Fraud Alert

July 29, 2012 at 7:57 pm (Writing) (, , )

This came up in conversation with one of my friends, but I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the past couple of weeks.

I think this is probably something that most writers struggle with at various points. We spend a lot of time scribbling away on bits of paper or typing like madmen, and I think most of us get patronized by others for our goal. It’s not even the people that say you’re never going to get published- hopefully those are few and far between. It’s more the people who don’t regard it as a serious goal, the ones who think that as an accomplishment, writing a book ranks up there with trying to chug a gallon of milk. They’re not trying to insult us, but they just don’t understand that this is an actual Thing.

And when we’re at the point where we have a stack of projects beside us and not much else to show for it, it can be pretty easy to fall into that mindset. I mean, who are we kidding, really? There are millions of people out there writing- who’s to say our book is better than all of those others?

And then the amazing happens! We sign with an agent, we get our book deal.

Suddenly we have a legitimate reason to be scribbling like crazy. Our deadlines are real, not just things that we set for ourselves. We have responsibilities to other people and expectations to meet. We’ll have a real product that other people will be seeing, and judging.

But every now and then, you still feel like a fraud.

You say “my agent” or “my editor” and feel like the world’s most pretentious ass, even though it’s just a matter of fact. You skip out on a movie because you need to work on a synopsis, and you feel like an absolute killjoy. The fears set in, and the doubts, and all the panic that comes of feeling like, despite all the hard work you’ve put in, you’re still a fake.

Guess what?

No matter where you are in the process, you are NOT a fake or a fraud.

Just repeat that to yourself as often as needed.

You have to put in the work long before you get anywhere, and once you do, there’s still more work. There are going to be moments where you don’t feel as sure of yourself or your books, when you still don’t feel legitimate. That’s a fact. But what’s also a fact is that the only thing you need to be legitimate is the drive to write. Everything else will work out or it won’t.

Just keep writing.

Until next time~

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Book Review: Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman

July 25, 2012 at 6:38 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , , )

The kingdom of Goredd is on the verge of celebrating forty years of an uneasy truce with the dragons, and Seraphina Dombegh, assistant to the court composer, has more reason for uneasiness than most. Tension between humans and dragons is rising, helped along by the mysterious death of Prince Rufus, the anti-dragon sentiments of the Sons of St. Ogdo, and the basic incompatibility of the ultra-logical dragon mind and the passionate emotional range of the humans. As the city prepares for an influx of dragon arrivals, Seraphina struggles to stay unnoticed, not something made easy by the attention of the court composer, the dragon embassy, the princess, and the princess’ bastard fiance, as well as the brilliance of her pure magical gift.
Seraphina has a foot in both worlds, and if she’s not careful, they’ll both come crashing down on her.

Clear a few afternoons for this book: slow and lingering, it’s the kind of book that wraps around you and just doesn’t let go. This is one to savor.

The single biggest part of that is language. Oh my God, the language in this book. Music is a significant part of this, not just as story but as character, and the language in this book is as precise and passionate as a musical form. The voice teeters between dryly factual and painfully emotional, an audible fault line between the pieces of who and what Seraphina is. She is, at turns, wry, funny, petulant, logical, endearing, brilliant, brutally honest, and thoroughly deceptive. She can be forgiving and hard, suspicious and trusting, exasperated and fond in the same breath. She’s an amazing character, as well as an amazing narrator. Everything about this book is a love song to language, an opera captured in letters rather than notes, each pitch perfect and never less than purposefully dischordant.

Perhaps because of the fascination with language, because of the level of detail paid to the rhythms and multiple layers of words, this isn’t a book that moves quickly. For all that it takes place within a few days, it feels like longer. For me, this wasn’t a book I could sit down and read straight through. I had to take it in sections over the course of several days, because otherwise I felt like I wasn’t giving due appreciation to the beauty and purpose of the language. The plot itself is fairly straightforward, but the personalities twist things around until you have the true drama of this story. On a very basic level, humans and dragons are incapable of understanding each other. That fundamental incompatability drives us forward, largely because it forces us to try. Even Seraphina, who understands dragons perhaps better than anyone else, has gaps where the communication simply falters. Elements like sarcasm and imagination- the emotional outpouring of true music that doesn’t seek technical perfection- are antithesis to the dragon mentality, but the sheer scope of what humans can accomplish within that range of art and feeling is fascinating to them. As Seraphina says, the dragons look at humans like particularly intriguing cockroaches. There’s nothing to keep them from squishing the irritants once their curiosity is sated.

