Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A moment that will someday appear in a story

Writers have these moments (not often enough) in life where something happens that we're like, Oh oh oh I am sooooo going to use this in a story someday!

This little moment is not clever or exciting, it's just a tiny slice of life with no rising action or dark moment of the soul, but it was rare and strange and beautiful, so I just have to share it.

Last Wednesday I was sitting in my office at work, the third floor of a University of Wyoming building, trying to puzzle out some web mapping code and trying to not be distracted by the Army ROTC unit doing drills outside my window, when a hauntingly lovely sound came floating up from some part of the building.

I work in the Agriculture building. I used to believe it was inhabitated by gnomes (there's another story about that), but I think they have departed due to some unspecified University policy, so there is nothing haunting about my building, unless you count the insect lab in the basement and the collection of butterflies pinned in a case.

Nothing ever exciting has even happened in my building, either, unless you count when students pull fire alarms to get out of taking exams.

So I was quite startled by the etheral sound suddenly wafting through the halls.  A violin playing.

Possibly just a recording someone was playing in a classroom? We are long way away from the Fine Arts building where an actual violin player might be found.  But I couldn't resist. I headed out of my office to track down the lovely sound.

Down the second floor; nothing there. Down to the first floor. Oh yes, getting closer.

If this was a recording, it was very impressive. I have NEVER HEARD SUCH A LOVELY SOUND. I had no idea the acoustics in this building were so amazing. (Actually, I did know it had impressive acoustics. You don't dare have a conversation on your cell phone in any of the halls; every word can be heard from adjoining classrooms and offices. Eerie acoustics. Might be the gnomes again).

I poked my head around a corner and discovered a girl reading flyers on a bulletin board. She has long hair, 5 inch heels, and a short skirt. While reading, she played this haunting melody on a violin.

Not just any violin. I have never heard such beautiful sound. I have been to violin concerts in fine auditoriums. I have endured two years of my daughter practicing the violin (wait. that is not a good example). We have had several impressive violinists who have done solos at our church.

One of the church soloists sometimes sits for me during summer when the girls are home a lot more. She is 15 years old, and has a rare form of macular degeneration which means she can only read if she holds a paper within an inch of her face. She will never be able to drive a car. (Side note: she is the most amazing teenager I have ever met: creative, smart, loves history, scorns other sitters who just play on their smart phones when they are supposed to be sitting kids. She doesn't just play with my kids, she INVENTS games for my kids).

She is saving up money to buy a really good violin; one that will cost her over $10,000.  I totally applaud her goal and wish I could give her a raise so she can buy this violin sooner, though I'm already impressed with the $2000 one she plays now (I fully admit I don't have a discerning ear for fine instruments).

Back to this random violin-playing girl in the Agriculture building, reading flyers on the wall while producing this heavenly sound.

She was an amazing violinist, and her violin must have been of the $10k or better variety, because I have never heard such beautiful sounds. It is was if a violin was a living creature singing. A fairy dancing inside the wood, weaving strands of musical gold from straw (or rather, from agricultural building molecules) like the miller's daughter in the Rumpelstilskin fairytale.

I stood in the stair well (out of sight) just listening, drinking it in, this unexpected, out of place moment. This is something you'd expect to happen in Paris, maybe. Or at least in the Fine Arts building.

Not in the building where I work.

So while I'm standing in the stair well with a goofy grin on my face, an agitated lady stomps down the hall and I had this terrible premonition that she was going to accost the violin girl and ask her to stop because she's disrupting a class or, heaven forbid, distracting an accountant trying to balance a grant budget. I almost tried to stop her before she stopped the violinist, but I head back up to my own floor (because I'm hopelessly non-confrontational).

A few moments later the loveliness ends.

But for the next few days, I haven't been able to get it out of my head.

Even if I never find a story to write this semi-magical moment into someday as scene, at least I have captured it here. And at last I have heard a violin worth paying $10k, maybe even $100k for. I have heard somthing in an entirely new way, in an unexpected place. A gift.

Did you catch that viral video of a meterologist who caught thundersnow on video? Apparently thundersnow is a very rare (and complicated) weather phenomeon and this guy had waited his whole life to see it (or he was just super excited to have finally caught it on video).  I think it is absolutely wonderful how our world is peppered with events like these, discovering the purest violin music in the most ordinary place, or catching thundersnow on video and then dancing around cheering like mad.

I love capturing these moments in my writing. It reminds of the truth of one of my favorite writing quotes: "We write to taste life twice."

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Top Ten favorite quotes (at least for the moment)

This week's Top Ten Tuesday theme is about your favorite quotes from books.  Also, for the writers, Adam Gaylord is doing a Writer's Tip Tuesday and this Tuesday I have a guest post!

