Sesskia’s Diary, part 21

25 Senessay (continued)

Despite what they’d said, I wasn’t surprised to find Sai Aleynten in the cavern, looking through the books on the shelves. He was dressed in a plain brown shirt with an abstract pattern in black embroidered around the neck and cuffs and brown trousers of a different shade than the shirt, so he looked less formal than usual, but he still had that distant, closed-off air he always did. Continue Reading

Sesskia’s Diary, part 20

25 Senessay

Rest day. I was planning to begin studying the pouvra in earnest, but Sovrin barged into my room without knocking and said, “Put the book down and get out of bed, Sesskia, or I’ll drop you in the pool wearing all your clothes.” She’s big enough that I think she could do it, so I got dressed (I’m sleeping in that long-sleeved shirt and undershorts now, and the shirt is so comfortable I don’t even mind that it’s a little large) and went with her to the bathing room. Most of the women were already there, splashing around in the big pool or lying back in one of the smaller ones. I took off my clothes and put them in one of the cubbies—I forgot to mention this, there are shelves divided into foot-wide cubbies for storing clothing off the wet floor. The large pool slopes at one end, like wading into the surf but without the waves, and at the far end I think it’s about ten feet deep. I swam down to the bottom, forgetting that I didn’t want to get my hair wet, and felt a little current that told me the water was circulating. So Audryn was exaggerating a little about swimming in their own filth, but I still wouldn’t piss in the pool. Continue reading

Sesskia’s Diary, part 19

Later, same day

Sai Aleynten went so completely expressionless when I told him what I’d learned that I thought he’d had some kind of seizure. Eventually, he said, “How sure are you of this?”

“I can’t be sure until I’ve studied it more,” I said. “But every book I’ve ever read that taught about pouvrin had the same basic structure, and this book is the same. Or at least I think it’s the same.”

He looked at the book, raised its cover and flipped over a few pages as if the language would suddenly become comprehensible to him, and said, “We do not know its age. Surely knowledge of pouvrin could not have persisted many centuries only to be written down much later than the disaster.” Continue reading

Sesskia’s Diary, part 18

22 Senessay

More reading. Another argument with Sai Aleynten, short-lived and completely my fault this time, and I managed to suppress my dislike of him long enough to apologize genuinely. No time to read the pouvra book, no time to write anything longer. Very tired.

23 Senessay

See above, except without the argument. I think—I wouldn’t say I like Sai Aleynten, but I don’t dislike him anymore, either. I don’t I was about to write “I don’t know why” but I do know why, it’s because his annoying mannerisms no longer annoy me. I suppose I’m getting used to him. Continue reading

Sesskia’s Diary, part 17

21 Senessay (continued again)

When I wasn’t bitching about Sai Aleynten, I had all sorts of questions about the Eddon book. I stayed up far too late reading it, but aside from not wanting to give it to Terrael without finishing it, I was fascinated by it.

The short version: Eddon was a king of Castavir in the dark time after the disaster. The royal family still existed, but people were so busy scrounging for a living they didn’t have time for kings. Eddon had a vision—Okay. This is the part I didn’t understand. Eddon had a vision where he learned he was God and that he had a duty to make Castavir the greatest nation in the world. So he used his personal resources and what was left of the kingdom’s treasury to build an army and levy taxes. Then he used the taxes to build up the kingdom’s infrastructure, improve its economy and so forth, and by the time he died Castavir was the region’s economic powerhouse. Interesting, because in my world most rulers would interpret “greatest nation” to mean “the one with the biggest army.” So whatever else Eddon was, he was practical. And he taught his heir that he would become God, or at least God’s avatar on earth, as long as he was worthy to hold the throne. Continue reading

Young adult fiction doesn’t equal safe

A few months ago I published my second book, THE SMOKE-SCENTED GIRL, and immediately noticed something interesting: a number of reviewers seemed to think it was a young adult book. It was a little disconcerting. I wrote it as an adult novel, with adults who have adult concerns–I suppose it could be called New Adult, since the characters are all in their early 20s, but I tend to think of New Adult as applying to contemporary fiction.

