Thursday, December 30, 2010

How I write period voice...and, um, bookshelf pictures!

I did a blog interview today that asked about the period feel of my voice, and I realized I've gotten this question (or seen that comment in reviews) quite a few times, and maybe I could post about how I capture the feel of an era in voice.

The easy answer is, there is no easy answer, because for one thing, who is to say definitively what is the feel of an era? My editor flagged words as sounding too modern that came straight out of period literature, but I changed them because I decided actual accuracy wasn't as important as not jarring the reader's perception of accuracy. There is also the concern of not confusing a reader. In the 19th century, and into the 20th, oftentimes "dinner" was the midday meal and "supper" the evening meal. My grandparents still say supper. Lunch was not in such common use. But nowadays supper has fallen out of favor and many readers would be confused by the mid-day dinner/evening supper situation, so I stick with lunch and dinner.

Period voice is, for me, intuition as much as anything. But where does the intuition come from? Books!

Tip #1: Read a lot.

I am a non-fiction ADDICT. I buy some novels, sure, but what really opens my pocketbook is a good non-fiction book. My reference library is just to the right of my desk. Lots of books aren't even in there because they are scattered everywhere. (And of course, I'm also a heavy library user!)

If you're trying to capture a period voice, you have some options:
--Reading novels or memoirs/travelogues/whatever written in the time and place you are trying to capture
--Reading non-fiction about the era or collections of diaries and letters
--Reading novels/memoirs set in the era by someone who lived in the era, but written might change their voice, but it might also be a bit easier to read

I recommend some of all of the above to get the most rounded picture. And what are you trying to pick up while reading?

#2: Pay attention to small details.
For instance, Magic Under Glass, pg. 28: "The servants filled a tub with hot water from brass canisters." I could have left off the brass canisters, certainly, and just say they filled the tub. And one mention of brass canisters or the silk lining of a carriage won't fill out the book. But when you slip them in here and there, it helps set a mood and paint a picture. These are the sorts of things I take note of when I read, to stick in later.

You can also take note of the words people use. The Betsy-Tacy books, for example, are full of natural teenage dialogue that doesn't sound like nowadays, the kind of thing you could jot down or the rhythms of which you can absorb if writing an early 20th century American novel:

"I don't see anything so special," Tib remarked.
"Why, we're sitting here drinking coffee," Betsy repeated somewhat lamely. "And not just for a lark."
Tacy's thoughts followed hers.
"We're actually juniors," she said, "stopping in for coffee after shopping, not freshmen or sophomores pretending to be juniors stopping in for coffee after shopping."
Tib looked confused. "You usually take chocolate. I've just got you in the habit of coffee because I come from Milwaukee."
"But Tib!" Betsy cried. "That isn't the point. The point is that we're so frightfully old."

#3: Which brings me to the mood and rhythm...
Even though so far I write fantasies inspired by historical periods rather than actually history, the mood and rhythm of the language is a huge part of creating the world. Between the Sea and Sky was intended to take place around 1800. I feel that writing around 1800 was often actually simpler-sounding than the Victorian period. Marie Antoinette's letters, for instance, often sound very modern to me. Of course they're translated, but still. Jane Austen is wordy but not as wordy as Dickens! So the language in the book I tried to keep straightforward, a little bit "classic" perhaps:

Ginnia led Esmerine from the dim bedroom. Dusk had crept up almost unnoticed until Esmerine came into a dining room lit by a candle and glowing hearth-fire. Sometimes the mermen started a fire on the islands for some purpose or another, but only certain men knew how, and children couldn’t come near, so Esmerine had never been close enough to fire to feel the heat. An older woman with gray curls falling across her cheeks beneath a squarish black cap was sitting quite near it, smoking a pipe. Could this be Belawyn? Esmerine couldn’t believe a mermaid would smoke.
Ginnia went to stir the pot while Swift waved her to an empty seat. Alan was pouring red wine. “Esmerine, do you want wine or water?” he asked.
“I’ve never tasted wine.”
He poured a little in a cup and handed it to her. She took a sip and was surprised it was not at all sweet or salty, just nasty and like nothing else she had ever tasted.
Swift laughed. “She doesn’t like it.”

