In Which I Talk About Princesses

There are going to be quite a few new babies in my life in the next couple of months, and since at least one of them is probably going to be a girl, I’ve been spending more time than usual lately obsessing about princesses.

I’m more than a little disturbed by the current trend of trying to raise girls without princesses. Several of my siblings’ friends are taking this tack. For about ten seconds, I was kind of okay with it, and then I realized that it also excludes Princess Leia Organa, possibly the greatest princess, and example of what makes a good princess, ever written. Furthermore, it suggests that princesses have no inherent value, save as commodities in love and marriage, and that’s just the result of too-casual interpretation of their stories.

Okay, okay: it’s also the result of Disney marketing, which is kind of awful a lot of the time. But in the past few years, even Disney has become much more self-aware (not always in terms of merchandise. That remains depressing. And also not a little bit racist. But in terms of the story), and shutting down their contributions to the genre isn’t fair either.

Take Mulan, for example, who isn’t really a princess, but qualifies for marketing reasons. She is seriously awesome, and puts herself in significant risk for her family (not some dude. Well, a dude. But the dude is her father). She works her butt off, uses her brain, refuses to stop even when her death (by her comrades, not the bad guys) seems imminent, and then she saves the world with cross-dressing (like, they actually say the word). TWICE. That’s exactly the kind of princess who SHOULD be a role model.

At the other end of the spectrum we have Charlotte, one of two princesses in THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG. Charlotte is rich, entitled, more than a little thoughtless, and occasionally a bit dim, but she is BEST FRIEND ever to come out of the Disney canon. She does so much for Tiana, without ever thinking that Tiana owes her anything. This includes respecting Tiana’s love of work (though she does not understand it), giving Tiana what she’ll accept (which is not always a lot), and, most awesomely, KISSING THE DAMN FROG on the off chance that she can save her friend, and make her happy*.

The most interesting Disney Princess, to me, is Mia Thermopolis of THE PRINCESS DIARIES, because Mia is a modern princess, in every way the others can’t be. And, more importantly, what finally, finally, gets her to decide to BE a princess is not pink dresses or frilly tea parties or the ridiculous castle she is going to live in: it is her sense of responsibility. That sense of responsibility, and the idea that she can Do Good, prompts her to give up everything she knows, leave her friends and her mother, and travel to a country she’s never seen. Eventually, that same sense of responsibility leads her to consider an arranged marriage, not because she wants to, but because it is the best thing she can do for her people**. It’s kind of amazing.

To deny the Princess story is to deny the amazing political power that these girls and women hold. There is a book called A GOLD STAR FOR ZOG that my sister was very excited about (it was just published in North America, though it has been in Australia and New Zealand for a while). In the book, a dragon named Zog is in training to be the best dragon he can be, and is aided at various times in his studies by a local princess, to the point where she allows him to kidnap her. She becomes a healer, and patches up the other dragons when they get injured during their training. When a knight shows up to rescue her, she convinces him to follow his own heart, at which point he decides to also be a healer, and becomes her apprentice, and the pair of them fly off with Zog as their transport. At first glance, I should have loved this book.

But.

But what happens to her kingdom? If she was the heir, they’re screwed. Her parents would have invested time in her education and training to rule the kingdom. If she was supposed to marry for dynastic purposes, there could be civil war, and possibly even war with another country. Being a doctor is all well and noble, but I can’t help thinking that her kingdom would have been about a million times better off had she done her duty, become Queen, and founded a medical school.

At one point, the princess even says that she doesn’t want to be a princess, because princesses are useless. And that? That means she never knew how to be a princess in the first place. And by telling children that story, we are ruining the potential for them to realize how, sometimes, what you are is more important than what you want, but that it can be a good and rewarding thing anyway.

“With great power comes great responsibility” is not just something to be said to Spiderman. It applies to princesses too, and to the girls who want to be like them. It’s what made BRAVE so fantastic. As we speak, it is being fantastically chronicled in the Teen section of your local bookstore.

There needs to be an understanding passed to girls (and boys), that whether they are like Charlotte, Mulan or Mia, there is nothing wrong with princesses. Fairy-tales have always existed to provide morals, and if we’ve let those morals become outdated, we’ve failed our children and we have no one to blame but ourselves. The only problems with girls liking princesses are the problems we give them. If they understand – really understand – what comes with the tiara, we’ll all be better people for it.