My quotes are about happiness, seeing in new ways, love of books (of course!), questions for which there are no answer, faith, and creativity.

And then there's a few quotes on falling in love, the deeper love that comes much longer after the falling in love stage, and a love that you grow into instead of falling into. 

1. What does happiness feel like?

“Happiness. It was the place where passion, with all its dazzle and drumbeat, met something softer: homecoming and safety and pure sunbeam comfort. It was all those things, intertwined with the heat and the thrill, and it was as bright within her as a swallowed star.” from Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor

2. Seeing in a new way

“These human eyes seemed weak to me at first," said Eskar, still staring away from me, scratching her short black hair. "They detect fewer colors and have terrible resolution, but they see things dragon eyes cannot. They can see beyond surfaces. I don't understand how that's possible, but it happened incrementally as I traveled with Orma: I began to see the inside of him. His questioning and gentle nature. His conviction. I'd glimpse it in something as incongruous as his hand holding a teacup, or his eyes when he spoke of you.” from Shadow Scale, by Rachel Hartman

3, Love of books (and libraries!)

“Libraries really are wonderful. They're better than bookshops, even. I mean bookshops make a profit on selling you books, but libraries just sit there lending you books quietly out of the goodness of their hearts.”  from Among Others, by Jo Walton

4. Unanswerable questions in life

“To learn which questions are unanswerable, and not to answer them: this skill is most needful in times of stress and darkness.”   from The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula LeGuin

5. Faith, and doubt

“He said that doubt provided contour to faith, like shading in a drawing, that it allowed you to see what was really there.” from The Opposite of Hallelujah, by Anna Jarzab

6. Faith, and God's calling

“The place God calls us to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.” from Kisses From Katie, by Katie J. Davis

7. Creativity

“We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.”  from Ray Bradbury's book on writing

8. Falling in love

“As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”  from The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

9.  Growing into love

“There is the great lesson of 'Beauty and the Beast,' that a thing must be loved before it is lovable.”  from Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton 

10. The deeper love that comes from time

“They had an ordinary life, full of ordinary things-if love can ever be called that.”  from Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

Bonus quote - this one is a bit long, but I love this one because it captures the frustration of the artist (or the writer, in my case): our desire to create something perfect and beautiful and how we always fall short, but the falling short is itself a beautiful thing for how to draws us onward, ever onward, to keep creating.

“This was not the perfect work that had existed in her mind. It was only the imperfect rendering that was the best her skill could manage. Yet Giulia was not dismayed. For she knew that she would try again – and again, and again, for as long as it took to gain the experience, the judgment, the understanding to get it right. And perhaps she never would get it right. Perhaps she would never attain that flawless blue, never create that perfect image, never find the ultimate point of balance between what she could accomplish an what she could dream. Yet wasn’t that the point? To be drawn onward, ever onward, in pursuit of your deepest passion? To look back at the end fo the race and knew that you had never done less than the most you could do?”  from Color Song, by Victoria Strauss

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Recent writing tidbits

Here's a few things that I've been collecting on the writing front, while revising my novel yet again based on feedback from agents, and working up the courage to send out queries again.

Every writer needs someone like this to cheer their book on: 

Tadashi, from Big Hero Six

This was posted by Leatrice McKinney. I'm reposting it so I can re-read it again and again when I'm feeling doubtful about another rejection:
I am grateful for my rejections.
I'm sure that's a strange thing to read, it certainly is a strange thing to say, but it's true. And I didn't really realize it until today.
I'm looking over the current version of my manuscript, comparing it to the version I queried in the beginning. My story is so much better, richer, fuller, enticing. It's been through I don't know how many bits of agent feedback, from rejection letters. It's now been through some editor feedback as I get those rejections. Without all of the no's and the reasons why, my story wouldn't be half what it is right now.
With each rejection Alice's tale gets better and better. When she finally hits the shelves, she'll be so much more than what she was. I want to put the best book possible out there, and it's taken me all this time to realize that without those rejections my story wouldn't be near half what it is now.

This was just posted by Martina Boone (author of Compulsion), on the connection between setting and memory (I think this will be my writing exercise this week):
Based on who they are and their individual experiences, each character is going to see the setting in different ways, and the objects and aspects within the setting will raise memories from their lives. Giving thought to those connections and varying perspectives within a setting will, in turn, help you create the fine details that bring the setting to life. 
  • Sounds, smells, objects within the setting that trigger particular memories
  • Attitudes toward the setting and objects within It that tell us about that character
  • Ways of describing the setting and the objects in it that reveal how the character’s are changing as the story develops

This is what I'm reading right now, The Girl At Midnight, and it's doing that wonderful magic of whisking me away to another imaginative world, and firing up my own imagination at the same time, making my fingers itch to keep writing and to keep making my writing better.
The Girl at Midnight (The Girl at Midnight, #1)

Here's the premise: Echo lives in a secret room inside of the New York City Public Library...  until she's sent on a quest to find the Firebird, the only hope of bringing peace between two warring magical races, the bird-like Avicen and the dragon-like Drakharin. A new twist on the Firebird mythology, bird and dragon. 

