Book Reviews and NaNoWriMo

October 31, 2012 at 11:54 am (NaNoWriMo, Writing) (, , , )

Here’s where I could apologize for the paucity of book reviews recently- except I’m not going to. I’m going to explain it, instead, because it’s going to continue for a little bit.

During October, I wrote the first draft for a new project. I work full time, had other engagements that necessitated being away from my writing habitats or even out of town entirely, which should give some indication of the quasi-obsession needed to come through eighteen scattered days of writing with 95,000 words. It doesn’t give much time for reading new things- some days I come away from my writing computer so thoroughly fried in the brain that I can’t do anything other than stare mindlessly at the tv or re-read old favorites I can nearly recite.

I’d intended November to be a month of decompression, binge-reading and not even looking at anything I’ve written. I like to let first drafts sit for a few weeks before I go back to them, and with a couple of things coming up this month, it seemed like a brilliant idea. I’d get to read all the amazing books I’ve been stockpiling, catch up on reviews, and the only chances for my brain to be fried would be coming home from work as we key up into retail hell (also known as the holiday season).

Then I signed up for NaNoWriMo, or NaNo.

If you haven’t heard of it before, that stands for National Novel Writing Month. Every November, huge numbers of people come together in an online community- that sometimes stretches to local or regional write ins and physical check in support groups as well- with the goal of writing 50,000 words in the month of November. For the most part, 50K isn’t a novel, but it’s a good start, and you have a ton of people cheering you on and helping you stay accountable.

NaNo on the whole has its ups and downs.

Some of the ups: similar to the Butt-in-Chair philosophy, it’s a way to just WRITE. To train your brain and your muscles, to develop habits that could stick with you, to find how you can be productive. Or how not. The accountability is fantastic, the community is amazing, and a lot of fantastic books are born as NaNo projects. It’s also a great push for those who’ve been trying to make themselves write.

Some of the downs: a NaNo project is not truly a novel. It’s a sprint, a sloppy mess that takes a lot of time, attention, diligence, and personal responsibility to shape afterwards into a novel, and even more into a good novel. Too many people hit that 50K and with little more than spellcheck start sending it off to agents or editors as soon as it hits December 1st. And NaNo doesn’t work for everyone- many can’t create that kind of word-vomit, or else are quintessentially opposed to creating a crap first draft in the name of later revisions if simply taking the time in the first place will create a quality draft.

NaNo requires a pretty serious time committment. If your goal is 50K and you write every single day, that’s a little over 1600 words a day. Maybe that doesn’t seem like a lot, and maybe for some people it isn’t, but that’s EVERY DAY. It doesn’t matter if you’re sick, if you’re tired, if you have eight million things you have to do, if you’re out of town, at a wedding, a funeral, having a baby, whatever, you have to average 1600 words a day. Of course you have the choice to skip some days and binge on others, which is fine as long as you keep that average in mind.

I like NaNo on the whole, but I had no intention of signing up for it. I was going to take the month for decompression, remember?

But then…

I kept seeing people on twitter who were SO EXCITED about NaNo and the community. I saw comments from people who are going to try writing for the first time. I saw posts from authors I love talking about NaNo projects, and the realization that whatever’s conceived in this month could be my next favorite thing from them was kind of enthralling. I was getting excited about NaNo, but I didn’t sign up because I didn’t have an idea that was ready. Then something I’ve been mulling over for two and a half years shifted and settled into something right, and I realized that if I was willing to be more than a little insane, I could finally rewrite this thing. This will be my first NaNo, though probably not my last.

Here’s the thing, though: NaNo is pretty much how I write everything.

Writing is perhaps one of the most idiosyncratic and individual processes out there. Everyone approaches it and does it differently. That being said, I’m a queer duck. By the time I actually start writing a project, I’ve been thinking about it for weeks or even months. I know the characters, the bulk of the story, the settings, the major story and characters arcs, half the time I’ve even got speech patterns set by talking -literally talking, out loud- with my characters. When I finally sit down to write a new project, most of it is already comfortable and familiar in my skull. Opening up that wordfile is like opening the floodgates.

