Monday, June 15, 2020

MMGM: Jonathan Auxier

I first heard about Auxier in a MMGM blog post a few years ago when someone was praising The Night Gardener. Although it sounded intriguing, I thought it might be too dark for my tastes, so I stayed away.

Last summer, one of my friends recommended Auxier as an author her kids like. (And she is the last person to recommend scary books.) So, I checked out everything by him from our library and thought I’d finally give his books a try.

My younger son devoured Peter Nimble, Sophie Quire, The Night Gardener and Sweep in days.

I am a bit slower of a reader than him, so I only got through Peter Nimble, The Night Gardener, and Sweep.

But I loved these books and am so excited to find a new favorite author. And as far as being scary—yes, these books have some scary parts, but the good part is that evil is always vanquished by fantastically wonderful protagonists.

Auxier writes books that are everything a middle grade book should be: full of adventure, nods to classic literature, well-rounded characters, high stakes, lyrical language, and meditations on the meaning of life and death.

There is much to love for kids and grownups alike.

Here are my individual reviews:

Sweep is probably my favorite, although it’s tied with The Night Gardener. I loved the Victorian English/Dickens-esque setting, which reminded me of Oliver Twist. It was easy to root for the main character, Nan, a chimney sweep, and her Golem, Charlie, who is anything but scary. I also loved what this said about love and loss, and how those we love remain a part of us even after they are gone.

The Night Gardener reminded me of Something Wicked this Way Comes by Ray Bradbury with a Victorian twist. Molly and Kip, brother and sister, had incredible gumption and drive, and the mystery had many layers, always keeping you at the edge of your seat. The message of this book about the power of stories was very satisfying.

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes: The world building is fantastic, and I loved all the layers of mystery. And then there's the knight who's been turned into a cat! The violence was more intense in this one, and the climax didn’t have the same resonance as his other books. But I’d still recommend this for kids (or adults) who like fantasy and adventure.

Have you read any books by Johnathan Auxier? Which one is your favorite?

*As we just finished the school year around here and my older son graduated from high school, I will be taking a break next week from blogging to spend some time with my family and celebrate my birthday. I will be back the first week of July to co-host the July ISWG!

Monday, June 8, 2020

If You Love Agatha Christie, Meet Dorothy Sayers

I stayed away from Dorothy Sayers for years. I tried one of the Peter Wimsey books several years back, but found it too intellectual for my tastes. (Now that's a fancy way of saying her books made me feel stupid.) And the dialect! I have a pet peeve about reading dialect. So I never picked it up again.

Then I read Mind of the Maker. I loved how she connected creativity to faith in God. That warmed my feelings toward her a bit. I knew she was friends with C.S. Lewis, too, so I swore I’d try her again at some point.

Then my son was reading Gaudy Night for English last year, and I usually read the books my sons are reading if I can. I read it last summer while my younger son was taking swimming lessons. I’ll never forget a stranger approaching me and saying, “That is my favorite book. You’re going to love it.”

And I did.

Since then I’ve been hooked on this detective who is like Wooster (of the Jeeves and Wooster series) with a brain. I love how he knows a little bit about everything and isn’t afraid to allude to the classics or theology. Your brain can’t go to sleep while you’re reading Sayers, but it’s well worth the exercise.

Here are my favorites:

Have His Carcase

All the books with Wimsey and his love interest, mystery writer friend Harriet Vane are good, but this one is my favorite, maybe because it's a puzzle mystery with Russian undertones. Harriet finds a body on the beach, and she and Wimsey solve the case together, interviewing a cast of well-developed secondary characters. The best thing about this couple is their conversations. They have deep, meaningful discussions and aren’t afraid to argue about real things.

Murder Must Advertise

This novel is probably the most humorous of Wimsey’s novels. He goes undercover at an ad agency, while at the same time, pretending to be a harlequin to infiltrate a dope ring. The mystery itself is interesting, but what Sayers has to say about advertising, its psychology, and its effect on culture is fascinating as well.

The Nine Tailors

One thing I love about Sayers work is that you always learn something—whether it’s about advertising, gentlemen's clubs, the moors, or Scottish art colonies. In this novel, which centers on a rural parish, you learn about bell ringing. Nine tailors refers to the nine bells that are rung when a man dies. I loved how the back story enriched the main story and all the different Biblical allusions like the Flood, cherubim, which tie into the mystery. Very rich.

TV Adaptions:

Most of her novels have been made into BBC/Masterpiece productions. The Harriet Vane/Wimsey books (Strong Poison/Have His Carcase/Gaudy Night) from 1987 feature Harriet Walters (Mrs. Dashwood from the 1995 Sense and Sensibility) and Edward Petherbridge. *This is my favorite adaption.

The productions of the Wimsey only by the BBC (1972-1975) featuring Ian Carmichael are wonderful as well.

What have you been reading or watching lately? What are your favorite mysteries?

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

ISWG: Art v. Craft

At the first writing conference I attended, one of the editors said something that has stuck with me: “Master the craft, and the art will come.” (This is a loose paraphrase.)

And I tend to agree. I have been working very hard on that craft. Writing. Having my work critiqued. Reading craft books. Attending conferences.

But recently I got one of my short stories published in a local anthology as a winner of a local contest. This contest is only open to residents of my county, and the whole purpose is to encourage writers, who often work in isolation.

Of course, it’s always a boost to see your work in print and to think the hard work of learning the craft is paying off.

But I learned the most from reading other people’s stories and poems.

What struck me is these stories were written out of people’s experiences with a lot of skill, but they were not written to sell many copies or appeal to a wide audience.

Some of the stories talk about sad experiences, weird happenings, or just reflect ordinary life. Half the stories and poems are written by children and teens.

As Picasso said, “Every child is an artist, the problem is to remain an artist once we grow up.”

What I see at most writing events and conferences is a huge emphasis on getting an editor's or agent's attention. (Or in self-publishing, how to make a lot of sales.) But when we focus too much on pleasing other people, we forget to see writing as an art,  an expression, as part of who we are.

My county’s art association also sponsors a writing festival, which is not a conference in the usual sense. Yes, there are workshops by writers on improving the craft, but there are also readings by local artists, and no agents or editors are in attendance. Although there is a place for the regular type of conference, going to this agent-less festival feels like going on a retreat. I get to focus on why I’m writing in the first place, without worrying if “I’m good enough.”

I just get encouraged to “make great art.”

How do you get rejuvenated as a writer? How do you balance the tension of art v. craft?

Sorry I didn't answer the question this month! I don't have any big secrets to reveal. :)

To sign up for Insecure Writer's Support Group, go HERE.