« March 2010 | Main | May 2010 »

6 posts from April 2010

April 28, 2010

Reading & Writing Update

So I'm working on a new story and I think a good way to get me to work more on it is to say that I'll read an excerpt from it at my reading on Friday. Yeah. That's it.

Also, I'm on a Robin McKinley binge. Just read:

Spindle's End

Weird, reading three books at once, and in the same year as I read another book, all by the same author. You get to see the repetition of themes and structures, like her concern with elements and how magic draws from them (something I love too.) Or her interest in male/female partnerships between people whose personalities attract, but who have a built-in physical repulsion. (In one story this is a vampire/human thing and in another this is an elemental priest/human thing. It seems like a kind of metaphor for women being simultaneously attracted and repulsed by men, who are somehow inherently physically alien and physically dangerous, yet who provide a kind of complementary weight and access.)

She also seems to have a liking for the balanced male/female pairings. There's a lot of romance wish-fulfillment here, but at least it's a wish for equality.

She does have a tendency to let the plot fall apart at the end. Final confrontations are not her forte. Spindle's End and Sunshine especially have very messy climaxes. The one in Spindle's End went on forever and wandered back and forth and didn't declare clearly when it was over until it was, really, over. The one in Sunshine was just really unclear how it happened, and therefore not entirely plausible within its own world-rules. The climax in Chalice worked reasonably well, but -- and here's the problem will all three books, I think -- the part leading up to the climax was a lot of casting around for filler so that the pacing didn't go off right before the climax. This was especially bad in Sunshine. Frustrating.

I'm thinking back to Dragon Haven now and remembering that its climax was actually rather good: came slightly unexpectedly, and was a bit weird, yet satisfying. Fit in its world.

I've ordered two more from Paperback Swap and will have six McKinley books under my belt, at least, before the year is out. Bad climaxes notwithstanding, exactly what I want to read right now.

April 26, 2010

Reading This Friday!

Hey Bay Area Friends!

I'm doing a reading this Friday with NY novelist Ed Lin, whose second mystery novel SNAKES CAN'T RUN is coming out.


Friday April 30, 7:00 pm

Eastwind Books of Berkeley
Ed Lin reading with Claire Light and Joel B. Tan
2066 University Ave.
Berkeley, Calif.

(510) 548-2350

Hope to see some of you there!

April 12, 2010

Reading Update

Zetta Elliott A Wish After Midnight

Argh! This is the third terrific YA novel I've read this year that ends too soon! A Wish After Midnight has great, complex characters, a wonderful premise, and no simple answers. It also draws from the tradition of YA that started with A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, that yanks young people back in time to learn lessons about history, and their role in the present. But it ends before one of its central conflicts is resolved, and I can't figure out if it's supposed to have a sequel or not!

Genna is her mother's best hope for getting out of their impoverished neighborhood in Brooklyn. She's a good student, smart and ambitious, and isn't distracted by a social life. But she's lonely, and feels neglected by her mother, who is more focused on her older brother and sister, both always in trouble and both always mean to her. And she's just fallen in love with an unusual boy named Judah, an immigrant from Jamaica who teaches Genna his ideas about Africa and where they truly belong. Genna is dazzled by Judah, but resists his plans to move to Africa as soon as they've graduated.

Genna has a confrontation with her mother after her mother throws her older sister out of the house, and, making a wish in her favorite fountain, finds herself magically dragged back in time to New Year's Eve in the Brooklyn of 1863, where she is inexplicably beaten and left for dead. (There are several important moments in this book that are insufficiently described. It's frustrating, but the book's strengths are in exploring complexity, not depicting high drama, and the former is very satisfying.)

She is taken for a runaway slave, and falls in with an abolitionist doctor, who hires her to look after his baby. This relationship is one of the wonderfully complex ones in the book (SPOILERS START HERE): the doctor is truly impressed with Genna's intelligence, self-possession, and ambition, yet he discourages her from thinking big. He is truly a self-sacrificing abolitionist, yet (like Harriet Beecher Stowe, who is referenced here) still strongly believes in the inferiority of the African. He really wants to do right by Genna, but is being blue-balled by his wife and expresses an ambiguous, and not entirely savory, interest in her, down to being jealous of her boyfriends. There's nowhere comfortable to come down on the topic of the doctor: he's neither entirely good, nor entirely contemptible, and kudos to Elliott for being able to conceive of a nuanced character who's a product of his time.

