Saturday, April 30, 2011


I’m a woman of a certain age. How the heck can I write the voice of a teenager – especially a teenage boy – with any confidence or believability? To tell you the truth – I’m sort of a chicken when it comes to writing boy voices in my stories. I tend to shy away from boys as main characters, and I’ve come to realize that I might do this because I feel like I have no confidence that I could sound, realistically, like a teenage boy. And why should I? I have very little contact with teenage boys right now in my life…and certainly had very little contact with teenage boys even when I was a teenager. (They were the Other Kids in classes and leaning against lockers in the hallway; they tended to smell like sweat or too much cologne, and I always wanted them to be more like Romeo or Luke Skywalker. Yep. Once again … showing you my high level of geekiness.)
Anyway… this week, I accidentally picked up two novels in a row and now I wish to bow to the superior – and very different – ways in which these authors wrote in believable, honest, and sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes hilarious voices of teenage boys.
M.T. Anderson, author of the Octavian Nothing books, wrote Feed (a National Book Award finalist and winner of the Los Angeles Times book prize) in 2002.  Here is the concept: In a distant dystopia, Titus is a teenager whose “ability to read, write, and even think for himself has been almost completely obliterated by his “feed,” a transmitter implanted directly into his brain.” (Quote from the back matter on the paperback from Candlewick Press.) Feeds are crucial to the lives of everyone on the planet, transmitting a never-stopping stream of advertising and information, 24 hours a day. But Titus meets Violet, a girl who decides to fight the Feed…
Titus’s voice is short and choppy – using lots of colloquialisms and slang from this future world, but also displaying an almost too intimate view into the brain and thoughts of a teenage boy. It is hard to explain, so I’ll give you some quotes to see if I can help convey the cadence and …. Well, voice … voice in Anderson’s novel.
Page 34, Titus and friends at a dance club on the moon: There were about a million people it seemed, and lights, and the beat was rocking the moon. There was a band hung by their arms and their legs from the ceiling, and there was girders and floating units going up and down, and these meg youch latex ripplechicks dancing on the bar, and there were all these frat guys that were wearing these, unit, they were fuckin’ brag, they were wearing these tachyon shorts so you couldn’t barely look at them, which were $789.99 according to the feed and they were on sale for like $699 at the Zone, and could be shipped to the hotel for an additional $78.95, and that was just one great thing that people were wearing.
See that? Anderson’s long, breathless sentences – his words and thoughts running together without a break? This was early in the story, so the language serves to get the reader into the uninterrupted, random feed that the characters experience every minute. Pretty cool. (The writing, not the feed.)
Page 114, Titus talking to his parents after meeting Violet: I was looking out the window, being sorry, and my mother was like, “What’s wrong?”
I didn’t answer for a while. Finally I said, “Do you think I’m stupid? I mean, am I dumb?”
“You’re a non-traditional learner.”
Smell Factor said, “No he’s not. He’s dumb.”
My mother said, “Is this re: Violet?”
“Come on. Is it re: her? Because she shouldn’t make you feel stupid. That’s not good.”
“Mom, it’s un-re: her, okay?”
“She should be proud of you.”
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want my mom to think Violet was a snob. Violet wasn’t a snob. I was just dumb.
So Anderson manages to have the insecurities of his main character still become a focus of how he speaks, acts, and interacts with others… I think this is part of what makes this dystopia feel believable. I read through Titus’s thoughts and hear his conversations with his friends and family…and I think this kid sounds real, even if I’m not familiar with his slang.
Anderson’s Feed was fascinating, in a dark, depressing, we-are-all-victims-of-consumerism-and-advertising-and-techonology sort of way. Some of the language took a while to get used to, and the pacing is a bit frantic – but it all serves to tell the story.
Right after finishing Feed, I picked up Spanking Shakespeare by Jake Wizner. I’d heard of this novel from an author at a recent SCBWI conference. She listed it as an excellent example of voice in teen literature and also as one of the funniest YA books she’d read.  To that list of criteria, I’d add that it is a fantastic example of a teenage boy’s voice.
The story is written partly in first person traditional narrative, but has sections of the main character’s senior year thesis (a school-assigned memoir) interspersed throughout. Also written in first person, there is subtle language change and tone changes between the more traditional first person narrative and the chapters written by the main character for his assignment. Both are snarky (to say the least), self-deprecating, raunchy, and totally teenager.        Shakespeare (the main character) presents a brutally honest – and absolutely hilarious – look at the life of a teenage boy, including his bowel-movement obsessed best friend, his desperate (and sort of pathetic) attempts at talking to girls, his applications to colleges, his popular younger brother and of course --  his driving need to get laid. I laughed out loud throughout most of Spanking Shakespeare, and especially fell in love with the Shakespeare Shapiro and Mr. Wizner, when Shakespeare writes a hilariously inappropriate poem for a girl he likes. This girl reads long books by Russian authors…so Shakespeare decides to impress her with poetry about famous authors with the hopes she’ll let him get a little “closer” to her, if you know what I mean.
I can’t stand it. The whole chapter made me laugh and giggle and snort; I ended up reading it to my husband and chuckling my way through each stanza… How could you not love a character who could write:

