Tag Tuesday: A Few Tags I’ve Been Meaning To Do

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic was:

March 16: Books On My Spring 2021 TBR

But I didn’t want to do yet another TBR, so I decided to clear up some tags that I’ve been meaning to do.

The first is the Get To Know The Fantasy Reader tag which was originally created by Bree Hill I found it on Hundreds and Thousands of Books

The Questions

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 Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson– This books is a relatively easy, quick read, that uses a lot of the tropes that Harry Potter does, in a stand alone story.

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.

I’ve also been meaning to tackle The Classic Book Tag, which I first encountered on BookwyrmKnits blog. It was originally created by It’s A Book World.

An overhyped classic that you didn’t really like

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.

Favorite fairy tale

I was recently asked this question in an interview I did with F H Denny. I hope no one minds if I copy/paste this from my answer!

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!”

Top Ten Tuesday: Romance (genre) books

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

February 9: Valentine’s Day/Love Freebie

I think for a long time I didn’t give romance as a genre the attention it deserves because I bought into a lot of the misogynistic accusations that have been hurled at it over the years. I’m only recently started to question that more and more (see here and here for more). But in the past few years I’ve been trying to rectify that by seeking out books that I’ve heard are good, in the romance genre. And even before I made the conscious effort, a few slipped in here and there! These are some I’ve enjoyed.

  1. Flowers From the Storm by Laura Kinsale– The Duke of Jervaulx is well known in the newspaper’s scandal sheets as a womanizing rake, but is also a brilliant mathematician, who occasionally collaborates with Mr. Timms a blind Quaker. One day, the Duke (Christian to his friends) collapses after presenting a paper to the Analytical Society, and Mr. Timms, and his daughter Maddy, believe he’s dead. Christian isn’t dead. He’s suffered a stroke, that’s left him without the ability to speak. Maddy encounters him sometime later at asylum, where she’s considering a job. She comes to realize that the math genius her father worked with is still in there, but he can’t communicate. The characters in the book face several problems on the road to a happy ending. The primary one is Christian’s disability, but Maddy’s crisis of faith is given almost equal weight. She worries that she’s compromising her Quaker principles by falling for Christian, whos exploits are the stuff of scandal. She also worries about getting her heart broken.

2. An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole– This is the first in Alyssa Cole’s Loyal League trilogy. I really enjoyed it, and intend to read the rest, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. It’s about Elle Burns, a former slave, with an eidetic memory. She uses her gifts to act as a spy for the Union Army, posing as a slave in the household of a Confederate senator. Malcolm is a detective for Pinkerton’s Secret Service, who is pretending to be a Confederate soldier, so that he can get information for the Union Army. When Malcolm and Elle come upon information that might turn the war the Confederacy’s way, they must get the information in the right hands no matter the cost. I was impressed with how Alyssa Cole managed to keep the stakes and suspense high. Presumably all her readers know how the Civil War ended, but I was still worried for Ellen and Malcolm’s mission as I read!

3. A Knight in Shining Armor Jude Devereaux- When Dougless Montgomery’s boyfriend ditches her on their English vacation, she goes to a church and cries on the grave of Nicholas Stafford, earl of Thornwyck, who died in 1564. She’s very surprised when a man in 16th century clothing shows up claiming to be Nicholas Stafford! Dougless helps Nicholas discover what brings him to the 20th century and how he was wrongly accused of treason. They fall in love and he decides to stay with her, only to be pulled back in time again, to the 16th century. Dougless goes after her beloved, only to discover that the 16th century Nicholas has no memory of the 20th century or falling in love with her. I liked that this broke the time travel romance “mold” a bit. For one thing it involves someone from the past, coming to the present and vice versa.

4. Remembrance by Jude Devereaux- Hayden Lane is a best selling author of romance novels, who becomes so obsessed by one of her heroes that she barely notices when her fiance breaks their engagement! She goes to a psychic to learn more about this man she supposedly made up. The psychic tells her that in a past life she was Catherine Tavistock, Lady De Grey, an Edwardian woman whose ghost haunts her husband’s English home. Hayden undergoes hypnosis, desperate to learn more. But the hypnosis goes wrong and instead of just remembering the past, Hayden is living it. She discovers that in earlier lives she loved a man, and they betrayed one another, and cursed their future incarnations. Now Hayden has to figure out how to set things right in the past, so that she can find happiness in the present.

