Wednesday, 31 August 2011

WEDNESDAY FIVE

Hello, Dear Readers! Congratulations on making it to Wednesday despite this dull and dreary excuse for summer weather that we're having. Today I bring you a random sampling of the shenanigans which are consuming my attention currently. And just to round the whole thing up, we'll call it:

WEDNESDAY FIVE!

Thing the First:

Direct your attention to the right of this post. What's that? No, your eyes do not deceive you. The blog is only four followers away from those purple streaks I've been promising. It barely seems like an eyeblink since I was shaking in my shoes over singing the blues to celebrate 200 followers, and now we're as near as dammit to 300. Meanwhile, there have been many helpful and thoughtful comments on whether I should cut all my hair off or not, which have left me...undecided. So I'll get back to you on that one.

Thing the Second:

Shadows on the Moon has topped 1000 adds on Goodreads. I know, right?! And FrostFire has just appeared there too, so if you feel like adding it to your To Read shelf, go right ahead.

Thing the Third: 

Oooh, we're into exciting territory here. The American hardback of Shadows on the Moon is now available for pre-order on The Book Depository and Amazon! There's no cover as yet - it's not finalised, and Candlewick like to keep their artwork under wraps until a bit closer to the release date anyway. But it's there! You can see it, you can order it, it's really, really REAL. 

Thing the Fourth:

OMG! There's going to be an audiobook of Shadows on the Moon, released simultaneously with the US hardback in April next year. It will be available on CD or as an MP3 download, produced by Brilliance Audio, who are a really wonderful company with an excellent reputation. I've never had an audiobook made of any of my books before and I'm so stoked to hear what the story sounds like in someone else's voice.

Thing the Fifth:

Slightly less exciting for you guys, but very exciting for me, this one. In September I'm going away on holiday for the first time in about four years. I'll be staying in a log cabin in the Lake District and I will have NO INTERNET ACCESS. Scary but necessary if I'm to do anything different from my normal day-to-day activities while I'm away. This means the blog will be on hiatus for one week, from the 10th of September to the 17th. But never fear, we'll be back to a normal posting schedule the following week.

So - what's your Wednesday Five?


Monday, 29 August 2011

BIG SECRET PROJECT PLAYLIST

Hello, my lovelies! Today I am filled with the desperate urge to talk to you all about Big Secret Project. In fact, I am so full of beans that resisting the desire to spill them is causing me to feel a teeeensy bit nauseous. But, as you all know very well, I'm not able to talk to you about Big Secret Project right now in any meaningful way (although I promise I will as soon as I can!) and so instead, I decided that I would share with you my playlist for the part that I am working on right now.

This might tell you all kinds of interesting things about the story...or it might not. Heh heh. Being annoyingly cryptic is the next best thing to spilling the beans.

On with the playlist!










A bit different from previous playlists, I know! What sort of idea does this give you about Big Secret Project? Feel free to guess/speculate in the comments :)

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

FROSTFIRE TEASER

Hello, Dear Readers! Congratulations on making it to Wednesday. As a reward, I bring you an enticing snippet of FrostFire, which regular readers will know is the companion novel to Daughter of the Flames, and which is sheduled to come out from Walker Books in the UK in July next year.

Related to this - I'll probably be setting up a FrostFire page here and on my website soon, so if you've got any thoughts on the information you'd like to see there, tell me in the comments and I'll do my best to provide it.

In the meantime...let me know what you think of this teaser!

I went in low, swinging at the Gourdin’s leg. Moving fast for such a bulky man, he brought his right axe down, catching my axe-blade on his pick. His other axe flicked up to catch Arian’s sword in exactly the same way. The rebel twisted and pulled his axes expertly. I staggered forward a step, fighting to hang onto my weapon.

Arian let go of his sword and leapt away. The sudden release of tension made the rebel lurch, off-balance. I wrenched at my larger axe. Metal screamed, and the weapon went flying from the Gourdin’s hand. I bared my teeth in a grin of triumph. One axe down, one to go.

Arian reached under his jerkin and pulled out his weighted baton as the Gourdin took his remaining axe in both hands and aimed a side blow at my gut. I got my weapon down just in time, deflecting the blade with the iron langet.

Arian surged into the fray and drove the end of his baton into the rebel’s stomach. The man went white and stumbled back, almost bouncing off the wooden frame of the doorway .

Trusting Arian to guard me, I took an underhand swing at the rebel fighter’s legs that forced him to twist sideways. He struck at my back – Arian blocked the move with the baton, losing a chunk of wood in the process. I danced back and then edged forward, trying to find a space to cut at the man again. As he angled away, clearly believing me and my axe to be the greatest threat, Arian dived in beneath me and smashed his baton into the man’s knees.

