Review: Shadowshaper

shadowshaper

So, I met Daniel José Older in a discussion about writing, and his style was so down to earth I knew I had to read some of his work. I nabbed this one as soon as I spotted the cover.

Shadowshaper is the story of Sierra Santiago, a high school student looking forward to a summer hanging out with friends and painting murals. As soon as the summer starts, she’s swept up in a battle that nearly tore her family apart years ago, a battle that’s been kept from her all her life. A magical battle involving her art and her heritage.

Three words I would use to describe this novel and its heroine: Strong. Proud. Real.

Strong

Sierra is strong and not afraid to show it, and that shines in the prose even though it’s written from a 3rd person perspective (that’s not a knock, by the way. I loved that. I miss 3rd person so much in YA).

The plot was also strong. Older knows how to keep his novels lean and each scene served multiple purposes to develop all aspects of his story. The only thing I wasn’t so sure about in this novel was Sierra’s emotional arc. I guess she went from being unsure of her powers to being an accomplished user of them, but to be honest she’s already a pretty great and well-balanced character at the start of the book.

Proud

Sierra is proud of herself, her talents and her heritage. Shadowshaper brings Caribbean legends to New York City and stands with them, giving movement to both art and the dead. I am by no means an expert in Caribbean legends, folklore or culture, so coming at it as an outsider I can say that I enjoyed not just the magic that Older put together, but the way he stood by it. It’s not a creepy horror show act, it’s not whitewashed voodoo, it’s fresh and it’s proud to be what it is.

Speaking of proud, a lot of people have called Shadowshaper a kind of message-fiction. I’m going to be honest, I don’t really see a lot of ‘message’ in here when I look at Sierra’s emotional arc, because the message definitely isn’t, ‘It’s okay to not be white.’ Shadowshaper goes waaaaaaay beyond that. Race politics definitely play a role in the novel, as Sierra has to deal with people who are suspicious just because she’s got dark skin and a fro, not to mention stand up to her racist aunt. But the book isn’t about Sierra learning that her body is okay. From the beginning she’s a fan of her fro: “She loved it the way it was, free and undaunted.” She’s got complaints about her  body, but I’d like to meet the teen that doesn’t. Shadowshaper proudly paints a corner of the world where nobody’s white and nobody needs to be told that that’s okay. And I love that.

Real

I’ve never been to New York. I’ve relied on my sister’s descriptions and the media to give me an impression of the city, and here’s what I’ve got:

-tall buildings
-Broadway shows
-Central Park
-homeless people
-black people in harlem, white people everywhere else.

Yeah, my sister really, really loves Broadway.

I’ve long known in theory that New York is an incredibly diverse place where people from every country in the world converge and bring pieces of their own culture with them. But that’s not the part of New York that we see in other urban fantasy or tv shows like How I Met Your Mother. Older brings us the part of New York that we know is there, but we tend to forget, just like he brings us the story of people we know are there, but tend to forget. We’re doing ourselves a disservice by not giving the places and people he describes more space in our public forums.

But back to technical developments. The writing feels real, the places feel real. The style Older uses is bare bones, which moves us from scene to scene with stark efficiency. I usually prefer a more lyrical style but Older definitely kept the pace up.

You will like this book if: you like urban fantasy, you like diverse casts, you like non-western magic systems, you like strong heroines.

You may not like this book if: you don’t like urban fantasy.

Pitch Wars: #Pimp my Bio

Hello beautiful people. It’s Pitch Wars time. I’ll be entering this year with my YA fantasy, Night Witches. And as part of the Pimp My Bio program, I humbly offer this blog post for your amusement.

night witches cover7
My mock cover. Cover art from  left to right: Wild Blue Yonder by ALAMOSCOUT6, Dragon 01 by totmoartsstudio2, and The Serious Pilot by *Sanchiko. All images scoured from the land of Pinterest.

First things first – thanks so much to Lana Pattinson for arranging the mentee blog hop. All the mentees and their enviably fabulous bios can be found here.

Let’s do this thing.

 

Hullo.

I’m Claire. I’m a U.S. citizen living in Copenhagen, and I make my living telling stories as a tour guide. I live just outside of the city with my tall Danish husband. As our apartment building does not allow pets, we often make ridiculous cat noises at each other to fill the void. There are no ridiculous cat noises in my novel. Make of that what you will.