As much as language, the characters are a work of art. Nearly all of the significant characters are exquisitely drawn with rich flaws and an eye for detail, as well as surprising depth. Ardmagar Comonot, the leading general of the dragons, is particularly (and bizarrely) appealing. Many of the dragons experience intense emotional confusion when the condense into human form, known as a saarantras, as the human instincts and senses overwhelm the much more factual dragon mind. The Ardmagar is no exception, but unlike most others, he both delights in and despises these maelstroms of experience. Even things like taste and sound, the rub of different fabric textures against the skin, even the impulses of fear and lust, they’re bizarre and uncomfortable, but also intriguing. We see other dragons struggle against this psychomachia with varying degrees of familiarity and success. For Seraphina’s tutor Orma, nearly as close to a human as is possible for a dragon to be, intense emotions are still unsettling, but at least outwardly familiar enough to be identified and categorized. Classified. In Orma, we see the true evolution of the human experience in the mind and soul of a dragon. It’s not that we ever see him as less than a dragon- in Seraphina’s rich, wry, and compassionate narration, we get to see all the reminders of what he is- but that we see him not merely study the human condition, but rather accept it as a consequence of his choices and the connections he carefully makes.

One of the areas in which we see the greatest degree of detailed variance is in Seraphina’s Garden of Grotesques. We don’t meet many of these mindscape inhabitants, but those we do are sympathetically, frighteningly drawn with rich idiosyncracies. Loud Lad’s restless tinkering, Fruit Bat’s simple contentedness, Fusspot’s prickliness, are all pulled into Seraphina’s own interactions, as memories shade her actions and she struggles to keep these inexplicable personalities contained in her mental garden. The shifting nature of the Garden, the manuevers she has to attempt to keep it intact, all tell into her daily encounters in the outer world.

One of the things I absolutely adored about this book was the dynamic, at times bizarre, between Seraphina, Prince/Captain Lucian Kiggs, and Princess Glisselda. Kiggs, as he prefers to be called, is a wonderful construction, at times intensely personal and at others coldly formal. He vacillates in his approach, but never in his complete, and sometimes brutal, honesty. He cares a great deal about what he does, about his purpose and his duty, but even in his more obstinate moods, he still has a little boy’s charm that makes him endearing as well as attractive. He’s comfortable reaching out to people on many levels, always aware that he’s just a little out of place, sometimes aware that the vague sense of displacement actually makes others more comfortable with him. Glisselda is, at first, a flightly, vindictive terror with a misplaced sense of fun and an overly developed sense of cattiness. And yet, there’s something charming about her, and as the story progresses, we see more layers unfold within her. We never lose our initial impression- indeed, that seems to be something she very carefully cultivates- but we’re left with the impression of a young woman who will one day be a truly formidable queen. Where her knowledge occasionally has gaps, her perceptiveness and cleverness are spot on. She, Kiggs, and Seraphina form a mystifying but powerful triangle, and if we spend half the book trying to figure out why two of those three pieces are so insistent on this partnership, we also thoroughly enjoy it. They work extremely well off of each other, both in a personal sense as well as a political one.

And I love the layers of political intrigue in this. It goes well beyond the “they’re bad, we’re good” inanity and into the grey areas of specific treaty language, the actual art of living with such uneasiness woven through the society, and the nebulous loyalties of those within the court. We don’t just move through the halls of the palace, we’re actually living there, with all the petty rivalries, false friendships, unexpected alliances, and exasperating duties that come with that privilege.

Do yourself a favor and really give yourself time to savor this book- much like Laini Taylor’s The Daughter of Smoke and Bone, this is a book that will make you fall in love with language.

Until next time~

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Oh, That Feisty Girl Detective…

July 22, 2012 at 7:24 pm (General)

Memories are a funny thing- they catch up to us sometimes when we least expect them.

I’m finding a lot of those memories right now because I’m packing to move in about five weeks. The first things I pack (and the first things I unpack) are my books. They take five times as long as everything else combined. Packing a few boxes at a time makes the whole process a little less overwhelming. You have to understand, I have a TON of books. I’ve packed four and a half of the seven and a half book cases, all of them at least double stacked and most of them triple stacked.

I have a lot of books.

