Make me laugh

I’ve been reading a lackluster book called The Book of Wonders, by Jasmine Richards. And I haven’t been able to figure out what made it lackluster.

I mean, just read the summary:

Sorcerers, Cyclops, Djinnis . . . Magic.

Thirteen-year-old Zardi loves to hear stories about fantastical beings long banned from the kingdom of Arribitha. But anyone who is caught whispering of their powers will feel the rage of the sultan—a terrifying tyrant who, even with his eyes closed, can see all.

When her own beloved sister is captured by the evil ruler, Zardi knows that she must risk everything to rescue her. Along with Rhidan, who is her best friend, and an unlikely crew of sailors led by the infamous Captain Sinbad, Zardi ventures forth into strange and wondrous territory with a seemingly impossible mission: to bring magic back to Arribitha and defeat the sultan once and for all.

Yeah, man! Arabian Nights and all that! I picked it up at the library because the summary promised adventure and fun.

And … it’s not. I’ve had to force myself to read this thing. Page after page of adventure, but somehow I don’t care. So I’ve begun reading it to educate myself on why I’m not connecting with the characters.

Conflict? Check. Character journey? Check. Magic, monsters and mayhem? Check.

Humor? No.

Bad sentence construction? Yes.

(Some places are so poorly worded, I wonder where in the heck her editor was. Like this gem:

“Out of the gaps that pockmarked the walls of the canyon, a dozen black and gold snakes the length and width of three men lying head to toe slithered into sight.” Um, what?)

But there’s no humor. This is two kids sailing around with Sinbad, for crying out loud! They’re dealing with irreverent djinni! But there’s not a wisecrack or a snarky line to be found. Nothing but Serious Business. The heroes do nothing but angst about their Destiny and the bad things the sultan is doing.

It’s like this author wrote up an outline with all the proper character motivations and things, then dutifully spewed out a book, but her heart wasn’t in it. The plot does everything technically right, but there’s no soul.

I just finished the Magic Thief trilogy, and it was funny. The humor connected me to the characters. So reading this book is like hanging around with a zombie. There’s no life there.

So, a word to the wise–let your characters smart off sometimes! Let them backtalk the bad guys! Let them laugh at their absurd situations! Because Serious Business gets boring fast.

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Stuff I want to do

I sat down to update this blog and realized I have nothing to write about. I think my brain is getting flabby. I need to learn something and get my mental muscles working again.

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Things I want to learn about:

Ballet and dance. I have a character who works magic by dancing. In order to write her story, I get to watch a ton of instructional videos on different kinds of dances. I watched a little bit on ballet last night, and it was lovely. Actually, I want to stand here in the living room and see if I can do the five basic positions, myself. I used to be pretty good at dance-type aerobics.

(I also watched one on how to tango, and it literally takes two to tango. The steps don’t work properly otherwise. It’s opened up some interesting questions about what would happen if two mages tangoed and combined their magic that way. What sort of world-shattering magic could I come up with?)

How to properly make nifty pictures out of stock photos. Fortunately, deviantart has oodles of tutorials, and I just need to sit and read them. I read one earlier and it made it look stupidly easy. (“Stick these pictures together and erase bits of them to let other bits show through!”)

Read more nonfiction. I need to broaden my interests. I cruised around the nonfiction section in the library, and there’s so much there! So much arcane knowledge, from the basics of vampires, to biographies on every famous person known to man, to the psychology of autism, to 101 ways to cook chicken. I don’t even know where to start.

Do some Valentine’s crafts with the kids. I just need to pick up some red paper–we might need to take a walk down to the Dollar Store.

My hubby had a decent evaluation at his work last night (so it doesn’t look like he’ll get fired at the end of 90 days like we feared). It’s been such a huge weight off my mind. I’ve felt like a blocked pipe. Now the block’s gone and thoughts are rushing through my head again.

Pretty Happy Funny Real–first of 2013!

Every Thursday I want to participate, and I either have no pictures, or no energy to take pictures with. So this week, by golly, I’m participating!

Happy:

Lots of candidates for Happy!

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C. is learning how to brush her teeth!
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My cockatiel scratching his head. He’s very comfortable with the noise level around here. Last night the kids were running around screaming and playing, and he was asleep.
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Couch forts are more fun on laundry days, when the clothes baskets are empty.
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Clothes baskets also make fun places to hide.

Pretty:

yellow-pansy
It being California, pansies are considered “fall flowers” and get planted around our complex in the winter. How’s that for weird? It does make for some nice color when you start getting spring fever.

Funny:

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The munchkins discovered that underwear makes for cool hats.

Real:

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The kids’ table, covered in this continuously morphing mess. They use it constantly. It was my husband’s when he was a kid. Heirloom!

