I’m preparing to write a first draft of the Brown Book. Character sketches, plot outlines, and research out the wazoo. Now, I loooooooove research. In fact, sometimes I get so caught up in research that I forget to stop and actually write. And I love editing. But first drafts are my enemy, more than anything else, and I’ve found that writing a first draft is something akin to sticking my fingers in a paper shredder, but a first draft is something that Must Be Done.
I love the idea behind NaNoWriMo, but over the past two Novembers, I have come to realize that November is a dreadful month for me to try to write anything. The weather is bleak, making the necessary thoughtful, philosophical walks I require unpleasant and brief, and November means Thanksgiving and Christmas around the corner, and undergraduates panicking over finals and papers. So, I have never been able to complete NaNoWriMo.
So I’m currently planning to have a frenzied burst of writing between September 22 and October 30th. The Brown Book is urban fantasy; it contains ghosts, Victorian houses, college, and references to Frazer and Margaret Murray.
I miss the support of having a writer’s group like I had as an undergrad, and there are several local groups of writers who meet on days that are impossible for me to attend.
Are there any other writers out there in tumblrland? Do any of you pine for a writing buddy? I wonder if anyone would be interested in having an online writer’s group, emailing chapters back and forth, bouncing ideas, and so on. If anyone is interested, send me a message or comment below.
For the past week, I’ve been reading Blood and Iron, the first novel in Elizabeth Bear’s Promethean Age series. Her prose is gorgeous and lyrical, and is overflowing with folklore and Celtic mythology and traditional ballads - my favorite things!
Blood and Iron is about Seeker, a half-fairy woman whose has served the Sidhe Queen, the Mebd, for the past thirty years. She tracks down half-fairy humans like herself in the mortal world to replenish Faerie’s dwindling population. In the mortal world, a secret society of Promethean mages want to destroy Faerie and recover all the children that the Faeries have stolen.
Things I loved: Whiskey the kelpie was easily my favorite character. He reminded me a bit of the phouka from War for the Oaks at times. Loved the the Medb bound Faeries to her by tying knots in her hair. I was violently, gleefully happy about the grotesque bits: the Queen’s ivory chair made out of antlers that draws blood from the sitter; Kelly’s feet described as withered chicken claws, ruined from one night of dancing with the Faerie. I do love the darkness of fairy tales.
Didn’t love the constant, constant mention of the ballad Tam Lin. I know it’s my favorite ballad and I love books that mention it, but it was continuously bashed into my head. Didn’t love the way I was left confused by pretty much the entire last half of the book. What happened with the fight against the Prometheans? What exactly was the Mebt’s secret plan? What was the deal with Mist the dragon? I couldn’t tell you, I did not grasp these specifics. There was just…so much plotting going on, I could not keep track. I am not great with politics. Even Faerie politics.
But truthfully it was a great book and I can’t wait to read the rest of the Promethean novels.
For the past five years or so I’ve been trying to read books by all the members of the Scribblies writers’ group, which includes Patricia C. Wrede and Pamela Dean, my two favorite authors. I am utterly fond of urban fantasy and read everything I can find on the subject. The current Scribblie I’m reading is Kara Dalkey.
I found this book in the mail Saturday morning from a PaperBackSwap member. She had told me that she loved Kara Dalkey’s books and that I should read her historical fiction books next. I sat on the couch, unwrapped Steel Rose and started reading. Despite two family birthday parties, five loads of laundry, and a trip to the house we’re trying to buy, I finished Steel Rose that evening.
It reminded me a lot of Emma Bull’s The War for the Oaks, which has been one of my absolute favorite books since I read it last year. In fact, it’s a complete role-reversal of The War for the Oaks, with the protagonist on the side of the Unseelie rather than the Seelie court. T.J. accidentally conjures up two Unseelie knockers while practicing for a performance art piece at a Pittsburgh park, who want her to help them overthrow the Queen of the Sidhe.