Milton himself was a mischievous louse
Whose favorite hobby was to egg
Shakespeare’s house.
      And with whom did Milton engage in
this fun?
      Sometimes Ben Johnson, sometimes John

(There are raunchier verses – lots of constipation and erection references. Hilarious even to a “woman of a certain age”…trust me. I snorted tea out of my nose while reading…)
        Shakespeare Shapiro’s voice is honest. No doubt in my mind that I was inside the head of a teenage boy, doing what teenage boys do when they are getting ready to graduate high school.
        I’m pretty convinced I’m not going to write any teenage boy characters nearly this honest and believable any time soon. But it is good to have examples waiting in the wings.
        Keep reading…and let me know if you have other great examples of voice in YA or MG lit. I’m always on the lookout!

PS – For more on voice in YA literature, check out this great blog post, Evolving Voice in the Young Adult Novel, by Swati Avasthi, author of Split (Random House/Knopf, 2010), which was nominated for the ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults award for 2010.


Winner of Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles... Carey_Corp! Congratulations!

Please e-mail your snail mail address to me at and I'll be happy to get the book in the mail to you as soon as I can.

Thanks for reading Carpe Keyboard!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Talking with Simone Elkeles, Author of the PERFECT CHEMISTRY (Oh...And a chance to win a free book!)

Simone Elkeles, author of Perfect Chemistry, Leaving Paradise, Return to Paradise, and other YA novels, graciously agreed to share some of her thoughts on writing – specifically writing realistic YA characters who have (gasp!) sex (!!). Her books have consistently been on the New York Times and USA Today best selling lists, so obviously, the woman knows what she is doing! I hope we can all learn something about writing for the YA crowd and navigating the publishing world from Ms. Elkeles.

Keep reading for a chance to enter to win a copy of Perfect Chemistry…in early celebration for Ms. Elkeles’s upcoming release of Chain Reaction!

Welcome, Simone, to Carpe Keyboard!

CP: Thanks for agreeing to spend some of your valuable writing to answering some questions! I’d like to start by asking if you’d tell us a quick version of your “writer story” – You know…how did you first get published? Do you have a degree in creative writing? Did you do a happy dance when you first signed with an agent?

SE: First of all, thank you for having me!

Unlike most authors I know, I hated reading as a teen and didn't do so hot in English class.  I got B’s and C’s in English class most of the time.  I have a master’s degree in Industrial Relations from Loyola University-Chicago and a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Psychology from the University of Illinois. I’ve never taken a creative writing class in my life.  I fell in love with reading as an adult – specifically romance novels.  I was so in love with them, I started writing them.  Once I started writing for “myself” and not a teacher or for a grade, I realized that I loved writing and never wanted to stop.  I pretty much taught myself how to write, because they didn’t teach me how to write a book in my regular English classes (they taught me how to write correctly, but not write a book).  It took 5 years for me to find an agent and get my first book published. I definitely did a HUGE happy dance when it finally happened!  Writing is the best profession and now I can’t imagine doing anything else! 

So…you write sexy books for the YA crowd! (And wowzers…you do it very well!) Some might consider sex a difficult topic for this audience, while others think it is just part of life for teenagers and should be addressed in their literature. Do you get much reader feedback on this? Parental feedback? What about your editor?

