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Archive for May, 2012

They waited until nightfall to sneak out of their houses. Through open windows, out backyard doors, down the limbs of old oak trees, one by one drifting into the night, hushed laughter on their lips. The sky was clear and inky blue. It was the kind of night that would have you tossing in your bed sheets, your mind restless, your feet itching to run. They met under street lamps and in empty parking lots, huddled together smoking pilfered cigarettes just to have something to do while they waited.

All over town they came together in groups, talking in excited whispers, stealing nervous glances down the empty streets. Soon they would walk to the edge of town, down the narrow dirt path that led to the quarry. They would string paper lanterns in the trees and dance around the bonfires. They’d push each other into the icy water and sleep under the starry sky. They would try to forget that they were growing up and that the world wasn’t what they thought it would be.

image by: Alexandre Pouliotte ~ monsterboy.ca

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I often feel that coming up with an idea for a story can be remarkably challenging. Inspiration can be found in the simplest thought, the most fleeting impression, and if we don’t grasp it in time, can be lost forever as it takes flight into the ether of our mind. When they do manage to hold onto it, some authors claim to become consumed by its very design, unable to do anything until it has been laid out on the page. I, on the other hand, don’t find it so easy to keep the fires inspiration going.

I guess I consider myself to be a fickle writer, something that I’ve been doing my very best to rectify (this blog being a good start). I suppose I’m so addicted to Story that I can’t get enough of it, I need a constant outlet for my insatiable appetite, be it by reading novels, watching a series or even playing video games. I consume Story in all its forms. But on some unconscious level, I also feel that this capricious state of mind is caused by my own insecurities. I fear that I lack the ability to write as coherent and enticing a story as the ones I relish. I become anxious and very critical of my work, even in the early stages of the story’s development, and become my own inspirational deterrent.

In school, I found that deadlines helped focus my attention, though I was definitely no stranger to procrastination. I often worked late into the night, finding that as the deadline approached I became more engrossed in my writing. Though anxious due to time constraints, my writing was always of good quality, these late night forays into my creative mind sometimes yielding some of my very best work.  This is similar to the inspired state of mind; they simply have two different stimulus. While one creates out of need, the other creates out of desire.

As I no longer find myself in school, and since I don’t want to pit the success of the ‘last-minute panic’ approach against a publisher’s deadline, I need to find a way to fuel my inspiration. I need to stop writing from a place of anxiety because I fear that I may lose that inspirational spark at any moment, and instead write out of a desire to uncover its infinite potential.

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Daughter of Smoke and Bone was recommended to me by a friend, which made me very weary of it as I literally shut the last book I was recommended after the first page. The event was so traumatizing I haven’t read a recommendation since, and that was nearly seven years ago (You know the one ;)) So with my faith still shaken, I ventured forth into Laini Taylor’s very hyped young adult novel and found myself in an enigmatic urban fantasy. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is enthralling to say the least. Taylor’s prose is beautifully written and guides us through the tantalizingly mysterious story of a young girl in Prague whose double life has her collecting teeth for a demon.

This story straddles the line between urban fiction and fantasy, blending two worlds into one as Karou is slowly pulled away from her life as an art student to discover a world in turmoil. Angels and Chimera waging a war whose beginnings are lost in blood and hatred and most importantly pain. The plot is wonderfully exciting, the characters delightfully compelling, and the ending, I felt, was simply genius and leaves you craving for the sequel. Now, after all this, what can I possibly say that I didn’t like?

  • Well… I didn’t particularly care for Akiva, the angelic soldier who inevitably falls for the passionate and willful Karou. I found his seemingly emotional actions to be unjustified by his character, as he really didn’t have one. Sure he had lots of great back story but no defining traits, no apparent character flaws, no opinions or thoughts aside from his complete unyielding love for Karou.
  • The first half of the book relies too heavily on Taylor’s prose to take you through the plot. It focuses mainly on Karou’s romantic interests, first with her ex-boyfriend and then with Akiva. I found both instances to be tremendously tedious, and only made it through them due to Taylor’s writing. There were some lovely small moments, I’m a sucker for those, but eventually I just wanted to get on with the story and unravel the mysteries surrounding Karou and her secret life.
  • I have only one negative thing to say about the prose. Though sophisticated and elegant, which is very refreshing to find a young adult novel, it was too extravagant at times and some of her descriptions lacked substance. Nearly everyone is beautiful and breathtaking and radiantly perfect. It becomes harder and harder to relate to these supernatural characters as they grow increasingly more divine.

So all this to say that I’ve taken up reading Laini Taylors blog… She’s a very talented writer and I do look forward to the next installment of her series. She recently posted her own “How to Write a Novel” list she had composed after completing her first book. The first item on the list:

1. Daydream. A lot. (required)

I couldn’t have put it better myself.

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TateShots

Well people said ‘Why don’t you do Wild Things 2? It was such a success!”

Go to hell… I’m not a whore. I don’t do those things.                                                       – Maurice Sendak

I’ve seen this quote floating around the Internet, and it got me thinking about how important integrity and standards are for a writer. We all want to uphold an image of ourselves as the true artist, the genuine writer who writes whatever they want. Someone who doesn’t get carried away on the winds of fortune, or fame but who remains firmly grounded by who they are and why they write.

Whether it be for ourselves, for those we care about, for our readers or for the sheer love of it, writing is our craft. We breathe life into characters, we paint worlds in every shade, we create stories that we feel need to be told. We write beginnings and we also write endings.

I can only hope that if ever I am asked that same question, that I can also shrug it off with such noble incredulity.

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– An except for a young adult fantasy I’m working on –

An early draft but feedback and criticism is appreciated!

