Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Very Important Revelation

This blog post will be inspired by school yet again. It's kind of sad how in the few blog posts I've put up since coming back to school, a lot of them have been about or inspired by school. But I promise, this one won't be boring...or at least I hope it won't.

In case you didn't know/forgot, for one class we're working exclusively with Jane Austen's Persuasion which is not only by one of my favorite authors, it's my favorite book by her. So, in case you've never been to a college-level English class working with a text, you tear that thing apart. You learn more than you ever could reading it on your own. I've basically been plummeted on the head every day with how brilliant Austen is (like I didn't already know). So in all of this and being overwhelmed by one of my favorite books yet again, I began to despair.

Why? Jane Austen is so brilliant. She has the best narrative voice I've ever read, she's so witty I can't even handle it, and on top of that she makes entertaining stories that also enlighten her audience. I could never produce something half as witty as she wrote. Then of course I thought of other books/authors that put me to shame. How could I ever plot and world-build like J.K. Rowling? How could I ever write action and characterization like Suzanne Collins? How could I ever write something so meaningful like Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird? How could I be funny like Kiersten White? I can't do it. I can't do it!

Then, in the midst of my darkness, a small trickle of light came. I don't have to be like them. Think about all of the real greats out there. None of them is the same. Each author has different strengths. Sure, overall they make the elements of style, plot, characters, setting, etc. work together. But they all do it differently, and one area is clearer than others. Why pressure myself to be like them? I need to be me and find what I do best. I need to find what's important for me to share, not try to copy my favorite authors. Somewhere, at the edge of my fingertips, my voice and purpose as a writer is there, waiting to break free. I need to search and find it.

Plus, if you've ever read Love and Freindship, a collection of stories Jane Austen wrote as a teenager, you start to feel better about yourself. Because if she started out like that and ended up as she did, then there's hope for all of us.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

One to Follow Blog Award!

Thanks to Sara Biren at Crow River Writer for this blog award, One to Follow!

And here are 5 blogs that you should all follow!

1. Krista M at The Jelly Beans of Writing
2. Gracie at I Am Writer...Hear Me Roar!
3. Angela Brown in Pursuit of Publishness
4. Ann at Inkpots and Quills
5. Madeleine at Scribble and Edit

I'm still busy at school, but loving it and hoping to get some writing in after midterms this week. How are you all doing this last week in September?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Book Review: White Cat by Holly Black

Title: White Cat
Author: Holly Black
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Genre: Young Adult (urban fantasy)
Why I read it/how I found it: It was a title I recognized from browsing the web, so when I saw it in the library I picked it up.

Cassel comes from a shady, magical family of con artists and grifters. He doesn’t fit in at home or at school, so he’s used to feeling like an outsider. He’s also used to feeling guilty—he killed his best friend, Lila, years ago. But when Cassel begins to have strange dreams about a white cat, and people around him are losing their memories, he starts to wonder what really happened to Lila. In his search for answers, he discovers a wicked plot for power that seems certain to succeed. But Cassel has other ideas— and a plan to con the conmen.

Despite the bad that Cassel does, he's such a likeable protagonist. Black portrays him and why he is the way ihe is so perfectly it's impossible not to root for him. Cassel isn't the only rich character. All of them, especially Cassel's family, is interesting and pretty complex people. The plot is full of exciting twists and turns. I'll try to review this part without giving away spoilers, but there is a very main plot point that I couldn't buy. It really disappointed me, because of the way that Cassel's character had been set up, and just how unbelievable it was. In that way, it affected the way that I viewed the rest of the plot since it's central to the entire storyline. But other than that one disappointment, it was a fascinating book to delve into.

Other information: This is a trilogy, with the next book being Red Glove and the third untitled. The Curse Worker website is here and Holly Black's website is here.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

He's tall, dark, and...

Open up a book and read the description of the male lead.

