Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Busy Fall

So it has been a busy month and a half, starting with two comic book conventions and then hitting a literal wall of book and reading events. In retrospect, I wish I'd gone to the Arlington Library's 813 Ball, a 1920s/Great Gatsby inspired fundraiser complete with band. The ball takes its name from the Dewey Decimal location for literature because well... librarians. The ball coincided with the fall book sale which was the usual chaos on opening night.

Spy Museum Elizabeth Wein event

On September 19th afternoon, I went over to the National Spy Museum to see Elizabeth Wein. She was signing copies of "Code Name Verity" and the newly released "Rose Under Fire." It was a small event, so I was able to talk to her a little, how so many of my friends on twitter particularly had loved (and sobbed) through "Verity" but carefully hadn't spoiled me. Interestingly Wein warned me that the first chunk of "Verity" was a tough go, so wouldn't hold it against me if I didn't love it unconditionally. The Museum shop person had read "Rose Under Fire" to the underprivileged teen group she worked with and they were now reading Verity as well. Wein was bowled over by this news and all the acclaim for her work.

Then September 27th was the V.E. Schwab "Vicious" event at my local independent bookstore One More Page Books. Since the book is about superpowers and villains and heroes, the book event invited people to dress up in costume. She'd have masks (red for villain, black for hero) and a cool set of trading cards you could obtain for preordering the book or attending her signings. I'm not a natural cosplayer, but I figured I could enter the spirit when I saw this retro Black Widow t-shirt at the Spy Museum shop. (Romita doesn't actually portray Natasha wearing heels with that then new costume, I might add, but I love the style of art.) I paired it with an old goldish bracelet and OPI's "Affair in Red Square" nail polish for effect. I felt very Polyvore Black Widow. The other three people were pretty off the rack too -- a Lizzie Borden in black clothes and an axe as prop, a lady in a black cocktail dress and wand as Bellatrix and another in suit jacket / name tag as Agent Jemma Simmons from Agent of SHIELD because her name actually was Simmons. Bellatrix won mainly because Schwab admitted a love for the character.

A glimpse of my red nails and bracelet

Then Schwab gave a reading from "Vicious" and answered some questions. Some were book specific, like whether there was a traditional hero in "Vicious" or not. She also talked about the storytelling format since the book covers several time periods. She wrote it in order but then had markers to tell herself where things fit chronologically. She intended the chapters to be in short chunks like panels in a comic book. (I'm picturing some of the awful DC/Marvel captions where the story starts "NOW..." to cue you and so forth.) She wrote the book over about two years in between other book deadlines and wasn't originally about Victor and Eli. She had a different leading character and she was writing the backstory on the rival gangs and realized they were more interesting than she realized. She didn't tell anyone about the project for awhile. She talks a bit about writing "Vicious" on Scalzi's blog here and published a short story Warm Up as a lead-up to the release. (Hilariously they didn't mention it was tied to "Vicious" so some of the regular sf/fantasy commenters were confused everyone knew about some upcoming book and assumed it was spammy.)

She has now three publishers: one for middle grade (Scholastic), one for YA (Hyperion) and adult (Tor) and will publish 4 books next year. (EEP!) She was asked why Vicious couldn't be YA and it wasn't the ages as much as the tone and black humor that she didn't think fit that mindset. She hates cliffhangers, so even her series book feel like they can stand on their own. She's more of a classic Marvel comics fan, although she did her thesis on Bat-villains and how they're personifications of chaos/Batman's fears. She just prefers the Marvel shades of grey. She's an X-men fan, Magneto specifically.

What I find fascinating as a "no, no, don't tell the authors" fangirl of long standing is how Schwab has utterly embraced the fans, hoping someone will write the Victor/Eli epic of her dreams. She finds it the best compliment that someone wants to spend more time with her characters and world. She has since even started a forums for people to play in.

Then last week my local library hosted their first YA lit/writing event. They're gearing up for Nanowrimo in a big way, at least on the teen front. I've asked about the adult side of the coin and there is some furious discussions about the idea, so hopefully something will happen on that front. I didn't realize how much I missed having real people to talk to about writing. Not that the Internet isn't lovely (I do love you all really), it's just isolating at times, too.

For the event, they had several YA authors to answer questions, along with the teen librarian to give her perspective on Nanowrimo and reading. The first panel was all about "rough drafts" and the process, rather than the business/market side of things author events get bogged down on lately. The authors were Diana Peterfreund, Jessica Spotswood, and Jon Skovron. I was only vaguely familiar with Peterfreund; she'd done a book signing at One More Page fairly recently. Her "For Darkness Shows the Stars" is a science fiction version of Jane Austen's "Persuasion". The second book in the series "Across a Star Swept Sea" started life as Scarlet Pimpernel in space. The other two authors I wasn't as familiar with, but they gave some good advice about outlines and when to start projects and how to juggle real life/writing. (What I gathered from this is wishing my commute was longer -- mine is strangely too short for writing or podcasts/audiobooks anymore.) The event seemed very well attended and most would-be authors, whether YA genre or otherwise.

