Thursday, August 29, 2013

Who is responsible for stealing our time?

Don't you often feel like someone or something is stealing your time? Like you thought you had an hour before work, and suddenly it's time and you are already running late? That is so the story of my life. I'm always "hey! where did the time go?" (I'm kind of a dreamer / space cadet too so that doesn't help). (Oh beans, that term space cadet really dates me, I'm afraid).

The premise of the newly release Middle Grade adventure The Time Fetch  by debut author Amy Herrick is about a bunch of little creatures - time foragers - that are usually contained but are sometimes let out to forage extra time from around the world (I can't tell you what they use the extra time for, it's pretty cool though).  But occasionally these foragers escape and get out of control and start to seriously steal time, totally messing with the fabric of space-time.  When I read the blurb for this book, I just about fainted with happiness, that is such a NEAT PREMISE!!! Finally I know what's happened to all the extra time I thought I had! And messing with time? I ADORE time-twisty stories.

The Time Fetch was a pleasure to read in so many ways. I give it 5 stars, the rating I save only for books I know I'll want to read again. Just fair warning: this is a very eccentric book.  If you love mind-bending and eccentric books (and eccentric characters) like A Wrinkle In Time, you will probably love this book. Mrs Whatsit, move over for Feenix and Edward and Aunt Kit and host of other oddballs in the Time Fetch.

This book takes some unexpected directions and has a lot of set-up that might be not-so-easy to get through, but take your time (ha! pun intended!) and enjoy the romp through Brooklyn and science and folklore and the fabric of space-time.

Any book that can playfully toss around words like discombobulated along with serious scientific terms makes me happy down to my toes. 

So about those eccentric characters: Edward has a very odd philosophy of life (it was all dancing atoms; nothing was real) his Aunt Kit is crazy superstitious and babbles about the Great Web; Danton and his little brother have some off-the-wall morning rituals; and Feenix has an imagination that can deflect poison brain-wave darts with her invisible force-field shield. I just love eccentric characters that naturally repel each other but when circumstances bring them together, there is a synergy of nerdy fizzy chemistry. 

The first part of this book will seem like a series of random odd events, but there's the promise that they will eventually fit together - not neatly, like puzzle pieces, but in a grand, messy, truly creative way. So I was willing to inch my way through the lengthy set up, and was truly most excellently rewarded.

I could also see all the lectures of Mr. Ross's and Aunt Kit's being a stumbling block for many. I found them deeply entertaining and I'm sure that reveals what a nerd I am at heart. I got the delightful suspicion early on, with Edward's horror that Mr Ross and his Aunt should ever meet because of their absolutely opposite world views, that it would be a simply wonderful thing if Extreme Science did meet Extreme Superstition. How they meet I can't spoil: is it an explosive clash? a melding of minds? a riff into new hybrid philosophies? Ha, read and find out. 

And, oh, the time. The Time! We have grand scale messing with the fabric of space-time in this story, alongside very applicable everyday issues of how life seems so *rushed* these days, and more noticeably during the holiday season. Sprinkled with philosophical musings that pop up here and there, like:

What is time? Does it move? Or do we just move through it? Is it a made-up thing or does it really exist?

And from Aunt Kit:

Any scientist worth his suspenders knows that every time you untangle one ball of yarn, the universe sends you another.

And from Mr. Ross:
And food! What a wonderful area of study! I envy you. The great chain of matter and energy, each always transforming, one into the other. So fascinating. But how do you achieve this airiness in your bread?

Which reminds me, I simply must mention the food. This book will make you hungry. Ah, for some pfeffernusse! Or spanakopita! The rich sensory details come at you left and right in this book; it's hard to believe at times this all on paper (or on screen) and not real surroundings. And related to the food, the description of Aunt Kit's kitchen is To. Die. For. And I'm not even a gourmet, a gourmand, or a decorator. 

