Friday, September 14, 2012

More Epic Free-For-All Reading: The Curiosities

I have mentioned before that I am not necessarily a huge fan of anthologies. When I read Tortall and Other Lands  I said reading them out of order helped. Now, I think it's something else.

I read most of The Curiosities in pieces on the bus or on breaks at work. The stories were the perfect length for reading it this way. Breaking it up like this seemed much less overwhelming. Or, perhaps, the stories were just much more engrossing.

I haven't checked out The Merry Sisters of Fate before this point. I've been on the page and wanted to but there is just so much to get caught up on that it seemed incredibly daunting. So these stories were all new to me. And now that I've finished I'm resisting the urge to tear through the website.

I loved The Curiosities. It's an anthology for writers. I'm not saying that non-writers won't enjoy the book, the stories themselves are amazing. But in the author comments before the stories, throughout, and the way they see the stories that one another wrote, it is equally as much about the process of writing and critiquing as it is about the actual stories.

Their comments about growth and how they view their own writing and each others were fascinating. Some of their doubts and random ideas and how they grew into their novels were so easy to relate to. It makes me feel a little bit better about some of my own concerns. It was really cool to see how the stories fit together and how the authors themselves learned from one another or played with tropes that the others use.

Seeing how they worked together made me wish that I had critique partners (not that I didn't before, just more so now). They understand the others well enough to be able to see what the others are trying to do with a story but not so well that they can break down the motivations for each one. They can still surprise each other and receive useful review comments.

Each author had ten stories in the anthology, I'm going to give you my top five of each and then talk about three or so of them.

My love for Maggie Stiefvater is well known. I was so excited to read short stories by her. So excited. I loved seeing how some of these ideas made it into various books of hers. The themes and ideas she plays with in her books are present in the short stories as well. They each had that essential Maggie Stiefvater-ness to them.

Her stories frequently explore how life changes with one little alteration to the world that both we and the characters know. What happens if our life span is shortened? If fire stopped going out? If it stopped raining? Sometimes it is the small changes that make the biggest impact. And Maggie Stiefvater's writing is often ripe with these little huge repercussions to seemingly small things. There's often a subtlety to the way she presents these ideas so that you get the weight of it before you realize that's what is going on.

My Maggie Top Five
   -A Murder of Gods
   -The Wind Takes Our Cries
   -A History of Love
   -The Last Day of Spring
   -Rain Maker

I really loved A Murder of Gods. The idea of it is sort of X-Men but it's the Stiefvater version so the characters have that something extra that makes me ache so much. I would absolutely love to read a full novel about Grin and Helen. They have a fantastic and intriguing relationship even on so few pages. They both feel so much, which is so very Stiefvater. Grin is the damaged and devastated guy that Maggie is so wonderful at writing. I felt so strongly for him, hurt for him when I barely knew him and love that she made that happen.

I am such a sucker for Arthurian legends. Such a sucker. The Wind Takes Our Cries manages to be so much about Arthur without it seeming like it is. Though the narrator is this mother who stands by and lets her husband beat her children, it is when Arthur shows up and takes Eoin under his wing that the story really begins. It's Arthur who is the catalyst for change. He becomes the strength of the characters much as he is said to be the strength of the entire country. His legacy is beautifully and subtlety handled. Plus, Lancelot is so totally a douche.

A History of Love is just so much fun. I love the wit and banter of Emma and Brendan. They are perfect. The interactions between them and their apparently secondary status in their own lives is realistically rendered. The camaraderie of the major and the disdain for the outside semi-related major is just fantastic. I was an English major and we had a definite disdain for the education majors and felt betrayed by the people who switched. They weren't one of us anymore. The ties to Greek mythology too were wonderful. It is just the way people with involved majors see each other, by tying them to what they are studying.

Next we have Tessa Gratton.

I bought Blood Magic right after it came out. It sounded interesting, plus it had a Stiefvater blurb on the front. But I, of course, haven't read it yet so I wasn't really sure what to expect going into the Tessa Gratton stories.

After reading The Curiosities, I really want to check her out. While her stories often didn't have the raw chest aching emotion that Maggie Stiefvater's did for me, I found that I enjoyed all of them. Picking my top five for her was probably the easiest (though I really wanted The Spiral Table on here too. Oh! and The Summer Ends in Slaughter) but it was the hardest for me to pick my top three.

There is something about the way she combines the ordinary and the extraordinary that is so wonderful. The combination of modern every day and the old Norse is so simply combined that I didn't question it because it just made so much sense somehow. 

My Tessa Top Five
   -Date with a Dragon Slayer
   -Dumb Supper
   -Ash-Tree Spell to Break Your Heart

When I first started reading Berserk, I was wary of it. The first couple of pages went a little slowly and the format took me a minute to adjust to. But after that point I was gone. The image of Luta sitting in the loft listening to her family get killed is haunting. Her relationship with Rein was heart rending, however short lived. It was a story of both of them and the format suited it perfectly. By the end my eyes might have gone a little misty. I was just as surprised as Luta over how much I felt for Rein after such a short period. And this is even after I knew that Tessa's M.O. is killing characters.

