Thursday, March 26, 2015

Throwback Thursday - can I be a kid again?

Sometimes I look at all the time my young girls have to be creative - whether it's drawing or knitting or imaginary play or even a little writing, and I want to be a kid again with all that time to dabble in different things. Right now any free moment I can wrangle out of my schedule is devoted either to writing or reading in order to learn and make myself a better writer (yes, also for entertainment and relaxation). When I was a kid and teeanger, I used to draw like crazy, but I haven't attempted anything other than hearts and stars as little added flourishes in cards since about 12 years when I hand illustrated a little book for my toddler.
me at about age 3 being creative
The sitter for my girls for the past 8 years (!!!) had her last day with the girls yesterday, before moving to California. I wanted to give her a special going away present. For some reason, my fingers itched to draw again, so I sketched her sitting with my four girls based on a photograph. It was far from perfect but it felt so good to create something in a different media I usually create in.

Which led me to the ongoing frustration I deal with: not having enough time for creative outlets like this. I firmly believe that "I don't have enough time" is a poor excuse; if something is important to you, you make time. I have certain times blocked out where nothing less than an emergency (like a life threatening emergency) will take precedent over the sacred writing time, but I wish I could block out more hours a week for other creative outlets. But there's the job, and home schooling the girls, getting the four of them to their various after school activities, spending time with my husband so our marriage doesn't go sour, and as my parents are aging I'm having to help them more and more.

Right now I'm facing a huge choice: whether or not to go back to work full time and putting the girls back into public school. I love home schooling them but financially we could use the boost.

This decision is tearing me apart. Besides the advantages of getting to spend so much quality time with my kids and give them an individualized and more one-on-one education, another side benefit of the home school paradigm is that they have so much more creative time than they would in a more structured public school setting (and they love their freedom in that respect). Knowing how precious my creative time is to me, I want to give them that benefit, too. I know they'll adjust and manage just fine in a new school setting... just as I know I'll adjust to full time work again. Life requires us to adjustable.

The decision isn't made yet... sometimes it helps to journal out my conflicting feelings about things here on ye old blog.

And it always helps to be thankful, when you're facing something tough. I'm thankful that I've had the opportunity to spend so much time with my girls; I'm thankful for the full time job opportunity (I really love my job! Yay for getting paid to make maps!); most of all I'm thankful I have creative time even if it's not as much I'd like. Because I know many people don't get as much time as I get, or have more financial burdens to bear, or even face day-to-day survival concerns.

I love that life lets me be creative, and also forces me also to be adjustable... in some roundabout way that also helps the creativity, right? What we create is probably even more influenced by what life throws at us than the actual time we have for creation.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Dragons and half-dragons, be still my beating heart

Oh, long at last! The sequel to Seraphina has arrived! And it was so worth the wait. Never rush a good author to get a quick sequel.

Shadow Scale (Seraphina, #2)

Seraphina was about a girl who hides the fact she's half-dragon, in a world where an uneasy alliance between humans and dragons can be destroyed by the mere fact of her existence.

Seraphina is in my favorites list and I asked for the hardback for Christmas, with the beautiful new cover, so I could re-read it before the sequel came out.

Shadow Scale, the sequel, is about Seraphina's search for other half-dragons like herself to prevent the coming dragon war, and to find her missing dragon uncle, Orma. (I have no words to express how much I fell in love with Orma in the first book. I was desperate, DESPERATE I TELL YOU, to find out what happened to him in the sequel. And oh my did Rachel Hartman take me on a twisty, heart-rending journey.

The first half of this book was a journey through incredible world-building and a host of impressively unique half-dragons. I commend Hartman for developing each half dragon so well, so different from each other: a celebration of oddness. The second half, where the dragons return to the story, was where my heart engaged: truly I longed for the real dragons (and their cousins, the lizard-like quigutls), though I appreciated learning about the subtleties of half dragons.

I know I will re-read my favorite parts in the Tanamoot again and again, from the marvelous journey up the Omiga valley and the waterfalls, but especially with the tunnels and the quigs and Brisi (Brisi is an adolescent dragon! We get to meet dragonlings in this book! What fun!) 

And who knew that the snoring of dragons could create such harmony? Or this, that I loved so much I had to take a snapshot of while reading: 

I also enjoyed Porphyry and the feeling of really walking into a vision of Ancient Greece, except that it was different, of course, but still: the Vaskilion? The Bibliagathon? The Agogoi? It felt so Greek to me (grin). 

