Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

After finally finishing all of my unpacking from the Great Move of 2011, I saw that some of my books had gotten lost in The Great Bookshelf In the Sky.  One of these books was one of my favorites, The Mists of Avalon.  The next day, I happened into a resale shop and saw it on the shelves. This is a book that seems to just like to travel around.

It’s a fitting statement for this book, I feel.  It encompasses the entirety of  the Arthurian Legend, but does it from the eyes of the women involved in the story.  It’s one of Bradley’s best loved books, and likely the one she is best known for.

So what makes a Best Seller?  Is it just the fact that a book comes out at just the right time, when the world is ready for a story like it?  This is certainly the case for a certain, seven book series about a boy wizard and his friends.  But Arthurian legend has always been being retold.  Perhaps it was the fact that it is the first major retelling of it (that I know of, anyway), to look at Arthur in a new light, and make the main characters supporting characters, and the characters at the edges of the myth are brought into the center?

Whatever the case, it’s a good book to learn from whether you write history, mystery, or religion, fantasy, sci-fi, or reality.  It’s a thick book, and creates life-like characters, a setting that is so real you can feel the mists around Avalon curling around your face, and emotions so powerful that by the time Arthur dies–as you know he will–you’re on the edge of your seat and wondering how it’s all going to get better.

So I’m starting something new.  Rather than hold off on book reviews while I try to finish this monstrosity, I’m going to endeavor to read at least 3-4 chapters a day, and then post my thoughts on them every so often.  It’ll be a breakdown by chapters of how things work, learning from a master of her craft.  Think of Mists as a sort of textbook.

Without further ado, here are thoughts on chapters 1-3 of Part One.

Part One starts off with an introduction of sorts.  Morgaine is speaking to us, telling us that this is her tale, from her perspective.  As the first chapter finally begins, we meet the main character for this section, Igraine, the wife of Duke Gorlois.  What I really enjoy about this first chapter is the setting that is so nicely drawn for us, without it just being a drop of information.  Igraine thinks on how the sea is eating away at the land more every year, giving us the knowledge that Cornwall is on the sea, and far enough away from her husband that she thinks of him when staring out at that ocean.  The sudden introduction of the Lady of Avalon, Vivian, and the Merlin of Britain bring home the point that this castle is not near anything that resembles civilization.

These first three chapters are paramount to establishing main characters and locations.  Some people are named, others are not.  The ones that we know are going to be important in the future though are the ones we spend the most time with.  By getting this knowledge out there as soon as she is able to, Bradley can concentrate on really forcing the tale to take on a life of its own, and to start moving forward instead of being muddied down in exposition.

One of the best used methods for drawing in the readers is the use of language. There is a very lyrical prose that is used, and when the characters speak, it’s not our normal English that is used today.  All words are very proper, even when just being thought.  This serves the purpose of forcing us to realize that this a world that is several centuries removed from our own.  A bit jarring at first to get used to, yes.  But eventually, the rhythm of reading these words takes over our minds, and when we look up next, a half hour has passed without notice.

Drawing in an audience to this degree is a hard trick to pull off, and Bradley does it masterfully.

The big theme in these three chapters so far seems to be Igraine’s thoughts on the differences between Christianity (here, the “new” religion), and the Old Ways, the followers of the Goddess and the Great Mother.  I don’t really want to expound on this too much as I don’t want to spark a religious debate in the comments.  Suffice to say, it’s well done, and it is clear that research has been done into these topics and how people would react to the changing times.

 

So there you have it, chapters 1-3 of The Mists of Avalon.  We shall see how far I get during breaks at work tomorrow, and I hope you’ll all enjoy this series.  If it is something that works out, I might start doing it with other books that I’m reading.

 

 

Cover art photo from amazon.com

 

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Writing Pitches

One of the parts of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest is writing a pitch for your novel.

This, I have discovered, is incredibly hard.

A pitch isn’t just a summary, though it often includes one.  It will talk about how a book will be received by an audience, about the world development and growth of characters through the plot.  Tiny tidbits of information needs to be revealed without giving anything away.  This is how you sell your book, and it’s not just with a back cover blurb.

I was lucky that I had friends willing to help me with this.  The first helped me to hash out what exactly a pitch needed to be about, and included examples of what a Pitch was versus a Summary.

The second sat with me for two hours on AIM as we flung ideas back and forth and word vomited until our brainstorm lead to something that MIGHT work.  Refining that took more time, but in eventuality, it all worked out and I have a tight pitch.

Let’s go over what I wrote line by line to see what makes a good pitch–or at least what I think makes a good pitch.

A mage is only as good as their battery. And this battery is built like an all-pro linebacker, is covered in tattoos, and wears Walgreens Reading glasses.

The first lines of the pitch should be a hook, something to draw your readers in.  Grab their attention, confuse them a bit by giving some information, but not all.  In these sentences, I introduce Mages and Batteries, but don’t explain what they are.  Interested yet?

Untrusting after losing her last Battery, even the glasses aren’t enough to make SSMS Mage Eleanor “Elle” Malone warm up to this new one.