Recommendations***

THE PRINCESS ACADEMY and PALACE OF STONE, by Shannon Hale. (6+)
HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE, by Diana Wynne Jones (10+)
GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS and CROWN OF EMBERS, by Rae Carson (14+)
THE PRINCESS DIARIES, by Meg Cabot (book and movie, 12+)
STAR WARS (it is NEVER too early for Princess Leia. Also, include the prequels, especially THE PHANTOM MENACE because the Handmaidens are amazing)

 

 

 

*To be clear, Tiana is also an amazing princess based on her work ethic and self-awareness alone, but she falls into the Mulan category, and I was trying to spread around the credit for AWESOME as much as possible.
**It’s a  bit funny, though. Because, really, the only thing better than Captain Kirk by way of Thor and Emma Swan is Captain Kirk by way of Gimli. I will never understand how anyone could go for Chris Pine when Callum Blue was an option, but clearly I am much too shallow for this.
***It goes without saying that I can talk about this forever, right? I mean, I’ll keep it short, but if you are related to me (by which I mean “have attended a family wedding”) and want me to read things to your kids, I’m probably down with it.

Looking Out The Window

Since I am about to plunge into my own revisions and face down decisions about what to do with things like cellphones and laptop computers, I thought it might be a good time to talk about credibility in fiction when it comes to methods of communication. Or, you know, it’s entirely possible that I’ve been thinking a lot about Middle Earth and this just seems like as good a post as any to hang this on. You pick. 🙂

Anyhoodle, one of the things I always had an easy time wrapping my head around as a kid was how BIG Middle Earth was. I know a lot of people complain about the plodding pace of the Hobbit and The Fellowship, in particular, but it’s a LONG way anywhere in Middle Earth. The movies more or less completely fail to capture this, despite the lingering shots of New Zealand. They try. I mean, Gimli has a line about how it’s been three days without sight of their quarry, but I have my doubts that the days and days in Mirkwood (without food, no less!) will make it into the movie.

And mostly that’s fine. There are nuances that simply do not translate well to modern movies, even though it does have the unfortunate side effect of making Thranduil look like a jerk because he could have solved 90% of Middle Earth’s problems, had he LOOKED OUT THE WINDOW on occasion.

(You can’t just blame the elves for this, by the way. Pretty much all of the various races of Middle Earth are equally bad at it. No, seriously. When Balin and Ori and Oin went to Moria, they sent regular updates for a while. And then they just stopped. And for TWENTY-FIVE YEARS, the Erebor dwarves were all “You know, maybe we should…” but didn’t. I mean, it’s not like Balin had set off for a hugely dangerous, much contested territory, where one time Dain MADE EYE CONTACT WITH THE DEVIL*.)

But that’s the thing about epic fantasy: there is no easy way to communicate. Hobbiton to the Lonely Mountain is like walking to Florida (as the crow flies, and over flat ground, neither of which are possible at the time of the Hobbit). Even when communication is aided by magical means**, there is usually some kind of price for it.

There’s a price for communication in contemporary settings too***. Technology moves very quickly now, so that even a book I wrote a year ago has somethings in it that are already dated.

The classic example, of course, is the movie YOU’VE GOT MAIL, which came out in 1998. Think of all the ways we couldn’t talk to each other fifteen years ago. I had an email address, because we all got one when we were in Australia, but I almost never used it once I got home because I had no one to email. I’m pretty sure we were still using Windows 95, and I don’t think we had the internet at home yet. And that was normal. We phoned Australia on special occasions, but it was expensive.

In the time since then, I’ve lived in 4 different countries, and the only time I had limited communication was in Jordan, when I had to walk down two flights of stairs to access the wireless. Even the workmen on site, who live in tin sheds next to the wadi, had cellphones.

So. The problem in writing stories becomes keeping technology reasonably current, without making it immediately dated. There are still a lot of ways to cheat. Your protagonist can have “old fashioned” parents, who limit them to clunky cellphone with no data plan. Your protagonist can be forced to pay for his or her own technology, thereby limiting access to whatever is available on the current minimum wage or babysitting rate. Your protagonist can have a teacher who insists on handwritten essays because he is concerned about the lack of penmanship in his current generation of students.

That’s enough for a start. But you still have to make decisions like “is there going to be a Facebook-equivalent?” and “How smart are their smart phones?” and “Why didn’t I write a book where they all live in the woods and use candles for reading lights?”

