Strange Places

A few months I ago I got the Indie Fantasy StoryBundle package. It was a great deal, and I’m really excited to dive into all of the books. For those of you unaware of StoryBundle, I highly recommend you go check it out here: http://storybundle.com/

Strange Places by Jefferson Smith was the first book from the pack that I read. Overall,  I would say it was pretty good. Not great, not amazing, but pretty good.

The first section of the book introduces us to Tayna, an orphan living in a cartoonish,  horrible orphanage run by evil nuns. It isn’t the most interesting start, but it does a great job of getting across Tayna’s personality. She is a fun, strong, capable character.

Things start to get interesting when Tayna moves from “the real world” into a fantasy one. She briefly has a guide, but very quickly she is left on her own to navigate this strange place. (Yes. That pun WAS intended!) The people she meets along the way are very different from the typical beings that populate fantasy books, and I loved that. Smith has created a fresh, interesting world to play in.

There were parts of this book that really engaged me and got me excited. I loved the transition between worlds. That was by far my favorite part of the book. I haven’t been able to find the author’s website, but I’ve seen in a few other places that this is meant to be a series. I will almost definitely read the next book.

EDIT: I found a working link to his website! If you want to see more, visit http://jefferson.smithicus.com/doku.php

So overall I enjoyed the book, but I felt like there were a few things that could have been done better.

Minor spoilers from here on. 

– Any time the focus went away from Tayna I lost interest. Her friend at the orphanage is great, but there was way too much of her adoption story. Unless it comes back in a later installment of the series, it seemed pretty pointless to me. It distracted from the real drama going on with Tayna.

– The antagonist. In the first section of the book we gets hints at this really terrible bad guy who is after Tayna. He’s one of the big factors that gets her from world a to world b. And then….he disappears. We don’t see him again until the very last pages of the book. Honestly, I had mostly forgotten about him.

– The blue ears. When Tayna moves into the new world, her birth world, her ears become long and blue. We learn that when a child from this world matures and is married some part of their body changes in some noticeable way. This was never adequately explained, and I’m still pretty confused about it. This is another thing that disappears. It appears again at the very end of the book.

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World building

In the three weeks since I finished my first draft I’ve been doing a lot of world building. Like I’ve mentioned before, my novel started as a NaNoWriMo project. Going in I had two or three ideas about what I wanted to do, and that was it. The world formed as I wrote.

That worked well enough for the first draft, but it isn’t going to cut it for the next one!

Before going back into revising, I want to have a clear idea of what my world is. I’ve been drawing maps, writing out long explanations of religion and politics. I’ve been exploring my characters’ back stories  to the point where I’ve been conducting “interviews” with them! I’ve figured out a lot of the details that tripped me up when I was first writing. Mostly I’ve been thinking a lot about my world, my characters, and my story.

It’s all a lot of fun, and I’m starting to feel really prepared for the revision. I’m getting excited to jump back into it, although I’ll probably wait a few more weeks.

If you’re a writer, how do you do your world building?

Really Netflix? This is what you’re giving me?

Netflix tried to put together True Blood, The Killing, Twin Peaks with a pinch of Twilight and another pinch of Gossip Girl. It didn’t work out well for them.

I was really prepared to love Hemlock Grove. I was even prepared to dislike it only for the gore, which I sometimes have problems with. I watched all thirteen episodes–that’s how much I wanted to love this show.

But I don’t love it. It was laughably bad. It was a mess. There were times where it felt like it was written by a sixteen year old. The acting wasn’t great, but a lot of their problems went back to the writing. It can’t be easy to deliver poorly written lines convincingly  and I’ve seen enough of these actors in other things to know they CAN be good.

So that’s the bad. The good? It was fun to watch. Steve and I spent all day yesterday snuggled up on the couch making fun of this show and trying to figure out what it was trying to do. It was fun to try and figure out what random disjointed phrases the writers would put together next. Another fun game was trying to catch all the times one character’s tattoo switched arms.

If they were trying to make a show for people like us to mock, I applaud them. If that was their goal, they did a great job.

Spoiler time! If you don’t want a spoiler go find another blog to read! 

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Okay, they’re gone?

SERIOUSLY!? FUCKING VAMPIRES?!!?!? AAAAAARGGGGHHHHH!