I've already highlighted a tons of wonderful quotes from this book, mostly delicious characterizations and great snippets of dialogue, and some scary-good world-building. Echo is an interesting mix of youthful bravado, well-read brilliance, and orphaned/not-fitting-in-anywhere sadness.

"she had the unflappable compsure of those who have lived too long in too short a span of time" 
"Kalverliefde, Echo thought [she collects odd words that describe powerful moments] The euphoria you experience when you fall in love for the first time. For a word that contained only four letters, love felt like a monumental leap" 
"Echo did not giggle. She chuckled. She cackled. Occasionally, she even chortled. But giggling? Heavens, no." 
"If her hormones had a face, she would slap it" 
"Greatness is not always good." "Yeah, yeah, one ring to trule them all, I get it" 
"The young always think they are invincible. Right up to the moment they learn otherwise. Usually, the hard way" 

Sorry for the fangirling episode!

May this day be a day of great writing and outrageous dreaming up of ideas, and happy reading for all.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Insecure writer: challenged by the unexpected

Something I've been noticing lately with examples of writing that catch my attention are the scenarios where a character does something unexpected, or something happens unexpectedly.

The first Wednesday of the month
 is time for Insecure Writers Support Group,
hosted by Alex Cavanaugh and his
excellent team. 
For instance, I read a great first chapter from a friend in our writer's group where her character felt compelled to buy a desert jackal for sale at market. He thinks he feels some sort of bond with the critter, but after the purchase the jackal bites him and runs away.

What? I did not expect that. But I sympathized with the character more after that event.

Perhaps in subconcious response to reading that, or in subconscious reaction to the new Cinderella movie, I was daydreaming the other day and a story idea popped into my head where a girl and a prince meet, and it's not love at first sight. It's hate at first sight. I wanted to find out why they hated each other, and I wanted to see how that hate could be overcome. So much more intriguing.

I also just finished reading a book where the main character always said something in conversations that I didn't expect.  It made her fascinating.

It's hard to write this way. Of course it's natural to write what first comes to mind, but it's a good exercise to force myself to delete the first thing that comes out, and come up with an unexpected thing.

It takes a lot longer. It means long pauses in my writing, while I'm casting about for ideas. And the first few attempts at "unexpected" are lame, but then the next day at some random moment I'll think of something unexpected that makes me smile, something that fits in a perfectly unsettling sort of way.

We writers are twisted sorts of creatures, aren't we?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Throwback Thursday - can I be a kid again?

Sometimes I look at all the time my young girls have to be creative - whether it's drawing or knitting or imaginary play or even a little writing, and I want to be a kid again with all that time to dabble in different things. Right now any free moment I can wrangle out of my schedule is devoted either to writing or reading in order to learn and make myself a better writer (yes, also for entertainment and relaxation). When I was a kid and teeanger, I used to draw like crazy, but I haven't attempted anything other than hearts and stars as little added flourishes in cards since about 12 years when I hand illustrated a little book for my toddler.
me at about age 3 being creative
The sitter for my girls for the past 8 years (!!!) had her last day with the girls yesterday, before moving to California. I wanted to give her a special going away present. For some reason, my fingers itched to draw again, so I sketched her sitting with my four girls based on a photograph. It was far from perfect but it felt so good to create something in a different media I usually create in.

Which led me to the ongoing frustration I deal with: not having enough time for creative outlets like this. I firmly believe that "I don't have enough time" is a poor excuse; if something is important to you, you make time. I have certain times blocked out where nothing less than an emergency (like a life threatening emergency) will take precedent over the sacred writing time, but I wish I could block out more hours a week for other creative outlets. But there's the job, and home schooling the girls, getting the four of them to their various after school activities, spending time with my husband so our marriage doesn't go sour, and as my parents are aging I'm having to help them more and more.

Right now I'm facing a huge choice: whether or not to go back to work full time and putting the girls back into public school. I love home schooling them but financially we could use the boost.

This decision is tearing me apart. Besides the advantages of getting to spend so much quality time with my kids and give them an individualized and more one-on-one education, another side benefit of the home school paradigm is that they have so much more creative time than they would in a more structured public school setting (and they love their freedom in that respect). Knowing how precious my creative time is to me, I want to give them that benefit, too. I know they'll adjust and manage just fine in a new school setting... just as I know I'll adjust to full time work again. Life requires us to adjustable.