So I stepped back and looked at the book from what I hoped was an impartial eye, and found some traits I think might make THE SMOKE-SCENTED GIRL look like YA fiction:

  • There’s no sex or swearing. (I’m pretty sure about the latter. I tend to forget unless I’ve used really strong swears.)
  • The prose is simple.
  • The plot isn’t terribly complicated.
  • Adult readers, based on the response, are comfortable giving it to their teenage children to read.

And this is where it does get complicated. I spent years reviewing and critiquing young adult fiction (a subject for another blog post) and YA fantasy has always been one of my favorite reads. So I’m the last person to be embarrassed about reading, or writing, YA fiction. On the other hand, because I’ve spent so many years in this genre, I also have a good idea of what’s being published in it and what sort of books qualify for the category. My book really, truly doesn’t. YA fiction is not actually defined as “books teens read.” Teens read, and have always read, adult books. They’re assigned adult books in their high school English classes. And I’m not sure anyone’s willing to call A TALE OF TWO CITIES a YA book. I’ll address the difference between “YA books” and “adult books teens happen to read” later.

But it’s that fourth bullet point I want to look at more closely now. One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is that many parents who want their children to read, who want to encourage them to read, are lost when it comes to choosing books for their kids. With good reason. They can’t afford to read everything they give their kids. And a lot of these parents are concerned about the content of their kids’ books. So they go looking for ways to pick from among the hundreds of thousands of choices, and one of those ways is to look for the “young adult” tag, however it appears–books in the YA section of the bookstore or library, frequently. Their belief is that YA titles must be acceptable because they aren’t adult novels, with the swearing and sex and violence they contain.

But many parents don’t realize one important fact: YA does not mean “safe.”

The key distinguishing feature between a young adult novel and an adult novel a teen chooses to read is simply that YA books describe the experience of being a teenager. And that experience is not always pretty. Teens these days live in a world of violence, in which profanity is common (visit your local high school if you don’t believe that) and sexual experiences are becoming the norm. Divorce, abuse, rape, mental illness–all serious subjects that many teens deal with on a personal basis. Kids can’t be spared knowing about these things even if they manage to stay aloof from them. And kids need ways to process these experiences. That’s one of the things books do–give us ways to understand the things life throws at us.

Here are a few of the YA books I’ve had to defend to very surprised parents:

THE MONSTRUMOLOGIST, Rick Yancey: Though this is a horror/fantasy novel, and the protagonist Will Henry’s experiences are in no way realistic, dealing as they do with cannibalistic monsters and rotting corpses, Will Henry’s growth as a character comes from discovering who he is when he’s thrown into an adult world that makes no allowances for childhood or innocence.

SAVING FRANCESCA, Melina Marchetta: Harsh swearing and casual references to sex, a no-no for a lot of parents, but this also deals with the serious issue of mental illness and how it can tear a family apart. Francesca’s problems extend well beyond her mother’s mental illness, but this is also about friendship and what it means to no longer be alone.

FIRE AND HEMLOCK, Diana Wynne Jones: Incredibly complicated plot and a semi-appropriate relationship between a teenage girl and an adult man, this is still one of the great works of YA fantasy almost 30 years after its publication. This one isn’t challenged so much for content as for the idea that it’s too hard for a teenager. I’m pretty sure that should be up to the teenager.

THE HUNGER GAMES, Suzanne Collins: No one argues with me that this is YA fiction; the argument I tend to get is that it shouldn’t be read by teens because of extreme violence and “disturbing” images (not that I know what this means). Again, this is a story about fighting an unfair world, and what teen can’t relate to that?

DEERSKIN, Robin McKinley: The rape and incest are the more disturbing for not being described in detail, but I’ve had parents complain because they were familiar with McKinley’s other books and didn’t expect to find this kind of content in a retelling of a fairy tale. Never mind that most fairy tales, in their original versions, are dark and disturbing and terrifying.

I’m opposed to censorship. I’m not opposed to parents trying to make good decisions about their children’s reading. I’m not at all offended by parents thinking THE SMOKE-SCENTED GIRL is a YA book–I’ve given it to my own kids. But choosing a book solely because it’s marketed as young adult and thinking it’s therefore “safe” isn’t the way to achieve that.

What about you? What YA books would you defend as appropriate for teenaged readers despite their content?

