Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Deanna Raybourn’

A Spear of Summer Grass

April 10, 2013 2 comments

“Because if we’re on the road to hell, we’re going to dance the whole damn way and give them something to talk about when we’re gone.” A Spear of Summer Grass, 334

A Spear of Summer Grass is Deanna Raybourn’s latest masterpiece. Once again, she crafts a perfect opening line – opening paragraph, truly – “Don’t believe the stories you have heard about me.” And with that single sentence, a reader wants to know what, exactly, those stories are. It is the ultimate invitation to witness a bit of chic wickedness, clothed in scarlet, circled in smoke. If Delilah Drummond offers you a drink (gin and tonic, most likely), you would gladly take it. If she levels a gun at you, you would do well to run.

Imagine a New Orleans-born Dorothy Parker, given to Paris society. Picture her in 1923, with a bob sleek enough to cut glass – and a tongue sharp enough to scar a heart. Delilah is a wild one, a woman with a backbone who does exactly what – and whom – she pleases, with no regard for society’s demands. She is, after all, “nobody’s best example” (177). However, she can handle a gun as deftly as any man, which comes in handy when, after one too many scandals, the it-girl is banished to Africa until the media circus moves on.

There she arrives, with her plain and sullen cousin Dora, to an expected world rife with expected and unexpected predators. Just as she’s stepping off the train, Delilah meets a man as formidable as Rochester and Lord Byron (mad, bad, and dangerous to know), but as wild as lions he so expertly hunts. Ryder is not one to suffer fools, and his temper is only guided by a strong sense of justice – an oddly founded morality that serves him well. Thrown together by circumstance, the two form a tenuous relationship, one predicated not strictly on a game of cat-and-mouse – but of two equal people who worship their own walls. Broken and troubled, but fierce, both possess scars – seen and unseen. Their relationship is shaded by their own difficult, tumultuous pasts – and yet, there is a mutual respect that falls between them, breathtaking as any African sunset.

Delilah takes up residence at a house belonging to her ex-stepfather, Nigel. Fairlight is full of potential, but has fallen into disrepair. Delilah and her cousin begin to set things to right, but the resistance they are met with, at turns, is palpable. Situated amid a gaggle of displaced acquaintances, including an artist and dalliance of Delilah’s (Kit), Delilah comes into her own and starts letting people in, whether or not she realizes it. Troubling as any lion, Kenya is rampant with change and a shifting political landscape, as the colony’s British rule is uncertain. Delilah quickly learns that nothing is exactly as it seems, and she must navigate its numbered dangers. True to her tenacious persona, she takes no quarter from anyone, man or beast, while waiting out her sentence.

But a landscape is often a living thing, as much a character as any person. Delilah finds herself in a love affair with Kenya and its people – but is it enough to keep her there? And, for that matter, is Ryder? A charming and dangerous man, when he murmurs, “Sin with me,” it is seduction at its best. While Delilah may be his match, she is no stranger to art of manipulation – a spider to any willing fly. Yet, as Ryder points out, some scars are visible – while others are easily hidden, like a woman who has “been holding hands with ghosts for too long” (348). Delilah might be the dazzling party girl, with a bright red mouth, but she is “dancing on broken glass” (231). What makes Delilah’s forgivable – and even likeable – is that she’s layered. She’s what is easily seen by prying eyes and flashbulbs. And yet, she is also a whole world of history that’s never truly been witnessed. Her walls are built with care and reason, perhaps with less of an eye toward keeping people out – and more as a means of self-protection.

Deanna Raybourn’s deft hand crafted a novel that is full of sharp wit, vibrant characters, and exceptional plot twists. (No, I’m not giving them away. But I will say this: Rosebud is a sled. And Han shot first.) Nestled within a dangerously beautiful country, she tackles the idea of identity, belonging, and owning who you are – and facing who you could be. This is very much a novel about finding yourself in the last place you expect. It is about burning everything to the ground and starting again, because sometimes, ashes make the most fertile soil. It may look like a wreck and a ruin at first, but every disaster is an opportunity – as Delilah certainly discovers. At one point, she muses, “You had to love someone completely to be willing to destroy them” (230). The reverse is also true: you must love someone completely to let them destroy you. But that is, truly, the only way we let anyone in, by tearing the walls down. What better place to tear those walls down than on an adventure?

