Saturday, December 31, 2011

Congrats to Chris!!!

Chris has won my trivia question about the Way Back machine!!!  The answer, if you are curious, is posted as a comment in the review of The Fifth Quarter.  He's receiving a copy of Rebirth by me.  Congrats again to Chris.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Shirley Temple Effect

Happy Holidays, everyone.

So, as I look around at pop culture the last few years, I have to ask myself, when did we get so damn popular?

Fantasy used to have its own little hole in the wall cafe where fantasy people met and talked to each other.  You knew better than to mention it among mixed company.  We all had our own set of hand gesture signals to let each other know we were in the club.  Whether you said "fantasy" to the outside world with pride or shame, there was a good chance you would get ridicule.  Now I've already talked about this some with nerd evolution (see post), but I am asking specifically, why fantasy, why now?  Harry Potter is a blow up pop culture life style.  Even straight adult men could be caught reading Twilight.  People love The Lord of the Rings series and yet may not even know who Tolkien is.  Clash of the Titans just got remade, which to me is insanity.  How can you top Ray Harrihausen?  I could keep going with examples from movies to books to video games.  The mass public loves fantasy.  Why?

I'll tell you.  It is the Shirley Temple Effect.  During the Depression and to some extent the following war, the world loved that crazy, overly cute tap dancing mop head.  People actually got off on watching pretty-fied versions of the old South where some loyal slave like Step N Fetchit followed her around her daddy's plantation and pretended like he wasn't getting paid a fraction of her salary just to pretend he could dance medium to well, instead of dance the boards off the floor.  What the hell was that all about?

People had no money.  Their lives sucked.  They didn't want to see violent films or films about how much life sucked.  They were living it.  They wanted escape.  They wanted to watch a five-year-old tap dance.  They wanted to see the Old South with beautiful plantations and mansions and know that all had been better, simpler, and might be that way again.

Well.  They had Shirley Temple.  We have Harry Potter.  Our economy has been in the gutter for over a decade.  We're scared of terrorists.  We are fighting one or two wars at a time for reasons unclear to many of us.  I recently celebrated that my home state's, Michigan's, unemployment rate is under %10.  My home town doesn't even have a bookstore.  You can find parking anywhere downtown.  Sure, we've always been known for our prison, but now we own four hand job massage parlors and drug related crime is on the rise.

Detroit is a wasteland.  Let's not get started on their schools other than to say I worked a whole winter there with a broken classroom radiator because they couldn't afford to fix it.

Don't get me started on Flint.

The world is a mess.  I honestly believe it is getting better over the past few years, slowly, but in the meantime, everyone loves Frodo.  Our world sucketh in so many ways.  So we borrow someone else's world.  We slip into a world of Quidditch, hobbits, moralistic vampires, and flying horses.  Yes, they have nothing to do with reality, no matter what J.K. Rowlings aspires to, and that is why everyone flocks to fantasy.  Forget the mortgage, the school systems, what your health program does or does not pay for, and who is dying where in the greater world for an hour, just a couple of hours of respite when we can worry over such exciting prospects as finding out you are magical, being in a magical place.  Even the scary isn't that scary because the tension isn't happening to us.  Just the characters.

It's rolling up to 1212.  Hurry.  We need Shirley Temple to tap dance through the discovery she's a secret race commonly mistaken for vampires.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Sabriel by Garth Nix

This one is for you, Rick.

Okay, once more, Sherman (and I'm getting depressed no one knows this!  Free book!), to the Way Back Machine.

Sabriel by Garth Nix:

Sabriel In the first scene, we realize Sabriel, an 18-year-old girl school in the country of Ancelstierre, just graduated her rather old fashioned boarding school for young women.  Not old fashioned for Sabriel, however, as Ancelstierre appears to be set in a slightly rearranged version of the twenties or early thirties in geography we don't know.

Oh.  And we know she is a necromancer.

In Ancelstierre, no one much believes in magic, nor does it work much beyond the Wall that shuts the Old Kingdom and its Charter Magic, within the world and order, necromancy, and Free Magic, outside the Charter and corrupting all exist and the people live in a more medieval setting.  Just with no government.

Sabriel was born in the Old Kingdom, but her father brought her here at five.  He is Abhorsen--the necromancer against necromancers.  A Charter mage and necromancer both, it is his job to make sure the Dead pass all nine gates of death, and stay dead.  Which they don't like to do in the Old Kingdom, especially lately.

Only scant pages after Sabriel shows her hidden necromancy, a sending brings Sabriel her father's Charter Magic imbued sword, and his bells--the tools of Abhorsen.  He may only be dead, or trapped in death.

Sabriel walks away from all she has known in thirteen years and goes to the Old Kingdom in search of her father.  Already, those who don't know her call her her father's title, Abhorsen, and that title means her father is assumed dead.

The problem is, she has no idea where he is.  In finding out how, she attracts the attention of a Mordicant, a free magic creature made of peat moss and flames with a Dead's spirit stuffed inside.  She has to make a mad run to find her father's house.  At her father's house, she meets Mogget, a white talking cat, who is most likely far more than just that.  Mogget travels with her in search of her father.  The Dead trail them at all times.  They come to believe a Greater Dead, Kerrigor, a powerful Dead creature who was also a free magic adept tracks them down, as he tries to free himself from Death once more.  All over, they find broken Charter stones--stones that hold the kingdom together with charter magic and keep the Dead down.  The corrupted, broken stones make it all the easier for the Dead to roam.

Along the way to Belisaere, which was the capital until twenty years ago--now overrun with Dead, and where Mogget and Sabriel guess her father's body is--Sabriel gets to discover a little more about Mogget, and discover Touchstone, a fool's name but he will give no other.  Touchstone last lived two hundred years ago.  He says he remembers little, but it is possible he remembers more, and is no more what he says than Mogget.

Eventually the small group makes it to the palace, but all does not go as planned.  The book takes a further magical twist as Sabriel and Touchstone must make it back to where Kerrigor has hidden his ace in the hole--his physical body.

Sabriel is one of those books I could just read over and over.  While it is aimed at a YA audience, it is meant for a mature audience in that Nix does not talk down to his customers and, more than that, perhaps, this book is a fantasy/horror fusion.  It would be hard for it to be much else.  The main character is either walking around in Death or fighting disgusting, scary dead creatures a fair percentage of the book.  Nix creates fear of the creatures, especially the Mordicant, dogging her trail, with an artful suspense.  The where, when you are reading, you keep looking over your shoulder.

Nix's world building is superb.  Ancelstierre feels more based on a version of human history.  However, the Old Kingdom is a complex work of art.  As one of the great puzzles of the book, which you must delight in either discovering or guessing, is how exactly the world works and why exactly everything has been going wrong the past two hundred years and the past twenty esp.  So I'm not going to tell you.  I will tell you that once you have learned all the secrets, the book falls together beautifully.  Rather than ending up with many convolutions in order to keep us guessing, every card that Nix lays eventually lines up into a stunning hand.

Characterwise--I actually rescinded my ban on talking cats because of sardonic, not quite to be trusted, sideways Mogget.

Sabriel was drawn well as a girl who has known more about Death than most of us ever will by the beginning of the book.  However, her father did not prepare her for who she truly was, or what it meant to be an Abhorsen in the Old Kingdom.  She shows bravery that is highlighted and made believable by her moments of terror, of wanting to run away from it all, from feeling she wasn't meant to cope with any of this, for her exhaustion and pain and putting up with wearing dirty, stinking armor.  Because of all these details, we understand her full courage as well as her fragility.

Touchstone is a man of secrets that weigh on him, even after all those dormant years.  However, he has a graceful curve from the servility to he treats Sabriel, the Abhorsen, when they first meet, to his expertise and skills breaking through to show confidence, to his and Sabriel's growing camraderie, to, of course, becoming the love interest.

Believe me.  I didn't just give anything away on that one.  From the moment he appears on the screen, you are nodding your head--okay.  Cue love interest.  Not that that is all the character is for.  Touchstone makes a great companion, someone Sabriel can actually talk to (Mogget can be a pain), someone who works beside her.  Then he gets love-interesty.  And here I feel Nix does fall down on the job.  I know it is YA, but I expect some sort of build in romance.  I expect catching the person out of the corner of the eye.  Wondering about him/her.  Knowing you're smiling too much or that the other person is.  One of my least favorite convenient writing phrases is, "it was if he was seeing her for the first time," or "he had never noticed before how . . . ."  Falling in love is a million microseconds of falling downhill.  You may not know or accept consciously what is going on, but you feel it.  It's cheap to use "He never noticed. . . " right at the end of the book because here is where it is convenient for you to stuff it in.  Also, after deciding he is in love, Touchstone's character does go downhill rather.  He's being soppy, protective, or grimly fighting.

