Monthly Archives: January 2015

favorite author…(s)

Recently, a student asked me who my favorite author is… and I realized I don’t have an easy answer. So here are my musings on that question. I can name favorite authors for different aspects of the reading experience, and followed each label with the titles of the books that come to mind:

Favorite oeuvre, male: C.S. Lewis
Till We Have Faces, The Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity, The Great Divorce, The Four Loves, The Screwtape Letters, Of Other Worlds, Surprised by Joy, The Abolition of Man, An Experiment in Criticism, the Space Trilogy

Favorite oeuvre, female: Jane Austen
   Pride & Prejudice, Emma, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey, Sense & Sensibility, Mansfield Park

Favorite prose: Ian McEwan
   Atonement, Sweet Tooth, Amsterdam

Favorite badass feminist protagonists: Tamora Pierce
   The Immortals, The Song of the Lioness, Tricksters

Favorite humorous writer: Christopher Moore
   Lamb: The Gospel of Christ According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal; You Suck, A Love Story; The Stupidest Angel; A Dirty Job; Practical Demon-Keeping

Favorite capturer of childhood: Zilpha Keatley Snyder
   Libby on Wednesdays, The Changeling, The Egypt Game

Favorite transporter to a magical, strange place: Neil Gaiman
   Anansi Boys, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Stardust, Good Omens, Neverwhere, Coraline, American Gods

Favorite newest discovery: Sarah J. Maas
   Throne of Glass, Crown of Midnight, Heir of Fire, The Assassin’s Blade

There we have it… but even that giant list is not enough, because there are other authors swimming around in my head who I wish I had room for. I’m bad at making decisions, so choosing one “favorite” is, clearly, impossible for me to accomplish. I love hearing about other people’s favorite authors and books, though!

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beautiful books

I have started off 2015 by reading some of the BEST books I’ve come across in a long time. Pretty sure that bodes well for this year!

The first set of books were Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy: “Shadow and Bone,” “Siege and Storm,” and “Ruin and Rising.” I already ruminated over them a little bit in a previous blog post, and I’m still reeling from all the emotions I poured into them, so I don’t have much to say here. They were the kind of books that are so good and so powerful that once you close that last page–well, figuratively, since I read them on my Kindle–you don’t know what to read next, because it’s all going to seem weak and meaningless in comparison.

They’re fantasy books along the lines of “Throne of Glass” or even Tamora Pierce’s Tortall-set books: a likable, flawed heroine learning to use her magic and struggling under the new burden to save the world. They’re influenced by Russian mythology–well-balanced, in my opinion, but little enough that I’ve seen reviews where people were angry that she left out this and that piece of actual Russian mythology or made this or that mistake compared to “real” Russia, WHILE ALSO enough that I’ve seen reviews where people were confused and angered by the language. Eh, you can’t win ’em all. Each beginning and ending chapter is told in third person, beautiful prose, but the majority of the book is told in first person. The switch is a little jarring and part of me wishes she had kept the third person perspective all throughout.

Anyway, the heroine is joined by a hodgepodge, Firefly-esque ensemble cast with plenty of characters to love. The stakes are high, the love story is believable, and the magic system is awesome. There are definitely tropes used: Orphan! Beautiful jerk rival! Chosen one! And the one that bugs me the most in YA fiction, Love Triangle(s)! (Like teenage girls can deeply connect with MULTIPLE HOT DUDES all wanting her). But I thought the plot development over the course of the trilogy was unique enough to overcome any weaknesses that tropes introduced.

I highly, highly recommend this trilogy. I can’t wait to see what this author comes up with next. (Also, I want her to be my friend. Since I taught “Catcher in the Rye” last October, this particular quote from Holden is fresh in my mind: “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.” Can I get your number, Leigh? haha).

After that, I took a 24-hour break from reading as I dealt with my FEELINGS. I opened up a few different books before settling on one I thought I could get engrossed in again. I settled on Kate Danley’s “The Woodcutter” (which I just finished reading about twenty minutes ago).

