Lessons from My Reading

M. K. Theodoratus, Fantasy Writer, blogs about the books she reads--mostly fantasy and mystery authors whose books catch her eye and keep her interest. Nothing so formal as a book review, just chats about what she liked. Theodoratus also mutters about her own writing progress or ... lack of it.

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Friday, September 7, 2012

Mining Faery Lore for Plot Lines: "Bones of Faerie"

Writers and story-tellers mine Faery Lore for stories, probably since the idea of the magical little people was invented. The first written faery story that I know of is Apuleius's Metamorphoses or The Golden Ass, aka Beauty and the Beast by any other name. I've been known to steal ideas myself in a draft lost somewhere in  my computer.

Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner is a dark, lyrical telling of the aftermath of a war between humans and Fey. As in all true apocalyptic novels, the atmosphere is foreboding with the MC struggling for survival in a hostile world. Fun note: after a truce of sorts, the St Louis arch marks the border between the two planes. Ya gotta love it when an author knows her stuff [or his] well enough to throw factoids like that ... and make them real.

The well-drawn characters did disappoint a bit. Though three-dimensional, they seldom drifted from their pre-ordained role in the plot line. One notable element, I thought: the use of MC's newborn sister's infanticide since the babe becomes an on-going character who is important to the denouement. -- Hey it's fantasy, and not all dead characters are zombies.

Simner makes the settings real with economy which allows her to tells us a complex tale within a 250-word YA book. After the Apocalypse humans struggle in a world were the vegetation is mobile, maybe not as fast as animals ... but faster than the regular wheat field. The trees are so menacing that it's almost impossible to raise enough food to survive the winters. 

Physical survival isn't the only problem the MC faces. Her village has prospered because her father has systematically killed anyone who shows signs of magic, even newborns.  

The opening of Chapter 3: "Words froze in my throat as I stared at my father. Had he seen the light in the sink, the paleness in my hair? Cast out the magic born among you. Yet I was no babe to set out in the night. Father had told me often enough how he'd have dealt with Cam had the boy lived: "With a single stroke across the throat, swift and deep."

This is the first book in a trilogy.
[Janni Lee Simner. Bones of Faerie. New York: Random House Children's Books, 2009]
This is a new author to me, who entered my home with a bunch of books my kids sent me, but she's a acclaimed writer if you want to visit her website. I'm still debating whether to keep it, but I'm afraid the hardback pile will topple if I add another book.

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Plot isn't all. You need people to live in your world ... aka characters. Have been thinking a lot about characters the past week. Got an editor request for a rewrite ... one of the points was the "main" character wasn't fleshed out enough ... in a flash piece. I'm working on it, but can't see where I have much wiggle room.

Margo Berendson has also been thinking about characters. You might take a look at her blog on making and breaking character "rules". You might learn something ... if only a new take on dragons. 

Margo much more disciplined than I am and worth reading regularly. Maybe because she writes at a higher altitude than I do.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Golden Oldies: Books that Do and Don't Stand the Test of Time: Review of "I Know What You Did Last Summer" & More

Nothing like showing up late for the party. I always feel like that when I pick up a Lois Duncan book at a used book store. Yeah, reading one of her books is usually one, full of dread party. Recently read I Know What You Did Last Summer, a chilling, suspenseful book without any gore. -- Guess the 1997 "blockbuster" movie wasn't a slasher movie ... even though I didn't see it.

The plot centers around four clueless teens who think they can bury a bad decision if they don't talk about it. Unfortunately, such decisions rise like zombies and develop a life of their own. -- No, Last Summer isn't a zombie story. In this case, someone has figured out their secret and stalks them, as he seeks retribution for a hit and run death.

Duncan has a lean style, but manages to tie up all the loose ends in a relatively short book. What didn't work for me: The characters didn't seem to grow. They remained much the same at the end of the book as at the beginning ... though they did give up their pact to remain silent  and face the music.  

What really worked for me was the way Duncan mixed flash backs to show the difference a year can make in someone's life. The opening scenes of panic hook the reader and attach them to the story ... as Jill, probably the most important character, must confront actions she'd rather bury in the deep recesses of her mind as well as a love she can't give up.

Duncan winds up the tension in the book by using different viewpoints to create a feeling of dread. Each chapter gives judicious pieces of information about the secret in flashbacks with the story unfolding in standard mystery fashion. The flashbacks also delineate the character of the teens.  

[Lois Duncan. I Know What You Did Last Summer. 
New York: Laurel Leaf, Random House, 1973.]
Trade ... though I should probably keep and study it

Read an Ellis Peters [Brother Cadfael] mystery set in modern times: The Will and the Deed.  The book was copyrighted in 1960 and had a nice plot/villain twist. But, today it felt unbelievable. Not only did the technology feel off to this Luddite ... but inflation made the amount of money involved silly as a motive for murder.

Trade ... though it'll probably end up with Friends of the Library

Inflation has influenced publishing. I've always wondered if larger/ longer books were a result of the higher prices books now cost. Like, the writer's cost is the least important part of a publisher's expenses.
This comment comes up because I again revisited Tamora Pierce's Tortall. This time: Mastiff, A Tortall Legend, the third book in the Beka Cooper trilogy. The hardback's so heavy it made my thumbs hurt, but still kept reading until after two AM to finish it ... even though I've read it at least three times.

The fact that I own the book in hardback tells you how good I think the book is.

Last but not least, I read Dorothy Gilman's Caravan about getting lost in the Sahara before WWI. The books a fascinating exercise in breaking the "rule" of telling a story. The revenge of the narrator is as downplayed as it's brilliant

I'll probably trade it since I'm trying to clear some room on my bookshelves.  

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Just what I need is an interruption in my writing schedule ... especially since critiques are starting to come in on "Troublesome Neighbors". But ... an editor asked me for a revision. Yeah, I'm going to do it ... even though only a token payment is involved.