My goal is to write realistic content and realistic stories. I delve into all the emotions my characters would go through as a result of being confronted with a decision about sex.  I definitely get a lot of feedback from readers, and it has always been positive. The covers of my books depict the content inside, so I haven't had any negative parental feedback - just the opposite!  One church book club leader even emailed me and thanked me for putting the issue of sex in my books because it sparked an open discussion about it with the book club members.  Open discussion is great because you can get all sides to an issue!  In the How to Ruin series, Amy chooses to wait for marriage.  She's definitely tempted. . . but she chooses to wait. In the Perfect Chemistry series, it's realistic that my characters in the stories would be intimate with each other.  There are always consequences to being intimate, though, and I write about those consequences as well! 

I found Maggie and Caleb’s relationship a lovely combination of sweet and hot. (Chocolate covered chile peppers come to mind.) I loved that they didn’t pressure each other to have sex and they work through such genuine “real” feelings for each other. On the other hand, they certainly did send sparks flying. Do you think much about how far to go with the sex in your stories? Do you hope your characters are a sort of role model about how people should treat each other in a relationship?

When I write, I don't think that much about lessons or think about my characters being role models - if it happens then GREAT, but I don't write a book with those issues in mind.  I just write a love story.  As my characters develop, they really dictate the story.  If my characters don't have sex, it's because I don't think that would be the decision they would make in real life.  I knew Maggie and Caleb had a lot of passion and would definitely want to, but it just never felt "right" at any time when I was writing it.  It just wasn't their time yet, but I didn't decide that in advance.

Did you know there would be a sequel to Leaving Paradise when you were writing it? I’ll admit, the ending to Leaving Paradise left me conflicted. I liked that it was not clichĂ© or expected…but I also found myself saying, “What the what? He’s doing WHAT?” (I’m trying not to be a spoiler!) From a publishing business point of view, how does a sequel come about? Did you suggest it or did your publisher ask for it? Either way, I was thrilled to hear more of Caleb and Maggie’s story in Return to Paradise.

I sold Leaving Paradise on a synopsis and 3 chapters.  In the synopsis, Maggie and Caleb got together and it was Happily Ever After.  But as I was writing it, that Happily Ever After just didn't fit.  I felt I'd compromise the story if I'd did that.  So I changed the ending, but I hated it.  (by the way, Caleb didn't look back as he drove away because he was crying and knew if he looked back that he'd never be able to leave her. It wasn't because he was heartless!) When my publisher wanted a third How to Ruin book, I told them I'd only write one if I could "finish" my story with Caleb and Maggie.  I needed to make things "right" with them.  They agreed, and I was able to write Return to Paradise which became a NY Times bestseller!  Sometimes the author has to manipulate the publisher to do what they want.  I was lucky it worked! (don't tell my publisher that!)

Here is a question I ask a lot of authors:  I’ve recently learned (the hard way!) that the editing process is where a huge part of the art of writing happens. I think some writers would argue the magic is in the act of writing the first draft. What do you think?

I work so hard on my first draft that I would have to say that's where the magic happens.  My publishers might even say that I take too long with the first draft!  By the time I start doing rewrites, most of my story is pretty much set.  I definitely change things in rewrites, but the magic is definitely in the first draft.  Believe me, I have thrown away a good portion of a book and completely started over before!  (I wrote Chain Reaction three times...some books flow out of you and some are like wading through molasses!)

What’s next for you? Do you have another work in progress? Can you tell us about it?

Chain Reaction (the 3rd in the Perfect Chemistry series) will be in stores August 16, 2011!!!!!  Chain Reaction will be about Luis Fuentes, the youngest Fuentes brother.  He’s such a good guy who doesn’t live with the angst that his big brothers have always lived with.  Luis is smart, funny, and has big dreams.   Just when he thinks he’s got life all figured out, Luis learns some disturbing news about his family that destroys his positive outlook on life and his new relationship with a girl named Nikki. 

Finally, when do you carpe your keyboard? What are your writing habits?

