Archive for the ‘Fantasy fiction’ Category

This is the final report from the local writers’ festival I attended in August. It took me a while to get through them all. The last session I attended at the festival was called Frankenstein’s Children. Acclaimed Kiwi Speculative Fiction writers, Elizabeth Knox & Lee Murray debated the influence of Frankenstein on modern literature. Knox is one of my favourite Kiwi authors. I’m a big fan of her Dreamhunter series, which I found transformative and compelling reading (reviewed long ago when I was a member of Goodreads). Knox has an ONZM, is an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate, and won the Prime Minister’s Award of Fiction in 2019. She teaches at Victoria University and lives in Wellington, New Zealand with her family.

Lee Murray is a New Zealand science fiction, fantasy, and horror writer and editor. She is a multiple winner of the Bram Stoker Award and a twelve-time winner of the Sir Julius Vogel Award. She is a well-respected rising star.

It felt like a privilege to sit in on their live-streamed interview. I love hearing how other writers think and how they approach their craft.

Both authors were asked the same question about why they had chosen the spec. fiction genre. “From childhood, the things that most excited me had dragons and ghosts. My imagination went in that direction very early.” Elizabeth Knox said, “You have a reaction to the world, and you want to push against appearances and say, what if? How much do we live in the present; how much do we live in imagination? It’s a penetrating, all-time approach to the state of the human being.”
Lee Murray had done her research. “It was a term coined in the 1960s. It was called Speculative, and it’s developed over time. Ursula le Guin said, ‘It’s about possibilities.’ It’s also about myths and legends, asking what if, and looking at the human condition. It’s new perspectives. It’s changing all the time.”
What a great way of looking at it. Why did the two authors consider their work to be “Frankenstein’s Children”?

“Mary Shelley is considered the mother of spec fiction,” Murray explained. “She wrote Frankenstein at the age of 17 in the 1800s, writing about the resurrection of life with electricity before it was invented. It’s a book about othering. The monster wanted to belong. Shelley couldn’t be published because she was a woman. Spec Fiction is a place for women’s narratives. She was able to show she is intelligent.”
I found this thought-provoking.
Murray went on. “I wanted to write about what mattered to me and things that frighten me. It allowed me to write about things safely. Spec fiction is not this world. It’s not pointing at this person or thing. It gives us a little bit of distance.”
The author neatly skewered one of the reasons this genre drew me to it. I can tell my stories without having to worry about treading on any toes because it’s all make-believe. The genre is a forgiving umbrella. I’m fascinated to hear it is popular. Since the age of seventeen, I’ve been writing spec fiction, but whereas in the 80s publishers told me, ‘No one is interested in fantasy,’ now, suddenly, it’s cool. Or, as Murray said, “It’s the place to be.”

This reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s interview. When asked at a previous festival, did he expect to be where he is today in terms of career, Neil said he never expected to be famous. When he started, he worked in niche areas where no one in those days ever got famous. ‘You didn’t get famous in comic books, fantasy, or children’s writing—I thought I’d be out here with the weird kids. Then it spread out, and now we’re all the weird kids.’ That’s it exactly. Our strange little frowned-upon fantasy corner of the world is becoming more mainstream. Hey, it’s nice to have company.

I am also drawn to writing middle fiction, and maybe there’s a reason for that. Knox said, “There’s a period when young people are entering the world, and they’re refusing it.” I liked that. There’s an inherent kind of rebellion that comes naturally with being young or young-at-heart and trying things out, questioning the status quo. “I think we need fiction more than ever.”

Murray said, “Spec. fiction has a role in social change. It has real value. It’s the new black. It’s the place where the young people are.”
I agree. But you have to write with a lightness of touch. “As soon as you start hitting readers over the head with your message, they don’t want to read it.” Knox said, “I’m an avid reader. But I’m resistant to being told I have to do anything. You can’t step outside reality. Spec fiction is the world outside the consensual reality.”
That’s what makes it so exhilarating.
“I love fairies and Arthurian legends. Even a tragic ending can bring joy because of the shapeliness,” said Knox. “I’m changing my mind about hope. I think it belongs to the things that console us like fiction.”

Wow!
Do you see why Elizabeth Knox is one of my current writing heroes?
I’m proud to write Speculative Fiction or Frankenstein’s Children. It’s fun! How about you? Do you read it or write it?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol

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Good stories are dangerous. Dangerous, anarchic, seductive. They change you, often forever…they challenge our vocabularies and our history. Sometimes they challenge our comfortable morality. And sometimes…they challenge our most basic assumptions. ~ Jane Yolen

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It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post on the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organizers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!! Let’s rock the neurotic writing world! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG, and the hashtag is #IWSG.

