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What Bringing to Life a Literary Character Can Do for You – a guest post by Mary Gray, author of The Dollhouse Asylum

As a teen, I moved every year. Can you imagine? Spending freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior years in four separate schools? That’s not to mention all the moving I did before that, including multiple schools in one year, often being lost in the curriculum, and immensely alone. But I studied hard, and was always determined to do my best in class.

Without question, it seemed I was supposed to read To Kill a Mockingbird. It was literally the book of choice at three separate schools in three separate years. So I got to know the story quite well, and, I’m sad to say, eventually grew sick of it.

One wise English teacher my Freshman year asked us to do a presentation on some aspect of the book. Always drawn to sad, brooding topics, I chose Boo Radley, because what’s not sad and brooding about him? He is so picked on, so very alone, and I suppose a part of me knew what that was like (I never put that together before). At the time, the song “You Might as Well be Walking on the Sun” by Smash Mouth was big (I bought their CD!) and for some random reason, I decided to change the lyrics to fit with Boo’s predicament.

I don’t have all the lyrics anymore, but every time I think of or hear that song, I remember this line, instead of “You might as well be walking on the sun,” I’d changed it to, “You need to be walking in his shoes.”

It’s corny, don’t I know it. And my stomach twists to think of how I performed this little musical number in front of my entire English classroom. (Mortifying!) I didn’t receive any compliments–halfway through it, I knew my performance was bad–but the message has stayed with me, and I’ll always have a soft spot for Boo.

This is why I love reading. We look at characters completely unlike (or sometimes just like ourselves) and think, “How does this character feel?” Analytical study gives us the power to grow compassion, become better than our often selfish selves.

So, moral of the story? I’m not necessarily saying make a fool of yourselves, but taking on projects that aren’t in our comfort zones will stick with us, and God knows the world needs more people who can think of others before ourselves.

*Note: I’m not saying I’m always capable of doing this, but that’s why we keep trying, and remembering our good choices in the past and deciding to make positive strides in the future can only help.

Official bio: Mary Gray has a fascination with all things creepy. That’s why
 all her favorite stories usually involve panic attacks and hyperventilating. In real life, she prefers to type away on her computer, ogle over her favorite TV shows, and savor fiction. When she’s not immersed in other worlds, she and her husband get their exercise by chasing after their three children. The Dollhouse Asylum is her first novel.

You can meet author Mary Gray, Victoria Scott, Jeramey Kraatz, Krissi Dallas and Heather L. Reid at the Betty Warmack Branch Library (where I happen to work oddly enough) on Monday, October 28th at 7:00 PM.

Here’s another post that mentions To Kill a Mockingbird

Book Review: The Dollhouse Asylum by Mary Gray

Publisher Annotation: When the world is breaking all someone wants is safety. A virus that had once been contained has returned, and soon no place will be left untouched by its destruction. But when eighteen-year-old Cheyenne wakes up in Elysian Fields-a subdivision cut off from the world and its monster-creating virus-she is thrilled to have a chance at survival.

At first, Elysian Fields-with its beautiful houses and manicured lawns-is perfect. Teo Richardson, the older man who stole Cheyenne’s heart, built it so they could be together. But when Teo tells Cheyenne there are tests that she and seven other couples must pass to be worthy of salvation, Cheyenne begins to question the perfection of his world. The people they were before are gone. Cheyenne is now ‘Persephone,’ and each couple has been re-named to reflect the most tragic romances ever told. Everyone is fighting to pass the test, to remain in Elysian Fields. Teo dresses them up, tells them when to move and how to act, and in order to pass the test, they must play along. If they play it right, then they’ll be safe. But if they play it wrong, they’ll die.

The Dollhouse Asylum is many things, but at the end of the day it is a tale of obsessive love gone wrong.  It is, in fact, a twisted episode of Criminal Minds with some dystopian undertones. 

The idea that someone would take others captive and make them play this twisted game, take on specific personas, was fascinating (in disturbing ways obviously).  The teens, now in these personas, are forced to play a variety of “games”, hold parties, and more.  Breaking character is deadly.

Gray does a good job of slowly peeling away the layers of the menacing Teo.  In order for Cheyenne to be taken in, he must at first have the pretense that he is a safe, attractive guy.  But as things play out in Elysian Fields, Cheyenne slowly begins to realize the truth of who he is.  It is interesting to note that even after events unravel, Teo still has planted enough psychological seeds in Cheyenne’s mind that she still feels that she is partly to blame for the various events that unfold in Teo’s macabre world.  As a portrait of psychological and emotional abuse, Gray really captures the essence of what it is to be a victim and not fully comprehend the extent of your victimhood (which is possibly not a real world).  So when we read stories of people in abusive situations and ask, “why don’t they just leave?”, Gray helps to shed some light on that phenomenon.  It is, in some ways, an example of how Chris Brown can say he lost his virginity at the age of 8 and not realize that he was, in fact, raped at the age of 8.  At the end of the book I thought to myself, that girl is going to need some serious counseling.  Cheyenne is not always likable, she is definitely naive and needy, but I also think that Gray does a pretty decent job of showing how Teo used that, fed off of it, and twisted her in ways that it will be hard for her to break out of.  As far as villains go, Teo is up there with Warner from Shatter Me.

