Monday, September 30, 2013

Time travel, black death, and humorous obsessive characters

I've been meaning to read something by Connie Willis for a long time. After all, she's won multiple Hugo and Nebula awards, and she writes about time travel. Time travel! But wait, go back to that Hugo/Nebula award thingie. Science fiction has a long history of being dominated by male writers. But it's a female writer who has won THE MOST science fiction awards. Rah, rah!

Doomsday Book is a  fascinating pair of intertwined stories, set partly in the future (2054), and partly in the medieval times of the 1300's.  I love these types of parallel stories in different time periods. 

The devastation of the Black Plague is detailed and spares nothing. It was so sad at the end, sad yet with hopeful beauty in some of the characters that nearly broke my heart.  But there also many humorous touches to this book that kept it from sinking into the quicksand of too much death and grief. 

It's not only the horrors of the 1348 beginning of the bubonic plague in England; there's also an abrupt, deadly influenza outbreak in a future vision of England of 2054. Here you get to see a bunch of self-focused, obsessive people have their lives turned upside down by the outbreak and subsequent quarantine. I learned here that obsessive characters are great tool for developing humor. Mrs. Taylor and her determination to find time for her bellringers to practice, and Finch and his constant worry about whether there will be enough lavatory paper to go around make me smile even as I am typing this.  

In 2054, historians regularly travel back in time to witness and document history. The mechanism of time travel isn't really explained (it's just "the net") but it's stressed over and over again how important it is to first parameterize and test each drop into the past. Time paradoxes were physically impossible; time travel simply wouldn't occur (like a law of nature) if a paradox or something that might change the course of time was at all possible. But the loss of the intriguing paradox element didn't keep this novel from being absolutely fascinating and fraught with danger. No one  had ever dared traveling back as far the 1300's yet... and for good reason. 

The medieval time thread is just as fascinating as the future one, and I loved how the bells acted as a sort of symbolic bridge between times. In the medieval time period the book delves into how individuals' faith (in a time when everything revolved around the church and saints) could be tested by horrors such as the plague. Humans will turn blame on almost anything. And yet the story is really more about brave, honest, kind souls that endure and help - and hope! - even to the bitter end. Which is why I loved this story, even through the horror and sadness. 

I also loved how the story was fast-paced yet very detailed. After reading so many young adult novels, it was a nice change to get into a novel that doesn't have any length restrictions and can really develop setting and character without any stinting. The characters were ALL, everyone of them (and it was a very large cast!) so well drawn and developed. I simply must mention determined Kivrin, worried Mr. Dunworthy, harried Dr. Mary and her adventurous 12 year old charge, Colin; the cad William Gaddson, despicable Mr. Gilchrist; and in the past Lady Imeyne, Elywis, Rosamund, wild little Agnes, even the surly maid Maisry... and Roche. Roche! This illiterate, ugly village priest has touched my heart and become one of my most beloved fictional heroes.

This book was so absorbing I didn't even stop to bookmark pages I want to come back to. A book hasn't got me that intensely involved in a long time. I couldn't put it down and it's a LONG book but it was so good I didn't want it to end. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

My top ten favorite sequels

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

Confession: I don't read many sequels, only about 3 a year. So my list is short and a little... unconventional.

1. Lirael, by Garth Nix, sequel to Sabriel. This one surprised me because it introduced new main characters and the main characters from the first book only played bit parts, except for Mogget the cat (or is he a cat?)

2. The Iron Knight, by Julie Kagawa. This was actually the fourth and last book in the Iron Fey series, but this is the only series I've read where the books just kept getting better and better.

3. Shadowscale, sequel to Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman. Totally cheating here since this won't even be out until February 2014! But there you go, I can't wait for this sequel.

4. Ebon, the sequel to Pegasus, by Robin McKinley. Not due out until an unspecified time in 2014. Ack!!! been waiting since 2011 for this sequel!

5. The Unbound, sequel to the Archived by Victoria Schwab. January 2014 - at least this one has a cover!!!  I love the title, too.