This month’s question: What do you consider the best characteristics of your favorite genre?
Whittling it down to just one is a hard ask. My favourite genre is the one I write, fantasy fiction for middle-grade children. I remember in one of the writing courses I took twenty-odd years ago, the tutor exhorted us to do as Thoreau once said, to “know thy bone.” In other words, to circle your preoccupations, recurring motifs, to explore your particular palette, “bury it, dig it up, sniff it, gnaw on it” – know thy bone. Thankfully, many years ago, I discovered the right genre for me, and I’ve been circling it ever since, figuring out how to say what I want to say. The tutor advised us to “immerse ourselves in the genre” by reading as well. I don’t need any encouragement! This is why I write and read my favourite genre.
What is the best characteristic? Gee, still hard…

To make things easier, I might break the answer into two parts. Let’s start with the age group, middle-grade, or children between the ages of eight and twelve. This stage of life is magical because kids are strong enough to be somewhat independent while still being young enough to be starry-eyed. They are not too old for enchantment. Ava Duvernay said of this age group that ‘it is a time to discover who we are in our minds and our hearts. A time to listen and learn and think and wonder. A time to start to decide for ourselves how we want to walk through this world.’ That’s powerful stuff, right there.
Middle grade is a great age group to write for. The first time I ever saw Kate de Goldi speak in public was when she gave a keynote address at the Spinning Gold Children’s Writer’s Conference in 2009. Every point Kate made hit home when she spoke of why she chose to write Middle Fiction. “I don’t write about or for children, but I write for the once and always child in myself,” Kate said. “When I’m writing for children, I’m chasing down a lost Eden, that hopeful springtime, approximating the pleasure I had in those shaded places. The lost Eden of my childhood.”

Thank you for putting it into words, Kate. I am ever seeking to evoke the bewitching, magical heaven of my idyllic childhood when the joy of reading took hold of my heart and soul.
There is a deep secret fascination with that time of my life. In the years 8 – 12, I was an independent thinker, and I believed in the possibility of magical things, like leprechauns, tooth fairies, unicorns, and Santa Claus. When I was on a writing course with Kate de Goldi once, Kate told us, “Inside, I’m always twelve.” And I am the same. I feel I haven’t lost touch yet with my young life. The inner child who never stopped believing in the possibilities.
Middle Grade is a cool audience. They’re not reading with a sentimental nod back to those days when we used to believe in dragons; these readers can still be thrilled by the idea that such things might exist and aren’t afraid to let their imaginations run wild with it. I love that.

The fantasy fiction part of the genre is an equally important part of my bone. I started as a young reader of fairy tale anthologies, myths, and legends, Hans Christian Andersen, C.S.Lewis and Enid Blyton, and Tove Janssen. It was not that my life was something I sought to escape from as a child, but rather that fantasy fiction was so vivid, such a thrilling place to escape to. As Neil Gaiman said at last year’s writer’s festival, “Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been.” And that’s exciting.
Why do I write it? The common thinking about our draw towards fantasy fiction is that it’s about ‘fulfilling the heart’s desire.’ This usually means our longing for a better world, a better self, and a better life. I relate to that completely. They say that ‘Fantasy seeks to heal the wasteland.’ Almost every story aims towards the ultimate wish fulfillment, where everything works towards the greater good – the wasteland healed.
Saving the world is the deeper, philosophical view. I also write fantasy fiction because that’s what I read as a child. And, it keeps my inner child happy. Keeps hope alive. Feeds my sense of wonder. And, I gotta tell you, it is rewarding to learn how to trust my style, my voice, my way of adding another carrot to the stewpot. I adore my bone. It’s satisfying to bury, dig it up, sniff it, and give a good gnaw, before burying it again ready for the next time. It somehow feeds my soul, gnawing my bone.
Many people still look down their noses at the fantasy fiction genre. But, I love it. What’s wrong with that? What the heck is wrong with escapist literature?

I appreciated what Neil Gaiman said on this subject. “I hear the term bandied about as if it’s a bad thing. As if “escapist” fiction is a cheap opiate used by the muddled and the foolish and the deluded, and the only fiction that is worthy, for adults or children, is mimetic, mirroring the worst of the world the reader finds themself in.” I don’t get the prejudice. When the world outside my door appears to be on fire, why wouldn’t I escape to a fabulous place which is not on fire, where fantastic things are happening? Writing (and reading) fantasy fiction is a constant spirit lifter. And, I highly recommend it.
What do you consider the best characteristics of your favorite genre?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
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When she is most lucky, the poet sees things as if for the first time, in their original radiance or darkness; a child does this too, for he has no choice. ~ Edwin Muir

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It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post on the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organizers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!! Let’s rock the neurotic writing world! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG, and the hashtag is #IWSG.

