Posts Tagged ‘art’

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 Talk about a challenging issue for authors, especially unpublished writers.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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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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I have finished reading my fourth novel for 2022, Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke, and what a doozy. I have been looking forward to reviewing this book. It’s one of those books that gets inside you, haunts your thoughts, and creeps inside your dreams. You become so caught in the spell that you anticipate every opportunity to sit down and read more. When you have finished the novel, as I unfortunately have, you continue to think about it for a long time afterward. I love books like that. It is truly remarkable and potent fiction.

Piranesi was a Christmas present. The enigmatic cover image features a statue of Pan atop a carved pedestal and the author’s name, plus a few embellishments embossed with gold. The medallion on the cover of my copy tells me Piranesi won the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021. The blue cover displays soundbites from various movers and shakers, like The Sunday Times: ‘Full of wonders’ Erin Morgenstern: “Spellbinding” and The Guardian: “Utterly otherworldly.” All this before we even open the book. When we open the cover, we are treated to seven pages of gushing review snippets from everyone who has a voice in the media, from the New York Times, to Esquire and Observer, from BBC.com to Literary Review. It is almost overkill.
But does the content live up to the hype? In a word, yes.

Okay. At first, I was all at sea. The novel is so divergent from anything I had ever read that I was thoroughly off-put. Instead of chapter numbers and so on, Clarke divides the story into seven parts. Then she heads the chapters with surreal titles. For example, the opening chapter starts with the heading:
When the Moon Rose in the Third Northern Hall, I went to the Ninth Vestibule
ENTRY FOR THE FIRST DAY OF THE FIFTH MONTH IN THE YEAR THE ALBATROSS CAME TO THE SOUTH-WESTERN HALLS

There is no dithering at the door or slow easing into this fantasy. We become transported via the confounding title into another place, another world. We then read the entries and, in that intimate way, dive into the life of a naive, wandering, fascinating man as he recounts his life living in the House. He is alone apart from visits twice a week from an impeccably-dressed man he calls ‘the Other’ – called such because he is the only other person alive in the world.

Piranesi and the Other are scientists. The latter needs help with his research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. Piranesi tells us about the ’15 people who have ever lived.’ The 15 include himself, the Other, and the 13 bodies whose skeletal remains he visits to take gifts. Through these diary entries written in our protagonist’s journals, we discover that our narrator is a man in his thirties. The Other calls him Piranesi, although our protagonist is sure that this is not his real name. But he has no recollection of any other name so he adopts it.
The House is a riveting, unique fantasy landscape I had never encountered before, a world where ocean and architecture mix. There are thousands of classic halls, endless epic architecture, and statues half-filled by the sea and afflicted by king tides and floods.

The sense of being somewhere ‘completely other,’ of being slightly off-kilter persists without let-up from the first chapter, where our protagonist climbs a statue fifteen metres above the pavement to avoid the ‘joining of three Tides’ below. As we read, a few things start to make sense, but Susanna Clarke never lets up presenting more questions as the story goes on, and the mystery of where the House is and what is happening becomes deeper and more complex.
Clarke does not stop with intricate plot lines and compelling character development. She also plays hardball, boldly using the simple visual device of adding capitals liberally everywhere. For example, This Tide thundered up the Westernmost Staircase and hit the Eastern Wall with a great Clap, making all the Statues tremble.
We are not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

Clarke teases and tests us every step of the way. Once I had adjusted to this crazy ride, I couldn’t wait to get back to reading it each time I had to stop. The austere august magnificence of the House entranced me and captured my imagination. It was depicted in marvellous detail until I was walking in that world.
As it went on I knew Susanna Clarke’s talent was next level because of how much I cared for Piranesi. I worried about him as I realized he was in danger. It was affecting. During the climactic scenes, I was stealing minutes to race back and read. I needed to know how it would turn out. It was with regret I finished this book. Since then, I have looked back with nostalgia upon my time moving through the hallowed halls of the House with its beloved child, Piranesi. It was so new and cool. It was everything.

