Tag Archives: fantasy

Strange the Dreamer

Oh, Laini Taylor. Will you be my friend? I just want to hang out with you and your amazing brain.

(Seriously though.)

Laini Taylor is the author of a spectacular trilogy, starting with “Daughter of Smoke and Bone.” I think the covers are horrible and don’t at all reflect the deep nature of the stories. I’m sure there are potential readers out there who were off put by the appearance of the covers, which make it look like a fluffy, girly story. (It’s not.)

Anyway, it is a beautiful, epic trilogy and as soon as I heard she was writing another novel, I knew I’d be reading it the second it was available.

The problem is, I have a newborn, so getting my butt over to Barnes & Noble to purchase “Strange the Dreamer” was much more complicated than usual. I ended up bailing on that plan and ordering it off Amazon a few days after its release date. Then Sam wouldn’t sleep (as usual), so I had to put him in his wrap and walk around my house, carrying him, while I read the book. Worth it!

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“Strange the Dreamer” is kind of a weird title, and I imagine once again there are a few potential readers who would love the story itself who don’t give it a chance based on that name. “Strange” is the character, a librarian, who is labeled “dreamer” for all the time he spends reading, dreaming, escaping his lousy life by being inside the happy places in his mind instead. The grand adventure he ends up undertaking is where the magic of Laini Taylor’s writing really unfolds: she has a way of world-building that is completely immersive. Even though it’s clearly fantastic and impossible, she treats it so realistically that your mind can visualize and accept it all. Her characters, their flaws, their abilities to love, their hopes & dreams… all so beautiful! I was engrossed from page 1.

Minor detail though: it’s the first of a two-book series!!!! ARG I don’t believe it was advertised that way at all, so I had no idea until I turned to the final page and saw the evil words “to be continued”… total cliffhanger, even worse than how Leigh Bardugo ended “Six of Crows.”

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Still, I highly recommend the novel. It’s a joy to read, and very creative and original. How refreshing when we have films out like “Pirates of the Caribbean 5” and “Fast and Furious 8” out! Haha.

I currently have new novel reading on pause while I reread Sarah J. Maas’ “A Court of Thorns and Roses” and “A Court of Mist and Fury” in preparation for the final novel in the trilogy, “A Court of Wind and Ruin,” which comes out on May 2nd. I will probably just buy that one on Kindle, which makes it a tiny bit easier to read while carrying my baby around. The cover of “Strange the Dreamer” was too beautiful to pass up a hard copy, though–although I’m jealous of the UK cover, which is way prettier!! Reason #309 that I should live in England instead of California…

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writing life

Gosh I love summer.

Or July, at least. For this tiny stretch of time–August doesn’t count, because we teachers start up trainings and need to do lesson planning again–I have no boss. I can wake up as early or as late as I want (except I feel guilty if I sleep past 9:00). As long as I don’t totally ignore all of my friends and family, who feel ignored all school year and need some attention over the summer, I am free to spend all of my time reading and writing.

Here’s an outline of my typical day over the past few weeks: wake up at 7:30, jog with the dog for 45 minutes, shower, make coffee, and sit down to write. I get to about 1,000 words before I need a break. Then I putz around the internet, checking Facebook and Twitter, and sometimes watch an episode of something interesting (The Librarians, Friends, Chopped, etc.). That usually brings me to somewhere between 11:00 and 12:00, so I make lunch and get re-energized. Then I can run through my final 700-900 words for the day, back up my work, and take the dog for a short walk around the condo complex so we can both stretch our legs again. Then my afternoon is free to read (or run errands, boo) before Jeff gets home from work around 5:00.

I feel like a real writer today because all I’ve had so far this morning is copious amounts of coffee and bacon (and I’m within 200 words of my daily writing goal). Add in a cigarette–if smoking wasn’t absolutely pointless, harmful, and disgusting–and I could fit right in to the classic cartoon image of a writer.

Last night I couldn’t fall asleep because I had all kinds of questions about the world of Copper running through my head. I invented the magic system when I was 12 and have been using it all this time, but it doesn’t have the realism necessary to the fantasy genre I’m going for. As I mulled it over, a ton of puzzle pieces fit together and I can fully picture the price of magic, its mechanics, the power struggle over time, and a bunch of other things I’ve never taken the time to consider. Holding this entire other world in my head is incredibly exhausting and rewarding. For the first time in a while, though, I feel like I’m making major progress.

I’ve been taking comfort from these wise words:
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NaNoWriMo (and Camp) have been essential deadlines for me. The effort, practice, and revision required to become a strong writer are encouraged and honed in discipline during the months that I stick to a daily word count like NaNo provides. That “special thing” is slowly, bit by bit appearing in my work…

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summer goals

So, in this crazy life, summer time has become writing time. Hopefully I will soon become a good enough teacher that I can spread writing time throughout the school year again, but for now, as a wee baby 3rd (4th-ish) year, this is what I have to work with.

Let’s lay out some goals for Summer 2015:

– I’m going to do Camp NaNoWriMo again (in July). The pacing and group encouragement of the program is incredibly helpful to my daily motivation. I am going to step aside from Copper again but not leave the world; instead, I’ll finish the story of another character from another city within that world, who actually can use magic (because I think telling the story and explaining the magic mechanics & history from someone who can use it will go more smoothly than trying to do it all through Copper, who hates magic). It will fit before Copper’s story.