I usually work whenever my kids are at school or asleep.  I try not to let my writing take over family time, but when I'm under deadline it's really difficult to get everything done!  I have an office away from home so when I go to "work," I can really just focus on work and not worry about doing the laundry or starting dinner. 

Thanks so much for taking time out of your writing life to share your thoughts and insights with us. And please…keep writing about characters like Caleb and Maggie and the Fuentes brothers…. Your teen (and adult!) readers can’t wait for more!

And for CP readers…if you would like to enter to win a copy of Ms. Elkeles’s Perfect Chemistry, leave a comment below. I’ll randomly draw a winner on Saturday, April 30 and post the winner here on the blog. (If the winner does not respond within one week with their snail mail address, I will put the novel back in the stack for another giveaway event later in the year.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Religion and Bullies – And What About Not Throwing Stones*?

It is the Easter season, and this year, I find myself more reflective of the meaning for the holiday than perhaps I usually am. The idea of resurrection and rebirth – of beginning again, after trials (small and large) is hitting home for me this year, so I suppose I’m more aware of the stories of Christ’s ride into town on the donkey, children welcoming him with palms; the last time He ate with his friends, the betrayal and the suffering… and the eventual forgiveness. And the grace throughout it all.

In the midst of my thoughts wandering through my (rather limited) memories of childhood bible stories and more recent Bible Study as an adult, I came across a post on this blog this week about a recent event in schools across the nation for a Day of Silence to help recognize that LGBT teens are the victims of bullies. The post goes on to talk about one response to the event – one sponsored by evangelical and “fundies” – called a Day of Dialogue.

So here is the story as I understand it: Young people want to recognize and confront the bullying that goes on in their schools and communities. They want to “speak out” – in this case through the use of a loud silence – to shine a light on this suffering and hopefully open doors to dialog and to protecting the rights of the LGBT students in their midst. This – to me – is a good and grace-full event. It is about acceptance and protection of others. It is about ending suffering and opening arms to welcome those who may have been marginalized into the community.

The response Day of Dialogue, sponsored by the anti-gay group Focus on the Family, urges young people to download and hand out conversation cards that “invite (them) to have a conversation” about “how He designed the best plan for our sexuality and relationships…” According to Michael Keegan in his post, “One of the Day of Dialogue's organizers is Jeff Johnston, an "ex-gay" activist, who says the event is meant to help ‘people who messed up sexually.’”

So…are the Dialogue kids supposed to be able to speak with authority on God’s plans? Are they supposed to confront other kids in their school – those participating in a day of Silence to bring attention to bullying – and tell them that God’s plan is different? That they are wrong?

If you look at the Day of Silence and Day of Dialogue websites – both events seem to be marketed as non-threatening, peaceful ways to make a point. But there does seem to be something off-kilter, in my humble opinion, to an organization that feels they must counter an event designed to stop bullying by creating an event that is designed to proselytize one specific religious view point.

WWJD? Really? Would He walk up to someone who is trying to stand up for peace and present them with a “conversation card” that informs the reader that God has a plan for our sexuality? Is this not a form of confrontation – one which I think could so easily slip into a more heated “conversation” or even worse – by expecting teens to handle this very sensitive topic in school hallways or parking lots? Do you know of any teenagers who are schooled in the meaning of the Bible, who are – on their own – capable of preaching and teaching, while at the same time maintaining respect for those who may choose to disagree?

When I read Mr. Keegan’s post, I was reminded of an event in my childhood. Not an event related to sexuality, but one related to religion, belief, and even race. As a fourth grader, I was attending a CCD (Confirmation of Catholic Doctrine) class at my Catholic church. Our class was taught by a lay person – a parent from the community – and during one session, the instructor told us that only Catholics would go to heaven. At the time, my two best friends were Jewish and Hindu. The plainly stated “fact” that my dear friends, my playmates and their loving families, would not be welcomed into Heaven was devastating. I returned home that night, tearfully explaining to my mother why I didn’t want to be Catholic anymore. The idea that God had a plan that excluded perfectly good, loving, graceful people for no reason other than the religious text they read or the stories they built their life around was repellant to me, even as a child.