The decision isn't made yet... sometimes it helps to journal out my conflicting feelings about things here on ye old blog.

And it always helps to be thankful, when you're facing something tough. I'm thankful that I've had the opportunity to spend so much time with my girls; I'm thankful for the full time job opportunity (I really love my job! Yay for getting paid to make maps!); most of all I'm thankful I have creative time even if it's not as much I'd like. Because I know many people don't get as much time as I get, or have more financial burdens to bear, or even face day-to-day survival concerns.

I love that life lets me be creative, and also forces me also to be adjustable... in some roundabout way that also helps the creativity, right? What we create is probably even more influenced by what life throws at us than the actual time we have for creation.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Dragons and half-dragons, be still my beating heart

Oh, long at last! The sequel to Seraphina has arrived! And it was so worth the wait. Never rush a good author to get a quick sequel.

Shadow Scale (Seraphina, #2)

Seraphina was about a girl who hides the fact she's half-dragon, in a world where an uneasy alliance between humans and dragons can be destroyed by the mere fact of her existence.

Seraphina is in my favorites list and I asked for the hardback for Christmas, with the beautiful new cover, so I could re-read it before the sequel came out.

Shadow Scale, the sequel, is about Seraphina's search for other half-dragons like herself to prevent the coming dragon war, and to find her missing dragon uncle, Orma. (I have no words to express how much I fell in love with Orma in the first book. I was desperate, DESPERATE I TELL YOU, to find out what happened to him in the sequel. And oh my did Rachel Hartman take me on a twisty, heart-rending journey.

The first half of this book was a journey through incredible world-building and a host of impressively unique half-dragons. I commend Hartman for developing each half dragon so well, so different from each other: a celebration of oddness. The second half, where the dragons return to the story, was where my heart engaged: truly I longed for the real dragons (and their cousins, the lizard-like quigutls), though I appreciated learning about the subtleties of half dragons.

I know I will re-read my favorite parts in the Tanamoot again and again, from the marvelous journey up the Omiga valley and the waterfalls, but especially with the tunnels and the quigs and Brisi (Brisi is an adolescent dragon! We get to meet dragonlings in this book! What fun!) 

And who knew that the snoring of dragons could create such harmony? Or this, that I loved so much I had to take a snapshot of while reading: 

I also enjoyed Porphyry and the feeling of really walking into a vision of Ancient Greece, except that it was different, of course, but still: the Vaskilion? The Bibliagathon? The Agogoi? It felt so Greek to me (grin). 

Eskar and Comonot were magnificent (Side note: after reading Shadow Scale, I geeked out on Rachel Hartman's blog for a while and discovered that if Rachel were to pick an actor to play any of her dragons, she'd pick William Shatner to play Comonot. Yes, Yes, Yes!!!)  He's definitely that James T. Kirk  brand of bravado and boldness, moments that make you smirk, and moments when he surprises you with unexpected wisdom: 
Comonot considered. "Logic can lead to many ends, citizen. No one likes to admit that - not even your philosophers. Dragons rever its incorruptible purity, but logic will coldly lead you over a cliff. It all depends on where you begin, on first principles.

Speaking of logic, this book is chock full of philosophy, which I loved. 
“The thing about reason is that there's a geometry to it. It travels in a straight line, so that slightly different beginnings can lead you to wildly divergent endpoints.”  
“Was it probably true that reasoning beings were equal? It seemed more like a belief than a fact, even if I agreed with it. If you followed logic all the way back to its origin, did you inevitably end up at point of illogic, an article of faith?”

And not just deep philosophy, but amusing touches, as well:
The mural on the ceiling depicted Justice, Commerce, and Philosophy having an allegorical picnic of metamorphical sardines. 

The reverse love triangle between Lucian Kiggs, Seraphina and Glisselda was resolved in a bit of an unexpected way. Meanwhile, there were some Kiggs and Seraphina scenes that made a book about eccentric dragons and philosophy also heart-wrenching: 

He smiled sadly, then placed his hand around mine so we were holding the book together. "I believe that - with everything I have," he said, holding my gaze. He kissed the edge of the book because he could not kiss me. 

I loved the bits of paradox, the inside-out house, the exploration of rigid orthodoxy versus flexibile interpretation, the attempt to describe heaven along with admission that it can't possibly be describable.

