Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Fire Wish

Some words are pure magic to me... they bring me right back to all the fairytales I loved as a child. Words like palaces, princes, jinnis, lamps, silks, veils, thick Persian carpets, moonstones, geodes, viziers, wishes...

And when such magical words are mixed with pieces of ancient history, like the Tigris River, and Baghdad, they take on an even more fascinating dimension (especially since these are parts of history that are still around, even to this day). 

So when a book combines all this magic with real places, like The Fire Wish (by debut author, Amber Lough) it is irresistible to me, especially since all the old favorite things appeared in new and original ways (no Disney genie vibes). The Fire Wish also had a tricksy "switch places" plot (be careful what you wish for!) and the one story trope that I love endlessly and never tire of:  forbidden love. 

In this story, humans are at war with the Jinn, but then a human girl, Zayele, and a Jinn boy, Atish, fall in love. Yes, it's instalove. Though I acknowledge instalove can rot your mental teeth and skew reality, done well it can still be delicious like forbidden sweets. Hey, I grew up on instaloves like Sleeping Beauty and Romeo and Juliet. 

 The human girl, Zayele, tells her side of the story, but there's also a Jinn girl, Najwa, telling a different side of the story, and there's a best friend, Rahela, who is incredibly brave to help a stranger she'd been taught her whole life was an enemy. And then there are the two worlds....

I wasn't sure which I loved more, the rich details of Baghdad: so well done, descriptions that completely transported me both in place and time. Reflecting pools, palms, details on the gates, ouds and flutes, 
peacocks, carpets lush as moss, patterned glass of lanterns, the preciousness of saffron, interesting words like qaa'ed...

Or the entirely fantastic underground world of the Jinn. The Jinn live inside a giant, hollowed out geode full of jewels. Is that not crazy cool or what??? Their homes are stacked on each other, set into the curving inner walls of the geode, and "decorated using liberal doses of wishes." (The cavern is lit by wishes, too, with lantern-lighters on stilts that whisper wishes).  There is a lake of fire in the cavern, too, but it's not the scary lava kind, it's more a sort of playful fire. 

Humans can demand wishes from Jinnis, and the whole wishing aspect of the story was fascinating. Another thing very well written in this story was how the Jinnis, used to living underground, perceive the human world, and vice versa. 
In the distance between the sky and the retreating clouds, a rainbow arched in the air. How could that be? There were no prisms large enough to cause such a thing. Then I realized what it was. It was the world - the wet air and shimmering light - that set the rainbow across the sky. They didn't need crystals here.

But this next quote is my absolute favorite from the story.

The door closed behind me and a puff of air blew my skirt, but I barely noticed. I was in the House of Wisdom, and all I could think about was that no jinni had been there in ages, and female jinni had never been allowed to enter. I was the first.

Thousands of books, with spines of red leather or brown linen, sat on shelves two stories high and a hundred feet long. The scents of ink and glue laced the air, and I breathed them in deep. At least thirty men, all in long robes, were in the library. Some sat at low tables, bent over opened volumes. Others stood in a small group, listening to two men discuss something. A few roamed along the walls, pulling books off the shelves and tucking them beneath their arms. The room was heavy with stories, and I ached to read them.

Faisal had once been one of these men, with access to all these books. All these minds. No wonder we built the Lamps - the bridge between the worlds. No wonder we gave the humans cartloads of jewels to set foot in it.
I have more favorite excerpts and other things I loved about the Fire Wish in my Goodreads review. Many thanks to Random House and Net Galley for providing me with an advanced copy to read; I was in no way compensated otherwise for this review, which is my honest (and happy) opinion of this book.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Ready, Set, Write: the voices are back

Ready. Set. WRITE! is a summer writing intensive that encourages goal-setting and accountability, and provides an opportunity for us to cheer each other on wherever we’re at in our writing—planning, drafting, revising, or polishing. This year, your RSW hosts are Alison MillerJaime MorrowErin Funk, and Katy Upperman. Find the rest of the details HERE.