Eskar and Comonot were magnificent (Side note: after reading Shadow Scale, I geeked out on Rachel Hartman's blog for a while and discovered that if Rachel were to pick an actor to play any of her dragons, she'd pick William Shatner to play Comonot. Yes, Yes, Yes!!!)  He's definitely that James T. Kirk  brand of bravado and boldness, moments that make you smirk, and moments when he surprises you with unexpected wisdom: 
Comonot considered. "Logic can lead to many ends, citizen. No one likes to admit that - not even your philosophers. Dragons rever its incorruptible purity, but logic will coldly lead you over a cliff. It all depends on where you begin, on first principles.

Speaking of logic, this book is chock full of philosophy, which I loved. 
“The thing about reason is that there's a geometry to it. It travels in a straight line, so that slightly different beginnings can lead you to wildly divergent endpoints.”  
“Was it probably true that reasoning beings were equal? It seemed more like a belief than a fact, even if I agreed with it. If you followed logic all the way back to its origin, did you inevitably end up at point of illogic, an article of faith?”

And not just deep philosophy, but amusing touches, as well:
The mural on the ceiling depicted Justice, Commerce, and Philosophy having an allegorical picnic of metamorphical sardines. 

The reverse love triangle between Lucian Kiggs, Seraphina and Glisselda was resolved in a bit of an unexpected way. Meanwhile, there were some Kiggs and Seraphina scenes that made a book about eccentric dragons and philosophy also heart-wrenching: 

He smiled sadly, then placed his hand around mine so we were holding the book together. "I believe that - with everything I have," he said, holding my gaze. He kissed the edge of the book because he could not kiss me. 

I loved the bits of paradox, the inside-out house, the exploration of rigid orthodoxy versus flexibile interpretation, the attempt to describe heaven along with admission that it can't possibly be describable.

There are so many more wonderful quotes from this book but I'll limit myself to one last one, an Orma quote because I love him so much. Also, Orma has romantic developments in this book! (Sort of. Dragon romance perhaps more mathematical than romantic... but still)

"Are you finding monastic history a very compelling reason to live?" 
"I'm not human," he said. "I don't require a reason to live. Living is my default condition."  
I couldn't help it; I laughed, and tears welled in my eyes. That answer was quintessentially Orma, distilled to his elemental Orma-ness

Thank you, Ms. Hartman, for persevering with this sequel; it was well worth the wait. And thank you, Random House Books, for giving me early access to it. My review was not influenced by receiving this copy

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Insecure writer: despair and donuts

In pursuit of short term, fun writing goals this year, I've tried two different things so far, and I'm trying to come up with something different each month.  These different exercises/motivators are to A) keep me writing, of course and also B) help me fight the insecurity, the despair, the temptation to give up because the stories still need so much work. 

The first Wednesday of the month
 is time for Insecure Writers Support Group,
hosted by Alex Cavanaugh and his
excellent team. 

About my YA science fiction, Star Tripped, a couple agents have said "wonderful premise! But not connecting with the characters." (One of them even pointed out why, which I really appreciated). So I made some changes and presented it to my writer's group. Again, similar feedback along the lines of "hmmmn, this has potential, but we're not connecting." Played some more with the first chapter, sent it to a critique partner. She pointed out some of the characterization that didn't work (note to self:  avoid a lot of negativity in first chapters. Negativity is a turn-off)  (Negativity is a way to produce conflict, but maybe not the best way). 

So I've been sitting at my computer for the past few days, scratching my head, poking my character, annoyed at her. "Give us something we can connect to you with!" I get an idea; I toss it around; it doesn't click. I chew my fingernails until another idea comes. Another dud. Really, does this girl have any personality? Do I have any personality? (Yikes! This is where insecurity will lead you).

So then I pick up a really good book and read the first chapter. How did they do it? How did they get me to connect with this character? How did I get hooked? I marvel at the author's brilliance! And then I crawl into a mental corner and sulk because the brilliance does not conduct itself into my writing fingers via those lovely papery published pages. The ideas I have come up with so far are decidedly non-brilliant. 

After a while, I come out of the corner and stop sulking (because it's cramped, in corners; not much of view) and try some different things. Last month I tried writing in a notebook right by my bed the moment I woke up, when my head was still all foggy from sleep. It's surprisingly easy to do this, even for a very decidedly NOT morning person like myself, because it doesn't require any thinking. Really, no thinking. Just spewing. (Maybe our dreams, our subconscious, does all the work?)

