Books I Read This Month - October 2013

No Animals We Could Name by Ted Sanders

This is a collection of short stories by the winner of the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference Bakeless Prize. Overall, this is a spectacular collection. My favorites would have to be the three-part story, "Airbag," and the story, "Putting the Lizard to Sleep." When I first started reading, I was incredibly annoyed at the passive voice in the first and second stories. However, halfway through the second one, "Flouder," I got an idea for a short story that would work perfectly with the slow pace and extended moments of passive voice, so it's not all bad, apparently. Excellent voice and unique observations make this collection a great read for literary-minded readers and writers.

Saints and Sinners by Edna O'Brien

I have been reading a lot of short stories to help hone my own craft and to prepare for an MFA Creative Writing program, so I read this collection this month as well. I'll be honest, I wasn't too fond of this one. The characters were great and relatable, and sad in their human way, which is the goal of literary fiction, but sometimes the prose seemed a bit drab, though perhaps it was just in comparison to the book I read just before it.

The House at the End of Hope Street by

This book is girly, romancey, supernaturally, light and fluffy, and generally not very ... me. But somehow I found it charming and could not put it down. This is likely because of the strong main character, who I could relate to quite a lot. Problems I had with it: written in the present tense, except for flashbacks, character perspective changes pretty much every page, overdone use of dead literary figures as the main characters support and inspiration. But somehow, I really don't know how, I enjoyed it.

Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell

Spectacular. Gorgeous. I can't rave enough. It's not that there were any amazing themes that really resonated with me (which is the reason why I usually feel this passionate about a good book), but I cannot count the number of times I got caught up in Karen Russell's prose. Beautiful writing style, absolutely original premises, fully fleshed-out and rich characters, settings, and worlds, and syntax to die for. Every other page, I found myself thinking, "I wish I could write like this ... I want to write like this."

The Vanished Knight: The War of Six Crowns by M. Gerrick (Review and Interview)

"She’d never been to a boarding school before, but it was a school just the same as all the others. Except that here the students wore black and blue uniforms—a good reminder as any of the pain they could inflict if she let them."

Book Blurb: 
 
Since the death of her parents, Callan Blair has been shunted from one foster family to another, her dangerous secret forcing the move each time. Her latest foster family quickly ships her off to an exclusive boarding school in the Cumbrian countryside. While her foster-brother James makes it his mission to get Callan expelled, a nearby ancient castle holds the secret doorway to another land...

When Callan is forced through the doorway, she finds herself in the magical continent of Tardith, where she’s shocked to learn her schoolmates Gawain and Darrion are respected soldiers in service to the king of Nordaine, one of Tardith's realms. More than that, the two are potential heirs to the Black Knight—Nordaine's crown prince.

But when the Black Knight fails to return from a mysterious trip, the realm teeters on the brink of war. Darrion and Gawain set out to find him, while Callan discovers there is more to her family history than she thought. The elves are claiming she is their princess.

Now with Darrion growing ever more antagonistic and her friendship with Gawain blossoming, Callan must decide whether to stay in Nordaine—where her secret grows ever more threatening—or go to the elves and uncover the truth about her family before war sets the realms afire.

Review: 

With her sad, resigned cynicism and her muted self-consciousness, Callan Blair makes for an immediately likable protagonist who is easy to root for in this interesting, mysterious portal-fantasy novel, The Vanished Knight by M. Gerrick (pen name of Misha Gericke, who blogs here).

Gericke (or Gerrick, if you prefer) does an excellent job with characterization. Some characters start off at the beginning of the book acting a bit like archetypes—such as James, Callen's foster brother who is both attractive and arrogant in his upper-class snobbery, and Phipps, the castle guard who threatens expulsion to all who disobey even the smallest of rules. But, as it turns out, these archetypes are actually only the outer layers to the characters, which peel away as the adventure progresses and they reveal more of their true selves.

Callan's character is very well-developed, as she has both flaws and positive traits, both fears and desires. Her backstory and her life outside the fantasy realm are realistic, making the transition through the portal more accessible and believable.

Descriptions of action are dynamic and engaging, tracing the flowing moves of sword fights. The pacing of this novel is excellent and remains exciting page after page. The mystery behind who Callan's real parents are, where the Black Knight disappeared to, and who will be chosen as the next king keep the suspense going. I am eagerly anticipating the sequel!  

Now, how about an interview with the author, Misha Gericke?
 
