Fresh Reads Friday– Crooked Kingdom

For the past week I’ve been slowly making my way through the sequel of Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows. Crooked Kingdom, in every way possible, is exceeding the beauty and hype that the first one left me (and millions of others) with. At this point, my husband knows that whenever I’m talking about a book, I’m raving about this one.

Warning: This blog post is filled with LIGHT spoilers, mild literary talk, and a truck load of fangirling.

The first thing any reader will notice about these books is their stunning beauty. I will admit that I judged this book by it’s cover, and the cover was gooooood. It presents itself in the black lined pages, dark illustrated map, and beautiful chapter illustrations. But the beauty of this book doesn’t come from the cover or the color choices, it comes from the story and the words within. Much like the red-lined pages of the sequel, it bleeds character, emotion, and and plot. What you see with these books is, very much, what you get.

It’s taken the internet by storm. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a surge of fan art, jewelry, posters, t-shirts, pillows, and a hundred other trinkets for a book. And I think that’s because Bardugo tapped into some vital aspects of novel writing– especially when writing from the bad boy’s perspective.

3 Things I’ve Learned from Crooked Kingdom (so far)

  • First Drafts Aren’t Final Drafts
    First drafts aren’t final drafts. First drafts aren’t final drafts. First drafts aren’t… I want that track repeated again and again as I peck out the first draft of anything. Most writers suffer from wanting to get the words right on the first try, but that’s not how this works. Terry Pratchett once said, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” I can see no better evidence of that than within the pages of these books. They are, in their core, heist novels. Go out, steal the thing, face complications, dupe the audience, and celebrate your riches. It seems linear, but it’s so much more than that. Kaz Brekker, the leader of the gang, constantly has secrets up his sleeve and tricks he started on page one, but we weren’t perceptive enough to notice. Something mentioned in the first chapter becomes vital in later chapters and the only way to fluently include that in a novel is in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th drafts.

    A line, motif, or metaphor you use for a character likely doesn’t happen in the first draft. It takes writing and re-writing to make the connection in another character’s head. Then you go back and implement your new trick.

  • Description Becomes Beautiful When We See It Through the Character’s Eyes
    A piece of advice I’ve seen rampant on the internet is that you shouldn’t have a page without dialogue. There needs to be dialogue somewhere because most readers skip to it anyway. But that’s only if they’re bored with what they’re reading. They won’t give a damn how immaculate the spires of the church are if architecture doesn’t tell us something about the character.

    There [on the rooftops], she felt most herself again– the girl she’d once been, someone who hadn’t had the sense to be afraid, who hadn’t know what cruelty the world could offer. She’d gotten to know the gabled peaks and window boxes of the Zelverstraat, the gardens and the manufacturing district gave way to foul-smelling slaughterhouses and brining pits hidden at the very outskirts of the city, where their offal could be sluiced into the swamp at Ketterdam’s edge… The city had revealed it’s secrets to her almost shyly, in flashes of grandeur and squalor. (p.148)

    Here we get a clearer view of Ketterdam from Inej. She’s been freed of a horrible ordeal that’s left her more shaken than she’ll admit, but she grounds herself back into the city that she’d lost herself in. We see the world from her point of view– a watcher from the heights who sees more than the average person would. Seeing the city reminds her of where she’s been and where she wants to go.

    She goes on to describe a sign for spices, decorated with women of her race, and it terrifies her. It reminds her of her terrible past, but also reminds the reader of Ketterdam’s value on making people things. They are items worth purchasing, enjoying, and then throwing away.  In this way, Bardugo goes on for at least 2 pages with nothing BUT description and I couldn’t be more enthralled to read it all.

  • Background Can Bleed Onto the Page
    One of the hardest lessons I’m still learning is that background shouldn’t be on the page. At least, not in multitude. It should be like a flirtatious encounter. You introduce a character as what you want them to be known by and you hide all the dirty secrets for the first few chapters. Hook your reader in plot and setting. Then, ever so slowly, you give them hints about the horrors, laughs, and mistakes hidden in the past. But that’s the key… Only hints.

    Bardugo subtly introduces hints about a character’s inner emotions, their secret wants, and their dire pasts when they are caught up in thought or quick actions. It’s like the character slips and release a small key to what makes them tick, and that is what readers come back for. They live for a piece of the mystery to be revealed. What makes Kaz Brekker such a tragically devilish person? Who is Inej beyond being the Wraith of the Barrel?

    It’s hidden away in the details. A small thought. A tiny action. An observation they’ve made. A little flirting to keep you coming back for the next piece.

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Fresh Read Friday– Tiny Pretty Things

Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton features three  students at a highly competitive ballet school in Manhattan. You have the free-spirited Gigi, competitive and ruthless Bette, and perfectionist June. All three have their eye on the lead roles and will do anything to get them. And I mean anything.

For the last two months I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this book. It’s not the type I usually pick up, but I wanted to give contemporary young adult a shot. One big piece of advice in the writing world is to read. Read outside your genre. Read non-fiction. Read fiction. Read science notes. Read dossiers. Read. Read. Read.