I also have an e-reader, and I love it. As a bookseller who also sells e-readers, one of the comments I get with almost every demonstration is “But I just love having the actual book”, and to these people I say, quite honestly, so do I. I love the physical book. I love the weight, the feel of it in your hands, the texture of the pages, even the musty smell of the paper and boxes and the smudge of ink that comes off on your fingers on the cheapo mass markets. I love having a library in my home. When I was a kid, if you asked me which Disney princess I wanted to be, my answer was Belle, because she got to have access to THAT LIBRARY. I take care of my books, and as much as I hate packing, moving, and unpacking, I will go to all the pain and sweat and effort of lugging those books around from apartment to apartment because I love them. As much as I use my e-reader (and even that, mostly for pdfs), as wonderful as it is for traveling and reading manuscripts, there is nothing in my mind that will ever replace a physical library.

(Which is one of the reasons I love love LOVE the Doctor Who episodes in the library)

But as I was packing the half bookcase (which used to be a full bookcase until it met with an unfortunate accident with a staircase during one of the moves), which is mostly Middle Grade, I realized another reason why I love physical books so much.

Nancy Drew.

Well, sort of.

I have an entire box of Nancy Drew books and the goal to one day have the complete classic collection, and it’s not even because of my deep and abiding love for the feisty girl detective. I like Nancy, don’t get me wrong, but she’s definitely dated. A girl who doesn’t go to college, has an unlimited supply of powder-blue convertibles, changes clothing for dinner, and can safely stay the night with perfect strangers is not exactly something in my range of experience. I enjoyed her stories, my first taste of mystery and discovering the story along with the characters, and it taught me the word ‘titian’ as a color rather than referring to an artist, and well, that comes in really handy when you need to hit the triple word score in Scrabble.

But here’s the real reason why Nancy, Bess, George, and Ned make me love those rows of yellow spines on the bottom shelf. Some of those spines don’t match. They’re a much darker yellow, almost a grey-yellow, because they’re from 1948, 1950, 1952. They belonged to my mother. It isn’t just that they’re the same titles my mom read when she was a kid- they’re the same BOOKS. She didn’t keep all of them, but I’d say just shy of a dozen survived through the years. The edges of the pages are black and the layers of cardboard are peeling away from each other at some points.

The fact that they belonged to my mom would make them special anyway, but these have a bit of an extra miracle to them. When I was twelve, we had a house fire. Except for a box of books over at my grandmother’s (which included my Nancy Drews and my falling apart Berenstain Bears chapter books), all of my things were ruined. All of my books. Except my Nancy Drews, the books my mom had given me from her childhood.

Someday, I hope I have a daughter, and I hope I still have those books to pass on to her. The ones from my mother, yes, but also all the other ones, the ones I bought as a kid with my allowance or baby-sitting money, the ones I bought from the bargain section at the bookstore I used to live next to, hopefully one day the complete collection. And when I give them to her, I can sit down with her and show her the ones that I had when I was her age, and I can show her the ones her grandmother had at that age.

It’s not technically impossible to pass along an e-book, though I doubt any e-reader would have that kind of life span, but even supposing that it did it lacks the same emotional impact. It’s not as personal, and it’s not as poignant.

My future spawn children are going to be able to have access to all the books I’ve accumulated over the years, and those which I’ll continue to acquire. It’s a legacy I’ll be able to give them, far more than simply linking their e-readers to my account to share the files.

And that legacy? Starts with Nancy Drew and a box of books that has survived countless moves, a house fire, and more library purges than I can remember.

Until next time~

(And don’t forget, there’s a giveaway for Andrea Cremer’s Rift going on for a few more days- stop by and check it out!)

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Book Review: Rift, by Andrea Cremer + Giveaway!

July 18, 2012 at 8:24 pm (Book Reviews, Giveaway) (, , , , , )

Ember Morrow has just one chance to escape the life of docile marriage and motherhood that awaits girls in 1404 Scotland: her father owes a life debt to Conatus, a branch of Church knights who fight the lesser known evils of the world. If they accept her, her vows will protect her from her father’s plans and expectations, will free her to follow the life of action she’s always dreamed of. What she doesn’t know is that the evils faced by Conatus are worse than she could have imagined, and her trial of entrance is hardly the most difficult trial she’ll face. A terrible force is rising, and soon she’ll be cast in the middle of it.

In the interests of full disclosure, I won this ARC through a Goodreads First Reads giveaway, and tell you what, the arrival of this book was the ONLY good thing about a truly horrible day. I stayed up way too late reading this book, and I’m pretty sure that will be a very common statement after the book’s release.

