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Hello blog!! *dusts off corners* *straightens pictures*

Well. It has been a while, hasn’t it? This summer has been many things, but conducive to blogging has not been one of that. I sort of knew that, of course, which is why I left you all with a farewell (and a picture of a kitten) back in June. But now it’s September, and I’m back. Ish.

Why am I only back-ish? That is a question that is too long and probably boring to answer, involving a Lernaean Hydra of a to-do list and the whole I-have-two-kids-and-I-work-and-I-write-and-I’m-leaving-for-Nepal-for-a-month thing I have going on these days.

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Me: Oh hai, to-do list! How’s about I make you my monkey! List: Um…how ’bout I grow back TWO HEADS for every one you cut off, mkay???

So yeah, there’s that.

Another thing that’s been keeping me off the blog is that rereading it has made me a little sad. You see, per the title of this post, I have new junk that I’ve added to the writerly trunk. (NOTE: This has nothing to do with my bottom and whether it has gotten larger). No, this refers to the common writer’s practice of “trunking” a book that doesn’t go anywhere. And that’s exactly what I’ve done with SWIM.

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SWIM wasn’t the first thing I ever wrote. Or the second. But it was the first one I sent out in the world. It was read and reread by a team of amazing critique partners, then it went out to agentland. And while this story still kind of sings to me, it didn’t find a home. Turns out there are just too many other mermaid books that were hitting the shelves (or editors’ desks) right at the moment I was sending this around. So while I got a few ‘this is lovely but no thanks’ type of responses, no one wanted it.

So into the trunk it goes.

And that’s okay. This is a business, and no-one – NO-ONE – every said it was easy. So I’ve written another book, and actually another as well, and I’m hoping to keep pushing forward.

ImageBut I guess part of this summer, as I was swimming and diving and rolling in the ocean waves, was about saying goodbye to my first try.

I hope you had a wonderful summer. Here’s to a glorious fall.

(source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vipulmathur/471634239/)

Well, it is Monday, which means it’s time for Book Love (and coffee…but that’s another story). Anyone who has either had the good luck to talk books with me, or ask me what time it is, really, knows how much I love Melina Machetta’s Jellicoe Road. I blogged about it here and talk about it constantly. And yet, it was a book I had to start several times before it really grabbed me. But once it did, it kind of never let go.

When I read that Marchetta had written a fantasy novel Finnikin of the Rock, set in an imaginary land, I had no real interest. Other than loving Lord of the Rings when I was twelve, I’m not a huge high fantasy fan. I like my fantasy urban and snarky, thank you very much.

But. But it’s Melina Marchetta. And I kept reading wonderful reviews of it. So I read it.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

First of all, I should clarify. The world of Finnikin is a created one, with new countries, borders, and kings. But there are no elves, no magic rings, no vampires…the conflicts are strictly and painfully human. There is some magic, but truly, the core conflicts are ours.

As with Jellicoe Road, I found I had to push through the beginning in order to get settled within the story. There is a complexity in her storytelling that sometimes leaves me feeling I have walked into the middle of a play at the second act, without a real grounding of what and who is important. But once I muscled in, I loved it.

As with all books that I truly love, it starts and ends with the characters. Finnikin, the young man whose homeland is lost and who wants nothing more than to be the strong second-in-command to his mentor as they try to build a new homeland in exile; Evanjalin, the mysterious and unwelcome girl who proves tougher, more talented, and stronger than Finnikin could have known; Trevanion, the rescued father who is both fierce and fiercely loyal; Froi, thief, would-be rapist, follower, and lost boy, whose life without a home shows what displacement looks like…I fell in love with them all.

What I love most about this book is that the story it tells is utterly contemporary, despite being set in Lumatere, Yutland, and other made-up countries. It is a story of a people who felt secure until horrible things befell their homeland. Who were spread into diaspora, and who suffered all of the physical and emotional scars of being without a home. They are forced to address the inequities that existed in their old home, even while they mourn it. Pick up any newspaper or history book and these same themes of loss are there.

I won’t keep going about the other favorite parts of this book, because it gets spoiler-y. (But I will say…sa-wooooon! Just saying). But something struck me as familiar when I read this. In my own writing, I often want to tell two stories; the story I am writing, and the story beneath the story.

In SWIM, I am writing about mermaids. But that wasn’t really the story I wanted to tell. I wanted to tell the story of growing up, of questioning one’s place, of wondering what is selfish and what is fair, of not trusting oneself, and of the hard truth that true love doesn’t always last forever. In the same way, Marchetta might have written a story in a made-up land with curses and goddesses, but she is telling a story that exists in the conflicts in Africa, in the Middle East, and all over Europe. People lose their homes. They lose their identity. Sometimes – but thankfully, not always  – they lose their humanity.

Finnikin of the Rock actually isn’t that different from Jellicoe Road. They both do what wonderful books must always do: transport you, baffle you, ask you questions, then bring you back home again.

HAPPY MONDAY!

Those of you who have either read or heard about SWIM, my paranormal YA book, know that I have no small obsession with the ocean. It was surprisingly and perhaps frighteningly easy to imagine myself in a world where water was strength and power, and land a lovely and mysterious danger. Makes perfect sense for a Mer.

