Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A library of people, not books

Now is this creepy or what? You walk into a library and see your typical rooms full of shelves, but instead of books on the shelves, there are large drawers. And in each drawer is a sleeping person.

The premise of The Archived, by Victoria Schwab, is fascinating. Making copies of people so that when they die, all their memories are organized and preserved. There's something so reassuring about this, that when we die, our memories aren't lost forever. They are preserved in a library as Histories.

I love all the complications that this implies! Histories are copies, they are records, but they are also living people and they can wake up and develop a will of their own. A fierce will to return to the life where their memories come from, sometimes even making them violent.  The central plot is that someone is waking up more and more Histories and even altering some of them, erasing big chunks of memories.


My ratings:

Characterization: 5/5 stars. Not just the main character, Mackenzie, but her parents, her grandfather, all the Librarians, her BFF Lyndsy, and especially Wesley and Owen

Setting: 5/5 stars. The old hotel, the Coronado, and the Archive itself, with its stained glass creepy peace. I feel like I've actually been to both places - highest compliments possible.

Plot: 5/5 stars. Layers of mystery, angst, action, humor, emotion, complications, and a great unexpected twist at the end.

Pacing: 4/5 stars. A slow but rich start. Middle lost some pace, stakes could have been higher.

Dialogue: 5/5 stars. The repartee between Wesley and Mackenzie sometimes almost merited 6 stars. 

Personal appeal: 5/5 stars. What can I say, this book was right up my alley. Ever since I first heard the premise over a year ago, I've been stalking this book and it was fully worth the wait.

Literary scale: where 1 is "merely entertaining", and 5 is "really made me think": 5/5. A lot to think about with the implications of archiving memories, reading memories, altering memories, how memories could be misused. And the implications of having to lie in order to protect loved ones. And... more. So much to think about.

You don't mess with people and their memories (even copies of people) without stirring up some potential trouble! The Archive needs physically and mentally adept Keepers to return the Histories when they get out. Keepers literally push them through Returns doors, like library books getting returned to a library. (By the way, the Returns room - we don't find out what happens in there for a long time, but when we do -- oh, shivers). 

16 year old Mackenzie was trained by her grandfather to be a Keeper, returning Histories to the Archive when they get out. He had to train her, because he's dying of cancer. Which means not only a lot of responsibility for Mackenzie, but also a lot of pain as she faces her grandfather's death and replacing him.

The scenes with her grandfather are all short, poignant flashbacks, that do a lot more than just fill us in on what it means to be a Keeper and to do secret work for the Archive. There's many more layers, more implications, and I came to look forward to these short flashbacks like small rich pieces of dark, bittersweet chocolate life.

"Is it hard?.... Lying so much?"

You take a long drag and flick ash into the sink, where you know she'll see it. You're not supposed to smoke anymore.

"Not hard, no. Lying is easy. But it's lonely."

"What do you mean?"

"When you lie to everyone about everything, what's left? What's true?"

"Nothing," I say.

"Exactly."

Now don't get me wrong. You might think the tone of this book is dark and melancholy and a little creepy. Which it is. Especially since we learn right away that not only is her grandfather dead, but her little brother Ben has been killed in a hit-and-run, too. Mackenzie is a girl with a lot of issues, and the author holds nothing back (unlike in her first book) and gives us a double-barrel full of her conflicted personality. 

But the dark/melancholy/creepy is just one side of this wonderfully rounded book. The other side of the book is bright and laugh-out-loud funny. 

Thanks to Wesley. I'll admit it, I'm a sucker for a tall, dark and brooding guy. So Wesley was a surprise. He's tall, dark and funny. He immediately won me over. I have not been so impressed by a Love Interest in a lonnnnnggggggg time.  I'm pretty sure he's my favorite book boyfriend right now. 


"Looks like you've lost a couple fights of your own," I say, running my fingers through the air near his hand, not daring to touch. "How did you get that?"

"A stint as a spy. I wasn't much good."

A crooked line runs down the back of his hand. "And that?"

"Scuff with a lion."