Kudos also for Genna's conflicts, which are multiple and complex. She is essentially conducting a debate in her own head and heart over her place in contemporary American society. She resists how her mother renders the complexity of racial relations as (literally) black and white, and she also resists Judah's rejection of American society entirely.  She recognizes herself as an American, with a desire to be a part of her own society, and with responsibilities to it. But at the beginning of the novel, she does have a certain naivete, mostly depicted in her easy acceptance of somewhat patronizing help from an upper-middle-class white woman who hires her as a babysitter. It is in comparing the subtle dynamics of her relationship with her 21st century patron with the blatant dynamics of her relationship with her 19th century patron, that the complexity of power dynamics and race start to become clear to Genna.

And it's when she experiences the draft riots of 1863 that she has a moment of giving up on the U.S. and agreeing to leave for Africa. But the moment doesn't last, and in extremity, she wishes to return to her own place and time, leaving Judah behind.

... and that's where the novel ends. We never get to find out what happens to Judah; we don't get to see if her nearly-dying wish was a resolution she took, or if she finds she can't really commit to her own time and place after all. We don't get to see her new relationship with her mother, or how she deals with the woman she babysits for when she gets back. We don't see what happens to her siblings, either. And we don't get to see how all of this has affected the way she sees her life in contemporary America. And that last one is the whole point of sending a character back in time: to give them perspective on their own time. Plus, let me just say it again: we never get to find out what happens to Judah.

If there's a sequel planned ... well, even then, this was an awkward way to end this book, before anything at all is resolved. But if this is a standalone book, well, there are about 30 pages missing off the end of it, i.e. the entire denouement. We don't get our reward. We don't get the coast down to the finish.

Why does this keep happening in books I read? It happened in Flygirl, and in If You Come Softly. What is going on? It's driving me nuts!

April 10, 2010

Documents for Blogging Class Today

Download Blog Basics

Download Blogs for class review

Download What is a blog

Blog Marketing

How to Write Fast

April 06, 2010

Beautiful Websites

I'm finally getting the website train rolling. It's a part of my declaring that this first book will not be the last; declaring a sort of grand opening of the professional enterprise of my writing (though I don't expect to ever make money off of it.)

So anyway, I'm collecting beautifully designed websites that can help me and my designer figure out what I want. I'm going to post some here, and please post the URLs of any websites whose design you love and would like me to see.


The Bold Italic: this is an SF Bay Area culture, events, and tips magazine. Very cool design in terms of visual aesthetics, and also in terms of how they intend the site to be used (see the icons on the left edge of the frame?) Too busy, though, and a little difficult to figure out what the different categories mean. Also a little too difficult to figure out what the website IS at first.

Cranky Girl Archive Project: this is a very old art project around family archives online. The aesthetics aren't really me, but I just love clicking through this piece. Nothing here that I can really use for my own website, but it belongs on a list of website I dig.

Snog: a great commercial site for frozen yogurt. It declares its target demographic immediately, and brands hard and fast. I love the single bright color and the sepia photos against the white backdrop. A bit stark, but that works for me in this context. Great choice of photos too. Also a bit too busy with the text. I like a clean, simple homepage.

Like Falcon, for example: this is the anti-splash page. Eyeball kick, but no splash. Just the image that declares what the site is about (yay!) and a much smaller company logo. The navigation isn't hard to find or use, but it's so small and held back that it is essentially not there, aesthetically. I also dig how, when you move into the site proper, the aesthetic impact reverses and you have a black background with machinery guts, and white text. I don't do white text, but it's a great concept: outside/inside.

Monty Lounge: I don't like too much text on the homepage, but I love this idea: the text IS the graphic element. The only image on the entire site is the (small) logo. On this homepage, the text is text, not linked. But this would be a great idea for a writer's website: using chunks of text in different fonts, sizes, and shapes to link to pages, to be a graphical navigation that was more radially oriented, or at least oriented in tables.

Finch: I like the simplicity of this design, with the huge logo, the small nav bar on the side, and the single paragraph of blog text leading directly to the blog. The more complicated navigation is below in the dark, so it doesn't look like the one page is too cluttered.

