Monday, April 21, 2014

Writing Process Linky Party!

Here I am, one in a long line of blog links talking about our writing process. I was invited by Heather Romito, who is a friend of the lovely Katy White, another MMW blogger. Go check out their blogs and keep clicking back if you want to keep discovering more cool writers!

What am I working on? 

My current project is titled (for now) The Price of Sight. It’s a loose sequel to Unsightly, a young adult retelling of “Beauty and the Beast.” It follows the daughter of Isabel (the Beauty) and the Beast. When she comes into some very dangerous and unwanted magical power, she does everything she can to deny it. But when she realizes that she and her loved ones are in danger from someone who seeks to control her power, she has to overcome her fear and learn to control her magic.

It’s part adventure, part coming-of-age, and part court intrigue, with the tiniest whiff of romance.

I also discovered that I like a break from the longer projects, so I’ve been doing more flash fiction lately, just for kicks, most of which I post here on my blog.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I love the stories behind the stories. Some fairy tale writers like to take just a little bit or hint of the original story and take off from there, expanding into a completely different tale. I have loved many of these stories, so I can’t complain. But I love looking at the questions that arise from the stories—Why would she do that? Would that really work? Then I try to figure out what pieces of the story are “missing” from the original and would suddenly make those events make sense. (For example, in the original “Beauty and the “Beast,” I was always bothered by the fact that she fell in love with her jailer. Can we say Stockholm syndrome? So in my retelling, I addressed that.)

I also like to think that one difference is the way I deal with magic. Most YA fantasy that I run across has a rather nebulous sense of what is and isn’t possible with magic in that world. That works fine in many cases, but I have always thought that magic, like science, has rules—even when you don’t understand them. The magic in my novels is rule-bound, which I think makes for a harder and more real world for my characters to live in, especially because they tend not to understand the rules.

Why do I write what I do?

Young adult fiction has always drawn me because I think that generally speaking it has a hope that isn’t always present in adult novels. YA can still be dark and painful, but most YA novels seem to say that things can get better. I love fantasy because, even though I don’t believe in actual magic, I do believe that the world can be a magical sort of place (I mean, have you seen fireflies?). So these are the genres that appeal most to me right now.

I also love retelling fairy tales because I think there’s something so wonderfully timeless about them. The themes and ideas just apply all over the place, and I think they endure because they appeal to our inner selves and have things for us to learn—but without having to be beat over the head by “the moral to the story.” They’re just good stories, but with meaning. (I wrote a whole honors thesis on this subject and the story of “Beauty and the Beast,” so just be grateful I gave you the one-paragraph version.)

Oh, plus, I think fairy tales are pretty. :)

How does my writing process work?

If I could tell you that, I bet I’d be getting a lot more done than I currently am. With Unsightly, I muddled through and found myself very frustrated a number of times when suddenly there were massive gaps in the plot and I couldn’t figure out how to fix them. When I was finally doing the first major rewrite, I discovered that when I outlined scenes and determined their purposes and the main actions in them, those scenes went so much better. So for the current project, I’m trying a new thing: I’m outlining much more extensively than I did for Unsightly, hoping that will help me cut back on some (not all, of course) of the frustration. We’ll see how it goes!

Next up in this fun blog linky thing is going to be FrankAdams, a funny guy who writes humor and horror together (because what’s funnier than absolute terror?). (I may also find another friend to link to and insert him/her here.)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Falling Apart

I wrote this one several years ago (actually, I wrote it once a decade ago and then rewrote it a couple years ago) and just now realized that I'd never shared it. So here you go!

I noticed it first the day that you left. By lunchtime you were gone, and I sat at the table in my apartment’s tiny kitchen, so much bigger now that you wouldn’t be stopping by again. And in front of me on that table, lying on the polished surface, like it was just taking a break, was the tip of my left pinkie. I stared at it for a few moments then swept it quickly into my hand and shoved it into the third drawer down, the junk drawer.

That’s strange, I thought.

I’ll deal with it later, I thought.

And then, the next day, remembering our first date as I waited for the subway amid the crowds jostling for the best position. Remembering how you held my hand and the way the streetlights sparkled through the rain. “Excuse me,” someone said as she passed in a blur, bumping into my arm and rousing me from memory. My elbow detached, so gently, sloughing off like an old skin into my jacket’s sleeve. I shrugged it out into my hand and pocketed it without even looking down. No big deal.

Again, at the restaurant where we used to meet after a long day of work and before we each went home. A toe loose in my shoe, rolling around like a rock, making every step home now more painful than the last. Again, at the park on a Saturday morning, surrounded by the green and blue of tree and sky. Pieces of me, falling off, bit by bit.

