Author Patrice Sarath

Welcome! I am the author of The Crow God’s Girl, the third book in the Books of the Gordath cycle published by Ace Fantasy. My novel The Unexpected Miss Bennet is published by Robert Hale Ltd and Penguin Berkley. You can find excerpts of my novels and a few of my short stories via the Tales link above, and learn more about me in my blog. Thanks for stopping by.

18 July 2013 ~ 1 Comment

What readers want

A book is like a faerie door -- enter at your own peril.

A book is like a faerie door — enter at your own peril.

Announcing a new blog series, and I’m looking for your input. What Readers Want asks readers of all genres what they are looking for in a good book (or not so good book, we don’t judge). This isn’t market research per se; no one is going to run out and write a book based on elements people post here. But it’s a fair way to get at the mystery of what makes a good book.

So readers: Are there things you miss in books? Things you love? Things you are so over, you wish the genre would move on already?

Tell us all about the characters, plots, and settings that make your heart sing or the opposite — the ones that disappointed. I want to hear from you!

What Readers Want:

What do you like in a good book?
What ruins a book for you?
I want a protagonist who…
I want an antagonist who…
I long for settings and plot that…
I like series that…
I will read anything that has…

Answer in the comments or ping me with an e-mail on the contact form.

 

03 July 2013 ~ 4 Comments

YA vs NA

What’s the difference between YA and NA (New Adult)?

Depends on who you talk to. For some agents and editors, NA specifically means sexytimes, and NA is therefore shelved with women’s fiction. For other agents and editors, NA may have adult themes and older protagonists, but it doesn’t have to have adult sexual content.

With so many adult readers reading YA, it was inevitable that novels aimed at the 18-25 year old bracket would make it onto the shelves. I myself believe that it directly comes out of the fanfic and slash fandom communities. I think NA can be a fantastic addition to books for adult readers. Some YA is middle grade and younger, and while it’s great stuff, it doesn’t have the sophistication (perhaps) that can be enjoyed by older readers. Also, many 16 year olds may not want to be seen reading stuff for younger kids.

Ace fantasy book Red Gold BridgeBut does that mean that YA for older (say 16-18 year olds) is going to give way? Will there be a market for books for older teens that explores adult themes but doesn’t necessarily include adult content? Are we narrowbanding the genre and constricting it so much that we lose some of the upper-age group for this genre?

In my own books, the Gordath Wood series, they are definitely not YA, though the character of Kate Mossland is just barely 16 in the first book, and is only 17 by the third — and by then she has not only grown up, she has changed the very course of the history of her adopted country, and is embarking on a relationship with an older man. Although there is frank talk of sexuality, especially birth control, there is very little sexual content.

crow-gods-girl-front-smcrowYA or NA? I’m not sure.

What do you think of the new NA genre?

28 July 2014 ~ 2 Comments

ArmadilloCon wrap-up

I look forward to ArmadilloCon every year and I love taking part in my hometown convention. This year’s event was a great, intimate con, and I had the chance to hang out at the bar and visit with friends new and old a lot more than I usually do.

My panels were great. The Mars panel was amazing and wonderful. More science fiction conventions should put actual scientists on the panels. It was so much fun to be on a panel with Sigrid Close (two panels!), who is smart and funny and informative. If you attended the Mars panel on Friday and didn’t come away with at least fifteen story ideas, well, it wasn’t for lack of trying on our part.

The D&D panel, moderated by Paul Benjamin, brought back a flood of memories. I played in high school and college, and then when I spent a year in Iceland, a Canadian friend invented his own take on the game, called Vikings & Valkyries. We played at another Canadian ex-pat’s house, and it was a fun experience. I tried to remember the Icelandic incantation that I came up with, but could only remember the first line. This means there’s a trip to the storage unit to dig out the old books of poetry because I know I wrote it down. I also think that there are a set of painted lead figurines in my mom’s attic from my old D&D days.

The Gothic Novel panel was a hit, especially with the help of Jess Nevins, an expert on Victorian fantastical literature, and the rest of the panelists, Shanna Swendson, J Kathleen Cheney, and Barbara Wright. Turns out there are two strains of Gothic Novels — “a girl and a house” and the male version, in which a young man transgresses against society, and comes to a bad end.