Watching Wesley lie is fascinating.

"And that?"

"Caught a piranha bare-handed."

Wesley dresses like a goth, in a lot of black, black hair, even black eyeliner (or rather, guyliner). He's not all rebellious goth, though. He's got another reason for dressing as he does that ties in interestingly into the plot. And sometimes the author puts Wesley into situations that contrast delightfully with his gothness, too:

He cocks his head at me, silver glinting in his ears. He paints quite a picture, decked in black, a teasing smile and a pair of lemon-yellow gloves. "What's the matter?" he asks, wielding the sponge like a weapon. "Doesn't it look like I know what I'm doing?"

And Wesley is vain, too, but he's perfectly comfortable acknowledging it. 



"Don't look at me like that with those big brown eyes."

"They not just brown," he says. "They're hazel. Can't you see the flecks of gold?"

"Good God, how much time do you spend looking at yourself in the mirror each day?"

"Not enough Mac. Not enough." But the laughter is gone from his voice. "You're clever, trying to distract me with my own good looks, but it won't work. What's going on?"


And he has a way of bringing out the best in Mackenzie:


Wesley kneels down in front of me. "You want to tell me what happened?"

I sigh. "I was attacked."

"By a History?"

"No... by Ms. Angelli's cats."

The corner of his mouth twitches.

"It's not funny," I growl, and close my eyes. "I'm never going to live this down, am I?"

But there is a dark side to Mackenzie. The author digs deep into different ways that people numb their pain. There is a mystery. There is temptation. There are Librarians that are nothing like any librarian you've ever met before, and the Histories tug your heartstrings all different ways. It all adds up to an ending that BLEW ME AWAY.

There was a twist THAT I NEVER EVEN SAW COMING. 

And there's something Wesley does to Mackenzie that blew me away too.  At the moment I wanted to drop-kick that boy and yet, it was perfect what he did. It tied into the theme of the book so well. The lying,  the secrets, the way Mackenzie learned how to numb her pain.

And another thing I loved about this ending is it wasn't a cliffhanger, it wrapped up the mystery but it also  left a bunch of questions open about the Library. Is it good? Is it doomed to fail?  

I LOVED THIS BOOK. I want more of the Archive and its stained glass beautiful, creepy sort of "peace." I want to know how it came to be, who built it, and I want to visit more of its "branches" and meet more of its Librarians and Keepers. And you bet I will be looking for doorways to it in every old building I ever visit (as if I weren't busy enough already checking wardrobes).

For me there's nothing like a fantasy twist on something familiar that I love, like a library. Or like how J.K. Rowling did a fantasy twist on a boarding school with the Harry Potter series.  Do you have a favorite fantasy twist on something familiar?

Friday, January 25, 2013

The weekend writer's / compulsive reader's plan

I have been mulling over a change in direction with my blog for a while now. (Anyone notice for the past month or so my blog's title has been Delusions at High Altitude, instead of Writing at High Altitude?)  (what's the difference? you ask. Ah, the irony)

(Apologies to readers who read this post already when it was posted by accident on Tuesday)

I want to branch out from a focus on writing-related topics. Three years ago I started reading a lot of YA and MG books, because that's what I write. Then I started reviewing them on Goodreads (I'm up to 171 reviews). I don't want to become a 100% book blogger, but I want to share more of my bookish delights here.

So here's the skinny. My new blogging plan:

Every Tuesday I will post something related to my compulsive reading tendencies  (ha ha I am a Compulsive OverReader). It might be a book review. Or a top ten list of some sort (characters, books, settings, pop culture).

Or nerdy things to do to pass time until the new Star Trek movie comes out.

Or Gandalf-comes-to-life and is sighted at several odd locations in Wyoming.

Crazy things my kids get away with while I'm reading.

Pretty much sky's the limit.

On Fridays, at least twice a month but maybe more, I will continue to have writing-related posts. At the moment, I'm calling these the "The Weekend Writer" because the week days belong to my job and family but the weekend (at least large chunks of it) is when I hunker down in a corner with my laptop and an electric cattle prod to use on any distractions that wander too close to my writing zone.

