Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Heroic Ethical Tale

I have been reading a critical piece titled Fantasy Literature for Children and Young Adults. It provides an interesting overview of the fantasy genre for young readers and the many purposes it serves its readership. The book addressed many of the issues adults seem to have with fantasy and letting their children read it. Honestly I have never understood the mentality of parents who deny their kids books not because of their content alone but because of their genre in general. Books are my business. I almost take it personally when I here someone bad mouthing a book out of ignorance. I can barely deal with parents who come in looking for Christian youth fiction, openly sneering at Harry Potter. Ya, okay I get your religious viewpoint, but don't bring your sneering face against my literature.
But the book dealth with parents who denied fantasy not only for religious reasons but because they felt it was escapist. Brillliantly the authors pointed out fantasy does not teach escapism but creates a broader sense of problem solving by opening the mind to more possibilities. Where realistic fiction tackles problem solving in a more limiting way, fantasy offers itself as a guide, not an answer book.
I like it.
One of the sub genres the book covered was of the Heroic Ethical Tale. This covers such stories as Alexander's Prydian Chronicles, Lewis's Narnia Stories, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson...basically some of my favorites. Which got me to thinking, I think the book I am currently working on will end up being a Heroic tale. I know I want Mina to set things right, I want her to save Felix, I want her to make peace with the death of her mother and the disappearance of her father. Maybe Mina will join the ranks of Eilowny and Hermione. I think the world needs more female heroes.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Finding Direction in the Quagmire of Creative Thought

I've always rather thought the creative process was similar to navigating your way through a swamp on a cloudy night with a compass that points in every direction except the one you need. Maybe I'm being optimistic...
I believe the philosophical viewpoint I am trying to make here is: beginning a story is sometimes easy, figuring out which direction you want to go after the beginning is a bit tricky. Thats my philosophical viewpoint anyway, I know for some people the beginning is the most bloody difficult part. For me I can always start a story, but then I have to figure out what story I'm setting out to tell.
Happily, I think I am beginning to find a direction for the Blue Zone. Now I just need to be careful I don't go off the scale and create the even more treacherous quagmire of over-complex plotlines. I would prefer the Blue Zone to be a stand alone single novel, not an epic. But I tend to think in trilogies. If I have a set of characters I love, I just want to keep spinning their world. Which has its ups and its downs. Still, I want the Blue Zone to be a singular work, I'm not setting out to write a trilogy, I don't want to create a plot line so complicated it needs a trilogy just to make sense out of it. I think I can find a coherent and satisfying storyline which will conclude hopefully gracefully at the end of the novel, but mostly I want an attainable goal. The problem with thinking in trilogies is I can't often envision the end.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

C is for Cookie

A short post, but I wanted to share this. My favorite cookie is not White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies. Mine is French Lace Cookies, which are bloody hard to make but delicious. However, I have made a point of naming these as Mina's favorite cookies in the book, so maybe I shall make some for inspiration. And every case of the snifflies needs a good dose of sweets.

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies

Prep Time: 15 Minutes

Cook Time: 10 Minutes Ready In: 45 Minutes

Servings: 48


1 cup butter, softened

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup coarsely chopped macadamia nuts

1 cup coarsely chopped white chocolate


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the vanilla and almond extracts. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt; gradually stir into the creamed mixture. Mix in the macadamia nuts and white chocolate. Drop dough by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.

3. Bake for 10 minutes in the preheated oven, or until golden brown

The Plague....

I hate being sick. I know I've been getting more colds as of late because I am constantly run down. But being sick and continuing to go to work, usually with my son in tow, who is also recovering from being sick and therefore a hellion, I spend all day juggling him and the needs of the store. Hence by the time I get home I am completely spent, exhausted. It completely saps my strength and usually my creative juices. I have a terrible time writing when I'm sick. I'm sure other writers feel the same to some degree. Even when I have the greatest rhythm going in a story its like a big wrench in the gears. This is like a fog on my brain. I love winter, but in a job where I am constantly around people and germs, I could do without the constant barrage of the germies. This is the first winter in years I've been sick over and over. But I think wearing a biohazard suit to work would send the wrong message. Guess I just need to inject myself with some vitamin c and keep on chugging.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


