Month: October 2011 (Page 1 of 3)

DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by Laini Taylor

Please note: My “Reading Reflections” are not reviews. They are simply my thoughts in response to certain passages.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Andy and I happened to be in the car when I finished Daughter of Smoke and Bone. After reading the last words, I closed the cover, took a deep breath, turned to him with tears in my eyes, and said, “This book devastated me.”

He laughed.

But it’s true! Karou and Akiva (and Brimstone — oh, Brimstone!) broke my freaking heart. Laini Taylor is so talented and so, so cruel.

I knew from Lips Touch that Laini was a masterful writer, but her elegant, unpretentious prose still took me by surprise. Took me on a journey. Made me tingly with emotion. Made me green with envy.

(Bottom line: I would pretty much murder someone to write as well as Laini does.)

So these “Reading Reflections” are going to be fairly light on the Reflections. They’re basically just the passages I swooned over. Oh, and while the US cover is fine, I used the UK cover for this post because I think it’s positively gorgeous.

Karou wished she could be the kind of girl who was complete unto herself, comfortable in solitude, serene. But she wasn’t. She was lonely, and she feared the missingness within her as if it might expand and… cancel her. She craved a presence beside her, solid. Fingertips light at the nape of her neck and a voice meeting hers in the dark. Someone who would wait with an umbrella to walk her home in the rain, and smile like sunshine when he saw her coming. Who would dance with her on her balcony, keep his promises and know her secrets, and make a tiny world wherever he was, with just her and his arms and his whisper and her trust. (70-71)

Swoooooooon. We’ve all felt that longing, haven’t we?

(Just in case that passage gives you the wrong impression: Karou is an extremely strong heroine, in every way. But she’s human too, with all the complex emotions and desires that go along with that.)

“Have you ever asked yourself, do monster make war, or does war make monsters?” (123)

A good question indeed. One that many individuals (and societies) throughout history probably should have asked themselves. One that we still need to be asking.

“There are things bigger than any wish.”
“Like what?”
“Most things that matter.” (144)

“I hope, child, but I don’t wish. There’s a difference.”

She turned this over in her mind, thinking that if she could come up with the difference, it might impress him. Something occurred to her, and she struggled to put it into words. “Because hope comes from in you, and wishes are just magic.”

“Wishes are false. Hope is true. Hope makes its own magic.” (144-145)

“Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there’s no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic.” (290)

One of the central themes in this book was magic, wishing, and hope — the distinctions and the overlaps between those three. Many of us use those terms interchangeably (magic and wishes; wishes and hope) but I think Laini really teases out the nuances of the words.

As a reader and writer, I’ve always thought that nuances are what make language so lovely. And powerful.

“Love is a luxury.”
“No. Love is an element.”
An element. Like air to breathe, earth to stand on. (365)

Siiiigh. That is some serious crack to romantics like me.

There was almost always something to take delight in, if you were trying. But this was different. It couldn’t be contained. She sometimes imagined it streaming out of her like light.

Happiness. It was the place where passion, with all its dazzle and drumbeat, met something softer: homecoming and safety and pure sunbeam comfort. It was all those things, intertwined with the heat and the thrill, and it was as bright within her as a swallowed star. (399)

First, I like the idea that there’s always something to be happy about. Not so much in the silver lining sense, but more like… just having a bright outlook. Appreciating the small pleasures in life instead of only seeking or being satisfied with the big ones.

Second, I know that kind of happiness, and I feel lucky to be able to say that.

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A night under the stars

On my most recent trip home to Houston, my parents and I went to Clear Lake for an evening sail on our boat. The weather was good, the waters calm. After a busy day, we were looking forward to the relaxing rhythm of the waves and the fresh, salty air.

Unfortunately, when we got to the marina, we found several inches of water inside the cabin. Somehow our sailboat had partially flooded! So instead of a leisurely night enjoying the surf and the breeze, we spent two hours with a plastic bucket and a leaky pump, bailing out the stale and murky water.

