Launch Party For ALL FOUR STARS

I’m going to break — briefly — with my pattern of blogging about the changes I’m planning for Kate in order to share with you a little bit of the fun I had tonight at the celebration for Tara Dairman’s middle-grade debut novel, “All Four Stars”at Boulder Book Store.

Tara is a local Boulder writer and we’ve become friends through the writing community here. We’ve worked together in coffee houses, snarfed ice cream together and shared dinner-and-a-movie-nights debating the various merits of Mr. Darcy and Col. Brandon:  in other words, we are very well suited indeed! I couldn’t be more thrilled to see her reach this point of her publishing journey!

Tara spoke for a while about how she got here:  from the seed of an idea while she was working in Manhattan supervising freelance writers (like her intrepid young restaurant reviewer Gladys Gatsby), to the long years of drafting by hand completed at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro (including taking photographs of the pages in case the manuscript got lost or damaged), to the two years that passed from getting an agent to holding that book in her hands and talking to all of us. She also read an excerpt from Chapter One of her book which made me want to grab it out of her hands and run off into a corner and read more. You know, the way I did when I was a kid.

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Treats included desserts from the book itself, including my personal favorite, tree-nut tarts, which are kind of like mini pecan pies but less cloyingly sweet. So yummy! The recipe is on Tara’s website.

Tara signed a copy of her book for me. Here she is contemplating what to say…

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… And here we are together afterwards!

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It was a great night and I’m really happy for Tara! Congratulations on your debut, Tara!

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Beshrew The Shrew

I was afraid this would happen.

Back in the early drafts of “Finding Kate,” Kate’s voice was so loud and clear that she turned people off. She was so mean, so bitter, so nasty, so clearly a shrew that it was hard for readers to identify with her — yet she is the main character, the narrator.

That’s a serious problem in fiction, and that was a big part of why I kept getting rejections.

Last winter, with the help of my writing group, I figured out how to solve the problem:  alter the timeline of the book so that we jump into the action further along in the story. Specifically, start with a scene that shows Kate in a more sympathetic light: first, she’s already engaged to be married, so obviously someone thinks she’s worth marrying; and second, her sister makes some less than kind comments about her dress, and her body inside it, that start to reveal some of the dynamics that made her who she is.

Yes! That’s it! Now the reader is firmly in Kate’s corner from the very beginning.

But guess what?

Now I get comments like, “I don’t get why everybody’s calling Kate a shrew. I mean, she seems like a perfectly nice person. It’s her sister who’s so horrible.” And when Kate does lash out, commenters say, “Kate’s reaction seems so over-the-top. Why is violence her first response to her sister’s cruelty?”

*face palm*

Clearly, the pendulum has gone too far in the other direction. As I mentioned in my last blog post, Blanche now appears to be a caricature of evil with Kate her innocent victim.

This is not what I intended at all.

Short of going back to a straight timeline — which I don’t want to do, because, remember, people didn’t like Kate — what do I do about this?

This is a complex problem that I won’t fix in one blog post, but one thing I have been thinking about is perception.

Why does everyone call Kate a shrew?

Why, in contrast, isn’t Beatrice in “Much Ado About Nothing” considered a shrew? Beatrice is equally sharp-tongued and, particularly where Benedick is concerned, nasty. Beatrice speaks her mind and says things that are extremely unpopular, quite against the accepted norms of the time:  “I’ll never get married;” “There’s no man good enough for me;” “Leave me alone, you’re an idiot.”

Yet everybody laughs. Everybody shakes their heads and goes, “Oh, that Beatrice. She’s a piece of work.” The Prince, Don Pedro, even proposes marriage to her! And she has the nerve to turn him down! And her uncle, on whose charity she is living, who is selling his own daughter Hero to the highest bidder, doesn’t even blink! “Oh, that Beatrice!”

But no, Beatrice is not called a shrew. The worst anyone says about her is when Benedick, in the depths of being tormented by her, begs to be delivered from “this harpy.” Similar, but not the same. And he’s been pushed to his limit.

I have thought about this a lot. The difference is surely that Beatrice is loved. Loved by a family that appreciates her intelligence and wit, by people who are bright and clever themselves and can play at word-games too.

