Yeah I’m still alive…just.

Hey Everyone

I’m trying to finish off a bunch of work at the moment so I’m not around on social media or the blog much. I have about 100 pages left of my final edit of Rise of the Firebird (book three of The Firebird Fairytales). It’s epic – like 150k words epic- so it’s taking me a lot longer to get the way I want it. It’s the final book where everything needs to tie up and make sense (oh the spoilers I could tell you) so the editing process has been a lot more timely and intense.

I’m also studying two units of Uni this semester instead of one so I’m on the hop to get assignments completed and in.

Oh yeah and I’ve had an epiphany half way though writing the current WIP BLAISE so I’m having to go through and structurally rearrange things.

In summary, I’m busy but I’m still thinking of you.

Here is stag to make you feel better.

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Ohh what a magnificent beast.

And a beautiful fairytale picture to let you know where my head is at right now.

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Love Amy the Great

Defending YA: Round 3

Apologies everyone for not blogging as much as I should be at the moment, with the release of a book comes all sorts of interesting delays…but that doesn’t matter because today boys and girls we are going to talk about the gorgeous Leigh Bardugo.

I really struggled with this blog because these are meant to be broad recommendations and not reviews and I want nothing more than to disseminate these amazing stories, write essays and find all the tricks used. It’s the writer in me to want to pull a book apart that I love and see how it all works underneath.

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For those who’ve read my Firebird Fairytales  (hi guys!) it’s pretty obvious how I feel about Russian fairytales so you can imagine my reaction when I stumbled on Leigh Bardugo, someone who feels as intensely about them as I do.

I have a really incredible partner who understands my interesting ways (crazy) so when I read my first Bardugo story The Witch of Duva, he was very understanding when I freaked the fuck out with excitement. I know I went a bit backwards with my first reading choice but I was a hardcore fan from that moment. Not only was it different enough to be a new fairytale but it’s structure was familiar enough that it feels like it could slot into a canon of the original. It’s ending was horrific and haunting in a way that only a good Russian fairytale can achieve.

The next day I went to Dymocks and cleared out their entire stock of Leigh books with enough enthusiasm and gesticulation that it was almost interpretive dance, much to the amusement of the sales staff.

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Look at those covers…damn, I had no chance to resist them.

Okay so the first series I annihilated was the Grisha Trilogy. It draws you into the fascinating world of Ravka that Bardugo has created. There is a stark difference between the war ravaged lands and the lush Little Palace but the world building in this series is intense and in equal parts Russian derivative and original creation. The structure of the magic wielding Grisha is fascinating and I could’ve happily read a whole book all about magic lessons.

Our story begins with Alina, orphan and apprentice cartographer in the Ravkan Army. She saves her childhood friend Mal (more on him later) when a dormant magic deep inside of her flares to life in his defence. This rare gift is instantly scrutinised by the Leader of the Grisha, The Darkling. Here is, in my opinion, one of the greatest characters I’ve seen in a long time. The Darkling is magic incarnate with the ability to summon darkness as Alina’s rare gift is to summon light, earning her the title of The Sun Summoner. Alina is taken back to the Little Palace in order to learn about her gift and the pale orphan that’s always been overlooked is suddenly seen as the Saviour of Ravka.

The books move through a series of betrayals, love’s and losses as Alina struggles with her power, her heart and her duty to bring peace to Ravka. It’s really difficult for me to keep my mouth closed and not spoil the whole series for you but if you love fairytales I can’t recommend it enough. Bardugo has created a world so rich that it almost outshines her protagonist. The stories are laced with symbology and theres iconic elements that give it its fairytale quality. What it also does really well is question the concept of power and magic and what it costs to claim both. Alina herself is not your typical likeable character either; I could’ve punched her in the face on more than one occasion. She can be a real whinger but rallies when she needs to, like a lot of people. She’s not perfect, she has shit self esteem right to the end despite the things she achieves. There are a few things I really took issue with in the series so I’ve added a spoiler section at the bottom of this blog for those who’ve read the series and want to hear my rant.

This brings me to Bardugo’s newest (and my favourite) Six Of Crows. 

six-of-crows-2015.02.13-315 Part heist, part adventure, part street war – this two part series based in the Grisha world has everything.

The story starts with criminal protege, Kaz (I’m so in love with this guy) putting together a team to break into the Ice Court and retrieve a hostage, the creator of a drug that can enhance a Grisha’s power but also ends with their death as the magic and addiction eats away at them.

The characters in Kaz’s crew are all vivid and individual. They have a incredible chemistry in their interactions and the scenes between Nina and Matthias had me laughing uncontrollable.

