I’m currently making my way through Justin Kleon’s books Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work. Both are so inspirational and I highly recommend them for anyone in any sort of creative discipline. Anyway, in the later he talks about sharing your process with others, letting your fans peek behind the creative curtain, so to speak. That’s always been one of my aims for this blog, so I thought I’d give you a little insight into what I’ve been doing to get my next book into motion:
In the last 2.5 months, I’ve read 15 research books cover to cover and written countless pages of notes.
Those notes have become my very detailed 25-page, 15,000 word outline.
Which I will turn into a 90-100K book over the next 2-3 months. I’m aiming to write about 1,000 words a day.
Then I will let it rest for a few weeks, edit it several times and then let my lovely crew of beta readers beat it up.
If all goes well, it will be on submission by late spring.
No pressure, right?
I should also have a new book review up on Historical Honey soon as well as an article on the Historical Novel Society’s site. Will send links when they are up. In November, I’ll be reviewing Robin LaFevers’ Mortal Heart for Sirens (by the way, my next book is a perfect fit for the 2015 conference theme of rebels and rebellion, so you’ll probably see me speaking there), and in December I’ll have two reviews for ebooksforreview.com, my latest book reviewing venture.
So if you’ve been wondering why I’ve been a little scattered and not quite as consistent with my blogging lately, this is why. (Remember, I don’t write full-time, yet!) Plenty more news to come and I’ll try to give you a real blog post next Monday. Love to all!
PS – I kind of want to create a new blog category for Do All The Things, since I seem to always be doing all the things.
Wow. When I finished this book that was all I could think. But I’m sure you’re going to want more in a review, so here it goes:
The Night Circus is the story of a mysterious circus that is only open at night and comes and goes from a location without warning. But the circus is only a backdrop for a much more serious event: a magical competition between Celia and Marco, who were drafted into this fight as children without their consent because of their abilities to control time and space. Over time, it becomes clear that their competition involves not only the two of them and their masters, but the whole circus and the fate of everyone in it.
This is Erin Morgenstern’s first novel, which is so hard to believe because she writes with the skill of someone who’s been honing her craft for 30 years. It’s a lush, romantic, suspenseful tale worthy of the hype it has received. Morgenstern truly makes magic real through her prose. The descriptions are so vivid, so evocative in their creativity that you feel like you’re in a dream in the whole time – one you can’t wait to get back to. From the searing pain of a binding spell to the lofty heights of a circus tent meant to emulate walking the clouds, you’ll feel like you’ve lived it all by the end of the book. The plot is well paced and will leave you breathless at certain points, while wishing you could freeze the story on a particularly beautiful scene at others. The characters are strong and unique, about as far from stock as you get. Thanks to the author’s masterful storytelling, you form a relationship with them as you read that makes them all feel like family, even the ones you despise.
If I had one criticism of the book, it would be that the ending fell a little flat for me. The book is so grandiose that I was expecting a bang at the end, when it really just quietly came to a conclusion. What happens makes sense, but it’s a little bit disappointing that there wasn’t one more dramatic revelation. It’s like being on a roller coaster and going up that last hill, but instead of the final sharp descent, you just travel on an even track until the ride stops. But that’s not enough for me to take anything away from my 5-star rating of the book.
I listened to this as an audio book and I have to say it was a little difficult to follow the jumps in time since I couldn’t just flip back a few pages to see the order of things. But the narrator, Jim Dale, once again proves why he’s the best in the business. I highly recommend this format.
In short, this is an incredible book that I will read over and over again, if only to escape from reality and hopefully learn to be a stronger writer from Morgenstern’s enviable talent. I can’t wait to see what she writes next.
PS – This is the only book written in present tense I’ve ever read where I didn’t notice it (and I hate present tense books). I actually felt it was the only way the story could have been told. Bravo to the author for showing this skeptic how this manner of writing can be done well.
Have you read The Night Circus? If so, what did you think of it? If not, is it something you plan to read?
Blog note: This is the last post of this year. In 2013, new posts will be published on Mondays, starting January 7. Happy Holidays to all, no matter what you celebrate.
About a month ago, I was fortunate to interview author J.P. Reedman about her new debut novel, Stone Lord. At the time, I knew very little about the book, other than it was Arthurian legend set in the Bronze Age. This unusual concept, combined with her interview and excerpts posted online, were enough to convince me to buy her book. Given that I can be a bit of a tough sell when it comes to anything Arthurian, I was happily surprised by how much I liked the book. And “liked” is an understatement. Ask anyone who had to listen to me rave while reading it. If you want the short version: 4.5 stars.
