My work

Friday, 23 May 2014

Shaking my complacency in Jane’s HEA.

Yesterday, I observed to a friend that there is nothing better than reading a book with which you form a love/hate relationship, where your reactions to it are so visceral, it stays with you forever. All Hallows at Eyre Hall by Luccia Gray is such a book.

In a recent blog-post mention of All Hallows [which was not then published], I observed that it promised to be a “dark and stormy one”. Released just at the beginning of May, it lives up to my prediction.

But a bit about Jane Eyre first. Not merely because of the obvious – that All Hallows is a sequel to that classic – but because Jane Eyre is one of my favourite novels. As in, top five. Easily. So that makes it somewhat sacrosanct. That must be noted, in order that my comments on this new novel are put into perspective.
Jane Eyre is one of the greatest love stories of all time. Of all the tropes it embodies, the best, IMHO, is that Jane is the veritable prototype of sassy h who tames the embittered H. Rochester is the epitome of the Byronic hero, a.k.a.: a villain. At the end of Jane Eyre, Rochester is punished and therefore redeemed, making him, er, a suitable suitor for the pious, passionate, and independent Jane. That “cord of communion” connecting their hearts, as Rochester described, is unbroken.

So. We’ve got a good girl. A dark hero. And a great love between them. HEA, right? Never doubted it.

And so, to my review:

I was honoured to be one of the beta readers on this novel several months ago, thrilled to be pulled into Jane Eyre’s world again. I observed at the time to Ms. Gray that fans of Jane and Rochester's love – hoping to see the ongoing romance between this strong waif and the man whose desire for her reached out across miles of moor – might not like her reinterpretation, but, damn it, we fans were really going to dissect it!
All Hallows at Eyre Hall takes my beloved Jane and shakes the gloss from what I imagined her life with Rochester would be. Set twenty-odd years after the original, Rochester is stripped of his Byronic cloak, leaving the villain exposed. Spewing vitriol from his deathbed, he is a toothless tyrant – physical might lost to age and illness, but still able to wound. He actually trash-talks Jane. He is, however, an unreliable narrator, and I refuse to take this monster’s word on anything.

And Jane . . . I recognise her, and yet do not. Living with Rochester has robbed her of something – her piousness, I suppose. I don’t mean that in an “organised religion” sort of way, because Jane – despising both Brocklehurst and St. John Rivers’ approaches to religion – always sought to balance tenets of faith with her human passions, to ensure that one not overrun the other. And here, she has slid somewhat [in my view], losing some of that balance as she pursues passions. Jane is human – but I can’t write about it anymore. I have to think about it more. Maybe cry a little bit.
I will not forget this novel anytime soon.

The novel is written in rotating first-person POV in the tradition of the epistolary novel without benefit of the epistles [a monumental task], with many characters giving their view of both past and present. Richard Mason reappears, nefarious extortion plan in tow. John Rochester, Jane and Rochester’s son, is introduced. A new character in the form of Annette Mason, the secret daughter of Rochester and Bertha, appears, too, providing fodder both for Mason’s plans and Jane’s final revelations of her husband.
In my opinion, the strongest theme of the original was the search for love, home, and independence, all of which Jane had gained. Now her love for and from Rochester is gone, and her independence and home are under threat from Mason. It is a bittersweet reminder that, for all the fantasy of an HEA, in the real world we’re never done until we’re dead. There is always work to do: on relationships, stability, and, yes, love.

All Hallows is graced with postmodern, postcolonial views that remove the naivety that whitewashed even the darkest moments of Brontë’s original. Ms. Gray does not pull any literary punches in portraying the truth of the world these characters inhabit, filled with bigotry, classism, superstition, and ignorance – and as an educator in Postcolonial English lit, she's got the chops for it. There is a direct nod to Rebecca through Annette’s voice; allusions to Wuthering Heights . . . and dozens of reminders that Ms. Gray has not abandoned her source material in her deconstruction of it. All Hallows has all the gems of the Gothic novel, with secret births, deathbed confessions, morganatic affairs, and hidden letters. The sin-eater scene is delicious.
The novel is the first of a planned trilogy, but there is no nail-biting cliff hanger that will annoy. Jane stands on the brink of adventure, and I hope that Ms. Gray will – if not restore my Jane to me – reform her into something new that I can embrace with equal fervour.