This month’s question:
What genre would be the worst one for you to tackle and why?

There are a few genres I would be too scared to tackle, and some I know I should never attempt. I wanted to write romantic novels at one point when I was a lot younger, and I made it to the halfway point with a contemporary romance set in the South Island of New Zealand when I ran out of steam. It felt like a case of mentally choosing a direction, but my heart wasn’t in it, so I couldn’t sustain the energy levels needed to finish the project. As Gina Cole said at the launch of her book Na Viro last Friday night at the New Zealand Society of Authors meeting, “Writing a book is tough.” Short, sweet, and to the point! All the fates have to be aligned, and your energy has to come from the inexhaustible fuel supplied by conviction. You can’t fake story writing. It needs to come from a deep source within or the well runs dry pretty quick.

I wouldn’t dare write literary fiction because I neither read the genre nor enjoy it. Throughout the recent writers’ festival, I sat in on several live interviews or “conversations,” and two of them were with authors of highly-praised literary novels. Those were the only events where I felt out of place. Truth is, I’m not as intelligent as I look. The thought that went through my head multiple times while watching those interviews was, “I think this conversation is above my pay grade.” A lot of the points they made did not compute.
Likewise, horror and all variations thereof leave me cold. It’s another personal no-go zone. I don’t have the stomach for horror. The only horror story I’ve read – apart from critiquing my friend, Maria Cisneros-Toth’s book, Spooky Tales – was Ghost Story by Stephen King (Peter Straub). The latter’s novel freaked me out big time, and I couldn’t stop thinking about Ghost Story afterward. I didn’t like feeling afraid in my own time because of a book, and it put me off reading horror altogether. The only horror movie I’ve ever seen was Dawn of the Dead when I was a teenager. I lasted five minutes watching that movie, and then I stood up and walked out of the cinema. It’s the only time I’ve ever done so. And I’ve not seen a single horror film since. The genre is not my bag. I don’t want nasty images replaying in my mind long after a movie is finished. And the same goes for the darker sorts of fiction. I don’t want to read threatening material or have it cloud the bright sky of my imagination. It feels like I need to protect my good spirits and keep my environment positive. My friend would call it ‘keeping my armour polished.’

Another genre I avoid is picture books. There was an extended period in my twenties when I wrote picture books for the 0 – 5-year-old range. I spent at least a decade developing the stories and illustrating them. Looking back on this time, I learned a lot about writing through labouring under the constraints of the form. The economy of language and tightness of composition is essential, along with an ear for the rhythm of the spoken word. However, I prefer using lots of words, and I felt confined by the genre and miserable. Eventually, the limits of the form began to feel like a straightjacket, and I felt driven to escape.

Alternatively, my first ever experiment writing middle fiction was like lighting a flame. With more generous word limits, I could have fun with words and spend more time getting to know my characters. I could explore the plot, the story arc, and so on. The natural fit for me was to write fantasy because that is the genre I read as a child and still like to read now. When I think back, it wasn’t a matter of consciously choosing what I would write at that point. I picked up the pen and that’s what came out. Fantasy middle fiction fit like a glove, and I’ve been playing happily in my sandbox ever since.
What about you? What genre do you avoid? Which do you embrace?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
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Let it be easy. ~ Anon

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Subscribe to my newsletter by emailing me with “Newsletter Subscription” in the subject line to yvettecarol@hotmail.com

It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post on the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organizers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!! Let’s rock the neurotic writing world! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG, and the hashtag is #IWSG.

August 3 question – When you set out to write a story, do you try to be more original or do you try to give readers what they want?
Whew! Talk about a challenging issue for authors, especially unpublished writers. When you’re starting out and unsure of yourself, you wonder do I follow my ideas or try to write for the bestselling genres? If an author wants a long career, can they afford to ignore the demands of the market? That is the million-dollar question.
When I started writing picture books in the 80s, agents and publishers said you couldn’t write about cats or dogs because they were overdone. Although that didn’t stop everyone else from writing about them. When I started writing children’s chapter books in the 90s, they warned against writing about witches or wizards for the same reason. Since then the Harry Potter phenomenon happened, so, yeah, thanks, guys. Several years ago, everyone was writing about vampires, then it moved on, and everyone wrote about zombies. I didn’t bother. Suffice to say, I stopped worrying about what the market wanted long ago.