Susanna Clarke was born in Nottingham, England, in 1959. Educated in towns across Northern England and Scotland, she worked in various areas of non-fiction publishing, including Gordon Fraser and Quarto. After a stint teaching English in Bilbao, Clarke returned to England in 1992. Living in County Durham, she began working on her first novel, the bestselling Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. In 2020, Clarke released Piranesi. She has also published seven short stories and novellas in US anthologies. One story, “Mr. Simonelli or The Fairy Widower,” was shortlisted for a World Fantasy Award in 2001. Clarke lives in Cambridge with her partner, the novelist and reviewer Colin Greenland.
I take my hat off to the author and her stellar work, Piranesi. This fresh story transcends genre, and we must call it what it is – Art.


Susanna Clarke has earned herself a rarely seen top rating from me.
My rating: Five stars and a Huzzah!

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol
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“Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly — they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.” — Aldous Huxley

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I have finished reading my second novel for 2022, Fire & Shadow, by T.G. Ayer. Tee and I became friends through Facebook years five or six years ago. We both have kids who have undergone open-heart surgery and have Congenital Heart Disorder. We swap tales of our parental fears and woes. My niece is a big fan of T.G. Ayer’s books, and I knew Tee was successful as she is a ‘bestselling USA Today author.’ However, I had not read any of her work. In 2020, I attended an author event and shared a table with Tee. That was the first time we met face-to-face and we had such a fun day, chatting for hours. Tee is as beautiful and engaging as her considerable body of work. I bought the first volume in her Hand of Kali series, Fire & Shadow, and finally got around to reading it. So here we are.

Fire & Shadow is an urban fantasy for the YA market and is the first in a series of seven books. We meet Maya Rao. Our teen protagonist is an average Indian-American teen, balancing the cultural differences between the expectations of her parents and the need to fit in at high school. I found it insightful to the modern dilemma for children of traditional cultures. Maya juggles the beliefs of her Indian family with her modern ideas, and anyone can empathize. While her parents adhere to the old belief systems, Maya doesn’t believe in the Indian pantheon. She wants to forge her path in life. Having grown up in California with a lot of personal freedom, she largely views the tales her parents shared with her of Hindu folklore as nothing more than superstition.

Maya’s parents are relatively easy-going. The difference is that her father teaches martial arts and has taught her to fight. When a boy attacks Maya at a party, she accidentally incinerates him with a stream of fire. This act of self-defense brings her into the world of Indian Mythology and is when the story kicks into high gear. Maya starts to see and smell monsters, or rakshasas. After confessing the incident at home, her parents reveal that she is the reincarnation of a devoted follower of the goddess Kali. Maya is “The Hand of Kali” and can wield fire. It also brings others into her life. For example, Nik, the boy she has had a secret crush on, ‘the forbidden fruit,’ the goddesses Chayya, Kali, and Varuni, as well as the god of the underworld, Yama. The fabulous cast of characters includes Maya’s best friends, Joss and Ria, one a white American neglected by her parents and the other an Indian whose father rules her life with iron discipline.

I liked the heroine and her plausible rebellion against the constraints of her upbringing. I admired her feisty nature, the way Maya pushes the limits with her culture, and with what is expected of her once she discovers she is the Hand of Kali. I also liked the glimpse Fire & Shadow gives us of life inside an Indian household. Fascinating. Reading romance is not my preference. I appreciated that the romance between Maya and Nik only adds to the heroine’s journey, serving to enhance the narrative without ever being at the expense of the story development. The lovey-dovey stuff takes a back seat to the action and the plot. Thank you, Tee.

At the start, I was curious to see how a friend writes, and happily, I was impressed. A natural storyteller, who has a way with words, Tee strikes a balance between the dark content and humour, which had me seesawing from horror to guffaws.
‘I’m so dead when I get home. Maya’s dad had the nostrils of a shark – he could smell lies, fear, and alcohol within a five-mile radius. So dead.’
The book had a solid plot, a sense of steadily building tension. Fire & Shadow is pure entertainment. The descriptions of characters and setting are on point, and you can picture everything. At times genuinely scary, it kept me on the edge of my seat. I learned urban fantasy romance can be a riveting read. Now I understand why my niece is a fan. I admit I found a number of errors that were missed by the editor. I can’t complain though, as a few mistakes slipped through the editing with my trilogy, The Chronicles of Aden Weaver, too. When you are self-published these things happen. No biggie.