I plan to keep doing the morning writing, but I also wanted to try something new for March, too. March is a long way from November and NaNoWriMo, but I think this month I'm going to start my writing days reading a NaNoWriMo pep talk (there are probably at least 50 pep talks archived now) and maybe try something that day's peptalker suggests.  For instance, Chuck Wendig suggests "write donuts in an empty field" You know, as in when you go out to an empty parking lot and drive donuts? (if you don't know, here's a wikipedia entry on it. Wait, Wikipedia doesn't really do it justice; just read Wendig's pep talk and you'll get the idea: it's basically just - go hog wild). 

So anyway, that's my plan for fighting my insecurities this month, and to keep writing. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Top Ten favorite books in the last three years

Putting together this list, I didn't just look at back at my top ten lists at for the last three years. I looked through my Goodreads lists at EVERY book I've read in the past 3 years. That's because I've noticed that some books are so flashy that I fall in love instantly, but they don't have the staying power of other books. The books that made that his list have all continuously popped back into my head, months or even years after I've read them. Some of them I've completely re-read, from cover to cover, and all of them I plan to re-read.

Top Ten favorite books in the last three years is the theme for this week's Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by the Broke and the Bookish blog, for anyone who wants to share about books.

10. His Majesty's Dragon, by Naomi Novak 
His Majesty's Dragon (Temeraire, #1)
Temeraire has become one of my most beloved dragons, among a very rich playing field of famous dragons like Smaug, Toothless, Ramoth, Maleficent, Draco, Eustace, Saphira, Yevaud, Orma, etc...  He is innocent and wise, deadly and noble, a lover both of books and battle tactics. To top it off, he exists in a Jane Austen meets Master and Commander fantasy version of Regency England and the Napoleonic Wars.

9. Pegasus, byRobin McKinley (next on the list to re-read)
This is a much deeper book than its title might imply. It's a richly developed culture of pegasi, and their complicated relationships with a human kingdom (similar premise to the dragons/humans in Seraphina, see #3).

8. Among Others, by Jo Walton
I just read this one a couple months ago, so it hasn't stood the test of time yet. But I'm pretty sure it will, because not only is a great book, it's also about other great books, including my all time favorite, Lord of the Rings. My last post was all about this book, not a review so much as a happy gushing of favorite things about it. This one is both a Hugo and Nebula award-winner.

7. The Help, Katheryn Stockett (re-read)
The three black maids and the white girl who tells their stories about being "the help" in the 1960's is a thoughtful story, but also wonderfully fun to read.

6. These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner.  (re-read parts)
Titanic in space. Love story. Survival story. Great voice. Smart science fiction. Love story.  Even better than Titanic love story.

5. Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Also absolutely funny, sad, hopeful, heart-lifting. 14 year old Junior, leaving the Rez school (but not the Rez itself) to broaden his horizons, is in my heart forever. My favorite quote:

I realized that, sure, I was a Spokane Indian. I belonged to that tribe. But I also belonged to the tribe of American immigrants. And the tribe of basketball players. And to the tribe of bookworms. And the tribe of cartoonists.

4. Doomsday Book (1992) by Connie Willis
A powerful contrast of two time periods: a plague in futuristic England and the terrible Black Death in 1300's England. A huge cast of characters that all stood out vibrantly, intriguing science fiction and powerful themes. A long book but absolutely absorbing: I easily could have kept reading. This book is also both a Hugo and Nebula award winner.

3. Seraphina, Rachel Hartman  (re-read parts)
 The sheer brilliance of this book is that the dragons break every stereotype but are still completely every stereotype that you love about dragons. Large, fiery, dangerous, gold-horde-ing, Smaugish, they are all that but also 10 times more complex and fascinating. And they can turn into humans. The implications of that! Well! Go see for yourself.  (I also just finished the sequel, Shadow Scale, where I got to visit homeland of the dragons. Words fail me!)

Seraphina (Seraphina, #1)

2. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley (re-read)
Either I just say one thing about this book; or I endlessly rave about it. I shall spare you. The one thing I shall is: "Can I pleasssssse be kidnapped by Corlath??? Please?"
The Blue Sword (Damar, #1)

1. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (re-read)
I practically wrote a dissertation instead of a review for this one: it was beautiful, daring, a multi-dimensional love story, a wild plot, it hit nerves, it had incredible settings, and absolutely unforgettable characters: Karou and Brimstone especially.
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