I guess I’m fortunate. Being a hobby writer, sales are not my main focus.
I don’t strive for originality, either. Over the years, I’ve learned that the prose has to come through me in whatever state it arrives. Then I enjoy tinkering with the muse’s gift. After all, isn’t most of an author’s time spent on editing rather than the original free writing? It’s up to us how much we change the form.
At the editing stage, I appreciate the input of critique groups. I feel they give insight into how readers might think or feel. My sister always urges me to leave my stories untouched. Her point is that too many cooks can spoil the broth. I get it. However, I value the opinions of my critique group, feeling that at some stage, an author does need to consider their audience, even if they self-publish and their audience is few.

The danger is when you overdo the critique and meddle to the point that the essence of your creative intelligence gets diluted. Was it Terry Pratchett who said if you question the muse too much, you might stuff the whole thing up? I’m paraphrasing. But it was something like that.
Creativity is a divine splash of energy in our brains. My dear elderly friend, Meg, used to call it ‘the inspired whatevers.’ The writer’s task is to watch for when the muse might strike and endeavour to catch ‘the inspired whatevers’ straight off the ether. I remember one writing teacher telling us that we had to ‘grab the first word given, and from there, the rest would come.’ That has been true for me with my fiction. Sometimes, I have failed to catch the first word, which resulted in floundering, unable to get started. But, if I catch that first word, then we are away. The rest of the story tumbles out of the cosmos, ready and willing. That magical feeling occurs when art can happen, that tingling when you capture the spark. We authors act as the conduit for the sublime. As do all artists.

During the editing stage, we turn into alchemists. We try to bash and hammer the divine spark forcing it into a round hole. We take inspiration from the ether and try to make it fit within the standards of storytelling. I remain uncertain about how to get the balance right. How much do you add, and how much do you lose? It’s a constant balancing act.
How about you? Do you strive for originality with your writing? Or do you try to conform to current literary expectations? What do you think?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
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I’m never truly happy with everything I ever put out. There’s always something I can improve on. Phrase a sentence better. Make the message pop. Not be such a dullard. But facing that doubt is part and parcel of the writing life. ~ Stuart Danker

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I have finished reading my twelfth novel for 2022, The Dragon Defenders, Book One, by James Russell. In New Zealand, you can’t move without hearing about this author and this series. Every time you browse through a secondhand bookstore, firsthand bookstore, or library, you are apt to see one or other of the five-volume series pop up. Whether it is Book Two: The Pitbull Returns, Book Three: An Unfamiliar Place, Book Four: All Is Lost, or Book Five: The Grand Opening, The Dragon Defenders series is everywhere. As is the author, the self-published James Russell, who tours Indie fairs and conferences, featuring as a bestselling author. A big fish.
Recently, I picked up the first book in the series and could hardly wait to see what all the fuss was about. I think I started reading The Dragon Defenders the same night I bought it.

The middle-grade novel series follows the adventures of Paddy and Flynn, brothers who live with their parents and little sister Ada on an island populated by dragons. Brought up isolated from technology and today’s world, the boys spend their days honing their bushcraft outside. They are self-trained sharpshooters with their slingshots and bows and arrows. Athletic and strong, the boys have excellent surviving skills. When a group of egg and dragon poachers led by a guy called Pitbull come to the island, Paddy and Flynn must outwit them, aided by their pets – Clappers (their horse), Lightning (their falcon), and Coco (their dog). The boys use a combination of planning and tricks to save the dragons.
There is a lot of action at times. The boys are proactive risk-takers. Nothing is too violent, however, and the author’s message of not taking revenge on one’s enemies makes a timely point of difference. The feature of extra digital content is a bonus, which the reader accesses through a device or smartphone. It’s the sort of multimedia feature that kids love these days. For an old fuddy-duddy like me, it was a novelty to see the maps and videos appear, yet it also felt like a distraction from the more important business of reading. Digital enhancement is not my preferred way of imbibing a book. I prefer the paper versions. I find it hard to get lost in a fantasy world when I’m fumbling with my smartphone.

If you asked me my main takeaway? I’d say too much exposition. In the opening chapters, the author tells us a lot about the characters, setting, etc. ‘They were allowed to explore the natural world, and as little children, they got hurt. A lot. There may never before have been two children with so many bumps and scrapes, bruises, and cuts.’ It’s the sort of thing we get rapped over the knuckles for by modern tutors and critique groups. I recall reading the Harry Potter novels with the same sense of surprise at the amount of exposition. These days the arbiters of style recommend less is more. Yet, J.K.Rowling’s book sales are only rivalled by the Bible, and James Russell is one of New Zealand’s bestselling authors. For some writers, the rules don’t apply. Good on him/them for sailing above the prevalent writing mores. They are staying true to themselves, and we need more people like that in this world.

