to keep doing it forever. It'd be like expecting an author to write a series that never ended.

I realized sometime around then that I couldn't depend on another job to provide me with an exit strategy. I was going to have to do it the hard way—the way other people hadn't—and just leave. Fortunately, I had moved in with three other people and had the emotional support at home to do what needed doing. I'd spent a year tucking away money to be able to get by for a few months between jobs if it was necessary. And it became absolutely necessary.

Not sure what this looked like from the outside, but it wasn't impulsive. It had been coming for a long time. And yet... and yet, after leaving I'm still a head full of publishing knowledge and not quite sure where that takes me next.

I didn't quit to write full-time, because I've already learned that lesson. I quit so that I had time to write again and enough of a brain again to reorient myself on the path. But that's thing about endings and beginning; it depends on how you tilt your head as to which one they look like.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Cycle is composed of novels that each transform the ones that came before; they illuminate corners of the world we hadn’t fully seen, and unlock bits of the map we have been waiting to explore. 

Maggie Stiefvater has called Blue Lily, Lily Bluethe third installment of The Raven Cycle, a book about mirrors and the story is full of them. Previous books have used parallels and foils, but this one repeating use of characters acting as reflections/distortions for each other. For example Aglionby student Henry Cho, who in a specific scene illuminates how far Gansey has outwardly come from the President Cellphone character Blue first met in The Raven Boys. Reading Lily Blue, Blue Lily is playing a game of spot the difference without having to worry that the book is going to lose itself in trying to be "clever."

Stiefvater is a smart writer. Her series rewards close readers and welcomes revisitation. What other books might treat as revelations, these books treat as confidences; it is as if we have become good enough friends with the characters that they feel comfortable sharing what we only saw in glimpses when they thought we weren’t looking. These are real, imperfect people.

Adam Parrish and I do not always get along; I always understand his character's motivations but I don't always agree with the actions that result from them. Blue Lily, Lily Blue is the novel where I feel like Adam gets his shit together. There's been an arc trajectory happening since his decision in The Raven Boys, and it felt like this book was natural conclusion to where that was headed. I can feel proud of him for stepping up in the way I could feel proud of Ronan at the end of The Dream Thieves.

No relationship in this series is simplistic; it's one of the many things that makes these books so captivating. As the characters grow, their dynamics also evolve and change. That should be a given for any series, but there's a natural progression to the pacing of Stiefvater's writing that is refreshing. These shifts in character and growth happening subtly, layer upon layer, until they form the shape of individual growing up. They become someone they were always going to be. (There’s a scene involving Blue and Ronan where after reading it, I stopped and thought that couldn’t have happened two books ago. I highly recommend rereading The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves before reading Blue Lily, Lily Blue.)

Another of her feats of wonder is how Stiefvater continues to juggle all of the subtly moving parts while adding new characters. Some of them are names or shadows that have been skirting the edges of things in the previous events, which results in no one in this book reading like they shouldn’t be there.

I have to call out the delightfully antagonistic Colin and Piper Greenwood. They present a darker mirror of Dean Allen and Maura Sargent, and perhaps that is why I found Colin and Piper much easier to like than Kavinsky (who was Ronan’s mirror in The Dream Thieves.) 

I loved every chapter the Greenwoods were in, despite the fact that I’m convinced they don’t even like each other that much. I'll take interesting and well-developed characters over “likeable” ones every time. While I feel that I know certain characters better than others by the end of Blue Lily, Lily Blue, there is not a character in this series that I don’t find interesting.

Reading The Raven Cycle is the delight and frustration and excitement and anguish of searching for something as grand as a Dead Welsh King. When something is that big, you may not find it. You may not get the answer you wanted. But in the looking, you might an answer that you needed. That is part of what keeps the series buoyant even when it often features weighty issues like anxiety, abuse, and betrayal. The story balances itself, again and again, going as down into the darkness as it needs to then climbing upwards again to daylight. (Structurally speaking, Blue Lily, Lily Blue is both the tightest and the most ambitious of the books so far.)

Perhaps I should not feel as hopeful at the end as I did, but hope is what makes Blue Lily, Lily Blue belong to Blue Sargent. She’s one of the few characters who consistently has her head on right; she is the one actively seeking to be optimistic without being unrealistic. I enjoyed learning why, and what drives her. Blue at her best isn't just a Page of Cups; she’s an entire ocean of hope. This book brims with it—which is not to say that it's lacking terrible things or all hell isn’t going to break loose in the next book. But we can be like Blue and actively choose to believe the future is going to be better.

Whatever waits in that final book, I will love it. Even when these books don’t do what I expect—and that’s that often, actually—they always give me what I need. I love them very much, and I can't wait to talk about this new one with you.