As a writer Bardugo levelled up in this series. It seems easier, like she’s more confident in her own magical ability of story telling. It carries less of the epic fairytale and more of the fantasy. It’s written so visually that you could see it transposing easily into a tv series (a movie would not do it justice- seriously get onto it Netflix).

Crooked-Kingdom-Cover-GalleyCatI can’t wait for the second book (left) that cover alone! I’m loving what she’s doing with the series and the extra layering of awesome world building.

Honestly, I think Leigh Bardugo is just getting going and if she ever decided to write for adults she would redefine whatever genre she decided to choose.

Also, I’m about 98% sure she washes her hair in virgin tears because it’s kind of magical. Yeah, I got hair envy AND writer envy. In the best possible way. She seems like a really kick ass, scarily clever person and if she ever comes to Melbourne I’ll be first in line with an offering of cake and cocktails. Read her. Buy her books here.

Keep reading ONLY if you have read the Grisha series…here there be spoilers:

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Oh hi there, so glad you’re still with me to read about the major issue I had with the Grisha trilogy. I’ve talked about this with a few people (my understanding partner had to pull me up because I was in full blown rant mode after book 3 was done) and before I begin I want to make something really clear….writing books is fucking hard. It’s a long and involved process for a writer and decisions made in books, even if YOU, the reader, think they are wrong, have still been considered long and hard by the author. It’s their story and ultimately your opinion doesn’t really matter.

The following is purely my opinion as a reader. As you can tell I’m a huge fan of Leigh Bardugo and I respect her immensely so this one thing I take issue with doesn’t diminish my over all love of the series.

As stated above I’m really blown away by the character of the Darkling. He’s the rare type on antagonist that I could fear, love and respect. He is someone that has lived for hundreds of years, the only one of his kind, awaiting his opposite that can summon light to balance to his darkness.

Alina is that person, that balance and when she appears there is a relief in the Darkling that he doesn’t have to be alone anymore. Alina is very young, immature and still holds a flame for her childhood friend and crush Mal.

I take MASSIVE issue with Mal as a character. I know this is the unpopular opinion and many ship him and Alina from the start but he made me grind my teeth in fury. Mal is that guy that you are mates with as kids who you have always been there for and then becomes the popular boy in high school that all the girls throw themselves at. As the best friend you have to put up with his womanising crap and be the mate and shoulder to cry on when it doesn’t work out. You are the only girl that stands by him and he doesn’t know you exist UNTIL suddenly someone else (in this case the Darkling) starts to treat you like you are special and important and then for the first time, the boy you have been waiting on, realises that you’re desirable and only then decides you’re worth his time. This is Mal in a nutshell. Until he goes to the Little Palace during a celebration and see’s Alina, blossoming with power and beauty from her months away, standing with the Darkling, her equal in power, that he realises his epic mistake of not giving her the time of day. It was only when Alina is cut off from the sun that is Mal that she learns of her own value and starts to shine. I know, I know..they grew up together, Alina’s always loved him, he’s a good guy in many ways…all true but I don’t think he’s good for HER. She’s been not worth his time until she’s suddenly worth someone elses.

This is not to say that the Darkling doesnt treat her badly, he does but they are the only ones of their kind, they actually do belong together and its obvious (especially in the later books) that Alina has considerable influence over him. She’s meant to be the light to his darkness, the only person that could (if she’d wanted to) sway him because they are equals, that could teach him another path. He actually says this in his comments about her being the one that could make him into a better man. But she chooses NOT to.

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(Image courtesy of artist warika on Pinterest)

From a writing perspective the scenes between the Darkling and Alina are so charged that it hurts. They have a chemistry together that goes beyond physicality and beyond magic. Scenes between Alina and Mal are not like this. They are filled with guilt and regrets and hurt. Mal doesnt, will not, ever understand Alina the way the Darkling will- that’s actually explained in the books.

Mal treats Alina like shit, especially in the second book. She reaches out to the Darkling because Mal being a selfish, self absorbed git, isolates her when she needs him the most. His actions are not the ones of a conflicted man in love. They are the actions of a man who is jealous that he’s no longer the sole focus of Alina’s world.

The Darkling, for all of his faults, is only really acting the way I imagine a hundreds year old person would act. There is a coldness, a focus on his goals and the lives he takes don’t matter to him because a human life is a flickering candle flame to him because he’s been so isolated and disconnected. He acts in many ways they way I imagine a vampire would act after hundreds of years (yeah a teenage girl wouldn’t hold their attention, sorry but no). He’s waited for Alina to appear and he needs her on a fundamental level. They are the only ones of their kind and he finally has a chance to alleviate his loneliness. The way Alina responds to him is intense as you imagine it would be. She tries to deny it for the rest of the series but he is the only one that doesn’t make her feel alone. He even chooses to become her villain (‘Fine, make me your villain’) because he would be anything she needed him to be. He never wants her to hide her power, who she really is, unlike Mal who just wants her to ‘normal’ so he can be the special one again.

