May 31: Comfort Reads (Share which books or kinds of books you turn to when you need to escape. You can either share specific titles if you love to re-read, or you could share qualities of books you look for in a comfort read.)
I get the need for comfort! In fact I’ll be posting some more about that soon. Since I’ve done several lists of comfortbooks and comfort authors, I thought I’d share some genres and tropes I tend to turn to in tough times.
Mystery: I’ve written about why here a bit. I think it has to do with knowing how things will turn out. Regardless of how bad things get for the characters, by the end I’ll get answers.
Romance: I’ve sort of taken a while in coming to this genre (more about that here) but and as of now I still haven’t read too much in it, but especially in the last two years, I’ve discovered that the guarantee of a happy ending is very appealing comfort-wise.
“Chick-lit:” I’m not fond of that as a genre name, but I do want to consider it separate from romance. Often these have a romantic subplot, but it’s by no means obligatory. It often makes me smile though. I like that friends and family are a big part of these.
Children’s books: Old favorite and new offerings. I think people tend to write more optimistic stuff for children, but that doesn’t mean that stuff doesn’t get pretty dark in some of these! People underestimate the complexity of material for kids, but I feel like there’s more explanation in it so that the characters (and the reader) can understand and make sense of the bad things that happen.
Books about books, books about/by book lovers, books about libraries and bookshops. It’s not secret that books are my safe space. I did a list of these here. Just reading about books helps with the comfort!
Books about family, friendships and community. I will say that depending on the book (and family/friendship/community) you can wind up with something pretty disturbing here. But sometimes even a book about dysfunctional relationships can comfort me with a sense of love and closeness at its core.
Feel good fantasy. I tried to get more specific with this genre but it’s not easy to identify. Some worlds it’s nice to just jump into and hide in for a while.
Books you get lost in. Again I wasn’t able to be more specific than this. It’s more of a quality I find. Some books that make you forget that the real world is out there. They’re hard to come by, but that makes finding them special.
Well, the most recent fantasy book I read with fantasy creature on the cover, was Crown of Crystal Flame, by CL Wilson. It’s the final book in Wilson’s Tarien Soul series and it has a Tarien (sort of like a giant cat with wings) on the cover in the background. The first book in the series, Lord of the Fading Lands shows a Tarien a bit more clearly.
Fantasy in translation
Fridays are all about celebrating fantasy from around the world – this week focuses on books that weren’t originally written in English
Double-edged prophecies, irresistible destiny, a plot stick you just can’t dodge – let’s end the month on a classic
Well, this month these are the books I’ve read that use that trope: Crown of Crystal Flame by CL Wilson– This is the final book in the Tarien Soul series and the heroine, Elysetta, has every characteristic of a “chosen one.” She has a mysterious past, she was found in the woods as a baby, she has a supernatural/fantastic origin story, and she is destined to either save, or destroy, the fey. Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness-This is the second book in the All Souls series and I think that Diana has some “chosen one” characteristics too. She knows she’s a witch but she didn’t have any sense of connection to her heritage before the first book in the series. In this book, she starts her magic training, and it turns out she’s a “weaver,” a rare kind of witch that can make up spells. It’s been hinted that she might save supernatural creatures from extinction. She’s also married to a vampire, and there are prophesies about their offspring.
All the feels
We all love an emotional rollercoaster – a book that gave your feelings a full on work out
I’m often an emotional wreck as I read, so this might be a long-ish list with major spoilers. Be warned…
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman- The end when Bod leaves the graveyard, and the ghosts who raised him, and goes out to pursue his future as a living person. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro– I’m counting this as a fantasy, even though you could make the argument for it being sci-fi. Really just the whole thing once we learned what the characters were and their inevitable fate. Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon- A lot of books in the Outlander series have given me all the feels on a semi regular basis, but this one totally destroyed me when Jamie sends Claire back through the stones, to the future (they both think forever), and goes off to die (they think) at the battle of Culloden… Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling– This was another series where I got emotional at many different points (the end of The Prisoner of Azkaban, the end of The Goblet of Fire, the end of The Half Blood Prince…) but if I had to pick one part of the series, it would be this book. When people we love die in battle, when Harry goes into the forest, Dobby, Snape, and really everything! The Keeping Place by Isobelle Carmody- Once again, the Obernewtyn series has given me all the feels at several points. But this one features the Misfits getting betrayed by people they thought were allies. Many important and beloved characters are murdered in an ambush I didn’t see coming. My friend, who recommended the series warned me that we’d lose some people in this one, so I was semi-prepared, but the scope and depth of the betrayal was what destroyed me.