There are 7 couples in the story, and they are an interesting mix of characters.  I won’t reveal who they “play”, as that is part of the fun of the story.  There are a lot of twists and turns here, and this book is at times very disturbing.  Remember: a twisted version of Criminal Minds.  Think of some of the most disturbing episodes – like the one where the man takes homeless people prisoner in his “hospital”, that one – yeah, disturbing.  It’s not a perfect book, but fans of psychological thrillers and horror will not be disappointed.  3 out of 5 stars.

Texas Debut Authors Panel Recap

Last night I had the honor of hosting 6 up and coming debut authors from the DFW area at my library branch in Grand Prairie, Texas.  2012 Printz and Morris winning author John Corey Whaley was our host for the evening moderating the panel, and he is a very funny guy.  In fact, everyone on the panel was informative, entertaining, and great to spend an evening with.  If you have a chance, I highly recommend inviting them to your school or library to talk.  We talked books, both writing them and reading them, fears, guilty pleasures and more.

So, let’s begin our recap shall we . . .

John Corey Whaley

  • Was once a middle school teacher, though he claims he wasn’t a very good one.
  • He absolutely does not like Faulkner. At all.
  • He just turned in his next book, which he can’t talk about.  But the theme is apparently “absurdity”.
  • Has recently moved and is getting ready to make another move and teach a class on writing.
  • Is currently reading The Shining because he wanted a book that would creep him out.
  • Is a gentleman and really wanted to make the evening about the debut authors.

Lindsay Cummings

  • Is the author of the upcoming The Murder Complex, set in a future where the murder rate is higher than the birth rate.
  • She absolutely loves Twilight and doesn’t care who knows, she says she owns it.
  • She is afraid of “those creepy men who hit on you.” And you know, that is a legitimate fear.
  • While writing she asks herself, “What would Angelina Jolie do?”
  • She says that The Hunger Games is her “guilty pleasure”. 
  • Has 3 dogs
  • Is only 21 years old and is about to get published. She wrote her book when she was in her teens.

Mary Gray

  • Is the author of the upcoming The Dollhouse Asylum, where teens are forced to reenact the lives of tragic literary couples or die.  Such an intriguing concept.
  • Although I begged, she would not say which literary couples appear in the book.  I am intrigued.  Which couples do you think have to make an appearance?
  • Mary Gray is the mother of 3, so finding writing time can be a challenge.
  • Her favorite book series is His Fair Assassin series by Robin LaFevers, book 1 is Grave Mercy and book 2 is Dark Triumph.
  • Is also a huge fan of The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, which inspired her to write a creepy book.
  • She is afraid of strawberries.  I’m not making that part up.
  • Does not like Dickens.

Jenny Martin

  • Is the author of the upcoming book Tracked, a science fiction space race with deadly consequences.
  • Is afraid of “jerks”
  • Does not like James Joyce
  • Can write anywhere with any type of background noise
  • Is a librarian (Woohoo for librarians!)
  • Says her guilty pleasure is Supernatural (how is that a guilty pleasure I ask!) and if you visit her on Twitter, you can see a picture of her with Sam, played by Jared Padelecki.
  • Is reading House of Leaves and Eleanor and Park at the moment.

Julie Murphy

  • Is the author of the upcoming Side Effects May Vary, a story about a girl who his diagnosed with cancer, goes and gets retribution on all the people she doesn’t like or has hurt her in life, and then finds out she has gone into remission.  Again, such an interesting concept for a book.  When discussing writing Murphy said she was interested in knowing what kind of girl she would be, what would her family be like, etc.
  • Hates Jane Austen but loves Degrassi, Blue Valentine and British TV Shows.
  • Told the funniest story about being severely sunburned when she received the call that her book had been sold and how she could barely hold the phone because of the pain.
  • Is afraid of Cicadas because bugs just shouldn’t be that big, it’s scientifically incorrect.
  • Is an academic librarian.
  • Thinks the most beautiful couple ever appears in the book The God Shaped Hole 
  • Says everyone should read Eleanor and Park RIGHT NOW.

Heather L. Reid

  • Is the author of the recently released Pretty Dark Nothing from Month9Books, a story about a girl who sees demons in her sleep and doesn’t know if they are real or if there is something wrong with her.
  • She recently moved back to Texas from Scotland.
  • Is a gamer.
  • Says it took over 7 years to get her book sold and published.
  • She knew she wanted to be a writer as a kid. (Many others on the panel did not. Mary Gray was the only other panel member who said she has known for a long time, since childhood, that she wanted to be a writer.)
  • Is afraid of roaches. She said this is weird, we all assured her it was not, perfectly reasonable fear if you ask me.
  • Says the Shining is the creepiest book she ever read.

