Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Book Review: A Storm of Swords

Okay, so I never read fantasy. Like, never. I mean, I read The Hobbit in the sixth grade because it was required. Since then, nothing. As you know if you've read the reviews on this blog, I gravitate toward relatable, character-driven, contemporary fiction.

But I got hooked on the HBO series for Game of Thrones. I watched the first two seasons on Netflix and then I suffered through the Facebook updates of people watching the third season. But I don't have HBO. So I decided to read the third book instead.

It amuses me to listen to debates about whether George R.R. Martin is a "good" writer. This seems to mean very different things to different people and readability (as evidenced by popularity and awesome sales) isn't always enough. I wonder if some people put the writing down specifically because of its broad appeal. The fact that it's accessible to a majority means it can't be "good". For these readers, a book is only "good" when indecipherable to most.

For me, it was in one of the first chapters of A Storm of Swords, when a low-speed sailboat chase had me on the edge of my seat, that it occurred to me that I was in the hands of a "good" writer. Martin's technique of killing off lead characters isn't a risk most writers are willing to take and it definitely ups the stakes. I also love the fact that these characters are so complicated. Morality is murky here and virtue often does not achieve external reward - much like in real life. Perhaps that realism is why I'm able to enjoy a book about dragons and magic. The fantasy elements are superficial; at its root, this is a story about people, relationships, and human nature.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Interview: Cass McMain

Cass McMain is a friend I've made by participating in the writer's website, authonomy.com. First, I knew her as a thoughtful critiquer- she will only give advice if you beg for it. She loves to read and is one of the few reviewers on the site who will read not just the first chapter or chapters, but the whole thing. She is very gentle with writers and will not offer opinion or criticism - even spelling errors! - unless the writer is sure they're ready to hear it.

It was after her read of Monsoon Season that I tracked down her story, Sunflower, which remains one of my favorite books on the site. I was absolutely thrilled to hear that it was going to be published. The following is an interview with Cass.

When you write, do you have an idea of where the story is going? Do you know how it ends? And, if you think you know, does it ever change?
    Well, yes and no. I try to know where I’m going. Generally speaking, I’d say I know the street but not the address. Sometimes it’s more like I know the city but not the street! The end of Sunflower was something of a surprise to me; I had initially expected a far less happy ending.
How long did it take to write Sunflower? Is this your first novel?
    It took me a year to write Sunflower, and yes, it was my first novel.
Have you become more confident with your work since joining authonomy, getting more feedback, and ultimately finding a publisher? Did you send out query letters or did they track you down?
    I’ve waffled back and forth between feeling confident to feeling totally dismayed. Authonomy has been a blessing and a curse. But yes, some of the feedback I had there was very meaningful. Ultimately, that was how I found a publisher, so I think it’s been well worth the trip. I didn’t have the courage to send query letters, but representatives of Holland House spotted my work on Authonomy.
What does being a published author mean to you?
    Oh, that’s a hard one to answer. I had my career jerked out from under me and it’s about broken my heart. Being able to point to something I did that wasn’t a total failure may help me get over some of the despair I’ve been mired in for the last several years. Then, too, it may not. That’s a depressing answer; I’m sorry.
What else are you working on?
    I’m writing a book about a dog. I had neighbors with a dog who barked all night. I usually lie in bed at night and think of things I’d like to write about. Finding that my thoughts were entirely focused on the barking that had become my life, naturally a barking dog entered my writing. But of course, the book became about much more than that. See? The dog told me where the street was, but I had to look for the address. I’m homing in on the finer details now.
 Cass is also a reluctant blogger. Her recent post on the mind numbing customer service of your average call center had me nodding and laughing along.

Sunflower will be available this month.