This is due to the fact that one of her books, Winter Rose, is an annual read for me. Once December hits, I whip out that novel and read it, every single year. It is the embodiment of how I feel about winter and the cold. It takes my desire for spring and green growing things and the forest and wraps it into a real-life, fantastical twist. If I could pick a book character who I feel most akin to, it would be Rois, the heroine of Winter Rose.
It is probably because this book is so integral to my continual growth as a writer, a reader, and a dreamer that I am very critical of any other book that McKillip publishes.
You may recall my review on her book that came out a couple of years ago, The Bards of Bone Plain. It was a more critical review -- the book didn't sit with me very well. It did not capture the true writing genius that I know McKillip can have. Her other book Ombria in Shadow is one that has it. The Bell at Sealey Head is another. But McKillip does have one overarching fault that, when it absorbs into her writing, can almost destroy a book -- that is when she gives in to or falls in to her own personal cliches (a style which I discuss in my earlier book review).
Personal cliches are cliches that authors make for themselves. You can very easily fall into them just by having a distinctive writing style and being lazy. The first is good; the second is bad. By the third or fourth time you use the phrase 'gimlet eye' (which I may or may not have been guilty of in the last week which is why that is the example used *coughcough*) your readers are going to notice and roll their eyes.
You never want your readers to roll their eyes at you. At your characters, yes. At your humor, sure. But never at you. Your readers should forget you exist until they pick the book up or put the book down. Between the pages, you are invisible.
McKillip's cliches generally take the form of being overly flowery. Now if you've ever read any of my writing or know my favorite books, you'll know that I love descriptions! I love words and vocabulary, I love flowery writing. I love magical phrases. But there is a line, and past that line I'm waiting for Puff the magic dragon to come gallivanting out with his eyeballs googling in opposite directions. Don't go that far.
McKillip can have the tendency to do this with the magical descriptions. The cliche that makes me almost groan when she falls in to it is her overuse of mystical, magical, rhetorical questions delivered by her characters.
Now McKillip is, as I have called her before, a true 'chef with words'. I adore her writing. I want to own every book she has ever published, even the ones I'm not a huge fan of. So don't take all of this criticism and negativity as a whole opinion.
But to the matter at hand, finally -- I am almost finished reading the Riddle Master Trilogy by McKillip. And it's a mixed bag of worms, I can tell you.
I almost took a break a third of the way in to the trilogy. The first book is an absolute bear, filled with every personal cliche McKillip has ever employed way too many times. I was, frankly, bored. The whole underlying theme of the book is comprised of riddles. However, you never get any answers to any of the riddles in the first book. It felt to me like McKillip was trying to be overly mysterious. She didn't reveal anything. You didn't know anything after finishing the book. Nothing was ever figured out. And frankly, I wasn't interested. I thought I wasn't going to enjoy the rest of the trilogy at all.
It's a good thing I bought an omnibus three-in-one because if I hadn't owned the other two books already, I likely would never have finished the trilogy.
The second and third books in the trilogy fly by -- this is the McKillip I love!! There are still some flowery rhetorical questions in there, but the plot and pace and what you can actually know about the book grows rapidly. We finally start to get some answers, and the tale begins to unfold. It shouldn't have taken 180 pages to do so, but it does at last.
Is it worth struggling through those 180 pages to get to the second and third book? Yes. I would definitely say so. I have a general principle, anyway, that if I start something I'm going to finish it -- there are very few books or series I have not finished, due to this. I had one book earlier this summer that I put down after a hundred pages because it was just bad and that is very rare for me. But even without that stubborn principle of seeing a book through to the end, this trilogy is worth it. I would recommend it to any fan of fantasy or fiction and definitely any fan of Patricia McKillip.
Granted, to say that is a bit of a cheat. I did not start writing this month alone. I've never taken part in NaNoWriMo, and I don't think I'll start. Nothing against the idea, but my brain and my muse don't quite work that way.
I did finish my new book that I've been working on and thinking about since last fall.
I wrote close to 200 pages in a month (that's about 60,000 words for me). So I had my own, skewed, NaNoWriMo. And it was amazing. But it would take too much planning to force my muse to start on the first of a given month and end on the 30th of a given month. I'd rather have a continual NaNoWriMo of get it done now you lazy writer.
The incredible thing I discovered is that when I started actually writing, and stopped messing about, I got way more done in a much shorter amount of time than I thought possible. I haven't written this much this quickly since I first discovered my love to write.
What helped was having my beta readers urging me on to keep chugging out chapters. What helped was having a plan in my mind for when I wanted to finish the book. What helped was having a fire under my butt to actually meet-- and surpass-- my deadline. What helped was having had a massive read-off the few months previous where I poured through a good 6-10 books just for fun and to catch up on feeding my muse. Also having my MP3 player with me at just about all times.