All in all, I'm a little worn out by book/author events, but encouraged leading up in Nanowrimo. As much as I love reading, I miss writing as much.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Marissa Meyer in Bethesda

I was delighted when I heard Marissa Meyer was planning a book signing at the Bethesda Library in Bethesda, MD. I was little nervous after my previous excursion to this location, but this time I was far from the only adult reader present. The crowd was much smaller, so it was easier to find a seat and enjoy the event. Politics and Prose had both Cinder and Scarlet on sale with some of the proceeds benefiting the library.

Meyer started by explaining the story behind Cinder and Scarlet and how it all started with Sailor Moon fanfiction and a Star Trek walk-on. She'd been writing for some time, cutting her teeth in the Sailor Moon anime fandom. She was surprised so many people in the room knew the series; apparently she's asked the question in other locations and they've usually stared at her. She explained how she'd entered a Sailor Moon writing contest where she had use several elements -- she chose science fiction and fairy tales. Because Sailor Moon has its share of talking cats, she wrote a version of Puss in Boots.

Still with the science fiction/fairytale blend stuck in her brain, she had a Cinderella inspired dream where instead of her shoe falling off, her whole foot came off, thus inspiring the idea of the cyborg Cinderella. She merrily continued planning and plotting and gathering inspiration when Nanowrimo came around again in November. Nanowrimo is National Novel Writing Month where participants try to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days or less.

The Seattle ML upped the ante for that year -- the person writing the highest word count would receive a walk-on role in the new JJ Abrams Star Trek movie. Meyer comes from a very geeky family, the sort that wasn't above dressing in costume for Star Trek movie nights or apparently completely redoing their attic as a Enterprise bridge! So the walk-on prize was very exciting to her. She'd done Nano successful several times; she'd just have to write a lot more. She wound up writing 150K for that Nano comprising of Cinder and Scarlet and some of Cress. She actually did not win the contest, falling about a thousand words short of her victory and finishing third. Undeterred Meyer went back and revised the hell out of the first book until it was ready, found an agent and then they shopped it around to various publishers. They sent the book out on a Friday and received their first offer on Monday. (I should have asked if they'd shopped it as one book or the complete series, because the titles were already lined up in the first hardcover.) The funniest punchline is she received the news of the book selling on November 1st, the first day of Nanowrimo.

Meyer read two small sections of "Scarlet" aloud. One introduced Scarlet and Wolf, the new main characters in the second novel. The other section reintroduced Cinder to reassure her fans that she wasn't gone from the story. The scene was from Captain Thorne's POV who she described as possibly her favorite character of the whole series.

Before Meyer took questions, she discussed fairy tales and the parts of the story left out in most adaptations. Her examples included Little Mermaid, Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood. I'd heard the unsanitized version of Cinderella before; Sondheim had incorporated the stepsisters chopping up their feet into his musical Into the Woods. But instead of the birds being the ones to alert the prince it was spirit of Cinderella's mother. (I shudder how they'd have to adjust their feet if the glass slippers were geared to fit my narrow feet.) I had not heard the earliest version of Little Red Riding Hood with the cannibalism and nudity. What an... edifying version to take to dinner with me.

Then she opened up the floor for questions:

- Four books are in the series and they cover different fairy tales. Cinder is Cinderella, Scarlet is Little Red Riding Hood, Cress is Rapunzel and Winter is Snow White. But all the main characters will continue to appear throughout the series.
- Wolf's photo inspiration was the Turkish pop star Tarkan. An audience member surprised her by knowing his name!
- She picked her locations because of their connections with the original fairy tales. For instance, one of the earliest Cinderella stories was found in 9th century China, while Little Red Riding Hood is tied either to France or parts of Eastern Europe. The fourth book deals with the moon, so there's connection there.
- She didn't have a specific ethnicity in mind for Cinder, thinking she was mixed -- brown hair, tanned skin, very thin and no curves. She wouldn't stand out in Eastern Commonwealth, but rather blend in.
- Meyer was not mechanically minded. Her husband rebuilt old cars and helped explain certain parts and sometimes she'd rename parts/tools so they'd fit her world/voice better. She did laugh when her neighbor read her book and asked why Cinder hadn't used a specific tool used for removing screws in the one of the first scenes. She hadn't known such a tool existed, but allowed as how it would have been a boring scene if she'd used it.

Two of the fans behind me had created a pair of adorable necklaces -- one of Cinder in her ballgown w/ cyborg arm and leg and one of Sailor Moon/Usagi.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Vive le France!

 January is over alas. I have finished three books for my Mt TBR list and started several on my Classics Club list. "Persuasion" is still lagging somewhat, so I didn't complete the Unputdownables read-a-long but I hope to tackle finishing it soon. So with the calendar changing to February, I need to find my non-existent passport and say "Bon Voyage" and say a hearty "Bonjour!" to the Classic Club's French February. Initially I hesitated coming so soon after the "Persuasion" read-a-long, but Choderlos de Laclos' "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" is already on my list and I happen to adore epistolary novels. The choice of books fits nicely into the Month of Letters challenge for February.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Vintage SF: Randall Garrett's Murder and Magic

In 1199, Richard the Lionhearted died from a crossbow wound at the Seige of Chaluz, leaving his neglected English throne in the hands of his brother Prince John.