It should be noted that I was lucky enough to be given an ARC of A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna. I was not otherwise compensated or bribed in any manner, and this review was entirely my own idea. I do believe that’s enough disclaimer, before I simply tell you: you want to read this book. It is beautiful and wicked, with enough verbal calisthenics and divinely smeared red lipstick to demand that you read quicker than you thought possible. This is a book that will keep you up until the wee hours of the night, reading beneath the sheets with a flashlight. And truly, who wouldn’t want to take Ryder to bed? Or Delilah for that matter?

A Spear of Summer Grass is available April 30. Pre-order and ordering information can be found HERE.

The Dark Enquiry, Deanna Raybourn, and What An Author Needs

July 5, 2011 6 comments

 

I’m currently reading Deanna Raybourn‘s The Dark Enquiry, the latest book in her Julia Grey series (I still maintain that Silent in the Grave has one of the best opening lines, ever. Don’t believe me? CHECK IT OUT.). I’m attempting to read through the novel slowly, which is like giving me coffee one drop at a time. Sure, I’m enjoying it, but I have a tendency to want to gulp it down.

The book, of course, is divine. Raybourn writes with such wit and beauty. Even if you’ve never picked up a mystery novel, or a work of historical fiction, you’ll love her writing. It’s poetry and intrigue blended together with deft skill. (I’ve even got my mother hooked on her novels. We exchange books quite often, and she’s just going to have to wait to get her hands on TDE. My precioussssss. *ahem*)

On a serious note, though — first, congratulations to Deanna for becoming a NYT Bestseller. At the risk of sounding madly conceited, I knew it would happen. Because she’s just that good at writing. And no, that’s not me blowing sunshine up anyone’s existence. It’s fact.

Second, I was reading this interview a little while ago, and it is a good (fun) one. However, as a writer myself, I might’ve cheered out lout a bit (embarrassing? Yes. True? Also yes.) at this:

And my husband has been my biggest champion—whenever I moaned about the lack of money and said I needed to go and get a job his response was always, “You have a job. You’re a writer. You’re just not published yet.”

That made me happy. It also reminded me of Virginia Woolf and A Room of One’s Own, but the Woolf bit is ancillary. Having that kind of support is priceless. It can be damned tough to toil for years (with, I’m sure, people asking, “Why haven’t you published anything yet?” or “Why don’t you publish something?” as if things like that grow on trees or can be found at Wal-Mart) without being able to point to a bookshelf. Having folks around you (family, friends etc) to champion your art and hard work? It is invaluable. It is nice to see that kind of support, too (if you read the entire interview, you’ll see that it DOES take a village to raise a writer, which is great phrasing). I’d be remiss if I didn’t confess to wondering if Deanna’s husband has a single brother. What? You were thinking the same thing, admit it.

This is a lesson, folks. It takes TIME and hard work to learn a craft. It also takes a certain level of tenacity — of not giving up. Because, hell, if you give up writing — you are standing in your own way. Deanna Raybourn has mentioned, before, that it took her 14 years to get a publishing contract. That is dedication, and I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I admire that greatly.

So, again, Deanna — congrats! And to the rest of you, read her novels. You won’t be disappointed.

Battling Your Dragons: Your Insecurities Think You are Tasty and Good with Ketchup

(A repost you all haven’t seen. Written a few years back. Enjoy!)

Something I’ve noticed about writers is that we can be our own harshest critic. We get frustrated when the words don’t come. Perhaps it’s because we’re all striving for perfection, because we have something to say. And damn it, we’d like to be appreciated for it. (Great Caesar’s Ghost! When did I start talking like I’m the Representative of Writers Everywhere?)

In my more difficult moments, I’ve threatened to make a bonfire out of everything I’ve ever written. Or shouted something like, “This is why Hemingway DRANK!” I’ve looked at lines I once thought were brilliant (or, at the very least, good) and felt a sickening dread, convinced that they’re actually crap. Crap, spread heavily on Shit Toast. (That image won’t leave your mind for a while. Trust me.)

But the question is this: how does someone combat fear and insecurity? The short answer is ‘any way that you can.’ You know, as long as it doesn’t involve cocaine, reenacting a scene from Rebel without a Cause, or clowns. Clowns are horrible minions of Satan. Or did you miss that memo? The Bobs are always forgetting to circulate the memos. (Suddenly, I’m wondering if enough people have seen Office Space. You must.) All joking aside, there isn’t an artist out there who doesn’t wonder if something he/she has made is crap masquerading as brilliance. There are going to be days where you wonder why you bother, and if what you’ve done will be appreciated. (Remember: Momma said there’ll be days like this.)

