rj_anderson: (Doctor Who - Thing in Progress)
2017-07-16 08:51 pm
Entry tags:

Congratulations on your long-term planning, Steven Moffat

Having finally seen the reveal of the new 13th Doctor, I will reserve my judgment on how well this particular regeneration is going to work until I've seen Jodie Whittacker's performance and her dynamic with her companion(s). Just because it's not something I personally felt the need for doesn't mean I might not end up enjoying it in the end (see also: Missy).

Also, given that the premise of the show is built around the Doctor getting a completely new and unexpected body with every regeneration, and that the concept of Time Lords regenerating as a different sex has been a canonical part of New Who ever since the offhand mention of the Corsair in "The Doctor's Wife" back in 2011 (a possibility which Moffat & Co. have underlined with increasing emphasis at least once a season ever since), I really don't have a lot of sympathy with the people complaining that the announcement came out of left field and violates the True Spirit of the show. The spirit of Original Who, maybe. New Who, which has already spent over ten years breaking almost every unwritten taboo of its predecessor, not so much.

In fact, as soon as Capaldi's departure was announced I felt pretty sure that the next Doctor was going to be either PoC or a woman -- but not both, because that would be an even more dramatic and controversial change, and therefore far too much of a risk for cautious TV executives worried about losing large segments of their traditional audience.*

But for those who are claiming that Steven Moffat only made this move due to pressure from more enlightened third parties and would never have thought of it on his own, I'd like to share a friendly reminder that in the 1999 Red Nose Day comedy skit Curse of Fatal Death, which was written and aired six full years before the return of Doctor Who to television in any serious form (let alone under his control), Moffat had the Doctor regenerate** into a blonde woman.***

Oh, and she was the 13th Doctor too.


--
*As it is, I will be quite interested to see the ratings for Jodie Whittacker's first few episodes as the Doctor. Whether they go up or down or stay much the same, I think it's safe to say that a significant number of the people watching will not be the same people who watched Capaldi and his predecessors. I've already seen one post from a former fan who considers the casting of a female Doctor as the last nail in the coffin of her (yes, her) waning interest in the show.

**After starting out as Rowan Atkinson and regenerating into Richard E. Grant, Jim Broadbent and Hugh Grant in rapid succession, and don't get me started on how much I loved Rowan Atkinson's Nine and how sad I am he wasn't canon because we'll be here all evening.

***Played in this case by Joanna Lumley.
rj_anderson: (James Morton - Bake-Off Xmas)
2017-06-22 02:25 pm
Entry tags:

Get ready, get set... BAAAAAAKE!!!

Having now binge-watched all seven seasons of The Great British Bake-Off, S2 and S3 of the Australian, 1x01 and 02 of the Irish, most of the Great Holiday / American Baking Show and half of S1 of the South African, I feel somewhat qualified to rank the various English-speaking versions and make some observations about which ones are definitely worth watching, which are just OK, and which ones you might as well give a miss.

First, though, I want to talk about what makes the original Bake-Off and its derivatives special in the first place. Feel free to skip this bit if you already know )

Anyway, here's my personal ranking of the various Bake-Off shows I've watched so far:

GBBO and its spin-offs rated from 'bleh' to 'YEAH', with accompanying reasons )

* * *

There is much more that could be said, especially about my favorite contestants and bakes over the seasons, but I wouldn't want to spoil the fun for those who have yet to watch and enjoy the delights of Custardgate, Selasi's unflappable cool, or the Amazing Bread Lion for themselves. (I can totally be induced to burble about those things in comments, though, if you're a fellow fan.)
rj_anderson: (Owl in a Tree)
2017-06-11 08:52 pm
Entry tags:

I regret almost everything. Except the part where we own a snake.

Things I wish I had known before we bought a ball python* from our local pet shop last year:

1. You don't need an expensive glass tank. In fact, that expensive glass tank with mesh top that the pet store will sell you is actually a lot WORSE for keeping snakes than the $20 plastic bin with lid that you can buy at any Wal-Mart.

2. Ball pythons may be gentle and shy, but they are also super finicky about their environment and if you don't have the right temperature, humidity, and shelter conditions it will throw them off eating for weeks, or months, or even until they starve to death. THIS IS NOT NERVE-WRACKING AT ALL. *obsessively checks tank temperature again*

3. Those stick-on dial thermometers are nowhere near accurate, and at best they can only tell you the ambient temperature in the tank anyway. You need at least one thermometer with a probe to monitor the heat at surface level. Ideally two.

4. Heat lamps suck all the humidity out of the tank and are a terrible way of regulating heat. Under-tank heat mats are much better, but you need a thermostat to properly monitor and control the temperature (which the pet store did NOT tell us).

5. Ball pythons DO climb, and indeed quite enjoy it if they're given the chance. Unfortunately glass tanks make it difficult or impossible to set up any kind of safe climbing apparatus that won't topple under their weight. See #1.