I bought it randomly a few weeks ago because it happened to be $1.99 on Amazon under “Science Fiction/Fantasy,” and I love Kindle deals. I started reading it without reading the description carefully, so I thought it was going to be a “Little Red Riding Hood” retelling that focused on the woodcutter character. It started out that way… but quickly evolved into something much better. Danley connects a whole fleet of fairy tales, including some more obscure ones like the Girl in the Iron Shoes, with many creative twists that lead into an emotional finale (a.k.a. I totally cried). Her writing style takes a few chapters to get used to–and since all of the chapters are short, including one that was 3 sentences long, this adjustment only takes a moment–but it ends up capturing that Grimm/Anderson fairy-tale narrative well. It was beautiful and, not to over-do it, but another “highly recommend” from me.

At the end, Kindle automatically shows “more from this author” lists and I saw “Queen Mab” is also hers. I read a review of that when it first came out and was interested, but not enough to go get it (fatigued-teacher syndrome). Now that I’m familiar with her style, this might be what I read next!

… After I grade the obnoxious stack of papers next to me. I need more coffee.

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Home.

How could I forget this important update… we bought a condo!

Decorating and settling is has been pretty joyous. We spent our first three years of marriage living in 400 square feet–along with a 50-pound dog–so things were cramped and caused some fights. Now owning more than twice that is quite a relief. We have space for all our fun kitchen gadgets, I can go grade in a separate room (hey, we finally have DOORS to other places!) if Jeff’s video games are annoying me, and, of course, all of our books finally have a home.

This is my favorite of our four bookshelves:

bookshelf… 1 of 4. but definitely my favorite.

 

The space under our stairs is made of bookshelves, too, which honestly was one of the features that made me notice this condo in the first place!

What really gets me, though, is the view from the balcony:

nature!

Isn’t it glorious? What you may not be able to tell from the picture is that a creek runs through the complex. When I sit out on the balcony to grade, write, or read, the peaceful sounds of a flowing creek greet my ears. The Transcendentalist in me adores it.

It took a while to find wall art that fit both of our tastes (Jeff was not cool with my original plan to cover our walls in Van Gogh paintings… but remember this blog post of mine? The dude has deep meaning to me!). I’m really excited by what we found, though: pop culture travel posters! Our stairway has Hogwarts, Hyrule, and Tattooine. Above our television has Rivendell and Winterfell. Our hallway is still blank, so we may purchase more for that, and we have no art whatsoever in our bathrooms yet, so we could expand into those, too.

These ones conveniently ended up rhyming.

 

Mostly, this has been a good experience… but not perfect. It’s amazing the extent to which people are willing to criticize you about something that doesn’t concern them, sharing opinions such as “a condo instead of a house? You might as well rent!” or “a real estate purchase in this economy?!?”, but I have to let them roll off my back. We were approved for a home loan of $80,000 more than we spent, and our mortgage/HOA payments are below the 30% of income suggestion, so I think our choice was good. Yes, the drive to work is long and trafficky, but it’s California… we’re used to it. AND Jeff and I have the opportunity to carpool most days, which is nice for me, the overworked teacher who can read, grade, or sleep on the drive.

And then I come home to a happy dog and a world of trees!

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1, 2, 3, (4, tell me that I should blog more)

I haven’t been on the blog since June. What’s the appropriate amount of flogging for penance? 39 lashes?

I’ve made myself scarce for a few reasons; let’s go through them, shall we?

1. I have made no progress as a writer. I’ve opened up my rough drafts and skimmed back through them, revisiting so many worlds created, characters grown, adventures lived: Copper and her ocean, Amani and her dragons, Phoebe and her hellhounds, Molly and her Dust Bowl, Clara Jean and her spaceship.

Though I love my leading ladies… my writing sucks. The plot takes a long time to reach its hook. The character growth is sporadic and unbelievable. There are holes and typos. The men the ladies (and the readers) should adore–Shiloh, Tristan, Roger, Angus, Griff–don’t move and breathe the way “Team ____” characters inspire the fangirl masses.

