Monday, January 9, 2012

OPEN MINDS Book Review & Author Interview

My TBR ("to be read") pile must have rabbits in it or something because it seriously multiplied in December...

Regardless, last week I finally started (and finished!) OPEN MINDS by Susan K. Quinn. And it is so great.

If you've been around, you remember I read and reviewed Dr. Q's debut novel Life, Liberty, & Pursuit last year.

That one's a contemporary, "new adult" romance--meaning, the main characters are in that space between high school and college. It's also very good. (Here's the link to that post if you missed it.)

OPEN MINDS is completely different. (Okay, not completely. There are still romantic elements, but it's more solidly YA. And it's a sci-fi.)

Here's my review:

First, I loved the tense opening scene: main character Kira Moore is boarding public transportation on her way to school, and she's a total outcast.

She lives in Chicago at a time in the future where humans have evolved to the point that everyone can see into each others' minds (hence the title).

The only problem is Kira's mind has never opened. In the book it happens to kids around puberty, but if it doesn't happen, you're labeled a "Zero" and treated like a pariah.

You can't go to college, you can't get a professional job... For example, Kira wants to be a doctor, but she can't. Everyone mistrusts her because they can't see her thoughts.

(It's such a cool trick because if you think about it, nobody can do that in real life, yet we all trust one another--even total strangers--based on what? Nothing! But I digress.)

Quinn sets up Kira's alienation and her desire to fit in and be accepted so well that when things do start to change for her, she faces a serious moral dilemma.

Kira discovers that she has the ability to control everyone's behavior by planting thoughts in their heads.

She's totally freaked, and she thinks she's the only one with this ability until she meets Simon, a boy at her school who shares her power.

He explains that she can fit in by mindjacking everyone and causing them to believe she's become a "Reader," too. (Pariah problem solved!)

Even though she knows it's wrong, Kira goes along with Simon and the two begin manipulating the entire school and beyond.

Ultimately, she's forced to decide how far she'll go with Simon, and whether she'll live a life of lies and manipulation or if she's brave enough to tell the truth.

I'll say no more. Except, totally awesome, right?

Not only is the story fresh, but Susan does a fantastic job exploring themes like honesty and privacy rights and how far people will go to be accepted.

There's even a part where Kira has the chance to take a little revenge on a boy who always tormented her before, and I found myself pondering the thin line between justice and revenge.

I also loved the cool slang she invented for the book. Personally, I hope "mesh" (cool) and "demens" (crazy) get incorporated into the regular lexicon.

So I highly recommend this book. It's perfect for readers of all ages who love great stories that make you think. And it's a total steal at $2.99.

Here are the links to get it (click on the names)
Barnes & Noble
Smashwords, iTunes, Diesel, Kobo, Request a Kindlegraph
Susan's Website
Mindjack Website

And now for our interview!

1. OPEN MINDS is so unique and cool, and yet it still does that trick of taking the familiar and twisting it around. Like at the part where she fears she'll kill her entire class with her inability to control her mindjacking, I thought of Carrie by Stephen King. Then I wondered, did you have any literary (or other) inspiration for the story?

I love how so many people say that Open Minds is unique, but mindreading (and even mindjacking) are very old concepts – it’s the twisting it up that makes it new.

My literary inspirations have always been the classic science fiction novels (and films) of my youth, like I, Robot, Stranger in a Strange Land, and Blade Runner (which was based on the story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?). (All of which now makes me think I need to write a novel with robots.)

I’ve actually never read Carrie, so it’s interesting that you make that connection! My modern reading includes more YA than SF, and there’s not a lot of YA SF (notable exception: Across the Universe, which is awesome). Almost every YA paranormal novel has some form of telepathy, so I wanted to make sure I did something very different with it for Open Minds.

2. Many times, Kira refers to herself as the "Invisible Girl," and I loved how you explored the question of how far she was willing to go to be accepted--even if it involved lying to everyone and controlling their thoughts and behaviors. So which came first, the themes or the story?

Definitely the theme. From the very first brain spark (a girl in a classroom of mindreaders, only she couldn’t read minds), the story was about this girl’s isolation—how it affected her, the people who loved her, and eventually the society in general. As the story evolved, I discovered this world had mindjackers as well, and found that her isolation would lead her into all kinds of trouble. But it was an organic evolution.