What is your fantasy origin story? (The first fantasy you read)
I honesty don’t know which one I first read. I read fairy tales obsessively as a child. When I loved a story I’d seek out as many versions of it as I could find, and compare and contrast them. (Yes, I was like 5 at the time!)
If you could be the hero/heroine in a fantasy novel, who would be the author and what’s one trope you’d insist be in the story?
Hmm… That’s an interesting question. I’d want it to be someone who wouldn’t do anything too terrible to a hero or heroine, so that leaves out a lot of authors! Maybe I’d go with Eva Ibbotson. Her fantasy books are intended mostly for younger readers, and while enough happens to make them interesting to an older audience, it’s usually nothing terrible to characters we like! As for tropes, I’d like to be the “Lucky Novice” whose never done something before, or done something with minimal training, and can do it really well. I usually have to practice a lot to be even halfway decent at something!
What is a fantasy series you’ve read this year, that you want more people to read?
This year is still fairly young and I haven’t read that many fantasy series yet. I suppose I’ll highlight Fairy Godmothers Inc., which is the first in the Fairy Godmothers, Inc. series. But it’s got a major caveat: while I think the series has potential I didn’t like the first book. I found the two main characters to be awful, separately and together. I say the series has potential though because it seems like the kind of thing that follows different characters in each book. It’s about three fairy godmothers living in the magical town of Ever After, Missouri. Love is the source of the magic in their world, but it’s running low. They decided to help attract more love to the town of Ever After by making it a popular wedding destination. But they need some help promoting it. They ask their goddaughter Lucky (who tends to have terrible luck!) a popular artist, to fake-marry their godson (and her ex) Ransom Payne (a billionaire who runs a chocolate company) in a high profile ceremony. Lucky and Ransom both agree because they want to help their beloved godmothers, but they are both the most annoying characters I’ve read in a long time. But the book is clearly setting up for a series set in Ever After, revolving around Fairy Godmothers, Inc. The residents of Ever After include Red and her werewolf Grammy, a frog prince named “Charming”, a reformed evil queen, and more. I don’t recommend it yet, because as I said I didn’t like the first book. But I think it has the potential to be a feel good, fun series, so I’ll give it another chance.
What is your favourite fantasy subgenre?
Ummm, I can’t choose! I’ll say that fantasy inspired by fairy tales; even though that can fall into several different subgenres. After all, Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series which is sci-fi oriented, but is fairy tale inspired. Meanwhile Juliet Marillier’s work is also fairy tale/legend inspired but it tends have a strong historical setting. The Fairy Godmothers, Inc series I mention above seems like it also draws heavily from fairy tales, but it has a light, magical realist tone. So I guess “fairy tale inspired fantasy” allows me to cheat and pick lots of different subgenres!
What subgenre have you not read much from?
I don’t read much in the way of Sword and Sorcery. I’m not really into reading about straight out battles and violent conflicts most of the time. I prefer more subtle rivalries. But there are exceptions to every rule.
Who is one of your auto-buy fantasy authors?
Just one?! I’ll say Juliet Marillier. I’ve read some books of hers that I’ve liked more than others, but I don’t think I’ve ever read one that I disliked.
How do you typically find fantasy recommendations? (Goodreads, Youtube, Podcasts, Instagram..)
All of the above. There are some bloggers whose opinions I trust, and I look at what my friends are reading on Goodreads mostly though.
What is an upcoming fantasy release you’re excited for?
Skyward Inn by Aliya Whiteley is described as “Jamaica Inn by way of Jeff Vandermeer, Ursula Le Guin, Angela Carter and Michel Faber” so that’s a big “yes, please!” from me.
What is one misconception about fantasy you would like to lay to rest?
