Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Double Book Review: Sabriel and Mister Monday

I read Sabriel the first in the Abhorsen series by Garth Nix because of all the glowing recommendations people gave it. Often I heard "You should read this! It's so good!" and since it was an author I was familiar with and loved already, I did. Unfortunately, Sabriel disappointed me. Rather than comparing it to books by other authors, I'll compare it to Nix's other YA fantasy series Keys to the Kingdom which began with Mister Monday.

The first books I read by Garth Nix were his Keys to the Kingdom series which are seven books set in two universes - our modern universe and the bizarre fantastical dimension of the House. The
protagonist in this series is a reluctant teen named Arthur who is prone to life-threatening asthma attacks. He stumbles upon a clock key that leads him into a supernatural battle and quest to save the world. His quest carries through the seven books in the series, each book named after the adversary he's supposed to defeat in that book.

I loved the theme that connected this series and relied on it when Nix's prose got a little convoluted, which, after reading Sabriel, I've realized is just his style. I loved the influence of the seven deadly sins concept in the development of Arthur's adversaries and their respective floors of the House. I loved the outright bizarre quality of the setting, in spite of the occasional arbitrary solution to a problem Arthur was faced with. Arthur was satisfactorily transformed by the end of the series and had grown from his adventures, which is what you expect from a series with a concept this big.

Sabriel is set in Ancelstierre which is similar to England in the early 1900's, and the Old Kingdom which is more medieval and governed by a magic system. The protagonist is Sabriel, the teenage daughter of a powerful necromancer who banishes and lays the dead to rest instead of raising them. When something untoward happens to her father, his role and responsibilities suddenly fall to Sabriel who embarks on a quest to find him. Sabriel learns about her significant lineage along her journey, fighting the undead and evil spirits that have ventured into Life to spread destruction.

The concept of Sabriel is absolutely amazing. A female necromancer, a magic system using bells and symbols to fight and control the dead, a world in which magic is the ruling order, horrible undead monsters, and a talking cat. However, after the prologue, the pace slows to more of a crawl and the writer's tendency to weigh down sentences with stiff language and unneeded descriptions is difficult to read. It became painfully evident that this was his first foray into young adult, but I gritted my teeth and kept reading.

The stilted language wasn't the most difficult part of reading Sabriel. While we followed Sabriel through most of the book, we didn't actually get to know her. We didn't see inside her head, only what the author told us was there, so the book read from the outside like watching a movie or playing a game. Even when we were introduced to the love interest there was barely any romance. What romance was hinted at was clunky and felt like an afterthought, included just to spice the book up, which it failed at. This was sad, because I rather liked the guy.

The most emotional part of the book was the conclusion to Sabriel's quest to find her father. Their relationship was more compelling to me than any other in the book. I somehow liked her father as much or more than I liked Sabriel, even though I only saw him in the prologue and after she found him again. I'd really like to know his story.

I liked the world-building and magic system in Sabriel and don't have any qualms with it. I do have qualms with the third-person head-hopping Nix did toward the end of the book. I don't know why he chose to suddenly change perspectives from Sabriel to her love interest, then to two minor characters, and back to Sabriel. It felt jarring and left me with unfullfilled expectations.

Between the two book series, Keys to the Kingdom was easier to read and the pace matched well with the YA genre. They both had great concepts, but I wish Sabriel hadn't been so much of a 'tell' rather than 'show' book. While it was plot-driven, I still think Nix could've done a better job developing the MC.

Have you read either of these? What did you think?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Being Amazing

I haven't blogged in awhile because I've been plotting. No, not plotting another MS, just plotting in general. I've been going through the mental "What should I share on my blog? Is it time for another book review? Movie? Game? Should I talk about my day?" There will be a book review soon, and I'm going to mention at least one movie in this post, as well as talk about my day. So that about covers it. I've decided to cut back blogging to twice a week and see how that works out. I'm horrible at scheduling myself, so this is largely experimental.

I'm planning to draw more often and post my sketches on the blog to keep me motivated. A great friend from grad school requested a fun illustration of two of our characters, so I'll be getting on that soon. I'm excited to see what I can come up with and maybe try a new approach.