Victoria Scott

  • Is the author of The Dante Walker series, a book about a teenage boy who dies, becomes a soul collector for the devil, and is then given 10 days to collect the soul of a girl named Charlie.Book 1 is The Collector, already out.  Book 2 is The Liberator, coming out in August I believe.
  • Is terribly afraid of monkeys. Animals should not have thumbs – she believes this strongly.
  • Watches Teen Mom as her guilty pleasure.
  • Listens to hard rock like Korn.
  • Is more organized than others on the panel in her writing process. She has outlines, character profiles, etc. in a series of folders and subfolders on her computer. Most of the other panel members said they did not outline and wished they were more organized.
  • Is reading and recommends Scorched by Mari Mancusi, she says her excellent writing makes her feel so inadequate as a writer.
  • Says The Hot Zone freaked her out and then tried to freak us all out about the Ebola virus.  Corey Whaley talked about the movie Contagion, which I am actually obsessed with and watch almost nightly in the background when I read (something about it makes good background noise).  I was very upset when I accidentally erased it – and everything else – off of my DVR.

I want to give a heartfelt thanks to everyone on the panel for their time and such a wonderful library program and discussion. Everyone in attendance gave lots of compliments on the night.  I was encouraged to hear how all the various writers came to write ya books and that they had both an appreciation for teens and teen literature.  One of the panel members said they actually liked being a teenager.  I think that means they were doing it wrong. I am loo kingforward to reading all the books, they sound so good.

Texas Debut Authors: Mary Gray, author of The Dollhouse Asylum

On Thursday, May 9th, 6 super fab debut authors from the DFW area will be appearing at my library branch, Betty Warmack Branch Library (6:00 PM, be there!)  Today I am excited to introduce you to another one of those upcoming authors, Mary Gray.

Hello, Mary. THE DOLLHOUSE ASYLUM is a great title. Can you tell us how it became your book’s name?
When my former agent, Kat Salazar, submitted my book to publishers, the original title was MY FRAGILITY, but as my editor pointed out, that title wasn’t something concrete, something readers would know what it means. So we texted back and forth, brainstorming ideas for a title, wanting the perfect name to go up with my Publishers Marketplace listing. We knew the book had to have the word “asylum” because of the dual nature of the word (asylum from the monsters, and also crazy place). So when my editor asked her roommate if he had any ideas, she explained how we needed to convey the word “fragile.” He said “dollhouse” and everything just clicked, because Danielle went to my manuscript and realized I’d alluded to everyone as dolls all along. Then in the rewrites, I just brought out that aspect more. It really became perfect.
Would you be so kind as to describe THE DOLLHOUSE ASYLUM in five words?

·         Desperate
·         Brutal
·         Fast-paced
·         Romantic
·         Obsessive
Can you please share one quote with us?
I can, because it’s editor-approved!
“I used to pride myself on not letting others change me, but Teo knew how to burrow inside my heart and squeeze. Around him, I’m this pathetic, whimpering child. Fragile. Breakable. Like I’m obsessed with what he thinks. Not because our lives are on the line, but because seeking Teo’s approval has become this sick goal. And I’ve lived this way for so many months, it’s like I need to be rewired. The problem is that I don’t know if I can be.”
When can readers pick up your book?
I will have ARCs at BEA! My cover artist, the fabulous Jeremy West, will be signing with me (come see us!) or you know, October 22ndis my official release date.
Can you describe your protagonist in 140 characters?

She has a quiet power, and possesses a loyal, fierce love to a fault. She loves classic romances, and can get swept away into romantic gestures, yet has the punch of a contemporary voice.
If you could encourage anyone to pick up Dollhouse Asylum when it releases in fall 2013, what would you say?

A terrifying question! I want to answer it right! I suppose I would say it’s my heart ripped open and spilled on the page. The terror and misguided allegiance is something I’ve felt very real in my life. It’s fast paced, with a few kissing scenes I’m not so sure my mother would like, but it made get friendly with my husband, so that’s good, right?
What is your favorite genre and why?
Dark YA! Or at least YA that isn’t light. My favorite authors all tell haunting or broody tales: Neal Shusterman’s UNWIND, R.L. LaFever’s GRAVE MERCY and DARK TRIUMPH, and Carrie Ryan’s THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH. I look for sweeping prose with a chilling plot, something that makes me turn page after page even after I should sleep. Something that makes my heart pound in my chest, and deep, unique feeling love. That’s what I like. 🙂
Is THE DOLLHOUSEASYLUM available for preorder?
Why, yes! Barnes & Noble and Amazon both have it available for preorder.
 Mary Gray has a fascination with all things creepy. That’s why all her favorite stories usually involve panic attacks and hyperventilating. In real life, she prefers to type away on her computer, ogle over her favorite TV shows, and savor fiction. When she’s not immersed in other worlds, she and her husband get their exercise by chasing after their three children. The Dollhouse Asylum is her first novel. 
Full disclosure: This is the personal blog of Karen Jensen, I just sometimes use it to promote events at my library.