Book Review: An Unkindness of Magicians

UNKINDNESSfrontcover_final-740x1118.jpgEvery so often a book comes around that is much more than a good read, or an engaging story. Certain books feel more like a portal, like the pages are kissed with magic and anytime you pick it up you are a hundred percent a part of the world as if you were inside the pages yourself. It’s those books that keep us digging through shelves. “An Unkindness of Magicians” by Kat Howard was all of that. “Unkindness” caused a similar stir in my mind that I experienced when I was read Harry Potter and Narnia as a child but I felt it as an adult. Magic is right there under our noses. Anything is possible. But, much like adult life, everything costs something and sometimes that cost is great.
Kat Howard threads an enchanting, mysterious, and dangerous world of social-climbing magicians with the familiar New York City, weaving a world both comforting and exciting and terrifying. The Fortune’s Wheel turned earlier than it should have. Powerful magical houses must get ready to hire their champions and battle to be the head of the Unseen World.
Hands down my favorite aspect of this book is Sydney, an unhoused magician with incredible magical talent and a fantastic backstory. I like to keep my reviews spoiler-free so this will remain no different BUT I will say that Sydney’s character arc is a raw and relatable thing of beauty. Every character in the story is complex and stands on their feet in their way. All of them kept my interest as the expertly woven story unfolded. Sydney is strong, brave, and full of faults and fear. I was rooting for from the moment I met her. Character-wise she’s one of greats.
I love the magic in this book. The magic is a character of its own. Many fantasy books have magic in them but so seldom does the magic come across on the page as having feelings, obstacles and faults. The visuals Howard painted of the magic casted were beautiful and never once slowed the story down but she also gave the magic a personality. This personality changes depending on who is using the magic and that is just fantastic.
I’m going to call out one more awesome aspect of this book and then you just have to go grab a copy because this is so worth reading. The relationships in this story (and there are many) are so organic and varied and real. Howard juggles multiple family dynamics and she does this with such a natural rhythm. I was invested in every one whether they were relationships built long before the story started or new ones we got to witness.
“An Unkindness of Magicians” is by far my favorite book I’ve read in 2017. Like I said in the beginning I felt the adult version of what I felt as kid when I read Harry Potter. That is awesome. So yeah, if you haven’t read it, grab a copy! You won’t regret it.

 

back and even better!

51promoHey guys!
Too Many Words returns with the wonderfully prolific and friend of the show, Oli Jacobs! He is the author of several horror and science fiction novels. Oli gets into his latest horror novel Deep Down There. We talk the brilliance of H.P. Lovecraft, leaning into voice, the power of walking away, and how every writer needs a dog. I had a wonderful time chatting with him and I  hope you enjoy listening.
Before Oli comes on, I get into what I’ve been up to and the show’s switch to Patreon.

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You can now support the show on Patreon! https://goo.gl/WQYhgt

 

Mind and body, it’s complicated

 
I kept sitting down to write this essay I promised for a collection. The theme of the piece needs to boil down to one thing: my relationship with my body and mind.
Easy, right?
*chokes*
When I took the assignment I was excited to dive in, to be honest, and maybe even help someone. What do we do with our minds and bodies while we have them? What is done to them? How do we grow? People often struggle with this—I sure as hell do. I mean it’s kinda the whole life deal, isn’t it?
When it came to sitting my butt in the seat and writing, as it often does, collecting my thoughts onto paper was harder than I expected. I kept choking out a line then grimacing at it. We all know this isn’t how to get anything accomplished. But after a few aggressive dance-offs, I grabbed my collar and said, “Time to make it happen.”
And, I did it. I wrote the allotted amount of words, took a walk, did some yoga, and with a smoothie in hand, I reread it.
Bleh.
My first impression was, “Am I that scattered?”
I didn’t like how I jumped from thing to thing. It left me feeling like I didn’t know myself at all, or that I haven’t made any peace with all my hang-ups.
I scowled at the lines shifting from my eating disorder to my ever complicated relationship with my mother.
Later on I was vacuuming, lamenting about how unfocused the piece was and it hit me. It wasn’t unfocused, it was complicated.
Body’s have a past, present, and future and the mind is as mysterious as the deepest oceans. My connection it isn’t singular, it’s layers and layers of trial and error and turning points.
Now, I’m editing it with nicer things to say and drawing the lines that make the whole piece, that make me. It’s hard for me to listen to myself. My upbringing and anxiety disorder have ingrained distrust. As I work on this as an adult so I don’t implode with unnecessary amounts of stress I find more slivers of peace and more understanding in the actual craft itself, both in drafting and revisions. It’s the game of seeing what isn’t there, of reading between the lines. Of, feeling purpose behind action.
 
Maybe, don’t be so quick to dismiss. Listen. Learn. And, feel.

reaching for lunch: Coconut Milk Quinoa

I am always on the hunt for healthy and easy lunches that won’t slow down my mind because I like to get back to work afterward. It’s getting colder by me and I wanted something warm, filling, and yummy. I threw this together and was quite pleased so I thought I’d share it with you.
 
Perfect healthy, warming, and easy lunch:
 
½ cup quinoa
1 cup spinach
1 ½ cups full fat coconut milk
1 teaspoon turmeric
salt and pepper
 
Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to boil. Simmer covered for 15 minutes.
Let stand for 5.
Enjoy.

lines of fiction and life

Character-

Jayme, an anxious freelance writer with young kids, is still trying to carve out a space for herself in the industry.

Stasis-

Autumn and impending holidays are nearing. She’s getting back into the writing work flow. Of course, it isn’t going as fast and smooth as she’d like it too, but she’s realigning her ducks after putting a major project down due to lack of sight. She wrestles with some confidence and focus issues but is dedicated to finding flow.