The most important thing is to be consistent. If Thranduil never looks out the window and notices that Sauron has moved in across the street, he has to keep not looking out the window. If your character has an iPhone in chapter one, she needs a good excuse to write an essay on paper in chapter seven. Ask kids, ask their teachers, and ask their parents. Someone will tell you what makes the most sense.

Failing that, keep good notes and do your best not to freak out when your editor notices a small plot discrepancy and then asks you what your take on the technological development of the world you half-invented is. Which is certainly not what I spent last week stewing over****. Keep a grip on the world you’ve built, and nine times out of ten, it’ll have an answer for you when you need it.

*Except, you know, THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED.
**Or magical moths. Or Brain Skyping with Galadriel.
***And Sci-fi too, I hasten to add, though usually in sci-fi you can just break whatever it is your characters use .
****Kind of is.

A Year in Blogging

Last January, when I decided to start blogging, I thought I would follow a pretty distinct schedule: a post about writing, a post about me, a book review, a short story, (possibly a guest post, if the month allowed). I did not do anything like that, but at the same time, I think I did manage to blog enough, and say what I wanted to.

When I began, I was thinking of editing and querying. Since I sold THE STORY OF OWEN in May, my goals have shifted a bit. I probably won’t post too much more often this year, but I am hoping to have a significantly more dragon/music/story themed posts when I do. Also, I hope to not fall off the wagon so dramatically once the summer rolls around. But I guess we’ll see.

My most popular post is still THE SHARPIE PENCIL, and my most popular day is the WoW when I was reblogged by Sarah Rees Brennan. I get a lot of searches for cupcakes, my own name, and “i often wonder if more girls were willing to be ladies”. I am happy to see that “LOW LIGHT”, my only short story of the year, is one of my top five in terms of hits.

There’s been a lot of talk about writing blogs this year, and whether or not they are of particular merit. I really, really doubt that my “how I got published” story will ever be of use to anyone, for example, which is why I have never detailed it here. I’ve also not talked about my process, which is largely “open computer, type”.  I’d much rather talk about other stuff, which is mostly what I do (though I try to be somewhat more professional than I am on my livejournal).

Speaking of that, I have no plans to continue my book reviews at this point. I’ll still read a lot, but I think I’ll limit them to Twitter. This year, I want to LOVE more books instead of READ more books. After three years of counting, I think I am ready for that. Also, there are a lot of things I wish to re-read, and I am very much looking forward to that.

Oh, and also I really liked The Hobbit. REALLY, REALLY. So there will also probably be a lot of posts about that, ranging from the writing to the music to my unexpected love of the dwarves to…well, everything. Ten years ago, I went head over heels with the Lord of the Rings online community, and it looks like I’m about to do the same with The Hobbit*.

As for books, well, that would be telling. I am very excited to work with my 2014 debut group (though I confess that with the insanity of Retail Christmas, I kind of forget what I promised to do), and I am looking forward to finding good pictures to use for the promotion of THE STORY OF OWEN. And, of course, there will be new books. I’m not sure of their shape yet, but I have a few things that I’ve been waiting to poke at, and I am very excited to finally get started.

January is kind of an arbitrary time for promises. There’s no real reason why you can’t do all of this in, say, July. But after working at the stores so much after Thanksgiving in October, I’m…ready to start over. I’m going to take a week-long nap (and maybe go see The Hobbit two or six more times), and then, well, Further Up and Further In!

 

 

 

*I’m not kidding. During the writing of this, I spent approximately 3 hours reading THE APPENDICES and some more time on tumblr, because that is where the gifs are.

Waiting on Wednesday

I’m pleading exhaustion and skipping my Monday post altogether, but I think I have my head in the game enough to write a Waiting on Wednesday post, so LET’S DO THIS THING!

Today’s WoW book is THE GENERAL’S MISTRESS, by Jo Graham:

Admittedly, it doesn’t look like my usual fare. Except it’s about LOVE and MAGIC and GENERALLY BEING AWESOME during the Napoleonic era (ish). I got to test read this book when it was called something else, and when it was in another format, but I haven’t read this version and I’m not entirely sure what happens in it, so I can’t wait to find out.