T.J. meets various Seelie and Unseelie characters roaming the streets of Pittsburgh and Under the Hill, including a lascivious Italian brownie, Luigi, folk legend Joe Magarac, a Ganconer hit man, and Queen Mab herself. It was a great fun, quick read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved the desecriptions of Pittsburgh and the local folklore that appeared in the book.
Some of the writing was a bit uneven. T.J. had issues both with her father dying and her mother’s pressure for her to grow up that were mentioned several times but never really wrapped up. T.J.’s superstitious grandmother was a great character that I had hoped would show up more towards the end.
I was very interested in the dynamics between the Sidhe and the Unseelie in Steel Rose. The Seelie court is depicted as Mother Earth-loving hippie types that protest pollution in Pittsburgh and want an end to the factories. The Unseelie court consists of average Joe blue-collars workers. The Unseelie are the instigatiots of this partiuclar turf war, claiming they want more respect from the Seelie court. They also want the steel mills to stay open. T.J. kind of waffles back and forth, wondering if she should really be on the Sidhe side, because she loves the earth, too, but the fact that her father was a steel mill worker keeps her loyalties to the Unseelie court firm. It was an unusual take on the Seelie/Unseelie court situation, and I really, really liked it.
I just wish that in the end, there was more of a resolution. The Unseelie are ready to die for their mills and the Seelie are ready to die for their plants and the only reason the fight is stopped is because T.J. makes them have a truce. But the truce doesn’t mean anything, because nothing is resolved and the war will only start again.
Still, it was great to read urban fantasy again and I’m keen to read more of Kara Dalkey’s writing.
So I have reached a point in my life where I can read whatever I want. I no longer have English classes spilling over onto my to-read list, nor do I feel any sort of obligation to read the latest books on the new books shelf at the public library. So this year, I read the only books that appeal to me anymore. I read tons of fantasy books. I also read various children’s books that center around horses, and the entire series of Agatha Raisin mysteries. But mostly, I read some fantasy books that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time, and found them to be absolutely fantastic. Most of these books I received from PaperBackSwap, and they all went directly on my desert-island bookshelf.
The War For the Oaks, Emma Bull
This book makes my heart ache because how am I supposed to write a first novel that’s this good? It was published the year I was born, and it’s still considered a classic urban fantasy novel. I adored the phouka, and I loved Eddi, and the hints of eighties fashion.
The Wood Wife, Terri Windling
This book was everything Charles de Lint tries to do iwith The Cousins in his Newford books, but Terri Windling does it so, so much better. The way she describes the desert, the mountains, the saguaro cactus forests, makes me long to visit New Mexico, a place I can assure you I have never before longed to visit. The best part to me was the theory of the spiral path. Simply an amazing book.
Moonwise, Greer Ilene Gilman
Absolutely the best book I read all year. Every book I’ve read over my entire life has been in preparation for reading this book. Her prose is incredibly dense, and it took me forever to read, but it was worth it. It reminded me strongly of my all-time favorite book Tam Lin by Pamela Dean, but even more so, if you know what I mean. This is the kind of book that I want to write one day.
Little, Big, John Crawley
I started this book two summers ago, but I never got beyond the first chapter. This time, I read it in the fall, and it made all the difference. It’s called urban fantasy, but I feel like it’s really more magical realism. My favorite elements were the gradual changing of the season, and the enigmatic ending, and the tarot cards.
I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith
So it’s not strictly fantasy, but reading it was a magical experience. It’s a combination of all my very favorite things to read about: castles, Midsummer’s Eve, growing up, eccentric families, reduced circumstances, and it reads like Jane Austen’s diary would if she lived in England in the 1940s. I loved Cassandra, but I found myself loving her stepmother Topaz most of all, from her “mania for green” and her nudist tenancies. I immediately watched the recent film after reading this book and was blown away by the utter gorgeousness of the cinematography. I read it over Christmas holidays, and it was my favorite part of Christmas.
by Charles de Lint
As a rule, I’m not much impressed with the idea of switching bodies with a complete stranger. Even for a fantasy novel, I just find the whole idea very unlikely. However, it was recommended in one of my Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies, so I tried it.
