Visiting the Night Circus

I have this recurring dream. It isn’t a nightmare; it’s actually a lot of fun (except for the one with the corpses, but we won’t talk about that). In the dream, I’m in a house. I head to one room and find that there’s a labyrinth of rooms tucked away behind it. The rooms are usually of increasing size and varying color, theme, and style. Some rooms have whole apartments in them, kitchens and balconies like hotel suites, or small beds all in a line as though laid out for a number of children. Sometimes there are gardens in secret courtyards or hidden treasures in dark corners. In the end the inside of the house turns out to be far bigger than it looked on the outside.

The Night Circus (cover)Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus is a lot like that recurring dream. It’s a labyrinth of sets and scenes and characters, each one introduced slowly and with great care. The story is secondary to exploration. Discovery and mysterious whimsy are more vital than characters. It plays out like a new world, all folded up like origami and found in the shape of a book.

For me, Reading The Night Circus was not unlike reading The Monsters of Templeton (without the nightmarish ending). The narrative was rich and full and delicious. But at some point I wanted the book to end, I think because I had the same feeling all the way through. I never became angry or elated for any of the characters. I only ever felt a kind of pleasant dreaminess, which was lovely, but exhausting after a while.

That said, I loved the book overall. It’s not a story to be read so much as experienced. The sights and sounds and smells—the whole flavor of the circus is so vivid, I wished I could have visited it myself. And I did like Marco and Celia and Baily and Poppet and Widget and all the other characters that won me over in the long run.

The Night Circus was a fantastic experience, in the truest sense. And while my sad state of an attention span often struggled with it, I’m glad I read it.

On Anchor Characters

In my last post I mentioned anchor characters, but then I realized it was a thing I kind of made up, and I hadn’t really rambled on about it yet. Such a wasted opportunity. I am so prepared to remedy that.

So what is an anchor character? Well, if you’re like me and have a snow-pea sized attention span, an anchor character is any character that anchors you to the story. For me it’s usually an anti-hero, a flawed and funny protagonist, or a romantic antagonist. Mystery is the all-important element, I’ve found. The right amount of mystery drives me crazy with curiosity, and I’ll read through any amount of descriptive world-building or random essay chapters (ahem, Victor Hugo) just to learn more about one person. I’ve tried to explain to those who don’t understand that what Lord of the Rings lacked for me was an anchor character. I might have read it otherwise. I might have even loved it. As it was, I couldn’t even get halfway through.

My first anchor character was so precious to me, I actually locked him in a hope chest to keep him safe. When we’re children, we’re pretty sure losing whatever our favorite thing is means we will never ever see it again. And I was most afraid of losing a tall, whimsical man called Uncle Morris. Uncle Morris was a secondary character in Silvia Cassedy’s Behind the Attic Wall, which was the favorite book of my childhood self. If you asked me what I loved about that book, even in those days, my answer would have been the characters. All of them. But the cake-taker, without a doubt, was Uncle Morris.

After Uncle Morris, I fell in love with characters like Gaston Leroux’s poor phantom Erik (me and a billion other girls, right?), Captain James Hook (he’s so damned prim), The White Witch (anyone who doesn’t love her is just wrong), Severus Snape (best dark horse I ever rooted for), and Victor Hugo’s tortured priest Dom Claude Frollo (more on that later). Most of characters I love are antagonists (because of the mystery, y’all). And I love them still.

When writing, of course, my favorite character has to shift for every scene. If I didn’t adore something about each of them, I wouldn’t be able to put them to paper. But as a reader, I usually find my anchor, and I am loyal to the bitter end.

Brimstone, Brimstone, Brimstone

Sometimes, if I have enough to say about a book, I like to post my reaction to it here. In this case, my reaction went straight into my Goodreads review. So sorry if you’ve already seen this, but here it is for those who haven’t:

Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone is gorgeous. I was blown away by pretty much everything from page one: the writing, the setting, the characters. I’ve seen a few people mention they’re wary of books involving angels, and while I’ve never actually read any of the angel books that are all the rage right now, I’d be willing to put money down this one isn’t anything like them. Seriously, don’t let the mythos get you down. This book is not what you think—absolutely, 100% not what you think.

There were a couple moments in the flow of the story that jostled me a bit. The climax, in particular, doesn’t really feel like a climax, but a kind of story-spike that’s meant to lead to a much greater climax this book never gets around to. I got the impression this was written as one very long story and then divided up because it was just too epic. I can’t specifically mention what else was odd about the climax without potentially spoiling a surprise, so I won’t.