But RAW BLUE, by Kirsty Eagar somehow manages to capture that intensity and need for the ocean that I hoped to convey. The big difference? RAW BLUE is a stark, sometimes painful, contemporary novel where the character who is so connected to the sea has no magical ability to survive there, though she does have every reason to mistrust the dangers on land.

The book takes place deep in the surf culture of Sydney, and one of Eagar’s talents is to bring to life a place that has no cultural resonance to me, a wayward American. After all, we often expect a basic level of understanding from our readers – if we set a book in Las Vegas or Paris we assume they will bring their ideas and stereotypes. But the surf culture in RAW BLUE is both unique to the place and wonderfully universal; when she describes the crows, the old guys who hang out on their boards jabbering to each other every morning, I could picture them perfectly. And her endless and varied portraits of the ocean were magnificent.

The characters are as vividly drawn as the setting. Carly, the MC, is closed and defensive, which could have been a stumbling block for readers to get to know her. But Eagar manages to do a wonderful job of showing us who Carly is slowly and deftly, from her work in the kitchen where she goes the extra mile despite it being a dead-end job, to her dispassionate noticing of her colleague who is starving herself…we get a picture of Carly loud and clear. Supporting characters like her Dutch neighbor Hannah and Danny, the young surfer who befriends her despite her resistance, are also interesting, nuanced, and likeable. And the love interest is one of the most unexpectedly swoonworthy ones I could imagine.

Even while Eagar does a wonderful job of showing us who Carly is, and what her life is like, she doesn’t reveal one of the largest mysteries. Why. Why did she drop out of University? Why is she so detached? Why does she hang onto surfing like it’s the only drug that will dull her pain? While I don’t want to spoil the plot, I will say this is an issue book, and a good one. One where the issue in question is a complex piece of a complex whole, rather than a shrill battle cry.

But really, I come back to my first point. This book is a wonderful love story between a girl and the sea.  I wish it were available here, I really do. But maybe it can be requested a libraries or bookstores. Certainly it’s worth seeking this one out.

 

ETA: Angie (referenced below), just told me about a site that ships books from Australia to the US for free. The site is www.fishpondworld.com and I will definitely be using it to order Eagar’s next book.

P.S. I owe my knowledge of this book to Angie from my supersekrit online writing bat cave, where we have secret handshakes and everything. (Okay, not handshakes, but the rest is true). Anyway, she was wonderful enough to hear me babble about SWIM and think of this book. Thanks Angie!!

Well, not really. As a writer, I somewhat take umbrage with that statement. And woe to the would-be-helpful friend to suggests that to a writer who is working on her blog. Just sayin’.*

*Yes, Marshall, I’m talking to you

So this week’s Road Trip Wednesday, from that fab bunch at YA Highway: What pictures inspire your work?

When writing SWIM, the story of a Mer girl trying to reconcile her love of her life under the sea with the rules that bind her, I channeled all the incredible love I have for the ocean. The way it feels to dive under a green-gold wave and look up through the water at the sun sparkling above; the freshness and awakening that following the first swim of the year; the magical buoyancy that we humans so rarely get to experience.

To that end, I looked at a lot of photos of surfers, waves, oceans, divers, and the like.  So here they are: a few of the images that inspired SWIM:

 

What about you? What inspires you?

It’s that time again, when those of us who read and follow YA Highway‘s fun fab blog, gas up the hybrid and hit the road for Road Trip Wednesday.  Today’s prompt: write a blurb for your own or another’s book.

Well.  Since I am just dipping my toe into the frigid shark-infested waters of querying (that is to say, I’m working on the query letter…let’s not get ahead of ourselves here), I will go for the shameless self-promotion and blurb my own book-to-be.

ETA: holy crap that was hard.  Needless to day, I got distracted by the fun of making pretty things and didn’t just work on the text.  But here it is:

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Those of us who had to study Robert Frost (or who grew up reading the fabulous S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders…”Do it for Johnny!”) know the famous poem that begins, “Nature’s first green is gold.”

But lately, in this glorious blaze of fall colors, I’ve been feeling that nature’s last green is truly gold, as well.  Not only literally, though I am surrounded by fire colors of the trees, of the harvest moon rising, of the early morning sun. They are in fact golden.  But also, there is something poignant in all the glorious color.  These are death throes, really: the last gasp of color and life before the endless gray and brown November takes hold.  And knowing they are gone so soon makes them even more special.

The photos below are on the beach near our house last week.  It is October 28th, we are in New England, and the days are getting awfully short.  I always love the beach, whether in the cold dead of winter with the snow on the sand or in the bitter days of spring when I first take my shoes and my fish-white feet freeze in the cold water.  But this particular day was more special than most, because it was a goodbye of sorts – the absolute last, serendipitous chance to swim.

Good things must come to an end – this is a fact of life and the making of great stories.  In Swim I had to make something end that many first readers thought would (and maybe even should) end differently. I cried writing it.  I kind of wanted it to end differently myself.  But the story I wanted to tell was the story about saying goodbye.  And while I won’t give away the ending, I will say that even the best times don’t last forever.  And knowing you’re saying goodbye can make it matter so much more.

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Waveriders – The Big Picture – Boston.com.

These are the most amazing photos, and even though I am absolutely not allowed to start revising, they are reminding me that I need to put more surfing back in Swim.  It all started with an image of a surfer being watched by a Mer, and somehow that part of the story fell out.

Anyway, enjoy the photos…they’re incredible

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