I would’ve been happy if Alina and the Darkling killed each other in their final battle. I half expected it to happen. But she ends up with Mal, running the orphanage, normal with her power gone. It was an ending that I could understand but really cut me sideways. Bardugo does comment about Alina missing her power though which is something, there is a part of Alina that will never filled, satisfied or happy. Maybe, like me, she wonders if she could’ve changed the Darling’s mind and had an immortal love that shook the heavens.

I know, this is a rather intense opinion and it’s a credit to Bardugo that I had such a strong reaction to it. I don’t like it when women end up with men who make them feel less than what they are to make themselves feel better…I’ve been in that kind of relationship and so I fucking balk at it in a book.

I will read the series again, probably many times, and perhaps I will feel differently about Mal because I’m not so drawn to the Darkling. Maybe I will read the scenes between him and Alina differently, maybe I will stop feeling like she ended up with the shitty consolation prize.

Yeah, I know, I love the Darkling WAY too much. Which probably says a lot about me. It says even more about the prodigious talent of Leigh Bardugo. I wait to see what she does next with high anticipation. I hope its a book of fairytales. I know it will be stellar regardless.

 

Free Story PDFs -My New Thing

You might have seen back in my New Years post that this year I wanted to start putting Free Stories onto the blog for you to read, share, pirate whatever.

Today I have uploaded the first free story! Hurray! Because I’m SO excited about my release of Ashes of the Firebird this coming weekend I’ve uploaded the complete first novel of The Firebird Fairytales, Cry of the Firebird for your reading pleasure. You can find it here under the Books Tab of my Menu. 

My mind is bursting with stuff to write, load and advertise before the weekend (including a proper blog for Ashes) so bear with me folks and I’ll see you on the otherside 🙂  

 

Sibelius, I Love You

  
I love Sibelius, in fact I probably listen to more of his incredibly visual music when I write than any other classical composer. I spent yesterday afternoon streaming a wonderful piece by ABC Classic FM about the great man in celebration of his 150th Anniversary of his birth and his later years at his house Ainola. If you aren’t familiar with his work he drew much of his inspiration from the Kalevala epic and the forests and lakes of Finland.

Apart from anecdotes like Churchill sending him cigars for his birthday and Hitler sending him a medal and personal note there was also other things that really resonated with me like the fact he worked on his 8th Symphony for thirty years and then tossed it into the fireplace because he felt it would diminish his earlier works, he just didn’t think it was good enough. That is…rough. As an artist I get it. I don’t think I know one writer who hasn’t wanted to burn it all at some point.

Sibelius’ music has a way of twisting into your heart and pulling roughly on the emotional strings. If you’re eyes don’t well once while you really sit there and listen then I would be very surprised (King Christian II Incidental Op.27 I. Nocturne gets me EVERY time). He’s a composer, yes, but he’s also a story teller. He paints images and stories in your mind with notes, so it didn’t surprise me to learn he used to associate different musical notes with colors. I’m sure if he had wanted to he could’ve written a song based on the colours used on any painting of his good friend, the great Finnish artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela. They both loved the Kalevala and drew heavily from it, they understood the power of story telling. 

   
When I was in Helsinki last I went to his beautiful monument (it actually features in Rise of the Firebird aswell) and could really SEE his music as I travelled through the country. To my mind he captured the heart and beauty and something inherently Finnish in his music. He never compromised his art, never wrote in a style because he thought it would be popular and make him money, was unflinching focused on the music his heart wanted to create. There’s a lesson for everyone there.

If you like classical, take the time. You won’t be disappointed.

2015 What the hell happened?

Looking back on 2015 has kind of made me feel like this…

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The really strange thing is that many people I’ve talked to, writers blogs I’ve read etc have all been saying the same thing. 2015 we are all glad to see you go and hope that 2016 will be kinder.

My 2015 in review;

*I wrote two and half novels (only one I am happy with) totalling about 210k  words. Add blogs and and assignments its probably about 250K.

* I edited over 500,000 words…lets not speak of it *sobs*

* I published two novels and all the additional work around them that you can’t fully appreciate until you are forced to do it.

* I continued to work on my degree that I still don’t know how long is going to take me to finish.

Plus a day job and a 3,000km move to a new city.

SO what’s happening in 2016 on the publishing front?

* Ashes of the Firebird (Book 2 of The Firebird Fairytales) will be out in February! Hurray! Covers and interiors will be completed in January so expect sneak peaks and a locked in release date shortly.