James Russell is also the author of the best-selling Dragon Brothers Trilogy of picture books (The Dragon Hunters, The Dragon Tamers, and The Dragon Riders). The Kiwi author launched his first book for adults, Mine – A Surfing Odyssey on North Sentinel Island on June 1, 2021. He lives in Auckland with his wife and two young sons.
The Dragon Defenders, Book One, is a gripping adventure for 7 – 12-year-olds. It is a solid start to the series, and I always applaud a happy ending.
My rating: Three stars

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol
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‘As you’ll have realized by now, Paddy and Flynn were born adventurers.’ ~ The Dragon Defenders


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It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post on the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organizers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!! Let’s rock the neurotic writing world! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG, and the hashtag is #IWSG.

July 6 question – If you could live in any book world, which one would you choose?
I always try to answer these questions as honestly as possible by going with the first thought that comes to mind. My dad used to say that the gut reaction was always right. My gut feeling when I read this question? I would live in the books I’m writing. It sounds like a self-congratulatory thing to say. But every time I get precious hours to pour into my new story, I dive into this imaginary world and love spending time there. My writing has always been my way of escape and still is.
If you’d asked me this question a few years ago, when I was working on editing my middle-grade series, The Chronicles of Aden Weaver, I would have wanted to go there. The trilogy took me a decade to write. I became so familiar with the environment I had created that I knew every nook and cranny like my own home and garden. The world, and the characters, were like family, a part of my daily reality.

When I started work on my present children’s series, it was a thrill to build a new world and unfurl my wings over unique and unknown landscapes. This year I have had a ball developing the story bible for this series, figuring out the setting, and beginning to picture it clearly in my mind.
They say that writers write for themselves. That is certainly true for me. Often, in my life, and especially in the last two years, I write the sort of world that makes my heart sing. I can’t tell you any more about that world right now, not until the stories are close to finished. Time has taught me not to speak about my stories while they’re in the nascent stages, for fear the muse will exit stage left and leave me cold. Besides, this is the genesis stage and requires nurturing and sustained silence.

When I started writing fiction for children, I was a teenage mum stuck at home with a baby. All my friends were off traveling the planet, having the times of their lives. My only way to escape the humdrum of nappies and housework was to climb out that golden window of my imagination into a better place. Creative writing was my saving grace. Literally.
Neil Gaiman once famously said, ‘I’d like to say a few words on escapism. I hear the term bandied about as if it’s a bad thing. As if “escapist” fiction is a cheap opiate used by the muddled and the foolish and the deluded, and the only fiction that is worthy, for adults or children, is mimetic fiction, mirroring the worst of the world the reader finds themself in.’

Like Neil, I’ve never understood why people look down their noses at escapism through literature. There are far worse things in the world. And considering the state of affairs on the planet at the moment, frankly, we need all the escapism we can get. It’s benign, nourishing, affordable therapy. And it works. As J.R.R. Tolkien reminded us, the only people who warn against escape are the jailers.
I want to provide that escape route for my readers. And I seek the same haven, too. There’s no place in the multiverse I would rather be than living inside my own story worlds. So, yes, please, sign me up.
A close second would be the world of Moomintroll.
Which book world would you escape to and why?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
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‘Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been.’ ~ Neil Gaiman

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I have finished reading my ninth novel for 2022, A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle. Winner of the 1963 Newbery Medal, A Wrinkle in Time was the first book in the Time Quintet series, followed by A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and Many Waters.
Any writer who has a few years behind them will know about not starting a story with the worst opening line ever, ‘It was a dark and stormy night.’ I can remember one writing tutor teaching us how to grab the reader’s attention with the first line. The old chestnut, ‘It was a dark and stormy night,’ was trotted out as the perfect example of what NOT to do. In other words, it is so banal as to send a reader running for the next book. No one told Madeleine L’Engle. A Wrinkle in Time starts with that very line. I gasped out loud, I tell you. I was impressed at the same time. So surprised was I by this bold choice of the first line that I read on with avid curiosity to see how this story would play out.

