Wednesday, 19 December 2012

RTW: Naming Characters



Road Trip Wednesday is a "Blog Carnival" where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing-or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This week's question is:


How do you decide on names? Would you ever name a character after a friend/family member/ex?     


My WIP is sci-fi and takes place about thirty years from now, so I wanted to find names that weren’t trendy and current, but also not so bizarre that they sounded really futuristic. What worked for me was to comb through lists of names from different cultures. This opened up a lot more variety and also added to a global feel in my story. I did use a few traditional names, mainly because those particular characters seemed to emerge from my imagination with their names already attached.

It’s amazing how many hours can be put into searching for just the right name to reflect a character’s personality, or how a unique name can actually help a character take shape. Sometimes I’ll tentatively choose a name and find that the character sort of grows into it, and then I can’t imagine him/her being called anything else.

More often than not though, I have an idea of what I’m looking for in terms of the sound of a name or what sort of image I want that name to project. In certain cases I get hung up on quirky things, for example, in my current WIP I wanted my mc to have a name that began with “N”. Don’t know why, but that just seemed right to me. Another character I could only picture with a floral name. Maybe that’s odd, but I think it’s my gut telling me what sort of name will compliment a character, even if I can’t put my finger on the exact name yet.

As for the second question, I prefer not to name characters after anyone I know. I want to associate my characters’ names with their personalities and not with real people. The exception to this is last names. I did use the surname of an ancestor in my family tree for a character in a contemporary romance I’m writing. That’s not so distracting though, seeing as I didn’t actually know my great-great-great-great-great grandmother. And I really love the name, so I couldn’t resist. :)

So how do you go about naming your characters? Any tips or quirky hang ups in your decision making process?

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Book Review: Grave Mercy


It’s been a while since I’ve read some good historical fiction and Grave Mercy made me realize just how much I miss that. In fact, I enjoyed it so much it’s now on my list of favourite books. At 549 pages it’s a large novel, but it certainly didn’t feel like it. I didn’t want to put it down, but with ONE chapter left to read, we had to leave for a Christmas function. Bah! That’s tantamount to medieval torture! I can honestly say I couldn’t think of a single thing I disliked about this book. Not one! But there was so much I loved about it.

For starters, I loved the protagonist, Ismae Rienne. Through some very undesirable circumstances, Ismae finds herself at a convent dedicated to the service of the god of death, St. Mortain. She trains as a handmaiden of Death, and devotes herself to killing according to Mortain’s will, which is directly tied to protecting her home of Brittany. While Ismae is an assassin, the author gave her certain believable vulnerabilities that humanize her. I enjoyed the evolution of Ismae’s character, seeing her go from blindly obedient to someone willing to choose for herself, even if it means making sacrifices or angering those in power over her.

The plot of Grave Mercy surrounds protecting the young duchess of Brittany from dangerous suitors and the threat of a takeover by France. Although the fate of the duchess is central to the plot, I still always felt this was Ismae’s story. This book has lots of political intrigue and betrayal, which I’ve since learned is based in fact, and yet the author didn’t bog the story down with boring historical details. The tangled politics make Ismae’s role all the more difficult because she doesn’t know who to trust. Even the integrity of the convent of St. Mortain comes into question, meaning that Ismae must try to discern the truth for herself and also how to act on it.

Integral to the story is Ismae’s relationship with Gavriel Duval, which is complicated to say the least. The tentative alliance between them begins as a convenience and is constantly strained. As if it’s not awkward enough that she has to pose as his mistress in order to gain access to the Breton court, Ismae has to decipher his true motives. He presents himself as honourable, but there are others who label him untrustworthy and question his loyalty to the duchess of Brittany, who happens to be his younger half-sister. Because of the mystery surrounding Ismae’s role as a handmaiden of Death she can’t be entirely open with Duval about the secrets of her sect, which naturally makes him suspicious of her. There’s also the fact that Ismae’s past has made her wary of men. As life at court becomes increasingly dangerous and threats to the duchess increase, Ismae must decide whether to truly join forces with Duval.

I loved the relationship between Ismae and Duval, because there was nothing straightforward or easy about it. Both characters are stubborn, intensely focused on their goals, and often abrasive, which makes any bit of tenderness between them all the more enjoyable. Robin LaFevers did an amazing job of weaving their relationship together with the plot. It wasn’t an appendage to the main plot, rather the two were inseparable. And as to whether Ismae and Duval become inseparable, you’ll have to read the book yourself to find out. ;)

The setting of Brittany in the 1400s is fascinating, as is the blending of the old gods with Christianity. There’s a broad cast of characters, most of whom readers will be suspicious of at one point or another. One particular scene toward the end of the story had me choked up, as Ismae has a personal revelation about her service to Mortain and acts upon that revelation.