Spacetime character sketches

After watching 52 episodes of Digimon, I’m starting to think of people in the anime style again. That’s the easiest way for me to draw humans–I can get an approximation of a character’s look, and if I make a mistake on the nose or the eye placement, it doesn’t look quite as weird as if I was going totally realistic.

Anyway, here’s Carda, hero, time/space mage, and wannabe-racecar-driver:

anime-carda-sketch

Indal, the friend/rival, time mage, and now a werewolf (and it’s partly Carda’s fault):

anime-indal-sketch

Xironi, catgirl, space mage, friends with Indal, and Carda’s romantic interest (which almost amounts to a love triangle):

anime-xironi-sketch

I need to get a sketch of Michelle done, too. It really helps me write if I can do little concept sketches of characters and events.

A tale of two indies

Once upon a time, there were two indie writers, Mary and Jane. They were writing books, publishing them through small press, and promoting them through social media.

Their main difference was their attitudes. Mary was negative about everything. Jane was positive about everything.

Mary hated promoting her book. When she tried writing blog posts, it came out mean and horrible. Her tweets pulled people down. And let’s not even talk about what memes she posted on Facebook.

Jane, on the other hand, was positive. She advertised her book in social media, making use of her circle of friends online. She hosted giveaways and contests, and above all, was positive. She posted happy tweets, silly jokes about her characters, and generally lifted people up.

Both books were well-written and edited, and both had about the same amount of promotional push behind them. But the authors’ attitudes were what drew people in, or pushed them away.

People bump into Jane, laugh and think, “Oh, your book will be fun to read!”

They bump into Mary, cringe backward and think, “Ugh, your book must be ugly and hateful! No thanks!”

Mary’s book sales dwindled to nothing.

Jane’s book sales climbed toward the bestseller in her Amazon category.

Moral: Be positive.

Random fantasy sketches

I’m trying to keep my creativity mojo going, here. My hubby’s been asking me to play World of Warcraft with him before he goes to work–and I can’t resist the chance to play with him.

Here’s Charr and Dusk, my dragon and kitsune characters. Their short story is submitted to an anthology for publication. If it gets rejected, I’ll post it on here. I think they’ll get their own book someday. 🙂

charr-and-dusk-2013

And a guy in armor and his griffin mount, preparing for war. And looking awfully happy about it.

griffin-guy-sketch

Spacetime revisions are progressing pretty well. I’ve been trying to strengthen the bad guy’s motivation, and it’s had me looking up narcissists and sociopaths. Very interesting stuff.

Books I done read

I’ve been hitting the library pretty hard the last few weeks, and I have some books to review. Shorter, group reviews for the win!

The Last Apprentice, book 1, by Joseph Delaney. (Middle grade.) If I’d read this as a kid, it’d have given me night terrors. It’s full of things that go bump in the night–or in some cases, go slither in the night. And undead things clawing their way out of graves and creeping toward your face.

It’s about this farm kid who gets apprenticed to a Spook, a kind of monster hunter roaming the medieval countryside. The kid, of course, eventually lets loose a monster his master told him not to let loose, and then has to deal with killing it himself. Witches are bad news, dude.

It’s a dark, dreary book, like a ghost story you tell to your friends. At the same time, there’s all kinds of warm, likeable things–like the Spook’s code of honor, or the boggart-cat in the kitchen, or the hero’s drive to do the right thing. If you have a kid who’s into horror, well, there’s about 15 books in this series. It’s not really my thing, though.

The Magic Thief, by Sarah Prineas (middle grade). I want to shriek to the skies how much I loved this trilogy. LOVED, LOVED, LOVED IT. The hero is a young thief, like the one from Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series. But he attempts to steal a wizard’s locus stone and it doesn’t kill him–meaning the thief is also a wizard. (A locus stone is like a magic wand in this world. Everyone has one and they’re all different.) Most of the trilogy is the hero searching for his locus stone (over the course of the books, he has two.) The wizard he tries to pickpocket takes him on as an apprentice, and grudgingly teaches him magic. The relationship between grumpy old Nevery and sneaky (but honest) Conn is the primary charm of the book.

But the real delight came when something is going wrong with the city’s magic. Conn, knowing nothing about magical theory, figures that the magic is a living creature, and magic words are just the language a wizard uses to communicate with this creature. I don’t know why this idea entranced me the way it did.

In the next book, Conn meets a city being eaten up by a bad magical being. In the third book, the bad magical being comes to eat his city’s magic, and he and the wizards have to fight it. It’s all tangled up with dragons and dragon lairs.

This is a trilogy I’m going to buy and read to my own kids. This is a cream-of-the-crop kind of book series. It’s wonderful.

I’m currently reading Shiver, which is basically a werewolf book written for Team Jacob. But I haven’t finished it yet, so I can’t review it properly. That’ll be my next book review roundup.

Guest post: Where are the male protagonists?

I was invited to write a guest post for New Author Fellowship, so I wrote, Where are the Male Protagonists?