Magic Under Glass is inspired by the Victorian era, and the voice was more "affected":

I joined Mr. Parry in the tower—not the top of the tower, which must have been shut off like the rest of the upper stories, but the second floor, a small circular room with three huge windows overlooking the woods. A table already bore a spread of food: thin soup, more crusty bread, and some kind of drink in a silver pitcher. A footman waited in the shadows, in the invisible way of servants. Mr. Parry was standing, waiting for me to arrive before he took his seat. The footman pulled out a chair for me.
I smoothed my skirts underneath me and took the heavy, carved chair.
“A pity it rains,” Mr. Parry said, pouring himself the drink: something red and bubbly. “I suppose the gardens had to wait.”
He held the pitcher over my glass and I nodded. “Yes, sir. I don’t mind. I explored the house, the library—I spent ages reading. The sun might have set without my notice.” I chose my words carefully, feeling the need to make proper conversation, whatever that meant. I’d read it in stories, but I’d never shared a table with a gentleman before.

I'm working on a Weimar Berlin inspired setting now, and the voice in this one becomes more modern, a tad choppier and more cynical:

Thea hoped for a moment that it would be one of the old cakes, but of course it wasn’t. Mother didn’t even know how to make a cake right anymore. She used to make buttery pound cakes, and moist apple cakes, and gingerbread… When Thea opened the pantry, she saw the same old chocolate cake sitting there. It wasn’t even a good chocolate cake. Too dense, with a strange sour taste.
Still, she sliced it and got the coffee going. She set the table with plates and cups, all chipped by now from something or another, and when all was ready, she pulled Mother away from the window and into a chair.
Mother picked at her cake. “I do like this cake.”
“I’m glad you do, because you made it.” Thea chewed on hers, sorry that good flour and sugar had gone to waste.

(I used three eating scenes, to try to offer the best comparison...)

And one more note, because good HEAVENS this is going on forever:
#4: Don't forget to consider the age, sex, class and location of your character(s) when shaping the voice. My great-grandmother was born in the teens and grew up in Ohio, and the letters she sent to me as a kid and the way she talked always carried the flavor of an older era. Consider the past of your world too! And of course, a character's class can have a huge effect on their speech.

Of course whatever voice you use, it won't work for someone. For every two people who praise Magic Under Glass's voice, I see a review that said it was too "precious" or something. But at least I know it's as accurate as I can make it, being a modern girl, and that's the best you can do!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

More Art in 2011!: Ifra

One of my New Year's Resolutions this year is to post more art!! Of course, part of the reason I haven't posted much is because my computer doesn't have a scanner or Photoshop. Bit of a deterrent. But I'm getting around it, even if the art doesn't look that polished. Oh, well. I like to think of it like a 19th century tinted picture.

Anyway, I got some Pitt brush pens for Christmas so I've been playing around with them, and I drew this picture of Ifra, because I also got a book about clothes around the world, and Ifra has the most colorful male dress in the book, for sure. He's also my favorite character in Magic Under Stone. He looks a little intense here, I must say, which is not really OUT of character, but also isn't quite how I think of him. But he's pretty easy on the eyes I think. Poor Erris is probably jealous (although I'm not sure he should be, since Ifra has plenty to be an angst-puppy about himself).

(Click for larger image)

Also, NEWS FROM SPAIN, for my Spanish readers: I am told the Spanish version of Magic Under Glass will be released in February! I'm so excited!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

2010 Writer-ly Year in Review!

I'm too braindead to do much of worth today, so I compiled my year-end roundup. What a year! I went to tons of events and met more cool people--fellow writers, bloggers, teachers, librarians, booksellers, publishing house people, etc. than I can count, including a good solid critique partner, which is kind of a first! *waves at Jess* I can't believe how many long-time internet friends I got to meet for the first (and sometimes second!) time this year. I can't even begin to list the amazing experiences I've had this year (and a few that were funny in hindsight).

People often say writing isn't glamorous, but you know what? I think it can be pretty darn glamorous. I get to do what I love every day, even when I'm tearing my hair out, and make friends all over the country and world so I have friends wherever I go. Sure, I'm not a big author who gets invited to BEA or does tours or has people clamoring for signings, I did most of my traveling on my own dime thanks to my proximity to a big airport with a lot of cheap flights and friends that are willing to offer spare beds to me. But I can't imagine I'll be much happier even if/when I am that kind of author, because this year was full of great moments with wonderful people, wonderful books, and at its best, wonderful food.