Likewise, when I read about the Day of Dialogue response to the Day of Silence, all I kept thinking was, “Really? Kids are being bullied for all kinds of reasons. People are excluded and judged constantly for all kinds of reasons. Who in the world would think that we should NOT pay attention to that and fix it so ALL children and safe at school?”

One of the suggestions from the Day of Silence organizers was for schools and teachers to display or talk about LGBT literature or other like topics as a way to show support. Along those lines, I wanted to point out some titles I’ve talked about before (and some I haven’t) here on CK that tell stories about LGBT teens or happen to have characters who are gay. Try:

·         Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
·         Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
·         Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher
·         Ash by Melinda Lo
·         Boy Meets Boy  by David Levithan
·         Annie on My Mind  by Nancy Garden
·         Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

I realize I am not being silent on the matter. Blogging probably counts as speaking. But if I was still a high school student, I’d like to think I’d be strong enough – and grace-full enough – to have been silent on that day. And I hope I’m teaching my Christian children to accept others – no matter their differences – and always ALWAYS stand up for someone who needs help.

*”Throwing stones” in this title refers to the Bible story in the book of John, chapter 7. Jesus stopped a crowd of people from killing a woman who was accused of adultery. This is the story where the famous line, often quoted as something like, “Let him who is without sin among you cast the first stone at her” comes from. Jesus – using silence-- disperses the crowd and saves the woman’s life.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Role Models – Writers and the Characters They Create

When my writing partner and I sat down to really dig into writing our first novel, one of the details we agreed on was that the characters should not be just like characters in most other kids’ literature. We wanted them to reflect multi-cultural families – but we didn’t want the story itself to be ABOUT how the girls were of a certain ethnicity. They were going to be just girls…with different names and different skin colors, who spoke different languages and had different family dynamics…but the story would be about their adventures and challenges.

Now, I think I’m more sensitive to the ethnicities presented in the books my kids read, and to the story lines. I love finding a good story that happens to present main characters who aren’t just like me and my kids. In other words, I want my kids to read about different people (all kinds of different) but I specifically love the stories where they see that really, underneath the skin color, able-ness, language, religion, whatever… we are all the same.

Without knowing much about it, I picked up a copy of Lisa Yee’s Bobby the Brave (Sometimes) for my 8 year old son. I liked the art work on the cover…and didn’t have much time to do anything other than read the jacket flap before I bought it. A fourth grade boy who has to overcome weird challenges involving a new gym teacher named Mr. Weiner House (anything about “wieners” is always a big hit with my son!) and encounters with a 27-toed evil cat (cats, are strangely, also a huge hit). It sounded like perhaps I’d finally found something other than dragon books for him to read.

We started reading it together, and I was in love with Lisa Yee from about page 3. Not only is Bobby part of a family comprised of more than one ethnicity (his last name is Ellis-Chan), but that is just part of the story. His family is just his family – sort of in the background for most of the action, like multitudes of other kid’s books. The story is not about how he has a mother who is one color and a father who is another. Thank goodness!

The detail that cinched my desire to be Lisa Yee’s new BFF? The typical gender roles and a little bit turned on their heads for the Ellis-Chan family. Finally…my son could read about a boy whose father was the stay at home parent! A father who, like his own, cooks dinner every night and makes up new recipes (some a hit, some decidedly not). And this fictional Dad was a professional football player before he decided to stay home with his children. So cool! I dare you to find a more perfect role model for a young boy – tough football player turned parent/chief-cook-and-bottle-washer. LOVE this.

Bobby’s mother goes into the office everyday (like me!) but is still an involved mother. And…(here’s another detail I just love) Bobby’s big sister is the star quarterback on the high school football team.

Hooray for mixing it up with the role models and family dymanics!

I’m trying to work in some of this greatness – some mixing of traditional gender roles, etc. – into one of my works in progress. I just wrote a scene this week where a kidnapped prince meets the guard – a huge, tough, stinky, strong woman – who is keeping him trapped in a tall, tall tower.

Not nearly enough, I know…but I figure at least I’m trying!

