Oh dear, has it really been that long since I updated my journal? Well, at least the time away has been well spent, as I was able to turn in the revised draft of Swift to my UK editor on Friday. So that is Happy-Making Thing #1 at the moment for me.

Here's a little taste of what's to come, from the beginning of Chapter 2:

[Ivy] took a step backward, feeling the dirt crumble beneath her bare feet. All at once she was acutely aware of the hairs standing up on her forearms and the nape of her neck, the boom-boom-boom of her heartbeat, the stench of her own cold sweat. “How--“ Her voice wavered. “How do you know my name?”

The spriggan moved closer, teeth gleaming in the shadows of his hood. “That’s good,” he said. “I didn’t even have to tell you not to scream. I think we’re going to get along very well.”


Hm, maybe that particular excerpt is not very happy-making. But you get the idea. Action! Excitement! Danger! That sort of thing.

***

Thing #2 that fills me with delight at the moment is this video, from singer Kina Grannis:


In Your Arms - Kina Grannis (on YouTube)

As an animation geek, I found the "Making Of" video even more interesting, but it's a sweet song and a lovely bit of stop-motion work.

***

And Thing #3 I've been enjoying of late are the books of Zoë Marriott, a UK-based author I met on Twitter who said some lovely things about my books, which caused me to check out her blog, which led me to the page of her website describing her books, where I found out that said books involved non-white female MCs, interracial romances, disability and mental health issues, high fantasy worlds based on non-Western history and culture, and other things Relevant To My Interests, which led me to leap to Book Depository and order all her books immediately.

And I was not disappointed. I enjoyed Ms. Marriott's most recent book Shadows on the Moon, a loose retelling of Cinderella in a fantasy world based on historical Japan (with a few bits of China and references to a quasi-African country), quite a bit -- she handled some thorny issues in a very interesting way, and created compelling characters that I came to care about a great deal over the course of the book.

But even then I was unprepared for how much I absolutely loved Daughter of the Flames, her second book (yes, I am reading them in reverse order). Seriously, it's like she had a checklist of tropes and ideas that I either adore unconditionally (swords! acrobatics! fire! amazing descriptions of food!), or would like to see handled in a new and interesting way (religion! disability! culture clashes!), and was ticking them off in every chapter. I actually squeaked out loud when I got to page 174 in the UK edition because [classic romance trope redacted] is one of My Favourite Things (right along with raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens) and she handled it so very well.

So now I just have The Swan Kingdom, Ms. Marriott's first novel, left to read, but part of me is almost afraid to start into it because once I've read it there will be no more left until her next book comes out...
Serendipity is a word that sounds like it belongs in an Andrew Bird song, and that's fitting because that's exactly how I discovered his music.

Lava flows over crooks and craggy cliffs to the ocean
And explodes in a steam heat fevered cyclical motion
-- "Fitz & the Dizzyspells"


A couple of weeks ago, I was struggling to write the final section of Touching Indigo and feeling like I needed a little boost of inspiration. So I decided to go hunting for pictures that reminded me of my characters. I'd never found a really good Faraday, despite combing numerous stock photo sites looking for males of the right age and coloring, so I decided to try something new. Where would I be likely to find a guy in his mid-to-late twenties with scruffy, badly cut brown hair, who had an interesting face but didn't look like a model or an actor?

Andrew Bird



Aha, I said to myself, what I need is an indie musician.

So I went to Wikipedia and looked up their "List of Indie Musicians" and first of the solo artists on the list is some guy I've never heard of. I clicked on the link without much hope -- after all, what are the odds of finding someone who looked like Faraday after a mere two minutes' searching? But as soon as I made my way to Andrew Bird's MySpace page, I knew I didn't need to look any further.

Admittedly he's still slightly too conventionally handsome to be a perfect match for the Faraday in my head: more like Faraday crossed with Daniel Day-Lewis. But there are worse faults, to be sure, and I doubt I could find a better candidate even if I spent another five hours looking for one.

The fact that I fell in love with the first song of his that I listened to -- well, that was a bonus.