* How I did on last week's goals: 

My goal for last week was to revise Star Tripped for at least 10 hours. I did it! Just barely. Finished at 11:18 pm Sunday night.

I finished reading the Fire Wish by Amber Lough.  Jinns! The Tigris River! Ancient Baghdad. Giant geodes. Wishes.... I love this kind of story that transports you away to another world, and it has a double love story. More details coming tomorrow. 
* My goals this week: 

I'll be thrilled to fit in 5 hours this week. County fair begins this week, and my daughters are competing pretty much for 3 days straight in different horse events. I have to run them to practice too, and help them make props and costumes for their "Ride to Music"  event.  But their ideas are so creative and fun, it's all worth it.
* A favorite line from my project OR a word/phrase that sums up what I wrote/revised.

I know I’m a little crazy, talking to her like this. I like to blame it on the crazy cat lady in my head that keeps saying Liz isn’t really dead. Keep talking to her, the lady says, stroking an orange tabby on her lap.  If you keep talking to her, you won’t lose her.
* The biggest challenge I faced this week.

The chaos of my house. Clothes and toys everywhere. Dishes in the sink. Unswept floors. Yup, all the stuff I normally do before writing: I didn't do this week.

I got a lot of writing time in, but the revisions went really slowly. I didn't get much stuff crossed off my Needed Revisions list.  That was a challenge, too. Sometimes lists can be more discouraging than they are helpful. 
* Something I love about my WiP. 

Right now, I love that the voices of my characters are loud and opinionated in my head. Hopefully on paper too.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Instalove or love at first sight

I just read a book that some reviewers have branded as "instalove", a word I'm seeing a lot these days, and not a lot of good about it. This post is me just thinking out loud about it.

I love how Disney's Frozen and Maleficient movies embraced better examples of true love saving someone, than someone you hardly know claiming true love. Finally! After decades of feeding us instalove stories, where basically the moment two people set eyes on each other, they know "they're the one."  I'm picking on Snow White and Sleeping Beauty in particular but there are dozens if not hundreds of others, including classics like Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

I just finished reading The Fire Wish, by Amber Lough, which I have many things to gush over: the setting, the diversity (Middle Eastern characters), a fantastic plot, and three strong and thoughtful girl characters. More about all of these on Tuesday for my #WeNeedDiverseBooks post (also the book's release day).

The Fire Wish has a strong dose of double Instalove. The plot is basically laid out in the blurb: a human girl and jinni exchange places with unexpected consequences, and fall in love in their new places.

The blurb from Goodreads:
Najwa is a jinni, training to be a spy in the war against the humans. Zayele is a human on her way to marry a prince of Baghdad—which she’ll do anything to avoid. So she captures Najwa and makes a wish. With a rush of smoke and fire, they fall apart and re-form—as each other. A jinni and a human, trading lives. Both girls must play their parts among enemies who would kill them if the deception were ever discovered—enemies including the young men Najwa and Zayele are just discovering they might love.

I love stories like this, a romantic twist on the Prince and the Pauper switch places kind of story.  And while I recognize the Instalove factor, I still loved it.

Is it because I was raised on Instalove stories? Will a new generation raised on movies like Frozen and Maleficent be immune to the effects of Instalove? Or is it something basic to our nature that we (at least some of us) love "true love at first sight"?

I like asking married couples their "how we fell in love" stories. I haven't run across a case of instalove yet (though some divorced people will tell something similar to instalove and later, disaster). My own story (15 years married now) was NOT NOT NOT instalove. We were friends first. We were even interested in other people and involved with other people while friends.

InstaCrush can be mistaken for love.

InstaLust can DEFINITELY be mistaken for love.

"First flush" - which is what I call that first three or four heady months of a relationship - when both sides are on their best behavior, presenting the best sides of themselves, blind to almost everything except each other - is another easy way to feel like this is certainly true love.

I think if there is truly something wonderful out there - real, true love - it makes sense that there would also be lots of counterfeit love. I wish I'd read more books and seen more movies with examples of counterfeit love instead of the instalove stuff and I'm glad there seems to be trend now towards more slow burn and complicated relationships, especially in young adult stories.