Kate, in contrast, is surrounded by people who neither understand nor like her. No one in Kate’s world is remotely as clever as she is (except Petruchio), and she isn’t shy about letting them know it. Who appreciates being made to feel foolish on a regular basis? Therein lies the core of the difference: whereas Beatrice’s family can admire her cleverness as a more advanced form of their own wit, Kate’s family feels humiliated by her superiority and so they resent her and lash out against her.

They label her a shrew, and encourage the whole town to do it too so they won’t feel alone in their rancor.

Looking at it from the outside, we might not see Kate’s actions and words as particularly “shrewish” but from the perspective of Kate’s world, she is a shrew because they believe she is. When Petrucio (my Will) comes in from the outside, he brings in that outside perspective — the reader’s perspective — of, “Why are you treating her this way?”

Maybe I need to have him be more vocal about that…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Character, Not Caricature

OK, the first thing you should do is follow the blog tour trail over to Courtney McKinney-Whitaker’s blog and Katharine Owens’ blog to see what they have to say about why they write what they do and how they go about it. I had a feeling they would have some great things to say, and they did not disappoint. Go on, read. I’ll be here when you get back.

Great stuff, right? I hope you left comments!

I’m really glad that Jenn tagged me in the writing process blog tour, because it fits in perfectly with what I had decided to do this summer. Back in May, I received notes from an agent about some changes I should consider making to my novel, FINDING KATE. I have been doing a lot of thinking about what she said, and a few weeks ago, I posted about the time line in my novel. After that, I decided that it would be fun and interesting to write blog posts about what I’m working on around those suggestions that the agent made. In that way, I can crystallize some of the thoughts that would otherwise remain ephemeral, keep track of some thoughts that would otherwise slip away, and hopefully get some feedback from you readers about where I’m headed.

One of the things that the agent asked me to take a look at is the character of Blanche, Kathryn’s sister. (If you’re familiar with Shakespeare’s play, Blanche is Bianca). The agent said that sometimes Blanche seems over-exaggerated, almost a caricature rather than a character.

My initial reaction, of course, was, “No, she really is that over-the-top!”

The thing you need to know about Blanche, if you don’t know the play, is that Blanche is That Girl from your high school. You know the one:  she is pretty and perfect, never a hair out of place, even in gym class; she is a trendsetter, at the cutting edge of fashion; all the boys want to date her; all the teachers love her, even if she isn’t the brightest student, because of her can-do attitude and involvement in after-school activities. Only the girls know the truth:  she is ruthlessly controlling, relentlessly cruel, and a skillful dissembler.

Tina Fey did a movie about her. Rosaline Wiseman wrote the definitive book on her.

Until I saw the play for the first time, I had no idea that William Shakespeare had gone to high school and knew That Girl.

So, changing Blanche. Part of me resists. I don’t want to humanize Blanche. I don’t want to give her backstory and emotional moments so the reader can feel sorry for her.

I don’t want to feel sorry for her. She’s a horrible person.

But, okay. She’s still a person.

I have to at least think about it.

In the same way that Kate clings to her old wounds, surely Blanche has such memories, such stories too. Of course she does; everybody does.

What are Blanche’s stories?

Oddly enough, the short-lived TV series “Freaks and Geeks” helped me with this one.

In one episode, the Bully pranks one of the geeks to die by sneaking a peanut into his lunch. The Geek, unfortunately, is deathly allergic to peanuts. The Bully goes to the hospital, dragged there by his father to apologize, only to learn that the Geek is in a coma and may not survive. The Bully goes in to talk to the unconscious Geek, and after blaming the Geek for a while (wow, Bully, really?) he finally opens up. “I used to look up to you,” he confesses. “In fourth grade, I thought you were so smart, and when you brought that Soyuz rocket to school, I thought it was so cool. I asked if I could shoot it off with you guys, and you said no.”

Whoa. There it is.

I had never considered the possibility that Blanche might be jealous of Kate. My focus was completely the other way, and for good reason:  Blanche is the ideal of her time, so of course Kate has every reason to be jealous (and to reject the ideal to which she does not conform). But what if Blanche had always admired, and been jealous of, Kate’s way with words, her ability to always know the right thing to say, her book-smarts, her usefulness to their father…? Combine that with a younger sibling’s natural hero-worship for the elder, and Kate’s rejection of Blanche would have been extremely hurtful. Devastating, even, depending on how old Blanche was when it happened.