Let me take a guess: he's tall, muscular, handsome, and with piercing eyes that can see through the heroine's soul. He could be dark complexioned, or a golden boy. But either way, just one stare at him makes the heroine melt into a puddle because he is so freaking hot.

Nothing really is wrong with having a handsome male lead, it's something that's been done since storytelling began. But maybe, just maybe, it's time to be different.

Let me introduce you to a few people:
It's a beast! He's got fangs, razor sharp ones!
How many of us watched Beauty and the Beast and fell in love with this guy? He's tall, sure, and muscular, and maybe his eyes make Belle weak in the knees (it is what makes her realize it's him when he transforms), but the rest of him...not your typical lead. Of course he turns into the handsome prince at the end, but we and Belle fell in love with him before all of that.
 A face which earned a mother's fear and loathing.
Now, for the record, I thought Christine made the right choice by going with Raoul, but I'm in the minority. I think most people fell for the Phantom in the musical. You can have an deformed murderer for a male lead and presented correctly with a heart-wrenching backstory, and people will love him.

There's the less-attractive side, but what about the average guy?

"Medium height, stocky build, ashy blonde hair that falls in waves over his can see his struggle to remain emotionless, but his blue eyes show the alarm I've seen so often in prey." The Hunger Games, pages 25-26, US hardback edition.
That's right. Peeta Mellark.
Notice Katniss doesn't say he has the face that belongs to a god, or even that Peeta's handsome. Knowing Katniss' character, it's no secret she doesn't really think about boys much. But that doesn't mean she's oblivious. She notes that Gale is handsome, and that Finnick is undeniably good-looking. Other characters also point out that these two are handsome. Peeta? The closest we get is at the end of The Hunger Games **spoiler**when they come out for their interviews and she says he looks "so clean and healthy and beautiful" (page 361). But at that point, they've gone through the Games together and he was practically dead. The sight of him well and whole was probably what tipped her over to this description, because we never get it again, not in the other two books or anywhere in the first. **end spoiler**
So Peeta isn't a Phantom, nor is he an Edward Cullen. He's Peeta, your average baker's son. But guess what? People love Peeta. He's one of the most popular male leads in YA right now. He didn't get there by having an angelic face and a Michelangelo body. He got there from his personality.

Some other male leads of note that don't fall in the gorgeous category: David from Uglies and Four from Divergent. I love both of these guys, and a lot of other readers do, too. And the MC's they win over don't spend half of their thoughts obsessing over how hot they are.

So, all in all: personality trumps looks. It's okay to make your male lead ugly, average, or handsome. Just give him something for your heroine and readers to love regardless of his looks. And if your male lead falls into the super-mega-foxy-awesome-hawt category, don't obsess over how gorgeous he is. Readers will get it the first time around.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Those little things you never notice

In case you couldn't tell by a lot of "My Top Tens," I love Jane Austen to pieces. If anyone says anything negative about her I pounce to her defense. And my all-time favorite book of hers is Persuasion. I've read it four times, seen both versions of the movie at least once, and even studied it in a British Literature class last winter.

Now I'm taking a class on writing literary criticism. So of course we need a book to read so that we can criticize it. And what does my professor choose, but Persuasion. Not only one of my favorite books, but I also already own a copy with notes in it. Score!

Last week we started talking about it (if you haven't read it: Anne broke her engagement with Wentworth, who later became rich and a captain in the navy. Due to various circumstances the two are thrown back in the same social circle, where he has the eye of all the ladies especially the Musgrove sisters, Louisa and Henrietta). My professor was lecturing, and talked about the first dinner scene when Captain Wentworth comes back. In it, he describes his first ship, the Asp, as "worn out and broken up...hardly fit for service." He doesn't have very nice things to say about the Asp. His brother-in-law, Admiral Croft, and his sister chastise him, saying how amazing the ship was and how many would have loved to command her. Then they talk a bit about Captain Wentworth's time with his ship the Laconia.