I've been watching Doctor Who and The Amazing Spiderman which gives me the urge to be amazing. Rachel Pudelek gave me the urge to be amazing when she shared her great agent news on her blog. I sent another query flurry and those things always leave me flying high for awhile. (At least until the rejections start rolling in.)

For this post I'd also like to share some art that is amazing.

Not my art, but the art of Brian Kesinger. These are his two original characters Victoria and Otto being very Whovian. If you've never seen steampunk octopi or if you have and you love them, you really need to check this artist out. Since I saw his work on Devianart, I've loved his style and the personality he imbues his illustrations with.

What about you? Are you feeling amazing over anything lately?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Monday Pick-Me-Up

This quote seemed appropriate for writers/illustrators and anyone who's ever waited for their turn at success.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Last BookShop Video Review

Sometimes I wonder if my library didn't carry dvds and provide free computer usage, how many people would still come. I see the kids making a beeline for the computers to play games, leaving without a single book, and it makes me sad. I see the big bookstores closing down all around the country and I wonder... what if there was only one bookshop left?

This is a beautiful, hopeful, bittersweet story, well-acted and aimed right at the hearts of book lovers: bookstore owners, librarians, teachers, writers, and readers of every age. A thoughtful satire that touches on our concerns about the future of the written word, it left me misty-eyed and wishing for a second installment.

It makes me wonder, in the future, if it doesn't flash, play music, or come with a touch screen, will people still be interested in it?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

My Birthday Dream Wish List

Today's my birthday and rather than bore you with a long post about what I've learned and how far I've come in a year, I decided to share my dream wish list. These are just a few things I'd want if I could choose anything in the world!

So, without further ado, here it is.

To Meet:

To Do:

To Own:

A beautiful cottage.

A small hatchback or mini coop.

Do you share any of my dream wishes? What are some of yours?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Saturday Sketches: Doctor Who

Look what I did in less than two hours! My two favorite Doctors for your viewing pleasure!

Eleven - Matt Smith
Ten - David Tennant

Each Doctor took me about an hour. I hadn't used my Pitt shades of grey brush pens in forever and I wanted to try them out again. Boy am I glad I did! I always love the effect these pens give, even if I did bump the contrast in Photoshop.

I'm still practicing drawing both Doctors, but I'm happy with how they turned out. I finally captured Ten the way I wanted!

What was going through my head while drawing:


Yep, I feel productive now.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Writers' Moral Responsibility: What Is It?

Another title for this post could be "Books Don't Make People Do Things, Choices Make People Do Things".

A comment from Monday's post inspired me today and I'm glad for it. The last was a light post, but I like meaty posts too, so this should be a fun one.

Moral responsiblity for your writing: How much do you have?

Let's say you write a murder mystery and someone gets ideas from your book and goes out killing people, should that give you pause in publishing such a book? What if they started blaming you, and the killer, once caught, named you as an accomplice, and later they found the victims buried under your floorboards?

That one's a bit extreme, and wildly fabricated (and also an episode of Psych, I believe). Here's a better one. Let's say you write a purely fictional book about a horrible government which so happens to resemble what you think the United States would look like in twelve years (providing your villain were in control, etc) and it becomes wildly popular. But some people get up in arms over it and start boycotting your novel, saying you're anti-government, anti-authority, etc. Would that stop you from writing and trying to publish the book in the first place? Should you consider that when writing the book?

If you said 'no', I'd have to agree with you, and if you said 'yes', I'd love to hear your reasons in the comments. I said 'no' because, for one thing, the 'evil government' concept is big in dystopian books. BIG big, and most people don't bat an eye, especially if they read a lot of dystopian and are familiar with the genre. They understand that, while the idea is inspired by real fears and concerns, it's still fiction. Besides, the real fear and concern is what made the book so compelling and entertaining to read in the first place and isn't that a writer's goal?