While this sentence is still considered part of the hook, it is also a place where the main character is introduced.  By making her name the first proper one we see, it’s clear that she is important.

The two are sent to Heidelberg to find out what is driving ghosts to become more active and far more powerful than they should be.  With time running short, Elle is forced to come to grips with the draining of her last Battery, and find out what this new source of ghostly power is.

Because somehow, the Demon Lords might be coming back.

Here’s where the summary sits.  Note there’s not a lot about it, but rather, just a basic overview.  Get too wordy, and the person reading the pitch won’t want to read.  They’ll already have all the information they might want from just the summary you sent them.  Give enough details in the summary to make it clear what you are writing about, but leave out enough that you still have a story to tell. This is a delicate balance to strike, and one I’m still working on myself.

Told thorough a first person narrative, Battery Pack takes the ghost stories of Heidelberg and puts a more modern spin on them. Using Elle’s thoughts and eyes, Battery Pack recreates the feeling of living history in a place as centered in reality as it is in the Fantastic.

Here’s where we get into the meat of what the book is like.  Is it fantasy or reality?  History or mystery? Third person, first person, or some other type of writing, such as a journal style. Talk about what the book does, how it is written. In my case, I talk about how the modern world is mixed with the old stories that a city from the Middle Ages would have.  There’s a lot of research that might go into a book taking place in a real city, don’t be afraid to let people know you did it.

Elle’s badass sarcasm and masked vulnerability makes her story relatable to fans of authors like Jim Butcher and Caitlin Kittridge.

Comparing your book with authors that write in the same genre as yours is a great way to get people to be interested.  “Oh, I like Jim Butcher, maybe I’ll like a book like his.”  There are so many times where I’ll pick up a book from an author I have never heard of simply because of a phrase like this. It might not be the best plan in all cases though.  Don’t make it into a matter of prid.  “The next JK Rowling” is a prideful statement, and not something easily proven. It makes you seem  high and mighty, which is not something you want when trying to publish.

A fresh look at magic, a mission that goes south, ghosts and history make Battery Pack an adventure that will keep readers engaged until their flashlight batteries go out.

Finish up with one last overview of the high points of your novel.  Think of it as a laundry list of what you have that others don’t.  Can you fit in a pun, or a reminder of times when reading after dark were an every night. occurrence?  All the better.  Don’t force this ending.  Let it flow and sound right.  I kept trying to insert “the author’s own experiences in the city…” and other lines like that.  But they never fit, and ruined how the lines worked together.  So I took them out. It looks better for having been done.

 

Now, I am by no means an expert in pitches.  This is just my own discovery on what works for me and what I like.  But there are experts out there.  one of the best resources I can think of is http://queryshark.blogspot.com/.  Written BY someone who works with queries and pitches on a daily basis, it’s a great resource.


Twisted Book Award Goes To….

Ever had a moment when your hands move faster than your brain?

I had that yesterday.  Walked into a bookstore, turned right, found my Comics, Fantasy, Sci-Fi section, and found myself pulling out a book before I had any idea just what I was pulling out.

It was this:

I was glad that my hands had noticed it, as this is a book that is notoriously hard to find, seeing as how it was part of a limited run.

It’s a picture book.  Like for kids.  Only…very much so NOT for kids.  There is a sticker one can get if they meet Pat Rothfuss in person that says “This Shit is Not for Kids”.  It’s the truth.

There are three endings to this book.  All of them end the story beautifully, but the more you read, the more you get out of the story.  I don’t want to say too much, because that would ruin the shock value of the ending.  But suffice to say that you will best love this book if you have a severely twisted sense of humor like I do. Otherwise, you’ll be like the man taking my money when I bought the book, wondering “but…why did the cat have to die…I like cats” and asking me if I had read it and knew what I was getting into.

Yes…yes I have read it.

Twice now, actually.  And the second time was even better, as I began to get hints in the drawings of just what was lurking under the surface of the story, like the Thing Beneath The Bed.

This is, quite possibly, the most twisted book I have ever read. And I loved it.  I can only hope that one day, the children I might have are twisted enough to enjoy this as much as I have.

 

Picture from Subterranean Press.


An Almost Book Review Part Two

Well, I finally finished Inheritance last weekend, and I’ve been stewing on it for about a week now.  It’s a good book, but I’m not quite sure how I completely feel about it.

What I did enjoy was the fact that the story didn’t just END when Galbatorix was finally killed.  Paolini went on to begin to describe the troubles that a newly emerging nation might have after a dictator has been disposed.  This is something that is seen a lot in today’s world, and not something often seen in any detail in books I have read before.  So many of the solutions to the problems were incredibly easy though, and people stepped down or to the side with little to no issue once the reigning King was dead. I almost feel things fell too easily into place for the Varden, and I would have liked to have seen King Orrin have more spine that spittle when he was trying to become new leader of the Empire.

Of course, that might have lead to an entire new book.

