Friday Five – Revisionist Edition

1. My first idea for today’s post was a scripted fight between the main character of The Black City/The Key to Selene/The Whatever It’s Called, and the main character of my new work-in-progress. The main character of the new WIP is a bit miffed because I keep shunting her aside to revisit revisions on TBC/KTS/WIC. I ended up not writing the scripted fight because it would probably only be funny to people who have read those manuscripts. Or, worse, it would only be funny to me.

2. I am, once again, pleased/humbled/overcome with gratitude for the people who listen to me obsess and gripe about writing. While I do attempt to curb the writing talk, I rarely succeed. So thanks for listening.

3. That said – why are titles so hard? I joked with my friend D-Chan that I’ll just call it “UNTITLED WITH WITCHES AND MAGIC AND BETRAYAL.” She suggested a subtitle, making the whole thing “UNTITLED WITH WITCHES AND MAGIC AND BETRAYAL (and maybe a bear on a motorcycle but no promises),” and I kind of like that.

4. Am currently enjoying the ARC of BITTERBLUE. How I’d missed the Graceling realm, without even knowing it! High fantasy isn’t usually something I’m drawn to, but Kristin Cashore has pulled me in and made me care. The only problem: it’s been over a year since I read Fire or Graceling, and I’ve forgotten who some of the minor characters are. Am a little confused about backstories and princes and such. But Bitterblue is awesome!

5. 34 weeks pregnant as of Wednesday. Am huge. Am starting to attract the attention of strangers, who shift to the side, probably worried my stomach is going to explode into a mess of baby any second. Tick tock tick tock tick tock…. And still no name, no satisfactory sleeping arrangements, no carseat installed. Mayhap we are a bit too cocky having already done this before? Like, “Eh, a baby. Big deal. Been there, done that. It’ll all work out.” Oh, reality will soon slap us in the face….

Plain Kate by Erin Bow

A copy of this book landed in my lap (thanks Mary!) and I devoured it.

Kate lives in (what sounds like) Russia in an era of magic and superstition. Her problem: her village has begun to think she is a witch. Yes, she is a carver (skill with a knife is a sign of a witch), she has different-colored eyes (ooh), and she has a cat friend who follows her everywhere (yup, definitely a witch). A mysterious man cruelly helps the witch rumors along, then convinces Kate to leave town, but not before trading her some survival necessities for…her shadow.

Beyond “did I like it?” (because I really, really did), do I think Plain Kate works? Overall, yes. Through the course of the novel I got to know Kate very well, from her love of wood-carving to her fears: of losing her shadow, of being kicked out of the Roamers’ caravan, of being alone. Knowing the character intimately is one of the best ways to get a reader to care.

As far as supporting cast – that is also very strong. My favorite supporting character was Kate’s sidekick, Taggle. A cat. I will say no more about him except you should read this book if for no other reason than to meet Taggle.

What worked best in the book, and what I will be re-reading this book to study, is how the setting and tone work together to create this beautiful, spooky mood. The lyrical prose (you know how I’m always raving about that) is also out of this world…unsurprising as Bow has also published a book of poems.

The beginning felt a little slow to me, but this could be because I was in such a rush to start reading that I didn’t give myself a good chunk of time to get immersed. Once I’d invested a half hour of reading time, I couldn’t put Plain Kate down.

To visit Erin Bow’s website, click here. If you visit, be prepared to forget whatever else you had planned. I found an absorbing essay on her “Odds and Ends” page and stayed up late to read the whole thing.

NiFtY Author: Elizabeth Kolodziej

Gods, witches, werewolves, and…vampires! Timed just right for Halloween weekend, I give you a NiFtY Interview with Elizabeth Kolodziej, author of Vampyre Kisses.

BH: What’s your one-paragraph pitch for your novel, Vampyre Kisses?

EK: Vampyre Kisses is an enthralling story about a young woman, Faith, who meets a 400-year-old vampire named Trent. It isn’t long before Faith learns that she herself is a witch with a long family history. After finding out that Trent is a vampire along with being a terrific kisser he helps her find a way to take control of her powers. Soon powerful gems are stolen from the werewolf royalty and vampire master and they must be found. The reader will take a journey through a new kind of universe that is full of gods, vampires, witches and werewolves.

BH: Tell us a little about your path to publication.

EK: Well, I did try to go the traditional route, but I didn’t have any agents that wanted to take my story on. After awhile I decided to self publish my book. I truly believe that the book is great and with good marketing on my part I can get a wide range of people interested in it. I have readers all over the USA along with readers in the UK, Spain, and India. But I would warn anyone thinking of self-publishing that it is not easy. It takes you putting in your own money, lots of time, and being very open minded to do well.

BH: Okay, your bio saying that you’re a “young fiction writer” begs the rather rude question: how old are you? “Young” could be twelve or eighty-five, depending on perspective.

EK: hehe. I haven’t gotten this question yet! To be honest, I am a little over 90. Haha. J/K. Actually I am 25, which is young. I don’t care what anyone says!

BH: How long have you been writing fiction?