Despite its title, this book isn’t only Arthur’s tale. It begins with the story of the boy who would become Merlin, how he escaped the clutches of Vhortiern (Vortigern), and grew to guide U’thyr (Uther), Arthur’s father. Once the young king is born, his story comes to the forefront. Throughout the book, Reedman gifts us with truly creative takes on classic Arthurian legend, including the dragons under the tower, Merlin’s relationship with Nin-Aeifa (Nimue), the nature and purpose of Afallan (Avalon), the Sword in the Stone, the finding of Excalibur (called here Caladvolc), and more. The only place where I felt it fell a little short was in Mordred’s conception, which reminded me of other versions I have read, but with a gothic chill that the others lack. I especially appreciated her inclusion of the Green Knight and his beheading game and the hunting of the boar T’orc, neither of which I’ve seen touched by authors in quite some time.
Honestly, I haven’t been this captivated by a book since The Mists of Avalon. But then again, I’m a sucker for all things mythological, and that is where Reedman truly excels. Her descriptions of the ancient monuments and the rites associated with them will take your breath away. She has a way of making such an obscure period of the past come to life, that you half expect to be there when you put the book down. It is a story firmly rooted in its time period, one that actually caused me, as a writer, to reexamine some of my character’s motivations to make sure they are historically accurate. (That is one of the highest compliments I can pay an author – to have learned something about my own work by reading theirs.) Reedman’s insertion of the Arthurian story into the Bronze Age is done so seamlessly that it’s easy to forget this isn’t its usual time period. I’m not in a position to judge the archeology, but I am certain her expertise in this area is a major contributor to making this book feel so real.
The pacing of this book is well done. I didn’t want to put it down. The only place where I felt it was a little off was Fynavir’s (Guinevere) kidnapping. It’s my understanding that in most tales, Melwas holds Guinevere captive for quite some time. But in Stone Lord, she’s being carried away on one page and 25 pages later (most of which is taken up by another part of the story), Fynavir is rescued. Reedman spends far more time on the hunt of the boar than she does on the event that is the catalyst for Fynavir and An’kelet’s affair, which doesn’t seem equitable. I also felt that the ending was a little rushed, like Reedman was in a hurry to wrap things up, but this is a common complaint I have about many books, so it may be more me than the author.
In a few places, just a little more explanation would have helped the overall story. I felt that the background between Fynavir (Guinevere) and An’kelet (Lancelot) depended a lot on the reader’s knowledge of the myth of King Arthur. There are furtive glances and reddening cheeks that make you aware there is an attraction and some sort of past between the two, but the nature of this is never made clear. I would have liked at least a few pages of background to help me understand why, in Reedman’s world, these two are so heartbroken that they can’t be together and what bonded them in the first place. I also would have liked a little more motivation for Morigau (Morgan). She’s as crazy as crazy comes, but the only explanation we really get is a preternaturally intelligent girl of “no more than three” wailing in jealousy that Merlin picked Ardhu to train rather than her. Later, she rails about how Ardhu took everything away from her, especially the love of her family, but here again there’s so much reliance on prior knowledge of legend that Morigau’s motivation feels forced on her. If we could have seen one or two scenes showing how her life changed for the worse because of Ardhu, her venom would be easier to understand. Maybe these things will be further explained in the sequel, Moon Lord, but I would have liked to have had them in the context of this book.
One key thing I thought was missing from the book was a list of place names, both then and now, and maybe even a map, since they are so different from anything most of us would be familiar with. Reedman has a list on her website, but even that individual post is difficult to find and this isn’t a convenient solution when you’re reading and don’t feel like getting online on to verify a location. I made it through just fine without the map, but it would have been nice to be able to flip to the front or the back to verify the characters were going where I thought they were.
Also, if you buy a first edition, there are several typos, so be forewarned. The author is aware of these and will be correcting them in future editions.
But even for its flaws, Stone Lord is a fantastic book. I think it is worthy of a Big Six publisher’s attention, but I’m pretty much the ideal audience for a book like this. If you like the story of King Arthur and can handle a non-traditional setting, you’ll enjoy this book. Congratulations to Reedman on a fine contribution to the Matter of Britain. I look forward to reading more of Ardhu’s adventures in Moon Lord when it comes out.
Have you read Stone Lord? If so, what did you think of it? If not, does it interest you? Why or why not?
