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Friday, August 26, 2011

Going Forward while Looking Back

Two posts in one week! This is a definite sign of getting back in the groove.

So two days ago marked myself and my twin brother Adam's twentieth birthday. I've officially been alive for two decades (time flies when you're having fun) and well, I was just thinking about how much things have changed for me--how I write would be the least of it.

I have no actual proof of this, but I'm convinced that after I kicked my brother Adam out of the womb (it was crowded in there and he took up too much room), I was born at 12:07 AM on August 24, 1991 with a notebook in one hand and a pencil in the other. My earliest memories consist of reading and/or being read to. The Story of Ferdinand and Stellaluna were immense favorites. When I got older (try seven or eight) my brothers and I were introduced to Mary Pope Osboune's The Magic Tree House series, and now I'm pretty firmly convinced that the titular magic tree house was, in fact, a smaller TARDIS. I mean, come on! It's bigger on the inside. It travels throughout time and space. It appears and reappears when you least expect it. That's pretty convincing proof, if you ask me. But I digress.

I was maybe six or seven when I actually tried my hand at writing an story of my own. I can't even call it my own, because it was just Cinderella, with my own words and pictures (illustrated with stick figures by yours truly, of course). I think I also did Rapunzel, but my memories are a little fuzzy on that point. I do remember writing and illustrating another book for my cousin Pablo's birthday, one about a girl who ate so much sticky foods that her hands stuck to objects around the house, but who knows what happened to that one.

A couple years went by, mostly consisting of me wandering around and talking to myself in the school yard and at home. I still read a lot, but I didn't do any original works. Then the The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring came out. Inspired by the books (and a good deal by the movie) I tried my hand at writing my own version of Tolkien's world, by inserting an original character, Aragorn's long-lost sister, Annie, then later named Rowan. Eventually Rowan became Ayden, who is pretty firmly established in my head nowadays. I still have the pink composition notebook that I wrote the whole thing down in. I'll take it out every now and again, just to remind myself of how far I've come, writing-wise...and how little I've changed in other ways. It also serves as a nice way of humbling myself when I get too cocky.

My LOTR phase must've lasted as long as each movie came out, and then it was series of TV shows that I watched my brothers...mostly Japanese cartoons. Though I never had much use for Dragon Ball Z. My brothers loved it, but I didn't care for it very much. I tried to mesh my two favorite TV shows at the time into one story and I had great plans for it...but that didn't pan out either. Really, now that I look back on it, most of my stories back then were glorified fan-fiction.

And all this time, while I wrote my silly little stories, I read and read and read and read. Ella Enchanted, Loch, Roller Skates, Gypsy Rizka, The Lost Years of Merlin, His Majesty's Elephant, The Iron Ring, The Princess Dairies, Redwall, The Jungle Book, Howl's Moving Castle, The Girl with the Silver Eyes...there were a lot of books. Lots of them. And you can find every one of those at Amazon or Barnes & Noble, if you don't believe I actually read them all.

The Seventh-Born Chronicles took possession of me for a whole year and it's still percolating at the back of my head. Halcyon House is my more urgent and in a lot of ways, my much more fun project. My writing has changed a great deal. I like to think it's stronger and more defined, and my characterization and description has also become sharper. My reading tastes have matured too, a great deal. (Though I'll still read Brian Jacques when I feel like I've gotten too far away from what I originally loved.) I've become a fan of Shannon Hale's lush, glimmering prose and even Stephenie Meyer's hypnotic, heart-stirring, intense turn of phrase. I love Maureen Johnson's quirky, witty writing and Deb Caletti's intelligent, flawed characters. I've just started reading some Neil Gaiman and to me, his works read like a Beethoven sympathy--intense and epic at turns and then soft, melancholy and gentle at others. The Graveyard Book is one book I recommend for children and adults to enjoy equally. 

Twenty years' worth of reading, writing and imagining new worlds and characters. I think it's a worthy legacy for least until I get on the New York Time's Bestseller List. And maybe win the Newberry Award. We'll just have to see what happens.

Over & Out,

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

New Heroes...New Challenges

Not for my heroes, not at the moment. We're getting there. Slowly. But surely. No, I am referring to my early birthday gift from my dear friends Jamie Orozco and her mom, Sharon Orozco.  It's called The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. It's an adult book with a child narrator, eleven year old Flavia de Luce. Flavia is one of the most ferociously intelligent, shockingly complex, amazingly self-possessed and brilliantly awesome heroines I've ever met in recent literature. She's the youngest in a family of three girls, a father and a deceased mother, eleven years old and a exceptional chemist with a passion and specialty for poisons. Morbid? Perhaps. But it suits Flavia down to the ground.

