Book review – Wilder Girls by Rory Power

wildergirls

I picked this book up for the delicious cover and the title. The synopsis intrigued me all the more. All girls school, closed off from the world? Dystopian setting with a strange infection and nature running wild? Gore and queer romance? Yes, please.

I devoured this in four days, which is superhumanly fast for my abysmal current average reading time. It took me a few chapters to really get into it, but once I did it wouldn’t let me go.

First of all, I love, love, love the setting and premise of the novel. Like I already mentioned, it’s set at an all-girls school, on an island, quarantined because of an unusual infection on the island. The girls and remaining teachers are fighting for their lives against the wild, wild dangerous woods around them, as they wait for a possible cure from the authorities. At the center of it are Hetty and her two best friends, Byatt and Reese.

The relationships between these girls are beautiful. They care so much for one another and are willing to do everything for each other in this cruel world. The girls themselves are brave, compassionate, tough, determined, raw, insecure and have dark, believable impulses. They’re real and relatable. At least, the three main characters are. The secondary characters didn’t leave much of an impression on me.

As for the plot, I love the many twists and turns it takes. It starts off fairly simple and straightforward, but early on we discover that not everything is as it seems. From there on it goes in so many directions that you don’t expect. Sometimes it does get a bit messy though, both in good and bad ways. The ending is also a little disappointing. Too much disappears off the stage, in favour of the main characters. I do love the revelation about the infection we get at the end; I got chills at the very possible possibility of it. The last scene is lovely too.

One of the few things that bothers me in this book is the writing style. Mostly, it’s great. Beautiful in its simplicity, visual, visceral. The more experimental, open-ended style of Byatt’s chapters is brilliant and fits so well with what she’s going through. At other times it’s redundant and empty drama, which is a shame as so much else in this is so good.

I’d recommend Wilder Girls to anyone interested in unique, female-centered dystopian and horror stories.

Advertisements

My NaNoWriMo 2017 participation

tea+candle+notebook

I’m participating in NaNoWriMo again this year. For those of you who’ve never heard of it, it’s a contest in which writers from all over the world challenge themselves to write a 50,000 draft of a novel in the month of November. I wanted to write something new and the timing of that coincided with NaNo, so here we are. If I’m not as active on my blog this month, that will be why.

Last year I made a video about the pros and cons of this contest. I think my conclusion was that it was a great initiative, but for me the cons outweighed the pros. It’s too focused on word count, which does not work well for me personally. I had to scrap over 26,000 words of vomit that resulted in my previous attempt and was left with only the idea of a novel. And yet I’m doing it again this year.

I’m more laid-back with my participation this time though. I’m not as obsessed with reaching the word goal. Sure, 50,000 words would be nice to have at the end of the month, but I’m more concerned about the time I’m investing in my writing. NaNoWriMo has a nifty new feature where you can input personal goals, which can also be hours instead of words.

I’ve challenged myself to work on my novel for 82 hours this month. That’s 3 hours a day, with some wiggle room. Those hours include both planning/outlining facets of my novel and the writing of the novel itself. So far I’ve been doing very well with my hour-goals. Only last weekend I didn’t put in as many hours as I liked, but otherwise I’ve reached or surpassed the 3 hours a day. I’m behind on the general word goal, but I don’t care as much as I usually do.

I’m writing a new novel. Something brimming with a lot more promise than previous things I’ve written. I’m working on it every day. It’s taking concrete shape. This is how NaNoWriMo can be immensely valuable. Bend the rules, personalise it to fit your own goals and watch the magic unfold.

Video – My top 11 favourite spooky books

Books mentioned:

1. House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski
The most original haunted house story out there. It’s deeply psychological and genuinely scary.

2. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
The classic story of the mad scientist and his creature.

3. Dracula – Bram Stoker
The classic story of the evil count and the people who band together to bring him down.

4. Drawing Blood – Poppy Z. Brite
Trevor McGee returns to his childhood house in Missing Mile where his father killed his family and himself. There he meets Zachary Bosch, a hacker on the run. They fall in love, even as the house and their past threaten to destroy them.

5. The Bloody Chamber and other Stories – Angela Carter
Dark, twisted retellings of fairytales and legends like Red Riding Hood, Bluebeard and Beauty and the Beast. There are no innocent maidens here.

6. Dracula’s Guest: A Connoisseur’s Collection of Victorian Vampire Stories – edited by Michael Sims
Vampire stories from a period in which vampires were actually scary. Stories with their roots in Eastern European peasant superstition, romanticised accounts which emphasise the erotic, plus an omitted chapter from the most famous vampire book in history.

7. The Complete Tales and Poems – Edgar Allan Poe
Collection of stories and poems from one of the most beloved darkly inclined writers.

8. We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson
“A deliciously unsettling novel about a perverse, isolated, and possibly murderous family and the dramatic struggle that ensues when an unexpected visitor interrupts their unusual way of life.”

