Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What fandom can bring

What do people do when you're not watching? Do they exist? Does it matter? Are they these creepy dead things that only come to life when you're playing with them? (Dolls might be the word I'm looking for.)

I have friends who tell me that they worry that people are dead, when they are not interacting with them. I have friends who assume that all the fun things happen when they're not around. I personally tend to assume everyone is in something of a state of suspended animation, with occasional worry that they're actually dead, or suspicion that they're having more fun without me.

This is a heady philosophical question, but I'd like to apply it instead to stories. When we write, there are a few tendencies that can pop out. One is to blindly tell a story and make everything fit into it, regardless of characters', well, characters. Sometimes it doesn't make sense that a person like that character would do that thing, though it helps the plot. Sometimes I get the feeling that the character has in fact been in suspended animation in between needing her to be on the page. Sometimes I suspect that were I to ask the character what he did over the weekend, all I'd get is a blank stare.

Other times, the tendency is to overdescribe all the occurrences. It's like what would happen if purple prose answered all questions with where and when, as well as how and pretty. Do you ever have those moments where you look back over a scene you just wrote and think "erm, did I need to write everything that happened to her that day? Because um, it turns out, nothing happened. But she drank some tea! And read the newspaper. In which there were articles that I described faithfully. Then she went to the loo! Then, then, then." Forgetting how to fade to black and jump timelines would be sad in real life, but is tragic indeed in writing. What do you mean you don't have those abilities in real life? What do you mean those abilities are only brought about by excessive drinking?

One of the things that fandom taught me was to think about the in-between spaces in a story. It taught me wonderfully how to develop a character in the tiniest ways - precisely because fandom would then take those tiny signals and enlarge them hugely - and what can be left unspoken. It made me think about the character's  introspection and deepest murkiest (or chirpy) thoughts that I as an author need to know about, lo tho they may never achieve the page. It's ok, anxious author! The fanficcers will spell it out for you! I promise.

So it simultaneously made me learn how to flesh out a character, and how to do it in subtle ways and not actually put it all on paper. Sometimes it's enough to know it all in your head as you're writing; it'll shine through as the characters feel more alive and realistic.

And when all else fails, the fanficcers will make all of your characters have all that sex you haven't been letting them have.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

On improving myself

Sometimes I go through periods where I just can't read. I mean, not that I become incapable thereof, because I would have to go blind first. And that would be really sad. I suppose I sufficiently bad head injury might accomplish it? But I don't really want that either, if I have a choice.

So perhaps it is more apt to say that I go through periods where I have a hard time wanting to read. I still read the newspapers, blogs on my googlereader, my friends' blogs, random words on the internet and sometimes even (gasp) fanfiction, quite happily, but the concept of a book just seems too overwhelming to contemplate. I will stare at my creaking, groaning, shelves in disgust and think NONE OF THESE ARE RIGHT.

This is particularly of note because normally I go through about a book a day.

So the past few weeks have been like that for me. I read a couple books on the airplane to and from Michigan for thanksgiving, but otherwise have been reading the newspaper or playing phone games on the subway and generally boycotting the entire idea of books. I even went to the gym and tried to read while ellipticalling but realised that would only work with my tablet, not with the tiny phone I had on me (and it's still hard, because I bounce up and down a lot).

Finally, yesterday, I swung by a friend's office to grab a cable and she offered me books (we all work in publishing. It's like offering someone tea or something - only polite) and as I looked panicked and overwhelmed at the concept of READING A WHOLE BOOK she treated me a little like a scared kitten. She spoke soothingly, quietly, and presented me with no obligations as she dangled treats in front of my eyes. Perhaps this book from a friend and author whose debut I've been eagerly awaiting? No pressure! Or perhaps this third book in a silly series about Jane Austen being a vampire? No pressure! How about a regency romance with practically no sex? No pressure!

...And somehow I have three books in my bag all of a sudden. And then last night, while tipsily coming home on the subway I tentatively started reading one, completely ignoring the book that's been faithfully travelling around in my bag with me for weeks until I was ready to read it again.

Sometimes throwing off the shackles of obligation - even if it's entirely self-imposed - makes all the difference to one's enjoyment and desire to do a thing.

And now I am reading a book about Jane Austen being a vampire. Fortunately I am also reading a friend's second novel - at the gym mostly, now I've figured out the tablet situation - so my brain is slowly creaking back into editorial and critical thinking as well.

And then, for my birthday, my grandmother - at my request - bought me a subscription to the New York Review of Books. I'd been thinking, in the past year, that the quality of their writing, reportage and political acumen was almost unbeatable these days, so I'm really happy to be a) supporting them and b) getting their writings in my mail box once a month. Petpet. So this morning I read interesting things on the subway! I eschewed the newspaper - mostly on the grounds that I've already read all the news they print either on twitter or new blogs the night before - and read reviews of interesting sounding books. And there are already three I want to read and one I want to give as a gift to two people.

Oh creaky little brain, you are being to emerge from your cocoon again, aren't you? You were just a little overwhelmed there for a bit. Maybe you'll even want to start writing a little bit again every day?

Which brings me to the final way I am endeavouring to spend this winter improving myself. I am trying to do a little, tiny, bit of exercise every day. I am trying to make my body strong to withstand the ravages of cold and also oncoming time, and the amount I feel better when I do is really quite startling. Healthier habits all round are really improving the quality of my life.

And it's nice to remember that, even on mornings where it's cold and rainy out and nothing seems like it's going right. Gym, interesting things to read, maybe a little writing - and work. Plus I made a new friend last night!

Also I wrote about 14k in November. I will be a good girl and do some this month too, hopefully. Somewhere in between carolling and holiday parties and ice skating and walking down Fifth Avenue to see the windows and the lights and the Rockefeller Christmas Tree.

