16 May 2011

Microfic competition result

Big cheer up moment for me tonight. I came second in my first writing competition, 250 words on a prompt of 'dirt' for Watford Writers. Amazing what a little bit of positive reinforcement feels like after weeks of revisions.

I've been trying to avoid flash fiction lately and force myself to write longer, because for a while, everything I wrote seemed to come in at 1500 words or less. I think I naturally write short, which causes me no end of pain as I try to expand my MS to something approaching novel length. Microfic is great fun though. It's a challenge to see how much story you can pack into 250 words. This was what I came up with.

A blessing on your fields

I have never seen an uglier thing as I turn the little statue over in my hands, all lumpen breasts and belly and huge buttocks. It doesn’t even have a face.
“Isn’t it gorgeous?” Laura says. “I saw it in the souk and knew you’d love it.  It’s supposed to bring fertility to your fields.”
“It’s wonderful,” I lie.
When she’s gone I throw my fat, pregnant statue out onto the lawn. Stupid statue and stupid, insensitive Laura who has no idea how her gift makes me feel. The dog retrieves it and takes it to her favourite spot under the honeysuckle.

The postman brings my letter the next day. The dog bites her tongue in her frenzy guarding the house, but the spectre of bad news always finds its way in. Tooth marks and bloody smears on the envelope won’t change anything.
I shut her out in the garden to drip blood and calm down as I open it. I already know what it will say.

In the morning a swathe of wheat has grown out of the dirt under the honeysuckle. The dog looks confused. In the afternoon she comes into season and breaks out of the garden, returning late and smug. There might be puppies.
She’s spayed.
That night as my husband sleeps, I lay under the honeysuckle on a bed of immature wheat. I pull a knife across my palm and let blood drip on to the dirt in front of the statue.
I can’t wait.

09 May 2011

A not very dauntless book reviewer abandons ship

I've decided to abandon ship on book reviews because I suck at them beyond all measure and the last thing I want to do is damn books with faint praise where they deserve more. For example, The Freak Observer by Blythe Woolston, which I just reviewed, is beautiful and compelling and I'm not sure I really got that across. Think I'll leave structured reviews to the experts.

What I really want to do, I think, is explore what interests me in the world building of books. For me, The Freak Observer raised all sorts of questions about poverty and universal health care. I love reading YA, but my thoughts often drift to the protagonist's parents.What must it be like to raise a child when you can't afford for them to get sick or injured, when it's that or food and utilities?

In Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Olivia was driven mad by something, which I won't mention because it is a huge spoiler if you haven't read it yet. She still had to hold herself together and get a job. What must that have been like, to have to go to work and be nice to your boss and your colleagues when your world has collapsed and you are living a nightmare which has you screaming inside your head? Olivia deserves a prequel book of her own one day.

A YA book with world building that just blew me away was Divergent by Veronica Roth. In my new approach of not doing a structured review, I will just say that Divergent was amazing; it completely de-railed my day yesterday because I couldn't put it down. She painted a powerful picture with very simple and straightforward prose.

It is when world building is this strong that I get the urge to explore it and think about other POVs than the protagonist's. In this case, what would it be like to be a Dauntless mother? We saw young Dauntless, including very young instructors, and we saw corrupt Dauntless leaders. We encountered one older woman, going by the streak of grey in her hair. Then again, I had some of those by the age of thirty. I don't think we saw any old Dauntless anywhere. It made me wonder, do they fade away, hand over the flag to their children and take no active part in society?

I am no stranger to the quest for adrenaline, but motherhood sucked it right out of me. How would you reconcile the motto of your faction with the bone-deep need to keep your child safe? The internal conflict would be acute. Would you fear for them so much that you would quietly encourage them to choose another faction? Would faction allegiance survive your concern for their life?

The picture painted was one of Dauntless youth, and it was an alluring one, even if few of us would survive it in real life. Given the little nugget in the book that the city gates are locked from the outside, there appears to be the foundation for more books in the Divergent universe. I would love the opportunity to find out more about the world Roth has built, including the eventual future of that youth, when I read them.