Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Top Ten "must read" triggers

Top Ten Words/Topics That Instantly Make Me Buy/Pick Up A Book is the theme for this weeks top ten. 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).

Unique libraries. Like in the Archived, by Victoria Schwab - library of living, breathing Memories,  and Lirael, by Garth Nix - a library of dangerous creatures.

Horses.  I'll pretty much read anything where horses play a major role. Or even a minor role.  Kid stories or adult stories. My all time favorite is the My Friend Flicka series by Mary O'Hara, followed closely by The Horse and His Boy, by C.S. Lewis (I'm reading it to my kids right now). But I love newer horse books too, like the Horse Whisperer, and Sara Gruen's Riding Lessons and Flying Changes, and The Hearts of Horses by Molly Gloss.

Uncommon mythical creatures. Like onis and griffins, especially when combined with the unexpected like Japanese steampunk in Stormdancer, by Jay Kristoff.  Or creatures like gargoyles! I want a YA gargoyles-come-to-life book! I actually had the great fortune of beta-reading such a book, and lament no publisher has picked it up yet! (that's for you K.T., still hoping).
A unique take on dragons.  But it really has to be unique, like the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik:  dragons in regency England. Or dragons who can transform into humans, as in Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman

Fairytale or myth re-telling. These are hard to pull off - for instance I adored Robin McKinley's Beauty (Beauty and the Beast retelling) and the Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale, but wasn't crazy about Cinder or The Book of Wonders. But they are still instant draws for me - even lesser known fairytales or myths.  A retelling of Arabian Nights made me buy the Book of Wonders, plus, my goodness just look at this cover! It was a little to young for me, anyone know of a YA retelling of Arabian Nights? Want. Need.
Time twists or time travel. Like When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead and Timeless by Alexandra Monir. So many of my favorite movies, like Deja Vu, fall in this category too.
Contemporary stories with a historical parallel. Probably because these mirror time travel, in a way -  finding connections between two different lives in two different times. Like Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner and  The Scarlet Thread by Francine Rivers.

Historical fantasy.  Instant sell for me. Like you wouldn't believe of how instant. Grave Mercy, by Robin  La Fevers;  Wildwood Dancing, by Juliette Marillier, and best of all, the Temeraire series (yes, mentioning this one TWICE!!!) by Naomi Novik.
Mind or memory twists. Like the science fiction scenario of two minds in one body in What's Left of Me, by Kat Zhang, or carrying another person's memories (I know I've read this but can't think of an example! Help!) Not enough books in this category!

Any wicked cool science fiction premise. Like the living prison Incarceron, by Catherine Fischer, or the ability to foresee the path of a choice in Pivot Point, by Kasie West.
By the way, I'm giving away a copy of Pivot Point tomorrow through May 7th so come back! 

What are some triggers for "must read" for you???

Friday, April 26, 2013

Write the truest sentence you know

I saw this Hemingway quote on Pinterest and I keep thinking about it: "write the truest sentence you know" - what a challenge! And pressure! yeah, it's just a sentence. But the truest sentence, wow.

Sometimes when I'm faced with a challenge that demands the very best of me, the very truest of me, I freeze up and can't do anything at all. But then I get angry at myself for not trying, for letting the perfectionist in me keep me from making an attempt.

A few weeks ago I dug out my old journal from my senior year of high school, because for some reason or other, that year was the very best of all my years of journaling. There were other times when I poured my heart on pages because it was cathartic: I'd been through something upsetting and I was trying to process it. But this year wasn't like that. This was a year of freedom and discovery - I sort of came out of my shell. I started to the see the world around me instead of just the immediate trappings of teenage life. Whatever triggered this (maybe it was just part of growing up), I was in love with life, and with writing, and the words poured out.

So sometimes when I feel down and out about my writing, uninspired or discouraged that I can't write *real* stuff, *true* stuff, stuff that will *mean* something to other people, then I go back and re-read my senior year journal and remember that glorious feeling of free and unfettered expression. I'm not saying it was good writing, but it was true writing.

