When deciding which book to read…

“The book to read is not the one that thinks for you but the one which makes you think.”

– Harper Lee

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Canadian Radio CJRU Book Interview September 27!

On Wednesday, September 27 at 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time, listen to my interview on CJRU 1280 AM’s All My Books, a wonderful bookclub show hosted by Jacky Tuinstra Harrison. We’ll be talking all about Locke and Keye, including inspirations, how etiquette and respect for authority of the Victorian era play into the book, the mantra the locksmiths repeat, and so much more, plus a live reading!

Don’t live in Canada? You can stream it online: http://www.thescopeatryerson.ca/en/thescope/shows/805/All-My-Books.htm

Thanks for listening!

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Perrault vs. Andersen vs. Grimm Fairy Tales

Yesterday was Charles Perrault’s 388th birthday, and being one of the fathers of some of our modern fairy tales, I wanted to celebrate. Well, consider this a belated celebration. There are three main authors who have had a major impact on fairy tales and whose stories lived on through Disney movies – only usually quite different. (1) Charles Perrault, (2) Hans Christian Andersen, and (3) the Brothers Grimm. While they all had a major role in building the fairy tales we know today, they each had their own way of telling tales and weaving stories. Here are the differences between them:

Charles Perrault

The birthday boy goes first! Some of Perrault’s most famous works include “Sleeping Beauty”, “Little Red Riding Hood”, and “Cinderella”. First, let me start by saying that all of these are different in one way or the other from the Disney versions and modern retellings. I’d say “Little Red Riding Hood” is the closest to the version we know today, “Cinderella” comes in second, and “Sleeping Beauty”, surprisingly, finishes last. “Sleeping Beauty” is quite different than the Disney version and even includes a child-eating ogre for the prince’s mother.

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Some common traits among Perrault’s fairy tales:

  • they had a moral of the story, although sometimes the moral was beyond what a child could understand. (“Little Red Riding Hood” had a moral that warned women against men who were charismatic wolves.) The moral is often spelled out at the end, a la Aesop’s Fables.
  • they were harsher than the Disney version
  • they tried to teach women that beauty is nice but it’s nothing without graciousness regardless of society’s expectations
  • they had some violence
  • many are fine for children

Hans Christian Andersen

Did you know Andersen wrote “The Little Mermaid”? Let me tell you something. This is no Arielle and Eric story. This is brutal. Andersen’s Christian/evangelical stories could also be brutal (read “The Red Shoe” – it’s disturbing), so don’t think they’re safe just because they’re religion based. Many of Andersen’s stories are at least very dark if not pretty violent, but there are certainly some that aren’t so bad, like “The Puppeteer”, which I expected to be horrific but it wasn’t.

Some common traits in Andersen’s tales include:

  • they had a moral of the story, but usually not spelled out. Sometimes Andersen plays with the reader and essentially tells you there wasn’t too much of a point.
  • they were much harsher than the Disney version
  • they taught positive lessons through the hard lives of poor people and through unfortunate events and circumstances
  • they sometimes had violence that could cause at least a PG-13 rating
  • some are okay for children, but it depends on if you want to scare them into good behavior

The Brothers Grimm

Well known for their bloody tales, the brothers Grimm told the story of Cinderella in a way that little children should never hear. “Little Red Riding Hood” has a very clever grandmother that saves her life (as opposed to Perrault’s version, in which both women die). “Sleeping Beauty” is much closer to the Disney version than Perrault’s.

rapunzel grimm

Much like Andersen, the Grimms have some Christian/evangelical tales that could be violent, but the one theme through most of the Grimm tales is that pure goodness is always repaid with either marriage/wealth as rewards or miracles like healing blinded eyes (“Rapunzel”, believe it or not) and growing back hands that were cut off (“The Maiden Without Hands”).