Bonus:  I've read the first book in the Temeraire series (His Majesty's Dragon) by Naomi Novik and loved it. LOVED IT!!! Haven't gotten to any others in the series but I am so happy I have more regency-era dragons to read about... this is the case where I don't want to rush into them and devour them all at once; I want to drag the pleasure out a while!

What's your favorite sequel? (book or movie - my favorite movie sequel is Empire Strikes Back, but Star Trek Into Darkness is a close second)

Friday, September 20, 2013

Writing about little pieces of human nature

I've been slowly reading out loud through the Chronicle of Narnia series with my daughters at bed time.  We're in the middle of The Silver Chair right now. I haven't read this book since I was a kid, and it's so much fun to read it again as an adult, not only to see what I remember (and what I've forgotten), but also to learn about story structure and writing techniques from a true master. 
There's no greater master of describing the human nature than C.S. Lewis.  
In order to be believable in expressing the "bigger" parts of human nature (pride/humility, greed/giving, trust/fear) I'm discovering how Lewis first lays the groundwork by relating to simpler parts of human nature. 
The Silver Chair transitions into new chapters by beginning with a thought about life such as “it's a very funny thing, the sleepier you are, the longer it takes to get to bed. You keep telling yourself to get up and get ready...”
People are sharing these common little observations all the time (you know, like how Mondays we always seem to be moving a little slower) and I'm trying to be more alert about observing them, and then threading them here and there into my chapters.... they are especially good for transitions. 
Not much else to say today, because you know, it's funny thing about Fridays... they're not nearly as contemplative as Mondays.  So there you go!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Compulsive Reader Profile: A-Z

This A-Z meme was started by the Perpetual Page-Turner

Author you’ve read the most books from: 
Walter Farley's Black Stallion series, at least 21 books, I read them all over AND OVER again as a kid. As an adult, I'm catching up with C.S. Lewis' books. He has over 30; I'm about 2/3rds through.

Best sequel ever:
The Iron Knight, by Julie Kagawa. This was actually the fourth and last book in the series, but this is the only series I've read where the books just kept getting better and better.  

Currently reading:
Dragonhaven by Robin McKinley. Another author I plan to read through all her books. 

Drink of choice while reading:
Tea. I have a whole Pinterest board on Books and Tea.

E-reader or physical book:
Physical book all the way! I own a tablet and enjoy reading on it, but I prefer real books.

Fictional character you would have dated in high school:
Aragorn from Lord of the Rings. I was pretty picky in high school. Very high standards. 

Glad you gave this book a chance:
Code Verity, by Elizabeth Wein. Being a WWII story, I knew this one would be heartbreaking in some (or many ways), but the characters are so WORTH getting to know. 

Hidden gem book:
Scarlet Royal by Anne Emery (1976). Loved this book growing up, as a horse crazy girl, and not just because the main character's name is Margo.  I learned so much from this book too, about life and how to meet hardships with courage.  "The only meaningful thing in Margo's life was her horse, Scarlet Royal. However, when a rich family offered her struggling parents a lavish price for the horse, how could they refuse? A story of sportsmanship and courage."

Important moment in your reading life:
I grew up reading like crazy, but during college I got so burnt out with required reading I quit reading except for necessity. After college I didn't get back into the habit again. But I've always been passionate about writing, and when I discovered the world of writer's blogs, I also discovered  that other writers were VORACIOUS readers. I realized I needed to start reading more - you can't write books if you don't read them, for heaven's sake. Yeah, it was kind of a "duh!" moment, but there you go. Once I started reading again, it was like finding myself after being lost for many years.

Just finished:
Warhorse by Michael Morpugo. Very reminiscent of Black Beauty, but with its own historical pathos.  So much more cohesive than the disconnected  movie.

Kinds of books I won’t read:
Erotica. Or books that are famous for their shock value.

Longest book you’ve read:
The Bible - all 774,776 words of it. Compare that to Lord of the Rings (combined): about 473,000. I couldn't find a word count for James Michener's Chesapeake but I bet that's close. Also Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett was a really lonnnnnnng one at 401,905 words (983 pages).  