Since I finished my book last week, I have also written my query letter (and edited it), written my synopsis (and edited it), and researched about a dozen potential agents. I shall research more agents before I send off any official packages. The more the merrier, in point of fact.
It feels so good to be writing again. I'm already excited to start the next project. I also want to revamp the submission materials for the first book of my trilogy, but I will wait until my editor is done with my second book of the trilogy before I do that. I'll get that puppy caught up all at once.
And I think I've found my niche. The type of story I just completed has potential for a whole serial of different books, not part of a series, per se, but all part of a similar 'universe' of tales. With maybe one, two connecting characters who flit in and out like unintentional fairy godparents. And I can't wait to see where it goes.
In the next few weeks I'll be sending materials off to agents. We'll see what happens. I really think this could be the book that does it for me. Everything has just felt so right about it-- the chapters just flowed out, the query letter was done in two days, the synopsis was done in one. I wrote it almost entirely from memory, all 15 pages of it. This book is like a well greased machine, and all I can wonder is how I managed to end up driving it.
Of course, I doubt I'll get any traction right off. Unless I'm supremely lucky, or just that good. If I do, you'll be sure to hear about it. It won't wipe out the 60+ rejection letters I've already gotten in my entire career, but it would be amazing to see this book go for it without any rejections on its own slate. But I'll keep trying. I'll keep writing books until someone publishes one.
I have officially dipped my toe into a new genre: 'Gothic Romance'.
Know that this was a big step for me. I always used to envision creepy old houses and moldering estates whenever the word 'Gothic' was used. Or I'd think of some of my favorite architecture in Europe. Like this:
When put together with the word 'Romance', however, I summoned up a vision of something less edible; something like an emo-Twilight-Anne-Rice novel. Like this:
Now before you protest, I was corrected in my opinions on Anne Rice two years ago by the simple means of, who would have ever thought, actually reading a handful of her books--and loving them. It's about time I came to a correct vision of the Gothic Romance.
Lesson One: Don't make assumptions about genres unless you've already read something (and even better, several somethings) from that genre.
In this corner, weighing in at just under 300 pages and filling in for the genre of the Gothic Romance, stands Sea of Secrets by Amanda DeWees. Winner of the 2012 RONE award in mystery and a finalist in the 2013 Maggie Awards for Excellence in history, Sea of Secrets fits the bill even down to the very gothic cover, complete with moldering castle and dramatic heroine. Check and check. But what about the content? Well, that's where it all started for me...
I read a glowing review about this book just a couple of weeks ago. The review led to a link where I could read the first chapter, and the reviewer gushed over how DeWees had captured her imagination within the first five paragraphs, thus leading her to read the rest of the book in its entirety.
Ok, I thought. I'll bite. I just had to see what kind of five paragraphs had that sort of effect.
I read the first paragraph. Then the first page. I kept scrolling. By the time I hit the bottom of the excerpt, I blinked, had a moment of mental panic when I realized I wasn't getting any more, and then tapped the scroll-down button on my screen frantically, hoping I'd somehow overlooked the next scene. No such luck.
But...But! I want to know what happens!
Thus ensued a full-on, internal, creative tantrum. My muse shrank and suddenly became three years old. I had to know the rest of the story or my psyche would never let me forget it. Ever. It would become the kind of thing I woke up about thirty years down the road and regretted while I contemplated the turns I'd taken in life.
You think I'm exaggerating. But this really was the nanosecond response that occurred when I came to the end of that excerpt.
I got my hands on a copy of the book a few days later. I read it in a week.
Oriel Pembroke is our heroine: witty, smart, and charming within the first few sentences, she's the perfect guide through the dark mysteries and potential scandals that litter the pages of Sea of Secrets. Disinherited by her father after her brother's sudden and unexpected death, Oriel finds herself landed in the care of a family that has some potentially serious issues, including a brooding, handsome duke and a recently violent death. For all that, they're kind, generous, and loving people, making it seemingly impossible for them to be hiding anything in the cupboards other than the best port in the county.
Of course, I don't need to tell you that this does not to turn out to be the case. They do indeed have the best port in the cupboards. But other mysteries and conspiracies thrive between the pages, as well as a strong but twisting Shakespearean theme, and this Historical-Fiction Gothic-Romance kept me turning pages (and thinking about the story when I wasn't reading it) as nearly non-stop as I could manage.
Amanda DeWees has earned my hats-off as a writer and weaver of tales and has also changed forever my opinion on the Gothic-Romance.