Four stars for being awesome; bumped to five for ruining my life complacency.
All Hallows at Eyre Hall is available at Amazon.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

For Mom's special day, get her a serial killer.

Happy Mother's Day!

So, if the title of this blog post raises eyebrows, Im not going to make excuses. I finished reading Angie Martins Conduit in the last couple of days, and finally finished my review. Go buy the book for your mom. Or yourself.

Conduit by Angie Martin on Amazon
Conduit cover

But before I get to the review, I want to write a little about author voice. Mine tends to be dry and sarcastic [and some things I thought terribly witty are taken as "Are you serious?" – to which I'm going to state universally: "Probably not."]

Everybody's got a voice, and every voice is different – even when we're writing it down. I'm not going to make a clever allusion to regional accents [oops, maybe I just did], but certainly, authors from similar genre backgrounds have a similar tone. This is a good thing, as readers have an expectation when they pick up a book in “their” genre, even when it's a new or unknown author.

But no matter the genre, every once in a while, someone takes a fresh voice, and sometimes, it works.

With that in mind, we come to my review of Conduit. Which starts with me:
I can’t write sweet. Or sweetly. When I try, the words pour out like thick treacle that would choke a dead cat. Many writers who attempt it suffer the same problem as I. True sweetness, on the other hand, is never heavy or cloying. It’s a dusting of sentiment with a . . . a nugget of goodness, wholesomeness . . . argh. See? I can’t even define it. Yet, I know it when I read it. It is an elusive ability, and few have it.

Ms. Martin’s got it. She’s got it going on.

“Um,” you say hesitantly, “are you sure you’re reviewing the right book? Isn’t Conduit about a serial killer?”

Yep. Sure is. And it’s a good one.

Ms. Martin’s enviable ability to write with that elusive and delicate sweet air leant to Conduit a sick twist of horror that a dryer, darker voice could never have accomplished. For the voice is virtually unaltered in the killer’s scenes, and it plays foil to the maliciousness, the callousness, the sheer evil of him.

The sweetness frosted his scenes with delicious inappropriateness.


There will be some readers who love the subplot of the romance. Did I? Sure, why not? And readers who will linger over the police-y stuff, intrigued with the details. Did I? Yep, they were pretty good – love that stuff. The psychic bits, the unravelling, all the intricate detail Ms. Martin put into this novel? Good, good, and good. These offhand statements should not be taken as indifference or dislike, because it was all great. But—

But. I couldn’t wait to turn pages to get to the killer’s scenes. Ah, David Noakes! How you entertained me!

His scenes are not salaciously graphic; the violence is blunt without lingering over the gore. There’s detachment in the author’s voice here, describing the essence of the action in perfect frugality, allowing the reader to imagine and fill in the scene. And [after getting out of bed to double-check the locks on my door], I did.

Oh, how I loved David’s mind! He admires the clean-living, the self-disciplined – preferring to kill only the worthy. And then rationalises the killing of the unworthy. His psychic abilities allow him to empathise [after a fashion] with his victims – you know, right before he kills them. He is self-congratulatory on his self-diagnosed brilliance. He is a complete egotist. And Ms. Martin wrote him as such without – as many writers are inclined to do in a mistaken attempt to prove omniscience – specifically pointing that out.

Well done.

I know you want to hear a negative – after all, what sort of balanced review lacks comment on both sides of the line? So . . . Um. I can’t think of any. I mean, nothing serious - and by serious, I mean things that pulled me out of the story. That would be a bad thing. Okay, so Emily and Jake’s relationship came through as a bit of “Yar, me soul-matey!” and I’m not much of a subscriber to the soul-mate paradigm. However, I believe it was a conscious choice on Ms. Martin’s part in order to throw harsh light on David’s delusions of his style of HEA with Emily [if I can cross genre boundaries . . . ironically, of course]. It doesn’t matter whether I subscribe to the paradigm or not. It worked. So. Enough said.

The upshot? My utter fascination – and complete appreciation – for Ms. Martin’s revelation of the complex mind of a psychopath kept me endlessly entranced.

And I forgot to write: 5 sweeeeeet stars!
[Aside: Conduit is available today for $0.99 at Amazon, as part of Indie World Publishing and Author Services' Mother's Day Reading Blitz. Go buy the book. Read the book. And come back and tell me what you think. I could talk about it all day.]