My dog is finally off her leash, and she charges up the hill full speed, a streak of golden light, lifting my heart in her wake.

So there. There is at least one true sentence: based on reading my senior year journals. But even now (not admitting how many years later) (and I don't even currently own a dog), I remember so clearly that feeling, that moment the leash came off, and not just one but two spirits leapt free.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The universe is made of tiny stories

Stories are the stuff of life. I fell in love with this idea of the universe not being made up of atoms, but of tiny stories. As a voracious reader and writer, stories part of my lifeblood and this notion is more than just a fanciful pretty idea.

David McCullough, a famous author and historian, give a talk at our university last week, and he talked about history as "the story of people" and that good history is first and foremost a story.  (If you have ever seen the famous PBS series on the Civil War, McCullough was the narrator of the series).

Then later that week I was taking a designing maps class, and we talked about how all maps "tell a story."

I also recently learned how that in teaching, the most effective way to instill understanding of a new concept is to link it to already familiar concepts via - you guessed it - stories. 

The story is one of the basic tools invented by the human mind for the purpose of understanding. There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories. (Ursula K. LeGuin)

Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it. (Hannah Arendt)

To me, history ought to be a source of pleasure. It isn't just part of our civic responsibility. To me, it's an enlargement of the experience of being alive, just the way literature or art or music is.  (David McCullough)

History is a Rorschach test, people.  What you see when you look at it tells you as much about yourself as it does about the past. (Jennifer Donnelly)

History is such a wonderful story of who we think we are.  English [literature] is much more a story of who we really are. (Nikki Giovanni)

I read mostly fiction, and I firmly believe that good quality fiction can teach us - and get us to think - almost as much as non-fiction. But now I'm also thoroughly enjoying McCullough's biography of John Adams, immersed in the tiny stories that eventually led to huge consequences in my country's history. 

What biography of a person or history of a particular time period would most tempt you? 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Top Ten Rewind: Fictional Crushes

Top Ten Rewind means you pick any theme from previous Top Tens you missed. A couple weeks ago I missed the Top Ten "Characters I Would Crush On If I Were Also A Fictional Character"  - isn't that clever wording they used for that theme? Nicely absolving us of any guilt? 

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). 

Without further ado, here are my top ten fictional crushes.  To avoid copyright issues,  I've linked to some images  instead of posting them (movie stills are promotional, so I think they are okay)(?) 

 10.  Hector from  Crown of Embers, by Rae Carson.  In love with his Queen (who he can't hope to marry) and charged with the role of protecting her life.  Ben Barnes in armor, oh hello there Hector. 

9. Ash from The Iron Fey Series, by Julie Kagawa.  Prince of the winter fae, he's been raised to be cold and cruel and ruthless like the rest of family. Despite everything, he emerges with a heroic heart.  I'm going way out on a limb here (this isn't remotely fae), but as a nod to Kagawa's name and my own love of multicultural heroes, here's how I picture Ash.

8. Beast from Beauty, by Robin McKinley. While Disney did a decent job getting us to fall in love with the Beast (yes, it's still my favorite kissing scene evah), this book blows the movie version away. This beast is less comical, more tragic, far more romantic.

7. Captain Wentworth from Persuasion, by Jane Austen.  Forget stuffy Mr. Darcy. Wentworth is a captain of a powerful Napoleonic-era warship.  And he remains loyal to Anne even though her family forced her to reject his love.  This is Sean Bean from the 1997 movie Anna Karenina, but he's also a nice Wentworth. 

6. Marcus from the Mark of the Lion series, by Francine Rivers. A rich, spoiled but smart young man in ancient Rome who falls in love with the last person he ever expected.  He starts out haughty but turns into a gentleman, and I still love his transformation after re-reading his two books at least half a dozen times.  I simply can't find any pictures to do him justice. 

5.  The Darkling, from Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo. Because I had to have one "I love to hate him" bad guy on my list. Here's a couple close possibilities from Deviant Art. The intense look, and the don't mess with me look. 