Andrew Bird's music is quirky, smart, and multilayered -- his most recent album Noble Beast, for instance, took me several listenings to really get a handle on, but after that I realized this was the kind of album I could listen to for the rest of my life. So I ended up buying The Mysterious Production of Eggs and Armchair Apocrypha as well, and I've been listening to them incessantly ever since.

If you're interested in hearing more from this artist, you could watch him perform six songs live in a cathedral, armed with nothing but a violin, a guitar, a loop machine, and his own whistling. Or check out some of my favorite songs on this playlist.
So I said I was going to post about some of the great new music I discovered during this year's Great Hiatus (a.k.a. the seven weeks I just spent finishing off Touching Indigo), and I am making good on that promise by telling you about Matt Hales, the artist more popularly known as Aqualung.

I'd never heard of this guy until [livejournal.com profile] renisanz recommended his song "Pressure Suit", and once I'd listened to it a couple of times I fell in love with its geeky, atmospheric romanticism. But it wasn't until I bit the bullet and started checking out more tunes by the same artist that I realized just how versatile and clever this guy really was, and what a fabulous lyricist. His rhymes are natural but never predictable, and he can sustain a literary conceit without becoming pompous, which is a rare talent in itself:

You say I'm a black hole, a singularity
An old supernova, a phase in blind catastrophe
But once I was a star
A long time before that, somebody's sun...

Basically, Aqualung has everything I like about Coldplay (strong melodies, memorable riffs) and none of the things I don't (musical sameness, cringe-worthy rhymes, beating those memorable riffs into the ground). I came across a review of an Aqualung album which remarked that Chris Martin should be sitting in the corner taking notes from Matt Hales because this is how it's done, and I agree.

Also, Matt Hales references Comet in Moominland in the same song I just quoted ("Black Hole"), which endeared him to me for life. It's one thing to be a science geek with a knack for writing lovely tunes, and another thing to love the Moomins, and anybody who can combine the two gets my vote, no question.

Anyway, if you're interested in checking out a sampler of Aqualung tunes, you can do so here on Playlist.com, since LiveJournal seems to choke on such things.

Next up: Andrew Bird.
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I could go on raving at tedious length about how much I love [livejournal.com profile] di_br's vids but I think I've already done that before in this journal, so instead I'll just point you in the direction of her latest:

"When I Ruled The World"

Yes, it's set to "Viva La Vida", but don't let that stop you because it so happens it's the perfect song for this exploration of the differences between the Ninth Doctor and the Tenth Doctor, and it's also got some amazing visual parallels I'd never thought about before, and it's just... just... *waves hands incoherently*

Yeah. Go watch it.
After the last post it seems eminently fitting that I should link to this excellent short story* by [livejournal.com profile] kittikattie:

Fairies Come In Brown (1000 words, original fiction)

--
* Which contains a small amount of strong language (not blasphemy, though), lest anyone get upset about not being informed of that before reading.
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[livejournal.com profile] anywherebeyond a.k.a. Saundra Mitchell has just posted the first page of her forthcoming (20 days!) YA paranormal suspense novel Shadowed Summer, and as always her prose is a thing of beauty and a joy forever and Iris's narrative voice is sheer brilliance, so I urge you to go over and read it.
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In my November 8th post on kitchen-sink books and why I love them I mentioned my fellow Canadian Adrienne Kress's delightful swashbuckling MG novel Alex and the Ironic Gentleman. (Still totally in love with the fencing sequence in that book.)

Well, Adrienne's second book Timothy and the Dragon's Gate is out in stores today, and as a fellow writer of floppy-haired boys named Timothy who get themselves expelled from school (truly, synchronicity is a weird thing) I feel compelled to give you all the heads-up.

Well, that and hurry down to my local indie bookseller to order a copy of Timothy if it isn't in stock already, that is...
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I have just realized that I have been remiss in not mentioning that I just discovered and have been quite taken with The Dreamer, a webcomic which puts a high school girl from the present day smack in the middle of the events of the American Revolutionary War. It's painstakingly researched, beautifully drawn and colored, and has plenty of adventure, danger and romance as well as a healthy dash of humor. My only complaint now that I've caught up on all the archives is that I have to wait a week at a time to get the next two pages of the story!

