Monday, March 14, 2011

Rust: Good for Fae, Bad for Us

Now, I'm not talking literal rust, but the metaphorical rust of our skills. Throughout life, people of all kinds build up skills in a variety of things. Languages, writing, etc. They always wait for that wonderful day when their hard work will pay off and they can declare "I'm proficient at something!" And after that? The real work starts, sustaining that proficiency...

I remember the beautiful day when I finished my American Sign Language (ASL) 4 class with an A. I felt so proud to know I had taken every single course in my language that my University offered, I socialized with all kinds of native signers, I was involved in the Deaf community. I dared to call myself fluent! Then...a few months passed. Family happened, school happened, my lack of a car happened. I didn't socialize much anymore, my only sign exposure was homework, I forgot how to use certain signs and other grammatical techniques.

Then I met a Deaf person, they signed at me, it went 'woosh' over my head. Yeah, I felt my fingers creaking when I asked them to say it again. I got rusty.

The same thing goes for writing. Unless there's a constant stream of words or something coming out of your fingers on a daily basis, you lose track of the story, or you get bored with it. You slip into so many passives it's not even funny, your cliches pile on. And editing that bad boy? You become ashamed to show that rough draft to anything else because the dark red stains on your words are so obvious. All that time spent honing your craft to turn that out.

Now, I admit I'm not expert on sign language or writing. I'm still in school for one and I'm still learning the finer points of the other. However, to sustain the skills I actually have, I need to dedicate myself to a daily regimen of Youtube Vlogs and manuscript/story slogging. Writer's block and mental tiredness are no excuse! It's like reading your Bible everyday, for my fellow Christians out there, it's a pain in the butt keeping up that routine, but it has to be done if you're going to grow any and keep yourself and God on the same page.

What have been your struggles with sustaining your craft? Or any kinds of skills you take pride in? How do you sustain them so they don't turn red and creaky?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Review: Sevenwaters Trilogy by Juliet Marillier

It's been another busy week on the school front. Luckily, though, I'm going to be on spring break all next week (Can I get an amen? No?). That means I can actually get time to veg out in front of my computer all day with my Kindle app and read another indie book to review for next Friday! I'm frankly excited!

In lieu of my still being at the dorm, however, this week I'm going to look at some little known traditionally published fiction, which continues to be an old favorite. These books were what got me into writing seriously. These books made me discover my niche, as it were. Upon reading them, I latched onto the Celtic backdrop and never looked back.

So here it is! The Sevenwaters Trilogy by Juliet Marillier!

This trilogy is made up of the books: Daughter of the Forest, Son of the Shadows, and Child of the Prophesy. Genre-wise, it's a historic, fantasy, romance, saga of sorts. Each book follows a different daughter of the Sevenwaters line through their ultimate goal of defeating an evil fae sorceress and finding their own path through life, despite the mounting obstacles preventing them from happiness.

Since this is more of a series review, I'll be coming up with my own take on the plot summary, so here it goes!

The Sevenwaters Trilogy (as seen by B.E.T.)

In the dark ages of Ireland, when it was still called Erin and warring chieftains ruled the lands, a small province called Sevenwaters is tucked away within a forest ruled by the old gods, the Fair Folk. Based on an old pact with the Fair Folk, the chieftains of Sevenwaters prosper within a wood that defends its own. However, part of the Sevenwaters pact was that the chieftains protect the three islands between Britain and Erin that were sacred to the old faith. Those islands were taken by the British family of Northwoods, and now Sevenwaters loses resources and men year by year because of this feud. Luckily, there is a prophesy that sees an end to the conflict by a special child.

The Sevenwaters chieftain, Colum, brings disaster on his family when he takes a second wife. Oonagh is dangerous and proves that when she turns all six of Colum's sons to swans. Now it is up to the seventh child, Sorcha, to save her brothers. But the journey is not without a cost, and that cost may be the deepest desire of her heart.

Years later, the next in the line, Liadan, thinks she will care for her parents and marry for alliance with a neighboring chieftain. Fate has other plans, however, when she encounters a mercenary who will upset her to her core. Now she must choose between following the path the Fair Folk have set, or take destiny into her own hands and risk losing everything she holds dear.

More time passes and Oonagh is hard at work planning her ultimate move to bring down Sevenwaters, and the Fair Folk with it. Stuck in the middle is Fainne, a half-crippled girl of humble upbringing and mysterious origins. With her father's life in the balance, she must exploit her newfound ties to Sevenwaters and infiltrate the household. But as she grows to know her distant family, her only childhood friend follows her into jeopardy. Now she must pick a side and stick with it so she may somehow save those she loves without losing herself.

These books, what can I say? The prose is eloquent, yet genuine. The pacing is gradual, yet tense. The world is well researched and vividly convincing. The characters make you cry, laugh, and, in Oonagh's case, scratch at the pages with hate.

The thing I really love about these books though, is that they made me feel. Every time I read and reread them, I relive the struggles along with Sorcha, Liadan, and Fainne. These books left a serious impression on me, so much that I knew I wanted to become an author. I wanted to replicate that experience for someone else.

Even if you don't like fantasy, even if you cringe at romance, even if you hate history, these stories will resonate. And in my book, that's the highest compliment you can give something.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Characters Giving Writing Advice...Ha!

