Wednesday, July 1, 2015

July 1, 2015, Half Year Recap, Best YA Books so Far, and What's Ahead

WOW, half the year is over!!!!!!

Here is brief recap (I am writing today).

MY READING

I've read a lot of books this year, and most of my favorite reads have been rereads, meaning they are older books and not 2015 releases. I've read quite a few 2015 reads that I've not commented on, either here or Goodreads, because I really like to read a book a couple of times before I decide how I feel about it, in print.  But I can tell you what 2015 releases have impressed me. 






Uprooted by Naomi Novik, unless some of the fall releases just wow me, is probably going to be my favorite book of 2015. Although I have not reviewed it yet, I feel it's almost the perfect book, in every way possible.  It's also the book I have been most surprised by, and I recommend it to all readers, young and old, etc.  No matter what genre you read, this book will charm you. It's magical, it's written really well, and it's got depth. I love it.









Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge

This is a wonderful and unique retelling of Little Red Riding Hood and The Girl with No Hands.  Hodge's work is very interesting even if you don't always love everything about it. She is definitely one of the most interesting writers working in YA right now. As a reader, you are always going to be surprised and the author works hard not to repeat herself while staying true to her brand. 
This novel looks simple, but it's actually more complex than Uprooted. It's one of the novels I am going to be rereading again and again. When I think that this is Hodge's second novel, I am in awe. If she continues to grow, she is going to be a force of nature.







Sarah J. Maas is definitely a force of nature. Laughing. Her writing is not always clever and sometimes it's messy, but her characters and fast paced narrative is highly addictive. I just began reading her this year.  There are a lot of things to recommend about A Court of Thorns and Roses. It's imaginative, romantic, and all about fairies. I even went crazy over a secondary character called Rhysand and am shipping the heroine and him. This book is my guilty pleasure. I love it.


Otherwise, I've mostly been reading classics and older fantasy novels, and a lot of nonfiction, which I adore.

MY WRITING

I've spent most of the year in revision and trying to fix problems that I could not fix last year. It's been a stressful year for me in work, but now I am back on course and writing words again. If you want to know about it in detail, I posted it all on the blog in the previous two months. I cannot go back over it now. Even thinking about what I did stresses me. I can't look back. All decisions have been made, final. Done. Over. Poof! Whatever happens, will happen.

THE BLOG

I blogged more in May and June than I have all year. The rest of the year, I'll be writing essays on fairy tales and mythic topics. Making the blog more specific, writing about things that I am doing with my work.  I'll be here mostly and less on other social media outlets because I am writing again full time. I have to finish work. I. HAVE. TO. FINISH.

ON SPOONS

It's been a stressful year for me personally and any time I get too stressed with personal things, I start to lose my spoons, especially when my work time becomes more pain than pleasure. Laughing. Usually I escape anxiety in work. That hasn't been the situation this year. As is typical of all people, depression follows anxiety, and when I get depressed, I quit sleeping and eating right.  It's no big deal, really. All people have these issues. I think the difference for me is that I lose spoons, meaning I just run out of the ability to participate in life the way I should. But hey, life goes on. It does.

AND IF YOU DON'T BELIEVE ME, it's now July and half the year is over and a lot of us are going, "How did that happen?"  I've always been interested in Time and how people view it. The older you get, the faster it moves. If you are like me, essentially working from home, not plugged into a lot of social stuff, you lose time. Some people mark time by their TV shows, or by their job/work schedules. I remember some of my college teachers talking about how their lives were marked by the words "semesters" and "terms." Some writers mark it by "novels" or by "conferences" or by "summer work" which is often very different from their other working schedules.  

If you are sixteen, time moves much slower than when you are sixty. If you are six, it's eternal.

But none of us are eternal. Time, though in a mathematical sense is not real, marks us all.

Time is an essential theme or motif in all my work.

Later....