So, when your ego cracks wide open, and you’re twitching on the floor (or rocking in a corner), there are a few things you can do.

  • Reach out and touch someone. Call someone. A friend. A family member. It doesn’t matter. We all need an ego boost that originates from someone who believes in us. Don’t be afraid to need that.
  • This too shall pass. Whatever happened to make you internally cringey will pass. That feeling isn’t permanent. It’s like having a Confidence Flu. Sure, you might be all shaky and feel like crap. But once things run their course, you’ll be fine. And you will be.
  • Compare yourself. Now, like inconceivable, this doesn’t mean what you think it does. I had an epiphany once, and it might not be entirely advisable (the specific epiphany, not epiphanies in general). It is, however, worth mentioning. I bought a book (surprise!), because the blurb on the back sounded interesting. I didn’t know anything about the author. I had a couple of days to relax, so I plowed through it. And honestly? Worst book I ever read. Not only were the characters flat, uninspired, and un-compelling (not a word, I know. As an English major, I reserve the right to make things up. Shush), but I spent the entire book waiting for something to happen. It was almost as bad as reading Dickens. (One day, I’m going to rewrite Oliver Twist just to piss off that man’s ghost. He made a semester of Grad. school a living Hell. *shakes fist*) Not only was the plot awful, but the entire manuscript was riddled with horrible grammar and a plethora of typos. (Every writer’s worst nightmare. Or close to it.) So, it occurred to me: if that book was published, then there is no reason on this earth that mine won’t be. Maybe that’s a buggy way of looking at things, but it helped me.
  • Put one foot in front of the other. The important thing is to keep at it. Even if you’re unsure. Keep going. Do not underestimate the act of simply pushing on. If you give up, or scrap everything, the only person you’ve given up on is yourself. If you do that, I will hurt you. Well, maybe I won’t. But I’d like to. Because you’re the only one who can write what you’ve written or are writing. No one anywhere can produce what you are creating. And if you take that uniqueness from the world, how are the rest of us supposed to benefit from it? What if Shakespeare decided to pack it in? What if Barry Eisler got halfway through Rain Fall and decided that it was too difficult? Or Deanna Raybourn simply forgot her manuscript of Silent in the Sanctuary in a drawer, for some reason? Hell, what if e.e. cummings gave up on himself, because was too quirky and too left of the middle? One of my favorite poems would not exist (“somewhere,I have never travelled gladly beyond”). What if someone out there is waiting for inspiration, and your novel, short story, poem, mixed media collage, or song is IT? Where would I be, today, without Sarah McLachlan? Or coffee? (Oh, god. Please let us NEVER find out.) You see, the hard truth is this: no one ever wins by quitting. And other people might lose out. Think of all the people who have inspired you. What if they never happened? Bad picture, isn’t it? “As a writer, you can’t allow yourself the luxury of being discouraged and giving up when you are rejected, either by agents or publishers. You absolutely must plow forward.” ~Augusten Burroughs
  • Boost your own ego. Is there something you’ve made that you’re really proud of? Do you have a note of praise from a teacher, professor, friend, colleague, or critique partner? When you’re feeling crappy, go read it. Read it and realize that people see value in you, even if you currently don’t. Hang on to that truth.
  • Objectivity isn’t a stable creature. When I’m feeling insecure, I am the most appalling judge of my own abilities. I will look at a poem I absolutely loved and loathe it with all my heart. I will find so many faults with it, so many ways it falls short. I will wonder whatever possessed me to write the damn thing in the first place. And why I wasted my ink, pencil lead, or time typing. But the truth is that I am not my audience. Yes, I write what I like and what pleases me. (I’m not about to sit down and plunk out a history book.) But it’s not about whether or not I love the work I’ve made; honestly, I am fickle and a very harsh critic. I realize that I can’t always be my own cheerleader. But then I think about why I’ve written what I have. If I’ve created something that says something, leaves an impression, evokes an emotion, or proves a point—then I’ve done it right. So, I shrug off the feelings of insecurity, grab a cup of coffee, and move on. Find out what works for you. I guarantee you, there is a way.

Well, there you have it. Just a few tricks that might help you. Truthfully, I can’t force you to believe in yourself. But I can help you try. And, at the very least, I can remind you to fake it, if necessary. Every published author has rejections lurking in a corner. Every artist was looked at quizzically and without appreciation. Gone with the Wind was rejected 25 times. Perseverance is essential. Even when it’s hard. Especially when it is. But in a way, we are all responsible for our success. Push on. Otherwise, you’ll be the one to get in your own way.