Some things about me:

  1. I left the US ten years ago and I haven’t lived there since (though I’ve visited my family often)
  2. I can read 4 out of 5 phases of the Ancient Egyptian language. Yes, hieroglyphs. I also speak Danish. Useful languages are for suckers.
  3. DC over Marvel. Sorry, but comic book Batman and the Sandman stole my heart when I was 16.
  4. Having said that, my favorite television show is Agent Carter. Still bitter over its cancellation.
And to make matters worse, it’s not even in the top ten for crappy newsflashes this year.

What I like to write:

  1. Fantasy. Particularly with some historical influence (not historical fantasy like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, as much as I love it, but history-inspired fantasy a lot like the work of Guy Gavriel Kay). I have very rarely written anything not fantasy.
  2. YA. I love the rawness that comes with YA. I don’t write YA exclusively but from the time I was about 8 to now, it’s been the section I gravitate toward in the bookstore.
  3. 3rd person, past tense. Nothing’s wrong with 1st person present tense, but I feel like 3rd person is missing some love in the YA section right now.

My recent favorites:

  1. Uprooted by Naomi Novik
  2. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
  3. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
  4. Star-touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

The best compliment my manuscript ever received was during the 1st 5 pages workshop for June, in which it was called a cross between Code Name Verity and the Grisha series. Yassssssssss!

My work here is done. Actually…no.

So…what will I bring to the table?

As your mentee, I will:

  1. Provide you with a polished manuscript. It’s been through 4 CPs so far. This doesn’t mean that I think it’s perfect! But it’s not a first draft anymore.
  2. Work hard. I am a borderline workaholic, and I want to make writing my full-time job. That’s only going to happen if I go for it, and go for it now. Give me an assignment and deadline, and it’ll be back in your inbox before the due date.
  3. Be clear with my goals and reasons. If I’ve done something in my MS and you don’t think it works, I will want to chat with you about what I was trying to do and how I can achieve that in a better way. But, at the same time, I will…
  4. Be willing to change. I’m not here for validation. This might sound arrogant, but I already know I’m good. I also know that I can be better, and that’s why I’m here. At the same time, I will…
  5. Be open to any and all criticism and feedback. I don’t care if it’s tough love. I don’t care if it’s just tough. If you’re working hard to make me a better writer, I’m so grateful and I respect your dedication. I want your honest input, no matter what form that takes.
  6. Work on a lifelong friendship with you. I want to engage in the writing community and I want to be in this for the long haul. I want to chat with you about the Princess Bride, Mulan (many Disney films actually, but Mulan more than most), writing troubles, awesome novels by beautiful people, and, of course, Agent Carter. And other things. But those things are always a good starting point.

 

Still with me?

You may enjoy my manuscript if you like the following:

  1. The story of the actual Night Witches. (Haven’t heard of them yet? You’re welcome.)
  2. High fantasy/dieselpunk YA
  3. Strong female characters
  4. Heavy focus on female friendships
  5. Little to no romance. Like blink-and-you’ll-miss-it romance.

 

I don’t have a reason for including this. Other than it was an awesome opening scene.

If you’re a mentor and you got this far, then I hope you read something you liked. I’m on the twits at bartlebett if you have any questions or comments. Or you can immortalize them here.

And remember the amazing other potential mentees, linked at the top of the blog!

SFFpit – a recap

June 15th: Shit shit SHIT there’s something called #SFFpit and it’s happening NEXT WEEK. I can’t do it. I’m going to do it. I’m not ready to do it. I’M GOING TO DO IT.

June 18th: Dear every writer I know – want to swap twitter pitches?

June 19th-20th: *crickets*

June 21st: Okay, no one is interested, I guess I’ll go back to being a failure at life WAIT WAIT SHIT PEOPLE ARE INTERESTED.

June 22nd: *frantically trades pitches* Ha! I totally know what I’m doing. Dammit, I’m a total failure. Why are these people so much more awesome than meeeeeee

June 23rd, 4am EST: Dum de dee, I’ll just tweetdeck all my tweets so that they activate at the right time. Then I can go about my day and be all productive.

June 23rd, 6am EST: Did it wrong. I’m going to adjust all my tweetdeck tweets.

June 23rd, 6:30am EST: Did it wrong. I’m going to adjust them back.

June 23rd, 7:25am EST: Did it wrong – you know what, I’m just going to take a walk.

June 23rd, 8am EST: THE FALCON HAS LEFT THE NEST. THE EAGLE HAS LEFT THE EYRIE. WHY AM I SAYING THESE THINGS.

