Why I Read the End First (Part 1)

It would probably be more accurate to call this post, “Why I Read Chapter One and then Immediately Read the End,” but that doesn’t sound very snappy, does it?

If you’re the sort of person who views the world through a “two types of people” grid (e.g., “There are two types of people in this world: dog people, and cat people”), then you may already know that reading the end is one such polarizing issue. For in my experience, there are two types of people in this world: those who unfailingly read a book from start to finish, and those who read the end long before they read the middle. (In my case, often before reading Chapter Two.)

Over the years I’ve been amazed by the reactions to my admission (confession?) that I often read the end. Some people are astonished (“Why would you do that?”). Others are appalled (“How could you do that?”). Quite a few have absolutely no interest in hearing my reasons; they seem to feel punishment should immediately follow confession of the “crime” without any sort of hearing whatsoever. (But if you’re one of those people, then you probably stopped reading this post after glancing at the title, so I’ll assume that if you’re still with me you are interested in my reasons.)

It’s not as though most stories rely on any genuine element of surprise, anyway. Think about it: genre fiction, by definition, follows particular patterns. Before you even pluck a cozy mystery off the shelf, you know the murderer will be brought to justice. Before you download the latest romance novel, you know the lovers will get together. Before you plunge into a traditional epic fantasy, you know the hero will achieve the quest, even if s/he must pay a price.

“But wait!” (I can hear the protests now; believe me, I’ve heard them before.) Even though the murderer will be caught, you don’t know his/her identity in Chapter One (at least, if the author has any skill at all you don’t). You don’t know the exact nature of the obstacles the lovers will face. You don’t know exactly what the hero will battle before s/he completes the quest; you might not even know the goal of the quest!

And if, for you, these kinds of surprises are the most important features of a story, then of course it makes sense that you read your books from start to finish. And I say: bless you! Have at it! Enjoy!

But the stories I love most didn’t find their way into my heart due to any element of surprise. Which leads us to:

The First Reason I Read the End: Let’s look at a different issue through the polarity grid. There are two types of people in this world: those who read a book once and are done (no matter how much they enjoyed it) because they “already know how it ends,” and those who reread the books they love.

I’m a life-long member of Team Reread. I’ve always reread the stories I love, and I’ve been known to reread the stories I love most on a regular basis. In fact, when I was a child I became used to hearing my mother, on observing the cover of whatever familiar volume I was curled up with on a Saturday afternoon, cry out: “Are you reading that again?”

Well, yeah. And here’s why: if I love a story, it’s probably because I like (or at least respect) one or more of the characters. Often, I love their humor. I appreciate the challenges they face, and what they go through to reach the outcome of the story. And (most importantly) entering the story is like entering a familiar world. In the case of some fantasy fiction in particular, I wish I could visit that world (e.g., Narnia). But the only way I can visit is to read the book, and if that means rereading The Chronicles of Narnia so I can go to Narnia, then I’m going to reread The Chronicles of Narnia! It makes absolutely no difference whatsoever that I already know how all of those stories end.

I know I’m not the lone member of Team Reread. And if you think about it, the existence of Team Reread is proof that many of our most beloved stories don’t stand or fall on the element of surprise. Looking at this from another angle: if a story’s primary appeal is that element of surprise, then it probably won’t become a favorite story, because it won’t be something you’ll want to reread. You won’t enjoy spending more time with those characters; you won’t want to revisit their adventures in those places. Visiting once was okay, but you’ve seen all you cared to see-and you certainly wouldn’t want to live there!

I’ll explain Reasons 2 and 3 in the next installment.

 

January 2018 WIP

With Publisher, Awaiting Decision: A retelling of the Grimm Brothers’ tale Snow White for the Rooglewood Press Five Poisoned Apples fairy tale writing contest. Winners will be announced in April. If my story doesn’t win, I’m planning to self-publish it in April or May.

On My Desk: First draft of a retelling of the Grimm Brothers’ tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Have to say it: I LOVE this story. (Of course, I’m almost always in love with my stories while I’m drafting them. Once I reach the editing stage (especially final editing): not so much.) (“Who will rid me of this story?”) Current word count: approximately 30,000 with some partial chapters to be fleshed out. If the second draft goes to beta readers early in February, then (allowing time for revisions) I hope to publish this spring.

Top Drawer: While working on The Twelve Dancing Princesses all kinds of ideas for a series (same world, only expanded; same characters, along with new characters) dropped into my head. I’ve drafted an outline for a sequel that retells another tale. Wish I could say with confidence that I’m going to follow some inviolable production schedule and publish it in time for Christmas this year, but – well, things don’t always go as planned. So let’s just say that, in an ideal writing world, that is what I would say.

