Sunday, August 31, 2014

Princess Callie and the Totally Amazing Talking Tiara - A Review

Princess Callie 

Downloaded this one because it was free on Amazon, and this is one of those times when I was glad that BookBub had tipped me off about it. I have to admit I was more than halfway sold by the cover and the title. Loved that pink cover! And who could say no to a "Totally Amazing Talking Tiara"!

So, who is Princess Callie? Callie is a girl who discovers that she is a princess on her 12th birthday. Her mother died a little over a year ago (maybe it was two?) and it's just been she and her dad, and more recently her dad's girlfriend. Callie is not so sure about the girlfriend, though. She doesn't like thinking her dad is replacing her mom. So, she does what a lot of kids do, which is to ignore the girlfriend and get on with her life. Her best friend is Lewis and he's really smart and very logical. The classroom bully is Wanda. She's not so much the kind of bully who beats up people as she is a snitch who needs to be paid off because she can sniff out a playground misdemeanor at 100 yards.

Callie doesn't know she's a princess until her cereal starts sending her messages the morning of her birthday, before school. That wigs her out a little, to say the least. She's not able to let her BFF Lewis know, and her dad has told her he's got a surprise for her for her birthday! And then a mystery package arrives for her in the middle of math class! What's a 12 year old to do with all this stuff going on? I really enjoyed this story. Yes, it is one more story in a plethora of stories about a kid hitting their tweens and suddenly discovering they are special and being introduced to a new world, but that's still a fun story to tell. And I do enjoy this retelling of that particular type of story.

Without going too much into the story, some of the things I enjoyed was that 1) this was an upbeat story. Nothing too heavy. Yes, the author deals with Callie's lingering sadness over losing her mother, and there are wicked people that Callie, Wanda and Lewis encounter, but it's deftly kept light without going saccharine. Callie and Lewis are fun to follow and the reader is given a good back story with Wanda (which I think will be explored in later books). 2) We get to meet more of Callie's family and there are lots of secrets and special devices and treasures that she and Lewis get to find and use. 3) While you know there are more stories to come, this was a full story, a full book, with a complete arc and story line all its own.

Two of the things I wasn't so sure about - 1) Lewis disappeared a bit too much for me. I wanted him around more. There was some explanation for when he was "off stage" but sometimes there wasn't and it bugged me. He is Callie's BFF after all. 2) (this is a big one for me) Callie's dad's self-involvement at thinking announcing his engagement to Callie on her 12th birthday is a good thing. I know parents, and most of the parents I know wouldn't be that selfish. They would let the kid have their birthday and make "special" announcements to the kid on a regular day. Getting remarried is a big deal. You'd think an adult would understand how that might upset their child and how the emotions would be escalated if such an announcement were made on a special day - like a holiday or birthday. So, either he's the Densest Dad on the Planet and the writer wants us to view him that way, or the writer doesn't know parents. Because she even has the future stepmom trying to go all logical and lawyerly and guilt Callie into accepting it all right now. I am HOPING that what this means is that the writer is setting up the story for a future evil stepmom, who might be an agent of evil, and who wants to make Callie's life miserable and take over her father's life. So, I'm hoping that's what the writer is meaning to do. Otherwise, she's painting a pretty selfish picture of the adults in Callie's life.

Outside of that, it was a fun read. Like I said - there is action, adventure, violence, and even a horrific death scene, but I think it's handled well. I love the talking tiara and meeting Callie's grandmother and learning about Callie's mother. I think I might really want to follow along in the series and see how Callie is able to cope at being a princess.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Great Yawp in the Echo Chamber of the World

Crossposted from Blogetary: 

Whitman resonates with me. I can pick up Leaves of Grass and open it just about anywhere and within about a minute I'm saying, "Yes, that's it exactly!" In my opinion Leaves of Grass is a true epic poem of the U.S. It might not be Homer’s Odyssey or Virgil’s Aeneid or Iliad, but Whitman uses the poems within this volume to try to encompass the greatness and the potential he saw in the U.S., and I feel him.