5. Too Deep for Tears by Katheryn Lynn Davis– I wasn’t sure about including this on my list or not, since I’m reluctant to recommend it after this but I read this book a long time ago and enjoyed it, and since that’s the criteria for this list, I decided to include it. Charles Kitterage travelled the world and left behind three daughters with different mothers. Ailsa lives in the Scottish Highlands, Li-an (this portrayal may be very problematic, as is explained at the link above, but I didn’t realize it when I read it) lives in Peking, China, and Genevra lives in Dehli, India. They never met one another, and each has grown up haunted by a legacy of betrayal. But when a dying Charles wants to meet his daughters, they meet for the first time.

6. Lord of the Fading Lands by CL Wilson- I think this is technically classified as “paranormal romance” but I’m including it because it’s my list. Plus the book has a cheesy cover and is tropy enough to be considered romance! It’s the first in Wilson’s Tarien Soul series which follows Rain, the Tarien Soul, King of the Fey. When he claims Ellysetta, the daughter of a woodcutter, as his soul mate, no one is more surprised than Ellysetta herself. But their lands are facing an unseen enemy that threatens everyone and everything they care about and the happiness that they’ve found. It’s only by working together and facing their dark pasts, that they can find the hope of a future together. The first book sort of sets the stage for the rest of the series, and it’s one that you have to read in order if you want it to make sense!

7. The India Fan by Victoria Holt– I went through a phase at one point where I read a lot of Holt’s books, which are often classified as historical romance. To be honest, a lot of them blend together in my mind, but for some reason this one stands out, so I’m including it on my list. It’s about a parson’s daughter, Drusilla, who enthralled by her wealthy neighbors and friends, the Framling family- especially their handsome son, Fabian. But when they give her a beautiful peacock feather fan as a gift, Drusilla has no idea that it’s cursed. It brings with it a long history of death and destruction. But ultimately it may be less dangerous to Drusilla than Fabian Framling.

8. Public Secrets by Nora Roberts– Just a note, I read this one a long time ago, and have no idea how well it holds up. But I remember it fondly. Emma McAvoy is the daughter of a British rock star. At the age of six, her baby half-brother, Darren is killed in a kidnapping attempt gone wrong. Emma was the only witness, and remembers little of that night. Investigators believe that someone close to the family was involved, but can’t solve anything. So Emma grows up under the shadow of guilt. Over the next twenty years, Emma carves out a career, falls in love, and builds a life for herself. But this long ago crime, could threaten everything she’s worked for. I would call this an “ensemble romantic thriller.” The mystery storyline is just as important as the romance and there are actually several secondary romances as well.

Women in Historical SFF

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:

2016-08-14_ent_23609335_i1However, 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.

15849412Feminist Utopian novels such as Man’s Rights (1870) by Annie Denton CridgeMizora (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.

51x2b6udvlml._sx352_bo1204203200_By the 1930’s Catherine Lucille Moore (aka CL Moore) had created the character Jirel of Joiry, who appeared in a series of sword and sorcery stories originally published in the magazine Weird Tales. Jirel of Joiry was a female warrior in an imagined alternate version of medieval France. Fun side fact: in 1985 SFF author Mercedes Lackey wrote a song called Jirel of Joiry and included it on her album Murder, Mystery and Mayhem. After WWII writers including Shirley Jackson, Judith Merril, and Alice Eleanor Jones came to prominence. By the 1950’s and 1960’s authors including Joanna Russ, Andre Norton, Marion Zimmer BradleyMadeline L’Engle , Angela Carter and Ursula K Le Guin, had begun publishing.

Today you could argue that women dominate the speculative fiction genres with Harry Potter, the Hunger Games and Twilight. Dive even a little deeper and you’ll turn up Diana Gabaldon and Charlaine Harris who both had their bestselling fantasy series’ turned into hit TV adaptations. And that’s just the tip of the bestselling iceberg! In fact, women have produced some of the most notable and influential works in the speculative fiction genre. Beginning (perhaps) with Frankenstein, and continuing with Orlando, The Left Hand of Darkness, A Wrinkle in Time, The Handmaid’s Tale, and many more. So why is there a perception that their involvement with the genre is something new?

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?

 

Book Thoughts: Hazards of Time Travel by Joyce Carol Oates

41gsbp8s2vl._ac_ul436_I’m hesitant to call this a “review” because I don’t usually post reviews on my blog. But I recently read this book and found it fairly interesting. When I looked on goodreads and amazon I saw that it had earned a lot of negative reviews. So I suppose that what I’m doing is laying out the reasons that I disagreed with those reviewers and found this book to be worth reading.