According to her bio, T.G. Ayer was born in Durban, South Africa. Having sat and conversed with her, I know that the red tint in her dark hair comes from Irish blood also in her ancestry. Tee started by penning poetry before she moved on to writing fiction. The lightness of touch which comes through Fire & Shadow continues in her bio. Tee tells us her heart is torn in two between her homeland of Africa and New Zealand, so she ‘shall forever remain crosseyed.’ LOL. She lives in Auckland, is an active member and speaker with the Romance Writers of New Zealand, and has two grown-up daughters.
My rating: Four out of five stars.

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol
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Maya drew her fire again. This time it came smoothly, like a silky liquid, summoned with her mind, and conducted through her body. ~ T.G. Ayer, Fire & Shadow


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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.

January 5 question – What’s the one thing about your writing career you regret the most? Were you able to overcome it?
I guess I regret turning down two offers from publishers. When I was first starting out and was submitting my children’s manuscripts to editors in New Zealand regularly, there were two yes replies. However, I turned them both down. One said they would publish my picture book, Free Wally, but they wanted to change all the characters’ names. What can I say? I was young and green. My creative soul felt they were going to tamper with my “artistic integrity” by changing the details. Therefore, I said no thank you and imagined I would easily find another acceptance for the story. Yet, I never did. It was the one and only offer I received for that book.
In the 90s a different publisher said they would release my middle-grade fantasy, The Scrifs and Stirrits, but they would only pay me a 5% royalty fee. In those days the going rate for royalties was 10%, and I was miffed. Why were they offering me less? I turned down the offer, thinking I wanted to be paid the same as everyone else. But I never found another publisher for that story so never got the chance.

Looking back at those decisions now, it’s easy to laugh at the folly of youth. What did it matter if they changed the names or paid me less royalty rate? I would still have had two books released by traditional publishing houses behind my name to help me stake a claim to this writer’s life. Instead, I hang in the wind of self-publishing and take the financial/emotional/mental hit of being Indie for every book. As a wide-eyed beginner, I did not know that getting any acceptance at all was fantastic. It took many more years of submitting my work to realize that acceptances are few and far between. And these days there are even fewer publishers accepting unsolicited work.
When I released my trilogy in 2020, I did a bit of research to see how many traditional publishers there were left in New Zealand. If I had wanted to submit my stories for consideration, there was only a handful of children’s publishers still accepting unsolicited manuscripts and after reading the t’s and c’s, my stories would only have been suitable for two of them. Two options? Pitiful. The current situation is very different from what it was when I was young and sending my stories to editors all over the country. I had no idea then how good I had it. But hey, hindsight is 20/20.

Therefore, if I could go back and change one thing about the past, maybe it would be rejecting the publishers’ offers. Or maybe it wouldn’t. Because I did overcome that obstacle. Early on, I made that mistake. Yet, I learned a lot through the years of “failing” that followed. They say if you change one thing about the past it alters the course of history. Would I want to mess around with the perfect plan for my life? Probably not. Maybe I was supposed to go it alone. Becoming an Indie is diabolically hard but it does have its rewards. I made all my own choices about covers, style, and everything for The Chronicles of Aden Weaver, which was satisfying. I’m proud of my trilogy. For the cover art, I collaborated with my nephew, Si, who is a consummate artist. We had such fun in the creative process, brainstorming and tooling around with options. I didn’t have to compromise his vision or question my choices. We had no interference which is a blessing only bestowed upon the self-published.

Looking back now, I have the satisfaction of knowing I did it my way, and there’s something pure in that. I cherish the books I’ve put out into the world so far. Would I have been able to say that if I was under the wing of a publisher? Or would the end result be something mutant and divorced from the original vision? With my name on the cover. No. The more I think about it, the more glad I am that I turned down those offers back in the day. I set myself on course for putting out books that authentically belong to me, and my creative intelligence is my service to the world. It will live on long after I’m gone. No, I’m convinced now I did the right thing when I was young.
So in a roundabout way, I have come back to the first question. What’s the one thing about your writing career you regret the most? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
What about you, what do you regret most about your writing?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
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Every story I create creates me. I write to create myself. ~ Octavia E. Butler


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Every year around this time I have two mammoth jobs that need to be done. My sons and I bake the massive Christmas Cake, which is a rich fruit cake to feed about sixty-four. We also do the photoshoot of my two young victims sons, whom I make dress up in festive gear at the start of December. Then I pick the best photo from the shoot and make our Christmas card for friends and family. We did the photoshoot this weekend. The boys get a bit grumpy about it these days, which I think is quite cute. I had fun making the cards all day. It’s creative, it’s fun and it involves glitter. What more do you need to know?

