There And Draft Again

A Fellowship of Fantasy Writers

Review: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski May 21, 2014

Filed under: Reading — thereanddraftagain @ 9:00 am
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At the urging of many a book blogger, I pre-ordered The Winner’s Curse long before release, received the gorgeous hardcover, and somehow managed to squish in reading it. I’m typically terrible about finding the time to joy read, but HOLY COW THIS BOOK. It gripped me. I stayed up way too late and ignored friends and simply basked in this masterpiece. (Also had a happy panic attack when this happened.) I have a hundred and one things to say about it, but I’ll do my best to narrow it down to four or five. First off, the writing. I loved some of the unusual descriptions that many people wouldn’t be able to get away with, but somehow the author was able to make them totally work. Those lines that I’m always afraid are a little too ironic or a little too intense? She puts them in there, guys! And not just anywhere. They are chapter endings. THE ACTUAL ENDING, ZOMG. This is what prompted me to gush all over Twitter that I think I have a kindred spirit, to run out and buy all her other books pronto. I’m now a crazy fan, thank you very much.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten my adoration for the writing off of my chest, there’s Kestrel. I haven’t liked a main character this much in years. She’s smart and cunning, and she knows how to use her intelligence without rubbing everybody’s face in it. Her personality was realistic and deep. I loved that she didn’t go around earning respect by being as tough or attractive as others. Instead, she was very much her own person, with her own tastes and friends and qualities and weaknesses. I love a character with a passionate streak, or deeply wounded with complicated motivations, and even some who are harsh and unforgiving, but I also love a character with downright sense. Kestrel is sensible while still managing to feel things deeply, and she knows how to strategize around life crap that gets thrown at her. Basically, I adore her.

Arin, the Herrani slave Kestrel wins at auction at the beginning of the story (thus invoking the “Winner’s Curse”) was expertly layered in every sense. His entire race has been conquered and made slaves — and that alone is enough to justify the bitterness he shows toward his purchaser — but he’s not whiny at all, and that made me literally want to hug him. He is displeased and incensed by his circumstances, so he sets out to change them, and he does so in a smoldering cloud of awesome. The conflict between him and Kestrel was crackling, and I liked it even more than their romance. There’s nothing quite like two honorable characters, equal of mind and soul, going at each other with words [knives, swords, poison, chains…ahem].

The secondary characters do not disappoint — Kestrel’s friends, Jess and Ronan (especially Ronan); an opponent of hers, Irex; and perhaps my favorite, Kestrel’s father, a general in the Valorian army — are all interesting, complex, and real in their own right.

Oh wait, General Trajan totally deserves his own paragraph because the father/daughter relationship is so freaking flawless. Kestrel’s father sometimes seems too unemotional and commanding, yet the way his wife died gives him cause to pull away AND cause to want his daughter to be as rugged and logical as possible. Also? He treats her as an equal. So much of the Young Adult genre eloquently reflects how idiotic parents can seem to a teenager, but I LOVE that someone decided to portray a teen that is actually pretty good at putting herself in her parent’s shoes and understanding him as a person (teens can be sympathetic and observant too, y’know). Trajan, although rather emotionally challenged, does everything he can to give her equal parts privilege and responsibility. And although she finds herself disagreeing entirely with his political views, Kestrel manages to never personally betray him — which, you know, just made me ❤ ❤ ❤ her all the more.

I love that Rutkoski doesn’t shy away from showing many sides of mortality. There are slimy characters, people we think are well-meaning who turn out to be douchy, and there are beautiful, sacrificial souls that might have seemed shallow until the surface was scratched. (I AM rather bitter that we didn’t see enough Ronan in this book. I want more Ronan.) Nothing in the story was overtly magical, and that made me love it ten times more. Kestrel’s world is layered in history and humanity instead of symbolism and supernatural powers. I’ve always been drawn toward the more realistic/historical worlds in the fantasy genre, especially where the greatest emphasis is on the characters. The Winner’s Curse is the first in a trilogy, so there’s more coming, YAY!

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–Rachel O’Laughlin

 

 

That’s How It’s Done: Siege and Storm March 12, 2014

This past month I finished reading the fabulous Leigh Bardugo‘s second installment in the Grisha Trilogy, Siege and Storm. I actually didn’t enjoy it as much as the first book, Shadow and Bone (for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is that the first book is pretty hard to top), but the fact that I wasn’t thoroughly engrossed gave me the chance to read it slowly and really parse the writing style as a whole.