Middle Drawer: If the fairy tale series (described above) comes together, then I’d like to continue it. Ideas for other adventures keep popping into my brain. Most importantly, I know how the “overarching-series-level plot” ends (in the final volume). We’ll see how it goes!

Bottom Drawer: What is (hopefully) the near-final draft of a sci-fi retelling of Beauty and the Beast. This turned out to be more challenging than I thought it would be! I’m happier with the rewrite than the original draft, but the final third still needs work. After stalling out a few times, I decided to run with Twelve Dancing Princesses instead because the latter is more similar (in many ways) to my Snow White retelling. And if Twelve does become a series, BATB may simmer for a while on the back burner. (Which implies I have a stovetop in my desk – and thus, once again, we must acknowledge the inherently dangerous nature of untamed metaphor.) Current word count: 54,884.

Other Bottom Drawer: Partial first draft of volume two From the Annals of the Dragon Slayer. Current word count: 37,000. I definitely want to get back to this because I hate to leave characters I care about hanging. Wish I could clone myself and work on more than one project at a time!

Trunk in the Attic: Lots of stuff in here, but there’s no point in talking about it now. If all of the above is actually written and published, anything in the trunk probably won’t emerge for at least a couple of years. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t fondly thought of, trunklings!

A Poem for Christmas

christmas-934177_1920I started writing this many years ago. After running across it recently, I decided to brush it up for Christmas. I suppose one might question whether it actually qualifies as a “poem” – but I’m not sure what else to call it! And of course it’s not only about Christmas, per se – it’s about the Incarnation, which involves much more than the actual birth of Jesus. So a more accurate title for this post might be, “Something About the Incarnation,” but that doesn’t have the same ring at all!

Immanuel

Babe crying
Star shining
Voice calling
Wine flowing
Boat rocking
Storm raging
Man walking
Sea calming
Sick healing
Limbs mending
Ears hearing
Eyes seeing
Palms waving
Bread breaking
Coins clinking
Crowd scorning
Nails pounding
Blood pouring
Love hanging
Death dying
Veil tearing
Earth shaking
Light flaring
Son rising
Word running
Chains falling
King reigning
Praise soaring

Holy, Holy, Holy
Hallelujah

Copyright (c) 2017 by Cela Day

Thankful for Book Sales?

Book Sale

If you read on a budget (like me), then you know the thrill of running across a great book sale! (I’d hoped to take part in the Indie Christian Books sale this year until life got in the way, but in solidarity with the spirit of the event I’ve put Dragon Slave (my retelling of The Pilgrim’s Progress as a contemporary portal fantasy) on sale for $0.99 through the end of December.)

And now let’s talk about INDIE CHRISTIAN BOOKS! In honor of Thanksgiving and Black Friday, a group of independent Christian authors has banded together to offer a huge selection of discounted books between Nov 24th and 30th. No matter what you enjoy reading, there’s literally something for everyone!

On November 24th, the Indie Christian Books website (http://www.indiechristianbooks.com) will go live. Every single book listed will be on sale in one or more ways. Find discounted paperbacks, dozens of books offered with free shipping, $0.99 ebooks, package deals and more. Even if you have a budget of $0, new reading material awaits you. When you purchase a paperback book through indiechristianbooks.com you’ll be eligible to enter an exclusive giveaway including free books and an Amazon gift card!

You can meet ICB authors by visiting the Author Database on the website. Want to get to know the authors better AND have the chance to win some fun prizes? Join the ICB week long Facebook party which will feature 39 authors over 7 days.

A note on the Ebooks Only page. Many of the books are listed as “Sold Out.” This is because we aren’t selling those directly through our site. Please click onto the product pages to find descriptions and links to discounted or free ebooks.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Leah E. Good and Kendra E. Ardnek for their work organizing this sale, and Hannah Mills for her fantastic design work on the website graphics. Hannah can be contacted at hmills(at)omorecollege(dot)edu for more information about her design services.

Burning Rose and Hansel and Gretel

To celebrate the release of Burning Rose (her first collection of retold fairy tale novellas), Hope Ann shared some intriguing information about Hansel and Gretel (the inspiration for my personal favorite in the collection, Shadows of the Hersweald):

Hansel and Gretel’s Original Plot: Two children are abandoned in a great forest, where they stumble across an old woman who captures them and tries to eat them before being tricked into her own oven where she dies a miserable death.  [Cela: Because nothing says “bed-time story” like a bit of attempted cannibalism followed by total immolation, right?]

