Top Ten Tuesday: Cozy Winter Reads

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

December 4: Cozy/Wintry Reads (Make this prompt suit your current season if needs be.)

There’s nothing I love more than curling up under a blanket with a good book and some hot cocoa while the snow is falling outside. Here are my favorite cozy winter reads:

51lz9ueudjl-_ac_us218_1. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie- Hercule Poirot is on a train that is trapped by an avalanche, just before a passenger is found murdered. Poirot is on the case and the thirteen other passengers in the car are his only suspects. The only problem is that they all have both an excellent motive and an airtight alibi. Just an FYI, the recent film changes some elements of the ending, so even if you’ve seen that, you may still be surprised.

51mxt4oifll-_ac_us218_2. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden- Vasilisa grows up in a home in the Russian wilderness that’s snowed in each winter. She spends the season with her siblings listening to their nurse’s fairy tales. When her mother dies, her father brings a new wife home from Moscow. Vasilisa’s stepmother is religious and won’t allow the family to honor the household spirits as they always have. Though the family acquiesces to her wishes, Vasilisa suspects that this decision will have grave consequences in this re-imagined Russian fairy tale.

41d0oywr9zl-_ac_us218_3. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey- A childless couple in Alaska in 1920 indulge in a bit of silliness on the night of the first snowfall. They build a child out of snow. The next morning, the snow child is gone but Jack and Mabel start to catch glimpses of a little girl, running through the trees. This child seems to survive alone in the Alaskan wilderness. Is she their snow child come to life or are her origins more mundane? Jack and Mabel come to love this girl, whom they call Faina as if she were their own. But will they be able to care for her as they would a normal child?

51qgclwqxal-_ac_us218_4. Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin– This is kind of a love it or hate it book (though don’t judge it on it’s bizarre film adaptation!). In New York City at the turn of the 20th century, Peter Lake attempts to rob a mansion that he thinks is empty one cold, winter night. It’s not empty. Beverley Penn, the daughter of the house is there, dying of consumption. They fall into a love so powerful that Peter, an uneducated thief will embark on a quest to stop time, bring back the dead and cure disease. It’s full of symbolism and beautiful writing, but some readers will find it overlong and indulgent.

51c-asvgcil-_ac_us218_5. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield- I read this one snowy day, and I’ll always associate it with winter for that reason. Vida Winter (is the name a coincidence?!) is a reclusive author who has made up stories about her life, but hidden the truth of it. Now that she’s old and sick she hires biographer Margaret Lea to tell her true story. It’s a tale of gothic strangeness, and a ghost, a governess, twins, a topiary garden and a house fire.

 

218weryp6kl-_ac_us218_6. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton– The title character of this slim novel is a farmer burdened by a barren farm an a hypochondriac wife, Zeenia. When Zeenia’s cousin, Mattie visits, Ethan falls in love with the warm girl who is everything that his wife is not. But his attempts to escape with Mattie may doom them all to a cold life on Ethan’s unproductive land.

 

518ejevmohl-_ac_us218_7. The Woman in the Window by AJ Flinn- Anna Fox is an agoraphobic who spends her days in her Harlem townhouse drinking wine, watching old movies and spying on her neighbors. When she witnesses a  murder in one of the their houses, the police don’t believe her (she’s a drunk with a history of psychological issues). We learn more about the chilly roots of those issues, and the mysterious events of that happened in her neighbors house, as we read.

517vbd5d37l-_ac_us218_8. Still Life by Louise Penny– There’s been a murder in the tiny town of Three Pines, a rural village just south of Montreal. When Inspector Gamache and his team arrive, everyone assumes that middle aged artist Jane Neal was killed in a tragic hunting accident. But Inspector Gamache soon discovers that Three Pines is hiding some dark secrets. While the village seems cozy and the food is described as yummy, the murders would probably keep me from wanting to move to Three Pines.

51zrrxlch9l-_ac_us218_9. The Loop by Nicholas Evans- In Hope, Montana, a Rocky Mountain ranching town, a pack of wolves has emerged and reawakened a tension that existed a century ago between humans and wolves. Helen Ross is an environmentalist who is sent to Hope to protect the wolves. Her mission brings her into conflict with Buck Calder, a brutal but charismatic rancher, as well as his son, Luke, with whom Helen begins an affair.

