Friday, October 31, 2014

Venice, painting, secrets and disguises

4.5 stars to Color Song, by Victoria Strauss:  a sumptuous historical set in 1487 Padua and Venice, rich characters (Sofia! Bernado!) and an artist's quest that resonated with my own artist's soul. Not that I'm a painter, but Giulia's passion for creation is universal for anyone who loves to create things, no matter the medium. This book had me looking up Renaissance painters like Giovani Bellini (who plays a small part in the book) and revisiting my Pinterest art page with new appreciation. Here's a painting by Malcolm T. Liepke that reminded me the character, Giulia, and her passion for the perfect blue.

This story is full of beautiful attention to detail and a living, breathing, smelly, sparkling depiction of Venice with its canals (how easy it is to travel around by water; how nearly impossible by foot) and its water doors. 5 stars for the setting. The convent at Padua also felt starkly real, and the painters' workshops there and in Venice were so well described I feel as if I could open the door and step inside.

5 stars for the premise, too. I simply loved the idea of a color song, the way the newly mixed, still-wet paint colors would "sing" for Giulia, each color with their own unique voice. 

As a woman, Giulia's painting is frowned upon, even prohibited. She disguises herself as a boy in order to escape the convent and apprentice herself to a master painter in Venice. Along the way she makes an unusual friend and ally in Sofia, a wealthy courtesan, a fascinating character. Sofia’s insight on Giulia:
“I think perhaps I understand you better now.” Sofia tilted her head, embracing Giulia in her cool amber gaze. “Why you would leave your home and travel so very far alone to a city where you are a stranger to apprentice yourself to a master you do not know. It is your gift that demands this of you, no? Your gift demands everything of you.”
Sofia’s son, Bernardo, plays the romantic interest, but he wasn’t as distinctive. However, because of Giulia’s disguise as a boy, her relationship with Bernardo is based on lies and deception, that added interesting tension to the story.  In fact, the theme of secrets vs. truth runs expertly (not too heavy-handedly) throughout the book.

I loved all the Italian words and historical tidbits that sang through this story like battagliole (mock battles on the bridges of Venice) and chopines (platform women’s shoes), and all the details about Venice, "La Serenissima, the daughter of the sea," where ."the salt water ran like blood through the body of this strange city." 

Another thing I loved about the story was identifying to Giulia’s struggles (and inspirations) as an artist, which any type of artist, not just a painter, could identify with. 
This was not the perfect work that had existed in her mind. It was only the imperfect rendering that was the best her skill could manage. Yet Giulia was not dismayed. For she knew that she would try again – and again, and again, for as long as it took to gain the experience, the judgment, the understanding to get it right. And perhaps she never would get it right. Perhaps she would never attain that flawless blue, never create that perfect image, never find the ultimate point of balance between what she could accomplish an what she could dream. Yet wasn’t that the point? To be drawn onward, ever onward, in pursuit of your deepest passion? To look back at the end fo the race and knew that you had never done less than the most you could do?
I thought Giulia’s unique gift of the color song would tie into the plot more, but it doesn’t. My favorite genre is historical fantasy, and the premise of the Color Song hinted at some fantasy, but I wasn’t disappointed when the book didn’t end up going that direction, as the color song did serve a purpose in theme of secrets and truth. 

And as for the unfairness of Giulia not being able to realize her full potential as an artist because she’s female, I felt the author found a good balance between the realism of the time and the hope of change in the future (nicely rounded out by the epilogue). must also be shared. It had no value if it was hoarded, closed up inside a secret like a miser's gold inside his counting room. And suddenly she could feel it: all the beauty she would create in the years to come, all the splendor that would issue from her hand, burning in her like the light of a thousand torches, so intense that for an instant it seemed she must be consumed.

Thank you to NetGalley and Skyscape for an advanced copy of this book, which did not influence my review in any way.  

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Meet My Character: Cam

I've been tagged for the Writerly Meme Blog Tour by my critique partner and longtime blogging friend, Julie Dao

I've been outlining and character building for a new project for NaNoWriMo this year, so it was tough to decide which main character to share: from the new project, or from the project I'm currently querying.  I've only shared a few things about my project-up-for-query, and never anything specifically about Camria, the MC of this YA contemporary science fiction.
What is the name of your character? 

Her name is Camria Jimenez, but she goes by Cam, thank you very much. She is secretly proud of being the daughter of two astronauts, though she has no aspirations of pursuing space herself, and she HATES the nickname "space twins" that the public has given her and her twin sister, Liz. 

When and where is the story set?

Cam's story is set in the here and now; she goes to high school in Buffalo, New York. But, she's about to choose a course that will take her far, far away from everything she knows. 