When I first started this blog, my middle son – who was born with Down Syndrome – featured by himself on the card. Three years later, his little brother came along and the pair got to feature on the next family card and so it has gone on.

Here is how you can make your family greeting card for next-to-nothing.

Once you have your photo, reduce it to a small size. Figure out how many people you are making cards for. Print out the photos on regular A4 paper and cut them out.

Take cheap Christmas cards (I bought ours from the thrift store) and cut them down in size. I use the same “guides” for the layers which I made myself out of cardboard, so they are all the same dimensions. Start with a guide for the size of the card. On Christmas Day each year, I save the interesting pieces of wrapping paper and iron them towards the following year’s cards. Make a guide for the interesting saved paper, or any fun paper you like, as your next layer. It must be smaller than the card and larger than the photo.

Now you have the items you need for your cards: a stack of cut-down cards (preserving the message inside if possible), the rectangles of saved wrapping paper, and a stack of your cut-out photos.

My next step is to cut little flags of “Angelina Hot Fix” which is a synthetic product made by Funky Fibres here in NZ. I’m sure you could find a similar product where you are. The fibres come in different funky colours. You spread a handful between baking paper then iron on a low heat until the fibres fuse, making a thin sheet of sparkly material. I cut out small rectangles of Hot Fix, one for each of my cards.

Begin construction by gluing the saved wrapping paper to the card, at the same time trapping a wedge of Hot Fix in between so that one end extends.

Then glue the photo on the top.

*Tip: dry and flatten the cards after you apply each layer; I put them between chopping boards and pile weights on top.

The best part is adding the embellishments! It is time to decorate the front of each card with glitter and crystals and stickers to your heart’s delight.

Inside each card, I include a surprise, usually gift tags, or I also have a set of miniature antique postcards which I bought in a thrift store once, and I’ll include a couple of those with each one. Match your card as closely as possible to the size of the envelope. It looks better that way. Write a special message inside each card and post it to family and friends.
It’s homemade. It’s personal. It’s crafty fun. What’s not to love?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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Some old-fashioned things like fresh air and sunshine are hard to beat. ~ Laura Ingalls Wilder


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I have finished reading my nineteenth novel for 2021, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare. Friend, fellow blogger, and poet Susan Baury Rouchard sent me this book, one of her all-time favourites. I had never heard of it or the author, so this was a terrific opportunity. Now that I have finished The Witch of Blackbird Pond, I can see why it came so highly recommended. Thanks, Susan.

Historical fiction is a rich, rewarding genre. The Witch of Blackbird Pond is a young adult novel set in the late 1600s in New England in a society of Puritans. There are so many ways it could have gone wrong, yet Speare never wavers, never falters for a minute. She weaves the depictions of Connecticut and the traditions, the daily chores of the people into the story fabric in a way that makes everything seem real. Fascinating stuff. I almost wondered if the author was born in that era. But no, she published the book in 1958. No wonder this book won the Newbery Medal (1959) and was a Vermont Golden Dome Book Award Nominee (1960).

The story starts, and we are on board the boat, The Dolphin. Kit is fleeing her past in Barbados. She meets two young men: Nathaniel “Nat” Eaton, son of the vessel’s captain, and John Holbrook, a clergyman headed to study with a reverend. Kit’s unexpected arrival in the fictional New England town of Wethersfield and the home of her Aunt Rachel truly upsets the applecart. Kit has only known the free-spirited way of living that she has always embraced in Barbados. She comes from wealth and all the associated privileges of having slaves and owning the finest wardrobe, part of which has traveled with her to virtual poverty in seven trunks. The clash of cultures and lifestyles which follows is powerful, yet never rushed.
Kit knows nothing of the customs that guide New England. She flaps painfully, a fish out of water. As the pampered granddaughter of the most wealthy man in Barbados, she has no idea how to work or do the basic, daily things. We feel sorry for her innocence and yet see her flaws: her sense of entitlement, her lack of stamina for working. We empathize with the pain Kit goes through.
Her grandfather raised Kit with a lot of freedom. He taught her how to read and write, how to swim. All of these things are enough to cast suspicion on the naive girl from Barbados from the start.
‘She feels like a tropical bird that has flown to the wrong part of the world, a bird that is now caged and lonely.’

