2015 Summer Reading (and Writing) Program from Nerd in the Brain

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Hello all!

Sorry, I know I haven’t been keeping up with most of my online writing, but I promise it’s because I’ve been hard at work editing Ravens and Roses.  But I did want to share something fun that I’m doing at the same time:  the Summer Reading (and Writing) Program from Nerd in the Brain.

I only found out about this challenge a few days before it started, but I’ve been enjoying it.  There are 30 reading challenges, 10 writing challenges, and 10 “other” challenges.  I’ve been reading like a madwoman, since now I have added motivation to get through the pile of library books I’ve been hoarding for weeks.  The reading challenges are really easy to write a small summary for, but the writing challenges are (for me) a little harder to tackle.  I didn’t want to just write a little summary of something I wrote, but I also didn’t want to post the entire response to the challenge in that small space.  It could be done… I just didn’t want it to be inconvenient.

So I decided to post my writing responses here on The Cat’s Cradle, as well as a list of the books I read for the reading challenge.  I’ll post a summary and a link for Nerd in the Brain, so I won’t take up all that space, but folk can see what I did if they want to.  So check back throughout the summer to see the results of the challenge.

Here goes!

Continue reading “2015 Summer Reading (and Writing) Program from Nerd in the Brain”

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#BlogHop – Favorite Genre

This is the fourth installment of the #BlogHop for #Writers hosted by Ruth Snyder!  This week’s topic is “My Favorite Genre.”

I posted about my favorite genre way back in 2011, and honestly, not much has changed.  Fantasy remains my favorite, hands down.  I do read science fiction, nonfiction, some YA and realistic fiction, but fantasy is my realm. I’m not especially picky about which subset of fantasy it is either.  Urban, swords-and-sorcery, traditional epic, dark, paranormal romance, remade fairy tales, or any combination of the above…I enjoy them all.

The first book I remember reading was D’Aulair’s Book of Greek Myths when I was four.  I also remember my Dad reading books of fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson, most of which are rather dark fare for children.  But with fairy tales, no matter how gruesome things get, the hero (or heroine) always beats the odds.  Evil-doers are punished and the good are rewarded.  There is a direct relationship between ones actions and the consequences that appeals to my sense of justice, and tends to carry over into the rest of fantasy.

Modern fantasy has gotten much darker, perhaps even too dark at times.  But the stories and authors that I love the most never lost that sense of fair play and wonder that captivated me as a child.  Mercedes Lackey, C.S. Friedman, Barbara Hambly, Jim Butcher, Simon R. Green, Elizabeth Haydon, and R.A. Salvatore all explore different aspects and takes on traditional fantasy mores that help enrich the genre.  Some find fantasy too repetitive or stifling (I’ve certainly found a lot of teen paranormal romances to be that way), but I enjoy the comfort of what is familiar and delight in seeing how authors will take that familiarity and stand it on its head.  For example, you can find dragons in many different fantasy novels.  But being a dragon is about the only thing that they have in common:

In The Halfblood Chronicles by Mercedes Lackey and Andre Norton, dragons are a fully sentient race capable of shapeshifting and molding rock, but have emotions, desires, and speech very similar to their human counterparts.  They think, feel, love, and hate much like we do.

In The Winterlands Quartet by Barbara Hambly, dragons are deeply alien beings, tied to the music of their names, unique in coloring with thought processes very unlike our own.  Their love of gold is not from the perceived monetary value, but from the music inherent in its essence that soothes them.

In The Symphony of Ages series by Elizabeth Haydon, dragons are one of the Firstborn Races, born of the Earth, immortal and elemental.  There are relatively few of them and they usually remain hiding deep within the earth.  One did change into the form of a human and gave birth to half-human, half-dragon children before returning to her own form and her own lair.  They are not as human as Lackey’s dragons but not as alien as Hambly’s.

The dragons of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels aren’t actually natural creatures at all, but genetically engineered from an indigenous species known as fire-lizards to help combat the deadly parasitic Thread that falls from a nearby planet every few decades.  They are more intelligent than horses or dogs, but are dependent on the psychic link with their riders.  The origin of the dragons and the lack of magic makes Pern more part of science fiction than fantasy…but it still has dragons and shows another way that the traditionally magical beasts can be used.

Just with these few examples, you can see the wonderful ideas that can spring out of what appears to be an old stereotype on the surface.  And I think that’s part of why I love fantasy so much and have continued favoring it for over two decades:  it offers a fresh new way of looking at the familiar and finding the wonder within.

Influential Books: Part 1

This is the first part of a series of entries discussing various books that deeply influenced my writing and outlook on stories.  You can read the Introduction here.  Please note that discussion of these books may contain spoilers.  

Image via evercleanbooks.blogspot.com
Image via evercleanbooks.blogspot.com

The earliest fantasy book I remember reading was Dragon’s Milk by Susan Fletcher when I was in second grade.  (The only reason I remember when I read it is because I had to write a book report on it.  Does anyone actually write book reports anymore?)  The book is about the harrowing adventure of a young girl named Kaeldra.  When her sister is struck down by a terrible illness, Kaeldra is told that only dragon’s milk can save her.  But getting milk from a mother dragon is only half the battle.  When the mother dragon is killed, Kaeldra is oath-bound to save the three hatchling dragons from the same fate.  And even though Kaeldra has the ability to speak to dragons, her task won’t be an easy one.

In addition to adding new words to my fantasy vocabulary (notably “ken” and “dracling”), Dragon’s Milk introduced me to several new concepts, such as the power of names, the use of telepathy for communication with nonhumans, and the idea that dragons have an intelligence and view of the world that is very different from humans.  Most little kid stories with dragons and unicorns have the creatures communicating, feeling, thinking, speaking, and seeing the world essentially the same way humans do.  They basically are humans…just with a different drawing attached to them.  Even Bruce Coville’s book Into the Land of the Unicorns, another founding fantasy series for me, had that element in it.  The unicorns communicate telepathically, but their thoughts and world-view really isn’t very different from the human one.  Perhaps that was to make them more understandable, more relatable.

Continue reading “Influential Books: Part 1”

One Writer’s Evolution

A thought struck me as I was rereading passages from some of my older, unfinished works:  “Wow.  I’ve certainly changed in the last decade.”

Rereading old works can be both cringe-worthy and heart-warming.  Cringe-worthy because, hopefully, if you’ve been working to improve yourself, you’ll be thinking, “Good grief, I had NO grasp of pacing,” or “My magic system in this story made NO logical sense,” or “AHHH!  SO MUCH FORCED CHARACTER DESCRIPTION!”  (I’ve always been über-descriptive in my writing, so that’s always been a problem of mine.)  But the cringing will hopefully be followed by the realization that, “Hey, I’ve come a long way since then.  All those problems seem so obvious to me now and I know how to avoid them.”

I don’t know about you, but I also always get a warm, slightly nostalgic feeling when I reread my old stories.  I’m like a parent amused and indulgent with her children’s finger painting and story-telling antics.  They might not make sense in the adult world I now inhabit, but there’s a great deal of old-fashioned charm in the nonsensical-ness.  Horses used doors and buckets, magic was thrown in willy-nilly to make up for a lack of opposable thumbs and tornadoes were a perfectly acceptable method of transportation.

Continue reading “One Writer’s Evolution”