I’m a character junkie, I make no bones about that, and Ember Morrow is a very likeable heroine. She’s intensely vulnerable, fierce, determined, a little awkward, and very aware of the fact that whatever choice she makes for herself, there is always someone who can override it. All the drive in the world can’t change the very basic fact of her existence: there’s always someone who can successfully tell her no. She’s unaccustomed being seen for herself, for who she is, and equally unfamiliar with being judged for her own merit. With the exceptions of Barrow and Sorcha, and a few other smaller characters, everyone seems to want something else of her. She’s not insensitive to that, but what really impressed me is that she isn’t dismissive of it either. Though her sister is in an arranged marriage, she genuinely wishes her every happiness, even acknowledges at times that a life of security like that might be pleasant, or at least not terrible. She understands the society in which she lives and doesn’t rail against it- she just doesn’t want that for herself.

That understanding is part of what makes her so appealing. Just as it can be hard to sympathize with someone who doesn’t fight for anything, it can be hard to feel much for someone who fights everything. Ember is a beautiful balance of living in her world as it is and wanting to have something better for herself. She comes to her training honestly and with a great joy that reaffirms her decisions even when she has cause to doubt or question them. Though the physical ease of some of her training sometimes strains credulity, it’s never completely over the top. She’s just this utterly fantastic character who was wonderful to read with.

I could definitely stand to know more about Barrow Hess, and I hope we’ll get that in the second. We come to know him as Ember does, so the mystery is understandable, but the enigma could stand to be penetrated a bit. He’s sexy and skilled, and we know his qualities, but nothing of his history, nothing truly personal. We get the sense that there’s a great deal of depth to his character, but we don’t get to learn any of it yet. He’s still alluring- and let’s face it, pretty hot-but he’s such an intriguing character that I was a little disappointed not to see more of him.

And can I just say how much I love Sorcha? She is absofrickinlutely awesome. And um…wait, no, can’t say that. Spoiler. But, oh my God, Sorcha. Seriously.

Most of the other characters are touched on more lightly. We get a sense of them, enough to leave a sketch of impression on the memory, but we don’t really know them. Even Eira, who shares the shoulder of the narration, never really comes off as less than cold. Cian, her sister, is more rounded, a blend of caution, duty, and excitement, but Eira’s dissatisfaction colors her so thoroughly that it’s difficult to have any true suspense about her decisions. Subsequent (or rather prior) knowledge aside, you always know she’s going to do something reckless and terrible. She fights against everything (which, in some respects, makes a nice parallel to Ember’s sense of balance) but she’s tempered by intolerance. She’s in a position of power but while she certainly has the skills to merit the position, she lacks the more difficult aspects of leadership. It’s hard to feel sympathy for her setbacks because she very clearly brings them upon herself.

Well, that and her setbacks are usually good news for everyone not on the reckless side of things.

I loved the care and detail given to the weapons and gear, in both the variety and quality of the pieces. It helps keep things interesting- because everyone having the same weapons gets a little boring- and also helps tie specific details into the personalities. When we see a type of weapon, we know who it belongs to, so we know at a glance who’s in the scene even before a name is given. It also gives a solid nod to the fact that the order, or at least its purpose, is universal. Unlike their non-Conatus counterparts, the Guards have a good reason to have weapons that would otherwise be exotic and frankly out of place in the fifteenth century highlands. And, of course, I love that we get to see the weapons in use. There was one part so unexpectedly gross and gory and wonderful, I wanted to hug Andrea Cremer and say thank you. That scene was exquisite, both in its appalling sense of setting and the way it uses that setting and the subsequent events to tug on the heartstrings. Just a wonderfully crafted scene.

I wished we could have seen a little more of the rest of Conatus. It makes sense that most of what we see is the Guard, but the trial is so rich with promise in the other aspects of the keep that I thought that would carry over into the rest of the book. Each arm of Conatus contributes something valuable, all are equally necessary, and I wanted to see them just a little in their natural habitats. Even if it was just at meals or something of that nature. Conatus as a group, as an institution of sorts, is an amazing, richly wrought creation, but we only get to play in the shadows of its greatness.

This is definitely a study of character rather than plot. That’s partly a product of the leisure of us knowing from the original trilogy that a Very Bad Thing happens and people try to stop it- we already know that. Why we’re here is to find out how and why it happened, and when the end event is known, it’s a less stressful journey to the reveal. Despite a few sharp incidents- oh, Dorusduain- most of the book feels like it’s just getting to a point where it can set up the next one. It’s not that the pacing’s off, because it isn’t- it moves along very well, carefully interspersing heavier scenes with ligher ones, action scenes with conversation scenes. It’s not something you can really put your finger on, but when it comes to the end, you’re exactly where you expected to be, and it feels like it didn’t take any time at all to get there. That’s not a complaint- this is a book you devour in as close to one sitting as possible, so the ultimate timeline can feel a bit deceptive.

