Sunday, November 29, 2009

NaNoWriMo 2009: The End

I DID IT! I finished my NaNo novel!

And I did it a whole day early. Now I can go to bed.

Almost to the End

Hi, everybody! My husband and I are home from our trip East for Thankgiving. We had a wonderful holiday with our family and I got a lot of writing done on my NaNoWriMo novel. Yay! Just two more days of NaNo and then I will be back here with regular posts.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Teaser Tuesday 11/24

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • Share the title & author, too, so that others can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teaser!
From Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clark:
The hall was dark at first, but in a moment candles were brought and they could see that someone was standing at the foot of the stairs.
It was Arabella.
Who is Arabella? I have no idea! I'm not there in the book yet.
Please ignore this post. Just a bit of housekeeping.



Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Update: NaNoWriMo Week 3

Yikes! Week 3 is nearing an end already. I got sick this week, so now I'm really behind. Excuses, excuses, I know. I better throw myself into it this weekend and catch up.

Good luck to all of you who are plugging away on your novels.

Previously: Week 1, Week 2

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Interview with Justin Allen, Author of Year of the Horse

A few weeks ago, I reviewed Justin Allen's fabulous Wild West coming-of-age novel, Year of the Horse. (link goes to my review) I had so many questions about his ideas for the book and how he came up with him, so I was thrilled when he agreed to be interviewed.

Lorin: Where did the idea or inspiration for Year of the Horse come from? How did you get the idea to incorporate fantasy into what is otherwise a Western, coming-of-age story? Year of the Horse, to me, is a rarity: it tells a story of the Old West through the point of view of a person of Chinese descent. Where did the idea to do that come from?

Justin: I first came up with the idea of writing a Wild-West Fantasy Novel while on a short vacation to the Florida Keys with my friend, Kennon Irons. We were sitting in a diner, eating breakfast and wishing that the Monsoon-like rain we’d been experiencing for the last three days would JUST QUIT for a few minutes, so we could go to the beach, go to the Everglades, or just go OUTSIDE.

Anyhow, I got to complaining about how so much fantasy fiction is nothing more than the eternal rehashing of King Arthur, Tolkien, and the Chronicles of Narnia. Kennon, who very much likes that sort of thing, wondered what I had against King Arthur, and it suddenly came to me… What I hated wasn’t King Arthur (I love King Arthur, by the way, and all that sort of thing). What I hated was that when Americans write that sort of fantasy, it’s just as though we’re still stuck in some sort of pseudo-Colonial state. Why can’t we produce American fantasy? Kennon argued that fantasy was as much swords and chivalry as magic and wonder, and that any attempt to replace the broadsword with the six-shooter would ultimately fail. “Bull!!!” I said it then, and I’ll say it now with even more ferocity! In fact, “Bull CRAP!!!” The Western has always been mostly fantastical. Don’t believe me? Watch some old Clint Eastwood films and see if you don’t begin to have a whole passel of wonderings. For instance, how in heaven’s name does he always have the right number of bullets in his gun? Or, how come there aren’t more than six guys he has to shoot? And where in the name of all that’s holy is he anyway? Is that supposed to be Mexico? Then how is he escaping from a Confederate Prisoner of War camp? Yeesh! Did the filmmakers know anything about North American Geography at all?

In fact, the Western has more fantasy aspects to it, by its very nature, than just about any other genre. It’s just dying to be exploited. That’s why I dedicated Year of the Horse to ‘our favorite Oxford Dons.’ It’s my way of saying, “Thanks, but Enough. We’ve had all the medievalism we need for a while. We’re DONE with that.” I say, let’s strike new ground! Let’s make myths out of our own people, landscape and mythical heritage.

As for Lu…

I don’t know exactly how or when I decided to make an American-born Chinese boy the main character in the book. The first character I thought up was actually Jack Straw - itinerant adventurer, gunfighter and mystic. Lu came a good deal into the planning.