Have you written non-traditional gender roles or family dynamics into any stories? Have you read any kids’ books lately where the characters were of different ethnicities, but the story didn’t focus on that detail? Let me know!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Water, Whales, and the Letter A: Using Symbols in Stories

Do you use symbols in your stories?
I’ve always liked this quote from Flannery O’Connor about symbols: “Now the word symbol scares a good many people off, just as the word art does. They seem to feel that a symbol is some mysterious thing put in arbitrarily by the writer to frighten the common reader — sort of a literary Masonic grip that is only for the initiated …”

Yep – that’s me as a writer. A little intimidated by the idea of writing symbols into my stories. Sure that I’ll trap myself – end up making a fool out of myself when the symbol is more like a concrete block landing on the sidewalk instead of the feather I’d hoped for.

According to The American Novel section of the PBS website, a symbol is simply “something that stands for something else.”  It can be literal or abstract; generic across many forms and genre of literature, or specific to one novel or story.
WhaleYou remember the letter A in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, right? And the whale in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick? What about Hazel Mote’s car in Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood? The list goes on and on…
I have a short story buried in my files somewhere in which I tried to use the rose and the rose bush thorns as a symbol for love and pain. (I know… Go ahead and roll your eyes at me. Concrete block, not feather– which is why you’ll notice the story is buried in files and not polished for submission!) There is a delicate balance between writing the symbol in too many times – overwhelming your reader to the point of flogging the proverbial dead horse – and delicately inserting your symbol in just the right places, at just the right times, so that it is subtle, yet still definable.
Letter AReaders should recognize that the symbol is present and meaningful without your banging them over the head with it, no? If you ask me, this is a huge challenge! As if we writers don’t have enough to think about with characterization, plot, timelines, tone, theme, etc, etc…
I found a great website with a section called “Symbols: Novel Ways to Express Universal Concepts.” It is a sort of literary geek game – showing a list of literary symbols. Click one, and you get a clue about a famous book that used that symbol. Select the correct book, and you see a brief explanation of how the symbol was used by the author.
Some of the symbols on the site: the letter A, the sea, water, magnifying glass, the color red, and shoes.
The same site also has other challenges for geeks like me – Test Your Literary IQ, a version of the game show To Tell The Truth, and interactive, multimedia discussions of context/hypertext in famous pieces of literature.
I love finding sites like this. They not only get the geek girl in my smiling, but they also stoke my creative fires, get those juices running, and make me want to write!
If you’ve used symbols in your writing – whether or not you think you were successful – tell me about it. I’m hoping we can learn from each other about strategies for deepening our stories and enriching our work by using symbols.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Shameless Self Promotion

My young adult short story, Prayer for the Dying, won third place in the Phyllis Scott Publishing contest. It is now published in a short story collection called The Landing and Other Short Stories.

The collection contains a variety of short stories (it isn't all YA or children's stories) and is available as a Kindle download today. The hard copy publication will be available via Amazon shortly!

PictureJust goes to show: Be persistent. Keep writing and keep submitting.

Monday, April 4, 2011

I Wanna New Drug...My Recent Addiction

I’m addicted. Completely, totally, unequivocally addicted.
Patrick Rothfuss is my new drug of choice. Wait…rewind. Patrick Rothfuss’s WRITING is my new drug of choice.
There. That’s better.
Normally, I write about middle grade and young adult authors and their works here, but Mr. Rothfuss’s books are not really marketed that way. A dear friend (who also happens to be a librarian) pointed out to me that The Name of the Wind was noted as a novel that crosses over from “adult” fiction to the YA category, so bear with me…
A few years ago, my librarian friend (see above) suggested I try The Name of the Wind. She has been recommending books to me for over 20 years, so I tend to know when she is serious. And when she gave me this title, I remember thinking I should get off my duff and go find a copy NOW.
She was right. She was so right that I’ve been waiting and watching for the sequel, Wise Man’s Fear, to come out for years. Finally…in March this year…the novel hit bookstore shelves and was rapidly at the top of the NYT bestseller list. (HURRAY for Mr. Rothfuss!! Congrats!!)
Before I dove headfirst into Wise Man’s Fear, I re-read the first book to get my head wrapped back around the story of Kvothe (pronounced like “quothe”) and his life. This is an epic – a book about a man telling his story while a Chronicler records it for history. A lyrical journey into another world – where a boy of eleven learns to survive on his wit, music is fundamental to survival and to the soul, where the University is a haven for intellect and arcanists hold the power of the names of things in the palms of their hands.
Story is the blood of life in Kvothe’s world. Maybe this is why I’ve fallen so far into Mr. Rothfuss’s writing that I can’t seem to come back to the real world.
Here is some “teaser text” from
I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.