6. The boy who bought the ball python is very fond of it, but not nearly as obsessive about python husbandry as his mother, who now lives in perpetual fear of the poor thing freezing, boiling, or starving to death.

--
* Yes, I know a lot of people don't like snakes and are horrified that anyone would want to own one. So if you're planning to say so in comments, there's no need and I'd really rather you didn't...
rj_anderson: (Default)
2017-05-04 04:24 pm

The state of... well, everything

It's hard sometimes to know what to write in a post like this. Add too much detail and it sounds like oversharing (or worse, whining); not enough and it may come off as maddeningly cryptic and frustrating to those who want answers about what I'm up to. So I'll try to find the middle ground.

Briefly, the situation here is tough and getting tougher. The muscle pain in my shoulder has been going on long enough to puzzle both my physiotherapist and the sports doctor that my GP sent me to last week, and though it changes and moves around it doesn't seem to be getting that much better. I've figured out a way to arrange several pillows around me so that I can sleep at least part of the night in bed, but I still end up migrating to the living room recliner most nights, and I still feel uneasy about going anywhere for more than a couple of hours without ready access to an ice pack.

So that's pretty distracting, as you might imagine, and makes sitting up and typing for a few hours every day not all that comfortable or fun. But even so, I could work around that if it weren't for everything else going on.

I've already mentioned (in a previous, f-locked post) that my father is 92 and increasingly frail, and that I'm having to arrange more in-home care for him. In the last couple of weeks I've managed to get most of his daily needs looked after, but my mom is also feeling the strain and her health is suffering in ways that need extra attention as well. So with trying to do my best by the two of them and also not short-change my own family in the process, I've been pretty busy.

A number of people I care about are also going through difficult times, not least of them the family of a good friend of mine who died last week at the age of 48. I was at her funeral last Friday and it was lovely, just what she would have wanted, but it's going to be a hard adjustment for her husband and four kids -- three of whom are friends with my sons -- and my heart goes out to them. That's just one of several tragic and complicated situations that are going on around me right now, all of which leave me wondering and praying about what more I can do.

Plus I've got a bunch of upcoming school visits and other appearances I signed up for weeks or months ago, before all of this other stuff came to a head. I don't feel I ought to cancel any of them and I don't even want to unless it's an emergency, but it does make it difficult to get back into a regular writing routine even if I had the energy to do so.

I'd hoped to end my planned sabbatical and start writing again in February, and have a viable first draft of a new book by no later than September. But so far everything I've started, no matter how eager or positive I felt to begin with, has fizzled out. Either it wasn't quite ready yet (as with my epic YA fantasy) or I was keen to write but kept getting derailed by circumstances (as with the third Ivy book, which is still very much on my heart, but I haven't touched it in weeks now).

Anyway, I've got enough to deal with at the moment without making more work for myself. So I've come to the conclusion that for the time being, however long it may be until life calms down, I'm not going to worry about writing. If on a good day I find myself with time and energy and desire to write, then I will. But I'm not going to angst over deadlines and word counts, or fret about the prospect of not having a new book in 2018 (or 2019, or even 2020).

Ultimately, what it comes down to for me is that people are more important than things. My parents and family and friends in need are people, and my writing is a thing. It would be different if my family was counting on my income to pay the bills, but we're not. So to me the choice is pretty clear and I feel at peace about it.

I'm still a writer. I always have been and I always will be, published or not. The stories and characters inside me aren't going anywhere, even if I can't put them into words right now. Before too long, I hope, I'll be able to get back to them again... but not at this time.

And that's okay.
rj_anderson: (James Morton - Bake-Off Xmas)
2017-01-19 10:18 pm

Yeast is yeast and west is west...

And the twain shall meet in my kitchen, apparently. Or at least they have been since last fall, and I'm thoroughly enjoying it.

I am making another wholegrain loaf from the recipe in James Morton's Brilliant Bread, since my first one turned out so splendidly. For those of you who aren't already weary of hearing me (t)witter on about this book, here's my review from Amazon:

I read this book cover to cover like a novel, and enjoyed every second of it. My few attempts to make yeasted doughs had nearly always failed, and I'd given up even trying anymore, until I started watching Great British Bake-Off this past summer. James Morton made breadmaking look so simple and enjoyable, and seemed so confident that anyone could do it, that I was inspired to try again with the help of his book -- and I am SO glad I did. He clearly and helpfully explains how yeast works, what various kinds of flour are best for, and all the basics I'd been unaware of that had been sabotaging my efforts (if I'd only known that yeast will rise just fine, if more slowly, in a cool environment! I'd been killing my yeast by making it far too warm!).

If you don't have a bread-making granny or other helpful relative/friend to show you the ropes, or even if you do (because I've met veteran bread-makers who didn't know some of the practical tips James shares in this book), it's absolutely worth the investment. Also, there are beautiful full-colour pictures with every recipe, and also to show you the steps of kneading, shaping and other important techniques. I couldn't ask for a more practical or useful cookbook for a beginning bread-maker than this one.