Apparently the next book in the trilogy will be about a different character from the convent. While I’m eager to read about that character as well, I can’t help but hope that Robin LaFevers continues to write about Ismae, as I felt there could be plenty more to her story. If you like historical fiction, political intrigue, dark brooding love interests, and a strong female protagonist, definitely give Grave Mercy a read. You won’t regret it!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Scholastic Warehouse Sale


This evening I had the opportunity to go to our local Scholastic warehouse sale. Seeing as I’d never been before, I had no idea what to expect. To be honest, half the reason I planned to go was because I was curious what the inside of the warehouse looks like. I thought maybe I’d come out with a few books. That’s before I found out that everything in the warehouse was 50% off the lowest tagged price. Yeah, that “few” books turned into a grand total of twenty-eight. We’re talking a whole box of brand new books for dirt stinkin’ cheap. Buying books is always fun, but nothing beats buying books for a good deal.

This is what the inside of the warehouse looks like. Yes, I know, it's a typical warehouse, but it's filled with BOOKS! The bottom two shelves in every aisle were stacked with the sale books. I was ridiculously excited about rooting through everything.



This is a sampling of what we bought. I had to exclude several titles that will be under the Christmas tree for my son. I figure it’s best not to post pictures of his Christmas gifts on my blog. Kinda takes the surprise out of it. There were also a few Star Wars titles that didn’t make it into the pictures. That’s okay, because Darth Maul is freaky looking and I really don’t want a picture of him on my blog anyway.



Hardcover Maggie Stiefvater books for four dollars! That’s cheaper than the bargain table at the bookstore, especially seeing as book prices are higher in Canada than the States. (You Americans are so lucky!) We even came away with a few books we’d never heard of before. I wish they'd had the entire series of some of these, but that's okay. We can fill in the blanks later.

They also had a nice selection of free posters: The Hunger Games, TRON Legacy (Yay!), and a couple NHL ones that will probably end up on our rec room walls.

It was an evening and money well spent. :)



Monday, 3 December 2012

You Got the Look


Elodie at commutinggirl.wordpress.com has tagged her readers with the “You Got the Look” meme. During NaNoWriMo, I read a lot of great snippets from other people’s WIPs and I figure I need to be brave enough to post a tiny segment of mine.

This is how it works: Search your current WIP and find the word “look”, then post some of the lines around it.

So here’s a paragraph from chapter 3 of my sci-fi/romance, which is tentatively titled ENVISION:

When I glimpse myself in the mirror, I’m mortified to discover I look like a Cirque de Soleil reject. I scrub away smears of glittery makeup and the mask of my former identity washes down the drain. I can only imagine how pathetic they must think I am. There’s no toothbrush I can use, so I make due with swishing some mouthwash, then rip through the knots in my hair with a comb. I should feel refreshed, but I don’t. Hurt and confusion coat me, a layer of grime I’m not sure will ever rinse away.

Nothing huge, but a little peek at my mc. I’d love to see more from your WIPs, so if you read this, consider yourself tagged.


And check this out…



This is the lovely bundle of books my husband gave me for my birthday. There was some conspiring via text going on between him and Jaime to finalize the titles. He cut into the Christmas list with Grave Mercy but that’s just fine by me. So excited! Now I need to set aside some time for a cup of tea and a shiny new book. :)

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Happy Birthday to Us


No, in case you’re wondering, I haven’t gone all Smeagol and Gollum referring to myself as “us”. Today is my birthday and I happen to be in good company. While I’m not exactly thrilled to be turning yet another year older, I am thrilled to share my birthday with three of my favourite authors. To celebrate, I thought I'd share some random thoughts about them.

C.S. Lewis (Nov. 29, 1898-Nov. 22, 1963)
My grade three teacher introduced me to C.S. Lewis and The Chronicles of Narnia when I was eight years old. I still remember the eerie feeling I had while sitting in my classroom listening to Diggory ring that golden bell. Little did I know it then, but someday I’d start reading The Magician’s Nephew to my son on the day he turned eight. Oddly enough, it worked out that we finished the entire series on his ninth birthday. Perfect bookends for a magical year of reading.