(Yes, that's a reference to a galaxy far, far away. Princess Leia from Star Wars was an inspiration. I always wanted a version of Star Wars from her point of view). 

What should we know about her?

Cam lives in the shadow of her twin sister, Liz, who is both a brilliant student and very popular at their high school. She tells herself she doesn't mind being the lesser-known twin, since she loves acting and aspires to the lead role in her school's upcoming play... until a terrible accident happens that changes everything. 

But it’s the things that I can’t do now that I want to tell him about. How I loved the thrill of standing on a stage pretending to be someone else, playing a role that was completely defined, saying words that were completely scripted. Somehow those constraints were not constraints to me — they freed me. I didn’t have to be afraid of saying something stupid. I could pour my passion out in perfect words. 

What is the main conflict? What messes up her life?

While Cam and Liz were touring a space shuttle facility, a freak explosion occured that killed Liz and blinded Cam. Six months after the accident, Cam is still struggling to adjust to her changed life. It's hard enough that she's blind, but National Security agents keep pestering her, questioning her about the accident and everything in the past, which makes it hard to move on. Also, she can't shake the sense that her sister is still alive. 

What is the personal goal of the main character?

Cam will do anything to get her sister and her sight back.  A new "transfer student," (i.e. undercover agent), Lander, hints that Liz might still be alive and that he has access to new technology that can restore Cam's sight. He offers to help her, in exchange for memories accidently implanted in her mind during the explosion that stole her sight. 

Falling for Lander is a complication Cam's trying to avoid...without much success. Here's an image on Deviant Art that fits Cam and Lander perfectly. 

Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

STAR TRIPPED is the working title.  See my Writing page for more details and a short excerpt.  Star tripping is just a game on our planet, but else where in the galaxy, it's... well, now that would be a spoiler. 

When we can expect the book to be published?

I'm querying STAR TRIPPED right now and hope it will get picked up by a major publishing house. But if that doesn't work out, I do plan to self-publish it at some point. 

Thanks so much for tagging me, Julie! I would like to pass this on to one of my CP's Akossiwa Ketoglo, and two writers/bloggers whose stories and characters I've been wanting to know more about, Leslie Rose and Melissa Marsh

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Stitching Snow: here's to lady programmers

Stitching Snow by R.C. Lewis
Personally, I can't get enough of scifi retellings of fairytales, so the more the merrier! This one is loosely based on Snow White, with some space travel and new planets. Snow's "domestic duties" are mechanics and programming, which she calls "stitching". Her seven dwarves are her bots programmed to help her. Dopey = Dimwit and Grumpy = Cusser. These guys were definitely my favorite part of the story.

As a part-time lady programmer myself, I loved Snow's mechanical and programming prowess (not so sure about her cage fighting habit, though; was it really necessary? she was plenty tough enough without throwing that into the mix).  

I read this book on Adobe Digital Editions, which has the unfortunate habit of NOT SAVING YOUR HIGHLIGHTS if it closes down unexpectedly (like if your battery runs out). So I highlighted half a dozen things I was planning on sharing or mentioning what I liked about this book... and sadly, can't remember a single one other than how the one planet was named Windsong, which annoyed me at first, because it sounded sort of My Little Ponyish. But eventually we get to see the setting a little more and the name comes from the whistling canyons. I longed for more world-building details like this one. I also longed for a little more development of the evil Queen (the emphasis is actually more on the evil King, Snow's true father who is still very much alive and irksome in this version of the story). Also, I believe Kip equated to the Huntsman, and I wanted to know more about this character too, but he always seemed to get skimmed over. 

The relationship between the Prince and Snow was refreshingly antagonistic to start out with and continues to have its ups and downs throughout the story. 

Overall a fast-paced, entertaining read; I wish I could remember more to say about it! Thank you to Net Galley and Disney-Hyperion for a free digital review copy.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Places books have made me want to visit

Books that make you want to visit places: this is an important subject to me, because I literally chose the place where I live (Laramie, Wyoming) based on three books I read as child, the series starting with My Friend Flicka, by Mary O'Hara. When I was about 10 or 11, I told my parents I wanted to move to Wyoming.  I moved here when I was 24 and have been here ever since.

(This post is part of Top Ten Tuesday, a weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish blog with a different top bookish ten list theme, every Tuesday) (see the full list here). 