Jo Graham has become one of my favourite writers since I started reading her stuff in 2010, and I am excited to go back into the Numinous World with her. I love trying to figure out who everyone is (true story: I am really bad at it! Except with Sigismund!), and even though I could easily look up what happened on wikipedia, Graham’s storytelling is so amazing that sometimes I forget stuff in her books happened in real life!

THE GENERAL’S MISTRESS comes out on October 23rd, and would be a great way to tide yourself over while you’re waiting for Les Miserableto come out in theatre. In the meantime, also check out Jo’s other books, particularly STEALING FIRE, which is beautiful, and THE RAVENS OF FALKENAU, which is…just stupendous (and $3.99 on ebook).

The world is a numinous place, for those who have eyes to see it…

Dating Advice From Maggie Stiefvater

I haven’t been to a lot of book events.

Part of this is because of geography. I grew up in a very small town, and the closest big bookstore was an hour away. Also, I didn’t realize that book events were a thing.

That changed in university. I was living two blocks from a Chapters, and one day there was a sign: AUTHOR SIGNING WITH TAMORA PIERCE AND J. FITZGERALD McCURDY! I was absolutely over the moon. I really liked JF-M’s books*, and my love of Tamora Pierce knows no bounds. So I got my boxed sets, and I went to the Chapters, and it was ABSOLUTELY PACKED.

Now, I have a slight fear of crowds, and also I was terrified at the idea of actually talking to Tamora Pierce, so I convinced myself to leave without even joining the line up**. So much for my first book event!

The next time I went to a book event, I had a year of working for Chapters under my belt, and I was also marginally less afraid of people. It was Cassie Clare and Holly Black, at Yorkdale. I got there an hour before it was scheduled to start, and the line-up took up the entire floor. I sat next to a lovely 14-year-old kid and his mother for three hours, unable to hear anything that was going on downstairs, and then at around 5PM, the line finally began to move.

We got downstairs by 5:30 (because they’d cleared the ground floor before they brought anyone else down), and there were Cassie and Holly. I had a couple of questions I wanted to ask, but when Cassie said “Oh, you’re from livejournal!” I completely blanked on what they were. She signed my book, and I stepped away to wait for the boy and his mum (we had decided to go for ice cream at about hour two***), and the boy held himself together much better than I did, asking very smart questions while Cassie signed.

At this point, Cassie and Holly had been there since 2 and it was almost 6. And yet both of them were still signing everything (which, at the time, was three books for Cassie and EIGHT, I think, for Holly), and they both talked to that boy like he was first person they had seen all day. I was very, very impressed.

On the drive home, I thought about my first book****.

The next book event I went to was the launch for R.J. Anderson’s WAYFARER, which was amusing because she invited me to her launch, didn’t tell me where it was, and I managed to find it anyway, because I knew the town where it was being held. I’ve been to a bunch of events with Rebecca since, both for her own books and for other authors. One of those people was MEGAN CREWE, whose THE WAY WE FALL is guaranteed to bring out your inner hypochondriac.

The other person is Maggie Stiefvater.

I missed Maggie and Tessa Gratton in the summer of 2011, because I was in Jordan. When Maggie announced her dates for Canada for THE RAVEN BOYS, I was determined to go, even though it was a Tuesday. Rebecca was on board, and we ended up with a whole carload of people.

Every book event I’ve ever been to is different. Sometimes it’s small, and you really get to talk to people. Sometimes it’s huge, and you bond with the people in line near you because you’re there for a long time. Usually, I’m by myself, but going with friends was way more fun. Plus, Maggie is really funny live.

Oh yes: dating advice.

There were a bunch of stories that Maggie told, some of which I knew from reading her blog (all of which were better spoken). But when someone asked who her favourite character in FOREVER was, she said:

“YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO DATE HIM! You are not allowed. Don’t do it. Don’t date someone like that. Find a Sam.”

Everyone laughed, but I really thought it was worth saying. “The Bad Boy” gets so much credit in fiction, and it was nice to hear someone say “Girls, just, please, don’t.”*****

What I have learned from book events is not to have expectations. That way, whether they end with frozen yoghurt, a pizza party or a very much abashed retreat to the bus stop without even getting anything signed, you’ve still have had a good time. Remember, meeting the author is nice, but meeting the fans, those people you share this great Thing with, can sometimes be much, much better.

Someday, I will be that author. I can only hope that I turn out to be as well-spoken and attentive as the women I have seen. I certainly can’t say I haven’t seen good examples!