There are certain things we are told are against the rules of writing, and usually they’re fairly good points. But sometimes these rules of thumb are based on what’s in style, so it’s a good idea to know why and to what you are conforming. Don’t just take advice because it’s thrown out there as advice — always determine whether or not it’s right for your novel, and keep aware of the reasons these trends are circulating and to what audience[s] they apply.

As I read Siege and Storm, I noticed a bunch of things that broke *sacred* rules, and yet worked well for this novel, and I felt I just had to point them out.

— Telling v. Showing
We’re always told, “Show, don’t tell,” and generally speaking it’s a wonderful rule. But guys, there’s boatloads of telling in Siege and Storm. BOATLOADS. Whenever there’s a folk tale or history that needs to be explained, it’s usually done right there in the middle of the narrative instead of in the voice of a character or in relation to the stakes. Sometimes the description is so dry that you could swear Alina isn’t observing it herself (as we might assume she must be, since the entire series is in her first person narrative). Sometimes characters’ powers and attributes are described in a drifty, blank, who-the-frig-is-talking voice instead of Alina’s. But somehow, it works. It feels very classic, old school, and large scale.

— Lots of Action, followed by lots of Nothing
Usually pacing is a huge concern for us writers. We want to be sure our action is interspersed with reflection and dialogue in a thoughtful manner so that the crescendo at the end of the book can hit the reader with maximum force. Siege and Storm opened with seven solid chapters of pure action, then slowed to a lilting, description-heavy pace for almost the entire novel until the very, very end, where we again encountered intense action just in time for the story to wrap up. I’m a huge fan of tension throughout an entire story, so this unusual pacing should have left a bitter taste in my mouth. Yet it felt unique and truly endearing. I was pleased that the book hadn’t unfolded as I expected. Surprise is nice. Very nice.

— Passive Voice
This one is the kicker. Passive voice, passive voice, passive voice. Everyone hates passive voice. We all do. It feels lazy when we find it in our own manuscripts, and it looks lazy when we see it in others. If we could make it die finally and forever, we would. But it always creeps back up on us and lurks in the shadows whenever we’re having an off-day. To be completely honest, when I first encountered passive voice in Siege and Storm, I switched into critique mode and was tempted to take out a red pen. “Passive! Kill it with fire!” But I couldn’t. I was reading the novel of an author I admire, the second in a series I was breathless to hear the end of. So I kept reading. After awhile, I started to realize the passive had a gorgeous part to play in the story. Alina is going through some really unusual struggles with her own psyche in this middle novel. She often isn’t sure who she is or what she wants, and she starts to view others with a detached lack of empathy. The Passive Voice is just that — detached, lacking the full experience. It’s very Alina, it’s very true (in this case), and it’s very freaking brave of Ms. Bardugo to put it out there right now.

This book reads like a classic, and I love classics. I have to admire it to pieces for being able to pull a Crazy Ivan on some of our modern writing rules and still be a huge success in today’s market.

Rachel O’Laughlin

 

The Rough-shod Middle Earth of Your Trilogy September 11, 2013

Filed under: Writing — thereanddraftagain @ 2:44 pm
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Yup. That’s me right now. Can any of you relate? For your sakes, I hope not.

They say the second book in a trilogy is the one that does you in, and I am here to tell you, believe it. The second book will rip something out. It might be your heart, or your brain, or your eyes, but seriously, you are not getting out of here unscathed.

Why is engaging in the drafting and revision of a second book so terrifying? Well, some simple reasons, for starters. The story must go on, but it can’t be the same. It has to be deeper and more powerful. The stakes must be raised. Whatever the characters were fighting for in book one must suddenly be more of a background issue. You need fresh problems, fresh challenges to face.

Right. That can’t be too hard, can it? Well, here’s where it all gets complicated.

Your second book needs conflict and resolution. It needs clean character arcs. It needs all the same story beats your first novel had. But it CANNOT TRULY RESOLVE. At the end, you need to still have another novel’s worth of even HIGHER stakes waiting. This is where I run into the greatest difficulty. My second book is different from my first in so many ways. It has a different main character. Most of the POVs are swapped. The stakes are crazy high by the time we get to the end — so high in fact that I’m not sure everyone won’t be staring at me with this look on their face:

Everyone goes through hell in this book. Everyone gets hurt. Everyone loses something dear. And yet, the show goes on. (And yes, I have a third book full of even crazier shiz already in my head.) But I can’t help wondering if this is going to be one of those, “Like, for real? You think you can get away with this?”