Electric cattle prod and small children... probably not a legal combination. (But the kids don't need to know it's not charged, right?)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Settings I Crave, and Debuts to Read

I'm combining this week's Top Ten topic  with last week's Top Ten topic, which I figure works out to okay if I only list my top fives in each category instead of inundating my poor unsuspecting readers with 20 items.

Top Ten Tuesday is  an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish blog with a different top ten list theme (all related to books) every Tuesday (see the full list here). 

Top Five Settings I Want To See More of

1. Steampunk Ancient Egypt. Is it just me, or did the movie Stargate (1994) have just a touch of steampunk feel? Did the TV show series follow up on that? I see so much potential in books...

2. Steampunk Space - the old, weird movie version of Frank Herbert's Dune from the 1984 had one interesting component to it: a hint of steampunk spaceships and space guild. 29 years later, I still think about this and wonder why it's never been tried again in movies or books (at least to my knowledge).

3. Desert with a twist. I love books with desert settings. The Blue Sword, Girl of Fire and Thorns, Dune, to name a few. For this setting to not be cliche, it needs a fresh twist. I'm not sure what that twist would be - if I could pinpoint it, I'd try to write it myself. Maybe something desert, with a unique and sporadic season of growth/flowering that spawns deadly...things. Also, the most interesting and rarest ecosystems on the planet are coastal deserts, like the Namibia coast (or Skeleton Coast) off of eastern Africa. Haven't yet read anything in these settings.

4. Dangerous and exotic tropical - something like the setting from the movie Avatar, in book form

5. Huns vs. Romans.  The clash of barbarian horse warriors and a decadent, dying Roman empire fascinates me. Atilla was an interesting mix of savage and sophisticated. Hun men supposedly scarred their own faces. I've searched and found several books based on this era. And none of them were very good. I'm still searching, and hoping. A fantasy twist on this historical setting could be so, so, so very EPIC.  So, I started writing one, but not sure if I'm up to the task.


Top Five 2013 Debuts I can't wait to read

1. The Art of Wishing - I remember reading this premise (a high school girl falls in love with her genie, masquerading as a high school boy) over a year ago (maybe on Miss Snark's First Victims Baker's Dozen?) while it was still a pitch and not even agented. So when I saw it pop up on the list of debuts this year, I just about screeched with delight! And another gasp of delight (or fear) to see the main character's name is Margo.

2. Pivot Point, by Kasie West
A teenager who can see into the future, or at least two possible outcomes of a choice. Sounds like you can't go wrong, but I'm sure things are going to go very, very wrong.

3. The Rules for Disappearing, Ashley Elton
A girl in a witness protection program and a killer first line: "What do you want your name to be this time?"



4. Linked, by Imogen Howson and Parallel, by Lauren Miller
Yes, I'm cheating with two titles. Something about people being linked through memories or thoughts or actions  has always fascinated me.


5. The Archived. Okay, this isn't a debut, but I've been waiting for this book for WELL OVER A YEAR and I am so stinking excited and scared that it won't live up to its premise. It is out TODAY and I will be reading it TONITE.  Scared/happy/scared/happy/scared... takes deep breath. Okay, so there's this supernatural library of Histories, who are, I think, dead souls.  Histories are dangerous (creepy). They can be altered (hmmm?). Histories can... fall in love with their living Keepers (ahhhhh).


What setting would you like to get lost in? Or what book are you eagerly waiting to read?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Literary bling too sparkly to delete

A tough part of revising for me is to trim my word count down. I'm a wordy person, and my current work-in-progress came in at nearly 100,000 words,  too long for a young adult novel. My goal was to get it trimmed down to 80k or maybe even 75k.

But how to trim it down? Deleting is way too harsh, especially since inevitably there is some literary bling in there that still sparkles to me.  I have found of way of "tricking" myself into slashing paragraphs, sometimes even multi-page sections by cutting and pasting them to "save for later."