For the first third of the book I felt like I was reading a YA dystopia in the vein of Divergent,  Delirium, Matched, etc. The heroine, Adriane, is graduating from high school sometime in the 2040s (or thereabouts). The United States is now the North American States and is controlled by one political party. While lip service is paid to democracy it’s an autocratic state that’s downright Big Brother-ish. Adriane is her high school’s valedictorian and her speech asks questions of the audience that the state claims are subversive and treasonous. Adriane is sentenced to Exile. For four years she will be sent to Zone 9, otherwise known as Wainscotta Falls, Wisconsin circa 1959. She will live on a state university campus as student Mary Ellen Enright. She’s not allowed to tell anyone her real identity, she’s not allowed to leave a 10 mile radius from campus.

But once the plot is set up Oates diverges from the YA formula significantly. Because this isn’t really a YA book and I think that’s where a lot of other readers run into problems. I think the reader of Hazards of Time Travel is not expected to read it from a teenage point of view. We’re supposed to recognize that Adriane/Mary Ellen is naive and immature. When she falls in pure insta-love with Dr. Ira Wolfman, a young Assistant Professor and fellow Exile, we’re supposed to roll our eyes and cringe a bit. In fact I think the reason that it mimics the YA genre so closely at times is that we’re supposed to question our desire to classify and categorize.

The future, in this book, is chilling and based on total lockstep social control. The past of the 1950’s is also repressive in its sexism, racism, and Cold War paranoia. Oates draws parallels between the Cold War era and post 9/11 paranoia. She also looks at the rise of fascism, and the role of the self, and nature vs. nurture. It actually becomes rather heavy in the middle as an isolated Adriane/Mary Ellen explores these issues in her psychology class, and uses her knowledge of the future to complicate the questions.

The book ends somewhere ambiguous. We’re never told if the time travel really took place, or if it was all a dream, or if Adriane/Mary Ellen will stay where she is or return to the future. It’s unsettling. We’re left wondering if it’s a happy ending or a chilling one.

I wouldn’t recommend this book to everyone. I would actually suggest that the reader is at least somewhat familiar with one or two of Oates previous works before reading this one. I think an understanding of how she sometimes plays with genre is helpful in understanding what she was doing with this book. But also, I would hesitate to recommend it to people who like to know exactly what’s happening all the time. I think that expecting and appreciating ambiguity is important here.

I’ve Been…

  • Going through a career change. Teaching was so draining that I felt like I didn’t have the energy for anything else: writing, a social life, etc. I’m doing content writing and curriculum development now. It’s been an adjustment. It still is, but I’m starting to feel a bit more confident. I’m nervous even writing that because I don’t want to jinx myself!
  • Slowly working my way through beta feedback on Frozen Heart. It’s always difficult opening yourself up to criticism, and in a way, beta feedback and editing is like going to someone and saying “please rip this apart” and then cringing while they do. The most painful feedback often ends up being the most helpful though. One beta reader was very critical of this draft of Frozen Heart but I think she also pointed out some issues that I’m glad that someone noticed before I published it. But it’s hard get yourself in the right headspace to tackle those criticisms.
  • Writing some short stories. I haven’t really decided what to do with them yet, but for some reason I had several ideas that lent themselves to short fiction (not my usual medium)
  • Discovering the joy of “have done” lists. I’ve never liked keeping “to do” lists. It feels daunting to see everything you  haven’t done yet listed in front of you. I feel like I’ll never get it done. But when I keep a list of things I have done I feel accomplished at the end of the day.  Even if the things I put on aren’t major things, seeing them written down gives me a sense of satisfaction. I’ve even started doing things that I’ve been putting off because it means I’ll get to write it down on my list!
  •  

    Reading good books. In addition to my Persephone Readathon reads (Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski and Flush by Virginia Woolf, both of which I recommend highly) I’ve recently enjoyed:

  • Binge watching
    • Schitt’s Creek– How have I not seen this show before now? It’s silly but it’s great for turning off your brain and having a laugh.
    • The OA – Weird. Very weird.
    • A Discovery of Witches– I definitely liked it better than the book (which had too much filler) but it’s still not my cup of tea.
    • Bodyguard– I’d had this as a “to watch” for a while but I hadn’t gotten around to it. Glad I finally did.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Genre Lists

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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June 4: Books From My Favorite Genre (You pick the genre, and give us your ten faves.)