I suppose I’d have to differentiate between reading fantasy and writing fantasy for this one. For reading, I’d say the notion that it’s only for kids has to go. Yes, you can absolutely have fantasy intended for children. But the genre can often get dark, violent, subversive, and disturbing. In other words, not for children at all! In terms of writing, I’ll say that the idea that fantasy writing requires no research needs to die. There’s a lot of research involved. I rant about it a bit in this post.
If someone had never read a fantasy before and asked you to recommend the first 3 books that come to mind as places to start, what would those recommendations be?
This is a tough one!
I wouldn’t do series because that’s a commitment and some don’t get really good until quite a ways in. I also think some classics of the genre tend to be too dense for beginners. Plus those always come with high expectations. So I’ll go with
–The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern– I recommend this one because it’s a stand alone of reasonable length that introduces readers to a more magic realist variation on fantasy. Plus I think Morgenstern beautifully engages the reader’s senses.
-The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker- This gets into the mythical creates of two different traditions and draws them together in a historical setting. It’s a great example of how fantasy can draw on different sources, and set itself in the “real” world. I actually see now that there’s a sequel that’s coming out in June, but I think it works as a stand alone, if someone chooses to read it that way.
The one that jumps to my mind is War and Peace. I read it in college in a freshman seminar that explored the themes of war and peace in general. It wasn’t the worst book I read in that class (Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, I’m looking at you!) but after some really dense stuff, I was sort of looking forward to getting into a novel. Besides which, I actually enjoy big, sweeping, epic stories,. But nothing about the narrative or the characters grabbed me. My professor said that Tolstoy was “a great writer, who needed a great editor.” While I think that’s true, I think some of his writing is more compelling in other work. Here he gets to bogged down in extraneous stuff.
Favorite time period to read about
I’m a fan of the Victorian era, which is a pretty long era, spanning Queen Victoria’s reign from 1837-1901. A lot of my favorite writers of days past (the Bronte sisters, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Elliot, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins) were of this time period.
To be honest I think Beauty and the Beast has always been a favorite. I love almost every version I’ve read/seen (yes, including Disney!) It’s strange that one of the elements that always appealed to me was the forgotten, enchanted, castle where the Beast lives, but that’s an element that I didn’t include in my retelling at all!
I go on to talk about some pitfalls I wanted to avoid in my own work, so read the interview if that interests you. But I do think that the “gothicness” of the story always appealed to me. The brooding hero, who seems like a villain at first, the abandoned, enchanted castle…
What is the classic you are most embarrassed you haven’t read yet
I try not to be too embarrassed about not having read certain books yet. I mean, having new books to read (even when they’re not technically “new”) is one of life’s great joys, isn’t it? I consider myself pretty well read, but I’ve only been on earth so long, and there are other things I’ve had to do!
There are a few books I feel like I should have gotten to by now though. One of them is Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy. I think what’s stopped me so far from reading it, is the fact that it’s considered depressing, even by Hardy’s standards! I think he’s a beautiful writer, but he can be kind of a downer, and lately I haven’t felt up to tackling anything like that.
I was in a recent book club discussion where someone mentioned Moby Dick and I realized I’ve never read that before either. I’m not sure if I want to. Part of me wants to read it, if only to say I did, but another part figures “why bother? There so much out there I actually want to read!” Any advice from anyone who’s read it?
Top 5 classics you would like to read soon
Well there are many, many classics that I’d like to reread. But in addition to those I’d like to get to these for the first time:
Picnic At Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay- I really like the film adaptation and I’ve always found the story to be very intriguing.
The Lark by E. Nesbit- I’ve enjoyed E. Nesbit’s books for children and I’d like to read some of her work for adults as well.
Armadale by Wilkie Collins- I’ve really enjoyed Wilkie Collins’ other work that I’ve read. The is the only one of his “major” novels that I haven’t read yet.
Maggie-Now by Betty Smith- Again this is a case of me having liked the author’s other work, and wanting to read more of it.
The Common Reader by Virginia Woolf- I’ve always liked Virginia Woolf best as an essayist so I definitely want to get to this at some point.
Favorite modern book/series based on a classic
So many wonderful choices… Can’t decide on just one…
I’ll go with two books by one author: Circe and Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. It’s strange that I loved these books even though I’m not a big fan of the Greek classics on which they were based! I discuss them in this post for anyone interested.
