Friday, January 29, 2010

Reading as A Writer vs. Reading as a Reader

Writing has changed the way I read books. Here is a summery of my review of Daughter of the Forest, by Juliet Marillier four years ago.

The characterizations and prose were good and I liked the world it took place in but it didn't fit with the mood of Hans Christian Andersen's original of the Fairy Tale. Sorcha's boyfriend was incredibly boring and the ending wasn't tragic or happy. I'm a traditionalist. I like extremes. but mostly what I didn't like was the 'modern' view points and values of the main characters set against the 'historical' values of the 'less smart' characters.

Contrast that to this newer reaction to Foxmask, also by Juliet Marillier.

Marillier's prose and attention to detail are . . . humbling. She weaves a setting that must have taken ages to research and tosses words around like they're nothing. Sometimes they're poetical, sometimes they're matter of fact but they always match perfectly with the mood of the scene. Her character are distinct and consistent, her plot simple, but elaborated on in a way that makes every detail important --every detail count --and she explores issues that the reader doesn't quite know how to process even after they are technically resolved. The complex themes lead each character to their own climax, almost effortlessly. Stylistically the book is perfect but if I had to point out a flaw it would be the romances and the obvious separation of characters who have things figured out and those who don't. I like romance --I loved the characters involved in the romances of Foxmask, I loved how they were eventually resolved. What I didn't like was the supremacy, love-is-a-kind-of-magic, two-halve-of-one-whole, I-love-you-like-fire-or-whatever-other-cheesy-poetics-come-to-mind attitude about them. Perhaps I am being overly cynical but such things get on my nerves. As for the other 'flaw' ---I am referring mostly to the way Creidhe's family is so strong and affectionate and virtues in the way they live their lives and run their island in obvious contrast to Thorvald and Margaret or the tribes on the other island. This may be explained away however in the first book. I would be willing to accept the fact that Creidhe's parents had to discover these superior values in the events of Wolfskin rather than simply having been born with them for no apparent reason.

Do you see the difference? I don't mean the length (the first one was a summery)or even my obvious change of opinion about the author (I'm tempted to go back and read Daughter of the Forest again to see if I would like it this time around). I mean the sort of things I observe. Form. Plot formations --details on why or why not things leave me satisfied. And no matter how much I like the book I can't help but find at least one thing I would like to change. Out of habit if nothing else. I sometimes wonder if writing has forever spoiled me as a reader. I can't simply read a book and enjoy it --or not enjoy it as the case may be. I analyze. Continuously. Relentlessly. Its true that this makes me more susceptible to being blown away by a well written passage and it doesn't necessarily mean that I won't let a weaker passage slip by me if the story is good enough but I still think there is something lost. If a well written passage is so well written aren't I just as likely to enjoy it even if I don't know why? Isn't the weaker passage that I zip through anyways a testament that the story is really what matters? As a writer hoping to improve my craft, every detail is important and I should continue to analyze what I like and why I like it, but as a reader looking for a good story it can be annoying to have a miniature editor in the back of my head while I am trying to get involved with the characters.

That said, read Foxmask. Its fabulous.

Edit: I have been remiss in my Conspiracy of Kings Count Down haven't I? And only forty days left. I apologize. the mind doth wander --and wonder if it comes to that. If it is of any use to mention, "Leroy Roachbane" (the second story in Instead of Three Wishes) is a very odd story. Not bad --very entertaining in fact --just odd. I can't imagine where the story came from. It seems our Ms. Turner has a more unusual mind than I took her too ---but then, doesn't' everybody?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Instead of Three Wishes. Conspiracy of Kings countdown continues.

Really? Only 49 days left? That doesn't give me much time to read the rest of her novels does it? (I am excited though! Only a little more than a month and I can find out what's been happening to Sophos all this time. . .)

I FINALLY picked up Instead of Three Wishes at the library this week and it was SIGNED by none other than Megan Whelan Turner herself. If it didn't say, quite plainly 'for the librarians at ---- library' I would probably just keep the book and consider being forever banned from the library for fear of them realizing I'm the one who took it worth the exchange.

Ok. Maybe not. I would have to get books from somewhere. But still. Its tempting.

I've only actually read one of the stories so far (I fear I got a bit distracted with Juliet Marillier's Foxmask. Fabulous book --and I was convinced I would never like Marillier) but it WAS very amusing. Short stories have never been something I could master. I can manage a 'tale' in a page or two so long as all the events and characters are just a little vague and summery-like but once I really get into a character's head --or describing the setting or any other detail that makes it all tangible . . . oh dear me. I've got another half finished novel on my hands. Half finished novel. If I could sell those I'd be a millionaire . . . but I degrees.

Instead of Three Wishes. First story: A Plague of Leprechaun

(O dear, the little people heard me didn't they? And I not even Irish. They'll curdle me milk for sure)

A cute story. Clever. The plague of tourists I can understand, Irish or no. And the sanctity of art even if I can't draw anything more than a stick figure myself. I don't suppose there is much one can say about a short story without giving everything away but the characterizations were quick and vivid and the pacing quick, the details colorful and original. Charming. Now if only I can unlock the secret to such mastery myself.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Deerskin: an analysis

Beauty --by Robin McKinnley = perfect in every particular

Spindle's End -by Robin McKinnley = fabulous for the most part, though a bit frustrating in format and a bit vague towards the end

The Blue Sword - by Robin McKinnley = fascinating and exciting, if a little heavy on the feminism

The Hero and the Crown -by Robin McKinnley = long and tedious, with a few interesting side characters but an annoying protagonist and no particular point to the adventure as a whole

The Door in the Hedge - by Robin McKinnley = Enchanting. Tantalizing. A perfect collection of fairy stories.

