Allusions and Intrusions: Pulled Out of the Narrative

(Edit from Krispy: OMG, it's an Alz nudge!!! Yay!)

Ever had it where you're reading a book and you're really into it, utterly absorbed and fully enthralled, and suddenly crash-bang-slam you're rudely yanked out of the narrative due to an out-of-place allusion, word, or narrative device?

On a whim, I recently began to reread Elvenblood by Andre Norton and Mercedes Lackey, book two of the Halfblood Chronicles. I experienced this jolting displacement 40 pages into the book—better sooner than later, I guess.

Now, Elvenblood by itself is not a great book. The first half is fairly well done, but it soon digs itself into an improbability pit well-seasoned with retconning and lined with plot devices lurking like landmines on every page. Well, all right, if you just read the book, it's not quite that glaringly bad, but the amount of glib worldbuilding and continuity errors is appalling once you take a good look at the details.

But if you just read it through, it's standard fantasy fare, with its good points and its bad points and no real wow-factor. Elves are the ruling race, few in number but cruel and powerful and long-lived, and they have long since enslaved humanity, collaring humans and locking away their mind magic. The offspring of human and elf is forbidden because these so-called "wizard" halfbloods have human mind magic in addition to elf magic and are therefore super powerful; naturally because they are forbidden, you can be sure there are a heck of a lot of them secretly born and spirited away to await future storylines. Oh, and there are shapeshifting magical dragons who don't want the elves to know they exist, fearing that the elves, being cruel bastards with a taste for pretty things, will want to skin every dragon alive for the sake of their sparkly skins.

At any rate, in Elvenblood, there's a noble elf household featuring the lord cruel father Treves who is like unto a marble statue in a blizzard in terms of coldness, the lady secretive mother Viridina, and their two presumably-teens-or-older children: son and heir Lorryn and disposable daughter Sheyrena. Lorryn is a halfblood, born to Viridina and masked as a fullblood elf from birth by his mother. Sheyrena is the true daughter of the house, but only Viridina and Lorryn know the truth. Naturally the situation turns sticky when the High Council decrees that all male heirs of a certain age must undergo illusion-breaking spells…

But lo! Sheyrena's maid is actually one of those sparkly shapeshifting dragons, changed into the form of a human maidservant, and she has plans for Lorryn, whom she knows to be a wizard. Plot will follow.

Standard fantasy fare, right? Fairly intriguing, right? I was feeling pretty well into the world and the book until the point where Sheyrena, dressed for a fete and annoyed with her gown's long train and how people will tread on it, thinks, "All very well if you are someone like my mother, with prestige and presence—or if you're a real beauty, like Katarina an Vittes" (27-28).

At which point I paused thoughtfully and went, "Huh. Reminds me of that figure skater Katarina Witt."

And I dismissed it as coincidence and read on. Until a few pages later, where it switches to Myre's point of view as she goes to tell another slave to await their mistress's return from a fete, which means sitting in a boring room all alone for hours on end. The slave she chooses is named Tanhya Leis, "a particularly nasty piece of blond work that Myre had been longing to get stirred into mischief for some time now" (39).

Turns out Tanhya is an ex-member of Lord Treves's harem because when her brunette rival Keri Eisa became the favorite, Tanhya fought dirty to try to knock her out of the running. Myre thinks, "You'd think she'd have known that stupid cook's helper of hers would be caught. And that he'd talk once he was caught. I don't care how good you are in bed, that's not going to keep your paramour from telling everything when his tail is in the fire? After all, it was trying to seduce one of the guards into spoiling Keri's looks and making it look like an accident that got her sent down here in the first place" (40).