The thing is, no, I don’t think I can. I’ve been revising this manuscript by chopping it up and deleting and destroying and rewriting and then ripping up the beat sheet and starting a new outline with completely different events…*headdesk*. I just completed a rewrite of 40k of it. I’m still tossing out every version of the ending that I come up with. I tweak the dialogue. I tweak the dialogue again. I kill some darlings. I haven’t even sent it to my CPs yet because it’s too messy to be coherent. If all goes well, I’ll plague them with it later this month, as soon as I can string together all the madness.

Anyone else out there writing their middle novel? Lost in the mire? Neck deep in revisions? Dude, I raise my glass and wish you the best. This is where I’ve been lately, so I thought I’d share. At least we can all commiserate together, right?

Rachel O’Laughlin

 

Cover Reveal: The Coldness of Marek (Serengard, #1) June 19, 2013

Filed under: Reading — thereanddraftagain @ 7:55 pm
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Today is a very special day here at There & Draft Again. Today we are happy to reveal the cover of The Coldness of Marek, book one in the Serengard series by our very own Rachel O’Laughlin. And because she is one of our own, we have a very special treat for you! Stay tuned after the reveal for an excerpt from the book. And by stay tuned, I mean keep reading on.

The book is set to be released August 6th and we couldn’t be more excited to share it with you! (Really, we couldn’t. We’re even posting about it on our personal blogs!) The Coldness of Marek is available for preorder now. Be sure to follow her on Twitter or Facebook for more information on the release!

Image

Serengard has been under Orion rule for centuries. Centuries of insufferable adherence to laws and traditions that none of its people ever asked for or agreed to. Raised by her scholarly grandfather in the fiery southern city of Neroi, Trzl is out to turn the monarchy into a free society where knowledge is king and no one has to be subject to the whims of an Orion.

As the rebellion escalates, her choices have an eerie impact on the revolution at large, elevating her to a position of influence she has only dreamed of attaining. But there are downsides to her power: appearances and alliances that must be upheld. One of them is Hodran, a rich rebel who wants to aid her cause, and another is Mikel, a loyalist farmer who wants to destroy it… and who just might be winning her heart at the same time.

By the time Trzl realizes she is in too deep, she has an infant son and a dark mess of betrayal and lies. She runs, to the farthest corner of the kingdom, in hopes she will be left alone with her child. But she has a few too many demons. Someone she once trusted takes her captive among the chilling Cliffs of Marek. She is thrown back into the political mess she helped create… at the mercy of a man she never wanted for an enemy.

Excerpt:

He broke away from her gaze and sat down on the cool earth. They were on a hill, with a little patch of hardwood behind them. The valley below was swathed in tall grasses with tiny blue flowers on the tips. Trzl didn’t know what crop they were. She settled herself next to him, not too close.

“Do you sell your crops for a profit?”

“Yes. A considerable one.”

She giggled at him. “Your face is covered with enough clay for you to be a cart horse yourself.”

“Your own face is etched with dust.”

“It is? Get it off. Please!”

Mikel reached for her face with his bare hand. She stiffened, surprised at the roughness of the fingers she felt against her skin. “I did not think you would…use your hand.”

“I did not think you would let me.” He lingered on her chin, cupping it. The hold was possessive, yet it did not disquiet her.

“Your hands are rough. I would think a man as rich as you should have soft hands.”

He gave a snort of disbelief. “What kind of farmers have you been consorting with?”

Trzl just shrugged, a tiny smile tugging at her mouth. She was annoyed by the way he talked, all sophisticated, but his voice was deep and vibrant. She wanted to hear it all day. Wanted his hand to stay on her chin all day.

“You believe in the monarchy. In the books of Derev, the rules of the land.”

“I believe in them, yes. As everyone once did.”

She laid back and rested her head in the grass, wrapped his sooty and bedraggled cloak about her and tried not to shiver. The sky above her was a clean blue, the kind of clear one never saw in Neroi.

“You believe your fellow men should be forced into a way of living for the sake of your own class?”

“No one has ever forced them. It is tradition. Keeping the ways of the books is for all of our sakes. If the land is not cultivated and the law of the books kept, ruin will come.”

“The Orions invented the lie to ensure they always get their tributes.”

“You say that, but the land has always reflected the care with which it has been treated. My parents and their parents before them can attest.”

“You know your parents?”

“Yes. Did you know yours?”

“No.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Did they give you your money?”

“I earned it.”

“So you claim.” She felt an inexplicable anger toward him. Why did he have to be deathly committed to something that was wrong? She knew she could never put up with his beliefs. Not for more than an hour or two. And she wanted desperately to put up with him.

Excerpt from COLDNESS OF MAREK © Copyright 2013 by Rachel O’Laughlin. Used with permission.