Posts By Amy Jane

Call for Samples (free coaching!)

I’m preparing a presentation on the value and usefulness of story coaching for the September 15th AWG meeting. I would like best to use a handful of examples from current works in progress.

Image courtesy of Andrew Steinle via stock.xchng

Image courtesy of Andrew Steinle via stock.xchng

This is an opportunity for a few of you to get free feedback or help in a place you may be stuck. To be considered for inclusion, send a ½-page summary of your novel or memoir/non-fiction manuscript and the type of help you need or challenge you’re facing.  If you have a one-sentence summary, include that too.

For interested folks who haven’t developed a story or writing project they’re ready to share, Feel free to submit any writing questions you have about getting started I’d like to make this presentation as tailored and helpful to our group as possible.

Once I decide how many examples will fit the presentation, I will contact those writers and request pages, along with setting up an abbreviated (20-30 minute) coaching session over the phone.

The cost of participation will be flexibility on your part in scheduling (turnaround will probably be within a week), and willingness to have your work and coaching process used publicly, in the presentation and/or on her blog. Writers can ask that their names be used or withheld in relation to their work, based on their comfort level.

Submissions and contact information may be sent via the contact sheet below.

The talk itself will be at 7pm in the auditorium of the Noel Wein Library, in Fairbanks. Please come and bring a writer-friend.

The Way I Read (reading notes)

Image courtesy of OGGHOO via stock.xchng

Image courtesy of OGGHOO via stock.xchng

For some of us, analysis and enjoyment go together. Finding words for why we like something increases our enjoyment, and so does finding connections between different parts of our world.

Two big areas of my world, in experience, interest and study, are Fiction and Health. My favorite books are those that find a way to illustrate principles of mental, emotional, and relational health, and my biggest pet peeves generally come down to those principles being ignored or treated as irrelevant.

I am a Christian, quite conservative in many ways, but fiercely egalitarian. That means that I believe men and women do not exist in a hierarchy, and as a result expect the best stories to show both men and women as strong, flawed, powerful, dynamic, cooperative, foolish, aware and clueless. Maturity, in both men and women is evidenced by self-awareness, generosity and sacrificial love.

I don’t believe anyone raises themselves or their fellow man (or woman) by being critical or judgmental of the polar opposite. Women are not made more-awesome by standing next to men who are buffoons (I’m looking at you, Brave) and kids aren’t any more secure or empowered by proving their parents (or other authority figures) are idiots.

All that to say, one of my greatest values in finding favorite stories is watching creative cooperation, which is a major component of what I call relational health.

Image courtesy of Emma Charles via stock.xchng

Image courtesy of Emma Charles via stock.xchng

When I hear that countless people have griped about romantic movies or the romance genre, shouting that they give people unrealistic expectations, I counter that these are the perfect gateway to talk about what one is “allowed” to expect. As we read our minds are shaped, and as we write, we presume to shape the minds of others.

This is magic, what we do. It is nothing to fear, but it is everything worth being aware of.

The Problem (reading notes)

The Problem, really, is that I like far too many books.

I suppose that’s not the sort of problem that needs solving, but try to see it this way:

I have been told all my life about the “right” sort of books. The sort of books one ought to read.

Image courtesy of Armin Hanisch via www.freeimages.com

Image courtesy of Armin Hanisch via www.freeimages.com

I tried to be very good about this (I tried to be very good about a lot of things) and carefully picked the older stories, or the ones that didn’t raise any eyebrows. And if they weren’t all books that I would jump to read again, well, they were most of them books I was glad to have read, because every one showed me something I didn’t know.

Now that I’ve officially grown up (I passed my 35th birthday this year), I don’t read a lot of new information in my fiction, but I like it for a different reason. I like it because it makes me feel; feel something I can predict, and understand, even quantify. Not only does it make me feel, it lets me see, observe, and it gives me a why. I love the whole package.