Thank you to Scholastic Canada, who allowed me to read Blue Lily, Lily Blue early. It should be available in stores by November 1st.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Mapping routes to legitimacy

Earlier this week an author announced her first book publication anniversary, and I realized I've been involved in the YA blogging community in some capacity or another for at least seven years. In blogger time I am old as the sun. I have seen stars be born and die.

We had the argument about YA versus Adult Literary Fiction seven years ago. (And every year since.) Writing an impassioned defence of YA is a rite of passage. Congratulations, a whole new class of you are now graduates.

This is not a defence of YA, if you were wondering. This is a commencement address from an alumni.

I often get asked how I got my job in the way that authors get asked how they got published—it's a request for a map to the treasure chest, a walkthrough to completing the game of legitimacy.

Everyone asks the question hoping for a how-to answer. I can't give you one. The inspiring response as to why is because there is only the map you are creating. The more honest response is when you're standing in the centre, it's hard to remember how far out that treeline was.

But I can tell you what years and years in the publicity forest of YA has helped me understand.

The purpose of enjoying something is not to try to convince people who don't enjoy it that they're wrong. Enjoy the thing you enjoy—unless it is serial murder or cannibalism or oppression or violating boundaries or other illegal acts—and understand the value you ascribe to something is not diminished or threatened by what people who aren't you think.

Value—the kind we give to favourite stories and our interests—is a subjective thing. It's fire within us. White-hot in a place between our ribs. And if it dims, flickers, because someone else doesn't feel it... that is a fault within our ability to tend the flame.

When you understand that—when someone puts it in words that penetrate your skull and defeat your ego, then it's an easy logic leap to understand bookselling isn't about you. It's about the reader to whom you are selling. Empathy is the greatest superpower a bookseller can have, and you get more of it from consuming more stories about people who aren't you.

This is the secret to surviving as a bookseller and blogger and person who engages in the business of publishing: There's a a book for every reader, and there's a reader for every book.

Your favourite book is a story someone else didn't enjoy. And that doesn't matter, and it shouldn't affect your ability to get what you need from stories in whatever medium you choose to get them.

Stories are stories are stories. You are the one who gives them value and meaning and names them important to you. When you can grasp this concept—hold it securely in your mind—your hands are free for more important battles.

My battle is against the misconception that there are stories whose audience is everyone and stories whose audience is no one. I fight by helping people find the stories they want. That's the guiding star I use. That's the map I've been making. You're welcome to it. Or you're welcome to make your own.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater

It's easiest to describe Maggie Stiefvater's SINNER as a story about sharp-edged love. A story about the wolves who live in our heads and hearts let loose in the fantasy that is Los Angeles. It’s a song of summer and being in love and running from the fall; it sounds like Overdose by LittleDaylight, Prime by Allie X, and Pompeii by Bastille.

Well, actually, it sounds most like this.


I fell in love with SINNER when I read its opening line of “I am a werewolf in L.A.” Ok, that’s not entirely true. I have loved SINNER through the playlist that is its pulse from before I even knew what this book was.

Now that I’m finished reading and can talk about it? SINNER is everything I wanted. It is funny, and smart, and sexy, and in places devastatingly honest. It knows how to put on a show, and it doesn’t feel it has to play nice with your expectations. It has music and cars and kissing and LA sunsets.

Maybe you know Cole St. Clair and Isabel Culpeper from Stiefvater’s previous trilogy of Shiver, Linger, and Forever. Cole and Isabel are two complicated people with an equally complicated relationship. But you don't need to know them to read SINNER. You'll meet them again, and watch their struggle to maintain that relationship when neither of them believe themselves easy people to love.

But SINNER is more than just the love story of Cole and Isabel. It's about the love the people in their lives have for them, whether they see/understand/appreciate it or not. It is the ever-present devotion of Sofia to Isabel. The steady quiet Leon offers to Cole. The way Jeremy knows when to make peace and when to stand aside. How the connections people make result in them being better than they would've been alone.

It's also about loving a place even if it's not always easy to live there. SINNER captured Los Angeles—not only in tactile details—it has the intangible sense of being these people in that city. The hopeful and the hopeless; all their maniac highs and their desperate lows.

At the frantic, racing heart of this magnificent book is a story about addiction to people and places and things. Walking that razor edge between love and obsession. But it is also a story about being more than just the wanting. And I adored every page of it, even the ones that cut as I held them.

I wish I could’ve given this book to a younger me, oscillating between anger and joy and sadness and hope in that city of sinners while most of the people she knew were building their lives somewhere else. I wish she could've read what Isabel says about making connections in LA and felt understood. Maybe she would've made more of an effort to make connections sooner. Maybe.

I know you will not read the same book I read when you read SINNER, because you are not me. But if you are also someone who needs this book, I hope it finds you. I hope it helps you feel understood, too.

While I do not want to spoil anything for you, SINNER is one of the few books that is honest about how the biggest epiphanies we have are often over simple things. Those realizations irrevocably change us, but they don't radically alter the world around us.