Let's talk about that grimly fighting.  While the first half of the book wasn't hysterical laughter, it had its moments.  Towards the end, it is grim after grim.  It gets a little old.   There isn't even any gallows humor.

So finally, let's talk about the grim after grim effect.  Nix creates a crazy, terrifying, emotionally explosive end.  Only it isn't the end.  The book ends.  And then it goes into a frenzy of action and ends all over again.  And without near the emotional effect, I felt.  I realize what Nix was attempting to do, bringing some of the emotional impact full circle.  However, I felt he did an amazing job of this with the first ending, and that if he needed them (since there are sequels), some of the more important ending elements could be moved in as elements to the same ending.  It would change a little, sure.  But it would, I believe, hold together a little more thoroughly.

Either that--if you all think I am talking out of my ass--he needed to work on the pacing.  I got done with the first ending and I was done.  I was emotionally drained.  To me, the book was finished.  Then I had to keep reading.  I kept reading, but I never got my adreneline rush back.  The book had peaked for me.  I'd blown my wad.  I wasn't getting it back to feel very invested in the rest of the book.

Also, one of the stupidest last paragraphs ever.

Having gone through my nitpicks, though, this is still a book that I return to over and over.  Sabriel is well executed with some of the most vivid world building I've seen.  The characters, if occasionally wooden, are by the whole people I would love to hang out with.

If you are thinking of continuing with the series, my two cents:  Lireal is totally worth buying the book for that first section of creating a world and characters and Disreputable Dog, but skip anything that doesn't have to do with Lireal and consider just putting the book down after Lireal leaves the mountain.  Abhorsen:  I love you, Garth, but I still have to say to your readers, you'd be better off going back and reading Sabriel again.

Okay--I'm still waiting for someone to answer where the Sherman/Way Back Machine references come from.  A copy of Rebirth hangs in the balance.    

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fifth Quarter by Tanya Huff

Once more into the way back machine, Sherman!!  And yes, I'm still offering a free copy of Rebirth for whoever can tell me what I'm referencing.

Fifth Quarter by Tanya Huff

Summary:  I was going to write down the book blurb but it is stupid so you get my version instead.  The first thing you should know is that this is the second in a series.  The end is definitely a set up for No Quarter, but the first book need not be read in order to read this one.  I thought about starting with Sing the Four Quarters, which was a good enough book on the caliber of take it on vacation and read it when the day is rainy.  A good enough book so that I thought, eh.  I'll get the sequel.  The sequel blew the first book out of the water.  Besides the fact that having just read a series religiously, and I don't feel like doing that again, I am focusing on Fifth Quarter and perhaps No Quarter  because especially Fifth Quarter is what makes Tanya Huff so very Tanya Huff.  More importantly, Fifth Quarter is a beautiful fusion fantasy book of fantasy and horror with Huff's trademark complications in romance and attraction.  However, even though I believe you can skip the first book, I'll give a few pointers you learn in the first book.

In Shkoder, Bards hold powerful positions, either stationed or wandering.  They sing the kigh--approximately the souls or the spirits--of the four quarters, or elements.  When doing so they can ask the kigh to perform certain ways--rising up or settling down.  While they live by a strict code, they may also sing to perform tasks like becoming invisible or compelling truth.  Magic, yes.  Good at math, no, as when they discover that humans have kigh--a soul or spirit--that they may be able to learn to sing to--they call this the "fifth quarter."  In Sing the Four Quarters, the fifth quarter is theory, and not much discussed.

Now, Fifth Quarter, as the title suggests, is all about the fifth quarter.  Vree, 21, and Bannon, 20, are sister and brother born and raised in the Havalkeen Imperial Army.  Vree has always cared for Bannon.  When their soldier mother died when she was seven, it was her job to tell Bannon.  As orphans, they had the chance to become assassins--the best of the best.  They become the best of the best assassins, trained as a team.  Two bodies, one single purpose, they work in a complicated couples choreography for each kill.  Once back in the army camp, Vree's life still revolves around Bannon in every possible way.  Including eroticism.  Bannon, however, a charismatic golden boy, lives his life surrounded by people and revolving around himsef.

On a mission only they could pull off, Vree catches up to Bannon to discover someone has stolen Bannon's body, and the only way to save his life is to take his kigh into her body.  Not just a body swapping book, but a body double.  Desperate to get Bannon's body back, they desert--a death sentence for an assassin.  What they find is Gyhard in Bannon, a man whose kigh has been around the block plenty of times in plenty of bodies.  They strike a deal.  Vree, with her assassin abilities, will help Gyhard into an Imperial Prince the assassins have sworn to protect.  Only the siblings plan on forcing Gyhard out before they have to turn to treason and Gyhard plans on having them killed once he can make it so.

Before the trio/duo make it to the prince, the real villain of the piece shows and steals the prince.  Khars is rather sweet, and kind, ancient.  If only in his insanity didn't choose his friends by raising the dead--Singing the Fifth to force a dead body's kigh back inside.  He cares for his rotting, impaired children with gentleness and sorrow.  Then he sees the prince.  By those deep lashed, dark eyes, Khars knows he has finally found what he has been looking for--his heart.  Now Gyhard knew Khars a few bodies back, and is torn up to find him alive and still torturing souls back into bodies.  Gyhard needs to stop Khars.  Vree and Bannon both follow Bannon's body and need to save the prince.

The characters are well drawn.  Bannon and Vree, at the beginning of the book, only have each other--especially Vree.  A study of their relationship if rife with nuance even before he ends up in her head and the distinction between the two begins to shred and blend.  I'm wracking my brain, but I can't remember anyone take on incestuous feelings and reliances between equal siblings in Huff's honest way.  Being Tanya Huff, yeah.  That's sticky sweet hot with a twist up against a wall.

 Gyhard and Vree's growing warmth relies on the fact neither one of them has had someone to be truly open with their entire lives(ssss).  Meeting in raw honesty produces a heady attraction.  I've said that I hate I-hate-you-so-I-love-you-so-I-hate-you relationships, but that isn't the way Vree and Gyhard are relating.  Both of them want something.  The something will cause the other's death.  They are both business people on the concept of death.  As they travel together, get to talk to each other like they haven't to anyone, and slowly merge to a goal, their affection, though awkward, feels natural.

One thing I absolutely love about Huff and it is in this series more than any other:  her honest and absent use of same sex relationships.  There is no stigma attached, and many appear to move back and forth between the sexes based on the individual relationship.  The fact that it is such a NON issue makes it a) not feel like she's cramming an issue down our throats while b) being able to cram an issue down our throats.  And I applaud her on this one.

Her army is also lovely in it's non sexist status.  If she writes "the corporal", don't assume any gender until she writes the pronoun to go with it because that corporal is just as likely to be female as male.

The book could be honestly called a nonlinear.  And we do know how much I love a nonlinear.  She moves into sections of her characters' pasts not in past perfect or swimmy flashbacks and italics, but by ending a scene, and starting the next scene (she has really short scenes) in the past.  The following scene will most likely be in someone's present, but not always.

A book in which two people in one body think to each other, especially as they slowly become more aware of each other's thoughts and dreams and emotions, able to take over movement of the body from each other till their selves shred--it is not an easy thing to do.  She uses *thought* for when they are purposefully thinking to each other.  Italics when Vree is just thinking to herself.  It is quite clean and easy to follow, even as they descend into being each other.

I will complain that I felt her third omniscient view on top of all the thought dancing got awkward.  I'm never a fan of jumping pov mid scene, and she jumped it all over the place.  As much as I was engrossed in the material, I found this distracting and it sometimes pulled me out of the story.  Especially in a story where within one character the pov may be switching, I felt as if I really didn't need any more switching around per scene.

I also accuse her of having a desperate "seems" problem.  She uses the damn dumb word in what feels like every sentence.  I will note I am nitpicking here, however, as I have read other books with as big seems problems and never mentioned it because I had way bigger things to talk about.

I did like the army.  And I never say that.  Armies bore me.  I've never met an assassin that felt remotely realistic.  Until now.  I liked the highlights of how Vree and Bannon worked.  I loved the detail they immediately knew.  I liked the images of the army as a family to Vree and Bannon--all they had ever known.  A great creature that their tiny selves made up a part of.