 

51laj9fuhcl-_ac_us218_10. A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick– In 1907 Wisconsin, 58 year old Ralph is waiting for his mail order bride to appear. He put out a classified ad, and is expecting his new wife at the station, but with Catherine Land gets off the train she’s not at all what he expected. She has plans to slowly poison Ralph and leave Wisconsin as a wealthy widow. But on Ralph’s snow bound estate, he reveals to Catherine that he’s a man with secrets and plans of his own.

 

 

A Bit More Shameless Self Promotion

I promise not to do this again for a while!

Firstly, I’m pleased to share that Beautiful is included in Enchanted Quill Press’ Festive Fairytale & Fantasy Book Fair. If you haven’t read Beautiful yet, it’s a lovely way to escape the stress of the holiday season. It’s free for Kindle Unlimited customers and only $2.99 for an ebook. Also, check out some of the other amazing books that are included in this promotion.

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Also, today I skyped with a middle school class that is learning about fairy tales and retellings. I remember a few occasions when authors came to my school and spoke to my class. It was always such a thrill for me to feel like someone who had actually created a book was taking the time to answer my questions. Today, I was about ten times as thrilled to answer some of the questions that these kids posed. I don’t imagine they were as thrilled as I was to have me there, but they asked some great questions and I really enjoyed talking to them as an author. I suppose that I don’t feel like an author most of the time. Usually I don’t identify myself as an author unless I’m writing (and sometimes not even then) so it was a bit odd to talk to people who know me only by a book I’ve written. Odd but exciting!

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween to all! Beautiful is $1.99 until tomorrow only, so take advantage of this deal now!
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Other things that should be on your to-do list today:

  • Reading creepy books (Check out my TTT  from yesterday for some ideas)
  • Watch a scary movie (or a funny Halloween themed one)
  • Dressing up or just checking out other people’s costumes
  • Candy. Lots of candy.

Don’t let being a grown up stop you from having fun!

Research When You’re Writing Fantasy

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A few months ago I  was talking to someone about writing. He asked what genre I wrote and I said “Fantasy.” He said “That’s nice. At least you don’t have to worry about research.” Well, that would be false. All writers are different of course, and I can’t speak for anyone else, but I definitely do research as a fantasy writer.

When I first started writing Beautiful, I was just throwing my imaginings on the page, and I hadn’t really done much research or preparation. But when I realized that I was writing a variant of Beauty and the Beast, I started to do some research. Specifically, I started with Google.  I think I literally looked up “beauty and the beast story variations” found some interesting articles. Some sites I found particularly helpful were Pook Press, Jenni of Shalott and SurLaLune Fairy Tales. I read up on some animal bridegroom tales from other cultures.  I wanted to see what themes emerged in common among these stories and where they differed. I also read a lot of existing retellings. I discuss some favorites and some observations in this post. I also read a lot of contemporary discussions on the story, including popular claims that it’s about Stockholm Syndrome (here’s my rebuttal if you’re interested) and I decided that I wanted to write something in which there weren’t any real captives. I also watched a lot of film versions of the story. For about a year I lived I Beauty and the Beast themed life, and I reflected a bit about the story and why it appealed to me. I wasn’t sure how much of this would end up making it into my book, but it was interesting food for thought.

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Photo by Jens Mahnke on Pexels.com

Another layer of research came as I was revising. I wanted the book to be set in a sort of generic “past” rather than a specific time and place.  But I still needed to look up things that the characters do. For example, in one scene, Finn, a wealthy, privileged character who has always had servants to do things for him, is on his own in the wilderness.  He must build a fire. In the first draft I brushed over this, because I was more interest in getting everything down. But as I revised I had to get more specific.  As far as I’m concerned, building a fire involves striking a match, so that took research. In another scene, the heroine, Eimear, is stung by a jellyfish. Fortunately, that’s never happened to me, so I needed to do research to find out what that looks and feels like, and how it’s treated. Google was again, helpful here. I have no idea how writers did research in the pre-Google days!

