Thursday, November 29, 2007

Auralia's Colors by Jeffrey Overstreet

This debut novel by Jeffrey Overstreet is a stunning blend of a unique fantasy world, evocative descriptions, and quirky characters. What's not to love?

In many ways Auralia's Colors reads like a literary novel. Here's the opening sequence:
Auralia lay still as death, like a discarded doll, in a burgundy tangle of rushes and spineweed on the bank of a bend in the River Throanscall, when she was discovered by an old man who did not know her name.

She bore no scars, no broken bones, just the stain of inkblack soil. Contentedly, she cooed, whispered, and babbled, learning the river's language, and focused her gaze on the stormy dance of evening sky--roiling purple clouds edged with blood red. The old man surmised she was waiting and listening for whoever, or whatever, had forsaken her there.

Those fevered moments of his discovery burnt into the old man's memory. In the years that followed, he would hold and turn them in his mind the way an explorer ponders relics he has found in the midst of ruin. But the mystery remained stubbornly opaque. No matter how often he exaggerated the story to impress his fireside listeners--"I dove into that ragin' river and caught her by the toe!" "I fought off that hungry river wyrm with my picker-staff just in time!"-- he found no clue to her origins, no answers to questions of why or how.

The Gatherers, House Abascar, the Expanse--the whole world might have been different had he left her there with riverwater running from her hair. "The River Girl"--that was what the Gatherers came to call her until she grew old enough to set them straight. Without the River Girl, the four houses of the Expanse might have perished in their troubles. But then again, some say that without the River Girl those troubles might never have come at all.

Notice the colors in the description. Overstreet describes many vivid hues throughout the novel. They're particularly memorable because the former queen of House Abascar declared that color was only for royalty, and the common folk had to do without. Auralia does more than reject this commonly held system. Colors are created in her very hands. Where did she come from? Who left her in the river as a baby? And what will happen when the king discovers that she is flaunting his rules? (Hint: quite a lot, and it isn't nice.)

Auralia's Colors is a poetic story of generosity in the face of greed. I highly recommend this novel. You'll be hearing more about it--greater detail--in January, but for now, if you have anyone on your gift list that you would like to introduce to the fantasy genre, consider this novel.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Scarlet by Stephen Lawhead --Day 3

To my way of thinking, Stephen Lawhead used a unique set of tools in writing the second book of the King Raven Trilogy, Scarlet.

Here's the opening, first:
So, now. One day soon they hang me for a rogue. Fair enough. I have earned it a hundred times over, I reckon, and that's leaving a lot of acreage unexplored. The jest of it is, the crime for which I swing is the one offence I never did do. The sheriff will have it that I raised rebellion against the king.

I didn't.

Oh, there's much I've done that some would as soon count treason. For a fact, I et more of the king's venison than the king has et bread, and good men have lost their heads to royal pikes for far less; but in all my frolics I never breathed a disloyal word against the crown, nor tried to convince any man, boy, horse, or dog to match his deeds to mine. Ah, but dainties such as these are of no concern when princes have their tender feelings ruffled. It is a traitor they want to punish, not a thief. The eatin' o' Red William's game is a matter too trifling—more insult than crime—and it's a red-handed rebel they need. Too much has happened in the forests of the March and too much princely pride hangs in the balance to be mincing fair about a rascal poaching a few soft-eyed deer.

Until that ill-fated night, Will Scarlet ran with King Raven and his band of merry thieves. Ran fast and far, I did, let me tell you. Faster and farther than all the rest, and that's saying something. Here's the gist: it's the Raven Hood they want and cannot get. So, ol' Will is for the jump.

Poor luck, that. No less, no more.

They caught me crest and colours. My own bloody fault. There's none to blame but the hunter when he's caught in his own snare. I ask no pardon. A willing soul, I flew field and forest with King Raven and his flock. Fine fun it was, too, until they nabbed me in the pinch. Even so, if it hadn't a' been for a spear through my leg bone they would not a' got me either.

So, here we sit, my leg and me, in a dank pit beneath Count de Braose's keep. I have a cell—four walls of stone and a damp dirt floor covered with rotting straw and rancid rushes. I have a warden named Guibert, or Gulbert or some such, who brings me food and water when he can be bothered to remember, and unchains me from time to time so I can stretch the cramps a bit and wash my wound. I also have my very own priest, a young laggard of a scribe who comes to catch my wild tales and pin them to the pages of a book to doom us all.