Hope Ann’s Take on Hansel and Gretel: One of the darker fairy tales, Hansel and Gretel was great fun to work with. I chose it for my Shadows of the Hersweald novella (the third novella in my new paperback book, Burning Rose) because I enjoyed the element of siblings. And the forest offered a perfect setting for post-war rebel bands. It isn’t my favorite fairy tale by far, but that is what retellings are for: to change some elements, add others, and create something new.

Hansel and Gretel Fun Facts:

  • The original title for this story was Roland and May-Bird.
  • The title Hansel and Gretel originally belonged to a different plot, in which Hansel was turned into a deer and Gretel eventually married the prince who saved them.
  • The fairy tale that inspired the Grimm brothers’ Hansel and Gretel is a French story called The Lost Children, and is even more morbid. [Cela: Ew!]
  • The step-mother who abandoned her children was originally their real mother. The Grimm brothers changed the character into a step-mother after their stories became popular and they wanted to make them more acceptable to a wider audience.  [Cela: And obviously they knew what they were doing, because the rest, as they say, is fairy tale history….]

To learn more about Burning Rose, keep reading!

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Fairy tales retold as you have never heard them before

If you’re already looking for that perfect Christmas read for a fantasy lover or fairy tale fanatic on your list, then guess what? I have great news: your search can end here, because Burning Rose is the book for you!

Hope Ann’s work has everything a fantasy lover could want: strange creatures, interesting lore, bantering dialogue, threatening shadows, pulse-pounding adventure, and an underlying allegorical significance that ensures the parts add up to a greater whole. And if you love Christian fantasy in particular, then you’ll find much to appreciate in these resonant, interlocking stories.

Here’s a look at what you get in Burning Rose:

Rose of the Oath (Beauty and the Beast): As civil war threatens Aslaria, Elissa, a villager from the northern mountains, attempts to save her brother and ends up trapped in a hidden valley with a strange host and a treacherous enemy.

Song of the Sword (Rapunzel): The war is raging as Evrard, the Wingmaster of the Prince’s army, races against his own weakening powers to discover the location of his twin and save her from deadly mistbenders.

Shadows of the Hersweald (Hansel and Gretel): Although the war is finally over in Aslaria, the battle for individual loyalties rages on. Haydn, a pardoned rebel from Tauscher’s army, confronts shadows of myth and former comrades in his struggle to keep his sister safe and find the stolen Stormestone.

The collection also includes a bonus story, Rose of the Night (prequel to Rose of the Oath): Before the war, before the legends, before the Separation, there was a man who started it all. There was a curse, a promise, a sacrifice. There was the Oathkeeper.

Order Burning Rose now! (Available in paperback or for Kindle.)

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Hope Ann is a Christian wordsmith, avid reader, and dedicated author. Her time is taken up with writing, reading, playing with inspirational photos, blogging, helping care for the house and eight younger siblings, and generally enjoying the adventures of life on a small farm at the crossroads of America. She is the author of Legends of Light, and is currently working on several projects including a fantasy novel and futuristic trilogy. You can find out more about her at authorhopeann.com.

Burning Rose Cover Reveal

If you’ve been following this blog (or my reviews on Goodreads) for the past year then you know I’m a fan of Hope Ann’s retold fairy tales. Legends of Light is an interlocking series of epic fantasy adventures with underlying allegorical themes, and I’m very pleased to show you the fantastic cover she’s just revealed for the upcoming box set of her first three tales, titled Burning Rose. This is one of the best covers I’ve seen in a while. I absolutely love it!

If you want to learn more about Burning Rose, visit Hope Ann’s site – she’s offering a free prequel to the box set, which should whet your appetite for more!

Cover design by Kate Flournoy.The Burning Rose

Make Mine Without Warts, Please

Earlier this year I read a biography: C.S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet. by Alister McGrath. Although I admire McGrath, I have mixed feelings about the book.

On one hand, knowing something about an author’s life is useful in understanding their work. On the other, however, I’m not sure that exploring every single detail of an author’s life is useful in understanding their work.

A reader’s response to this biography (and others as well) will probably be shaped by why they’re interested in Lewis. I doubt everyone who simply loves Lewis’s work (fiction or non-fiction) will care for some of the questions it raises that are left unresolved. To be fair, it appears some of this information was revealed when Lewis’s letters were published several years ago, and also is likely to be explored in future works about Lewis and those with whom he was connected, so the author probably simply wanted to address extant information – certainly a challenging task!