Oh goodness, I'm from one of those turn of the century novels. And I love it.

Monday, August 29, 2011


So I thought hard about coming home and writing after my eureka moment. But then I was tired and cranky and this incredible guitar player on the subway was playing Hard Day's Night, so I came home and we played Beatles Rock Band instead. We are dorks. Very happy dorks.

After I kicked ass on She's Leaving Home and then didn't suck too hard on a bunch of other songs, I settled down to write.

838 new words. And a whole nother conversation is about to happen before the conversation that was giving me so many problems.

Now I have to go to sleep, but I feel jazzed and ready to keep writing. If only I could put this feeling on hold until tomorrow evening. Or writing group on Thursday.

When the going gets tough

The tough go shopping.

Or something.

Generally, things that are easy for me to write include: dialogue, description, one-liners, adorable children and descriptions of people talking to adorable children, wittily, about tea.

And redundancy.

Things that are hard for me to write include: plot, strong emotions, and flaws.

I am getting much better at flawing people, by the way. But it's sometimes hard to resist my urge to think that my characters must be PERFECT and BRILLIANT, because obviously, I would like to present that way to the world, myself, if I had a choice.

But I've had a general rule that if I find myself butting up against something and saying "but I dun waaaaanna", it's a pretty fair assumption that it's an important thing to work on.

So I've been butting up against what happens next in my book for weeks now. It's boring, I don't want to write it, it involves a lot of research, the more I think about it, the more I'm not sure I want so much of the focus to be on that aspect of the plot, etc.. And I know that most of those things are excuses for this thing that, for some reason, I just really don't want to write. So I assumed that it had to be Important To Work On, both for my development as a writer, and for the plot.

Turns out I woke up this morning with the realisation that the reason I hadn't been wanting to write it is that it just doesn't work. It does detract from the story. It is kind of pointless, there are BETTER ways around it which build up characters that are otherwise 2-dimensional! I can make it much more realistic. AND I don't have to betray a character's beliefs to get him into a situation he would never chose to go into.

Sometimes, I guess, when you can't make yourself write something? It's because you shouldn't be writing it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Things and stuff, but no string

I got a smartphone! I feel like I'm joining the 21st century. Also like my nose is going to end up stuck to it.

I moved. Did I mention that already? One day I will unpack all the boxes.

Started trying to tackle this book again. 9,000 words and a better sense of the plot. I need to draw a diagram. Sadly I don't draw very well.

I want to make a list of thrift stores I love, because people keep asking me about them, so I figured I'd put it here for ease of finding and also general knowledge.

For ultimate cheapness: Thrift by the Pound Goodwill in Astoria.
Next in cheapness, but a little better quality (and in Manhattan): Salval on 4th and 12th. 1/2 off Wednesdays
Decent quality, medium expense: Goodwill on 25th and 6th, 23rd and 3rd or 79th and Broadway
Great quality, slightly more expense: Goodwill on 8th and 6th. Sample sale stuff here a lot.
Slightly more vintage, more expensive: Housing Works, wherever they may be, Vintage Thrift on 3rd at 23rd, The Cure Diabetes thrift at 12th and 4th.
And then there's: Monk Thrift Shop on Macdougal just below 8th. It's in it's own, weird little class because it's mostly on the "good vintage but quite expensive" range, but sometimes has really nice things for like $5-15. And then it has a dollar rack. I love that dollar rack. So it's a mixed bag here, but if you're planning on hitting up the Goodwill on 8th anyway, it's right around the corner and open pretty late.

I think the ones I visit the most are the SalVal on 12th and 4th (but only on Wednesdays) and the Goodwill on 8th, swinging by the Monk dollar rack. Were Thrift by the Pound not in Astoria I'd be there every day. But it's something of an adventure. Like, bring water and powerbars, comfortable shoes, wear a bathing suit and you'll still leave with glazed eyes. Plus there's the mad episode I witnessed, not unlike the running of the bulls, when they bring out the new bins.

So, if you're looking for comfy and sturdy and cheap, hit up Thrift by the pound, Salval or the Goodwills in the 20s. If you're looking for huge discount but more expensive (in the $30s often) designer clothes and the ability to look like you're wearing next season's clothes, the Goodwill on 8th and if you want gorgeous, vintage, try the others.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Small potatoes!

Last weekend my global cooking club (so named because we do different cuisines, not because we are farflung, normally) did Cajun in Madison Square Park and here was my contribution:

Cajun Spiced Roasted Potatoes in two steps:

Step one, make the spice mix in a mortar and pestle, so it should be quite fine:
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
Of note here, I took out the ground red pepper and replaced it with equal amounts of tabasco. This actually makes it marginally (really small amounts) less spicy, but adds more flavour, according to a Cajun I once knew, because Tabasco has things in it. Alternatively you can keep the red pepper and add in a little vinegar. Also the wetness helps a bit with sticking it to the potatoes.

Step two: Potatoes and garlic

Chops lots of potatoes quite small
Chop some garlic quite small
Put some tin foil in a baking pan or on a cookie sheet
Roll the potatoes and garlic in the spice mix.
Put on the pan/sheet.

(Note: Most recipes say to peel. I actually prefer unpeeled; much more flavour, crispier and tasty. YMMV)

Preheat to about 450. Cook until brown and crispy. (30-40 minutes, but check after as little as twenty.)

I halved the amount of spice mix for what I made and it was fine - and still had extra. Just make sure each potato piece gets a little reddish/brownish looking, rather than using all of it. Obviously can add more spice mix when cooked if it's not sufficiently spicy for your taste, but be careful because this is a slow burn rather than an upfront one.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Two posts, one day!