But part of me still guiltily enjoys instalove stories.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Ready, Set, Write: song lyrics

Ready. Set. WRITE! is a summer writing intensive that encourages goal-setting and accountability, and provides an opportunity for us to cheer each other on wherever we’re at in our writing—planning, drafting, revising, or polishing. This year, your RSW hosts are Alison MillerJaime MorrowErin Funk, and Katy Upperman. Find the rest of the details HERE.

* How I did on last week's goals: 

My goal for last week was to revise for at least 7 hours. I only got 4 hours in. What happened is that my revisions started to have a cascade effect - each thing I changed meant more changes down the line.  I got overwhelmed and just sat staring at my screen, immobolized.  Tried again the next day: same frozen state  (see Biggest Challenge Faced this week).
* My goals this week: 

I'm aiming for 10 hours this week instead of 7. The kiddos will be away at camp! Which means more time to write! And I have a lot of time to make up. 
* A favorite line from my project OR a word/phrase that sums up what I wrote/revised.

An idea to incorporate: Slow vision versus fast vision.
(lots of stuff about vision in this story, as my MC is blinded in a freak accident. Which seems like a paradox, right? lots of vision but your MC is blind? Well, there you go, story of my life)
* The biggest challenge I faced this week.
Getting overwhelmed with edits and "freezing up". Then last night I took a deep breath and made a list of everything that needed updated or fixed. Guess how long the list was? Over sixty things to fix/delete/add!!! But now that everything is organized (and ordered, by scene) in a list, I think I can pick up momentum again. Sometimes taking a time out to get organized helps. 

* Something I love about my WiP. 

I found the perfect song lyrics to match this story, Star Tripped, part of which is set in space. So I know you can't use lyrics in a manuscript without massive copyright issues, but I think I can use one phrase "my universe will never be the same" without there being an issue.  Here's the part of the lyrics from "I'm Glad You Came" by The Wanted that transported me to my Happy Place:

The sun goes down
The stars come out
And all that counts
Is here and now
My universe will never be the same
I'm glad you came
What's your biggest challenge or inspiration this week?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Dragons

Dragons are my second favorite mythical creature, after unicorns. However, my first dragon experience was not a good one: I was about 6 years old when I first saw Disney's Sleeping Beauty and was terrified when Maleficent turned into a dragon. Even though the dragon got less than 2 minutes worth of screen time, that was 2 minutes of screen time I would never forget. The scene still impresses me!

(by the way, my version of Throwback Thursday is where I share a thing or two and a picture from my past, and somehow (probably not very expertly) tie it to a book I've read in the past that's worthy of getting the spotlight again for a moment).

Next I met Smaug, from the Hobbit, who terrified me as well, but also made me smile a few times.

It wasn't until I was a teenager and read the third book in the Earthsea series, The Farthest Shore by Ursula LeGuin, that I encountered a story where dragons could be considered (not exactly safe) but at least wise and even helpful. I was utterly captivated.
“And though I came to forget or regret all I have ever done, yet would I remember that once I saw the dragons aloft on the wind at sunset above the western isles; and I would be content.”
Then I found Anne McCaffery's Dragonflight and fell even more under the dragon-trance.

Since then I have discovered many more fascinating dragons like Draco, Toothless, Temeraire, and Orma from Seraphina. By the way, if you happen to be a Seraphina fan, take a look at the Italian book cover for Seraphina - is that not cool, or what???

When I was writing my first manuscript (about unicorns) it seemed inevitable that dragons ought to be in the story, too. Someday, maybe, I shall let my first dragon creation, Endruin, loose out in the fictional world.

Since this is Throwback Thursday, I dug up a picture of my first computer, upon which I wrote that rambling first draft back in the early 1990's (that's the original MacIntosh computer, with my old kitty Jennie).