P.S. I particularly recommend the wholegrain loaf recipe. Best brown bread I've ever eaten, and practically no kneading!

* * *

The down side to homemade bread, though, is that it doesn't stay fresh very long, even in my bread box (which my husband bought me several years ago to keep my cat from chewing through the bag, as she invariably does if I leave it out on the counter). So I'm going to slice this loaf and freeze the slices with some wax paper between, so they can be thawed and used for sandwiches and dinner accompaniments as needed -- hopefully that will solve the problem!

How many of you bake bread as a hobby? What are your favorite recipes?
rj_anderson: (MWT - Inkpots)
2017-01-13 07:44 am

Of Mondegreens and Mottoes

 As you may or may not know, I'm a big fan of singer/songwriter/producer Matt Hales, otherwise known as Aqualung. [livejournal.com profile] renisanz introduced me to him some years ago, and I've been eagerly buying up his albums ever since. His most recent (and maddeningly hard to find) album 10 Futures features a single called "Be Beautiful", and when I first listened to it just over a year ago I heard the following lines:

Perfection is silent
And elegance is still
Beauty won't catch your eye
The way that passion will

I was really struck by that, seeing as I was struggling a lot with perfectionism at the time, and finding my pleasure in storytelling blighted by fear that my prose wasn't lyrical enough. That I didn't have enough witty similes or sumptuous metaphors or breathtaking turns of phrase for my writing to make an impression in people's minds. I thought sadly of Peter S. Beagle and Patricia McKillip and other magnificent prose stylists of my fantasy-reading youth, and I cast a wistful eye at Maggie Stiefvater and Erin Bow, and I heaved a mental sigh for my own competent but seemingly unexceptional writing style.

Of course I knew that plenty of successful and well-loved fantasy authors write prose that is functional at best (*cough*JKR*cough*). But because I get so much pleasure from smart narration (when I was reading Jonathan Stroud's Lockwood & Co. series aloud to my children, I kept stopping mid-paragraph to yell about how good he is), it was hard to convince myself that striving for a more literary style might not be crucial to my development as a writer. That my own natural storytelling voice, plain as it might seem to me, could be good enough.

But that stanza in "Be Beautiful" made me think again. What really grabs people and makes a lasting impression on them? Is it perfection in the aesthetic sense -- in which case any catalogue model or finely designed piece of furniture should do -- or is it the spark and vitality that come from an idea, a picture, a story, that the creator is genuinely passionate about?

Not that passion on its own, especially divorced from any element of skill or craftsmanship or good judgment, is always admirable. There are plenty of terrible artists, and terrible human beings, who feel passionate about what they're doing. But passion is memorable, for good or ill, in a way that mere artistry can't match.

So I decided that if I ever wrote another book, I would hold out for an idea that was not merely interesting to me or potentially saleable to a publisher, but one that I felt truly passionate about. I would try to hold onto that urgency, that conviction, and let it shape the words I was writing instead of trying to force myself to write in a way that doesn't come naturally.

Amazing, isn't it? The power of music.

* * *

Fast forward to yesterday, when I was singing along to "Be Beautiful" in the car and realized I had no idea what half the words actually were (to be fair, the guest singer on that particular song does not enunciate well). So I decided to look up the lyrics when I got home and...

You can see this coming, can't you?

I'd misheard that stanza. It's not "beauty won't catch your eye / the way that passion will," it's "the way the bad stuff will." 

And I have zero idea what that means.

* * *

But that's okay. I heard in that song what I needed to hear, the truth I was already grappling with inside. Good writing isn't about doing all the technical bits perfectly and silencing all your critics with the elegance of your prose. It's not about copying the style and content of other authors you admire. It's about writing what really matters to you, to the very best of your ability, with the voice God's given you. I believe that firmly now, and if mishearing Matt Hales' lyrics helped to cement it in my mind, that's not a bad thing.

(Anyway, I still think my version sounds better and makes way more sense in context. So there.)
rj_anderson: From a quote by Pamela Dean (Book Book Book)
2017-01-09 05:25 pm

My Year of Not Writing, and What It Taught Me

At this time last year, I was worn out. I'd just finished substantive edits on my latest book and was cautiously pleased with how it had come together, but creatively I was exhausted. I’d written nine novels in eight years, and by the fall of 2015 I felt like all my mental energy and every scrap of pleasure I’d ever taken in the writing process had dried up and crumbled away.

None of this should have come as a surprise. Even before I got published I knew I wasn’t a book-a-year writer, but more of a book-every-eighteen-months-to-two-years writer. I needed significant chunks of fallow time in between projects, and sometimes between drafts as well, to feel good about the story I was writing, let alone come up with an idea for the next one.

Still, when you’re writing for children, and especially when you’re writing a series, there’s a fear that if you don’t keep the books coming at least a year apart, your audience will age out of the books before you can publish the next one. Publishing is not known for its patience with children's authors who haven't hit the NYT bestseller list or won at least one major award, and sometimes the only thing that keeps your career going is being able to deliver the goods on time.