Oh crap. That humanizes her, doesn’t it?

Going along with this, I realized that Blanche knows very well that her power is, as Kate never fails to point out, entirely bound up in her physical beauty, and she is also well aware that it will fade (as my ever-perceptive writing group buddy Trudy points out, Blanche has only to look at the wreck of her mother to figure this out). Therefore, those shots Kate takes at her looks are kidney punches landing very hard and doing more damage than Kate realizes. All I have to do is show that — even once — and the reader will understand just what Blanche really feels about what Kate is saying and gain insight into why she lashes out so viciously.

I also realized that I allowed Blanche’s meanness to spill out too much in public. She would have been much more careful about who she allowed to see her cruelty. It would have been limited to Kate almost exclusively, with her followers and hangers-on getting a few shows of power to keep them in line (there-but-for-the-grace-of-Blanche…).

Now something that seemed huge and unmanageable seems a lot less daunting. I’ll do a read-through solely for Blanche, looking at scenes from her point-of-view — something I never even imagined doing. I’ll make small changes, most likely, but they will have a big impact.

Do you have any tips for ways in which you have humanized a character who otherwise might have been too extreme? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

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Writing Process Blog Tour!

There’s a blog tour making the rounds of the blogsphere, and I’ve been tagged! The supremely talented Jennifer Chambliss Bertman was one of the first writers I connected with after I moved to Colorado when I was invited to join the writing group she was a part of. I knew from the first time I read her stuff that she would be successful. Turns out, I was right:  her debut novel, The Book Scavenger, will be released in 2015. Hooray Jenn!

Jenn participated in the blog tour last week and tagged me to play along.

All of the writers participating in the tour answer four simple (ha!) questions about their writing process. I encourage you to hop back along the blog trail and visit some of the multi-talented authors to see what they have to say. And beneath my answers, you’ll find the next two writers I’ve tagged to participate.

What are you currently working on?

My top priority is revising FINDING KATE, my adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.” I’m working off of some feedback I got from an agent who says she’d like to see it again after I revise, so that’s a powerful motivator.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Historical fiction is generally very serious and dramatic, but because I’m adapting Shakespeare’s comedies, my books have a sense of humor. They are romantic comedies in the best sense. If they were contemporary in setting, they’d probably have cupcakes on their front covers.  They are about relationships, first and foremost; they just happen to be set in the past.

Why do I write what I write?

The short, uncomplicated answer is, I write fantasy and historical fiction because that’s what I love to read. That’s where I live, where I feel the most comfortable. Plus, it would be a shame to waste my wide-ranging knowledge of English history (and everybody said I’d never use my History major!).

The longer answer is, I prefer historical because I know my own weaknesses, and plot is my biggest weakness. If you write from history (or a Shakespeare play), the plot is taken care of for you. You know that a certain thing happened on a certain day; now you just have to play with why. And that’s where my strength – characters – comes in. Why is Kathryn (my Katherina) a shrew? How did she get that way? And why is Will (my Petruchio) so determined to marry her? Is it just the money or something else, something more?

This is where I love to play.

How does my individual writing process work?

The best analogy I can give you is, it’s like making a patchwork quilt.

I used to try to muscle my way through from start to finish, but I would always get lost or stuck somewhere about two-thirds of the way in. I’ve learned that the best way for me to write a novel is to write the scenes as they come, and then go back and fill in the bits that stitch the scenes together. With FINDING KATE, the first two things I had were a description of her step-mother’s appearance (like a baleful jack-o-lantern, which I knew I couldn’t use because it was much too modern a concept), and the idea that Will would have come to take Kate away in the middle of the night. I didn’t know how we got to that point, and I knew it would mess with Shakespeare’s plot, but I knew it had to be that way. I wrote the scene and trusted that someday, I’d know why. By writing in this patchwork way, there’s a lot of room for doubt and fear, and the first draft looks somewhat like Frankenstein’s Monster, but that’s fine. I’d much rather revise than stare at a blank page any day of the week.