In more personal news, I have an appreciation/review of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets up at Tordotcom today. Here's a sneak peek and then you can follow the link to the rest of the article and COMMENT over there:

After you’ve defeated a Dark Lord, come home and found life goes on as normal, how do you return to faerieland? How do you get back to Narnia? How do you make something feel even more magical and wondrous than when it was brand new?

Well, a flying car and a murderous tree is a pretty good way to start.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was one of the very first “what happens after” books I’d read. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was a great adventure book in which the boy turns out to be a wizard, a celebrity, a hero, and then defeats the Dark Lord all over again. But Chamber of Secrets shows what happens next and that fascinated me.

And then there was the psychology of a budding Dark Lord, an ambiguous, strange elf-creature, a truly fabulous dueling club, the history and redemption of Harry’s first friend and, of course, Lockhart.

Marriage Equality

Seem like very big, melodramatic words, but er, today they are ENTIRELY the point. I've been calling, emailing and tweeting at undecided NY Senators to get them to support Marriage Equality. This is a bill that could go to vote any time in the next couple days and currently, it looks as though we're only one vote short.

One Republican senator was swayed by as little as 4,000 calls apparently. Now we need just one more senator.

Here are the undecideds; please please please contact them:

Greg Ball., (845) 279 3773
Andrew Lanza, Staten Island. (718) 984-4073
Stephen M. Saland of Poughkeepsie. (845) 463-0840,
J. Kemp Hannon, Nassau County. (516) 739-1700,
Mark Grisanti of Erie County, not answering the phone. May be in hiding. (518) 455-3240

When you call, just say "I'm calling about the gay marriage vote. I'm not a constituent but I am a resident of NY. I'm entirely in favour of gay marriage and I really hope that Senator X will be too." They may ask you where you're from or your name, but chances are good they won't. They'll say thank you and hang up. The end.

And you might have done a small part in a civil rights movement. You might have helped families.

You can also tweet and email at them, though no texting.

I think, by the way, it's also important to find your Senator and Assemblyperson and thank them (provided, of course they voted Aye) for supporting Marriage Equality. We want to let them know that their constituents stand behind them on this issue and we'll support them when they support us.

Also my Senator and my Assemblyman both tweeted back at me and my senator follows me now. <3<3 Local politics are THE BEST you guys.

Go, help make history today. Please.

Plus, as I offered on twitter; if you contact them and ask them to support gay marriage and then tell me you did so? I'll make you cookies.

ETA: At [info]lowellboyslash 's request, I include the text of the bill:

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Woefully behind

I'm woefully behind on Magicians of Caprona (I might have to reread to write it), polishing all these posts up for Tordotcom (sold them! yay!), I submitted a review of Faerie Winter over at Tordot, I'm about to start working on a review of Genevieve Valentine's Mechanique for them (a circus full of magical creatures! only possibly it's science instead of magic? I don't yet know!), I signed a lease on a new flat on Tuesday night and hosted two seders not in my own flat.

So I've been pretty busy. It's not really going to subside any time soon because, as mentioned, I have to finish writing a bunch of stuff for Tordot, then I have to see if H&H still wants articles from me, this belatedly, somewhere in there I have to move and then hopefully I can start writing my own book. And all of this before the authors for whom I first-read, finish their next books!

...Kind of all I want to do is eat bread and sleep instead.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Witch Week

Goodness, I'd quite forgotten the variety of new characters that Witch Week starts off with. It's a brilliantly drawn world and the touches DWJ makes to show how close and yet how far it is both from our world and from Chrestomanci's, are lovely. They burn witches! Which makes it seem like olden days, but then there are lots of tiny details that make it feel sufficiently modern and also way creepier because you realise that they never stopped burning witches. Which is certainly one theory of what would happen if witchcraft were real and the witch trials never stopped.

I'd like to point out, very briefly, here that England rarely burnt witches. They burnt women for treason - because to be hanged, drawn and quartered you needed to be stripped naked and they preferred not to do that to women? That's what I've heard in any case - but they mostly hanged people for witchcraft; male and female. I guess they didn't need to draw and quarter them?

There were awful burnings - many in Germany and Denmark - but remarkably few in the UK.

Anyway, to return to the book. It feels kind of like it's about to  be Breakfast Club meets Mallory Towers with witchcraft.

I love remembering that some of the teachers (namely Mr. Wentworth) were witches too. Also the whole drama of Mr. Crossley loving Miss. Hodges who wants to marry Mr. Wentworth. It is smart and amusingly written. Plus the children's characters are brilliantly and wickedly drawn. Ah school, you can sometimes be so cruel.

I think one of my favourite things about this book is Estelle. The idea of people, entire families, without magic who try to help them and run the witches underground makes me all warm inside. It's just like the people in WWII or the Civil War era undergrounds. This is exactly what we should be teaching children; empathy for people who aren't like you.  Not to rest on your privilege.

I LOVE that the "very powerful spell" is just to say Chrestomanci, but love even more that it's Christopher and his first act at being dragged into another world is to check his clothes. Best silly character trait ever. I have no idea where it comes from - except maybe Christopher's Mama? And I love that Estelle has a crush on Christopher.

Ok, so here's my continuity question. In Conrad's Fate they say that Conrad can't stay in Christopher's world because he'd fade, it not being his own world. But in Willing Warlock he gets sent through to another world and appears to be ready to live there, and now in this one, Estelle says that there's another world to which the Witch Rescue League sends witches. So is it that you can't go outside your series without fading, but can within your own series?

This world - as Christopher's asking questions about it - does seem to be the most similar to ours that we've seen yet. Is it supposed to be ours? Or is it supposed to be just left of ours or something? Ah! Obviously! The one the rescue league sends you to is ours.

Wait, Christopher has a ward who used to belong to a world without magic? It's certainly not Cat or Tonino, so who is it?

