Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Archery Mishaps

So, today, I decided that for-goodness'-sake if I want to learn archery, then I will. My little brother has a set of bow and arrows he used last year when he was on his elementary school's archery team, and the expensive thing's just taking up space anyways, and it's not fair that my little brother gets the archery set before I do.

So, I asked him politely and he let me use his bow and arrows. And laughed as he watched my pitiful aim, though not in a harsh, mean-spirited way; more of the way you laugh when a sibling does something like try archery without having any aim.

Anyways, the archery range-thing we have set up -- an old mattress leaning against our fence, surrounded by bags of dead leaves and with a paper bull's eye target skewered to it -- is... not the best, for beginners. Behind the fence, of course (this being the suburbs) is another house, and their backyard. And these people are not our next-door neighbors; they live a half a block away, literally behind our house. (Or we're behind them. Perspective, right?)

And, of course, when your aim resembles that of a small child's, you are bound to aim too high and watch as that arrow sails straight over the fence and into the backyard of a complete stranger.

I have learned the hard way if you want to learn archery, you must insist on a decent archery range. Perhaps I'll move it myself, to lean against the fence of a neighbor I actually know.

I have also learned not to walk barefoot half a block to retrieve said arrow. It roughens and burns the soles of of your feet. But, on the bright side, I've found out the stranger-neighbors are actually really nice; they didn't question a young boy and his older sister retrieving an arrow from their backyard. They just smiled and opened their back gate to us, and let us search for ten-fifteen minutes for that blasted, hard-to-find glorified stick arrow.

So, I'm taking it easy today. Tomorrow's Halloween, and I'll be puttering around my house, hoping to avoid the inevitable knock on the door, because someone in our house'll have to smile politely and tell little kids that we don't have candy. (And if we did, we would eat it ourselves, not hand it out to strange little kids.) Instead, today I've taken a nap, typed up this blog post, written an essay and worked on two projects during school, and the little archery I managed before having to walk half the block to retrieve my pride that arrow.

What about you? Plans for Halloween? Mishaps in life today?

Have a blessed Wednesday! (And Halloween, if you celebrate or not!)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Guess What? I'm Not Dead.

Sorry I haven't posted for, like, a week. Yay, look at this. I'm not dead.

Normally, I wouldn't post such an obvious sentence, but I stayed after school today for an early celebration of El Dia de Los Muertos. (I'm in the National Spanish Honor Society, by the way. I didn't just randomly decide to celebrate the dead with a group of friends.) Some quick facts:

  • This is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd. (We had ours early because the end of our 9 weeks is then, and everybody but the teachers are just relaxing. The 9 weeks is about half the semester, if you don't know.)
  • Yes, it literally stands for "The Day of the Dead." It's celebrated in Mexico.
  • What do they do? They put on skeleton masks, they buy these orange-y marigold-type flowers, they eat candy skulls (calaveras) and coffins. They leave food and flowers for their dead loved ones and celebrate their good memories of the person.
  • It's basically that. It's a celebration of the lives of the people who've passed on, and a sort of laugh in the face of death sort of thing.

Yea, so we painted glass jars and listened to music and ate popcorn and Pringles. It was pretty fun. Mine sucked, which is why I'm not taking pictures of it.

So, yea. You now know I do stuff in my spare time, extracurricular stuff so my college application won't read, "And... I do nothing but compose the occasional blog post and read books." That would look sort of pathetic, doing nothing but reading. Ahem. (Not like I did exactly that since pretty much sophomore year.)

Anyways, I've been thinking of future-y stuff ever since Saturday, when I attended an Open House at a local college. Now my guts are twisting as I think of traveling abroad before I go to college, or at least traveling up and down the East Coast, and think of what college to attend assuming they all accept me, and think of what sort of career I'll have besides writing. Big picture stuff I generally avoid, because it makes me anxious.

And will I travel to Mexico one day, and celebrate the Day of the Dead? Maybe one day. Maybe the day I stop getting over my fear of leaving my little county.