Though I've already mentioned quite a few dragon books, the one I haven't blogged about yet that gets the spotlight today is Dragohaven, by Robin McKinley. Judging by other reviews on Goodreads, you're either going to love this book, or hate it enormously. It is extremely rambling, told from the viewpoint of fifteen year old boy who lives on a wildlife refuge for dragons (complete with a force field sort of dome to keep them from flying out). But the problem is, no one has ever been able to get close to the dragons to study them: so far they've only been accessible from a distance. For obvious reasons (unless you haven't realized that you can get incinerated if you get too close).

So Jake tells you all sorts of things about Smokehill National Park, which, if I have the geography figured out correctly, is located in Wyoming!!!! yay! my home state! - or at least Robin Mckinley's version of some place west of Nebraska.

Jake also tells you lots about the history and politics of a world very similar to our own, but in which dragons are slightly more real than mythical creatures but not even half as understood. And, he also tells you about the people he lives with and myriads of other minuscule but oddly entertaining things (there's a lot of telling in this book. Not much showing. It worked for me, because of Jake's great voice and excellent quirky observations, but I could see how some might hate it).  Jake also tells about some of the other, smaller, not-quite-dragon species that are on display at the park, my favorite being this fellow:
Madagascariensis, I swear, likes celery because the sound it makes slowly crunching it up reminds it of the crack of small bones, without any of the effort of hunting something. You'd think carrots would be even better, but no. Maybe it only hunts things with osteoporosis
But it takes a while to get to the point where he encounters the REAL dragons, the big giant fire-breathing ones that are so elusive. And the first one he discovers is dying, having been mortally wounded by a poacher before she was able to incinerate him. Here's Jake's first encounter with a dragon: 
Never mind the fire risk, being stared at by a dragon – by an eye the size of a wheel on a tour bus – is scary. The pupil goes on and onto the end of the universe and then around to the beginning too, and there are landscapes in the iris. Or cavescapes. Wild, dreamy, magical caves, full of curlicue mazes where you could get lost and never come out and not mind. And it's hot. I was sweating. Maybe with fear, but with the heat of her staring too.
Jake rescues and raises one of her dragonlets, Lois, and the whole middle part of the book is about how to raise a baby dragon, which is infinitely more complicated than raising a human baby (just imagine the heat factor!) especially since Jake has to keep Lois a complete secret from all but a handful of allies. Otherwise the government would take her way from him, and before the mother died, she somehow communicated her trust in Jake - so he can't let her down. 

The story really began to pick up when Jake meets another dragon - whom he lovingly names "Gulp" (Gulp was my personal favorite)- in a very dramatic fashion. Another dragon, "Bud", also gets a very dramatic scene. But don't expect a lot of action or dramatic scenes in this book. It's mostly like a diary of a young scientist learning about dragons, and also a little bit about people (Eleanor was my favorite human character, but I also loved the Arkhola natives) and how the world works. The neat thing about this book is you learn so many details about dragons and how they live and communicate that you're nearly convinced they're real by the end, and I just have to say a big gusty THANK YOU to Robin McKinley for putting so much THOUGHT into just every dragonish detail. Right down to dragon ghosts, how cool is that!

If you've made it this far in my post, you must have some measure of fondness for dragons. Who is your favorite fire-breather?

Monday, July 7, 2014

Ready, Set, Write: Stars and Stripes

Ready. Set. WRITE! is a summer writing intensive that encourages goal-setting and accountability, and provides an opportunity for us to cheer each other on wherever we’re at in our writing—planning, drafting, revising, or polishing. This year, your RSW hosts are Alison MillerJaime MorrowErin Funk, and Katy Upperman. Find the rest of the details HERE.

* How I did on last week's goals: 
1. This is my second week, my goal last week was to finish working in some ideas for richer characterization to the book I'm currently querying (YA SF: Star Tripped) and write two chapters on my WIP (MG fantasy: Refuge).  I progressed well with goal #1 but failed with goal #2, because I got really consumed with edits to Startripped.  I started reading  Writing 21st Cenury Fiction by Donald  Maass and it was just what I needed to strengthen and deepen not just my characters but many other things too.