But fear is a terrible motivation to write, especially when it’s the only motivation you’ve got. Fear can keep you hurling yourself at the wall day after day until you manage to scramble over it and make your deadline, but the wall will still be there when you think about writing the next thing. And when I realized that my desire to write had withered to the point where I actively dreaded the act of putting words on paper -- not just for publication, I mean any words -- I knew I couldn’t deny it any longer. This was the career I’d dreamed of having since I was four years old, the career I’d worked toward for nearly twenty years before my first book was published. If it was making me miserable every time I thought about doing it, something had gone badly wrong.

So I decided to take a sabbatical for the next twelve months, and not write anything at all.

This is how it turned out... )

* * *

TL;DR: Here I am, a year after I started my sabbatical, and I can confidently say that I made the right decision. Today I wrote my first new scene of original fiction in well over twelve months... and finally, finally, I felt good about it.

rj_anderson: (Nomad - Ivy)
2016-10-19 10:48 pm

Good News!

First, thanks to all who weighed in on my earlier post about my cat possibly having arthritis. I did call the vet to make an appointment, but the receptionist recommended that I buy a package of TheraBites (a once-a-day cat treat which contains supplements for hips and joints) and try her out on those for a while to see if there was any improvement.

Well. Not only does Snickers LOVE the treats (so no need to trick or force her into eating them), we're not even halfway through the bag and she's already moving much more comfortably. In fact, the other day she was up on the bed chasing her tail, which I hadn't seen her do since she was a kitten. Phew! Problem solved... at least, as long as I keep giving her a treat every morning for the rest of her life. Which is doable. So I am much relieved.

Second, I was surprised and delighted to discover that A Pocket Full of Murder is one of the ten Canadian middle-grade novels nominated for the Silver Birch Award this year. That means a whole bunch of 9-12 year olds will be reading my book this winter, along with at least four more other nominated titles, so they can vote for their favorite in the spring. I've always longed to be nominated for this award, and it's a big boost for the book generally, so I'm very thankful.

I'll be reading from Pocket and talking a little about the sequel this weekend, at the Local Authors reading portion of the Stratford Writers' Festival. All the other events are ticketed and this one is free, but it's also up against the #CanLitPit session where aspiring writers get to pitch directly to editors, so I'm not holding my breath too much for a big audience... still, it was nice to be asked and I hope the Festival does well.

* * *

And thirdly, speaking of Stratford and festivals, I had the pleasure of attending a matinee performance of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe at the Avon Theatre with my youngest son's school group today. I'd really been hoping to see the play, especially after my fellow Narnia purist [personal profile] grav_ity  gave it her enthusiastic thumbs-up, but didn't think that I'd ever get the chance... except it turned out a few of the kids in P's class weren't able to attend, so the teacher entered all the interested parents in a draw for the remaining tickets and I was one of the winners. Which is a minor miracle, because I never win anything.

Anyway, I ended up sitting beside P and one of his friends, and we had excellent seats -- about five rows from the stage, bang in the centre. Where I proceeded to tear up halfway through Mr. Beaver's speech about Aslan in Act One and spent most of Act Two desperately wishing I'd brought tissues, because the production was fantastic. I'm so glad they stuck close to the original story, including a lot of the dialogue, instead of introducing a lot of flotsam for the sake of novelty or a false notion of drama (*side-eyes the movies of Prince Caspian and Voyage of the Dawn Treader*).

I'd read an early review that complained about the songs being intrusive, but I didn't find them overly long or distracting at all, and the one about coming to Aslan's table pretty much killed me (as I said on Twitter, "I was not prepared for the communion metaphors").

And tomorrow Adrienne Kress is coming for our annual tea-and-catch-up, which is always a treat, and will be an especially happy occasion this time with her new MG adventure novel The Explorers coming out in 2017. I really enjoy Adrienne's narrative voice and my boys are big fans of her writing as well, so we're looking forward to this one.
rj_anderson: (Owl in a Tree)
2016-09-30 10:19 pm

The diagnosing of cats is a difficult matter

... I don't have a cat icon. In fact, I now realize, I have NEVER had a cat icon. This seems like a totally bizarre oversight given my lifelong love of kitties, but anyway...

I've noticed over the past couple of weeks that my eight-year-old calico, Snickers, has started moving quite tentatively, even gingerly at times. She still jumps up onto beds and couches and so on, and jumps down as well -- but when she gets down she stretches herself as close to the floor as possible before making the jump.

If she's in pain, it doesn't seem to stop her moving freely around the house all day, including up and down the stairs, and I can't see any evidence that she's favouring one particular leg or side of her body. She doesn't yelp or yowl when she jumps up or down, only meows at me now and then in a conversational way. Her eyes are clear and bright, her coat sleek, her appetite's as good as ever, and she loves to be petted (even head-butts me until I stroke her). She flexes easily and sleeps in all kinds of positions. But I do get the sense that she's not as comfortable as she should be when walking -- a little wobbly and a little stiff.