Part of the reason we stuck around for so long is that we really wanted Roman and Olivia to be something new and interesting. I thought she much be a succubus. Or even just a witch! There were all kinds of hints that they might be something other than vampires, including the whole part where they don’t follow any part of vampire lore. At all. Even a little bit.

AAAAARRRRRGHHH!

This show started out with a lot of interesting questions and premises, even if some of them were a little heavy handed. Shelley, anyone?

This feels like a show that could have been awesome. I’ve heard that the book is pretty great. So what went wrong here? How did so many people get it wrong?

Any thoughts on this show?

 

 

 

If You Were A Dinosaur….

I’ve been thinking a lot about death recently. I’ve been thinking a lot about hospital beds and how horrible it would be so see someone you love hooked up to machines to keep them breathing. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been able to get Rachel Swirsky’s story “If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love” out of my head.

Or maybe it’s just one of those stories that sticks with you.

I read this when it first went up at Apex Magazine in March, and since then I’ve read it twice and thought about it a lot. There’s something so simple and beautiful about it… Anyway, just go read it. You’ll see what I mean.

http://www.apex-magazine.com/if-you-were-a-dinosaur-my-love/

Tamora Pierce and the Provost’s Guard trilogy

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I’ve been a Tamora Pierce fan for a long time. I got First Test out of a bargain bin at Ollie’s when I was in middle school, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I’ve reread most of the Tortall books so many times that they’re falling apart. at the New York Comic Con in 2009 I was lucky enough to meet Tamora Pierce and have her sign my copy of First Test.

I tell you all of this so you know that I am in no way unbiased when I talk about her books. I have the deep, irrational love for them that you can only really have for something you loved in middle school. I’m pretty sure that they’re still objectively good, and I’m positive that everyone interested in YA fantasy should check them out. Especially people who like reading about strong, heroic girls/women.

Anyway, on to the Provost’s Guard trilogy. I first read these books last year. Don’t ask why it took me so long, I’m not really sure what I was waiting for! When I finally got around to it, I loved them. This trilogy follows George Cooper’s ancestor as she becomes a Provost’s Guard, basically a police officer. Her adventures get progressively bigger as the trilogy goes on, and by the last book, Mastiff, the stakes include the lives of the royal family. There really isn’t anything very surprising about these books, but I found them immensely enjoyable all the same.

They’re different from her other books. For one thing, they’re set in the past of her usual timeline. For another, they’re told in the first person in the form of a diary. On my first read I was a little thrown off by this, but this time around it felt completely natural. It made sense to have Beka talking to her diary, and there are a few fun entries that show her falling asleep and forgetting how to spell. There’s also a memorable page where her cat Pounce (also known as Faithful to other Pierce fans!) gets a paw print in the journal.

Another aspect of the books I found really interesting is how she seeds in the beginnings of how the world is going to turn against strong warrior women. As the books go on we see more and more people turning against fighting women like Beka. I really enjoyed seeing the “Gentle Mother” religious craze. It was a nice way to explain how the world changed between Beka’s time and Alanna’s time.

The Provost’s Guard Trilogy is a fun addition to the Tortall Universe. Check it out!

Spoilers for Mastiff below! 

My one complaint about Mastiff is the betrayal. I don’t have a problem with having someone betray Beka. It adds a good element of fear and mystery into the book. Even while rereading the book, I couldn’t quite remember who the betrayer was and there were a few very suspenseful moments!

My problem is with it being Tunstall. Tunstall’s character is not set up to be the betrayer. I wouldn’t say it comes completely out of the blue–like he explains in the book, he told them the moment it happened, and he was honest. I’m also not arguing with his motive. It’s a good motive. But it’s not a good motive for him. He’s set up as an honest, loyal man in all of the books. He’s one of the best Dogs in the Lower City, which has it’s fair share of temptations. The woman he betrays Beka for, the Lady Knight Sabine, would never accept him if she found out that he betrayed Beka. If he and Sabine were other kinds of characters, I might be able to accept this. But it’s never set up. He goes from the most loyal to the least, and the Queen’s explanation that people behave differently when the stakes are that high just doesn’t cut it for me.