I’d read China Men by Maxine Hong Kingston, and very much enjoyed the sections where she described the dangerous jobs that Chinese immigrants performed during the American push westward, especially in mining and railroad building. Huge numbers of Chinese men were killed or maimed while handling explosives (no one knows just how many). So I figured a Chinese explosives “expert” would be a fascinating addition to my story about the west. Plus, using a Chinese boy, and making him pretty much no different from any other boy his age, allowed me to say something about what it means to be an American. I wanted to show Lu realizing, over the course of the journey, that he was truly an American, as much a symbol of his country as Sadie or Henry or Jack. And I wanted readers to come to that realization with him.

Lorin: In the acknowledgments for Year of the Horse, you wrote that the female characters in the book were based on several of your actual family members. Were Lu and the other members of Jack's gang also based on real people? If not, where did the ideas for those characters come from?

Justin: All of the characters in Year of the Horse come from somewhere. All of the minor characters do, anyway. The main group: Lu, Jack, Henry, Chino, Sadie and her father, are all my own creations. I never met anyone like Jack, have no Uncles like Henry or any old enemies like Chino. I developed these core characters entirely on their own, discovering each as I followed him or her across the country.

Their NAMES, however, were all chosen for historical, literary or personal reasons. Lu’s name, for instance, comes from The Analects of Confucius. Tzu-lu was one of Confucius’s favorite disciples, known as an adventurer and swashbuckler. Likewise, Henry is named after John Henry, the famous “steel driving man.” His last name, Jesus, comes from the practice of freed slaves taking on the names of their former masters. Henry would have none of that, I thought – his only ‘master’ being his Savior – so I figured he’d take on the name that meant most to him. Manuel Garcia – also known as ‘Chino’ – got his name from a famous bandit in the old west. MacLemore was named after Louis L'Amour - “Mac” in Scottish meaning “son of” - as well as a family I know in Montgomery, Alabama (my sister-in-law’s last name is McLemore). And Sadie – This is something I have NEVER told ANYONE until now – is actually named after a dog I had when I was a boy. I loved that dog more than I could possibly say, and so appropriated her name for Year of the Horse. Jack Straw takes his name from a revolutionary figure in British History, and from the fact that I always liked the name ‘Jack’ for a gunfighter.

But as I said before, though their names come from some association that means something to me, there is no ACTUAL relationship between my characters and their namesakes. The minor characters, now that’s a different story…

Lorin: Clearly, you referenced Washington Irving in Year of the Horse. In my review, I mentioned that it also reminded me of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Were you influenced by Mark Twain? What other authors inspire your work?

Justin: Thank you, Lorin, for mentioning Mark Twain. I can say without reservation that no writer anywhere has influenced me more. In fact, in Year of the Horse, I actually referenced some of Twain’s characters. You remember that scene where Lu and the gang cross the Quapaw River on a log raft? Well, I was thinking of Jim and Huck there (in fact, if you go back and look, you’ll notice that the customs agent’s name is ‘Jim’). Honestly, I’m not sure you can have a log raft in a book and NOT have people think of Huck Finn. Also, try Googling ‘Philip Traum’ and see what you find. I’ll bet you’ll be surprised.

There are references to famous American (and a few non-American) authors sprinkled throughout Year of the Horse. I get a big bang out of finding (or inventing) connections. In the book you can find references to Harriet Beecher Stowe, Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne. I even made what I thought to be a funny reference to one lesser-known American Author. It’s when Lu is following Bill through the Hell Mouth Canyon and they come upon a waterfall. Most readers probably won’t recognize that reference, but one or two might. In fact, Bill himself is a sort of reference to the tall tales of Pecos Bill, his wife Slue-Foot Sue, and his horse Widowmaker.

And though I made no conscious references to them, there are oodles of other authors I’ve learned from and loved. I particularly love Jack Kerouac, Alan Moore, Larry McMurtry and Phillip K. Dick. I am a big fan of Ursula LeGuin and Barbara Kingsolver, think the world of Robert Heinlein and Charles Dickens (everybody please read A Christmas Carol – it is sooooo good!). And yes, I love Tolkien and CS Lewis as well. But for the references I sprinkled into Year of the Horse I tried to stick mostly to American writers of the 18th century.

