Monthly Archives: June 2012

Angels and Lost Socks

Darby KarchutGriffin Rising and Griffin’s Fire by Darby Karchut

Griffin has been struggling his whole life to become a guardian angel, but it isn’t until Basil, an older angel, saves him from an abusive master that Griffin really feels he has a chance to succeed. Now Griffin must learn to trust Basil as his new mentor and gain control of his magic in order to pass his final trial and become a Terrae Angeli. But it won’t be easy with a cute girl across the street to distract him and his old master out to sabotage his training.

 

Normally, I try to review books that have something to do with disabilities, but Griffin Rising and Griffin’s Fire knocked my socks off, and I wanted to tell y’all about them before I went in search of my lost footwear.

I absolutely loved these books. Darby masterfully weaves strong themes like abuse, good vs evil, and healthy relationships with snarky wit and normal teen angst. Her style is light and fun and easy to read without losing any of its deeper meaning, creating a subtly compelling page turner that made me laugh out loud. I kept telling myself to slow down and savor it, but the books ended up in the bathroom with me a couple times because I couldn’t put them down even to pee.

Griffin is a gripping character right out of the gate, with his abusive past and hisDarby Karchut drive to prove himself to Basil. But he isn’t perfect. We watch him fail almost as much as we catch those brief glimpses of success. It’s hard to have a character who is always trying to do the right thing manage to screw up so often, but Griffin pulls it off with stunning style, and always in a way that had me longing to back him up. Alas, I still have not figured out a way to reach through the pages of a book to claw an antagonists eyes out. When someone comes up with that technology I’ll be the first in line.

One of the things that makes Darby’s books stand out from every author in the YA crowd clamoring for attention is how she handles a boy’s relationship with his role model. Too many teen books portray adults as stupid, clueless, or absent, relegated to roll-your-eyes clichés or conveniently pushed off stage while the teenagers whine that “no one understands them” – a guaranteed ploy to hook younger readers, but still a cheap one. Parents become a fixture, no more exciting or influential than the lamp by the couch. I’m not a parent, but as an adult, I resent this image that persists that I’m too stupid or too lazy to care about whatever problem the current set of teens is solving. Darby’s portrayal of Griffin’s healthy, trusting partnership with his mentor was less a breath of fresh air and more a gale force wind blowing the competition away. Basil was not only deeply intuitive but also actively present in Griffin’s problems while still allowing the teenager the chance to be the hero. Basil is the light that contrasts the dark of the abuse Griffin suffered. He became exactly what Griffin needed to heal and grow as a character.

I felt like the antagonists in both books were a little weak, two-dimensional with no real motivation for opposing Griffin, but, boy, did I love to hate them. Also, I really wanted to see the resolution with Milton in Griffin’s Fire, but that ended up happening “off screen”. A little disappointing. I was excited to see the brief Darby Karchutnod to Darby’s next series with the Tuatha de Danaan. Finn Finnegan comes out March 2013.

Griffin Rising and Griffin’s Fire join a very short list of books that I couldn’t wait to finish so I could turn back to the first page and read them again. I can’t wait for Griffin’s Storm, the third book in the Terrae Angeli series, to see Griffin grow even more.

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Breaking the Block

Today was supposed to be the review of Darby Karchut’s Griffin Rising and Griffin’s Fire, something I’ve been looking forward to writing for a while. But I really wanted to take my time with it, and between the dog going lame (he’s fine, he’s just copying me) and my house being on sale, time became that mythical creature you glimpse between the tree trunks before realizing you just ate some bad fruit. So instead I’ll talk about writing some more. Y’all will just have to wait with bated breath for the other.

 

There’s a disease all writers get from time to time. There is no vaccine; there aren’t any pills to take. Symptoms include fixation on a blank page, finger paralysis and that nagging feeling that you can’t possibly be a writer if you can’t think of what to write. If you experience any of these conditions, calm down and take a deep breath. Writer’s Block isn’t fatal, although it may feel like it, especially if you’re depending on your manuscript to bring in the next paycheck. Of course, if you’re getting paid to write, you’ve probably already conquered The Block, so this isn’t really for you. But for those of you still staring at the keyboard wondering why your fingers won’t move, here are a few treatments you can try.

Take a break. This may seem counter-intuitive – I thought I had to write to be a writer – but seriously, getting away from your work can give you a fresh perspective. Staring at the page is obviously not helping, so go do something else. I do some of my best thinking in the shower. Or if it’s the middle of the day, I take the dog out and mull over a problem while he chases the frisbee. Writing is work, give yourself time to rest and recoup your losses. But after your break, be sure to go back to the keyboard. Don’t let your frisbee time turn into a sabbatical. You’ve all heard my ‘just write‘ rant. Take all that fresh perspective and turn it into words.