There are so many more wonderful quotes from this book but I'll limit myself to one last one, an Orma quote because I love him so much. Also, Orma has romantic developments in this book! (Sort of. Dragon romance perhaps more mathematical than romantic... but still)

"Are you finding monastic history a very compelling reason to live?" 
"I'm not human," he said. "I don't require a reason to live. Living is my default condition."  
I couldn't help it; I laughed, and tears welled in my eyes. That answer was quintessentially Orma, distilled to his elemental Orma-ness

Thank you, Ms. Hartman, for persevering with this sequel; it was well worth the wait. And thank you, Random House Books, for giving me early access to it. My review was not influenced by receiving this copy

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Insecure writer: despair and donuts

In pursuit of short term, fun writing goals this year, I've tried two different things so far, and I'm trying to come up with something different each month.  These different exercises/motivators are to A) keep me writing, of course and also B) help me fight the insecurity, the despair, the temptation to give up because the stories still need so much work. 

The first Wednesday of the month
 is time for Insecure Writers Support Group,
hosted by Alex Cavanaugh and his
excellent team. 

About my YA science fiction, Star Tripped, a couple agents have said "wonderful premise! But not connecting with the characters." (One of them even pointed out why, which I really appreciated). So I made some changes and presented it to my writer's group. Again, similar feedback along the lines of "hmmmn, this has potential, but we're not connecting." Played some more with the first chapter, sent it to a critique partner. She pointed out some of the characterization that didn't work (note to self:  avoid a lot of negativity in first chapters. Negativity is a turn-off)  (Negativity is a way to produce conflict, but maybe not the best way). 

So I've been sitting at my computer for the past few days, scratching my head, poking my character, annoyed at her. "Give us something we can connect to you with!" I get an idea; I toss it around; it doesn't click. I chew my fingernails until another idea comes. Another dud. Really, does this girl have any personality? Do I have any personality? (Yikes! This is where insecurity will lead you).

So then I pick up a really good book and read the first chapter. How did they do it? How did they get me to connect with this character? How did I get hooked? I marvel at the author's brilliance! And then I crawl into a mental corner and sulk because the brilliance does not conduct itself into my writing fingers via those lovely papery published pages. The ideas I have come up with so far are decidedly non-brilliant. 

After a while, I come out of the corner and stop sulking (because it's cramped, in corners; not much of view) and try some different things. Last month I tried writing in a notebook right by my bed the moment I woke up, when my head was still all foggy from sleep. It's surprisingly easy to do this, even for a very decidedly NOT morning person like myself, because it doesn't require any thinking. Really, no thinking. Just spewing. (Maybe our dreams, our subconscious, does all the work?)

I plan to keep doing the morning writing, but I also wanted to try something new for March, too. March is a long way from November and NaNoWriMo, but I think this month I'm going to start my writing days reading a NaNoWriMo pep talk (there are probably at least 50 pep talks archived now) and maybe try something that day's peptalker suggests.  For instance, Chuck Wendig suggests "write donuts in an empty field" You know, as in when you go out to an empty parking lot and drive donuts? (if you don't know, here's a wikipedia entry on it. Wait, Wikipedia doesn't really do it justice; just read Wendig's pep talk and you'll get the idea: it's basically just - go hog wild). 

So anyway, that's my plan for fighting my insecurities this month, and to keep writing. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Top Ten favorite books in the last three years

Putting together this list, I didn't just look at back at my top ten lists at for the last three years. I looked through my Goodreads lists at EVERY book I've read in the past 3 years. That's because I've noticed that some books are so flashy that I fall in love instantly, but they don't have the staying power of other books. The books that made that his list have all continuously popped back into my head, months or even years after I've read them. Some of them I've completely re-read, from cover to cover, and all of them I plan to re-read.

Top Ten favorite books in the last three years is the theme for this week's Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by the Broke and the Bookish blog, for anyone who wants to share about books.

10. His Majesty's Dragon, by Naomi Novak 
His Majesty's Dragon (Temeraire, #1)
Temeraire has become one of my most beloved dragons, among a very rich playing field of famous dragons like Smaug, Toothless, Ramoth, Maleficent, Draco, Eustace, Saphira, Yevaud, Orma, etc...  He is innocent and wise, deadly and noble, a lover both of books and battle tactics. To top it off, he exists in a Jane Austen meets Master and Commander fantasy version of Regency England and the Napoleonic Wars.

9. Pegasus, byRobin McKinley (next on the list to re-read)
This is a much deeper book than its title might imply. It's a richly developed culture of pegasi, and their complicated relationships with a human kingdom (similar premise to the dragons/humans in Seraphina, see #3).

8. Among Others, by Jo Walton
I just read this one a couple months ago, so it hasn't stood the test of time yet. But I'm pretty sure it will, because not only is a great book, it's also about other great books, including my all time favorite, Lord of the Rings. My last post was all about this book, not a review so much as a happy gushing of favorite things about it. This one is both a Hugo and Nebula award-winner.