One of the passages that I have been thinking of a lot lately is about the great "barbaric yawp" — Walt Whitman's description of our need to express ourselves:

"The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me—he complains of my gab and loitering.
I too am not a bit tamed—I too am untranslatable.
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world."
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, Lines 1328-30

Many people didn’t really pay attention to the “barbaric yawp” until they saw Dead Poets Society, where Robin Williams’ character is trying desperately to get these young men to let go their yawp and make their mark on the world.

In a very real sense, Leaves of Grass is Whitman’s own “barbaric yawp” which he admits to being “untranslatable”.

But lately, sometimes it feels like everyone out there in the Internets is clambering to be heard. Are these authentic yawps though? Are they truly shout outs in expressing of ourselves? Our "Song of Ourselves"? Or are they merely grabs for attention?

Sometimes it feels like when we strive to make our truly authentic yawp sound out over the roofs of the world that no one is listening. It’s a big echo chamber and people are so busy trying to make themselves heard, or so tired of the yapping and yawping, and trying to tell the difference between the true and the fake, that they have gone off….

And so you reach your authentic self and try to really yell out, really let go, cuz this one’s for real baby —

And there’s no one to hear. No return answer, no acknowledgement that you’ve found your authentic self and are showing it to the world in this bold-as-brass expression!

Or maybe there’s a snort of derision.

And maybe it’s untranslatable.

That doesn’t make it any less authentic, or real, or absolutely your own expression that you have every right to put out there in the world. It just means that, like Whitman, sometimes we have to live with the fact that not everyone is going to get our “yawp”. We’re going to let loose and get a load of crickets in return. But that’s okay.

One of my recent strivings toward expressing myself has been to enter my book of short stories, UnCommon Faire: A Fiction Sideshow, into a contest for published collections of short stories of speculative fiction. It sounds like the college press (Etchings Press at University of Indianapolis) is trying to build up their library of scifi/fantasy short stories to use as study material, because even if you don’t win, they’re keeping the material for future use in their department library. And they want everything that’s a novella or smaller.

My striving to “yawp” in the direction of independent bookstores, of trying to reach beyond those people I know on the Interwebs, didn’t work. All but one of the 30 books I sent out on consignment was sent back to me. I would have loved for the bookstores to keep them, “just in case”, but in all cases they’d already kept them at least six months past their three to six month cut off. My yawp went unheard, or was untranslatable. The yell fell flat in the echo chamber of independent bookstores (Yes – I tried both Village Books and Skylight Books, and Chevalier’s was having none of it after my tiny little first book signing).

But this contest at UIndy — they HAVE to listen. They might snort in derision, but they HAVE to keep the book I send, even if I lose (most importantly if I lose). So, I tossed in my other three novellas (even though they were separate from the collection, they WERE novellas, after all – like Cinderella – they are still “ladies of the house”). I included my contest reading fee (otherwise known as a $20 bribe for them to keep my books!), and a letter explaining that the novellas were extra (not part of the contest) as I believe in not only proselytizing writing, but also proselytizing speculative fiction writing, so I was “donating them to the cause”.

The deadline is September 1. I put them in the mail on Monday. They arrived today (per USPS tracking number), and I feel like I can breathe. But I'm still crossing my fingers that some overly diligent Dudley or Dudleyette DoRight doesn't decide to mail them back to me. I have sounded my “yawp” — or one of my “yawps”. And this time they have to listen. They just have to.

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Friday, August 8, 2014

Deadly Magic by Elizabeth Crabtree - A Review

Deadly Magic by Elizabeth Crabtree, the first in its series, is currently free on Kindle.
Deadly Magic by Elizabeth Crabtree, the first in its series, is currently free on Kindle.
William Kotzwinkle, author of the book E.T. the movie is based upon, and also author of dozens of other books, including Christmas at Fontaine's, has a way taking quirky people from all walks of life, putting them together, shaking them up, and then seeing what happens. This is a definite talent. The quirks aren't cutesy. These aren't cute people. Both the people and the quirks are irritating and distracting. And yet, by the end of the story, you care about these characters. You want the best for all of them. You believe the story.

