Loving the Small Things

The Blade ItselfThe Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

Look I’m having a really hard time writing a summary for this and it’s Nanowrimo, so give me a break and if you want to know what the book is about, go here.

 

Joe Abercrombie does not write my favorite books, but he certainly writes some of the most fascinating. I actually read this for the first time while Justin Landon was doing his re-read over at Tor.com. A happy coincidence. And it was a great way to read such a layered and complex work. I could read it for myself, draw my own conclusions and then hop over to see what Justin had to say about this or that chapter. I’m not an avidly analytical reader so I was surprised and proud to see I actually picked up on a lot of the same themes he was so excited about.

Of those themes, one of my favorites was that of heroism. Abercrombie presents us with three possible heroes: the noble swordsman – literally, not morally; the barbarian – not as popular an archetype as the swordsman but still widely recognized; and the crippled torturer – who’s not on any list as far as I can tell. With two much celebrated archetypes readily available, why would we even notice the third? Well, the swordsman is a self-obsessed bastard, and the barbarian is practical, and well, let’s be honest, just a little boring. So the one we’re drawn to is the third. And despite the fact that he tortures people for a living and all his bitching and moaning (or maybe because of it, he does it so well, after all), Glokta is surprisingly sympathetic.

I’m having a hard time cataloguing Glokta’s disabilities because they’re so creative and so many. He was once a brilliant, arrogant swordsman himself. Then he went to war. The enemy’s torturers left him a different man. Now, I usually associate torture with excruciating pain that lasts as long as it takes to get someone to say what you want them to say. But Glokta’s torturers made sure that the pain they inflicted would last for the rest of his life. He’s missing half his teeth, he barely walks, he’s got some pretty significant nerve damage, and I’m not sure what’s wrong with his back, but let’s just say it’s worse than mine.

And despite all this he is competent. That’s Glokta’s superpower and it’s what makes him one of my favorite characters written. He falls perilously close to the Curmudgeon stereotype, bitterness infusing everything he thinks and says, but he still manages to be the best at what he does. And isn’t that just a fascinating twist. He’s good at inflicting pain because he knows it so well. He hates his own pain, hates the man he is, but he’s excellent at his job, and frankly, no one else will have him, so he keeps going. He’s stuck in this wonderfully perpetual cycle of self-loathing.

Which would be horrible and depressing if not for his inner commentary. Which is hysterical and pointed and can’t be described any better than that.

And here’s the sugar coated knife Abercrombie sticks us with (as if it’s not already buried deep). Glokta is feared by all. Granted some of that is probably similar to The Princess Bride’s “Dear God, what is that thing?” reaction. But most of it is due to the position Glokta holds. This ruined man, the cripple who can’t eat solid food or get out of bed without help, holds power that makes common men tremble. We’ll have to see what he does with it in the rest of the series.

So far this book sounds truly dark, but scattered amongst the grit there are gems like this: “You have to learn to love the small things in life, like a hot bath. You have to love the small things, when you’ve nothing else.” On the surface, just as depressing as the rest, but really, this is how I live my life. This ray of hope in a genre known as grim or dark fantasy (or as Justin says, Grimdark).

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The Saint and The Curmudgeon

Blank pageThere really aren’t enough disabilities represented in fiction, especially when the ones that are there tend to fall into unflattering stereotypes. This is damaging to both abled and disabled people; those of us with disabilities are baffled and even insulted by these depictions. And those who are “normal” assume these portrayals are accurate and try to treat us like the poor souls they read about in their books. Bad news all around.

The first stereotype I see the most often is The Saint. This character has been disabled all their life. They don’t know what they’re missing so of course they can put on a brave smile and greet the world with that unique strength that comes from obliviousness. They just keep swimming, unaware of the countless millions their story inspires, amazing their readers with their ability to get out of bed in the morning and face life. You can recognize this character by the adjectives used to describe them. Words like brave, undaunted, inspiring, or my personal favorite, stoic. Watch for these characters in minor roles, quietly compelling the hero to bigger and better deeds, because if she can sit in that chair all day without complaining, well, then, gosh darn, I can save the world.