By the time we finished, we had mosquito bites on our ankles, our clothes were spattered with dirt, and our skin was covered in a fine layer of seawater and sweat. Anyone in their right mind would have been miserable. And yet, my parents and I smiled and joked as we headed to the bathrooms to clean up.

Upon reflection, I realized that in a weird way, I actually enjoyed that night of gross, sweaty work. Because my parents and I were spending time together. Because I was helpful to them.

As an only child, I’ve always had a close relationship with my parents. But now that I live so far away, I see just how much we did as a family, and how hard it is to do that kind of stuff now. Thanks to technology, my parents are never more than a phone call or an email away, but it’s not the same as hopping in the car for ice cream at Dairy Queen, or going to see a movie on a whim, or just hanging out at home with the TV on, all of us sitting in our “reserved seats” on the couch. Things that I used to take for granted. Things that aren’t so easy anymore.

Whenever I visit home, my mom asks if I want to do anything, and my dad asks if I want to go anywhere. Favorite restaurants, new museum exhibits, the beach at Galveston, even Austin or San Antonio. I know they just want me to have fun, but I always tell them not to go to any trouble. They can’t understand why.

That night, after our decidedly not-relaxing evening on the boat, we put our swimsuits on, rinsed off, and then hopped into the community pool at the marina. Beneath a dark sky filled with stars, we floated on our backs and kicked our legs. We sat on the deck chairs and ate cherries. We talked and laughed and talked some more.

I guess that’s the real reason that night didn’t feel miserable to me. That’s why we don’t need to go anywhere or do anything special. Because we’re together, spending time as a family again. And that’s enough.

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Learning from Dennis Lehane

Every October, a conglomerate of Cincinnati libraries, bookstores, and universities puts on Books by the Banks, a convention for readers and writers to come together and discuss their favorite thing: books.

This year I went with Stephanie and Sarah, and between the 3 of us, we attended 4 different panels. The first was with Chris Bohjalian, who had a smooth patter of stories and jokes. He made me laugh with his anecdotes, then cry (almost) with his poignant reading.

The second panel featured Brock Clarke and Paula McLain, who were more off-the-cuff, and who gamely tried to connect despite their books (and their personalities) seeming quite different. I enjoyed Brock’s sarcasm and self-deprecating humor, as well as Paula’s girlish enthusiasm and passionate ramblings.

Then, for the final panel of the day, Steph and Sarah went to see a group of YA authors we like (discussing whether teen lit is “too dark”) while I went to see Dennis Lehane.

Books by the Banks 007

You probably know Dennis’s work, even if you think you don’t. He wrote Mystic River, Shutter Island, and Gone Baby Gone — all critically acclaimed films now. In fairness, I’ve never read his work either, but when I was a senior in college, he came as the English Department’s end-of-year speaker, and I had to miss it (as I did every year) for my dance show. Everyone said he was great, though, so I was determined to see him this time around. And I am so, so glad I did.

Earlier in the day, I had passed Dennis at his booth, signing books, playing Scrabble on his iPhone, and generally looking kind of tired. Assuming that this was part of a grueling promotional tour, I sympathized, but to be honest, I also worried that he might flame out on the panel.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

For the first few minutes he did say “um” a lot, but once he warmed up, his body and his words filled with Writerliness. You could almost see the change, and you could certainly hear and feel it. He read us part of his new work, which was gritty and clever, and then he took questions from the audience. Below, paraphrased, is some of what he shared with us.