 

 

 

*They’re hard to find, but if you or your kids would be interested in fantasy set in Ottawa, it’s worth it. Also, there’s a hilarious side-story to the books, which involve the Library of Parliament getting trashed at one point. Shortly after the release, the ACTUAL Library was closed to reconstruction and a huge dome was put on it and everything. Apparently Jean Chretien got a lot of letters from concerned children, asking if dwarves were helping with the work.
**Don’t think I haven’t regretted this ever since. Because I definitely have.
***There wasn’t ice cream, but there was a Yogen-Fruz, so it wasn’t a complete wash.
****Completely unDrafted, so you know. I have the idea and some names, but that’s it.
*****Except way more articulate than that.

Un-Stories

Back when I started watching Star Trek (professionally, so about fifteen years ago), I had a long talk with OB-Wan about how it would be fun if there was an episode where nothing happened. The warp core didn’t fluctuate. Nothing got its polarity reversed. The turbolifts operated perfectly. The holodecks didn’t malfunction. No one discovered anything new. No one made first contact. No one had a deep and meaningful conversation wherein they redefined the meaning of life. Nothing.

The closest they ever got (on purpose) was the episode LOWER DECKS, where it feels like nothing is happening because for a long time the characters can’t talk about it with each other. But there’s still a WHOLE lot going on*. As a thought experiment, though, it has really stuck with me, and there are elements of it in most of the stories I’ve written. What do you write about if nothing happens? Where does drama stop being manufactured and start being real.

I have to say, it’s freaking hard. In the first draft of THE STORY OF OWEN everyone was a completely reasonable human being all the time. No one fought. No one missed their homework. Everyone ate their vegetables. It was kind of dull.

It drives me crazy in fiction when TRAUMA happens just to move the story forward. Women in Refrigerators are the most obvious example of this, and nothing, NOTHING** will get me angry faster than a poorly written fridging. There’s a lot of talk about MANPAIN*** on the internet. It’s the one and only reason I broke up with Supernatural mid-season (mid-episode, actually. I was really angry), but it happens all the time. The Poor Hero is Stricken With Woe because one of the (usually female) people in his Woeful Life has been killed or kidnapped or something, and now he has All The Pain.

Drives. Me. Bonkers.

Oh, poor Arthur Pendragon! His mother is (often) dead! That must really be hard for him. And not, you know, HER. I’m sure dying in childbirth is a piece of cake. Oh, poor Luke Skywalker! His uncle and aunt got burned up by Storm Troopers. I BET THAT DIDN’T SUCK AT ALL FOR THEM! Oh, poor poor poor Sam and Dean Winchester*****. Don’t even get me STARTED.

But how do you tell the difference? What sets apart something like Buffy episode THE BODY? Or the West Wing episode TWO CATHEDRALS? How could Game of Thrones been less ludicrous? At what point does a story cross from “edgy and dark” to ridiculous?

(Confession: I cut female characters a lot more slack than I cut male ones, in terms of motivation-by-grief, mostly because I’m just so thrilled to SEE them. What turns me off a female character is too much time spent worrying about her looks, endless descriptions of how pretty The Boy is, and negative views of other women. But my point is that I am EXCEPTIONALLY biased. And I’m okay with that.)

Obviously, everyone is going to have a different answer to that question, but for me, paying attention to the Un-Stories makes all the difference, and if your (often male) character is motivated solely by the death of a tertiary (often female) character, we are going to have problems.

It’s challenging to write a YA novel with good parents. It’s not impossible, but it’s hard. YA novels rely almost entirely on kids making their own choices and decisions, while finding and/or making their own families. It makes sense that orphans, neglected waifs and rebels make up the bulk of the protagonists. Grown-ups have this distressing tendency to SOLVE PROBLEMS, or at least drive you where you need to go. And maybe pack a lunch for the road.

What I like to see is an author who really digs for it. In SERAPHINA, by Rachel Hartman (which you should all read), there is a Step-Mother and several Step-Siblings. They have exactly one scene with the protagonist, and in that scene, Rachel fought to use every inch of space for character development. I was very, very impressed. The family dynamics in Kristen Cashore’s books, especially FIRE, are nothing short of disastrous, and yet everything about them feels earned.