I used to just cut and paste these pieces into another document, one after another, but that made it hard to find a particular gem again to "recycle". (Very often I've found I can re-use bits and pieces in different places: like a sentence or two from what was once a long rambling paragraph).

Many of you probably know about this feature in Word (or something similar with other writing software, Scrivener and such), but the Navigation pane in Word 2010 has made my life so much easier! (In Word 2007, it's called the Document Map instead). Now I organize all my pasted fragments with headings I can quickly scan and jump to. I also use headers and the navigation pane to organize my chapters and sometimes my scenes, as well as my outlines, character sketches, and research notes.


To create headers so that they show up in the navigation pane/document map, create a title for your section and select it, then assign it a heading or subheading.


Do you have any tricks for revising or organizing? 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Hobbit Movie - My Top Ten



My love of the Hobbit goes back to when I was seven years old and my parents gave me this illustrated read-a-long version of the Hobbit (on vinyl record!) based on the 1977 movie. I played it over and over again and even made up parts for myself to play along with (because really the only flaw in the story is that there aren't any girls or ladies in it).  Shortly afterward I graduated to reading the full-length book. 

I could see how the 2012 movie version would be way too long and weird for anyone not familiar with the book, or at least a fan of the Lord of the Rings movies. Most reviewers are quick to point that out, but one reviewer also said "the film is Tolkien nerd nirvana" and that's exactly why I loved it and went to see it twice. I LOVED that it was nearly three hours long. That's almost three hours I got to leave everyday life behind and visit Middle Earth, and I'll take every last minute of it, thank you very much.

Except for the Azog ("the pale Orc") scenes. Those were blatant additions that weren't in the book, and I hated them. Just pure gratuitous violence and nastiness added to ramp the movie up to PG-13 level.  I wasn't a huge fan of how silly they made Radagast out to be, either. But as for the rest of it... well! Here are my top ten favorite things about the Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

SPOILERS ahead - do not continue reading if you have not yet seen the movie.

10. The dragon.
We got to see just enough of Smaug to be really excited about the next movie. I especially loved when Bilbo reads the dwarves' contract and gets to the part about not being liable for lacerations, eviscerations, and.... incineration. Then dwarves proceed to give him a detailed account of what it's like to be incinerated by a dragon. "...think furnace. With wings."

9. All of Gandalf's great lines. 
His unique voice comes through so much better here than it did in Lord of the Rings. "I am Gandalf! And Gandalf means... me!" And this one: "Your Old Took's great-granduncle Bullroarer was so huge [for a hobbit] that he could ride a horse. He charged the ranks of the goblins of Mount Gram in the Battle of the Green Fields, and knocked their king Golfibul's head clean off so that it sailed a hundred yards through the air and went down a rabbit-hole, and the battle was won-- and the game of Golf was invented at the same time."

8. "Stop! I forgot my handkerchief!"

And all the other places where wonderful lines from the book slipped in, and other details, right down to the brass buttons popping off Bilbo's coat.

7. The soundtrack. 

Howard Shore found the perfect balance between echoing the Lord of the Rings score and new material, especially the theme based on the deep, resonating dwarf song, "Far over misty mountains cold..." And if you stayed around for the credits, the Song of the Lonely Mountain performed by Neil Finn was a definite bonus.

6. Dinner at Rivendell with the elves.

"I don't eat anything green." "Where's the meat?"  Did anyone else notice that the elves came across quite differently than they did in Lord of the Rings? (With the exception of Galadriel). It matches how differently the elves were portrayed in the Hobbit versus Lord of the Rings. I remember as a kid reading the Hobbit and never being sure if the elves were the good guys or not. I especially loved how Gandalf sort of made a game of getting information out of Elrond, in the movie.

5. Pretty much any scene with Fili and Kili in it. 

As for the other dwarves - I loved them all them all too. The movie really succeeded in making each dwarf unique and memorable - no small feat with 13 of them! Bofur and Dwalin were my other favorites. Loved the all dwarvish details right down to the snoring and the moths.