Why? It broadens your scope. You pick up styles, traits, and tricks that you’ve never seen before. This book helped me do just that.

3 things I learned from Tiny Pretty Things

  • Cut to the Chase
    Polonius said it best. “Brevity is the soul of wit.” During Pitch Wars this summer, I learned that my writing was too chatty. I understood immediately, but I didn’t know how to make my story flow without endless descriptions and rabbit trails of emotions. Tiny Pretty Things excels at being a quick, emotional, and fun read. The dialogue is snappy and almost always on point. There’s no room for fluff in a narrative that survives on every bitter word these girls say.

“I know a lot, Bette Abney. I know lots of things you probably wouldn’t want me to know. And I plan to prove it. Show everyone who you are.” He lets his fingers graze my collarbone.
“Don’t touch me,” I say.
Does he really know the things I did?
I can’t seem to move.

It’s that tense. Every. Scene.

But that’s also one of my complaints about the novel. Every page was dramatic, snappy, and intense. It never gave me a minute to let the nasty actions sink in. I never had time to hate or love certain characters. I was too wrapped up in, “NO SHE DIDN’T!”

  • Make it Count
    It doesn’t matter if your novel is a gritty crime of 1920s gangsters or an intergalactic battle in a universe far-far away. If you’re going to write, sell it. It’s easier to write an underwhelming story than an overwhelming one. If you’re character is, say, a brainy, caring, socially-awkward witch, you need to include as many examples of her intelligence, heart, and stumbling conversations as possible.
    Your reader will connect with the character and you can leverage that bond later. I care more about Willow’s trials, triumphs, and darkness when I know just how bubbly and caring she can be. It helps me understand that she uses some of that outward cheer to mask her separation from others.
    Tiny Pretty Things
    sells the corrupt, diva world of competitive ballet dancing. In all honesty, I had no idea what to expect out of the girls. From the very beginning, nothing seemed off limits and that helped me understand what could really be at stake– someone’s life.
  • Multiple POVs and Strong Characters
    I’ve always loved multiple points of view novels. I think that’s because, more than anything else in stories, I love characters. The more I can learn about them, the more I’m invested in a plot. Getting into multiple heads allows for a different style of full and rich story.

Tiny Pretty Things requires 3 points of view. The characters are vastly different in their personality, desires, attitudes, and troubles. Each faces a significant problem that impedes their happiness and fulfillment. Gigi deals with a life threatening heart condition. Bette combats drug addiction. June suffers from an eating disorder. But there’s so much more to these characters. That’s what makes the POVs work. June wasn’t just an eating disorder. She needed to prove her worth at the school, discover who her father really was, and maybe find comfort in her own skin. Bette faced a mother with unrealistic and cold expectations, her sister’s large shoes to fill, and the destruction of all she’d gotten used to. And Gigi needed to try and face life on her own, without her clinging mother.

While I didn’t necessarily fall in love with the characters, I did understand why they had such dramatic problems. The drug addiction was a coping mechanism when Bette felt her life was beyond her control. Gigi faced opposition in the school not only because of her laid back personality, but also her skin color. June used her eating disorder to try and mold herself into what she thought was the perfect ballerina. Melodrama isn’t my favorite thing in stories, but it made me realize that sometimes it’s necessary to sell a character.

If you are a fan of ballet, juicy gossip, and vengeful girls, Tiny Pretty Things is definitely a novel you should pick up.

 

As always, thanks for stopping by!

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Progress

I belong in the percentage of the population that believes a new year is a time to recreate, redefine, and restructure. It’s not a time to start from scratch, but it’s definitely a time to attach a re- to most verbs. I have a lot of aspects in my life I want to re- this year. Revitalize my energy for hobbies I enjoy (writing, reading, and hiking). Recalculate what I want in life and reevaluate how to get there.

Someone on my Facebook mentioned her family has a tradition of picking a word that will help define their year. It seemed like a great way to mold myself toward a longer lasting goal. I’ll be adopting that tradition and using it to readjust my life.

My word is…

PROGRESS

 

No matter what happens this year, I plan to progress. I want to always be taking steps forward. If I want to see people more, I will initiate the phone call. If I want to live a healthier lifestyle, I’m going to eat the right foods and do the right activities. What I want, I will get and fight to keep every inch of. If my goals or my ideals shift, my steps towards progress will do the same.


My first step forward will be the promise to myself to write every day. My beautiful, talented friend Libby Webber is keeping me honest on that. We’ll be reporting to each other weekly with how many scenes we’ve written during the week.

Another way to keep me writing will be this blog– which I’ve shamefully neglected for months. So here’s a list of posts to look forward to.

  1. What 2016 Taught Me
  2. Finishing What You Start
  3. Fresh Reads Friday (I read books and detail my ridiculous reactions to them)What is your approach to the new year? Can I help you with your goals? Let me know. 🙂
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Ch-Ch-Changes

I picked up MISTS OF EVENTIDE the other day with the intention of dusting it off, cleaning it up, and submitting it to Pitch Wars again. The thought of unleashing that document terrified me because I wasn’t sure what I’d feel once I opened it. Rather than throwing up at how awful my writing was or crying because I had so much work to do, I felt refreshed.

