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Auralia's Colors

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Just back from Atlanta, where a large image of Auralia's Colors was featured prominently in the publisher's booth at the International Christian Retail Show. I didn't have a camera with me, but I wish I could have grabbed a shot of it -- looks like Jeffrey's getting strong marketing support for this. There were likely a dozen major fall releases featured in the same way -- a fairly short list of heavyweight titles for fall from Waterbrook.

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Tim,

One of my favorite bloggers, Amy Wellborn, was there. And when I stopped by her blog the other day just to see what she was writing about, I kinda couldn't help but notice

THIS

PICTURE.

773025791_22198d2899.jpg

More at Auralia's blog...

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

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By the way...

I would be just tickled if some of you happen to read Chapter One (click here to download the PDF) and send me an email about it.

In something called "Where's Auralia Today?", I'm chronicling excerpts of people's responses on Auralia's blog... so I'm very specifically interested in WHERE you were when you read it, and if you found anything about it particularly interesting, if it raised any questions, or if it reminds you of any fairy tales, fantasies, or other favorite stories.

Basically, I'm taking some of these responses and using them as starting points for blog entries about fantasy, storytelling, and imagination.

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My editor just alerted me to this: the Publisher's Weekly review.

(link fixed)

I assume you've seen THIS. (Which mentions you and Auralia by name. The article also appears on Beliefnet, so I'm sure you've seen it.

And this blog entry that has some criticisms. (Not unkind, but challenging) http://brandywinebooks.net/?post_id=864

And by the way, I MIGHT be able to get Kate DiCamillo to read it and blurb you. I have a connection. That's a "might". But let me know if you're interested so I can ask.

Dan

Edited by DanBuck

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Yeah, I'd seen the other articles.

Auralia's Colors has very little to do with the kind of storytelling being discussed there, and I would disagree with much of what the other fantasy authors are saying about "Christian fantasy fiction."

And as far as the criticism goes:

Personally, I have no trouble saying that she lay "still as death" when she was discovered, and still insist that she was vocalizing. Creeps me out, but that's how I imagined it. Not only that, but the first line refers to a specific moment, which is described in detail later. I certainly didn't mean to say she was "still as death" all of the time.

Second, the "did not know her name" is a way of saying that neither he, nor anyone who came to know her, had any frame of reference for who she was, what family she came from. And "naming" is very big in the book. People work for various titles. They take on certain nicknames that demean or glamorize. People try to pin all kinds of names on her, but when she reveals her own name, that's the one that sticks.

So, that criticism sounds more like a somebody nit-picking about a paragraph taken out of the contexts of the book.

Chapter Two begins "Auralia became twigs and burnt autumn leaves." Does that mean she turned into a pile of sticks scraps? No. This is all very similar to the style used by Patricia McKillip in her fantasy.

Anyway, I responded in more detail over at the actual site of the criticism. Which may catch Phil by surprise.

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

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Anyway, I responded in more detail over at the actual site of the criticism. Which may catch Phil by surprise.

Yes, thanks for the great response. I wouldn't say it caught me by surprise, because I know authors, you in particular, are online or can easily go online and dig up opinions from blogging peons like me. That's why I don't want to harshly criticize even those works I feel are written poorly. I don't want to appear to be attacking the author (or appear to be ignorantly mean-spirited). Don't mean to nit-pick.

I look forward to reading Auralia's Colors and hearing of your growing success in writing.

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Anyway, I responded in more detail over at the actual site of the criticism. Which may catch Phil by surprise.

Yes, thanks for the great response. I wouldn't say it caught me by surprise, because I know authors, you in particular, are online or can easily go online and dig up opinions from blogging peons like me. That's why I don't want to harshly criticize even those works I feel are written poorly. I don't want to appear to be attacking the author (or appear to be ignorantly mean-spirited). Don't mean to nit-pick.

I look forward to reading Auralia's Colors and hearing of your growing success in writing.

Welcome Phil.

I hope you'll browse around our little neighborhood here.

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Phil,

As a regularly blogging critic myself, I welcome criticism, and in fact Auralia's Colors has been through rigorous review by several different writers groups and about six layers of editors at Random House... so I'm no stranger to it, and I'm excited about how criticism has helped shape the novel.

So I look forward to what else you have to say about it when you read the rest of the story. I'm glad you don't mind my "showing up" on your blog.

Jeffrey

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Welcome to Snark Central! :) We're prone to the snide around here, but as a cast of characters, almost all of us show potential for redemption in the end.

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

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FWIW, I find the opening lines quite effective.