9. The Vampire Chronicles – Anne Rice
The mesmerising, richly detailed stories of the most seductive of vampires: from Louis, Lestat and Claudia to the mother of them all.

10. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown – Holly Black
In Tana’s world vampires are part of everyday life, though they are generally quarantined in deceptively glamourous ‘Coldtowns’. Tana survives a massacre by non-quarantined vampires, along with her infected ex-boyfriend and a mysterious captive. Determined to do the right thing, Tana takes them to the nearest Coldtown.

11. We Are Wormwood – Autumn Christian
“Ever since she was a child, Lily has been pursued by a demonic girl with wormwood eyes. As Lily struggles with her schizophrenic mother’s decline into insanity, the death of her somnambulist childhood love, and her own painful, disturbed adolescence, she must face the strange girl that haunts her. Yet something is chasing her that is much more dangerous. A darkly surreal, drug-coated romance, We are Wormwood tells an inhuman love story, and the transformation that results from affection among monsters.”

Short story – What I wish I could have done

Couldn’t get all the me-too’s and sexual harassment/abuse stories I read about yesterday out of my head. This morning I opened up my word processor and this came out. Based on a personal experience.

Night_train

It had been a long night. I put my headphones on and played some calming, melancholy music. Two hours till the night train reached its destination. It was pitch black outside. Only every once in a while, a light flashed by.

I took out a book, even though I felt too tired to read. I placed my bag on the seat next to me and stretched my legs out. I comfortably occupied almost the whole four-seat area. If only I had a cup of tea. A cup of tea would have made this perfect.

I saw some movement from the corner of my eye. Someone pushed my legs aside. I looked up from my book. A young man sat in the seat opposite me. He smiled. Almost the whole coupe was empty and this guy had to force himself into my cosy space. I didn’t understand why he couldn’t sit somewhere else.

“How are you doing?” he asked.

“Fine,” I mumbled and turned back to my book.

“You’re very pretty. You have a unique look about you. Not like the other girls.”

I ignored him. Hopefully he would get the hint.

“Can I have your number?”

I kept my eyes fixed on the page.

“Those are cool shoes. I’ve never seen anything like them.” He touched my knee. It felt like a hit from a sledgehammer.

I wiggled my legs away.

“You’re very pretty.”

I glanced up reluctantly. “If you don’t mind, I would rather be alone right now.” I cringed at the polite words that came out. I should have said: ‘Get the fuck away from me, creepy motherfucker!’ Why am I always compelled to be polite?

“Can I have your number?” This asshole already had his phone out.

“Please, I would rather be alone.” I still had my headphones on. I couldn’t believe this was happening through the divine tones of Lana del Rey. I hoped I wouldn’t associate her music with this creep later.

“Give me your number.”

I stuffed my book in my bag. “Fine, I’ll leave.”

He shot back, his eyes widening. His mouth fell open with puckered lips. For a moment, I felt guilty for offending him. I hated that guilt.

He recovered. “No, don’t. I’ll leave.” He inclined his head towards me and took my hand between his. “I’ll leave.” He sounded so earnest. Yet he didn’t let go of my hand.

White-hot rage boiled up inside me. With my free hand, I reached for something in my bag. The lights crackled.

*

Half an hour later the conductor walked past. “Tick—What happened here?” She gasped.

I looked down at the cleaver in my hands. It was red and sticky. My lovely floral dress was ruined too. The seat opposite me was the worst though. Like a red waterfall had crashed over it. Then there were the body parts…

“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I didn’t mean to make such a mess. It was just—He wouldn’t leave. Why couldn’t he take a hint?”

“He harassed you?”

I nodded.

“Oh, honey. Are you alright?” The conductor’s eyes were full of sympathy.

“I suppose. It could have been worse.”

The conductor shook her head. “Don’t say that. These things should never happen. No woman should have their safety compromised for merely being outside and alone.”

The cleaver was still warm.

“Look, there’s a bathroom up there. Why don’t you go and get yourself cleaned up? I’ll take care of this.” The conductor motioned to the carnage.

“Thank you.” I smiled weakly. “Thank you so much.”

The conductor shrugged. “Like I said, these things should never happen.”

How to not write a novel

typewriter_christinanelson

  • Do not, under any circumstances, start writing without an outline or other solid plan. If you do, you’ll spend forever untangling your mess of a novel. Your plot will make no sense, your characters will be flat and contradictory and you will have too many ill-explored themes. Revising this will frustrate the hell out of you and will lead to many bad life decisions and too much money spent on liquor.
  • Seriously, don’t start writing without an outline.
  • Don’t write your outline without a basic knowledge of plot structure and character arcs. I know things like plot structure seem boring and formulaic, but it’s good to have a handle on. Not to say that you need to follow the structural ‘rules’ of writing to the letter. However, you can’t break the rules without knowing them and understanding how they work.
  • Don’t edit or censor yourself as you go through the first draft. Let it all flow onto the page/document. Even if it feels like it’s becoming a mess despite your outline. Revising and editing will come later. Finish this draft first.
  • Don’t assume that others will understand your characters like you do. You may have a crystal-clear idea about who they are in your head, but does it show in your work?
  • Don’t start revising on a chapter by chapter basis. If you do, you’ll keep running into the same structural problems and pushing them back instead of solving them. Rather, start by looking at your draft as a whole. Does it have a consistent theme? Is there a logical sequence of events? Etc. After you’ve fixed the bigger issues, work your way down to the details.
  • Don’t procrastinate on revising by writing blog posts about writing novels.

