Five Things I Love about The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

The_Scorpio_RacesRemember how I said that I was going to read books by my favorites this year? Well my first go at that was The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. I have long loved Stiefvater’s work. I adored Shiver, then was entranced with Linger, was almost disbelieving when I loved Ballad more, and thought the rounding out of the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy was wholly satisfying and beautifully written, to boot.

And while I was moving half a dozen times and spent a year or so while jobless and dirt poor, not to mention as I said in my last post, guilting myself into reading books I’d had longer but wanted to read less first (that’s a mouthful!)… Maggie wrote two books that I hadn’t read. Actually, that’s a bit of a lie. She wrote four. I didn’t read Linger or Forever until after both books were published. In any case, I was still playing catch up. So finally, despite the fact that I was already reading half a dozen books according to Goodreads… I just picked up Scorpio RacesAnd I ran through it. Here are the things I loved most:

1) The setting is 100% solid. Thisby felt like a real place. A place you could charter a boat to, and find it not much changed from when the book was set… which is not entirely clear, but hardly needs to be.

2) The horses. I was never one of those girls who drew horses and read horse books and wanted a horse for my birthday when I was a little girl… I wanted a unicorn. But seriously, while I would have relished the chance to learn to ride or spend time with horses, that just wasn’t in my life or something my family could afford, so it wasn’t something I thought about much. But it wasn’t the fact that there were horses in the book that impressed me. It was how they were written. I had a professor who said once that the hardest characters to write well are babies and animals, and that is something I’ve always believed, too. The horses in The Scorpio Races rang true.

3) The small-town feminists. Oh Peg Gratton and Dory Maud, I enjoyed every word out of you two. These are women who lead men around by the nose by pretending to be part of their game, and they had their eye out for young, eager, gender-role-challenging Puck. I loved how, rather than taking Puck under their wing exactly, they pointed her in the right direction and pushed her forward.

4) The family relationships. Puck’s relationship with her brothers, more to the point. Finn reminded me of my own little brother, not in his character, but in the feelings he evoked in me—protective, parental feelings, where you are sometimes surprised at the ingenuity and different person-ness of someone you helped raised. And Gabe. While I spent a good majority of the book being angry towards Gabe, I ended up empathizing with and even sort of loving him. It was so easy to understand, his desperation to leave. To have a life that wasn’t constant work and challenge and monotony and death. I can understand that.

5) The love story. This was exactly what I want out of a love story. Which is to say, nothing like most young adult romances (or adult, for that matter, as to the few I’ve read) are like. It is not about physical attraction or even romantic tension. Instead it is about finding someone who is so in tune with how you see the world that they become a part of you without you ever meaning for them to be. It is about respect and mutual understanding and being driven in just the same way. It was so, so satisfying.

These are not all the reasons to read The Scorpio Races, but they are what I loved best.

And since you’ve probably read it well before me, what did you think?

Why the Hunger Games is More than Short Sentences.

This morning I read an article by Jeff Goins entitled “Why The Hunger Games is the Future of Writing.” His first argument is that it caters to an easily-distracted audience with a big font and short sentences, and that if you are an author looking to get published, you should do this too.

I have to say that I disagree, however.

There are those who, in the comments of Goins’ article argue that Suzanne Collins’ writing is just plain bad, and that it’s the story, not the writing itself that sold these books. Again, I can’t quite agree with that either.

Yes, Suzanne Collins’ prose is short, quick, and to the point. And yes, some of the sentences are poorly constructed. I had a slightly different look at reading this, because I was reading it out loud so that The Mr. and I could enjoy it together. (We’re still reading, almost halfway through Catching Fire.) Reading the book aloud, it is almost impossible to deny that some of the sentences are garbled and confusing. I’ve stumbled over a good many of them.

All of these arguments are missing the point as to what is really going on here. And what is going on here is pacing.

The pacing in The Hunger Games is superb. It is probably the best case of pacing I have seen anywhere. The end of each and every chapter has a punch-you-in-the-gut “Did-that-just-really-happen?” moment.

A moment that makes you want to race on to find out why or what or how something just occurred.

The pacing in The Hunger Games is so good, you don’t really care that the sentences possibly could have been edited a little more. To be honest, I think they could have. I think this is a case where the editors were so drawn in by the writing that some things slipped by. It happens.

The series is a sprint. It takes off running, hits hard and keeps going, because the characters don’t have the choice of stopping, so neither does the reader. Short sentences may make an impact stylistically, but we’ve always known concision is the key to good writing. Some of Goins’ commenters lamented that short-sentences would lead to a world without Shakespeare, but Shakespeare himself wrote that “brevity is the soul of wit,” and was possibly the first master of pacing with his scenes of comic relief in intense plays.

In any case, I don’t think that short sentences is the answer. The answer is precision, and pacing. If simple sentences were the only key to a bestseller, how do you explain Maggie Stiefvater, author of the New York Times bestselling Wolves of Mercy Falls series and the critically acclaimed Scorpio Races? Stiefvater’s writing is lyrical and complex, with—I dare say—much more attention to the value of each and every word. Her books are doing just as well as Collins’ did before the movie hype, and there is a lot of promise of movie hype headed her way.

