Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Cunning poets and deadly courtiers gone wild

I think, as a writer, there's a certain perverse excitement in working with an unlikely or outrageously inappropriate heroine - maybe it's a challenge thing. That's my theory on what would've made Jacqueline Carey decide to have her heroine/spy/save-the-day-gal, Phedre, be a masochistic courtesan in Kushiel's Dart. I mean, really, what's the spy/heroine value in the ability to handle and get off on pain, delivered in ever the bawdiest ways? I doubt there's a check-off box for it on the CIA application. Which is a lot of the reason I read this. I just didn't know how it could be pulled off.

But oh, man, does Carey ever pull this off brilliantly. I would say this is one of the top three books I read this year. The language is amazing--just the naming alone is great; Phedre, for example, is an 'anguisette.' Exotic yet familiar. All the made up words here feel real that way, due to their recognizable roots. They read like they've existed forever.

The world building is rich, downright dazzling in scope, sort of an alternate, mixed up medieval Europe where France (Terre d'Ange) is way more learned and courtly than those Iron Age freaks from Skaldia, which looks a lot Germany and Poland, maybe Russia, from the map, which looks like a map of Europe that's been slightly melted.

And then there's the whole pain-pleasure courtesan aspect, which operates in a really interesting way. Thanks to this unusual path of hers, along with extensive scholarship (overseen by mentor Delauney) Phedre becomes a keen observer of human nature, as well as the details of rooms and conversations. I think when you are victimized, even willingly, it heightens your powers of observation. In this way the book a highly psychological one. People get into powerplays with her or they divulge secrets or let her see and hear things she shouldn't, and generally reveal their inner natures in a variety of interesting ways.

That said, such scenes really are a minor part of the book. It's way more sword fights and court politics and obscure learnings and romantic intrigue and barbarian hordes, and then every once in a while you have Phedre at the mercy of some nobleman or woman--everybody here has wildly colorful sexual proclivities, and they don't keep them secret--and, oh, Phedre is gasping in pain and pleasure, and things swim before her eyes and she outsmarts all these people. Is it an HEA romance? Yes, it is that too. Looking back, I find this book astonishing on so many levels.

I'm one of those lucky people who fall asleep instantly. This book was one of the few in history that I had to stop reading in bed because it was so exciting and I couldn't sleep after reading it.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Please, people, welcome me to the 90’s

I picked up Janet Evanovich’s “Two for the Dough” at Steeple People, this used store in my neighborhood that’s practically like a garage sale. It was 50 cents, and I thought, now I can see what fuss is about and if I hate it, who cares?

Wow, that was two quarters very well spent, and Ms. Stephanie Plum has been upgraded to the status of series to follow, even books to buy at a bookstore, or to get in an exciting box from Amazon.

First of all, I totally expected the whole big hair Joisey girl shtick to be overdone, but it wasn’t. It was wonderfully subtle, charming. The dialogue felt authentic.

At one point the mother says:

“You should get a real job. Something steady with normal hours. Your cousin Marjorie got a nice secretarial job with J and J. I hear she makes big money.”

This dialogue is so simple, but when I read it, I hear an accent. Maybe it’s the clipped sentences. It’s as if the rhythm of the speech, the music itself, creates the accent, so Evanovich doesn’t rely on phonetic spelling. Like I did with Joisey. Or this:

“Kenny Mancuso is a bum,” my mother said. “All those Morelli and Mancuso men are trash. You can’t trust a one of them.”

Lisa Dale over at Book Anatomy 101 makes an interesting comment on an older post about Evanovich’s Trenton setting being “branded” and I really thought that was smart. A brand is something familiar and friendly you feel good about. That's how I feel about this setting. I feel like that about the Sookie Stackhouse world, too. (Actually, on that post, Dale has a whole interesting analysis of what makes the Plum series such a success.)

The hero, Morelli, hit just the right, very subtle note with me, too. A decent and witty guy with, from what I can tell in #2, a roguish past, but deserves another chance. Is he in all the Plum books? I understand we’re up to thirteen. Should I read these in order? Should I go back to #1?

I love when I find a new author and series, a whole mess of books arrayed before me, hours of fun.

Friday, November 23, 2007

How I moderately SUFFER for my ART

Okay, being the freelance writer that I am, sometimes I get too busy and I can't get to my novel writing. Dismally unpaid as it is, it tends to take the back burner. So last year around this time, there was this complainy, work-intensive client I really wanted to dump to free up some time, and I got this idea that I would never buy any new clothes ever again and that would be my trade-off.
After all, would I rather have the day free or a pretty new outfit? I'll choose the day free every time. Almost. Anyway, the boots above are the last thing I bought before I dumped the client. I thought they were sort of cool as snowboots, and sort of rock and roll at the same time...in a certain dangerous mood, I might wear them inside, with jeans. It was last year, and I'm still pleased with them. Maybe I don't sound all that deprived, but if you saw my coat, you wouldn't say that.
Below you see a mysterious post that contains nothing but a photo of a skirt. (Someday I will get better at blogger and be able to do things like create 2-photo posts. FYI, I will also be replacing the lighthouse design.) But I digress.
The skirt you see below evilly called to me this past Monday when I was on a visit to Target to get space heaters to heat the apartment you see in the background of my rockin' boots. "You need a holiday skirt!" It said. "You will never find another skirt like me! I am only $14.99!" With trembling hands I fingered its fabric. I could not resist its call.

