A Month of Japan – The Friends

A Month of Japan blog seriesBecause A Mortal Song is set in Japan, in the month leading up to the book’s release I wanted to celebrate some of the amazing media out there by Japanese creators. I’ll be highlighting my favorite books, TV shows, and films (as well as some snack box services—you need something to munch on while you’re doing all that watching and reading!). You can find a full list of my faves and other resources here on my website.

Book Rec – The Friends by Kazumi Yumoto

thefriends

What it’s all about: Curious about death, three sixth-grade boys decide to spy on an old man waiting for him to die, but they end up becoming his friends.

Why you should read it: The premise may sound morbid, but this story manages to balance darkness and lightness, both poignant and sweet. The boys grapple not just with their ideas about death but also family dynamics, social hierarchies, growing up, and of course their evolving friendship with each other. Each is distinct and believable, and the way they come to connect with the old man feels authentic too. This is a quiet, thoughtful read, and its impact creeps up on you.

What’s your favorite book about a group of friends? Let me know in the comments.

Join me tomorrow for my next rec! You can read more about A Mortal Song in the meantime:

songnewestreleaseblog

Picturing A Mortal Song‘s Characters

As always when working on a book, with A Mortal Song I went looking for character “models” early on to give me a solid visual of the major characters. They may or may not be how you pictured them too, but here’s a quick look at four of them through my eyes. 🙂

Sora

sora1  sora2
My model for Song‘s protagonist was originally a different actress, but then I saw Aoi Yu perform in the movie Hana and Alice—particularly this dance sequence—and I knew she was my Sora. I had the picture on the left above open on my computer most of the time I was drafting the book, and it’s part of the reason Sora ends up in a green shirt.

Keiji

keiji1  keiji2
I knew right away that my Keiji was going to be Tatsuya Fujiwara, who I mainly knew from the movie Battle Royale. He spends most of that film looking pretty serious, but you can see he’s got a playful side too.

Chiyo

chiyo1 chiyo2

My “magical girl” was the most difficult character to cast, because I had a clear picture of what she looked like in my head… but she’s a pretty unique figure inside and out, so finding a real life person who matched her was tough. I turned to the JapaneseStreets website for inspiration. The girl on the left has the right vibe and general look (though Chiyo would be younger), and her hair color is like the girl on the right (without the green streak).

Takeo

takeo1 takeo2
And here is my stalwart warrior, represented by Takeshi Kaneshiro. With that intense gaze, he would have fit the role perfectly.

What do you think? Do my models fit the characters as you imagined them?

A Month of Japan – Okashi Connection

A Month of Japan blog seriesBecause A Mortal Song is set in Japan, in the month leading up to the book’s release I wanted to celebrate some of the amazing media out there by Japanese creators. I’ll be highlighting my favorite books, TV shows, and films (as well as some snack box services—you need something to munch on while you’re doing all that watching and reading!). You can find a full list of my faves and other resources here on my website.

Snack Subscription Box Review – Okashi Connection

okashibox

What you get: Okashi Connection offers three different box sizes, from $14 (5-7 items) for the cheapest to $33 (14-18 items) for the largest. Shipping is included. Each box includes only snack items (no toys or other special items). Their focus is offering a variety of snacks found only in Japan. The company is based on Japan and that’s where the boxes ship from.

Review of the box:
My Sumo box arrived in the very attractive packaging you can see above, which immediately made me excited to see what was inside.

okashiopen
It was fully packed with tons of goodies and a handy guide that gave a brief description of what each snack was, in vivid color. And what a lot of snacks there were! Here’s the full spread:

okashiall
I jotted down my thoughts on each of the snacks as I tried them out and gave them a rating out of 3 (0 = nope, 1 = all right, 2 = quite good, 3 = OMG where can I get more of this?).

okashi6
Kinoko No Yama Big Size – I don’t know what the small size is like to compare, but these mushroom shaped biscuits had nicely smooth and rich milk chocolate, with the cookie stem adding a great bit of crunch and texture. 2.

Lemon Pocky – I love Pocky and I love sweet lemon flavoring, so you can imagine how these went over. 😉 The icing had a lovely, creamy, tangy flavor and there was lots of it (if I had any complaint, it’d be that I like a tad more cookie in the cookie-to-coating ratio). 3.

okashi1Shuwabo Grape – A long, chewy candy with a satisfying texture, but I’m not a big fan of grape flavoring, so didn’t love this. 1.