The Outlaws of Sherwood -by Robin McKinnley = Dry and lifeless, laced with more feminism than I can handle for a story about men camping out in the woods

Deerskin -by Robin McKinnley = Distinctly McKinnley in a way that reminded me why I used to love her books

I must refrain myself from getting into another rant about her treatment of Robin Hood in his own legend and her insistence that all her protagonists must be women running out to prove that they are every bit as though as the men --that they always end up bigger than life in a way that the reader can't really feel triumphant when they win because it turned out to be no contest. I am going to talk about Deerskin, and Deerskin I liked.

Deerskin is based off of Charles Parault's story Donkeyskin. If I ever read the original I don't remember it (I went through a stage where I read volume after volume of fairy stories and one princess in disguise wearing a dress as silver as the moon blended in with all the rest) so I don't know how closely she followed it. I do know that she seems to do better with Fairy Tales and usually follows them pretty closely (though I'm still afraid to try Rose Daughter in fear of it somehow taking away from Beauty).

All the "McKinnleyness" that usually gets on my nerves just worked for the storyline. Yes, Lissar started out as a girl smothered in silks, trapped in what everyone else conceived as her proper life, expected to live up to ridiculous standards --but, well so much more literally 'smothered' and 'trapped' that I didn't think she was being mellow-dramatic for one minute. I won't deny that her 'animal-following' didn't bother me --just a little --but it did make sense. It was more like living with the wolves than the usual parade of adoring animals that follow McKnnley's heroines. Even the laser-light like show at then end in her final confrontation, though a bit bizarre, made sense because --especially after the long chapters of struggling for the very simplest of survival --you understand that she NEEDS super-human strength to do what she has to do. The prince was cute too --even though he was described as pretty homely and non-prince-like.

Part of the reason I didn't read this one way back when I went through my McKinnley stage (before I got too frustrated to go on) was because of a review I read from a reviewer that I usually agreed with --at that point anyways. It's been awhile. But I seem to remember (and here's where the heavy spoilers come in, just to warm you) that their main problems with it were. 1)In the beginning Lissar is weak and shuts herself in her room, almost waiting to be raped. 2) A large portion of the book is her wondering around in the wilderness, feeling miserable and sorry for herself and 3) when she miscarries she doesn't seem to have maternal grief. As for 1) --that really is the point isn't it? She is a princess. Beautiful. Neglected. Penned up. Innocent. She doesn't think of running away (for one thing she doesn't know where the garden door is) because the empty-halled palace is the only place she's ever known and she doesn't have anywhere to run to. as for 2) --as much as I'm for skipping to the exciting parts of a story and as much as I was craving human contact by the time those portions were done with, because so much of the book has to do with her physiological and emotional journey we NEED to see those bits so we understand her and really see what her parents have done to her --not just her father but her being so unprepared and then running around in the wild, trying to escape -to survive. yes, we are hearing every particular about her sweeping the floor and trying to take a bath, but in the state she is in those are impossible feats that help her to accomplish truly impossible feats later on. As for the third complaint --that's just plain ridiculous, as she shuts out the acknowledgment of ever having a father, let alone his child even as it is being miscarried BECAUSE it is too much for her to handle and she is certainly not void of maternal instincts, as shown later when she rescues the doomed puppy litter. Perhaps because of the lost child even if she doesn't dare remember why.

I think what enchanted me most about the book was the style. The plot wasn't perfect. There were a few extra things I wanted resolved at the end and the bizarre magic that came from nowhere in particular did get on my nerves. But the prose was . . . distinct. It was itself without adhering to the modern rules of writing. Maybe that is because it was written over ten years ago and the standards were different back then. There was much less 'showing as apposed to telling', very long periods of narrative summery rather than direct scenes and not everything was told in chronological order. I find this intriguing, for now that I think of it Beauty was much the same. I am almost tempted to read her new Dragonsbane --or even Sunshine even though I've never been partial to vampire stories --to see if this is her personal style or more of a late eighties/early nineties trend. Perhaps a stage in her writing development. I say "almost" tempted though and I mean almost because I have to many other things on my to-read list and Dragonsbane looks far too much like an "Eragon the McKinnley version" to me. And I'm sick of vampires.

I remain inconclusive about the author as a whole.

I promised you a Megan Whelan Turner shrine for the next couple of months didn't I? Rest assured I will be picking up Instead of Three Wishes at the library tomorrow and will begin posting reviews. We still have 58 days left.

Monday, January 4, 2010

'A Conspiracy of Kings' Count down.

I love to read. (shocker right?) I love to see books that are just masterfully crafted. I love getting lost inside their pages. I love trying to figure out exactly how the authors manage to keep us all so spell bound. Thus I was overjoyed when I discovered that Megan Whelan Turner, author of The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, and The King of Attolia was releasing a new book this year. A Conspiracy of Kings, set to be released March 10th. That gives me 65 days to drool with anticipation.

In honor of Megan Whelan Turner's genius with plot and character and because I know my mind will be rather . . . preoccupied with the excitement, I will be conducting a count down. I will re-read the rest of the books in the series, as well as her collection of short stories and analyze the works from a writer's prospective (because what better way to improve my writing than to learn from the masters) and a reader's prospective (because I love a good book and think they should be praised). To begin, here is the url of a rather fascinating interview I found with Megan Whelan Turner.