            Fae had slept long past noon, the sunlight already casting hard shadows when she finally opened her eyes. She had dreamed of flowers which only bloomed by moonlight, withering away as soon as the sun came over the horizon, so that only those who roamed the farthest reaches of the night would ever know of their existence. Her head still felt hazy as she lay in the blanket roll. It was those few precious moments upon waking where you had no knowledge of time or space, of where you are or of how long you’ve been there. The only awareness that you have is of yourself, lost in the thin veil between dream and consciousness. Before you shake the sand from your eyelids, before you feel the hard wood against your back and you begin to realize that you’re not where you thought you were; that you’re lost.

Fae sat up trying to stretch out the kinks in her back. She looked over at Matt whose fever had broken some time in the night. He lay still, his bed covers drench in sweat and blood. Fae sighed with relief and went over to place a fresh cool cloth on his forehead. She carefully peeled off the old dirty bandages to clean the wound with some water. Fae gasped as she wiped the black-crusted blood from the wound. It had already begun to heal and was covered in a thin layer of raw skin. She carefully wrapped the wound as best she could with clean bandages, she supposed she should ask Serina to re-wrap them again later. When she was done, Fae placed a hand on Matt’s chest and felt it slowly rise and fall. He had the calm deep breath that accompanied a dreamless sleep, still and silent and sad. Fae wondered if this was a sign that he was proud and level headed, that he knew who he was and did not need anything but the truth; or if it meant he was lonely and troubled, resilient in the face of darkness because he knows it can suck you in and swallow you whole.

“What are you doing?”

Fae jerked her hand back in surprised her face flushed pink. His eyes were still closed, his face devoid of emotion, but his breathing was now more steady and deliberate.

“Nothing. Just making sure you’re okay.” She straightened awkwardly.  “You’re okay right?”

“Somehow. Though it still feels like I have a gaping wound in my side.” He squinted one eye open and looked at her. “and you?”

“I’m fine.” Matt nodded as he closed his eyes. Fae opened her mouth to say something but nothing came out. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to apologize to him, thank him or hit him. He’d saved her life, and almost lost his in the process. As he struggled to sit up she couldn’t decide if she though he was brave or just extremely conceited.

“You shouldn’t, you’ll upset your bandages.” She moved to help him sit but he carelessly brushed her off .

“I have no need for your help.” He panted. Definitely conceited.

“Fine.” She stood up, turned on her heels and headed for the door.

“Where are you going?” He asked roughly, pressing his hand against his wound.

“It isn’t your concern where I’m going.” She replied indignantly. “And I wouldn’t move if I were you. It took me some time to wrap those bandages but I don’t think I did a very good job of it.” She stepped out into the warm sunlight not caring that the door shut so loudly behind her that she didn’t hear him mutter ‘Thank you.’

***

             Serina sat cross-legged on an old stump, her thistle walking stick across her lap unbent from its lack of use. The trunk of the tree that had once stood there had been vast, and its rings told of an age whose memory had been taken unto death. Still Serina could feel what once was. Its roots draw life from the earth and water, its branches from the air and sun; its spirit in perfect balance. It was too late for this one though. She tried to draw in from its roots but they were withered with decay. She sighed heavily; too many of the old ones were gone, and with them goes their knowledge of the ancient world, and of the old ways. She had traveled far to speak with this one and fby aaronpocock 2011ound that she had already been cut down for firewood, though the Dryad’s remains had told that her spirit had died from something far more malevolent.

             Serina looked up at the small wisp of smoke that was rising from her cabin. Many things had happened during the night and now no guardian remained to watch over the forest. Without its spirit the forest would grow wild, and untamed it would suck the life from the earth on which it stood and block out the light of the sun to become a place of shadows. She could already feel it changing. Saddened Serina gracefully stood and picked up the pouch of pink cherry blossoms she was able to find amongst the charred, tucking it away in her belt. She could see the tracks left behind by the men who had hauled the trunk away, unaware of the gravity of their sin. But she also saw traces of dark things, paw prints smoldering in the earth and small creatures picked clean of flesh. She had done well to send the child further away, Serina was humbled that the spirit had had even that much strength left.

She briskly set off towards her cabin, a feeling of unease harrying her steps. As she is leaving the clearing she completes the casting. At least now this place would remain as it is, untouched by what will come unto the forest. Serina could still feel the cold earth underneath her fingernails, and she prayed that the spirit had found peace in the end.

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Out of sheer curiosity, and maybe a little been of shameful insecurity, I decided to search for some tips on how to write a good fantasy novel. What I found were mostly ehow’s and wiki links that brought me to some generic 12-step program that mentions such things as ‘create a protagonist’ and ‘outline the story’ which are definitely basics, but also definitely not helpful.  If only creating a brilliant and memorable character was as easy as ‘sit down and think one up’. Every now and then I’d come across a few posts that had some good advice, such as make sure your idea isn’t stupid. Inanely simple yet noteworthy in my opinion, especially considering recent trends.

However I came across a post that was definitely helpful in pointing out to me how easy it is to write a cliché in a fantasy novel. It’s called The Fantasy Novelist’s Exam. It’s a list of 75 yes or no questions where a single yes means your novel will most likely end up in the bargain bin at Value Village. What’s their advice? Scrap it and start over. The list features questions that every novelist thinking about writing the next big epic should read before they start rambling on for 900 pages about characters they pulled out of a D&D manual. Questions such as: Is your main character the heir to the throne but doesn’t know it? and Do you think you know how feudalism worked but really don’t? are among my favorites.

Though I don’t necessarily agree that you couldn’t successfully work any of these aspects into your novel and still come out with a great story. In my opinion you must always write organically for the plot and characters. As long as it is rooted in the world of your story, I’ll allow a half-elf or two.

Regardless, this list proved to give me a good laugh… and a large pile of scrap paper.

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