My reading was moderately well attended, and everyone laughed in the right spots. I read from my new story “Werewolf Therapy” and from Chapter 10 of Bandit Girls, in which Jalana breaks into the headmistress’s office to find out why she seems to know some interesting things about her and her little sister.

I heard some really find readings from Mark Finn, Tex Thompson, and Adrian Simmons, among others, and I dropped in on some fantastic panels, and I bought plenty of books that I had been looking forward to buying, and all in all it was a success.

One thing I’m still chuckling about: my hotel roommate, J. Kathleen Cheney, is a stealth roommate. I got up early, and I tiptoed around the room to get ready to go downstairs, and I tried to be as silent as the grave, and I think I’ve successfully managed to shower and dress and get out of the room without waking her, only to get downstairs and see her sitting there comfortably in the hotel lobby. Turns out she had been up and out of the room since 3:30.

I thought she was an awfully quiet sleeper.

 

18 July 2014 ~ 9 Comments

Jane Eyre, the first Mary Sue

Jane Eyre Mary Sue
Thornfield Hall, Mr. Rochester's place.

Thornfield Hall, Mr. Rochester’s place.

A discussion on Facebook with Sarah Zettel about Victorian literature led to a discussion of Jane Eyre, and I was reminded once again how the iconic character is the very first Mary Sue. This much-maligned cliche, usually found in fanfiction, is the name for the process by which the author puts herself in a story as both the love interest and the hero’s redeemer/healer. We usually mock the Mary Sue character and deride the author for it, because it’s evidence of wish fulfillment, and wish fulfillment is considered weakness. But Jane Eyre shows how what has become cliche was once a powerful, emotional, classical powerhouse.

What is a Mary Sue? In its simplest sense, a Mary Sue character is the best and purest character, who captivates and redeems the true hero of the story, oftentimes by healing him, to become the hero’s sidekick/love interest. Note: There are a lot of definitions of the Mary Sue, so rather than debate various sub-clauses and addenda, here we’re going to go with this simple definition.

So Bella Swan is a Mary Sue. That red-haired elf in The Hobbit II is a Mary Sue (she even heals Fili, or was it  Kili?). Note that this is different from wish-fulfillment and strong characters in general who are very good at what they do. Buffy is not a Mary Sue. Sookie is not a Mary Sue. Despite the strong romances in these stories, these women are their own heroes — they do not exist for the purposes of the hero’s story.

Now let’s take a look at Jane Eyre, the character. As an orphan child, Jane is so perfectly persecuted by her cruel Aunt Reid and her dreadful cousins that it illustrates her strong character and passionate nature. When she is thrown into the red room as punishment, she survives the trial and comes through stronger. Even when Jane acknowledges her own wickedness, she’s the best at being wicked, just as she’s the best at being good.

Every time Jane is kicked while she is down, she just uses it to show how much better she is, in spite of, or because of, the evil, cruel, nasty, hypocritical people around her.

At Lowood School she doesn’t just survive, she thrives, becoming a teacher. She even gets a job the first time she applies for one. (I’m only partly joking, but you get the idea.)

When she meets Mr Rochester, he calls her an imp, an elf, and she heals him at their first meeting (she supports his weight so he can catch his horse after he falls off.) She captivates him with her very plainness, and guys, you all know that is the nature of a Mary Sue. That is the Adorable Flaw(TM) — we see it as the clumsy girl, the nerdy girl, the glasses-wearing girl, I can go on.

The persecution continues. Jane is an artist, a quite good artist, though untaught, and Rochester takes pains to provide critiques of her work although he reluctantly admires them. (Note: the descriptions of those drawings are absolutely gorgeous, and I often tried to recreate them. I am, though untutored, no artist, no Jane.) She revels in her plainness when she creates side-by-side portraits of herself and Blanche Ingram, her rival.

Jane is the valedictorian of noble suffering.

The hits keep coming, of course, and Saint John Rivers enters the picture. He is Jane’s self-righteous equivalent. He’s the man she should have married, and she will do it: Her immolation is not complete, and by golly, if it takes marriage to Saint John Rivers to complete it, Jane is going to do it.