So I have heard the phrase "All good writers steal" as well as "There are no original ideas left." I believe these sayings to a point. My favorite genre of fiction is rewritten fairytails, there is something uniquely enchanting about talking a story hundreds of years old and taking it for a joyride. I have read the original Grimm's tales, Anderson, Perrault, who is himself a reteller, the Mabinogi, Cretin de Troyes, even Homer. But I find their literary descendants more interesting. This could have something to do with most of the older stories truly being morality tales, the stories were meant to make children avoid of the dark, mind their manners, listen to mom and dad, don't misbehave. The newer fairytales set out from the getgo to tell a story, maybe a moral might sneak in there, but above all, they mean to make a damn good story. Which usually equals some damn interesting twists and turns I don't think the Grimm's would approve of. Still there is something wonderful about Red Riding Hood falling in love with the Big Bad Wolf.
I also enjoy rewriting fairytales, putting my own twists on them. Fairytale elements always sneak into my writing, even when I set out to write something outside their realm. So I wonder how much I'm stealing. I just finished reading a version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves which had one character who seemed eerily familiar.
Snow by Tracy Lynn follows the story of Jessica, a young duchess. The evil queen is replaced by a step mother who mixes modern science and alchemy with the arcane. Her experimental children, a mix of animal and human, are outcasts, calling themselves the Lonely Ones after they flee the place of their birth and set themselves up as pick pockets in London. Jessica, or Snow, eventually falls in with them by accident, after fleeing to London herself to escape her stepmother's plans to eat her heart for fertility. Among these misfits, Snow begins to fall for Raven, a handsome, darkeyed, dark-haired, tall serious looking young man, who happens to have black feathers sprouting out his arms and mixed into his hair.
...Well Damn.
Aside from the feathers, Raven seemed like a dead ringer for Felix, but then how many stories have serious looking dark eyed, dark haired heroes. At least Mina doesn't look anything like Snow. Still it was odd how uncomfortable I got reading about Raven, as if I was affronted he was so similar to MY CREATION. But Snow was published six years ago. I don't really have the right to feel affronted. Perhaps if Blue Zone ever sees a printing press, Ms. Lynn will feel her hackles rising when she reads Felix on the page. I have always tried so hard, even in my retellings, to create original characters and storylines, but perhaps, we have just run out of pure orginality and every story leaks into another without even meaning too. I am not plaguarizing Lynn's work, and maybe, instead, she might be flattered by a character that by chance echoes one of her own.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Animal Husbandry

I bring this up not for its original definition but its play on words.
Okay, I let a friend read some of Blue Zone, and was telling her where I hoped to go with a relationship between Mina and Felix. Her response was something along the lines of "Isn't that kind of beastiality?"
There is nothing quite like that unique little jab in the gut about something so off the wall as beastiality to put a kink in your literary think tank. After vehemently defending that really, Felix is a man most of the time, two its magical dammit, and three it wouldn't be having any sort of carnal relations with a bird, I was still left with the sensation that real fantasy was not for her. I wanted to ask her if Bella sleeping with Edward was Necrophilia since he had technically died, but I was afraid she would go fan rabid on me.
Still I never thought I would have to defend against beastiality. I don't think I would feel all that proud wearing a beastiality t-shirt either. The wierd thing is, it doesn't bother me in a literary sense, because beastial relations in stories have been around since Zues ran around seducing women as a swan, but it bothered me more because I feel that it does not apply here. It such an odd term to use, I don't even think she knew completely what she was talking about. has a definition for beastiality:
1.bestial quality, character, or behavior

2.a bestial act or practice
3.sexual relations between a person and an animal

The problem is I'm not sure which definition she may have been referring to here. Felix does have bestial quality, character, or behavior. But for some reason I fear she may have been aiming for definition number 3.
I am somewhat disturned...

Beware: Vicious Defender of Writers

My husband and I went to see the Lightning Theif, at my prompting. I have been enarmored with Rick Riordan's amazing quintet of modern greek mythology since I first stumbled upon him a few years ago, working the recommendations section at Borders. (One of the perks of this job was discovering new authors as they came out. In other words, I had read Twilight before it was huge) I remember opening the new arrivals box to this interesting looking cover to a story called the Lightning Theif. The book turned out to be incredible. Rick Riordan started out writing for adults, and because of this, I think his 'kids books' have a great multi-generational feel to them. Since then, I have hooked as many people as I can onto these books. I have gotten some of the pickiest readers to dive in and want more. I got my eight year old nephew hooked on these books and my 62 year old co-worker. They are that good. So when I heard a movie was being made, naturally I felt excited. Hollywood had been on a good streak with film adaptations as of late. They had produced several good movies that were relatively faithful to their literary foundations so I was hopeful.

It was the greatest disappointment I have had in years.