Have a blessed Wednesday.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Another Post on Nanowrimo

So, you've probably noticed (if you're a writer or reader who follows writing blogs) all the talk on Nanowrimo, or National Novel Writing Month, which starts November 1st. And here's my pitch-in about it.

Personally, I love Nanowrimo. I wrote the first full draft of my novel during nano -- you see off to the side, where there's a lovely little thing that declares, "2012 Nano Winner"? Yes, that was it. Writing 50,000 words in a month is difficult -- seemingly impossible in October 2012 -- but with the Nano group, I persevered for perhaps the first time in my life and managed to do it.

And now, a year later, I am struggling down a similar cliff of impossibility.

While it's technically cheating, I've been thinking of writing the 4th draft of my novel. I want to include undertones of Celtic Mythology into it, and the plot is so different, that in a way, it almost isn't cheating. I've jumped from kidnapping her brother to sort of banishing my MC to another dimension. Which is a pretty big jump.

On the other hand, I have other story ideas I want to get to, new novels to write and new things to plan. I've been working on my current novel -- which I've dubbed in my head "Wretched Roads," or WR -- since... oh gracious. Since middle school, four to five years ago.

I want something new. But I'm pretty sure this next draft of WR is it. I can't give up on it now.

So, I'm beginning to play on the idea of writing two novels at once -- WR and another draft I like to think of as TW, "The Wolfgang." And, of course, that idea is almost more terrifying than moving on.

Write two novels at once, with the help of Nanowrimo? Or focus on one? I can't give up on WR, even though I'm sorely tempted. It's grown quite close to my heart, and seems almost done. But I can't keep writing it without exercising creative prowess in other works. My heart will wither if there's no more imagination but the same played-out characters and settings.

I think, since WR is going to be serious, and around 80k words, that I will start it now, in October. I have plenty of it mapped out already; it's just plot and how I write character, description, and action that needs to be worked out. And come November 1st, I will have over 25k words written for it. Then I can decelerate to about 1k a day, and write 2k of TW during Nanowrimo...

I've easily written 3k words a day every day. I've also easily written only 1k a day for a month. And easily written 2k when I need somewhere in between. Nanowrimo requires 1600 words a day... and that leaves 1400 more I can write.I might lose a little sleep, but the best works are born out of late nights.

(Listen to me, puzzling out the factors and word counts. My math teacher would be proud.)

The idea is beginning to grow on me. Nanowrimo certainly has its benefits -- or hindrance, whichever you think. It's given me the temptation to write two novels, yes. And given me the confidence (which may or not be false) to think I can do it. But it's also given me the option of not failing. Even if I don't finish 50k on one novel during the month of November, then I will have written 50k between two novels.

And while I'm intimidated, I think I can split my time -- especially since I'm starting one of them half a month early.

Have a blessed Wednesday. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Music Monday: Meav

Here's an interesting song for you to contemplate:

"One I Love" by Meav.  (Meav has an accent over the e, but I have no clue how to manage that in a blog post.)

This is a rather strange, strong song. I just randomly found it on youtube (I love Meav's version of "Maid in Bedlam" and "Wicked Sister"), and listening to it just gives me this sense of something deep and pure. I bet it's that high soprano voice and those echoey harmonies during the chorus. It's beautiful.

About Meav -- a quick Google search reveals she is both an Irish singer and a lawyer. At one point (2004), she was part of Celtic Woman (who sell millions, even today), but left in 2008 to resume a solo career.

I know I said I would post more personal stuffs on the blog, but technically, this is rather personal -- this song is the latest in my favorite music. (Not as in, it was composed recently; rather, this recently became my favorite song ever.)

So, have a blessed Monday (if there is such a thing)! Hope you enjoy this random sampling of Irish music.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Declaration of Personality

I didn't mention it Monday, in midst of my book review, but I am still quite happy from last weekend.