Major book hangover because of:
I think a book hangover is when you finish a great book, and it just sticks with you, and you wish it hadn't ended and you didn't have to face real life again.  The last time I really got that feeling was probably after reading the Blue Sword last spring. And just a little bit again like that after reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone this spring. 

Number of bookcases you own:
Five large ones and several small ones. All quite full. 

One book you have read multiple times:
Lord of the Rings. So many times I've lost count. 

Preferred place to read:
In winter, curled up in big chair near the fireplace. In the summer, on my porch swing. 

Quote that inspires you/gives you all the feels from a book you’ve read:
She reads books as one one would breathe air, to fill up and live - Annie Dillard

Reading regret:
Pet Semetary by Stephen King. Still gives me nightmares. 

Series you started and need to finish:
The Temeraire series by Naomi Novik. So happy I have more regency-era dragons to read about. 

Three of your all-time favorite books:
Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien,  Green Grass of Wyoming by Mary O'Hara and The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

Unapologetic fangirl for:
Gandalf. You know on interviews where they ask you what famous person you'd most like to meet? I pick him everytime. 

Very excited for this release more than all the others:
It's a three way tie between the sequel to Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman, the sequel to Pegasus, by Robin McKinley, and the sequel to the Archived by Victoria Schwab.

Worst bookish habit:
Ignoring my family while I'm in a good book. 

X marks the spot (start on your top shelf and pick the 27th book):
Couldn't have picked a better book: the Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis. Of course, of my five bookshelves, I did pick the bookshelf that holds all my favorites.

Your latest book purchase:
One Thousands Gifts by Ann Voskamp.

ZZZ-snatcher book (last book that kept me up way too late): 
Sabriel and Lirael by Garth Nix - the last 1/3 of both of these books kept me up wayyyyyy too late.

Where's your favorite reading place?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

My Top Ten Books I Would Love To See as a Movie

My favorite epic fantasies mostly dominated this top ten list of books I'd love to see turned into movies. I want to see the worlds, the fantastic creatures, what actors would be cast for the unforgettable characters.

But also interesting to me was that a few of my favorite books I DIDN'T want to see made into movies. I just couldn't see how that unique character of these books, their style and literary quirks, could be possibly be captured in any medium except with words on the page. So I made a separate list for these.

But first, the count-down of books I'd love to see made into movies:

10. The Iron Fey, by Julie Kagawa. I'd want all four books, so this might be better suited as a T.V. series. I'd be pretty rabid about the casting for the winter prince, Ash.

9. Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor.  I'd love to see how computer graphics artists would imagine the chimaera, and the fiery wings of the seraphim. And I want this girl, from the German cover, to play Karou.

8. The Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rae Carson. Even though I haven't read the last book in this series yet, I'm sure I'd want it included, so this might be better suited for a T.V. series too. I would totally want Ben Barnes to play Hector.

7. Incarceron, by Catherine Fisher.  This one has some neat science fiction elements, and steampunk elements. The  twisty plot would make an intense movie.

6. The Horse and His Boy, The Silver Chair, and  the Magician's Nephew. I loved the three recent Narnia movies, and I wish they'd continue making them!

5. The Archived, by Victoria Schwab. The Library of living memories and its spooky Narrows would translate really well to the big screen, and the characters are so vibrant!

4. His Majesty's Dragon, by Naomi Novik. I can't believe this one hasn't made it to the movies yet. Or a T.V. series, since there's so many books in this series. I can't help but picture Russel Crowe in the movie Master and Commander as Captain Laurence.

3. Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen by Garth Nix.  I'd like to see three distinct movies for this series, like it was done for Lord of the Rings. The only problem with movies for these books is that with all the Dead these would be very, very scary movies. But oh the settings! And all the cool things like Sendings and the Wall (much more interesting than the Wall in Game of Thrones) and the river and its gates and the bells and Mogget with his collar... oh I want, want, want...