Shuwabo Change Cola – Similar to the Grape, but with a supposedly cola flavor and a sour streak down the middle. Sour isn’t my thing, and this was very sour, but that effect faded quickly into the sweetness of the rest of the candy, and otherwise the taste was quite enjoyable. It tasted more like orange and lemon to me than cola, but what do I know? 2.

Pikachu Gum – Mix and match gumballs in four different flavors (as well as another “flavor” for cleansing the palate before trying a new one) along with “recipes” for combining them. I found the flavors didn’t last very long, but I enjoyed most of them. The red had a nicely realistic apple flavor rather than the standard artificial type; the orange tasted like orange; the yellow was vaguely creamy and tangy, more vanilla to me than the yogurt it was labeled as, and the blue was a strong cola flavor. I only tried one of the gray ones and it was kind of horrifying, so I skipped that step afterward. 2.

okashi2
Juu-C Colorful Ramune – These little discs were satisfyingly crunchy and only a little powdery. They had a fruit-gum-like taste, a bit tart but mostly sweet, and a fizzy impression like soda. Would eat again! 2.

Pine-Ame Gummies – The texture on these gummy rings was softer than I prefer in gummy candies and the pineapple taste was pretty thin, only faintly tangy, mostly just sweet. So overall kind of bland. This was the only snack in the bunch I didn’t finish. 0.

Pachi Pachi Panic – The texture of this pop-rock-like candy was a little off-putting to me (the bits stuck to my teeth as I chewed) and the crackling sensation was unsettling, but the strawberry and cream flavoring was so enjoyable I kept eating anyway. 2.

okashi3 okashi4a
DIY molded gummies kit – I found it hard to follow the instructions on the package, so I messed it up a bit, but I was still impressed by the smooth, not too hard or too soft texture of the gummies I created. The flavor was sweet but not too sugary, very tasty. 2.

Peroty Hello Kitty Choco Pops – The milk chocolate was enjoyable creamy, but I didn’t really taste the strawberry in the strawberry one. The banana one had a light artificial banana flavor that worked well with the chocolate. 2.

Puchi Busse Tasty Vanilla Cakes – The soft pastry in these layered “cakes” was a little artificial in texture, as with most prepackaged treats like this, but it had a great mix of sweet flavors. 2.

okashi4b
Pop Zack – These crunchy biscuits had a bit of a chocolate flavor along with a very buttery butterscotch flavor that I wasn’t expecting but loved. 3.

Pototto Plus – With this interesting approach to potato chips, the oil is packaged separately and you shake it into the package right before eating. It definitely gave the chips a fresher, less processed taste. However, all I could taste was the olive oil and salt, none of the supposed herbs, and I like a more prominent flavor in my chips. 1.

okashi5
Saku-Saku Panda – These cookies had a good balance of chocolate with biscuit, plus they were very cute! The chocolate was nicely creamy. 2.

Alfort Mini Chocolate Blonde Milk – Another nice balance of cookie and topping. The “blonde” chocolate wasn’t my favorite (I’m more of a dark gal) but I did enjoy how creamy and sweet it was. 2.

Overall thoughts: Lots of different snacks, most of which I wasn’t familiar with, and almost all of them I enjoyed. I do wish there’d been a little more of the salty snacks to balance out the sweet ones.

Overall rating: 28/45, 62%

Note: I received this box free in exchange for my honest review.

Join me next week for more recs! You can read more about A Mortal Song in the meantime:

songnewestreleaseblog

A Month of Japan – Princess Mononoke

A Month of Japan blog seriesBecause A Mortal Song is set in Japan, in the month leading up to the book’s release I wanted to celebrate some of the amazing media out there by Japanese creators. I’ll be highlighting my favorite books, TV shows, and films (as well as some snack box services—you need something to munch on while you’re doing all that watching and reading!). You can find a full list of my faves and other resources here on my website.

Animated Film Rec – Princess Mononoke

mononoke

What it’s all about: Inflicted with a deadly curse, a young warrior named Ashitaka sets out for the forests of the west in search of the cure that will save his life. Once there, he becomes inextricably entangled in a bitter battle that matches Lady Eboshi and a proud clan of humans against the forest’s animal gods… who are led by the brave Princess Mononoke, a young woman raised by wolves.

