Thursday, June 15, 2006

Book Report Day

I've got more stuff to say on characterization that I came up with last night, but I'll save that for tomorrow since today is Out of the Blogosphere and Book Report day.

This week's Out of the Blogosphere book is California Demon: The Secret Life of a Demon Hunting Soccer Mom, by Julie Kenner, the sequel to last summer's hit Carpe Demon. Kate Connor was a retired demon hunter. Now, after fourteen years busting her tail as a suburban housewife, raising two kids, and supporting her husband's political ambitions, she's rejoined the workforce -- and except for a few minions of evil, no one has a clue. She tries hard to keep her home and work lives separate -- a good idea when your job involves random slaughter.

Between fending off demon attacks, trying to figure out why the mysterious new teacher at the high school seems so strangely familiar, and keeping a watchful eye on her daughter's growing infatuation with a surfer dude, Kate is the busiest -- and most dangerous -- soccer mom on the block…

I finally started reading Carpe Demon yesterday after finding it under the widowed socks on top of my dresser during my latest cleaning spree, and I'm loving it. It's the kind of secret life/intersection of the real world and the "other" world story that I love. Imagine what would happen if Buffy got married and moved to the suburbs -- and her husband had no clue about her past.

For more info, visit Julie's Web site.

I guess my theme this week is Austin authors because I also want to talk about The Yokota Officers Club by Sarah Bird. I've recommended her earlier book, The Boyfriend School to just about everyone I can get to sit still and listen long enough, and though this book is quite different, it struck a similar nerve for me. Yet again, this person I've never met seems to have some kind of direct access into my life.

I've joked that The Boyfriend School was the book written just for me because it parallels so many aspects of my life. The heroine lives in a neighborhood in Austin where I lived one summer. She works for a weekly newspaper, and that's what I did that summer. I can trace almost every step she makes through the city because those were my stomping grounds. Then she goes go a romance writing convention (something I've done a few times) and tries to write a romance novel (something else I've done a few times).

Bird does it again with The Yokota Officers Club. My dad was in the Army instead of the Air Force. We were in Germany instead of Japan, and the "now" part of the book takes place in the year I was born, but there's still so much I can identify with, including some things I hadn't been consciously aware of. For instance, the heroine talks about feeling right at home the moment she enters a military base, even if it's one she's never been to before. That got an instant spark of recognition from me. Any base I visit makes me homesick in a weird way because it feels like home more than any civilian city ever could.

There's a scene where the narrator visits a base where she used to live and finds it oddly familiar and yet strange at the same time because while there are changes, it hasn't entirely changed, and yet the people are all different. I've done that, when I got the chance to wander around one of the housing areas where we lived when we were in Germany. I dropped by my schools and our apartment building. I even stepped into the school gym when I saw it was open, and while it was familiar, it was also strange because none of the teachers were the same.

That leads up to a scene where she tries to explain this to someone else who doesn't get it: "A hometown is where you go back and they remember you from when you were a kid. This is like being Jewish and going back to Krakow or something. All the buildings are the same, but everyone you ever knew is dead or PCS'd, which amounts to the same thing. For me, Yokota is a fully populated ghost town. I can't go back and visit my old teachers or my old neighbors or even the guy who sold me Mad magazines in the BX when I was nine or the girl who sat next to me on the bus in second grade. She's gone. They're all gone. They've been transferred three, four, five times since then, and they wouldn't remember me any more than I'd remember them. This is not my hometown. Military brats don't have hometowns."

I honestly can't say how the book would play to someone who didn't relate to it in that way, but I found it fascinating. It gave me an interesting perspective on my own life, as well as a better appreciation of what my parents were going through as I grew up.

Sarah Bird's doing a booksigning in Dallas in a couple of weeks, and I'm now trying to think of a way to mention how closely I identify with her books without making it sound like I'm saying I think she's stalking me and stealing from my life. I also have to admit that I'm less interested in the new book she's touring with than I am in her earlier books, and it would mean more to me to get a copy of The Boyfriend School signed. I need a new copy of that one, anyway, since I discovered it when it was out of print and had to scour used bookstores to find a copy of my own. I snagged my copy of The Yokota Officers Club from my editor's bookshelf at Ballantine, so I can't exactly haul it to B&N for an autograph. I know I don't much care which book someone buys at my signings (heck, I'll even sign other authors' books, if you want me to), but this is a trade paper vs. hardcover situation, and she seems to have moved on to more literary stuff, so I'm not sure she'd be crazy about someone wanting her to sign a seventeen-year-old book (even the new trade paper reprint) during a tour for a new book.

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