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Another element of research come in as I was building my fantasy world. The courts are based on a classification system derived from Scottish folklore. But within those environments I included other classifications from William Butler Yeats and Katherine Marie Briggs. I also included creatures from different folkloric traditions. One book that I used a lot was The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures, which is a general A-Z guide to creatures from different traditions and systems of mythology. Once I found things I wanted to include I took to the internet again for more research.

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The finished product. Buy it! Read it! Review it!

My research process for my second novel has been similar-ish with one major difference. The first time around there was a lot of “how to” research involving publishing, and a lot of trial and error. I’m hoping that this time around will involve a little less error!

I’ve Been…

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  • Adding some extras to the “Books” section on my website. Right now it’s just a couple of character letters written by Eimear and Finn, the protagonists of Beautiful.  I’ve also been working on some letters for my next book. I’m hoping to have some news about that soon!
  • Trying to sell books. Figuring out the publicity and marketing angle of publishing is tricky for me because it’s not something I’m comfortable with. Part of it is the fact that I’m not an aggressive salesperson in general. Part of it is the fact that I’m still working on building confidence as a writer. I think/hope that as that happens, the sales side of things will get easier.
  • Working on book #2. It’s set in the same universe as Beautiful but it’s a stand alone. In it, I combine Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen with some Japanese mythology, as well as some of the Celtic folklore in Beautiful. I’m almost done with my first draft and I’m aiming to have it ready to publish by Summer 2019.
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  • Loving the Charity Miles App. Basically, it’s an app that logs your movement (walking, running, biking, etc) and each mile you move, helps to earn money for your chosen charity. The money comes from corporate sponsors who are repurposing their media budgets for social good. The app gives them premium advertising so they see a high return on their investment. You can choose from over forty charities that help children, veterans, animals, the environment, education, and scientific research, and you can change your charity at any time. In the past week, I’ve logged about thirty miles for She’s the First, an organization that fights gender inequality around the world through education. Next week I’ll walk/run for a different charity. Basically, it’s a chance to improve your own health as well as help others, and I encourage anyone and everyone to try it.
  • Livid and saddened by the situation in the US.  I don’t want to talk about it too much in this post, but this past week has been really overwhelming at times. I’ve been reflecting a lot on the state of the nation and how we can heal. Maybe I’ll post about that at some point soon. For now, I can only hope that this spurs everyone who has had similar feelings to vote next month.

Indie-love: Blue Water

One of the elements of being an indie writer that I’m definitely still in the process of figuring out is advertising. The fact that I’m on a limited budget makes it even more challenging. But fortunately, the writing community is really supportive. JA Armitage‘s new book, Blue Water released today She’s sending out a newsletter to her readers and will be mentioning my book, Beautiful, in it today. In exchange, she asked me to give Blue Water a shout out to my readers. I was happy to do so.

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Princess Erica can’t live under the ocean and Ari can’t live above it and yet they are destined to be together, bonded by magic. With circumstances keeping them apart and magic bringing them together, they find themselves living impossible lives with no way around it. Snatching time together here and there is one thing, but when Erica’s father becomes ill and with Erica due to ascend to the throne, even that has to stop.
Blue water is the second book in the Little Mermaid trilogy and the fifth in the Reverse Fairytale series by USA Today Bestselling Author J.A Armitage.
Take everything you know about fairytales and turn it on its head.

Remember that the best ways to support indie authors are:

  1. Read their books.
  2. Tell others about their books.
  3. Write positive reviews on Amazon and Goodreads

Without a publicity department behind you, it’s important for authors to support each other and readers to support authors.

Why is Beauty and the Beast Retold So Often?

51noohzpcsl-_ac_us218_Beauty and the Beast has always been one of my favorite fairy tales. I didn’t set out to retell it when I wrote Beautiful. I had actually just started off writing a story (a short story, mind you, not a novel) and I found myself doing inspired by the fairy tale about a quarter way through the first draft. But ever since I was a kid I loved the mysterious gothic castle and the idea that you can’t always trust your eyes. It’s odd that those are elements that I did away with in my own version. Instead, I found other aspects more interesting. I  wanted a dual redemption arc for both my Beauty and my Beast. I wanted some ambiguity regarding who qualifies as the “beauty” and who is the “beast.” I also became interested in the idea that we don’t always appreciate beauty when we first encounter it. Sometimes it’s something we need to be ready to appreciate. I’d like to say that I’m the first person to re-imagine this fairy tale, but I’d be lying if I did. A lot of great writers have done interesting fresh, diverse things with this story. These are some of my favorites that have gone before.