We like to turn books into events in our family, so after reading The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, we transformed our living room into Narnia and watched the movie while pigging out on Mrs. Beaver’s marmalade rolls. So much fun. And yes, we bought the lamppost specifically for this occasion. Too bad Mr. Tumnus wasn't included.

"You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me."
--C.S. Lewis



Madeleine L'Engle
(Nov. 29, 1918-Sept. 6, 2007)
Madeleine L’Engle has probably influenced me more than any author. Her writing reminds me to think beyond the scope of our world, something I need to remember considering my personal world often feels very small. She taught me that it’s okay to take “being” time, to just sit and be calm, instead of getting caught up in the rush. Her unique opinions on faith and art have molded my ideas on writing. I was never a big fan of science or science fiction growing up, but through her writing I learned to see beauty in science: “Peace is the center of the atom, the core of quiet within the storm…” (Sonnet, Trinity 18) And now what do I like to write the most? Science fiction, of course.




If the artist works only when he feels like it, he’s apt not to build up much of a body of work. Inspiration far more often comes during the work than before it, because the largest part of the job of the artist is to listen to the work and to go where it tells him to go. Ultimately, when you are writing, you stop thinking and write what you hear.
--Madeleine L’Engle (Walking on Water)

Louisa May Alcott
(Nov. 29, 1832-March 6, 1888)


Louisa May Acott's characters Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March have been a part of my life for almost as long as I can remember. My mother read Little Women to me when I was six years old. The night we finished the book, the power went out and we had to read the last chapter or two by flashlight. The story and that moment have stuck with me ever since. I can’t pinpoint exactly when I started writing. I only know that I was very young, and I often wonder if Jo scribbling her stories had anything to do with that.




"...When the writing fit came on, she gave herself up to it with entire abandon, and led a blissful life, unconscious of want, care, or bad weather, while she sat safe and happy in an imaginary world, full of friends almost as real and dear to her as any in the flesh. Sleep forsook her eyes, meals stood untasted, day and night were all too short to enjoy the happiness which blessed her only at such times, and made these hours worth living, even if they bore no other fruit."
--Louisa May Alcott (Little Women)





All three of these authors have passed on, but they left quite a legacy behind for writers and readers everywhere. So today, I raise my cup of tea and/or wine in honor of these three extraordinary people and thank them for their inspiration.



Wednesday, 28 November 2012

RTW: Best Book of November



Out of the books I read in November, I’d have to say the best was Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi. I was a little late to the game on this one, seeing as it’s been out for quite some time already, but I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it.

The voice in Shatter Me blew my mind. (See all that stuff blasting outward on the front cover? Yeah, that's my head exploding from this book.) I found myself rereading lines just to enjoy the sound of them again and to marvel at how creative they were. Tahereh Mafi links words together in such unique ways and while I wanted to know what was going to happen in the story, half the reason I kept reading was to see what she was going to say next and exactly how she was going to say it.

I love Juliette’s thoughts: the way she repeats things to herself, thinks in fragments that trail off, fixates on numbers, or crosses out what she really means in favour of a more acceptable response. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so inside a character’s head before. At times, Tahereh Mafi tossed the rules for sentence structure and punctuation out the window and it adds so much to the emotional effect of the book.

When the comment on the back cover said it was “oozing with romance” this wasn't an exaggeration. Seriously, the swoon factor in Shatter Me was off the charts before…okay not going to finish that sentence because there’s really no way to do that without spoiling anything.

I’m flipping through the book while I’m writing this and I need to put the darn thing down before I get sucked into it again. I have other things to read (and write), but I can say that I will definitely be rereading Shatter Me (likely more than once) and can’t wait for the sequel.

Oh, and while the new covers on this series are really cool, why oh why did they change them right after I bought this copy? Ah well.

Care to share your best November read? Or give your opinion on Shatter Me?

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Suddenly...


In my revision travels lately I happened to come across some advice concerning the word suddenly that I found very helpful. Perhaps this is obvious, but in case anyone else can benefit from it, I thought I’d pass it along.

In a first draft, it’s easy to overuse suddenly when you just want to spit the action out onto the page. In the process of weeding out words like this, I went looking for some alternatives. This is what came up:

All of a sudden, out of nowhere, without warning, the next instant, unexpectedly, unpredictably, out of the blue, abruptly, surprisingly, at once, etc.

While there are some alternatives to suddenly that might come in handy, is it or any of its replacements really needed at all? Probably not.