I could heap scads of more quotes into this review, and rave on and on, but I will try to limit myself to four, no five favorite things:

1) I love books with an unlikely team of characters. I dearly hope there will be a sequel to get to enjoy Edward, Brigit, Danton and Feenix some more, with a side helping of Mr Ross and Aunt Kit.

2) The mythical creatures. They don't get a lot of spotlight in this story, but when they do show up, it's quite electrifying. I certainly count the panthers. 

3) I love books that use the old fairytale device of tokens. The spider and the spider silk, the apple, the anchovy paste (who knew!) and the vanilla beans - some of them I could guess; others showed up in delightfully unexpected places. 

4) the Holly and the Ivy

5) and sort of related to that, Brigit's song

I received a digital copy of The Time Fetch for my honest review. I was not paid or in any way compensated for raving about it. I truly, honestly, deeply enjoyed this book. I plan to buy myself a copy to always keep, but thank you to the publisher for giving me a sneak peak. 

Do you feel like something out there might be stealing time? seriously!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

My Top Ten Most Memorable Secondary Characters

I had a teensy bit of a problem narrowing down exactly what defines a secondary character. Not a love interest like Mr. Rochester; not an antagonist, like the Darkling. Do team characters count as secondary characters?  I mean, would you really call Han Solo secondary to Luke Skywalker? Or Gandalf secondary to Bilbo or Frodo?  Is Minnie a secondary character in the Help or one of three main characters?

Hey, look at that, I totally cheated. I just named some favorite "sort of" secondary characters in addition to my actual top ten list, below.

 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).

I couldn't rank this list by number, just so you know.

Orma from Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman. Because he's like a medieval version of Spock. And he's a dragon.

Brimstone from Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. Because he's scary and secretive and mysterious and compassionate and hopeful. Here's a great deviant art picture of him.

Puck and Grimalkin from The Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa. A smug know-it-all fairy cat and an irreverent fairy prankster. They go together so well.

Tumnus the Faun, from the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.  I would have tea with him any day.

Gollum, from the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. He's such a despicable, slimy, nasty little character that he's almost endearing in a twisted way. I also really like Smaug the Dragon, even though he only has one conversation, it's so wickedly conceited.

Mogget and the Disreputable Dog from The Abhorsen series by Garth Nix.

Buruu from Stormdancer, by Jay Kristoff.  The ultimate mythical creature, with attitude to boot.

Hagrid from the Harry Potter series.

Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert from the Anne of Green Gables series. Because all the others were mythical creatures/persons of sorts, I had to throw in two real people just for fun.

Oh, and one more real person: Grandfather from Heidi, by Joanna Spyri

Who's your favorite secondary character?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Perspective on winning and losing streaks

“What’s Up Wednesday” is a fun weekly meme started by Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk. From Jaime: It’s similar in some respects to the Currently… post, but it’s been whittled down to only four headings to make it quicker and more manageable on a weekly basis. You’re invited to join us  and visit other bloggers participating. 
What I’m Reading: I just finished The Time Fetch by Amy Herrick and loved it! It's a bringing together of four unlikely friends, in a superstition vs. science play through the fabric of space and time. Any book that can playfully toss around words like discombobulated along with serious scientific terms makes me happy down to my toes. I've also recently read the best-selling The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker, because I can't resist mythical creatures and, AND! BONUS! it's historical fantasy, my absolute favorite genre. Transplant a Syrian Jinni and a Polish golem (a female golem, no less) in 1890's New York City and watch their very different natures clash with each other and the cultures around them.  I just started reading a digital ARC of Tumble & Fall by Alexandra Coutts. It's an intense beginning of the end of everything. 
What I’m Writing: I'm changing the ending to my Star Tripped (YA SF) manuscript after having one of those wonderful inspirations  wherein I discovered how much more character I could develop AND how much twistier I could make the ending. 
What Else I’ve Been Up To:  I'm still catching up with all the wonderful posts and videos from last week's WriteOnCon.  I did submit my query (which still needs work) and first 250 words to the forums and got some excellent feedback, and just as helpful was reading and giving feedback on other queries. You guys, there are some seriously amazing premises out there! On the one hand I'm intimidated, especially because there were so many YA science fiction queries (competition!) but on the other hand, the ideas were so good, I want them to get published so I can read them.