4. Gavriel Duval from Grave Mercy, by R.L. LaFevers.  There's so many interesting things about this guy: a knight from 1400's Brittany, an illegitimate  nobleman, a devoted brother, possible ally or possible enemy to a most unusual assassin.   Orlando Bloom from Kingdom of Heaven is close, but not quite - Gavriel has a sterner, more worried face than boyish Orlando. 

3. Wesley, from the Archived, by Victoria Schwab.  Light-hearted and goth at the same time. Close to this interesting guy from Deviant Art. 

2. Faramir, from Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien. 
Forget the movie version, please. Just wipe that image from your mind. I get so distressed with movies when they don't get the character anywhere close to what I had in my mind. In fact, the movie doesn't do him justice is so many ways; you just have to read the book. Here's something much closer to this noble character, in my mind. 

1. Corlath, from the Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley.  There is simply no way to give justice to this wild hill king in a sentence, nor is there any photo or depiction, real or imagined, that has yet captured his quality. But I have to give this Deviant artist credit for a good try

Who are some of your fictional crushes?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A revelation of heartbreak and love

I don't often get personal on my blog - it's a little scary. So I will write this fast before I lose courage, because all my heart cries out to share this truth, though I am almost afraid to believe it.

A terrible fight between loved ones is tearing apart my family, and it's consumed me these past 10 days as I watch the rift grow deeper without any sign of healing.

I'm on the sidelines, loving both sides, seeing both sides, the anger and outrage of both sides. Both sides are right, both sides are wrong. At times I've leaned toward one side, then leaned toward the other. As I learn more about the history behind this disaster, I realize that this fight is the perpetuation of a vicious cycle going back  nearly 20 years, and could very well go back even further than that, back generations.  "Controversial" is too tame a word for the thing that started this fight, but that was just the spark - underneath there were layers and layers of the dry tinder of pain and pride and defense mechanisms, accumulating over the years.

I can't be specific because I don't believe that airing dirty laundry would benefit anyone.  I bet most of us have been through something similar to what my family is going through - different circumstances but surely the same heartbreak. But what's the solution? Once I realized that this is another turn in a long standing vicious cycle, I started straining my poor little brain cells to their capacity to think of a solution.

How do you break a vicious cycle that is rooted in years of pain and hurt and resentment? Where reasoning and counseling and the lie that "time heals everything" have made no headway?

Now you may call me a dreamer, a hopeless romantic, but I'll say the answer lies in a story. A universal theme that I've seen played out in many books - but perhaps most specifically and vividly in  A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle. It's been around since the 1960's so I'm going to take a risk and mention what happens at the crucial climax of this story of good and evil, light and darkness.

(Begin spoiler)
Meg has to rescue her father and her little brother from the clutches of a terribly evil being called IT. Anyone who gets anywhere near this hideous being has their mind consumed by IT. Meg's brother has become IT's slave, and if she gets too close, she'll become IT's slave, too. But Meg figures out how to defeat the consuming evil of IT. It is so controlling that it has no concept of love, and when Meg loves the hateful thing, she confounds IT and is able to free her brother.
(End spoiler)

I've loved this story and re-read it so many times that I knew somehow it would play a role in my own writing. What I didn't expect is that it would play such a role of hope in my own dark time. I don't know yet if its theme will play a role in the rest of my family - but I hope. Because it's not just a science fiction or a fairy tale. This theme runs through many fairy tales, yes, but I think it does because there's truth to it that we can apply to our own lives. I really do believe that love conquers all.

Vicious cycles that keep wrecking havoc in families are evil, like  IT, because they are so destructive.  It's not people that are destructive, it's the misunderstandings that consume us and blind us and perpetuate fear and resentment that are like IT and I believe the only way to break them is with love. Even when others lash out in scorn, you just keep loving. Love bears all things, hopes all things, believes all things, endures all things. 

Does that sound too simplistic?