Introducing a surprise with suddenly gives the reader a heads up. You might as well wave a red flag that points out something shocking is just up ahead so that by the time your reader gets to the surprise, you’ve already spoiled it.  This is telling the startling event instead of showing it. Totally counterproductive.

Another thing I hadn’t considered is that if you’re telling your story from a first person point of view (present tense), preceding an event with suddenly turns your mc into a psychic. Your mc can’t see the surprise coming, so how can she preface something that’s happening to her in real time with a word that essentially predicts? Maybe that's nitpicky, but it's something to think about.

Tacking on that extra word to the start of a sentence also slows things down. A startling event happens quickly, so you don’t want to make the description drag.

Instead, it’s better to just let the action speak for itself. Make the event unexpected through a switch in the pace or tone of the scene instead. That’s not to say you can’t use the word properly or sparingly, but you do need to make sure it’s having the desired effect.

Hope somebody else finds this useful as well.

This is where I picked up these tidbits. I can’t vouch for the sources (or the stories they write) because I’m not familiar them, but I think what they had to say makes a lot of sense:

http://bryanthomasschmidt.net/2012/06/04/write-tips-editorial-pet-peeves-all-of-a-suddensuddenly/

Monday, 12 November 2012

Review: War Horse by Michael Morpurgo


Okay, not gonna lie. War Horse made me cry. More than once. That probably has something to do with the fact that I was reading it out loud to my son. It’s always harder to read sad parts out loud, but if you’re an animal lover or a softie like me, be forewarned that this book might make you sniffle.

This is the story of Joey, a red bay horse that finds himself transported from the pastoral countryside of England to the battlefields of WWI and in the process is taken from his loving young owner, Albert. The book is told from Joey’s point of view, which keeps the story simple and avoids bogging it down in the complexities of war. There’s no talk of politics, and only a very short explanation is given for why the war is happening.  Joey’s voice is sincere and gentle, while also determined, and you can’t help but love him the way many of the characters do.

War Horse deals with the fear and monotony of war, the pain of separation, sickness, and death without ever feeling preachy.  Joey and the other horses deal with all of these issues just as the human characters do and in this way are a metaphor for the soldiers while being presented in the role of brave and long-suffering soldiers themselves.  The horses are portrayed as both a symbol of hope and the standard by which everything in the story is measured:

“There’s a nobility in his eye, a regal serenity about him. Does he not personify all that men try to be and never can be? I tell you, my friend, there’s divinity in a horse, and specially in a horse like this. God got it right the day he created them.  And to find a horse like this in the middle of this filthy war, is for me like finding a butterfly on a dung heap. We don’t belong in the same universe as a creature like this.” (p. 112)

In the story, characters are measured by how they treat the horses—with kindness and respect or with a harsh hand, although even the unkind characters are depicted as having reasons for the way they are. The author doesn’t present any cardboard villains, only people hardened by circumstances.

Likewise, Michael Morpurgo shows how the war is a struggle for soldiers on both sides and how really all any of them wants—man or beast—is to go home and live out their days in peace. There’s a wonderful scene involving two “enemies” and their mutual concern for Joey, which highlights how alike they are despite the war.

Without unnecessary or gory description, the author creates a realistic picture of WWI’s horrific atmosphere. Through details like barbed wire, mud, the trenches and no man’s land, he more than adequately communicates the bleakness and devastation faced by the soldiers and the horses. Since this is a middle grade book, I found that to be especially important. Where a topic like this is concerned I’d rather kids understand the heart of the matter than get hung up on the blood and guts of it.

War Horse isn’t a fast moving book, though it would be quick to get through if you aren’t reading it out loud (or stopping to blow your nose and wipe your eyes like me). I found the vocabulary to be fairly advanced for middle grade, incorporating words like peremptory, jocular, convalescence and intermittent, making it a good challenge for the younger set and advanced enough for adults.

My son and I finished reading War Horse yesterday, which was Remembrance Day here in Canada. When we were through, our family also watched the movie together. Both the book and movie were great reminders of those who served and gave their lives during WWI and an excellent way to commemorate the occasion. I’d highly recommend War Horse to anyone looking for a good educational resource on WWI or just a moving read about memorable characters during an important time in history.



Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Book Review: Starling by Lesley Livingston


Starling by Lesley Livingston was a pleasant surprise for more than one reason. Back in September, I happened to see a copy of it on display at my local bookstore. I hadn't even heard of it at that point, so I was more than happy to pick it up and add it to my TBR list. I'm very glad I did.