EK: I don’t remember the exact age I began, but I have been writing since I was around 8. I would read books on whales and then write research papers on them. I did this for fun; yes I was a nerd and still am. I wrote a few short stories when I was around 10 that were fiction. When I was 13 I began my first book but I never completed it though I was pretty much at the end of it.

I have always been the imaginative type though. I like to make up fantasies in my head. It actually really helps my writing because I can see the character in my head and the gestures that they make.

BH: I read on your website that Vampyre Kisses is the first in a planned series. How many books do you have planned? Have you outlined them all, or do you have a more general vision of the series?

EK: Right now I am almost half way through the second book. It is going to be called something like Lupine Secrets or Lupine Seductions. I haven’t decided yet. This book is outlines. For the third book I have an idea of what I want to do but nothing on paper yet. I think I could get a good five books or more out of this series. I have many ideas going on in my head when it comes to these characters.

BH: Faith is described as a girl who is mostly content but craves excitement. What sets her apart from the average young woman?

EK: Faith is a young adult in her early twenties and truthfully, I wanted Faith to be not average but just a regular person with a working job and dreams. When she finds out that she is a witch is when she starts having to learn and grow up quickly. What may make her unique is how she easily embraces the supernatural world she is thrust into. I find that it is easy for her because a part of her as been searching for where she belongs, for her witch side to be let out. I really hope that is apparent to readers in the book.

BH: The model wearing the Vampyre Kisses T-Shirt on your website is obviously not you. Any clues to the mystery man’s identity?

EK: I guess I can let that cat out of the bag. The mystery man is my muse. He is the one who would comfort me during my most depressing writers block and help me by letting me bounce ideas off of him. My number one cheerleader and someone who without, this book might not be written the way that is.

BH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?

EK: I would say one of my favs is the book, Book in a Month by Victoria Lynn Schmidt. I am very big on organization and this book offered me this. That book or The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell. I think that book is just fantastic in what it can teach you with such few words.

BH: What is the best writing advice anyone has given you?

EK: The best advice I ever got was from my professors at George Mason University who told me that to write a good book one must read many books, even the ones you don’t think you’ll like. This proved to be very correct. Even reading Milton’s Paradise Lost, which was the most difficult thing ever, really showed me other ways to make descriptions and connect with my own characters.

BH: Thank you, Elizabeth, for answering my questions and sharing your book, as well as your thoughts on the writing life!

Want more? You can visit Elizabeth on her website, as well as Facebook and Twitter (see below)…and if you’d like some vampire along with your Halloween, websites where you can purchase Vampyre Kisses are listed below as well.

Publisher’s Website: http://bit.ly/9aYtXo

Barnes and Noble: http://bit.ly/dpJsLC

Amazon: http://amzn.to/byci6O

Kindle: http://amzn.to/bMzSKN

Facebook.com/kweenkitten

Twitter.com/ejkolodziej

Portable Writing Workshop

What you see here are seven stalkers that haunt me during Z’s nap, after her bedtime, and all those hours in between. They follow me to the front room: “Don’t read to your daughter. Instead, zone out and think about plot.” They gaze at me from the nightstand while I try to fall asleep: “Why are you sleeping? You’re wasting precious writing time.” They lounge next to me on the couch in a way that says, “We’re watching you. Pick up that Nintendo DS and you can forget having a breakout novel.” They join me at the table: “Are you going to eat that? Should your main character eat things like that? If she doesn’t want to, will you put her in a situation where she has to in order to, say, save the world? Just how important is ice cream to your novel?”

From the top left, the stalkers are:

1. Idea notebook for The Black City (working title of my current project/new manuscript). Please note (and admire) the bright Post-it tabs adorning the top. They divide the notebook into the following sections: Plot, Characters, Setting, Creatures, and Magic. The Creatures tab is so far kind of pointless. I might replace it with Ice Cream.

2. Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. The gimmicky title turned me off, but after being stalked by the title through various literary agent and writer blogs, I finally decided to give it a chance. (Much like Jacob in the Eclipse movie. Cringeworthy and excessively stalker-ish on the outside, but sincere and…never mind. The comparison doesn’t work at all.) (Really. Forget the Jacob comparison. It never happened.) Another bonus for this book is that it’s a library copy, well worn in, and I can prop it open with one of my other notebooks and have two hands free for eating…ice cream.

3. Manuscript book. I hate sitting at a computer and trying to create something, so I write by hand instead. At the computer there’s so much pressure. Most of it is behind my eyeballs somewhere, but also in my neck and back a little. Plus our computer’s in the basement, and I don’t want to spend that much time down here if I can help it. Unless I’m reading blogs and eating ice cream.

4. Black pen. Used for pretty much all writing. Diary. Notes. Manuscript. So far ineffective as spoon for ice cream.

5. Blue pen. Essential to snarky comments in margins of manuscript, and note-taking. It’s a pleasing color, a welcome relief from the Black pen. Also not a spoon.

6. Red pen. For heavy-duty editing. Great also for recording Unforgettable Fabulous and Difficult-to-Convey Ideas of Inspiration (example: DUDE. Make her have crush on old guy) that may never come to fruition, but probably will because according to #2 above, a writer needs to make things as difficult as possible for her protagonist. The red pen is also not a spoon.