This is an anti-climactic ending in the vein of Charmed Life ie. "and then I had some revelations!" but it didn't work for me quite as well. It was still pretty awesome, but there's an element of losing at least some of the memories that makes me sad.

Still I loved having an actual School Story and I loved having a large gang of characters. She shows children being selfish and concerned and self-preserving and compassionate and mature and silly and all these things all at once. And I kept thinking, oh that's the "bad kid!"..."wait, no...that is?" In the end, none of them really are. They are all just human. Which is much more interesting to me in some ways than having a traditional "baddie".


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Willing Warlock and Stealer of Souls

Willing Warlock:

When she says short, she means short. Weirdly, this totally should have gone after Charmed Life, not Conrad's Fate. The only thing that makes it possible sensible on that front is that we learn, in Conrad, about Chrestomanci having agents in other series/worlds.

I haven't much to say about the story. It's nice idea that there really is no way to escape Chrestomanci's punishment/wrath, no matter where you run, but it all seems a little pat. Plus I ended up feeling kind of sorry for the Warlock, with the dog and the kid.

Stealer of Souls
AND this one is obviously post Magicians of Caprona! Even though, it's got Cat in it. Confused.

 I do love the idea that Cat is no longer the pet and has to deal with that. But oh, Cat, be more nice and likeable! Wait, so Tonino's mother was one of the Chrestomanci kids? Was she mentioned at the end of Conrad's book?

I do like that magic has no effect on measles.

Oh I am so happy to see Mordecai again. Generally to see the old crew from Christopher's Lives, but especially Tacroy.

I love Cat's idea that being an evil enchanter comes from doing good things for bad reasons. I suspect it's kind of the opposite, but it's interesting because it shows selfishness and laziness. But also consideration for other people. So generally...a teenager?

Wait, doesn't Rosalie have magic? She is definitely married to Mordecai, right??

Aha! Drama and plot! It is occurring! They have been kidnapped back in time! And a forgetting spell has been put on them. Oh why don't people listen to dire warnings?

And then stuff occurs! Well, it's a short story. There are beans! Cat puts them in his pocket! Cat and Tonino learn to work together and love one another. Then the beans really do all the hard work, despite being kind of stupid for lack of brain. I find myself remarkably happy that Gabriel De Witt is essentially getting reborn. Surely this must show up in a story, somewhere?

I think the moral of this story is that Cat still isn't very nice, Tonino totally saved the day and I really hope Cat grows up a lot. Now on to Witch Week!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Conrad's No Good, Very Bad, Fate

I must have started this at some point because a lot of it is feeling very familiar. I love the beginning in the bookshop. Again we have three strong women, though in very different ways. The absent minded academic mother, the independent, smart sister and the manipulative Daisy.

I can't help feeling that even were I a pre-teen I'd be very suspicious about the whole bad karma thing as a reader. Maybe less so if I hadn't just read two books in the series in which pretty much everyone is duping the young male hero for their own nefarious and magical ends. But this currently makes me think a lot of the evil plot in charmed life. Which then makes me question if the Stallery folk are evil at all but then I question that doubt because why else would Christopher be investigating them? I suspect they aren't all evil but have otherworldly tech they shouldn't or something? Is that too Doctor Who-y? Is this a case of slightly formulaic plotting or her using our expectations from the previous books to lead us down the wrong path? 

Also yay Christopher! 

The whole set-up is pretty cool. This is the first book in the series in which the kids go off and work, which gives it a weirdly even more period feel than having tutors at home in a big castle. And I love the cast of characters up at Stallery. I bumbled along pretty quickly through the getting-to-know you section and bumped right into Anthea, the fabulous sister from the beginning! I don't know how I feel about the idea that she's just waiting around for her boyfriend, Count Robert, to fix things, but I assume there's more going on there that we haven't seen yet. It's also nice to see an adult who even nominally cares/is nice to the boys.

I'm really glad that everyone agreed that the "fate" thing is bogus so early, but I wish the whole wine cork/Walker thing had been more climactic. Perhaps it'll come back? 

Certainly looks like I was right, re: otherworld tech. But not at all about Christopher "investigating" it turns out! He was just looking for Millie! I'm glad, once again, that Millie has agency and does things on her own, but I don't understand why - after thinking that school was punishment for taking Christopher's life in the last book, she runs away the second she doesn't like school. And why Christopher thinks they can live on an island all by themselves?

I do like the hints of him fussing about his clothes though. We didn't see that so much in the last book, but a lot in the first.

At first I thought "The ghost" was Millie, having been stuck. I had been kind of wondering if Stallery had captured her and was using her magic, but obviously those were flights of fancy. Now I'm pretty sure the ghost is Christopher. This doesn't actually make any sense because the ghost was there before Christopher disappeared, but where is Christopher then? The ghost must be someone stuck in the possibilities or something? 

I love the actors!

A brief side note - the whole thing about Conrad's mum having spells put on her to basically forget him was quite distressing. I'd quite like the whole family situation sorted out too please.

Oh everything suddenly got excitingly good! Turns out they are all related and Conrad's mum has come to do exciting things in hilariously embarrassing dresses and HOW DID I NOT KNOW MR AMOS WAS THE COUNT. But wait, if Hugo is his son and Felice is the Countess' daughter, this is going get incestuous and problematic! KEEP READING.


Ah. Phew. There is a Lady Amos! Who is Hugo's mother! Glad that's sorted! But now some of the people I like - Robert and Hugo are going to be arrested! Also all the servants are going to be screwed! DIANA MAKE IT BETTER.

Well at least they found Christopher. It's amazing how much calmer it makes me feel to have Christopher around. But honestly Gabriel isn't such a bad guy! Although I can see why Conrad would be freaked because of the whole murder thing (which is obviously hilariously silly) but why are Millie and Christopher so determined to keep running away from Gabriel?
That, by the way, was quite a clever evil plan of Uncle Alfred's, but really, just because Conrad didn't succeed, is that a reason to blurt it all out? 