4. The riddle game scene between Gollum and Bilbo.

 Creepy, like in the book, but Gollum's dual personality also made it laugh-out-loud funny at times too.
Bilbo: Why don't we have a game of riddles? And if I win, you show me the way out.
Gollum: [talking to himself] And if he loses, what then?
Well precious, if he loses, then we eats it! [turns to Bilbo] If Baggins loses, we eats it whole.
Bilbo: [hesitates] Fair enough.

3. The last line of the movie.

A perfect set up for the next installment: Bilbo says "I do believe the worst is behind us." And I'm thinking giant spiders? Smaug the dragon? oh ho ho, you poor deluded little hobbit. Which allows me to sneak in another favorite thing about this movie: the fact that there are two more movies still to come!

2. Richard Armitage as Thorin. 

I remembered Thorin as an ugly old grump from the 1977 movie version, so I was surprised and delighted to see Thorin portrayed as a handsome lost prince this time around, with layers of complicated issues. And Richard Armitage! The casting couldn't have been better.


 1.Martin Freeman as Bilbo. 

He did a superb job. He made me love Bilbo even more than from the book. His expressions of dismay and "who, me?"  looks were perfect. 
He's the main reason why I went back to watch the movie a second time. This statement he makes in response to Thorin's doubts made me want to cheer: "I know you doubt me, I know you always have, and you're right. I often think of Bag End. I miss my books, and my arm chair, and my garden. See, that's where I belong; that's home, and that's why I came cause you don't have one... a home. It was taken from you. But I will help you take it back. If I can."

What's the last movie you loved so much that you could've done a top ten for it?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Forget resolutions, go for Theme

Maybe you are one of those people who actually succeeds at your New Years resolutions. I'm NOT. 

Resolutions like losing weight, exercising more, writing 1000 words a day (or even 300 words a day) have been miserable failures in past years.

For the past two years, instead of making any resolutions, I followed the suggestion from  My One Word by Rachel Olson, and picked one word as my "theme" for the year.  In 2011 I picked the word "focus". I wanted to focus more on my family, my writing, getting healthy. I utterly failed at it. It's completely ironic. For a year with a theme of "focus" it ended up being the most unfocused year of my life. I struggled with 6 months of depression and sank further into an addiction to binging (overeating). 

Still, we can learn lessons from our failures. In 2012 I tried the one word theme idea again. This time I tried a faith-based approach - my word was "seeking God" (two words, but I needed to be specific). And 2012 was a breakthrough for me. It's a very long, personal story that I won't bore you with all the details, but I'm sold on this one-word concept. The key is (for me, at least) to not make it a self-centered goal. Make it a goal that gets you to reach outside of yourself.  

From the MyOneWord.org website, here's more information. 

Step 1. The first step is to simply take some time and decide what kind of person you want to be at the end of this year. This goes beyond simply being healthier and wealthier. It must drive deep into your soul. 
Step 2. Get a picture of that person you want to be and then simply identify their major characteristics. Is that person gentle? Is that person generous? What are the qualities of the person you want to become?
Step 3. Once you have a list of the characteristics, simply pick a word. There might be 15 things that you want change, but you must resist the temptation to try to do more than one. Simply commit to one word. 
As with all things on my blog, I try to tie things back to stories or writing, somehow. I've been thinking about how I can apply this valuable lesson I've learned from just one word to my stories. How do I "reach outside of myself" with my stories? This is what I'm mulling over (I don't have an answer yet, and I don't have a word picked out yet). 
In the meantime, here's three things I learned in 2012:
1) it takes a village to write a good book. Critique partners who make you groan, friends you have fun brainstorming with, beta readers, editors, copy editors... it's so important to start building your team and realizing it's not just about you and your words.
2) when you are dealing with an addiction, the sooner you can admit it's an addiction the better, which also means admitting you can't beat it by yourself. Join Alcoholics Anonymous, or Narcotics Anonymous, Al-Anon, or Overeaters Anonymous, or start your own group. Find others struggling like you are.  Sometimes this takes a while. Don't give up. You are not alone.
3) If you focus on yourself, you end up draining yourself dry. Take a break to put others first and you will find yourself refreshed.

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