Has anybody else had something this happen with one of their cats? I know eight is middle-aged for a cat, but it still seems a bit too young for her to be moving like an old lady.

If she were showing any more alarming symptoms, or seemed to be deteriorating, I'd take her to the vet. But we just spent an unfortunate amount of money earlier this year trying to save our 22-month-old kitten who died of (I think) congenital kidney issues, so I'm hesitant to go that route unless it's really necessary.

Fellow kitty people, any thoughts?
rj_anderson: From a quote by Pamela Dean (Book Book Book)
2016-09-10 10:03 am

News! News!

My local paper came through with a lovely interview just in time for the upcoming release of A Little Taste of Poison on Sept. 27th:

http://www.stratfordbeaconherald.com/2016/09/09/stratford-author-rj-anderson-releases-newest-book-for-young-readers

There are a few tidbits for those who are wondering what's coming next -- and [personal profile] kerravonsen, there is a shout-out to you in there as well. :)
rj_anderson: (MWT - Inkpots)
2016-05-27 01:51 pm

Hits and Misses in Fiction

[personal profile] sartorias aka Sherwood Smith has a fascinating discussion going over on her LJ about when you only like one (or, if they're prolific, two or three) of an author's works and bounce off the rest. So far the responses have mostly been people commisserating and sharing which authors and which books affected them this way, but there's also been some discussion of why this happens.

I don't think there's any one answer to that question myself -- the reasons are as diverse as the individual readers. Sometimes the author undergoes an ideological or philosophical transformation between books (or even just becomes bolder about expressing the views they already had) which leads to a irreconcilable conflict of my thinking and theirs, or pushes my tolerance for those differences over the limit. (See: Philip Pullman.) Sometimes it turns out that the things I loved best about the author's first book -- the style, the tone, the atmosphere -- don't carry over into subsequent novels because they were a feature of that story, not the author's writing as a whole (such as Beagle's The Last Unicorn, which I mentioned in the comments of Sherwood's post). And sometimes I eagerly expect certain things from a series or sequel to a book I really loved, only to find that the author had a completely different plan and veers off in a direction that doesn't interest me at all (I've heard several readers say this about Maria Snyder's Study books, for instance).

Then there's the rarer phenomenon when you love an author's prose but not their poetry (or essays, or what-have-you); or you think them brilliant scriptwriters (or lyricists) but terrible novelists, or the other way around. The ability to put together words in an arrangement that pleases you in one medium doesn't always carry over to others, and that can cause this kind of dissonance as well.

What about you? If you have a much-loved book or books by a certain author but found that most or all of their other works left you cold, what were your reasons for feeling that way? Feel free to comment on either my post or [personal profile] sartorias's as it pleases you; I'll see it in either case.
rj_anderson: (Nomad - Ivy)
2016-05-16 12:51 pm
Entry tags:

UPROOTED and the Generation Gap in Fantasy

So this week Naomi Novik's Uprooted won the Nebula Award, and as a result a lot of people are reading it. And the reactions, as they have been pretty much ever since the book came out, are... mixed.

On one hand you have readers (myself among them) who wouldn't go so far as to call the book perfect, but who really loved it and thought it worth recommending to other fantasy lovers. On the other hand, you have people who were so horrified by the book's seemingly dismissive attitude to sexual assault and the hero's lack of respect for the female MC that they either DNF'd the book a few chapters in, or they found the whole experience of reading it to be irrevocably tainted.

Some of those people who disliked (or even hated) Uprooted are my friends, and I am not here to tell them they're wrong to feel that way, or to try and argue them into liking it. But there's a strain in current fictional discourse that's been really bugging me over the past few months, and some of the critiques of Uprooted suffer from it -- the difference between "I didn't love X, and this is why," which is perfectly legitimate and fine (and can even lead to interesting discussions) and "I didn't love X because it's gross and problematic, and if you like X anyway, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU." 

I don't mind hearing that not everybody likes the same things I like. I do very much mind being made to feel that I am a lesser person, indeed a morally inferior one in desperate need of enlightenment, for liking them.

I am not here to defend Novik's choice to have her heroine sexually threatened, because I don't think it was necessary to the plot nor do I think that it added anything to the story. I did notice it, it did bother me, and I would have enjoyed the book a great deal more without that aspect. Nevertheless, it wasn't the dealbreaker for me that it was for some of my friends, and I think I know why.

Because I'm over forty, and I grew up reading different fantasy novels than they did. 


That may sound flippant, but it goes deeper than you might think. In fact, I feel fairly confident in suggesting that the majority of people who loved Uprooted despite its faults are 40+ and/or grew up reading "classic" fantasy novels almost exclusively, while the majority of those who disliked the book enough to DNF or strongly criticize it are 35 or younger, and in their childhood and teens had a much wider, modern pool of fantasy to choose from.