Given the original trilogy, this isn’t surprising, but I absolutely loved the attention given to gender roles, expectations, and limitations. Specifically, how even when women seem to break from their pre-defined roles, they’re still constrained by having to act within them for the sensibilities of external society, and for their own protection. It’s a careful compromise between building strong characters and being honest to the setting and time period, and it was fantastic. It can be something as simple as a dress and a hairstyle that offers safety for women stepping deeper into a man’s world. I love the exquisite dance be see between politics and faith, the two extremes of the Church represented in directly opposing- though not directly confrontational- figures. The history geek in me was nearly swooning.

This book isn’t out until 7 August, but guess what? I’m giving away my ARC! Open to US residents only (sorry), and all you have to do is answer a question.

The members of Conatus are split into three branches: Knowledge, Craft, and War. Each branch has its own secrets, its own purpose, but each branch is necessary to the survival and well-being of the other two. With Knowledge comes the legacy of accumulated wisdom and histories, with Craft the ability to create and enhance, while War can be used both to defend and vanquish.

Want to win this advance copy?

Comment below and tell me which branch you would choose- and why. Entries will be accepted through 25 July.

And mark you calendars, because the second book, Rise will be out in stores 8 January 2013!

Until next time~

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Interview! With the Wonderful Diana Peterfreund

July 15, 2012 at 9:00 am (Interviews) (, , , , )

Everyone, we have a guest today! Please welcome the amazing Diana Peterfreund, author of the Secret Society novels, Ascendant, Rampant, and For Darkness Shows the Stars. I LOVED For Darkness Shows the Stars, so I was over the moon when Diana agreed to answer my questions. Be kind!

Okay, icebreaker question: favorite superhero?

I am partial to Toph from Avatar: The Last Airbender. But if you mean traditional comic book superheroes, I think Storm.

Aaah, Toph! I think the greatest earthbender EVAR can safely be called a superhero, classical definition or no. Speaking of classics (okay yes, very bad segue): what was it about Persuasion that made you want to do a retelling?

It’s one of my favorite novels and I don’t think it necessarily gets the love of other Austen novels. I’ve always loved reunion romances, and this one is such a doozy. I hope I bring this marvelous story to a new audience.

It’s one of my favorites too, but how did planning a retelling change how you read the original?

I’m afraid I may have passed into the memorization phase with Persuasion at this point. :-) I do find now that I have a special appreciation for those bits of the story that I did not, for various reasons, incorporate into my retelling, just because I haven’t spent months and month analyzing them from every angle the way I have with the rest of the book (the most prominent example may be Mary Musgrove’s family life).

Obviously Astrid and Elliot have very different stories- was one more difficult to write than the other?

Every book and every character has her own difficulties. Elliot was a challenge to me because her shyness and silent self-possession, inherited from her Austen counterpart, was a very different type of character than I’ve ever written before. All my heroines have such different strengths. Amy’s weapon of choice is her smart mouth, Astrid’s is… well, ACTUAL weapons, and Elliot’s is her constancy and willpower.

What is an ideal day of writing like for you?

An uninterrupted one — rare enough with a toddler around! I still find it amazing how much my mood is lifted by getting a good chunk of writing done.

I think words are like endorphins- the more on the page, the better the mood, even if it does take discipline to get them there. Is there anything about a writer’s life that continues to surprise you?

How much I still don’t know. There’s a saying that “writing a book teaches you only how to write THAT book” and it’s true. Every book comes with a unique challenge, lessons to be learned or relearned. And publishing works that way too. I think it’s because we’re in a time of such rapid change, but even stuff that worked two or three years ago in publishing is not the way things are done now, and I’ve been in this business for only six years.

When did you realize you actually wanted to BE a writer, rather than simply someone who writes?

I think I wanted to be a writer since I knew what writing was — when other first graders were learning to use vocabulary words in sentences, I was writing stories with my vocab lists. I had this awesome epic going on in my little black and white composition notebook. But I didn’t think that was something I could do for a living — I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Have you ever had a smaller/side character whose story you wished you could explore more?