Some common traits throughout the Grimm brothers’ tales are:

  • they sometimes had a moral of the story, more often than not that being good in every way is the only thing that matters
  • some are harsher than the Disney version and some are shockingly similar to the Disney version
  • the lesson is: goodness, goodness, goodness. And obedience, even if it means having your hands chopped off by your own father – willingly.
  • 50/50 chance of violence and more frequent attempts to kill good maidens rather than just punish them
  • some of the simpler ones might be okay for children, but just because it has a recognizable name doesn’t mean it’s going to be nice

I have one recommendation for you: read various versions of your favorite fairy tale, including versions from different countries. You’ll be surprised how different they are and how much you can learn about a culture through those differences!


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Introducing the Best Fantasy Books Subgenre Reading Challenge!

With reading challenges galore, I decided to make my own this year. I had a chat with BestFantasyBooks.com, and they have been gracious enough to let me use their site name and their subgenre lists to define this challenge!

Introducing the BEST FANTASY BOOKS SUBGENRE READING CHALLENGE!

65 fantasy subgenres = 65 fantasy books in a year, including ones you’ve heard of (high fantasy, epic fantasy, paranormal fantasy) and ones you haven’t (weird west fantasy, flintlock fantasy, prehistoric fantasy). The list of books has already been chosen by yours truly through consulting BFB’s subgenre lists, both the lists by BFB and the crowd-ranked lists on their site. There will be a poll for a couple of subgenres, so you’ll get to pick the read for them. Currently we’re reading The Eye of the World, an epic fantasy classic from The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan.

Why am I doing this challenge? For two reasons: (1) to become much more familiar with the fantasy genre as a whole and (2) to help force myself to increase my pleasure reading speed. More details in my video introducing this reading challenge:

If you’d like to read some of our selections, come join the Goodreads group! You don’t have to read all 65 subgenres to be part of the group. You can read however much you want. Hope to see you there!

My Holiday Read Recommendations

This year I wanted to read a multitude of holiday books, but my plans got derailed when my dog went in for major surgery. I haven’t had enough time to read more than one book at a time, and I can’t read it very fast either. I’d already started developing a list of holiday books back in October that I wanted to read this December, so I’m going to have to save them for next year. I’ve found Christmas-centric, Hannukah-centric, but no Kwanza-centric yet. If you have a Kwanza-centric book to recommend that isn’t for children, let me know!

I’ve got two very different (read: opposite) books to recommend to you for this holiday season:

1. The Yuletide Angel by Sandra Ardoin ($0.99)

The Yuletide Angel

This is the most warm, comforting, enjoyable book ever. It’s a novella that I can read year after year in winter and fall in love with all over again. Ardoin deserves every bit of praise she’s gotten for this book. Taking place in Victorian times, the Yuletide Angel “itself” takes a back seat to the main characters in the book, Hugh Barnes and Violet Madison, who seem destined to be together regardless of his painful shyness and her strong will. For a novella, a whole lot is packed in, and I had to force myself not to read it all at once so I could enjoy it for a little while. Find my full review on Goodreads here.

2. Fall From Grace by J. Edward Ritchie ($0.99)

This novel is the opposite of the previous one, and I haven’t finished it yet, but I can already recommend it. I can’t say I know the story of the fall of Satan from heaven, except for the very basics. I can say that this book has inspired me to read the original text. Fall From Grace reads as if it were the real text. Well, maybe a little more pumped up, but it just sounds so…real. I never expected to say that about something classified as fantasy, but I feel as if I’m reading the true story of what happened, like I’m watching it from a hidden corner. I can’t wait to read the actual text and see how close – or not close – they are.

Leave your own holiday read recommendations in the comments so I can read them next year. I’m looking to continue building my list!

An Interview with Me – as a Reader

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed – as a reader – by the lovely Adrianna Joleigh, a fellow fiction author and poet. Check out the interview here: http://bit.ly/10qbAI1. In the interview, I talk about what I look for in a book before I buy it, what I dislike in writing styles, how not to bore a reader, and more.

