Tuesday, May 24, 2011

PR Special Edition (37): Helen Stringer Guest Post + Giveaway!

Poisoned Rationality Special  Edition

Welcome to another Poisoned Rationality Special Edition!   Today we have Helen Stringer, author of the Belladonna Johnson series!  Stay tuned after the guest post (about DOCTOR WHO!!!) to learn more about a chance to win the series!

**Please note: The Midnight Gate is the second book in the Belladonna Adventures.  Book 1, Spellbinder, should be read first to avoid spoilers!**

Synopsis: It’s been two months since Belladonna Johnson discovered she was the Spellbinder, and she’s full of questions about her powers. When a ghost finds Belladonna and her classmate, Steve, and gives them a mysterious map, the friends don’t know if they should be looking for or hiding from the one person who holds the answers to Belladonna’s powers: the Queen of the Abyss. Throw into the mix that Belladonna’s parents, who are ghosts, have disappeared and that her brand-new and maybe even sinister foster family seems to know more than they’ll let on, and you have a sequel made of high adventure and intrigue, seasoned with affecting characters and topped with a dollop of wit.

The Doctor and Me

One of the questions that crops up a lot when people ask about my writing is the one about what books influenced me when I was growing up. One of my favorite writers was Alan Garner, but as no one here seems to have heard of him I usually have to spend quite a bit of time explaining who he is and why The Weirdstone of Brisingamen or Elidor are so much better than any of those books about lions and wardrobes.

No one ever asks about other influences, though. Perhaps it’s because everyone is trying to get kids away from the TV and not drive them toward it, but its influence is everywhere and is not necessarily negative.

For me, one of the earliest, greatest and continuing sparks for my imagination was Doctor Who, the British scifi show that began in 1963 and (after a fifteen year pause) continues today as the BBC’s flagship show with a global audience in excess of 250 million. Of course, the show was not initially intended to be mere entertainment – the honchos at the BBC planned to include lots of time-traveling to the past with the idea that it would be educational as well. That pretty much went down the tubes when writer Terry Nation came up with the Daleks and scared an entire generation of kids behind the couch.

I was never particularly scared of the Daleks (I mean, they couldn’t even climb stairs!) but the Cybermen really freaked me out. So much so, that a nightmare I had when I was about 10 is still vivid in my memory. I was in school at lunchtime (which we were never supposed to be) up to something I shouldn’t have been (standard procedure) when I suddenly realized it was very quiet. I looked out of the second floor windows and saw everyone lined up as if for fire drill but with Cybermen all around. I knew I had to get away but without the Cybermen realizing I was there. I know, it doesn’t sound very scary, but trust me – I woke up in a cold sweat!

At the same time that I was imagining cyborg invasions, I was reading voraciously. My reading at that time was almost exclusively fantasy with some history thrown in (I was obsessed with the Tudors in general and Elizabeth I in particular), but it was Doctor Who that really colored my ideas of what a hero should be like and how problems/adventures should be dealt with.

First, of course, the main character has to be clever. There has been a distressing tendency in recent years to glorify stupidity, to make the aggressively dim character triumph over the self-regarding intellectual. The implication is that there is something negative in being intelligent. No there isn’t. In Doctor Who the Doctor is always the smartest person in the room, but nothing gets his juices flowing like coming across something he doesn’t understand. For the Doctor new discoveries are exciting, even when (or especially when) said discoveries show every indication of a deep and heartfelt desire to rip his head off.

But being clever alone is not enough. Our central character must be funny and refuse to take life too seriously. He/she should be easily distracted by extraneous, yet fascinating, other stuff and should basically zip through life with a childlike sense of joyous wonder.  Finally, our hero should also be non-violent. The Doctor never carries a weapon of any kind. This means he must extricate himself from situations through brain power and persuasion rather than brute force. (Both Jon Pertwee and David Tennant’s versions strayed a bit on this aspect, which made their Doctors seem a little unpleasant at times.)

But Doctor Who isn’t just about the Doctor. The changing attitudes towards women in the last forty-eight years can be traced through his parade of female companions. To start with, the Companion wasn’t much more than a sounding board and tripper-upper. (“Ow, I’ve sprained my ankle!” – you know the sort of thing.) Up until the arrival of the late, lamented Sarah Jane, the most positive role model for girls on TV was Emma Peel, and they hadn’t made that show for years. Sarah Jane changed everything – she was smart, she had an actual job and she questioned the Doctor’s decisions. The relationship was on the road to becoming one of friendship rather than paternalism. After Sarah Jane, there was Leila, an unrepentant savage who saved the Doctor’s life on numerous occasions.  (Favorite line: “I’ve found out how to stop them, Doctor! Stab them in the neck! ”) Girls really need feisty female role models and Doctor Who continues to provide them by the

Almost 50 years after its first appearance Doctor Who is still the ultimate in family viewing, with stories that kids find fascinating and terrifying in equal measure (my then- five year old nephew curled up in a terrified ball in my lap when the gas mask came out of the guy’s mouth in The Empty Child), while adults are amused and enthralled. The show never condescends to its audience and has brought adventure and a sense of what is right to generations of kids…some of whom now write books about feisty and adventurous children who can be relied upon to do the right thing and never take anything too seriously.

Blogger note: Originally I had given Helen a whole slew of different ideas for this blog guest post.  HOWEVER because the universe is a kind creature occasionally she came upon the fact I am a Doctor Who fan (thanks to my post at the time) and asked if she could instead write about Doctor Who.

It took me a flat second to say HECK YES (though I couched it nicer).  I'm 3rd Generation American Girl Watching British TV more then American and 2nd Gen Doctor Who fan, so for me this was a a glorious prospect to merge my two loves.  I want to thank Helen from the bottom of my heart for this very special guest post!

Want to know more? For excerpts, games, links, and more, visit Helen's website at: http://www.helenstringer.net/  Read Helen's blog:http://helenstringer.net/blog/ and check out my Book 1: Spellbinder review!


On behalf of Barbara and Sarah of Blue Slip Media I want to let everyone know about a contest to win the series!
Spellbinder series giveaway! Three lucky winners will receive one copy each of THE MIDNIGHT GATE and SPELLBINDER along with some bookmarks! To enter, send an e-mail to . In the body of the e-mail, include your name, mailing address, and e-mail address (if you're under 13, submit a parent's name and e-mail address). One entry per person and prizes will only be shipped to US or Canadian addresses. Entries must be received by midnight (PDT) on 6/17/11. Winners will be selected in a random drawing on 6/18/11 and notified via email.
*Please note I am not running this contest, this is a contest being run by Blue Slip Media.

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