51pwjyt4e0l-_ac_us218_Beauty by Robin McKinley– This is probably most similar to the classic fairy tale that most of us know. For that reason, I found it a bit dull but I know a lot of retelling fans love it. And it’s well done. It just doesn’t do much that feels original or new. But it was written in 1978, so there’s a good chance that at the time, it did feel fresh!

 

 

51ck4irm2cl-_ac_us218_Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley– McKinley had more than just one Beauty and the Beast story in her! Unpopular opinion time: I actually prefer this one. McKinley moves outside of the box and puts her own spin on things. She even throws in a bit of a twist ending.

 

 

41oyve54sgl-_ac_us218_Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier–  Marilier is one of my favorite authors in this genre and she doesn’t disappoint with this offering. The conventions or fairy tales are mixed with gothic romance and it’s all set in 12th century Ireland. When Caitrin takes refuge in Anluan’s garden she is hired as a scribe to sort through family documents. Anluan’s family is under a curse that Caitrin must unravel if she, Anluan or anyone in the household is to find happiness.

51spwrt1xrl-_ac_us218_The Fire Rose by Mercedes Lackey– This is one of those books you shouldn’t judge by its cover. It’s part of Lackey’s Elemental Masters series but since each book in the series is very much standalone that shouldn’t be a problem. It’s set in San Francisco in the early 1900s. Rosalind is a medieval scholar who is hired as a governess, but when she arrives at her employer’s house she discovers that he has no children. Indeed she isn’t even able to meet him face to face. Her job is to read to him from ancient manuscripts through a speaking tube. She assumes that his interest in medieval spells and sorcery is just an eccentric trait. But she discovers that his interest isn’t academic at all. On the contrary, he has a very practical reason for this.

51j2bc8fhbjl-_sl160_The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth– Forsyth bases this novel on the Grimm’s version of the Beauty and the Beast story called The Singing Springing Lark. But it’s set in Nazi Germany.  Ava loathes the Nazis and everything they stand for and she joins a resistance group to try to fight them. But in order to save her father’s life, she has to marry Leo, a Nazi Officer. Leo seems kind and intelligent, but Ava can’t overlook the people with whom he associates. But appearances can be deceiving. Leo hates the Nazis as much as Ava does. He uses his position within the party to give German military secrets to the allied forces, sabotage Geman plans and save as many lives as he can. But his activities might put at risk the lives of all that Ava holds dear.

61l1afcvhtl-_ac_us218_The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter- Maybe this is cheating because it’s actually a collection of short stories but Angela Carter includes several that have Beauty and the Beast elements. These are most obvious are “The Courtship of Mr. Lyon” and “The Tiger’s Bride,” but you can find traces of the fairy tale’s influence running all through the tales in this brilliant collection.

 

51uytfmeel-_ac_us218_The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson– Again I might be stretching it a bit here, as I don’t think this was intentionally written with Beauty and the Beast in mind. But there are a lot of parallels. I feel like it definitely influenced the author, whether or not he was aware of it. Just a warning- the first chapter includes a very graphic description of the main character’s injuries in a car accident and the treatment of those injuries. If you can, try to push past it. It’s not that graphic throughout. The driver of the car is in a hospital burn unit when Marianne Engel finds him. She tells him that they were lovers in a previous life. She tells the elaborate story of their past lives together so vividly that the burned man is no longer able to dismiss her.

The Beauty and the Beast story as we know it probably has its roots in the Cupid and Psyche story, and the Norwegian fairy tale East of the Sun, West of the Moon. All of these are part of a broader tradition of women taking men disguised as beasts as their husbands. There is also a tradition of animal bride stories in which the female is in some way “other.” Think about swan maidens, selkies, and even The Little Mermaid.