Date With a Dragon Slayer is a fun story. It's not as light as, say, A History of Love but not as heavy as Berserk. This on is a prime example of the Norse extraordinary and the everyday ordinary. The whole contest paired with the act of actually slaying a dragon. Sean and Vera were a really interesting match. Mostly, because I don't know enough about them to know if they would have lasted in the long run. But there's something so damaged about both of them that at least in that moment of the story they are exactly what the other needs. They seem to fascinate one another in a way that I just love.

Dumb Supper. I both wanted more of Dumb Supper and didn't. It was so haunting and beautiful that I wanted more of that. I wanted more of the world we were seeing. The heart breaking relationship between the narrator and Travis is beautiful. But, this is their story and there can't be anymore. If it were some grand tale of her trying to restore him it would ruin the emotions the story invokes. It would almost cheapen what Gratton did with them. It was a rare short story that I was content with. It worked too perfectly just as it was.

I was only planning on doing three but I want to mention Puddles. I love, love, love the concept of Puddles. Izzy's obsession with puddles being a mirror for our world. The pooling secrets and Izzy almost getting pulled it. Tiergan's mother drowning. Him saving Izzy. I adored Tiergan and barely knew him. I'm not sure I want more. I do but at the same time I don't really. I want to know what kind of secrets but I don't want it to be Alice in Wonderland.

Now Brenna Yovanoff.

As with Tessa Gratton, I have both The Replacement and The Space Between. But I haven't read these either. I'm a bit of a failure, I am aware. Brenna Yovanoff's stories are focused on the the strength of women. There's nothing wrong with this but it does tend to make some of her stories run together so I had a hard time picking my top five.. But what I enjoy about many of hers is that they're momentary. Not many of them span any length of time and their length reflects that. She never took anything farther than the story needed.

Her heroines are all more than they initially seem and they are so aware of it. They all use the preconceived notions of others to surprise, and often injure the second party. Sometime they are young and selfish, others they are wicked and fierce. It's little red riding hood up against the big bad wolf. That is if Red had a hatchet.

My Brenna Top Ten
   -The Madness of Lancelot
   -The Power of Intent
   -The Bone Tender
   -Girls Raised by Wolves
   -Lazarus Girl

Again, my love for King Arthur. The Madness of Lancelot didn't really strike me as an Arthurian Legend. Less so than either of the other two. I think it was the lack of Arthur. I'm not generally a Lancelot fan but I quite liked this story. It says something about expectations versus the truth. The ideas that we have in our head of who someone is versus who they really are. Lancelot needed someone to feel the same sense of loss as him and he thought that person was Viv. And Viv has this personal need to protect Lancelot. He is the little devastated sibling that she isn't sure how to help. Yovanoff managed to show this dependence between them without jamming it down our throats.

The Power of Intent is the typical 'be careful what you wish for' story, only it doesn't feel typical. There is something so casual about Harper's power. There's no need to explain it. It just is. That is often how life works. Things often just are. And I loved the idea of ordinary explanations to cover the extraordinary. It says a lot about teenage life, as well. Being so wrapped up in your crush that you don't consider consequences or see something from all angles. It's all the better that Harper wasn't instantly attracted to the wrong Colin because life doesn't work that way. I would have liked to see more of them. More of Harper's power.

The Bone Tender has a similar quality to The Power of Intent. Noah's healing power just is. This one stood out to me because Noah isn't her typical fierce girl. First, he's a guy. He's sensitive, healing, Noah. I love that's he's not perfect. The end of the story is so right. Just because someone who made your life hard is hurt doesn't mean you automatically forgive them. I adored Noah's anger at the end. He couldn't heal because he didn't want it. He wanted to hurt so he left the bully to face the karma. He kept true to what he felt.

These stories show how much the authors have in common but without regurgitating the same story. The tones are similar and the kinds of themes they explore often echo one another. The same idea is displayed through different interests. They all seemed to utilize their interests in creating these stories. And their love for the subjects shows.

I was most pleasantly surprised by Tessa Gratton. I loved her stories. I loved how much interest she had in each world and setting she created. These deep emotional bonds were formed in such short times with her characters but they all worked so well. It was easy to see why the characters fit together as they did. They didn't have the same focus on how characters effect one another as Maggie Stiefvater's do because they have a little more of the characters relationships with their society.

Initially when I started The Curiosities I was worried the comments in the margins were going to be distracting. And in the first couple stories they sort of were. I just had to learn to read them at natural stopping points rather than immediately upon seeing them (which often resulted in my stopping mid-paragraph or even mid-sentence). In the end they gave such fantastic insight into how each of these authors work, how they consider their ideas.I struggle a lot writing short stories and I loved seeing how some of their issues paralleled mine.

Now that I've talked for twenty years, I'll stop. The Curiosities is absolutely brilliant. If you're a writer whose curious about writing processes or interested in starting to work on short stories, I highly recommend it. If you want to read some really fantastic short stories, I highly recommend it.

Overall: Massively Epic.

The Curiosities was just so...*sigh*. It was everything I could have hoped for and then a whole additional suitcase of amazing.

Have any of you read this yet? What did you think? Which stories were your favorite?

Next I'll be reading Libba Bray's The Diviners. I've heard some wonderful things about this book by both Libba Bray fans and people who aren't really. So, I'm pretty excited.

Until then, my ducks.

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