I love Gabriel scolding Conrad's mum for neglect. I'm not saying he's the best parental figure, but he really does try. And he certainly doesn't neglect people!

I am, it turns out, devastated not to get the Chrestomanci castle years in which Conrad and Christopher and Millie frolic repeatedly. It is nice to see them as teenagers though, but I want to see Christopher and Millie fall in love so much. You see delightful hints of it, but I want the whole thing!

I am also kind of sad that Stallery just collapses down and dies. I'm really glad that the staff all got jobs and so happy that Mr. Prendergast was an investigator - it was a really lovely way of wrapping things up and also showing that adults in power can be really good people. I'm also glad that Anthea cares about Conrad and wants him to hang out with her, but I can't help feeling that even she was very self-centred and forgot him a lot. The only really good family is the one you choose for yourself, in these books, which is entirely fair and a really interesting theme for children's books.

In conclusion I LOVED this one. Onwards to the short stories which I've ALSO never read, before jumping into Witch Week which I love heartily, but again has too little Chrestomanci to make me unreservedly happy.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Lives of Clistoffer Chant

So far the only good depiction of parents have been christopher and Millie. Is this following the rule of ya/mg that says you can't have parents around? It's also relatively traditionally middle-upper class english to have distant parents.

I'd forgotten the mermaids who thought he was a strange animal called a clistoffer! The anywheres are so rich and brilliant a creation. I would love to have lots of stories set in them.

Something I'm noticing on this read is that I'm trying to notice when he loses a life - knowing he has them and knowing he doesn't know that I'm trying to find them - like a puzzle. I did it in the last book too but I'm not sure if I was actually being clever or if I just remembered as I was going along.

As I get to the beginning of the plot, and we meet Christopher's Evil Uncle Ralph, I find it hard to imagine that I ever actually thought he was a good guy. Did I? Was I suspicious the very first time I read through this? I don't know, because I clearly remember being devastated that Tacroy was involved in shenanigans of the evil sort (even if it was kind of against his will, a bit) but never Uncle Ralph. Also I want to shout-out the part where Christopher is confused that Ralph is pronounced Rafe. Did all Ralph's used to be pronounced Rafe? Because it still confuses me!
I also really love the governess with the "hidden prettiness". It is such a brilliant way of showing both the scheming and plotting that's going on and the charm and force of Uncle Ralph's personality without having to do overblown descriptions. One of the many ways DWJ is a genius.

And then, on only his second journey, we meet Millie! And all her cats. Both books have had cats in them so far. And there's a brilliant moment where Christopher thinks the unpleasant, vicious cat reminds him of his uncle and it confuses him because he thinks he adores his uncle. So it "must be the gingerness". Ah subconscious thoughts done perfectly! Although, OI, not all gingers are evil!

Aha! One life gone when the Arm of Asheth kills him with a spear! Well and then Throgmorten accidentally kills him with a curtain pole, since it needs to happen in this world to stick. Poor cat. 
I do find it interesting that while Christopher doesn't really want Throgmorten to be cut up for spells - and in fact helps him escape to avoid that fate - he doesn't seem to make the connection that Uncle Ralph is possibly evil, because surely - especially in children's books - someone who would cut up an animal (even a quite vicious one) can't possibly be good. 

When the governess made a comment about how it would be boring and he didn't want to go, I got bristly and thought that she was goading him into it. But when Tacroy says that hopefully they'll be able to do it without Christopher and seems reluctant to involve him more, it makes me love Tacroy all the more. And I'd forgotten about his young-music-playing-lady woes. They are hilarious.

When Millie gives him a bracelet (would I have remembered the silver allergy if it hadn't been for Charmed Life?) does he lose a life? It seems like such a wasteful way to lose one. I don't think so though, because then he'd have lost another one the second time Millie "does the bracelet trick" as it were. 

OH there's the moment when the parcel smells like fish and I'm pretty sure it's dead mermaids!

Uhoh, and here actually comes the second lost life. The crane in series 10! What is it about series 10 that seems so unfriendly to Christopher's life?

I love Dr Pawson. "Don't do some magic and let me see!" "Don't do it again!" It's brilliant and entirely sensible, but I can also see why it would be entirely confusing for poor Christopher. Why aren't there really any adults who are nice to children in these books? And particularly why doesn't anyone ever tell them what's going on? People are shoving him places and putting scarves on him and then stealing the scarves away and it's all very confusing and all he wants to do is play cricket.

I do love Throgmorten and I am so happy to see him back at the castle. I don't know why DWJ has a thing for bad-tempered cats, but they have hilarious personalities. WONG. What kind of cat says wong?

Breaking his neck - first by falling from the tower and then by falling when he tried to get to series 11 - is the third life. But here's the thing, the first death normally seems accidental and then related death seems inevitable to balance the scores, but I'm not quite sure why he fell from the tower in Chrestomanci castle. That seems more like an inevitable second death rather than an accidental one, even though apparently it was. Not just because I'm unused to the death happening in his world first but because it seems so random. Ah, and then he breaks his neck again which means that the breakage in series 11 wasn't the parallel of the tower death, but instead tripping over Throgmorten is the parallel death. So when he dies in his home world, he doesn't need to die somewhere else? It's all very confusing! And people should be teaching him to die less often! This is getting ludicrous. Even if I think two of his deaths (maybe one) were engineered by Chrestomanci's team to stop the smugglers.