Different cultures have used these stories in different ways. For example, the original French tale by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and later adapted by  Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, was used as a way to reassure wealthy girls going into arranged marriages that just because their intended might not seem promising at first glance, don’t give up hope. It’s also been used to convey the “true beauty lies within” message.  But ultimately I think that they’re about how people respond to differences. How do we respond to what’s considered “monstrous”? What a society considers “other” will vary.  Likewise, the response to others varies depending on the individual. Those variations allow for writers to use their imaginations. They take the classic story and change some of the variables. What happens is sometimes surprising.

Fairy Tales, Princesses, Gothic Witches, & Popular Fiction

First, just to clarify: in this post, I won’t be discussing fairy tale retellings (books that set out to retell a specific fairy tale in a different way) but rather fairy tale inspired works.

If you look at many of my favorite books from Jane Eyre, to Rebecca, to Wuthering Heights, to We Have Always Lived in the Castle, you’ll see a lot of similar elements. Big houses, family secrets, and other gothic trappings. But there’s another element that’s consistent in them: fairy tales. Jane Eyre and Rebecca are both Bluebeard stories: A young woman becomes romantically involved with a wealthy man with a big house. It would seem to be a Cinderella story, but there’s a secret involving the man’s previous wife. In both cases, the man bears some degree of culpability. In Wuthering Heights, we see Heathcliff continuously compared to a beast; called “wolfish” with “sharp, cannibal teeth.” But unlike the traditional fairytale romantic beast, his actions are as beastly as the rest of him. While the love between Beauty and the Beast sets the Beast’s castle free of an enchantment, the love between Cathy and Heathcliff imprisons them and their families for a generation. We see a more traditional Beauty and the Beast story play out later with their children. Hareton is the Beast made in his father’s image, and Catherine is the Beauty who “tames” him. In We Have Always Lived in the Castle, we see the fairytale castle before it became an enchanted ruin. We learn about the crime that made Witches of normal women.

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But the fairy tale influence isn’t just limited to classics.  As a pre-teen, I was, like many, obsessed with VC Andrews. My favorite of her books was Flowers in the Attic. I haven’t reread it in years and I don’t want to. I have the sense that it’s not the kind of book that will hold up well. But the fairy tale influences are strong throughout. When their father dies, four children are brought to Grandmother’s House by their mother. In this case, Grandmother’s House happens to be a mansion and the children are locked in the attic because if  Grandfather finds out they exist, Mom won’t get her inheritance.  They’re told they won’t be up there long. Grandfather is old and dying. And Mom will try to tell him about them eventually. They’ll be in the attic maybe a week tops.  They’re up there for three years. We have two “witches” here. Grandmother has a bible verse for every occasion, a wide definition of sin, and a ready whip. But even more frightening is Mom, who seems a helpless, beautiful Princess at first. Caught in a bad situation she just wants to do what’s best for her family. But by degrees, she becomes convinced that keeping the kids locked up is the best thing for them. Then she realizes it’s the best thing for her and stops caring about them.  The narrator, Cathy, is twelve when the book begins, and fifteen when it ends. In many ways, she’s literally the Princess locked away in a tower. But she’s also got a bit of a Witch in her (explored more in the sequel, Petals on the Wind) in that like most teenage girls, she’s selfish, cynical, and can see things as pretty bleak. Also, in her family, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. She comes from a long line of Witches. A lot of the tension in the series deals with who she ultimately becomes: Princess or Witch?

A few years ago, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl became a major bestseller. We saw some of that Witch/Princess emerge in the character of Amy. She’s beautiful, in danger, and (for a time) locked away. But she also has some fairly witchy characteristics. Unlike Cathy, in Flowers in the Attic, who is always straddling the Princess/Witch divide, Amy definitely falls on one side more than the other. I won’t say which, to avoid spoilers. But Gone Girl wasn’t the only fairy tale inspired work that Gillian Flynn has in her oeuvre. Its success made her other two novels best sellers. Sharp Objects was just turned into a TV miniseries. In it, we have a clear Witch and a Princess/Witch. Camille is a  troubled journalist who returns to her hometown to investigate a double murder. We also meet her mother, Adora, is a manipulative narcissist. In her essay, “I Was Not A Nice Little Girl” Flynn discusses her intention to write about a Princess raised by a Witch.  Would Rapunzel, raised in a tower by a Witch, be a good woman? Or would she turn into a Witch herself?

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