Image courtesy of Armin Hanisch via www.freeimages.com

Image courtesy of Armin Hanisch via www.freeimages.com

And (low be it spoken) I like how it distracts me from what I can’t predict, understand or quantify. I’m a grown-up (I keep reminding myself) and I constantly deal with what takes a great deal of effort to control. If I can find a storyteller– a novelist, or television show– I can trust, it is a tremendous relief and break from the real world to go on a ride that (I always try to pick this kind) will end well.

I love to be in the presence of someone else who values their time, and mine, enough to spend it on a coherent story.

So I take the novel that interests me from the Young Adult section or the Children’s. I am seduced by the covers (matte, sooner than glossy), or titles, or even (embarrassing as this is to admit) pervasiveness. Yes, the more I see the same cover, the more curious I become, the more-likely I am to pick it up and give it a try.

Why is this a problem?

Two parts, well, three, actually. There’s the cost of indulging this interest and impulse (that was #3), there’s the question of to whom I address these book reviews and discussions of content if they aren’t narrowly defined (#1). There is also the question, left over from childhood of whether these books I’m reading are any good.

Image courtesy of Armin Hanisch via www.freeimages.com

Image courtesy of Armin Hanisch via www.freeimages.com

There, I said it: I question whether I have the wherewithal to accurately evaluate a book. Isn’t that sad?

But so much depends on the content of the story, how it fits the audience. I remember loving a book that I knew I would never be able to recommend “without reservation or explanation,” but I couldn’t remember loving another novel more!

Then I realized that to express an opinion is to allow people to see the “real you.” How you think. And therefore a response to a piece of writing isn’t just about that piece of writing, it is a critique of how one thinks.

The hesitancy and self-doubt were at least as much about how strangers will be able to evaluate me based on what I see and say.

THAT is intimidating. That is silencing.

And one of my problems that I’ve never really been ashamed of (not ashamed enough to change, anyway) is that I’ve never been able to stay silent for long. It is not a natural state for me.

So I am using this problem, this overabundance of interest (and the walls of books in my writing room) to practice having an opinion. If I like a “bad” book, or nit-pick a “perfectly good” story, that will be me practicing honesty.

Image courtesy of Armin Hanisch via www.freeimages.com

Image courtesy of Armin Hanisch via www.freeimages.com

Always kindly, because kindness is exceedingly important to me, but also without the illusion of trying to keep everybody happy. The internet is full of book-lovers and reviewers of books. My hope is to find a pocket of analysts that are as concerned about gentleness as they are about precision.

Make Up Your Mind ~ Is this a game, or something More?

Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine. –Margaret Atwood

 

The writing life is essentially one of solitary confinement – if you can’t deal with this you needn’t apply. — Will Self

Image courtesy of Armin Hanisch via www.freeimages.com

Image courtesy of Armin Hanisch via www.freeimages.com

Five days into NaNoWriMo. I had passed 25,000 words (due to a lot of hours from my husband Jay right before he left the country).

I was about 25% of the way through my story, according to the four-part outline I worked up the month before, and I enjoyed a speed of ~ 1200 words/hour.

2,000 to 10K is a terrific– and terrifically inexpensive– introduction to the type of prepwork that let me believe this was even possible.

I have been writing since high school, over 20 years, now. This was the first time I had an entire day for composition, and it was also probably the first time I would have known what to do with it.

I dove in on day-one and didn’t slow down for five months.

(Okay, technically I slowed down, but that’s just because of “real life” not from any hesitation or writers’ block. This is my point.)

By contrast, in my first NaNo endeavor, this five-day mark was the time I wanted to quit. I was making or passing my 1,667-word/day minimum, but I wasn’t sure I could maintain the pace.

I wanted to quit before I failed.

 

The idea of really trying and not making it terrified me.

I don’t remember anymore what I expected. Looking at it now, I can see that whatever word-count I got would be more words on a story than I’d had before– but the risk of not making goal seemed to be taunting me.

It was as though I was afraid that failing would mean I wasn’t cut out for this. This noveling thing. And since I knew with a wordless knowing that I had to tell this story, the risk of failing felt like the pall of death hanging over all.

