The Magicians

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The Magicians
Author: Lev Grossman
Rating: ⭐️⭐️
Thoughts: Definitely a Lot of Good Parallels for Fantasy Fans; Too Much Exposition; Narnia Spoof; Really Hard To Get In To, But Wrenching Once You Do; The Story Doesn’t Start Until The End

I was really excited to read Lev Grossman’s series because I’d heard it was like a “Dirty Harry Potter” and as a thorough Harry Potter nerd, I really looked forward to passing my judgement. Outside of a few joking references, though, The Magicians has nothing to do with Potter, but a lot to do with The Chronicles of Narnia.

Grossman was clearly creating a Narnia spoof, and with good reason, but I couldn’t help but feel like he didn’t actually get to the plot until maybe the last 150 pages of a 400 page book. The protagonist, Quentin, gets invited to a magic college early on, but then we spend the entirety of the first half of the book learning next to nothing about Quentin’s school, but rather passing his way through time through a series of large time-gaps and exposition. Characters are plucked from nothingness only to be tossed back in (and occasionally repeating the process). It was as though Grossman had gotten the idea into his head of a magic college and then married the idea when, in fact, the college had almost no significance to where the story was going other than that they thereafter (and somewhat feebly even) knew magic. I’m not even sure why the first half of this book exists.

Basically, the first half of this book is prolonged exposition scattered with a smattering of actual scenes that seem to take on no real significance. What is the point of Welters? for instance. Or the whole South Pole thing? If you’re looking for a book about a magic school, this is not it. You get very little from Q’s time there.

The strongest point of this book is definitely the coming of age aspect, which I felt didn’t really shape up until quite late as well. Quentin, of course, has a lot of growing up to do. I like that Grossman puts his character through the ringer, that he has him make almost catastrophic mistakes, that his personal life is in shambles. I’m tired of this genre of writing having everything work out so perfectly. Quentin’s life gets messy and not everything goes well. That’s a hard lesson for him to learn, but a lesson so quickly left out of Young/New Adult literature. I definitely enjoyed that theme abutting the Narnia-spoof.

Honestly, I didn’t love this book. By the time we FINALLY get to Fillroy (the Narnia-esque land), it’s a bit rushed to me. I hated most of Quentin’s friends. I hated the way Grossman tossed around characters, the way I always seemed to know less about the character’s lives than what was happening, and–most of all–I hated all the exposition. Is it so wrong to want to be in a story, rather than hearing about a story? But I did like the adult themes, the way he clearly dirties up a typically innocent cannon, the way he could create issues out of one’s grasp.

But honestly, I didn’t get into it until the end. It was hard slugging for a long time there, waiting merely for the inevitable Fillroy plot to finally manifest. I’m probably not going to be reading on, albeit I’m a bit curious and angry about a curveball that’s mentioned entirely without comment, as if it’s perfectly usual, at the end.

SPOILER

Seriously? Where did Julia just come from? YOU CAN’T JUST DO THAT!

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HOLY CRAP, IT’S DONE!

After a couple of months of ardent struggle over the last few chapters of my first draft, I kind of hit a break through this weekend.

Went to a “Shut UP and Write” group through meetup.org where a bunch of writers get together to not talk and write for a straight hour in a coffee shop. This may sound like some sort of writer’s cliche, but honestly I really recommend trying this for anyone out there who has hit a wall. Maybe I respond well to peer pressure, but I wrote more in that hour than I have in months. And best of all, I wrote the (what seemed last week/month/year to be an impossible feat) climax.

So the first draft is, well, close to done. Really I have a few updates to do, and maybe a final chapter. But it’s… well, not so impossible anymore.

Clearly, I’ll be hitting up this writing group again next week. Afterwards we all sat around and talked writing and literature, and for once I didn’t feel like the most inept person in the room. In fact, I actually felt like I’d accomplished something. Like I actually knew what I was talking about!

Woah, that’s a new sensation.

So anyway, no matter what’s happened in my life since January, I can always remember this as the year I wrote my first book.

Now… for editing. Erk.