I learned a TON from watching kidlit agents Suzie Townsend and Kathleen Ortiz give their instant feedback on a huge variety of twitter pitches (twitches, a new writerly word!). It was fascinating to see their facial expressions as they listened to/read the pitch for the first time and then to hear their comments (mostly they would agree; sometimes they didn't!). Great insight into what's hot and what's not in the current YA market, and what ideas really spark them individually, as well. 

My 18 year old stepdaughter also listened to a few of the pitches with me, and it was interesting how she was intrigued by the New Adult pitches, and "so over" the YA pitches. 

What’s Inspiring Me Now:  Elana Johnson's recent post Winning Streak or Losing Streak. From her post, quoting a professional development speaker: 

... he said it only takes two (TWO) events to get on a streak, either winning or losing. Two successes to feel confident... to feel like we know what we're doing... two successes to think, "Hey, I might be good at this." 
... then he said that it only takes two disappointments or failures to be on a losing streak. Two failed tests. Two instances where a student couldn't perform what they were asked to. And this is the dangerous spiral. When you're on a losing streak, you want to give up. You criticize yourself mercilessly. You have no confidence and no motivation to keep trying. Not only do we start to think, "I can't do this," we continue that thought to "I can't do this, because I'm not good at it." 

Why I find this inspiring is that if you recognize what two disappointments can do to you (with writing it could be rejections, or a harsh critique, but this could apply to your day job too, or school, or relationships), you can fight the temptation to give in. You can recognize them for what they are: a form of progress, part of the learning curve, and not a sign that you are "no good" or "not meant for this." You can also learn to recognize small successes (like a new idea that makes your story much stronger) and start tying them together into a winning streak of your own. 

What are you learning this week? 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Writer's Baker's Dozen

I am taking the plunge this year and plan to enter MSFV's Baker's Dozen Contest, which I've followed avidly every fall for several years now, but never felt ready enough with my manuscript to participate. Until now.

The Baker's Dozen Agent Auction is MSFV's biggest event of the year. Sixty 250-word entries, hand-picked by Jodi Meadows and Authoress, will be placed on the auction block for agents to bid on (with requests for pages, up to a full manuscript request). It bears the name "Baker's Dozen" because the original auction in 2010 included 13 agents--a baker's dozen.

As per Authoress' request (Miss Snark's First Victim herself) I am posting this to help spread the word about the Baker's Dozen auction.

Fellow writers/readers, this auction is GREAT entertainment to watch. It is so much fun to pick which books you'd bid on, and then see what agents agree and if a bidding war starts.

And it's incredibly helpful (as was WriteOnCon, which I participated in this year) for figuring out what's hot in the market and what's not, and to get familiar with individual agents and their tastes.

If you're interested in more about the Baker's Dozen, here's the link again!

Update: here's my entry for Star Tripped!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What is an anti-portal?

This isn't a portal story, I think, but the
cover just screams "portal" to me!
I love stories about portals to other worlds, either fantasy worlds, like Narnia, or gates back in time like the Anubis Gates, or science fiction portal like Stargate; even gates that guard mysterious secret places, like the Secret Garden.

Some recent wonderful portal books I've read are The Archived, by Victoria Schwab, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor, the Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, and the Wings series by Aprilynne Pike.

I must not be alone, because Goodreads even has a list of books that include Doors, Portals and Gates (discovered some of my favorites on this list, and a bunch more I want to read).

As I writer, I'd love to write a portal story. But of course, it would need an original twist.

The first way to put a fresh spin on an old but good idea (like portals) is to think of its exact opposite. Such as an "anti-portal."