Speaking of blank pages, I don’t like writing a first draft on the computer. I have been writing with a pen and a notebook since I was six years old, and that old habit is still the most comfortable. I prefer blue ink to black, and I love a good old-fashioned marble composition notebook.

Tag, you’re it! Next up, I’m tagging two wonderful and talented writers who share a few things in common:  I met them through the on-line community so I’ve never met them in person (yet!); they live on the east coast; they are writers, moms and teachers; and they are fantastic people.

Katharine Owens writes YA fantasy (steampunk and dystopian) as well as MG contemporary. She is a full-time professor, a gifted artist, and mom to some adorable kids. She’s also a generous and honest critique partner, and not afraid to Skype early in the morning. It’s just a matter of time before this talented writer gets noticed.

Courtney McKinney-Whitaker writes YA historical novels including her debut, The Last Sister, which is due out in October of 2014 (mere months away!). Courtney has been a children’s librarian and an English instructor at a college, but now she devotes herself to her writing and her family. Courtney shares with me a love of history, Austen, the French language (mais oui!), and Alan Rickman.

 

 

 

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Snappy Comebacks

I have to admit, I’ve never been good at the snappy comeback. My rejoinders require time to spring into mind, and of course by then it’s far too late.

This is a conversation that occurred in my car this morning. I am not kidding, and I have not changed it.

Me (perkily):  Hey, do either of you have any ideas for what you’d like for dinners this week?

Girl: Tikka masala.

Boy: Enchiladas.

Me: Beef or chicken?

Boy: Beef.

Girl: Seriously? You know I don’t like beef enchiladas. Did you just say that because you know I don’t like them?

Boy: Well, you know I don’t like tikka masala.

Girl: Dude, I totally forgot. I can’t believe you did that.

Me: *sigh*

Amidst wondering when, after puberty, maturity hits, all I wanted to do was pull over the car and leave them both on the side of the road. However, this is frowned upon in our society for some reason. Instead, I continued driving to our destination, where I left them. I drove away somewhat comforted by the knowledge that for the next four hours they would both be sweating and suffering in the agony of summer physical education class. Mwah ha ha.

Hours having passed, I can now wish that I had given one of these snappy comebacks:

“If this were a Dickens novel, you’d both be starving orphans.”

“If this were Shackleton’s expedition*, you’d be eating boiled shoe leather. Or the sled dogs.”

“If you keep it up, I’ll send you to Mrs. Lovett’s to buy some meat pies.”

Any more snappy comeback ideas? Leave them in the comments.

 

 

*This year is the 100th anniversary of this extraordinary tale of survival. If you’re not familiar with it, you should be.

 

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On Sleeping With The Windows Open

1. Although 60 degrees may feel beautiful during the day, at 3 a.m., it’s flannel-jammies-and-blankets weather.

2. Birds start singing at a ridiculously early hour. What do they have to be so happy about? And why do we assume they’re happy?

3. Except the raptors. They don’t sing. They just shriek as if they’re about to kill something, which they probably are. Raptors are awesome.

4. Cars start moving at about 4:30 a.m. Where the hell are you going at that hour?

5. Once the sky begins to lighten, any sleep you manage to get is going to be full of very strange dreams. Like the filthy, stinky wolverine with the sharp-edged lid of a tin can stuck to its paw snuffling and grumbling between me and my destination. Which, I think, was a guy dancing in a doorway. Maybe it was a Hugh Jackman thing…

 

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Revisions, Revisions, Revisions

For a writer, I don’t blog much about writing.

In part, this is because there are so many other writers and agents out there who do a great job of blogging about writing (see, Blogroll, right), and I feel like I’d be duplicating their efforts in an inferior manner.

In part, it’s because I feel like I should be spending my writing time actually writing. It’s why my blogging is so sporadic (sorry!) and why if you want to learn what I know about writing, you need to be a middle school student at Nevin Platt Middle School in Boulder and have the great good fortune to get Cindy Matthews for Language Arts, or you have to pay me. Sorry.