I do love the way Tacroy tries to save Christopher, even if half-heartedly. He really is a good boy. Plus I love his curly hair. Considering he's Mordecai and he has tight, curly hair, I'm pretty sure he's Jewish. Though if he's a foundling, how would they know to call him Mordecai? Unless he was left outside a synagogue. CONFUSED.And there goes another life with Tacroy and the dragon. Is that four or five now? Five. I'm so glad that Christopher finally figures out the parallel deaths and stops thinking that the Anywheres are safe. But really, that took a while!

When did he lose the sixth though? This is the one that confuses me. Could it have been with Asheth?

I love that Millie makes her own way into Christopher's world. Much as I'd like Christopher to be a nice, helpful kind of boy (and I think he does become one - at least more so - after Flavian's outburst) he's not really very considerate. He doesn't think of things unless they are under his nose - just like the older version of him in Charmed Life actually! And I really like Millie having sufficient agency to do her own thing.

Ah, Tacroy/Mordecai has coffee-coloured skin. How did I miss that before? I guess he's not Jewish.

Lobster pot and cat weapon for the major win. And Gabriel had been at least trying to get other kids Christopher's age. He's not all fusty.

AHA. Millie STOLED his sixth life. At least I wasn't intentionally confused! :)

The whole ending was very fuzzy in my mind and I'm very impressed with the way they tied everything together, though I was beginning to wince everytime Christopher lost another life. Gabriel still had 8! Why couldn't he have given one to the Dright/to be burnt? I guess because they couldn't communicate effectively, but still. Frustrating.

Annnd to cap it all off, Mother Proudfoot is awesome in the face. I think the lesson of the first two books is that the women are way more awesome. Sometimes quite evil (Gwendolyn), but with the possible exception of Christopher's Mama, all very powerful. Now I just want to see a Chrestomanci book where it's a nine-lived female enchantress. Well I suppose this is what fanfiction is for?

Interestingly, I don't think I've ever read Conrad's Fate, which is up next! Onwards and upwards Horatio!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Charmed Life

From the very start of Charmed Life it feels evocative of most of my childhood. Some of this may have to do with growing up in small towns in England, but more of it is because I spent so much of that time rereading this book.Although I'm afraid I'm mixing it up with the Lives of Christopher Chant in my head.

I wanted to note how brilliantly she sets up a whole world in a few brushstrokes. This is truly master world-building.

And ohhhh Gwendolyn makes me so mad! Stop abusing your brother! The older Chrestomanci always frustrated me too. He just seems so obtuse and stuck in his ways and convinced he's right and grrarg. Perhaps I'll grow to like him more, seeing him now as an adult with many responsibilities? I doubt it. I think she wanted us to kind of dislike him.

Something I find really fascinating are the glimpses we have of Gwendolyn being nice to Cat and taking care of him - like playing snap with the divination cards. Knowing what she's actually doing, I can never figure out if she's just making sure he stays amenable to her (secretly) stealing his magic? Or if there really is still some warmth and family love in there somewhere. And if there isn't, I have to question the whole beginning. Did she drown the family to make her way? Or was she just an opportunist?

There's something magical about writing from a small child's perspective. Everything is bewildering and strange, so a new bed or a disgusting tasting cocoa assume equal importance to magic or abuse or larger problems. So it gives books like these a great charm and feeling of...normalcy? Magic is used to shove marmalade in someone's face, Chrestomanci's robe looks fancy and also important! things! occur! in one paragraph and they all feel like a vaguely bewildered ten year old boy.

I'm trying to figure out whether I'm predisposed to like Mr. Saunders because of what I know of the book, or whether it's because he's so deftly portrayed as young and smart and earnest but funny and slightly threadbare. Like....Remus Lupin as a grad student?

Oh! Here's a fun and awkward moment. When Gwendolyn's replacement comes, she makes a face in the mirror and makes her eyes "long and Chinese".  I remember as a kid in the UK, a decade or so after this book was written, we used to do the same thing. But now, reading it, it feels jarring and offensive.

Ah Janet, you generally soothe my Gwendolyn-hurt sole. Plus I love the touch of adding in the reader. Essentially Janet - to me at least - feels like she's me, or at least pulled from my world into Gwendolyn's, which is just how I feel in this book anyway.

Ah! The tiny dragon! I remember it well and fondly! Sometimes I think that my cat looks like a tiny dragon and now, reading of the baby dragon in Michael's workshop, it reminds me of a cat.

It's fascinating to me that the climax of the book is essentially Cat saying "erm, can I have it back?" in regards to his magic, and yet it feels entirely tense and dramatic. I think it's to do with how invested I become in his emotional journey so instead of it sounding flat, it sounds like he's finally, truly breaking with his sister and recognising how she used him. It is, weirdly, a major coming of age story I think, in a pretty sad way. In other news, however, I love The Family so.

I do like the resolution, partially because it discusses the ways in which magic and Adventures can change you. Janet can't go home and live a normal life and while - because it's essentially middle-grade - it's all wrapped up a little neatly, with each girl being better off, I like the fact that it gets explained and worried about. Mostly I think Janet really saves the ending by being curious and smart and practical.

It's interesting reading this one first, rather than The Lives of Christopher Chant and I'm not sure I can see why you should. Perhaps the world-building is a little sharper and faster (though not the worlds building she does in TLoCC) but why start when the hero and heroine of your next book are all grown up already? I think this is an instance in which I'd prefer to do them the other way round. Still, Christopher doesn't seem all that much like himself in this one, though I can entirely imagine Millie becoming the Millie she is here (and kept imagining lots of golden bracelets on her wrist.) Julia and Roger seem perfectly alright children for them to have, though I'd have assumed Millie might have wanted to send them off to school, and they could have a little more spark and interest.