To this day, I have never read any other books that have such a vivid, vibrant, emotional connection to place and setting as these books. I dearly wish for books that make that connection to place, and I was surprised at how hard it was to make this list because so many books have excellent settings, but not a deep connection to them.  Here are the ones that do have that deep connection to a place:

My Friend Flicka
Green Grass of Wyoming
At Home in Mitford
Anne of Green Gables Boxed Set
White Fang
River God
All Creatures Great and Small & All Things Bright and Beautiful
The Call of the Wild
Daughter of Smoke & Bone
The Bronze Bow
The Island

All Creatures Great and Small series by James Herriot, set in the Yorkshire Dales
I got to visit the Yorkshire Dales many years ago, and it has been the most vividly remembered of the places I've been to in Europe (with the Swiss Alps being a very close second). I am 100% sure the strong memories are because of my deep love of these stories.

The Mitford series by Jan Karon, set in a small North Carolina town in the Blue Ridge
If there were any other place in America I'd want to live besides my own beloved Wyoming Rockies, it would be in the North Carolina or Virginia Blue Ridge/Appalachians, in a small town like Mitford.

Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery, Prince Edward Island
Haven't been there yet, but it's on my bucket list.

Jack London's stories set in Alaska/Yukon
Absolutely, emphatically on my bucket list

Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey
This is non-fiction, but it still tells stories: stories of the land rather than of characters. I actually visited the slick rock country and canyonlands of Utah before I read this book, but the land so deeply impressed me that I began to look for stories set in this most unsual of wildernesses.  Abbey's stories and descriptions of the Utah deserts always bring me back to my first time hiking in a state of wonder through Canyonlands National Park.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor, set in Prague, Czech Republic
I'm not much of a city girl, though I've been very fortunate to have opportunities to visit great cities like London, Paris, Rome, and most great American cities. Currently, this is the only large city that I specifically want to visit, and I blame it totally on this book.

I can't talk about books with a sense of place without mentioning James Michener. I've read Alaska, Centennial (set in Colorado), Chesapeake, and the Source (set in Israel), and all of them have brought these places alive to me.

Amazing places I want to read more great stories about, and visit someday:

These are places that I love because of all their fascinating history, and purposefully seek out books about them to read. I've listed some good books I've read set in these places, but have not yet found THE BOOK. The book that really makes that hard-to-describe deep connection.

Greece.  Some good books that have whetted my appetite: the Island, by Victoria Hilsop (set on Crete); My Best Friend, Maybe (set on Santorini)

Egypt.  Have read so many books about ancient Egypt; would love a modern book set here, too. The book that has stuck with me the most: River God, by Wilbur Smith.

Italy.   Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I'm sure I've read many others set in Italy. But none of them really stuck with me, and I really want something to stick.

Israel and the Levant. The Bronze Bow, by Elizabeth Speare. Would love a book set in Damascus, Bagdad, Babylon or any place in Israel, Lebanon, Arabia, etc - modern or ancient. Ancient Sumeria or Persia. So many books touch on these places, but I want one that is deeply tied to place.

Russia. I've read some Tolstoy, and probably half a dozen other stories set here, but most were character-based or so broad in scope it was hard to really get connected to any particular place, to make that deep connection.

What story has made you want to visit a place?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Throwback Thursday: where did the time go?

Today we are flashing back to 2002, 12 years ago when I just finally getting on my feet again after becoming a mom. I had no idea how exhausting and time consuming it would be. I was looking forward to my maternity leave as a VACATION!!! Ha!!!

Just about the time this picture was taken of me and my daughter at Glacier National Park, I had figured out how to start enjoying myself again. Now, I certainly enjoyed my baby girl from the moment she was born, but enjoying myself? not so much. Adjusting to less sleep, adjusting to hauling baby stuff everywhere, not being able to pick and go where-ever when-ever I wanted...

The biggest thing about parenthood is that you keep wondering where did the time go? I think kids are little time vacuums that suck away your time,  Granted, they give you lots of joy in return, but they definitely steal time.  Days just don't feel like they have 24 hours in them anymore. There's some sort of time warp going on.  I can't believe, for instance, that baby girl in the photo is taller than me now and 13 years old. It seems like just yesterday!!

Terry Pratchett has a lot of fun playing with time in his book, Thief of Time (published in 2002).
He basically takes every single common saying about time and wrings every fun twist or warp out of those sayings. So for instance, "where did the time go?" - well, suppose that there's an order of History Monks that tend to time, that can store time and redistribute it as necessary? They are secretly responsible for moving time around from, um, time to time (grin). 

Then there's the idea that Time, if personified, must be female, because "Time waits for no man." 

The saying that "procrastination is the thief of time": well, Procrastinators are real things in this story. In fact there are even portable, wind-up procrastinators that you can use to make more time for yourself.