But today, I want to talk about process. Because I have colorful pictures. :)

I got feedback from an agent recently — some very helpful, incredibly generous comments on a partial. Clearly, she enjoyed my manuscript and found enough quality there that she took the time to give me thoughtful, detailed pointers on how to improve it and encouraged me to resubmit when I had done more work. Yay! A “no” doesn’t get better than that, people!

So, based on her comments, I went back to the manuscript with a few specific things in mind.

One of those things I decided I needed to get a handle on was, exactly when does everything in this blasted novel take place?

This might seem like a stupid question. You’re the author; don’t you know that?

Well, yeah, I do, but there are a few things you need to understand. What the agent saw was the fourth draft (no self-respecting author, I think, would start sending out queries until she had hit at least a third draft) and I’ve been writing this book over nearly four years. Events in the story have changed and shifted quite a bit over that time. Structurally, the book is challenging because all of the action takes place in less than two weeks, and if that weren’t hard enough, I recently made the decision to present the first part of the book out of order, starting from after the proposal then bouncing back and forth in time to show all of the events from the first meeting up to the wedding.

Why did I do that? That’s crazy!

Because Kathryn isn’t a very nice person, and when I started the story from the beginning, she was really turning readers off. And when I say “readers,” I mean “agents.” In writing group one morning, we came up with the idea of starting somewhere in the middle of the story and then going backwards, giving the reader a more sympathetic view of Kathryn.

And judging by the response I’m getting from agents, I’d say that it was the right decision.

But one of the problems with this kind of structure is that the reader can get confused about what is happening when.

Guess what? The writer can too.

I realized I needed a chart to plot all of the events in the order they happened, just so I could keep them straight. I got out the big sheets of paper we used to draw on when the kids were little and divided the pages into sections for each day of the week, then divided each day into three sections:  morning, afternoon, and evening.

Plot chart, ready for plot points!

Plot chart, ready for plot points!

Then, a couple of hours of work with colored Sharpies and color-coordinated Sticky-notes later, I had it!

Plot chart with a whole mess of plot problems!
Plot chart with a whole mess of plot problems!

 

And boy, had I screwed up!

 The marriage proposal — the biggest event of the first third of the book — was taking place on the same day, and at the same time, as Kathryn was getting fitted for her wedding dress because she had already gotten engaged yesterday. People were talking about things happening “yesterday” that happened several days ago. Aaaargh!

Why, exactly, hadn’t I done this sooner?

(Well, I had done a handwritten, high-level list but nothing at this level of detail. And clearly, I had made some huge mistakes along the way.)

So my idea about maybe moving everything back a day went from a possibility to a necessity in about 45 seconds once I saw all those arrows pointing at Thursday morning.

See? Sharpies and Sticky-Notes to the rescue!

Now I have to ponder how to smooth out the transitions and make the cues more concrete (if it’s sunny, it must be Monday) to make it all more straightforward and understandable for the reader — and please feel free to leave advice or helpful blog links in the comments!

I have been trying to think about books I’ve read that move back and forth in time and how those authors managed it without confusing the reader. Our book club just finished “Life After Life” by Kate Atkinson, but of course she just plopped a date at the top of each chapter. My divisions aren’t that clear-cut. I shift days within chapters with a graphic character to divide each section. I seem to recall “Sisterland” by Curtis Sittenfeld jumping around in time but I never felt confused by it. Any suggestions for other books I could look at for guidance?

Another thing I did was to write up index cards for each scene. Each card has a title, like “The Proposal,” in all caps in the center of the card and a few lines underneath about what happens in that scene if it would be helpful (“The Proposal” needs no explanation). Then I wrote the scene’s current position in the manuscript in the top left corner (for example, Chap 1/page 5). Finally, I wrote the real world day and time in the top right corner: Thursday a.m., or Friday p.m.

Here’s a picture of one of these cards (Just for fun, I used my Crayola Wild Notes cards. Because of the awesome):

A "Finding Kate" scene notecard
A “Finding Kate” scene notecard

As part of the revision process, I am writing new scenes. As I write them, I am creating new cards. Once I’m done with the new writing and once I’ve decided whether and how much to move scenes around to make the novel easier to understand, I’ll stack up all the cards in order and use them to guide my cutting and pasting of the manuscript.