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Tanith Lee on love

"Are not all loves secretly the same? A hundred flowers sprung from a single root. The body’s love will teach the spirit how to love. The spasm of the body’s carnal pleasure, forgetting all things but ecstasy itself, teaches the body to remember the ecstasy of the soul, forgetting all but itself, the moments of oneness, and freedom. The love a man feels only for one other in all the world will teach him, at length, love of all others, of all the world. A cry of joy, whatever its cause, is the one true memory of those wonders the flesh has banished. A cry of love is always a cry of love."
Tanith Lee, Delirium’s Mistress

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Truth About Word Counts


It's impossible to write anything in today's culture without thinking of word counts. Frankly, for most of us, some word counts are unrealistic, because writing a novel is not just drafting from day to day to day. There are moments when you stop to think about story, character, plot, structure, word choice, and so forth, and drafting turns into revision. But even if you are one of those writers who likes to work in drafts, there will come a time when revision is totally necessary and you will have to take time to think about all the things that go in revision. So how do word counts work then? What do they mean? And how long does it actually take to write your novel?

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, probably because I have developed some bad habits over the last decade and I know those habits cannot be sustained if I am to finish my novels and write new ones. Things have to change.

One of the most helpful (for me) pieces on the Internet has been looking at Holly Black's posts on how she wrote her books. Holly details them out, and one can see the overview. What I think is clear is that it's not how many words you write a day, it's that you try to write on something all the time. Of course there will be days that you are off for certain events, days that you are ill, days where you must work on another project, days that you take vacations, and so forth. In Holly's posts, she takes all that into account. If you study those posts, you come away with the idea that it only take a little each day to write a book. Not a lot. But it's takes consistency.  And at least 100 days or about three months of time. To be blunt, I don't think I could write a book in three months of time, I am more a one book a year kind of person, but I would like to increase my speed and to create a record of exactly how I work. When I was a working writer in my youth, I did such things, in detail, because I had multiple deadlines on multiple projects and I could never lose account of TIME.

Here is the link to Holly's post on how she wrote The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. On that same page she has links to both Doll Bones and Black Heart. Don't just read it. Study it. Because the overview is pretty revealing.

Frankly, I was greatly encouraged by Holly's posts, because she wrote her books over a longer period of time than the day count, meaning not all her working days were one after the other, and she also wrote on two projects at some points. 

What you see is that if you commit and have the projects ready, and work a little, nearly every day, all of it will add up to a lot of completed stories and that's my goal. 

The truth about word counts, for most people, is that we don't meet them. And then if we do, we end up mired down in revision, not knowing what to do or how to fix our novels.  And well, as I just wrote, word counts don't amount to much when you are deep in revisions and solving problems.

I think, come July 1, I want to do the same sort of thing Holly Black did. I want an accounting, an honest one for myself, on how I am writing my books, and how long it takes. That's one of my goals.  So I am going to create a page at the top of the blog to show how I am working day to day on both Dark Dreams and the Sleeping Beauty Retelling. I want to be as accurate as possible. If I do it online, I won't flounder off stage. Laughing. It will also be a good history lesson for me, and well, a brave one. My writing habits disturb me. I've got to change and grow. This is one step in doing that.

Friday, June 26, 2015

My favorite fairy


Although I've talked a lot about fairies and death, my favorite fairy is Melusine, a creature that is somewhat mysterious and who probably inspired this beautiful painting by Isobel Gloag. It's called The Enchantress. Melusine has an interesting story, both in myth and history. I think one of the better essays is this one, which talks about how she might have been a real person, like King Arthur, who developed over time into something more. I have incorporated her into my fiction in more ways than one, mainly because I like her name and am completely haunted by this painting.  Also she makes a brief but important appearance in one of my favorite novels, Possession by A.S. Byatt. I always make allusions of some sort in my work to fiction or literary characters that I love.

I think it's safe to say that I write about ordinary people who get swept up in extraordinary circumstances. Imagine a knight, somehow seduced by this creature, then married to her, having children with her, creating a dynasty even, only one day to discover she was not mortal, and that having united with her, he faced something of a curse. That is great conflict. I also imagine this for young girls, tempted by fairies and demons and others.  However, I am very much Team Human. Some very good stories have been destroyed by endings where the human crossed over into the other world, embracing something outside their natural mortal world, without facing any kind of consequences, as though leaving behind mortality is very easy and desirable. The same goes for girls and boys who learn they have secret powers, gifts that have no price or consequences. How does that happen? Why is it that good people never win these days? I don't know these answers but I have thought about them a lot while writing my stories.

I like the idea of being human and part of Nature. I think it's okay.