7. The Help, Katheryn Stockett (re-read)
The three black maids and the white girl who tells their stories about being "the help" in the 1960's is a thoughtful story, but also wonderfully fun to read.

6. These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner.  (re-read parts)
Titanic in space. Love story. Survival story. Great voice. Smart science fiction. Love story.  Even better than Titanic love story.

5. Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Also absolutely funny, sad, hopeful, heart-lifting. 14 year old Junior, leaving the Rez school (but not the Rez itself) to broaden his horizons, is in my heart forever. My favorite quote:

I realized that, sure, I was a Spokane Indian. I belonged to that tribe. But I also belonged to the tribe of American immigrants. And the tribe of basketball players. And to the tribe of bookworms. And the tribe of cartoonists.

4. Doomsday Book (1992) by Connie Willis
A powerful contrast of two time periods: a plague in futuristic England and the terrible Black Death in 1300's England. A huge cast of characters that all stood out vibrantly, intriguing science fiction and powerful themes. A long book but absolutely absorbing: I easily could have kept reading. This book is also both a Hugo and Nebula award winner.

3. Seraphina, Rachel Hartman  (re-read parts)
 The sheer brilliance of this book is that the dragons break every stereotype but are still completely every stereotype that you love about dragons. Large, fiery, dangerous, gold-horde-ing, Smaugish, they are all that but also 10 times more complex and fascinating. And they can turn into humans. The implications of that! Well! Go see for yourself.  (I also just finished the sequel, Shadow Scale, where I got to visit homeland of the dragons. Words fail me!)

Seraphina (Seraphina, #1)

2. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley (re-read)
Either I just say one thing about this book; or I endlessly rave about it. I shall spare you. The one thing I shall is: "Can I pleasssssse be kidnapped by Corlath??? Please?"
The Blue Sword (Damar, #1)

1. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (re-read)
I practically wrote a dissertation instead of a review for this one: it was beautiful, daring, a multi-dimensional love story, a wild plot, it hit nerves, it had incredible settings, and absolutely unforgettable characters: Karou and Brimstone especially.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

#WeNeedDiverseBooks: Among Others

I really didn't plan it this way, but I was delighted when I realized that 5 out of the 6 books I've read so far in 2015 all featured diverse main characters!  (Pointe, Illusions of Fate, Among Others, Rain Reign, When Reason Breaks).

I started off the year 2015 with my nose in a book. Yup, that's what I was doing at 12:01 January 1st, and most of the rest of January 1st, too, gobbling up Among Others, by Jo Walton. It's been a couple months now, and this book is still rattling around in the back of my head, making me smile.  I even already wrote a post on it, since it made me relate back to my 15 year old self,  but this post is focus on the aspect of the story I couldn't relate to personally, how Mori had a disability (#weNeedDiverseBooks) and can't walk (much) without a cane. Her disability separates her from almost all the girls at her very sports-oriented English boarding school. 
Among Others

Mori basically spends all her time reading, when she's not in class or doing schoolwork. She can't participate in anything else her school has to offer, which is pretty much just sports. But you don't really feel sorry for her. She loves her books, and she's not a bit ashamed to spend all her time reading. She doesn't worry about become a hopeless introvert. She does long for some like-minded friends, but she's not what you'd call a needy or insecure girl, not by a long shot. Her books make her strong. 

Though I don't have a physical disability, this story brought me close to understanding the complications it brings, but also the strengths. 

As a writer, this book reminded me that our best and truest writing comes from the place that's closest to our hearts, and perhaps all the harder to share, because of that closeness. It's challenged me to dig deeper and share things that I've been too shy to share in my writing. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What's up: developing the antagonist

What's Up Wednesday is for anyone interested in keeping in touch with other writers, a meme hosted by writing sisters Erin Funk and Jaime Morrow

What I'm reading
Seraphina's sequel, ShadowScale, by Rachel Hartman. Seraphina is in my all-time favorites list, and it's wonderful to be back in this richly developed world with dragons and half dragons and a whole host of new characters. What I love most about these books: everyone is odd. It's a celebration of oddness, out-of-placeness, quirkiness, downright LOL uniqueness.
Shadow Scale (Seraphina, #2)

Recently finished When Reason Breaks  by Cindy L. Rodriguez which features Emily Dickinson’s poetry as a guide to two girls struggling with depression and anger. Highly recommend!

What I'm writing
I shared the first six chapters of Refuge, my MG fantasy that I'm re-writing, with my CP of 15 years (she's a champ!) - she read the original version of this story, the one that was so far over 100,000 words that I'm not even going to 'fess up how long it was, and how rambling. But the brave dear soul was not only willing to read my re-write, she was excited to! 