In Deadly Magic by Elizabeth Crabtree, I think she tries to do this as well, mix all the quirky characters together to come up with a fun story; she is somewhat successful, but not entirely.
This cozy murder mystery starts out interesting enough. The 20-something (I'm guessing 27 or 28 since her high school reunion is coming up) main character, Grace Holliday, and her coworkers are at a magic show that is being put on for her boss's 50th birthday. She works for a toy company. It's Halloween and everyone is dressed up. She is on her first date with someone. She has a work nemesis who loves finding reasons to make her life miserable.

Plus, magic shows! Magicians! Illusions! And the story begins on Halloween and ends around Christmas. And her last name is Holliday....

This is all very promising. Lots of cute cues and leading.

Within the first chapter she's already 1) been part of the magic act, 2) had a kind of ruined first date, 3) been asked to work at while at the party, 4) discovered someone's panties (!) as well as been made privy to some (but not all) family secrets (not her own family). Oh, and someone gets murdered.
So, it is very promising—this is all a hook and you want to keep reading. And the characters are so quirky, and it's such a train wreck, what with the crazy boss and company going down hill, etc., that you kind of feel like you need to keep reading just to make sure the main character gets through everything okay. Which, I suppose, is a good thing, since the reader is still reading.

However, I got to about the mid point and almost had a fit of "rage quit" a couple of times with this book. The only reason I didn't throw the book across the room was that it was on my Kindle and I didn't want to damage that.

*sigh* I know Grace is just in her 20s, and I'm reading this book from the stance of a cynical, middle aged person, but she really was a lot like a female version of Dudley Do Right. She never said no to anything. She let everyone talk her into doing things. And she believed everything everyone told her, and even I, the reader, could see that they weren't telling the truth. She let people push her around. She'd been at the same company for 10 years and risen in the ranks to toy designer merely by not getting fired or quitting in a fit herself for that length time.

The writer does make a case for that, in that the company structure is kind of ridiculous. But it did seem almost too incredible.

I kept reading, eventually, just so I'd find out "who done it". There were some cute bits, like when Grace realizes she can get free furniture from a new roommate foisting themselves on her just by letting them raid her closet (her sister's clothes). But there again, who lets a stranger foist themselves on you as a roommate. If you've been living in New York City for 10 years would you really let someone you barely know move in? Really? Without vetting them properly? Making sure their check clears?

And then when a second murder occurs, you can see what the writer is doing, the situation she is setting up, and it's not bad. It's one of those things that works. Dorothy Sayers would have pulled something similar in a Lord Peter Wimsey story.

But then this was followed by a lot more of me thinking, "Really?" as I read more situations where Grace is letting herself be led around by the nose.

Sometimes in stories we write we have to create ridiculous situations or push a character into a ridiculous situation. But when we do that, we have to make sure it's somewhat believable. My suspension of disbelief didn't suspend for very long on this story. And again, that may be different for others. At the outset, this was an entertaining set up and I wanted to enjoy it. But by the end, I was over it.

And maybe the writer was over it, too. Because when it came to the reveal, it wasn't something Grace really "solved". I mean, she solved a small part of it, sure. And even then, when one of the perpetrators is revealed, you wonder how Grace could have stayed alive in NYC for so long if her radar for people is soooo off. She shoulda been killed in her sleep a long time ago. Maybe, like Dudley, she's just so steadfast and true, that it keeps her alive.

But the reveal went on for a long time, as if the writer didn't want to bother with writing out another few chapters to bring the story to a close. It wasn't all wrapped up when she solved it. It kept getting more "wrapped up" - as in the people around her kept adding their... "and then.." bits during the end and the epilogue. All synopsis. All hearsay. And the end just went on a little too long for me. I like a good epilogue, really, I do. But at a certain point, it just needs to be written as more chapters.