Portable procrastinators also mean that "you can live on borrowed time"

"Time stands still" - trying to remember how this one is played out - something to do with History Monks being able to slice time? 

There's also a twist on "There is no time but the present"

A "child of our time" - ahh!! don't dare say too much about this. 

"Time plays tricks on us all" 

"Time bombs"  Soooo cool!!!!

"People have been messing around with time ever since they were people. Wasting it, killing it, sparing it, making it up. And they do it. People's heads were made to play with time"

"...Time was alive. He said it acted like a living thing"

On page 19 I met Miss Susan for the first time, (ah, time!) and Miss Susan is a grade school teacher. But trust Terry Pratchett to play on every possible boring old teacher trope out there and make Miss Susan both the penultimate quintessential teacher ("no dog ever ate the homework of one of Miss Susan's students, because there was something about Miss Susan that went home with them; the dog brought them a pen and watched imploringly while they finished it") and a complete satirical statement on teachers as well ("Susan did an unusual thing and listened. That's not an easy task for a teacher"). 

"And, er, what you are you, Miss Susan?"

"Me? I'm... a schoolteacher."

She followed his gaze to the wrench that she still held in her hand, and shrugged.

"It can get pretty rough at break time, can it?" said Lobsang.

Then there's Igor. He's a servant to a mad scientist, OF COURSE. He's actually an Igor, because there are many Igors, there's actually a whole temp agency of Igors where you can request a servant to assist you in your mad scientist pursuits. 

This Igor is unfailingly polite, and might appear to be a bit simple-minded, but he's really not. And then there's the business with all his scars and stitches (which are not really anything to be concerned about, they're "just cultural") (which leads into a satirical discourse on "cultural").

The code of the Igors was quite strict.
Never Contradict. It was not part of an Igor's job to say things like "No, thur, that'th an artery." The marthther (translation: master) was always right. (all Igors have a lisp)

Never Complain. An Igor would never say "But that'th a thouthand miles away!"

Never Make Personal Remarks. No Igor would dream of saying anything like "I thould have thomething done about that laugh, if I wath you."

And Never, Ever, Ask Questions. Admittedly, Igor knew, that meant never ask Big questions. "Would thur like a cup of tea around now?" was fine,, but "What do you need a hundred virginths for?" or "Where you expect me to find a brain at thith time of night?" was not. An Igor stood for loyal, dependable, discreet service with a smile, or at least a sort of lopsided grin, possibly just a curved scar in the right place. (because, Igors pass down their body parts. This Igor's double-thumbed hand was passed down from his grandfather and stitched into place)
Definitely a great book to study when it comes to writing satire and twists on character tropes like school teachers, monks, auditors and mad scientist helpers.

What's your favorite time-twist book?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Insecure writer: where did my voice go?

The first Wednesday of the month
 is time for Insecure Writers Support Group,
hosted by Alex Cavanaugh and his
excellent team. 
I'm pretty sure I've posted about this before: of all the problems that confound writers, the thing I feel most insecure about is "voice" - that unique, almost undefinable expression or way of looking at, talking about or showing the world that every artist needs.  I am struggling with voice, AGAIN.  A crit partner re-read my first chapter of Star Tripped, which I showed her oh-so-proudly because I streamlined it (very nicely, I thought) thanks to help from my PitchWars coach. And she agreed, oh yes, this is good... but one problem, your 2nd main character sounds pretty much like your first main character. He needs a more distinct voice. 

Ah yes, my old nemesis: my characters sounding too much alike. I'm already insecure about my own voice, not to mention my characters' voices.  (Truly writers are odd creatures: the only people who WANT more voices in their heads!)  

Issue #1:  I've been thinking for two weeks now about how to give this guy a more unique voice. And it hasn't come to me yet. 

Issue #2:  I recognize my voice when I read it, when it comes spilling out of its own accord, but I can't force it, and lately it seems to be really scarce. I think a major reason being is this whole past year I've been doing nothing but revisions, and almost no fresh drafting. Can you edit out your voice? Can you edit it back in? 

Fortunately, another writer here in Laramie, Emily Moore (@EGMoorewriter) found me online (I live in a small town, this is close to a miracle, connecting with another kidlit writer!) and we got together and decided to  start a local writers group.  I have another friend who just recently moved here who was also interested. So we had our first meeting this week and we did a 15 minute writing prompt exercise, and a 15 minute free write.  I know that free writing and prompt writing are both excellent exercises to tease voices out (and new ideas!) but it's really hard for me to push myself to do these on my own.  Or in the online writing community.  Sometimes there's just no replacement for meeting face to face with other writers!

How do you find your voice? And your characters' voices? 
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