2. Reading goals:  well, I got off track with 21st Century Fiction and didn't get The Fire Wish finished, but at least I stuck to my goal of ONLY one book a week instead of splurging on more when I should be writing!

* My goals this week: 

I'm going to set an hourly goal this week, because I've never done that before. (It's usually word count goals or specific edits).  Shooting for 7 hours this week.  Hoping to finish adding the final touches of symbolism and micro tension to Startripped.  
* A favorite line from my project (this is from Star Tripped)

I might the only person on the planet that doesn't love the stars.  Looking up into a starry night sky just makes me dizzy, and the thought of being up there, in all that dark space in between, frightens me. Go ahead, psychoanalyze me, tell me it's just because of the way I was born and what I had to go through after. Whatever the reason, I like to have my feet on the ground and my eyes on my own world. 
* The biggest challenge I faced this week.
4th of July festivities! So much fun but leaves so little time to sit down and write.  My daughters had a horse show over the weekend - all four of them got to compete, even the two littlest ones. I'm still exhausted from it, but loved their creative addition: painting stars and stripes on their horses' haunches for the show (wish I'd remembered to get a picture). 
* Something I love about my WiP. 
Discovering that there's some good, even heroic qualities about my antagonist.  A quote from Writing 21st Century Fiction:

What will make your antagonists memorable isn’t the evil that they do, but the good. 

Here's what I imagine Meer looks like:
lysander_by_negshin on DeviantArt.com
I'll be back posting for Throwback Thursday: this week is.... DRAGONS.

Whats your biggest challenge or inspiration this week?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Insecure Writer: the good days and the bad days

The first Wednesday of the month
 is time for Insecure Writers Support Group,
hosted by Alex Cavanaugh and his
excellent team. 
Good day: when I start to write and it's not flowing but I keep pushing the words out, confident I'll hit my stride, and then I do.

Bad day: when I start to write and I erase my first sentence and sigh and then waste an hour on Pinterest and then run out of time to write and hate all the things in my day that keep from getting back to writing and hate that I wasted that hour.

Good day: when a form rejection shows up, I'm able to say, "well, bummer. But we weren't the right fit, and the right fit is still down the road."

Bad day: just the thought of a form rejection possibly showing up in my inbox makes me want to run screaming to my room, crawl under the covers and eat chocolate and watch sad movies all day.

Good day: when even a gray day is lovely because, hey, I have a mug of hot tea in my hands and I have a good book to read before bed.
Bad day: when even a beautiful day cannot overcome the blues.

Good day: I read a writing tip on a blog and it's just the PERFECT thing I needed to fix something that's hasn't felt right and I think social media is one of the best things that ever happened to me as a writer (connected me with other writers; with the publishing world; with amazing books; with encouragement and inspiration just when I needed it.)

Bad day:  I'm jealous of absolutely everyone on blogs, Twitter, Facebook and even strangers crossing the street and I'm pretty sure social media is the spawn of Satan and will be the ruin of the world.

Good day: I re-read the first three chapters of my manuscript and feel certain that THIS IS THE ONE. This is good. This might even be GREAT. Huzzah!

Bad day: I re-read the first three chapters of my manuscript and feel like tossing the pages - or my laptop - across the room. Drivel. Cliche. Nonsense, twaddle, claptrap, balderdash, gibberish, rubbish, mumbo jumbo, garbage.

Completely aside from good days/bad days, I just started reading Writing 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass and simply must share a quote, because you can't share fine chocolate or wine via the internet, but good quotes translate very nicely:
Get out of the past. Get over trends. To write high-impact 21st century fiction, you must start by becoming highly personal. Find your voice, yes, but more than that, challenge yourself to be unafraid, independent, open, aware, and true to your own heart. You must become your most authentic self. 
Just occurred to me, it might be that just the good days alone without the bad days wouldn't shape us into authentic storytellers and writers. You need the sun and the rain, for the rainbow.

Got any good day/bad day advice to share?
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