Now for the horror:  Khars.  He was meant to be a bard.  He was tortured.  His slim hold on reality slipped at some point and now death is his best friend.  His zombies didn't lurch around with their arms out.  Their brains appear intact.  They knew they were dead.  They could speak until their mouths or tongues rotted.  I had to appreciate that.  Not just the walking dead, but the way they slowly rotted around him--the woman holding her desiccated baby.  The leg that snaps when the foot has worn away.  Finally the guts rupture.  This stuff is grotesque but made creepy because Khars truly loves his little family, and he descends the prince to near madness.

The horror and the fantasy blend seamlessly.  They are both born out of the same basic concept which drives the entire book:  the fifth quarter.  The book has an apt name and a guiding concept which both allows her characters to be directed exactly where they need to go without breaking character, and gives the book a cohesive drive.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Book Trailers

How do we feel about book trailers?

Sure, movies have been borrowing from books almost since movies began.  Books borrowing from movies?  Not unless it is a lame novelization.  More specifically:  trailers?  The book world has long relied on good cover art (though publishers have weird ideas on "good" sometimes) and the back of the book blurb.  Maybe some quotes by cool authors who endorse the book.  We relied on the bookstore.  You wandered through the isles.  Maybe pick up a book based on cover or name familiarity here or there.  You read the back blurb.  If it holds any appeal, you flip open to a few random pages not only to get a real sense of this authors' style and whether you mesh with the story, but also:  the smell.  You smell the wood pulpy, acidized and ink smell.

But here's the problem.  You can't smell a book found on an internet site.  Kindles don't smell either.  Bookstores are dying.  Even the really amazing hole in the wall used bookstores where you find things not even in print anymore.  And the whole world smells of dust and books.

So a new industry is born:  book trailers.  The problem is we are still media people.  We aren't book trailer people.  My friend Reeb (yes, he was named that at birth) cuts trailers in L.A.  He went to film school and was always at least a head and probably a whole body above his peers.  But it took him a while to get used to trailers.

Trailers are their own beasts.  Still shots and voice overs don't cut it.  Maybe you are using motion, actors, a film camera and lighting.  That still doesn't mean you know how to make a trailer.  Trailers are dada post modern nuggets.  Watch movie trailers.  It's quick, flashy cuts and random lines that are oh-so-quotable.  Does it really tell you what the movie is about?  No.  It just has to get your interest.  It may be even employing scenes that hit the cutting room floor long before--that you will never see.  Trailer editors watch one movie, over and over and over till they have the damn thing permanently ingrained in their brains.  They look for that one moment they can use to get your attention.  That split second cut you won't even notice go by.  The name of the game is to get your attention, because they have a minute or so on a commercial break to do it if they are lucky.

The book world needs to study this art intensively.  Watch successful trailers from the movie world over and over.  Read the book over and over and over looking for those exact spots and lines to use.  Or deviate completely and have something not happening in the book happen.  It's a joyous, boundless, near nonsensical art and we need to study it to know how to adapt it.  Books force a certain linear sense.  Even the nonlinear novel generally is read by paging forward.  A trailer isn't looking for a linear, nugget of a story.  You are not reinventing your query letter on film.

If we are going to learn this art--because at the moment I think we are mostly sucking--we have to learn movie trailers, and then we have to learn what we can take from them and what we need to adapt.  We definitely need to have some more fun with the damn things.

The one I'm working on will probably be a little longer than a standard movie trailer.  I feel I have the room as I will be working off the net and not being crammed between things on TV or before a movie.  Still, I'm keeping it short.  My next book out is Shining in Darkness--the first high fantasy I'm putting out, though of course people are still sarcastic and petty.  Sprites, the size of humans, each focus one particular facet of the One--everything.  Firelight, the main character, for instance, is a white hot burning fire sprite and is made of flames.  A Prophecy is involved.  Half Gods fight.  Rollicking fun.

However, I have chosen to do the movie trailer with stop motion animation of My Little Pony gore.

There is a reason for the My Little Ponies.  Mysterious to all but a few who know me well.  Someday I may reveal it.  Or maybe you can guess.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Alleluia Files by Sharon Shinn

That's right, Sherman, once more into the way back machine.  Though not so way back, as this is the final published book in Shinn's original angel trilogy.

This book is where I began.  Not with Archangel, where I should have and is an archived review.  Not with Jovah's Angel, which I never had read until I decided to study this series.  Reading Alleluia Files, I fell in love with Samaria, angels who can be petty and cruel as much as holy and godly, where Jacobites were a cult that believed the god Jovah was a spaceship, and there was no God.

I don't feel bad about that, because in my writer's heart and mind, this is where I believe Shinn began as well.  Books are funny things.  They don't come to writers whole.  For me, a character usually forms in my head, and I wander around with this person in my head as slowly the world coalesces around him or her.  Some writers start with a world or a plot.  Only Shinn could tell you where she began.  Maybe she began with Tamar, a fierce, defiant rebel with a price on her head--willing to die for her cause, but belately noticing the quiet help she has been given all along her journey.  Maybe once Tamar formed, Shinn found Samaria, where angels ruled--ultimately the archangel and the religious guidance of their God, ultimately a very sophisticated spaceship that Tamar and her fellow Jacobites wanted to uncover for the truth.  Was it then that Jared, the lazy, drifting angel came into Tamar's life as her staunch supporter--of her, for her love, not for her mission?  Or did he come before the world--the plot?  It could have been that Lucinda, a naive and sheltered angel, usually underestimated.  Tamar's diametrically opposed twin, down to the fact Lucinda had wings?  Did Lucinda or Tamar open the door to the land of Ysral, where the Edori and engineers had retreated to and the Jacobites sought shelter?  Was Bael, the murderous Archangel in there before all of this, or only when Shinn finally added her villain to this tale? Maybe the stark and brilliant climax bringing her cast together was the first moment in her mind.

We're 100 years away from Alleluia and Jovah's Angel.  We're 250 years away from Gabriel being Archangel.  They are still with us as references to history, bloodlines and of course, Alleluia's famous files that the Jacobites believe will shed the final light on the mechanical nature of God.  Whereas technology was only seen as Godly or the first settlers bequeaths in Archangel, and a slow process of advances and mistakes in Jovah's Angel, Caleb, that engineer above all with a little not so holy help created a school to jump technology into fast forward since we've last seen, though Bael now suppresses it.  The story consists of an delicately interwoven plot of Tamar, Jared, and Lucinda's overlapping voices telling us overlapping events.

Of course Tamar and Jared's Kisses, technological or God created implants, riot with color when they are near, as all true lovers (or genetically matched people) should.  Interestingly, Lucinda and Tamar's worlds also begin to overlap--in dream and in music and sensation when Tamar has her Kiss implanted.  Tamar has lead a bleak and bloody life, held together by absolute belief, and I loved her for it.  I loved her for finally realizing her life hasn't been as independent as she thinks.  Oddly, she does make a good match for the aimless Jared.  His ability to allow a more kind, gentle world, and more--his frustrating and inscrutable to Tamar's angel negative world to a) want to know the truth as well and mostly b) his relentless quest to keep her safe whether she likes it or not--give Tamar a chance to open up all those sides of her life she has never let herself have.  She ridicules him once for having not having a cause he is willing to die for, but she gives him one--her.

At this point I have to stop and say in some ways I believe Jared more than Tamar, though given her life her world view is completely understandable.  I believe an alive proponent, though slightly quieter, is way more useful than a martyr.  To me, even Ghandi and Jesus did their best work when they were alive.  However, I stand by Jared's answer.  There are a number of people in my life I wouldn't think twice about dying for.

Also, I notice Shinn plays a bit of a fast one with traditional female literature by conking Tamar hard on the head so that Jared nursing her through a concussion can help her come around to him.  In feminist lit crit., it has been noted that early female writers had and still have sometimes, a tendency to wound their male lead to put the female character on equal footing.  Think of poor Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre.  Shinn has reversed this.  The only way she could think of for Tamar to learn to quit fighting was to take the ability away from her for a while.  It's a fascinating inverse, and though I want to be snide for her use of this old method, I have to say the Tamar she created may have needed to be conked on the head, however much I wish she and Jared could have opened up to each other some other way.

I haven't spoken yet much about Lucinda, spirited away to an island in the middle of the ocean by her aunt to protect her from Bael.  Her mix of innocence and strong headed intelligence is great fun, and it isn't hard to see how she will fit into the plot--especially when she takes an Edori lover--but for most of the book I became frustrated with her for all I loved her as she interrupted my Tamar and Jared story.  She also, even as she was lovingly crafted, stood out a bit as a plot device.  From the moment she entered, you pretty much knew where she was going.