I guess what I’m saying is that I have trouble buying easy motivations. I bounce off of characters like Spike (Buffy), Logan Echolls (Veronica Mars) and Regina (Once Upon A Time), because they had so many opportunities to right their lives and took NONE of them (for draaaaama!). I prefer emotional depths to be plumbed and developments to be unraveled. That’s why I managed to read four versions of Cinderella, almost back to back in January without hitting Evil Step-Mother Overload: every one of them was real, and that made Cinderella’s reaction real too.

I really struggled hard with the characters in THE STORY OF OWEN, because I wanted them to like one another, but I didn’t want the story to be boring. Two of them in particular almost killed me, but focusing on the stories we don’t get to see, the stories that aren’t interesting enough to get published, got me through. I was able to play up the “boring” parts enough to keep them real, and not get sucked into the vortex of Disney Moms and Refrigerators.

How do you feel about draaaaaaaaama in stories? Do you love angst for angst’s sake? Would you prefer a quieter, slightly less turbulent string of developments? Do you prefer romance or family tension? Or something else?

 

 

 

 

*The Buffy episodes FLOODED and LIFE SERIAL don’t count because they’re making a point, and DOUBLEMEAT PALACE doesn’t count because it’s just awful TV.
**Few things.
***Watch this video. ****And then read all the notes.
****Careful, though. It might lead to the most inappropriate laughs you’ll have all day.
*****Seriously, there was ONE PERSON on that WHOLE SHOW who Hunted because it was the Right Thing To Do. And he was already dead so that his wife and daughter could be all We Too Have Suffered about it!

You Drew Me A Map, Right? (Part II: You Can’t Get There From Here)

In which I (eventually) review MAPHEAD, by Ken Jennings.

I work at a large format bookstore. And I love it. Some people complain that it’s soulless and corporate, and sometimes they’re right, but mostly I love the idea of this ENORMOUS STORE that is mostly books*, and that you can walk in on almost any given day and find almost any given book**.

Of course, sometimes FINDING that book is hard. We do our best, but books invariably get shelved wrong. We are, I hasten to add, somewhat hobbled by the system. Alexander McCall Smith, for example, has titles that scan both as “McCall Smith” and “Smith”. Anne McCaffrey is split almost evenly between sci-fi and fantasy. And God help you if you’re looking for Arthur Conon Doyle***. I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking just put the book in the right place. Except then it won’t be in the “right” place when you’re counting. It’s a vicious cycle.

Outside the fiction section, problems increase. Turkey and Russia scan in both Asia and Europe****. Books about the War of 1812 are in Military History and Canadian History. Even the book I am gradually working my way up to reviewing gets screwed over and consigned to the Community and Culture section, where genuinely interesting books go to die.

(This is because books in that section are not old enough to be history, not controversial enough to be poli-sci, not science-y enough to be science, not boring enough to be business, and, though thanks to Alanis Morissette I’m no longer sure is this is irony, BECAUSE THERE IS NO GEOGRAPHY SECTION.)

The fact that Ken Jennings’s MAPHEAD ended up in the Comm and Cul section is why it took me so long to find it. I mean, it’s in trade paperback now, which means it’s been out for a while. I was excited to see it, though, because I adore maps and also I have vague memories of Ken Jennings being legitimately witty on Jeopardy (he did do those interviews for a REALLY LONG TIME, after all), so I decided to give it a whirl. I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, mostly because I don’t have TIME, but when I noticed that all of the chapter titles are very clever puns, I was pretty much sold.

Jennings’ doesn’t so much write about the history of maps as he write about why he loves them and how, in writing this book, he has come to understand how differently people love maps in different ways. In the “Age of the Geek”, this is not entirely news, but I have to be honest and say that I never get tired of seeing it. The reason I keep diverting into lengthy anecdotes about my own experience with maps is because Jennings does that himself in the book, and every story he tells makes the picture clearer.

I love maps because they show you how people thought, how they adapted, how they grew and how they learned to take advantage of their situation. I love big maps and small maps, but I am mostly drawn to maps of people. In this, I am very much an archaeologist. Maps of the ocean floor or Jupiter don’t really intrigue me that much, but I’ll stare forever at a map of a made-up place, because you can learn so much about the people who lived there*****. There’s a reason my proposed PhD thesis is about landscape use and defense.