A Wrinkle in Time starts with great promise. The first chapters are thrilling.
We meet the Murry family through the eyes of Meg. I warmed to our protagonist instantly. Who could resist such a deeply flawed, tetchy, troubled character? “I’m full of bad feeling.” Meg is so honest about her resentments, but why is she so angry? She lives in a cozy home amid a rambling garden. Her beautiful scientist mother is understanding and gives “Meglet” space to be herself. Also, sharing the house are her siblings, the twins, Sandy and Dennys, and the youngest member of the family, the enigmatic Charles Wallace. However, there is sadness lurking in the background. We discover their physicist father has been missing for years. It’s the thorn in Meg’s side. In Chapter One, the family meets an odd friend of Charles Wallace who blunders into the house during a fierce storm. The strange little woman Mrs. Whatsit arrives dressed in rubber boots, an overcoat, a pink stole, and scarves of many colours and says unexpected things like “Wild nights are my glory.”

When Meg and Charles Wallace go to look for Mrs. Whatsit and her friends, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which, they join forces with another boy from their area, Calvin, who insists on going with them. The three old women help the children travel via tesseract or a “wrinkle in time” across the universe. They visit other worlds. Along the way, the women tell them about dark energy which is consuming the universe. The three children are determined to stop the Darkness.
They reach a planet called Camazotz where they find Meg’s father trapped. Camazotz is controlled by an evil brain called “IT” which takes control of Charles Wallace. After a period of being scared of IT and distraught about their inability to free Charles Wallace from his mental enslavement, Calvin and Meg manage to free Mr. Murry. They escape (just) to another planet where Aunt Beast heals Meg. With renewed strength, Meg frees Charles Wallace through the power of her love, and the group makes it back to Earth. However, the children still have not managed to touch the Darkness. They may have made it home, but we know the danger is not over.

My predominant response to this book was one of disappointment. It started with such promise and a banging protagonist in Meg. The three old women were mysterious, while Charles Wallace was some sort of genius and different. But, as soon as they left Earth via the wrinkle, things went downhill. The three old women remained undeveloped. I wanted to know more. The planets visited and subsidiary characters like the Happy Medium were not described enough to satisfy any questions. Meg, who was so feisty at the start, hardly spoke a sensible word throughout their planetary travels. I constantly expected more of her, yet she didn’t step up until the final part. And Charles Wallace, who was so clever, turned into a helpless minion of IT until Meg rescued him. The book won a prestigious award and is the childhood favourite of many. But, upon finishing this book, there is no way this side of a tesseract that I would seek to read any more of the series. My humble apologies to fans and the author. But for me, this book failed to deliver.

Madeleine L’Engle was born in New York City on November 29th, 1918. Her interest from the beginning revolved around writing poems and stories, which reflected in her poor grades. When she was 12, she moved to the French Alps with her parents and went to an English boarding school in Switzerland. Returning to the United States two years later, she graduated from University with honors in English. Before meeting Hugh Franklin, her future husband, Madeleine published her first two books, A Small Rain and Ilsa. Hugh was an actor, and Madeleine became an actress to improve her skills as a playwright. She and Hugh married and had three children together. She died in 2007, aged 88. She had published sixty books in her lifetime and is the most well-known for A Wrinkle in Time.
My rating: Two and a half stars

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol
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From ‘An Interview with Madeleine L’Engle:’ “Which of your characters is most like you?”
“None of them. They’re all wiser than I am.”


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I have finished reading my eighth novel for 2022, When Did You See Her Last? The second book in the All the Wrong Questions series by Lemony Snicket. The premise of this series has the author writing himself as a kid detective, up against the baddie, Hangfire, both seeking a strange statue, the Bombinating Beast. Throw in a missing father and a missing girl, and you have the basic storyline of When Did you See Her Last?

A girl has gone missing, the Ink Inc. heiress and genius chemist Chloe Knight. Apprentice detective Lemony Snicket, and his incompetent chaperone S. Theodora Markson take on the case. The tale is set in a town that flourished because of ink, aptly named Stain’d-by-the-Sea. The town is becoming deserted because it has run out of squid. It is rumoured Chloe Knight has created a new type of ink that would reverse the fortunes of the dying town. Snicket has to find out more about a strange group called The Inhumane Society. He must piece together the clues surrounding Chloe’s disappearance and hopefully rescue the girl with a lot of hijinks along the way.
Snicket stories tend to cruise along the edge of the ridiculous, bringing to mind other such stars of the genre, like David Walliams and Anthony Horowitz. As always, in When Did you See Her Last? Snicket likes to have fun with words. “A laugh is harder to swallow whole than a honeydew melon. Her mouth twisted every which way, and her eyes flitted madly as she looked everywhere but at me…We waited until it was safe to open up the laugh, and then we shared it.”