However, it seems there is now a print version, for those who prefer a richer comic-book reading experience. Or you can read your way through the online archives, as I did.

Did I mention that Sarah Ellerton's currently running fantasy webcomic The Phoenix Requiem is brilliant and gorgeous as well? And that her previous comic opus Inverloch is now complete, all 764 pages of it? Yes. That.
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I still feel pretty much entirely made of fail as far as my writing is concerned, but I remind myself that I go through this phase on a regular basis, and that if I give myself another day or two I will be back on a more even keel again. Not delusional enough to think my very first-drafty book is the Best Thing Ever, but enough that I can bear to go on with it instead of wanting to tear it apart and scatter its chapters to the four winds, anyway.

I never did get that chocolate, by the way. *cue violins* However, thanks to the nice folks at NCIX and their blazing-fast shipping capabilities, I now have sitting beside me on the desk a brand-new Wacom Bamboo Fun to replace my old Graphire II pen and tablet (which had pretty much stopped working, to the detriment of my carpal tunnel syndrome). It is shiny and black and full of cool new features, and I am looking forward to taking it for a proper test-drive soon -- if I can only catch up with all the other things I ought to do first.

Also happy-making, albeit in an extremely tense, clutch-your-heart-and-pant kind of way, is Elizabeth E. Wein's The Empty Kingdom, the second book in her Mark of Solomon duology, which I finished last night. I wanted to read all Wein's books before I posted about them in any detail, and now I have, so prepare to be lectured at:

If you love historical fiction, adventure, intrigue, complex and dynamic characters, multilayered plots that practically demand re-reading to savour their cleverness, and are looking for something different from the bog-standard Medieval/Victorian Britain norm, you owe it to yourself to get your hands on Wein's series. Her first book is The Winter Prince, an Arthurian tale of Mordred and his tortured relationship with his half-brother Lleu which is now out of print, but even if your library fails on that point you don't need to have read TWP to appreciate the next book in the series, A Coalition of Lions, which is about Lleu's sister Goewin and also introduces us to the true setting of Wein's ambitious historical cycle -- 6th century Ethiopia.

Yes, really. And it's fabulous.

If you can't get a hold of Coalition (which would be sad, because Priamos is a lovely lovely man, and it's so much fun meeting Telemakos as a young boy and getting all these delicious hints of what he will later become) you can still jump into the series with The Sunbird or even The Lion Hunter, but I think Sunbird is a better starting place if you can manage it. I could go on for pages about the complete and total awesomeness of Telemakos -- he's one of these characters who just steals your heart and breaks it into a million pieces and puts it back together again, and you just can't help but love him for it anyway. (A bit like Miles Vorkosigan without the manic energy, or Eugenides without the cockiness, by way of comparison -- Telemakos's virtues and faults are very much his own, however.)

The point is, a lot more people need to read, and buy, these books or there might not be another, and that would be a serious tragedy. So for purely selfish reasons I command my f-list to go out and read Elizabeth E. Wein's books, because I want the next one. Preferably soon.

(Oh, and Megan Whalen Turner thinks they're fab and has been urging her fans to read them, too. So you know it isn't just me.)
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I have just finished reading A Drowned Maiden's Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz, and I have only one thing to say to my f-list:

All of you who recommended that I read A Little Princess before all the other books in my to-read pile? You need to go out and read Schlitz's book right. now. Because I really can't remember a better tribute, or response, to that particular classic children's story than this one.

I am normally not a fan of stories that involve spiritualism, but in this book it's both lightly and deftly handled, and among its numerous other merits, it's hard to beat a story that starts with a first line like, On the morning of the best day of her life, Maud Flynn was locked in the outhouse, singing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

And now that I've realized Schlitz is also the author of Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village which won the Newbery Award last year, I really must stop procrastinating and hunt down that title as well.