Often! That’s one of the things I love so much about short stories; they give me that opportunity. I’ve written connected short stories (usually free) for all of my books, and they are most often from the perspective of minor characters. In “On a Field, Sable”, my story in the free anthology Eternal Spring, I was able to more fully explore Melissende’s emotions after the tragedy on the mountain in Ascendant. In the free prequel “Among the Nameless Stars”, I could explore Kai and the rest of the Cloud Fleet’s history in a way that’s only hinted at in For Darkness Shows the Stars. And of course, there are the “secret stories” on my website that tie into my secret society girl series. I really love short stories, even though I came to them the “wrong way ’round” according to most writing careers. I sold six novels before I ever sold a short story.

What books have influenced you as a writer?

I love love LOVE On Writing Well, by William Zinsser. I first read it when I was 14 and it’s still the basis of a lot of my personal craft philosophy. On the fiction side, I am still very much influenced by the books I read as a child and adolescent, which is probably why I gravitate to writing books for younger readers myself. Then again, I think a lot of people forget how much time your average student spends reading the classics. I read more Shakespeare in high school than out of it. Some of my favorites from childhood are the Narnia series, the Anne series by L.M. Montgomery, and The Count of Monte Cristo. And Austen, of course!

What are your most anticipated reads of 2012?

I’m lucky enough that I’ve read most of them. Team Human, Foretold, Code Name Verity, Born Wicked, Thumped, A Million Suns, The Book of Blood and Shadow… and they all exceeded my expectations! I know I’m forgetting some, though. Next up I’m reading Something Like Normal, by Trish Doller, which I’ve been waiting for for like, five years. I’m also doing a lot of catch up reading. I hang my head in shame.

I think our TBR stacks catch up with all of us- mine’s nearly as tall as I am now! Which…sounds less impressive for anyone who’s ever seen me in person…So let’s say you get to corral a gaggle of YA authors: where do you go, and what do you do?

Usually out drinking, sometimes off to eat pie (as in Y’ALLFest in Charleston, SC) and once even to a castle in Ireland. Beating the castle in Ireland is going to be a challenge, I think, though there are a bunch of places I’m kind of wild about doing a retreat at, once my baby is a bit older. People keep sending me drop dead amazing retreat ideas (I have one friend who is trying to get a group together in Costa Rica!) but I just can’t leave her alone too long right now. Maybe next year. I mean, Costa Rica!

Costa Rica sounds amazing!

Thank you so much for stopping by, Diana. Everyone else, if you haven’t read For Darkness Shows the Stars yet, do NOT miss out on this amazing book, and don’t forget to check out Diana’s website for information about signings and upcoming projects.

Until next time~

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Book Review: Shadows on the Moon, by Zoe Marriott

July 11, 2012 at 6:06 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , , , )

Life as Suzume knew it ended when her father and cousin died in an attack on their estate, when her beloved father was declared a traitor, and only the actions of a mysterious cinder-man saved her from following him into death. And yet, it can still get worse, when her mother remarries, when Suzume finds out the terrible truth about her new step-father. Twisted by her hate, pain, and need for revenge, Suzume dives into her lessons on the enigmatic art of shadow-weaving and sets herself on a course to bring about the destruction of all those who’ve caused her pain. Forget being rescued by the prince- Suzume would rather have blood.

My first exposure to this book was its description as a Cinderella retelling. A Cinderella in classical Japan? Yes please! And it is what it said it was- but SO MUCH MORE. Those coming into the book expecting Cinderella and step-sisters and a handsome prince at the ball with find plenty to recognize, but this is a retelling that steps outside the bounds of its original form and becomes something amazing and unexpected. Cinderella forms the foundation, true enough, but this is a story that stands on its own two feet. Honestly, if it weren’t for knowing it up front, I doubt I would have extrapolated Cinderella from the story.

This is a setting that comes alive, rich and elegant and full of the tastes, smells, even the textures of another land. Titles are an instrinsic part of the names, not to be dismissed or regarded lightly, and every layer, cut, and style of clothing is full of meaning. We’re welcomed into a culture rich with formality, one with precise rituals where every step has a reason and a purpose. It’s an education in culture without ever being slavish or pedantic, the information always used to specifically build the layers of a scene or character.

One of the things I really loved about this book was the precision of language. Poetry and songs play a part in things, and just as the rhythm and the choice of the individual words and phrases are so essential in these forms, so they are through the course of the book. Every word, right down to the symbolism of the names, is deliberately and carefully chosen, so the entire book reads like a form of poetry. When it seems like there are layers beneath the words, it’s because there are.