Walking hand in hand with The Saint is The Curmudgeon. This character has only been disabled a short time, a few years at most, which means they remember what it was like to run free. So their bitterness is understandable. Look at all they’ve lost. What’s the point of moving on? they moan. Their pain is cathartic because things can’t possibly get any worse for them, and we’re reminded that our lot isn’t really that bad. This character doesn’t get nice round adjectives, just a dark, foul living space and the occasional caustic remark. You can find them occupying secondary roles, providing a foil for the bright, hopeful hero, because we can’t recognize the light without the miserable reminder of what they might become.

Now, I’ve written this with tongue firmly in cheek, but the thing is, stereotypes exist for a reason. There is a grain of truth in both the Saint and the Curmudgeon. Heck, I’ve represented both in the same day before. That “just keep going” attitude and the bitterness come from very real reactions to disability. But people (all people) are so much more that the 2D façade these stereotypes perpetuate, and the same goes for characters. I want to see the crumbling worldview behind the stoic smile and the steely strength masked by the caustic comments.

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Gearing up for Nanowrimo

So it’s October and that means I’m gearing up for Nanowrimo. I’m plotting and scheming like any good villain, throwing every enemy and roadblock I can find at my characters. But it also means brainpower is at a minimum for anything not novel based. So today I’m going to share the new WIP with you. Because you’re soo interested, I know.

You might recognize this format from last October, but hey, like I said, brainpower at a minimum.

What is the working title of your book?

Right now, I’m calling it TALON Force, but in the long run that might be the name of the series. I’m not sure I’ll be able to name it until I get to know the characters and the conflict a little better.

Where did the idea come from?

I was watching a video by Corridor Digital online (this one to be exact; go check it out, they’re excellent). In one particular scene a teenage programmer is kidnapped because she managed to do something she wasn’t supposed to. I loved the idea of someone so young being so valuable for their skills. The image really took hold of me and I couldn’t stop worrying at it until I had a character and an exciting problem for him to solve.

What genre does your book fall under?

I’d call it Middle Grade Urban Fantasy.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I really don’t cast my books. I know some authors will tell you we all do it, if only in secret, but I promise I’m not one of them. See this post for my opinion on the subject.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

A fourteen year old hacker uncovers a secret that lands him a place in a covert government agency. Or Agent Cody Banks meets a fantasy Men In Black. Whichever gets the point across.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I am currently looking for an agent. The process is slow and incredibly painful to my self-esteem but to quote a character from A Shroud For My Bride, you can’t go back, you can only go forward.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I’m going to write this one for Nanowrimo this year, so it’s not done yet. Or even started. But I’m planning on it being between 60,000 and 70,000 words, a little shorter than my normal, so there’s a good chance I’ll get it done in the month.

The Lightning ThiefWhat other books would you compare this story to within your genre?Artemis Fowl

I’m going to say Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson  and  the Olympians series for the whole fighting monsters aspect, only, you know, not Greek. And Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl for the whole kid genius thing.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I think this one came from a workshop I attended at the Pikes Peak Witer’s Conference where Darby Karchut talked about writing books for boys. I’d rather there weren’t “boy books” or “girl books”. I want kids to feel comfortable reading whatever happens to interest them, but I recognize the idealism in that. And Darby is so good and enthusiastic about what she does, I couldn’t help but catch the bug.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

This is a left turn from the disabled fairytales I usually write, so we’ll see how it works out. Nate has Cerebral Palsy, but it’s much more understated than Merry’s paraplegia, or Kallan’s OCD. It will affect his character and the plot, because how could it not? But it won’t be a major theme of the book.

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The Michael J Fox Show

I grew up with Back to the Future, Doc Hollywood, and Homeward Bound, so I’ve always been a fan of Michael J. Fox. I even love Atlantis, despite the gaping plot holes that threaten to swallow someone. But Fox slowed down a little in 1998 after he announced he’d been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.  Completely understandable, but here’s what I like best about this story. There’s another chapter.

Fox didn’t fall off the face of the Earth after his diagnosis. He did some guest spots, a few voices, and now he’s doing The Michael J Fox Show. In the interview above, Fox talked about doing his guest appearances and realizing that acting is what he loves. And thank goodness, because the man is a brilliant actor and he’s just getting better. The guest part he played on Scrubs is probably one of my favorites. Take a look.