When I read about someone lying "still as death" while "babbling contentedly," I don't get cognitive dissonance, I get a vivid image of a babbling corpse (or discarded doll). (BTW, a discarded toy is an image I've used innumerable times coaching my children to lie still and fall asleep at bedtime: "Imagine that you're a stuffed toy that on a shelf that no one is playing with.")

As for the man not knowing her name -- the author is establishing his world and his rules. If he wants me to accept, in sentence 1, that it is significant that the old man didn't know her name, I'm more than willing to go with it until I find out why.

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For what it's worth, Phil's comment was the first time I'd ever considered whether the "still as death" line would clash with the later descriptions.

The more I think about it, the more I can see how a reader could feel a little thrown by it.

In retrospect, if that had ever come up during the discussions and critiques, I might have done something a little different to give the sensation that you approach the weedy riverbed... you see a baby lying there... your first thought its that she's dead (because she's lying still) ... and then, she starts to murmur to herself. But Auralia is prone to being enthralled by things... just "absorbing" what she beholds, being spellbound in the best sense of the word.

On the one hand, I wish I could go through paragraph by paragraph of Book Two with this group, if anybody was interested. But I'm not sure a discussion board is the place for that. Maybe Alan could set up a special subgroup for that, that would require passwords and permissions....

By the way, our own sharp-eyed mrmando recently handed me a copy of Through a Screen Darkly that he had meticulously copy-edited just for the heck of it. And good lord, how I wish I'd paid him to do that as freelance work before it was published. I knew there were some errors in there, but wow... now I can hardly bear to look at it.

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SDG wrote:

: FWIW, I find the opening lines quite effective.

Hmmm. I find my journalist brain kicking in and objecting to what seems like a tangle (if I may borrow the word) of consonants and disorienting detail. Perhaps that's not fair -- Jeff isn't writing an 800-word inverted-pyramid news story, after all -- but I do find that first sentence rather loaded. The multiple names of people and places that we, the readers, do not yet know (who is Auralia? what is Throanscall? and is spineweed a real-world thing or a fantasy-world thing? -- admittedly, if it is a real-world thing, then this last question will matter less to some people than it does to me), the multiple alliteration ("discarded doll", "bank of a bend"), and the consonant-thickness (see Throanscall again, especially coming so soon after both instances of alliteration) all conspire to give me pause.

Note to Jeff: I do hope to read your first chapter soon, when I've got a minute. Got back from holidays last Monday, still catching up on a few things, and there's a little distraction called Harry Potter coming up this weekend (which, yes, I must write about), so I don't know HOW soon I'll get to it, but I will try to.

Jeffrey Overstreet wrote:

: . . . you see a baby lying there . . .

Whoa, she's just a baby? Huh. I had a completely different image in my head, just based on those two paragraphs that Phil_BwB quoted.

: By the way, our own sharp-eyed mrmando recently handed me a copy of Through a Screen Darkly that he had meticulously copy-edited just for the heck of it. And good lord, how I wish I'd paid him to do that as freelance work before it was published. I knew there were some errors in there, but wow... now I can hardly bear to look at it.

We all need such friends.

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Peter, the style I've developed for this series is heavy on description, and some readers will find it too challenging to get oriented and figure out the who, what, where, and when of it.

But it's a style I love, and it's come out of growing up with Watership Down, The Lord of the Rings, Dune, The Pendragon Cycle... I think I've been as influenced by Mervyn Peake as I have been by anybody else, actually. Peake's writing is so densely descriptive that it's ridiculous. And I love it. And the storytelling is constantly shifting to give us perspectives from different characters' views, which is a style that I came to love through reading Guy Gavriel Kay.

So it's definitely not going to be for everyone, and I won't blame anybody for finding it too heavy on description. A lot of people wouldn't make it more than ten pages into Peake's Titus Groan, but I happen to love that style, that trilogy, and that world. Just as I could watch a Malick film and love it with very little thought about the story, merely because the style speaks to me so much, so I can be carried away by a writer's style and get so much out of it that I don't mind if the story moves at a snail's pace.

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

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what seems like a tangle (if I may borrow the word) of consonants and disorienting detail

A fine description of what some might love and others might hate about it. It's prose bordering on poetry, dense and obscure, but vivid and evocative. I think it's utterly arresting stylistically, but I can easily understand others finding it off-putting or unappealing. Kind of like how (vis-a-vis a movie I saw yesterday and am reviewing today) some people (including me) are entranced by Danny Boyle's flamboyant visual style in Sunshine, whereas Armond White complains that his films are "almost literally unwatchable."

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: By the way, our own sharp-eyed mrmando recently handed me a copy of Through a Screen Darkly that he had meticulously copy-edited just for the heck of it. And good lord, how I wish I'd paid him to do that as freelance work before it was published. I knew there were some errors in there, but wow... now I can hardly bear to look at it.