Why? Our library was having a book sale. You know, where they attempt to get rid of some of those discards, the obscure books, the ones no one wants to read. Imagine a room filled with books, books you've never read: hardcovers, paperbacks, nonfiction, fiction, YA, adult, cookbooks and magazines and classics, all laid out like desserts, on those rickety tables used by schools, libraries, and community events.

(Oh, yea. And did I mention the free Bibles outside the door, in a crate? My mother already owns like, 70 Bibles. And now she owns five more.)

My mother and I went there with $21. We bought around 60 books. THAT IS ABSOLUTELY AWESOME. One normal YA book costs between $7-10. The library was selling 10 YA discards for $1. The adult discards were 5 for $1. It took three boxes to carry them all home.

So, here's a list of some of the books we bought:

  • The Qur'an -- the holy book of Islam. Not one of the discards -- my mother dug it out of one of the piles and bought it, because she's studying for a Master's degree in Religion. She needs it to connect between Islam and Christianity.*
  • Midnight for Charlie Bone by Jenny Nimmo -- a book about a boy who is "endowed" with the ability to see photographs moving. It used to be one of my favorite series as a kid, but my copy had a few pages missing, so I bought this one.
  • Culture and Value: A Study of the Humanities -- a culture-history textbook, complete with highlighted passages. For those who don't read this blog often, I LOVE history, especially the sort of cultural things they don't teach you in high school level classes.
  • Arabian Nights/Aesop's Fables -- this was a 2-in-1 book of both. You probably can't tell, since I don't believe in using exclamation points! and ALL CAPS!! to show emotion, but I am really geeked out about this.
  • Savvy by Ingrid Law -- a book about a girl who can hear your thoughts through any ink on your skin. I remember reading it a couple years ago. Pretty cool.
  • *Insert 30 more books, most of them fantasy and/or about other cultures*

As I said, pretty amazing weekend. That Saturday book sale goes under my list of "Best Days Ever." Why am I telling you this? What is the point of this post -- is it to give me a sense of power, as I condescendingly smile at your meager attempts to save a lot of money for fewer books? Is it to give some subliminal message about how older books are better than new books? Am I rubbing my hands together while plotting to build my own library, where all of those conservatives who only read white men will be forced to read more diversely with my diverse selection of diversity?**

No. Well, maybe the last one. But that can wait a few decades, when I'm rich and famous and those conservatives are kissing my proverbial boots. (Ha. Ha. I can dream, can't I?) No, this post is simply because I think my blog is suffering from impersonal-itis.

Impersonal-itis: (n.) When a blog, facebook, twitter, or other personal platform becomes cluttered with posts that are not diary-style confession time on opinions of various topics. Or, you know, at least not as personal as the author would like.
Ex.: My blog's last two posts are book reviews. Which are semi-personal, but in a way, they're my way of skirting around the bushes. They're recommending you books, based on my subjective-yet-hopefully-qualified-as-valid assertions about technical aspects like characterization and plot.

So, I want to begin posting more events from my real life, chronicling the (not-so) exciting life of a suburbs girl in the Southeast United States. And perhaps write a few more short spiffs, which I haven't done in awhile.

It's seems odd, posting this on a Wednesday, this Declaration of Personality, to declare and so promise to uphold my duty as a blogger to blog about the life that literally means everything to me. (More on nature vs. nurture some other time.) I feel like this should be posted on a first day of a month, or the last day, or on some holiday or other some other such day that has some importance to it. A plain old Wednesday, middle-of-the-week day, doesn't seem to have any power behind it, but I think I want to stop giving so much importance to the day and more on actually holding to my promise.

So, here's a start: a good Saturday and three boxes of books.

Have a blessed day.

 *I had to edit one of my mother's papers once, because she's so exhausted from six kids and taking online courses that she can barely maintain grammar. And my mother is an over-achiever, so she had me fine-comb it for any tiny errors. We are officially never going over differences between Christianity and Islam on this blog. I've never read the Qur'an, or even really comprehensively read the Bible, so I am not going to write a post that looks quite like my mother's paper pointing out weaknesses in Islam and strengths in Christianity.

