A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again . . . I love Le Guin’s writing. I already talked about the book she wrote ABOUT writing. Here ’tis if you haven’t read it: Steering the Craft. I can’t remember who suggested it to me. If it was you, THANKS!

And I can’t remember who recommended A Wizard of Earthsea either. Again, if it was you . . . THANKS! It was the first book I picked up after burning through Scorpio Races which sort of ruined me for other books. Since I had to have something awesome, I figured Le Guin would do the trick.

A Wizard of Earthsea was also my Buddy Book while I was having my fabulous “Hospital Vacation.” I’m writing about those interesting turns of events here.

But Earthsea, the first of several in the series, did just the things I wanted it to: it took me away from the place where my body was stuck for a whole week. It introduced me to another exquisite story. And it confirmed my belief in Le Guin’s writing.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll not like Ged, “the greatest Sorcerer in all Earthsea.” Not in the beginning at least . . . he’s not a very likable character. Which is hard to do as a writer – build a dis-likable character and bring him (or her) out of that place before the reader gets frustrated and sets the book down. Le Guin’s timing is great in that regard. In one incredible scene, Ged moves from the cross-hairs of your eyebrows to a place in your heart. At that point, you can’t wait to set off on his journey with him.

On my wishlist now are the other books in the series. I’ll read them soon. I just hope it won’t be as a captive!

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When did I become such a grammar snob?

I was driving toward The Heights the other day when an old Michael Jackson song came on. It wasn’t sung by the late, great but by some other group instead. They managed to do it justice and did not change it’s lyrics or melody as some re-makes are known to do. So of course I knew all the words.

But I’m not sure I scrutinized them as much as I did the other day.

“If you should ever find someone new, I know he better be good to you. ‘Cause if he doesn’t, I’ll be there . . .”

I thought, wait a minute, . . . ’cause if he doesn’t?” Doesn’t what? Doesn’t be? That just doesn’t sound right. Shouldn’t it be “’cause if he isn’t, I’ll be there?”

So I sang it aloud the proper, grammatical way and realized that it’s a tad harder to sing that way. From a musical standpoint, the abuse of grammar just sounds better. Try it . . . I’ll pretend not to listen in case you’re shy about your singing voice.

Done? See what I mean? It’s just a little kludgy using the right words.

Then I got to wondering how many other songs sacrifice grammar so the words sound better sung? And how come no-one ever said anything to five year old, Michael as he publicly showed his lack of command of the English language?

Oh, wait . . . it sort of worked out for him at the time, didn’t it.

Um . . .

nevermind.

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Scorpio Races

If you’ve read my previous posts about the books I’ve read, then you’ll know I don’t really write reviews. The way I see it, there are enough people who are far better reviewers than I am, writing far better reviews than I would so I don’t. What I do write are personal responses to the books I’ve loved.

Like Lynne Kelly’s Chained

And The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Maybe Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

My friend Kathryn Magendie’s Sweetie

Admittedly though, this one’s more of a review that my others were – I just couldn’t help myself. So without further ado, preamble or hoopla . . . here goes.

I read The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater who I saw at the Teen Book Con.

I’d never read anything by Stiefvater before and to be honest, if I hadn’t seen her at Teen Book Con and her book hadn’t been recommended by my friend Vicki, then I probably would not have read it now. And boy, would I have been missing out! I usually pick up another book as soon as I close the final page of one. But, having just finished it a few days ago, I felt as if other books might just suffer in comparison. Like reading another book right away would have paid Scorpio Races a disservice. And it’s way too good for that. In fact, my Facebook status announced how I was “ruined for other books” after reading it. So I’ve let Scorpio Races linger, simmering alone in the back of my memory like a visit from an old friend.

I’m a fairly discriminating reader, spoiled rotten by excellent writing. It’s why I can’t bring myself to read some of the recently wild successes. I’ve heard that the stories are great. But story alone doesn’t do it for me. The writing has to be good too. I suppose I’m a bit of a snob in that regard. But I sure didn’t have to worry about that with Scorpio Races! The writing itself is incredible with beautiful, rich descriptions of the setting, the people, the animals. Written in a dual first person point of view the story alternates between the voices of Puck and Sean, each remaining so distinct that it is impossible to confuse them. The way Stiefvater introduces their personalities a little at a time, the way she has each of them develop and evolve during the course of the story, the way she is light on physical description but heavy on their inner workings is just plain genius writing. Her supporting characters are all round and full and quirky or serious. Exactly what you’d expect to find in a small community.

