Saturday, November 27, 2010

Some Thoughts on `Blue Fire'

Don't you love discovering a new book?  It's a delicious feeling.  Yum.  My latest discover is Janice Hardy's Healing Wars trilogy, or more specifically, book two, Blue Fire, which came out this October.  (Book one is called The Shifter.)  The Healing Wars are about Nya who can shift pain from person to person in a world where pain is bought, sold, and used as a weapon.  By book two, Nya is a hunted outlaw desperate to protect her friends.  The books are mid-grade, so violence and romance are toned down, but the subtlety actually makes both more effective.

 Several things impressed me about Blue Fire.  One was the logic behind the villains.  Hardy didn't bring in new magic, she made her enemies smart enough to use the rules she'd already invented to their advantage.  That made the world more believable and showed off her villains intelligence.  Also, the stakes are not just high, they're very personal.  Nya isn't just out to save the world, she wants to save people she cares about, and because she cares, we do too.  Hardy writes quite a bit about raising stakes on her blog.  She has an excellent article on the subject  here.  It's worth checking out.  

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Yesterday  I was fortunate enough to go to a high-school performance of `Twelfth Night' one of my favorite Shakespeare comedies.  The group did an excellent job.  The audience sat right on the edge of the stage.  We were told that if a character asked a question, we should answer.  The idea was to make the experience as close to time-period as possible.  (Well... minus the throwing things at the actors.)  I had no idea Shakespeare was so fond of breaking the fourth wall.  

The set was very minimalistic.  It could have been done in an open park or (in Shakespeare's time) in the courtyard of an inn.  I was impressed by how much the actors did with no backdrops and few props.  They had a stool and a bench they whisked on and off stage.  Without scene changes, the action never lagged.

Because of the difference in Shakespeare's language and because of his reputation as a literary figure, it's easy to forget that Shakespeare's plays are all about entertainment.  People tend to put distance between him and modern audiences with elaborate sets that scream `this is archaic'.  It was nice to see a performance that took away all the false trappings and just left a really great, entertaining story of the sort Shakespeare is so famous for.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Wily Mentors in fiction

I've been thinking about archetypes, particularly the Wise Old Mentor, and I got to wondering -why wise old mentors?  If you're following the Hero's Journey archetype you need a mentor figure, sure, but if you've read many fairy tales you'll notice a lot of the mentors are wily animal companions.  The one that comes first to mind is the cat in Perrault's `Puss in Boots'.  The cat goes a fair way toward upstaging our protagonist (who doesn't even get a name, poor guy.  He just goes through life as `miller's son').  Puss not only teaches Millerson to get along in court, but also plays matchmaker for him and uses his wiles to get Millerson a comfortable estate.  

That's great for Millerson and co. but if wily animal companions are an achetype... where are they in print?  So after a bit of pondering, I came up with a title that follows the `Puss in Boots' archetype: Robert Louis Stevenson's `Kidnapped.'  If you take out the idea that a wily animal mentor has to be an actual physical animal, doesn't Alan Breck fit into the role?  He's definitely a mentor figure.  In chapter nine he's teaching our protagonist, David Balfour to mount a defense:

    "-that door, being open, is the best part of my defense."
   "It would be yet better shut," says I.
    "Not so, David," says he.  "Ye see, I have but one face, but so long as that door is open and my face to it, the best part of my enemies will be in front of me, where I would aye wish to find them."
                                                                                                                  Robert Louis Stevenson

Later Alan teaches David such important lessons as how to survive while fleeing through the Highlands from King George's army.  In the end Alan plays a crucial role in a trick meant to get David's rightful property away from his ogreish uncle.  (Well, his uncle is actually more goblin-like, but for the sake of the parallel we'll say ogreish.)

So what do you guys think?  Do you know of any wily mentors, animal or human?  Or have they been kicked out of modern fiction for stealing the protagonist's thunder -and if they have, how do we get them back?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Rambling about Lloyd Alexander

The first time I really thought about a writer's style was when I read Gypsy Rizka.  I'd checked the book out of my library based entirely on the front cover, and never bothered to check the writer's name.  Halfway through the first chapter I thought to myself, hmmm, sounds an awfully lot like Lloyd Alexander.  I looked at the flyleaf and saw that it was indeed written by him. :)
Once I realized nobody could write like Lloyd Alexander except him, I did a very brave thing.  I wrote a letter asking if he'd consider writing a story based on Norse myths and (here's the brave part) actually mailed it.  I didn't mention that I wanted to be a writer myself because I was afraid he'd say `then why don't you write a book based on Norse myths instead of bothering me about it?'
Lloyd Alexander wrote back.  He seemed happy to have heard from me.  He even promised to think about writing a book based on Norse Mythology.  I'm sure he did think about it, too, though he never actually wrote one.  He died a few years later.  I'm grateful that I worked up the courage to write to him before he passed away.
Hmm... maybe I picked the wrong title for my blog.  This post has nothing to do with fairytales, though its certainly rambling enough.  So, does anyone else have a hero you're glad you talked too (or never had a chance to talk to?)  What authors would you recognize, even if their names never appeared on the work?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Testing... 1...2...3... Testing....

I'm very new at blogging, and very bad at technology, so this is going to be a pretty short first post.  I'm an aspiring writer and self proclaimed Lit Geek.  I've been commenting on my favorite blogs as Chicory, so that's the name I'll be appearing under.  My goal here is to start discussions on literature, myths, fairy-tales, and all that sort of thing.  Best wishes, everyone. :)