In other words, the twenty and thirtysomething readers didn't grow up having to swallow the occasional bitter pill of sexism or casual racism in order to read books in their genre. They could afford to be picky, and that's why they find it baffling and even upsetting that older fantasy readers don't seem to hold books like Uprooted to the same high standard.

But for me, the habit of overlooking story elements I don't care for in order to enjoy the ones that I do was drilled into me decades ago. When I was a teen reading fantasy novels -- or any kind of novels, for that matter -- it was practically a given that the heroine would be sexually menaced at some point. How else would the villain reveal the true depths of his depravity? What other fate, barring death, could be serious enough to make our hearts flutter anxiously on the heroine's behalf, and make our satisfaction all the greater when the villain was thwarted? And how realistic would it be, really, if the possibility of the heroine being raped was never even acknowledged? You might be able to get away with that in juvenile fantasy, but come on, we're grown-ups here...

I'm not saying this is how it should be or that it's the only way to write a good story, I'm simply stating a fact: this is how it was in 1970's and 80's fantasy (and historical, and crime, and a lot of other genres). You had to be prepared for that, or resign yourself to not reading any fiction at all.

So those of us who grew up reading fantasy learned to adjust our expectations. To see sexual threats or assault as a warning sign (because the way it was handled could often tell you whether the author was indulging a fetish, or merely bowing to what s/he thought were the rules) but not necessarily a dealbreaker. For me, a dealbreaker was having the hero commit rape (I'm looking at you, Lord Foul's Bane) or having the villain rape the heroine on-screen (hello, The Fionavar Tapestry*), whereas having the heroine merely threatened or finding a way to fend off the assault seemed like a positive triumph.

None of this explains, or excuses, why Novik bowed to this particular old-fashioned convention in a decade where sexual assault in fiction can no longer go unquestioned or be easily overlooked. But it does explain why those of us who loved Uprooted were able to do so. Because we weren't surprised to find such an element in a classic-style folklore-inspired fantasy. We could sigh or grimace or roll our eyes as necessary, and then move on.

Furthermore, because Uprooted is so very clearly a tribute to the great female fantasists of the 70's and 80's -- authors like
 Patricia McKillip, Robin McKinley, and Ursula LeGuin, who made me think not only "I want to write these kinds of stories" the way Lewis and Tolkien and MacDonald had, but "I want to write like this" -- the overwhelming feeling that reading Uprooted produced in me was a deep nostalgic fondness, and a strong sense of faith in Novik's ability as a storyteller. Because if she'd read and loved the same books I loved as a teen, and her writing was giving me the same feeling as reading The Forgotten Beasts of Eld or Beauty or A Wizard of Earthsea, then I could trust her to tell the rest of her story in a way that would make up for the bits I didn't like so much.

And in the end, my belief was that she did.

So yes, my friends who didn't warm to the book immediately as I did, and felt that certain male characters' treatment of Agnieska was too offensive to ignore or forgive -- I understand, and I'm not trying to change your opinion. But I think it's important to understand how the generation gap between younger and older fantasy readers, and the books that most influenced us, play into this.

It's not that we don't see the flaws and the problematic elements, or that we don't care about them. It's that we can see virtues and delights in Novik's novel, many of them based on the older fantasies to which Uprooted is paying tribute, that make us love it anyway. Which is why Uprooted won the Nebula this year, because the people doing the voting are fondly remembering those older novels -- many of them also flawed, but nonetheless deeply resonant and influential -- as well.


--
Oh hey, both those "classic" epic fantasies were written by men! What a surprise! No wonder nearly all my favorite 80's fantasy authors were women.
rj_anderson: (Quicksilver - Cover)
2016-04-12 10:32 pm

Good (Book-Related) Things

 Two lovely surprises in as many days!

First, a friend on Facebook pointed me to a recent article at Tor.com featuring Quicksilver as one of Five Books With Asexual Protagonists (and furthermore declaring my post about writing Tori's character to be "excellent", which was a nice bonus).

Then today I got a package in the mail containing two US hardcover copies of A Pocket Full of Murder which, at first glance, seemed no different from the author copies I already had. I was mystified at first, but then I spotted the note tucked inside:

Congratulations!

Your book has reprinted! Please find a sample copy enclosed.

Best wishes,

Atheneum

And sure enough, when I checked the title page it turned out to be the SECOND edition. Whoop!

I am so, so, happy and relieved to know that the book is doing well enough to exceed my publisher's expectations -- and I suspect making this year's CLA Top Ten Best Books for Children shortlist probably had a good deal to do with the bump in sales, so I am grateful for that all over again.
rj_anderson: From a quote by Pamela Dean (Book Book Book)
2016-03-01 11:53 am

Just got my copyedits for A LITTLE TASTE OF POISON...

And here I'd been thinking this would be the week I could finally get to a couple of other authors' manuscripts I'd promised to comment on! The best laid plans...