Starling reminds me of Percy Jackson morphed with Thor, while still being very much its own story—thanks to a female main character and more kissing. Not a bad thing. The plot largely surrounds Norse mythology, although there’s a sprinkling of Greek, Egyptian and Celtic myth as well.


There was a fair amount of action, but more than anything this first installment sets the stage for the unfolding Starling Saga. Mason Starling begins the story oblivious to the existence of the gods and mythological creatures or any connection of her family to that realm. Book one gradually reveals pieces of information about this, while spending the bulk of its time on the relationship between Mason and her new “friend” Fennrys as they try to figure out who he is.

Of course, what would a book involving mythology be without a cryptic prophecy about the end of the world? Naturally, Mason is tied to the prophecy, though she’s unaware of this, which makes her involvement all the more dangerous.

Mason is a likeable main character, not too girly and not too tough.  Her training as a competitive fencer translates into some pretty decent skills with a sword. She can hold her own, yet the author doesn’t push the limits of believability by turning her into some kickass heroine out of the blue. Sure she slips into a battle frenzy once or twice, but she’s still vulnerable enough to occasionally require the protection of the love interest. Call me old-fashioned, but I like it when the mc has just a smidge of the damsel in distress in her. The fact that she has claustrophobia also makes for some tricky scenarios, and rather than being one of those “flaws” authors give their characters to avoid Mary Sue classification, Mason’s condition actually does play into the plot and character development—quite cleverly I thought.

The love interest, Fennrys  Wolf or more precisely, the Fennrys Wolf makes a rather eyebrow-raising entrance into the story. I’ll let you read those “bits” for yourself (pun intended). No one, including him, knows who or what he is. I enjoyed the mystery surrounding his character. His memory loss makes him a bit of a Jason Bourne, remembering how to fight but really nothing else.  I’m very curious to discover more about his role in the plot and what the future (if there is one) will or won’t hold for him and Mason.

Some of the other characters, though not gods themselves, can be slotted into similar roles. Not too hard to figure out that if you rearrange the letters in Roth (Mason’s older brother) you get the name of a certain hammer toting god. That’s all I’m going to say about that, because I don’t want to give away what’s at play behind the scenes in the Starling clan. I can see the plot thickening in this series with politics and alliances between the various mythological groups involved. It will be interesting to see which side some of the characters end up on.

I thought the end of Starling really delivered in terms of action and suspense.  Knowing what could be ahead for Mason makes me worried. It seems likely that both she and Fennrys will be used as pawns in whatever perilous game the gods are playing and I’m invested enough in their characters that I really want to find out what happens to them. That being said, I’m definitely looking forward to book two in the Starling Saga and would recommend it as an exciting and enjoyable read.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

An Evening With Snow Patrol


This past weekend I had the chance to see Snow Patrol in concert. Not only are they my favourite band ever, but I have some of their songs on the playlist for my WIP. Talk about an amazing opportunity for writing inspiration! Seriously though, writing inspiration or not, I’d pay good money to listen to Gary Lightbody yodel the phone book.

We drove five hours to get to the concert and it was worth every freezing snowy minute and every penny we spent on tickets--especially seeing as on the way there I managed to crank out a detailed outline of book two in my trilogy (Yay!). Have to do something to keep busy in the car right? This was my son’s first rock concert so it was a fun family milestone and a total blast for him. And as an added bonus, I got to see my sister Jaime and her hubby who managed to get last minute tickets right across the aisle from us.


Here we are before the concert, and yes, that's my brother-in-law making wacky faces behind us.


Not the clearest picture, but there's Snow Patrol putting on an amazing show. The highlight for me was their performance of "Open Your Eyes", which I listened to when writing a certain important scene in my WIP. Also enjoyed hearing "Run" and "New York". Both are on my playlist as well. Loved listening to Gary Lightbody's lovely Northern Irish accent almost as much as the music, and man is he energetic. No wonder he's so skinny (thus the name "Lightbody", hmm?). Phenomenal show. I left with a huge smile and very numb eardrums. Oh, and an ecstatic twelve year old :) I would go to another of their concerts in a heartbeat. Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds and Jake Bugg opened the concert and both were great as well.


Before heading home, we checked out Wee Book Inn, a very cool used bookstore. For of any of you Firefly/Castle fans out there, Nathan Fillion used to buy comic books at Wee Book Inn when he was a kid. It seems that whenever we go away anywhere we always end up at a bookstore of some kind.