 

Sesskia’s Diary, part 16

21 Senessay (continued)

Sovrin and Audryn both had plain green dressing gowns to wear, but I had to put on my own clothes for the walk back to Sovrin’s room, and I couldn’t believe how filthy they felt now I was clean. I don’t think I’ve ever been this clean in my whole life. Sovrin’s room was a surprise. The furniture was all the same as the other bedrooms, just that one narrow bed and the wardrobe and dresser that looked like they’d seen a lot of wear, but Sovrin’s bed was unmade and her white robe lay crumpled on the floor, and her black trousers were draped over a corner of the dresser. “Yes, Sovrin is a slob,” Audryn said, seeing my expression.

“No point in making a bed you’re just going to get back into later,” Sovrin said. She opened dresser drawers and began pulling out clothes that were definitely not white robes and black trousers.

“I’ve never seen you all wear anything but the uniform,” I said, and Audryn said, “We rarely have the chance to, but sometimes there are rest days, once every two weeks now. It used to be more often, but…our work has more urgency than it used to, and I think we might never stop if Sai Aleynten didn’t insist we take breaks.”

I have to stop underestimating Sai Aleynten. True, I think he’d push himself past the breaking point if he had to, but I’d assumed he treated his subordinates (is that what they are?) the same way.

Sovrin came up with a long-sleeved shirt with a wide neck and tossed it at me. “If it fits, you can have it,” she said. “I don’t like how tight it is across the chest, on me, and you’re nice and slender.” Which is a polite way of saying “flat-chested,” but I’m sure she meant it as a compliment.

She found a few more shirts, then some trousers and even a skirt, which I don’t normally wear because they’re hard to run in and even harder to climb the outside of a building in, even when you don’t care if people can see your underwear. And speaking of underwear, there was a moment of embarrassment for all of us when Sovrin handed me some short pants made of soft unbleached cotton, and said, “I don’t know if…you didn’t seem to….”

I took them graciously and said, “Yes, I do wear undershorts, and I wore through my last pair about two weeks before I came here, and I wasn’t in a position to buy more. So thank you.”

Sovrin chuckled, and said, “That’s a relief, and I hope you don’t wear breast bands, because I’m damn sure mine won’t fit you.” So we all laughed at that. She’s got a very generous figure, but the undershorts are only a little too large. And, not that I’m not grateful, but I can admit in the privacy of this book that I hope someday I’ll have clothes that really fit again.

There were a lot of other things we talked about that I forgot to put in before. Like, Sovrin told me more about the construction of the bathing chamber, how the earliest mages built it when they carved out the rest of the Darssan, and how the wall between the sections was erected only eighty years ago, when the trend for separate bathing spread to all levels of society. And I learned nobody starts work early in the Darssan. Leisurely breakfasts and chores and bathing all get done before work begins, on the theory that minds will be properly limbered up if they are well awake and aren’t burdened by worry about other responsibilities. Though I would bet hard money, if I had any, that Sai Aleynten is an early riser. I don’t think that’s just me being spiteful.

And somewhere in all of this, I asked them to call me by my praenoma, Sesskia, instead of my placename. I tried to make it sound casual, so it wouldn’t embarrass them to know how much it meant to me, but…I felt comfortable with them in a way I’ve never felt with anyone but my family before. Maybe not friends, yet, but I think they will be, and I wanted to give them something in exchange for how kind they’ve been to me. They of course didn’t think anything of it, and wanted to know about placenames, and exchanged glances when I explained that Thalessi Scales refers to my work in the fishery and I’d kept it as camouflage even though I no longer worked in the fishery. I couldn’t exactly call myself Thalessi Mage.

Then Sovrin went to join her group—she’s group leader, which is why she said her group couldn’t really do anything about her being late, but I think she was exaggerating, because she didn’t waste any time getting dressed—and Audryn and I went to her room, where she loaned me a comb and I managed to get it through my tangle of hair, and I admired her collection of hairpins and clips. I think it surprised her that I was so knowledgeable about the quality of most of her pieces (none of them are inexpensive, and one or two look old), but I chose not to tell her I’m more a thief than I am a mage, even if I only became a thief to steal books that would teach me magery. No, that’s a lie, I became a thief so Mam and Bridie and I wouldn’t starve to death. Damn it. I swore I wouldn’t think about Bridie again, because I get so furious with Mam

More fire-summoning pouvra. That painting is all but obliterated now. I’m calm. I’m rational. Time for another list.