Sticking it out proved some important things to ME.

  • Noveling is WORK
  • It is worthy work
  • That I am capable of.

Practice what you want to perfect.

Consider what you are doing– what you spend your hours on– as practice.

I fell into noveling (and NaNo) not knowing more than I had stories that I wanted to tell.  Writing was a mystical state that had rules and laws that I vaguely saw or could recognize, and that I wondered about very much.

I didn’t know if I could “make a living” in this alternate reality, but I was drawn to it– the way I’ve heard some people describe being drawn to Alaska, their whole lives.

I am still learning about writing. Still delighted in discovery– of other authors and of my own abilities. And rather than cringe at my “old” stuff, and worrying about how this will look in X-number-of-years, I am thankful for marked growth, and the reality that varying levels of skill don’t have to destroy a story.

~ ~ ~

When we decide that this story needs to be told– that we are the only ones who can rescue it from the netherworld of imagination and “potential”– we hang on.

If the last eight years of noveling have taught me anything (and believe me, they have), the loudest thing I’ve heard is about endurance. If you’ve got the trajectory right and you keep moving, you will eventually reach your destination.

My point? I am simultaneously working on my first and fifth novels (hence the slow blogs).  I started the first novel eight years ago, the fifth just last year. Both will be finished this fall. Lindorm Kingdom I plan to self-publish, and I’ll experiment  with shopping Dazed and Bemused around for a traditional publisher.

This is a huge deal that has been years in the making, and there were weeks when I didn’t think I’d finish one novel, let alone two within a year. But it’s real.

footprints in sandI am not yet holding a book of my own, but I am closer than I’ve ever been, and just as good, I’ve seen what time can do, however incrementally.

For you other writers, be encouraged: Now isn’t forever,  and the now we choose today can help us toward the future we’re wishing for. We are doing this writing thing because we are actively choosing to live the life we desire. We are those taking action, rather than those being acted upon.

We, my writing friends, are the interesting characters that others wish they had the nerve– or freedom– to be.

Dream Boy Blog Tour: Authors’ Interview (and GIVEAWAY!)

Dream boyI am so excited to talk some more today about the book Dream Boy that I reviewed last month.

And the publisher has said I can give away a copy of the book (trust me, you want this in your hands), so be sure and leave a comment after you read the interview.

You probably noticed this novel was written by two authors (Mary Crockett and Madelyn Rosenberg). This continues to be noteworthy, I believe, because it’s uncommon.

When I imagined working with someone else on one of my novels, it honestly gave me the heebeegeebees, so I went looking and read Mary’s explanation of what she loved about writing with a friend.  I also read where the story came from, which is a pretty awesome story, and that answered my first and most-obvious questions.

Madelyn’s video explanation took a completely different tack…

Despite my inclination to write alone, anyone who knows me knows that healthy relationships, emotions, and brains are kinda my big-deal whether I’m writing fiction or non-fiction, so that was the angle on my mind when I created my interview questions.

 ~ ~ ~

Amy Jane: When you write together, how do you keep ego or possessiveness from getting in the way of the story?

Mary: You just concentrate on the story and that takes care of all the ego crap that could get in the way. And if there did happen to be a disagreement that we couldn’t immediately resolve, I just told Madelyn I was going to hold my breath until she let me have my way. That worked surprisingly well.
Madelyn: It’s hard to go about trying to get published these days with your ego intact. Any ego I had left when I started writing with Mary I just checked at the door. We were really honest with each other about what we thought worked and what we thought didn’t. One of Mary’s rules about writing a joint project was that the initial idea couldn’t be something you were completely possessive of/iron-fisted about. Because if it was, you should just keep that project for yourself, right? That way when you went forward to create something, you were truly working together.

Amy Jane: That makes me feel better, Madelyn. So far my novel ideas are arriving personal and specific, so those aren’t the kind to share. (I was afraid my resistance to cooperation made me a selfish control-freak…).