Since I’ve done more than one “Favorite books in x genre” list, I decided to do a top ten list of past genre lists:

  1. Top Ten Tuesday: Gothic Romance 
  2. Top Ten Tuesday: Time Travel
  3. Top Ten Tuesday: “Girl”-ish Suspense Novels
  4. Top Ten Tuesday: Best Dual Timeline Novels
  5. Top Ten Tuesday: Best Lesser Known Romances
  6. Top Ten Tuesday: Hidden Gems of Magical Realism
  7. Top Ten Tuesday: Best Books About Books
  8. Top Ten Tuesday: Nonfiction That Taught Me Something New
  9. Top Ten Tuesday: Best Novellas and Short Stories
  10. Fairy Tale Retellings

Top Ten Tuesday: Things That Make Me Pick Up A Book

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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April 2: Things That Make Me Pick Up a Book

  1. It’s by one of my favorite authors. There are authors who are pretty much automatic reads for me:  new books by Susanna Kearsley, Kate Morton, Kate Forsyth, Margaret Atwood, Juliet Marillier, Diana Gabaldon, Sara Donati,  and older stuff by Daphne DuMaurier, Mary Stewart….and I’m starting to notice that most of the authors  who are automatic reads for me are female…
  2. 81vgodosbvl._ac_ul436_It has an intriguing title. Case in point: I recently picked up Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters by Mark Dunn.  I haven’t read it yet, but  the wordplay in the title (and the corresponding pictures on the cover) caught my attention.

 

 

51c-asvgcil-_ac_us218_3. It was recommended based on another books that I loved. For example, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield was recommended based on my love of Jane Eyre and Rebecca. I enjoyed The Thirteenth Tale too.

 

4. It involves a genre or trope that I love. I have a weakness for all things gothic. I love a good fairy tale retelling. Time travel, dual timelines, magical realism etc. I can’t get enough!

5. There’s a film/tv adaptation coming out that looks promising. This seems pretty self explanatory, but I like to read the book first. Of course 9 out of 10 times the adaptation fails to live up to the book, but it’s still helped me discover some good books.

6. Popularity. This can be a double edged sword. Sometimes something is popular and it deserves to be. But sometimes hype can make my expectations hard to live up to. If a book is getting a lot of buzz, I’m drawn to it, but I try to keep my expectations modest.

51r0lxqtqll-_ac_us218_7. It’s about books. I love a book featuring a bookish character. I feel an almost immediate sense of kinship. I often like nonfiction books about books.

 

 

8. It was recommended by someone I trust. There are bloggers and friends who I trust because I know that we often have similar tastes.

9. It has a pretty cover. Yes, I know I’m not supposed to judge books that way. And yes, sometimes a pretty cover hides a not so great book. But somehow I fall into the trap again and again.

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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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!

Pre-Publication Jitters

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When I initially decided to publish Beautiful I was sort of daring myself to do it. I wanted to stop saying “I’ll publish a book someday” and take control. Because there’s always going to be a reason not to do something you want to do. At some point, you just have to do it anyway.

All of that sounds great.  But now that the publication date is less than a week away, I find myself getting nervous. I woke up this morning wondering if was too late to back out of the whole thing.  It’s not the prospect of strangers reading this book that scares me, it’s the prospect of people who know me reading it. Will their impression of me change? If so will that change be positive or negative? Will people judge my decision to go indie rather than try for a traditional publisher? My inner snob pops up occasionally and worries that people will judge me for writing genre fiction. Another part of me worries that people who came to know me via my blog will be disappointed when they read my fiction.

I’ve always felt that I reveal more of myself when I write fiction than when I write nonfiction. It seems counter-intuitive, but I think that fiction reveals more about how I think and feel.  Plus, I’ve devoted a lot of time and energy to writing this novel, rewriting it, editing, revising, proofreading, selecting a cover, writing a blurb, finding beta readers and editors… I don’t want to feel like that time and effort was wasted.

Given the investment I’ve put into this, it makes sense that I’m nervous. A while ago I considered what I’d define “success” for this book. I decided that I’d consider it “successful” if some readers enjoy it. Not everyone will and I don’t expect that. But I want some to like it. And I want to write another book, and continue to grow. To do that, I know that I have to release this book. I’ve done what I can with it, and now it’s time to let it go and see what happens.

Does anyone have any advice for pre-publication jitters?