Writers often use the mantra "Write what you know." This usually turns into characters as manifestations of the author's traits. How much of Callan is you? 

Hahaha oooh this is tricky. I see her as a person of her own, but in fact, I guess you can say that each of the characters have an aspect of my personality. Which is interesting, given how much they clash.

As for Callan, the most obvious bit to her that comes from my own experience is living with constant nightmares. I get night terrors, the intensity and frequency of which vary. But at the time I was rewriting the book (which is when her dreams started to feature) I was pretty much getting at least one night terror per night, every night, for months. It became a rather important part of the story, but when I was improvising it during the rewrite, I guess I was channeling my own feelings and fears onto the page. The nature of her dreams differ from mine, though.  

Tell us about the world of Tardith. How did it develop in your mind? 

Well... After the first inspiration came, I started thinking of the world I wanted to write about. And I wanted to be different, so I made the "world" a continent, and made the setting into four countries.

In a sense, I approached these four countries the same way I approach characterization. So I assumed (in my special special little mind) that Tardith and its countries existed. I also knew there'd need to be some sort of conflict between them, coming out of their history. (The same way I believe character conflicts need to come from their motivation.)

While I drafted, I started realizing that one country (Icaimerith) was the aggressor, one (Ladrien) was the scrappy Jack Russel that had been fighting Icaimerith off for centuries, one (Alfen Cairn) was actually in Icaimerith's sights and its king knows it, and one (Nordaine) despises, or at least ridicules the other three. Nordaine could counter-balance Icaimerith, but... well... due to one long and nasty history, they're simply not bothered to.

But then, of course, the war's coming, and suddenly Nordaine might just have to step up after all.

What is your writing process like? Do you plan ahead or just write as you go?

Mostly, I just write, discovering as I go, but making sure that everything I've learned before adds to the present discovery, or else the story wouldn't make sense. Usually, it's like a thinking game, where I contemplate what I know, and then see where I can take that knowledge within the overall story.

What has been the most challenging part of your writing and publishing journey so far? What's been the easiest? :)

Time-wise, drafting the story that would become The Vanished Knight and The Heir's Choice was the hardest. Took me about five years just to get that done.

Emotionally, querying was the hardest. The book simply wasn't standard fantasy fare. Still isn't, even if it might seem so. So I received a ton of rejections without, I feel, the agents even bothering to read anything I sent in except for the query.

Easiest was editing it. I spent so long locking up my inner editor that she had a field day when I unleashed her on my manuscript.

The Vanished Knight is the first in the series. Can you give away any fun teasers as to what's in store? :)

In the The Heir's Choice, Callan's the only person who can save Alfen Cairn  (and if you've read The Vanished Knight, you could probably figure out why she wants to). Problem is, she owes Nordaine for saving her life, and they need her to act against Alfen Cairn's interests...  

Author Bio:

M. Gerrick (AKA Misha Gericke) has basically created stories since before she could write. Many of those stories grew up with her and can be seen in her current projects. She lives close to Cape Town, with a view over False Bay and Table Mountain. If you’d like to contact her, feel free to mail her at warofsixcrowns(AT)gmail(DOT)com, Circle her on Google Plus, or follow her on Twitter. If you'd like to see her writer-side (beware, it's pretty insane), please feel free to check out her blog. You can also add The Vanished Knight on Goodreads.

Get Your Non On

I'm not usually one to read non-fiction books much, but these recent and forthcoming titles fascinated me, and I just have to share them with you. :) I hope you find something here that interests you!

Lincoln and Reconstruction by John C. Rodrigue

Beyond the God Particle by Leon Lederman

Gaddafi's Harem:The Story of a Young Woman and the Abuses of Power in Libya by Annick Cojean

The Geek's Guide to Dating by Eric Smith

Invisible Nature: Healing the Destructive Divide between People and the Environment by Kenneth Worthy

A God Torn to Pieces: The Nietzsche Case, Studies in Violence, Mimesis, and Culture by Giuseppe Fornari

The Consolations of the Forest: Alone in a Cabin on the Siberian Taiga by Sylvain Tesson

Ender's Game: Inside the World of an Epic Adventure by Jed Alger

Goodbye to All That:Writers on Loving and Leaving New York edited by Sari Botton

Infotheism/God's Information: Strengthening the Dialogue between Religions by Ozer Ucuran Ciller

The Ultimate Book of Imposters: Over 100 True Stories of the Greatest Phonies and Frauds by Ian Graham

Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Difference by John R. Hibbing, etc.