Perhaps, until you are in the battleground, realizing all the other weapons you've relied on in the past (logic, maybe, or determination) are failing you. Loving unconditionally is the hardest thing in the world. Meg got instant results from her love, that's the science fiction/fantasy part of the story; in real life unconditional love might go for years without seeing any result. It might struggle with the temptation to yell and scream and fight for its rights and its respect or to run away and lick its wounds and vow never to return to get hurt again: but in the end it stays true to its course and just keeps on loving.

I believe this and I am thankful for so many great books and their authors, from A Wrinkle in Time to Harry Potter to Kill A Mockingbird, for not just being books that I read to get through, but books that got through to me with the theme of the strength of love, and gave me hope during a bleak time.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Active versus Passive main characters

I love Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writer's Support Group - whenever I see writers sharing insecurities it makes me sigh with relief - oh yeah that's how I feel too! So it's long past due time for me to share some of my insecurities.

My biggest insecurity? That readers will think my writing (and my ideas) are weird and un-relatable.

Another big one? My main characters tend to be passive, introverted types (like me, huh, imagine that!) Everyone wants STRONG main characters. Pro-active main characters. People who make daring and risky choices and speak up boldly!

In my first novel, my character never made any choices or did much of anything active except follow others. Things kept happening to her, pulling her and pushing her this way and that. My wonderful fellow writer/critiquer, code name Lorvallis Scholar, pointed out, "your protagonists needs to protag!"

And forcing my character to make a choice early on in the story was definitely the best thing that ever happened to that story; it was a revelation.

So in the next three stories I've tackled, I've forced all my protagonists to make a tough choice early on.

But somehow after that choice they revert to their passive, introspective nature again - thinking about things but not actively pursuing things. I constantly fight this tendency. If I make them too active and loud and blustery, it feels all off to me. Even though I love active, mouthy, bold main characters in other books. I adore them!

But then again, I also love main characters like Meg in A Wrinkle in Time. Sure, she makes a choice (near the end of the book). But most of the book she's being pulled along by Mrs. Whatsit and company and by her little brother Charles Wallace. Her little brother is more active than she is!

Another favorite character is Harry Crewe in The Blue Sword. She gets kidnapped and doesn't even fight it! She's carried along by a strange magic, kelar, and doesn't make a truly active choice until near the end of the story (but wow. what a choice). And though at first I really questioned myself why I would like a girl like this,  who doesn't fight her kidnapper  and even falls in love with him (ewww the Stockholm syndrome!) the author does an commendable job of developing the plot so there is a very good reason why Corlath needs to kidnap her, and why she doesn't resist him until she needs to resist him.

Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo is a more recent example. Alina is as mousy and uncertain and indecisive as they come! But I love her story. She makes some bold choices but again they don't come until near the end.  Hey, come to think of it, Girl of Fire and Thorn by Rae Carson is another one.

So now that I've faced my insecurity about having a passive main character, I have to face the insecurity of building a strong enough plot (like the four stellar examples above!) to make such a character believable and  relatable and not just "I wish she'd grow a backbone!"

I used the image of Katniss Everdeen and Bella Swan because it's a famous contrast of a strong female character that speaks her mind, and everyone admires, versus a passive helplessly-in-love girl that lately everyone seems to despise.

Now I'm way too insecure (ha ha) to tackle the Katniss vs. Bella issue myself, but there are opposing views on what makes a strong female character out there, like this one. Stuff to think about! But really the bottom line is, everyone has different likes, different desires, different ideals of what they love in a main character. No main character is going to connect with everyone out there.

So we have to believe in what we write (after we have taken the time to be well-informed) , in what ignites our love and drives our imagination, and go for it. Insecurity, begone.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

What if you had three wishes?

When you were a kid did you ever think about if you had a chance to make a wish, or even three, what would you choose?  

There was some sort of fable I remember reading as a kid where this poor peasant got three wishes and the first two he messed up so bad that he had to fix them with the third wish. Which basically means he wasted all his wishes - except perhaps he came out the wiser for it. 

