Monday, June 24, 2013

In praise of Sydney Carton

For as much as I complain about middle school, I must say, my teachers did a wonderful job picking classic titles for us. Maybe I really was just that geeky kid who couldn't contain her enthusiasm, but I loved thinking about the history and issues presented in their selections.

As I recall, the first book they started us on was A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. It was because of that book that I held Dickens in such high regard for so long... and then was so bitterly disappointed by works such as The Old Curiosity Shop and Great Expectations.

As much as the historical backdrop provided the intensity, the characters were, to my twelve year old mind, thrilling: the vengeful Madame Defarge; the spirited Lucie Manette; the haunted Charles Darnay; and the villainous Marquis St. Evremonde. But the character that, for me, the book turns on is Sydney Carton, brilliant but purposeless until he falls in (unrequited) love with Lucie. While the book is about the French Revolution and the larger questions of when justice becomes revenge and whether people can ever give up their consciences, it's also about a man striving to be more than he was because of the love of someone else.

I was tickled to see that C. J. Brightley agreed with me. (Also, I was introduced to the story through the television movie as well. Believe it or not kids, there was a time when network television did try to produce quality content.) But really, if you have to choose a favorite from a cast of characters like this, how can you not choose the one who's the most conflicted and is willing to make the greatest of sacrifices for the person he loves?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

There's violence all around

One of the concerns I have about my series is that I talk about violence against women in three of my books.  It's a real thing that happens, especially to this age group. In The Smartest Girl in the Room, the violence moves Emily to take some drastic measures on behalf of her friends; in the upcoming The Family You Choose, we'll see how such an act can chase two families for generations. It's not glorious at all.

In retrospect, it seems funny that I worried so much about the violence against women that I wasn't too concerned about the violence against men, but maybe I should have been. College hazing propels the plot in The Smartest Girl in the Room, and that's the start of the series. Although we don't see it happen, we know via Mitch that it was serious enough that he left his fraternity and later joined the Student Government Association because of it.

I include this article about high school hazing because, as someone points out, there is a link now between the hazing boys suffer in high school and what they might suffer later in college. Reading about students sexually exploiting more vulnerable classmates as a way of "breaking them in"- and the adults who condone it as a conditioning technique- makes me ill; that their older brothers might come up with ways to top that once in college makes me shudder.

Please read the article and let's think of better ways to socialize our children.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Children of Henry VIII by John Guy

This is neither an exhaustive history of the final years of Tudor England nor a full biography of either Henry or his children. This is more a tale of Henry's efforts to maintain his dynasty and the varied, conflicting ways in which his children tried to preserve his legacy, however fraught their own relationship to it might have been.

Guy offers a cause for the start of Henry's troubles: one of his blood factors was probably in conflict with Katherine of Aragon's and later Ann Boleyn's. (He doesn't specify, but perhaps he means the Rh factor.) This would explain why, untreated, both queens were "lucky" to be able to bear one child with him. It was just their misfortune that those children happened to female.

It doesn't need to be belabored that Henry's perspective that a woman couldn't rule was sexist. In his defense, there was little precedent for it at the time, and at least in this treatment his primary concern seems to be what will become of the monarchy after the queen marries. It seemed impossible for Henry to imagine that a queen would be strong enough to dominate her husband, and upon reflection, given the times it seems unlikely that anyone would get that close to power and not be tempted to consolidate it. At the worst, the new king would dominate his wife; at the least, a marriage would run the risk of splitting the government into factions (and certainly this is what happened to Mary when she was married to Philip). Elizabeth, who ultimately decided it would be imprudent to marry, also noted that marriage to someone of her rank created an equal number of vulnerabilities that marriage to a commoner would.