Used to doing as she pleases each day, Kit soon learns her new family expects her to work every day, all day, and to attend Sabbath Meetings which last nearly an entire day. Kit despairs at the boring services but gains the attention of staid William Ashby, a wealthy young suitor, the most eligible bachelor in town. He is her only possible hope of leaving the house of her severe Uncle Matthew.
We follow poor Kit’s painful adjustment process to the constrictions, the rules of the puritan community, and her uncle’s hard-working household. We see that William Ashby is patently unsuited as a husband. We feel bad that all three girls in the house have their hearts set on the wrong men.
Kit, sore, suffering, lonely, one day discovers the meadow.
‘As they came out from the shelter of the trees and the Great Meadows stretched before them, Kit caught her breath. She had not expected anything like this. From the first moment, in a way she could never explain, the Meadows claimed her and made her their own.’
You feel the healing balm of the moment because Kit has suffered so believably up to this point. It is a piece of prose I read and reread a few times.

In the meadow, Kit meets and is comforted by Hannah Tupper. She learns that the woman is no witch. She is a Quaker, a widow, persecuted in Massachusetts for her religious beliefs. Kit and Hannah become friends with Kit finding ways to visit often, sometimes running into Nat Eaton, who also happens to be a friend to Hannah Tupper.
When a terrible sickness grips Weathersfield, the finger gets pointed at Kit. She gets accused of witchcraft. Who do you think swoops in to save her?
People might call this sort of storytelling “old school,” but I found myself magnetized from the first page, and I couldn’t wait to pick it up and keep reading every time I had to walk away. That’s all you need to know, right there. The ultimate litmus test.

The backdrop of the tension between the English colonists and the New England Men’s fight for independence makes for a dramatic setting. I admired Speare’s tight storytelling. The political drama mirrors and therefore deepens the struggle for Kit between her free rebellious spirit and conforming to what society expects of her. Similarly, the seasons each take their turn. Each season corresponds and mirrors the turbulent journey of Kit’s first year in Connecticut, ending with the dramatic climax when they accuse Kit of witchcraft in the deep, bitter heart of winter. But the book finishes with the return of spring, which I loved. It’s such a clever, complex tale about the conflict between freedom and responsibility, between individual and family/community. A book about the search for identity versus belonging, conforming, and then breaking social rules. Tough, soft, affecting, resonant.
All in all, a cracking read.

Elizabeth George Speare, 1908 – 1994, was born in Melrose, Massachusetts. As well as earning the Newbery Medal for The Witch of Blackbird Pond, she also received the 1962 Newbery Medal for The Bronze Bow. Speare received a Newbery Honor Award in 1983, and in 1989 she was presented with the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for her substantial and enduring contribution to children’s literature.
My rating: Four and a half out of five stars.

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol
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“Though I had my first historical novel almost by accident it soon proved to be an absorbing hobby.” ~ Elizabeth George Speare


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I have finished reading my eighteenth novel for 2021, Fifteen Postcards by Kirsten McKenzie. When I attended an author event for self-published authors last year, I met several authors. Drawn by Kirsten’s display, we started talking. She had her bestselling trilogy, The Old Curiosity Shop series, on display. But there was a line of books at the front which had the same titles on plain blue covers. Squabbling Sparrows Press, she told me, was a small imprint through which she and a few friends could produce their titles in a smaller, plain format that made them more affordable for readers. What a great idea, I thought, and promptly bought a blue version of her first book, Fifteen Postcards.