I spent days and days after that thinking about what I would wish for that wouldn't backfire on me.

The Art of Wishing is a new release YA that I bought the moment it came out - for three reasons:

1)  for the reason I described above - a girl gets three wishes. She's sure to mess at least one of them up, but will she get at least one of them right in a satisfying way?

2) The title. The Art of Wishing. It's just perfect. I can't even put into words why I love this title.   It implies so much. 

3) it's about a high school girl who falls in love with a high school boy WHO ALSO HAPPENS TO BE A GENIE.   I love me some modern updates on mythical creatures!  And falling in love with one of them?  Ooooh, a little scary...because think about the rules a genie is bound to, and how that would affect you if you loved one of them.   

I may have also bought this book because the main character's name is Margo. Ahem, that's an awesome name, isn't? However it was a little weird constantly hearing other characters calling my name. I got used to it eventually.

So, Margo's choice of three wishes show up early enough in the book that I don't think they are spoilers. She inherits the ring that controls the genie (Oliver) from a girl who messed up her second wish so badly that she practically abandoned the ring (though there's more to it than that, but that *would* be a spoiler). But anyway, Margo knows that if she doesn't pick carefully, she's going to mess up, so she takes her time picking.  Also, Oliver gives her some good advice prior to her wishes:
Trust me: wishes that affect other people aren't ones you should make lightly.
Hmmmn, think about that advice for a minute. 

Her first wish:  to become a great songwriter. I totally get this, because I'm a writer. Other than my family, my greatest personal fulfillment comes from writing well, so being a great writer would be one of my wishes too. And I just loved how Oliver fulfilled this wish for her. She already had the potential within her - he just helped her make a connection, of sorts. 

Her second wish: world peace. Ah, I love this girl. I'd wish for that one, too.  Unfortunately, a high school genie just isn't up to this task. He felt kinda bad about it.  So she eventually picks a different wish instead, but can't give that one away. Let's just say it didn't turn out so well. 

Her third wish: to set Oliver free. (Yes, there are quite a few references to Disney's Aladdin movie in this book). Except here's the interesting twist:  Oliver vehemently does NOT WANT to be set free. Hmmm, why, you ask?? Well, sorry. Can't tell you, too much of a spoiler. 

But oh I love a good unexpected twist on fairytale "rules". 

Given that my genie wouldn't fulfill his own freedom, either, then I would wish for all the best for my family (including myself). Though at this point I've been around the block enough to realize that "the best" is certainly not always what we expect. In fact, "the best" sometimes comes cloaked in the scary disguise of "the worst." Only with time is it revealed how undesirable circumstances actually work out for the best in the end, eh?

Anyway, back to that interesting twist with Oliver not wanting to be set free. There's another standard genie wishing rule that this book breaks too, oh my goodness did it make me sit up and go "wow" when the author reveals this twist.  I can't tell you, but I can give you a hint because it's right there in the last line of the book's blurb:  "it will take more than three wishes to save him."

So, those three reasons why I picked up the book?  Did the book deliver?

Oh yeah!

The Art of Wishing gives us some artful wishing, some complicated wishing (by the end, my head was almost spinning from the complications), and some delicious romance.  

The best part of the romance between Margo and Oliver was the dialogue between them. I LOVE a cheeky dialogue, especially when the character's reactions are well done. Oliver was utterly lovable because he was so sure of himself, and then he'd be unexpectedly alarmed by Margo's off-the-wall questions. I loved how she kept him off-balance. She even kept herself off-balance:

As I pulled up in front of his building, I racked my brain for a good parting line, something that would make me sound witty and thoughtful and, most of all, worthy of kissing again in the future. After a long moment, I finally came up with, "Um."

 I'm looking forward to another genie story coming out soon: The Binding Stone by Lisa Gail Green, which features a female genie (djinn) instead.  I mean, whoa. Just look at this cover!!

Since I shared my three wishes, I'd love it if you left a comment with a wish or two or three of your own! 
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