This is Yvan, one of the cats that lives at Wee Book Inn. He's seventeen years old and has the squishiest face I've ever seen. So adorable. His buddy Bunny was sleeping in the display case under the front till when we paid for our books. The guy working the till said there's something fitting about having cats in a bookstore and I have to say I wholeheartedly agree. Petting the cat was just as fun as buying books, and that's saying something!


Another not so stellar picture taken by my husband's phone, but perhaps clear enough for you to see the rows of delicious cupcakes in the case. This is Fuss Cupcakes and it's becoming a tradition to stop there whenever we go to Edmonton. Sure their cupcakes are delicious (I chose Pumpkin Spice and Chocolate Addiction), but the best thing about them is that they're peanut free! This is a huge deal in my family because it means my son gets to enjoy them as well. In fact, he's the one that found Fuss Cupcakes on the internet. This was lunch on the long ride home. I'm such a horrible mom. :)

Well, that was our whirlwind overnight trip. Incredible music, lots of books, cute cats and stuffing our face with cupcakes. Great weekend!

Here's a link to Jaime's account of the concert: A Wonderful Weekend.



Monday, 29 October 2012

YA Book Club: The Raven Boys



If you'd like to see the Goodreads.com overview for The Raven Boys before checking out my review, click the link.


The Raven Boys is only the second Maggie Stiefvater book I’ve read, but it certainly won’t be the last. I’m already counting the days till the sequel comes out. Here’s why:

Characters

This is very much a character driven book and Maggie Stiefvater has created a fascinating cast for readers to follow.
I like how Blue starts the story despising the Aglionby boys and then finds her assumptions about them challenged as she gets to know them better. Despite the fact they attend a school for the privileged they all have issues that soon endear them to Blue in ways she didn’t expect. The author communicates these issues so subtly, for example, a fray in Adam’s sweater tips off Blue that he isn’t one of the typical rich kids that attend Aglionby.  Blue goes from labeling the boys as “the Elegant Boy”, “President Cell Phone, the smudgy one, or their hostile friend” to discovering that, like her, they’re real people with real problems.
The relationships in this book were complicated and I really enjoyed that. Each of the Raven Boys could be difficult to get along with and often they got under each other’s skin. Toss in Blue, the slightly eccentric daughter of a psychic, and the dynamic gets even more complex.
I also enjoyed  Blue’s unconventional home life with her mother’s psychic friends. Out of the adult characters, I liked Persephone the most. Her soft spoken and spacey demeanor reminded me a lot of Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter. Interesting considering the Raven Boys had a bit of a Marauders thing going on (perhaps another reason I liked them so much).
My favourite character overall was Adam. The issues in his home life caused me to be the most invested in him. You'd have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by his story line.

Plot

The plot of The Raven Boys seems designed first and foremost to build the characters. The book centers around a quest involving ley lines and searching for a legendary sleeping king that will grant his finder a magical favour. The characters have their own reasons for participating in the quest and wanting this favour. Those reasons say a lot about who they are and, more importantly, who they want to be. It’s easy to see how a quest with such a prize could lead to dissension even among close friends.
Initially I found this book a little slow, but once it became evident that it was far more about the characters than the actual quest itself, I settled into the pace. Perhaps that’s because I loved the characters and wasn’t eager for this segment of their story to end.
There was also one particularly spooky twist that I did not see coming. In looking back, I can say that the author definitely played fair in foreshadowing this revelation.

Romance

The premise of the romance in this book hooked me in right away.  Blue’s mother and her psychic pals predict that if Blue kisses her true love, he’ll die. Kind of makes relationships tricky, so naturally the author introduces two different boys that Blue wouldn’t mind smooching. The way Blue initially discovers the identity of her “true love” is both creepy and intriguing and I was immediately eager for them to meet in person. Of course her supposed “true love” isn’t the boy that Blue initially gravitates to—that would be too easy. This had to be one of the most creative takes on a love triangle I’ve ever seen and I honestly don’t know who to root for because I like both of the potential love interests.

Overall Writing

I don’t feel remotely qualified to comment on this, but I’ll give it a go. Maggie Stiefvater writes beautifully and has a very distinct style. In my opinion this is the kind of author new writers should aspire to be like. She knows how to create vivid pictures of characters and settings with only a handful of details. Her writing is often poetic, yet not overly flowery, and manages to capture a feeling of real life. There are lessons to be learned here: looking past the labels put on people, loyalty to friends, the dangers of obsession (and probably others I’m missing) but none of them are heavy handed. This is helped by the humour in the book, which  isn’t overdone either.
I also feel the need to say that I’m pleased with the way the author handled the issue of one character’s allergic condition. This is an issue in my family, which makes me particularly sensitive to how it’s presented. Too often I see inaccurate and even ridiculous portrayals of anaphylaxis/allergies (mostly in movies), which don’t help people understand how serious a problem it actually is. I was very happy when Maggie Stiefvater accurately portrayed the severity of this. I have no idea whether this is a personal issue for her, but at the very least it shows she did her research.