I confess to opening the Word document with a little trepidation, as one never knows what sorts of things will come up in copyedits or how much work it's going to be. Plus I haven't looked at A Little Taste of Poison in a couple of months, and I've felt a bit shy of reading it again for fear I won't be able to see anything but its flaws -- a tendency that copyedits always tend to magnify, since the whole point is to point out errors that the author didn't catch.

However, not only are all the queries mercifully light, the CE closed with "Great ending! The whole book was charming and well-written -- a pleasure to work on." And that buoyed my spirits enormously, because I very rarely get those kinds of comments -- most of my CE's have been all business and if they liked the book there was no way to tell.

So I feel much encouraged now and able to go to work on the manuscript with a cheerful spirit.
rj_anderson: (Sherlock - Get Yourself a Hobby)
2016-02-29 08:05 am

Well, I'm back.

For reasons that still make me grimace and sigh heavily whenever I think about them (more on that later), I have wiped my Tumblr and Twitter of followers and abandoned both sites for the time being.

However, I've kept Messaging open on my old Tumblr and added back all the Twitter people who've DM'd me over the past year, since I do intend to check DM's and Notifications now and then. I just won't be scrolling through my dash or dipping my toes into the Twitterstream every few hours like I used to.

I hope moving back to Dreamwidth/LiveJournal will lead not only to more creative uses of my time and a recovery of my increasingly shallow and scattered ability to concentrate (something that's become more and more of a concern to me over the past couple of years or so) but also some thoughtful and meaningful discussions with the friends and followers I still have.

So who's still out there after all these years? Drop me a comment and say hi, I'd love to hear from you!
rj_anderson: (Quicksilver - Cover)
2014-12-31 02:47 pm

State of the RJA

It has been pointed out to me that I fail at updating this journal, which is entirely true. I spend most of my time on Tumblr these days, primarily on my catch-all Tumblr Worlds Unseen (though I try to keep the Faery Rebels Tumblr updated semi-regularly as well, it's more series-specific and more likely to be straight reposts of fan art, images related to the books, and answers to reader questions than original content).

The other place you can catch me on a daily basis is Twitter, where I'm generally accessible even when on a deadline (though it may take me a few hours to reply). I also have a Facebook page (including a Proper Author-Type Page for posting events and signings) but I rarely use it: I'm just not fond of that particular interface.
rj_anderson: (Owl in a Tree)
2013-10-09 09:16 pm

Dear Yuletide Author

Hurrah, you got me as your assignment! Thank you so much for doing this! This is my very first Yuletide as a participant and I am ridiculously excited about it.

Please don't feel intimidated or worried on any level about writing for me. I know how dismal it can be to write under pressure and with a bucketload of anxiety about whether it will measure up to expectations, and I would hate to make you feel that way. Fic should be fun, even if it stretches us in new and unexpected directions. And you are giving me a gift just by writing a story about a fandom and characters I love.

I am on AO3 as RJ_Anderson and on FF.net as R.J. Anderson. (The FF.net archive is far more comprehensive, mostly because I am too lazy to edit and re-upload a bunch of old, mostly jossed fics to AO3.)

As a reader I love stories with witty dialogue and wordplay, characters who are practical and level-headed, romances based in mutual respect and understanding rather than mere physical attraction, and interesting, well-reasoned plots. I also like to feel that the fics I read could actually fit somewhere into canon, either past or in some plausible future - basically, I want to believe, and that's hard to do when it's a cracked-out AU or wildly unlikely crossover (though I'm not against crossovers or AUs either, when they're done well).
 
Things I prefer to avoid in stories: explicit sex, incest, non-con, gobs of profanity / blasphemy, lengthy descriptions of gore, character assassination for the sake of plot convenience (i.e. killing Ron Weasley or making him evil so Harry and Hermione can get together), depressing stories without so much as a glimmer of hope.

The following fandom-specific info is on my AO3 signup form, but just in case it gets lost or scrambled or you'd like to see it all in one convenient place, I'll copy it here:

Read more... )

And that's it! Thank you so very much again, and I hope these few comments have been of some help to you and are not too harrowing. I can't wait to see whatever story you come up with!

rj_anderson: (Knife - Official UK Cover)
2013-08-14 04:27 pm
Entry tags:

NOMAD Cover -- and a first peek inside!

I've just stuck up the cover and a brand-new excerpt from Nomad over on the Faery Rebels Tumblr, but it seemed only fair to repost here for my dear LJ friends:

Nomad hi-res cover image

Slightly spoilery excerpt below... )
rj_anderson: (Knife - Official UK Cover)
2013-08-09 08:48 am

NOMAD Cover Reveal, and a Giveaway!