Who knew you could channel Parkinson’s to bring OCD to life? I really nerd out over actors and comedians using their disabilities as an advantage. Phamaly for example. And Samuel J. Comroe. And now Michael J. Fox. He even talked about finding new depths in his work while dealing with his disease.

I’ve seen the first couple episodes of the new show and I’m really excited. I’m totally on board with the whole comedy is tragedy plus time thing. Sometimes it just has to be funny, and humor can be the best way to bridge the gap between people. Again, Phamaly and Samuel J. Comroe come to mind.

So far The Michael J. Fox Show avoids the “inspiration porn” trap, even going so far as to make fun of it. It’s great to see a work of fiction on TV that portrays someone with a disability just getting on with their life, with the same joys and fears and family drama everyone else has.

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Changing Perceptions

CrutchIt’s funny how perceptions change over time. Priorities shift as experience affects your perception of life.

For years after my injury, I hated being offered help, especially for something that I only had a little trouble with. I was fighting for my freedom, and it was really important for me to do things for myself. Things like opening doors and going up ramps. I recognize that those are the ones that look extra hard, but they’re really not, and I resented the people who were just trying to help.

After a while I realized it wasn’t really the people I hated. It was the fact that I needed the help in the first place, and those thoughtful bystanders were just the physical representation of my disability. Of course, knowing that didn’t change those feelings. At least not overnight.

But the other day I was in Noodles & Co, and a nice guy jumped up to grab the door for me as I walked out. Funny. No resentment. No self-loathing. Just gratefulness. And a lot of relief. I even joked with him. “These doors are so heavy. Who are they trying to keep out?”

So what’s changed? Did I grow up? Or did I grow out of it? I think I’ve just realized I have nothing to prove – to the world or to myself. And the fight isn’t worth it when the prize is sore legs and a sour expression.

I had a similar revelation last year about using my chair more often. And to be fair, I haven’t resented anyone who’s opened a door for me in a while, but every now and then I’m struck with a then-and-now moment like that.

The way I thought before wasn’t exactly wrong (I’m not sure it was healthy for me but it wasn’t wrong). I needed those moments of self-sufficiency. Independence was important to me at that point in my life. But I’ve lived longer now, I’ve done things I hadn’t then. Different fights are important to me now. This is one I can leave in the past.

So next time you see me, feel free to run ahead and open that door. I promise not to bite your head off.

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What’s in a Name?

Last week I talked about book covers and which ones worked for me and which ones didn’t. Becca made the comment that if we didn’t have covers to look at, we’d judge a book by its title. So of course I decided to do the same thing but looking only at a book’s title instead of the whole cover. And in keeping with that, I’m not going to post the covers at all so you guys can see what you think. Oh, all right. I’ll link to their Goodreads pages so you can check out the ones you really like.

 

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

  • One of the tricks of writing compelling sentences or plot elements is to break expectations. I think this one does that very well. It’s very ordinary until suddenly it’s not.

Sex, Lies and Online Dating

  • You just know this is going to be fun

Miserere: An Autumn Tale

  • I picked this book up because it sounded like “misery” and that was too intriguing to pass up. I think some of the best titles are the ones that mean more after you’ve read the book and know all the implications.

The Deed of Paksenarrion

  • What deed? What awesome thing does this chick do to get a book named after her? Actually, it’s the title of the series, but still great.

Anna Dressed in Blood

  • You don’t need to see the cover. The title says it all.

The Shifter

  • This is a sad story. Originally Janice Hardy called this book The Pain Merchants. So unexpected and intriguing, right? The publisher decided to go with The Shifter which turned it into just another fantasy novel. Sigh.

Sabriel

  • As much as I love this book, I’m just not a fan of titles that are names.

I Am Number Four

  • You are? Where are numbers one, two, and three? I picked this book up just to answer that question.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

  • Was there ever a title with a less deserving book behind it?

Warbreaker

  • It’s hard to name a fantasy without sounding vague or cheesy. Brandon Sanderson’s got it down.

The Dollhouse Asylum

  • I have no idea what this is about but I have to read it.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

  • Probably my favorite title of all time. 

 

So what titles grab you and make you want to pick up the book?

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Judging a Book

Recently at Delve Writing we had a class on cover art, and — entirely separately — my friend Becca is revisiting her cover for Break From You. So I’ve got covers on the brain. The thing is, covers, like any kind of art, are extremely subjective. What works for me might not work for you and vice versa. And there are so many styles and designs in the world. I thought I’d highlight a few and see why they worked for me — or didn’t in some cases.

