As every bookworm knows … there comes a time when one must consciously uncouple from a book and promptly yeet it out of the window. Metaphorically speaking.
A CURSE SO DARK AND LONELY
YA books and I don’t have the best relationship. It’s not them, it’s me. I experienced a lot of dissonance with the characters, the plots, and the writing. (The binding, the front cover designs, the blurbs and the fonts are usually on point though.)
I DNF-d A Curse So Dark And Lonely because frankly I was bored. (I usually am loathe to admit boredom. ‘Only boring people get bored’ I used to tell myself smugly. Oh how the turntables have …) I didn’t care about the characters. The plot felt like porridge with no honey. Bread with no butter! English breakfast tea with no milk! I didn’t connect with the novel, and so therefore, reading it was a struggle.
It seems to have been a well-received book, but unfortunately, I couldn’t quite get it. And that’s okay! Different readers have different tastes, and perhaps if I tried again, I might like it.
MERCY & EAGLEFLIGHT
Christian fiction … ah, yes. Christian fiction. When done well, it is wonderful and brilliant (hello there! C.S Lewis!) when it is done badly … I refuse to accept that Christian fiction should be given a pass just because someone has slapped a label on it and marked it as ‘Christian’.
(If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and swims like a duck IT WILL NOT SUDDENLY TURN INTO A CAMEL OF BRILLIANCE IF YOU JUST PLONK A ‘CHRISTIAN’ LABEL ON IT.)
(That was a metaphor. The duck was bad fiction. The camel of brilliance was a good fiction. Just so you know. Like the book, I am subtle.)
So much telling – we were told everything. There was no subtlety. No nuance. No trusting of the readers to actually grasp the emotional journey that the characters were going through. We must be led through it, holding the author’s hand.
I approach fiction wanting a story not a sermon so perhaps … the fault lies with me, not managing my expectations. BUT STILL !!! I protest. I PROTEST STRONGLY.
The main characters felt very clean and cookie-cutter. Too clean and cookie-cutter. Too 2D..
There were entire chapters of dialogue. This isn’t always a bad thing. But … but I would propose that perhaps the message of the book could have been gotten across with perhaps, say, an article in a magazine, not in a work of fiction.
There is an absolutely foul section where we are given horribly racist character just to show us how bad he is and then we never see him again. It was degrading and it had no place in the book. It felt like a cheap way of making us hate a character. It was an ugly line of dialogue that did not need to be included for us to get the idea that this guy? = bad. There are no excuses.
There’s a point where a female character is sharing the gospel with another male character … and she sends him to go speak to another man because ‘men think differently.’
I’m sorry. I didn’t know that there was a female and male way of talking about faith? Clearly, I must have missed a Bible verse or two.
Ah yes, the inevitable assault on the female character by a villain. A villain who only exists to Be Evil, by the way. Some people are destined to have nuance and character, some others … are not.
… I should stop here, shouldn’t I? I got through it. Sometimes, whilst I read this, my arms flailed, and my entire body cringed and shrivelled up like a raisin.
Is this the book, I cried, that repelled a thousand ships?!
This book was published in 1996 – perhaps Christian fiction has improved since then? I certainly hope so.
JUST ONE DAMNED THING AFTER ANOTHER
The best thing about this book was that it had dinosaurs (!!!!) and the Library of Alexandra. Also: time-travel.
Unfortunately, the story was … MC joins time-traveling organization. Shenanigans and hi-jinks ensue. One thing happens after another, and the plot feels very squint-and-you’ll-miss-it. A character – who has hitherto displayed no rage – lashes out in anger. I felt startled because I’d imagined that he was calm and sedate and then BLAM! INSTANT GREMLIN!
Also – I thought that this was a YA book. And then there was a particular scene that made me place the book down on the bed and stare into the abyss of air. It was not a YA book. A surprising twist.
This is a first book in a series, and of course, sometimes a series takes a book to hit its stride. This may well be the case. Perhaps I’m being too harsh? However, though I felt the concept was TRULY interesting (DID YOU HEAR THE BIT ABOUT HOW THIS HAS DINOSAURS?!!!!) the characters weren’t on the dinosaurs’ level.