What I did today:

  1. Read a lot of books. At least, read the first pages of a lot of books.
  2. Argued with Sai Aleynten about which books were important. I realize he’s been studying this for a long time, but I’ve been reading ancient tomes for at least as long as he has and I’ve learned to recognize when a writer knows what she is talking about.
  3. Had lunch and bitched to Terrael and Audryn about how unreasonable Sai Aleynten is, which got no sympathy because they think the sun shines out of his ass.
  4. Felt guilty about once again being overly critical of Sai Aleynten, who after all doesn’t know what I’m capable of. As far as he can tell, I’m just a strange mage who knows some tricks he doesn’t and happens to be able to read a language he can’t.
  5. Made peace with Sai Aleynten, who unbent so far as to admit he wasn’t taking my input seriously. We altered our method of study accordingly. He tells me what matters to him, and I read not only the first pages but skim some of the others as well, looking for those things. I also tell him when I find something that would be meaningful to my magic, which isn’t often, but I’ve found at least one book that might give me a new pouvra, and I got to keep that one. Sai Aleynten was excited about that book, though he only shows excitement by becoming very still and expressionless.

5a. I really wonder, now, what made Sai Aleynten the way he is. I would have sworn he was indifferent to practically everything, but the more I interact with him, the more I realize he’s just so self-contained it’s a wonder he doesn’t erupt. He gets sarcastic instead. Good thing he doesn’t turn that on me, because I would shout at him, since I don’t share the respect the other mages have for him.

And that’s not entirely true, either. True, yes, in the sense that I don’t venerate him—and I don’t mean that slightingly, it’s just that I know the mages respect his person and not just his role—but I’m beginning to see just how good he is at what he does. He’s quick to grasp the implications of what I’m reading, and I know he’s already memorized the new configuration of the library, and of course he can write th’an on air. Which reminds me I still haven’t seen a real kathana. I keep forgetting to ask someone when that will happen, there’s always so much else going on. Besides, Terrael is almost totally occupied with translating the Eddon book. Audryn had to drag him to the refectory (this is what they call the eating room) so he’d leave the book behind, because of course you wouldn’t eat while you were touching it. Audryn is in Terrael’s working group, by which I mean that Terrael is the leader, and I think one of her jobs is keeping him either focused on a problem instead of flitting about, or not focused on a problem to the point of forgetting to eat or, and I sympathize with this, bathe.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 15

21 Senessay

I had a bath this morning, and I’m trying hard not to feel totally humiliated about it. I do have a sense of personal hygiene, it’s just that sometimes I go days or even, once, weeks with no more chance to bathe than a couple of quick swipes in strategic places. And I’m usually by myself, so there’s no one to be offended if I smell bad. So I admit that sometimes I forget how long it’s been. Really, though, your own smell grows so gradually, and is around you all the time, it’s no wonder I can’t always tell when I’m becoming ripe. Continue reading

Sesskia’s Diary, part 14

20 Senessay (evening)

I just finished reading over what I wrote above and it makes me cringe to see how petulant I sound. Once again it turns out I was wrong in a lot of my assumptions. In my defense, Sai Aleynten was definitely at fault, too, but I probably shouldn’t have given in to my anger like that. And I can admit, now, that my first impressions of Sai Aleynten were all bad ones, and that’s predisposed me to dislike everything about him, even if he doesn’t deserve most of it. I don’t think we can ever be friends, but I’m doing my best not to hate him and his smug face—there, I did it again. He only looks smug because of the way his eyebrows are crooked and his eyes are almost always half-lidded, like he’s trying to hide the fact that he’s laughing at your stupidity. But I’ve seen him talk to the rest of the mages, and he never sounds dismissive or impatient, though he does get sarcastic at times, and that makes me a little angry, because they all want his respect, or at least his approval, and I can imagine how his scorn makes them cringe. He has some definite character flaws, but after today I’ve decided not to assign him any more of them than are actually true. Continue reading

New Release!

servant experiment 2My latest book, SERVANT OF THE CROWN, is now available for purchase in print and as an e-book at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, and more!