It takes guts to do that.
I liked it when the author wove into the story references to classic books the Lemony Snicket character had read without giving us the actual title. However, this device relied on the reader having read all those children’s books. As an adult, I thought it was clever, but it occurred to me that all these finger-on-the-nose references would go over the head of the modern child reader.
Personally, I’m not a fan of the author speaking directly to the reader, yet, it’s a device Snicket uses a lot. The ‘breaking down of the fourth wall’ is a technique some people love. I read an interview with Neil Gaiman last week, in which Neil said the books he had read as a child wherein the author spoke directly to the reader made him feel all warm and cozy inside. So when he started writing his books, he used the same technique.

I find the author’s voice an intrusion. It breaks the spell holding me, which I find jarring. It does not add any warmth but provides a reminder of the puppeteer pulling the ropes.
“No matter how many slow and complicated mysteries I encounter in my life, I still hope that one day a slow and complicated mystery will be solved quickly and simply. An associate of mine calls this feeling “the triumph of hope over experience”, which simply means that it’s never going to happen, and that is what happened then.” ~ When Did you See Her Last?
I guess author intrusion comes down to a matter of personal taste. Snicket is a popular author so it obviously works for him.
Lemony Snicket is the pen name of American novelist Daniel Handler (February 28, 1970). The author of several children’s books, including A Series of Unfortunate Events. This series has sold over 60 million copies and was made into a film and TV series. Lemony Snicket serves as both the fictional narrator and a character in A Series of Unfortunate Events, as well as the main character in its prequel, the four-part book series titled All the Wrong Questions.

Ever wondered how Daniel chose that pen name? It originally came from research for Handler’s first book The Basic Eight. Handler told NPR that “the character of Lemony Snicket, this man who speaks directly to the reader and is tangentially involved in the stories that he’s telling is more of a character. We just thought it would be fun to publish the books under the name of this character.”
Essentially it works. Book sales speak volumes. I think the concept is cool, and the pen name is different. The panache is there. The idea of the pessimistic protagonist is an excellent twist. Snicket knows how to spin a web and layer in the questions, whether wrong or not, to keep the reader guessing the answers until the end.

Purely from the point of view of personal taste, When Did you See Her Last? is not my favourite kids’ book. But then it’s not my least. Farcical noir is not a genre I would seek to read for pleasure.

My rating: Two stars

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol
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“Being curious is the most important part of being a journalist. It might be the most important part of being anything.” ― Lemony Snicket, When Did You See Her Last?


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In March, I finished writing the draft for book seven in my new series for Middle-Grade readers. I couldn’t believe it. I had started the series in January 2021. In other words, it took me about two and a half months to write the first drafts of each volume. These books are a lot shorter than my Chronicles of Aden Weaver trilogy, which averaged 250-300 pages each. The new series will likely end up being around 100 pages each. They’re compact stories aimed at the slightly younger Middle-Grade audience.
After finishing book seven, my initial reaction to completing the series was grief. I missed the daily pages terribly. It was so strange. For 14 months, my stories had been my anchor through lockdowns and all the disruptions brought on by the pandemic. Without the discipline of writing fresh copy every day, I was cut off and drifting.

Two weeks of procrastination passed, and still, I had not started editing. I realized there was real resistance to getting underway. It felt like admitting to myself that the writing stage was over. Finally, in the third week, I decided I would simply read the whole series without any heavy editing. I opened the file for book one and began reading. Over the hump, I took a walk through the content, reading the story in three days. The expectation was that I would be jumping for joy at what I read. Nope. I was not jumping for joy. The best description for my reaction would be an utter disappointment.
By the time I wrote book seven, I was familiar with the characters, the terrain, and the world-building rules. It all came naturally. To go back to book one and read it was a shock. The characters are there but not fully themselves. The setting is there but not fully fleshed out. The plot is there, the world is awesome, but the story idea is somehow cold. I was expecting more because it’s a great story. Yet, I kept feeling deflated reading it because I hadn’t captured the essence enough to satisfy my inner child reader. The story has so much promise. The problem is it needs more details, and more blood in the bones. It brought to mind the Jane Yolen quote that writers need to write every day. ‘Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up.’ Yeah, they do, Jane. You’re right on the money.