Again, I love the overlapping style of voices.  That takes a lot of skill and craft to create without it becoming jarring or annoying.  It also gives a chance to see into each characters head and helps us understand why and where and whatfor of their lives.  Occasionally I felt she spent a little too much time overlapping, especially on Tamar and Jared's meetings and odd series of near misses.  She tended to repeat a little too much information at times that we'd already gotten from another pov.  It meant we ended up discovering the same facts and having the same conversations multiple times.  It could get a little trying.  But better too much than too little in this situation.

This book did contain more politics than the other two, and the other two contained politics, so this is just the more so.  Some people love political intrigues and sparring.  It bores me sick.  But that's just me.  I'd rather get back to Lucinda learning her history or Jared and Tamar's evolving bond.

The climax of the book was spectacular.  Tight gut and fingers gripping the book so hard it could have ripped, only to come to a brilliant, cohesive, stunning end.

Unfortunately the book did not end there.  I admit, an epilogue was due.  She needed a celebratory dinner where a few things were explained, the what-do-we-do-nexts somewhat sketched in as she could not resolve all of them.  One final place for some of the characters to come to a reckoning on their relationships, but that all could have taken one, maybe two scenes.  She spent a lot longer on nailing down little logistics when some planning over a bottle of wine and a well-we-have-to-wait-and-see would have worked.

Now on to looking at the arc of the three books.  As I said, I read this one first, and was so thrilled I went back to Archangel.  Not so thrilled.  Nothing wrong with the book per se.  It just left me feeling like, really?  Are we really going to do this each time?  Flawed angel learns valuable life lessons from scrappy, oppressed girl--whose Kisses, by the way, flare like crazy?  The answer is pretty much yes.  Caleb in Jovah's Angel was male, but had his own bitterness about God.  And still taught Alleluia valuable life lessons.  Despite the fact the writing was great and I liked the characters (except in Archangel), I felt a little Hallmark.  Is this all Jovah does?  Find some flawed angel and stick the perfect solution to them?  I thought he worked on genes.

  Which brings me to my other doubt.  That crazy Jovah, apparently on genes alone, can tell a hell of a lot about a person.  Many things which I don't believe it can.  My psych degree leaned my heavily to a nature and nurture combination.  Ones environment can literally rewire the way your brain works.  Genes may supposedly tell far more than we can currently extract from them, but they can not tell how this person's life will unfold.  I'm willing to believe magic or a holy touch can stay apprised of these things, as they are completely uncharted territory that you get to make up in fantasy.  But I don't believe genes map out everything in your life.  I know.  Even the little we know of genes, I have seen people with supposed genetic codes overcome or succumb to them.

I know I've complained about it before but I'll do it again.  I'll buy the angels, being a different kind of being and generally the same sort of growing up have certain similarities, but these other races are driving me nuts.  Luminaux is always beautiful and good, as are the people there.  The whole world changes, remembers itself, forgets itself--Luminaux won't budge.  It's a city but I've never heard of a slum.

My main gripe--what is up with those Jansai and Edori?  The Jansai go from slavers, to owners of disgusting factories that utilize children, back to marauding, murdering mercenaries.  They are also described as the gypsies, so I keep picturing them Middle Eastern or East European.  Anyway, can these people do anything right?  I'll put up with it that they might be bad for a century or so, or that they were unrelentingly bad at the same thing.  But whatever sucks lands on the Jansai heads.  Give me one, just one Jansai who lowers his sword and walks away from killing a Jacobite.  Just one that left the Jansai murdering business because he wanted to play the flute in Lumanazi.

The Edori are just as bad.  The darkest race, the race with different religious beliefs (slightly), the constantly persecuted race--finally you do see a few get angry, but they keep on getting described as the most happy, complacent, laid back big families in the world.  Why don't you stick a watermelon in their mouths and have them tap dance with Shirley Temple and just call the thing done?  Except they were put on reservations, too.  So I suppose small pox blankets are in order.

Plus, I really can't figure it out.  Obviously there are generations between, and generations of Archangels that we do hear about that this isn't true of, but is the mate of the Archangel EVER not Edori?  By this time Edori angels must be wandering around.  Are these angelicas and angelico absolutely so ineffective that they could not get any laws passed to improve the state of their people?  Gabriel and Delilah are lauded as visionary Archangels.  Yes, Gabriel got rid of slavery, but he was going to do that anyway.  He couldn't be strong armed by Rachel to do more?

The world building that I so lauded as fantastic gets a little messy as the series goes on.

At the end of every book, as we get closer to the truth, someone always talks about how they believe in some god, even if they don't know what.  I admire it in that it sets forth a faith that goes beyond everything they have been taught.  In fact, learning lessons in different types of faith of one kind or another really form the theme of the books.  This I greatly admire.  A solid arc of theme.  That is a rare and beautiful thing these days in a book, much less a trilogy.  I do feel as if she didn't quite trust us to get it.  It is hammered home each time when all we needed was a slight push.

Alleluia Files remains my favorite, though I have grown quite fond of Jovah's Angel.  Archangel still leaves me a bit cold, but that is my own private annoyance with the main characters.  Some of Shinn's repeating motifs in the dynamics of relationships I cannot help but feel is carefully crafted.  I admire the symmetry between the novels, even if I occasionally get annoyed by her echos.  She successfully completes not only an arc in each novel, but an arc across the trilogy.

Shinn's work truly belongs in it's own class.  While a steady revelation of science fiction elements occurs, the book is built on a strong foundation of fantasy archetypes and tropes.  She is a fantasy fusion artist.

By the way, anyone who can tell me what Sherman and the way back machine reference, I'll give you a copy of Rebirth, my second book.

Monday, November 7, 2011

"seems" is not all it seems

"She seemed to begin to see as she started to blink."

Okay.  Overkill, but let's once again talk about no-nothing words.  "Seems" may look like a great word on the surface, but basically it can get in the way of that strong, punchy verb you want to highlight in your sentence.  That strong sentence is there.  You are just allowing it to be muffled by phrases like "seems" "begin to" and "start to".

Let's look at "seems" first.  And this goes for all you academics, too.  Any time you touch a finger to a keyboard, you should consider what it seems to be.  Or better, what it is or isn't or shades into gray.

First of all, you are always writing in someone's point of view.  That means that you are working with their impressions.  Whether or not there is a dragon down the street, your character will think, "Ack!  Dragon!"  That is your character's perception.  If your character isn't sure, you can still keep your strong language:  Ack!  Dragon!  She squinted.  Maybe that lumbering shape was just a wagon, and her last encounter had left her paranoid.  You keep your strong sentences, and you learn more about the character, and you still don't know if that's really a freaking dragon down the street.  "Seems" weakens your character's perceptions, and limits, in general, what you do with them.  It also tends to pull the reader out of your character's head.  Your character will have specific reactions.  "Seems" can sound as if the author is being coy--oh is or is not my character perceiving this?  Of course, that wasn't the intent, but it could be the effect, and you never want the author in there.  It's all about the character.  Even in academic writing, you are presenting a certain face to your audience and you want them to stay hooked in to that voice and that knowledge.

Let's go back to that first sentence.  "She blinked crusty eyes.  The waves of gray that had been with her all her life broke into a clean, golden vein of light.  Then tears came to her eyes to blind her even as the gray finally slipped away."  This is assuming blind chick is the pov.  Of the blind chick wasn't the pov:  "The blind beggar winced from my touch.  But then she scrubbed her eyes. Tears coursing down her cheeks, she reached up to the light."

Obviously, I took up more space.  But in writing, God is in the details, not the devil.

So going back to our original statement "She seemed to begin to see as she started to blink." let's talk about "begin to" or "started to".  My main question is, well did the person do it, or not?  "He started to shout"  Well, if he is shouting, then obviously he started at some point.  So why clutter your sentence and bury your active verb "shout".  The writing is strong, but you've unnecessarily cluttered it.

But, you stay, he just started to start when James whacked him on the head with a cudgel, so he didn't really get to shout.  Why let your reader's know this ahead of time.  It's battle!  He's shouting!  Don't give them a preview of the fact he doesn't get to finish.  That just lets your readers grow complacent that you will give them a heads up before Ronald gets hurt.  It may even bore them.  And it slows down that tight, vivid style you have--in battle or out.

Instead, let the reader be as shocked as Ronald is to get cudgeled.  He shouted, but before the rumble could reach his lips, a crack of pain drove him to the earth.  Or, if we are in Jame's point of view.  A sharp shout emerged from Ronald's lips, but with one swift blow, James silenced him.  Same effect.  Ronald barely gets to shout.  But you get that immediacy that he is doing, not trying or starting, or beginning.  The sound hits his lips, and he, and James, and the reader, and maybe even you don't know that the shout is only a beginning, and will be silenced until James brings down that cudgel.