But you know what Collins’ and Stiefvater’s works have in common? Impeccable pacing. End of chapter punches to the gut.

Don’t shorten your sentences just to write like Suzanne Collins. Pay attention to the ends of your chapters, though. Make things happen there. Make your readers want more, each and every time. That’s the future of writing.

Linger by Maggie Steifvater

Sometimes life gets in the way of even the books you want to read most. That’s what happened for me for Linger. Between getting married, getting used to being married,  moving three times, and general life? Well, I didn’t finish many books at all in the past year and a half.

But anyhow.

As a start, here’s my review of Shiver, the first novel in the Wolves of Mercy Falls series.

I loved Shiver, and reread it before starting this. What’s really fabulous about these books is the voice and the fact that Sam’s is so poetic, while Grace’s is very fact for fact—just like the characters themselves.

I have to admit, I was less enthralled both by my reread of Shiver and by a lot of Linger than I was the first time I read Shiver. But I blame this more on the timing of my reading it (I’d been reading a lot of whiny YA, and while Stiefvater’s angst is, as I said, much more poetic than the usual fare, it is still teenage angst).

A lot of what made this book slower than the first is that there is a lot of waiting in this book. The characters are waiting for a chance to be together because they’re separated by Grace’s suddenly-proactive parents, and a sudden sickness.

Meanwhile, we’re being thrown into the heads of Isabel and a new character Cole, and neither head is a particularly friendly place. Of course, I knew that going in… and I already loved Isabel, unlike some. From what I knew about Cole (read: that he had a massive fanbase) I knew he’d probably win me over… but oh, he takes some time.

This really is two stories woven into one by circumstance—Sam and Grace’s story, and Cole’s story, with Isabel commentating on both.

The end of this book makes everything worth it, though. The whole thing slips together beautifully—and Cole’s turning a new leaf of the redemption flavor is just as winning as it should be, mainly because it’s clearly the just the beginning of something.

Glad to say I already have Forever waiting in the wings. Hoping it’s a strong ending. With Maggie Stiefvater, I’m not too worried.

 

Friday Five: Five Authors I Stalk

And by stalk, I mean that I follow them on their blogs, their twitter, their Goodreads page… pretty much anywhere I can find them online. Not half so creepy or crazy, right? Right? Well… ahem.

So, here we go, along with links so that you can follow them too, if you so choose:

1) Maggie Stiefvater, author of the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy and her faerie earlier duo, Lament and Ballad.

Website :: Blog :: Twitter :: Goodreads

Merry Sisters of Fate (where she takes turns writing stories with Tessa Gratton, Brenna Yovanoff, and guest authors)

I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by Maggie, and that includes her rambliest of blog posts. She’s written some very helpful advice for writers, too, which has been enlightening. I find insights particularly interesting since she’s an artist and a musician, which gives her writing a lyricism and aesthetic that’s hard to find, especially in YA ficiton. I’ve branched into following her two CP’s also, and especially enjoy Tessa Gratton’s blog.

2) Shannon Hale, author of the Books of Bayern, Book of a Thousand Days, etc.

Website :: Blog :: Twitter :: Goodreads

I really try to keep up with Shannon Hale’s announcements and things, mainly because I just love, love, love her books. Some of her characters are absolute loves of mine, so I like to know what’s going on in her bookish world as soon as I can.

3) Jackson Pearce, author of Sisters Red, Sweetly, etc.

Website :: Blog :: Twitter :: Goodreads :: Tumblr :: Youtube

Okay, really her website is her blog again, and her blog is almost exclusively vlogs from her youtube channel, but I’ve linked all so you have options of where you want to follow what. I started watching Jackson’s youtube videos before I ever started reading her books. I stuck around, and actually picked up her novel Sisters Red because I found her to be so witty and fun on her vlogs. Be warned, though, she does have some very strong opinions on some things, and isn’t afraid to offend people with what she says. She errs on the side of snark a little much sometimes, I think, but most of the time she’s very fun to pay attention to, and if nothing else, a great example of how to maximize your use of social media.

4) Beth Revis, author of Across the Universe and A Million Suns

Website :: Blog :: Twitter :: Goodreads :: Tumblr

I also followed Beth Revis before reading her book (I’m reading Across the Universe now, if you remember). I found her on Twitter, then Tumblr, and finally really started reading her blog recently, and I’ve enjoyed them all immensely. I had wanted to read her book before I found her online—it was getting amazing reviews—but I enjoyed getting to know a bit about her personality online before diving in.

5) Jasper Fforde, author of the Thursday Next and Nursery Crime series.

Website :: Blog :: Twitter :: Goodreads

Okay, actually it’s difficult to get updates from Jasper… he’d rather be writing, and I’m A-OK with that. He is one of my absolute favorite authors, though, so I have to include his links. I can’t wait to read his newest novel which is for a youth audience and is about dragon tamers and rediscovering magic. I’m in love with it already.