Kirsten is a terrific writer, and as many others have said before me, I was surprised that this was her debut novel.
What grabbed me first was the solid premise. I should be fair and say this was my first foray into reading time travel. Perhaps others have handled the subject matter just as seamlessly, but for me, I felt swept away into the world instantly, and that is just the way good fantasy fiction should be. We should forget everything except what happens next in the story – that’s called ‘suspension of disbelief,’ a goal every author strives for the holy grail, you might say – and absolutely critical in the fantasy genre.
In Fifteen Postcards, our heroine, Sarah, is running the family antique shop, The Old Curiosity Shop, as her parents are missing. When she discovers a set of postcards belonging to a recently deceased widow, Sarah finds herself transported back in time in the guise of female figures connected to the widow’s family every time she touches the cards. Woo. Cool.

To travel effortlessly between the modern-day and yesteryear several times in a story it would be easy to lose the reader. But somehow, McKenzie steers us through this epic journey through space and time like a professional. It was smoothly done. Impressed, I was.
The story takes Sarah back to her modern life in the shop between bouts of time travel to Victorian London, the goldrush in early New Zealand, and into the India of the Raj. As a deeper mystery starts to unfold through each journey, we watch and empathize with Sarah who struggles believably to fit her twenty-first-century mind to the manners and mores of the time. It is the story idea that keeps on giving because the conflict created by this ‘girl out of time’ scenario creates tension and drama aplenty. Add the mystery element, and it makes a wonderful cocktail.

The years the author, Kirsten McKenzie, spent working behind the counter in her parents’ antique shop have served her well in this book. The flavour of authenticity permeates every scene inside The Old Curiosity Shop and sets Sarah up as an intelligent, informed, likable protagonist. I loved all the insider details, which gave us a glimpse behind the scenes of antique shops.
When Sarah starts to make classic blunders, like falling in love and bringing objects from the past back to the present, I worried about the repercussions. I was involved! That’s a good sign. Unfortunately, I never got to find out about the repercussions. My beef with Fifteen Postcards is the ending. At a dramatic part of the novel, it just stops. It is more than a cliffhanger. It is a cliff. You topple over the edge into the ditch, going, wait a minute, what happened?
The sudden pitch to a stop felt like a cheap shot after such a quality ride.

I’ve banged on about this before. But every book should have its arc and closure, even when the novel is couched within a series.

That aside, Fifteen Postcards is a thrill ride through history. I love the title. It is an accomplished, mystery drama that can hold its own against others in the genre. Author, Kirsten McKenzie, is a former Customs Officer in both England and New Zealand, who took up work famously in the family antique store. Now a full-time author of time travel trilogies and thrillers, she lives in New Zealand with her husband, her daughters, and two rescue cats.
Fifteen Postcards won five-star reviews and a lot of nice noise after release. The standard of writing is world-class, and the premise kicks butt. I especially enjoyed the sequences set in the gold rush era in New Zealand. It felt like being transported back in time. Kirsten, pat yourself on the back. If it were not for the cliff at the end, this debut novel would have earned a coveted four stars.
My rating: Three stars.

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol
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Change your thoughts and you change the world. ~ Norman Vincent Peale


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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.

October 6 question – In your writing, where do you draw the line, with either topics or language?
LOL! I draw the line in so many places there is hardly anything left on the table! One of the keys to writing for children is figuring out how to look at the world from a child’s point of view. When I started, that was one thing my critique partners would always say. ‘This sounds like an adult thinking/talking.’ ‘Your child protagonist seems to be an adult.’ I have worked on it for years to figure out the child-friendly view. One of the things Beverly Cleary attributed her success to was that she ‘had never grown up.’ Cleary maintained a powerful connection to the child view and what they’re interested in that made her able to connect with a vast audience of appreciative readers.
Along with writing at the this age level for a children’s author comes the responsibility to keep the language clean and the topics suitable.

In the first draft of my debut novel, The Or’in of Tane, I had written a romance between the characters of Henny and Dr. Milo Mahiora. My friend and then editor, Maria Cisneros-Toth, pulled me up on the romance and kissing scene. She said, “No, no, no. Not in middle-grade fiction.” I cut the scene out, removing the whole romance. To my surprise, I discovered the story was the better for it and I understood Maria was right. I have not crossed that line since.