**These two links lead to vastly different places: the first leads to Gilmore's words, and the second to a challenge to his words. I think the average, mild reader will prefer the latter. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

If an entire nation could seek its freedom, why not a girl?
As the Revolutionary War begins, thirteen-year-old Isabel wages her own fight... for freedom. Promised freedom upon the death of their owner, she and her sister, Ruth, in a cruel twist of fate become the property of a malicious New York City couple, the Locktons, who have no sympathy for the American Revolution and even less for Ruth and Isabel. When Isabel meets Curzon, a slave with ties to the Patriots, he encourages her to spy on her owners, who know details of British plans for invasion. She is reluctant at first, but when the unthinkable happens to Ruth, Isabel realizes her loyalty is available to the bidder who can provide her with freedom.
From acclaimed author Laurie Halse Anderson comes this compelling, impeccably researched novel that shows the lengths we can go to cast off our chains, both physical and spiritual.

~Print copy (library), 300 pages
Published: 2008 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Yes, I saw Laurie Halse Anderson's name and picked this up. I am a fan of her Speak and Wintergirls, as well.

And, also... well, I do like psychological, kidnap/slave/people-as-property stories, where the protagonist emerges from that situation and deals with the aftereffects. Which sounds wrong, but I swear, I don't get off on suffering -- I just enjoy observing psychological effects. And stories where I'm really punched in the gut by the protag's suffering. It keeps the mind empathetic.

Chains, in essence, is a historical fiction, of course, not a psychological horror/thriller story. But as I read through, I loved the metaphor, the easily-grasped way of looking at the psychology. Isabel, a slave from Rhode Island whose owner's will granted her freedom, is taken anyways to New York, where she and her sister are sold to -- well, really, the only bidders.

Through the beginnings of the war -- the signing of the Declaration of Independence, through the British occupation, to a great fire in New York City during this time -- Isabel wants nothing to do with it. All she knows are the newspaper stories, as her last owner had taught her to read, and the oppression under the Locktons. 

I don't doubt that Isabel would've considered the Locktons' treatment of her to be normal. Completely UN-oppressive. IF it hadn't been for the way Madam Lockton treated Ruth.

Because, you see, Ruth is described as simple-minded. She's five years old, has fits/seizures, and from what I gather, can't say much. Madam Lockton thinks she's possessed by the Devil, and the little girl ends up crying and in the kitchen.

Isabel, when serving Sir Lockton in his library with some of his Loyalist companions, stands in the corner and cannot help overhearing details of Loyalist plans. Because she is just a slave, and has no ears at all as far as the men are concerned.

Curzon, a slave under a Patriot, offers her a chance in a lifetime to help the Patriots by passing such information on: the Patriots will track down that lawyer with her late owner's will, giving her freedom. Freedom to go back to Rhode Island, where her mother is buried. Freedom to leave the beatings, the cold, the rags, and the humiliation of serving the Locktons. And best yet, the freedom for Ruth not to be beaten.

The characterization of this novel really brings the convoluted American Revolution to life. Even though, yes, I'm American, and I'm glad I have liberty and freedom and all that, the plight of these two slave girls -- even if they're fictional -- brings home the complicated philosophy behind an event in American history I don't pay much mind to.

There is, first of all, the issue of slavery at all. The North, contrary to some people's beliefs, DID have slavery. Despite getting riled up over liberty and equality, slavery still held strong. and the British, on the other side, weren't fond of giving these colonists liberty and equality, but they did offer some slaves their freedom, on the condition they help the British.

Except, of course, the British only offer that deal to the slaves of Patriots, to sort of undermine their economy. Slaves were still property of their owners, and there are several parts of this book where Isabel -- though clearly in the right, or at least the understandable -- is still punished for defying the Locktons, once by being branded in the face with a letter I.

