Book Review: “Dividing Eden” by Joelle Charbonneau

I noticed recently that I haven’t been reading a ton of Young Adult books as of late, I seem to be on more of a Middle Grade kick, but the book trailer for this novel really caught my eye.

I went online and immediately got in line to borrow this book from my library. I did it quickly enough that I was only 4th in line, not like Into the Water which I am currently still at waiting for at 46th.

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Note the soft fuzzy blanket and tissues. I had a bad cold when this was taken.

When it came, I cracked it open only to remember within the first chapter why it was that I took a break from YA books.

The premise of this book appeared unique. The tagline at the top of the book reads:

Two siblings. One crown. A battle that neither can win.

Dun dun duuuuuuuuuuunnnnnn…

I thought it would be a departure from the usual STRONG INDEPENDENT GIRL SHOVES OFF OPPRESSIVE MALES TO DESTROY ALL THE BAD GUYS that seems to be the thing in YA right now. Sibling rivalry over a throne? I was excited. Until about two pages in, when I discovered that Carys, one of the siblings, was a STRONG INDEPENDENT GIRL BEING HELD CAPTIVE BY AN OPPRESSIVE MALE SOCIETY. Locked in dresses. Hiding her ability to wield a knife. I sighed heavily and thought to myself, I wonder if she’ll destroy all the bad guys? A few pages later I met her twin brother, Andreus, who was the SUPER HANDSOME HAS A WAY WITH ALL THE WOMEN trope. All that was left was for me to meet whoever it was that was going to form the necessary love triangle, and I was set to go for another typical YA dystopian fantasy. *gives two thumbs up*

The first few chapters dumped a lot of confusing and random information. I think the author was trying to keep you up to speed on the relevant past of the characters, but she dropped these factoid bombs so suddenly that I felt like I was tripping over a new one whenever I’d begun to get involved in the story. The political intrigue I hoped for was minimal to lame. The world was a mishmash of a lot of elements I’ve seen done better in other books. The majority of the characters were forgettable or underdeveloped.

Ironically, the only character I found myself liking at all was the STRONG INDEPENDENT GIRL, because the author gave her a decent and believable flaw to struggle with. The development of this part of the plot did improve my enjoyment of the story, so despite my blah to negative feelings about this book, the author did manage to make me care enough about Carys that I may still read the next book in the series when it comes out.

I suppose that was her ultimate goal anyway, because in all honesty, this book read like a 300 page introduction to a series. The last couple chapters were, to me, the most interesting, but everything was left hanging with me hardly knowing or understanding most of the characters. Still, if she can hook you on just one thing, that’s all she needs to get you into the next book, right?

The next installment appears to be a novella with a release date of October 10, 2017. Only time will tell if my interest will hold until then.

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Before and After

This summer, I’m trying to buckle down and get through a complete rewrite of my fantasy novel, Immortal Bond. It’s been slow going, not just because of our upcoming bundle of joy, but because of the growth I’ve experienced as a writer since last summer.

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I started my rewrite by analyzing my characters in each scene, noticing that I didn’t know some of them as well as I ought. This has made for countless hours of me just pondering them, their individual likes, dislikes, wants, fears, and any desires driving the current scene. I was forced to reconsider things I’d made them do before. The outcome of this exercise was twofold. First, I realized some of their previous actions and behaviors were too dramatic or extreme to be believable which forced me to cut countless lines of dialogue and whole chapters I used to think essential to the story. Second, characters that weren’t my favorite are beginning to feel more real and likable to me.

But all the cutting necessary to evoke this change hasn’t dropped my word count. My next task was to expand my scenes by adding more detailed descriptions of people’s actions and trying to utilize the environment to evoke character emotions instead of expositioning everything to death.

After meticulously implementing these changes in one particular key scene, I went back and compared my before and afters. The difference is dynamic. So much so that it’s embarrassing to look back at the writer I used to be. I keep thinking of all the manuscripts I handed out to people, hoping for feedback that never came, and wondering if I should just call them up and offer to pay them to burn it.

 

Yet, there are really no downsides to realizing this. Even those six or so query letters I fruitlessly sent out were not a waste.

For one, I needed to start somewhere. My inexperience with querying and the life of a writer couldn’t forever keep to my home. Each step forward was a step of learning, even if it required me to trip and fall.

Two, I knew in my heart back then that my novel wasn’t really good enough to be anything to anyone but me. I read too much not to see the difference between solid writing and someone who, though trying hard, is not exactly Random House material. (The difference I am now seeing makes me think I was barely brand-new-small-time-desperate-for-anything indie press.) That was one of the reasons I was such so nervous about handing out manuscripts to friends and family. I knew it wasn’t great, but I also knew I needed all the help I could get. I needed someone to help expose me to my blind spots. Most of those helpers ended up being my professors and classmates. I guess everyone else was too embarrassed to give it to me straight.

I don’t think I’m going to reach my goal of finishing the rewrite before school restarts. (I’ve spent too much of my summer staring vacantly into the void with narrowed eyes, wondering why or if a character would do or not do the thing.) What’s nice is that I no longer care. It doesn’t matter to me anymore how long this process takes, so long as the end product is something I’m truly proud of. Considering my growing love for my characters, and how impressed I am with the difference between my first drafts and my latest, I think I’m a lot closer to that end goal today than I was when I started this journey four years ago.

That, I think, is something to be proud of. 🙂

Best Laid Schemes…

I’ve been meticulously methodical about sending my novels out for representation to the point where, last month, I called myself out for being utterly ridiculous. And, as J.R.R. Tolkien said,

“It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.”

IMG_5062So, I decided to take March off from writing new things and focus on querying for Us. I knew it would be hard and that I’d be scared and maybe even polish off one or two containers of antacids before April rolled around, but this thing won’t happen on its own.

I started out well. Then one day I unwittingly began to mull over some old cut material from a first draft of my fantasy trilogy. They were scenes I liked and plot points I enjoyed, so I hoped that one day I could resurrect them in something else. I chewed on bites and pieces of them over the next two days until something lit a fuse and my brain exploded.

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It was madness. It was fever. In the space of a week I had over 90,000 words in a document, over 50,000 of that are brand new. And that word count doesn’t even take into consideration the 10k+ that I scribbled into my paper journals. One day I wrote for almost 10 hours straight. When I rose from my desk, I wandered the rooms hardly present, my head was clouded with voices and scenes from another world. I lost tons of sleep, had difficulty entering into conversations that did not involve me talking through the rough patches of my story outline, and ignored my husband when he called me to meals.

Thankfully, it’s dying down now, as I’ve rough drafted all the scenes in my head and thought through the outline enough to know how the story is shaping itself. I’ve got three new characters I adore, one of which is probably my most morally complicated character to date.

So my departure date for the long trip that is the publishing process is pushed back again because I love what I do too much. I sometimes have this morbid sensation that I’m going to die with over 20 completed novels sitting in files on my laptop.

…that being said, I think I’ll work on query letters after I finish writing this blogpost. 😉

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text © Rachel Svendsen 2016