 

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

  • Great book, but I felt like the cover was really misleading. I was expecting a creepy ghost story and got a generic urban fantasy. Covers make promises that should be kept within the book and this one didn’t.

 

CinderBeastly

  • Aren’t these beautiful? Color on black really works for me. Very striking.

 

TransformRestore

  • Transformation: Dear God, what were they thinking? Glow in the dark wings are not sexy no matter how drunk you are.
  • Restoration: They must have sobered up because this one’s much better.

 

BreathGirlQueen

  • I didn’t realize it before but these have some superb similarities. Evocative, just slightly creepy, and so representative of the book and the disabilities of the characters. The Queen’s Thief series has some fantastic covers, but this one was a satisfyingly bold choice.

 

miserere.finalcov.indd

  • Not just a pretty face, this cover captures the main conflict and the choices and growth of the characters.

 

BlueFantasy

  • Sometimes fantasy landscapes just work. Especially when they’re blue.

 

AnnaNecklacePoison

  • Breathtaking.

 

WitherBeauty

  • I am so done with emo girls in pretty dresses.

 

WinterfairKomarr

  • Winterfair gifts seems cool and romantic until you’ve read the series and you realize Miles is 4’9″. About a foot shorter than Ekaterin. 
  • Komarr: This one’s much closer to the truth.

 

UnwindReplace

  • So chilling. I’m learning I have a thing for creepy.

 

Flesh and Spirit

  • And finally my favorite. I love the mood. So evocative with imagery that exactly matches the books. 

 

Which ones do you like? What are your favorite covers?

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The Knight’s Champion

Freak the MightyFreak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick

 

“I never had a brain until Freak came along…”

12-year-old Max is used to having no friends. He’s used to the whispers about his size, about his intelligence. About his father. But when Freak moves into his neighborhood, small and smart as an encyclopedia, the two of them find they are stronger together. For together they are Freak the Mighty.

 

I can’t believe I waited till I was twenty-eight to read this book. I have kind of a thing for big softies and their genius counterparts, like Fezzik and Inigo (The Princess Bride by William Goldman), and Grunthor and Achmed (Rhapsody by Elizabeth Haydon). Their trust and partnerships always make for compelling reading. And Max’s background made him all the more sympathetic. I loved that Freak was never frightened of Max, even when all the adults were nervous. Freak understood him and reached out to him from the moment they met.

As for Freak’s disability, I don’t know much about Moquio Syndrome, but I loved Philbrick’s portrayal of him. We saw Freak through Max’s eyes, and to Max, he was a genius and a hero. Unlike the adults in their lives, we don’t pity Freak because Max doesn’t see anything to pity. Any time someone refers to him as “that poor boy”, Max is there to disabuse them of that notion. If Freak is a brave knight, then Max is his noble champion.

Freak also had an amazing ability to take himself out of his situation into something more exciting. I can totally relate to imagining a future outside of what is possible. It would depress the hell out of me, but I can see how it would give a kid like Freak a way to cope.

And in a way, Max has his own disabilities. The way people judge him based on his looks and family and his performance in school limits him in his day to day life. It’s only Freak who looks beyond the surface and sees Max. And in the end, it’s Freak who changes the way Max sees himself.

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A-Z Bookish Survey

I saw this over on Bookworm Blues and thought it looked fun.

Author You’ve Read the Most Books From:

Mercedes Lackey with Tamora Pierce and Lois McMaster Bujold coming in as close seconds.

Best Sequel Ever:

The first is great. The second one is better. The third is best.

The King of Attolia

Currently Reading:

BladeMissPeregrine

Drink of Choice While Reading:

Vanilla Coke

E-Reader or Physical Book:

Both. I don’t like carting around a pile of books while I travel, but when I’m at home, I still prefer paper and ink.

Fictional Character You Probably Would’ve Actually Dated in High School:

Herald Mage Vanyel Ashkevron from Mercedes Lackey’s The Last Herald Mage Trilogy, though I wouldn’t have had a chance because he’s gay. Still we spent many wonderful hours together, so it’s kind of like we were dating, right?