Why you should watch it: I love pretty much all of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, and this one makes my top ten fave films of all time. The story is fast-paced but also thoughtful, the characters complex and engaging, and the animation is beautiful. Also the music! The soundtrack is just lovely. I appreciate that the environmental themes are clear without being heavy-handed, that there are plenty of powerful women characters, as always in Miyazaki’s work, and that there is no tidy ending, but more a message of potential and hope.

If you’re a Miyazaki fan, which of his movies is your fave? Let me know in the comments.

Join me tomorrow for my next rec! You can read more about A Mortal Song in the meantime:

songnewestreleaseblog

A Month of Japan – Battle Royale

A Month of Japan blog seriesBecause A Mortal Song is set in Japan, in the month leading up to the book’s release I wanted to celebrate some of the amazing media out there by Japanese creators. I’ll be highlighting my favorite books, TV shows, and films (as well as some snack box services—you need something to munch on while you’re doing all that watching and reading!). You can find a full list of my faves and other resources here on my website.

Live Action Film Rec – Battle Royale

battleroyale

What it’s all about: In the near future, the economy has collapsed, unemployment has soared and juvenile crime has exploded. Fearful of their nation’s youth, the Japanese government passes The BR Law: Each year, a 9th grade class is sent to a remote island where they will be locked into exploding neck collars, given a random weapon, and forced to hunt and kill each other until there is only one survivor left.

Why you should watch it: A lot of people have compared this movie (and book—there’s a book as well) to The Hunger Games because of the similarity in the basic premise: the government forcing teens to kill each other in a sort of game until there’s only one survivor. Something I think Battle Royale does better: it doesn’t pull its punches. Sympathetic characters end up killing other characters not by accident or in immediate self-defense but because they have to make hard choices to survive or they (understandably) melt down during tense situations that arise. Other characters who haven’t trained to be killers nonetheless find they’re willing to embrace that role. There are many shocking moments and many heart-wrenching moments, and it’s a film that will stick with you long after you’ve watched it.

*Note: Graphic violence, not suitable for particularly young or sensitive viewers.

If you’re familiar with both this movie and The Hunger Games, which do you prefer? Let me know in the comments.

Join me tomorrow for my next rec! You can read more about A Mortal Song in the meantime:

songnewestreleaseblog

A Month of Japan – Princess Tutu

A Month of Japan blog seriesBecause A Mortal Song is set in Japan, in the month leading up to the book’s release I wanted to celebrate some of the amazing media out there by Japanese creators. I’ll be highlighting my favorite books, TV shows, and films (as well as some snack box services—you need something to munch on while you’re doing all that watching and reading!). You can find a full list of my faves and other resources here on my website.

TV Rec – Princess Tutu

princesstutuWhat it’s all about: In a fairy tale come to life, the clumsy, sweet, and gentle Ahiru (Japanese for “duck”) seems like an unlikely protagonist. In reality, Ahiru is just as magical as the talking cats and crocodiles that inhabit her town—for Ahiru really is a duck! Transformed by the mysterious Drosselmeyer into a human girl, Ahiru soon learns the reason for her existence. Using her magical egg-shaped pendant, Ahiru can transform into Princess Tutu—a beautiful and talented ballet dancer whose dances relieve people of the turmoil in their hearts. With her newfound ability, Ahiru accepts the challenge of collecting the lost shards of her prince’s heart, for long ago he had shattered it in order to seal an evil raven away for all eternity.

Princess Tutu is a tale of heroes and their struggle against fate. Their beliefs, their feelings, and ultimately their actions will determine whether this fairy tale can reach its “happily ever after.” (from MyAnimeList)

Why you should watch it: Princess Tutu has so many of my favorite story elements. It takes popular tropes from fairy tales and magical girl cliches, and twists them in unexpected ways. It features vibrant characters who reveal more and more layers, and grow and change, across the entire series. It shows morality as something full of shades of gray rather than black and white. And it has a wonderful meta-fictional approach: stories within stories and a puppet-master orchestrating events from afar, who may not be as untouchable as he thinks. Not to mention the unique integration of ballet and classical music into the story. This isn’t just one of my favorite anime TV shows—it’s one of my favorite TV shows period!

What’s your favorite twisted fairy tale? Let me know in the comments.