I don’t write every day. Usually it’s on my days off, a little on the easiest work days if I can come home with most of my brain function intact, and on the mornings of days when I close. First drafts usually take me between four and six weeks of stretched out time- usually 15-25 writing days. For me, doing NaNo isn’t much of a stretch.

FOR ME.

What this does mean, though, is that I won’t be doing nearly as much reading through November as I’d like to be, which means there won’t be as many book reviews. I’ll still be posting on Sundays, and likely I’ll post some NaNo updates on Wednesdays. If you’re doing NaNo, feel free to add me as a writing buddy, I’m signed up at Dot_Hutchison . Feel free to check in here when I do my updates- accountability (a more positive spin on peer pressure) is one of the great components of NaNo.

If you’re a writer and you’re not doing NaNo- no worries. Life sometimes causes obstacles, and the simple truth is that NaNo doesn’t work for everyone. Some people come out of it feeling energized and triumphant, some come of it feeling depressed and miserable.

One last thing I’ll say about NaNo in this- if you ARE doing NaNo, and if you ARE interested in getting published- DON’T SEND OUT YOUR NANO NOVEL IN DECEMBER. Seriously. Take the time to make sure your novel is the absolute best it can be. You’ll need to flesh out, to tighten, to check for consistencies. You’ll need to polish the language. You’ll need to actually research agents or editors, whichever’s your thing, to make sure that you’re querying intelligently. If you come out of NaNo with those 50K words, you’ve done something amazing. Don’t waste/ruin that by sending it out before it’s ready.

NaNo is largely about discipline, about the ability to train yourself to a task. Maintain that discipline in other areas as well. It’s something you’ll have to learn anyway if you do acquire an agent/editor/self-publisher, and you’ll be pleased by how much better your book can be.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Fudge and the Craft of Historical Fiction

October 28, 2012 at 11:00 am (Writing) (, , , , )

Historical Fiction is a strange, strange creature. It’s our world and yet, by virtue of the distinct differences in culture, clothing, food, diction, and many MANY other things, it feels simultaneously alien and familiar. We recognize names, but in other ways we feel like we’re looking at Westeros instead of England. Given some of my projects, it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about, and because of a question from a friend (thanks, Leah!) I’ve actually had to force myself to put some of it into words rather than letting it float as vague concepts.

The important thing to remember about Historical Fiction is the FICTION part of it. What we’re doing takes place within a real setting, often working around real timelines and events and people, but it is fictional. We’re telling a story that may or may not have ever happened, and if it did, we’re still projecting our theories (and our story) onto the characters and events. For example, Anne Boleyn was executed. We know this. If we’re writing a story about her thoughts as she mounts the steps to the platform with the headsman waiting for her forgiveness, we’re still speculating. Inventing. It’s the same if we create out of whole cloth a young woman that we claim served as one of her maids, someone watching from the crowd. They’re difficult and challenging in different ways, but in either respect, we’re playing directly within the historical truth. Or, we may be out in a small village, where the news of the queen’s execution is little more than a flash of news from a rider passing through, and the focus is much more narrow. Our focus, as the writer, is still the story.

So, sometimes, for the sake of the story, we look to see how and where and how much we can fudge things.

Part of what makes Historical Fiction so difficult is the necessary balance between accuracy and readability. We want to be correct in what we say- we don’t want to make glaring anachronisms, we don’t want to have a character be present at something thirty years before he was born. (Or in my case, be part of a revel nine months before he arrived in the United States…) It requires a lot of research, and not just into the straight timelines. Clothing is different, food is different, conveyance, speech, societal expectations, even things we don’t tend to think about as much, like impressions or definitions. If you called a man gay in the early 1600s, you were just saying he was happy. Little bit different now. Or, for another example, the part in Pride and Prejudice where Darcy calls 50 miles an easy distance. For someone with a private carriage, who wasn’t dependant on the vagaries of the post coaches, who wasn’t pressed into a small transport with four or five other people, that could certainly be the case, but that easy acceptance of distance as a non-obstacle was a privilege of wealth.