2. Voice in the Wind, by Francine Rivers. Gladiator is one of my favorite movies, and I can't get enough of Ancient Rome on the big screen. This is the best book about Ancient Rome I'd ever read, and on screen it'd be so intense it might set the screen on fire.

1. The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley. I'd love a movie version, but I would just cry if they got the casting wrong for Corlath. And they'd have to make the movie soon because Anthony Hopkins would be so perfect as Colonel Dedham and Patrick Stewart would be so perfect as Mathin. And whoever the girl in this photo is, she is my Harry Crewe.

Bonus: The Lord of the Rings. Yes, I want MORE movies! I loved parts of the recent movies (Gandalf! Merry! Pippin! Gollum!), but parts made me gnash my teeth with frustration (the list is too long). I'd love to see another movie series version with a whole new cast of characters and a new vision of the settings... just because there's so much scope for imagination. It would be so, so, so cool too if the movies could capture a little more of Tolkien's theme of traces of Numenor still appearing in Middle Earth, and a little less melodrama in some other areas.

Books I wouldn't want to see made into movies:

The Earthsea series by Ursula Le Guin. This is one of my most favorite fantasy series, but the writing has such a haunting, poignant quality to it, I just can't see how a movie could capture that part, and it's too important to ignore.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. This book has such a intellectual flair and a delicious wry tone. A movie *might* be able to pull it off, but I'm not sure if I'd want to risk it.

C.S. Lewis'  Space Trilogy. Part of me would love, love, love to see the settings of Mars and Venus as imagined by C.S. Lewis brought to the big screen. It would be a rush. But there is so much subtlety in these books that I'm afraid might get lost.

The Mitford series by Jan Karon. I could see this working as T.V. series, but then again I could see the series missing so much of the charm of the writing itself.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

In-between Insecurities

The first Wednesday of the month is time for Insecure Writers Support Group, hosted by Alex Cavanaugh and his excellent team. Click here for a list of all the participants and to join in.

I'm suffering from "in-between insecurities" right now. I've finished one book, I really have, but I can't settle on my next project, and I'm so insecure of letting go of the finished one (surely it could use one more good polish! one more twist at the end!).

I'm really torn about whether to commit to a new story, a fairy tale retelling that I've been collecting some ideas on this summer, or go back to one my three earlier manuscripts and work on fixing one of them up. I love all three of them, but I know they need major surgery: in other words, pretty much complete re-writes. If I commit a lot of time to one of those, will I lose some of the inspiration I've been enjoying with the new story?

When I participated in the "Top Ten concepts that would immediately make me pick up or buy a book" last spring (hosted by the Broke and the Bookish blog), I kept seeing two things show up on almost every list: fairytale retellings. And time twists (they showed up on my list, too).

So I'm really tempted to go with my retelling idea. But it's a very obscure fairy tale: Giselle. Actually, it's a ballet based on an old German poem. Classical ballet lovers will recognize it right away, and as soon as I heard that the Denver Ballet was putting on a production of it this fall, that's when the inspiration started stirring... what about a modern, young adult retelling of Giselle?   I'm going to see the ballet in October and it seems like perfect timing to start working on the story for NaNoWriMo in November.

But will anyone other than ballet lovers have any interest in this tale?  This isn't one that kids grow up hearing bedside stories of or Disney movies of. It's dark and tragic, involving suicide and vengeful female ghosts.

I'm a little insecure writing about such a dark and scary premise, too. Like all proper writers, I put my characters through some very dark times. Light shines the brightest when it shines out of darkness. But suicide is a whole new area of darkness...

And my other three books are sitting there begging me to work on them again. I have a time twisty story, a historical fantasy, full of mythical creatures clashing from different mythologies, and a MG fantasy that I think is the greatest idea in the world (hey, I'm allowed to fantasize). I know, with some work, I could make these into good stories. Giselle, I'm not so sure of, it's such new and scary territory.

I suppose in the end, I'll go with my gut feeling. But I'm always interested to hear: how do other artists choose their projects from the pile?

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