While this does cover some of the highlights of the biographies- Ann Boleyn may very well have been an evil stepmother; Mary's devotion to her Catholic faith may have been as much an act of defiance as it was genuine piety; Edward was closest to Elizabeth of all of his siblings; their half-brother Henry Fitzroy entered into a marriage agreeing not to consummate it; and Elizabeth learned her survival skills at an early age, beginning with the scandal between Thomas Seymour and herself- what it goes into greater detail about is the way their educations and households were organized. In all cases, by the time the royal children were four months old, their households were established away from their parents. However, both Katherine and Ann went out of their way to see their daughters beyond what was proscribed by royal protocol. (Jane Seymour, Edward's mother, never had the chance as she died shortly after his birth.) While Henry wanted to see his daughters educated, he did not see any reason for them to be educated in a way that would prepare them for rule. However, it seems that both princesses applied themselves well- better, perhaps, than their brothers.

Interestingly, Guy argues here that both Mary and Elizabeth were far more merciful than they have been recorded elsewhere, particularly in the cases of Jane Grey and Mary Queen of Scots, respectively. Mary- later known as Bloody Mary- was inclined to spare Grey's life out of loyalty to her mother, but was moved to execute her after the first of many Protestant rebellions. Elizabeth, while seeing the need to imprison Mary (of Scotland), was reluctantly talked into executing her but apparently changed her mind at the last minute. Her counselors, however, had her executed anyway. Regardless of her personal feelings toward Mary, Elizabeth was devastated by this decision because it set a precedent for the weakening of the legal monarch of a country, and she was wise enough to know that English rulers would not be spared. (And in the cases of  Charles I and James II, she would be proven correct.)

The tragedy of Henry's family is that while he was obsessed with continuing the dynasty, his actions and pronouncements made it impossible for his children to do so. While England became a stronger country under Elizabeth, her death ended the Tudor line. James, Mary's Scottish son, was the grandson of Henry's sister Margaret, but thereafter the rulers of England would be Stuarts, not Tudors.

Recommended for those interested in English history.

If you're going to get wet, you might as well go swimming

The stereotype about authors, regardless of genre, is that we're all introverts who would rather live in our heads. While that's not entirely true in my case- other people can sometimes give you the best story ideas (however unintentionally)- I do like to maintain a bit of privacy, and I certainly don't need everyone on the internet to know about all of the times I've failed.

However, when Louise Wise invited writers to post their confessions, I couldn't resist. Turns out there's plenty that makes me cringe that only applies to my writing. I'd feel really vulnerable about that except that, well, it looks like I'm not alone.

Want to find out the damaging truth? Please click here.

Monday, June 17, 2013

She didn't think I was terrible!

I promise, I am not one of those writers that blasts my social networks every time I get a good review. However, when someone who has high standards likes me, I am going to tell you about that.

Louise Wise has a different approach from many reviewers: she will evaluate the blurb, then read the excerpt. If she enjoys the excerpt, she will buy the book. (At this point, congratulations to the author because you've made it past 2 out of 5.) From there, she'll give anywhere from 3 to 5.

Although the rule seems to be don't get excited unless you have 5 stars on Amazon, I'm tickled to have gotten 4 from Louise. As a longtime reviewer myself, I appreciate reviews that fully explain their reasoning for whatever rank they give. And while it makes me cringe to see a typo pointed out (yes, I constantly hit my head when it happens on social media too), I'm equally if not more so delighted that, despite the errors, she still wanted to read the book and enjoyed it.

Here is the review. I will be floating for the rest of the day if anyone needs me.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

No, really- write what you know

I'm pleased to be featured today on Draven Ames' blog talking about how I made the advice "Write What You Know" work for me. Shorter: what you know isn't confined to what you've experienced- and your imagination won't be constrained by familiarity.

If you notice some similarities between this and my last guest post, you're right. This really was something I personally struggled with for a long time. If you've read The Smartest Girl in the Room yet, just imagine Miranda Harel in Victorian England, or Jessie Bartolome in the Deep South. Yeah... not so much!

Now wait until I tell you which character I originally wanted to narrate the story, speaking of writing what you don't know. But that's another story for another day...