I also had constant deadlines for the first time ever, so I felt very official. This year between February and November I wrote Magic Under Stone, the short story for Corsets and Clockwork, and did two rounds of revision on Between the Sea and Sky. In my "off time" I worked on revisions of Alfred and Olivia for my agent and got to work switching my Grim Reaper WIP over to middle grade. I'm not really sure what 2011 is going to bring me, but I'm trying to enjoy my temporary freedom from deadlines. (I both miss and do not miss deadlines when I don't have them...)

Just a few photo highlights from the year, from top to bottom:

1. Me and the luminous Kathleen Duey at Miami SCBWI
2. Me reading at my debut party
3. Amy Brecount White, Maggie Stiefvater, and me at ALA
4. Tenners lunch at ALA (delicious tapas and L to R, Amy Brecount White, Karen Kincy, Christina Diaz Gonzalez, Lindsey Leavitt, Holly Hoxter, Margie Gelbwasser)
5. The Bloomsbury/Walker crew at NCTE: Danette Haworth, Kate Messner, Katie Fee of Bloomsbury, Mickey Mouse (we were all trying not to be the one snuggling up to Mickey, lol), fellow Bowie-fan Jessica Warman, me, Beth Eller of Bloomsbury.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Thank yoooou!!! + Magic Under Glass comics!

Today is the last day of my debut year. And what a year it has been. There were times of immense stress...and times of immense joy. But the best part of all was getting to meet and talk to fans, and seeing that, a year later, my book is still being talked about here and there. Still getting reviewed, still getting added to Goodreads. I appreciate all these signs of life SOOO much! I hope that you'll like the sequel in 2012 and, before that, Between the Sea and Sky. I couldn't really do too many nifty things for Magic Under Glass because I had a repetitive stress injury at the time, but I have a few neat little plans for Sea and Sky.

For today, however, enjoy these Magic Under Glass comics I made (a while back, actually...I've been lazy about scanning them, as you can probably tell since one addresses the new cover which only came out MOOOONTHS ago). Click to see them bigger! (Sorry the text is kind of hard to read otherwise...>_<)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Foreign editions update

This popped up on Goodreads this week. It seems to be the Indonesian cover for Magic Under Glass! Yes, they're both blonde now... (Needless to say, not only do authors rarely have much to do with their domestic covers, international releases? It's not uncommon for us to find out our books have sold abroad because Google alerts, Goodreads, or fans reveal, oh hey, guess what, your book is out in another country!) Such was the case with Indonesia! I had no idea. You know what I DO love about this cover, though? As someone with a lifelong interest in historical fashion and fashion illustration...the dress is just perfect. And it looks like Erris even has red heels on his shoes...

Anyway, I don't know for SURE that is the cover or just a placeholder of some kind, and it LOOKS like the book releases in Jan '11 there. I'm ashamed to say I don't know much about Indonesia, except that I love your Ting Ting Jahe ginger candy... If any Indonesian readers come by my blog I'd love to hear a little about your country and what you like to read!

I'm also always poking around to see when the Spanish release of Magic Under Glass is coming out. I had a fabulous chat with some Spanish readers a few months ago and they were SO nice I'm eager to have more Spanish readers. =D I promised I would learn a little Spanish for the release, so if anyone happens to see a date for it, do let me know! (I'd love to learn a little of EVERY language it comes out in, but that's not really practical unless I am turned into a vampire or some other form of immortal...

There is also, supposedly, a Thai edition coming out someday. I know nothing about the publisher or date. But I'll let you know when I do, of course.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Favorite Museums?

This is so random, but the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine has come up in conversation several times this week, and I was thinking how the Lightner might just be my favorite museum I've ever been to, which then got me thinking about what my OTHER favorite museums I've ever been to are. I was in D.C. twice this year and I went to the American History museum, because I've always wanted to see things I've heard of like the flag and the First Ladies dresses and stuff, but it was kind of disappointing, honestly. Too crowded, too tourist-y, and as Dade said, "I think 10% of the people here actually want to be here." So the best museums are probably the ones I've never heard of.

Here are my favorites, although of course there are many many MANY more to see in the world, and some gems I don't remember because I was a kid when we went there and I have no idea what they were!

The Lightner Museum, St. Augustine, FL
This is housed in an old Flagler hotel, and just the building is impressive. It had an indoor pool, which has since been drained and is part of the museum, as well as a steam room, both of which you can easily imagine Gilded Age folk wandering in and out of. It has a bit of a "Titanic" air to it. There is such a random assortment of stuff--from art and glass, to a mummy and weird collections--that anyone would be hard pressed not to find SOMETHING interesting, but the best part is the mechanical musical instruments. It's worth it to catch the twice-daily (if they haven't changed it) demonstration. I particularly love the Violano-Virtuoso, which was electric, and starts up with this great slow thrum and lights coming on and then it plays and it sounds just horrid. In a wonderful way.