Magic's Price

Glad You Gave This Book a Chance:

I’d almost decided not to read this at all until I found it on sale and now it’s probably one of my favorite retellings.

Cinder

Hidden Gem Book:

WrenCurse

Important Moment in Your Reading Life:

When I got serious about writing. Totally changed the way I read. Sometimes I wish I could go back. I’d enjoy way more books that way.

Just Finished:

FreakCryo

Kinds of Books You Won’t Read:

Just not interested. Goes for literary fiction as well.

The Notebook

Longest Book You’ve Read:

According to Goodreads.com…1,015 pages.

Kushiel's Dart

Major Book Hangover Because of:

Her books ruined me for all other books. This one in particular broke me and put me back together again.

Mirror Dance

Number of Bookcases You Own:

Nine.

One Book You Have Read Multiple Times:

So many old friends and I have to choose just one? How about I narrow it down to two?

BlueNight

Preferred Place to Read:

Um, anywhere I happen to be. I have a comfy chair in my library but I just never end up there.

Quote That Inspires You/Gives You All the Feels From a Book You’ve Read:

“Most of us are called on to perform tasks far beyond what we can do. Our capabilities seldom match our aspirations, and we are often woefully unprepared. To this extent, we are all Assistant Pig-Keepers at heart.”

- The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander

Reading Regret:

I regret wasting time on terrible books like these. See W.

FridayWolf

Series you Started and Need to Finish (All Books in Series Are Out):

It’s just shameful that I haven’t finished these. I’m so sorry, Carol. I’ll get right on it.

RaiKirah

Three of Your All Time Favorite Books:

Okay, I guess choosing three is better than listing the seventy-seven Goodreads says I have.

CivilTrickFlesh

Unapologetic Fangirl For:

Oh dear. You caught me.

FushigiSailor

Very Excited For This Release, More So Than Others:

It’s actually already out, so maybe it doesn’t count, but I about peed myself when I heard there was another Vorkosigan novel coming and then I waited AGES for it.

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance

Worst Bookish Habit:

I cannot put down a bad book. It could get better on the next page.

X-Marks the Spot: Start at the Top Left of Your Shelf and Pick the 27th Book

World War Z

Your Latest Book Purchase:

I went to the used book sale at my library last weekend and picked up a bunch. Too many to picture here. But among my selections were childhood favorites like these that should have already been on my shelf.

WolvesCatherine

And new ones that I’m really looking forward to like these.

UgliesCity

ZZZ-Snatcher Book (Last Book That Kept You Up Way Late):

Cinder

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Something A Little Different

 

 

Catching Cinders

All her life, Cindy has been told she’s worthless, kicked into the shadows so often that she believes the lie, but with her father inexplicably dead and the Prince far too interested in her story, she must decide whether to accept the way the world sees her or to prove she’s someone worth fighting for.

Catching Cinders Word Cloud 2

By Winged Chair

For years Merry has helped her father study the OtherRealms and the creatures that live there, but now Merry’s attitude and razor wit has gotten her kicked out of yet another boarding school. When OtherRealm creatures show up in the last place they should be and begin stealing memories from the people of Woodshire, Merry must team up with an outlaw mage in order to return the lives that have been stolen.  She has to choose between the anger her disability instilled in her and the strength she can take from it, because a crippled mage might be just the hero this fairytale needs.

By Winged Chair Word Cloud 3

Skin Deep

Young Lord Léon’s carelessness maims a young girl and lands him a curse from her family, but years later, trapped as a bear, Léon comes across  a disabled enchantress in the forest who promises to free him. What he doesn’t tell her is that he recognizes her as the girl he wronged so long ago, and as he starts to fall in love with her, he realizes he must keep his secret if he wants to keep her.

Skin Deep Word Cloud

A Shroud for my Bride

Seventeen year old Kallan has been the Reaper’s personal hit-woman since she was twelve. But no more. She wants to catch criminals the right way, and after telling Reaper to take a long ride in an empty airship, she seeks a place with Namerre’s police force. But growing up in the world of murderers and vigilantes has left her with debilitating anxiety, and she has to hide her obsessions and compulsions from her new partners and friends. When a serial killer begins stalking the city streets, masking his crimes with magic, Kallan must seek help from her past, from the Reaper, a father who forced her to murder.

A Shroud For My Bride Word Cloud

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