Even if the work was a non-fiction book exposing the corruption in the goverment that might lead to a rotten future twelve years from now, it's up to the reader to discern. It's also up to the reader to use the information they get from the book wisely. The non-fiction writer put it out there to inform them, because knowledge is power and knowledge can change circumstances.

People like to blame books for bad behavior and in regard to that, I'd like to say it is not Twilight's fault if your teenage daughter has a violent, jealous boyfriend. It is also not Water For Elephant's fault if your wife has an affair. It isn't even The Hobbit's fault if your staff writer decides to take a long walk and blow off work. There are extenuating circumstances in all of these situations and blaming a book for the outcome is as bad as blaming your credit card when you run the bill up.

Writers should consider two things when they write (and want to publish successfully): that they tell the story their heart/muse is telling them to write, and that they consider their audience. Beyond that, it's up to the reader (or the reader's parents) to be discerning.

I'd love for you to weigh in.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Geektastic Romance!

My blog doesn't usually tackle the topic of romance, but I was thinking about the kind of romances I do like and thought I'd mention them. My vision of romance tends to look like this:



and this:

Whether the romance is a lifechanging adventure with someone unforgettable, or a lasting bond that echoes off the walls of time, it's all about the connection between the characters. The characters should both be whole people, not half-selves that become whole only when they're together. The relationship should be a choice, not a compulsion, and should be built on mututal respect as well as attraction.

That's my geeky romance thought for the day. Props to anyone who knows the third couple or the tv show they're from.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Good Fridays: What I do on Thursdays

By night (and on my days off) I'm an illustrator and a writer, but by day I'm a library clerk. There's also something extra I do every other Thursday at my local library that involves being both.

I teach an art class. I've had 14 kids since the first day - all homeschoolers with attentive, eager minds. Their ages range from 10 to 16 years old, and they're great. My favorite thing about this class is how interested the kids are and how much potential they have. It encourages me to see them involved with art and already honing their skills. There is so much I can show them.

 Throughout my elementary and high school years, I had helpful, encouraging art teachers, but the learning was up to me. I taught myself a lot of what I know by drawing all the time, by reproducing on paper what I saw in life, comic books, and cartoons. By college I had a style all my own and had learned enough to teach others. My greatest teacher was practice, but I wouldn't have gotten that far if I hadn't listened to constructive criticism from those who knew more than I did. 

What I hope for with this class is to teach them something useful that stays with them into the future and helps them become better artists. The best advice I have for them is to keep drawing. Draw as much as you can and learn as much as you can about drawing. (There are plenty of books on the subject.)

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Importance of Process

Tomorrow I'll be teaching my little art class about process and it got me thinking how process is a part of all of our lives and creative endeavors. It's process that makes a writer a writer and an artist an artist, not the finished piece. Without process there would be no finished piece. Process is also what determines your skill level, what teaches you, what helps you improve as an artist and a writer.

A process is a journey, made up of steps. It always starts with an idea: a sketch, a handful of words on paper. You take the steps and sometimes you add new ones, you alter the steps depending on what you want the outcome to be. Eventually you reach the end of the process and you have a product that reflects all the work you did along the way.

In our instant gratification-oriented society, we're allergic to process. We don't want to revise a manuscript. We don't want to sketch out a drawing. We don't want to polish a query letter. We try to jump ahead and cheat the process, and it seldom ends well. It usually results in even more work or less recognition than if we'd followed the process the way it was laid out.

Your process can be whatever you make of it. It can be fun and slow and meandering, making stops along the way to go on a tangent. It can be slick and streamlined, methodical and orderly. It can be whatever you need. It just has to work, and by 'work' I mean it ultimately gets you to your goal. Your goal can be to publish a novel, to finish a painting, to make it to grad school. It all involves a process.

My process for writing/illustrating A Shadow Story was slow at some points, faster at others, and all the while meandering. I took time to research, revise, and get distracted by shiny things on youtube or pinterest. I had self-imposed deadlines and lots of time. Official deadlines from an agent or editor would've sped the process up and the timeframe would've been significantly different. Whether you have official deadlines or self-imposed, I believe they improve a process and help it to move along.

What's your process like?

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