In lieu of using Goodreads, I keep my own reading log. It isn’t anything special – just a spiral notebook (a spiral notebook WITH UNICORNS ON THE FRONT. ah-hem), but it has my thoughts scrawled in drunken chicken scratchings. It’s very useful and stops read books getting lost, drained through the colander of my memory.
I was stuck by inspiration – what if, I thought, what if I pretended that I was either a) a famous book critic (THINK: THAT BLOKE FROM RATATOUILLE) or b) an author writing a blurb for someone, who was also HELLA hangry and in need of the loo. In DESPERATE need of the loo.
So I searched my reading log and found the below …
‘I love it but at the same time I don’t.’
Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier
‘BatCat (More. Screen. Time. Please)’
BATMAN: HUSH (which I read as a comic but apparently I think comics have screen time so … oh-kay then.)
‘Moved like a sluggish river in summer’s drought’
The Rain From God, by Mark Ammerman
‘Initially thought that it was mediocre and uninspiring, however, I was wrong’
BOOSTER GOLD: BLUE AND GOLD
‘Contained the soul of Robin Hood’
The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, blurbed by: a dramatic goldfish
‘A Christian acid trip’
Perelandra, by C S Lewis
I’m afraid that I amuse myself greatly. Have you read any of these? How would YOU blurb them?
On the 30th of May, I finished That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis – the forty-fifth book in my book buying ban.
I was finished. I was done.
181 days had passed without a single book purchase. I’d read 45 books that I’d owned and never read before.
I’d love to tell you that I bought one book, or perhaps two. Or three.
Reader, I did not.
I splurged. I feasted. I laid waste to my bank account. I had a list, I crossed off that list. I crossed off books that weren’t even on the list. I made brutal decisions on which books to buy and which books to leave behind. It was cold and calculated and amazing.
I splurged on books on sleep, classical poetry, on hieroglyphics, on classics, on current events, on the Amelia Peabody series, on children’s books, on research books and so on and so forth.
I didn’t know why on earth I’d done such a stooped thing as to ever embark on a book buying ban in the first place. What a half-wit! What a nincompoop!
I was a fish returned to her natural habitat: the sea.
And then it abated. (These things tend to.)
(A lean month of penny pinching followed. Your actions, dear friends, have consequences.)
“I’m all for building a personal library, but I want to do it in a mindful manner. Not in a frenzy of buying a stack of books I’ve haven’t read.”
I have no defense. For the bad grammar (PRESENT PERFECT? Here? Pfft. What a noob.) or for ignoring the lesson. I was a bookworm drunk on power. I have learned lessons and after the ban, I chose to ignore those lessons. It was glorious.
I’ve learned that as a reader, I should enjoy the things I have – the books on my shelves. No book left unread! and all that.
And as a ban-parched bookworm? I’d like to think that I’ve learned to appreciate the prospect of new adventures and to look for books of interest. Not mindlessly reaching for just any old book ( LOOK! A BOOK IN THE WILD! GOTTA CATCH ‘EM ALL!), but to think about the ones I’d like to read.
Because of that book on sleep, I’ve learned the value of sleep, get more than five hours per night (huzzah! There can be miracles!!) and the black sacks under my eyes are less evident. (I mean – they’re still there but I feel better about them. )
Books have power – to inspire, to give you knowledge, and to whisk you away to worlds unknown.
I love it.
I truly do.
If this book buying ban has taught me anything it is this: reading is a delight to me – a real delight.
I’ve owned most of The Pit Dragon Chronicles by Jane Yolen for at least three years. I’ve read the first one, it wasn’t EXACTLY my cup of tea, and I wasn’t keen on reading the rest.
So I decided to pretend that I have – and to recount them to you. Guessing the plot from their front covers. You’re welcome. It is chaotic. There are plot holes probably. You have been warned.
*** My apologies to the author and any fans of these books ***
AKA THE ONE I DID READ
This is a book about a dragon fight club in a world not unlike Jakku and I’m not here for that. A dragon fight club is simply depressing. Dragons? In a fight club? Controlled by humans? I cannot allow it. How awful. How tragic for these mighty beasts!
I read this book and was very frustrated with Akki, the female character. She was too … she was too much. That’s what she was. Sometimes reading about girls who are stubborn and mysterious ALL THE TIME etc etc tire me out. It wearies the brain. Strains the nerves. Beats me why, but there we are.