Amy Jane:  You did a really good job showing the humanity—accessibility—of traditionally negative roles (the popular kids, the ex-boyfriend). Was that on-purpose? Can you think of any specific choices you made—reactions, appearances—that were calculated to keep the more negative characters from going too far?
Mary: Thanks! I guess there wasn’t any calculated move on my part. I just set out to show people as I understand people to be–with good parts and bad parts.
As for going too far, Madelyn did keep me from giving Daniel a mustache because she didn’t want him to seem gross. Also, she wouldn’t let the nightmare eat bugs even though I tried repeatedly to get that little girl some protein.
Amy Jane: HA!
Madelyn: We actually had way more back story than even ended up in here. We know exactly why Stephanie ended up the way she did, for instance. And we tried to make Annabelle realize that some of her feelings about Daniel were actually about herself (which was a lesson I learned about an ex boyfriend I hated, though it took me 20 years).
Amy Jane: I was also happy (it’s embarrassing how much of my enjoyment of a book is so self-centered…) happy to see so many minor tensions resolved while they were still minor, and people really seeming to try their best to be civil, rather than racing to take offense. Is that something that’s part of your style as writers, and/or did you consciously include that?
marymadelynpub1Mary: I think there’s a reason we didn’t start the book right after Annabelle broke up with Daniel. She had a real rough time with that break up. So, when Dream Boy begins, she’s been through some emotional stuff and she reacted pretty badly to it in the past, but she’s trying to learn to be better about it. It worked better for the story for her to be at that point in her life. Also, I don’t like writing a bunch of weepy drama.
Madelyn: Actually, I think it’s more interesting when things are wrapped up a little less neatly. I feel like one of the reasons we did what we did was because we didn’t want those things to detract from some of our other plot points. (And I don’t like weepy drama, either.)
Amy Jane: Medium *SPOILER* warning here: when Annabelle chooses the fugly dress bought for her over the one she picked for herself, did you mean that as an abdication/succumbing to manipulation—a move away from her true self—or rather as an effort on her part to compromise within the relationship that she was still trying to build?

Mary: I don’t see that choice as abdication or manipulation or even as an attempt to further her relationship with Martin. I see it as an act of kindness to another human being who was trying to do something kind for her. Also, she was pushing back against her friend Talon a little in that scene. Talon was poking at holes she suspected might be in Annabelle’s relationship with Martin, so Annabelle was presenting a untied front by choosing the dress. So her motives are kind and a little defensive and a little self-delusional in the same moment. But mostly kind.

Madelyn: I agree that it was an act of kindness, but I think that kindness was a way of moving the relationship forward :)

Amy Jane: It was one of my favorite moments, with different levels or ways to interpret it. I love that you both see the same act a bit the same and a bit differently.

It’s so neat to see the gentleness of your relationship and your shared delight in your story.  Thank you so much of “visiting” my little blog!

Mary: Thanks again, Amy, for having us.


And now for the GIVEAWAY!

(My apologies, but this is limited to mailing addresses the U.S. and Canada):

To enter, leave a comment and tell me if you are pro- or anti- spoiler in your reading (or book-review reading). Do you want to know any extras beyond the blurb on the back of the book?

[Contest will be open for two weeks: I’ll draw a name on July 4th sometime in the midst of a celebratory family day.]

All We Have is Time

Image courtesy of McKenna P via freeimages.com

Image courtesy of McKenna P via freeimages.com

This isn’t a post about Time-Management.

It is a post about Mindfulness.

With an aside of Sherlock.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D is a name that you will see over and over again as you investigate the practice and concept of mindfulness.  His Twitter bio says he is “the modern pioneer of mindfulness in mainstream medicine” and that’s a great place to start the conversation about Mindfulness.

It is no longer considered just the preview of mystics seeking spiritual enlightenment. Thanks to people like Kabat-Zinn, the intangible, rather than being dismissed or derided, is studied. Studied with an eye to our methods’ limitations rather than the subject matter’s disinclination to make itself easy to study.