*Rise of the Firebird (Final book of The Firebird Fairytales) will also have a 2016 release but I will keep you posted closer to the dates.

I have been pretty tired during the last week or so of holidays just trying to catch up with my own mind and plan 2016 which will hopefully be a lot smoother thanks to the lessons learnt in 2015.

I don’t make resolutions as a rule but I do have a hope for 2016; that I won’t lose a year and have no other memories but work, that I will read some great books that will move me, that I will write some great books that will make me and that people will learn to be kinder and more tolerant than the past year of horror.

2015 I am glad you’re gone. I will not miss you.

What I’m Up To…

I would be the first to admit that I have not been focussed on blog writing in the last few months  so I thought I would write a quick catch up to let you all know what I have been up to:

  •  I have finished writing the first book, called WYLT, in a new trilogy. It has strong gothic romance flavours tied in with faerie and other supernatural elements.
  • Duke and I have finally moved to Melbourne to pursue writing and romance shaped endeavours. I have planned two books based here in Melbourne so taking advantage of the State Library Archives is high on my priority list.
  • My fabulous US copy editor has finished with book two of my Firebird Fairytales trilogy, it’s called Ashes of the Firebird and I am hoping to get it out early in the new year.
  • I am going to start publishing short stories here on the blog for anyone interested. I will be editing these and posting them here and there.
  • I am job hunting which always makes me a little crazy so I have also started writing the second book in new series called BLAISE to keep me level.
  • I am going to create a mailing list in the next few months so I can let you fine people know about promotions, offers and advanced reader copies and not to spam you.

OKAY so that is a much abbreviated version of things going down in Amy-Land.

Don’t forget that both my books are going on a Free Books Promotion over Thanksgiving so please take advantage and tell your friends and family to as well. I am putting together a longer blog about Books of Magic so keep an eye out for that in the coming week.

Amy and Duke Out! 

  

Free Books Promotions

*Promotion Announcement*

‘Cry of the Firebird’ will be be on a Free Books Promo in all countries on 26th-28th of November.

‘The Eagle Key’ will be on a Free Books Promo in all countries on 26th of November.

Kalevala Dreaming

“I am driven by my longing,

And my understanding urges

That I should commence my singing;

And begin my recitation.

I will sing the people’s legends,

And the ballads of the nation.”

Excerpt From: “Kalevala, Volume I (of 2) / The Land of the Heroes.”

So begins “The Kalevala”, the heroic epic of Finland. In the 1830’s Elias Lönnrot was a doctor and like the Brothers Grimm he began to collect and record the folk stories and songs he encountered in his time travelling through remote Finland and Russian-Karelia. In 1849 he published “The Kalevala”, the culminating result of all of his research. Like Beowulf, the Illiad and The Edda’s it is rich in folklore, mythology, epic battles and powerful magic.

My third book in the ‘Firebird Fairytales’ series is the most Finnish of the three but you definitely get a taste in the others. When Anya is working word magic I tried to keep the rhythm and stanza’s a similar shape as those used in “The Kalevala”, for all magic is wrought by the power of words. I fear some of it is lost in translation with the English version, the version I use, from the original Finnish but one day like Tolkien I will have to teach myself Finn in order to understand the epic stories better. Recently on a trip to Finland I strolled through the streets of Helsinki and I freaked out with excitement every time I saw something Kalevala related, such as this statue of Väinämöinen outside the old Helsinki University house. When I saw the roof of the National Gallery I almost burst into tears. IMG_1611

These stories resonate on a primal level with readers and lovers of  myth. These are old stories and they are unique to the landscape and people that they are based on. After Finland regained its independence from Russia in 1917 there was a massive cultural revolution, a focus on what it meant to be Finnish. “The Kalevala” was an intrinsic component in Finland regaining its cultural heritage. Sibelius wrote operas and symphonies inspired by it, Akseli Gallen-Kallela painted works of incredible beauty just to name a few artists that had it as a focus of their works. Gallen_Kallela_Lemminkainens_Mother

The inspiration flows on today with writers drawing on it and not just Finnish writers either. I discovered Väinämöinen written in “Hammered” by Kevin Hearne and after doing a few fan girl squeals I messaged him on Facebook about it…and then squealed a bit more when he replied back. I thought long and hard about writing Väinämöinen in as a character but he decided he wanted to appear in another story of mine separate from the “Firebird Fairytales.” Other characters will appear however, Tuoni for example is the Lord of Tuonela, the Finnish Underworld and is the one that gives Anya the firebird egg. He stays around, with plans of his own, and others will start to come out of the wood works. It is my aim, in my small way, to contribute to this heritage of story telling and hopefully open it up to readers that never knew it existed.