As we’re doing research, we tend to split into two camps. On the one side, there’s the camp that says “I want to do just enough to give the impression and then be done with it”. The stories that result from this tend to sketch the setting more than actively engage it. If they don’t give enough flat out “here is where we are” drops in the text, people may or may not tie the story to a specific time. Then there’s the camp that throws itself into research and damn it, we need to know everything, right down to how to how the iron buckle on the third gentleman’s left shoe is made. The stories that result from this tend to drown in detail. We get so caught up in getting everything right, we completely fail to make it engaging, we don’t notice that it bogs the story down considerably.

Obviously the easy answer is to find the happy medium, but easy answers rarely have easy applications.

It’s a very thin range of true compromise, where you can balance the accuracy with the story. There are some details you have to drop in order to keep the pace going, but there are some details necessary in order to place the story within the setting.

And that’s also where fudging comes in. In case it’s a regionalism, fudging is the act of deliberately blurring the edges of a fact in order to make it fit within the story. It’s an act with a very broad application. It can, for example, fill in what Darcy is doing over Christmas, when the original story follows Elizabeth. It’s very good for filling in gaps, as long as there are only theories and no proof for where they actually were or what was actually happening. Fudging can help you get around anachronisms in order to keep your readers. Recently someone (I think it was Rae Carson, I apologize if not) said there was a specific kind of ship in the book that didn’t match the overall technological level of the setting, but that the number of people in her audience who would know that and be up in arms about it was significantly smaller than the number who would be thrown out of the story by the intricacies necessary to convey what was needed to steer the ship of appropriate technological level. It was a fudge, but not one that most people will notice.

Fudging is a large part of the fiction part of Historical Fiction. When we create characters and put them into extant circumstances, we’re fudging what actually happened. If I put someone on a general’s staff, in a king’s court, in a highly regarded exploration expedition, I’m fudging. What I’m counting on is partly a suspension of disbelief and a general sort of ignorance on specifics, on the part of my readership. Ignorance, not stupidity. The idea is to weave the story so well within the setting that it seems completely plausible, that no one will know- or feel the need to prove- that Anne Boleyn didn’t have a maid named Bessie Cooper.

When Robin LaFevers was writing Grave Mercy, she fudged. Ismae was not a part of the Breton court. BUT- LaFevers fudged so well and so seamlessly that the true details of the court made it all wrap around Ismae, almost absorb her, and thereby lend her some of their truth. Did I go out and do some basic research into the court of Brittany afterwards? Yes, because I’m a history nerd and it got me really excited to know more, and then, because the book was crafted so well, I was blown away even more by how well the threads of history and fiction were spun together.

We want our historically-based characters to be accessible to a modern audience, and that can be incredibly difficult. Societal norms have shifted so much over time that a woman in the 1400s concerned mostly with getting a husband who isn’t TOO much older and doesn’t beat her TOO much seems absurd to many. She should be marrying for love! She shouldn’t settle for anyone who would raise a hand to her! Except…that’s our society talking, not hers. In her society, a woman of rank married whoever her parents or male guardians picked out for her, she married for money, land, a/o social gain, for power, and age, beauty, and personal compatibility had little if anything to do with it. These arrangements weren’t based off of emotions, they were political and business transactions with women as part of the currency. It’s a FACT, and if you’re setting a story within the 1400s, you have to allow for that being the prevailing sentiment. Courtly Love still had a strong grip even after a couple of centuries, but one of the basic tenents of Courty Love was that the woman the perfect knight was supposed to be wildly in love with? WASN’T SUPPOSED TO BE HIS WIFE. The whole concept was that true love was untouchable, and therefore pure in a way that love within a marriage couldn’t be (I’m not making this up, I swear). Sure, young maidens probably sighed and swooned over handsome young men, who may or may not have been titled, wealthy, or powerful but whatever fuss they might kick up, the options were marriage or convent. And that was it. If you’re writing a story set within this society, you can’t have an entire cast of characters all obsessed with true love and defying their parents at every turn seemingly without consequence. You can make someone rebellious, but you have to acknowledge and work within what they’re rebelling against.