Now, I've read this scene over a lot. And many of you who have read it probably didn't notice the parallels. Anne (the Asp) was Captain Wentworth's first. In his return, Louisa Musgrove (the Laconia) becomes his new interest. This scene is in parallel to Captain Wentworth's career and love life. It's so simple, for the Asp and Anne, the Laconia and Louisa. But I'd never even noticed it.

Do you like to put little parallels and connections in your writing? Have you noticed any in a book you've read?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

My kind of adrenaline rush

Getting back to school has been hectic. It's been almost impossible to find time to write, but on top of that, I've been getting blockage.

Ugh. The bane of the writer's world.

But a few days ago my groove came back. Personally, I think that's the best feeling in the world (or at least up there with stuff like love and all that). To be so totally stuck, to be near giving up, and then coming back and having your fingers fly across the keyboard with all of the words coming out of you. It's exhilarating and my kind of adrenaline rush.

So I keep marching on, completing my WIP slowly but surely, with halts and speeding starts and lots of speed bumps. It's a crazy journey for never even leaving my room.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Grimm Fairy Tales

I didn't read a full book this week (unless you'd like a review on Beowulf, which I don't). But I did read some of the Grimm's fairy tales. I was quite proud of myself when I found that I knew some of the lesser-known stories. And wow, I really learned a lot about what Disney and society changed! I guess parents in the 20th century didn't want to read about how Rapunzel gave birth to twins after she got out of the tower, and Disney didn't take too well to Cinderella's stepsisters chopping off their toes and heels. I'd also heard that the stories were dark, much darker than how we perceive fairy tales today. Some of them are a lot darker than the rose-tinted way we see the tales now, but some of them I'd read to a five-year-old and so far all of them I'd let a nine or ten year old read.
And of these tales, I've learned a few things:
  1. Kings will marry peasants. They don't care about treaties or anything like that. She just needs to be beautiful.
  2. If you're industrious, you're beautiful. But if you're lazy, you're ugly.
  3. Fathers always take their new wife's side over their children's.
  4. You can fall in love on-sight. 
I'm only about 1/4 of the way through (I never realized how many tales there were!) but I look forward to keeping reading them.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

I gotta get back to school...

This week has been so crazy! I started school last week, but now I work, go to school, study, eat, and sleep. I forgot how exhausting school can be, although I think most of it has to do with the fact that I'm working 20 hours a week now, on top of taking 15 hours of classes, and then studying.

As I type this now I'm in the library at school because I'm waiting for an English society social to begin later on this evening. The draw of free pizza (and thus one less night to cook a pitiful college meal) is only part of the reason why I'm going (although undoubtedly a large one). I've also decided it might be good to socialize a bit more outside of my apartments. Last year, my freshman year, I had to settle into school, get used to it. Now is when I really want to get involved. And, as so far my plan is to graduate next spring (in 2013) I've been hit with the fact that I don't have much time left in college and these once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

So, whirlwind of a year is upcoming for me! I'm doing my best to keep up with writing, blogging, and reading (outside of class) but if I put study, school, work, and a bit of fun (outside of the computer) ahead of'll have to forgive me.

On a side note: Borders going out of business sale? 70-90% off? I know I should be mourning the loss of the chain as well as the book-lover jobs, but my scrimping college student is doing a bit of a happy dance at the prices these books should be.

(P.S. Did you notice I used a lot of parenthesis in this post? I think I have a love affair with them--don't tell the dashes!)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Book Review: The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter

Title: The Goddess Test 
Author: Aimee Carter
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Genre: Young Adult (fantasy)
Why I read it/how I found it: Been having a love for Greek mythology lately.