She right away caught a major problem though: I'd totally failed to develop my antagonist. (I have two antogonists: one is a human, one is a unicorn. I concentrated on developing my human antagonist but forgot about the other guy).  The unicorn was a generic mu ha ha ha antagonist without any motivation or depth at all, just basically there to mess up the good guys' lives.  It's been so much evil fun developing him. 

What else I've been up to
We celebrated Valentines with the whole family at the Denver Aquarium, and scored a dinner table right next to the giant tank full of giant fish and stingrays, and a mermaid show.  Writer friends, let it be known, my dream house would be a giant aquarium, with glass tube like rooms. (Even the library would have one wall of watery fish-filled glass. The other three walls would be books). 

What works for me
First thing-in-the morning writing exercise/free write.  I am so NOT a morning person, which is why I think free-writing in the morning actually works for me: my brain is still in  a fog, so my subconcious has more free rein, and it comes up with some unfettered off-the-wall stuff. I used this method to develop my antagonist, using these prompts from this great writing tool (thank you, Emily, for sharing it), the Pyramid Approach to Novel Writing by Jess Loury:

A well-written, believable and sympathetic antagonist spells the difference between a toss-away novel and a cinematic novel. Imagine you are your antagonist’s biographer... ask these questions:
• What’s your name? Nickname? 
• Anyone ever tell you that you look like someone famous? 
• Of all your qualities, which are you most proud of? Where do you think youacquired this quality?
• What do people seem to like the least about you? How does it make you feel? 
• Which habit of yours would you most like to change? 
• If someone looked in your bathroom garbage right now, what would they find? 
• What scent do you enjoy the most, and what does it remind you of? 
• If you could go back in time and change one day of your life, what day would it be, and why? 
• What three goals do you want to accomplish in the next year? What challengesdo you have to overcome to reach them? 
• Whom do you love most in this world and why? 
• What scares you?

Looking forward to seeing what works for everyone else this week...

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Throwback Thursday: poetry and parties

Every few years I get on a poetry kick. I don't write it myself, but I enjoy soaking in poems and seeing how the words fit together to make images and rhythms. How they evoke moods and, often, mystery. I love how they say so much, with leaving so much unsaid.

When I was scanning debut books coming out in 2015, When Reason Breaks by Cindy Rodriguez stood out to me because of its promise of connecting Emily Dickinson's poetry to contemporary high school characters (bonus; the two main characters were Latino).

The book completely delivered on its intriguing promise (and deepened my appreciation for Dickinson). I loved seeing teens relating to a 19th century poet as they dealt with the turmoil in their lives. Also, one of my favorite scenes in the book is where one of the girls, dragged along to a party by her friends, finds an empty room and hides there to read a book until she's found by another girl who's also escaping the party scene.

Since this is a Throwback Thursday post, here's a picture of me (on the right) "partying" with my best friend in high school. We went to a few high school parties together, but usually we had more fun heading off on our own, instead of hanging out drinking and smoking.  One of our favorite "parties for two" was heading off camping together.

Here's a little more about the two girls in When Reason Breaks:

Elizabeth was goth and prickly and smart - and I don't usually like angry characters but I liked her because she was so much more than her anger. In an early scene, Elizabeth goes into her new English class ready to judge the teacher. After Mrs. Diaz's impassioned introduction to the power of words and poetry and Emily Dickinson in particular,  Elizabeth thinks:
You impressed me and you amused me. Let’s see how you handle this.
Then she hands in her assignment which she purposefully made as controversial as possible, to test the teacher. That's Elizabeth: testy and distrustful but somehow appealing, too.

Emily, the other main character, was the girl who strives to please everyone and fit in and meet expectations, until it crushes her into depression. You could see how she longed to stay connected with her friends...
Emily focused on Sarah’s hand wrapped around hers, remembering how they used to clasp hands as they sat side by side on the playground swings. They’d see how high they could go without getting out of sync and disconnected. 
... and yet she couldn't handle the pressure of friends anymore, either, on top of the pressure from her parents and school.