It can be really hard to separate out what we’ve grown up with, what we expect, from what our characters’ realities would have been. Similarly, language itself can be a tricky bastard. Language changes with leaps and bounds, constantly evolving. You can’t have someone walk up to Queen Elizabeth I and say “Yo, dude, sup?” Doesn’t quite work that way. But, what we have of the time period’s modes of speech (usually written and therefore somewhat more formal) can be inaccessible or at the least uninteresting to large portions of a modern audience. There are compromises to be made, delicate negotiations that, if all goes as well as it can, come off on the page without any red flags or raised eyebrows. Something I use a lot when I’m trying to decide what is or is not acceptable is to compare the language in Hamlet or King Lear with the language in Much Ado About Nothing. The formal settings are very different, the concepts being addressed are very different, so where the language in the tragedies often comes off as high and poetic, the comedy is much more give and take, much more conversational. Even in Henry IV, Part I, look at the difference between the nobles and the commoners, how different the language and the apparent levels of education and class are. It gives you the range within a given society (though it is Shakespeare, so you know, expand the lower end of the range quite a bit). If at all possible, read documents from that time period, again and again and enough of them that the language in which they’re written becomes something familiar to you. (Kind of like teaching yourself not to swear in front of your parents when you’re in high school).

And good luck.

What do you look for in historical fiction? Are there things you find complete turn offs, or things you can forgive for story? Share below!

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Hello, My Name Is…

October 25, 2012 at 5:49 pm (A Wounded Name, Writing) (, , , , , )

Hey, guess what guess what GUESS WHAT!

Elsinore Drowning has a new name!

We’ve been tossing around replacement titles for a couple of months and, no joke, I have a sheet of computer paper with about either possibilities on there, but we finally found one and confession time, as much as I love the original title, I kind of love this one like cake.

Red velvet cake.

With cream cheese frosting.

And red sugar crystal sprinkles.

That kind of cake, so you know it’s true love.

Titles are strange, strange creatures and there’s a TON that goes into them- a lot more than I had ever thought about before. Usually a title is one of the first things I know about a project, the piece that helps define everything else, but looking at it from a writing stance is very different than looking at it from a publishing/marketing view, so sometimes titles have to change.

And the new title is…

*drumroll please*

A Wounded Name

So, what do you think?!

If you’re wondering where it came from, we actually went to the source material. The book formerly known as Elsinore Drowning is a modern retelling of Hamlet, and in Act V, our eponymous character says “O God, Horatio, what a wounded name, things standing thus unknown, shall I leave behind me!” It’s appropriate in so many eerie ways and I’m super glad it’s official now so I can share.

Want to know a little more about the book? Check it out on Goodreads, and be sure to add it if you’re interested!

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Cover Love: September

October 21, 2012 at 9:44 am (Cover Love) (, , , , , , , , )

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, but I’ve seen some covers recently that I absolutely love and want to share/talk about.

This first belongs to an author seriously blessed by the cover gods. Masque of the Red Death was stunning and eerie and dark and lovely, and its sequel, Dance of the Red Death, due out 23 April 2013 is utterly gorgeous. It takes us in a different direction than the first, shifting the color scheme to the opposite spectrum. Where the first was reds and blacks, this is purples and whites, BUT- keep in mind that in most European societies, from Renaissance straight through Victorian (from which time this borrows much of its atmosphere) lavender and white were second stage mourning colors. After the death of someone close to you, you were expected to wear black for six months, then you could expand to white, lavender, and grey for another six months. Araby Worth has made some progress in her crippling grief, but she’s still in mourning, and this cover shows that. The clothing is a little less formal, more flattering and less dramatic, and her posture is different. Rather than turning completely away from us, she’s more or less in profile, only her face still angled away and shielded by the fan, in itself less obscuring than the parasol from the first. Just as the colors are expanding from the deepest stage of grief, so her posture is also opening up, not just to us as the audience but also to the people in her life. She’s got progress yet to make, but this cover definitely shows how far she’s come.

