Friday, September 30, 2016

The Rose Society (September Reads)

I read 11 books in September:

The Laws of Our Fathers by Scott Turow
The Young Elites by Marie Lu
The Art and Craft of Storytelling by Nancy Lamb
The Rose Society by Marie Lu
The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
World After by Susan Ee
The Light Fantastic by Sarah Combs (reviewed for The Washington Independent Review of Books- post coming soon!)
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
Hooked by Les Edgerton

I received The Rose Society through a GoodReads Giveaway. I then realized I hadn’t yet read the first book in the series (The Young Elites).

(Insert long pause while I obtain and read first book.)

Since I read these two books back to back, it’s going to be difficult for me to talk only about The Rose Society, especially since my main comment applies to both.

These books are good. And I had a very hard time reading them. Yes, I know that sounds contradictory.

The thing is, any review or commentary on a book is as much about the reader of the book as it is about the book. We bring all of our life experience with us when we sit down to read. That colors the story in a way that the writer can never begin to imagine when they write it.

Marie Lu is a great writer. She has crafted a compelling plot, with developed characters. But I found that I was unable to get lost in the story.

My problem is Adelina, the main character.

She is not a good guy. She wants the crown. Not to help her country. Not to help her family and friends. She just wants the crown. On her head.

That does not make her unlikeable. People want what they want.

There are always reasons.

In this series, there are definitely reasons for Adelina’s behavior and choices. One of the reasons is mentioned throughout the books. Her alignment. She aligns with ambition. She wants power. For the sake of having power.

The books present this as something inherent to her nature. It’s just how she is. She was born this way.

I can go with that. To a point. For me, though, the story is richer if I then see the character CHOOSE to follow her nature. I want to see a character decide that they are going to do the bad thing, even though they know it is the bad thing.

As I was reading these books, I missed those choices. I read the story as Adelina being driven by something she didn’t have control over.

After I finished, I started to question my reading. Adelina does make choices. She makes those choices even though they hurt her, rip her to shreds.

I overlooked them as I read. Which made me dig around inside my own head a bit.

What I realized is that I am not like Adelina. I am not driven by ambition. I do not want power. Please, no. That made it hard for me to see her choices for what they were. Because I would not make the choices she makes. I would not sacrifice what she sacrifices.

That does not make her choices wrong. That does not make her a poorly written character. That does not make this book less than great.

I will read the rest of the series. I will try harder to lose myself in Adelina’s world, in her choices when I do.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Reader Baggage

Usually in the middle of the month, I post a bit of fiction. This month, I have something a little different. There is something my brain has been obsessively chewing on, and I feel the need to put my thoughts out into the world. Hold on, this might be a bit rambly.

I am a reader. I am also a writer.

That means that when I read something, I am reading on two levels. Part of me is reading for the pure enjoyment of reading. I love to get lost in the world of a story, meet new characters, learn things about the world through fiction.

Part of me reads as a writer. When I do get lost in a story, fall in love with a character, or have an aha moment I think about it for days. I try to pull it apart and figure out what the author did that made me love it so much.

I do the same thing when I don’t love a story, when a character just doesn’t click for me.

My goal is to learn the “tricks of the trade.” If I can figure out what an author did well, or not so well, I can imitate the great and avoid the not-so-great.

Here’s the catch. About 98% of the time, I realize that my love (or less than love) is not really about what the author did. A huge portion of it is what I bring with me to the story.

Every reader brings their entire life experience with them to the page. It colors how they see the characters, if they buy into the choices the characters make, if they see the world of the story as real.

Authors have zero control over what their readers bring to the page.

This is huge to realize and tuck away as a writer. This industry (yes, it’s an industry) is completely subjective. One agent/ editor will love your work. Another will think it is trash. A smidgen of this is about your skill as a writer. The bulk is about the interaction between the reader and your words.

A lot of thoughts followed from this.

There is no way to write a story that every reader will like. This is a huge weight off my shoulders as a writer. My job is to sit down and write the best story that I can. My job is tell the truth for this character, in this situation. I should write without the reader in mind. I can’t control anyone’s response to what I write.

But there is a huge catch buried in there. Did you see it?

The truth.

That is the catch.

The truth is a tricky, slippery thing. The truth is unique to the person that holds that truth. It is built over a lifetime of experiences, of interaction with the world around them.

My truth is not the same as yours.

This makes the writer’s job complicated. You can only write one truth at a time. If you try to include everyone’s truth in the same story, you will end up with a jumbled mess that no one can appreciate (or possibly understand).

You could choose to stick to your own truth.

This is okay. It is an honest way to write. You can say, this is who I am. These are the stories I choose to tell.

But I think my responsibility as a writer is to push past my own truth. My job, every day, is to take in the world around me. To interact with, and listen to, the voices of people around me. To listen closely to their truths.

My job is to feed my truth, let it grow. See where it intersects the truths of others. Where it lies in opposition.

And then, when I sit down to write, let it all go. At least consciously. When I write, my job is to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) and tell the truth. The biggest truth that I can. The truth that acknowledges the multitude of truths in the world.

I have to trust that the truth I put in my story will mesh with the truths of some of my readers. Or push against their truths in a way that gives them an aha moment.

Monday, September 5, 2016

August Reads- The Birth House

In August, I read 9 books:

Hill of Dreams by Arthur Machen
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Writing and Selling the YA Novel by K.L. Going
Double Feature by Owen King
Rumors by Anna Godbersen
The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski (reread)
The Birth House by Ami McKay
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Writing Blockbuster Plots by Martha Alderson

The honest truth is that my favorite read of the month was probably The Winner’s Curse. But since it’s a reread for me (I am rereading the first two books in the series before I read the final book), it feels like cheating to talk about it again.

A very close second was The Birth House. I wish I could remember how this book ended up on my TBR list, but I have no idea.

From the description on the book flap, I was expecting a nice, chick lit story about a midwife. Those elements were in the book, for sure. But those elements do not sum up the experience of reading this story.

This is really a story about the power of women and all the forms that power takes. There is wisdom, violence, sex, manipulation, love, honesty, and strength.

The men in the story have a difficult time dealing with the power of women. They see hysteria, witches, and evil.

It should surprise no one that the women win in the end.

And yet it will.

It does in the story. It does in real life. Everyday.

We continue to allow ourselves to be surprised when women are strong. Powerful. Fierce. When they stand up for themselves and what they believe.

When they do not bow to the wishes of the men around them.

I have wandered. That is the power of the story. There is a massive point tucked into this entertaining tale of one woman and her quest to help other women bring babies into the world in the way they know is best.

Read it. Enjoy it. Let it stew.