I give one place where all these phrases can be used:  Dialogue.  Why?  In dialogue we really do hedge our bets like this.  Especially if your character either trusts nothing, or isn't very confident, or a number of other reasons you built into a character, your character may use these phrases.  But know why they use them.

Don't let little things like "began to" or "started to" or "tried to" or especially "seems" clutter your writing.  You are couching your writing with little words that make it safer.  You don't need that.  Your words are strong.  You are strong.  Trust your readers to get that powerful writing.  Trust yourself.    

Friday, November 4, 2011

Review of Rebirth

Rebirth has been reviewed.  I'm really happy with it.  The url is following.  Mine is actually the second review from the top at this point.  Comment, people.  Make me feel loved.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I Am Nerd: Nerd Evolution

For anyone who was alive before the nineties, you know that dirtiest of all dirty words to be hurled on the playground, or later at lunch:  NERD!  Unlike the usual four letter words, this could kill your social life and status in a moment.  You were doomed to a world of broken glasses, no social skills, acne, and perhaps getting the shit beat out of you.

I stood at an odd status.  Over the years, the popular kids with their permed hair, blue eyeliner, and fake braces would edge up on me and my friends with singular purpose:  "You guys are such NERDS!"  But then, the killer:  "Not you Betsy."  So I stood on the precipice of acceptance.  All I had to do was turn my back on my shamed friends and join the heckling.  So I stood straight in my answer:  "No.  I'm a nerd, too."

I was.  I am.  I started playing Dungeons & Dragons when I was six.  I read fantasy.  I got good grades.  I had glasses.  I had my own sense of fashion and it screamed sixties, not eighties.

The thing is, I was myself.  I didn't give a damn.  I was scary enough that no one ever tried to beat me up (though I sort of wanted someone to try).  Most of all, I had eloquence on my side.  I was anything but awkward while speaking, because if my parents taught me anything, they taught me how to speak.  I could launch into a nasty word fight and cut anyone down to size if they messed with my nerd friends.

In short, I became nerd chic.

Nerd chic burst onto the scene in the nineties.  Part of it was the bizarre grunge sensibilities that suddenly claimed how I dressed was cool, and they could talk to me about the Beatles and Frank Zappa like they knew shit about it.  Part of it was the lunge in technology.  It became harder and harder to not admit computers, hackers, the internet, iPods, smart phones were making knowing about tech cool.

At this point I believe the geeks split from the nerds.  We used to interchange, but eventually it became obvious geeks knew how to supe up an IBM.  Nerds used Apples and had all the right comic books.

At this point, a frightening thing happened.  It became hard to tell who the real nerds and geeks were.  When the popular kids who went out for sports and used to spit on you suddenly think you are cool and want to talk about Sandman with you, you get a little leery.  Sure, you might want to bask in your new fame.

But more importantly, you bled to be a nerd.  You were ridiculed.  You had to verbally spar with every idiot at the bus stop.  I fought hard for who I was.  I dug out my father's records.  I wore my dead grandmother's jewelry.  I went to Ann Arbor to shop--where the sixties never die and the stores are all the size of an armpit and smell about the same.  I wore patchouli and sandalwood when kids actually thought I smelled of pot, they were so ignorant.

Now these Nirvana wannabes just wanted to horn in on my world?  Bullshit.  Grunge and all these faux nerds were still the sheep they used to be.

So I belonged nowhere.  In college I made the momentous decision to put away childish things.  All that was left of my nerd personality were my reading habits and the fantasy novel I was currently stuck on.  I became other things.  For a while I was a pothead.  But mostly I just faded away.  I went to grad school. Twice.  And got ridiculed for writing fantasy novels (mostly by those MFA elitists), though at that point I wrote memoir.

I cracked during my thesis.  I had chosen depressing life material, of course, and was struggling through reliving my own hells through each draft.  So I was putting off writing, meandering through my computer, when I clicked on my second novel.  About three in the morning, I stopped reading to go to bed.

But the fact sat there before me.  An expectant, big fat cat stared at me.  It may have grinned, but it certainly didn't go away.  That cat just stared at me, and grinned the whole time I worked on my thesis.  Because that cat knew what I knew, but wouldn't admit.

The day I turned in my thesis, I printed out that second novel, Sheep that Stray.  All the magic filled me again as I edited.

I love that magic.  I write fantasy.  I read fantasy.  I can quote Star Wars (the real ones) and The Princess Bride.  Hell, if I found a good group of people, I'd probably play role playing games.

But I still own a Mac.

So I'm a nerd, loud and proud.  However, I have fashion sense (not the sixties anymore.  Well.  Mostly), and social skills, and a sexy laugh rather than a guffaw

So I'm Nerd Chic:  Sexy, Sarcastic, Creative,  and able to spin a four sided die.

Plus, able to draw blood--verbal or literal--if you hurt my friends or act like you can be a nerd-come-lately.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Jovah's Angels by Sharon Shinn, & more character

Getting the character out of the way quickly for once, for those of you who can't get enough about character driving a book, hit the link to my article at Mythic Scribes:

So we're jumping back into the wayback machine for a lovely ride to our dear friend Sharon and her rascally angels and mortals in that sci fi/fantasy fusion blend novel Jovah's Angel.  We left Sameria as Semaria about 150 years ago.  We've had hints like computer screens meshed up with these song obsessed angels to belt it aloft to pray to Jovah for anything from weather help to medicines.  Flash forward and Jovah isn't listening to the angels.  Rains, storms, and tornados ravage the countryside.  Crops fail.  Mortals get rebellious.  Industry has started.  Hydroelectric damns and steam grimy and grim factories.  As usual, everyone is mean to the Edori and I think they might stop smiling about it a couple of times, even.

The incandescent, brass and brilliant young Archangel Deliah flies into a storm, which bats her like a cat toy.  She ends up with a dead angelico (her Jovah appointed, pitch perfect, and politically important husband), who she was carrying, and a busted wing that can't be healed so that she flies.  Poor Alleluia, who didn't grow up among the angels, who is quiet and hates public singing, is named the next Archangel by the interface (*cough*computer*cough*) to her horror and everyone's confusion.  Alleluia has months to go before the Gloria, no angelico and a cryptic answer from the *cough*computer*cough about who, she's terrified of politics--the only thing she has going for her is that the torrential reigns still calm at her voice whereas other angels fail.  Then the ancient, ancient technology of the music rooms (room with nice CD system) breaks.

That leads Alleluia to Caleb, who is an engineer in Luminex.  We've been following Caleb, his fellow inventor and friend Noah, an Edori and the re-emergence of a sultry and self destructive Delilah, now singing at a club for a while, but finally Alleluia meets Caleb, Kisses start flaring (telling your true love) and it is a race to not just save the world, but help each other save our hearts, minds, and souls.

I'll give a flip flop on Jovah's Angel from Archangel.  The intricate, brilliant world building in the first book got sloppy.  She stumbles, pushing current mortal technology to cause what she wanted, mostly for what to be some rather strained social commentary.  Caleb being an engineer, and therefore the world having made some technical advances are vital.  For her movement through time and her constant play between magic and fantasy versus science, I can tell she's trying to work these into her whole arc, but it is getting a little awkward.  Plus, she is either being purposefully manipulative, or she needs to read some anthropology and sociology about what happens when the Industrial Revolution revs into things like factories.

In Archangel, her delicate twists of science fiction were exciting, especially as you looked forward to the unveiling.  They were so magnificently set into an unknowing culture with a magical tinge to them.  In Jovah's Angel, the sci fi is handled with the clumsiness of a novice juggler who, in the end, drops all her balls into near on cliché.  The end involves a near excruciating section of learning more about their world in a nails on chalkboard passive way--especially since she had so beautifully hinted at all this so we knew it anyway, with a passive Alleluia as our vehicle.  The only subject which is a bit of an eyebrow raiser involves nature versus nurture, and her book comes way too far on nature for my need for a good "and" instead of "vs".  Angels, magic singing, oracles, I wouldn't and don't blink at.  Specific supposed uses of geneologies?  You have to be shitting me.  She's obviously far more comfortable in the fantasy world, and as geeked as I was to see how everything meshed, I'm now a little sad it did.  It was like great flirtation followed by mediocre sex.