Favorite movie version/tv-series based on a classic
Again, I feel almost like my head is about to explode from so many choices! I’m going to cheat and pick one movie and one tv series.
For film, I’m going with an adaptation of Little Women. I know the Greta Gerwig adaptation was really popular recently, but I actually prefer the 1994 adaptation. Not only is it a beautifully made film with an excellent cast, but it focuses on the story and characters, and not some of the more pedantic aspects that Louisa May Alcott got bogged down with at times. It emphasizes some of the politics and philosophy in which Louisa May Alcott (and her father, Amos Bronson Alcott) strongly believed, but it never espouses these ideas at the expense of the narrative. Rather, it highlights the moments that the narrative espouses these ideas.
For a TV series, I’m going to go with the 2005 BBC adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House. It’s an eight episode miniseries, that manages to convey the epic scope of the novel, without getting bogged down in the minutia. Some of Dickens’ work easily lends itself to adaptation. This book isn’t one of them. I’m very fond of it. In fact, I might call it a favorite, but the plot, surrounding a chancery court case doesn’t lend itself to big, dramatic scenes or spectacle. Some of the twists and turns may even seem contrived to 21st century readers/viewers. However this series manages to make it compelling drama with a strong cast. It also manages to recreate the dark, well, bleak, atmosphere of Dickens’ novel in a way that works cinematically.
Worst classic to movie adaptation
The one that comes to mind first is the 1995 adaptation of The Scarlet Letter. The book was about the cruelty of public shaming and punishment, guilt, and pain. The movie features a Hollywoodized romance that changes the ending and in the process ends up contradicting the message of the book. It also features a very miscast (IMO) Demi Moore.
Favorite edition(s) you’d like to collect more classics from
I think that Virago Modern Classics are very pretty, and they include a lot of lesser known, underrated classic works. Ditto for Persephone Books. I don’t want to replace all my classics with fancy elaborate editions tough. I like the mishmash of classics that line my walls, with my notes in them, and places I’ve dog-eared still creased a bit. It always annoys me a bit when people have classic editions that look like they haven’t been opened!
An under-hyped classic you would recommend to someone
I’m going to push for The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte. She’s often overlooked in favor of her sisters (which is easy to happen when your sisters are Emily and Charlotte Bronte!) and even Lucasta Miller’s book, The Bronte Myth, dismissed her in a few sentences. But her work was just as strong in it’s own way, as that of either of her sisters. I love how angry she looks in the family portrait that’s on the book cover next to this text. I always imagine her saying “How dare you overlook me! I’m brilliant!”
I’ve been reading a lot lately about how prevalent women are in contemporary Sci-Fi and Fantasy literature as writers and literary characters, and how that should be recognized. There have been some really great pieces that address this and also bemoan the genre’s conflicted relationship with women in the past. This is only a sampling:
However, most of these critiques and praises are aimed at contemporary SFF. When I think about SFF, I start to wonder why it was ever perceived as a “men’s genre.” It’s hard to see where any literary genre starts, but a case can certainly be made the that modern SFF novel was born with a teenage Mary Shelly, writing Frankenstein in 1818. Of course you could make the case that the genre was born in the seventeenth century, when Margaret Cavindash wrote The Blazing World. In 1762, Sarah Scott wrote the Utopian novel A Description of Millenium Hall. So the argument can be made that the roots of the genre go back a hundred and fifty years before Shelly started writing. In any case, women played a formative role in the very roots of the genre. Shelly was undoubtedly an influence on Jane Webb Loudon, who wrote The Mummy! A Tale of the Twenty Second Century in 1827.