I had spent so many years editing that my fiction writing muscles had seized up. Thank goodness I decided to write this whole new series first and then start editing from book one because, by the time you reach the end of writing the final tome, you get a feel for what needs to be addressed and introduced from the beginning. The bonus of the long-form perspective is familiarity with the storied terrain and the characters enough to see the gaps at a glance.
What was the solution?
Book one needed rewriting. That much was clear. Was I upset? No. Try skipping about in delight. It was a relief to avoid the hard graft of editing a while longer. The first chance I had, I began the day with my pad and pen in hand and wrote half a page. Ah! Bliss. My days are bookended once more with writing in the a.m and typing notes in the p.m. This time around, I know the plot of the story, the characters, and the setting. All I have to do is rewrite book one from memory and embellish it in all the places I felt needed work.

Whoopee! Far from seeing this detour as a burden, I feel uplifted by it, inspired, even. In the past, I have stuck to the genesis material as being untouchable and have edited the copy endlessly. This time around, I am experimenting with the idea of rewriting the story altogether. Revamping from the ground up. It’s freeing to let go of how I thought the storywriting would be and allow for another interpretation.
Thank you to the writer who left a comment on my blog recently, suggesting I try a second, even third, time writing new content. Already the opening chapters are more nuanced. It works.
Have you ever had a creative project take an unexpected detour? What did you do?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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“A childhood without books—that would be no childhood. That would be like being shut out from the enchanted place where you can go and find the rarest kind of joy.” —ASTRID LINDGREN

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In 2020, I released my fantasy trilogy, The Chronicles of Aden Weaver. Burned out, I took a writing hiatus that summer to recover. In January of 2021, I started writing another fantasy adventure series for middle-grade readers. For me, the rough draft has to be pen and paper. I sit and write fresh copy in the morning. And, it is a rule that I must type up each day’s copy in the evening. It was a lesson I learned the hard way. When I wrote the original manuscript for all three books in The Chronicles, I elected to leave the typing until the end and gave myself the job of typing out 300,000 words of my tiny handwriting. It was as bad as it sounds, and I made it a rule from then on to type new notes for my stories the same day I write them.

Since the beginning of last year, I have added to the copy for the stories every day and transcribed the notes each evening, including Christmas Day. It has been soothing to my creative soul to write genesis draft material again. I thought the exhaustive editing of The Chronicles for the last few years might have drained my joy in the process. But it hasn’t, thank goodness. Throughout the rollercoaster of the past year, I have cruised through each day, escaping via my writing portal. I have taken daily flights of the imagination and returned from each trip refreshed. These new stories have given me upliftment, comfort, and joy.
Creative outlets are good for us. My firm belief is that every adult needs one.

My father used to tinker away every afternoon building things in the garage. My mother used to knit or crochet her blankets. Throughout every trial and tribulation of our childhood, Ma’s needles would click and whirr most reassuringly. A sort of soft background track to our lives.
My outlet is my writing and new stories are the best. They are my happy place. Coming up with the material is the easy part, and I have loved every minute, enjoying the wild ride of “inspired thoughts,” as my grandmother used to call them. What could be more fun than writing each day to discover where your story is going next? But I write now, in the same way the dog days of summer turn into fall, with a tinge of sadness, knowing the changes to come. The picnic of penning the rough draft is nearly over. That means the unrelenting focus of the editing is about to kick in. Summer ends. Autumn begins. And so will the editing. Soon.

I can’t think about that yet. Right now, the hard graft of editing does not exist. It is just me, the pen and the empty pad of paper, out gamboling through the rosy fields of imagination, reveling in every moment.
*Good news* Drum roll. I am happy to report that my nephew and I are already conjuring up the cover art for the first book. Si was the artistic genius behind the covers for my trilogy. As a busy young working father of two, he needs a year’s grace to work on his art pieces. I told him, take as long as you need. I believe in his artistic ability and will always champion his work. Cover art from Si Kingi is worth the wait.

As a hobby illustrator myself, I have several pieces of artwork for most of the books. Some of them feature on the side panel of this blog. I have enough to put one original illustration into each book but still need to draw a second illustration for each volume. The one character I have not drawn yet is the young 8-year-old protagonist, Emily. I told Si, I look forward to seeing her!
The wait to see Si’s work is full of anticipation.
Vincent Willem van Gogh once said, “…and then, I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?” Exactly. We must have all these things in times such as these to give us the strength to carry on and get through. Nature, art, and poetry are important because they bring us joy. They uplift our spirits. For me, penning new stories is bliss and to be part of the arts coming out now is exciting!
What about you. What are your creative outlets? Or are you yet to discover the right creative outlet for you?

(A pencil test piece Si created with his four-year-old daughter, my grand-niece)
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Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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Writing is an important avenue for healing because it gives you the opportunity to define your own reality. – Ellen Bass


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