You may have heard of me.

So begins the tale of Kvothe—from his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, to years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-riddled city, to his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a difficult and dangerous school of magic. In these pages you will come to know Kvothe as a notorious magician, an accomplished thief, a masterful musician, and an infamous assassin. But The Name of the Wind is so much more—for the story it tells reveals the truth behind Kvothe's legend.

I’ve found myself wondering what, specifically, is drawing me into this story this deeply. I’m a big fan of escapism…so there is that. This novel is practically the definition of escapism in the best way possible. The writing is visceral – you can smell the fire burning in the hearth at Anker’s Inn. You can taste the brown bread, sea salt and bruised apples Kvothe shares with a friend on the rooftops of the University’s buildings. You can feel the thrum of the lute strings in your own fingertips, breathe in the smoky, close smell of the crowd at the Eolian club, and wonder at the sudden weight of coins in Kvothe’s purse after a run of good luck…or hard work…or dangerous risks.
I think, too, the characters themselves have a way of pulling you into their stories. You’ve heard, I’m sure, that your main character should be real. He should be flawed, even if (and perhaps because) he is your hero. And Kvothe is that: flawed, but without a doubt, our hero.
He is also just a boy – struggling to find the answer to a mystery and survive the best way he knows how.  He makes decisions that feel like real decisions a boy would make, given his circumstances, his dreams and his mission. He is on a quest at a few different levels, which brings me to another reason I think I’m addicted to his story:
I’ve written recently about the Hero’s Journey as a story structure – and Kvothe’s story fits over this framework, too.  His journey is longer than some other examples, and certainly more intricate. Kvothe has a few mentors during the first and second books. No single Obi Wan Kenobi for Kvothe…instead he has his “Old Ben” appear when he is just a young boy. An old arcanist who recognizes Kvothe’s genius and begins his training. They don’t use weapons or talk about “the force,” but Ben (YES…he name is really Ben!) takes our budding hero under his wing and shows him just enough to make Kvothe know he is destined to learn great things and eventually have great power.
Instead of handing him a talisman in the form of a light saber, Ben hands Kvothe a book – a rarity in this world, and especially for Kvothe’s family – that helps him take the right steps forward on his path.
Kvothe has many other teachers as his story progresses, so his “hero’s journey” isn’t packaged neatly – but this makes it all the more exciting to read.
So – I’m in love with these books because of the visceral nature of the writing, the beautifully flawed nature of the characters (especially our hero), and the foundation structure of the archetypal hero’s journey.
One more thing: the platform of how the story unfolds is also one I’ve fallen for, hook, line, and sinker, as they say. The story begins in a quiet inn in a quiet town. The innkeeper, a man known to his customers as a foreigner named Kote, is more than he seems at first glance. Only when he sits down with a historian and begins to tell his story, so we see into Kvothe’s life.
So, at the heart of it all, this is a storyteller’s story. One man telling his own tale so another can record it for history – and for others to hear long after Kvothe is gone. Mr. Rothfuss gives us (the readers) interludes from Kvothe’s life story, bringing us back into the small inn regularly to anchor us to the present time and keep our feet firmly planted in different layers of the same story. Kvothe’s history … and Kvothe’s present. As a structure, it had the potential to be disruptive to the escapism of the novel…but instead, it does act as an anchor and gives the reader a way to keep perspective on the decisions and events of Kvothe’s past.
A storyteller’s story.  Tried and true structure. Lyrical writing. Flawed but fascinating hero.
Thank you, Mr. Rothfuss, for sharing your skill and your story with the world! I can only hope to take away some small lesson from your work – to make my own writing more powerful. More importantly, I will take away the feeling of being swept away by a truly epic story, falling in love with a hero worthy of his own epic story, and basking in the language and poetry of your work.
(NOTE: I'd love to put a picture of one of Mr. Rothfuss's books here with this blog post, but blogger isn't cooperating today. Sorry!)