And that was where I crashed to a halt. The blatant reference to ice skater Tonya Harding conspiring with two men to attack Nancy Kerrigan and keep her out of the 1994 Figure Skating Championships jolted me right out of the story. And nothing else about this "cook's helper" is ever explained either; he exists solely to indicate there were two men involved in the attack. I don't remember making the connection when I read the book the first time, but maybe I wasn't paying as much attention—because this entire little anecdote about Tanhya and Keri is entirely that: anecdotal. It has no effect or import upon the plot whatsoever and, in fact, is not mentioned again. Neither is Katarina Witt Katarina an Vittes, except to briefly mention that she is in fact so beautiful she becomes betrothed to a very sought-after elven lord. Nor are there any other bizarre ice skating or other real-life-references or allusions anywhere else in the book so far, and I've been keeping both eyes so peeled I could use an entire bottle of Visine right now.

In this case, I think the author (or authors) thought she was being clever at inserting an ice skating allusion into the story. There is no narrative or artistic benefit except as an inside joke; clearly I glossed over it the first time and it made no impact, but this second time, the impact is considerable, as is my judgment, which I am fond of casting about like a rock. If this were a book focusing on ice elves or a fantasy skating competition, I wouldn't mind quite as much because the allusion would have a clear connection and reason for being—but ice skaters becoming one-liner harem slaves in a book about elves and dragons and wizards?

Please. Either have a little more context for any real-life allusions you're going to make in your fantasy novel, or don't make your allusions so blatant. Be like Tamora Pierce when she wrote Lady Knight, the fourth book in the young adult series the Protector of the Small—if I recall correctly, there was an afterward from the author explaining that the destruction in a particularly brutal scene was in fact inspired by the 9/11 attack, and a wish to convey the senselessness of the devastation to a younger audience. But when I read the book, the thought of 9/11 had never crossed my mind because Tamora Pierce did not thinly mask the event and insert it into the novel as a pointless aside; instead, she wrote a captivating, intense scene that belonged exactly where it was in the story: in the heartrending heart.


Randomosity on Fridays

More randomness this week guys. I swear I'll pull together an actual post sometime soon. Real Life is kicking my butt.

1. I had my final 2 wisdom teeth removed on Wednesday. It took a grand total of 15 minutes to do it. The dental assistant asked me if I wanted to keep my teeth; I politely declined. You know, teeth LOOK LIKE teeth - like how they're drawn in those dental posters? That's really what they look like. Then I spent the rest of the day with a pack of frozen soy beans pressed to my face. But really, it's not that bad. Pain medication is my friend. The suckiest part is being hungry...like all the time. Liquid/soft diet isn't exactly filling, but at least I get to eat a lot of chocolate pudding?

2. Luce just finished reading Incarceron. I think we're both kind of in love with this book (or also just a certain Sapient). We CANNOT WAIT for Sapphique to be released in the US in December. No, really. We're entering every contest we can find that might get us a copy of Sapphique before December. We might crack and order a UK copy off Amazon.

3. I saw Toy Story 3 and cried. I very rarely cry at movies (or books), unless they're heartfelt stories involving dogs. I always cry at dog-related movie/book deaths. Always. I also really liked Pixar's short, Night & Day - cute, fun, and a really good message. Pixar, how are you so consistently awesome?! Oh and TOTORO is in it. I LOVE TOTORO! Cutest thing EVER.

4. The lovely Ms. Lydia Kang gave me a blog award! I got to choose from a bunch, but this one won out because I'm a cheerful person and that bright yellow just makes me smile. Plus, rain boots are boatloads of fun. Srsly.

Thanks, Lydia! Be sure to check out her blog, especially if you have burning medical-related questions. Her "Medical Mondays" feature is super helpful, and even if you don't have specific questions, you learn new and interesting things.

5. I'm thinking about starting a new blog - probably a Tumblr - for my lettering / calligraphy-related doodles. I appreciate really nice handwriting, and I'm intensely jealous of people from like the 1700s because it seems like they all had enviable handwriting. Anyway, I sort of got this idea after seeing Sandy Shin's penmanship meme where she linked to this really cool handwriting/calligraphy/lettering article.

One of the featured lettering pieces was this gorgeous M from an 1800s Lettering Sketchbook, and I thought OMG, why have I never thought to keep a lettering sketchbook?.