Lorin: How much research did you do for Year of the Horse? Where do you do your research – Google, the library?

Justin: Well, there were a lot of little details that I had to look up. For instance, I don’t know much about guns or saddles, or any of that sort of thing. So I got me a copy of Illustrated Directory of the Old West. The pictures in that book were Invaluable. For example, I knew I wanted Lu to discover a brass revolver – the confederate army really did make brass revolvers for their officers to wear as side-arms, stealing the designs from all sorts of legitimate gun-makers (I have no idea whether they could actually be fired). But what kind of revolver ought it to be? A colt? An Allen? Something more unique or unusual? In the Directory, I was able to go from page to page, looking at drawings and descriptions of all sorts of pistols, both rare and not so rare. The same with Henry’s rifle. And the MacLemores’ saddles. If you’re thinking of writing a western, I suggest that little book. It’s a good’un.

Lorin: This question ties in with the previous one: Did you have the opportunity go to all the amazing places the gang visits? Was there any one place that you enjoyed writing about the most?

Justin: As a matter of fact, I have been to All those places – in a sense. Of course, in another sense, none of those places even EXIST. The geography in Year of the Horse is highly fictionalized. I wanted to create a fantastic, mythical America, rather than a factual one. But I still wanted readers to recognize the landscapes as being palpably American. So, most everywhere they go in the book is based on some famous feature of the American landscape, only made bigger than life. For instance – The Hell Mouth. You can probably guess that it was based on the Grand Canyon. And yes, I HAVE been to the Grand Canyon. In fact, in 2005 my family rode Mules into the Grand Canyon on Christmas Day - an experience I can not recommend highly enough. But the Hell Mouth is not JUST the Grand Canyon. It is also Hell’s Canyon in Western Idaho (note the similarity of name), and the Salmon River Gorge. In fact, I guess you could say that the Hell Mouth is all American Canyons rolled into one, and then multiplied by ten.

Lorin: What hobbies do you have in addition to your writing? Do you think one of them will work their way into a book?

Justin: I am a ballet dancer! You didn’t expect to hear that, I’ll wager. In fact, I wouldn’t even call ballet a hobby. It’s more an avocation. I take ballet class pretty much every day, and I work with two ballet companies here in New York – Eidolon Ballet and Dances Patrelle. Right now I’m rehearsing with Dances Patrelle, getting ready to dance as the Mouse King in their annual “The Yorkville Nutcracker.”

I don’t expect ever to write a ballet book, but this past year I did write a story for ballet, and I got it performed, too. The ballet was called, “Murder at the Masque: The Casebook of Edgar Allan Poe.” It was very successful, with beautiful sets, amazing dancers, gorgeous costumes, an amazing original score by Patrick Soluri, and the breathtaking choreography of Francis Patrelle. The ballet was even reviewed by the New York Times! [Find the review here] The reviewer never mentioned me (doesn’t that suck!), but it was still cool to know that I had a hand in putting that ballet together.

Lorin: What are your future plans for writing? Are you working on your next book?

Justin: I have lots of other books I want to write, and a couple I am working on right now. First, I’m writing a travel book about the National Parks (that’s how I’ve visited so many of the places that inspired the geography of Year of the Horse). I am also half-way through a science fiction book about the unintended consequences of new technology (like, what if people decide that it is better to have robot legs than real? Will they allow them in the NFL?).

And I’ve been thinking about doing a sequel to Year of the Horse, too. What would you think about a novel that mixed fantasy with the gang-land era Chicago of Al Capone? Maybe Jack Straw could be working with Eliot Ness, or maybe he would work with Al Capone? I don’t know exactly what that book would be about yet, but I think it would be a fun challenge.