I think the hero, Jakkin, is going to be a misogynist, but the girl will Teach Him Not To Be. Also, there is a dragon that he’s bonded to. Yes, I know. Very shocking. Totally unexpected. Also, I hate the front cover because the dragon looks like the kind of dragon who tells dodgy jokes and expects you to laugh at them and is probably a relative of Jar Jar Binks but worse.
It’s not a bad story. In fact, it might be someone’s favourite book. If it is – forgive me … and maybe don’t read the rest of this post?
AKA THE ONE I HAVEN’T READ.
So, at the end of the last book, Akki had left, leaving Jakkin with his bonded dragon, Heart’s Blood. However, Jakkin’s having difficulty sleeping. Because he misses Akki, and he’s allergic to beans. (However, he bought far too many beans from a trader and they’re all he has to eat. So. Fun times.) To stop the insomnia, Jakkin reads books to his dragon. They’re all romances.
(His local library is very limited and all the trainers of the pit dragons adore romance novels.)
Heart’s Blood is a bright dragon. She figures out that maybe if she gets Akki back to Jakkin then maybe Jakkin won’t use her to viciously fight her own kind. Because of the power of love.
(Heart’s Blood is a pacifist and hates fighting her kind in the ring. Night after night she slays them. It’s getting to her. She’s Too Old For This.)
Anyway, Heart’s Blood decides to heck with this and sends a Dragon Letter to Akki. Akki doesn’t get it, mainly because a) Heart’s Blood can’t write and b) dragons don’t have a postal system.
So. That plan fails.
Until one fateful day when Akki turns up. She needs Jakkin, it’s all very mysterious and she says that TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE and suddenly they are being chased in the dark. They crash into something and BOOM! PLOT TWIST! IT’S HEART’S BLOOD!! Dragons don’t have mail but they have devious plans and dragon-speak telepathy! (Heart’s Blood forgot about that when she tried to write a letter.)
(Heart’s Blood could never be accused of being particularly bright.)
Heart’s Blood captures them in her wings and cackles evilly. (Though Heart’s Blood has taken a dragon vow of silence so she could be choking silently. That’s a possibility too). Jakkin and Akki don’t know Heart’s Blood is evil though – they think they are safe – but then they turn around and see what is chasing them AND IT’S …
We end the book on a cliff hanger. I have several crucial questions:
why has Heart’s Blood turned evil? Has the blood shedding gotten to her? Has she snapped? WILL THERE BE REDEMPTION?
who is chasing them?!!
why does Akki need Jakkin?
why is the climactic scene on the front cover of the book? Geez! No one thought that through.
A SENDING OF DRAGONS
AKA I HAVEN’T READ THIS ONE EITHER
First of all, none of the questions I asked were answered. A METAPHOR???
Okay. I know what we’re all thinking: Heart’s Blood keeps Akki and Jakkin as slaves to feed its offspring.
It is another SURPRISE! METAPHOR! Something about dragons taking princess only Akki and Jakkin aren’t royalty but shush, don’t tell Heart’s Blood that. (She isn’t aware of the precise nuances of the feudal system. She also doesn’t know it exists.)
The entire book is a deep Dragon Discourse as Heart’s Blood Tells All to Jakkin about the history of dragons. It’s a Moby Dick length book. With entire chapters on scale care. The only shame is … Jakkin doesn’t understand Heart’s Blood because of the vow of silence thing, and Heart’s Blood doesn’t know sign language.
It’s a frustrating book, but also very deep.
We conclude the series with the protagonists sitting around the fire, Heart’s Blood falls asleep after her discourse is finished. When she wakes up – it was All A Dream. More specifically, Jakkin’s dream that Heart’s Blood was stuck in because of the whole mind bond thing.
With a roar of rage Heart’s Blood eats Jakkin.
As if she would take a vow of silence!
If you have read this series – drop a comment down below and tell me how VERY CLOSE I WAS TO THE ACTUAL PLOT. I think I must have hit the nail on the head.
I am a social creature. Clearly. Today, I have the marvelous Kyle Robert Shultz with me. (I mean, not literally. But in spirit.) Shultz is the author of multiple series set in the Afterverse, a parallel universe where myths, fairy tales, and classic stories are real events and part of history. He lives in self-imposed exile in the southern Idaho desert, far enough away from humanity to protect innocent lives should he lose control of his awesome fictional powers and rip a hole in the space-time continuum or something.
