Thursday, June 13, 2013

Where'd you go?

Many of you have been asking me this question after I skipped posting for three weeks. It's the longest break I've taken in six and a half years of blogging, and I've missed you too. Life offline needed my attention. All is well, but thanks for your concern!

My son on the stick phone at Fresh Pond in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Taken with my old Nikon FE SLR.

Last week my son graduated from high school, and it has been an emotional time. When I decided in my mid 20's to stay home with my children, I envisioned a lifetime of Lego and Brio trains, reading picture books, playing in the leaves and building snow forts. I couldn't imagine my little boy becoming a half foot taller than me and caulking the leaky tub. This summer he'll be a junior counselor at Chewonki, his first real job. In the fall he's heading to Middlebury College.

Not only is my boy leaving home, he's leaving the planet. He wants to be an Astrophysicist, but he also enjoys Russian literature and the mountains of New England. I'm so pleased that he's found his passion and so many good friends. He's a wonderful son. It's a huge relief as parents to see our job half done. He has a younger sister, and she's doing really well too.

My son at Mt. Katahdin on our camping trip in Baxter State Park, Maine.

My virtual child has been more demanding. Eve is the protagonist of my young adult novel set in England. Switching genres led me to switch agents, and my new agent gave me feedback in May. Laura didn't ask for major changes, but there was more research to do and a new first chapter to consider. Moving scenes led to a domino effect of inconsistencies. Now is the time to polish. A novel is not unlike Plato's cave. What I write is a shadow of the ideal story in my head. A good agent/editor frees the writing from the cave, and Laura is a genius.

I've been using my time offline to read too. Beth KephartMaria Padian and other friends recommended Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple (2012), which I bought in paperback at Gulf of Maine Books. It's a satire of politically correct parenting, of architecture and of the high tech industry. The novel is set in Seattle, but it could have been Portland, Maine or Cambridge, Massachusetts. The premise is that a creative person unable to create will become a menace to society. Under pressure, Bernadette pulls a disappearing act greater than mine.

My one criticism was that the teen narrator was not believable. Bee was too old for eighth grade (14-15 years) but often acted like she was in elementary school. She enjoys going to the zoo with her dad and to touristy restaurants with her mom, Bernadette. Bee watches TV but doesn't have a cell phone. Her best friend says, "Goody, goody gumdrops!"and tackle hugs her. Other times Bee info dumps like an encyclopedia.

The disjointed teen voice was not a big flaw because the bulk of the narrative was told in emails between the adult characters. Bernadette and the other grown ups were more true to life, if exaggerated for comic effect. I only put the book down down to laugh. If you like satire and good writing, I strongly recommend Where'd You Go, Bernadette.

Next Post: July 3rd. I'll be tweeting more frequently but won't be back to blogging regularly until later this summer. For now, I need to focus my creative energy on revision. I don't want to become a menace to society!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty

Although fantasy is not usually my genre and the opening chapters of A Corner of White didn't hook me, Steph Su's review encouraged me to keep readingand I'm glad I did. This quirky novel alternates between real world Cambridge, England and the fantasy world of Cello. Author Jaclyn Moriarty is Australian but got a doctorate in law from Cambridge University, where she also started writing young adult fiction.

Following a few backstory chapters, the narrative launches with a note in a parking meter. After discovering a tiny opening between their worlds, two teenagers start corresponding via handwritten notes. Amusingly, Madeleine in Cambridge assumes that Elliot is either delusional or is writing a fantasy book. To his frustration, she critiques his world building, but they also forge a wonderfully supportive friendship.

Like Madeleine, I found the attacks of color waves in Cello an innovative concept and wanted more explanation. Had I been sending notes to Elliot, I would have critiqued his wish-granting fairy and the use of magical spells. Those traditional fairytale elements lacked originality and made the story better suited to readers younger than teenagers. Focusing so much on parents further tilted the narrative toward younger readers. Also, if you create a world of erratic seasons (which change weekly, sometimes daily) do not set your story in a farming community. The author admitted the validity of this problem in her acknowledgement page.

Overall, though, I really enjoyed this whimsical story, which I read while visiting England. Moriarty is a master of the pen. Good writing and creative use of scientific principles made the odd juxtaposition of worlds believable. Situational irony was was well exploited for humor.  A Corner of White was a fun, easy read but still had clever plot twists and educational content. There's a great sense of place in both worlds:
"The door to the tea room opened again and another group of rainhuddled tourists rushed inside." 
"The tiles in the kitchen are an unbelievably disgusting mottled pink, like a salmon that got old, died and ate boiled beetroot." 
"...the floorboards more cracked than a stick of celery." 
"Farmers are the most endearing bunch of muffin-baking, pastry-making, fiddleplaying folk you'll ever meet. (Blahdy, blahdy, hooray for Farmers! Blah, blah, pumpkin pie! etc.) (seriously, though, if you're short on time, give the Farms a miss.)" 
"Within moments, the doors, security gates and shutters had all shut. Scarves and bags were left scattered alongside upturned snowman. At the station, the train almost stopped."
I'd recommend A Corner of White to fantasy fans and to tween readers especially. Other than the mention of adult drug addiction and teen drinking, the book is quite innocent for YA Fiction. It would be a good choice for middle schoolers (ages 11 to 14) and for advanced readers in elementary school. Don't you love the cover?

Cambridge, England on New Year's Eve 2007, my photo.

Reviewer's Disclaimer: I received a free digital galley from netgalley before the book's release in April 2013. It is the first book in the Colors of Madeleine series.

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@Barrie Summy