Mostly I think I'm disappointed in Christopher/Chrestomanci though. Throughout the whole book everyone overlooks Cat for Gwendolyn, because she's the mean, magical, brilliant, flashy one. Chrestomanci knowsis  that to be untrue and still becomes sufficiently caught up in her web that he doesn't stop to consider that Cat doesn't know what's going on. Chrestomanci jumps to conclusions too early and too...meanly, to really ring quite true or be entirely sympathetic. Of course, Cat is entirely lovable, so that there's no problem of not connecting, I just would have liked everyone to be a little smarter a little earlier.

Now I'll see how he compares to the Grown-Up-Chrestomanci of the other books. The more I come to think of it, the more I'm sure he's distant and slightly out of touch in all the books. Oh Chrestomanci, be more with it please! Also continue to wear the most fabulous dressing gowns.

Remembering Diana Wynne Jones

I never knew DWJ personally, but I remember hours of my childhood going around bookstores trying to figure out if they'd shelved her under "W" or "J' (especially in small, independent bookstores or at airports and railways stations, this was a confusing question). I first started reading Diane Duane mostly because I was enamoured of the idea of another children's book author who was called Diane. I think I thought they must be connected writing-wise.

When I moved to the States, when I was about 13, most of my DWJ books got lost in the transition, and I spent a year or two rereading The Magicians of Caprona over and over and over again because it was the only one I had. One afternoon I sat in the bookstore on 86th Street in Manhattan and read Deep Secret in a few hours.

I've been slowly rebuilding my Wynne-Jones (shelved on it's own shelf, so as to avoid any alphabetising confusion in my home) collection and only recently did a friend give me Castle In The Air as a holiday gift reminding me that there are whole DWJ books I haven't read.

So I'm going to try to re-read - and indeed read for the first time in some cases - all of Diana Wynne Jones' books and mark down my comments and thoughts. Her books changed, shaped and ameliorated my life - first as a child and now again as I grow up - so hugely, that I'm excited to explore the emotional impact they have on me now. Plus, I'm hoping that wrapping myself up in her words, like a blanket, will in some way, help ease my grief over the passing of one of my favourite authors.

So here is the beginning of my reading list. I'm starting with the Chrestomanci books, but in the order she recommended they be read (which is in fact different from the order I read them as a child) and then adding on ones that have been published since after I first read them. Starred are the ones that I haven't read/didn't read originally back in the early '90s.
 Next post to come with thoughts on Charmed Life!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Revising and lyrics?

I've been revising my Rumpy story, which is nice. It's been a really great process, largely thanks to my excellent editing friend Lindsay who rocks my socks at this whole thing. But as a result I haven't been writing new words much recently. Which is fine, there is the writing retreat over the weekend and revising is work too. Necessary work. And the story is going out on Thursday, so then I'll have no more excuses.

But R took me to see a show the other night, by a band called The Church. I didn't really know them at all but it was pretty excellent all round and I think I quite like them. But this thing happened which hasn't happened to me in a while, but occasionally does, where concerts spark like FIFTY MILLION DIFFERENT SONGS in my brain. This time it was four. But wtf, 2 snippets of songs, one half a song and one most of a song? Really brain?

So in total it's about 272 words. I don't really know whether to count it on my excellent metre of word countyness, because it is not on any of the projects I want to be working on and in any case I think that might be a prose metre solely. But I just wanted to say a) hey! I wrote me some lyrics! and b) wtf brain. For serious.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Am I writing Horror?

So I just wrote a different Rumpelstitskin story than the one I've been wanting to write ("Rumpelstitskin's Daughter"), which I am still planning on writing. But hey. I banged out a 1,651 word draft of a story in about an hour and a half, so I'm pretty happy with myself for the day.

9677 / 110000 words. 9% done!

I should probably get two word count meters. One for OYM (clocking in at 8,020 right now), and one for "other writings", including what I did today. But still, for now, yay. More of my yearly goal complete!

In non-egypt news

(If there is such a thing for my brain currently.)

I've been thinking about cheerleaders. The emotional kind, not the sports kind. I have quite a few friends whose stuff I read as they are writing it and say things like "x is excellent! Y made me want to read more! How many words did you write today? 5? YAY YOU!" I do not, however, have friends who I feel that I can ask - or they could do - the same for me. I have, fortunately and unfortunately, surrounded myself with brilliant, critical readers and editors who have fascinating brains and fabulous abilities with written words. What they don't seem to be good at though? Turning all that off and going with unbridled (and possibly faked) enthusiasm.

Is this something we all need? Are we all lonely little people seeking validation? Or is there something about this age of instant feedback that makes me desperate for some?

I've been realising that I suddenly - partially - inhabit a world that no one else does these days. I mean, I can explain things to friends, but they can't know it like it's in my head. And that's a little lonely. I mean, not hugely and emo-ly, but ...weird feeling sometimes. HOW DO I TALK TO YOU, PEOPLE WHO DON'T INHABIT MY BRAIN? And so I think, other than just my desire to be patted on the back and validated, I kind of want cheerleaders so that other people will know what's going on in my head. What if I'm going crazy? What if this is awful?

Maybe the trick is to find a non publishing, non writer friend. Like G? Perhaps I will print it out and ask if she wants to read it tonight while I'm snuggling her face off. Maybe.

Historic, historic day

I am inspired, awed and unbelieving as I watch Al-Jeezera today.

I don't know that I have words. I bear witness; I celebrate with all Egyptians today who fought - and sometimes laid down their lives - for democracy, freedom and basic human rights and dignity.

I'd like to add the image that has most intensely affected me all day:

Entitled "Broken Bones not but not Broken Spirit", it was taken by Ghazala Irshad, a young, female, journalism student in Egypt.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sometimes dumb is the new smart

Very, very rarely and kids,I don't suggest you take that as a truth. But sometimes tricking my brain into being too dumb to figure out how many more words 7,358 is than 5,673 means I'll just have to write a round 2,000. Yes it would take me five seconds to figure it out (I'm opposed to using calculators for calculations like that) but that's not the point. I'm tricking my brain into thinking it would be easier to write a nice round 2,000.

