Like everyone, I am many things, all at once: A writer and a literature scholar. A surfer/swimmer. A displaced Texan. An amateur watercolorist. The wife of a member of the U.S. Foreign Service. That girl you REALLY wished you hadn't asked to tell you about her recent favorite read.
And, apparently, a blogger....
The newest offering by Matched author Ally Condie, The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe is not unlike crowd favorite Firefly in its futuristic-meets-Old West atmosphere. But where Firefly is about traversing the skies, The Last Voyage is all about navigating waterways.
Set on what appears to be a near-future Earth where the human population has fragmented and thinned, The Last Voyage follows Poe Blythe, the 17-year-old captain of the Gilded Lily. A gold-mining dredge, the Lily is designed to scoop up riverine gold for the Admiral, who leads the remote Outpost where Poe’s society resides. But for Poe, who designed the ship’s deadly armor, the dredge is the means to a very different end–revenge against the raiders who destroyed all she loved. But this time, there’s a traitor aboard….
I found a lot to like in Poe’s story. Condie clearly did her research on river-based gold mining and the corresponding destruction. I recently spent a few years living in Suriname, a South American country with a large gold mining sector. My day job at the time included reporting on the impact of mining on Suriname’s rivers and rainforests. The effects are bleak indeed. Condie’s evoking of the heat and noise, grime and devastation of mining is spot-on.
The Last Voyage is also well paced. The novel has a fair number of twist and turns and Condie manages them nimbly–the pace is tight without being rushed. The various story complications unfold gradually, keeping the reader guessing. And flashbacks are skillfully woven throughout, in support of later plot revelations. There’s also disinformation sown by various characters, both intentionally and accidentally. By leaving the reader unsure what to believe, this sprinkling of deception replicates what Poe would experience as she hears rumors and reports, accusations and counter-accusations: deep uncertainty about who to trust.
I won’t lie: The past few days of writing have required a healthy, heaping dose of courage. Why, you ask?
Because I’m finally returning to NIGHT GARDEN, the novel I started way back in 2015.
I know–that doesn’t sound particularly terrifying. But between now and then, my novel-writing life has been a roller-coaster-y one. When I started NIGHT GARDEN four years ago, I’d just finished writing and editing PROHIBITED, my 1920s novel. NIGHT GARDEN was meant to be my work-in-progress while I shopped PROHIBITED for literary agent representation.
There was just one kink in my glossy little plan. At 700 pages, PROHIBITED was literally twice the size it should’ve been. If novels can be likened to sharks, PROHIBITED was a whale shark instead of a sleek, speedy mako. 🦈
(Somewhere out there, at least my brother Hunter gets this metaphor.) But if you’re not so into sharks, here’s a visual: PROHIBITED’s first draft.
But that wasn’t the end of the surprises associated with Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood.
I didn’t know much about Albert’s novel prior to picking it up. But it came highly recommended by my friend/book guru Courtney. And I knew the story centered around a mysterious book (à la The Shadow of the Wind, one of my all-time favorite novels for its book-within-a-book theme). Those twin enticements were good enough to compel me to grab The Hazel Wood.
And I’m 99% glad I took that step of faith. (I’ll circle back to that missing 1% shortly.)
The Hazel Wood follows Alice, granddaughter to Althea Proserpine, the reclusive author of a deeply dark collection of fairytales called Tales from the Hinterland. Alice and her mother Ella have spent years running from the bad luck ceaselessly snapping at their heels. But when Ella is snatched by figures claiming to be from the Hinterland, Alice’s luck goes from bad to bleak. Her search for her mother unleashes things that do far worse than go bump in the night.
So if there’s a spot on your wall looking for its perfect match painting, I may have just the one sitting in my shop. Think of me as the Yente of wall art.
Watercolor is my medium of choice, because as a surfer/swimmer/life-long-aquaphile, it just seemed right. As for my subject-matter, it skews toward snapshots of the wild world. I aim for detailed, dynamic portraits of creatures great and small–a way to bring a little of the fierce, exotic loveliness of nature indoors.
Living far from friends and family can mean that things get done at odd times. The most recent example? My best friend Amber and I just had our Christmas gift exchange. In February. Two months late.
But the wait proved well-worth it when I stripped off green and red wrapping to find a chic little box whose contents had me laughing aloud.
To kick off your morning, an encouraging coffee cup:
“You got this.”
And to cap off your evening, a reassuring wine glass:
“You gave it your best shot.”
While I’m sure writers aren’t the only professionals who experience these twin emotions across their workdays, I can’t help thinking this gift makes a particularly excellent support kit for authors. How many mornings have I woken up energized and motivated, full of confident, creative energy? Today’s the day, I’ll say. Today, I finally figure out how to…
One of my favorite things in the whole, wide world is surfing. My skills are nowhere near that of my dad (who’s literally been surfing for decades) or my brother Hunter. But very few things make my heart as thoroughly, joyfully content as getting out in the waves. It’s therapeutic for my soul, in a way not even writing can touch.
And the fact that surfing’s a family affair is the very sweet cherry atop my wave-catching sundae.
During this trip home to Texas, the weather on the Gulf Coast was consistently misty, adding a cool, eerie cast to my dad and my cold-water surf sessions.
The low visibility certainly didn’t keep us from saddling up and riding out to catch some waves with the last slivers of “daylight.”
Now that’s what I call a good family portrait: me, my dad, our boards, and even my dad’s indestructible-beach-and-hunting-lease-tacklin’-carry-it-all van. The only thing missing was Hunter, who’s busy kickin’ butt at college.
Unfortunately, the husband and I had to spend Valentine’s Day apart this year. Nevertheless, he still managed to spoil me from afar with chocolates and TWO bouquets. And knowing his Texas girl is a fanatic for her home state, he even managed to track down a Lone-Star Living bouquet:
True to disorganized form, I wasn’t as good at getting a timely gift into his hands. But for my husband, I offer this Sara Groves song (one of my favorites):
Baby can you help me get undone The party is over and their hearts were won There’s a zipper in the back But I can’t reach it on my own And I am dying to get out of this so
Baby will you help me get undone
I don’t even remember how I got this on I started out pretending Now I don’t recognize myself And I could use a little help
You have no pretenses All your walls are fences I can see right through You have no two faces You know where our place is and that’s why I need you Oh baby
Baby will you help me get undone I don’t even remember how I got this on I started out pretending Now I don’t recognize myself And I could use a little help
Cause I started out pretending Now I don’t recognize myself And I could use a little help Oh baby, oh baby, oh baby Will you help me get undone