The skirt (see above)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Pitches that deliver

After many years of writing queries, and probably many years to come, I was SO pleased to come across Agent Kristin Nelson's 'Blog Pitch Workshop' (go to her homepage and scroll down; it's a series of 12 links on the right side). It's a super thoughtful and helpful analysis of how to showcase a novel's hook, and there are lots of handy examples.

Really, this whole agent blogging phenemenon so very helpful. When I think back to the kinds of query blunders I was making before all this...sheeees!

Monday, November 19, 2007

The quirky thing I loved about Games of Command.

Warning: is this a spoiler? Some people might think so. I’d say it’s somewhat a spoiler. It won’t ruin the romance part, but it mildly ruins the adventure part.

Okay, first, let me say this book, written by Linnea Sinclair, was VERY entertaining on the level of romance and sci fi. The main characters are badass Sass, sort of a female Han Solo gone straight, and uptight Admiral Brandon Kel-Paten, who is secretly not at ALL uptight. He just has to act uptight, because he’s a biocybe, and if anybody found out about his lurid and hot fantasies about Sass, who he has been borderline stalking through the galaxies, he wouldn’t be toast…he’d be a toaster. Actually, I don’t think they have toasters in this future. Maybe a replicator. Or a fork!

ANYWAY, that’s not what I’m writing about here. Because I want to talk about the furzels, which are like futuristic cats. I frankly couldn’t believe—gleefully so—that the entire plantery system in this book was saved by two overweight cats. They have these secret abilities that their owners (Sass and galpal Eden) don’t know about. And they can teleport, too, unbeknownst again, to their owners. Sometimes Sass is like, Hey Tank (her furzel), How’d you get in here? Oh, you must’ve crawled through a vent or something. Weird!

If you go to Linnea Sinclair’s website (see left) you can see photos of her cats, which are the basis of the furzels. That’s the thing with writing fantasy romance—you can make the men however you want, and you can have your cats save the universe. I just thought it was so hilarious. In a good way. Did I make this book sound silly now? I didn’t mean to—this book is tons of fun and I always recommend it to people, and if you hate cats, hey, this is not a major part of the plot, so you’ll still like the book.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Merry Christmas Succubus!

An early Christmas present I will be buying for myself: Succubus On Top by Richelle Mead (release date-December 18th). Mead wrote one of my top five favorite reads of 2007: Succubus Blues. The 'blues' in the title refers to the central torment of the main character, Georgina: because she's a succubus, she'll suck out the life energy of any guy she's with. So she can't be with guys she likes. Well, not without destroying them, and who wants to do that?

One thing Mead does really well is to draw a complex character with an interesting moral makeup. That is to say, Georgina is sort of an ethical bad girl, which I loved. I mean, she'll have sex with her sleezy boss because she doesn't care about sucking his life energy, but she steers clear of the men she desperately desires, and in general, tries to be a not-too-evil succubus. Not easy!! And there is her backstory, full of self sacrifice. But she never feels all sorry for herself. The title is really wrong in this sense.

I also loved that Georgina works at a bookstore and is an avid reader and a fangirl of author Seth Morgenstern (I went with Jim Butcher there) and loves him for his mind, sort of (oh! what will become of their budding romance?) but the thing is, it made her feel like somebody I'd know and like. It made her feel like the kind of people I already know and like. In fact, of all the characters in all the books I've read recently, she's the one I'd most want to be friends with.

I think Mead made a very tricky juggling act look deceptively easy here, especially vis a vis what the men around her make of her mysterious ways. The dialogue rocks, too. I could go on. But I think I'm going to go preorder Succubus on Top.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

I shan't be gentle, lassie!

It seems fitting, for the first entry of my blog, that I look back to the first fantasy/romance/adventure all-around girls' thrill read that expanded my universe beyond dead classic authors, wonderful as they can be. And that would be Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, which literally kept me up at night, even when I wasn't reading it, because it was so damn exciting. Like my mind would churn on it, and I'd have dreams about it where I'd fill stuff in and continue scenes, being SO tormented as to the welfare of the Jamie and Claire. I actually had to stop reading it at times, because I literally couldn't sleep after reading it. I know it's controversial, what with the gay rape, the wife beating that seems suspiciously written to be titillating and so much more, but Och, I was in such heated suspense all the way through, the thing took over my mind. My big gateway drug. It was sweet! Be in my first batch of commenters--I will be so excited! What was your gateway drug?