I don’t know how to kindle the energy to revise. I’ll focus on Copper for a few weeks before realizing that nothing I’ve fixed is any better than what existed before, so then I’ll tuck it away and re-open Clara Jean’s story. But then I’ll only make it through two chapters before getting called back to Copper, which is a lost cause, which sends me on to Phoebe, whose episodic story still feels more like a bad video game than a novel, and on and on and on.

What’s the point?

Of course I know the answer. “Writing is its own reward.” These characters’ lives will never, ever be unless I am the one to tell them.

I’m just so easily depressed and drawn away from the messy chaos of revision… which draws me to my next point.

2. Somehow I got scheduled to teach THREE DIFFERENT GRADES. That’s right, I plan and teach and grade for seniors, and juniors, AND sophomore honors students. The “glass-half-full” people say it’s a compliment that my bosses think I’m capable of handling such a workload, while the “glass-half-empty” people say it’s because I don’t have tenure and can’t complain about anything without repercussions.

I cried almost daily for a while, because I already felt like I was treading water with my nose one inch above the surface–the junior burden on one shoulder, the senior burden on the other–and then got sophomore honors plopped onto my head, pushing me all the way below. Then the crying lessened, gradually, to once a week, and now I’ve made it over a month without shedding a work-related tear.

I can do this. I know I can. The end of the first semester is within sight, just two weeks away. The next semester can’t be any worse than what I survived in September. But still… the energy drain of planning AND teaching AND grading for three completely different groups… well, it has not been healthy for me as a writer or wife or friend (or healthy-ish person).

Oh, plus I have to do buttloads of pointless paperwork and meetings to clear my credential, and I advise a student group that requires volunteering hours all over the place, and all of my students have needy parents who insist on scheduling identical, useless meetings all the time (“Why is my student failing?” “See all these 0’s? They don’t do any work in class or at home or read anything ever.” “Oh, that makes sense.”).

*long siiiiiiiigh*

Finally, 3: I needed to recapture my love of reading. How can I be a good writer if I’m not a voracious reader? Last year’s school duties kept me from reading much–NOW I understand how people can start to read in bed and then fall asleep immediately–so I spent an enormous chunk of my summer “catching up” on a lot of lost reading. I devoured every recommendation in my path, things like “The Pillars of the Earth,” “Throne of Glass,” “Fangirl,” “Ready Player One,” “The Silkworm,” “Outlander,” “Sweet Tooth,” “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?”, “The Alchemist.” It was magnificent.

The good: remembering the beauty of prose, the joy of risks and justice and swooning, and the pleasure of being drawn into magical worlds–fantasy or not–helps inspire me to “pick up the pen” again… sort of. If I ever get the energy to split my hours between teaching and writing again.

The bad: EVERYONE IS BETTER THAN ME. haha… dramatic but true. The “Throne of Glass” trilogy (so far–I think there are supposed to be 6 books when all is done?) was spectacularly done. The creativity, world-building, plot twists, and adventure made me like it almost better than “Graceling,” my last whoa-hey-I’m-in-love-with-this-book find. At the same time, however, it makes me hesitate to even try anymore, because I don’t think I’ll ever be that talented or produce something that brilliant even after thousands upon thousands of additional words written.

The knife in my heart twisted further this week when I finished reading the Grisha trilogy, “Shadow and Bone.” Leigh Bardugo was in my head, you guys. Her magic system and many of the character traits/plot twists are parallel to those in my Copper and Amani books. So, cool, I’m creative like other writers! Aaaand… now I can’t use any of that creativity because it will look like plagiarism.

Awesome.

So there’s a much-needed update on me. I’m alive. I’m swamped. I don’t really count as a writer right now. I’m a half-assed, very tired teacher instead.

I miss the blog world.

I’ll try to stop by more often.

And if someone can find a way to convince me to/help me to revise Copper, I am all for hearing your suggestions.

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