Prompts anyone? Sure. Why not? Try exercises for writers, if you’re into that kind of thing. I thought I wasn’t, but turns out they’re kind of fun. Maybe take your character out of your book and put them in another. See what they do, how they react. Can you use that?

Try writing by hand. Or if you’re already old fashioned, try a keyboard or a typewriter. Changing mediums resets your brain and could jump start something on the page too. I write all my blog posts by hand first. For some reason, it feels less permanent that way. I can just jot down ideas without worrying whether they’re really going to work or not. I know that’s completely opposite of real life but shh my brain hasn’t figured it out yet.

I’ve heard change locales. Normally work at home? Try setting up in a coffee shop. Or vice versa. Go people watching in a park with just a notepad and a pen. Personally, this doesn’t work for me because I get super distracted. I swear I’m writing until all of a sudden, I realize I’ve been staring at that dog for five minutes wondering if it’s owner knows it looks like a pig. But writing someplace else might work great for you.

Outline your characters. Maybe one of the reasons you’re stuck is because you don’t know your characters well enough to write how they’d react to a situation. Take a moment to figure out what makes them tick. This is probably a good thing to do in general but I try to save it for moments I’m stuck. Digging deep into a character’s past and motivations really helps get the ball rolling, Indiana Jones style.

When all else fails, type harder. Yeah, tap the keys so you can hear them click. Don’t look at me like I’m insane. This is my default Block Buster. When I’m distracted or feeling like I’m not getting stuff on the page the way I want, I arch my fingers and tap the keys harder, more deliberately. I like how it sounds. It sounds productive. It’s soothing and makes me want to write more. Seriously, stop looking at me like that.

There are millions of ways to break The Block and everyone has their own tried and true method. These are just a few that I jotted down one day. Feel free to develop your own. How about it? What do you do to break your Block?

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Writeful Blogging

I may not be a published author but I consider myself a writer. I’ve worked at my craft hard enough and long enough that I think I can claim the title “writer”. I have several complete manuscripts ranging from first drafts to final drafts (final until I decide to tweak it again) and I try to write every day in order to get better. If someone else has a different idea of what it means to be a writer, I’d like to hear it. So what I’m saying is I’d consider myself pretty far along that subjective scale, but I’m still learning. I read a lot, go to workshops and follow blogs that have some great advice for writers. Books and workshops are great but a lot of times you have to pay for them (unless you utilize your library and your local writers group) but blogs are free. At the most you might have to ignore some ads. So I thought I might spotlight a few of my favorites.

My Name is Not Bob

Robert Lee Brewer is a father, a poet and one of the editors at Writer’s Digest. His blog is chock full of advice for writers trying to navigate the digital world. In April he did a whole month of posts about how to build an online platform. Take a stroll through his archives and you’ll find help with things like time management skills, wading through social media like Facebook and Twitter, and what you really need to know about SEO (search engine optimization). Robert’s posts were invaluable to me while I was setting up my blog. They really helped me get a handle on what I needed to concentrate on and what I could ignore. I even participated in his April Platform Challenge. I’ve only noticed a slight increase in my site traffic so far, but I feel so much more confident about my efforts on the web now, and to me, that’s worth it.

Writing While the Rice Boils

Debbie Maxwell Allen is a homeschool mom, a writer, and a blogger. Her blog is a treasured resource for people like me who have a hard time finding things on the internet. I don’t know what my problem is, but I can never find what I’m looking for. Some people can’t whistle. I can’t Google. But Debbie makes it easier by finding new, interesting, and above all, helpful tools for writers on the web. Each post focuses on a different topic with several links to great articles that flesh out the idea and really give it some meat. It’s like a best of the web for writers. She’s also been doing it for a while so you can find just about anything you might need in her archives. As a bonus, I’ve met Debbie and she’s just as sweet and encouraging as she seems online.

The Other Side of the Story

Janice Hardy is a blogger and the author of The Healing Wars trilogy. I like to follow the blogs of my favorite authors and while I was reading The Shifter I looked Janice up. Little did I know that instead of just a well-kept author’s blog, I would find an Aladdin’s cave for writers. Janice has been blogging about writing almost every day for three years now and you can see her expertise and her passion in every post. She takes submissions from unpublished writers and breads down her critique of their work. She has guest posts by published authors who talk about how they write and manage their careers. Not to mention endless posts that teach the craft of writing to any level of aspiring writer. The amount of information on her blog is a little overwhelming at first (I gave up on trying to read everything and settled on searching for the most relevant posts) but it’s worth having bookmarked as a reference.

Just as every writer should have reference books on their desks, I think they should also have a Google Reader full of writerly blogs.