Did I mention that the book takes place in 1950's England? Where girls weren't encourages to ride bikes, much less practice chemistry? But living alone with her tormenting older sisters Ophelia and Daphne (Flavia refers to them as Feely and Daffy) and her absent-minded, postal stamps-obsessed, British-to-the-backbone father and with her mother Harriet dead (died at Flavia's birth in a tragic mountaineering accident), Flavia finds ways to amuse and entertain herself. Mostly consisting of studying her mother's old chemistry book and using her skills to take revenge on her older sisters. Flavia is not a believer in turning the other cheek--she concocts cunning plans of vengeance against Ophelia or Daphne. And it's a treat to watch her go after them with a firm belief in tipping the scales of justice her way.

Tucked away in her private chemistry lab, Flavia waits for something interesting to happen in the sleepy rural English village of Bishop's Lacy. And something interesting does happen--a mysterious stranger turns up dead in the backyard of Flavia's estate Buckshaw...just after Flavia witnesses the said stranger arguing violently with her father. Flavia is privy to the stranger's last moments and words, a cryptic Latin utterance--"Vale."   Flavia is far from frightened--she is fascinated and enthralled. Soon she's zooming around the countryside on her trusty bicycle Gladys, ferreting out long-past secrets from all the suspects and even her own family. She confounds and amazes the local police force by being able to comb through the red herrings and twists and turns of the plot. It's full of rare and priceless stamps, British boarding school politics, old-fashioned illusions and magic tricks and murder most foul.

Flavia is no saint. She reminds me of Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden, only prior to discovering the garden itself. Only a brilliant chemist and maybe in need of some intense psychotherapy. But she's a treat to watch and her intelligence and adult shrewdness makes me want to hug her--if I didn't think she'd poison me with arsenic after I did it. Flavia is a genius at understanding how to distill poison ivy plants and inject it into her older sister's lipstick (one of her more wonderful revenges)--but she has no idea to bridge the gap between her and her withdrawn father, the only member of her family that Flavia is truly attached to. Her older sisters, in her own words, she can do without. Flavia is the kind of girl who could grow up to be a master spy, or a detective every bit as worthy as Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes. Either that or a criminal mastermind who would kill off her enemies with untraceable poisons. But it's one heck of a roller coaster ride keeping up with her.

Go meet Flavia de Luce. You won't regret it.

Over & Out,

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Glories of the Nice Guy

Halcyon House is actually undergoing some real progress at the moment. I've just introduced the current "nice guy" of the cast, Neil Watson!

*fanfare, cymbals*

Neil Watson is a reporter for the Bethany Falls Herald, the local town newspaper. He's grown up in Bethany Falls, where there are lots of stories about Halcyon House and the McKenna family. Less than flattering stories about old Aidan McKenna and Eamon McKenna especially, much to the alarm and dismay of Ayden and her brothers. Neil inadvertently lets the information slip in a decidedly less than tactless way. Ayden is not amused. See, that's the thing: Neil means well. He always means well. But his intentions sometimes get the best of him and make him trip up. And therein lies the problem.

Now, the common misconception is usually "Nice guys always finish last," which is why the "Bad Boy" trope is currently so popular among the female audience. There's not much opportunity for conflict, drama or interest when it comes to nice. BUT--but--I happen to be very fond my Neil Watson. I think he's great, though he is kind of oblivious and he tends to babble and/or go on and on. As you can imagine, this does not often endear him to the rest of cast. (Sydney thinks he's just annoying, while Ayden considers Neil to be amusing at the very least.)

But I, the writer, think Nice Guys don't get enough credit. Don't they make the best of friends? Or make the best jokes? They're reliable, patient and oftentimes, just kindhearted. I think that's sorely missing from the usual cast of characters today. I offer for the consideration of the court Atticus Finch, or Razo and Finn (not my Finn, but another one) of the Forest from Shannon Hale's Books of Bayern (which I really, really, really encourage everyone to read) or the ubiquitous Jacob Black. They're all Nice Guys, and as far as I can see, they definitely don't "finish last."

So, I like Nice Guys. They don't get enough screen credit. They're often pushed away in favor of the "Bad Boy" or the "Brooding Boy," or the "Troubled but Cute" Guy, or usually a combination of all three. However, I must admit that again, there's more scope for better story-telling and drama with anyone of those types than just your average Nice Guy. However, once the Nice Guys have revealed hidden depths and then there's something that gets in the way of his "niceness." And that is usually when things get...interesting, shall we say.

And should they get interesting, you've got to take care that the Nice Guys comes out with his niceness intact, or exchanged for a more experienced, more cautious form of nicety. The Nice Guy is nice--but he can't be a doormat. That's when you know that whatever they went through didn't really change anything. He has to become the "Nice-but-Wiser-Guy" for you know that the lesson he went through really stuck. For instance Sydney, contrary to popular opinion, is nice...but he'd never admit it. Mostly because he's been very badly hurt because of being nice to someone who most decidedly did not deserve it (yes, Violet, I'm looking at you) and doesn't fancy having it happen again. But, like another favorite hero of mine, his heart really is quite soft, beneath all the tough outer coatings. He just needs some help getting back there.

Which is what Ayden is for! *grins*

Over & Out,