Thankfully she doesn’t, because Rochester needs her tears to heal his blindness. Okay, that part comes from Rapunzel, but they do marry, and she does heal him, and redeem him.

And that is why Jane Eyre is the best Mary Sue ever and no other Mary Sues can compare. She is Jane. She does it better than anyone.

And here is the one reason — the most compelling reason — that Jane Eyre is NOT a Mary Sue.

This is Jane’s own story. Mr. Rochester just happens to be living in it. If there were no Mr. Rochester, there would still be Jane — outwardly proud, unyielding, and defiant, and inwardly emotionally tumultuous.

This, friends, is how you write a goddamn Mary Sue.

 

 

 

06 July 2014 ~ 2 Comments

The special magic of the orphan girl

Patrice’s note: This is a repeat of one of my favorite posts from past years. In this discussion of the orphan as redeemer, I talk about the particular role of girl orphans in Victorian literature.

  • Ann of Green Gables
  • Emily of New Moon
  • Sarah Crewe
  • Mary Lennox

What do all of these famous orphans have in common? They all bring redemption to the families that bring them into their homes. The trope of orphan as redeemer seems to have been a late Victorian sentiment, and it seems to be specifically attributed to girls. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, in large part because the role of girls in YA and children’s literature has definitely changed. In modern-day YA, the protagonist is often the hero and the love interest, but bringing redemption to a family is no longer one of her roles.

Take a look at the most famous orphan in the world — Anne of Green Gables. Adopted by mistake by Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, she is almost returned to the orphanage but Marilla has a change of heart, and Anne stays. She softens Marilla’s heart and brings shy Matthew out of his shell. She makes a bosom friend of the pragmatic Diana, and over the course of several books she enlivens the small town of Avonlea as it embraces her for her romantic and generous nature and her good sense. Even crusty Mrs. Lynde, who warns Marilla that an orphan will poison the well or set fire to the house, warms so thoroughly to Anne that they become good friends, and Mrs. Lynde becomes one of her staunchest supporters.

Anne is not alone; L.M. Montgomery’s Emily of New Moon has a similar arc. Frances Hodgson Burnett’s famous novels, A Little Princess and The Secret Garden, feature Sarah Crewe and Mary Lennox, who save everyone around them. Mary even helps a crippled boy walk. The Secret Garden is interesting in that the character of Dickon is actually quite a redeemer himself. He is almost a magical creature and he helps bring about Mary’s transformation from a spoiled brat to an open, happy child. What? A boy in a helper role? Astounding.

Contrast that with the orphan boy; Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, Oliver Twist, and more recently Harry Potter have adventures but don’t have the same softening effect on the characters around them. Harry Potter saves the world, but he doesn’t redeem it. In Oliver Twist, Fagin remains Fagin, the Artful Dodger remains the Dodger, Bill Sykes will never not kill Nancy, and Nancy herself is sweet and good without Oliver Twist to do anything to bring it out. Even when Oliver Twist finds his family, they are ready made to accept him.

As for Huck, he lights out for the territory, the eternal boy. (Hmmm. I wonder what ever happened to Huck Finn?)

Part of what made me think about the orphan girl is a conversation on Facebook with author Beth Bernobich about Fanny Price of Mansfield Park. Fanny isn’t an orphan, though she has been sent to live with relatives. As was commonly done in Jane Austen’s era, in the event a family had many children and too few resources, a child might be sent to live with wealthier relatives, and even adopted by them, as was the case with Austen’s own brother.

Does Fanny redeem her wealthy relatives? Hardly. She follows that other orphan trope, that of Cinderella (or Cinderjack, in the case of boy orphans). I wonder what would have happened to a Fanny Price in the hands of L.M. Montgomery or Frances Hodgson Burnett? For one thing, she would have been less of a drip and more assertive and positive, surely. But Austen was doing something different with Mansfield Park. I believe that novel is not really about Fanny at all, and more about a sharp-eyed novelist’s look at the hypocrisies of her society.

While this is just a brief overview about the redeemer character, I think it’s very interesting that this particular character doesn’t tend to show up as much in modern YA. It’s always fun to play around with and invert stereotypes; will modern readers accept a boy orphan as redeemer?

Help me out here; can anyone think of other characters in the “orphan girl (or boy) as redeemer” vein?