The community is on an island, the island of Thisby, famous for the races that are held every year on the first of November. Up until now–up until Puck–the races have never been run by a female, nor by a hay-burning horse. Rather, it’s the men of the island, ones who’ve managed to capture and train a water horse, also known as capaill uisce (pronounced Copple ooshka). Unlike land horses, the uisce are flesh eaters. And the people of the island are some of their favorite fare. Getting one to carry you along a beach at breathtaking speeds while the jaws of a dozen more uisce snap at you from both sides . . . well, that can be a tad challenging. Meanwhile, your mount wants nothing more than to return to the ocean and dragging you along with it would be an acceptable trade off. Not everyone makes it to the finish line. Not everyone makes it . . . period.

So Puck loves her land horse, Dove and Sean loves his uisce, Core. But together they build a third relationship, a touching romance that moves slowly and surprises them both. It’s such an incredibly good book I really don’t want to say any more about it or I’ll say everything about it. You just have to read it yourself. Pick yourself up a copy at B&N before they go away! If you don’t want your own copy to keep, check one out of the library. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

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Christie Craig – author, essayist and all around funny lady!

Just when I was feeling frustrated with my own writing. Just when I started to think it’s a tad pointless, along came Christie Craig.

Christie was guest speaker at Monday night’s SCBWI chapter meeting. Her topic was “Genre jumping and finding your voice.” She talked a bit of her own career and how she started writing in ’84. It took ten years for her to publish her first book, thirteen to publish the next three and she just recently hit the NY Times Bestseller list! Which says a lot for perseverance and tenacity! She admits that she knew nothing about writing when she first started but kept reading books on the craft. She also studied each genre carefully (which I think translates to reading . . . a lot!) And she paid attention to what makes a good essay. Then to what makes a good romance novel. And finally, to what makes a good Y.A. novel. Christie’s latest project has been her paranormal trilogy, the Shadow Falls series.

Three things Christie said and did will stick with me for a while . . . well four things really. The first was the fact that it took her ten years to publish her first book! I’ve not been at it that long and I feel as if I’m still learning. Next was when she shared how, over the years she’d met many writers whom she thought were far better than she was at the craft. One by one they became disillusioned (hmmmm) and they quit writing. She also said to ignore the notion of mastering one genre. Rather, be a jack of all trades. I liked this advice . . . I’m a lover of the short story, my first prose publication was a short story! Lately I’ve been thinking about jumping back into it again. It’s comfortable to me.

The last thing Christie did was to roll out one of those traveling suitcases. She opened up a large white envelope and started pulling rejection notices out of it, dropping them into the suitcase. Once that envelop was empty, she took up another and did the same until the suitcase was littered with bad news. She must have had over a thousand rejection notices. She laughed when she held up a 1/4 sheet, saying how she hadn’t even been worth a full sheet of paper to this publisher!

By the end of her presentation I’d abandoned my own little pity party and thought that, if she can stick with it through all that, well then, so can I.

I also figured I’d better start working on improving my paltry little collection of rejection slips!

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Now where I’d put that darned modifier . . . ?

“She stood in the yard on her head.”

That was the sentence that popped into my own head the other day as I was walking the dogs. Misplaced modifier and all.

I actually like the occasional misplaced modifier. They make me think twice about what I’m reading. Oh sure, maybe not in a particularly positive way but at least I think twice about them! I’ll wonder . . . “Hey, did I just read that right?” So I’ll back up, read it again and sure enough, I did read it right. Just that someone else didn’t write it right.

And we need to write our stuff right so that people understand us. Right? Right.

So the modifier, when misplaced or even dangling, is not our friend. We need to put our modifiers as close to the things they modify as we possibly can in order to foster understanding. Not trailing off like a favorite blanket drug behind a sleepy two year old. Or stuck to the wrong object like a magnet gone horribly awry.

“Peggy thought she saw an owl riding her bicycle to Lucy’s house.”

Really? Who?

“He ate a tuna sandwich and a pickle driving to school.”

Wait a minute. What?

Some of them are easier to spot than others. But they’re all sort of funny when you stop to ponder them. Which, apparently, I do. Often enough to write a post about them. And string them together in my head as I walk the dogs.

“Weary from a long day of travel, Sidney’s enthusiasm was tepid, to say the least.”

Here I’ve modified Sidney’s enthusiasm which can’t feel weary. It really can’t feel anything. Maybe say something like: “Weary from a long day of travel, Sidney felt his enthusiasm wane.”

I know we all know not to do this any more. I know we all know how not to misuse our modifiers. But you have to admit, it’s a fun exercise to hang one out there once in a while just to hear the goofiness of it.

Or maybe I’m the only one who thinks so. Maybe I need to get a life that involves a different form of entertainment . . . something other than spending my Saturday nights pondering the misuse of the English language.

Ya think?

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