What sets this book apart from other retellings or other more or less fantastical settings is Suzume’s deep need for revenge. It drives her, forces her to choose again and again to turn from happier roads because of her determination to see this thing done. Despite the advice of those who love her and want to see her happy, despite the chances she has to take those tentative first steps into a better life, she can’t turn aside from her plans. She fully expects to be destroyed herself in the process, and that brings a grim fatalism. She can’t let herself love others, can’t let herself be happy, so she’s perfectly willing to take horrendous risks and do horrible things in the name of revenge.

But that drive, that need, deeply hurts, which is where the most impressive aspect of this book comes into play. Suzume is ultimately self-destructive, targeting that pain and rage and guilt into her own body, which has betrayed her by continuing to live where her father and cousin didn’t. Even as she assigns the blame to her enemy, she assigns equal guilt to herself, and as she intends to punish her enemies, she punishes herself.

You see, Suzume cuts herself.

And what really blew me away is how well it’s handled in this book. We’re inside Suzume’s head, so it would have been really easy to try to excuse or justify the behavior. For herself, Suzume tries just that. As the readers, though, we get to see how hard she has to work to convince herself that it’s okay, we get to see the consequences of her actions, the pain her injuries cause those who love her. Perhaps most importantly, we also see that cutting is an addiction as crippling and compelling as any other. It’s not a hobby- it’s a problem. It’s an outward expression of a severe inward pain with no other outlet, and it seems like such an easy solution. It eases the pain for a little while, but then it comes back even worse and it becomes so alluring to do it again. You think about it when you’re not doing it, and whenever there’s a problem, the wish to cut is there. Suzume lives through this, as do the people who love her whether she’ll allow them to or not, and it’s not something that finds an easy- or a complete- resolution. Within a cherry-blossom world of shadow-weaving and illusion, it’s so starkly real that it transforms an otherwise even-tempered (if dark) story into something amazing.

Normally I don’t like to talk about endings, but in this case, I think I have to a little, because I love it. It’s not necessarily a happy ending. It’s real and it’s bittersweet and more than a little painful, but it has the potential to become something beautiful. It’s REAL.

Until next time~

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That Twitchy Feeling

July 8, 2012 at 9:16 am (Writing) (, , )

I’m between projects at the moment.

Or, more accurately, I’m between some projects and between rounds of some others. I’m at a point where I’ve done as much as I can on some things and just need to wait, and where it’s really not a good idea to forge ahead into the next, for all sorts of grown-up, mature reasons. (Being a grown-up? Kind of sucks) I don’t want to burn out, and I do need to keep myself ready for when those other projects hit their next phase, and probably the reason that’s most convincing, I have to pack everything I own, which I definitely won’t do if I’m obsessively writing.

That would make for a very bad moving day.

So for the past week, I have done nothing. Genuinely nothing. I haven’t even written down a single idea. I go to work, I come home to bake alive in my apartment, and I haven’t even been reading real books, I’ve been reading fanfiction. And working my way through somewhat alarming amounts of television with my brother. I haven’t picked up one of my projects to give it a read through, despite serious temptation. I haven’t dived into editing my most recent draft because really, I need to sit on it for another few weeks before my brain can fully make sense of it all. I even know what my next project is going to be and what I need to do to plan for it, but I’m not doing it.

(If I’m honest, part of that is because the planning involves rereading a twelve hundred page book that made me want to kill large numbers of people in high school.)

For the first couple of days, it was a nice break. No drafts, no edits, no read throughs, no oh-my-God-the-world-hates-me-why-do-I-have-to-write-these-synopses.

And then I started getting twitchy.

Do you ever get that feeling?

It starts somewhere in the back of your school and before you even realize it, you’re looking for a pen and a piece of scratch paper, and you don’t even know what you’re going to write yet, but dammit, you just want to write! And you sternly remind yourself that you’re “on a break”, preferably NOT Ross and Rachel style, and you slap your hand to make your clutching fingers drop the pen, and you look for a book to distract you. But then there’s the twitch in the middle of the night, the one that wakes you from half-remembered dreams and leaves you scrabbling for the pen and paper you keep on your nightstand just for this reason, and in the morning you wake up feeling rather guilty. And then you look at the scrawled mess on the tablet and you can’t decide whether or not it’s a relief that you clearly didn’t A) turn on a light, B)put on your glasses, or C) open your damn eyes.