An ear here, a finger there. Hair. My left shoulder. My right heel. I faithfully kept everything I could, dumped it in a drawer or a shoe box or under the bed. I kept telling myself I’d get around to dealing with it as soon as I had time.

It happened in the shower as I got ready for another endless day, or when I sat in the dark on my couch watching our favorite movie. It happened when I woke in the morning and nearly reached for the phone to call and hear your voice, at my office desk checking for emails that had stopped coming in. It happened everywhere I went.

One morning at breakfast I turned to look out the window that faced the next building’s wall, trying to catch a glimpse of the new day and think of anything but you. But I couldn’t ignore the problem any longer when my remaining ear fell into my oatmeal. So, sighing, I fished it out and went to the sink to rinse it off. I had never understood what a chore just standing could be when so much of your self is missing.

I limped around the apartment that day, gathering those pieces one by one, placing them in rows on the soft blue coverlet on my bed. It seemed so futile. How could I dream of reconstructing this shattered body? Too much was broken. Despite my best efforts, too much was lost.

It was you, I know. You started it, but I suppose it was still my fault.

I should never have let you walk off with my heart in the first place.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Book Review: Juliet Marillier's Daughter of the Forest

Daughter of the Forest  (Sevenwaters, #1)

Rating: 4/5 stars (maybe even 4.5)

Clean rating: PG-13. There is discussion of violence but not particularly gore, and in my opinion the violence was not really a problem. There is also some torture, and you see the after-effects, not the torture itself. But that’s kind of rough anyway. The worst is that there is rape, and while it is not described in gory detail, it is emotional and ugly and horrific (not much of a shocker, considering that it’s rape). So the content is emotionally fraught, but I didn’t find it to be morally ugly, if that makes sense. There was no glory in the terrible things that happen in this book; there was a very strong awareness of the ugliness—which, in my opinion, makes it a much stronger book.

Short summary: Sorcha is the youngest of seven children. When their father marries a sorceress, Sorcha and her brothers try to protect themselves from her. They fail and end up with a terrible spell placed on them that only Sorcha can undo, but only at great personal cost. The book is an extended version of “The Six Swans,” set in medieval Erin (this is Ireland, right? my history knowledge is sooo very bad).

What I liked: It would probably be a shorter post if I just skipped straight to what I didn’t like. Because pretty much I liked everything.

For starters, the tone and voice and language. It is beautifully written. The words are fluid like water rushing past and so easy to read. This is not flowery, overblown language. It is simply the loveliness of gorgeous, perfect prose. It is a beauty that I often try to achieve in my stories and that Marillier does in a way that makes it look effortless. Okay, enough gushing. It’s wonderful, that’s all I can say.

Next: I have read versions of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” where, at the end, I could not keep any of the princesses straight. I recently read a book that had only four siblings, and I’m still not sure I could name a single one of them. But in this novel, it’s been a week or so since I read it, and I’m pretty sure I can not only name each of the six brothers, but I can also tell you a little bit about each one.* They all stood out as separate people, which I think is a difficult task in cases like this. But Marillier did a good job with it.

Sorcha was a likeable character. She had a lot of ugliness to deal with, but she loved her family and she was hardworking and she was overall pretty darn awesome.

What didn’t work for me: Well, we’ve got to come up with something here, right? So I will say that it was long. Not only is it over 500 pages, but the print is really small. This is undoubtedly a turn-off for some, and I confess I wasn’t thrilled about it. But it didn’t really feel long to me. As in, “Really? It’s not over yet?” I’m sure I could come up with something else to complain about, but they would be minor quibbles.

Last words: It’s a good thing I read this because I had once considered doing a novel-length retelling of “The Six Swans” (there’s something about this tale that I just love), but now I can honestly say that the best possible version of this story is already written. I might someday revisit it just for fun, but I would have to place it in a contemporary setting and with a very different emotional tone and just a wildly different story overall because this version is pretty much perfect. If you like fairy tale retellings with a sort of lush magical tone, you must read this!

* Okay, now I have to test myself. Mild spoilers contained herein. Liam: leader, oldest, warlike. Diarmid: idiot, hothead. Cormack: Conor’s twin, a little warlike, loved his dog. Conor: druid. Finbar: moody, into justice. Padriac: loved animals, a healer. Wow, look at that! Easy peasy.
** P.S. I liked this one a lot better than Wildwood Dancing, even though I also liked that one.