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Staring down at those words reminded me of how far I’ve come. MISTS was conceived during NANOWRIMO two years ago and I definitely had no idea what I was doing.

Okay, I still have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m told that’s normal for writers.

Going back through those pages showed me that I’ve made significant progress in handling the English language. While I’m not perfect, I’ve definitely gotten better at a few things.

  1. Active vs. passive voice
  2. Showing vs. telling
  3. Strong verbs vs. weak verbs
  4. Word repetition
  5. DIALOGUE TAGS– What was I thinking?
  6. Use of the MC’s name to start every sentence
  7. Focusing on the wrong thing in a paragraph
  8. Weird plot structures that go nowhere
  9. Info-dump
  10. Useless. Stupid. Adverbs.

I thought I’d vomit all over my computer when I opened up MISTS, but I’m now glad I did it.

People aren’t lying with they say to put a freshly written book away for a year. It helps to distance yourself from your words, story, and characters. I’m now able to go back through this baby like Edward Scissorhands.

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So don’t be afraid to write terribly. Just get that first draft out on a page and come back to it later. I’ve started on a new WIP and I know that my writing has improved, but that doesn’t mean this draft isn’t shit. Shitty first drafts are just that, drafts… and shitty ones at that. At least I know how to embrace my terrible writing when I come back to it.

Go get ’em Pitch Wars and writing folks!

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Book Review–UPROOTED by Naomi Novik

At the start of this year, I promised myself I would read more.  Last year I made the goal of reading the entirety of A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin. I made it all the way to the last book in the series and and needed a break.  If you haven’t read it, it’s incredibly dense. I tell people it’s the manliest soap opera I’ve ever read. Not in criticism to the work inside those pages, but to try and get a glimpse into the intricacies that are the relationships characters have to history, places, and others. It’s a web of lies, deceit, half-truths, destinies, and magical systems I have barely begun to scratch at.

So it’s no wonder that after several months plucking away at the series, I decided to take a much needed break. I stepped away from the density of politics in a fantasy realm and opted for something I thought was going to be light hearted.

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UPROOTED by Naomi Novik starts as a compelling and familiar fairy tale story. “Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what the stories they tell outside our valley.” Even the opening sentence starts with a common fairy tale trope– sacrificing a young woman to a Dragon. Except, the Dragon has a fine spun robe in place of scales. And he lives in a tall tower of perfection rather than gold. What starts as a terrifying and lonely servitude of a young woman, turns into an adventure to save the kingdom of Polnya from the evil Wood that stretches dark and vast at the corners of her home.

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For one character, the use of magic is in songs. She sings about the leaves, the way the sun feels on your skin, and she feels the rhythm of rivers and sings of their long journeys to the sea. UPROOTED felt like an old song I loved as a kid, but had forgotten. Every time I cracked this book, I was a kid diving into the pages of a beloved fairy tale. I imagined myself staying up late beneath the covers with a flashlight on. (My husband wasn’t too happy about the flashlight in the middle of the night!)

read-flashlight

But something happened toward the climax of the book. Novik had spun a web of fairy tale and fantasy as powerful as the evil Wood that I had become enchanted. I forgot all sense of the heavy morals that come with any fairy tale. There is a lesson that all fairy tale creatures must learn. Red Riding Hood learned to not speak with strangers. Goldilocks learned to keep her mitts of other people’s food. For the characters in this book, the lesson is much darker and reminds you that you’re not a kid anymore. The lessons come at a higher cost.

At times I was reminded of HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE by Diana Wynne Jones. The relationship between the Dragon and his young apprentice, Agnieszka, is filled with just as much bitterness, arrogance, and, more importantly, heart.

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What I didn’t expect was to feel the same thing I had while watching SPIRITED AWAY, an anime by Studio Chibli and Hayao Miyazaki.

If you’re not familiar with the film, it is about a young girl who has to work in a bath house for spirits in order to save her trapped parents. There is a scene where Chihiro, the young girl, takes on the Herculean task of cleansing a particularly filthy spirit, aptly named the Stink Spirit. Chihiro fights through mud, litter, and large pieces of garbage until the spirit is clean.

stink

Pulling free

Gathered up

Bubbles

I will stop there and encourage you to watch the film and see the message for yourself. It took until my second watch to grasp the full meaning and. When I did… Let’s just say it was a very emotional night for me.

UPROOTED was the same slow burn of understanding a concept that had been so woven into the tapestry, it was invisible and appreciated. After days of winding my way through the beautiful prose, I was face to face with the reality of what had been there since I cracked the spine. There was a message to take away and I had to face it one way or another. I did. With serene understanding and tears in my eyes.

There are very few creative works that can elicit the following statement out of me: I wish I could forget so that I could relive it all over again.

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