All revisions should be this much fun. :)

(P.S. — while you’re here, click back a page and enter to win Patrice Kindl’s delightful “Keeping the Castle”.)

 

 

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“Keeping The Castle” : Book Giveaway

I promised giveaways this month, and I’m keeping my promise. This time, I’m giving away a copy of a book I thoroughly enjoyed:  “Keeping the Castle” by Patrice Kindl.

Here’s the back cover blurb:

Seventeen-year-old Althea bears a heavy burden on her slender shoulders. She must support her widowed mother, young brother, and two stepsisters who plead poverty — and she must maintain Crawley Castle, a tumbledown folly designed and built by her great-grandfather. Althea, in short, must marry well. But there are few wealthy suitors — or suitors of any kind — in their small Yorkshire town of Lesser Hoo.

Then Lord Boring comes to stay with his aunt and uncle. Althea immediately starts a clever, stealthy campaign to become Lady Boring. There’s only one problem; his cousin and business manager, Mr. Fredericks, keeps getting in the way. And, as it turns out, Fredericks has his own set of plans…

“Lord Boring.” Are you perhaps sensing that this book has its tongue planted firmly in its cheek?

Here’s a bit from the very first page:

“I love you, Althea–you are so beautiful,” murmured the young man into my ear.

Well, I was willing enough. I looked up at him from under my eyelashes. “I love you too,” I confessed. I averted my gaze and added privately, “You are so rich.”

Unfortunately, I apparently said this aloud…

No wonder Althea is having difficulty marrying herself off to a rich man. She doesn’t quite have the knack for it. All of her plans go delightfully awry and she stumbles and fumbles along the road to matrimony, but we are always on her side, never laughing at her, always rooting for her.

If you love Jane Austen, you will enjoy this as a young adult version of an Austen tale. In my Goodreads review, I described it as a perfect way to introduce teens to Austen, a way to ease them into the old stories which can be a little rough going (what with all the telling-not-showing and the conversations related by the narrator instead of heard, as it were, in real time). Are there some recycled ideas here? Heavens, yes, and that’s part of what’s wonderful about it:  it’s as comfortable as old flannel pajamas but also as bright and shiny as new patent leather Mary Janes. With heels.

As with the last giveaway, comment here to enter for your chance to win. No requirements this time, but feel free to make a Jane Austen reference. Which is your favorite novel? Rank them, your favorite to least favorite (will anyone put “Mansfield Park” higher than fifth?). Have any of the retellings/adaptations/add-ons really captured your fancy? Which is the best movie version of an Austen novel (and let’s leave the 8 hour marathon of “P&P” out of this discussion)? Who makes a better Colonel Brandon, Alan Rickman or David Morrissey?

The window for comments closes one week from today, 11:59 p.m. on May 20, 2014, and I’ll choose a winner from the commenters on the 21st.

 

 

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Book Review: “Prince of Shadows” by Rachel Caine

You guys know I love Shakespeare, and I read pretty much every adaptation/novelization I can get my hands on since that’s what I’m doing with my writing life right now. That’s why I picked up “Prince of Shadows” the second I saw it, even though it’s based on Romeo & Juliet. Not my favorite play. But I was willing to read the book. Ready to roll my eyes at the perennial dumb teens and be underwhelmed.

Instead, I was rocked back on my heels.

"Prince of Shadows" cover (http://www.princeofshadows.net/

“Prince of Shadows” cover (http://www.princeofshadows.net/

In fair Verona, where we set our scene, the Capulets and Montagues are still the most powerful families under the rule of the Prince. Romeo, the charming and dim-witted Montague heir, still begins the story besotted with Rosaline Capulet. Juliet is still a maid destined for marriage with Paris, a cipher of a girl until the night she meets Romeo.

But this is a fire-breathing Verona, and these characters are more than cut-outs on a stage.

Benvolio, the main character and narrator, defends the family honor with his sword, but he takes no pleasure in it. As he says, he has never killed anyone who was not trying to take his life from him in a fair fight. In this, he stands in contrast to Tybalt Capulet who is willfully, eagerly cruel, especially to those who are weaker than he, such as his sister Rosaline. Benvolio rages inwardly against the feud and what it drives people to, his frustration building as events unfold, even as he vents his anger on luckless Capulets both in streetfights and in his disguise as the notorious catburglar known as the Prince of Shadows.