(I am also going to randomly bold bits of my posts, just for fun.)
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Bookmania!

Jun. 3rd, 2008 12:44 pm
rj_anderson: (Books - Writing)
So I went to my local indie children's bookstore to pick up a special order, and... I may have gone a little nuts. And now I have this pile of stuff, all of which I've heard good things about and thought looked intriguing enough to take a risk on... but I don't know where to begin!

[Poll #1198659]
Endorsements for a book on the list that you particularly loved are welcomed in comments, but if you particularly hated any of these, please refrain. I like to make up my own mind about books, without being prejudiced by somebody else's dislike (even if it turns out they are right).

And speaking of shiny new books I have just read wot are fabulous -- if you have any interest in contemporary YA fantasy and particularly if you're into vampires (which I myself am not, so take that as evidence that this book is a great read), you need to check out [livejournal.com profile] claudiagray's Evernight (HarperTeen, May 2008).

I already knew that Claudia was an excellent writer from reading some of her short stories, so I wasn't surprised that I enjoyed her rich and vivid but never overblown narrative style; I also expected the plot would be complex yet readily comprehensible and her main characters believable and sympathetic with flashes of wry humor, which proved true on all counts. But I thought myself very clever for anticipating where the plot was going and what was "really" up with some of the characters -- and I was wrong, wrong, WRONG. There's a twist about halfway through the story that made me literally drop the book and scream right out loud with the delicious shock of it -- and yet it didn't come out of left field, it was perfectly set up. I love books that play (or prey) on my expectations like that, so I have to give Claudia Gray big kudos for this one.

Evernight is the first in a series of four, and I can't wait to see how the next part of the story develops!

I also need to burble excitedly about Elizabeth E. Wein's Telemakos books sometime, but I want to read The Empty Kingdom (which is on back order at my local bookstore, WOE IS ME) first.
At present I am about as far out of HP fandom as it is possible to be without actively loathing (or, I suppose, not having read) the series, but that being said --

I have just spent half the afternoon listening to Wizard Rock and it is entirely [livejournal.com profile] lizbee's fault.

The last time I checked out any WR it was Harry and the Potters and I thought it was lame, so I never bothered to listen further. But this guy -- he's actually good -- like, professional-quality-I-could-imagine-hearing-this-on-the-radio good.

The first one I listened to (and which grabbed me right away) was "The Flying Motorbike", but "Luna" has a zany Scissor-Sisters-meet-the-Bee-Gees vibe that made me laugh out loud, and "What You Believe" is my current favorite. And it really doesn't matter if you haven't read the books, either; you might even enjoy the lyrics more if you haven't.

Is that a rec? Why yes, it is. Go now and check out the album preview of Musical Decree Number Twenty-Four.
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Man, The King of Attolia is a good book. Being in the throes of revisions, I picked it up just now to see if I could find a wasted scene to make me feel better, and I couldn't find one.

Then I started reading and didn't want to put it down, which is silly since I've already read it twice in the past six months.

*shakes fist in general direction of the US* CURSE YOU, MEGAN WHALEN TURNER!

For not writing the next book already, I mean..
I read two books today, and greatly enjoyed them both, although they could hardly be more different:

1. Ellie McDoodle: Have Pen, Will Travel by Ruth McNally Barshaw
I've been meaning to check this one out since meeting Ruth at SCBWI-MI, and I'm glad I did. In fact, I'm already planning to buy a copy for one of my nieces for Christmas. Have Pen, Will Travel isn't your standard middle grade novel, because it's told with pictures as much as words -- Ellie's illustrated diary of her oh-so-dreaded camping vacation with her least favorite relatives. It's clever and funny and wonderfully true to life -- Ellie is likeable, but she can also be selfish and prejudiced and oblivious to other people's feelings, which is part of the unfolding plot of the book. Almost as a bonus, deftly woven in with the drama of Ellie coping with her "monkey-boy" brother and her disliked cousins are a lot of interesting facts about camping and wildlife and fun games that kids can play both in and out of doors, many of which were new to me even as an adult reader. And the cartoons are simply delightful.

