Saturday, January 31, 2009

Complexity of Night Writing Challenge Update

I used to be a better writer. I used to write all the time. And then I got out of practice and--well, I'm out of practice.

I don't really want to publish what I ended up writing this month-- 650-word scene of a woman coming home to an empty apartment and a 750-word blob of writing that started out as a character sketch and morphed into some huge, random, wandering outline of part of the character's life. No character traits, just events.

I also wrote some smaller character sketches in my Moleskine, but I haven't typed them up or counted the words. Still, even without those little bits, I met the 1000-word goal for the month. Yay!

My personal challenge this year: write a long piece of fiction without losing my characters. (I always mismanage them--they all seem to morph into generic, one-size-fits-all characters.)

Monday, January 19, 2009

When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson

I think this title seems more like a nonfiction title about politics or the economy than a novel, and the cover--eh. Unprovoking. Unindicative. And because this will come up later, it's worth noting that this is a Jackson Brodie thriller--one of a series. Would you guess that by looking at the cover?

When Will There Be Good News?
is, though, definitely an apropos question for this book. The first chapter ends with murder most foul. Though the description of the murder is artful, impressive and promising, this sets readers up for disappointment in the rest of the book, which doesn't follow through. And everything just keeps getting worse. Accidental deaths. Cruel siblings. A train wreck. Psychotic killers running loose.

It sounds like page-turning goodness, right? And it mostly is, except that every chapter shifts perspective. Sometimes that works. In this book, some of the characters took too long to get tied in to the rest of the plot, and because of the perspective shifts, they took too long to get to know. (As the NY Times review says, it "at times derail[s] the narrative momentum.")

The main characters:
  • Dr. Joanna Hunter, the woman who was the girl who survived the first chapter
  • Reggie, a 16-year-old orphan who takes care of the Hunters' baby boy
  • Louise, a detective obsessed with Dr. Hunter's ability to overcome tragedy and another woman's inability to do the same and who is also desperately insecure in her abilities to be anything other than a cop
  • Jackson Brodie, a former cop who accidentally ends up in Scotland just in time to be part of the action
Louise, who may be the most active of the characters--in a movie version, she'd probably get the most screen time--was also the least impressive. I wouldn't want to spend time in a room with her, though she seems well-liked within the book. Louise makes random eco-aware statements that makes me think Atkinson was determined to keep every single trait she'd devised for Louise*

Reggie was perhaps the most organic, most genuine of the characters--and she was funny. I was disappointed to reach the end of the Reggie chapters because it meant moving on to one of the others. Joanna would have been forgettable if she weren't such a necessary part of the plot. Ironically, Jackson Brodie's part seemed contrived and superfluous.

When Will There Be Good News? begins with promise and doesn't quite follow through, though readers will find themselves determined to find out what happens despite.

* I found Louise's random eco-aware comments very hard to swallow, as well as against the grain of the rest of her character.

Thanks to Little, Brown & Co. for this review copy.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A momentous occasion...

I have decided to participate in a challenge. Not a reading challenge, but the Random Complexity Writing Challenge. I keep meaning to write more, so maybe this will help get me back into my better writing habits. And it's completely doable--1,000 words/month.

at In Search of Giants is hosting a writer’s challenge to foster inspiration and community. It's pretty low-pressure: 1000 words a month. At the end of the year, you'll have a total of 12,000 words, which is not even half a NaNo entry. Go here to sign up!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Chalice by Robin McKinley

I was a little worried that I'd be disappointed in Chalice, probably because McKinley has written so many books I've enjoyed that I don't want to encounter one I'm not tickled with. And though I'm not crazy about the title, I needn't have worried.

The language of Chalice is very similar to the language of Deerskin (possibly my favorite book ever)--which is to say that McKinley's style is composed of a comforting, repetitive storytellingness that I love.

Chalice the position Mirasol holds the Willowlands. She wasn't trained for the position but she should have been. The Chalice's duty, using elemental understanding and magic, is to keep her land (and people) from destroying itself. Apart from trying to hold her demesne together (and barely being able to do that), she is also trying to help the new Master to keep his position; the Overlord seems determined to be rid of him, no matter what chaotic harm that would bring to the lands and people, and Mirasol's future will be determined by the success or failure of the Overlord's scheme.

Chalice is a wonderful story with a strong (if shy and uncertain) woman in the leading role. I'd highly recommend it to any teen (or tween) girl who enjoys fairy tales and fantasy. Or adults, for that matter.

Thanks to Lenore at Presenting Lenore and Penguin for this book!

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

I confess, I love the movie version of Practical Magic. If I'd read the book prior to seeing the movie, though, I think I would have been very disappointed with the screenplay adapters.

Much like as with Under the Tuscan Sun, the movie and the book versions of Practical Magic seem to have very little in common, except for the characters' names. But as I read, I kept thinking about the movie, and every time a scene from the book that also made it into the movie came up, I imagined a roomful of screenwriters sitting around and saying, "Yeah, but in the movie Sally doesn't have to do that," and, "The girls don't need to be that old in the movie." In fact, the movie writers seem to have merely borrowed generously from the book, which has a lot more substance to it than the movie was ever planned to.

It's rather difficult to review the book, tied in my head as it was to the movie. I can say that I found myself thinking, when I was nearly through the story, that the writing style--which included a lot of future talk ("they would never [do that] again" and "future generations would...")--normally would have gotten old for me very quickly, but in this book it worked. Still, I feel like I need to read this again in a few weeks or months, when I'll quit looking for much of what happened in the movie to happen in the book, and be able to fall into it a little deeper. (For example, and only because I think you should be forewarned before you read this if you've already seen the movie but haven't read the book: there's no ghostly possession in the book, no Owens curse, no Sally opening her own store, and nor is there a midnight margarita party scene.)

I'll probably re-report on this book when I've re-read it. Until then, highly recommended for people who like fairy tales and love.

Many thanks to my sister, who sent me this book for Christmas.