17 & Gone, by Nova Ren Suma, is due out 21 March 2013, and I’ve loved this cover since it wsa revealed. It’s coloration is unique in YA, soft oranges and yellow, like the glow of candles, but there’s also a very CSI: Miami vibe to it. The bed frame- no mattress, did you notice?- is ominous, like an episode of Criminal Minds, and the windows beyond the girl’s silhouette don’t belong to a high-rate hotel. My favorite part, though, is how, if you look very carefully, you can see the details of the missing report underlaid in the image. Without those details, it might just be a particularly sentimental trip down memory lane, a runaway reflecting on the world she left behind, but those words, subtle but distinct, render it into something much more terrifying. We don’t know if the girl in the picture is the girl of the missing report, we don’t know if she’s simply missing by her own volition or someone else’s will, and we don’t know if something far worse has happened to her. This cover does an amazing job of capturing attention, which is exactly what a cover should always aim to do.

Another sequel with a cover as stunning as its first one, Laini Taylor’s Days of Blood and Starlight, due out 6 November 2012, has the same drama as The Daughter of Smoke and Bone. The mask is gone, the question of pure identity no longer a mystery, but the glamour and the beauty are still firmly in place. Rather than the blue representing Karou, we have red- Akiva’s flaming wings, anyone? And, of course, the titular blood. The contrasts are sharp- except for the red, the rest of the image is black and white, the focus just slightly blurred or hidden behind the title. Though the patterns around her eyes are delicate and lovely, it’s difficult to escape the visceral memory of war paint. This is going to be a book with a lot of violence and blood in it, but just as with the first, there’s also a great deal of unexpected beauty, probably hand in hand with the ugliness.

Oh, this one made me so happy when the cover was revealed. Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers, due out 2 April 2013, is the sequel to Grave Mercy, but it’s not Ismae’s story this time. This time, we see Sybella, with a very different kind of history and outlook than her half-sister. Here we get much more somber colors than the first, darker colors. This isn’t someone who works out in the open to be seen, this is someone who prefers to work in the shadows to conceal dark deeds. Her face is sharper, her expression more forbidding, and the way the light gleams on the blade immediately brings the eye to the very real threat of that knife- and the realization that she won’t hesitate to use it. Combined with the expression on her face, you get the feeling she uses it maybe more than she’s supposed to. Where Ismae was out in the open air, Sybella is in a tunnel- confined, claustrophobic, something that can far more quickly become a trap than an escape. Sybella’s story promises to be dark and painful but- look at the soft, dull gold of the cloak. Maybe it’s not without redemption. And oh, I can’t wait.

Last one for this month is Nobody by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, out 22 January 2012. At first glance, this cover is striking but a little hard to figure- you’d have to look at the description to know whether it’s supposed to portray assassins, snipers, or spies. But, you don’t really have to know. The contrast around the eye, dragging all the focus to the brilliant blues within the iris, gives you the same narrow view as someone looking through a scope. All that matters is what you’re aiming for. The thing is, you don’t know if you should be intrigued because what’s wanted is information, or if you should be very afraid that the girl in the crosshairs is going to end up dead. Perhaps my favorite detail is actually below the eye- where the skin shifts into a curling smoke or fog, giving the impression that the person you’re looking at? Might really be nobody.

Any covers you’ve seen recently that really caught your eye? Share below!

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Book Review: The Mark of Athena, by Rick Riordan

October 10, 2012 at 10:25 am (Book Reviews) (, , , , , , )

Note: this is the third book in the Heroes of Olympus series, the sequel series to Percy Jackson and the Olympians. If you have not read the previous seven books, there will be not only confusion but abundant spoilers below

Percy and Annabeth have been reunited, Percy and Jason have their memories back, and the Greek and Roman demigods seem like they might be able to work out an alliance to face the Great Prophecy and the continuing struggle against Gaea and her children. Great, right? Except…well, Leo’s not sure how it happened, but let’s just say a lot when wrong really fast, and now Leo, Percy, Annabeth, Jason, Piper, Hazel, and Frank are on the run on the Argo II with several desperate missions and not a lot of time in which to accomplish them. With trademark humor, sympathy, and action, Riordan takes us on a whirlwind ride.