I’ve lived in two very confusing towns, which I love because it means that my idea of where I am is tied to the shape of the city. I’ve lived in a grid, measured carefully and numbered in a way that makes no sense (and then renamed when we got 911 coverage). I’ve see the survey cheat lines from the air, and I’ve driven through Saskatchewan, down a straighter road than I thought was humanly possible.

I really, really enjoyed MAPHEAD, even though I keep talking about something else. It just made me THINK so much, about all my favourite maps and all my favourite stories and all the times I’ve rolled my eyes at my parents’ newfound inability to find ANYTHING without the friendly Australian who lives in their GPS telling them where it is. Jennings tells a detailed story, personal and technical and funny, and I even learned a few things along the way! It is, to put it bluntly, exactly the kind of book a person should write after they win a lot of money on Jeopardy!: brilliant, funny, full of information that is mostly useless, and oddly useful at the same time.

In closing, here is my favourite map story of the moment (probably because it involves a creature we used to comedic and heart-wrenching effect in the SANCTUARY fandom…): semi-intelligent slime mold proves efficiency of US Interstate system******.

 

 

 

 

*There is a growing “lifestyle” section, which is frustrating, but at least it’s pretty! And, most importantly, it keeps the bookstore alive, so I’m a fan.
**OH GOD, it’s funny when we sell out of something! People get SO ANNOYED! They’re all “But…you THE BOOK CABAL! You’re supposed to have EVERYTHING!” and I’m all “Trust me, you didn’t want to read Fifty Shades of Grey anyway! Read FIRE instead.”
***Two last names AND he’s split between three sections? THERE IS NO EASY WAY! Well, there is. But tell that to the guy who programs the computers and my co-workers and the “helpful” customers, all of whom keep putting THE LOST WORLD in the MYSTERY section!
****Remember how I mentioned Turkey and Russia earlier? Well it gets worse. The travel section is divided into Canadian (provinces in geographical order), American (states by region: NE, SE, NW, NE, which would be fine, except for the Mid-West), and then the other continents, divided alphabetically by country. Which, again, is fine. Because most people know that Berlin is in Germany, and therefore not shelved between Belgium and all the books about Prague. But when you get to places like The Amalfi Coast or books with more than one country/city, it gets kind of ridiculous. Also, just this morning I found out that Cyprus scans both as its own country in Europe AND as a Greek Territory…which might be fuel for an international incident of some kind.
*****Like, for example, the fact that neither Celeborn NOR Thranduil ever looked out a window.
******In hindsight, most of these footnotes could have been their own post…

Waiting on Wednesday

Once upon a time, there was a girl made of smoke and bone. Everyone read her story, and for a long time, my twitter feed was full of love. I finally got my act together and read it, and found that I had not been mislead.

Also, Laini Taylor’s DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE led to my favourite thing I have ever said about a book:

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is like a TARDIS. First you’re all “Huh! It really IS bigger on the inside!” and then you’re all “HOLY CRAP THERE IS A SWIMMING POOL IN HERE!”

Needless to say, I am thrilled that the second book, DAYS OF BLOOD AND STARLIGHT will soon be out.

Well, “soon”. But still.

I’m not going to post the Amazon description because it gives away the ending of the first book (WHICH YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY READ), but trust me when I say that I will be there on November 6th, when this book becomes available.

You Drew Me A Map, Right?

At the end of almost every game of Settlers of Catan I’ve ever played, I find myself looking at the board and thinking “this would make a really good story.” I don’t mean the trading and the invading pirates, though. I mean the map. The roads. The places where people chose to put their villages. I’ve played Settlers with some great, though geographically unlikely, boards. I’ve also played with some AWFUL ones. You know, the ones where the ore is all on one side and the wheat is all on the other, and no one can build cities, so it goes FOREVER.

I love those boards.

When I first started test reading for Faith King and Laura Josephsen, I read straight through the draft while Faith was at work. I emailed her approximate 400 times that day, finally volunteering to drive down to where she lived to draw her a map, because it was driving me bonkers. Then Laura, who I had just met*, sent me the map the next day, and all was well.

You see, I really love maps. Most of my favourite books have maps**. Most of those maps are hanging on the wall of my bedroom right now. It bothers me IMMENSELY when people write books that take place in other places (or future places with different borders) and don’t include a map. Characters and plot are lovely, but I’m a world girl, and if you really want me to love a book on sight, a map goes a long way to getting me there.