(Photo courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos

I do more of this random handwriting stuff than actual drawing, so it might be cool to have a place to gather all the fancy handwriting I do. Anyway, will keep you posted if the Tumblr happens. Right now, I'm just starting up my sketchbook.

What's up with all of you? Do you have any exciting things planned for the upcoming long weekend? Any book sequels you're itching to get your hands on? (I've got plenty besides Sapphique.)


Randomosity on Fridays: Excited!!! Edition

1. WriteonCon: By now, most of you have probably heard of the EPICNESS that is WriteonCon. If you haven't, um, let me point you to Elana's post about WriteonCon, "the mother of all pay it forward events." I'm inclined to agree with that statement. A FREE online writers' conference?! Why are all these authors so awesome?! Let me count the ways... Registration starts July 1.

2. Narnia / (not)Airbender: Have you guys SEEN the trailer for Voyage of the Dawn Treader?! It looks beautiful and epic, and I'm so excited! Okay, also I'd like to see Mr. Ben Barnes (Caspian!) again.

If I weren't so opposed to the casting and how Paramount & Co. have handled the issue, I would be SUPER excited about The Last Airbender movie, especially since my sister and I just finished watching the animated series on which the movie is based. But as it is, I'm not. Instead, I'm vastly disappointed, especially since the original series is so good. I know it's a big summer movie, but I strongly encourage you to boycott the movie or if you must see it, see it two weeks after opening (so you don't contribute to the big opening weekend sales). Whitewashing is so not on; Aang can stay Asian and still save the world.

3. Um, LAKERS!!! Back-to-back champs! W00t! I'm not really a huge basketball (or any sports, if we're being really honest) fan, but it's hard not to get caught up when it's your home team. That and I only ever watch the 4th quarter, which as I told my dad yesterday is the only quarter that matters as far as I'm concerned because that's when you're feeling the most edge-of-your-seat, biting-your-nails, WHO IS GOING TO WIN???!!!

4. Toy Story 3: I'm usually excited for whatever Pixar has up its collectively creative sleeve every year, but this is Toy Story we're talking about. Not gonna lie, neither of the previous two Toy Story movies is my favorite Pixar film, but they're up there. I can't believe I was nine years old when I saw the first Toy Story. Now, Andy is going to college in the third installment, and I'm out of college a full two years. INSANE. Hopefully, I'll catch it this Sunday.

5. End Love video from OK Go. So my last blog post was about pacing in books and the perception of time. That actually ties into OK Go's new video pretty well because it's an awesome time-lapse wonder, a visually intriguing dance with time. You should check out just because most of OK Go's videos are worth the watch, but also my sister and I are in the video. This was back at the end of March, and we felt kind of ridiculous during the choreographed parts of it, but in the final product, it all looks AWESOME.

You should watch it in HD. Spot me in the picnic scenes in the last third! Oh and the goose? Just a resident of the park, totally un-trained and not CGI.

Happy Father's Day weekend everyone!

P.S. If you're Facebook friends with me (or if you'd like to become FB friends?), I'd be very grateful if you'd comment on my sister's upload of the End Love video to her FB page (it's linked on my wall). It's for a contest to win an iPad, and who doesn't want an iPad???! THANKS!!!


What Time is It?

Time is a strange, elusive creature as many of you know. When you're really sleepy, have tons of work to do or have looming deadlines, there's never enough of it. It also slips by on swift feet when you're having fun. Then there are days when you feel every tick of the clock, and the week, day, hour can't end fast enough.

I've been feeling a bit of both lately, and it got me thinking about books and pacing. There are some books you just tear through, blasting through pages as if you were in a race. You're caught up in the action, the danger, the mystery! Your breathless anticipation matches the characters' own, and neither of you can believe all those events happened in a mere week or two! Or you've been with the characters through adventures that lasted months, maybe years, but it doesn't feel like it because so much has happened and all those things needed all that time.