3. The slang, as I mentioned, is awesome. Did you make it all up yourself or did you have help? (Did your sons help?)

I made up all the slang, based on Latin or terms that grew out of the mindreading world of the book. My children didn’t help, but the amazing Adam Heine critiqued the slang (and the novel) early on. I remember distinctly bouncing ideas off him for the term mindjacker. Originally, they were called pushers, and an agent noted that was awfully close to the movie Push (he was right). Adam and I debated the merits of terms like writers, hackers, drivers, eventually settling on mindjackers. I never worked so hard for a single word in my life!

4. Also loved the cool Tron-style cars and mind-controlled technology. Did you have a template for that or did you make it up? (You are the rocket scientist after all...)

One of the best parts of writing SF (and by best, I mean "Really, I get to do this for realz?") is making up plausible future technology. I love taking current technology, fast forwarding it a few dozen years, adding every cool feature I can think of, and then just pretending that some smart engineer in the future will figure out how to make it work. Or I just straight make stuff up. Open Minds has lots of fun gadgets, but it’s got nothing on Closed Hearts. After all, technology evolves.

5. When Kira mindjacks into the other kids and adults, she desceribes it being like penetrating Jell-O. And then everyone has a unique "mind-scents." First, I was totally grossed out. Then, I decided that was genius. What inspired that?

When I set out to write Open Minds, I was a little freaked by the idea of writing an entire novel where everyone read minds. I mean, how would that work? Would the book be entirely in italics? Would the reader spend all their time in people’s heads? I quickly realized that everything we smell, taste, think, feel … it all exists entirely in our minds.

People with damaged brains taste and hear things that don’t exist. We don’t really smell with our noses … we smell with our brains. (Which is now also grossing ME out!) I was determined from very early in the first draft to make mindreading (and especially mindjacking) a tactile experience, since I think that’s the way the mind would actually interpret it.

6. Riding the bus seemed sort of a bellwether of how life changes for Kira, from her first ride in Chapter 1 to the very end. Was that intentional? Did you want to convey some sort of idea or message there?

I like the idea of mirroring the first image and the final image. It’s not necessary, but I think symbolism has a lot of power. The bus is a symbol of something that every person can do, but Kira cannot (or should not), from the very first line: A zero like me shouldn’t take public transportation. It’s a symbol of her isolation, and I liked using it again at the end, to show how her world had changed.

7. In one part of the book, something really bad happens. Without being spoilerish (you know what I'm talking about), what made you decide to take the story in that direction. And how do you feel about reader response to tough choices in our writing?

That scene was really tough to write, but in the end, I think it was necessary to show what can happen in Kira’s world, and also to not let the reader be too sure about what might happen next. I don’t like gratuitous sex or violence in books, or gratuitous anything in novels, for that matter. (I don’t even like the word gratuitous; too many vowels.) If it’s not necessary for the story, take it out. Otherwise, put it in. This part was necessary, so it stayed.

As for reader response to tough choices, I think writers have to be aware of their reader’s expectations. If you’re writing a Spaghetti Western and then veer off the rails into making it a Space Opera, you’re going to freak your readers out. I’m not saying you can’t write a Spaghetti Western Space Opera, but for heaven’s sake, play it straight and write Cowboys & Aliens.

Beyond that, I think writers have an obligation to fulfill the promise of the premise of their story. If the writer plays it safe, shirks from the fullness of the story, it’s possible they will have written something good, but probably not something great. Some people criticized Suzanne Collins (who is BRILLIANT) for the choices she made in the third book of the Hunger Games trilogy (Mockingjay). I think the third book was true to her premise, and I have a hard time seeing how she could have written it any other way.

8. What's next for Dr. Q? (This is Book 1 of a trilogy... Care to tease?)

I’m feverishly working on Book Two of the Mindjack Trilogy, Closed Hearts, which I hope to have out in May (holy cats, it’s 2012 already!).

Also: I’m part of 25 Indie Writers called The Indelibles (link). We’re launching today, in fact, and if you hop over, you can enter to win a Kindle Fire as part of our launch celebration (and also win a paper copy of Open Minds).

Also, also: I have a short story coming out for Valentine’s Day in an anthology the Indelibles are publishing called In His Eyes. My short story is called "Mind Games," and it’s a prequel to Open Minds from Raf’s point of view. (Did I mention that I love writing boy POV? I love writing boy POV.) I’m putting the finishing touches on that tomorrow.

The anthology will be free when it comes out, but you can add it to your Goodreads TBR now (link).