What’s on the cover of men’s magazines? Hot women.

What’s on the cover of women’s magazines? Hot women.

Who are the protagonists of most YA novels? Hot teen women.

Am I the only one seeing a pattern here?

I’ve been churning out YA urban fantasy books with male protagonists, because I like male protagonists. More on that later. They say to read the sort of thing you’re writing, so I’ve been trying to find YA urban fantasy with male protagonists.

…then I had to broaden my search to YA fantasy with male protagonists.

…then it was YA with male protagonists.

Read more here!

Writers’ responsibility

I’ve been reading a collection of essays by Diana Wynne Jones called Reflections. It’s a bunch of things she wrote for various magazines or talks, all collected together. Some of them float around various corners of the internet.

Anyway, one of the things that has stuck with me is the way stories affect children and adults. She has lots of examples of times people came up to her and told her how deeply some of her words affected them–or how much they were affected by the Piper at the Gates of Dawn chapter of the Wind in the Willows. (Incidentally, that’s the only chapter I remember of that book.)

I’ve especially pondered her example of a blueprint.

Fantasy certainly does provide comfort–and who is not entitled to a little comfort if they can get it? For those who need that, it is the mind’s perfect safety valve. But a child reading, say, a fairy story is doing a great deal more. Most fairy stories are practically perfect examples of narratives that fit the pattern of the mind at work. They state a problem as a “what if” from the outside. “What if there were this wicked uncle? That evil stepmother, who is a witch? This loathsome monster?” Stated in this way, the problem (parent? bully?) is posed for the widest number of people, but posed in a way that enables the reader to walk all round it and see the rights and wrongs of it. This uncle, witch or monster is a vile being behaving vilely. As these beings will invariably match with an actual person: parent, sibling, schoolfellow, what a child gains thereby is a sort of blueprint of society. Reading the story, he or she is constructing a mental map–in bold colors or stark black-and-white–of right and wrong and life as it should be. Turning to the actual parent or schoolfellow, where right and wrong are apt to be very blurred, this child will now have a mental map for guidance.

An important part of this mental map is that the story should usually have a happy ending–or at least an ending where justice is seen to be done to villains and heroes alike. This is again part of life as it should be. The mind, as I have said, is programmed to tackle problems, joyfully, with a view to solving them. An ending that suggests–because the writer believes it to be “realistic”–that all you can attain is some lugubrious half measure, means that all children will set out to achieve will be that half measure. And, since you rarely achieve all you aim for, what these children will actually get is an even drearier quarter measure, or less. So it is important that the blueprint instructs them to aim as high as possible. Diana Wynne Jones – Writing for children: a matter of responsibility

As I’ve chewed on this, it’s made me take a step back and evaluate the books being churned out for teens these days. The Young Adult genre is, quite frankly, a cesspool. Somehow we jumped from Middle Grade, with its adventures and heroic characters, to the angst-ridden sex-obsessed teen lit. It’s awash in angst and every perversion known to man. Sometimes a decent book with a decent story floats to the top, but the genre’s hallmarks are still there.

What kind of blueprint are these books providing for kids? Especially teens, who are dealing with hormones and trying to figure out their place in life? The Free Love agenda is still alive and well, even though we’re living in its awful aftermath–serial polygamy, single mothers, a swelling welfare class, the degradation of women. But somehow, YA misses that. Many authors preach the agenda hard, providing a foul blueprint for teens to follow.

I’m glad Twilight took off the way it did. Whatever else people say about Twilight, it preached abstinence. Against the backdrop of other YA offerings, it’s a refreshing change.

It’s made me ponder my own works. What sorts of things am I promoting? Am I providing a positive blueprint? Because someone, somewhere will read my books, and it might very well stick in their imagination and affect their life choices. Heaven knows my fanfics have already affected many peoples’ lives. I hope it’s mostly in a good way.

Drawing fun

It’s really fun taking a reference and interpeting it into a picture.

Check this out. This is a Mesopotamian seal cylinder currently housed in the Louvre.

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I tried to draw the closest approximation of a sauropod I could get.

musclesaurus

It was actually really easy, because all the details are there, even the toes. I think this may have been a prosauropod, actually, because of the body’s slimness. Anyway, this was TONS of fun to draw. Also I made leaf brushes for the background, and I’m actually happy with how the foliage came out, for once. I have a ways to go still, but I’m on the right track.

I looked up Digimon season 1 for giggles the other day, and now the kids are totally hooked. I forgot how much I enjoyed Digimon, even though back when I originally watched it, I disapproved of anime and only watched it covertly.

I thought it’d be fun to draw Garurumon as if he was a real wolf.

Here’s the anime version:

Garurumon.jpg

Here’s my sketchy real-wolf version:

real-garurumon-sketch

This is, like, disgustingly fun to draw. I’m totally going to do Graymon next (the t-rex one).