Join me tomorrow for my next rec! You can read more about A Mortal Song in the meantime:

songnewestreleaseblog

A Month of Japan – Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit

A Month of Japan blog seriesBecause A Mortal Song is set in Japan, in the month leading up to the book’s release I wanted to celebrate some of the amazing media out there by Japanese creators. Monday to Friday for the next four weeks, I’ll be highlighting my favorite books, TV shows, and films (as well as some snack box services—you need something to munch on while you’re doing all that watching and reading!). You can find a full list of my faves and other resources here on my website.

Let’s kick things off!

Book Rec – Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi

moribito

What it’s all about: Balsa was a wanderer and warrior for hire. Then she rescued a boy flung into a raging river—and at that moment, her destiny changed. Now Balsa must protect the boy—the Prince Chagum—on his quest to deliver the great egg of the water spirit to its source in the sea. As they travel across the land of Yogo and discover the truth about the spirit, they find themselves hunted by two deadly enemies: the egg-eating monster Rarunga . . . and the prince’s own father.

Why you should read it: Balsa is a great protagonist, a tough and skilled fighter but also compassionate. I loved the interplay between her and the prince (who grows a lot over the course of the story and really comes into his own), her mentor, and her friend/almost-romantic interest. The story’s mystery is unraveled at a good pace, with twists I didn’t see coming, and I appreciated that one of the key figures in finding the answer isn’t a fighter but a scholar. The action sequences are exciting and the questions of history and morality thought-provoking. Plus, if you can get your hands on a print version, it has an absolutely lovely interior design including two-page illustrations for each section! An all-around excellent fantasy novel. 🙂

Who are your favorite fantasy heroines? Let me know in the comments.

Join me tomorrow for my next rec! You can read more about A Mortal Song in the meantime:

songnewestreleaseblog

New Book Announcement + Pre-order Offer!

I’ve been sitting on this news for ages, and now I can finally reveal that I have a new book coming out this September! It’s my pleasure to introduce you to A Mortal Song (click to see the cover larger):

A Mortal Song coverSora’s life was full of magic–until she discovered it was all a lie.

Heir to Mt. Fuji’s spirit kingdom, Sora yearns to finally take on the sacred kami duties. But just as she confronts her parents to make a plea, a ghostly army invades the mountain. Barely escaping with her life, Sora follows her mother’s last instructions to a heart-wrenching discovery: she is a human changeling, raised as a decoy while her parents’ true daughter remained safe but unaware in modern-day Tokyo. Her powers were only borrowed, never her own. Now, with the world’s natural cycles falling into chaos and the ghosts plotting an even more deadly assault, it falls on her to train the unprepared kami princess.

As Sora struggles with her emerging human weaknesses and the draw of an unanticipated ally with secrets of his own, she vows to keep fighting for her loved ones and the world they once protected. But for one mortal girl to make a difference in this desperate war between the spirits, she may have to give up the only home she’s ever known.

Song will be released September 13th in Kindle ebook*, paperback, and hardcover format. You can pre-order from some retailers now with others coming soon!

Amazon button Barnes and Noble button Indiebound button Chapters Indigo button Book Depository Button

Or order a signed copy directly from me: Paperback ~ Hardcover

If you do pre-order, I have a special offer for you! Everyone who pre-orders the book—in any format, from any retailer—and submits their receipt will get a digital gift pack featuring:

-An exclusive digital booklet following Sora’s journey through Japan with photos from the author’s travels and lots of story commentary.

-An exclusive 25-page short story showing a key sequence in the book from another major character’s POV.

-An exclusive high-res digital poster of the book cover, signed by the author.

-Access to Megan’s secret bonus content webpage, where you’ll find deleted scenes from Song as well as her other books.

-A chance to win even bigger prizes, including swag and signed books.

Click here for more details or to claim your gift pack!

*Other ebook types available on request. Email me to ask.

Giveaway: YA Fantasy Novels of 2016!

I know things have been a little quiet around here lately (these days I’m more active on Twitter and Facebook if you want to follow me there too), so as a thank you to all the awesome readers out there, I’m giving away five of the most anticipated YA fantasy novels of the year!

Just click the image or here to enter, and you could win Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Star-touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, Riders by Veronica Rossi, and The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater. That’s a lot of great reading!