Other books you read at a slower pace, savoring each word in your mouth and letting it seep into your mind. The story unfolds in beautiful segments like watching a painting in progress. When you put the book down, it lingers in your thoughts and soon, you're drawn back to it. But this book, you can read chapter by chapter; there's no rush.

You may have the same amount of love for both books, but you love them in different ways. Reading both these kinds of books is time well spent.

Of course, there's the flip side of this cozy balance I've visualized. There are those books that could have done with some trimming or some fleshing out. There are those stories you read where characters journey for months on end, and it feels like months when you read it. Not gonna lie, when I read it took the Fellowship a few months to get to Rivendell in Fellowship of the Ring, well, I wasn't surprised because sometimes those many pages of walking and singing felt like months. Conversely, there are also books where things just abruptly end, or there's all this build-up and the climax snips by and you're left wondering if it ever even happened.

So my question is, when you're writing, what's your perception of time like - for you as a writer and for your characters?

For me, writing is alternately slow and fast. I feel like it's very slow going when I'm writing because I think about things a lot (probably too much), and I weigh each word and sentence. But when I look up at the clock, a bunch of time has passed. Sometimes, writing these blog posts seems breezy to me, but I'm always surprised by how late it is when I'm done.

Also, I often wonder about how writers pace their stories. The whole pacing thing is pretty organic for me; I don't really think about it and I don't know if I could. I sort of just go with what feels right.

How do you pace your stories? Is it a conscious decision or does it just happen?


Randomosity on Fridays

I'm totally slacking on the blogging front right now, guys. Sorry! It's mostly because my sister just finished finals, which means we can watch stuff!!! We're almost done watching the Avatar: The Last Airbender series. That and Luce is approaching the last third of Supernatural Season 5. So basically, I've been distracted.

On the other hand, my distractions have spawned a few ideas for future posts, so I can't complain. Must let the seeds germinate.

Until then, here's a very random Friday 5.

1. GLEE finale. To me, Glee has been very uneven ever since it came back from the hiatus. Characters have been on and off (um, anyone else think Mr. Shu got a little CREEPY some eps). Some eps had weird pacing, some eps were totally GLEE and great (e.g. the Madonna ep), and some were way too heavy-handed (e.g. "Hello" ep). I mean, part of the Glee thing is stating the obvious, but there's tongue-in-cheek, Glee-corny obvious and then there's hitting-me-over-the-head-repeatedly obvious. Basically, some eps I felt like Glee was trying too hard to be Glee. HOWEVER, the GLEE finale was pitch perfect - as in, it was like 1st half of the season Glee. Characters didn't compromise themselves by acting out of character just to make the episode go a certain way, and I liked how they did certain events. Oh and JGroff FINALLY got an EPIC, long number. My sister was so annoyed that Glee was under-using his Broadway talent so much, but we finally got a number. So all in all, well done.

2. I've been on this site: 750words.com. You basically try to write 750 words a day, free-write style and you get points and badges for it. It's pretty cool because it also does like light analysis of what you've written, so you get this colorful stats page that breaks down your entries into things like how long it took you to get to 750 words, what was the overall mood of your entry, were you focused more on the past, present or future, etc. Also, that means I've been writing EVERY SINGLE DAY for the past week, 750 words each time. That's kind of huge for me. None of it is very uh, useful, in the creative writing sense, but it's good practice and good for de-stressing. Writing is cathartic, my friends. There are psych studies to back this up (I love my major sometimes).

This was my stats page for Tuesday: 750words.com/entries/share/153345

3. My good friend and fellow Golden Bear alum had an article up on Tiger Beatdown this past week called The J.K. Rowling Complex, or, Why My Initials Are How You Know Me. The article addresses gender bias in the business of writing or why lady authors might consider obscuring their lady status in order to get more opportunities/readership/audience/etc. It's smart and it's sassy - just like its author, the talented playwright extraordinaire and former cad about town, M.R. Fall.