So sit down (or stand), grab a cup of tea (or a pint, or a horn of ale, or coffee, OR HERBAL TEA OR NOTHING) and settle in – we’re in for yet another treat.
***DON’T READ ON … if you’d rather not touch on how Medusa is possibly misunderstood, ponder the best parts of book birthing, and dive into the deep depths of escapism and reading.***
I’ve been really enjoying Deadwood. Clearly you have an excellent sense of humour. What makes you laugh? Puns? Sarcasm? The ridiculous? Naked snails?
Why, thank you! So far as types of humor are concerned, I am very much on the dry, snarky end of the spectrum. The Twelfth Doctor is my spirit animal…either him or Peter B. Parker from Into the Spider-Verse; it varies. Though that doesn’t mean that a well-executed, totally goofy pun won’t elicit a snort of mirth from me from time to time. And of course, the vast comedic potential of naked snails is not to be underestimated.
The weird thing is that my style of humor varies depending on what character I’m writing, or, to put it another way, which part of the world I’m writing in. Todd Crane’s sense of humor in the Crockett and Crane series is decidedly American, and those books are a little more goofy in tone. Nick Beasley from the Beaumont and Beasley series, on the other hand, is a gruff, no-nonsense Londoner (or rather, Talesender, in this case) inhabiting a world with a distinctly Wodehousean flavor to its funny. I’m not a Brit myself, but I have immersed myself in a great deal of Britishness over the years through books, audiobooks, radio plays, etc.
Favourite mythological figure – from any culture! – go!
You want me to choose? Have you no mercy??? Okay, I’ll take a crack at it. I think I’ll go with…Hades. I mean, his relationship with Persephone is actually pretty sweet in quite a few versions of the myth; he once trapped two would-be kidnappers in magic chairs, which is hilarious; and he literally named his gigantic three-headed monster-dog Spot. He’s awesome.
Is Medusa maligned? I feel as though she, like sharks, have terrible PR. What are your thoughts?
Yes, I think that’s very accurate. The oldest myths about Medusa describe her as having been born with her unfortunate powers, so it’s hardly her fault, even if she did end up a little homicidal over time. I mean, who wouldn’t, in that situation? Perhaps if Perseus had just taken the time to have a conversation with her instead of getting all head-choppy, the conflict could have been resolved in a more civilized manner.
No, no, you’ve got it wrong. The question is obviously “Why not centaurs?” After all, they tend to appear in one of only two over-used archetypes: the barbaric monster or the star-gazing soothsayer. It’s high time they got more diverse representation in fantasy. You’re welcome, centaurs of the world.
However, to answer your question, I will have to rewind to the original draft of Crockett and Crane Book 1: Horseman, which was entitled “Horse and Man.” The book was much, much too long, and as I was editing, I realized that there were far too many instances of my main character Todd saying “I leaped astride my mettlesome charger and, wheeling into the wind, cried out, ‘Hi-ho, Cedric! Away!’”
Slashing these reduced the draft from 200,000 to 50,000 words. But what of poor Cedric, and Todd’s need for transportation? Then, HARK, a brilliant idea: what if Todd was his own transportation? And so, Todd became a centaur. (Part-time, anyway.) This was clearly the most straightforward solution to the problem.
What’s a key component of your writing routine?
Writing. Which sounds like a really dumb and/or sarcastic answer, but that is not my intention…let me explain. What I mean is that if I don’t sit down with the intention of actually putting words on the page, one way or another, I’m not going to get any writing done that day, or possibly ever. I don’t necessarily write every day, as some people advise, but on a day when I’ve set out to write, I only allow myself a few minutes of “planning” time. If my brain hasn’t succeeded in coming up with a workable plan, and the clock is ticking, I say, “Okay brain, you’ve had your chance,” and just launch into freewriting. Some of my best ideas have come from this method.
Does a book come fully formed into your mind like KABLAM! THE BOOK IS IN YOUR HEAD! Or do you spend years plotting methodically? Or do you metaphorically fly by the seat of your metaphorical pinstriped trousers?