First of all, I’m sorry this is kind of a cop-out post. I’ve been ill and we’ve had a death in my family, so I haven’t had as much time to devote to writing or blogging in the last two weeks as I’d like. But, we have lots of new readers here at Through the Mists of Time, so instead of skipping a week, I thought I’d share some old posts you may not have seen. Please, click around, explore and comment on as many as you like! (Posts are listed oldest to newest in each category.)
I’ll get back to new content next week, I promise. Oh, and I’m working on a guest blogging policy, so if you’re interested in guest blogging (or having me guest on your blog), please let me know!
It’s rare to find a book that you think about even when you’re not reading it and whose world you’re more involved in than your own. But that’s how it was for me with Deborah Harkness‘ A Discovery of Witches – a book that’s pure magic to me (no pun intended). It’s now in a three-way tie for my all time favorite book (with Jennifer Lee Carrell’sInterred with Their Bones and Anne Fortier’sJuliet, in case you were wondering). The very fact that I wanted to read it again right away and was actually sad to have to return it to the library says a lot.
The story centers on Diana Bishop, a 30-something historian who specializes in Medieval alchemy. When researching at Oxford, she accidentally calls up a long-lost, spellbound manuscript, Ashmole 782. She senses something strange about it and opens it, but doesn’t read it. Although she’s descendant from a long line of witches, she wasn’t trained to use magic and so doesn’t realize the impact of her ability to break the spell. She returns the manuscript just like any other book. That’s when a host of vampires, demons and other witches start following her every move, all desperate to unlock the mystery of Ashmole 782, even if it costs Diana her life. Along the way she discovers she does indeed have magical powers (something else those otherworldly creatures are interested in) and forges an unlikely bond with vampire Matthew Claremont, an alliance that will both threaten and change her life in ways she could never imagine.
I’ve seen this book described as “Twilight for the academic set.” That’s like comparing foie gras with a hot dog. Yes, they both have controlling vampires. That’s where the similarities begin and end, in my opinion. Twilight was a teenage love story with nothing more at stake (seriously, no pun intended) than Bella’s life and heartbreak. This book is about the interaction of witches, humans, vampires and demons (which could be seen as an analogy for racial tolerance), evolution and the future of all of their kinds. It’s about magic and mystery and their place in a scientifically dominated world. I’d say the stakes are a little higher here.
I had no idea there were vampires in this book when I picked it up. It contains three of my very favorite things: ornate libraries, an old, mysterious book, and magic (the Wiccan kind, not the Harry Potter kind), so I was hooked immediately. Even if that doesn’t do it for you, the mystery surrounding the manuscript of Ashmole 782 will.
I’m a huge fan of character-driven fiction and a Discovery of Witches excels in character development. You learn so much about them from their day-to-day lives and interactions with each other. Some are likeable, others are not, and there are a few you don’t know if you can trust. Diana is by far my favorite, but then again, I relate to her on a number of levels, including her love of history, old books and unfortunate propensity toward panic attacks. For some odd reason, I was captivated by Diana’s hobby of rowing (sculling to be precise) and plan to take that up myself as a result of having read this book. Matthew, despite being the main love interest, doesn’t make me fall in love with him. I like him as a character, but I think it’s my inability to trust him that keeps me at a distance. My favorite character is Marthe. Somehow, her mix of humor and down-to-earth wisdom is the perfect foil to Diana, Matthew and Ysabeau, all of whom can be too serious.
The world, writing and plot of this book are also handled with expertise. I’ve never been to any of the locations, nor had I ever seen sculling before, but thanks to Harkness’ evocative descriptions, I could see and hear it all. And all of the meals and wine that were described kept me hungry and in need of a drink (in a good way)! I especially love the Bishop House, which really is a character unto itself. It gave the book some much-needed levity.
A Discovery of Witches seems to be a love it or hate it book, judging from the number of one- and five-star reviews on Goodreads. It’s a very layered story, and if you only take the time to focus on one point, you’re going to miss a lot. This is a book that should be savored. But that doesn’t mean it’s not without its flaws. There were some plot points I didn’t believe and others that I felt deserved more explanation, but I’m trusting Harkness has her reasons for handling things the way she did. That’s one of the problems with not being able to read a series all the way through. A lot of times the author does things a certain way that will make perfect sense once you can see the story as a whole as she does. But as readers, we don’t have that option along the way (at least not until all the books come out).
(This is the short version of my review. If you want to read my long, spoilery, very passionate review, you can find it here on Goodreads – but I would suggest reading the book first because I touch on almost all the major plot points.)
At the time of this writing, I’m about half way into second book and enjoying it immensely as well. Stay tuned for a possible review of that book in the future.