4. My cousin is turning 21 this year, and we're celebrating IN STYLE. This necessitates shopping for going out/clubbing clothes. I rarely go on these outings, and when I do it is ALWAYS impossible to find nice clubbing clothes when I need it. It sucks. When I'm NOT looking for the clothes, there will be cute dresses or shirts that I'll look at and think, I'd wear this out. This is nice., but when I NEED clothes, there is NEVER ANYTHING I like. Which is why I'm looking now, a full month ahead. Wish me luck!

5. So I think OK Go is premiering their new music video this weekend or something. It's for the song End Love. Also, I might be in it.....Um...good thing? Not sure yet.

Have a fantastic weekend everyone!


Randomosity on Fridays: Be Gone June Gloom!

Welcome to June, everyone! I hope you all had a great Memorial Day weekend! I didn't do any BBQ-ing, but there is some of that in my near future with G and Luce - right in time for the SoCal heat hitting this weekend (finally!). Seriously, I can't believe I'm still toting a jacket around everywhere.

APA Month is over, but I'd like to continue bringing up APA-related things from time to time (I mean, c'mon, I am Asian American), so I hope it will continue to be informative and maybe even fun!

Speaking of fun, here's my Friday 5 with the theme of What Rocks About Summer.

1. Fun times with friends and family! This can happen any time of the year, but there's something freeing about summer. That's when all my family vacations are set, I can tell you that. Plus, it's when I can bother my sister all the time without feeling guilty.

2.  Summer clothes! Don't get me wrong. I love coats and jackets (you can tell by how many I own), but there's nothing like throwing on a T-shirt or tank and not having to worry about getting cold. Also, flip-flops and sunglasses and cute, cute summer dresses! What's not to love?

3. Concerts! Actually, it's just this summer that my sister went kind of crazy and wanted to go see a bunch of people. Some of the concerts aren't actually in the summer, but you know, it feels like it! It's part of the spirit! We kicked it off with OK Go in May. Next up is MGMT in July! Muse and Vampire Weekend in September! Excited!!!

4. ICY DESSERTS! This one is in ALL CAPS because I am a food monster when it comes to desserts, especially icy desserts. I love ice cream and frozen yogurt and shaved ice. How I love ice cream and shaved ice, and I'm not talking about snow-cone type shaved ice that's just covered in fruity syrup. No. I'm talking about honest to goodness Taiwanese style shaved ice. I know, other Asians have this dessert too, and really, who knows where it originated from way back when, but the Taiwanese have this category in the bag. No one does shaved ice like we do. There's all sorts of toppings (which is a misnomer because actually, those things are under the ice) and you top it all off with some delicious condensed milk (or brown sugar, but I prefer the condensed milk). There's also different types of shaved ice, BUT I will save the details of this for another post. For now, you can drool over this picture of pazookies.

5. Beach/Swimming! I actually haven't been to the beach out here in a long time. It's mostly because if you want to go to the beach, everyone else wants to go to the beach too, and super crowded beaches are not exactly fun times. Still, there's something so essentially summer (or maybe Californian?) about chillaxing at the beach on a bright, warm, beautiful day.

Barring that, there's swimming (not in the ocean, mind you, in a pool). Exercise and I are not exactly friends, but I'm cool with swimming. It's fun exercise! It's exercise that doesn't feel like it's trying to kill you (unless you're really hardcore about it, I suppose). Plus, you have the added benefit of cooling off without sending more bad emissions into the ozone through overuse of the A/C. Oh and no sweating = no grossness. Win-win, guys.

All right, who else is ready for summer? Who else is so over this June gloom? Happy Friday everyone!

(where I'd like to be right now)

P.S. Summer is also about reading for fun back when I still had summer vacation. Oh man, I sound old. I just read all the time now, anything and everything I want. It's not like I need more books on my TBR list, which grows faster than I can move through it (curse being a slow reader!), but I want to read Jandy Nelson's The Sky is Everywhere.

Especially after Tahereh's gushing review of it. She loved it so much, she's holding a book giveaway contest of The Sky is Everywhere on her blog here. Check it out!