This novel, then, became a study of more than just doomed, forbidden love. It explores what happens to people when they are forbidden by social structures to fulfill their true selves:  when a gay man has to hide his love, when a woman cannot be anything other than a wife or a nun, when a man wants to hold up his hands and refuse to fight a war that’s been chosen for him. It’s about the shapes that rebellion can take, and what happens when passion slips its reins and runs free.

In addition to magnificent characterization, the writing is fantastic. The flow from Shakespeare’s own words into the author’s is seamless, and there is nothing stilted or awkward to the modern ear about the way the characters speak or the way Benvolio narrates. The descriptive similes and metaphors are beautiful, breathtaking. I wish I had marked more of them as I was reading so I could share them with you. Here are a pair:  Benvolio’s nasty sister wears a dress “too hot-tempered for the day” and the interior of Friar Lawrence’s chapel is full of “heavy, silken silence.” Brilliant! Mercutio is made of “fire and fey grace,” and I can’t imagine a more apt description.

I wish Rosaline had had more of a chance to speak, for her voice was pure and clear and full of wisdom and truth. It’s easy to see why she captivates Benvolio.

The only hesitation I have with this story was with the suggestion of a supernatural explanation for the fatal events. Mercutio’s famous dying words — “a plague on both your houses” — are made into a literal curse through witchcraft, and that drives the plot towards its conclusion. I don’t love mixing fantasy and reality; I prefer one or the other. Either there is magic or there isn’t, and in the middle ages which Caine brought to life so well, there wasn’t. Witchcraft was superstition and a tool for the oppression of women (and some men) but it was not real. I suppose one could argue that so long as the people believed in it, it could have an effect, but I don’t love that explanation either, especially not for this practical Rosaline and this canny Benvolio.

But this is a quibble. The book is so good, I want to turn around and read it again.

And finally, a bonus for those of us who love the Bard:  references to his other works are scattered throughout. A modified quote here, a play title there, amount to little gifts — Easter eggs, if you will — for Shakespeare fans. Since I did the same thing in “Finding Kate,” I really appreciated those touches.

This is must-read historical fiction, must-read beautiful prose, and a must-read for Shakespeare fans.

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OK! A Giveaway!

So we made it!

Made it through some busy weeks, made it through tax day, and we had a deal.

I said I’d post a blog the week of April 7th — which I did, on the 9th — and have a giveaway after April 15th.

And here we are.

It’s spring. The trees are flowering. There are bunnies hopping everywhere. There’s a container of jelly beans on the table.

I think we can do a couple of giveaways over the next few weeks before school ends. Maybe even three.

Who knows? It might get crazy around here!

Today’s giveaway rests at the intersection of writing and fuzzy critters:  it’s a journal and pen set decorated with adorable foxes.

Seriously. One of these guys is wearing a monocle. What. Is Not. To Love.

 

...and a beret too! How cool are these foxes?

…and a beret too! How cool are these foxes?

A fox on every page, plus handy-dandy pockets!

A fox on every page, plus handy-dandy pockets!

To enter to win, share your favorite fox story or trivia.

Maybe it’s a scene from “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” (I’ve never seen it), or a great children’s story you love (Beatrix Potter did one, right?).  Maybe you have a real-life fox encounter to share (like the time a red fox ran along the top of my fence to get at a squirrel. I am not kidding!). Or maybe you can explain why the male of “fox” is “fox” but the female is “vixen” (please, somebody, take that on!).

Of course, I’d appreciate it if you’d share the news of this giveaway. The more, the merrier; and the more participants we get for this one, the more excitement we can (hopefully) generate for the book giveaways I’d like to do over the next month. If you comment with the link to your Tweet, blog post, FB share, etc., where you promoted this giveaway, I’ll give you an extra entry (per method) into the giveaway.

Commenting on my Facebook feed or replying to a tweet doesn’t count; you have to comment here in order to be entered in the contest.

Entries close one week from today, at 11:59 MT on April 29, 2014.

OK? Ready, set, go!

 

 

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