There are so many quotes out there about why writers write. The simple truth is that we can’t help it. There are stories in our heads and characters speaking in our dreams. Sometimes, it is an act of will. We want you to see something a certain way. But most of the time, we’re just out to tell a story. Or at least that’s how I see it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got miles to go before I sleep and lots of coffee I need to drink.

Beware the Lightning Sand of Bad Marketing and Bad Manners

March 22, 2011 7 comments

 

I have a background in marketing. I also have my MA in English Literature. And I’m a writer. As such, let me explain. No, too much. Let me sum up.

I’ve been mostly dead all day. Er, no. Sorry. I merely need more coffee. Let’s try this again. Ready?

I know words. Not all of them. Never all of them. But I know that placing them in a certain order achieves certain things. If you’re selling a product, you want to grab your audience in an intriguing, non-annoying way. (I feel like that’s an important bit, mostly directed at the makers of Head-on – apply directly to the forehead. Head-on, apply directly to the forehead.)

Time and again, I see people employing marketing tactics that don’t work. Not only that, they ANNOY. Why would you want to annoy anyone who a) is your friend or acquaintance and b) who could possibly help you? It bothers me, because it’s rude – and it doesn’t make any sense.

These are three things you just shouldn’t do in regard to your writing. EVER.

1)      Send a passing acquaintance anything that resembles the following message, which is a slightly fictionalized account of something I actually received:

Dear Everyone I’ve Ever Met:

I promise that I will not annoy you by sending out these emails. (Too late. I’m already annoyed. Moving on. Let’s see what wares you are attempting to hawk.) My new website is listed below, along with three billion other links about ME. (New website for what? You’ve already lost me.) I would like you all to subscribe to my newsletter and tell everyone you’ve ever met about ME. Thank you. (Wait, why are you thanking me? Just because you ask, doesn’t me I’m going to do it. And what am I supposed to tell everyone, exactly? That you once wrote me a mass email?) This email is the beginning of my writing “platform.” (Why is platform in quotations? Is it really something else? Are you doing your Nixon impersonation? What’s going on here?!?) You see, in order to succeed in this business, I need minions followers. When I finish my book, in approximately 14 months, I will need readers. That is why I hope to make friends with everyone on the Internet. (You know, Pinky and the Brain had similar plans to take over the world; look how that worked out. Also, your book isn’t DONE yet. You cannot promote something that isn’t completed. Promote your blog, promote your half-baked poetry. Promote YOURSELF. Not a project that doesn’t have The End written on it.) In the Publishing World, no one helps you do anything anymore. Basically, everything is up to the Author, and promotion is really difficult. That’s why I’m starting this “platform.” Writers who are “in the know” are beginning to promote their own books, so I’m going to do it too. (How lovely for you. Clearly, you have excellent people skills. This should go well.)

If you are a writer, and you have already published a book, I will most certainly be happy to help you promote it, as long as you aren’t a tool or a jackass. You know, someday, I’ll help you do that. (Well, thank you–I think–for not not considering me to be a tool or a jackass – and for the offer of helping ME someday. Presumably, you’d like me to help YOU now, I suppose? Wimpy, is that you? Would you like a hamburger today, and you can pay me on some mythical Tuesday?)

That tactic will fail every time. First of all, you’ve annoyed and insulted me. You are presumptuous. And you’ve just thrown vinegar where there should be honey. Also, as most agents will lament, you’ve told me NOTHING about your book or your writing. You did some strange things with your grammar, too – like adding quotations where there really shouldn’t be any. You “feel” me, man?

2)      The second example of poor behavior/marketing comes from a blog entry written by the wonderful Deanna Raybourn. In one of her entries, she talks about some bad self-promoting moves, including one super-creepy tactic: tracking down her home address when she isn’t listed. Please don’t stalk the writers. It’s disturbing. Another offense is self-promoting your work on an author’s facebook page. That’s just bad form. You don’t walk into a Hollywood actor’s home bellowing, “I am an actress! Want to hear my monologue?” And if you do, you get arrested. So, it’s a bad idea all around. The address-snatching thing, though – that goes beyond all decent behavior and it’s very squicky. People remain unlisted for a reason. In the words of Aretha, R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Mmmkay?