Thanks, Susan! As demonstrated by your answers (Esp. #5, #7, #... oh, heck. All of your answers are brill!), you're an amazing author. Can't wait to see what you've got for us next.

Thanks you so much for having me! It’s always a pleasure chatting with you, Miss LTM!

Now, run grab your copy, and til next week, reader- and writer-friends~ <3


S.A. Larsenッ said...

Fabulous, L!! Thanks for sharing more of Susan with us. I'm in the middle of reading this book. I love Susan's concept. Very cool...

Stina said...

I was one of Susan's beta readers and thought the book was great. I can't wait for the sequel.

Don't feel bad about your book pile. I'm currently reading books I bought in 2010, which are now available in discount bins. Grrr. I'm now on a book buying freeze until I've read most of my pile. Which means no new books until 2014 at this rate. :(

Lydia Kang said...

The premise of this book is so awesome! I definitely must read.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I'm sold. Just downloaded Open Minds to my Kindle Fire. I just finished Hunger Games and will start on Open Minds later today. Thanks for the review!

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

@Stephen Thanks for downloading Open Minds! Hunger Games is a hard one to follow, though. :) I hope you enjoy the book!

Meredith said...

Wow, that is such a great concept for a book! I can't wait to read it now. Great interview!

Colene Murphy said...

Wow, very cool. Sounds like a good book! Great interview! Will definitely pick it up!

Old Kitty said...

I am in AWE that Susan invented her own slang - how wonderful! I think inventing a whole language - slang or alien or otherwise is just super duper amazing!! Yay!

Thanks so much LTM and Susan for a most enlightening interview - off I go and smell some brains now! LOL! Take care

Unknown said...

Thank you for the review and interview. I've seen the book before around, I'll check it out.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Love, love, love! One of my top 10 books of 2011, no question. Great review and even greater interview, Leigh!! :-)

RaShelle Workman said...

Great interview! I've recently had the pleasure of getting to know Susan through the Indelibles. She rocks. Oh, and I scratched the Speghetti Space Opera. It was totally turning into COWBOYS AND ALIENS. =D

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Fabbo review. I wish Susan all the very best with her writing.

Carolyn Abiad said...

Wonderful interview, LTM. Mindjack is a very cool word and this sounds like a great read. :)

M Pax said...

Great interview, Leigh and Susan. :)

I sent copies of Open Minds to my nieces for Christmas.

Theresa Milstein said...

I'm nearing the end of this book. I would've read it faster (it's THAT kind of book) but I've been concentrating on writing since I picked it up. I'm really impressed by it. I've been disappointed with quite a few books in the last year. When it's a self-pub book, I often go into it with trepidation (I've been burned). Not so with Susan because I knew she'd already been published. My only problem with the book is that she didn't get a big agent/publisher deal on this book. This book needs a big audience!

Nicole Zoltack said...

Coming up with slang or creative cursing is so hard! And I love the term mindjacking.

Unknown said...

OMG, this book is totally going to the top of my TBR pile! And I know my kids will love it, especially my 11 yo daughter. She's so hungry for this kind of premise. Thanks!! And Leigh, awesome job with both the review and the interview. Kudos!!

Talli Roland said...

I loved it, too! It's one of those books that sticks with you. I can't wait for the sequel!

Hart Johnson said...

SQUEEEE! This book is sitting on my Kindle behind a couple committed reads, but now I want to start it RIGHT NOW! I love the way she talks about her thought processing.

Kelly Polark said...

Awesome interview!
This is definitely on my TBR pile and I just got a kindle so will be one of my next purchases! I love that it's set in Chicago, too.

PK HREZO said...

Love it!! I can'[t wait to read it... and since my next WIP is going to have a future setting, it comes at such a perfect time.
Also, one of the peeps over at YA Confidential was raving about ho0w great it is. Coolness for Sue!!

Hannah said...

ooho, great write up! I'm going to put it on my Kindle app, right now!

Tracy Jo said...

My "TBR" is also completely out of control! BUT...I am adding this to my list. :-) Great review and congrats Susan!

LTM said...

@PK--yay! That is so cool about YA Conf. Susan's a great writer, and she's doing it herself. So any help she can get. And very cool about the future-set WIP! Good luck w/that~ :o) <3

Margo Kelly said...

Great review and interview! Thanks for sharing it with us. :)

Janet Johnson said...

Great review and interview, NTM. Susan's book sounds amazing! My TBR list is getting excruciatingly tall, too.