I left the theater with the feeling of "I want my ten bucks and two hours back." The movie big shots had slaughtered Rick Riordan's work. Every plot point had been cast aside, characters were drastically changed, and the main villain of the storyline was completely left out. It wasn't even so different that is was good to stand on its own as a movie. Weak acting crippled it there. It was just bad. I knew I wasn't the only one feeling the disappointment, I could feel the murmers around me from several younger kids, who whispered frantically to their parents through the whole movie "That's not what happened."
Hollywood has made a huge mistake, and I hope they pay for it. Its like they underestimated the intelligence of their audience, "Oh they won't notice we changed a few things". Well your audience noticed and they are not happy.
On a personal level it is chilling to watch something like this. I think, in this age, every writer has the secret fantasy their book will be made into a film. I used to consider it flattery, but sometimes, Hollywood takes such liberties that film can become an insult. Truthfully its a matter of the author's involvement. If the studio shuts out the author completely, which I feel they must have to Riordan, then the movie tends to be a piece of drivel like Lightning Theif. However, if they let the writer in, even in an artistic sense, such as the screen writing attempting to channel the writer's essence into their script, it usually makes a much better movie all around. An instance of this is Interview with the Vampire. Anne Rice has a total sign off on it, and it was a great film adaptation. It's subsequent wanna-be sequel Queen of the Damned was the exact opposite. Rice was completely shut out and thus the movie pretty much bombed.
Truthfully I don't know what I will do in the future if I am ever (hopefully, oooh maybe) approached to have a book made into a movie. I don't think I could stand by and let them slaughter my literary child, so really I would be the sort to insist on my presence. I would be barging into offices, criticizing casting, sticking my nose all over the place. I'd be a bloody nuisance. But I'd make sure it was a damn fine movie.

Monday, February 8, 2010

One! Hundred! Demons!

There was something quite freeing in reading Lynda Barry's One Hundred Demons. To take an exercise as old a painting demons with traditional asain inkstone and brush is an interesting enough perspective to draw a reader in, but to take it a step further and create this series of stories and collages from your demons is inspiring. Barry's collages proceeding each story are as intense as the demons she draws on the page, telling a small story before each story. One of my favorite collages, not even necessarily chapters, was for Resilience. There was something so sad and so touching about each image chosen for the piece; the little girl with the strip of paper over her eyes, the ancient stuffed panda bear taped upside down, and the play on "can't remember, can't forget".  Another ascpect of the book I found interesting was how much it revealed and how much it didn't. Here is Barry pouring all these personal private demons onto the page, sometimes painful or embarrassing memories, and yet there were some basic elements I was still left wondering about, such as her father, who is all but completely absent from the pages. There are several stories about her relationship issues with her mother and grandmother, she has younger siblings, yet a father figure is absent from the pages. I only assume he is white because everyone else is phillapino, yet Barry and her siblings are red haired and freckled. What seems such a simple element of background created a rather large mystery for me. I wondered why he was left from the pages. What was her relationship like to him? Was he just absent from her life? Or was he an issue so deep she still couldn't write about it?
From a writer's perspective, I have always found a personal connection between art and writing. I often find inspiration from art for stories, including the current novel I am working on which sprang entirely from a picture painted by a friend. Art is also a reader's intial connection to a novel. The "don't judge a book by its cover" line is bull puckey. I am often drawn to a book by its cover art. The cover makes the first impression on a reader, if the novel with be mysterious, or fantastical, dramatic or humorous. The cover to Diary of  a Wimpy Kid draws you in with its handdrawn downtrodden character, its drawn on a torn notebook page which appears taped to the cover. The combination of the title and the sad little frown on the character's face still draws a chuckle from you, it is a caricature of sadness, belaying the humor of the piece. Just as the cover to One Hundred Demons also draws you in, the collage on the cover lets the reader know they are in for an interesting ride.
An effective piece of art on a book cover can sell a book over the novel's description. Twilight for example, presents this very stark contrast of black and white on the original cover, with just the red apple for color. It draws you in, you are mesmerized and filled with wonder. Frankly the cover art for the Twilight series is brilliant, it keeps to a set of stark spartan imagery to produce an almost mystical tone through all four novels. So really good art can do wonders for a book, the connection between art and story is still a strong one.

Response to chapter 3 and Felix chapter

Hi Kristin --

As I've said from the start, I won't comment too much on your new drafts, not wanting to interrupt your flow. But I've got to be truthful and saying I'm not having much problem, because I think your work is so very good. Keep on keeping on, and, if there's any advice at all, it's this:

1. Keep us firmly grounded -- as you have so far -- in the contemporary world, in your mc's (main character) point of view and history. It's extremely effective when introducing these fantasy elements.