Lastly, I am a person who needs a character to cling to in order to enjoy a story. If I don’t have an anchor character, neither the most beautiful writing nor the greatest story will hold my attention (yeah, my attention-span is evil; I learned to accept that at an early age). Daughter of Smoke and Bone had so many fantastic characters I could have clung to, but it wasn’t even a competition in the end. There was only ever one anchor character for me from the moment he stepped on the stage: Brimstone, Brimstone, Brimstone.

So in short, read this book, if only because Brimstone is magnificent. As for me, I’m going to go looking for everything else Laini Taylor has written.

Fairy Tale Fortnight

From April fifteenth to the thirtieth, The Book Rat is holding an event called “Fairy Tale Fortnight”, and Titan Magic gets to be part of it! It’s going to be a fantastic couple of weeks filled with reviews, guest posts, excerpts, and giveaways. So if you have an addiction to fairy tales and folklore like I do, be sure to check it out! I expect to find an abundance of new books to add to my must-read list.

Why I Already Know the Book Is Better

With all the talk about the upcoming Hunger Games movie, especially some people’s understandable nervousness over whether the story will be crushed under the heel of Hollywood conformity, I thought it would be a good idea to weigh in with my own optimism. And if you’re a person who knows me in real life, you probably just fell out of your chair. Because I’m not optimistic. Ever. In fact, I have a very strict policy on why pessimism is superior (every surprise is a pleasant one when you expect the worst), and movies are no exception. Of course, I can’t help getting excited about some. I admit I’m drooling to see The Hunger Games on a big screen. I LOVED the books (yes, the word love needed to be in all caps), and I’ll probably be the first person out of the theater who utters the words, “The book was way better.” But I want to look at why that’s not just inevitable, but also perfectly fine.

No matter what the story, the book is almost always better than the film. There is the rare anomaly, of course, which is usually because the film improved upon the actual plot. But as far as visuals, acting, special effects, set design, etc., nothing is going to quite measure up to a book you really loved. A lot of people will tell you this is due to the boundlessness of the human imagination, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. These days, any great special effects team is capable of creating just about anything you can imagine, and if a film is completely animated, even more is possible. Other people will mention that a book really gets into the characters’ heads and no film can do that. While there’s no denying that’s true, I think our capacity for empathy brings us pretty close to understanding what any reasonable character is going through.

I think the real reason the book is usually better is that every book has not one, but many authors. The writer is just a guide. The readers are the architects of the world, characters, music, everything. Every book you read, you build to your preference, as long as you’re given room to do so. So it is perfect for you, and no filmmaker is going to be able to match that. They are building their story for a wide audience, not just you. In seeing any film version of a book you loved, you’re going to have to sacrifice the look you gave to your favorite character, the way a certain scene was laid out, or the choreography you carefully crafted.

But here’s the thing. I still enjoy watching someone else’s vision of a story I loved, even if they don’t see it in quite the same way I did. I think it’s amazing how two different people can be told the same story and see such incredibly different things. And unless The Hunger Games movie is nauseatingly bad, I know I’m going to enjoy experiencing another person’s vision of the books. If all I wanted was my own vision, I’d just read the books again.

In conclusion… check out this trailer! It is NOTHING like how I pictured it, and that makes it awesome.

Also, team Peeta FTW!

No, seriously. I think the only part of these books The Other Lamm didn’t like was how they compelled me to cry, “Peeta! You’re so damn cute, Peeta! Don’t DIE, Peeta! Peeeeeeetaaaaa!” every other page.

It’s Sylvia Cassedy All Over the Place

This week, I was able to participate in a special event over at Esther’s Ever After. Digitally speaking, I’m the first booth on your right. I got to write a nostalgic post about my favorite childhood book, and Brenna was kind enough to host a giveaway for one paperback copy of Titan Magic. It’s free! And international! I’m not entirely sure how long the contest will last, so if you’re interested, head on over, read about my childhood eccentricities, laugh at my inability to spell the author’s name, and enter to win!

Ester's Ever After

A Story About a Girl and a Book

Once upon a time, there was a girl who worked in a public library. She loved her job, and with every book she put back on the shelves, she felt as though she had been briefly introduced to a new person. Occasionally, a book would catch her eye, and she would greet it every time she passed it, until she finally got around to reading it. One such book was The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff.