KABLAM! is actually a very accurate synopsis of my process. That’s not to say I have every last detail of the story in my head from the beginning, though…at least, not consciously. Typically, I get a tidal wave of inspiration for a story, then start writing madly until I’ve at least gotten the most crucial or difficult scenes on paper. After that, it’s more or less smooth sailing. I wouldn’t quite call it “pantsing”—or is it “trousering”?—because I do have at least a semblance of a plan. I just don’t write the plan out on paper because it uses up valuable energy and spoils all the fun surprises. Plus, I look terrible in metaphorical pinstripes.
Favourite part of the entire book birthing process? (That’s a weird analogy. I apologise. BUT STILL.)
No, it’s actually a great analogy. Can we authors help it if there are similarities between the two processes? Stop judging us, tiresome normal humans. I think my favorite part is actually the middle-ish part of the story, when I’m completely caught up in the creative flow and I know exactly where I’m headed with my various arcs. Granted, when it’s over, I find myself surrounded by empty coffee cups, wildly scribbled notes on any scraps of paper to hand, and unconscious people who dared try to interrupt me during the process, but it’s all worth it.
Hardest part of the biz? (For me it’s the fame. It’s just so difficult to handle.)
The fame is crushing. That said, I think the hardest part for me is balancing the business with the art. Mainly because I’m weird and I actually enjoy the business side of things, so I can easily get too caught up in one or the other. There has to be a balance between the two, or it just doesn’t work. It’s no good trying to create my own evil business empire to rival Disney if I’m not spending plenty of time just writing books. And, on the other hand, no matter how much I love simply sitting down and writing, I won’t get very far if I don’t pay attention to my business.
Are you ready for two deep questions?
Not remotely. Back, fiend. Back, I say.
TOO LATE. I often hear that reading is a form of escapism. Personally my answer is complicated, never succinct and always essay length. What’s yours?
I’m tempted to write an essay as well, but I’ll try to control myself. My simple response to this criticism would be, how is it a criticism, and what’s wrong with escapism? Now, granted, there are probably unhealthy forms of escapism, but I have yet to meet an average reader who is “too absorbed” in the worlds of their favorite books. I would say that the particular kind of escapism which comes from books is exceptionally healthy, especially since it puts the imagination to work more than other forms of entertainment. My books are frequently referred to as “harmless fun,” but it’s usually not in a derogatory context, because harmless fun is often what people want. So it doesn’t offend me in the slightest, nor would I call anyone out for saying it.
Also, they are most definitely not harmless fun, Steve B. on Amazon, and if you don’t see the very weighty philosophical message in Chapter Twenty-Seven of The Reckoning of Rumpelstiltskin, then that is entirely your problem, you Philistine.
Our world seems a little darker and our lives can be difficult – how do you feel picking up a book can affect that? And, as a writer, how do you feel writing a book can help?
Speaking as a reader, I believe that picking up a book—especially a work of fantasy or science fiction, since those are my go-to genres—allows me to step outside the madness for a while, which gives me both breathing space and a fresh perspective. Granted, in order to accomplish that, it needs to be the right kind of book—the kind that I attempt to write myself. There’s a certain degree of idealism in my fiction; it’s definitely not “gritty” or “grounded.” But I believe that writers of the “fairy story” (the catch-all term which both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien used for fantasy, mythology, etc.) have a responsibility to sprinkle at least a little idealism into their work, especially when writing from the Christian perspective. Our stories should incorporate what Tolkien called the “eucatastrophe,” “the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce).” Especially since, as Tolkien goes on to say, “the Resurrection was the greatest ‘eucatastrophe’ possible in the greatest Fairy Story – and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love.” (quotes from Tolkien’s “Letter 89”)
And finally – the VERY LAST QUESTION – what’s a solid tip, saying, sword, sentence, paragraph and/or elf that will help an aspiring writer?
Never tell anyone, including yourself, that you don’t know what you’re doing. Of course you don’t; you’re a writer. If you knew what you were doing, there wouldn’t be any surprises, and you wouldn’t have any fun. Pretend you do know what you’re doing, write the story anyway, and it will all turn out fine in the end. Trust me. I know exactly what I’m doing.
(And I do apologize for the deplorable lack of helpful elves.)
Thank you for stopping by, Kyle! It’s been a pleasure having you on here. I will forgive you for the lack of helpful elves one day.
You can stalk Kyle here, check out his brand-new release right here,or check out his book design business right here. (You might not need anything book designing-wise but you can still be nosy muhahahaha.)