In other news, I finished off Chapter 2, which randomly became about this girl I hadn't met yet (Becky) and a trip to a cafe based on one in my highschool town with freaking great Chai. So now we're on to Chapter 3, in which we make contact with another criminal! Who is currently totally based on Mozzie from White Collar. Just sayin'.

And after having gone back to writing, I clock in at 8,026 total. Epic win for me today. I could go for three thousand, I finally hit the zone, but then I would be so unhappy tomorrow. And so I gracefully call it quits for the night and return from whence I came...yesterday morning.

8026 / 110000 words. 7% done!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

To-do list for the year

Finish a rough draft of On Your Mark
Finish the Nocturne
Finish the Quirk Pitch
Finish Gulfcoast Highway
Outline Get Set and Go.
Sell one short story
Sell one poem

This should be approximately 105-110,000 words for the year. If OYM is approximately 80-85,000, Nocturne should be 10-15,000 and the Quirk and Water Story should put me over the edge.

Which would be pretty impressive, since in previous years I have written - and then abandoned - no more than 20,000 or so tops. Fortunately the poem is more in the revising land than anything else.

Perhaps, if I'm doing really well, I can even let myself kind of do nanowrimo without it stressing me out too much. I don't have to do all 50,000, but even if I got 20-30,000 for November, that would happily finish off my year.

I mean, part of me wants to make ludicrous goals like finish OYM by the summer and then revise that in the fall and start GS in the fall while also putting in some serious time on my depressing little gay-in-the-south book and also why not get started on Magicians in London again, and meanwhile what about that zombie story I wanted to write and also the female noir story and what happened to my Rapunzel story, etc,etc. And you know what? It's nice to have all these options. But I'm going to take it slow and steady for now.

Speaking of which. I should see if I can bang out at least 500 words today. (Also write a memo for my work website.)

5078 / 110000 words. 5% done!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Getting back on the horse

So this weekend was R's birthday and I didn't write a penny. I mean spend a word. I mean, oh I give up. We were decadent in every way and did nothing that could conceivably be called work. (Well, he wrote Saturday afternoon with some AF people, but I spent that time frantically buying wrapping paper and Reeses Pieces and wrapping presents.)

So! Today I am starting myself off slow. I have some writing to do for work, so that's taken up a lot of my writing brain. (But how much do I love that I sometimes get to write things for work? Write things that Editors and Authors and fancy people and the whole world can see?) But I'm determined to get up to 5,000 words today on Ze Novelle. I've written 398 words today and I have 189 left to go. (So how many did I start with? And how many did I write today? And how many am I at now?)

In fact, wordcounttool is telling me that I'm clocking in at 170ish on this post right now, so really, if I hadn't stopped to write this? I'd have gotten there already. Such is the woe of procrastination.

Alright, 189 more words, then I get to put on makeup, look like a normal person and get to go see Alan Rickman talk. Then tomorrow? I get to go see Alan Rickman talk. Apparently R and M have very similar brains, as they both got me tickets to Alan Rickman events.

I love them.

ETA: 5,078. I can go to Alan Rickman heaven now!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Weekly writings! Chapter 1

Last night we went to Argo, like we do most Thursdays these days, and I got 1,000 words out. It felt like pulling teeth, but I was tired and cranky and pms-y and hadn't eaten enough. So I'm ok with that. But hey, 1,000! And one really important edit where Jamie now speaks much earlier on. Or, well, at least whimpers.

I was talking to Blake about it all - he has been great about reading and cheer-leading, but he wants to jump into edits much too soon. I just need to power on through. But he was talking about needing action sooner and really needing to start the book later in the story. Which makes sense and is something I knew I am going to have to do eventually, but man I hope I figure out something to do with those pages because some of that writing is fabulous.

Anyway, for now, Chapter 1 is done! Onwards and upwards, Horatio.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Audience and process

Man, there's something freeing about the idea that no one will see this, but at the same time, if I really wanted *no one* to see something, I wouldn't be putting it up on the internet, let alone under my name and entirely unfiltered. So, hmm. Conceit of freedom without the constraints of loneliness I suppose?

Anyway. Process. So I'm writing a book. It's a scary, scary, thing to say, but scarier yet to do. (I'm very used to saying I just write, I'm not a writer, I don't write *books*, I have no ambition of this front. It's all untrue, but it sounds plausible and makes me not need to achieve anything, or seem like I'm failing at goals in front of people.)  But hey, if I can't say that I'm writing a book to you, imaginary audience, to whom can I say it? So, let's posit that I'm writing this book. It's going to be brilliant, fabulous, best seller, etc,etc. But first I have to actually do the writing bit. That's hard.

I've actually been handwriting in a pretty - but heavy - notebook that was sitting, unused, on my bedside table. It's slower going than a computer, certainly, but much more portable. I can write on the subways, f'r'instance. It's also a lot less distracting than a computer with games! and internet! and work! and email! But eventually I'll type up as I go along too, so it'll be a weird mix  I suppose. It's not only really weird not to be able to edit myself nearly as much as I go along - something that often stymies me to the point where I never finish - but not to know how much word count I'm producing, which is often a great motivator for me.

No conclusions, just a brief ramble and a welcome respite from fanatically following the news of Egypt and crying at it. I don't know why I cry at sad and/or inspiring news stories so much, but Iran did it for me and now Egypt is. I think I feel, to some degree, like I have to bear witness. Even if that's all I can do, I can't ignore it, I can't sit by while over a million people put their life on the line for freedoms that I take so much for granted. So I spend a lot of time trying not to cry in the office.

Anywho, back to work and leftover Thai food.

Thursday, January 27, 2011