Oftentimes, names like 'inner editor' or 'inner critic' are assigned to the editing function writers use when they're picking apart their own work, in the NaNoWriMo participant circles especially. The name 'muse' is often used for the inspiration that fuels our rough draft. The editing function, in the rough draft stage, is pesky, while the muse is invaluable. It works visa versa in the revision stage. Both have their uses and one isn't necessarily better than the other, just different.

Well, my personal 'muse' and 'inner critic', I just realized, often take on the form of the protagonists of my books. My preferred style is first-person narrative, with two opposing viewpoints that alternate each chapter. The muse and inner critic are very opposing in what they want to do, so this is fitting.

Example: in Faerie Games, Melissa is my inner critic, Finn is my muse. Melissa is the nitpicky, organized one who always knows how to fix things, who likes a plan, an outline. Finn is the erratic, moody premadonna who strikes at the most inopportune time with spurts of genius and carefree creation. Polar opposites who argue constantly, yet when they work together, it's magic.

With the next pair of protagonists, I think the defining line is going to be a lot more erratic. I'm hoping to work on Fianna next, focusing on Helen (crazy, impulsive, controlling mother) and Lucy (creative, calm, worry wart daughter). Maybe I'll need to employ Yoel (negotiating, history loving, brainiac leader figure) to be the sole inner critic and oversee all of his crazy-muse women.

How about you guys? Do you have any characters that would fit these roles too perfectly or do your inner critic and muse have lives of their own?

Review: Fever Series by Karen Marie Moning

Alright, now usually I've been going the Indie route with my reviews. Unfortunately, I haven't had enough time at my computer to read through an entire e-book. School, friends, and a whopping new relationship do that to a person (of which I am extremely happy about, despite the fact I have missed the blogosphere). Between classes, however, I have plenty of time to catch up on my reading of paper books (at least until I buckle down and save up for an e-reader, probably sometime this summer). While reading through my paper books, I came across what is now my new second favorite series ever, and first favorite series in the Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance genre.

The Fever Series by Karen Marie Moning starts with Darkfever and ends with Shadowfever, with three books in between. The premise is spelled out nicely in Darkfever:

Darkfever (as taken from Karen Marie Moning's website):

MacKayla Lane’s life is good. She has great friends, a decent job, and a car that breaks down only every other week or so. In other words, she’s your perfectly ordinary twenty-first-century woman.

Or so she thinks... until something extraordinary happens.

When her sister is murdered, leaving a single clue to her death–a cryptic message on Mac’s cell phone–Mac journeys to Ireland in search of answers. The quest to find her sister’s killer draws her into a shadowy realm where nothing is as it seems, where good and evil wear the same treacherously seductive mask. She is soon faced with an even greater challenge: staying alive long enough to learn how to handle a power she had no idea she possessed–a gift that allows her to see beyond the world of man, into the dangerous realm of the Fae...

As Mac delves deeper into the mystery of her sister’s death, her every move is shadowed by the dark, mysterious Jericho, a man with no past and only mockery for a future. As she begins to close in on the truth, the ruthless V'lane–an alpha Fae who makes sex an addiction for human women–closes in on her. And as the boundary between worlds begins to crumble, Mac’s true mission becomes clear: find the elusive Sinsar Dubh before someone else claims the all-powerful Dark Book–because whoever gets to it first holds nothing less than complete control of the very fabric of both worlds in their hands...

The tagline for the Fever Series "Feel the heat, catch the fever." accurately describes my reaction to these books. Sure, it sounds very sexual and tense (it's a dark thriller dealing with Celtic Faeries, how can it not be?), but underneath that tagline are truly sympathetic characters, twisting plots, and edge of your seat writing. Reading this, I felt the heat of these factors and caught the fever of reading these books. I'm hooked.

The protagonist is one of the best female leads I've seen to date in genre fiction. I don't know if its my own Floridian heritage that makes me sympathize with her love for the sun or how she enjoys the slow life of the American South (not that my part of Florida really counts, but the attitude pervades everything), but this pretty-in-pink woman grabbed me from the start. She's blonde with a good body, but she comes alive on the page. She's not your Barbie stereotype, she's Mac, just Mac. Watching her go from Mac 1.0 to Mac 4.0 by the end of the series only served to latch me in further. An ordinary woman faced with these life altering choices and tragedies really makes you think and feel for this character.

The male leads: Jericho Barrons and V'lane, are not one-dimensional, sex-crazed hunks. The mysterious, tatoo-clad guardian figure is cold, sure, he's mysterious, sure, but he has some rare moments of genuine emotion that are as subtle as all his other actions. You watch parts of him peel away like a Shrek-onion (only better looking) to show how deep of a character he really is. And V'lane, the romantic, sex-crazed, heart throb faerie prince (yeah second most masculine thing in this book) shows little by little how human his true intentions are, despite the fact he's anything but human.

And the mythology! This woman's take on the folklore of the Scottish and Irish Celts is nothing short of unique. Her interpretation stays true to the character of the source material while taking on a radical life of its own. Celtic Mythology is what I want to write around, and throughout these books, I felt new inspiration to delve into my own work and make it this good.

This series will keep you guessing and invested the whole way through. You'll find yourself believing "Holy crap, the world really is in danger, Ireland really is where it's all going down, and MacKayla Lane really is our only hope."