That's why fairies are interesting to me. They are not human. They are not us. They are part of a long history of human desire. We created them. Understanding why we did this is what makes folklore and fairy tales so important and relevant, even in an age where people feel very modern, secular, and free of superstition.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Briar Queen by Katherine Harbour



At the moment, it's difficult to discuss Briar Queen in the way that I wrote about Thorn Jack. I don't want to spoil the story for new readers. Like Thorn Jack, the story's narrative moves around Finn Sullivan and her mysterious love, Jack, but in a completely different way. We are no longer tangled up in their discovery of each other and the focus of the story is not how they find hope and love with one another. This is a completely different kind of plot.

This is expected of second books in a series. Unfortunately, first books are always about first encounters, first meets, first kisses, first impressions. The reader is always terribly engaged in these first moments, but they cannot be replicated in any series. 

In the trilogy format, authors are always faced with a complicated set of choices. Series will end with the third book, and the third book is usually very powerful. Many series suffer from second book syndrome, which is nothing more than an author making a decision to write a story that will connect the beginning drama with the final. It's not always easy.

Briar Queen is very much a second book, but carries its weight and position by developing the world of the Fata. It is also about the consequences of  Thorn Jack's core action. The rest of the book is one long journey where Finn and Jack find themselves on a difficult mission that will have grave consequences for many of the characters of this trilogy. The heart of Briar Queen belongs to Harbour's skillful worldbuilding and not her characters this time, although we meet some pretty nasty fairies, located in a world called the Ghostlands.

I found this book full of sorrows I did not expect, and a twist in the story that spoke to my feelings about how troubled fairies can be. There is mischief and deceptions.

My greatest pleasure in this story is Moth, a wonderful fairy who has a shadowed and complex past. Moth is old, older than Jack, and even by the end of the story, we are not sure who and what he is. Many of the narrators are unreliable and not to be trusted when it comes to the history of the Fata.

Harbour's gift as a writer is her vivid imagination, her willingness to embrace her uniqueness and to remain true to her fairies.  As I've written before, her fairies are dark, decadent, and masters of deception. They hold no allegiance, not even to one another at times. They can be ruthless and yet, they are so incredibly charming and beautiful, so seductive in their longings and desires.

I'll come back to this story again and talk more about it in detail when I have read it a few more times. I'll do it at a time when I can write about events which would spoil the story for new readers. 

Highly recommended. See my post on Thorn Jack here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Katherine Harbour Interview (with my ramblings)

So excited to talk to Katherine Harbour about her fairy books!


Today, I have the great pleasure of talking to Katherine Harbour, author of Thorn Jack and A Night and Nothing series, a group of stories about some deliciously dark fairies set in the town of Fair Hollow.

Melinda, the Fan:  
I guess the first thing I want to know is how good are you going to be to Jack and Finn? I know this couple is in trouble and I haven’t even read a word of Briar Queen.  It’s probably not a fair question but this couple really fell in love and bought that love with a lot of grief. So warn me now. Tell your reader something.

Katherine:
Well, I don’t love perfect happy endings, so…

Melinda, the Fan:
(Omg! No. Yes. No. No. No. Yes. All right!)

Melinda, the Fan:
Your fairies are gorgeous, decadent, and dangerous beings. I see you have read Diane Purkiss’s book on fairies, which I must add, is my favorite. Did the book influence you, and if so, how?

Katherine: 
At the Bottom of the Garden did influence me, as did Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland by Lady Gregory. Both were fantastic resources on fairy folklore, especially with references to the fairies and the dead, the connection I wanted to make, with Fatas perhaps being spiritual remnants who’ve evolved.

Melinda, the Fan:
(I just love that idea, spiritual remnants who've evolved. YES!)

Melinda, the Fan:
You write with such emotional and descriptive power. I know that’s your voice, but how hard is that? I am so amazed by some of your words.

Katherine:
I really have to be lost in the story, with no distractions. Music absolutely helps get me in the mood, whether for a love scene, an action sequence, or one of sorrow. Sometimes, I’ll wait until I feel the scene and return to it.

Melinda, the Fan:
(So much love and so much sorrow. I love that about this series!)

Melinda, the Fan:
You wrote a novella called Bones and Heart. Really, I was so heartbroken to learn about Jack’s history and his poor mother. Did you know this before you wrote Thorn Jack or did it come to later? How much backstory do you do on characters?

Katherine:
I did know Jack’s back story by the second new outline for Thorn Jack. I wrote the story because I wanted readers to have an opportunity to see Jack’s side of things. For my major characters I write about two pages of back story—half of which I don’t even use!