We all need such friends.

Well, if anybody else has a manuscript and wants me to look at it, I might be available for the right price...

But either Peter already has a great copy editor or he's one of the rare writers who pay as much attention to "style" in the sense of orthography as he does to "style" in the sense of having an idiosyncratic and recognizable "voice."

I should add that it's my understanding that many of the mistakes in Through a Screen Darkly were introduced in the publisher's process of preparing the manuscript, after it left Jeffrey's hands. So while I can't stop Jeffrey from feeling bad about them, at least he needn't feel personally responsible. Furthermore, the fact that I didn't edit it last fall is not because Jeffrey couldn't or wouldn't pay me, but because I was unavailable ... that was right around the time I went to the Republic of Georgia. Finally, the reason for editing it now was not to make Jeffrey feel bad, but in hopes that the mistakes could be fixed in a second edition.

We've already discussed some of those mistakes, so I'm not going to mention any of them specifically in this thread.

some people (including me) are entranced by Danny Boyle's flamboyant visual style in Sunshine, whereas Armond White complains that his films are "almost literally unwatchable."

Wow. Don't tell Armond about Baz Luhrmann. Or Tom Tykwer.

Edited by mrmando

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I spotted another favorable review today, this time from CBA's newly re-launched magazine Retailers + Resources. Kristine Wilson writes in the August issue (p. 36):

Overstreet paints vividly imagined scenes and develops his characters and story with thought-provoking insights into human motivations. Even the evil characters have a certain pathos, which makes readers ache for the direction they have chosen. Exceptionally well-crafted, this title and series will be a significant addition to Christian fantasy.

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I wrote:

: . . . and is spineweed a real-world thing or a fantasy-world thing?

Incidentally, I Googled "spineweed" and got 13 pages -- 4 of which were references to Auralia's Colors. (One of the other pages was a fan-fiction story about Draco Malfoy, Harry Potter's nemesis.)

Jeffrey Overstreet wrote:

: Peter, the style I've developed for this series is heavy on description, and some readers will find it too challenging to get oriented and figure out the who, what, where, and when of it.

No worries about the style, in general. Though speaking personally, it's the sort of thing I need to be lured into, you might say seduced into, so I would have deferred it to some point after the first sentence. But that's just me. (FWIW, I don't think I'd even heard of Peake until I read your post here, so we're obviously working with different frames of reference!)

: . . . I don't mind if the story moves at a snail's pace.

Ah, well, I'm a slow reader to begin with, so that biases my preferences. :)

mrmando wrote:

: I should add that it's my understanding that many of the mistakes in Through a Screen Darkly were introduced in the publisher's process of preparing the manuscript, after it left Jeffrey's hands.

Yeah, I've heard that too, and it's the sort of thing that scares me off ever writing a book of my own. Remember those essays I wrote on Jesus films -- one for a book on The Passion and one for a book on The Last Temptation? The Passion book was a rush job, meant to capitalize on the film and strike while the iron was hot... so my essay got through pretty much exactly as written. But the Last Temptation book came out over a year after I handed my essay in... so there was LOTS and LOTS of time for the publisher's copy editors to tweak and revise my essay, to the point where (I would argue) they lost the "voice" of the piece, in some places, and they even introduced some errors that I am pretty sure I caught when I saw the proofs, but the corrections apparently were not made. Very frustrating.

And people wonder why I hand my stuff in so late. Experience has shown that giving editors TIME to mess with the text just makes it worse.

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Regarding the The Gormenghast Novels by Mervyn Peake:

"[Peake's books] are actual additions to life; they give, like certain rare dreams, sensations we never had before, and enlarge our conception of the range of possible experience."-- C. S. Lewis

"Mervyn Peake is a finer poet than Edgar Allan Poe, and he is therefore able to maintain his world of fantasy brilliantly through three novels. It is a very, very great work . . . a classic of our age."-- Robertson Davies

"This extravagant epic about a labyrinthine castle populated with conniving Dickensian grotesques is the true fantasy classic of our time."-- The Washington Post Book World

While the book is far too detailed and complex to be translated to the screen sufficiently, a BBC miniseries did a decent job of creating a summary version, with Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as the malevolent Steerpike, who is, in my opinion, one of the greatest villains ever written.

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And people wonder why I hand my stuff in so late. Experience has shown that giving editors TIME to mess with the text just makes it worse.

Very true. I'm quite capable of making my own errors, but there's nothing that tweaks my sense of injustice more than seeing my words mangled by a copy editor. The current situations in Darfur and Iraq are mere child's play compared to this.

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All copy editors are not alike, you know. Some of us are capable of improving copy.

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