There are so many in SINNER. I want to mention this one: We are not always who we think we are; we are not who everyone else thinks we are, and we are not only that constantly shifting space between the two where we keep the parts of ourselves we don't want to acknowledge or are afraid to share.

Knowing this doesn't stop love from being difficult for some of us—but it makes it so you understand the struggle is worth it. Even sharp-edged things have a way to hold them; you just have to want to learn how.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The care and feeding of new ideas

Starting a new project is a strange thing, a thing like dreaming. You don't know where the idea is going to come from—it might be something you see, or hear, or read, or is said. It may even start as a joke, but it sticks around. And you have to feed it, because it's so hungry and it needs to grow. It wants attention, it wants inspiration—before it starves.

I don't get a lot of ideas. Well, that's not true. I do, but they're often force-directed at other things. Things that aren't stories. Sometimes I get ideas that people think are great, but to me they're only jokes on Twitter. I can't spend the amount of time it takes to write a draft with something that's a punchline.

I have ideas that I only manage to do something with years later—they're slow cooking. It's not that I can't churn out quick-serve commercial ideas, it's that I don't find them interesting.

I start with a playlist for audio atmosphere and a pinboard for images/places, because I can't write it if I don't know who is in it and what it feels like. That comes before the plot. Even when it's something that starts with the concept/action. It's still about the people in it and the world/circumstances that made them that way. 

I've been playing with something over the past week, week and a half. Yesterday, I sat to try and put it on paper—capture it in a pitch or a synopsis or something before it escapes and then realized I couldn't. Not yet. I don't have a plot, because that's always what comes last and it's always what I struggle with the most.

But that's ok. It's still hungry, and I'm still feeding it, and I can't get frustrated that it doesn't want to talk to me with its mouth full.

Here is the song that it first devoured:


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Hello, world. I feel obligated to blog because I haven't done so in the past month.

What have you been doing, Chandra?

Working. Traveling. Revising the Magpie Book. Having an existential crisis. Working. Going on a writing retreat. Revising Something That Isn't The Magpie Book. Working. Trying not to be that person. Revising some more. Working. Having another existential crisis. Reading my new favourite book. Wondering if I'm any good at writing at all and having another existential crisis. Realizing I'm just exhausted from working and revising. Listening to a lot of music. Going for brunch. Failing to not be that person. Feeling bad for being that person. Promising to go for more brunch. Enjoying the sun. Fighting off a migraine. Wondering why everyone is incapable of using common sense. Tea. Coffee. Sugar. More music. Getting enough sleep. Not getting enough sleep. Feeling itchy and impatient for spring like there's something pacing in my head and my heart. Making jokes on Twitter. Launching an Indigo Teen Tumblr. Making a lot of jokes about wolves eating the sun. Because there is sometimes a wolf pacing in my head and my heart. Not talking to people. Talking to people. Promising to get more sleep.

Not necessarily in that order.

That seems like a lot.

Yes, world. When I have not been busy feeling the magnetic pull of depression that goes double-strength in winter, I have been fighting it with standing dates with friends on Saturdays and using up my vacation days.

It is cold again today, but at least it doesn't look like it and there's sun streaming in through the windows at long last and I have music to keep me company.

I told a friend that I expect nothing less than excellence with my words. Well, I implied we both did which might've been overstepping but I was making a clever-serious-joke-observation reply. Because that is the person I get in the winter, sharp and defensive against the grey overhead; restless against the cold. Unable to shrug things off, because when presented with the choice to care or not care I gotta care whenever I can manage it because it's that much harder to do so.

So missteps between someone else's joke and my inability to find it funny at the time happen. When I moved to Toronto, I came from living with people who knew how to tell when something was wrong and so I never had to ask for help. They offered comfort—sometimes intrusively—when they saw I needed it.

I got a text from my mother about a week and a half ago, to let me know that they'd taken Nero, the family dog, into the vet. Nero had been listless when I was home in February compared to when I'd been there in December. The one day he'd snapped at me—not seem to know who I was—and I was told that it happened to other family members, too.

He was 15 and all but blind, he could barely hear and his sense of smell was going, too. He was spry most days, and loved, and seemed to have a good life. But he hadn't been feeling well, and when my mom took him into the vet, they told her he had Kidney disease. The tests showed it was pretty serious and the vets recommended putting him down.

So that happened and I don't know if I've really processed it yet. I probably won't until the next time I go home and he's not there.

The thing about pets is they never let you feel lonely. It's harder to be lonely in the winter.

And excellence is damn hard to maintain. There's a lot of work left before the Magpie book will be ready for others to look at, because my process is to write a rough draft and then completely rewrite the manuscript at least once before anyone else sees it.

But the teeth-bearing snarl is creeping into my undertone and I feel the prickly under the skin need to create warning—is that inspiration's manifestation—and so back into the forest we go.

I am on Twitter if you need me.