Sadly, the main character, Max Trader is a typical de Lint hero, which means he’s awesome and deep and even the ladies who don’t like still find themselves inexplicably attracted to him. He’s great and terrific, but through his journey of self-enlightenment, Max becomes even more great and terrific, and the lady who doesn’t like realizes wait, she actually does. He builds instruments for a living, and reading about the process of making guitars was pretty interesting, though. Jilly appears in this novel, which made me smile, and Joe Crazy Dog pretends to be a homeless guy called Bones, which is a super cool nickname. It reminds me of one of my library pals, who had an ancient, decrepit cat he called Mr. Bones. Not one of my favorite de Lint books. I still think he does better with short stories and novels that don’t have a male protagonist. Hank, the amazing Tai Chi-practicing bad guy with a heart of gold from another Newford book I read recently, shows up in one scene to punch out Max. Max reflects sage that Hank clearly has issues to deal with.
by Charles de Lint
This was much, much better than the last Charles de Lint I read. I picked up on no yuppie-hating vibes this time, no Mary-Sue characters, nothing that made me want to hurl the book against the wall. In fact, it was pretty terrific. I always feel that Charles de Lint does better when he doesn’t write about the First People. The books get so solemn and pretentious, because if the book is about Native American mythology, it always has something to do with the End of the World. He is so much easier to read when he constricts himself to one person’s life.
Isobelle is a Newford artist who can bring the subjects of her paintings into life. Her mentor, Ruskin, taught her how to use her ability, but also abused her, mentally and physically. Isobelle is still recovering from two major events that happened five years ago: when a fire destroyed her house and all her artwork, killing the numena that her paintings brought to life, and the suicide of her best friend Kathy. Ruskin has a hold over Isobelle; no matter what horrible things he does to her, she can’t seem to break away from him.
This really was a terrific book, the best Newford book I’ve read so far. I loved Jilly’s presence in the book, the mentions of Sophie and Goon and Professor Dapple. I also love the kind of magic that Isobelle can preform. It just feels so unique. The one thing that kind of disappointed me was the ending. I thought that Ruskin’s hold on Isobelle has something to do with either the painting he drew of her or the sketch she drew of him when they first met. I thought her grotesque sketch of him might have turned him into the monster he is, or that by painting her in the nude Ruskin might have turned her into something he could control. I thought Isobelle would best him by destroying the painting he made of her so that she could be a free woman, able to break free of him. But, this was not the case. Still an okay ending, just didn’t have anything to do with what I thought ought to have happened. I was also sad that the numena didn’t get to become real.
by Charles de Lint
Though “Uptown Lily” and “Downtown Hank” are who the cover flap thinks this novel is about, the actual main characters are Jack Daw, the crow girls, and twin sisters Kerry and Katy. The best characters in these books are crow girls. I haven’t read a Newford book that featured them so strongly before.
As usual, I love de Lint’s stories, what drives me crazy is his writing. It annoys me that all his characters are such perfect, awesome creatures/people, and they can do no wrong/are trying to save the universe and the bad guys are Just Bad, for really no reason at all.
Take Hank of the cover flap, for instance. Hank is a hobo who drives an unlicensed taxi for mobsters and gangsters. But, wait! Hank is actually a really swell guy who rescues girls when they are being beaten up on the street and does tai chi and feeds stray dogs. He just had a rough childhood, that’s all. I mean, I get that this is urban fantasy, and no, I don’t pick up these books to read about yuppies, but come on. Not every person who lives on the street is fantastic and awesome with a heart of gold. I guess maybe in Newford, where everyone listens to jazz and alternative punk Celtic rock and has a million tattoos and faery blood. And it bothers me when all the characters sit around talking about what to do while simultaneously listing all the wonderful things about themselves. And everyone in this town is best friends with everybody else.
I mean, I love these books. I just feel so judged when I’m reading them, because de Lint makes it clear that if you don’t love alternative environmental punk and jazz, that if you don’t scorn everything about a normal, mainstream life then you a total waste of air and are not worthy to read his books.