There are many more great things I could say about this book, but I’ve rambled long enough and I don’t want to give away any spoilers. If you’re big on stories that have interesting characters and a unique premise, then this is definitely one to check out.
  


Thursday, 25 October 2012

The Rules


As I mentioned recently, I’m smack in the middle of revising my current WIP. I’ve been hacking my word count, tossing out adverbs, picking apart grammar, rewriting and rearranging until I can barely see straight. (Shoot. One of those stinking “ly” adverbs weaseled its way in there.)

In the process I’ve been using a certain editing book. I’ve found it very helpful, but also a little bewildering at times. The authors lay out their rules clearly and for the most part I understand their point of view on various writing taboos and see how eliminating some of these practices will lead to a smoother more professional sounding manuscript.  I’ve never had a finished first draft before now, so I dove into mine prepared to take their advice on every last detail.

Very quickly I felt the urge to buck against those rules. When abiding by all of them, weeding out started to feel more like watering down. I’d read a segment of my story that I particularly like and balk at the idea of chopping out or rewording.  I did it anyway, but after sifting through a few chapters I started to worry that it didn’t sound like my writing anymore. By that point I was frustrated and wondering if I was going overboard.

Then I sat down and read another nice chunk of The Raven Boys and realized that Maggie Stiefvater breaks a whole lot of the rules outlined in my editing book:

Don’t use verbs other than “said” in dialogue tags. Check.
Don’t start a paragraph with a dialogue tag. Check.
Don’t state how characters feel rather than showing it. Check.
Don’t use italics for emphasis. Check.
Don’t incorporate a lot of poetic wording or figures of speech. Check…

But Maggie Stiefvater is a talented writer, well known for her distinct style. When she breaks the rules it works. Her story is engrossing because she does use poetic language and because she does occasionally start paragraphs with dialogue tags, and refuses to beat the word “said” senseless. And while she has an incredible knack for showing us her characters’ emotions, she sometimes just comes right out and tells us how they feel.  Okay, I need to shut up about Maggie Stiefvater now or I won’t have anything left to say in my review on The Raven Boys. Of course she's only one author of many that bend the rules and take risks.

My somewhat longwinded point is that while the rules are there for a reason, it seems a balanced approach to following them is necessary, otherwise you could strip your story down to the bare bones and be left with something that lacks emotion or style. In all fairness, the authors of the editing book I mentioned do warn against taking certain rules to extremes for these very reasons. If every writer stuck religiously to the rules we’d have an entire market full of cookie cutter books. I guess the trick is figuring out when you need to obey the rules and when it might be better to break them.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Ghosties and Ghoulies and Long-Leggedy Beasties


Top Ten Tuesday:  Books for Getting in the Halloween Spirit

I have to confess I really haven’t read many dark and scary books that would suit a more grown up Halloween list. That’s fine because I think I’d pick most of my favourite Halloween books for nostalgic reasons anyway.  To me, Halloween has always been a celebration of childhood: costumes, candy, and everything pumpkiny. It’s a time for creativity and letting your imagination see ghosties and ghoulies and long-leggedy beasties lurking behind every tree.

These are some of my favorites (at least the ones I could think of without rooting through our entire book collection).  I know it’s Top Ten Tuesday, but seeing as I included a few series my list is a bit shorter.


1.  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Every year when fall hits I get in the mood for Harry Potter—me and three quarters of the planet. Prisoner of Azkaban is my favourite in the series and it seems especially suited for Halloween considering the Shrieking Shack and the whole Buckbeak fiasco in Hagrid’s pumpkin patch.



2. Skeleton Creek 

The Skeleton Creek series by Patrick Carman is categorized as middle grade but the characters are teens, so I’d recommend it to anyone who likes YA as well. Too be honest, I think these books are a little on the scary side for younger middle graders. The night I finished Skeleton Creek my husband was out, so I made my son stay up late to keep me company. Yes, I’m a total chicken. The concept of this series is great. After reading segments of the book, you’re rewarded with passwords for unlocking online videos. These directly tie in with the plot. So creepy and fun!  I have yet to read The Raven (book four) but it’s definitely on my TBR list.