The rebel bellowed as his legs buckled and he crashed to the ground. At the same moment, I jabbed the iron-bound head of my axe into his temple. There was a crunch as the metal met the rebel’s skull, and he slumped to the floor, lying half in and half out of the doorway.

Arian got to his feet and retrieved his sword. Together we jumped over the giant’s legs, landing in a large, echoing space, full of shadows.

The room was oddly shaped, with many sides, and was mainly taken by with roughly made wooden furniture – long tables and stools. It looked for all the world like the Hill Guard’s mess tent. I had braced myself for more enemy soldiers, but the room was empty.

“They left only one man to defend the doorway? That’s crazy.”

“They didn’t believe attackers would get this far,” Arian said, his gaze searching the room. “The inbred belief that they were invincible was the reason the Sedorne lost the war. Come on, we need to keep moving.”

We searched the room cautiously, backs to the wall, until we found a doorway. There was no door in it – a rail above indicated a curtain had once hung there, but no more. Arian eased through the gap, still plastered to one wall. I took the other side. The corridor was wide, with a towering ceiling that disappeared into darkness. The only light was from thin window slits high up. I still couldn’t hear any movement, no voices or footsteps. It was eerie.

Arian was running one hand over the wall. Then he ducked down and seemed to be touching the floor.

“What are you doing?”

“There are embrasures here for lamps, but they’re empty. And I can feel dust on the floors. I think this part is disused,” he said.

“That makes no sense. It’s directly off the main room,” I said, feeling the hairs on the back of my neck lift. “Can I have your baton? There’s no space for an axe here.”

“Take the knife instead,” he said, handing it to me hilt-first. “You’re more used to an edged weapon.”

We moved forward, weapons ready. I expected to see light at any moment, but instead the place grew darker. It was like venturing into a cave. I was thankful that at least there was no slime or bats. Yet.

“This place is massive,” I whispered as we came to a circular chamber with four more empty doorways leading off it. Even lowered, my voice echoed off the walls.

“We’re going to have to risk a light,” Arian said. “I’ve got a candle in my belt pouch. Hold this.”

He pushed the baton into my free hand, and, after some muttered swearing and scraping noises, a light flickered to life. Then he took the baton back and let some of the molten wax drip onto the end before sticking the candle to it. Now the baton served as a candleholder as well as a weapon. He held the light up high, but the tiny flame didn’t offer much illumination – just enough to keep us from stumbling over our own feet.

“Maybe we should go back and try another exit from the main room?” I suggested.

There was a muffled cry from one of the corridors and without another word we both rushed forward.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

TO CHOP, OR NOT TO CHOP?

Hi, everyone. Today's post comes to you with the sponsorship of Bleugh, God of Making People's Eyeballs Fall Out, who has been gleefully tormenting me since Tuesday. I've managed to keep my peepers in my skull thus far, but it was touch and go a few times.

But don't worry! Despite the imminent expiration of my eyeballs I still bring you a profound and deeply important post today. A post which may one day be looked back upon as a landmark in the history of the Western world. A post which could change the course of life as we know it.

Guys, I need you to tell me if you think I should cut my hair.

You may remember that back in April I cut my nearly waist-length hair to a much shorter (but still quite long!) layered cut with a fring (bangs, for the USians). So I went from this:

To this:


Now, my hair is very fast-growing, which means it's already a couple of inches longer than that again, but you get the idea. So I need to know if you think I should go from THAT (more or less) to this:

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Clearly, I am not referring to transforming into a golden-skinned, perfectly groomed Goddess, but merely to being a person with a shoulder-length bob.

ETA: There has bee much useful discussion in the comments. To that end, I offer a new option, thusly:

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The proper short bob. This was how I wore my hair for a very long time, and I do have nostalgic feelings about how easy it was to wash/dry, although it did mean styling every day since you can't get away with scraping it up if you're having a greasy/frizzy/general bad hair day.

I'm going to put a poll in the sidebar, so please let me know what you think. To chop, or not to chop? That is the question...

Friday, 12 August 2011

ZOË MARRIOTT WEEK: Day #5

Hello all - happy Friday! It's the final day of Me Week over at The Book Memoirs and today is when I answer all the questions from readers which have been flooding in (OK, maybe trickling in) throughout the week.

And if that wasn't enough, there's a THIRD INTERNATIONAL giveaway, this time of a copy of Daughter of the Flames! You've also still got time to enter the giveaways for Shadows on the Moon and The Swan Kingdom so get over there and do it if you haven't already.