I make no secret of the fact that I love Riordan’s books. They’re smart, they’re interesting, they’re funny as anything, they’re exciting, and yet we also get an amazing blend of personal obstacles, sorrow, and growth, something that makes them uncommon and wonderful. These stories have a bit of everything, but they’re brought together so neatly that it doesn’t feel overcrowded- quite a feat for a story that started in single-narrator first person and now has an entire stable of narrators in third.

Our narrators for this leg of the journey are Annabeth, Percy, Piper, and Leo, each claiming four chapters at a time. It’s a big book, which make worry some of the younger readers who haven’t hit Harry Potter yet, but the pace snaps so well that you’re pretty far in before you look up to remember there’s a mundane world around you. This is the first time we’ve been inside Annabeth’s head, and though I already really liked her as a character, this time she wins ALL THE LOVE. Well, most of the love; I still have some for the others, too. But Annabeth! We get to see so many different facets of a wonderfully complicated character. We see her as Percy’s Wise Girl, someone intelligent and resourceful, someone willing to dig down and do research, someone ready with the history of a thing to understand how to work with it or beat it down, as the situation calls for. We see her as someone who’s been an important aspect of leadership and influence in Camp Half-Blood since well before Percy got there, a leader in her own right who’s able to make use of widely varying skill sets and personalities- even when two of those personalities are rather used to being the leaders themselves. We see her as a girlfriend, which is painfully sweet and funny (judo flip, anyone?). Perhaps my favorite aspect? We see Annabeth as daughter. She’s loyal, rebellious, proud, aware of faults, frustrated, loving…in short, all the contradictions that perfectly make up most mother-daughter relationships. And I’m sorry, but her wanting to find her mother’s sacred owl and punch it in the face wins her EVERYTHING EVER. She’s an amazing character and I’m so glad we get to see more of the world inside her head.

Another very fun, and compelling, aspect of this book is the fact that both Percy and Jason are accustomed to leadership. We see the struggle of them working together, of having to acknowledge someone as an equal in experience and strength and talents. We also see two cocky teenage boys butting heads, which is hysterical. More than that, though, something we see both of them struggle with again and again, is the helplessness that comes with not being the ones to save the day. They’re not always the ones with the great ideas, they’re not always the ones with the needed talent. Sometimes, they’re the ones that need to be rescued. That’s a humbling and terrifying moment for people like them, and we get to see that, both in the struggles they deal with personally and in what they’re willing to confide to the girls they love. There’s also a rather striking difference between the two in leadership. Jason was expected to be a leader. He’s a son of Jupiter, so great things and leadership skills were always expected of him. He was placed in a position of authority because it was expected that was where he should be. Percy earned his leadership. He wasn’t a driving force within the camp at first, but through years of quests and obstacles, through strong leadership through the war, he earned his place. He doesn’t expect anyone to kowtow to him, but he leads with the steady confidence of someone who’s walked through every level of the ranks. He has a knack for other people’s skills, for how to use other people to the best advantage- even if that means he’s not The Hero. Jason still tends to focus on what he can do.

I love that in this book we get to see more of the reality of the schism between the Greek and Roman Aspects. We’ve been told about, and we see it in bits and pieces through the first two books, but we see it in a serious way here through two gods. The transition from Athena to Minerva is heartbreaking at best, frequently infuriating, and somewhat painfully appropriate for a lot of the struggles going on in our culture today. What makes it agony is the fact that she’s aware, in some sense, of what’s been lost, of what’s been taken from her. She knows she’s not complete and that she’s missing something vital and immense. And then there’s Mister D- or, er, Mister B. Bacchus and Dionysus share many qualities, but like the other gods, they reflect the differences in their cultures, as well as the varying attitudes those cultures espouse. Mister D is all snarl and bark, but the only time we actually see him bite is at the enemy. Mister B, while seeming laid-back, also comes off as a lot more dangerous. While D’s maenads are terrifying, it’s B’s full embrace of the bread-and-circuses way of life that makes your skin crawl.

