Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Smashing Success!!, or,
the Junior High Reading Club is Launched

It happened a few weeks ago, but the first meeting of Paideia's new Junior High Reading Club was such a success that I had to write a bit about it. Some twenty-five students from across the junior high gathered in Greg's classroom after school on February 2. There were so many good ideas and responses to the characters and action in the book, especially the question of the role of technology in this steampunk Seattle of Boneshaker. Is it good or is it bad, or just in how it's used? Students discussed their ideas among themselves, and around 4 pm (after a few false starts and connection snafus -- yay for Plans B!) we logged on for an amazing 45-minute video chat with Boneshaker author Cherie Priest.

I wish I'd been more adept with Google video chat, so I could have asked to record the visit. Cherie Priest was a super author to start the reading club with -- she's friendly, fun, was very genuine in answering students' questions. Among the questions asked was about the accuracy of having strong female characters set in a conservative social culture (US Civil War era, sort of). Cherie noted that characters on the fringes, like pioneer women (Lucy O'Gunning), the daughter of a criminal (Briar Wilkes), a battlefield nurse (Mercy Lynch in Dreadnought) or a mixed-race brothel madam (Josephine in Ganymede), aren't as bound by society notions of women's roles, and are much more fun to work with too.

How does Cherie name her characters? From gravestones, friends & relatives, and even after real people on the news. Somewhere in Washington State there's a public works manager named Jedidiah Swakhammer, whose name was changed only slightly to become Boneshaker's Jeremiah Swakhammer.

For further steampunk reading, Cherie recommended the Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfeld, and the Parasol Protectorate novels by Gail Carriger (a personal favorite of mine. They're spunky romantic fun with werewolves, vampires and other unnatural creatures of Victorian London society).

When asked "why Seattle?" Cherie replied that she always like to write about places where she lived. Knowing that she lived for several years in Chattanooga, TN, and is moving back there soon, we wondered if she would set her next books there. What we didn't know is that she already has! Cherie's first three novels were Eden Moore ghost stories, set in Chattanooga and surroundings. They were critically successful, but didn't sell well so Boneshaker was her "what the heck" response to finishing our her contract with a publisher.

Surprise! With the best-selling success of Boneshaker and her other Clockwork Century books, the Eden Moore trilogy (Four and Twenty Blackbirds, Wings to the Kingdom, and Not Flesh Nor Feathers) has been re-released and we have them now in the Paideia Library. In addition to being fascinated and creeped out by Eden's ability to see and interact with ghosts, it's been great to recognize well-known area landmarks like the UFO house on the side of Signal Mountain, the Chickamauga Battlefield, and the rooftop section of the Pickle Barrel restaurant in downtown Chattanooga.

Have you ever discovered great reads after finding an author's current best-seller and going back to the author's older books?


The Reading Club's next selection is the brand-new novel by the popular 'nerdfighting" author John Green, The Fault in Our Stars. Alas, we won't have a video visit with this author, but he's got plenty of video presences for us to explore. Stay tuned for the date and time of the next club meeting.

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