But what, exactly, is an anti-portal? I've been thinking about  this  for a while now, and I haven't had any light-bulb moments. But sometimes when I'm reading other stories, I get a hint of what I'm looking for in my imagination:

Here's a portal excerpt from Wildlwood Dancing that has a "different" sort of portal:

At full moon, the walk to Taul Ielelor was far shorter. At full moon, everything was different, everything was upside down and back to front. Doors opened that were closed on other days, and those whom the human world feared became friends. The Bright Between was a gateway: not a threat but a promise. 

And this description, from Fablehaven by Brandon Mull, is neat, too:

The air trembled. On hot days, Kendra had seen the air shimmer in the distance. This was similar, but right in front of her. The ground seemed to be tipping. Kendra extended her arms and swayed as the ground teetered even more. There was a burst of darkness, an anti-flash, and Kendra stumbled.
So there's the "anti-" idea going on there.

When I saw the cover of The Burning Sky recently, with a dark stormy sky on fire (with a neat sort of phoenix or dragonish shape) that made me think of an anti-portal, too:

But aside from the visuals, what would an anti-portal actually do? If a portal takes you somewhere, what would be the opposite of that? That's where my brain has completely stalled. It's like trying to understand (without mathematics) what exactly dark matter and anti-matter is... we know that most of the universe is made up of it, but... it's really hard to wrap my brain around it.

So I thought I'd throw it out to the world. When your imagination hears "anti-portal" - what does it come up with? 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Encouragement to battle insecurity

My blogging friend Michelle Gregory had a wonderful idea for Insecure Writers Support Group today (where we all virtually meet to share the first Wednesday of every month). She asked her writing buddies to share where their greatest encouragement came from, because encouragement is an antidote to insecurity.

If you need encouragement as a writer, you'll want to bookmark her post: Let's encourage each other

Here's what I shared: 

My only "real" writing encouragement came from my high school English teachers, who loved my essays and creative writing. That was a long, long, long time ago and encouragement (from the outside) has been slim pickings since then. Critique partners are great at pointing out sentences they like, maybe a character they "identify with" or a piece that "has potential", but encouragement comes mostly in the form of "we know what you're going through, we're going through it too."  

I have found my greatest encouragement has come from the words themselves, especially the ones that pour out of me at times with a will of their own, and from the characters that keep stirring in my head, begging for their story to be told. I imagine them up there, hoping for life, wincing when I "don't quite get them yet", touching down on the page but only half-formed, still a little shy, sending me hints about their passions and fears but only opening up gradually as we get to know each other better. 

 Each little insight is an encouragement, and even the setbacks (when a critique partners says "your character is too whiny!") have been encouragements on the way, because they usually point me closer to the heart of the character. They challenge me to think deeper, to search harder, so that I'm able to find and release more of the real character and less of my own self transposed on them. 

What has been your greatest encouragement, in writing or anything else?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Top Ten Books I Wish Could Have Had Sequels

Here's a question for you: could there be a sequel to Beauty and the Beast? (I'm thinking of Margaret Peterson Haddix's sequel to the Cinderella fairytale, Just Ella.... I've heard there are Disney sequels too, but Just Ella has this twist: what if Prince Charming's not so charming).

And could you have a female Beast and male Beauty?

Anyway, here's some other books I'd love to read sequels to. 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).

1. The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien. I don't care if it's a three book series, with companion books such as the Hobbit and Silmarillion, I want MORE of Middle Earth. I can't WAIT to meet Tolkien in heaven and read the stories he's been working on in the meantime. I'm SERIOUS!

2.  The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley. This Riders of Rohan meets Victorian Empire fantasy with a wild hill king, Corlath (takes deep breath, Corlath!) has a fairly decent prequel, but no sequel. McKinley's blog says she may revisit the world of Damar again with another story. Please, soon, please.

3. Pegasus, by Robin McKinley. This book came out in 2010 and there's a sequel originally planned for this year, now pushed back to next year. Don't push it back any more Robin or I may hunt you down. That's two sequels from this lady that I'm impatient to have.

4. Voices of Dragons, by Carrie Vaughn. Fascinating premise of a no man's land zone between dragon country and human country, and the girl that dared to cross the line. These dragons can take on modern military jets! I sooooo wish there was sequel to this one.

5. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern
I don't necessarily crave the same characters, but I do want MORE of this magical circus. I want to see how it fairs as it moves from the 19th century into the 20th and even 21st century. I wonder how technology might change the circus... or not.

6. A Northern Light, by Jennifer Donnelly.
This book ended with Mattie finally breaking free of Adirondack backwoods turn-of-the-century world she grew up in and heading off to college. I want to see her backwoods upbringing meet the Big Apple and who she'd meet there and her romantic prospects and what she'd do when she returned home. Mattie's like an American, tougher version of Anne of Green Gables, and I think she deserves a whole series.

7. Burning, by Elana K. Arnold.
I want to find out what happens to the modern Gypsy girl, Lala, after she's been (spoiler!!!) disowned by her family. Last we heard she's headed for Los Angeles, determined to strike out on her own even though Ben is more than willing to give up his own dreams to follow her.

8. The Lost Girl, by Sangu Mandanna.
Eva is sort of a clone, actually a modern high-tech Frankenstein's monster created as a "backup" in case her original dies, as solace for the original's family. The plan backfired horrifically of course, but I think there would ramifications that could affect Eva as she continues to grow up and find her own life.

9. The Bestest Ramadan Ever, by Medeia Sharif.
This had a Judy Blume kind of feel to it,  and tension between old world Muslim ways (Almira's grandfather), the more relaxed but not fully Americanized ways of Almira's parents, and the mixed rebellion and respect of teenagers Almira and Shakira for the traditions of Islam... and there's so much more potential for conflict and resolution if this were a series. I like to see religious differences handled well in kidlit, and this is a good example. Related to this, I'd like a series that also address fundamentalist Christianity and other religions in a similar way. 

10. From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler, by E.L. Konigsburg.
When suburban Claudia Kincaid decides to run away, she knows she doesn’t just want to run from somewhere, she wants to run to somewhere — to a place that is comfortable, beautiful, and, preferably, elegant. She chooses the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. There's so much more to this book even than this very excellent premise, and I could see Claudia and James getting into lots more adventures in a series. 

Honorable mentions:

I'd love a sequel to David and the Phoenix, a 1950's classic that's slowly gaining a modern day following. Simply because the Phoenix is such a larger-than-life character. I'd love more of that know-it-all bird, esp since he's been (SPOILER!!!!) re-incarnated after his 500 hundred year bonfire.

A sequel to I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade is another please, gimme! I want to see Oyuna and her indomitable cat, Balat, meet Marco Polo in a sequel (since she's already met Kublai Khan). I want more medieval Mongolian adventures and horses and Mulan-type girl character like Oyuna.

What book or movie do you wish had a sequel? Or do you think Beauty and the Beast could have an interesting sequel, maybe with genders reversed?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Summer Giveaway Hop - 5 recent books

I've read some wonderful new books this year and would love to pass them on to other readers -  I've set this up for five people to win.

Also,  Click this link for a chance to win from over 100 blogs also participating in this giveway hop.

Here you have a choice of:

Parallel, by Lauren Miller. When another review said this book was like the movie Groundhog Day but in reverse, where Abby wakes up nearly every morning wondering what's changed in her life because of her parallel's decisions, I IMMEDIATELY bought this book.  An intricate time-twisty delight. 

Altered, by Jennifer Rush. Girl on the run with four extraordinary boys. Tension "thick enough to braid." Details that you notice, but later they come up again and you realize they had another meaning than what you first assumed. So cool! 

Days of Blood and Starlight, by Laini Taylor. Karou: art student and monster's apprentice. More epic fantasy with more amazing twists, the kind that made me my shake my head in wonder: how did the author fit all of this together, all the pieces from the first book included??? So impressive. 

Seige and Storm, by Leigh Bardugo.  More fascinating Russian mythical creatures, breath-taking plot, and characters you can't get enough of.

The Art of Wishing, by Lindsay Ribar. Girl falls in love with her genie. 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!

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