Although, Coke and Pepsi? Brilliant.

As much as I loved this book, it left me with two worries. Well, one worry and one wish. The worry is that, while it’s great to be aging the kids up, and aging up the things they’re dealing with on an appropriate parallel, this book is very, very couple-centered. There’s Percy and Annabeth and all of their relationship stuff, there’s Jason and Piper and all their relationship stuff, and there’s Hazel and Frank and Leo and any number of obstacles and concerns tying the three of them together. For the older readers, yay! A lot of us really LIKE the couple-y things. I saw an absolutely phenomenal fan-poster that said “Keep Calm and Shut Up, Seaweed Brain”, which is just fantastic. But. A lot of the kids coming to this series are younger readers who are swallowing the first set in a gulp, and may not be ready for all the internal angst that comes with hormones. And there’s a second part to that- I hate the notion of boy books and girl books, hate the fact that there are parents and booksellers and teachers who are actively promoting that kind of label and telling children they can’t read a book because “it’s for the other gender”. Hate it. The fact, however, remains that there are many adults who believe this, and many children whose reading habits are limited by it. For those boys who are told by adults or friends that it’s not okay to read romance books, this may lose some of them for the series. The wish has to do with the narration. My friend Margaret and I were bouncing theories back and forth as to who we’ll see as narrators in the next one, and it made me realize that all four of our narrators in this one were Greek. The first two books were balanced, The Lost Hero with two Greeks and a confused Roman adopted by the Greeks, Son of Neptune with two Romans and a confused Greek adopted by the Romans. Or, as my brother put it, Jason and Percy are the Praetor Traitor Twins (say that three times fast). I would have wished for more of a balance in the narrative duties of this book, that the narrative duties balanced the very real need for balance among the seven demigods on the task. It’s a hard wish, though, because I really did love the narratives we got.

This is a fantastic new installment in the series, keeping the action and adventure and truly-snort-worthy one-liners flying so fast you don’t even notice how many pages you’re turning, but it also gives some fantastic depth to characters we come to love even more and an ending that will make you curse the year’s wait to The House of Hades. Definitely not to be missed. It’s smart with mythology, with history, with the innate struggles that come with the cusp of greatness, and all the trials and triumphs that come with simply being a teenager.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Soundtrack of the World

October 7, 2012 at 11:42 am (Writing) (, , , , )

I started a new project this week, one that equal parts thrills and terrifies me, and surprises me with unexpectedly funny moments. I love that I’m only three chapters in and it’s already surprising me- to me that says the characters are as real as I can possibly make them.

But, after all of the planning was done, after I had the outline of sorts written into my notebook, waiting to see how much or little I’d deviate from it, and before I opened up a fresh word doc and typed so much as Chapter One, I spend a few hours going through my music.

My life has a soundtrack. There’s music over the system at work (thank God or I’d go NUTS), there’s always music playing in the car, and when I’m home, there’s either music or something on the TV to provide background sound. When I write at home, it’s with my iPod plugged into a speaker. When I write elsewhere, it’s with the headphones in. Without music, my brain comes to a crashing halt. I lose the ability to focus, get way too distracted by all the sounds going on around me, and yet silence (such as could be obtained through noise cancelling headphones) freaks me out just as much. Not only does it make me feel deaf, but my brain starts trying to fill the void with imagined sounds, which does not help with the focus. Even when I’m asleep there’s music playing, or there isn’t sleeping.

Until writing Elsinore Drowning, I never created a specific playlist for projects. I had a couple of staples that I could write to- Scythian and The Town Pants, usually, two bands I know and love, and sometimes The Tartan Terrors- and every now and then as I wrote a specific scene, I’d find myself putting a song on repeat that really just sank me into what I needed to craft. Around the time I was researching and planning for Elsinore, though, I kept stumbling across posts by authors I enjoy that talked about playlists. How much they helped, how they really just nailed the characters or certain scenes, and in some of them, how the song they were playing at a given point could even give away spoilers. As long as it was one or two, I was pretty much “meh, whatever works for them”, but by the time I hit a dozen, I was starting to wonder if there was something to this.