As a result more people are being helped.

I come from a conservative Christian background, which means I was trained to have (and still know and love many people with) a deep distrust of anything that holds a whiff of Eastern Mysticism or New Age (which term is currently humorous to me, since I’ve been hearing about it for almost 30 years).

In the early seasons of the wildly popular BBC Sherlock, the famous consulting detective seems almost childlike in his social obliviousness. He knows he alienates people through what he does, but his delight is more important to him than their acceptance, even though the rejections stings.

What Sherlock doesn’t realize is how he might still do much of what is important to him while evolving away from his self-centeredness. That would require a measure of maturity and awareness that the character doesn’t display in the beginning.

Not everything offers enough meat that it’s work the risk of choking on the bones, but this is one that is worth a great deal. The practice of mindfulness, sometimes called meditation, has benefits for your body and mind that are fully independent of the belief systems that incorporate them into their faith practices.

While taking the time to slow down and breathe properly a few times a day, the mindful person learns to separate the solidity of who they are from the shifting perspective of what is swirling around them.

Mindfulness has been applied with great benefit by people fighting anxiety, depression, stress, and overwhelming emotion (for example from PTSD).  It is not a cure or magic bullet, but for these people there is often no 100% cure anyway, so finding a degree of relief is still a gift.

Jon Kabat-Zinn is credited on Twitter for this quote:

We have nothing but time. Until it runs out. Then we complain about not using it wisely.

The common (time management) response or mentality focuses on the last part: avoid regret by using time wisely.

This is very important, and I recommend Amy Andrews’s concise ebook Tell Your Time if you don’t currently have a system that works for you.

But the first part is worth considering too.

We have time.

Whatever we do, time will run out. And there will always be more to do than we have time to do.

We will never find a system that will let us do everything.

Our acceptance of Mindfulness– observant awareness, a conscious dialing back of intensity and accepting limits, such as the present– can help us find the clarity of time with what we have left.

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Resources for further reading

The Violinist and the Master (a Tuesday Tale)

Years ago (2001 or 2002), before I had children or a house payment, a storyteller came to town and offered a workshop.

Turns out I had an aptitude for Storytelling. I thought I’d found the medium to change the world.

Then I started having children (three between 1/03 and 5/06), and while I continued to read and love folktales (and their creators), the opportunity to share them orally was distressingly rare.

Primarily because the stories that wrapped up my heart were not (to put it carefully) children’s stories, I had to create any opportunities to share, and part of that challenge was convincing adults the value of listening to stories after a certain age.

Storytelling is an activity our culture ties to pre-literacy, and because so many define that mathematically, the under-five crowd and their parents are the only listeners who automatically assume storytelling is for them.

Leaving (formal, call-it-what-it-is) storytelling behind is sometimes treated as a mark of maturity, and that disappoints me, because there are stories that older children and adults should hear.

Several months of the original (written only) Tuesday Tales are available at my personal blog, Untangling Tales.

The Violinist and the Master is an example of one of those “not for [little] kids” stories, and you know why in the first line:

“In a concentration camp in Poland…”

Mara's Stories CoverIt is the first in a collection of short stories by Gary Schmidt titled Mara’s Stories: glimmers in the darkness.

I found the book at my local library, and (perhaps especially because they are framed as though they are being told aloud), I felt a deep affinity to them, and contacted Gary to ask if I could perform them.  He graciously agreed, later affirming his permission to record them as I tell them (modified for oral presentation) and share them on my blog.

Thank you so much, Mr. Schmidt!

Of all the stories, this is the one I probably have the deepest connection to. I am a musician, and interact with many musicians. More than once I’ve asked for 10 minutes to do a spontaneous sharing of this piece, just because I sense it will be appreciated.

Thank you for listening to a new breath of Tuesday Tales.

Dream Boy (Reading Notes)

DREAM BOY COVER smallCreative, layered story.