3. Coraline

Neil Gaiman has quite the imagination.  When Coraline goes through a magical door in her new-old house, it leads to a world that’s a sinister mirror of her home and family. This book is full of suspense, creepiness and bizarre characters. I will never look at buttons the same after reading it. I have to admit the illustrations in our copy freaked me out a little—but in a fun way.




4. Araminta Spookie

I read this series to my son a number of years ago and he loved it. These are some of the cutest books we have on our shelves.  Just the right amount of spookiness for the younger crowd and the pictures are adorable. Nothing too scary here, just funny ghosts, a knitting vampire and lots of bat guano. I wish Angie Sage had written more of these.





5. Leaf Magic

This was one of my absolute favourite stories when I was little. It’s really more of an autumn book than a Halloween book, although the part where the leaf follows the boy home and tries to get in his window is kind of eerie. Not realizing how much it meant to me, my parents accidentally sold my copy at a garage sale. A few years ago I was thrilled to find a used copy.






6. Mousekin’s Golden House

Who could resist a story about a mouse that hibernates in a jack-o-lantern? The artwork in this book is beautiful and the ending is so cosy. Perfect for reading to little ones.




7. Georgie’s Halloween

Love this story about a shy little ghost that is more afraid of children than they are of him. The illustrations--mostly black and white with a smidge of orange--are wonderful and leave lots of room for imagination. A sweet book for wee ones at Halloween.



Have any childhood favourites or spooky recommendations you’d like to share?

Friday, 19 October 2012

Eyebrow Mania


Seeing as it’s Friday, I thought I’d kick off the weekend with something fun.

I think any writer will admit that body language can be tricky to describe and that it’s hard not to fall into the trap of overusing certain descriptions.  Pretty soon all the shrugging, eye rolling, and arm crossing can get out of control. While revising, I’ve definitely come across repetition of certain gestures that I need to omit or change. One of my personal favourites is raising, arching, quirking, pinching, and furrowing eyebrows. Apparently the eyebrows in my story like to bust a move.

Kinda like this:



What can I say? I find eyebrows expressive and in this case weirdly funny.

Have a happy weekend and watch out for breakdancing eyebrows.  :)

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

RTW: A Head Start

Road Trip Wednesday is a 'Blog Carnival,' where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing-or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.


This week's topic:

Are you doing NaNoWriMo, or have you ever? Does having a deadline inspire you?

I’ve never done NaNoWriMo and I’m not officially participating this time, although I do plan to dive into the second book in my trilogy very soon. The fact that November happens to be a couple weeks away isn’t really a factor in that decision, rather it just happens to be good timing.

Lately I’ve been working nonstop on revisions.  I’m making good progress (at least I think I am), and while I want to stay focused on trimming down and sprucing up book one, I don’t want to lose momentum for actual writing. The other day I jotted down a story detail for my sequel, and it led into ten pages of notes. Probably a good sign that I need to start delving into book two, and by November I might be able to devote some time to it. Until recently, I always struggled to get the story out of my head and onto the page, computer screen, whatever. It took a lot of discipline (Butt in Chair…er…on couch) to finish the first draft of my WIP and to be perfectly honest, it’s like I’m in withdrawal now because all that discipline sort of turned writing into an addiction—a healthy one of course.

This whole plunge into book two directly plays into the second question in this week’s topic: Does having a deadline inspire you? Heck no! The idea of a deadline terrifies me. We’re talking enough to induce writer’s block. This is one aspect of being an author I would definitely find difficult, although I'm sure it's something I'd get used to. Maybe book one will never end up on a bookstore shelf, but on the off chance it does, I want to be prepared. I’ll take whatever head start I can get on book two.

Deadlines aren’t a reality at this point though, so the real reason I want to work on book two is because I’m eager to keep the story going. This is the one that clicked for me. I love my characters and I can’t wait to see where the plot takes them next. Okay, I’ll admit, I already know where the plot is taking them next --excessive planning is all part of that head start I was talking about--but I’m looking forward to seeing the story come together, even if it’s just for my own entertainment.

So while I’m not officially participating in NaNoWriMo,  and I still need to work on revisions, I will be putting pen to paper and fingers to keyboard to try and get out a nice chunk of writing. It does provide some motivation knowing that others will be frantically scribbling away at the same time.

And on that happy note, I’m off to do some more revising…