The Monsters of Templeton was so sophisticated, polite, and reliable that the girl always ended up reading more demanding books first—those that threatened absence, obscurity, or even that the girl might forget about them if she didn’t read them immediately. But The Monsters of Templeton was always there, quietly waiting in the exact same spot on the shelves.

One sad day, the girl moved away from her favorite library. She missed all those wonderful books—there were so many she had meant to read—but she knew the unlikelihood of running into any of her old favorites when she saw the public library in her new city. It was tiny, with only one short aisle for fiction. Just one? She had to check many times to make sure she wasn’t seeing things. But as she sorrowfully assessed her inadequate new browsing grounds, she ran into an old friend: The Monsters of Templeton. Oh small, wonderful, itty-bitty world! She checked the book out along with two others and took them home to read.

First, she tried a science fiction story that was interesting but ultimately felt like a video game. Next, she tried a period piece that reminded her why doctors once suspected her of having ADD. Then, finally, she picked up the book with the charming black and white cover.

The Monsters of Templeton seemed, at first, very straightforward. It was every bit as polite and smooth-talking as she suspected it would be. It was so smooth, in fact, that strangely gruesome descriptions and uncouth jokes would slip by without the girl having really noticed them. She would just chuckle or blush and keep turning the pages as she sipped her Jamaican hot chocolate.

Then the book began to spin other tales with other voices in other periods of time, and the girl would lean in, rapt, though these tales had only the barest connection to each other. The book was slow-moving but so full of mystery that, even though this was not the kind of story the girl would usually read, she just couldn’t stop.

When the book finally revealed its mystery in a predictable but satisfying way, it leaned back and puffed on its pipe, which the girl was sure it was smoking.

“Thanks so much for that story,” said the girl.

“But wait,” said the book, before the girl could close it. “There’s one more thing.”

So the girl settled back in her rocking chair, as the book told her one last story in one last voice. And that last story will haunt nightmares inside the girl’s nightmares until the day she dies. Because it was that… freaking… weird. It was adorable kittens disemboweling baby mice. It was teddy-bear suicide. It was fields of pretty daisies murdering bunny rabbits with poisonous aphids. It was beautiful, saccharine horror.

And the girl said, “Holy shit,” as the book took another puff off its pipe and grinned like a madman in a musical.

My First Love Was Not a Dark Lord of the Sith

I had my next blog post all planned out. No really. And then something happened that made me toss it out the window.

For secret reasons, The Other Lamm and I have been searching through boxes and boxes of old paperwork. It was unbearably tedious work, until he tossed me an old, deteriorating folder and said, “This looks like yours.” At first I didn’t recognize it. Then I opened it.

You know that feeling you get when you smell the musty scent of your grandmother’s basement again as an adult, or you find your mother’s panda-shaped cake mould that hasn’t been used since your fifth birthday, or you hear a song you used to wake up to every morning for the first time in years? That’s how I felt when I opened that old folder and found, among a collection of treasures from my childhood, the story I wrote the day I decided I wanted to write down stories for the rest of my life. All of a sudden, I remembered finding the book that drove me to it.

I saw it for the first time in my elementary school library. As a child, I had a secret love affair with dragons that my parents didn’t approve of (“too dark, Jodi; try collecting unicorns instead”), and this book’s cover had a fiercely beautiful dragon on it. It was love at first sight. Though I was much too young to understand the story completely, I devoured it. I even memorized where it was on the shelves so I could go back and read more the next day without checking it out and taking it home to my potentially disapproving parents. When I finally came to a scene that made me cry for the story’s villain, I decided I wanted to create a story, too. I folded paper into a little book and began to write. I imitated my secret love as best I could. I had just learned to read and write, but I was determined to make something as beautiful as that book. When I finished my first attempt, I moved on to the next. I haven’t stopped since.

Finding my little homemade book brought back the experience of getting lost in a story for the first time ever—how I treasured that well-worn library book like it was pure gold in my hands. So when people ask me who my first love was, even though I usually answer Darth Vader, the truth is my first love was Dragon of the Lost Sea by Laurence Yep. Darth Vader was second.

As soon as I have access to a good scanner, I’ll post a scan of my first efforts in an “About the Author” section of this website, so you can laugh with me at my atrocious spelling and awkward plot, and so you will believe me when I assure you that storytelling is something I have always done. It’s not a new hobby I’ll likely drop in a year or two; it’s part of who I am. And I am just so incredibly excited to finally be able to share it with you.

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