Then it gets worse, and you start writing down your five item grocery list not because you’re afraid you’ll forget something, but because you just want to be writing anything that badly. You even start listing out all the reasons you’re taking this mini-vacation from your craft and vocation and love of your life, trying to remind yourself that they’re very good reasons, they’re important reasons, and why is that character’s name and description sneaking into your reminder not to burn yourself out?

And I have a feeling it’s going to get even worse, because like I said, it’s only been a week.

Just seven days.

It’s now the 8th of July and I told myself I’m not allowed to start a new project until I am fully unpacked in my new apartment…in the beginning of September.

(sorry, that’s me swearing at my own idiocy)

So when that twitch comes, when that desperate need to write anything even if it’s not remotely view-worthy takes over, what do YOU do?

Until next time~

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Happy Independence Day!

July 4, 2012 at 4:38 pm (Uncategorized)

Taking a day’s break to spend the fourth with family, and stopping in to wish everyone a SAFE and FUN Independence Day!

And the part of me that was a Boy Scout (totally legit, I swear) has to say: please find out if your area has any fireworks restrictions before you set things off. Right now there are a lot of drought-stricken areas, and a lot of wildfires burning, so quite a few counties have banned fireworks. Please be safe!

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A Masterclass of Storytelling

July 1, 2012 at 8:45 pm (Writing) (, , , , )

There’s this show that my brother has been after me to watch for a while. His timing is pretty much atrocious- almost always, he brings it up again when I’m neck-deep in a project, so I can’t actually pay any attention to the TV. When I’m working on projects, I either listen to music or watch shows I’ve already seen ten million times, that way I don’t have to dedicate brain cells. Finally he caught me between projects, right as I was finishing a draft of one book and hadn’t quite gotten a second round of edits back for another.

And Oh. My. God. This. Show.

That’s right! Avatar: The Last Airbender has held me captive for the better part of a week, and it is a masterclass of storytelling.

Kiersten White wrote a post about Television and Writing a while back, and I hadn’t seen the show so when I read the post I thought: huh, seems pretty cool. Whatevs. Now that I’ve actually seen the show, I want to throw myself at her feet and say “OH MY GOD YOU WERE RIGHT!”

Because the writing in this show?

Absofrickinlutely brilliant.

Consistently, every episode blew me away with the writing, with the attention to detail, with how clearly the writers knew the overall arcs of both the story and the characters. This was a show that knew where it was going the entire time and never lost sight of that, so it was able to layer things through in every episode.

Anyone who’s ever read my reviews knows I’m a sucker for character. I can get past a mediocre plot if I’m in love with the characters. Anyone who writes should be studying this show for how well-developed their characters are. You spend two and a half seasons rooting for a bad guy just on the slender hope that he may get to become a good guy. There’s a character so thoroughly psychotic that you cringe almost every time she opens her mouth, and yet even she has a few moments where you feel genuine sympathy for her. She is a truly horrible person- and yet you honestly feel sorry for her. All of the main characters are beautifully rounded, and many of the side characters as well. You cheer for them, you cringe for them, you cry for them- and if you’re me, at a particularly emotional reunion in the series finale, you yell out “YES! That’s what I’m talkin about!” and start clapping.

And then your brother looks at you like you’re an idiot.

And you tell him to do something best left unsaid because damn it, the show is just that amazing.

But it doesn’t matter that these characters are obviously fictional because they’re still real. Each of them have dominant personality types, of course, but we see them through the full emotional range. The dark, dour characters get to have occasional moments of silliness and happiness. Light-hearted characters get to explore gravity and despair. Every character has a specific journey, a way they weave through other journeys. They cross paths time and time again, each time coming away with something new that changes their perspectives, and the patterns shift after each event. The way they evolve and grow is gorgeous. Within the story arc, each character has individual arcs that make them just as fascinating as the story they’re a part of.

There are no loose threads in the story. Even the side quests, the pieces that should feel extraneous, add something valuable to the whole. Part of what makes this story so brilliant is that it never loses track of where it’s going. Most of the episodes are their own contained story, and yet it never gets away from the series path. Even the individual seasons keep an arc for themselves while still directly feeding into the larger story.

This show has redefined how I look at the construction of a trilogy. Each book should be its own story while still contributing to the overall story, and if even half the characters in a book are as complex and well-rounded as the characters in this show, I will be one happy kitty.

Seriously, if you are a writer, you NEED to watch this show. And watch it again. And study it.

Until next time~

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