It’s the one false note in an otherwise great trilogy, so I can’t really complain too much. I would be interested to hear what other readers think of Tunstall’s betrayal. It it take you by surprise? Did you expect it? Did it make any sense to you?

 

 

The End

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Last night I did. I got to the end. I FINISHED THE FIRST DRAFT!

Is there anything quite as exciting?

I know I still have a lot of work ahead of me–there are so many inconsistencies in my book, and reader would throw it at the wall! But now I have the bones. In the past few months I’ve learned that my favorite part of writing is revision. I love tinkering with words to make each sentence better than it was before. I love seeing the improvement from draft to draft. Don’t get me wrong, creating is fun too, but there’s something really satisfying about revision. I’m really excited to jump into it and start adding and changing things!

So here is my plan.

I’m going to step away from my novel for a while. Just a month or so, to give myself some distance. I don’t want to be too attached to it when it’s time to start slashing paragraphs left and right. During that time I’m going to focus on short stories and other related projects for this novel.

This book started out as a NaNoWriMo book, so it wasn’t well thought out. I had a vague idea and a handful of character names and that was it. I hadn’t done any worldbuilding, or plot structuring, or anything prior to drafting! A few days ago I realized that I never even thought out the timeline of the book, which is kind of a huge problem when one of your characters gets pregnant and gives birth during the course of the story! Luckily it all worked out, but it certainly was a bit of a wake-up call–I need a timeline! Before I start revising the novel I need to sort out what happens when. I’m also hoping to have a handy little worldbuilding notebook to help me add more flavor to the book. This is a fantasy book, and I want the world to feel real and well rounded. I want there to be religion, politics, food, songs, and culture. I hope that by the time I’m done with the book readers will be able to feel like I’ve fully immersed them in the world, instead of just teasing them with hints about what it could be.

Here are some stats on the first draft:

27 Chapters

132 single spaced pages

85,204 words

I fully expect all of those numbers to go up as I’m revising. I’m probably going to add about three chapters, not to mention all of the details I want to add! Between all the stuff I want to add and all the stuff I already know I want to take out, I feel like it will probably end up to be about 95,000 words. We’ll see in a few months how that prediction holds up!

Robot and Frank

Last night I watched a lovely little movie from last year called Robot and Frank. It was directed by Jake Schreier. I really loved this movie. I’m not sure if it will stick with me, but while watching it I spent a lot of time thinking, laughing, and crying.

Frank is an older man just on the brink of not being able to live alone anymore. His son makes a long drive to check on him every week, but it becomes clear that Frank is going to need a lot more help. Frank’s son, Hunter, buys a robot that seems specially designed to assist people like Frank. At first, Frank is hesitant to accept Robot’s help. He wonders aloud why he’s even talking to an appliance.

That all changes once Frank realizes that Robot isn’t programmed with any sense of morality. Frank, you see, is a retired jewel thief.

I won’t give away any more of the plot, but there are a lot of really nice moments in this movie. It deals with aging, family, technology, and memory. I love how it feels like a real, fleshed out world, even though we only ever see Frank’s town and a few of the people who live there. We get a taste of the human rights movement when we meet Frank’s daughter, played by Liv Tyler. We see the slight differences in dress and music. Probably my favorite detail is that all of the young 30 something characters have recently popular names like Hunter, Madison, and Ava. That detail, plus the movie telling us that it’s the near future, leads me to believe that it’s set about twenty years from now.

I have mixed feelings on how they showed the library. In the beginning it doesn’t even look like a library looks now, let alone one in the future! The only “future” detail is that they have a robot to do their shelving. There are no computers, no children or teen sections… it’s a dark, intimidating (but beautiful) library full only of books. A young group of people ends up buying the library and completely gutting it of books to make it a place for augmented reality, digital books, and community, which I can definitely see as something that might happen. BUT. BUT! There is never going to be a library that goes from being 100% books to 100% computers/technology. I understand that the filmmakers are trying to make us sympathize with Frank trying to deal with how fast time moves and technology changes, but it definitely felt a little too set up for me. It’s a shame, because the rest of the movie felt very organic and natural.

I wonder what non-MLS people out there think of it? It’s very possible that is just bugs me because I’m so close to libraries now.

Anyway, I highly suggest you check this out. It’s a nice SF movie that works really well.