But, like I said, in my topsy turvy, although the world building was much more solid in Archangel, I had way more fun with Jovah's Angel.  Why?  I liked the characters.  Alleluia, bookish and struggling to get away from this dubious honor of chosen second and late, still blossoms--coming into her own in political situations though she never had the years to train for.  She is intelligent, quick witted, and though not much of what one thinks of as far as an Archangel, she has her own, quiet charisma and easy humor.  For all in the end she clings a little too near and dear to her old rules, up until that point she's had no problem in quietly not just thinking and working outside the box, but most likely folding the box up for recycling.  Delilah is well painted, but her sarcasm and purposeful destruction now that she cannot fly, or be any angel, much less Archangel, but I felt it coming, and wish I had felt it leaving far before I did.  Caleb is amusing, inquisitive, and not only thinks out of the box, but uses it as materials for one of his experiments, but the moment you read his name, you know exactly where he is going, from beginning to end of story.  Noah, being Edori, is of course cheerful and unflappable, but, thank God, gets himself into an unlikely relationship and actually spends some of the novel angry and miserable.  Whew.

Part of the change is simpler:  I like these people.  They don't annoy me.  However, I feel as though she has gotten her character writing stretches done and is getting more fluid and apt as well.

Plot?  Again, I'll say I'm a character girl.  Most of the time, as long the character arcs and characters make  me happy, I don't care that much.  This time I was annoyed because the plot problems involved the characters.  I felt like Sharon Shinn felt like her characters, and me with them, needed to be played like a trout:  let it run and then reel it in, over and over.  We all knew where this book was going.  The characters, despite they were quite smart and had initiative, had to keep playing stupid and taking the old two steps backwards and one forwards until the very end when everyone was doing three legged races at a county fair--falling over themselves and each other to get to the end.  She crammed a lot into, and underdeveloped the last *cough*stunning*cough* section, while the first three quarters didn't need nearly as much time spent--some time, yes--but not SO much time spent there.  I feel as if the last section would have been a little more graceful and not fallen quite so to telling instead of showing if she had just moved it up in her plot.

At the end of the day, I wonder if part of the problem is middle book syndrome.  The author knows where they want to start.  Knows where they want to end.  But it's supposed to be a trilogy and she has to have a book happen in there.  I feel as if the somewhat uneven problems with the technology and science fiction, the awkward hokey pokey of a plot in this book represent a push towards the story she really wants to tell to bring these books to the culmination.

Probably the other two or more well crafted books.  And I realize I stated some annoyances with this book, but you know what?  I'm still a character girl, so my heart is sticking here for now.    

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Adverbs and tags--oh my!!

Yeah, yeah.  Three is the tradition, but these are the two concepts I wanted to focus on today.  Because they in general, suck.

Tag:  Those short phrases at the end of dialogue that tell you who is speaking:

"Oh no," she said.

Adverbs:  adverbs modify adjectives, verbs, and verb phrases.  They are those words that end in "ly" a lot:

"Oh no!" She clearly said excitedly.

Now, genre fiction generally plays fast and loose with both tags and adverbs.  We see them a lot.  And everyone uses them occasionally.  So why am I bitching?  I went to an MFA program.  Until I did, I had no idea I ought to be turning my nose up at adverbs and tags.  Or the real horror, tags with adverbs.  Okay, part of it is sheer MFA snobbery.  But actually, they have a really good point.

Tags and adverbs are lazy.  More than that, they really don't mean anything.

Let's take tags first.  The entire point of a tag is to tell you who is speaking.  That's all it does.  If it is obvious by contact who is speaking--two people in an empty room shouting at each other.

If Jane throws up her arms.  "I hate you!"
"You're no peach."  Amy slammed her hands to her hips.
"You suck!"
"It's not my fault Chris wants me."
"It's not either of our faults you are a skeezy ho."

See?  Absolutely no tags.  I gave you a description of the person when their voice entered, and then the alternating sequence of dialogue meant I didn't have to identify who was who at all.  Although you might find yourself wanting a little more emotion or description than plain dialogue, at times it is great for fast paced conversation.  You see the other thing I did.  Rather than using, "Jane shouted," or "Amy screamed," I gave you a visual of their anger and frustration with each other.  Jane throws up her arms.  What does that mean to you?  Frustration?  Anger? both?  Amy slams her hands to her hips in return.  She isn't backing down.  Maybe she's a little sassy.  You can put actual character building into identifying who is speaking.  This is effective no matter how many people you have in a scene.  We know someone spoke.  The quote marks are there.  So why not use the who to further the scene as well?

Which brings us to adverbs sucking.  The adverb is the lazy way of getting out of doing personality detailed descriptions of what these people look like, sound like, and any other sense you can think of, including the sixth.  Writing with adverbs, you rob yourself of clear communication to your reader of who these people are and what they are doing.  Reading adverbs, you are being robbed of the writer's vision.  You may stick yours in in its place, but you are losing beautiful nuances the writer could have given you to deepen the reading experience.  Finally, it confuses point of view and distances your character from your reader.

Let's take two simple lines:

“Why?  Lucy cried.  “Why do you care?”
“Because I love you!”  Evan said angrily.

Okay.  Lucy cried.  Is that a defiant shout, or is she on the ground with tears streaming down her face in utter defeat.  We have no idea.

Evan said angrily.  All right.  Angry.  How does this guy get angry?  If I pick any two people I know and picture them angry, I get a very different picture due to their personalities.  Is he screaming at her?  Is his voice a cold, quiet, cut.  Who is he angry at and why?  Which brings us to the point of view problem.  If I have been troddling along firmly in Lucy's head--her thoughts, her concepts, her imagination and emotion--well--when "Evan said angrily" comes up there is a dysjunct.  Is that her perception of him?  That he is angry?  Why does she think so?  What markers does he give?  She could even be wrong.  We don't get any of that from "angrily".  Worse, we might end up in Evan's head in a sudden jolt as we assume this is not her perception of his anger, but actual factual and we are supposed to be feeling his emotions.  And now we're all split in half and confused and tend to not emotionally bond to either character quite so much.  

Here.  We'll look at two different versions of that same exchange.  So what we had was:

“Why?  Lucy cried.  “Why do you care?”
“Because I love you!”  Evan said angrily.

Let's look at how we can expand this with example number one:

“Why?”  Lucy's words flew from her mouth as quizzical as owls, but with talons to gouge him to match.  “Why do you care?”

“Because I love you!”  Evan's shout resounded in the empty space inside her, but he already looked away.

Let's try this again, just to see how we can get a different effect from the same, vague, original lines.

“Why?  Lucy cried.  “Why do you care?”
“Because I love you!”  Evan said angrily.

“Why?”  Tears raged stinging tear beds down Lucy's face.  She had to hack through snot to ask him what she could not stop asking herself.  “Why do you care?”

“Because,” Evan's voice fell on her as tentative as the first snow.  He held her with his dark brown eyes, even as every muscle in his body tensed and contorted at her words.  “I love you.” 

Difference.  It's a fun project.  I just made these lines up, but if you open a book and start replacing the tags and adverbs, it can be an amusing writing exercise.

For those of you who love books that have adverbs--don't throw the baby out with the bath water.  I know a lot of great books that are adverb and tag heavy.  Much like the writing exercise, I'll argue a fun mind game is to slow down and think about what you have imagined into the space of those empty words.  You'll find it often says as much about you as the novel.  

I like to deepen conversation by having no, or even very brief, descriptions--emotion or senses.  Some feel this may slow the book, compared to fast flying and fancy free adverbs.  Actually, I've gotten more feedback that I'm skeletally quick.  

So if you go into the pages today, boys and girls, keep an eye out for those adverbs and tags.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Archangel by Sharon Shinn

It makes me feel really old to ask you to get into the wayback machine for this one, but as I take you to 1996, I fear I must.

Already an author to contend with, having penned The Shape-Changer's Wife, Sharon Shinn's Angel Trilogy, I shall call them, burst onto shelves on bookstores and in homes everywhere.  She may have near single handedly had young women dreaming of angels again--and not in the Sunday school way.  Over the course of the next weeks, I'm choosing to review the original trilogy:  Archangel, Jovah's Angel, and The Alleluia Files.  Did Shinn actually write more books in this world?  Yes.  But the original plan was this arc, and so that's what I want to look at.  I'd also like to look at the books as they have a, dare I say it, a delicate fusion between fantasy and science fiction.  So, I will review each book, and then an overall.

Let's face it.  The angels are the rock stars of Semaria.  All the more because they pray to their God, Jovah, by singing.  The angels live in their own holds and take petitions from humans in need of weather problems solved, plagues to fix, and whatever other problems these silly humans get themselves into.  