Thank you so much, Justin, for taking the time to answer my questions!

Find Year of the Horse: A Novel on Amazon.

Author photos provided by Justin Allen.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Teaser Tuesday 11/17

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • Share the title & author, too, so that others can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teaser!
Let's see if you can guess this one:
They were just oversized, over-muscled children, and they looked forward to this like it was a picnic on the beach. I could not have them in danger, too.
Do you know what book that's from? Highlight here to find out: It is Eclipse (Twilight Book 3) by Stephanie Meyer. Let me know if you guessed correctly in the comments!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Review: Tehanu

On a visit to a used bookstore in town, the kind with stacks of books to the ceiling and a cat making her bed on a shelf, I found Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin. I devoured Le Guin's Earthsea trilogy (A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, and The Farthest Shore) as a child and was thrilled to find this later addition to the series.

This is an interesting addition to the series. Right up front, I can tell you that this is not a book that stands alone very well - I really needed to have read the previous books in the series to understand what was going on in this book. And since it had been so long since I read them, it did take me a while to figure out who everyone was and what was happening.

The earlier books were, in comparison to Tehanu, much more action driven. Tenar, the former priestess of the tombs of Atuan, is now Goha, a farmer's widow. She takes in a child who has been abused, burnt, and left for dead. Then Ged, who had been the Archmage of Earthsea, returns, drained of his power. And, together, they struggle to make sense of the world and their place in it.
"What's a child for? What's it there for? To be used. To be raped, to be gelded - Listen, Moss. When I lived in the dark places, that was what they did. And when I came here, I thought I'd come out into the light. I learned the true words. And I had my man, I bore my children, I lived well. In the broad daylight. And in the broad daylight, they did that - to the the child. In the meadows by the river. The river that rises from the spring where Ogion named my daughter. In the sunlight. I am trying to find out where I can live, Moss. Do you know what I mean? What I'm trying to say?"
I read some of the reviews on Amazon, and some readers had a visceral dislike of this book. I am not one of these. There is a lot of beauty in Tehanu. For one thing, Le Guin is a wonderful writer, and I love her voice - the crisp way she has of telling her story. But this, I think, will not be enough to keep everyone engrossed in this book. Not much happens in Tehanu and when action does occur, it happened in such a blur I had to re-read the passage a few times to understand what was going on. I get the feeling that this is an in-between book, so I am interested in reading the next two books in the series, Tales from Earthsea and The Other Wind.

Buy Tehanu (Earthsea Book 4) on Amazon.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Update: NaNoWriMo Week 2

I have a confession. I took last night (Thursday) off from writing. My husband and I went out to dinner instead. It was marvelous, to be honest. We had a great meal and it was very relaxing. Less relaxing is looking at my word count graph now. Ouch.

Weekends are for catching up, right?

Previously: Week 1

Thursday, November 12, 2009


This was pretty funny, so I thought I'd share.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Green Books Campaign Review: The Carbon Diaries, 2015

This review is part of the Green Books campaign. Today 100 bloggers are reviewing 100 great books printed in an environmentally friendly way. Our goal is to encourage publishers to get greener and readers to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books. This campaign is organized by Eco-Libris, a a green company working to green up the book industry by promoting the adoption of green practices, balancing out books by planting trees, and supporting green books. A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews are available on the Eco-Libris website.

For this program, I requested to read The Carbon Diaries: 2015 by Saci Lloyd. As the title says, it's 2015: global warming means that things have gotten bad. As in, Katrina X 2 every year bad. In an attempt to stem the tide, the United Kingdom becomes the first country to mandate carbon rationing. One has to wonder, though, is this too little too late? This book is one girl's diary during this tumultuous first year. Not only is there rationing, storms, and danger, but her punk band is struggling to stay together and there's a cute boy living next door. It's a lot to deal with.

In some ways, the book is a slice-of-life YA book, about the struggles of dealing with being a teen in any circumstance. I liked Laura as a character and narrator. I wanted her to do well, though since I'm not teenager anymore, some of the more angst-filled moments made me roll my eyes. But largely, this aspect of the book was okay.