7. My current diary book. Full of notes on Maass’s book. And the occasional glob of melted ice cream.

Everything a writing mother needs to get herself through the day. Notebooks, pens, a gem-book on the writing craft, and…stupid Twilight comparisons. No! Ice cream!

It’s the Friday before Labor Day, which means I’m in the mountains somewhere, or on my way at least. I won’t have internet access to moderate comments until Monday, so if you haven’t commented before and your wonderful words of wisdom don’t show up right away, they will soon.

Oh, ALSO. My writing “pardner” Seven and I have made a pact to write 1200 words, six days a week, so by the end of October we’ll have finished the first drafts of our works-in-progress. Does anyone out there want to join up? If you’re interested, you can contact me through my contact page, or leave a comment here.

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

A Monday Book Review

“Nae king! Nae quin! Nae laird! Nae master!” This is part of the refrain of the Wee Free Men, the little pictsies who help Tiffany Aching along on her quest to find her kidnapped brat-of-a-brother Wentworth. It’s also what I imagine the stinking* irises are shouting at me as I scold them into submission before ripping them from the ground.

Iris Foetidissima

Stinking Irises

But, oh yes, Pratchett’s book. It was quite funny! I love a book that makes me laugh, and there’s something inherently funny about picsties (six-inch blue men with red hair) who love fighting, stealing, and drinking. Plus what’s not to love about a girl who will use her little brother as bait so she can bash a monster over the head with a frying pan?

*possible spoilers in here*

But when Tiffany finds out the fairy queen kidnapped Wentworth, she follows them to a fairy kingdom to retrieve him, the Wee Free Men tagging along to help her out. And that’s where I stopped having as much fun with the book.

Let me be clear: Terry Pratchett really is a genius, and I could not write his books better. The following is a matter of personal taste, not an attack on his skill as an author.

Basically, I don’t have much patience for fairy kingdoms or alternate worlds (exception to this rule: Graceling by Kristin Cashore). Not my thing. Someday I might have a great idea and go with it for a book of my own, but I sort of doubt it. When the rules change, and when dreams are involved and the rules change rapidly, my ability to suspend disbelief is…suspended. Not only that, but when the dreams are controlled by a character, and then that control is wrested away by another character, and so on? Nope. I’m not buying it.

Plus I’m trying to read fast because Z is running around tackling me and trying to swipe my book away, and then there’s like this never-ending ending, the climax of the story going on forever.

The book was good. I’m glad I read it. And when I need some funny little blue people to bring some laughter into my day, I’ll pick up another of Pratchett’s books. Or I can paint Z blue, dye her hair red, and dress her in a kilt. Teach her to talk with a Scottish accent.

*Note: “Stinking” here is not an adjective, but part of a compound noun. That’s really the name of the irises, iris foetidissima. While getting rid of the tempting red poisonous berry seeds is one reason I’m pulling them up, the other reason is I resent their very stubborn presence. Husband says it’s because they are as stubborn as I am. I was a little resentful of his presence too, when he said that.

Beautiful Creatures by Garcia & Stohl

Tuesday Book Review

I’m never sure whether I should immerse myself in young adult fiction–especially contemporary fantasy–or avoid it while I’m writing. Since I’m between novels right now, it seemed safe to read this one, and I’m glad I did.

Beautiful Creatures is a whopping 563 pages of incredible setting and genius point-of-view storytelling. I finished the book a week ago and still can’t get over how well the small South Carolina town came through. The setting in Beautiful Creatures was a character on its own. The first sentence really gets this point across: “There were only two kinds of people in our town. ‘The stupid and the stuck,’ my father had affectionately classified our neighbors.” The fictional town of Gatlin comes alive through the people who live there, the weather (which Lena, the heroine, unwittingly changes with her moods), the physical mapping of the town, and through its history, linked forever to the Civil War (or, as many townsfolk call it, “The War of Northern Aggression”).

As a writer, I learned mostly from the setting, but also through the characterization. Macon Ravenwood is my favorite character in the book. Best quote: “I loathe towns. I loathe townspeople. They have small minds and giant backsides. Which is to say, what they lack in interiors they make up in posteriors” (p. 124). Hilarious. I bet the authors had a blast coming up with the dialogue.

The story is told from the point of view of Ethan Wate, the typical guy-obsessed-with-the-new-girl, Lena Duchannes. In the beginning I was reminded of the narrator of The Virgin Suicides–someone obsessed, always watching the girls, a little creepiness before the tragedy in which he really has no part. Instead, Ethan takes an active role. Selecting him as the POV character was a stroke of genius by the authors, because Lena, who the story actually seems to be about, is obnoxious throughout the whole book. She’s waiting for her sixteenth birthday, when fate is supposed to decide whether or not she will be a good witch or a bad witch. (By the way: ticking clock of approaching birthday–great method of keeping suspense up even when nothing exciting is happening.) This makes her whiny and moody, something with which I have no personal experience.

It’s late. Bottom line: Nebula Stamp of Approval.