A girl’s romantic fantasy comes to life: a handsome, respectful, accommodating young man– literally the guy she’s been dreaming of– walks into her life, with no goal other than to be her boyfriend and make her happy by being everything she wanted in her secret soul.

When is the other shoe going to drop? Because we all know he can’t be that perfect, can he?

(Potential spoilers ahead: read at your own risk.)

Most stories about dreams-come-true seem to have a Be careful what you wish for element to them.

I never really thought about it before, but those can send a very strong “You can’t (shouldn’t) trust yourself” message.

So that’s what I expected here.

I expected Mr. Perfect to get overly possessive, or more physically demanding than our narrator wanted, or screw up his backstory and get found out. But he didn’t.

He genuinely was what she thought she wanted, and the relationship exploration/development was not about his character so much as it was Annabelle’s discovery of whether she wants what she thinks she does. I thought it was interesting that (despite her power– having created a personalized, ideal guy for herself) Annabelle still displayed good (if misguided) efforts to adapt or compromise within the relationship.

That is, sometimes her boyfriend had a not-great idea, or a fine idea not well carried out (his choice of a dress, for example). Some could interpret her acceptance of a bad dress as capitulation and “losing” herself/her independence (maybe it was, we could talk). I felt it could also be a 16-year-old way of saying ‘You don’t have to be the only one who adapts.’

Possible Negatives

  • Some of the high schoolers drink beer when they get away from adult supervision. (Ends up being plot-critical.)
  • Adultery is referenced.
  • A boy’s dream includes lying with a girl
  • Some of the characters consult a Ouija board.

Things I enjoyed

  • Two Good Guys: Annabelle having to choose between two types of overt goodness, instead of (say) good and bad or “inner” and “outer” beauty.
  • The bad guys (as in, negatively portrayed human males) were not sleaze bags. They had negative traits, and positive traits. They knew knew how to cooperate and think (at least a little) beyond themselves.
  • The high schoolers had high schooler limitations (curfews, limited experience/knowledge, parents they were responsible to). Kept the story more grounded than it might have been.
  • Solid plotting and foreshadowing: I wasn’t surprise-surprised by anything, as far as I could tell everything was properly prepared for.
    • Yes, it could “give away” some things, but if a story is good enough to read more than once– when you already know the twists– this shouldn’t be a deal breaker.
  • Solid friends you could talk to about the impossible

Iffies

  • It seemed odd to me to have so much kissing that was so instantly satisfying (I could say more, but I think I’ll save it for the comedic parts of my someday romance novel…)
  • There was a lot of stuff that looked like “plants” or foreshadowing that didn’t actually go there. As much as I appreciated nothing coming out the blue, it was a little exhausting to always expect the follow ups, and only have some pan out.
    • On the other hand, this is essentially what’s happening to the narrator, so I can see it working for some readers.
  • It was odd, trying to sort out the relative ages of the different (erm) visitors. Friendships and hierarchy, even learning capacity vs. established knowledge, was hard to predict or quantify.
  • I’d be curious to talk with other readers about the implications of who conjured whom, and the layered, almost nesting doll, affect of that.

Recommend? Sure.

(This book was provided by the publisher before the release date of July 1, 2014, free for my review through Netgalley.com)

Just for Today: The Writer’s Voice Competition

It begins with a lottery— Which I get, but means that we won’t know if we’re playing along until the drawing. Fortunately, the wait is no more than a single day, and we can be excited and/or move on with our lives quickly.

But if you have a completed, polished manuscript, click through, check out the requirements and throw your name in the hat.

For the competition (if I get chosen) the completed manuscript I’m working with is Lindorm Kingdom, my very first NaNo novel that I began by winning NaNoWriMo in 2006, when my youngest was 6 months old, and the oldest of my three kids was three years old.

Image courtesy of Sanja Gjenero via http://www.freeimages.com

Image courtesy of Sanja Gjenero via http://www.freeimages.com

I think that was when I knew I knew I was a writer. I mean, I’d majored in journalism, and have always been good with words (I still remember, at 13, showing an essay of mine to a high school English teacher, and glowing to hear her say she expected that kind of work from a 10th-grader). What I didn’t know was how enlivening writing was. How I was capable of prioritizing and persisting.