A massive thank you to Kate and Elle for organising such a smashing week of wonderfulness in my name. I never thought I'd have my very own theme week anywhere. But all good things must come to an end, and so next week we will return to our regularly scheduled programming here on the blog.

If you'd like a Reader Question post next week, feel free to drop your writing and reading and publishing related queries in the comments, or send me an email through my website.

Have a great weekend, all - see you on Monday :)

Thursday, 11 August 2011

ZOË MARRIOTT WEEK: Day #4

What are you doing over here, Dear Readers? If you'd forgotten, it's Me Week on The Book Memoirs, and that means you've still got time to enter the INTERNATIONAL giveaway to win Shadows on the Moon and delightful swag, plus another day to enter questions for the Q&A.

Today's entry is a new review of The Swan Kingdom and some fascinating facts about fairytales - along with yet another INTERNATIONAL giveaway of a copy of the book, a signed bookplate and other swag.

Hasten thee hither!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

ZOË MARRIOTT WEEK: Day #3

Happy Wednesday, Dear Readers!

We're back for Day #3 of Me Week and over on the Book Memoirs there's a guest post by me on my absolute favourite comfort reads. Go and check it out - you might easily find a new favourite!

And, since I don't think any inhabitants of the world can have enough comfort right now, especially those of us living through the UK riots, here's a video I made about the tiny, everyday things that bring me joy in my life. Let me know what your ordinary miracles are in the comments.


See you tomorrow!

ZOË MARRIOTT WEEK: Day #2

Hello, Dear Readers!

I'm back again to direct you to the second day of Me Week at the Book Memoirs, where you will find a dicussion about Shadows on the Moon which is possibly the most in-depth and academic review that any book of mine has ever received, and an INTERNATIONAL giveaway for a copy of the book and associated extra special swag. 

GO GO GO!

Monday, 8 August 2011

ZOË MARRIOTT WEEK: Day #1

Wow that title took some effort. I spent ten minutes trying to come up with some other way of putting it and then another ten convincing myself that it was OK to name a blog post after myself. Which, considering this whole blog is named after me, makes no sense whatsoever. I don't even know.

Anyway - hello everyone! Hope you managed to get through the weekend with the minimum of suffering and trauma. Today is the first day of...you know... ME Week over on The Book Memoirs and they're kicking off with an in depth look at the production of the Shadows on the Moon book trailer, and the chance to enter questions for a Q & A which I'll be doing at the end of the week.

This Q & A is different from the Reader Question posts that I normally do because you get to ask me ANYTHING - my favourite colour, my opinion on Harry Potter, my solutions to the debt crisis, the name of the first boy ever kissed: WHATEVER YOU WANT! And I will do my best to answer.

So head over there now.

Before I go, I feel that I need to acknowledge the fannish devotion of Daughter of the Flames reader Kayla, who got in touch with me on Twitter to tell me that she loved the book so much, she had made art featuring the main characters Sorin and Zira. And here it is:


So happy! *Wipes away tear*

Oh! And just when you thought I was finished, it turns out I'm not. Check out Sarah Rees Brennan and Holly Black's takes on the Mary-Sue issue. They each have very different and yet equally interesting and wonderful things to say.

More tomorrow!

Monday, 1 August 2011

YOU CAN STUFF YOUR MARY-SUE WHERE THE SUN DON'T SHINE

Good morning, Dear Readers, and happy Monday. Today, at the urging of some of my lovely Twitter friends and followers, I intend to tackle a controversial topic. You can probably guess what it is from the post title, but if not...well, here's where we wade into the Mary-Sue Morass. It's a deep one. You might want to bring a snack. And a spare pair of socks.

If you regularly read book (or film or TV or other media - but most especially book) reviews of any kind, whether in magazines or on Amazon and Goodreads or on book review blogs, you will more than likely (more than likely) have come across the term Mary-Sue. If you don't already know what the term means, you might have tried to work out the meaning using the context in which the term was used. But, because hardly any of the people throwing this term around themselves understand what it means, you'll have a tough time of it. Even if you've read a hundred reviews talking about Mary-Sue characters, you probably still don't know for sure, although you'll have gotten the idea that Mary-Sue = bad news. Bad character. Bad writing. BAD WRITER, NO COOKIE!

When I read reviews, I see the term Mary-Sue used to mean:

1) A female character who is too perfect
2) A female character who kicks too much butt
3) A female character who gets her way too easily
4) A female character who is too powerful
5) A female character who has too many flaws
6) A female character who has the wrong flaws
7) A female character who has no flaws
8) A female character who is annoying or obnoxious
9) A female character who is one dimensional or badly written
10) A female character who is too passive or boring

Do you see, Dear Readers, how many of these aspects of the commonly used term Mary-Sue are...umm...just a teeny bit contradictory? How can Mary-Sue mean 'a female character who is too perfect' when it is also used to mean a female character who is 'annoying or obnoxious'? How can it mean that a character has 'too many flaws' and also 'no flaws'? How can these people have anything in common? It's all so confusing!