 My favorite parts were the scenes with Elizabeth and Emily together. They aren't friends, they hang with different crowds, and they rub each other wrong - but they also get each other too. Here's my favorite scene, where Emily finds a room to hide in, at a party, and read, and Elizabeth happens upon her in her hiding spot and asks her if she's okay.
Elizabeth: “Lying’s the worst. People freak out – I mean, like screaming, punching, crying kind of freak out – when they’re lied to. Like when someone asks, Are you okay? and she says I’m fine. And the person asks, are you sure? And she says yes, leave me alone. Lies, all lies.” 
“You’re right. I lied to you that day in the bathroom,” said Emily. “But you lied to me in the locker room.” 
“Maybe, but let me finish my story. Now, if this girl told the truth, she’d say, “I’m thinking about dropping out of high school and joining the circus because I’m pretty sure shoveling elephant sh*t would be better than sticking around here.” But instead, she lies to make it easy on people. And you know what? It doesn’t matter because they know she’s lying and she still gets labeled the trouble child who needs fixing and everyone becomes focused on her instead of the lie that set her off in the first place.” 
With wide eyes, Emily asked, “Are you okay?” 
“I’m fine.” Elizabeth smiled and sucked hard on her straw. 
“You’re lying,” Emily said with a grin.

“Maybe, but this isn’t about me.”

Emily's depression kind of tiptoed around the story in a way that caught me off gaurd - but at the same time felt genuine, because that's what depression does. It often doesn't have a good, justifiable reason for its presence. It sneaks up on you;  it's secretive and it disguises its destructiveness. 
Compared to others, her life and her problems were pretty ordinary. So why did it all feel like she as in an epic battle? Why did every snarky remark become a festering wound? Why did she always feel like she was pinned to the mat and crushed under their weight?

Elizabeth struggled with a different kind of brokenness. From one her letters to her English teacher, Mrs Diaz:
I knew then something deep down inside of me was broke. It was the tiniest of cracks, like a pebble hitting a windshield on the highway – plink. No big deal, right? Wait a while. The crack will deepen and spread and permanently damaged the once-strong glass. 
So, WWEDW? What Would Emily Dickinson Write? 
Maybe this: “I felt  a funeral, in my Brain. And then a Plank in Reason broke / And I dropped down, and down” 
Did Emily Dickinson pull away from the world because it was easier and safer to hide than face it all? Or did something inside of her crack?

Despite all this, somehow the story managed to stay strong instead of wallowing in darkness. 
Turns out, Dickinson also wrote a lot about life and beauty and joy and love. These are the poems she reads now. “Unable are the Loved to die / For love is immortality…”
I noticed how the two girls share the same initials as Emily Dickinson, but make sure you check out the author’s note at the end to see how all the characters in the story are close mirrors of Emily Dickinson, her family and friends. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Top Ten love stories from the past year

I'm late with my annual love stories post in honor of Valentine's Day! (But better late than never).

The Top Ten Tuesday meme had a love-story related theme last week I missed too, so I hope visitors don't mind if I focus on last week's topic...

These are my top ten favorite love stories read in the past year (my all-time favorite love stories are listed here)
Tristran and Yvaine from Stardust, since none of the love stories below have been made into movies yet! 

10. All Our Yesterdays, by Cristin Terrill.  Em has to go back in time to change something that would save the world, but it also means losing James...and... (spoiler)

9. The Stolen Songbird,  by Danielle Jensen. Cecile's kidnapped and forced to marry a troll prince, Tristan, who isn't too happy about marrying her either. But then... yah, then this story happens.

8. Among Others, by Jo Walton. Crushes at a book group! A science fiction/fantasy book group! I'm not sure if Mori & Wim really fell in love all the way, but it was close enough for me.

7. The Fire Wish,  by Amber Lough. A forbidden love between a jinni, Najwa and a human prince of Baghdad, Kamal... with wishes and deception complicating everything.

6. Ruin and Rising, by Leigh Bardugo. The end of this Russian fantasy world trilogy has kept me coming back to mull over what happened to Mal and Alina and how the Darkling ties into their love story.

5. Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell. Cath and Levi. Fanfic girl meets farmboy. Sort of. It's way better than that, trust me.

4. Mortal Heart, by Robin LaFevers. A historical fantasy set in late 1400's Brittany, with assassin nun Annith falling in love with not-human Balthazaar. The twists at the end with these two! Whoa.

3. The Winner's Curse, by Marie Rutkoski. Kestrel and Arin. I've read books before about a slave owner falling in love with his/her slave (see #2) but this one turns the tables in an unexpected way.

2. Voice in the Wind, by Francine Rivers. Marcus, a rich Roman searching for pleasure but never finding happiness falls in love with his sister's shy, plain Jewish slave, Hadassah. This one will tear your heart apart.  I've read this story at least 4 times in the past 12 years since I first discovered it; re-read it a few months ago with my daughters.

1. Dreams of Gods and Monsters, by Laini Taylor. In this third book of an amazing trilogy, we finally get to see the fulfillment of Akiva's and Karou's love, after a war has torn them apart and made them enemies. It's not just the love story that I love about these books, it's the worlds, the writing, the other characters, the other love stories. I've already re-read this series and plan to re-read again many times!