Knowing that, now, is what keeps me going on: I don’t know when I’ll see (more) outside acknowledgement, but the question was settled for me about day-10 (and day-15, and day-17, and especially day-30), that this was real, and not a game.

Whatever it was.

I fought for years to keep Lindorm a sane length for a single novel, at first because I thought all multi-book stories came in threes (and I knew there wasn’t enough story for three books). When I knew more, I still resisted splitting into two because I saw a natural break and there wasn’t enough in the first half to make a story that satisfied me.

Three years passed, then five, and six.

Image by Krzysztof Szkurlatowski; 12frames.eu

Image by Krzysztof Szkurlatowski; 12frames.eu

In 2010 and 2011 I participated in NaNoWriMo again, because I realized this (at the time) 4-year-old story was too important.

I couldn’t get the distance I needed to revise and cut and re-vision it, because it was the *only* story I’d ever created. It was a fluke. A blown-glass egg that was fragile, and if I did the wrong thing it would be shattered beyond my ability to repair.

That’s how I felt, and my rational mind objected to the constraints this other, unfamiliar, part of me put on my writing. I was angry at how strong it was: keeping a fabulous story captive because I didn’t know (yet) how to make it perfect.

I didn’t trust my own skill. I had no proof yet is was skill.

So I wrote a second novel in 2010. I wrote a third novel in 2011.

And finally I was steady enough to move forward.

My kids enrolled in “away school”  (the opposite of homeschool, you see?) for the 2012/2013 school year, and I finished a re-write that fleshed out the first half of Lindorm into something better, more meaningful, than I could have discovered before this point in my life and experience.  I nailed down an actual premise (Yes! a premise: a single, thematic statement I believe in that the novel would demonstrate).

The purpose of Strength is to create Safety.

For the first time, the novel felt cohesive, but now I was more than 7 years past my opening skill level.

The duo of Lindorm novels is based on a deliciously complex Scandinavian folktale, and as I built it into a novel, drawing on all the reading I did about craft and technique, I wondered if I was putting my heroine through “enough”.

We soft-hearted writers are often reminded that we can’t– shouldn’t– protect our characters. And I questioned whether Linnea had been through enough, even though hundreds of years had already outlined her struggles.

Image courtesy of Armin Hanisch via http://www.freeimages.com

Image courtesy of Armin Hanisch via http://www.freeimages.com

In a similar way, I have wrestled with whether I know enough to be doing this. This noveling thing. There are so many books I haven’t read, so many great writers I feel that I’m “late” in discovering, and every time I do anything but actually create Story I feel like I’m playing catch-up.

But the stories don’t go away.

I guess that’s one of the advantages of building on the timeless: it will always be old, and it will always be new: familiar and fresh at the same time.

If we do it right.

That is the excellence I’m striving toward.

Defy (Reading Notes)

DefyFantasy and wish-fulfillment done well.

You can discover what your enemy fears most by observing the means he uses to frighten you.

– Eric Hoffer

Each book, movie and television show, we love reveals some of our own desires, hopes and fears.

Every story is a fantasy.

We don’t read fantasy (just) to escape reality. We read to experience a reality we understand to be true and can’t access as often as we wish for it.

The fantasy in this story is a girl becoming one of the Boyz while still maintaining her attractiveness and desirability, evidenced through the two good men who both honor her and value her skills.

(Potential spoilers ahead: read at your own risk)

Alexa finds herself fighting on the wrong side of a cruel war. She has (from the age of 14) disguised both her age and her gender from her fellow guards.

Seeing as this is Fantasy, some of us can roll with the description that a 17-year-old young woman can hold her own, even be the best, among a group of trained fighters brought up as warriors.