– I also had ideas for 7 short stories, but since very few people played the inspiration game, I forgot about them. Haha. So I will work on those throughout the summer as well and post them sporadically throughout July and August.

– I have so much to read! I do read a lot throughout the school year, just not as quickly as summer time… and I have some exciting things stacked up. So my goal is to read at LEAST two books a week. We just did a loooong 12 hours in the car last weekend, and I finished a book on each leg of the drive, so I’m off to a good start! (One of the books was “The Girl with All the Gifts” — highly recommend!)

I think that’s it… time to get back to outlining!

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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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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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Fantasy in Schools

I read fantasy because I like the imaginative worlds, magic systems, adventures, and coming-of-age stories that usually go hand-in-hand with “fantasy.” I also grew up with a Christian librarian grandma who had to get rid of any literature that parents complained about, so anything with a unicorn or a dragon came flying into my hands after its swift rejection from her school library.

When I write my own books, I’m thinking about the enjoyment factor of the story and the character growth. I don’t think about whether it will be worthy of study in schools. But someone recently brought up in a Christmas party conversation that she wished she could have read sci-fi in school at some point, so she could have learned earlier than college how much she loved the genre.

That got me thinking: what fantasy has made it into schools? And what fantasy might I be able to bring into my classes eventually? What has been deemed “worth of study” in public education?

Some unofficial research (like Googling random high school literature lists) has suggested, with a loose definition of fantasy, the following books:

“The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien

“The Lord of the Rings” [series] by J.R.R. Tolkien

“The Giver” by Lois Lowry

“The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis

“The Princess Bride” by William Goldman

“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

“Harry Potter” [series] by J.K. Rowling

“The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho

“Watership Down” by Richard Adams

and that’s about it. So while what’s there is good, it’s not enough, and it’s at a fairly low reading level to boot (besides maybe LOTR and Handmaid’s Tale). What about fantasy for juniors and seniors? What fantasy book could best serve them? What story do I have inside me to write for these kids on the cusp of adulthood? There is so much independence and responsibility in fantasy that speaks to teens.

I don’t have any real answers for this post. I just wanted space to mull over the questions. If anybody has any thoughts, they are quite welcome to share! I hope I can work this out to reach students with good fantasy literature, whether that role ends up being me as a teacher or as a writer.

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The Bone Season…

… was BORING.

I wanted to like it so very badly. I was interested because it takes place in London and Oxford (and references Port Meadow), so I had that connection immediately. I loved my time in Oxford and love reading stories that take place there. The author, Samantha Shannon, got a huge advance and was being quietly touted as “the next J.K. Rowling,” so I wanted to hop on that train and enjoy another great fantasy adventure book.

Alas.

Even if I’d carried low expectations, I wouldn’t have enjoyed this.

The writing is weak. There’s no way around it. It’s full of awkward descriptions, there’s a monster-truck-load of vocabulary introduced and only about 20% actually explained, there are about three potential love-interests and the reader can’t tell who to root for until way too late, and the syntax (which I’m sure is supposed to reflect the short and to-the-point thoughts of the first person narrator) is stunted and simplistic. Even when it finally becomes (pretty) clear which love interest demands the focus, it’s completely awkward because the narrator childlishly refuses to see it; I kind of wanted to slap her every time she had a petulant thought.

I was annoyed the whole time I was reading it, and only finished all 450 pages because I’m stubborn like that–and, perhaps, was holding out the hope of something redemptive.

WHY WEREN'T YOU BETTER? WHY, BOOK?

WHY WEREN’T YOU BETTER? WHY, BOOK?

Admittedly, around the 350 page mark things started to pick up, but that is an unacceptable amount of set-up. When my novel got rejected this summer, two of the main points were “get to the point faster” (Shannon has the narrator’s world turn upside down right away, so at first glance she follows this advice, but then nothing actually happens until that 350-ish mark I mentioned) and “don’t use character dialogue as exposition dumps–they shouldn’t all sound like teachers to the main character.” Well, all the characters, especially “Warden,” are massive information-dumps and half of their dialogue sounds like a teacher trying hard to explain things to the narrator… and to the reader. Yet with all those words, words, words, it still doesn’t make sense.

For my complaint about the weird vocabulary we’re supposed to accept, take a glance at these from the first chapter:

mollisher | mime-lord | oxygen bar | dreamscapes | voyant | meatspace | aether | NVD | amaurotic | Scion | spool | colobomata | threnody

Sure, some of them are guessable and/or explained, but the continued intersection of meatspace, dreamscape, cord, spirits, and the aether are never fully clarified, in my opinion, and that really harms the story.

By the way… there are 108 total terms in the glossary. :/

Tamora Pierce had her narrator use a unique vocabulary set in a similar way in the “Bloodhoud” books, but she had the talent to pull it off. There were only a handful of words compared to Shannon’s, and they flowed organically within the rest of the story. “The Bone Season” didn’t have that flow at all.

I don’t mean for this review to sound like an attack, but I do hope that my disappointment is evident. I deeply, truly was rooting for this book and my hopes were dashed like a dummy in a Mythbusters’ explosion. The author is young, which is awesome, but her writing sounds young, too, and that’s a shame. I think it will affect how seriously she is taken in the future and they should have kept her tucked away in the publishing stable for a little longer, working with an editor who could fix the numerous issues she faced.

The sad part is that it’ll probably get turned into a movie anyway.

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