In Archangel, Jovah chooses an Archangel to rule the lands for twenty years.  Gabriel has known since he was a child that when Raphael steps down.  Jovah also chooses the angelica/o--the Archangel's mate who will stand with him/her on the Plains of Sharon and sing--the most glorious singers--godly--with every kind of human.  If not, Jovah is supposed to get a little wrathful on their asses.  Despite the fact the angelica will be the second most powerful person in the world, and if she isn't leading the Gloria come Gloria-singing-time on the Plain, Jevoh will be deep frying his own world, Gabriel has put off going to the Oracle to find out who she is.  She is often a human girl living in an angel hold or a groomed human elite.

Sixth months before Gloria he flies to the Oracle (a human, actually) who can talk directly to God and get Gabriel's answer.  This form of communication  gives us the first look that we may not be in fantasy anymore, Toto.  If Jovah could laugh, which I doubt, he'd be busting a gut when he handed Gab's angelica's name to him.  From there, Gabriel just can't get out of catastrophes surrounding his wife-to-be.  That would be Rachel, who has lived from hell and, well.  Deeper into hell, and some more hell after that, can't conceive of an angel wanting anything of her--not that she can trust.  In fact, Rachel had some specific plans about her life once.  None of it involved leading a Gloria.

Before I go any further, I have to admit I originally read these books in the wrong order.  I read the last, The Alleluia Files on a whim on vacaction, got so excited I hotfooted it to the now mourned Border's and bought Archangel.  Then I stopped.  I never read the  middle or reread the end as I had planned.  However, since Shinn created such a fabulous confection of fused fantasy and sci fi it had to belong in my blogs.  So, determinedly, I start from the beginning and march right straight through to the end again this time.

Sharon Shinn has some of the most amazing world building abilities I have ever seen.  I'm also still surprised someone didn't firebomb her for her liberal use of the Bible--just tweaked a little--with so many angels and humans acting far from some people's supposed Godly.  Let's break in to say that I read a book with an angel on the cover.  I'm not an atheist by any means, but it is a testament to Shinn that I ever read these books.  I hate Hallmark angels, which is probably why I liked these.  She had the masterful ability to evoke, and yet not let us rest on our assumptions.  If I studied the Bible more, I'd probably have even more about her nuances in her, but I don't so let's move on.

She created the seeds for much to come in this book without out getting my hated series-syndrome where the important overall arc made this one feel watered to stretch the distance.  I teeter on saying that, though.  In this book, I feel like for the exception of one noble girl, if I say where they are from--what province, I can pretty much predict behavior.  All except the frowned upon, nomadic, enslaved, and so very obviously the only people of color in the book, the Edori.  Oh, wait.  They were all good.  Shinn delicately set up a complex world, including the hints of science fiction, that is obviously going somewhere.  I have to say that.  I am a character girl, not a world girl, so when I say her world creation could pretty much pull me through the book alone, that really says something.

But I'm a character girl, and this book so was not.  Every character except the two main basically had one dimension, if that.  Gabriel had the fatal Shakespearen flaw of being too proud and assertive about his thoughts, which of course, are flaws, we are told, his angelica was specifically chosen to compliment.  Or change.  Which saves us from a Shakespearen tragedy but puts us into my second to most hated way of loving someone in book (first involves violence.  Not sexy, consensual violence).  Rachel, understandably filled with rage and in deep need of a therapist after the life she's had, thinks she hates Gabriel but really loves Gabriel so she hates Gabriel.  Honest.  That's not a spoiler.  That's an um-duh effect.  Gabriel is just as bad.  Eventually we start working out those kinks and I won't spoil the ending, since who knows what way they will sort it out?  But I didn't feel a lot of growth here.  I felt sections where growth might of happened but it didn't go anywhere.  There was no arc to these two, together or apart.  I wanted to see some more solid break throughs that went somewhere, building, instead of falling back on the same behavior over and over.  I know that is the way we really progress, but she has six months and four hundred pages.  Chop chop!

So if I were a plot girl?  Let's just say the book got me once:  I was surprised at the first addition of science fiction.  I was still gripped enough by her story and world and even characters, so that I read how she created such a windy road because the how was interesting.  However, by craning my head a little, I could actually see every major plot point lined up in a row all the way to the last chapter.

Style girl?  My usual pet peeves.  She has this weird, disassociated style that comes from not grounding in any one character's voice in her scenes, quite often.  Instead of feeling close to everyone, I feel close to no one.

I know, I know.  I put the world stuff first so it looks like I panned her after that.  Remember when you look at this that a) her world building is some of the most amazing I have ever seen and that b) all these details I whined about:  the love/hate relationship, which I have been told many people don't mind or even like.  The fact the plot was put together in pretty predictable ways.  The fact she had some voice issues.  Most of the time, on a fantasy novel, I would simply ignore these.  Because I can tell how intricately and beautifully her mind works, I'm holding her to a higher standard.  Next up, Jovah's Angel.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Writing Partners

Always traveling these days!  This time with no internet.  Just got back from a trip up north to a cabin with my writing partner RoseAnna.  We've been doing this since we were kids.  I strongly belief in writing partners, and not just for fiction.  Although RoseAnna writes fiction, she spent most of the week working on her dissertation.  I also strongly believe in writing retreats.  Sure, we took a hike every day, though most of what we talked about was our writing even then, and we went to the Amish bakery.  But really, we got up every day, got our breakfasts and caffeine, and worked.  We worked until six or so.  Hiked, and then had dinner.  Then sometimes went back to work, and then sometimes knocking off for the night.

Writing retreats are great because you are out of your normal.  Sure, a cabin still has dishes you might wash, and a toilet you have to flush with a bucket of creek water.  But I feel less likely to decide I have to scrub the bathroom with a toothbrush in order to avoid my writing.  On top of that, my writing feels shiny and new just because I'm not stuck in my own house.  You go for long walks and think.  Your responsibilities are down to the basics.

Writing partners are great, too.  For one, someone else is sitting in the room working, and you feel like a jerk not working, too.  For another, when you get stuck, you can interrupt the other person and ask that when they get to a good stopping point you can talk.  Then you can talk about what you are stuck on--get fresh eyes immediately and help each other out.

Writing is never as mystic as readers may think it may be, or writers may want it to be.  We have a series of skills and tools to get there just like every other job.  

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Archer's Goon

Whew!  Just got back from a wedding in Pittsburgh of one of my bestest of bestest friends.  It was a whirlwind of sleeplessness.

So.  Once again we are getting into our wayback machine, Sherman, to examine one of the most elegant YA/adult urban fantasy novels:  Archer's Goon.

Diane Wynne Jones died this year, and we lost a powerful force in fantasy.  She was a Welsh author, and far more known in Britain than here.  My mother read several of her books to me as a child.  Throughout the years, my family searched out her out of print books.  Then Rowlings blew up and Jones was back on the shelves!  When I read Rowlings, I can't help but see Jones's influence.  She was friends with Neil Gaiman.

You could put it down to my childhood bias, but I generally prefer Jones's earlier works out of her formidable contributions to literature.  When I say I prefer the earlier works, I mean Archer's Goon, Charmed Life, Witch Week, and Howl's Moving Castle stand out to me as contributions to literature that stand up to any adult fantasy, or, for that matter, stand up to any other form of literature.  The rest of her literature may not be as perfect, but I'd still pretty much rather be reading Jones than virtually anything else.

Having made myself sound like a rabid and unreliable fan, I'll continue with the summary.

Archer's Goon


An urban, YA fantasy novel.  Howard Sykes comes home from school in a terrible mood, having had defend his sister, Awful, from a hoard of girls that probably had every reason to be angry at awful Awful, to discover a Goon filling up his parents' kitchen.  The Goon professes to be from Archer, here to collect his due two thousand words from Howard and Awful's dad, Quentin, a writer.  Archer is one of the seven magical brothers and sisters that control the town.  The only problem is that as soon as Archer has made his demand, the others begin chiming in that the words belong to them, and the Goon has yet to leave the house.  When Quentin refuses to write the words for anyone, life gets unpleasant for the Sykes.  Howard is left trying to maneuver through the tangled world of the magicians, and why the words are so important.


Magic aside, Archer's Goon is a YA exploration of family and what it means--good or bad--for both the Sykes and the family pressuring them.  I can state that baldly now, but while reading about the eccentric Sykes and the equally eccentric magicians, you can only break your captivation with your laughter.  All you see is a rich landscape of characters, sewn together into a twisting, mystery filled plot with a concept I have never seen before or since.  What might not hold together for adult readers are some of the mystery aspects.  As a child, puzzling together each piece took work.  However, an adult reader may get to the end of some of the mazes ahead of time.  There is a fusion aspect to the book, but I'm not given that one away.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What's with series?