So...a good portion of the story is told like this, in Will's first-person point-of-view as he tells his tale to Odo, his scribe. As long as Will has more to say that might interest the Count, he gets to live. And so he talks. And Odo interrupts often enough that the reader doesn't forget that this is the main frame for the novel. Other parts are told in third-person, parts of the story that Will apparently doesn't know at the time.

I think it's a risky way to bounce about in a story, but somehow Lawhead pulls it off. It took me quite awhile to get into this novel, though. If I hadn't enjoyed Hood so much...and wasn't committed to reading Scarlet for this book tour, I'm not sure I would have stayed with the story long enough to get immersed. As it turns out, the story was well worth it. And I'm looking forward to reading Tuck when it is released.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Scarlet by Stephen Lawhead -- Day 2

The opening scene of Hood is, sadly a prologue, showing the main character, Bran (not Robin Hood!) as a child:

The pig was young and wary, a yearling boar timidly testing the wind for strange scents as it ventured out into the honey-coloured light of a fast-fading day. Bran ap Brychan, Prince of Elfael, had spent the entire day stalking the greenwood for a suitable prize, and he meant to have this one.

Eight years old and the king's sole heir, he knew well enough that he would never be allowed to go out into the forest alone. So rather than seek permission, he had simply taken his bow and four arrows early that morning and stolen from the caer unnoticed. This hunt, like the young boar, was dedicated to his mother, the queen.

She loved the hunt and gloried in the wild beauty and visceral excitement of the chase. Even when she did not ride herself, she would ready a welcome for the hunters with a saddle cup and music, leading the women in song. "Don't be afraid," she told Bran when, as a toddling boy, he had been dazzled and a little frightened by the noise and revelry. "We belong to the land. Look, Bran!" She lifted a slender hand toward the hills and the forest rising like a living rampart beyond. "All that you see is the work of our Lord's hand. We rejoice in his provision."

Stricken with a wasting fever, Queen Rhian had been sick most of the summer, and in his childish imaginings, Bran had determined that if he could present her with a stag or a boar that he had brought down all by himself, she would laugh and sing as she always did, and she would feel better. She would be well again.

All it would take was a little more patience and . . .

This is a short prologue (You can read the rest of it, along with part of the first chapter here. It begins to set the scene of a headstrong child bent on a treat for his ill mother. I'm curious, what do you think of this as an opener? Does it make you want to click the link and read a bit more?

Stephen Lawhead is by far not the only established author to use prologues, even while I hear a lot against them in writing circles. What do you think? Do you tend to read them or skip them?

For the record, Lawhead does not use the same device in writing Scarlet. The books are quite different, while continuing the main story. We'll have a look at the second book tomorrow.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Scarlet by Stephen Lawhead

Is it possible to have too much Robin Hood?

Some might think so, but Stephen Lawhead is not one of their number.

He envisioned an entire trilogy devoted to the subject--the King Raven Trilogy: Hood came out in 2006, Scarlet was released this September, while Tuck is due out in 2009 (the gap due to a serious illness).

So what can be said about Robin Hood that is new and different--three books worth, no less? Stephen Lawhead wondered what era would best support the legends as we know them, and searched through history to find a time period and political structure for that purpose.

He uncovered the England and Wales of the eleventh century under the reign of William the Red, and tossed aside Sherwood Forest for the march lands of Elfael in Wales. In Lawhead's words:
New rulers of the realm (the Normans) meant strange new laws in the land. One of the most hated was known as Forest Law--a set of highly questionable legal codes designed solely for the benefit of the crown-wearer and his cronies, and not at all confined to "forests" as we understand the word (areas of dense woodland), but could encompass large tracts of grassland, marsh, and moorland. Entire villages were razed and burned to the ground, sometimes because the settlement occupied land that the king, or members of his court, had identified as prime real estate for hunting. Other times destruction was inflicted as punishment for an infraction--such as rebellion or treason--by the local lord....

All of a sudden it was a serious crime to trespass on royal land, and the hapless victim caught within the royal forest precinct faced losing a hand or an eye at best, or if worse came to worst, death by hanging.

Does that begin to sound like the backdrop for the Robin Hood story that we know? Backdrop, yes. But the story takes some serious turns from the Walt Disney version my kids had memorized in the 80s. For one thing, there are no talking foxes. (Who knew?)