At least that's one way the story goes. But what if history had gone a little differently?

In the world of Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy, Richard the Lionhearted recovered from his wounds and settled down to the running of England and France. Without heirs of his own, Richard entrusted the kingdom over to Arthur, the capable son of his dead brother Geoffrey. Arthur made a brilliant marriage and expanded the kingdom until the Plantagenet Empire was the most powerful on the planet. 

But this is also a world where the laws of magic were codified and treated as a science. Those with the Talent are trained to be sorcerers or healers, fully licensed and sanctioned by the Church. Healers perform their work through the laying on of hands, allowing people to live longer. But superstition and distrust hasn't disappeared completely from this world, creating an underworld of hedge wizards and "black magic" users that feed off the general populace's fears. These fears are also encouraged by agents abroad.

The Chief Criminal Investigator to Richard, Duke of Normandy, Lord Darcy must solve the unsolvable, while aided by Master Sean O Lochlainn. Lord Darcy is the master detective of this universe, lacking any Talent of his own, except his remarkable mind and powers of observation. Master Sean O Lochlainn is a master sorcerer with a particular interest in forensics. Lord Darcy and Master Sean work as an able team, confident in each other's special abilities.

The first Lord Darcy collection, Murder and Magic, was published in 1979, but all four stories were published earlier. Each story is what would be called "fair play" murder mysteries as all the clues are provided. Master Sean provides the bulk of the magical evidence, quick to lecture on the various magical laws and how they relate to a particular situation. Lord Darcy does his own investigating and draws his own conclusions. Very often he just needs Sean to back up his suspicions.

Rereading these stories, I was struck by several things. A reviewer commented on the religious overtones of the series and it's quite true. The Church is a strong component of everyday life in this universe.  Priests and clerics appear as characters throughout the series. Only "The Muddle of the Woad" shows a glimpse of how they regard challenges to traditional Christian life with the Society of Albion with its claims to Druidic paganism. No Reformation is mentioned, but compared to say Keith Roberts' Pavane, there's also no reference to the Pope or Vatican in this first collection. All the same I could see how the religious references might feel overwhelming.

What irked me throughout the collection were the women or lack thereof, although to his credit, there were no female murder victims. But there are also no female magic users and with the Church so heavily involved, one wonders if they're even allowed to wield magic. In "Stretch of Imagination", Damoselle Barbara allows as she has "above average" Talent, but no one asks why she is never trained, so one could see her perspective cast aside as feminine intuition, nothing more. None of the stories pass the Bechdel test either; even there are multiple female characters, they don't interact with each other.

Garrett is also quite repetitive as a writer. Presumably Garrett was trying to make the stories to standalone, so he had to repeat his world's history. That meant reading about Richard's survival multiple times and he didn't vary the story all that much. He also used the same pet phrases when describing certain characters, like Lord Darcy speaking Anglo-French with an English accent or describing Master Sean as the tubby Irish sorcerer. As separate stories, it probably wasn't so bad, but taken together in one volume, the combined effect could get rather tiresome.

In his lifetime, Randall Garrett published two Lord Darcy short story collections (Murder & Magic and Lord Darcy Investigates) and one novel (Too Many Magicians). All of these stories, plus several uncollected stories, were published in one volume Lord Darcy by Baen Books in 2002. Michael Kurland also published a pair of Lord Darcy books continuing the series with Ten Little Wizards and A Study in Sorcery.

All told I still enjoyed this first collection. Lord Darcy has a certain undeniable charm and I love his interactions with Master Sean. Since it's the first series of stories, I'm willing to allow a certain leeway to see if Randall Garrett develops the universe further.  This series both fascinates and frustrates me as a reader. I love the world and how it melds so well with the mystery genre. I intend to continue my Lord Darcy reading with the rest of the series, so we'll see if my misgivings are assuaged.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Classics Club Readathon: Getting Started

The Classics Club has started the year with its inuaugural 24-hour read-athon. I will not be able to participate in the entire event as I have a social engagement in the evening, but I can still read during the day. I've been up since 9am and have already read two chapters of Persuasion before breakfast.

Name and Blog: My name is Julia and I blog at the Right Broad

Snacks and Beverages of Choice: Sunkist and Oreos

Where are you reading from today? The cushy loveseat mostly

What are your goals for the Readathon?

My main goal to catch up on the Persuasion read-a-long, but I'd like to work on some other books on my list.

What book(s) are you planning on reading? 

Persuasion by Jane Austen: I'm reading this for the Unputdownables read-a-long. I was behind by a few chapters by our first checkpoint so I wanted to get up to date

Idylls of the King by Alfred Lord Tennyson: I've owned this for awhile, but I've not read as much of it as I'd like. They are some long poems, but I can easily break them down into sections during the day.

Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde: Over the Christmas break I listened to Big Finish's wonderful audio drama, Confessions of Dorian Gray, about the further adventures of Oscar Wilde's most infamous character. So I was curious about the original. I think I had to read it once for class, but wasn't too impressed with it.

Are you excited?

YES! Very excited.