PS – If you get the chance to listen to the audio book, Jennifer Ikeda does an incredible job as the narrator.
Have you read A Discovery of Witches? Did you like it? Why or why not? What kinds of books interest you?
Xenophon was a Greek historian, philosopher and solider from Athens. He’s well-known for his historical works, but I’m interested in him for his thoughts on horses because riding/grooming/training them would have been second nature for Guinevere and Arthur. He wrote two equine-related works, The Calvary General and On Horsemanship. The later was written somewhere around the year 350 BC, making it one of the earliest works on horsemanship in the Western world that still exists today.
In On Horsemanship, Xenophon displays a philosophy far ahead of his time, advocating over and over for the kind treatment of horses in a time when beating and whipping were the most common methods. “The golden rule in dealing with a horse is never approach him angrily…When a horse is shy of some object and refuses to approach it, you must teach him that there is nothing to be alarmed at…or, failing that, touch the formidable object to yourself and then gently lead the horse up to it. The opposite plan of forcing the creature by blows only intensifies its fear, the horse mentally associating the pain he suffers at such a moment with the object of suspicion” (28).
He also emphasizes the importance of the relationship between horse and master. “It is best that the stable be placed in a quarter of the establishment where the master will see the horse as often as possible” (20). And again, “If you would have a horse learn to perform his duty, your best plan will be, whenever he does as you wish, to show him some kindness in return, and when he is disobedient, to chastise him” (39). He emphatically states, “Far the best method of instruction is to let the horse feel that whatever he does in obedience to the rider’s wishes will be followed by some rest and relaxation” (50).
Other topics include:
A head to hoof analysis on how to select a young horse, many of which are still applied today.
How to properly break a colt, with the goal that the horse will grow to love people, rather than fear them.
How to avoid being cheated when buying an older horse.
Caring for a horse, including proper stabling, feeding and attending to the horse.
Grooming the horse, with special emphasis on the duties of a groom.
Bridling the horse correctly and safely.
Mounting and training the horse.
Advanced training for the war horse, including jumping and cross-country riding.
Working with an overly spirited or dull horse.
Working with a horse for the purpose of show.
Using horses in parade.
Equipment for battle, including how to arm a horse and rider, how to mount a horse with a javelin (very popular in the Celtic world) and how to properly wield weapons while on a horse.
I found out about this wonderful book because another author who has told Guinevere’s story, Nancy McKenzie, cited it as one of her references. I’m so glad she did. It’s a great basic instruction for the novice, though more detailed questions are probably better answered by an expert or experience. But considering I’ve yet to ride a horse, I think it’s a good place to start!
Have you ever heard of Xenophon? Are there any equine books you’d recommend, especially as historical resources? If you know horses, what do you think of his ideas?
Thought I’d give you all a break from the educational posts for a few weeks. One of my Twitter friends (@JuliaL2445 you might want to follow her – she’s cool) has been asking me to do a top 10 favorite (fiction) book list for a while now, so here it is. This was a lot harder than I expected because my list keeps changing. (BTW – If you’re on Goodreads please friend me there. If not, check it out. It’s the site for book lovers.)
Instead of giving you a plot summary, I’m going to tell you why each book is on my favorite list. If you want to know more about the book, click on the title to go to its Amazon.com page or on the author’s name to go to his/her website.
1. – tie) Interred with Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell – Modern-day thriller meets Shakespeare. This is the only book I’ve ever read with the perfect balance of page-turning plot, characterization, description and smart dialogue. And you don’t have to know much about Shakespeare to understand it. Oh and one of the characters supplanted Edward Cullen as my fictional boyfriend. 😉 The sequel, Haunt Me Still, is amazing as well. But read this one first.
1. – tie) Juliet by Anne Fortier – A thriller with a dash of romance and yes, more Shakespeare. This is the most romantic (not graphic) book I’ve ever read. Amazing characters, fast paced plot and breathtaking descriptions that make you feel like you’re in Sienna.
3.) Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe – There’s only one word to describe this classic: delicious. Scandalous when it was written in the early 1700s, it may make you blush even now. This book has it all: wealth, thievery, poverty, scoundrels, romance, adultery, incest, hangings, etc. The version I read had no chapter breaks, but if you keep with it, you’ll thank me. And if you want a head start, watch the BBC miniseries first. But then read the book because there’s so much more to the story.
4.) Caleb’s Crossing by Gerlandine Brooks – This is what all historical fiction should aim to be. So true to the early American colonies I feel like I’ve traveled back in time. And the author has accomplished the strongest characterization I’ve ever seen. No wonder she’s a Pulitzer Prize winner (for another book). I’m currently reading this and it’s already cemented its place in my top 10.