In research I'm doing for my own work-in-progress, Sebastian, I've been studying castles. Sites like this one teach not only a lot about historical castles but about the time period Lawhead writes about: William the Conqueror. Truly this was a volatile period in the history of the British Isles and I can appreciate anew his choice to play Robin Hood upon that stage.

Tomorrow we'll have a look at the first book, Hood and on Wednesday we'll talk a bit about Scarlet, the story of Will Scatlocke, also known as Will Scarlet.

To see what other bloggers are saying, check out some of these links: Trish Anderson, Brandon Barr, Wayne Thomas Batson, Jim Black, Justin Boyer, Grace Bridges, Amy Browning, Jackie Castle, CSFF Blog Tour, D. G. D. Davidson, Chris Deanne, Jeff Draper, April Erwin, Linda Gilmore, Beth Goddard, Marcus Goodyear, Andrea Graham, Jill Hart, Katie Hart, Sherrie Hibbs, Timothy Hicks, Christopher Hopper, Becca Johnson, Jason Joyner, Kait, Karen, Dawn King, Tina Kulesa, Mike Lynch, Margaret, Karen McSpadden, Melissa Meeks, Rebecca LuElla Miller, Mirtika or Mir's Here, Eve Nielsen, John W. Otte, John Ottinger, Lyn Perry, Deena Peterson, Rachelle, Cheryl Russel, Ashley Rutherford, Hanna Sandvig, Chawna Schroeder, James Somers, Rachelle Sperling, Steve Trower, Speculative Faith, Robert Treskillard, Jason Waguespac, Daniel I. Weaver, Laura Williams, Timothy Wise

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Marks pass pretty much done!

I've done the read-through of Marks of Repentance and the spell check and all that fun stuff, and discovered one little scene missing, which I'll write and tuck in within the next couple of days. I've promised a few people they could read this version and I'm not sure who. Er...sorry. If it was you, please email me and I'll get it off to you by mid-week.

I completed another big project today, the crit of Selkie for Mar. Much as I like both her novel and mine, I'm very excited to leave those files closed and open different ones.

Jean's a bad influence on me. She was sharing bits of her Nano-novel with me the other day and we were chatting about how bad a house could get if ignored. Well, for Nano '05 I wrote an inspirational romance that I've been gleefully ignoring ever since, remembering all the issues with the story. But because I thought I remembered some fun scenes where the male mc, Dean, deals with his house and his 12-year old twins, I opened the file.


So now it's in Jean's hot little hands, and she is ZIPPING at the Nano finish line. Not just so she can read this unnamed, unedited, very rough novel, I'm sure. But now I've read the darn thing through myself from beginning to end and I'm curious what she thinks. I have the next two revision projects lined up already. As well as a writing one. I don't really want my apple cart upset. It would be nice if I could revise a novel in less than ten months, I guess. And being as these two (three? :P ) are pre-critique revisions, they will go faster. Next round, after somebody besides me has actually looked at them in the cold light of day--THAT round goes much slower.

But still, do I really want to write romances? Do I have ideas for more of them?


Friday, November 16, 2007

Sebastian has friends!

I've recommended Holly Lisle's writing clinics a time or two I think. I've loaded them onto my Palm and have been reading through them a bit at a time in the evenings (I get to spend half an hour a day flat on my back on the floor, and the Palm is easy to hold and read from in that position, easier than a book!) I've read the Character Clinic twice in the past couple months, planning to use it to *build* Sebastian.

Sebastian doesn't want to be built that way. Bits of the clinic are stuck in the back of my head and will no doubt be useful, or the whole thing might be useful on a different character, but not Sebastian.

Mind you, he didn't really want to talk today anyway. Maybe he's in a huff because I've been putting him off? However, I learned some very interesting things today about the two people who will join him on his adventure, Curtis and Evelyn. Evelyn's life has been so lousy I'm almost guilt-ridden as I figure out how to make it worse. Does it count that I expect an HEA ending? (happily ever after)

I'm sure you're wondering if this means that Marks is done. Well, define done! I'm still doing read-through, I'm about a third done that. I know I'll have to tidy up stuff in the last chapter for sure as that is rough draft. But I got the proposal off a couple days ago and so the pressure is lowered just a little. I know there have been times in this past year that this process has been beyond tedious, but as I'm reading through, I still love the story. I've worked on it on and off for three years now--including most of 2007--so that's saying something. I hope I like some of my other stories as well when I'm that immersed. Need to get there to find out.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Restorer's Son by Sharon Hinck

I've become a devoted fan of Sharon Hinck. I've recently finished her fourth novel, which is second in a fantasy series called Swords of Lyric. The Restorer's Son picks up the tale from Kieran's point-of-view, shortly after the close of The Restorer:

"Hills of Hazor take you," I swore for at least the tenth time since first light. My sword hacked at thick underbrush, but when I shouldered my way forward, a twig snapped back to hit my face. I cursed the day I'd met the last Restorer. It was because of her that I was battling through this forsaken forest below Cauldron Falls. My blade deserved a more substantial enemy.