I wanted to like this story. Grace is a likable character (though, I kept forgetting her name). And in fact, I read the additional first part of the next story in the series that is included for free in the back of the book, just in case I might like it better (maybe it was just this story). And again, nearly threw the Kindle across the room. This woman has no survival instincts. At a certain point you say to people who are talking you into things, "no, I will deal with it this way." Or if you can't seem to do that, you nod and smile and wander off and still do it your way. You don't let people talk you into things that you should have figured out were not good for you when you were six years old.  In this case (the case beginning the second book), her sister talks her into wearing a big pink prom dress for their reunion because Grace's luggage got lost and the reunion is formal. Again, Really? I can be a huge wimp when it comes to saying no, but even back in my 20s I would have said No to that, sprayed and brushed off my jeans, borrowed some heals, brushed my hair, washed my face, reapplied my makeup and borrowed a nice sweater and just said, "Sorry, my luggage was lost" once I got to the reunion. Wouldn't be the first time, wouldn't be the last. If the writer wanted Grace to end up a in a ridiculous big pink prom dress, then she needed to find a more believable way to do it. At that point I realized that no, I wouldn't like the next story and quit reading.

Again, if you're going to push a ridiculous situation on the reader, it needs to be believable.

Read this story for the some of the entertaining bits. Try not to throw your Kindle straight across the room when you run into the thin plot.

Monday, August 4, 2014

"No one will ever love your stories as much as you do..."

A college friend of mine passed away over the weekend. It was quick, sudden, unexpected. He was someone who was loved by all. And while I mourn the loss of the friend I knew in college and pray for his family and close friends, I also — selfishly — mourn my failed plans to go visit he and his wife (another college friend) some day and show them the story with the character based on him. Mourn sharing the remembrances I have of asking him (one of my first adult friends I confided my need to write stories to — one of my first adult "geek" friends who unapologetically loved scifi, fantasy, and superheroes) about space/time continuums and how he thought they might work.

But that is not about the man. That is about the story. And going through that realization reminded me of this saying:

"No one will ever love your stories as much as you do..."

I remember reading or hearing that somewhere in some writers thing and immediately my brain, focusing on the absoluteness of the statement, came up with all the arguments about how that couldn't be true. For example, there are lots of stories that a reader will focus on because of something in their own life and the writer, once that story or poem is out there, lets it go to have a life of its own. And there have been stories I wasn't sure I liked at all, that other people who read them loved. So, when I first encountered that statement my kneejerk reaction was to reject it.

But now I understand the statement a little more. Stories are a little like children (especially novels). And every parent/child relationship is different, and that is a little bit what it is like. No one loves a baby like their mother or father. No one else woke up in the middle of the night with an idea about that story. No one else watched the main character morph and grow into his or her final self as they went through the story. No one cried and screamed and stayed up until 3 a.m. with that story. You. The writer did.

And yes, by the end of that story, you are so over it. You have spent sooooo much time with that story you can't wait for it to get out of the house. Like a teenage boy driving his parents nuts, you want to shove the story out the door and tell it to go get a job or play ball in the street or SOMETHING. But, like the teenage son (or daughter), if you shove it out the door, send it out to other people before it's ready, then you might be asking for trouble. And some stories, like children, take longer to get out the door than others. That's life.

I confess. I have had a tendency to use the submissions process as a sort of pro tem source of feedback for my stories and poems in the past. I'd do the best I could, get a sketch of feedback from friends, rip through the proof and then send it out. And cry when it wasn't accepted. But then in the meantime, after all that time out in the world, I could look at the story and see aaaaalllll the mistakes. And then if there were editor's comments, there were even others pointed out. I had sent my poor child out into the world without his or her galoshes and raincoat. I had forgotten to straighten their jacket and remind them to say please and thank you. It wasn't the story's fault it had failed, poor thing. It was mine!

I used to say, and still kind of think, that you don't exist in writer world unless you have a submission out there to show editors you still are around. So, I used to feel this pressure to always keep something out there. "Don't forget me! Remember I am out here writing. Like my stories and poetry!"

But I've been learning that pushing stories and poetry out there too soon is like pushing your kids out in the crosswalk before teaching them how to look both ways. Sometimes it's just good to enjoy this creation you're creating. Don't think about where it will go and what it will do. Revel in the creation and the shaping and the editing and revisions. Really take time with the proofing and the feedback from friends and the research to get things right. Just spend time and sink into the world. It will leave your hands soon enough, most likely.

In the meantime, just love your children. Because no one else will love that story like you do.