I'm over at The Book Smugglers today, revealing the cover of my upcoming faery book Nomad (Orchard Books UK, January 2014) and giving away an audiobook of the previous book Swift as read by Lucy Scott (whom some of you may remember as Charlotte Lucas in the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice). The giveaway is open internationally, so feel free to enter if you're interested!
rj_anderson: (Quicksilver - Cover)
2013-02-10 05:13 pm

The Next Big Thing (finally): About QUICKSILVER

So this is a meme that made its way around to me a couple months ago, courtesy of award-winning Code Name Verity author Elizabeth Wein tagging Erin Bow (author of the gorgeous, funny, heartbreaking Plain Kate) and Erin tagging me in return. (I was also tagged by Zoë Marriott, whose sumptuous and refreshingly diverse secondary-world fantasies I adore. But I could not tag Zoë in return because Erin had already tagged her as well *pout*). 

So I am mentioning (not tagging, because that implies obligation, and that can be burdensome) two long-time favorite authors whose books deserve more attention than they've been getting, and one soon-to-be published author whose manuscript I adored and am excited about seeing in print:

Deva Fagan is the author of the delightful MG fantasy romps Fortune's Folly and The Magical Misadventures of Prunella Bogthistle, as well as the sparkling YA science fiction adventure Circus Galacticus (oh, that Ringmaster!). She is clever, versatile, imaginative, and a lovely person to know.

Actor/Author Adrienne Kress has published two charming, witty, everything-but-the-kitchen sink MG novels, Alex and the Ironic Gentleman and Timothy and the Dragon's Gate, both of which my 10-year-old son loves and has read multiple times. Her just-released first YA novel The Friday Society has a fabulous one-line pitch (a "steampunk Charlie's Angels without Charlie") and I thoroughly enjoyed it; I hope a lot of other readers do too.

Emily Kate Johnston never ceases to astound me with her ability to write terrific stories and novels in a dizzyingly short period of time. (Okay, let's be honest: I'm jealous.) Her contemporary southwestern Ontario high school novel, set in an alternate history where dragons are a real and pernicious threat (no cutesy "taming the dragon" storyline here!) won my heart and, I'm glad to say, charmed my agent and US editor as well. You can look forward to seeing her debut in 2014, by which time it will hopefully have a title!

And now I'll answer some questions about my own most recent book...

What’s the title?

It's called Quicksilver. I chose the title as it seemed like a good fit with Ultraviolet, its sister novel. Then I spent the next few months racking my brain to figure out what it meant -- and I didn't really know the answer until I was well into the first draft of the book. First drafts are mysterious like that sometimes.

A short synopsis?

Quicksilver is the story of Tori, a 17-year-old girl who flees her hometown, changes her identity and goes into hiding when a ruthless policeman and a DNA specialist start asking dangerous questions about her strange biology and mysterious past. But protecting herself from the people who want to control her will take every ounce of Tori’s incredible electronics and engineering skills—and even then, she may need to sacrifice more than she could possibly imagine if she wants to be free.

Where did the idea for this book come from?

It was totally Tori's idea. She's stubborn like that, and I knew as soon as I started writing her character in Ultraviolet that she was going to demand a sequel of her very own. Some characters take time for me to get to know properly, but Tori came alive for me the instant I named her, and she's held a place at centre stage in my imagination ever since.

What genre does your book fall under?

I'd call it a contemporary psychological thriller on the rocks with a science fiction twist. Hopefully it will leave the reader both shaken and stirred. (Although if Tori ever met James Bond, she would probably whack him upside the head with her toolbelt.)

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

All the K-Pop fans are going to laugh at me now, but I swear I had no idea who Siwon was when I found an old photo of him wearing glasses and decided he looked like my mental image of Milo. He's too old for the part nowadays, but if we're fantasy casting I don't see why we can't use a time machine. So here, have a picture:

Read more... )

As for Tori, I've never found an actress who matched my mental image of her, but I did find this jaw-droppingly fabulous piece of artwork by Charlie Bowater:

Read more... )

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Since 2009 I've been represented by the excellent team of Josh Adams at Adams Literary in the US and Caroline Walsh of David Higham Associates in the UK. Quicksilver will be published by Carolrhoda Lab / Lerner Books in North America and by Orchard Books in UK/Aus/NZ.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Six months, and I thought it was going to kill me. It wasn't even that the book was so demanding (though it was: I had to do a LOT of research into areas I'm not at all familiar with, like math and engineering) but that my elderly parents were going through a succession of health crises at the time, and juggling their needs with my publishing commitments was a challenge I'd not faced before on that kind of scale. So I had to beg for an extension on my deadline, and I felt horrible about it, but I knew that rushing the book would be the worst thing I could do in the end. I always want my books to be the best I can possibly make them before I send them out into the world.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Uh… Ultraviolet? That's really all I can think of, honest! Either my reading habits are woefully limited, or else my imagination is just that weird. (Probably both.)

What else about the book might pique a reader’s interest?

I guess it depends on how much they like any or all of the following: DNA analysis, cutting-edge technology, secret identities, mass transit, heroic rescues, dramatic text messages, unexpected visitors, pancakes, soldering, miniature dachshunds, makerspaces, excellent biceps, asexuality, Korean home cooking, road trips, radio telescopes, outrageous lies, tragic romances, not-so-tragic romances, and/or power tools…