What I appreciate is how this is eventually justified through both ‘gifting’ (magic is good for all kinds of things)  and years of specialized training and preparation (from the age of 6 with her twin brother as a sparring partner and a mumblemumble father to train her). Alexa earns her wins, and her relationship with the different members of the guard are varied and individual– a bit thin, but still quite the feat in the small space the story allows for them.

Rather than a transformation (say, from a personal lie to truth, or from brokenness to healing), Alexa’s progression in this story is a growth in who or what she already is.

It is a valid and useful question, and not just for the YA reader: How does one honor and maintain what makes one unique while still leaving room to grow?

I enjoyed Sara B. Larson’s answer.

The entire time Alexa is motivated by duty. Her assignment is to be part of the prince’s bodyguard, despite his father being a cruel warlord, and the prince himself being unadmirable and self-centered.

“Whether I respect him or despise him doesn’t matter,” says Alexa, “I’m a member of his guard.”

Of course, before the half-way mark, she feels more toward him than duty, but those feelings are conflicted (life and kingdom under threat, and at least one more book to develop through).

Still it is that sense of duty that drives her to the end, while being informed and strengthened by her growing identity as a woman who is loved.

It was an interesting choice, to show a character settled strong in her essence (duty, commitment, skill) while keeping her from being stagnant. The effort here was to focus on internal growth, since external growth was just about intensifying what already is.

Possible negatives:

  • The breeding houses. Alexa’s brother convinces her to cut her hair and fake being a boy because at 14 they both know about the place female orphans are taken. Just what they sound like, the houses double as a reward for, and a source of, soldiers for the unending war of the book.
  • Lots of people die. Not super devastating for me as a reader (there wasn’t the time to develop my own emotional attachment to the characters, just to see Alexa’s), and at least one death was critical to the climax of the story (more than one, depending how you count). But this is a war story.
  • The love triangle (merely existing) will be enough to put some people off.
    • I’ve decided I need to quit avoiding these, at least for a little while till I’ve seen a few more examples. In this story she isn’t “wavering” between the men as much as she’s sad to see one of them sad to lose her. That wasn’t so bad to me, not at all manipulative or indecisive on her part, not in the sense of leading anyone on. (Makes me wonder how badly they’re handled elsewhere to earn the vitriolic hate. Means more reading. Yeah, I’ll deal.).

Things I enjoyed:

  • An explanation (even though it was magic) for Alexa’s skill. I needed something to hold up my sagging suspension of disbelief.
  • That the guys who knew her secret were motivated both to protect it, and didn’t let it change how much they admired her skill, or honored her commitment.
  • The love triangle wasn’t as bad as I’d feared, with Alexa basically having a strong enough sense of loyalty to one that she wasn’t playing both ends against the middle.

Iffies:

  • A few anachronisms that joggled me within the story– like quaking aspen a few weeks’ walk from macaw- and jaguar-containing jungles, the use of “okay” and a few other casually modern phrases or assumptions. Once you’re in the reading groove they don’t need to matter, but depending what it takes to create your reader dream…
  • You really have to choose the suspension of disbelief to see a couple of 14-year-old kids coming into the specialized guard of the prince. Especially (when you learn later) that each guard, at least in the present, has to fight the best guard to get on the team.
    • Leaving out that one of them is a girl, the fact they both pass themselves off as 17 and fight grown men is a reader-moment you just accept if you want to keep the story rolling.
  • I saw that other reviewers complained about the breeding houses and violence, and the girl-warrior promise of the book devolving into an indecisive girly wobbling between two guys.
    • In the first complaint, I believe the horror was necessary to show what justified the prince’s desire to overthrow his father. (And knowing that such cruelty exists today, I think being disgusted is a good thing).
    • Concerning the love story, I think the author did pretty well with the space she had. She created a huge emotional vulnerability in the female main character, and provided weeks of close contact with two men who valued her.  It’s a touchy thing, but I think it was played fair, especially considering it was disclosed in the cover description.

Recommended?  Yes.

(This book was provided by the publisher free for my review through Netgalley.com)

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