Ruminations: Altered (Dianne Lynn Gardner)

ImageI suppose it’s fair to preface this by saying that I’m not always a YA reader.  I tend to focus my reading away from YA, mainly because I just prefer the struggles and stories of older characters.  Perhaps this is because I’ve lived my own “coming-of-age” stories already and as a result, I often don’t find that topic that appealing.  My motives when I read versus what I write often conflict in that way.  But that’s my opinion and I think that, most likely, most others will vary, particularly as YA has matured and changed a lot, for good and bad, from what it was when I was a teenager.

What I am a sucker for, YA, adult, or otherwise, is dystopian novels.  I’ve always been fascinated by apocalypse or massive societal change in any fiction. When I was a child, the idea that someone could walk through a city in which there were no people amazed me.  (See the film The Quiet Earth for a perfect example of what I mean.)

Dianne Lynn Gardner’s Altered is different from the pattern that I’ve grown used to seeing or reading in YA dystopia of late.  There’s not much of a romance subplot.  The main female character, Abree, isn’t defined by her relationship to a love interest.  This doesn’t feel influenced much, if at all, by Hunger Games or zombie fiction.  (There are no zombies at all, actually.)

For all of that, this is a true YA story, written in a language and a voice suited to younger readers.  Gardner’s work is not adult fiction masquerading under a “young adult” tag.  Although older readers will enjoy the work, it is good to note that its primary audience–and one that will likely relate best to it–seems to be preteen and teen readers.  That does not, however, means that this is a simple story.  Not at all.

 Altered  begins with a premise that seems rooted in a fear that’s become more prevalent in the modern world: food contamination.  We live in an era where things that were once considered safe have become potential dangers to us.  A few years ago, I wouldn’t thought of pre-packaged salad as potentially life-threatening, for instance.  Now, it feels sometimes that the media is constantly alerting the public to some new problem with the food supply.  Gardner takes this problem one step forward: what if the supply was being contaminated on purpose?  What if this contaminant could be used as a form of mind control?

When you think about it, this is a terrifying idea.  How can you retain freedom when everything that sustains you is a tool meant to keep you captive?

This is the problem that the young antagonists must struggle with as the secret is revealed.  A shifting storyline moves the focus between the United States and Mexico, between children and parents, between those who have given up and those who will never give in.  Woven into these narratives as well is a surprising twist: Mesoamerican mythology.

As a fantasy author, Gardner’s other works have a European flair in their mythos.  Altered brings in a new world dynamic to reveal a method of escape to the desperate citizens of her current world.  Stories of rainbow serpents and Ant people serve as parables to guide Abree, her young protagonist, on her journey to resist the government that would see her family torn apart.  There is much more to the world that Gardner creates, I think, than just one short novel can express and one hopes that the author will retain this delicate balance between modern politics and old gods and continue on with the tale that she has begun.

To find out more about Gardner’s work, you can visit her website.

DISCLAIMER: I was offered a free copy of this book as review.  I had, however, already purchased the book at that time.



The Writing Process Blog Tour

I was tagged by the ever-incredible Stephanie Lile to talk a little about my writing process.  Stephanie is a writer, teacher, exhibit developer, researcher, art lover and museum educator. She has written for magazines such as ColumbiaCalliope, Bacopa,Soundings ReviewThe Morgan Horse, and ColumbiaKids. Her nonfiction book History Lab To Go! is an award-winning museum publication. Stephanie has launched a small studio that is the percolator for her publishing projects, as well as home to the KBL Family Collection of amazing WWII imagery. Currently, she is working on publication of her novel The Tail Gunner, about a ghost soldier of WWII who cannot rest until he’s completed his final mission, and his granddaughter Sylvie is just the one to help make that possible.  I was lucky enough to read Tail Gunner and am still desperately hoping there’s a sequel in the works!

You can read Stephanie’s responses to the Writing Process questions here.

Here are my responses to the tour:

1. What am I working on?

I have a couple things in the hopper right now in my writing life.  The first is the re-release of my first novel, The Universal Mirror, from Rara Avis Publishing. With a new cover design and new edits (huge thanks to editor Cindy Koepp and artist Dianne Gardner), this book is taking a slightly different shape and I really look forward to seeing the response.

The second thing is an urban fantasy novel in the first draft stages.  This novel, dubbed The Unwilling, is basically what would happen if you mixed Lord of the Rings and the Godfather, then threw it into 1932.  It’s the story of a teenage girl named Daisy whose father abandons her and her younger sister during a major Depression.  Daisy’s sister is kidnapped by the elves and Daisy must travel on a quest to find the item that can save her.  That’s really a very short version of a much bigger story.

2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?

My work, whether it be urban or epic, tends to be rooted in some era of real-world history.  I weave in things that I uncover in my research, mythologizing them and thinking of other fantastical elements around them.  Like many other authors, I do write what I know as well–I just tend to take it and throw a fantasy spin on it.

3. Why do I write what I do?

That’s a hard question.  I often write to understand.  Things that make me angry, things that make me sad…I often take and build characters out of ideas or people that I find distasteful as a way of trying to figure out how the world works.  Sometimes I do it for positive reasons and other times, it’s out of a search for some sort of emotional catharsis.  I don’t always succeed and when I do, I think that it would be hard for anyone who doesn’t know me very, very well to find the personal genesis of some of the ideas in my work.  That’s not a bad thing in my opinion–everyone needs to have a little mystery.

4. How does my writing process work?

Every day I try to write something.  I learned years back that the word count goal didn’t really work for me.  As much as I’d like to write thousands of words a day, the reality with my busy life is that some days, getting 20 words on a page is a battle.  Other days, I can hit 2000.  So I try to get something on the page and celebrate that.  I do often set chapter goals for myself of a chapter per week.  (Bear in mind, I write short chapters.)  Deadlines really work for me–if I don’t set them and hold myself accountable, I just don’t finish projects.

Another thing that I do to keep motivated is go on regular writing “dates” with my husband, J.B. Whiting.  He’s also a speculative fiction writer and the two of us visit our local coffeeshop to write and edit together.  We also often set aside time at the end of the day to cuddle and scribble in our respective notebooks.  We do sometimes switch off on household chores, giving one or the other of us a break so that we can have a bit more time to work.  Ideas are frequently tossed between the two of us so I’ve found that I’m having fewer problems with writer’s block than ever before.  I’m rather spoiled that way, I admit.


Next week the Writing Process Blog Tour continues to branch out with two more fantastic writers!

R.S. Hunter fell in love with science fiction when he watched Star Wars with his grandmother as a child. From then on science fiction and fantasy had their hooks in him. His short fiction has appeared in anthologies like Abaculus III, Growing Dread: Biopunk Visions, and In Situ. The Exile’s Violin, the first novel in his Tethys Chronicles series, will be reprinted by PDMI Publishing in 2014. The second book in the series,Terraviathan, is also forthcoming. He lives in Portland, OR with his wife and can be found on Twitter (@rshunter88). 

When D.E. Atwood was in second grade, she finally grew tall enough to see the shelf above the mysteries in the bookmobile. She discovered a rich landscape of alternate worlds, magic, and space and has never looked back from the genres of fantasy and science fiction. When she was twelve, she declared that she was going to be a writer, and share the stories that she saw happening all around her. She wanted to create characters that others would care about,  and that would touch their lives, like the books that she read had touched her own life.


Today she has combined her interests, creating genre stories about the people who live next door, bringing magic into the world around us. Her first novel, If We Shadows, was published by Harmony Ink Press this spring.