Except that it isn't.

Take another look at the list of complaints against so-called Mary-Sues and you will see one thing all of them have in common.

'A female character.'

What many (though not all!) of the people merrily throwing this phrase around actually mean when they say 'Mary-Sue' is: 'Female character I don't like'.

That's it. That's all.

So why don't they just say 'I didn't like the female character' and explain why? I mean, there's no problem with a reviewer not liking a female character, is there? Everyone is entitled to like or dislike a character according to their own lights. A character that one person loves may seem utterly vile to another reader, and that is a wonderful thing we should all be very happy about as individuals. How did this strange, contradictory, badly defined term come into such common use in the first place? Clearly it doesn't mean what people think it means - so why not just honestly lay out the reasons you didn't like the female character, the same way you would any other character (by which we mean, a male one) instead of throwing the term Mary-Sue like a mud-pie?

Maybe it's because the reviewers in question, the reviewers who keep saying 'Mary-Sue' as if it was all that needed to be said, don't want to have to explain the reasons why a particular character didn't work for them. Maybe it's because their reasons for finding these female characters just too obnoxious, unrealistic, stupid, passive, badass or talented are just as contradictory and badly defined as the term itself. Maybe it's because the reason they don't like the female characters isn't that they're just too...anything. Except just too...female.

For the record, at this point let's see if we can't dig out the actual meaning of the term Mary-Sue. Because it did have a useful definition once, before it was co-opted and turned into a two-word mud-pie to diminish female characters. And that definition was this:

"A Mary Sue (sometimes just Sue), in literary criticism and particularly in fanfiction, is a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for the author or reader. It is generally accepted as a character whose positive aspects overwhelm their other traits until they become one-dimensional." 

The term was made up by people writing StarTrek fanfiction, to describe the author-insert characters (often given names like Mary Sue) who would show up in pieces of fanfiction as a new ensign or science officer and immediately prove to be the best looking, most intelligent, spunkiest, wittiest and most perfect StarFleet officer ever recruited. All the other characters would immediately realise this and hail Ensign Mary-Sue as a genius. If they did not, they were very obviously motivated by spite and jealousy, since Mary-Sue was so clearly perfect (and modest! And humble! And unaware of how beautiful she was!) that no one who wasn't wicked could do anything but embrace her.

She would not only miraculously solve every problem that the Enterprise faced and make instant friends of all the crew, but all the significant male (and maybe female) characters would fall in love with her. Usually Mary-Sue would bravely die at the end of the piece of fanfiction, because the established characters and setting would have become so warped around her utter perfection by then that if she had lived she would have gotten married to either James T Kirk or Spock (or both) and become Captain of the ship, and no one would ever have had to have any adventures again.

In short, Mary-Sue is a wish fulfilment fantasy. And I'm not saying characters like this don't exist. I'm not even saying they are *bad*. In fact, an example of a Mary-Sue in a well-known novel is the character Bella Swan in Twilight (I'm sorry Twilight lovers, but it's really true! I'm not dissing Bella, I'm just stating a fact about the kind of character she is).

Bella moves to a new town and immediately finds that everyone there wants to be her friend (except for two female characters who are mind-cripplingly obviously jealous) despite the fact that she is not interested in any of them. Bella has no flaws apart from being adorably klutzy. She is convinced that she is plain, and wears no make-up, but everyone reacts to her as if she was ravishingly beautiful. She captures the interest and then the undying love of the main male character despite the fact that he nearly has to turn his whole character inside out to make it happen. She also gets the love of the secondary male character. And all the other boys her age start fighting over her too, even though she's got no interest in any of them either. Bella undergoes no character growth or development within the story because she is already perfect when the story begins. And, as has often been pointed out, the detailed description of Bella is a perfect description of the author, Stephenie Meyer.

So this is what a Mary-Sue is:

1) A character who is based, at least partly, on the author
2) A character whom has no significant flaws (except possibly ones the other characters find cute)
3) A character to whom everyone within the story reacts as if they were beautiful and wonderful except characters who are clearly evil and/or motivated by jealousy
4) A character with whom, during the course of the story, every available character of the opposite (and occasionally the same) sex will fall in love given any contact whatsoever
5) A character who undergoes no significant growth, change or development throughout the story

Believe me, when you come across one, you will know.