2. Consider reading your dialogue aloud in order to get a better sense of punctuation. This is a small matter, since your dialogue is very strong -- but you need to figure out where the commas should go (where the pauses are). Don't worry about what's already written. At some point I'll send you a line edit to give you an idea what I'm talking about, but for now just keep it in mind as you keep moving forward.

3. I love Frank. :-)

The Felix chapter is well done and fascinating -- I like the owl very much. It will be interesting to see how it fits into future work.

All the best --

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Dream Weaving

I know I am experiencing a hot streak when I start dreaming about my characters and what they are going to do. Sometimes I also find my definition in these moments when I am not quite asleep. For instance I know there is this major plot point with Felix's character that I have been just starting to introduce. And the last couple of nights I have had fantastic vivid dreams about it. I have also finally, FINALLY, had a break through with a character I have been having trouble with. I hint at this character a couple times as a presence but I hadn't quite worked him out yet or how sinister he was going to be. But he finally has a name. Yup. The villian shall be hence forth known as....Julian. Sinister, right?
 Well I didn't want to name him Lucius or Damian, that's a screamingly obvious villian name. Plus I want there to be personality confusion as you have with Felix. I have already revealed Felix is the Dark Mage, the order of Mages being the other power structure of magic users I am focusing on against Capricia and the Wardens, mainly because they are always mucking up the balance of magic which she guards. I have also revealed a bit of Felix's character, just a peek, in the first meeting between him and Capricia. I plan on introducing a few more plot points to that chapter as well. I think I want to end not with Capricia entering his memory, but with the flood of images she recieves from him that she doesn't quite understand. I think I want his full back story revealed to Mina over Capricia.
I have also had a bit of a breakthrough on what I am going to do with Mina's character. Originally I felt perhaps she would become a Warden like Capricia and her father, but I have decided to make her a bit different.
Truthfully I am just excited, I love it when I start dreaming about a story I am writing because it's a signal it's really rooting it's way into my mind.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Let's Talk about Sex Baby....

As I am slogging through a particularly dense critical text for Genre History Crit and Theory, I reach a chapter titled "And then I came" Sex and Power in Adolescent Literature. Consquently it has been the most interesting chapter in the book thus far, despite the dense technical jargon. One of the points it brings up is how, since adults are the authors, they impose societal and their own bias and condemnations on teens having sex in their books. Truthfully I never stopped to think about how many books punish their sexually active characters with ruin, pregnancy, or death. Most of the time, its the woman who suffers more for her promiscuity, which means even though our societal is supposed to be much more accepting and free, we still haven't come all that far from Hester Prynne. Gays and lesbians have the even rawer deal, as half of their texts concentrate on trying to normalize "gayness", but they also often end in death, ruin, or just a really bad day. Even the few books the writer points out are on the more positive side don't really cut it for me.
So how do I feel about sex in my stories? I know its a tricky subject. I like to think of myself as a open minded person, but even as a teenager, I KNEW there were consequences to sex if you did not protect yourself. There were girls in my small hometown class who went through pregnancy or abortions before we graduated. But I can't condemn them. They all have their reasons for sex. I personally chose not to in high school. But the second I got to college all bets were off.
Character wise, I've never really thought about how I handle sex or intimate scenes in my stories. In my thesis piece, I have sexually experienced woman who is being pursued by a virgin male. He makes the first move, but she puts him off for many of his first attempts. Although she is attracted to him, she does not want to ruin his innocence, and she doesn't want to become deeply involved with him because she knows she is terminally ill. But sex does come into play eventually, as love kinda steam rolls it over. In this case I guess I am promoting the bias that sex should come after love. And my female protagonist is going to die. But I don't consider her punished for her sexual activity.
In Blue Zone however, the chapter I am writing write now has Mina engage in kiss that she intiates without love. At first she thinks she is sleep walking in a dream, but she quickly realizes she's more "awake" than asleep. However she takes advantage of this state because the one she kisses, Felix, assumes she is alseep and believes she will forget the action. Hopes she will forget in fact as he feels he has taken advantage of her even though she is the one doing the kissing. It is a dynamic I hope to play on later of Mina's feminine power over Felix.
Is Mina a virgin. If I wrote a character profile of her, I'm not sure how I would tackle this question. She is sixteen, which is the older end of the high school spectrum, and she is mature through life experience. But I don't think she trusts men with her father issues of abandonment. It is food for thought. I think I have to really think on the subject for a bit.