I’m from a small town that people don’t always leave. And if they leave, they don’t always go very far. When I was a kid, my parents took us traveling. We went down East, to Florida a bunch of times and around Ontario. When I got on the airplane that was going to take me to Australia in 1997, though, the furthest west I had ever been was Goderich, 45 minutes from my house***. There have always been lines on maps, and I have always been able to read them and understand where I am. Well, at least in my memory. 🙂

There’s a world map in my parents’ kitchen with tiny red pins stuck where ever we’ve been. They give that map as a wedding present now, all mounted on cork board. There were six of us and we were always on a tight budget, but we went places. We had one gameboy and 1-3 walkmen, but we managed not to kill each other. Of course, then we all grew into giants, and travel got kind of awkward, but by then at least EJ and SJ had moved out.

The memorization of geography has always been fun for me, but as I grew up, I came to love maps because of what they tell you about the people who live “in” them. My absolute favourite map, ever, was shown to me by my OAC History teacher, and it pretty much solidified my love, not of history, but of people in history.

It was a pop quiz for extra credit. My teacher said “Okay, guys, I’m going to put a map up on the board, and I want you to see if you can tell me what it is, and who the circled person is. I’ll give you hints when you need them.” Up went the picture. Two seconds later, up went my hand. I’d never seen this map before in my life, but as soon as I saw it, I knew what it depicted, as if I could smell the horses and gun powder myself****.

“It’s the Battle of the Little Big Horn,” I said. “And that’s Custer.”

The fact that I was able to identify it so quickly and show off in class is not why it’s my favourite map of all time. What makes it awesome is that it was found in the lining of a quiver that was turned into the Smithsonian for preservation, and also that it is the ONLY PIECE OF WRITTEN EVIDENCE from that period in history that is told from the perspective of a Native American. Can you imagine finding something like that? I would probably cry.

I understand that not everyone loves that feeling*****. Trust me, having had to explain to countless people why holding a broken pot from three thousand years ago (or a child’s skull from the 11th century) is such a profound experience for me, I understand that it is not something everyone will like. Heck, you hand me a First Nation artefact, and I’m all “Great, but where’s your defensive architecture?” But I do love it. I love knowing that this shaped a person and was shaped by a person. Maps do that on TREMENDOUS scale. You can see the end of the empire, the oncoming famine, the potential for growth and exploration, all outline on the map. I’ve driven to Alberta and back, seen the map come to life, and all I know for certain is that I want to get back in the car and drive some more.

Fictional or non-fictional, past and full of holes or future and full of possibility, maps show us where we’ve been and where we’re going. And, if you’re lucky, how to get there.

 

 

 

 

*Seriously, I read her novel before we had a single conversation. I’d known Faith for about a year, and we had been reading each other’s fic for longer than that, but with Laura it was all “This is my novel, and also I like Star Wars and Avatar.” Obviously, it went well.
**True story, I once knocked an entire point off of POISON STUDY for not having a map, and then went back and retroactively put it back to 10/10 because one of the sequels had a map.
***Lies: the furthest west I’d ever been was Hoover (if you count being in a place) or Birmingham (if you count getting snowed in at and therefore sleeping in a place).
****If anyone can find that map for me, I would be eternally grateful. My google-fu is failing me.
*****I will also, incidentally, support your right to not know where stuff is, provided you don’t treat ignorance as some sort of lofty goal and remain open to the possibility of looking it up. There are a lot of things I don’t know. That’s why I ask questions.

Waiting on Wednesday

THE MARK OF ATHENA HAS A COVER, AND OMG! OMG! OMG!

Are they fighting? ARE THEY DUELING EACH OTHER ON PEGASI? DOES MY SPELLCHECKER NEED TO HAVE COOLER WORDS?

Let me just start this again.

So the newest book in the HEROES OF OLYMPUS comes out on October 2, and I am understandably excited about it. So far, this series has more than lived up to its predecessor, and Riordan shows no signs of slowing down. Not even two books a year is impeding his ability to write good stuff. So a book about my patron goddess? YEAH, I AM NOT THRILLED ABOUT THAT AT ALL.

The book description gives away nothing we don’t already know: heroes, journeys, prophecy, foreign vacations and possible in-fighting. And, you know, memory loss. And even without know what’s what, I’m STILL really pumped about it.

Thank goodness I’ve got other stuff to look forward to this summer. Waiting for THE MARK OF ATHENA is going to be hard!