Seven Trees: I like the framing conceit on this one, and how it is continued in the banner top and sides inside the site. Not my aesthetic, but it works for this company and is good branding.

Matt: Although I don't like how this site works (log in, enter through only one link), I like the aesthetic here, and how the aesthetic works into how the information on the site is presented: the drawing, the torn edge, it all works together.

Great Works: I really like this website, but there's nothing about it that I want for my own. It's got too many layers of navigation, too many different levels of logo, too much going on. I don't like a homepage that you have to keep scrolling down on. But I think it looks great for itself and works well for its purpose.

Colourpixel: Love the bright colors! Love how the theme demonstrates the company's title! The designer has a lot of stuff going on on this page, but somehow manages to keep things in order and easy to understand and find. That's some talent there.

Jak & Jil Blog: This is just a blog, but I love the "splash page": the type and the chic simplicity of it. It's a photo blog, so it can get away with not having any images in its design. I love that it does that.

April 03, 2010

Reading Update w/ Thylacine

Kinda like a dog, kinda like a cat, but it's a marsupial! With a big mouth!

I posted the Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacine) above in honor of my reading updates today:

Fire by Kristin Cashore

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

The thylacine shows up in Westerfeld's Leviathan, where it is the only "natural" (i.e. non DNA-manipulated) creature around. I really wanted to see one after reading the book and there it is. What an awesome animal! What a terrible pity they're extinct!

The book is fun! My no-review rule holds here, though.

Fire was very different in a lot of ways from Graceling. It is a good, solid, adventure fantasy with strong wish fulfillment and romance elements in it. But the female hero's power isn't ass-kicking. It's (basically) beauty, with a bunch of telepathy thrown in. This was very interestingly handled, since Cashore didn't make it either a dream-job-type deal, like the beautiful princesses in fairy tales, who are purely loved, or a simplistic my-life-is-so-hard-pity-me deal. But she did show that beauty is a very mixed blessing, especially this kind of magical beauty, which forces people to behave in extreme ways.

The protag, Fire, is a "monster," a brightly-colored version of her species (in this case, human, although there are monsters of every animal species as well) which possesses a mesmerizing beauty, telepathic powers, and a strong lust for the flesh of other monsters. (Note: Cashore seems to forget this last part when dealing with Fire, so that we never actually get to see Fire chowing down monsterly on other monsters. Boo.) Fire is the last human monster, daughter of a monster father who was really a monster: he controlled the king and brought the kingdom to ruin. Now, with her father and the king he controlled dead for a couple of years, and the kingdom on the brink of ruin, Fire has to help the new king and his brother, a military prodigy who commands the kingdom's army and Fire's love interest, prevent the kingdom from splitting up.

In the meantime, Fire has to fend off (usually not by herself) predatory monsters who want to eat her, and (mostly male) humans who love her too much, or hate her. And she has to decide how best to use her telepathic powers without becoming a true monster like her father.

I have to say, this was great in the first half of the book, but then when we got into the second half, where all of Fire's principles are compromised, it kinda fell apart. SPOILERS FOLLOW! For example: she never trusts any of the men who fall in love with her -- including her best friend Archer, who truly loves her, but is also controlled by her magical beauty. Yet she never questions Brigan's (the king's brother) admittedly reluctant love. This isn't satisfying. In Graceling, Cashore is careful to set up a romance in which each of the two lovers is able to protect themselves against the other's power. This doesn't happen here, so Cashore should have had some sort of reckoning with Fire's beauty and how it affected Brigan ... but we never get there.

Fire also struggles with using her telepathy to control other people for the good of the kingdom. But when she finally gives in and starts using it -- struggle over. She (and we) never see the slippery slope, even though we know it's there. Too simplistic. And finally, she is essentially treated (by the author) as physically helpless. She never really kicks ass, even though she has the power to protect herself from any attacking individual. She never loses her temper, never strikes back against any of the men who throw themselves at her. It makes her unsympathetic, that she never takes charge of protecting herself, even though she does eventually agree to use her powers for the good of the kingdom. There's a lot of potential complexity in her that was left sitting around.

I really wanted to love this book, but I just didn't. It didn't have the perfection -- the matching of means to end -- that Graceling did. Maybe because it was a little more ambitious, and was trying something very tricky. There's a lesson right there: give the more ambitious books more time.

Join My Mailing List!