2. Gifts by Ursula LeGuin
As a young reader I loved A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan, was indifferent to The Farthest Shore and actively hated Tehanu and The Beginning Place, so I'd been under the impression that LeGuin had taken her writing in a direction that I could no longer enjoy. I unbent long enough to read The Other Wind, since it had come recommended by someone whose judgment I trust, but didn't feel particularly compelled by it. Still, the few things I'd heard about her new YA trilogy sounded intriguing, so I decided to give the first book a try -- and wow, am I glad I did. It's lovely and harsh and painful and does a wonderful job of subverting the standard fantasy cliche of the magically gifted young man coming into his powers, and while I did anticipate the twist near the end, it didn't make me respect LeGuin's work any less. The story is subtle and layered and beautifully characterized, and LeGuin does an excellent job of portraying grief without falling prey to timidity or sloppy excess -- at one point I nearly shed a tear myself. I'm really looking forward to the next two books in the series now.
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[livejournal.com profile] main_titles speaks truth about Megan Whalen Turner's Gen books. I am glad she did this because I was feeling guilty that I hadn't yet posted to rhapsodize about them as I should have long ago.

Also long overdue for squeeing endorsement: Shannon Hale (The Goose Girl, Enna Burning, River Secrets, and especially Book of a Thousand Days) and Laini Taylor (Faeries of Dreamdark: Blackbringer). I hope to do them all more justice eventually, but in the meantime, just consider them heavily rec'd, will you? You can find their blogs at [livejournal.com profile] squeetus and [livejournal.com profile] lainitaylor respectively.

*uses Queen of Attolia icon as penance*
Oh, Marble Slab Creamery, where have you been all my life?

I had Double Dark Chocolate in a Dark Chocolate waffle cone, for the record. My sons had Birthday Cake with gummi bears in one and M&M's in the other, and my husband had vanilla with Oreo cookie bits in a Skor waffle cone.

Mmmmmmmmmm. *eyes roll back in head*
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Dear F-List:

I hold you all responsible for not telling me that Emma Bull had written an X-Files script. I mean, seriously, people, what do I keep you for?

And it's wonderful, of course, and made me massively nostalgic for the glory days of the series. Sigh. Anyway, [livejournal.com profile] lydaclunas and other interested parties can find it here: Cuckoo.

And now I must dig up my old text files and see if I can find LoneGunGuy's "Diaspora", which is the other Best Non-Filmed Script Ever. I crack it out and re-read it every few years out of sheer admiration, and I still wonder -- who was that masked ficcer?

Hm, no X-Files icons. Alas.
After the trauma of watching that New Who season ender, I need some Old Skool Doctor Who to cleanse my palate. Preferably episodes I haven't seen (or at least not lately), which means that the entire Five era is pretty much out. Six is also out, since I've seen all I ever want to see of Colin Baker already, and I've also seen nearly all of the Seven era except the ones that don't interest me anyway.

So rec me some of your favorite stories from One, Two, Three and Four! Especially ones with the Delgado Master, because I think I need a good dose of the suave, diabolically clever version to remind me he wasn't always a complete psycho. Give me Koschei and The Dark Path over RTD's lame Master backstory anytime.
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Wow.

May. 16th, 2007 12:28 pm
rj_anderson: (Books - Writing)
I've been overwhelmed by all the congratulations, well-wishes, and general enthusiasm expressed in the comments to my last post. Thanks so much, all of you.

And as if that weren't enough to fill my cup of gratitude to the brim, my longtime net.friend and sometime beta reader/technical consultant, the talented and witty astrophysicist Doug McNeil, has just made me cry. Thank you, Doug. You are a gentleman and a scholar, and if I should get any of the SF-nal stuff in Touching Indigo embarrassingly wrong, it will not be your fault.

Speaking of SF, I am reading [livejournal.com profile] johncwright's Orphans of Chaos and it is making my brain come out the top of my head. I haven't even finished the first book and I want the second one already -- many thanks to [livejournal.com profile] carbonelle for the rec.

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