Still, I came away with the conviction that delving into the complex question of Joy Davidman’s motivation for pursuing a relationship with Lewis does very little to shed light on Lewis’s work. Who can possibly claim to know exactly what Joy was thinking about Lewis before she met him? In the end, a marriage is between two spouses. The rest of us can only be, in a very real sense, ignorant outsiders, and raising questions that no one alive now can answer seems a fruitless quest. In my opinion, all such questions are best answered by A Grief Observed, Lewis’s passionate and poignant account of how he suffered after Joy died. Lewis documented the power of their relationship, and it’s absolutely clear that he was devastated by losing his friend, his colleague, and his love. What more do we need to know?

So: What’s to be learned from reading a “warts and all” biography about a favorite author? Perhaps for some people (who believe their own sins are unforgivable?) such a depiction might offer encouragement. After all, Lewis obviously relied on grace, mercy, and forgiveness rather than his own (non-existent) perfection, and as a result of that faith was able to speak the truth powerfully in his work. For it does take courage to write about truth when you know your own faults. You’re writing, after all, about ideals you can only hope and pray and strive to live for, knowing you will always fall short.

Fortunately, the book also followed the development of Lewis’s thought and how this was reflected in his writing: his pre-Christian poetry, followed by The Pilgrim’s Regress and his apologetic works, through his fiction, especially Narnia. I particularly enjoyed the reflective chapters on Narnia as the author unpacked how Lewis came to write the series, and what some of the underlying, unifying themes might be (e.g., see Planet Narnia, by Michael Ward).

In future, this type of analysis and reflection about the work rather than speculation about personalities is what I’ll be looking for when I read other books about Lewis. Already on my short list: Bandersnatch, and rereading Bright Shadow of Reality: Spiritual Longing in C.S. Lewis.

Of Genrevores and WIP

Ever heard of a genrevore? Maybe not, because <pause to use search engine> I may have just coined it.

My definition of a genrevore: A reader who devours anything and everything published in a particular genre.

When a genrevore turns author, s/he typically writes in the same genre s/he devours. In many instances, s/he is already heavily involved with other genrevores via social media (and/or wikis) and thus has a ready-made audience. And a genrevore author is unlikely to wake up early in the morning with a story from a totally unrelated genre forming on the brain and demanding some attention.

The most well-known examples of successful genrevore authors are romance writers. But authors who are completely dedicated to cozy mysteries, or thrillers, or epic fantasy, etc., also fall into this category, and many have deep back catalogues of stories written within a single genre to prove it.

I’ve never been a genrevore, on two counts. First, I’ve always read widely (cross-genre), and second, I’ve never read everything available in any particular genre. For example, I love fantasy by certain authors, but I’m selective about what fantasy I read (I won’t pick up a book simply because it has a dragon on the cover). So I’m definitely not a fantasy genrevore.

Same goes for scifi. And thrillers. And dystopian. And apocalyptic. And (an odd choice to follow apocalyptic, I know!) cozy mysteries. (I love Ellis Peters, Agatha Christie, and Dorothy Sayers, but I won’t read any and every cozy mystery that comes along just because it’s a cozy mystery.)

Establishing a deep back catalogue that will appeal to genrevore readers is a challenge for any author. If the author is not a genrevore, doing so is even more challenging. I’ll admit there are moments when I look at what I’ve published so far – an allegorical novella with fairy tale themes (Strange Country); a retelling of a classic speculative suspense/horror tale (Monster); a classic allegory retold as portal fantasy (Dragon Slave) – and then turn to my WIP notes (spanning everything from fairy tales to zombie apocalypse) and wish I were a true genrevore.

But – I’m not. I yam what I yam, and it is what it is, so for those of you who are curious about what I’m working on now, this is the post you’ve been waiting for. It’s the first week in July, and time for the mid-year Works-in-Progress (WIP) report!

On My Desk: First draft of a retelling of the Grimm Brothers’ Snow White for the Rooglewood Press writing contest. Current word count: 20,000+ (which means I have some cutting to do, as the word limit is 20,000).

Top Drawer: Second draft of Ami and the Alien (scifi retelling of Beauty and the Beast). Current word count: 63,000. In early spring I received substantial constructive criticism from an insightful, gracious beta reader. I’d just reached a convenient place to pause in making suggested revisions when the Rooglewood Press contest announcement came out. Because Rooglewood is asking contestants to submit entries as soon as possible, I decided to get Snow White out of the way before finishing Beauty.