And yet I see the term Mary-Sue applied to characters who bear no resemblance to this definition at all. I see it applied to such diverse people as Hermione Grainger from Harry Potter, Mae from The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Clary from the Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, Alanna from The Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce, and Katsa from Graceling by Kristin Cashore. These guys, honestly, couldn't be much more different from each other. The only thing they have in common is that they're all girls.

I recently read a book that I loved. In the course of the book the heroine underwent immense physical and mental and emotional ordeals. She was by turns denigrated and treated with disgust, and excessively sheltered and lied to. She was kidnapped, dragged across rough terrain, attacked, threatened, lost people that she loved, was betrayed by people she had trusted, and had almost unbearable burdens thrust onto her shoulders. She evolved - inch by painful inch - from a very smart, yet extremely insecure and self-centred person, to one who was compassionate and empathetic and able to use her intelligence for the good of others. She changed from a passive and largely physically inactive person to one who was physically strong and active. She worked and scrabbled and fought and whined and cried for every bit of progress she made. She lost everything she loved and wanted and pulled herself up and made a new life for herself, bittersweet though it was. And I thought: How wonderful!

And then I saw a review calling this character - this amazing, flawed, revolting, inspiring, broken, beautiful, ugly character - a Mary-Sue. Dear Readers, my head nearly exploded.

I'm sick of it, Dear Readers. I'm sick of seeing people condemn any female character with a significant role in a book as a Mary-Sue. I'm sick of people talking about how the female characters were too perfect or not perfect enough, too passive or too badass, too talented or too useless, when what they really mean - but don't even KNOW they mean - is that the characters were too much in possession of lady parts.

So now I turn away from my wonderful blog readers, who are lovely, kind, sweet people who would never make my head explode, and I turn to you, the reviewers. Not all the reviewers. Just the ones who are making my head throb dangerously and causing the silvery lights to float in front of my eyes.

I beg, I implore, I get down on bended knee and grovel: next time you're about to use the term Mary-Sue, stop and look at my little checklist above. And if the character you are about to describe does not hit all the points on the checklist? DON'T.

And if you're going to ask how on earth you're supposed to know, without photos of the author, if the character is partly based on them? You've just proved my point. YOU CAN'T. Therefore, you shouldn't be using the term Mary-Sue, because you are making a claim about the character/author relationship which you cannot substantiate. Simple as that.

Instead of slapping 'Mary-Sue' in your review and leaving it at that, make a list of four or five traits or decisions or actions that you think were bad, or unrealistic, or obnoxious, about the character. Perhaps you should discuss those points, and why they bothered you, in the review instead.

But before you do, take a moment to imagine that the character you are thinking about was a boy or a man. And don't say 'Well, that's different' or 'But I just can't see a girl behaving this way' or 'It's not about their gender!' or any other excuse. Look at your list again, really look at it. See if, suddenly, magically, all those traits, decisions or actions don't seem bad, unrealistic or obnoxious anymore but like perfectly normal, perfectly acceptable traits or decisions or actions...for a boy.

By attempting this exercise, you might come to realise that you (like every other human being ever born on this planet, except maybe Jesus) have an unconscious prejudice, an unexamined blind spot. And it doesn't mean you are A Sexist Pig, or A Bad Person, or that I Don't Like You. It means you're human. And humans, oh glory, humans can change.

If you can change enough to realise how damaging and unfair the term Mary-Sue is when used indiscriminately and incorrectly to denigrate female characters, you might start to notice some of the damaging and unfair assumptions which are generally made about ACTUAL FEMALES in this messed up sexist world of ours. You might change enough to start dealing with that and make this world a better place in the process. I believe you can. I believe in you.

But only if you shove the term Mary-Sue into a deep dark closet somewhere and leave it there except for very, very special occasions.

Note: I'm well aware that there's a male variant of the Mary-Sue, called a Gary-Stu. When was the last time you saw that term used as a method of dismissing a male character who was clearly nothing of the kind? Yeah. That's what I thought.

Note the 2nd (05/08/2011): I have been receiving a lot of emails about this post, and many of them asked me to do anatomically impossible things with myself and/or die. As a result, I'm sorry to say I won't be opening any more emails with regard to the Mary-Sue issue from email addresses that I don't recognise. And while I'll continue to read all the comments left here, and I'm very happy for you guys to air your opinions and carry on the discussion, I honestly can't keep up with the comments anymore without the whole thing eating my brain. Thanks to everyone who has posted a civil comment here, whether you agreed with me or not! 

NOTE the 3rd: Here's my follow-up to this post, which came together after seeing many other authors react to this issue made me see the whole discussion in a new light.
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