A lot of loose ends were also still present at the end, such as who Angela is, and why Solumbum is with her.  While I can understand not wanting to give too much away, she was a very powerful character, and many times served as more of a plot device Mary Sue than anyone with real…substance.  Kidnapped?  Don’t worry, Angela is here.  Issues with Werecats?  Angela is coming.  She was a convenient way to solve problems.

The sudden appearance of Dragon Eggs and Souls also seemed very…easy to me.  As did temporal folds that belonged more in something out of a Dr Who FanFic than a fantasy series.  But there had to be an easy way for things to all come together enough that Paolini could finish this in one book.  And the way it was explained, it does fit the world (even if Wrinkles in Time don’t).

The fight with Galbatorix was well done, and the fight with Murtagh really showed just how cruel he was without taking away from the story for descriptions.  He did what he wanted, because he could.  Followed that Evil Overlord List rather well, I must say.

The ending though…that is where my biggest issues lay.  here, get on a ship, steered by elves, meet up with some old friends before you go….and then sail into the West into the Lands…oh, wait…wrong book.  Sail into the East into the Lands Beyond.  The ending really just seemed ripped out of the ending of Return of the King.  Which, to be honest, a lot of people have ripped from Return of the King.  I just don’t think it’s been as blatant.

But yes, all in all, I did enjoy finishing this series. S. has my copy now, so when he finishes with it, I’ll try to get his opinions to add to mine.


Story Time: Blue Beetles and Jim Butcher

Have a bit of time to throw up a post, but not enough time to write a review.  That means it’s story time.

This is the Tale of How I Once Met Jim Butcher….in what approximates to a real world Blue Beetle.

Back in my….Sophomore year of college (I think it was Sophomore…yeah, it had the blue bumper by that point, but hadn’t died on a freeway onramp yet). Back in that year of college, some friends and I heard that Mr. Butcher was going to FINALLY be having a book signing in the Chicago area.  Now, only being an hour and a half ride from Chicago, myself and two others decided it would be a grand plan to go visit him.

Never mind that we had classes the next day at OH MY GOD EARLY O’clock.

Being the only one with a car, it, of course, fell to me to drive this almost two hours to Oak Brook, IL from Kenosha, WI.   In my car.  Which..well…

To give you some idea on what my car was like…

1993 Ford Escort Station Wagon.  Stickshift. When you stepped on the brakes, the speakers on the front passenger side would go out. The clock didn’t tell time, the CD player occasionally ate CDs and I had to pry them out, and that CD player was likely worth more than the Blue Book value of my car.  The front bumper was bright blue from the one and only accident I have ever had (a story for another time), while the rest of it was a lovely beige and the back passenger door didn’t open.

In short, it was my first car and I loved it.

The night we left, it was hitting 5pm. And it was drizzing, as it had been on and off mostly all day. This is my first time on IL toll roads as a driver, and they are under construction as an added bonus. If I stick my arm out the window at a bad moment, the passing Semi could easily just rip that right off.

And then my windows start to fog up ON THE INSIDE and the defroster won’t work.  I put my friends on Napkin Patrol, and the start wiping down the windows when I need to see out of them.

W make it (somehow) alive to the Borders, grabs some floor space and enjoy a wonderful time listening to the Q&A from one of our favorite authors. And then signing starts.  Fast forward about two hours, and it’s finally our time up there.  The conversation at my turn to get my copy of Storm Front signed goes something along these lines…

Butcher: So where are you from?
Me: Kenosha, Wisconsin.
B: *looks up* Sounds like quite a ride.
m: *nods*  But fun.  I have the real world version of the Blue Beetle though. So I’m just glad we made it alive.
B: O.o
m: Is there time I could get a picture?
*picture is snapped*
m: Thank you.
B: You’re welcome.  Thanks for coming and um…drive home carefully.  I don’t want to wake up tomorrow morning and read about a firey crash of a car and college kids in the paper!

The ride home (once we manage to make it on the freeway going the right way) starts at about midnight. And it has been downpouring most of the time we were at the signing, so there are a few places where the roads on the Freeway are FLOODED.

And I’m navigating with a print out from google maps, so it’s not like we can just go around.  Praying to any and all gods listening, we make it through, and back to college by around 2:30 am.

And then I get up for an 8am class.

And that is my story of how I drove the Blue Beetle to meet Jim Butcher.

And somewhere…there are pictures.  I’m going on a hunt tomorrow to find these….

ETA: Found them!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Sporadic

I can’t guarantee a post that has actual…substance to it today or Monday this time.  I’m off to the Warm-Weather Land of Florida and a wedding there.  No internet access, but that’s okay.  We all need a break now and again.  I’ll see you all when I get back.


I Love Mail

Everyone in the world loves getting mail, doubly so when it does not come in Bill-Form.

Opened up my mailbox today to discover a postcard from my Japanese friend Aki, whom I met while studying German in Heidelberg.  It’s written in German, and is from New Zealand, where she also visited Hobbiton.

What can I say aside from I love my friends and they know me so well, that I am clearly a geek, and I love having friends all over the world.