5. – tie) The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – Ever since reading 1984 in high school, I’ve been fascinated with dystopian worlds. This one takes it to a whole new level. The privation faced by the characters made me truly grateful for what I have and changed my outlook on life. The story itself is riveting, but it was the emotional connection I formed with the characters while reading that put this on the top of my list.
5. – tie) Divergent by Veronica Roth – I couldn’t put this book down. It’s similar to The Hunger Games in many ways, but also very different. The idea of the factions and trying to figure out which one I’d be in or which one my parents would have raised me in or how/if I’d survive in her world kept me intrigued. And it takes place in Chicago, so of course I love it.
7.) City of Bones by Cassandra Clare – I’m not one for urban fantasy, but hello literary perfection. Cassandra’s descriptions are the best in the biz, her plots are meticulously…well, plotted, and this book introduces one of the most charming characters to grace a page in years. It’s approachable fantasy – more like an alternate world we mere mortals cannot see than a wholly different one. I also recommend the other books in this series, especially #3, City of Glass.
8.) Mage Heart by Jane Routley – This is the first high fantasy book I ever read and it was something like 13 years ago, but I adore this book. It’s funny and poignant all in turns and is a gentle introduction into the world of high fantasy. I also recommend the sequel, Fire Angels, for its rich landscape, romance and enthralling magic.
9.) The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield – Mix poetic language so vivid you want it to soak in through your skin with just enough gothic horror to make your hairs stand on end and you have this book. It kept me guessing from the first page to the last.
10.) The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley – This book changed my life in many ways. It was the first place I ever read about Avalon and strongly shaped my views of the sacred isle. (You’ll see similarities in my book, but I also did my own research and formed my own vision, but this was the start.) And without her portrayal of Guinevere (which I hated), I never would have thought to write my own version. It’s a fabulous book with very strong female characters – the first in a great tradition I’m proud to carry on.
Now it’s your turn. Please share your favorite books, and maybe even why they’re so special to you, in the comments.
So in case you’re tired of hearing about my writing (and don’t tell me if you are!) here are my top five book picks for summer, some of which I’ve read and some that are on my list:
Divergent by Veronica Roth – I. Couldn’t. Put. This. Book. Down. Seriously. Just finished it last night and I’m already wondering what the next one’s going to be like. The best way I can describe it is The Hunger Games meets Nikita (current TV version). Set in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic version of Chicago, teenagers must choose in which of five virtue-based factions they’ll live the rest of their lives, and of course action and romance ensue.
Juliet by Anne Fortier – No time for a summer vacation? Read this thriller and you’ll feel like you’re in Sienna, Italy. (In fact, I’m planning a trip there next year just because of this book.) Juliet and her sister Janice have just lost their dear Aunt Rose when Juliet finds out the family has been hiding a secret that may mean she’s related to the person on whom Shakespeare based his famous character of the same name. Juliet travels to Italy and uncovers the original story of Guiletta and Romeo (the one before Shakespeare’s version and, yes, there were ones before him) all the while unraveling her own family mystery. This is one of the most romantic (not graphic or raunchy) books I’ve ever read – tied for my all-time favorite book.
The Rossetti Letter by Christi Phillips – Siena not your style? How about Venice? In this historical thriller a single letter unites a modern-day historian to a 17thcentury Venetian courtesan and murderous plot to overthrow the city. And the plot is based on a real conspiracy. The writing so rich you’ll be able to hear the waters lapping at the canal banks, guaranteed.
Abandon by Meg Cabot – I just started this book because the author is coming to town and I won’t go to a signing not having read the author’s work. And I wanted to read it anyway. It’s a modern retelling of the Greek myth of Persephone and Demeter. Slow to start so far, but given that it comes from the author of the Princess Diaries, I’m hoping it won’t disappoint.
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater – This one’s been big with the YA (Young Adult) crowd for a while now and the author is also coming to town, so I bought it. It’s next on my list. All I know is it is about werewolves (and I hate werewolves), but a friend of mine shared a few passages and the writing is lusciously lyrical. Here’s part of what Amazon.com said about it: “Told from alternating points of view, the narrative takes a classic Romeo & Juliet plot and transforms it into a paranormal romance that is beautiful and moving… A must-have that will give Bella and Edward a run for their money.”
What about you? What are your summer book picks? Or even your favorite books? Tell me in the comments below. We may have some favorites in common.