3)      Lastly, there is the Ninja Promoter. The slightly sneaky, let me act like I’m talking about your issue, but I’m really lulling you into a false sense of security. (I am aware that should be populated with hyphens, but my coffee fuel is waning.) A Ninja Promoter will visit your blog or your Facebook page. He/she will read your entry or status, carefully. Then, the Comment appears. It starts off totally banal and innocuous. “I completely get this. It’s really an awesome thing that you’re doing.” Then, NINJA – “By the way, would you review my book? I think if anyone can help me, it’s YOU.” *blinks* What now? First, you don’t ambush publically. That’s just silly. Second, unless you have enough of a relationship with that person (ie you correspond somehow), you NEVER ask that kind of question. In fact, personally speaking, I’m pretty sure I’d feel dirty asking like that. Third, that compliment in there? That’s low. That’s appealing to the ego that every writer has, or at least occasionally has. It also won’t get you anywhere short of ignored. I saw a comment much like that one on a friend’s blog yesterday, which made me Tweet something slightly out-of-context. Whoops. I just found it very inappropriate to read that type of comment on a blog entry of importance.

So, there you have it – my (unsolicited) marketing and manners advice. Until next time, chickadees, remember that Adam West IS Batman, that you shouldn’t eat the yellow snow, and that there is no reasonable explanation for why the RUM is GONE. (Except it is a vile drink.)

A Bookish Christmas

December 29, 2010 4 comments

I received a number of books for Christmas. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Without books (and coffee), I’m fairly sure I’d turn into the Madwoman in the Attic—but don’t go calling me Bertha (or Antoinette) just yet. (Whoever guesses both those references wins my undying love for a whole week. *wink*) I certainly have enough books to tide me over.

I prefer books to DVDs. There was a time where I liked both equally, but “I’d rather have books” has apparently become my mantra. I should probably amend that to good books, but that’s entire subjective, unless the author’s name is Snooki or Paris. Then I can safely say, Shakespeare has rolled over in his grave.

But I digress. Let’s talk about books.

I’ve just read The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines, and it was a really fun book. All the characters were clever, distinctive, and amusing. The plot kept me turning the pages. I didn’t want it to end (now, I just have to get my hands of the rest of his Princess series). I never would’ve stumbled across Hines, if it weren’t for Kat Howard and her awesome blog (unintentionally, she’s responsible for the bulk of my Christmas book haul). I found Kat via something Neil Gaiman posted at some point, thus proving that the Internet is fantastic place for the Creatives. Which should never be confused with the ROUSes or the Borg, if one might be so oddly inclined.

Bear with me. I’m tired, and this coffee appears to have been made by stingy monkeys who failed to add enough actual COFFEE.

Now, I’ve begun reading Deanna Raybourn’s latest installment in her Julia Grey series, Dark Road to Darjeeling, which is fantastic. If Deanna’s written a book, it is always good. Except, I suspect, the ones left in the attic. But anyone who has written anything has manuscripts that resemble Frankenstein’s monster. If you don’t, you either need to readjust your ego—or you are Shakespeare reborn, in which case I expect novels and plays starring three witches, Inverness, and a magical fairy named Puck. GO. (Note: I am being silly and projecting a bit. My point, which is buried rather densely, is that Deanna is a brilliant author–and I relish reading what she’s written. This current novel plays a bit on my admiration of peacocks, and now I’m afraid I’m going to have to find a dress in peacock blue.)

The rest of the To Be Read Pile is as follows:

  • On Writing by Stephen King – I’ve been meaning to read this for years. I’ve read excerpts. I want to learn.
  • Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King – I’ve heard such good things about this novel. I’m very excited.
  • The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper. By all accounts, a fantastic series, and I’m so looking forward to it.
  • The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman. I read Practical Magic years ago, after seeing and LOVING the movie, and I’ve been meaning to read something else by her. Now, I can.
  • Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. A vampire novel published 25 years before Dracula, and one of his sourcebooks. This one was a surprise from my brother. I suppose I really should try my hand at another vampire novel. (Yes. Another. The first one is in the attic.) I promise: no one will sparkle or be named Edward. Or Reneesme.
  • Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger. I had to copy her last name directly from the book, because I can’t even begin to recall the spelling on my own. I’ve heard excellent things about this novel (*cough* Andrea *cough*), and anyone who references Blake is fine by me.

It was a wonderful, happy, book-filled, food-filled Christmas. There were also video games, which is something of a tradition in my house.

I hope that everyone had a great holiday.