A squint-eyed badger rambled out from a thornbush and paused to sniff the air. It bristled and ducked back under cover. Wise plan. I was hungry. Stinging beetles landed on me from the low-hanging branches overhead. I swatted them away and stalked onward.

Why hadn't I convinced Tristan to leave her in Shamgar when she first turned up? A witness to his crime, and he had brought her to our refuge in the deserted city. Typical. He was a naïve idiot sometimes.

She hadn't looked very threatening that day--rain-soaked, bloody, and unconscious. If only I'd known then how much trouble she was capable of causing. What was that old saying? Don't judge a rizzid's menace until you see its teeth.

The trouble had started when a deep scrape on her face healed. Instantly. Hairs on my neck pricked as if I'd touched a misaligned magchip. I'd heard the old stories but I'd never seen it happen. It had been years since our people had chased after a mythic Restorer, but I knew the signs.

Exactly the kind of problem we hadn't needed. We would have been in enough danger if she were just a Council spy or some other enemy. But as I had watched her wounds vanish, I knew that if she also had Restorer powers, things were going to get very complicated.

And they did.

As you can see, he didn't much like the woman who had been the last Restorer, Susan Mitchell. And he doesn't like the situation now any better. Sometimes a reluctant hero makes it difficult to get into a story (I know some folks enjoy books like that but I generally avoid them!) but I didn't find it so with Kieran. Perhaps it was because I'd already met him in the previous novel where he was one of the supporting cast.

I can't say too much about this sequel without giving away too much of either book one or book two except that it didn't disappoint. Sharon Hinck has a way of tossing at least one real surprise into each novel and the twist in The Restorer's Son was a doozy.

This series is a must-read for lovers of clean fantasy. Best of all, the third book, The Restorer's Journey will be out in January, so it's not that long to wait. Good thing, because, while one arc of the story is obviously finished, a new door has opened to introduce the final installment.

Monday, November 12, 2007


I'd actually forgotten to upload these photos from my camera last week after our visit to Hanna and Craig's. Must be that we looked at them on their computer and somehow my brain figured I was done? Dunno. At any rate:

We went for a drive and came across a flock of bighorn sheep along a narrow road. Hubby took a few photos out the truck window; this was the best one.

A little further up the road, hubby found the trail head for Tulip Creek Falls, all covered with autumn leaves just waiting to be kicked around!

As we approached the falls, we came across this mushroom covered rock!

Typical autumn picture along the creek, with so many leaves fallen in:

Definitely worth the short hike in to see these falls!

This weekend we've spent a lot of time working on the kitchen cabinetry. About half of my upper cabinets are now installed and looking oh-so-good :D I'll do photos of the kitchen again after the next phase...getting close.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Sebastian came out to play today!

Today I let Sebastian out of the box for an hour or two. Now the lid is back on, but he keeps thumping on it. He wants out. He wants to run rampant in his little world and show it to me. He wants to play and do what Sebastians do best...program computers.

What I want to know is how a genius teenage boy got into my brain? Cause really, it's not like we have a lot in common. Other than wanting to create our own worlds, I suppose.

In other news, I'm sick and tired of going over blurbs and synopsiseseses and opening scenes with a fine-tooth comb. Just saying.

I want to go play with Sebastian. I'm sure it would be great fun.

I'm sitting on the lid. But I don't want to.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Still grinding along

I've started getting critiques back on both the synopsis and the opening scenes of Marks of Repentance. I've spent some time buffing the synopsis in the past few days--and writing *the pitch*. Think of that as back cover copy. Something short, just a few sentences to intrigue the reader. Kristin, an agent with Nelson who blogs at Pub Rants, has been doing a series of posts on writing the pitch. She's dissected nine from various genres in the past week or two and it's helped me to cement what I'm looking for in writing my own pitch.

Hope Nano is going well for all participants. Guess you folk are too busy to stop by and say hello!