In the last few years, I have read the occasional middle-grade novel that has included romance, and it has struck me afresh why Maria told me no. The effect is a shock. It’s not appropriate for kids whose lives still involve bouncy balls, bikes, and games of Go Fish. Yes, okay, kids are exposed to all kinds of things via social media these days. But that doesn’t give license to authors to introduce elements to 8-12-year-old readers that we would be uncomfortable with our children reading. That gave me a gauge for the level of what should be off-limits. What would I want my children of similar age reading? Age-appropriate fiction.

I draw the line at romance in my genre, either reading it or writing it.

As for topics, there are so many contentious subjects these days. The list is endless. Writers fear they might say one wrong thing and attract a backlash. There is a strong sense of staying within the confines of what is deemed politically correct. I have a friend who writes urban romantic fantasy. She included one of the mythical gods from religion in her book and received death threats. This sort of thing naturally scares authors.

At the same time as wanting to stick within the limits, I also feel strongly that the ultimate choice about topics and language should remain in the hands of the individual. In my opinion, the worst thing that could happen to our society would be for the artists to lose their freedom of expression or creative license. I’m mindful of that sublime quote by Jane Yolen, ‘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.’
What about you. What sort of language or topics are off-limits in fiction?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
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“No one is born a writer. You must become a writer. You never cease becoming, because you never stop learning how to write. Even now, I am becoming a writer. And so are you.” —Joe Bunting


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I have finished reading my fifteenth novel for 2021, Constancia and Other Stories for Virgins by Carlos Fuentes. It was one in a pile of books I picked up while visiting my sister on Waiheke Island in the upper north island of New Zealand. We popped into the Salvation Army shop. I drifted into the books section and walked out thirty minutes later with two bags of books! That always happens. I got the lot for ten bucks. You’ve got to love that.
Usually, I stick to reading within my genre of middle-grade fiction, but I will also buy anything that takes my fancy. Constancia and Other Stories for Virgins sounded so quirky. I thought, what is that about? And I recognized the author.

The book consists of five short stories. In the title story, a kind and happy husband discovers the true nature of his marriage. ‘As though he has walked through a mirror and found that the life held in the glass was not his own at all.’ ‘…you repeatedly seem to shudder awake, you think you’ve opened your eyes, but in fact, you’ve only introduced one dream inside another.’ I would try to precis the stories, but I fear that might be beyond me. From a doll coming to represent a human woman to a story narrator in bed with a ghost, the stories pitch you from the boat into a dark swirling morass of imagery and ideas in which there is no life raft. There is no way of making sense of the stories contained within this book. The stories located from Savannah, Georgia to Glasgow, depict the moments in life when worlds collide, and they are fittingly chaotic.
Carlos Fuentes Macías (1928 – 2012) was a Mexican writer. He also served as a diplomat in 1965 in London, Paris (as ambassador), and other capitals. Though he became one of the best-known novelists of the 20th century in the Spanish-speaking world, he found the time to teach courses at Brown, Princeton, Harvard, Penn, George Mason, Columbia, and Cambridge. The author of thirty works, his first book, Aura, was published in 1962. He published Constancia and Other Stories for Virgins, in Spanish, Constanciay otras novelas para virgines by Mandadori Espana, in 1989.

The book received mixed reviews. The deconstructionists of the world heralded Constancia as a miraculous conception and a great example of the ‘imagination unbound.’ The great unwashed masses, of whom I count myself one, reviled the book, like a big shiny house to which we did not possess the key to get in. There are no story structures, nothing to grasp, no compass or road map through the forest of words.
I would not go so far as to say what some of the critics said. I wouldn’t call the book ‘the ravings of a madman,’ or ‘a senseless mess,’ or ‘UNREADABLE.’ But I will tell my ultimate truth, and that is I couldn’t finish it. It’s not often I can say a book has beaten me. This one did. It is one of the few books I have put down halfway through and walked away from. I literally could not take another word of such nonsense. Magical Realism. Definitely. Not. My. Genre.
My rating: No stars. But I will give it two groans.

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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As a literary fiction style, magic realism paints a realistic view of the modern world while also adding magical elements, often dealing with the blurring of the lines between fantasy and reality. ~ Wikipedia

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