But clearly, Carbon Diaries is mostly meant to be a cautionary tale, a warning that if we don't curb our carbon- and water-greedy ways, we'll be in dire straights in just a few years. It does a really good job at this. I honestly felt myself imagining what my life would be like if I couldn't use my car anymore, or could only take 5 minute showers (I'd have to cut my hair, for one thing. It takes me that long just to lather it up!). Lloyd paints a very compelling vision of what our future could hold.

There were some forced moments where these two aspects of the books - enviro-disaster morality story and teen angst story - bumped up together, and I ended up feeling somewhat preached to. The email exchanges with Laura's American cousin come to mind as an example of the occasional preaching. (As a side note, I wonder if these were the same in the UK edition.) Mostly, though, I thought this was a solid read and one that most YA readers would enjoy. It seems like this would be a really good way to teach kids about environmentalism without making it feel like work.

Buy The Carbon Diaries, 2015 on Amazon.

The Carbon Diaries, 2015 was "printed on environmentally responsible paper, 30% post-consumer waste. In addition, the printing process and ink reduces VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) emissions and uses less energy." VOCs, by the way, are toxins released into the air by manufactured products. For example, you know that new carpet smell? Its actually the result of the carpet off-gassing some nasty chemicals into the air. Same with the smell of fresh dry cleaning. VOCs are known to cause headaches, sick building syndrome, and allergies, and are believed to be linked to certain cancers. They're bad stuff. Eliminating them from our books? That's a good thing.

This book was provided by the publisher for review, as part of the Green Books Campaign.

Teaser Tuesday 11/10

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • Share the title & author, too, so that others can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teaser!
From The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.
They all dandled the baby, and now that the child can walk, she goes everywhere with one or another of them - holding hands or riding on their shoulders. Such are their standards! You must not glorify such people in the Times!
At first I thought that said dangled, then I re-read it and realized the word was dandled. Never heard of it! Per Wiktionary, to dandle is to move [an infant] up and down on one's knee or in one's arms in affectionate play. The horror! =)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Review: Words @ Work

Words @ Work shows everyone from executives and entrepreneurs to up-and-coming staffers how to write in a clear, conversational style that people want to read. Learn how to effectively organize information (no tedious outlines!); cut the fat (editing tips and tricks); and harvest a feast of ideas. Words @ Work includes tools and techniques for overcoming fear of writing; jump-starting the writing process; achieving goals faster; building confidence; and even earning a promotion or two. Words @ Work not only teaches how to write, but helps readers tap into their creativity--and there's no telling where that can lead.
What I liked best about Words @ Work by Lynda McDaniel was the author's message that good writing doesn't need to be reserved for novels or professional writers. Anytime you are trying to get a message across with words, it is worth doing it well. As the unofficial marketing manager for my small architecture firm, I feel strongly that McDaniels is right about this. It doesn't matter that I'm an architect. Whether I am writing a proposal or a simple business letter, I am a professional writer in that moment and my words need to be the best they can be. Obviously, though, I am already sold on the concept of the power of writing and didn't take much convincing!

If you've read a lot of writing books, most of the ground covered in Words @ Work will probably be familiar to you. McDaniels emphasizes writing consistently and shoving your inner editor aside while you let the creative juices flow. Even though this may not be groundbreaking advice, its particularly relevant for those of us doing NaNoWriMo or NaBloPoMo right now!

Buy Words @ Work at Amazon.

Words @ Work was provided to me for review by the author as part of a book tour.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday Update: NaNoWriMo Week 1 Edition

The first week of NaNoWriMo is almost over. If I could figure out how to actually use their word count widgets, I would post one here for your amusement. Instead, here's a screenshot of my progress chart instead. This is as of Thursday night when I'm writing this post, so hopefully I'm even further along as you are reading this.