  • “As a writer, it’s important to slam doors in your own face. It forces you to create windows.”
  • He likes to write in the morning, “before the world is too much with me,” when he’s still a little bit in the dream state. The older he gets, the more he needs a non-modern feel to his environment (like an old Underwood typewriter he keeps nearby). Reassuringly, he also said he’s gotten a lot more disciplined over the years — in part due to having a family and thus more responsibility, less time to himself.
  • “Maybe you’re just not a writer. This isn’t a cruel thing to say; it’s a reality.”
  • Growing up, all he wanted was to be a baseball player. He worked 5 times as hard as everyone else, he said, even practicing in the dead night in February, causing the loss of a few teeth. But no matter what he did, no matter how bad he wanted it, he didn’t have the athletic ability. Eventually he came to peace with that, and he found something else.
  • He told us the genesis of Shutter Island, which I found fascinating. It involves the Patriot Act, a drunken night out with friends, and the unexpected hospitalization of his mother.
  • “I’m just a student for the rest of my life.”
  • He doesn’t worry about being literary or commercial. He’s not trying to please anybody — though of course he hopes to please readers. Above all he writes characters. He wants to take you on their journey. And he wants to keep getting better.

I enjoyed Dennis’s talk so much that I seriously considered asking him if he wanted to have dinner with me (and Andy, who I thought would really like him). Instead I settled for getting him to sign a book and take a picture.

That night I went home feeling rejuvenated, infused with literary energy and learnings. Even writing this recap has ignited a kind of spark in me. All I can say is, if you have the chance to go to this event or anything like it — maybe an author reading at your local bookstore — do it.

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On "selling" like hotcakes

On Friday night, I was hanging out at a friend’s place and decided to hop on his wifi and check on sales of Twenty-Somewhere at Amazon. The count was 13, as it had been for a few days. Disappointing, but okay.

Twenty minutes later I went home, got on my laptop, read emails, checked sales again. (Yes, it’s addicting.) Now the count was 113. I laughed.

“What’s so funny?” Andy asked.

100 sales in 20 min? Yeah right. “There’s some sort of crazy error on Amazon,” I said.

I refreshed the page, expecting the error to be corrected. Instead: 145.

Blink blink. What on earth is going on?

Turns out Amazon made Twenty-Somewhere free. See, they have a price-match policy, and I had set Twenty-Somewhere to be free on iTunes for the months of Sept and Oct. I knew it was a risk that Amazon would catch on, but 6 weeks had passed without their noticing, so I thought I was home-free.

Apparently not.

As I saw my sales climbing by the hundreds — or my downloads, really, since it was free and thus I was no longer earning royalties — I began to panic. What does this mean? How long should I let this go on? What if everyone hates it? What if this gets me blacklisted from any agent? What if what if what if?

Not wanting to (over)react too soon, I took a shower. I read some threads on the Writer’s Cafe forum of KindleBoards.com. I thought.

And I remembered that Twenty-Somewhere has always been my lab rat. An experiment in writing for fun, then in New Adult fiction, then in epublishing. Now in pricing. Sure, I hadn’t planned this new investigation, but that didn’t mean I had to cancel it. Why not ride it out for the rest of the month and see what happens?

So that’s what I’m going to do.

So far about 9,000 over 10,000 copies have been downloaded in less than 48 hours, putting Twenty-Somewhere at #9 on the Kindle Free list. To me that’s… staggering. Of course many of those downloads will never translate into actual reads. As a Kindle owner, I know there are “freebie hoarders,” and my story will sit forever in their Amazon Cloud.

But what if just 1% of those people read it? And what if some of them like it? And what if some of them come here to learn more about me and my writing?

(Or, in my fantasy, what if a Hollywood producer reads it and wants to make it a TV show?)

Who knows. Maybe absolutely nothing will come of this. That’s okay too. It’s a learning experience, and that’s what I want to do: learn. Adapt. Be open to possibilities and opportunities.

I expect it will be a month before I even begin to understand the effects of this. I’ll do my best to relate any findings here. In the meantime, I’ll still be finishing up my YA manuscript and then querying agents. With my birthday and Christmas both coming up soon, you can probably guess what’s on my wishlist.

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Why I write

To explore.

Today is the National Day on Writing. Please feel free to share why you write.

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