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Another Facet in Fantasy

Songs of the Earth by Elspeth Cooper

When Gair, a Suvaeon knight-in-training, is accused of witchcraft, he is sure that his life is about to come to a fiery end as he’s burned at the stake. But even as all hope seems lost, he is granted a reprieve by a mysterious benefactor. Branded a witch and exiled from the parish, Gair has no choice but to accept help from a man who seems to know more than Gair does about the magic that sings in his veins. Perhaps with his help Gair can learn to control it, harness it and use it to fight for his freedom and a life he never dreamed he’d have a chance to live.

 

I picked this book up because it is what sparked the Special Needs in Strange Worlds series over at Bookworm Blues. The discussion was excellent, and I really wanted to see how Elspeth Cooper had handled the subject of disability in fantasy.

Unfortunately, as a reader, this book didn’t really work for me. I found it really hard to get into, and I had a couple problems with it along the way. I didn’t feel like there was a clear goal for the protagonist. Gair is trying to get out of the parish because he has been banished but then what? It seemed like his entire purpose was to stay just ahead of the witchfinder, and I wanted more than that. I crave a hero with a goal I can root for. And Gair just didn’t fit the bill. He was rather aimless and a bit dense at times. It took him a quarter of the book to figure out what I guessed in the first few pages. I can see making a reader feel smart, but not at the expense of the character.

And along with a goal-oriented hero, I want a bad guy to hide under the covers from. Again Songs of the Earth failed to deliver. The antagonist didn’t even show up until the last few chapters of the book (he made an appearance once early on, but the meeting meant nothing to me because it didn’t appear to mean anything to the characters at the time). And Cooper describes him simply as evil. With no motivation and no insight into his character, he ended up being about as scary as a milkmaid.

There was also something about Cooper’s style that kept throwing me off. Things that I thought were momentous or interesting were glossed over or treated as ordinary. A new and amazing secret is revealed about Gair without the surrounding drama and fanfare that should have heralded it. Some dialogue tells me it’s special, but the feelings of the character and the exposition tell me it’s mundane. As a reader, I was confused. What was important and what wasn’t? Was I missing something really subtle or was I just finding certain things anticlimactic? Hard to tell.

Putting all that aside (it’s just opinion anyway, feel free to make your own) I did enjoy the story once I got into it. I’m a sucker for schools and students in my fiction. Especially if there’s magic involved. Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey, Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce, Griffin Rising by Darby Karchut (more on Darby’s book coming later). They all strike a tender cord in me and Songs of the Earth was no different. Once Gair reached Chapterhouse, that was where I got hooked, even if I disagreed with some of the choices he made there. I really like classes and teachers and ranks. Sigh. I miss school. Oh stop making that face, I already know I’m weird.

Given my own interests and the reasons I picked up this book, I wanted more discussion about the disabilities, but I think I’ve decided I really liked the way Cooper handled them. Ansel has severe arthritis, Aysha has a debilitating limp and Darin has diabetes, but these conditions have little bearing on the story. The weaknesses are just another facet of the characters. I’ll admit that when I write about characters with disabilities I’m hoping to promote awareness. But Elspeth Cooper said that she had no agenda when creating Ansel, Aysha and Darin. The result is a deeper, more unique and believable character. Not that it’s wrong to create a character for a specific purpose. It’s just nice to see that people with disabilities can have a place as normal characters filling out and providing depth to a fantasy world.

So while this wasn’t my favorite book ever, I think it did have some redeeming qualities. I’m wondering what will happen to Gair, and Ansel, and that healer from Astolan (whose name is escaping me and I don’t have the book nearby, sorry). And just for that I’ll probably pick up the sequel when it comes out.

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Lucky 7 Meme Challenge

My critique partner, Becca, tagged me in the Lucky 7 Meme Challenge. It looks like a lot of fun so here it goes.

Here are the rules as I’ve heard them:
1. Go to page 77 of your current WIP
2. Go to line 7
3. Copy down the next 7 lines – sentences or paragraphs – and post them as they’re written. No cheating!
4. Tag 7 authors
5. Let each and every one of them know

I’m working on final edits for my young adult fantasy, By Wingéd Chair. It’s about Merry, a teen struggling to make sense of her disability when the local lord tries to kill her father, drawing her into a plot that encompasses family betrayal and otherworldly magic. In order to save the day, she must team up with an irritating outlaw who she doesn’t know if she wants to kiss or run him over with her wheelchair, all the while learning to accept her limitations and embrace her strengths.

“I can understand that.” And I did. So often it felt like I hated the world, and I had to defend myself against everyone in it. But I hated myself more. I hated the person I’d become.

“I thought you might like to know it’s not you, and I’m going to try harder not to be so…”

“Asinine?” I said sweetly.

“I was going to say surly.” He gave me a sheepish smile before returning his gaze to the surrounding woods.

The light-hearted moment was gone, and I glanced up to the wagon bed and swallowed. Papa looked too much like a corpse in the darkness.

There’s a brief snippet. I got lucky and hit a good excerpt. Let me know what you think. Hm, I guess I’ll have to come up with seven more friends to tag.

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