Middle Drawer: Quite a few things stuffed in this drawer, including:

First draft scenes from a retelling of the tale, The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Current word count: Unknown, because handwritten.

First draft scenes from an original fairy tale, which is related to the retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Current word count: Unknown, because handwritten.

Beneath the stack of fairy tale stuff is the second draft of a retelling of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (which I group with Monster as speculative suspense/retold classics). Current word count: 57,000.

Bottom Drawer: Partial first draft of volume two From the Annals of the Dragon Slayer. Current word count: 37,000.

First draft scenes from the first volume in an original fantasy series. Current word count: Unknown, because handwritten.

Trunk in the Attic: First draft scenes from the first volume in a zombie apocalypse series featuring neo-Vikings and a sort of knight errant in the guise of an old lady traveling cross-country in a Winnebago. Current word count: Unknown, as nearly all of it is handwritten.

Phew. That’s it, and that’s quite enough to be getting on with.

Five Poisoned Apples

If you are a fan of retold fairy tales, then you’ll be glad to know that Rooglewood Press is sponsoring a writing contest in the genre.  Rooglewood has previously published three popular collections of winning tales, which are available on Amazon: Five Glass Slippers (Cinderella), Five Enchanted Roses (Beauty and the Beast), and Five Magic Spindles (Sleeping Beauty). If you love retold fairy tales, check them out!

This year’s theme is Snow White, and the collection of winning stories will be titled Five Poisoned Apples. Sadly, this will be the last contest, so if you are a writer (or aspire to write), now is the time to check out the rules and follow your muse in Snow White’s direction! Although I already have several works in progress, I do have an idea for retelling Snow White, so – we’ll see where it leads! I’ll keep you posted.

Here is a peek at the Five Poisoned Apples cover. Cover photography is by Wynter Clark. Cover design is by Julia Popova.

FivePoisonedApples

Review of The Prince of Fishes

I love fairy tale retellings that improve on the original, adding new facets of thematic depth and impact. I also love speculative fiction that asks an interesting question and then explores possible answers in unexpected, creative ways. Life is short, and while I enjoy being entertained, I often want more than that from the precious hours I can spend reading: I want to reflect on some important idea or truth. I want to read edifying stories.

So it’s always satisfying when these two loves converge, as they did for me in The Prince of Fishes, Suzannah Rowntree’s witty and poignant retelling of the Grimms’ tale The Fisherman and His Wife. [UPDATE: I recently found out that author Rowntree has published all four of her retold tales as a box set collection, available on Amazon for a terrific bargain price. I’ve read and enjoyed them all, and highly recommend them!]

Set in 8th century Byzantium, The Prince of Fishes offers a well-crafted and entertaining glimpse of a fascinating period of history. The Byzantine interest in clockwork mechanisms and automata provides a sort of medieval version of a steampunk vibe (clockpunk). And against this backdrop, everyone from the lowest rung on the social ladder all the way to the top is obsessed with theology, arguing the pros and cons of iconography with all the self-declared authority and enthusiasm of a classroom of newly-minted Philosophy 101 students.

The original Grimm story explores what happens when a human being is granted any wish she wants – not only once, but many times. In Grimm, the outcome is simple: Instead of becoming more contented, the fisherman’s wife becomes increasingly greedy, first for material comfort, and then for personal power. This is a true insight into human nature: more is never enough, and having secured to themselves all the luxury this world has to offer, many people continue to expand their grasp by wielding power over other individuals and then local concerns; if possible, they move on to entire nations, and even nature itself.

The Prince of Fishes takes this scenario a step further, showing us not only this critical character arc, but also the fisherman’s complicity in – one could say he is even the catalyst of – his wife’s guilt, making him a far more complex character than in the original. Best of all, the story explores the consequences of fulfilled wishes for society at large. In author Rowntree’s world, the fisherman and his wife rise only as others fall and life-changing events unfold. Thus we have a glimpse into the “interconnectedness” of the web of this world: to change the position of one thread results in the breaking of another. It is a profound depiction that is not only interesting and engaging, but makes one pause and think.

For me, this story became a moving meditation on the theology of prayer. how often have I, like the fisherman and his wife, begged God for some thing or event? But unlike them, I’ve often been frustrated when the answer appears to be a resounding “No.” To believe this “no” is the most merciful answer possible is a matter of faith. This story was a vivid and valuable reminder to me that I don’t know where all the threads connecting my life to the lives of the rest of the souls in this world are placed. Perhaps one day I’ll know much better how grateful I should be for “prayerful wishes” that have not been granted!