Pioneer Memorial Museum, Salt Lake City, UT
This museum is just a ton of old junk shoved together with a lot of information and it's kind of creepy. I say both "junk" and "creepy" in the best possible way imaginable. We went to this museum when I was like, 10, and we only had an hour to look before it closed, or maybe less, and I almost cried (or maybe I did cry, I was a weepy child) because I could have spent hours and hours in there. Yeah, I've been a total history geek as far back as my memory goes.

Carl Sandburg Home, Flat Rock, NC
I've toured a lot of houses in my day, and this was one of my favorites, although I don't remember it very well. It's been years! I just know there are goats. And I think this is the place where everything is just like Carl Sandburg left it, even the trash in the trash can. But don't quote me on that.

Ringling Museum, Sarasota, FL
This place is huh-yuge. it's like three museums. Plus grounds. There is the Ringling House (which unfortunately, you have to do with a tour group and it's a bigger tour group than I'd like, compressed into smaller space than I'd like, and they are very strict, but it's designed like a Venetian palace), a circus museum and an art museum. We were here all day and we barely made it through the art museum, but it's an impressive collection.

The Met, New York, NY
Well, this is one museum that absolutely lives up to the hype. It's a little overwhelming. But you can spend forever in there and find something new each time. I recommend reading Museum: Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, too, which gave me a new appreciation for the collection and all the work that goes into it!

What are your favorite museums? Any museums of historical interest I ought to add to my list of dream museums?

Friday, December 10, 2010

December Lights is a website Stephanie Burgis and Patrick Samphire set up for some fun, funny fantasy short stories, some of it holiday themed. I contributed a short story set in Arestin that I wrote some years back (and updated a bit). There's some great stuff there, and a fantastic contributor list:

Jacey Bedford
Marie Brennan
Stephanie Burgis
Deborah Coates
Leah Cypess
Jaclyn Dolamore
Eugie Foster
Pamela Freeman
Maurissa Guibord
Karen Healey
Tracy Lynn
Sarah Prineas
Jenn Reese
Patrick Samphire
Sherwood Smith
Tiffany Trent

So check it out!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Holiday Book Recs!

It's that time of year! Time to recommend some books I read and really enjoyed in 2010.

Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly
Drea has Asperger's, and no friends, especially since she and her mom have just moved back in with Drea's judgmental grandmother. She's also a musician, and when she makes friends with hot musician boy Justin and neighbor Naomi, her know, changes, because this is a book and that's what happens in books. It's terrific. Great writing, great romance, and it rings very true. I don't have Asperger's but I can still seriously identify with the struggles to make friends and fit in while being your (weird) self. Buy it for anyone who feels alienated, and anyone who likes great contemporary fiction.

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly
A girl in the present grieving her brother meets the past in the form of the French revolution in this emotional, rich novel that you won't soon forget. Buy it for: History fans, people who like epic-feeling novels, anyone who thinks catacombs are fascinating!

The Twin's Daughter by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
When the identical and heretofore unknown twin to Lucy's mother shows up on their doorstep, a web of deception, mystery, and MURDER begins! This 19th century era novel definitely has that creepy "secrets in the house" Gothic feel. The prose is somewhat detached, but for the story it absolutely worked for me. Also I totally had a crush on the love interest, Kit... Buy it for: Fans of Gothic and Victorian novels. (Like Magic Under Glass!)

White Cat by Holly Black
Tired of the same old urban fantasy? I know I am, which is why this novel of magic and mobsters was one of my favorite UF in awhile. I was definitely surprised by some of the twists, the characters are very well-developed, and the world building is like nothing else out there. Buy it for any urban fantasy lover!

Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford
I think the cover of this book is rather generic compared to the absolutely delightful and clever writing within. I liked How to Say Goodbye in Robot a lot, but this I adored! The Sullivan Sisters tell their stories in the form of letters of confession to their grandmother, who has threatened to cut them out of the will because of what one of them has done. This book had me laughing out loud in places, and adoring the characters. Buy it for: The coolest person you know and anyone who likes witty humor.

There you go. My top recs for the year. Enjoy!