Feminist Utopian novels such as Man’s Rights (1870) by Annie Denton Cridge, Mizora (1880-81) by Mary E. Bradley Lane and Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1915) were somewhat prevalent before WWI. After the war, women were even more prolific in the genre. Gertude Barrows Bennett (aka Francis Stevens) is credited as “the woman who invented dark fantasy,” penning a number of novels in the early twentieth century. Her work, including Claimed and Citadel of Fear, influenced the likes of HP Lovecraft. Thea von Harbou is best known as the wife of filmmaker Friz Lang, but she was a writer, actor and filmmaker in her own right. She wrote the futuristic urban dystopia, Metropolis, in 1925. She later rewrote it as a screenplay for Lang’s adaptation that eventually became the classic 1927 film of the same name. In 1928, Virginia Woolf ventured into the genre with Orlando. Though that novel is often looked at as a pioneering work in terms of feminist and transgender studies, it’s also undeniably a fantasy. It’s about a character, born in Elizabethan England as a man, who undergoes a mysterious sex change at the age of 30 and then lives another 300 years without aging perceptibly.
Well, I think that part of it is that the contributions of women to literature have been overlooked and ignored historically. Part of it may be due to the fact that many of these authors initially published under pseudonyms, initials or gender neutral names. But it makes sense that a genre that depends on seeing the world not as it is but as it could be, might appeal to writers who have been dismissed and ignored due to factors such as race, class, and gender.
In fact, I think that it can be argued that speculative fiction and SFF is where storytelling as an art form begins. Oral tradition featured folklore and mythology. Telling stories is a nurturing act in which the listener is connected to the storytelling through the story. Historically women filled this nurturing role. The 9th century fictional Scheherazade is both a character and the storyteller in One Thousand and One Nights, in which she saves herself from execution by telling stories. This oral tradition of fantasy has been recorded by men (the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, Charles Perrault) but also women. Madame d’Aulnoy coined the term “contes de fées (fairy tales)” as we now use it, 130 years before the birth of the Grimm Brothers).
So women have been shaping, creating, writing, and playing a starring role in SFF and speculative fiction since it began. How about finally giving them credit for playing a major role in the creation of the genre, and its development, instead if treating it as something new?
Lately I’ve been wondering what kind of writer I am. In some ways the answer to that is obvious. I’m an indie author. I write fantasy. But in some ways I feel like I don’t measure up to other, “similar” authors. I put similar in quotes because these authors are also indie/self published who write fantasy in the same sub-genre but they write a lot more than I do, and seem to do it more professionally.
It took me about four years to write Beautiful, and another year to publish it. Some of that was because I had to figure out elements of publishing for myself, while working full time. Now I’ve been working on the follow up, Frozen Heart, for about three years. It’s pretty much written, in that I have a manuscript with a beginning, middle and end. I’m somewhere between the second and third drafts right now. I’d like it to be ready by early 2020. If I’m not able to manage that I might have to wait until the end of 2020. Beautiful was published in July 2018.
Indie authors usually try to write at least a book per year, preferably more. I’ve seen authors publish as many as three books per year. A lot of the research I did before publishing Beautiful actually recommended waiting until you have several publish-able manuscripts before publishing your first, so you have more ready to go. I decided not to do that because I wasn’t sure if/when I’d have a ready follow-up and I felt ready to send Beautiful out into the world. I don’t think that was a mistake but I don’t think I’ll ever be a writer who can publish one book a year.
I read a blog post once by an indie author who said she writes only one draft of each novel before having an editor look it over, making a few, small tweaks, and then publishing. I can’t imagine doing that. My first drafts are a mess! My second drafts are a little bit better, and so on.
I’m not criticizing anyone who can turn out great work on the first try! I’m envious! I don’t think that will ever be me.
Maybe as I go on, I’ll get better at self-editing. Already, I’m noticing improvements between my first book and my second. When I wrote Beautiful, I would see something in a draft that didn’t quite work but I’d stubbornly hold onto it until several beta readers had told me it didn’t work. Now I’m quicker to kill my darlings.
But I want my published novels to reflect my best work. In order to do that, it takes me longer to write a book than is generally recommended for indie authors. Obviously the more I publish the more opportunity I have for sales, but right now, compromising quality doesn’t seem worth it to me.
Do you prefer authors to be prolific or careful with what they publish? Does it have to be an “either/or” situation?
A year ago today I published my first novel, Beautiful: A Tale of Beauties and Beasts. It’s been a good year as far as writing goes. I learned a lot about publishing and I think that I’ve gained some confidence as I work on my second novel. Here are some posts that I’ve written over the year about my journey with this book.
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.
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!