His Dark Materials

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His Dark Materials Trilogy (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass)
Author: Philip Pullman
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Thoughts: Why Am I Just Now Reading This; Heartbreaking; Perfect Ending; I Cried; Every Kid Should Read; They Really Messed-Up The Movie; Please Read This

I feel like it has geniunely been a long time since I was as invested in a book as I was in Pullman’s trilogy. Sure, the first book took me a little while to get in to (I was not convinced for the longest time that Lyra was a particularly likable character), the second seemed more like a transition than an actual story, but the third… Pullman’s last installment in this series is nothing short of a masterpiece in his genre (all of his genres, since I felt this series covered quite a few).

I’ve actually needed a few days since finishing the series to process it all. Recover, even.

I remember after finishing The Subtle Knife that I wasn’t even quite sure what the conflict was, yet alone how there could be a conceivable ending, but Pullman really speeds things up for The Amber Spyglass, which moves so quickly, both action wise and, particularly, character development. Even the most hated character from The Colden Compass, by the end, is so thoroughly flesched-out that you understand her perfectly, even empathetically.

Lyra starts out a little silly, but she’s brash and interesting enough that I was curious, albeit maybe a bit wary of her. For me, Iorek Byrnison (and Lee Scoresby (and Serafina Pekkala (and the Gyptians))) is the real hero of The Golden Compass. It’s the side-cast that kept me reading. That and a wild fascination at the world Pullman had created–just familiar enough that you still felt grounded enough to understand it, but fascinated by some bold differences. PUllman’s world-building is exemplary.

The Subtle Knife (second book), almost impossibly, starts out in our world with a whole new character. Will is a whole person, no half-formed thing of paper. He is not some hyperbole of a “child.” Pullman never writes his own characters off, never, even for a second, underestimates what they are capable of.

I would love to discuss the ending of this series at length, but I genuinely don’t want to ruin it for any of you. I can’t even bring myself to bring up The Amber Spyglass without giving too much away. All I can say is that I loved this work, I wish I’d read it sooner. I see why it never caught on, though; if Harry Potter could be satanic in any way, His Dark Materials is borderline blasphemy (I’m not sure how, but Pullman managed to write a modern day Paradise Lost for children). But get over it and see that what he’s trying to say is godlike in a very genuine way.

So read it an try not to cry at the end. Will and Lyra are everything that I think popular teen novels are missing and their conclusion leaves you salty with disappointment, but the perfect anecdote for growing up and finding one’s purpose for life.

It’s every message I could hope for my own work.

Day Seventy: Quitter’s Junction

There comes a time in everything where you don’t see much reason to go on. Does that mean you quit? It’s gotten hard, it’s not working. Wouldn’t it just be so much easier to give up?

Honestly? The book is crap. It’s horrible. Practically unreadable. I want so badly to burn it and send its ashes rocketing into space. I want to lay in bed and forget it. It’s impossible, right now. No one is waiting on this book. If I give it up, it simply disappears.

But I’m not a quitter. So today I’m going to write twice as hard.

Every time you quit, you’ve failed. No one is going to hold you to it. No one is going to make you finish. You fail no one but yourself.

So force yourself out of bed.

Just. Keep. Writing.

Day Fifty-Six: Just Keep Writing

After almost a whole week of waffling around, I’m finally writing again with a bit of procrastination consistency. Wrapped up Chapter 14 and have started 15… Hoping to have it finished today/tomorrow. Only seven more after that!

The exciting bit is that I’ve written large chunks of my ending so these last few chapters will have large potions already waiting to be incorporated. I’m actually just impressed that my plot has managed to stay on track… although I must admit, it’s more political than I’d originally imagined.

Thank god for detailed outlines!

I have one friend who has actually kept up with my story. It’s wonderful to hear his predictions about the ending… mostly because it helps me realize what’s working and what isn’t. I’ve planted so many Red Herrings in my narrative that I’m not sure I’ve planted enough actual clues. Every time I do (since I already know the ending) they just feel wildly obvious to me! I need that outsider/reader’s perspective so badly.