So, I decided to try it. At the very worst, it wouldn’t add anything and I’d go back to my standards tracks. It was an experiment with completely acceptable stakes. In the interest of approaching the thing right, before I even opened my CD books or iTunes, I sat down with a blank piece of paper and wrote down songs or bands that in some way captured the atmosphere I wanted to bring into the book.

It was a VERY strange list, and not one I would I ever have imagined writing to. This may or many not give you an idea of the book, but there was a lot of Evanescence, Linkin Park, Lacuna Coil, and songs that had been accumulated on the Grey’s Anatomy soundtracks. There were individual pieces stuck here in there- a song from The Town Pants, which kept me from feeling totally out of my depth, Josh Groban’s cover of a Cirque de Soleil song, Peter Gabriel, Annie Lennox and Lord of the Rings, Saosin. I wrote the last quarter of the book to Christina Perri’s “Jar of Hearts” on repeat, which stunned me when I realized it but also felt exactly right. There are songs on the list that I ONLY listen to while writing or editing this book, and the simple fact of how easily it let me slip into the world within the pages made me decide to do it again for my next project.

This is the fourth project with a specific playlist, and I’ve learned that forcing myself to really think about what the music will help me do helps me understand even more about what I want from the book. The single hardest song to find was one the evoked the atmosphere of a specific place, because while I had plenty that could fit the bill, I needed it to be non-intrusive, as well.

Because one of the things I’ve learned about book specific playlists is that it’s not enough that they work for the book- they also have to work AS A PLAYLIST. If the songs don’t somehow work together, if the jump from one song to the next is choppy and jarring, it’s going to bring you out of the page. Ideally, a playlist should do everything you want it to do for the book but also become something you don’t consciously notice. I know a playlist is right when I start the first song, start writing, and look up at some point later at the silence and realize the entire playlist has gone by without pulling me from the words.

Even after I’d pulled all of the songs, I had to spend another hour figuring out the order. Were there songs that acted as a theme for a specific character? For the first time, the answer was yes, so I knew I wanted that song to be where we meet that character. There were songs for specific scenes, which needed to be placed more or less with those scenes if you pretend the playlist and the outline are equal timelines (did that make any sense?). But then there are attitudes or places that repeat, and I didn’t particularly want to repeat songs within the playlist. Repeat themes? Fine. But not the individual songs. It required a greal deal of thought to come to something that worked both musically and inspirationally.

This playlist had another first, as well. There are some soundtracks that are so brilliantly done, so completely inmeshed in the situation in the movie or show they’re from, that I can’t write to them. I can’t hear them without seeing the images from the screen. I can’t hear “Cassandra’s Waltz” without seeing lips and a pair of baby blue peepers on a skin flap. I can’t hear “Impossible Planet” without seeing that beautiful, deadly black hole. (Why yes, Doctor Who IS on my Do-Not-Write-To-List, what makes you guess that?) For the first time, though, a handful of songs from Doctor Who so beautifully fit with the other songs in the list, as well as drew the appropriate suggestions of the characters and scenes, that they’re on the playlist.

In no particular order of significance, timeline, or frequency, Shiny New Project’s playlist includes songs from: The Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo De Silos, Doctor Who, Cirque de Soleil, Scythian, Children of Dune, Inara George, Daft Punk by way of TRON: Legacy, The Piano Guys, Adele, Celtic Thunder, District Tribute, Pan’s Labyrinth, Celtic Woman, Final Fantasy X, Green Day, The Tartan Terrors, Masters of Chant, PianoSquall, and Solas.

Just looking at the names, it’s a STRANGE list.

And yet, when I put in the headphones and press play for the first song, it immediately sucks me in to this world so incredibly different from the one that surrounds me.

How about you? For those of you who write, do you listen to music when you write? And if you do, do you make specific playlists for it?

Until next time~
Cheers!

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