June 23rd, 8:08am EST: A HEART, EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE A HEART. I’M GOING TO GET ALL THE HEARTS.

June 23rd, the next 7 hours and 52 minutes: *crickets. No productivity is accomplished. Computer monitor is watched like a bucketful of roaches on the verge of tipping.*

June 24th: I got me a heart and it is MADE OF AWESOME.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how my SFFpit went. For anyone left out in the cold, take a look here.

 

Contests, workshops and pushing for sameness in an altered world

Seriously, this week.

When logging on to write a blog post, I realized I’d intended to go over my impressions of the 1st 5 pages workshop in which I participated. The workshop took place over 3 weeks, and was an intensive look at the first 1250 words of my YA fantasy manuscript. All the participants commented on each other, and each participant got an additional 3 comments from experts in the field. An agent will be commenting as well, and choosing one entry as the lucky recipient of a partial request (and hopefully a critique).

I really felt the value of this workshop, and if you’re working on a YA novel, you should definitely go for it. Getting in-depth feedback, week after week, meant that we could build on our shifting understanding of our fellow authors and their work to give (and receive) increasingly detailed feedback. This didn’t just help me improve my first five pages. I was able to make my entire first chapter tighter, and I hope that I’ll continue to keep my fellow workshoppers’ tips in mind as I go through my manuscript yet again. Thank you, my beautiful first five pages people!

My motto for this week seemed to be seize the week, because on Thursday I decided to go in for two more contests: the red light/green light competition and SFFpit on twitter.

Red light/green light is a stop-and-go competition, in which the first line of 50 finished, ready-to-query manuscripts will be put up on the web site and judged by an agent. Once she’s found 25 that she likes, she’ll look at the first 2 sentences of those 25 manuscripts. That gets boiled down to 10 entrants and their first page, which gets boiled down to 5 entrants and their pitch. I actually have no idea whether I’m in this contest; the first 50 to send in their forms get put on the web site and I won’t know if I made the cut till Thursday. But I’ll be following the contest no matter what, because I think it will provide incredible insight as to how these first isolated sentences grab readers who have never seen our work before.

SFFpit is a twitter event for science fiction and fantasy authors to pitch their finished manuscripts in 140 characters. I think I’ll be doing a separate blog post on SFFpit.

SFFpit was bowled over for me by the political news. I’ve ranted about that on my personal facebook, so I’m not going to go over that here. But when you take an emotional blow, for whatever reason, setting all that aside and working on something that seems mundane and pointless in comparison – well, it’s not easy. And seeing as I’m waiting on a few last critique partners, I didn’t want to throw myself into editing without their feedback. I needed to make something new.

I wasn’t very good at it.

However, here’s to the future, for all of us. I had a good week until Friday morning, I learned a lot, I got excited, and I connected with some fantastic writers. I’m not going to write that off.

I’m in the 1st 5 pages workshop

I was super excited to get into YA Publishing Adventures’ 1st 5 pages workshop. The idea is that five writers submit the first five pages of a YA manuscript, each of which is critiqued not just by the other participants, but by mentors that have experience in the field.  Over the course of 3 weeks we revise and resubmit our pages, finishing with a pitch and the first five pages which are submitted to a literary agent.

The workshop is free and takes place once a month, but there were only five spaces available so as soon as I read about it I knew I’d have to be fast.

I prepared the application the night before, and made sure that everything was just as I’d been instructed. I read and re-read the instructions, sent the email to myself to make sure everything would be fine, and queued up the final application in my saved drafts to be sent out as soon as the submission window opened the next day.

The window usually closes in under a minute, so I set my alarm to three minutes to noon. I watched the clock obsessively until it ticked over to the hour. But I still wasn’t sure I’d get it, not until the email confirmation.

I’m most excited to see what critiques of the first five pages will tell me about the rest of my writing. I’m sure I’ll get a lot of good intel that I can apply to the whole manuscript.

Anyone can follow along with the workshop, so if you’re wondering if it’s something for you, go take a look! You might want to submit for next month!

To Peggy, with Love

agent carter

I found out this afternoon that Agent Carter got cancelled. I absolutely adored that show and am both saddened that it won’t be gracing my television screen for a third season, and irritated that frankly inferior shows will be renewed and receive the love that Agent Carter deserves.