With my book, Weaver's Web, I ventured into series territory for the first time.  The rest of my books stand alone.  The character arcs are self contained, and if I turned them into series, I would destroy my carefully constructed arcs, or I would hold them in an ugly gray stasis.  With Weaver's Web, I had more story to tell, simply, than when I got to the end.  But I admit I didn't plan it that way, and still have to plan the next two books.

All the same, I'm a stand alone fan.  That's why I write them.  Stand alones create compelling, self contained arcs and plot.  I find serials, in general, end up with static characters, or they Jump the Shark.  The original concept of the series ends up destroyed in order to further the series.  Instead, however, it kills the series.

So give me a shout--my few commenters--and weigh in.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Beastly, book author Alex Flinn, Screenplay and Director Daniel Barnz

Wow.  First off, I had a long, complex and beautiful rant about the place of Spike in Buffy.  Don't know what happened there, but for now I'm going to keep going forward.  I'll get you back to Spike and my Buffy poetry habit later.

Now we are talking about a very strange phenomenon.

Beastly--book and movie summaries.

Well, Beauty and the Beast, duh.  Set in modern day with a modern, absolute vain jerk high school student, Kyle, who runs into a witch who thinks he needs a change--a drastic change into a beast.  In the book he has two years to find true love--he loves, she loves--who will kiss him.  In the movie he only has one year and needs a heartfelt "I love you," not the whole kiss.  Give it to Kyle, his father is a self involved, vain, appearance bias jerk that makes Kyle look sweet.  Said father gets Kyle a large house in Brooklyn with a blind tutor, Will, and his usual house keeper so that Will cannot embarrass his father with his beastliness.

Enter Lindy, with her drug addict father and her scholarship to the private school Kyle used to attend.  She loves books.  She loves roses.  And of course (I think the Beauty and the Beast reference already spoiled this) when forced to live at Kyle's house, she grows to love the changing, redeemable Kyle.

So my big wow factor:  I liked the movie better.  I will admit I saw the movie first, so that may have affected me some, but I feel I have some solid grounds.

I did appreciate that Flinn attempted to stay so close to the fairy tale, but in my opinion he stayed a little too close.  I liked his having Kyle go quite so entirely Beastly, but some of the fairy tale aspects--the witch--clunked into corny.  It's called an adaptation for a reason.  His audience jumped around like a Mexican jumping bean.  At times, his tone would reflect an intelligent sixteen-year-old.  At other times he appeared to be trying too hard to keep his teens sounding teen, and he ended making his characters sound a bit idiot and out of date.  I appreciated the fact he tried to create most of the book in dialogue.  I love dialogue.  But the dialogue was flat and didn't tend to tell much about the characters, meaning there was very little characterization.  When Flinn did try to evoke an emotion, he tended to simply state it.  Then, as if he couldn't think of another way to get the point across, Kyle just tended to repeat the thought.

One big issue with the book is Lindy.  I know this is a retelling of the story centering on the Beast for once, and I appreciate that Lindy isn't, at first glance, a gorgeous Beauty.  However, she falls for all of the clichés and has the personality of wallpaper.

The chat room sections of different fairy tale characters talking about their woes could have been a hilarious and moving method of advancing the story.  Unfortunately, not enough context was given to most of the stories since he used old fashioned fairy tales.  I respect that, but it will be confusing.  Kids are used to Disney's The Little Mermaid, not Anderson's, and without more context, I feel it would have been jarring.  "Snow White, Rose Red" is even less well known, and an esoteric oddity here (plus, in the versions I've read, Rose Red gets the bear's brother.  But maybe I'm too contemporary).

In the end, it comes down to Daniel Barnz being a better director and screen writer than Alex Flinn is a writer.

In Daniel Barnz's movie, the character's personality's pop. Lindy has her own sass before Kyle is even a Beast. When I saAy "Beast" I do mean someone with the ink and body modifications that would make him a God in some subcultures, but it is no stretch to believe he thinks of himself as a monster. Alex Pettyfer gives a heartfelt rending of Kyle moving from sulky monster to one who cares about others before himself. Vanessa Hudgens takes the meat Barnz has given Lindy--rebellious, fiery, with plans of her own and a sense of humor--and runs with it. To my utter surprise, Mary-Kate Olsen makes an emo witch with class.  

Lindy was one of the main changes here that draws me to the movie. Kyle is bull headed, but she is ready to meet him every step of the way. It makes me respect the both of them more. I also appreciate Lindy's classic need to leave at the end more here. Flinn makes Lindy's father so reprehensible, so utterly ugh-worthy, that I can't imagine any sane human being telling her to go be with him. Not staging a major intervention would be nearly criminal. Barnz makes Lindy's father a complete mess, but a lost soul, not an ugly one.  

I will try to talk around this, but the other huge factor to me came down to the end. What Flinn's Kyle had to do involved saving Lindy. What Barnz's Kyle had to do showed the love he held Lindy in, but also that he had taken the final step to save himself.

The final sequences just simply can't compare to each other, but I won't spoil.

Friday, September 16, 2011


Soul given nothing
like one grew.
Bird curled egg
pecking blind free


Elizabeth Taylor gem medallion ignites Phoenix one more time.  Light pours nighttime bird’s breast.  Forbidden embraced.  Skin organs bones flake.  Sluice dust to day.

Monday, September 12, 2011


Rebirth, my second novel, is out and I'm so geeked!  The links to it are in the making!

Back cover blurb:

Gavin Lewis, 20, is the kind of guy who picks worms off the sidewalk so they don’t get squished.  So, of course, when Gavin finds a naked girl in the People of the Bog exhibit, he takes her to his sarcastic, cynical best friend Topher Soper so they can take care of her, obviously in trouble.

Her confusion, her demeanor, and the fact she can heal wounds lead Topher to realize she is one of the bog mummies, reanimated.  But they don’t know how.

How is Annie Miller, an anthropologist with a pension for necromancy.  Albeit, the magic takes hold of her when her four-year-old daughter dies of cancer.  Now Annie can bring her daughter back to life, but it takes the bog girl to heal her of cancer.  Annie will let nothing get in the way of her daughter’s rebirth.  As the three figure out the riddle to the bog girl, she must find her own rebirth into our world, even as Gavin and Topher need to learn live anew as well. 

I actually wrote  this book before Weaver's Web--Weaver's Web is my most recent book, really.  I have to say Rebirth is the most rebellious book I have ever met.  Most of the rebellions went on during the designing phase.  But it was a bull headed, charging bull of a book.  First of all, the bog girl was supposed to be the main character.  Gavin elbowed her over, and now it is clearly is book, which I like because he is not the magical power in the book.  He's not some weird magical creature.  He doesn't learn any magic.  He's not so hot in a fight.  He's just a good guy.  And the book totally belongs to him.

The romance totally threw me through the loop as well, but I once I thought of it, I understood it was the only way it could go.

Amber, Gavin's sister, developed a plot line I had completely not expected either.  Though, once again, once I thought it through, I realized it was the only thing that made sense.

In this book, the characters controlled the book more than I did.  I generally don't say this, but I'm really proud of that.  It is not as if I just let the book run away on me.  Like I said, the rebellions were in the development stages.  What I'm proud of is that I so solidly created unique, strong characters, that they led me through the book.  To me, a promising sign of a good book is when the characters are so strong, I can ease up on my reins.  What they say and how they say it and what they do--I never have to ponder, because I know them so well, they speak for themselves.

The final big change on this book was this was the book where I developed my signature style of heavy dialogue and light description.  In my old days of writing, I had complex, long descriptions and an absolute abuse of adjectives and adverbs.  Rebirth taught me to pare down as much as possible.  I relied on small character insights from the characters--a line or two.  Then actions--not just fight scenes, I'm talking small movements that suggest anger or fear.  And a lot, including forwarding the plot happens through dialogue.  I actually went through my other books and stripped them down to this style.  I like dialogue and the occasional character wisp of emotion or thought leading the reader through the story.  They have to think about it.  Their thoughts may not even run along what I originally thought I was accomplishing in a scene (though so far it has), but that is even more awesome that they are putting that emotional and thoughtful analysis.

This has a heavy fusion of horror and fantasy, along with my usual other influences.  The style I just described in part came from poetry--the meaningful double meanings and meaningful, single images.  Of course the background in film came into play as a script has to tell the audience pretty much all they need to know, but it is interpreted through actors and directors and producers and editors.  It is fluid.  So I carved it down to bare bones.  Crack those bones open, and eat the marrow inside.