How to edit a novel

  1. Print out the whole draft, marveling at all the words you conjured out of nothing.
  2. Read through it. Make notes as you go along: mark where the structure is illogical, where the characters are acting OOC, cross out the stream-of-consciousness filler, and don’t forget to add lots of question marks in the margins.
  3. Despair.
  4. Go back to your original document. Start making changes.
  5. Fiddle around with the structure until it’s more logical and/or interesting, starting with the first chapter.
  6. Flesh out scenes. Write 500 words of descriptions you skipped the first time.
  7. Delete 1000 words of that same chapter.
  8. Despair.
  9. Force yourself to move on to the next chapter, even though the previous one is still hella flawed.
  10. Repeat 5-9.
  11. Get lost in the chapter with the worst structure and content so far. Stare at your piece of shit document for hours on end.
  12. Despair.
  13. Move scenes forward in the novel. If you build it up more slowly, it will be better and more logical. Of course, now you’ll have to write a lot of new scenes in-between.
  14. Scenes, new scenes. You can figure this out.
  15. Get a drink.
  16. Or two.
  17. Stare at the document for several more hours and hours until your eyes are burning out of your skull.
  18. Force the words out, all words, any words. Scenes are made out of words, right?
  19. Read what you’ve written the following day. Delete 75% of the chapter.
  20. Despair.
  21. Repeat 14-20.
  22. You’ve been working on the same chapter for two weeks, haven’t you?
  23. Is the prospect of the remaining 23 chapters giving you panic attacks yet?
  24. Twenty-three, twenty-three, will the end ever come in sight?
  25. Why did you ever write a novel?
  26. Why did you ever think you should be a writer?
  27. You should have gone to medical school like the other smart, privileged kids.

Short story – Rapunzel

Very short retelling of (a part of) the story of Rapunzel, written for a contest.

“A prince came by the tower today.” Rapunzel sat in the high circular room with the witch. She brushed out the witch’s long dark hair, always tangled from her adventures in the forest.
“Is that so?” The witch looked at Rapunzel’s reflection in the mirror. Rapunzel pretended not to notice.
“Yes,” she said. “He came right up to the wall and called to me.” Rapunzel took another lock of dark hair in her hand. “He said the same thing that you do, in a rather high-pitched voice.” She brushed the lock from the bottom. “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair. Like I would be fooled so easily.”
The witch laughed. “I would be disappointed in you if you were. What did you do about him?”
“I told him to leave.” Rapunzel continued brushing. “He got flustered by that. You don’t understand, he said. I’ve come to save you.” She raised her face. Her eyes and the witch’s met in the mirror. “I told him, No, you don’t understand. I don’t need to be saved.”
“That’s my girl.” The witch turned around.
Smiling, Rapunzel put the brush down. She leaned forward to give the witch a long, deep kiss.

Book Review – Darker Than You Think by Jack Williamson

darkerthan

It started out so well. The perfectly suspenseful opening scene immediately hooked me.
And then, the mysterious female explained what she was. Spoiler alert: she was not a werewolf. This is not a book about werewolves, despite what the cover and summary and reviews suggest. From then on, the novel got increasingly frustrating.

The main character is insufferable and unbelievable. He’s supposed to be smart, yet it takes him almost the entire novel to figure out what the reader already figured out in the first quarter. For a moment, I thought that this was one of those novels that lead the reader into thinking they knew for certain what was going on, only to crush those expectations and blow their mind with new information. It was not. It was exactly as I had suspected all along. How uninteresting.

I also couldn’t deal with the ‘scientific’ explanations of the characters’ supernatural powers. As if that wasn’t tedious enough, those scientific explanations are revealed to be a part of a totalising theory about two races continually at war. All great mythical stories are linked back to this theory. Not to mention things like the Inquisition, which this theory justifies. Sigh. I’ll just attribute this to the time in which the novel was written.

It was not all bad though. Many descriptions were great. Without being too long-winded, they painted vivid pictures in your mind. The descriptions of the violence were perfectly gruesome. Only sometimes descriptive phrases were overused. After a certain point, every time I read “sleek white bitch” or “linkage of probability” I wanted to fling the book against the wall. Or out of the window. Or into a volcano.

Going back to the positive, the pacing was well done. The story consistently keeps building. Important information is withheld until the right moment. The tantalising question of ‘But, what’s in the box?!’ kept me reading until the end.

That’s all I got. Why people consider this one of the best werewolf novels is beyond me.