Friday, September 21, 2018

Short Book Reviews: Interstellar Chocolate Thieves

Free Chocolate, by Amber Royer (Angry Robot Books)
Ah, chocolate. It must be one of Earth’s finest natural creations, right? That’s the premise underlying this charming YA novel in which First Contact with all those alien worlds out there is not for the purpose of cultural exchange, mathematical enlightenment, military domination, or any of the hundreds of rationales. It’s to raid Earth of its chocolate! Well, and a few other things, too, like coffee and vanilla beans.

Within a short time, humans and alien races are mixing freely, some combinations with more success than others, and chocolate production is rigidly controlled by a huge corporation, HGB – Hershey, Godiva, and Bissinger -- which “sprouted in the wake of the First contact War. They quietly made proprietary trade agreements with other planets…making it the most powerful organization ofn the planet.” Bodacious Benitez is living her life as a student, dating a gorgeous guy from Krom (whose irises change color depending on his emotions), when she’s catapulted into an interplanetary scheme to liberate chocolate. Her mother hosts an immensely popular cooking show, bolstering the HGB image.

The most charming aspect of the book, however, is its use of language. It’s told in first person, as is much YA today. Bo is fluent in several languages, notably English, Spanish (her birth language), and Portuguese. This makes sense when you think about it because most cacao-growing regions are Spanish or Portuguese speaking. Bo liberally strews her English with words in Spanish and teen-speak:

I need a hot shower and un poco alone time with Love Hurts, my favorite flufferiffic soap opera – a guilty pleasure Brill knows nada about. 
Icy certainty settles in my stomach. I am muerto. Pero, I keep fighting the womborg [a wombat cyborg] anyway. 
“Mamá, I only tell the celebarazzi things like how unfair it is that the chocolatiers have to work and extra hour…”

On the down side, the deliciousness of the language forced me to read more slowly than usual. Although most of the meanings can be deduced from context, I kept consulting my Kindle dictionary to get an added bit of certainty. This, combined with the length of the book, had the effect of flattening the dramatic intensity. There’s plenty of action in the story, but it takes place over such a stretched-out length that the overall shape of rising tension and climax, etc., is diminished. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the hours spent with Bodacious, Brill, and their friends.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Guest Blog: Jane Lindskold on Emotional Continuity in Series

Jane Lindskold has been writing full-time since 1994. She is the New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of over twenty-five novels, including the acclaimed Firekeeper Saga, Changer, and the sword and sorcery classic When the Gods Are Silent. Her most recently released novel is Asphodel. She has also had published over seventy short stories.

Welcome, Jane!

Editor Deborah J. Ross interviewed me about writing, my story in the forthcoming issue of Sword and Sorceress and other things. In it, I touch on how negative influences have had a strong impact on my writing.  Here’s an example.

Last week, I took a week off writing to immerse myself in various aspects of the Firekeeper universe before moving into the next part of the story.  One of the complications about writing the seventh novel in a series is how easily it is to gloss over small details.  Add to this that I haven’t written a Firekeeper novel in over a decade and the complexity grows.

By coincidence, my pleasure reading included a series I am enjoying very
much – especially for the evolving relationships of the central suite of characters.  I’m not going to go into details, but something I read made me think about an often neglected element of continuity – emotional continuity.

When something traumatic happens to a character, something that is key to a great deal of the action of that particular book, and then in the next book, something similar (but not identical) happens, I expect the characters to comment, to remember.  When they don’t, my sense that the characters are “real” suffers.

I’m not saying that the author must provide  a full recap of past events, not at all.  However, real people remember what happened to them and those memories influence how they act in the future.  Indeed, one could argue that our core self consists of an accumulated suite of experiences.  Whenever something new happens, we seek to understand it by relating it to what we have experienced before.  When something recurs, the most common reaction is “Here we go again!”   Even new experiences are often understood by how they relate to past ones: “I’ve had milk chocolate with fruit and nuts, but never with chile pepper flakes!”

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Today's Moment of Art

Coastal Scene With Figures And Ships, by Melbourne Havelock Hardwick (1857 – 1916)

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Auntie Deborah's Advice to a Young Writer Suffering From Writer's Block

As a young writer, you’re probably grappling with learning many different literary skills at once. One is how to write a story, any length story. Another is how to determine the best length for a story idea. When I started selling professionally, over 30 years ago, the conventional wisdom was to begin with short stories and master craft issues at what was presumed a more manageable length, then go on to novels. (And this is what I did.) Since then I’ve met (and become friends as well as colleagues with) writers whose natural story length is long. Novels. Trilogies. Series. After years of writing at a pro level, most of then can write short as well, but it would have been a bad choice to begin with. Most, however, are just the opposite.

So one possibility is that you’re attempting a novel before you have all the necessary literary tools. You may have a solid beginning idea but not the skill to develop it into enough substance to sustain 100K words, so you’re running out of steam, as it were. Perhaps you don’t know where the story is going and have written yourself into a dead alley, but don’t yet have the critical eye to see where you tied yourself into knots.

Another possibility, as I indicated above, is that a novel isn’t your natural story length. You may be trying to stretch a short story-sized idea over 500 pages. Or you may have insufficient twists and turns and whatever nifty stuff lights you up about writing so that all the fun has gone out of it.

Whatever you do, though, don’t give up. I can’t tell you how many of us who’ve gone on to successful careers writing novels have trunks of unfinished novels. If yours isn’t a source of joy, set it aside. Or steal the juicy bits and weave them together with new! improved! sparkly! bits. Try writing short or short-short. Try poetry. Write journal entries. Blog. Keep at it — and notice when you hit your stride. In other words, go where the fun is. The fun and the heartbreak and the adrenaline. That’s what will sustain you page after page, novel after novel, for an entire career.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Sword and Sorceress 33 Author Interviews: Jane Lindskold

Enter a wondrous universe…the latest volume of Sword and Sorceress, featuring stories from new and seasoned authors. Herein you will find tales of fantasy with strong female characters, with some version of either martial skill or magic. Not all the protagonists will be human, and sometimes the magic will take highly original forms, but the emotional satisfaction in each story and in the anthology as a whole, remains true to the original vision. The release date will be November 2, 2018.

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you come to be a writer?
Jane Linskold: I’ve been a storyteller since I was very young, but I didn’t really make any sort of focused effort to write those stories down until I was a college undergraduate.  By the time I finished my PhD, I knew that I wanted to be a fiction writer.  Therefore, as soon as my dissertation was completed, I put the time I’d been using to write that into writing fiction.  I had a lot of rejections, but finally started selling.

DJR:  What inspired your story in Sword and Sorceress 33?
JL: As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been interested in the non-human perspective.   For various reasons, I found myself wondering what it would like to be a familiar.  Many Fantasy stories feature familiars, but I couldn’t think of any where they weren’t either sage advisors, flippant commentators on the action, or (worst of all) simply another tool in the wizard’s kit.  I decided to try my hand at writing a story from the familiar’s point of view, and this is what resulted.  I very much like both the (currently nameless) familiar and the people it meets.  I definitely plan to write more about them.