Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Soundtrack of Writing

Well, Summer is here, which means I'm writing. I'm spinning a lot of plates thanks to a unique opportunity afforded to me by my employer. I am a teacher consultant at the Seven Valleys Writing Program's Summer Institute at SUNY Cortland in Cortland, NY. (For the visual learners, picture the Carrier Dome, turn south, drive for about 45 minutes and you are in Cortland.) The 7VWP is part of the National Writing Project and I am now a member of the family. (It's like the Mafia, without the RICO laws.) This program has me spinning dozens of metaphorical plates in my writing world. Part of the program is a very sizable chunk of writing time each day to work on any number of projects, which I have gleefully done. It's been amazing and I can feel my batteries recharging about not only my writing but school.

About my writing, I was chugging along at the contemporary YA, THE SEVEN LABORS, and making good time on it actually breaking past what I imagined the half way point to be when I shipped it off to a beta to just sort of skim and tell me what they thought of what I was doing with something that was making me uncomfortable. Well, I was okay, but said beta made me realize that this was a good place to stop and do a rewrite of the first half. I had some ideas for the second half that would completely botch the first half, so for continuity's sake, I stopped and boxed it for a few weeks. I'm not quitting, I'm just putting it aside to let it marinate.

I've got a new idea that I'm working on that has me excited. I'm not sure what it is yet...a novella, a MG book or a chapter book. I'm hazy on the title so don't ask, but I can describe it best as being "a more malicious version of E.T but from the ocean." I can't go further into it because, as I said, I'm still not sure what it is.

But this blog post is about soundtrack because music has been driving a lot of the writing I've been doing. This writing institute has been a breeding ground for my writing since I'm spending a lot of time looking back to my youth and in trying to capture that by choosing music to get me into that thought process. Since I was looking back I had decided that my story was going to be set in Queens, NY in the late 80s. My soundtrack? Billy Joel, focusing on the live album recorded at Shea Stadium with some other songs thrown in there, all by Billy Joel. It's fueled my writing, which really is what music should be doing when you are writing. It can't get in the way and it can't necessarily completely drive the writing, but it has to provide the energy for writing.

I'd love to finish this up by the end of July. Like I said, it's not going to be one of my epics (more on that in a sec), but we'll see what I can wedge in. Hopefully, I'll have a title.

I've got to be honest though, I kind of missing writing one of my big, epic pieces. I'm going to return to SISTERS OF KHODA soon because I think I have a solution to my problems with that book and how to fix it. (More epic.)

So back to the writing.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Book Review: Frostborn

It's really unusual that the two most recent books I read and am reviewing this summer have been two Nordic inspired books filled with snow and ice considering the oppressive heat that had settled over Central New York for the last two weeks. And both books have been phenomenal for different reasons.

It would be safe to say that reading Lou Anders' Frostborn after reading Abercrombie's Half A King could be considered unfair, but Anders has written a completely different kind of book that does what it does really, really well. Labeled by some as middle grade, it's hard to argue, but it reads "older" and more like a RPG tie in novel. (More on that later.)

Frostborn is a fantasy adventure told through the POV of two young people (one of my favorite methods of telling a story), a female giantess of mixed heritage and a young boy more interested in playing games than learning how to run his father's farm. The two characters meet and embark on a dangerous adventure with both of their families lives hanging in the balance.

 Anders captures the awkwardness of adolescence brilliantly in this story while not hitting you over the head with it. One of the issues I have with YA/MG right now is that author's focus so much on how much of a schlub our hero/protagonist is. I love that while both characters are awkward in their own way, they are capable and confident in others. That is something that is so overlooked in so much YA that I'm reading these days. Karn and Thianna are great characters, especially Thianna....a strong female character as a lead...just what we need in fantasy these days.

The plot is snappy. Not as grim as Abercrombie (big shocker there), it's more of a romp with just the right number of hints that there is a much bigger picture than we are seeing about these characters. It's a real skill to pull this off and Anders does it well. In this day and age of grimdark, fantasy is missing the fun and Frostborn provides that in spades without diminishing the risk and tension of what the characters are going through. It's a classic, well done chase book with all the tropes of a chase book executed brilliantly. I'm looking forward to the next step of what these characters are going through, how they are going to grow and how it fits in the world at large.

Let's talk a little about the world...I know, having talked to Lou via social networking, that there is a larger world and a setting guide/RPG created for the world of Frostborn. I have something of a fetish (maybe not the right word, but it's the best I can do right now) for setting guides and if I had extra money kicking around, there would be a shelf of these sitting in my imaginary office somewhere. I know that Lou and I share this fetish (again, I make it seem salacious) and his world building is brilliant. It's a very real and fascinating world that he's created that fits what I think that he might be doing. He mixes the right real world cultural and historical references together to build a terrific world. I'm eager to see how these pieces fit together in the next volume. It's a pretty darn good study in world building and how to introduce a world without a lot of exposition.

Lou Anders is one of the good guys in fantasy publishing right now. About a year ago, he did me a solid that I will always appreciate. As an editor, he's putting out some of the best new voices out there. I have a dream list of editors that I'd love to work with some day and he's among them. He's written a terrific fantasy novel for all ages. Don't let the whole middle grade thing throw you, any fantasy fans will enjoy his book.