Check out Adrianna’s whole “Inside the Minds of Our Readers” interview series for tips from other readers on what their preferences are. As an author, you can’t find more valuable tips than directly from readers’ mouths!

Why Bel Canto is a Lesson in Good Writing

I recently read the novel Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. It’s not something I would normally read as the storyline parallels a real-life terrorist event, the 1996 Lima Crisis. The basis of this book, however, is not terrorism. There’s much more to it than that, which is what makes it such a good read.

From a writer’s point of view, there are many things to learn from this book, simply by understanding the strategy used to fascinate the reader. Here are some of the most important things I observed.bel canto

Unusual perspectives: Patchett allows the following controversial perspective to play a large role in her book: terrorists are people, too. We see that each terrorist has his or her own hopes and dreams, some as simple as learning to write, some as desperate as needing a cure for his easily-curable-for-those-with-money disease. We see each terrorist’s own lack of desire to be…well…terrorists. In fact, Patchett doesn’t deal much at all with what they are actually trying to accomplish beyond capturing the president of an unnamed South American country.

The terrorists enjoy normal things like soccer, singing, and chess. By the end of the book, each terrorist has at least one special and deep connection to at least one hostage, including a romance, a teacher/student relationship, and an adoptive father/son relationship. The terrorists begin to see each other differently, too, and have greater respect and understanding of one another as individuals.

Humanity left to humanity: I haven’t seen many authors or movies realistically accomplish presenting a believable scenario of how humans might react to each other in a perfect world. This book does that, which is especially surprising for the subject matter.

While the book starts relatively quickly with a hostage situation, the terrorists in charge acting as would be expected, the longer the hostages and the terrorists are stuck in the same house together with no immediate way out, the more relaxed everything becomes. The reader is reminded here and there that if the terrorists are tested, they are ready to shoot hostages. However, they never do, and through inadvertent trust, steadily mounting respect, and growing kinship, they all relax over time as they know they’re all stuck together until something major changes…and none of them mind. In fact, there’s only one character who wants to leave because he misses his wife, but he also hopes to take a terrorist with him and adopt him as a son. The characters  form such close bonds that by the end, one of the characters even says they’d like to stay forever, and none of them want the “balance” to change.

As they have no responsibilities but to try to get along and enjoy their time somehow, it’s all relatively enjoyable for them, more and more so as the novel progresses. The lesson learned in the end is that without work and responsibilities, everyone could get along on their own, without psychologists and complications, despite their differences.

Reversing expected roles and reactions: While the terrorists are supposed to be the “bad guys”, in the end (and quite controversially), it’s the government’s SWAT team saving the hostages which the reader ends up despising. This is a complete role reversal and goes against everything you would naturally assume, but Patchett accomplishes this effortlessly. This is an amazing way to end a book (though there’s an epilogue afterwards that I personally think would’ve been best left off) and catches the reader off guard with his or her own reaction to something so unusual, even if they already knew what was generally going to happen.

Controversial becomes commonplace: The greatest accomplishment of this book is that Patchett turns something controversial – the concept that terrorists are people too – and eases the reader into thinking it’s not only not so far fetched, but it’s not a big deal. She starts out by describing the terrorists and the situation in the way expected: as frightening,  seemingly violent, and stressful. But very slowly, Patchett eases the reader into actually feeling bad for the terrorists and their individual problems and shortcomings because of their poverty. Besides the generals, most of the terrorist “soldiers” are quite young – much younger than the hostages. Their lives are just beginning, but they have no opportunities to better themselves. Then, again very slowly, Patchett  convinces the reader that the terrorists are just like everyone else. One of them even speaks directly to her Catholic patron saint, who answers and guides her in return.

All in all, Patchett’s Bel Canto is remarkable not only for its value as a good book, but as a lesson to writers on how to captivate your audience and set your book apart from the rest. Even if you’re not overly interested in the storyline, I highly recommend reading it as a writing study.

Let me know what you think of the book or its writing strategies in the comments!