And what's a really, really good part of this novel for me? There is no romance. Curzon is a friend, who helps save her life, and she's indebted to him -- but they don't fall in love. It's so rare for me to find such a book, one without romance or romantic subplots or tropes. I feel a little lighter, knowing that not all my precious YA books are filled with romance, romance, romance.

What else? ... Did I make my opinion of Isabel clear? She's a pretty strong girl. She bears the weight of lifetimes on her shoulders, and still gets up every morning for a day of hard, back-breaking work. Her suffering, repeatedly, is referred to as "ashes" and "bees" under her skin, choking her throat, buzzing in her brain and pushing her thoughts out. She is and should be, by all rights, miserable. (I won't name specifics. Read the book.) But it doesn't leave her staring passively out a window like a certain vampire's wife we know in a muddle on the cellar floor.

It's not just her strength to stand up, though. It's her strength to stand up for her freedom. Like I mentioned, she got branded in the face for her "insolence." She visits the prison where hundreds/thousands of rebel soldiers were captured and imprisoned, to feed them scraps and "conversate," as she puts it. (Did I mention voice? This has unique antiquated-American dialect here, but not enough to make the book obscure or difficult to read.) Madam could have her sold, beaten, branded, or hung on a whim, if she finds out.

Even the ending -- a part of the novel I usually dislike -- was pretty good. I didn't realize it had a sequel until pretty much the last page (Forge), but it didn't just, like, let off. It ended with enough closure to satisfy me.

Overall, while it's not catch-my-spark material (It's not Doctor Who, Artemis Fowl, and Harry Potter all rolled into one), it is a lovely read. I enjoyed it. I would recommend it to anyone who loves a good, unique, strong voice, with no romance and good setting. 4 stars.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Ice by Sarah Beth Durst, and Its Related Fairytale

Would you risk everything for a fairytale?
When Cassie was a little girl, her grandmother told her a fairy tale about her mother, who made a deal with the Polar Bear King and was swept away to the ends of the earth. Now that Cassie is older, she knows the story was a nice way of saying her mother had died. Cassie lives with her father at an Arctic research station, is determined to become a scientist, and has no time for make-believe.

Then, on her eighteenth birthday, Cassie comes face-to-face with a polar bear who speaks to her. He tells her that her mother is alive, imprisoned at the ends of the earth. And he can bring her back -- if Cassie will agree to be his bride. 
That is the beginning of Cassie's real-life fairy tale, one that sends her on an unbelievable journey across the brutal Arctic, through the Canadian boreal forest, and on the back of the North Wind to the land east of the sun and west of the moon. Before it is over, the world she knows will be swept away, and everything she holds dear will be taken from her -- until she discovers the true meaning of love and family in the magical realm of Ice.

~Print copy (library), 308 pages
Published: 2009 by Margaret K. McElderry Books

Yes, I know I promised I'd have this book review Wednesday, but I... well, this was a weird book, and not an entirely in my favorite way.

First of all, look at those words in the summary: fairy tale, magical realm. It makes this seems like fantasy-fantasy, the sort I'm used to, where people in the book admit that magic exists, as a force of nature, and that these bizarre happenings are because of this.

This book has more of a supernatural-y feel to it, with the Polar Bear King a "guardian of souls." He knows when a birth or death of a polar bear is happening, and goes out to collect the soul from a dying bear or give a soul to those being born. And he explains that he keeps his magical ice castle up with some theory on "rearranging molecules."

Perhaps it would be best to understand why I picked up this novel, and the fairytale behind it. Here is (somewhat) how the original tale -- the one I happen to love -- goes:

  1. A girl is born in icy land, in a poor family. (In some versions, this girl was born with no name, because the girl's mother didn't want a girl.)
  2. She meets a magical animal -- I think a bear, though possibly some other Arctic-icy-style animal -- and he asks her to marriage. In return, her family is helped with food and money and such things. Given the wretchedness of home, the pure-hearted maiden agrees. 
  3. He takes her to his magical castle made of ice. On their wedding night, though, he turns into a human and sleeps beside her. He refuses to let her see his face, though. 
  4. In the morning, he is back to talking animal form, and they spend an indeterminate amount of time laughing, joking, talking, and discussing intellectual stuffs. Maiden falls in love with him.
  5. HOWEVER... *dun dun dun* She gets curious about what his face looks like, and one night, she takes out a candle and sneaks a peek at his human face while he's sleeping. He wakes up and gets upset.
  6. It's revealed that he's under a spell from a Troll Queen, and if he married his true love, she couldn't see his face. Woe is me, he cries. The Troll Queen takes him away to be her husband, as part of his curse. (Honestly, I'm a bit fuzzy on this part. It was either a deal or a curse, or something like that.)
  7. The Troll's castle is east of the sun and west of the moon, so far away that Maiden couldn't possibly get there. But she sneaks to a place where the Four Winds (North, South, East, West) meet, and she receives help from them. (And then there's something about getting help from an underground population of dwarves, or something like that -- or possibly I'm confusing another tale with this one).
  8. She manages to get to the castle, rescue her husband, and the curse is broken. Yay! He's human again, and a prince to boot! Her family never suffers, she lives happily in love with her prince as the queen, and The End.

Yea, I'm a little fuzzy in some places, but that's the basic original tale. I really love this tale, and there aren't that many novels based off it (or at least not that many available to me). Notice no mention of souls, death-and-birth, and no research stations or poor families living in a wooden shack during the winter.

Cassie, while a decent main character, didn't... click with me. I wanted her to be like Emily Strange (Rob Reger, Emily the Strange quartet), or Jennifer Strange (Jasper Fforde, The Last Dragonslayer), but I kind of felt she had a life at the little research station she lived in. She should've stayed there, instead of proposing the deal for the Polar Bear King to rescue her mother.

Really, I felt like she was a smart, realistic girl who wasn't a daydreamy sort, like I am. And while there are mentions of how she takes research from her station and tries to predict the births of polar bears so her husband isn't so sad after stillbirths (described as Bear not getting there fast enough to give the baby a soul), she buys into this magical-realism thing pretty easily, like a daydreamer (like me) would.

Also, there's a little matter of the second half of the book the ending, which I won't mention. I will say that she's not exactly in a good spot to go traipsing off after Bear when she looks at his face. At the very least, she could've left sooner to find the North Wind, and that the passage of months in-between was used merely for conflict shock, not because she couldn't find an excuse to get away from Father Forest, a sexist overseer of a forest, who kept her a basic prisoner to do his chores.  Seriously, how can he portray himself as being a kindly figure and then make her do chores in such a condition? (Read the book, if you're curious about my outburst.)

The good things, though: it's a good fairytale. I like it. I'm not fond of romance, but this fairytale, like most fairy tales, draw me in. I don't know why. In this book, the romance made me press my lips together in an unidentifiable emotion -- disapproval, perhaps? -- but the hints of the fairytale were enough for me to not set the book down.

Also, the writing is good. None of that too-descriptive junk you see in Tolkien-knockoff fantasies, but enough description balanced with action to really the ice castle. It even includes description of an icy topiary garden out back.

Cassie, while I did like her, wasn't what I expected her to be. Yea, that's a better way of putting it. And while oftentimes I'm happy when a character doesn't meet my expectations, this time I was a little disappointed. Bear, while not really a main focus in this story -- he's more of a conflict-starter, and then as a goal to be reached when the Troll Queen captures him -- was a decent enough character. He seems to exist both to love Cassie and to start conflict with her, and didn't stand out as a flesh-and-blood character, or at least not like Cassie.

Still, overall this book isn't terrible. The fairytale that is this novel's bare bones is lovely, and I'm glad I came across it. But I'm not really fond of the mixing in of reality. I felt Cassie was too... modern, or academic, a girl to be pulled in by such things. The writing is good, and for people that love romance and only a little dash of magic that is explained away, it's certainly recommended. But I put it at about 3.25 stars, rounded down to an "okay."