I swear, though, there is nothing like a friend texting you to request more to keep you motivated.

Just. Keep. Writing.

The finish line feels so close on this first draft!

Day Twenty-Eight: Distractions

Ok! Finished up chapter nine today and started 10. I’m very excited. We’re getting to the good stuff now. I’m not a particularly tense or mysterious writer though, so it’s hard to write these slightly mysterious, more mystical bits. Hard, but still, things are starting to get good.

That being said, as much as I’d like to devote my every waking moment to my writing, I keep getting all these really stupid distractions. My old landlord went anal-retentive on me today so I had to spend the bulk of my day writing her an email while resisting the urge to call her a delusional lunatic. It was almost a writing practice (in which the narrotor was a much nicer person than I am) in and of itself, and this time there’s money on the line.

Also, yay. Everything else is getting crazy. Get to entangle myself in the widow’s web that is our modern healthcare system (who doesn’t want to spend two hours on the phone with a nurse and their insurance company!). I’m also getting down to deadline here on painting my apartment, as I’d promised. Hooray.

It’s not the menial tasks that have me down. Everyone has to do these things. I’m getting dysfunctional… I can’t even manage to pull myself away long enough to go to the grocery store (I’m living off a dwindling pizza my stepmother insisted I take with me). I don’t want to do anything all day. I just want to write.

When I first started this project, I put a lot of time into reading the advice of other writers. I read a woman who explained at length how important it was, as a full-time writer, to make sure you take nights and weekend as free-time and not writing time. This was baffling to me. Before now, my only writing time was my free-time, stolen moments in a coffee shop.

But now that I’m getting going, I’m seeing why she’d give such a tip. I see it, but I can’t stop myself. I want to wake up every morning and write. I spend all day turning my story over in my head. In fact, I’ve developed an intolerance for days when I don’t get to. I can’t spare the wasted thoughts on things like schedules and dates. When did my work become my vacation and my vacation become so difficult?

I want to spend every day in my writing. I love this world. I created it. It’s so malleable and sensical. It’s way better than my real life. Writing has always been a tenuous means of controlling my life for me… and now that I spend so much time in the world of my creation, I’m finding life more and more intolerable.

My real life seems to be spinning out of my control. All I want to do is hide away with my work. I want to run away into my novel (except not really live my novel because I have some horrible things planned for these kids, as most writers do).

I created this vibrant, colorful world. It’s exciting and new and so beyond the realms of reality. It’s fantastical and I love it! But now I’m struggling with the mundanity of the world around me.

Day Thirteen: A Character Struggle

Have spent almost the entire day trapped in a coffee shop waiting out a storm. However, I’ve managed to make some feeble success of it and written a good 20 pages or so. I wouldn’t say it was an easy 20 pages, but I’ve tried to persevere.

The troubling thing about trying to write about remarkable events is trying to think of remarkable events. I have a great outline. Every time I read it I think to myself, “Now who came up with this? This all seems much more extraordinary and thought-out than I could have written.” My outline keeps me going, but when it comes to the extraordinary details that this world seems to demand to make it move, I am struggling.

I literally had to google “Interesting Earth facts” today. Everything has to be new and remarkable and sometimes its very hard to keep up with that and keep the story progressing. Could I make something wildly strange happen? Yes of course, why not drop a giant jellyfish down into the middle of the dinner table (it’s not beyond the realms of possibility for my story), but then where do I go from there?

Fantasy is hard in that how is it fantastical and logical at the same time?

What I’m struggling with even more is writing very interesting/non-cliche characters. It’s like I see them clearly in my head, but how do I make the principal give a new an opening speech that isn’t too Dumbledore but still strange enough to be interesting? How do I write someone saying something wise that isn’t too stuck in something cliche about wisdom? It’s so frustrating when I know someone has already done it better. I just want to steal their characters and run away with them!

Every word someone utters is a bit of a struggle today. I know what they need to say, but the space isn’t solid enough in my mind to know how they would say it.

I think I need a drink? Something a bit stronger than coffee.