Monday, 5 May 2014

Blog Hop: Baton Relay

I love plugging my fellow authors – treating someone who wanders by this page to information about books I’ve enjoyed. So when I was invited to this Pass the Baton blog hop, I couldn’t resist.
All Hallows at Eyre Hall cover

I was twice tagged for this hop, and so introduce you to two authors:
Luccia Gray
The first is Luccia Gray. Luccia blogs about Victorian literature and just published the first volume of her Eyre Hall Trilogy, All Hallows at Eyre Hall. It promises to be a dark and stormy one . . . [I was lucky enough to be a beta reader, so can’t wait to read the final version].
Learn more about Luccia on her blog, find her on Facebook, and visit her Amazon author page.
Martyn V. Halm [too cool for school]
The second author to tag me is Martyn V. Halm. Martyn’s addiction to verisimilitude in fiction has produced the Amsterdam Assassin Series – about which I can’t say enough marvellous things – featuring my current-favourite heroine Katla Sietjes.
Reprobate cover
Visit Martyn's phenomenal blog here, and take a look-see at his Amazon author page for all of his works. And seriously, read the books.

So, my turn to answer questions! I feel I’ve been writing a lot recently about my writing [LOL], so this will be the last for a long time. [Whew.]

What am I working on?

I’m in the final edits for my next novel, The Value of Vulnerability. This book shouldn’t be taking so long to finish, but my H is a sociopath – or perhaps just borderline – so making him both sociopathic and likeable is a damnable trial. It’s the story of two people who have suffered damages and deal with those damages in different ways: the h, Erin, generally lets things wash over her and moves on with her life; H, Ford, hoards hurts and seeks revenge for slights whenever he can . . . and sees no problem with doing so!
The Value of
Vulnerability cover

I’m also participating in a very cool Facebook event, Clever Quickies Monday, wherein a writer must construct a unique passage in 140 characters or less. An exercise in economical writing, I’m determined to write an entire short work comprised of these passages, to be shared at some future date on this blog.

How does my work differ from others in this genre?

Well, there’s that sociopathic H. In most romances, the troubled H is rescued by his love for h. In VV, I want him to retain his character and rescue himself. I dislike when sober and/or cold h/Hs turn warm and fuzzy and full of buoyant humour through their HEA. Love does many things, but I don’t believe people at their baseline essence really change. Not often, at any rate. So when Ford “rescues” himself, he’s still going to be a sociopath – which is not inherently a bad thing.

Why do I write what I write?
A Bird Without Wings
I fell in love with romances at a young age and, always having wanted to write, chose that genre as my go-to. I love thrillers and suspense, but I don’t write plot-driven things well, and prefer character studies. I also like breaking clichés. [In my last novel, A Bird Without Wings, my h is smarter than her H. You almost never see that – at least, not obviously.] And I love to write escapism. While I enjoy reading books that deal with controversial subjects, I’m not fond of writing them . . .

How does your writing process work?

I’m a pantser – that is, I write without an outline. I imagine a scene and mull it over in my head for a [sometimes long] while, then eventually get it down; hopefully a plot evolves from there. I work in Word, drink copious amounts of coffee and sometimes wine [but cut off my wine consumption at one-point-five glasses . . . there’s a fine line between in vino veritas and blathering with typos].

I usually work on several projects at once; I find it helps keep me fresh, and working on one novel can inspire another that’s stalling. It’s also a handy procrastination tool. I’m a champion procrastinator . . . except no one’s handing out awards for that!

Research is done while I’m writing, for the most part. My characters start doing things I know nothing of, and so I have to stop and check, making sure the things they’re doing are really possible. I love knowing the correct name of things. I hate writing description. I love inverting axioms. I hate rewriting. I love editing. [Yes, these are two different things.]

Introducing . . .
Fire Angel cover
Susanne Lee Matthews is a romance novelist and fellow Ontarian, and I’ve been following her brilliant blog for some time. Check out her Amazon author page and the story of her writing process in this post.

Chains of Prophecy cover
Jason P. Crawford’s latest novel is the urban fantasy Chains of Prophecy. Read about his writing process next week on his site.
Mad Days of Me I:
Escaping Barcelona cover
Henry Martin – ah, what does one write about Henry? I recently read a review where he was dubbed “Minstrel Martin”. No argument here. I’ve read nearly all of his work, including the dark and brilliant Mad Days of Me trilogy. Discover more about Henry at his Amazon author page, and check out his blog, where he’ll be posting about his writing process soon.