It's always been just Kate and her mom—and her mother is dying. Her last wish? To move back to her childhood home. So Kate's going to start at a new school with no friends, no other family and the fear her mother won't live past the fall.Then she meets Henry. Dark. Tortured. And mesmerizing. He claims to be Hades, god of the Underworld—and if she accepts his bargain, he'll keep her mother alive while Kate tries to pass seven tests.
Kate is sure he's crazy—until she sees him bring a girl back from the dead. Now saving her mother seems crazily possible. If she succeeds, she'll become Henry's future bride, and a goddess.

What do you think of when you think of Greek gods? Jealous-prone, power-hungry, lusting, and arrogant, right? You won't find any of that in this book. Henry (aka Hades) has decided to give up his seat as lord of the Underworld because Persephone has decided to die because she loved a mortal, who also died, and he can't rule on his own, especially with a broken heart. But the council of gods make him stick around for another 100 years to find Persephone's replacement, and if he can't, only then will another god step in and take his place. Now, think a minute here. Do you really think that Hades would give up his throne? Or that the other gods would stop him if he did want to do that? Really now. Really? All of the qualities that make Greek gods Greek gods are completely lost. Henry is more of a chaste English gent with a Byronic streak than the god of the Underworld. Overall, the story was good enough if you could ignore this overlook of general character qualities (which was hard for me to do). Kate was admirable, although a bit too perfect. If (again) you can ignore the lack of mythological qualities, then it does have its strengths. In a different plot, I would have enjoyed seeing Henry and Kate fall for one another gradually instead of hitting the reader over the head with the passion.

Other information: The sequel, Goddess Interrupted is due out January 2012. Aimee Carter's website is here.   

Thursday, September 1, 2011

My Top Ten: Settings

To make a story feel real, really real, then there needs to be some awesome setting, details that make the world uniquely its own. And so, here's another one of my top tens. Again, this isn't ranked.

1. Hogwarts/The Wizarding World, Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
I think that J.K. Rowling has convinced many people that Hogwarts and the Wizarding World actually exist. The precision of details is astounding. And I think that the strongest suit that Harry's world has is that there are parallels to the Muggle world (the Ministry, sports, banks, shops, etc) that it feels natural to us, but so much more magical at the same time.

2. Avonlea, Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery
After reading these books, I wanted to go and live in a place just like Avonlea. The description is so beautiful, and it almost seems magical. There's a real special feel that Montgomery gives Avonlea, a quiet but fun town that's home.

3. Panem, The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
Now this is a place that you wouldn't want to live in. But the world and all of its chilling circumstances creates a vivid world to the readers.

4. Narnia, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
The fact that this series focuses around the events in one setting means it really had to come alive, and it did. Whenever I read one of these books, the land and its inhabitants, the very soil of it, is so fantastic, and yet I never felt that it could be too far from truth.

5. Inkworld, Inkheart series by Cornelia Funke
This Inkworld seems to incorporate all of the elements of fantasy; from the creatures, to the countries and political divides. Everything is marvelous, but at times also deadly, and amazingly described.

6. Uglies world, Uglies series by Scott Westerfield
This was the first dystopian I'd ever read. The inventions, the rules, the philosophy, all of this became a possible future for us. When Tally goes to the Rusty ruins, that part always chills me, to think that's what we could become.

7. The Moors, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
 The moors become like its own character in Wuthering Heights it's astounding. The wildness, the unpredictability of it, it's the only place that Cathy, Heathcliff, and their children's story could have been told, as it reflects the mood of it perfectly.

8. Venice, The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke
I've never been to Venice (unfortunately) but after reading The Thief Lord I almost feel that I have. The description of the city is thorough, and I can just imagine the kids running through the streets and into the movie theater, and all of the boats around it.

9. Wonderland, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Just another one of those fun, quirky type of settings that's interesting to read about and discover. I love all of the twists on reality that Carroll brings to the (tea) party.

10. Paris, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
While this had a tourist-y feel to it, it's appropriate since Anna essentially is a tourist in this town. But Perkins describes a lot more of Paris than just the sight-seeing locations. They're really beautiful descriptions, and makes me want to go to Paris even more.