Good luck! 🙂

Creating a Killer Virus

I just noticed that this guest post of mine is no longer available on the original site, so I’m re-posting it here for any new Fallen World readers who missed it. 🙂

The idea of a mysterious sickness that no one knows how to cure is one of the scariest things I can imagine. When I started planning the book that would become The Way We Fall, I realized early on that I didn’t want to just gloss over the science with vague explanations. I wanted to understand the virus I was creating, so I could find believable ways to make it even scarier.

I read several books on viruses and disease, and talked with a microbiologist to make sure my ideas weren’t totally crazy. Much of my research didn’t go into the book–it just there in the background as I wrote. So I’m going to share with you here the factors I considered, and the reasons my virus acts the way it does.

Transmission

Viruses can pass from person to person in all sorts of ways. Pretty quickly, I decided mine was going to spread by respiratory means. That is, through the air: an infected person coughs or sneezes, releasing the virus into the air, where it can then be breathed in by another person, giving the virus a new home.

Why respiratory? Well, for my virus to be truly scary, it needed to spread quickly and easily, and airborne viruses are by far the most contagious. After all, you can catch them without even being that close to someone who’s infected. And all it takes is one cough and the virus can reach every other person in the same room. The only reason some of the world’s deadliest viruses, like Ebola, haven’t caused widespread outbreaks is that they can only be transmitted through direct physical contact with someone who’s already sick. Scientists who’ve seen hints that the virus may become airborne find the possibility terrifying.

Incubation

When you catch a virus, you don’t get sick immediately. There’s always an incubation period during which the virus starts to replicate itself in your body, before there’s enough of it to cause any symptoms. Some only take a day or two to emerge; some a week or more.

When creating my virus, I was inspired by measles. Measles spreads through the air, but it doesn’t give you the standard respiratory symptoms (coughing, sneezing) right away. It hides out in the body’s own cells, reproducing itself and gradually invading other systems, only provoking symptoms some ten days later. I gave my virus a similarly long incubation period, for a few reasons. Like measles, it doesn’t primarily infect the respiratory system–instead, its focus is the brain and nervous system, so I figured it would need some time to settle in there. Also, the longer it takes for people to realize they’re infected and start taking precautions, the easier it is for the virus to spread. And finally, for someone exposed to the virus, having to wait ten days to find out if they’re going to get sick is a lot scarier than only waiting two.

Symptoms

During my brainstorming, I sat down and made a list of all the possible symptoms a disease could cause, focusing on what seemed the most frightening, both to the person infected and to those witnessing it. More than anything, people seem to fear diseases that affect the mind. Consider the fact that it’s been years since the Mad Cow outbreak, and people still make nervous jokes about it. Who talks about SARS or H1N1 anymore? Look at the current fascination with zombie stories, in which the “disease” continues to control the behavior of the infected even after death. As uncomfortable as we are having our bodies turn against us, the thought of losing control over our minds is far more terrifying.

But zombie stories have always bothered me a little, because I find it hard to believe that the disease could take over nearly an entire civilization, when anyone infected is acting in ways that should make anyone not infected stay far far away from them. For a virus to have the best chance of passing through a population, I thought, it’d need to be doing something to attract new “victims” to it. Like the toxoplasmosis parasite which makes rats it infects less afraid of cats, so they’ll be more likely to get eaten and pass the parasite on to the preferred feline host.

So while the first symptoms that emerge when a character is infected with my virus seem like a typical respiratory infection–coughing, sneezing, fever–there’s also an itch. An itch caused by the virus tinkering with the nervous system. And before too long, the virus starts affecting the parts of the brain involved in inhibition and social desires. Those infected lose all sense of discretion at the same time as developing an intense longing for human company. If there’s no one around, they seek other people out, get as close to them as possible, and often pass the virus on.

If that were all, of course, it would be an embarrassing and uncomfortable sickness, but not all that scary. Which is why the virus doesn’t stop there. Since it was already attacking the brain, it made sense that as the disease got worse, people’s ability to process reality might break down completely, into delusions and hallucinations. And, in the end, almost all of them die. Like most of the diseases that frighten us the most–Mad Cow, Ebola–my virus has an incredibly high mortality rate.

One of the things that’s stuck with me after all my reading is how easily and quickly new viruses really can emerge–viruses we have no treatments and no vaccines for. I hope The Way We Fall works for readers who are looking to be scared, because I certainly have frightened myself.