Melinda, the Fan:
(I wept reading Bones and Heart, readers, please don't miss this novella.)

Melinda, the Fan: 
You created a huge and wonderful cast of characters in Thorn Jack. Who is a favorite new character(s) in Briar Queen? Can you tell us a bit about the character(s) and how she/he/they came to you?

Katherine: 
Oh, there are a few! I’d have to say it’s a tie between Moth and Seth Lot. Moth is mysterious and valiant and damaged, like Jack. Seth Lot is the new baddie—he has the style of a turn-of-the-century Russian aristocrat, a saint’s face, and a savage cruelty. Moth evolved from the moth key and my wanting to make it important throughout the story. The idea of Seth Lot came from a magazine photo of an aristocratic man with a scar on his face. The Erl King was also another inspiration for him. And the Big Bad Wolf of fairy tales.

Melinda, the Fan:
(When I asked Katherine these questions, I had not read Briar Queen. Now having read the book, I am totally in love with Moth, and yes, Seth Lot is a wonderful villain. More on this when I discuss the book.)

Melinda, the Fan: 
Thorn Jack is a wonderful and rich retelling of Tam Lin, probably my favorite. Have you continued that retelling or have you developed another in Briar Queen? What other stories influenced you?

Katherine: 
In Briar Queen, the story is based more on the quest tale, with a bit of Little Red Riding Hood thrown in, and a villain inspired by Goethe’s poem ‘The Erl King.’

Melinda, the Fan:
(Oh, what a great character, and I just love Goethe's poem. Perfect for a villain.)

Melinda, the Fan:
I know it’s not fair and you can answer with a simple yes or no, but are we readers going to be shocked by Lily Rose’s history in this book?

Katherine:
Maybe not in Briar Queen, since it’s only hinted at. There’s definitely more of Lily in the third book, and a short story I’m working on about Lily’s time with Seth Lot.

Melinda, the Fan:
(A story about Lily and Seth Lot. OMG! Can't wait.)

Melinda, the Fan:
The Fata are so interesting a concept, I hardly know how to label them. They are a slippery bunch of creatures, both lovable and vicious. I somehow picture your home full of paintings of them, that you have become attached and are drawn into their world much the same as Finn. Agree? No? What is your worldbuilding process like? I imagine it’s a very rich world.

Katherine:
I daydream a lot, but I have a ton of stories on my mind! I’ve painted some of my characters. My world building begins with researching whatever atmosphere or setting I’ve chosen. For instance, researching fairy folklore and choosing which true-life towns to base Fair Hollow on for Thorn Jack.

Melinda, the Fan:
(Katherine's blog has some interesting paintings and thoughts on the characters. I recommend that readers check that out.)

Melinda, the Fan:
Do you have a writing soundtrack? If not, can you think of a song(s) that might go along with your novels?

Katherine:
I do have a writing soundtrack on Soundcloud, and each book has a playlist listed in the back. ‘Tam Lin’ by Fairport Convention and Katie Perry’s ‘Wide Awake’ were big inspirations for Thorn Jack.

Melinda, the Fan:
(Having read the book now, I see that Katherine has listed a writing soundtrack in the back of the book, along with character list and a wonderful Glossary.)

Melinda, the Fan:
The Nettle King is next. Any hints? The End? Oh, I hate series sometimes, because I hate to leave the world. So let me just ask my question this way. If your dreams come true, will we be reading more about the Fata or will you wander down another path?

Katherine:
In Nettle King, trouble comes to town, and, when Finn goes to the land of the dead, that action literally comes back to haunt her—and Fair Hollow. There’s also a new villain. I plan a spin-off in The Children of Night and Nothing series, with Anna Weaver, who is thirteen now, as a sixteen-year-old returning to Fair Hollow. I’ve also completed the first draft for a steampunk fantasy trilogy about three young people whose lives intersect when they discover a criminal cabal with supernatural connections. It’s not connected to Thorn Jack and it’s not even set in this world, but there will be nightmarish fairies!

Melinda, the Fan:
Thank you, Katherine, for sharing a part of your writing process and world concerning Thorn Jack and your current release Briar Queen. We fans wish you all the luck in the world with this series and any future writing projects. You have definitely created some wonderful character and put your personal brand on a group of dark fairies.

In closing, I'd like to add, that without too many spoilers, I'll be talking about Briar Queen on Thursday and more on the why Katherine's fairies are so good on Friday.