Its interesting to compare that to last year. While I'm not exactly a barnstormer, I'm definitely on a much better pace than in '08. Turns out, studying for a licensing exam totally interferes with trying to write a novel.

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Review: The Alchemaster's Apprentice

I requested The Alchmaster's Apprentice by Walter Moers from the publisher not knowing a thing about Moers or his Zamonia books. I just liked the cover, to be honest. I still do.
When Echo the Crat’s mistress dies, he is compelled to sign a contract with Ghoolion the Alchemaster. This fateful document gives Ghoolion the right to kill Echo at the next full moon and render his fat, which he hopes to brew into an immortality potion. But Ghoolion has not reckoned with Echo’s talent for survival and his vast ability to make new friends.
I think I spent the first third of this book trying to decide if it was a kid's book or not. It's got a talking cat and lots of cool illustrations. But there's also an evil alchemist who plans to kill the talking cat and in the meantime, he does lots of diabolical things. So, I'm pretty sure its not a kids book. Though some older kids - especially boys with a taste for the gross - might enjoy the story.

All this time spent trying to figure that out, though, prevented me from really getting into it for a while. Moers can go on a bit, too, resulting in long lists and whole pages of description that I could have done without. By the end of the book, I found myself skimming some of the longer chunks of text and only reading anything that was really important. That sounds bad, I know, but once I did that, I actually liked the story much more. And Echo is a fun little character to spend time with. Cat lovers will especially get a kick out of him.

I know this wasn't the most positive review I've written, but I did like this book. I can't really blame the author for not knowing whether this was a kids book or not. I do wish, though, that the writing had been more streamlined as that would have really increased my enjoyment of the story.

Buy The Alchemaster's Apprentice on Amazon.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Teaser Tuesday 11/3

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • Share the title & author, too, so that others can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teaser!
This is more than two sentences, but it flows better that way.
"I think you were there on that road, just there just then, because of that - because that is what happens to you. You didn't make it happen. You didn't cause it. It wasn't because of your 'power.' It happened to you. Because of your - emptiness."
From Tehanu (The Earthsea Cycle, Book 4) by Ursula K. Le Guin

Monday, November 2, 2009

Game on! NaNoWriMo 2009

I know I should have written this yesterday, as National Novel Writing Month started then, but I was traveling most of the day and didn't have the chance to post. Anyway, please consider this my official "I'm doing NaNo, so cut me some slack on the lack of blogging" post. And if any of you out there are also doing NaNo, shoot me an email so I can friend you over there (lorin_arch at hotmail dot com).

Review: Nefertiti

I don't even know where I heard about Nefertiti by Michelle Moran first, I read so many glowing reviews of it from other book blogs. It is the story of Nefertiti and her younger sister, Mutnodjmet. Ambitious, charismatic, and beautiful, Nefertiti is destined to marry Amunhotep, the unstable crown prince and future pharaoh. It is hoped that her strong personality will temper his heretical desire to forsake Egypt’s ancient gods. But Nefertiti is as impetuous and power-hungry as her husband, and the only person brave (or foolish) enough to speak the truth to the queen and try to reign her in is Mutnodjmet.

I really enjoyed Nefertiti. It reminded me a lot of The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory - one sister scheming to become (and stay) Queen, one yearning for a simple life with a husband who loves her. Despite the book's name, this story is about Mutnodjmet. Fortunately, she is a very well-rounded character and, while Nefertiti occasionally verged into a caricature, even her life felt pretty real to me.

I was surprised by how moving and sad I found this book to be. From what little I know of Egyptian history, I knew not to expect happily ever after for the main characters. But I didn't expect to be so moved by the emotions the characters felt. This is a strong work of historical fiction, and I look forward to reading the sequel, The Heretic Queen.

Buy Nefertiti: A Novel on Amazon.

PS: I just read Raych's review of Nefertiti. We're in agreement on the whole The Other Boleyn Girl set in Egypt thing, but, as usual, she wrote a much funnier review. Go read it.