Trigger-

One morning she is partaking in some free-writing and stumbles onto an idea for a short story. Her inner-not-so-helpful critic immediately snaps at the loose, fragile concept. Jayme goes for a walk and listens to Weezer. Her dogs sniff away at the bushes and mailboxes. Whispered voices pass between neighbors standing by a blue pickup truck with spray painted windows. Anxiety and story telling muscles drum up a heist, then fleeing citizens. Thoughts of the government ordering neighbors to be walled in cycled through her head as she transitions from walking to writing.

Quest-

Jayme is nothing if not stubborn, so she sits and writes and thinks and works through the scenes and ideas. Not all ideas should be accepted at face value. They are only stepping stones to the true intention. Her upbringing conditioned her not to trust herself or her environment, so it is challenging to let go. Thoughts of the drawered manuscripts skulk on the corner of her idea and oncoming epiphany. She changes the music and gets a glass of water. “It’s a grind,” she tells herself as she combs through the previous paragraph. “I know there is an idea in there somewhere. I’m the right path.”

Surprise-

A small creature pops its violet-furred head in a fluid string of dialogue. Its beady red eyes studied her looking as surprised as she feels.

Without a better idea of what to do next, she spit out a simple but appropriate greeting,  “Hi.”

The weasel-like animal waved its narrow-toed paw. “No pictures please.”

“What are you?”

“I should ask you the same question.”

“I think this may be too weird.”

“How can you judge me without understanding what my purpose is? I’m here. Just, as you are.”

Critical choice-

Jayme followed the animal, which calls itself Top, into its warren. It isn’t a cozy, twig filled animal home but a string of potions and stolen goods on aged shelves. There is a smell of magic between the mud-filled walls she had never smelled before. Jayme stood between the script of spells reaching deep into the earth and the door to leave before too much heart and time. She danced with the decision as if she had a choice.

“Well, are you going to follow me?” Top crinkles its snout, giving his whiskers the look of brushes for dirty floors.

“Are you what I’ve been looking for?”

“Maybe. It’s hard to say right now.”

Climax-

Top grew impatient and wandered over to the pebbled path that led to a small pool of pink water. Jayme watched the turquoise birds flutter about feeling over whelmed. She sighed and wandered over to Top.

Top pointed a claw at the rose bubbles swirling in the center. “There are secrets deep in there.”

Reversal-

Jayme offered Top a flat hand.

He sniffed it, unsure.

“Let’s do this together.”

Top bobbed its furry head and scurried up her arm. He perched on her shoulder with his mouth near her ear.

“Jump,” he whispered.

Resolution-

Tunnels twists into stairs that fold into waterfalls. Hand in hand the two new friends explore a world one knows wells, and the other knows only what their willing to see.

Humbled by Stories and Pie

Fall is approaching. The kids are back in school. My house is quiet. Cinnamon is suddenly more appealing. Our planet seems to be crumbling down around us. I spent the summer writing scenes that never needed to exist for the story I was telling because I thought I was writing another one. I discovered the amazing world of paleo-style cooking in a nobel attempt to be healthier and have a hobby outside of words.  I’m currently sitting at my desk ready to crank out some smaller pieces in hopes of earning modest piles of cash. It’s been too long since the last blog post, nerves were starting to climb my legs, so I popped over here to write this. The moment my fingers hit the keys my mind started jumping all over like a confused frog with no tongue.
I’ve learned so much in the last eight or so months. I did it with crash-course grace, and my head is still spinning on its side. I made so many mistakes with my latest project—the one that I’ve been obsessing over and nothing else. (Part of the problem, btw.) I know what you are thinking. “It’s all part of it.” “Probably not as bad as you think.” “That’s what editing is for.”
No, really. I broke it. For now. I wasn’t listening to the character’s true voice and allowed my goals to distract me. The first moment I started the project till right before I finally listened to myself, was a continuous and reactionary series of events. I walked away for its own good. This was a hard thing to swallow. Really hard. Making mistakes is sometimes the best way to learn. My husband always says to the kids, “If you aren’t making mistakes you aren’t growing.” So, I guess I grew up a lot over the last year.
As a parent I watch my kids slip in and out of these developmental phases. There is nothing like children to remind you of how temporary life is. Oh so humbling. I so seldom pay attention to my cycles of learning and moods. If you are only a little familiar with me, you know my love for Alice in Wonderland. The story is so much more than children’s fantasy. It’s a story about growing up and how our environment messes with us as we go. We have choices, and they have consequences. It’s a metaphor for life, for writing a story, and periods of time that have more of an impact than others. Lost innocence is the place we all visit at some point. Wonderland can symbolize many things, but sometimes I think of it as a representation of a phase. The thing about life? ‘Our now’ feels forever. For me, it’s those milestone birthdays or the realization of how old Moe the cat is that really shows me all that’s changed. This summer that just soared by was on the other side of a door in a hole. I’ve been chasing this project for the last eight months (or more) that didn’t want to be chased. There is a story there, one I have to tell, but my mind is on other projects that are ready for me now. Sometimes a story has to wait. It hurts, and it always sucks. I trust that my path with lead back to it.
As disappointed as I am that my WIP and I need some time apart, I am equally excited about all the short fiction I have in the works, essays of thoughts, working with Rebecca Clark on The Shadow Bearers again, and another wave of Too Many Words Episodes. (More info on all that soon.) The words will find me, as they will find you.
I wrap this up with:
Keep the critic in your pocket, listen to your gut, and have fun tormenting your characters that all want something.