Read my comments on Katherine's Thorn Jack here.

Tuesday (comments on Thorn Jack), Today, Thursday, and Friday, I'll be on Twitter and Facebook posting about Katherine's beautiful books. Anyone who comments here on Tuesday Wednesday, or Thursday, anyone who RTs on Twitter, anyone that comments on my Facebook or shares, will be given a chance to win a copy of Thorn Jack, Bones and Heart, and Briar Queen, via yours truly, Melinda, the Fan.  Do it all, use the share icons on my blog, too, and I'll throw in a surprise.

You can learn more about Katherine Harbour on her blog, It's All About Story, her Twitter account, and Facebook.


Happy Reading!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Thorn Jack by Katherine Harbour

Thorn Jack, by Katherine Harbour, will always be one of my favorite novels, the ones that I admire for a variety of reasons as a writer. Technically, it is near flawless and that's quite remarkable in itself. While very accessible, it accomplishes many things at once, part love story, part family drama, part fairy tale, part phantasmagorical dream, part secret history. It is riddled with symbols and themes, and literary allusions. And that is not all. Fair Hollow, the decadent setting, with it's falling leaves and scented roses, its forbidden woods, and those gorgeous decaying houses haunts the imagination.  On the surface, one could describe this as a simple love story, the tale of a young girl who meets the dark brooding guy, and falls into a dangerous situation, but Thorn Jack moves beyond love into the mythic heart of what it means to be human in a world where death is the final end. Fairies are the metaphor here, although Harbour has given them a world and complexity of their own. Fairies live in the night. In the day, they are nothing, and Harbour may have not deliberately planned it, this deep conflict, this dichotomy between the two, but that is aching heart of this book and it is not only striking but primordial. There is also that outer gaze that I often write of when concerning fairies and their mythology. The center of this story is set around Finn Sullivan and her grief for her sister, Lily Rose. Finn has moved to Fair Hollow, the home of her deceased grandmother, and it is here that she sees Jack for the first time. Jack, as metaphor, is the goblin of Christina Rossetti's mysterious and allegorical tale of sisters tempted by the Other. He is dark, dangerous, and dead. What he wants is not love, but life. The outer gaze gives us a glimpse of how desperate fairies are to be among the living, how fairies use the living, and how the dead really envy those alive and bleeding. Jack, himself, was once human. In Finn, he sees a small part of his human self. The fact that he is conflicted in Finn's seduction is given validity by the outer gaze of his past and what it means to be a "Jack." Harbour excelled here. Otherwise this story would have been too simple. That Finn is drawn to Jack resonates in a young girl, who is grieving the death of both a sister and a grandmother, who is transported from the comforts of home and hearth to the dangerous woods of place and longing. Finn has this ferocious longing to connect to something outside the pain she is feeling. That, in itself, is why this novel works so beautifully. Jack is her catalyst. I don't find their love story sentimental in anyway. Jack's desire for life is an easy opening for the other human desires. Finn's desire for life is much the same. Once the connection is there, it becomes a dangerous road, because Jack is not a living breathing thing, nor is he able to live in the light. At times, he is only a dream, and at times, he is nothing. There's meaning there. Harbour develops it by giving us a complex history of the fairy who seduced Jack into her world and it is here that we are given a retelling of Tam Lin. Unlike other similar tales of good young girls and beautiful dangerous boys, Finn is Team Human. She never wants to go to the Other. Instead, she brings Jack back to life. Of course, the deed requires a heavy price and because Thorn Jack is one of three books in a series, we know that while love is a powerful thing, it cannot fix all problems. There are other elements I adore in this book, the fact that reason is often fixed against madness, instead of the old fashioned good versus evil, the fact that human desires, our personal enclosures and escapes are shown in how the fairies function. However, these are some gorgeous and decadent fairies, so colorful and seductive that I found myself, several times, siding with them emotionally. That's dangerous. Fairy Land is a mad, mad place. No human should want to live there, but I was tempted. I suppose that is the heart of all good fairy stories, the fact that we humans envy the immortal dead in some ways. The latter is another post altogether and Freudian. In closing, I want to add that no matter what happens in this series, Thorn Jack is a perfect standalone book, written in a dreamy descriptive language what gives the outer gaze a life. We see, somewhere at the edge of our vision, the powerful Otherness, so dark and seductive, that we can do nothing but long for it.