There are so many things to love about Agent Carter. The pulpy dieselpunk feel of it, the humor (better in the first season, I agree, but still!), the nuanced villains, the fun nods to the Marvel Movie- and Comicverse, the fantastic acting, the engaging stories – I could go on. But I’m trying to write blogs as an exercise in short form, so I won’t.

At the end of the day, I loved the show because Peggy Carter made me feel empowered. Other shows are perhaps more addictive, but whenever I watched Agent Carter I felt great. I felt like I could do anything. I felt like I could be strong and honest and stand up for the whole world and kick ass. Because of Agent Carter I started working out more and trying to get stronger. I started thinking, What would Peggy do? when I found myself in an awkward or difficult situation. All the different facets of Peggy Carter came together to make a flawed but infinitely admirable main character.

The in denial part of me wants to know why. Why would you cancel such a gem of a show? Why is no one watching it? I mean, I’ve talked to a lot of people (all in Denmark) who watched it. All of them were men, by the way, and all of them loved it – so take that, random internet guy who said the show wasn’t for guys.

But I’m glad that we got two seasons when I only expected one, and I’m glad that the showrunners faced reality and gave us a conclusion we could live with. Even though certain storylines will be a mystery.  (Unless Netflix picks up the show. NETFLIX, I WILL LOVE YOU FOREVER. Also, don’t make it all Daredevil/Jessica Jones dark. Keep that pulpy awesomeness).

Ah well. At least we have fanfiction, right?

Also, if you don’t want to read fanfiction, I found a couple of lists for what to read if you need more Carter in a post-Carter world.

This one has more fact

This one has more fiction, particularly YA

Both of those lists include Code Name Verity, which completely devastated me. Elizabeth Wein is a genius.

 

April Submissions

Number of submissions sent in April: 2. 1 rejected and sent again, 1 written and sent for the first time.
Number of pieces on submission: 4
Number of pieces rejected: 2. 1 form, 1 very helpful rejection. I’m working with the feedback on the 2nd to improve the story and send it again.

The rough draft of my novel is finished, which means it’s time to move into edits. I have a tight deadline with my critique group so I’ve been slaving away in the train on my way to work.

March Submissions

Not so much to report on the Submissions this round. This is both good and bad.

Number of submissions sent in March: 0. I suck.
Number of pieces on submission: 4
Number of pieces rejected: 1.

The rejection actually came from a work for hire project. The people with whom I was negotiating are absolutely lovely, and said 1) that they simply didn’t feel I was right for the project and 2) they would like to keep me around to audition for another project. Of course, I’ve told applicants at my place of work that we’ll keep their applications on file, too. Maybe this is karma coming back to kick me.

At the end of the day, all a rejection means is that it’s a rejection. This is what drives writers up the wall, really.

The four submissions out have been out since December/January. My general rule is that the longer a submission has been out, the farther up the ladder it’s gotten. One piece has been shortlisted (hooray!).

 

 

February’s Submissions

This has been a fairly quiet month. I got one submission out, mainly because the glut of work I did in November and December got sent out in January. I’ve also been working on the novel. I think it’s going well. Additionally, I’m participating in a YA novel workshop – so I also spent a large chunk of February reading a fellow participant’s novel and making comments.

For anyone interested in statistics, this means I’ve got four pieces out – three from January and one from February. I haven’t gotten a reply to any of my January pieces yet. That’s a good thing. From my (limited) experience with short story submissions, the longer you wait for a reply, the further up the queue your story has managed to get.

I’ve also been invited to submit to a few projects, which has me super excited. I won’t go into detail on them until and unless I get locked in to them. But it’s a beautiful feeling to be contacted by an editor!

Sci Phi Journal

Sci Phi Journal

I’m always looking for new places to submit work, and recently I came across Sci Phi Journal in the bowels of Duotrope (which is a beautiful tool to help fledgling authors submit). I thought I’d try for it.

Of course, a lot of science fiction and philosophy go hand in hand. Science fiction often takes a philosophy or concept to an extreme, and it’s this factor of Science Fiction that is most appealing to me. I often wish Fantasy did a little more of this.

Another cool thing about the journal is that they emphasize the philosophical element. They have a ‘food for thought’ section at the end of each story, that teases out the philosophical elements and gives us, well, things to think about. I like this concept.

The site is also well laid out and easy to navigate, so you can check out all different parts of it. You can even get a taste of what you’ll be paying for from the ‘Free Stories’ page.

Sci Phi Journal operates via funding from Patreon, so if you’re interested you can always check it out.

As for me, I’m about to submit. Wish me luck!