Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Recent reading . . . and puppy update

So, first! Glad to say that I haven’t tube-fed the puppy for twenty-four hours and in that time she gained 3/4 oz all by her own efforts! Whew! I wouldn’t want to say that I’m now confident she’ll make it, because that would be quite the overstatement. But I will say, if nothing else goes wrong, she should make it. Technically she is now at term, because born one day early is considered full term. She does look better. And she is almost as big as Adora’s puppies were when they were born. I won’t provide a list of the things that could still go wrong, though, because a) it is a long list and would make for tedious typing and b) not very cheerful to dwell on anyway, right?

Now! Actually I have been doing a little writing, in fits and starts, when Kenya and the puppy are settled. Still straightening out the beginning of the Ottoman-ish adult fantasy. Thought I’d be done with that part by now, but hey, distraction and sleeplessness kind of interfere with writing. Not nearly as much as being distraught because of a dying puppy, though, so don’t think I’m complaining!

I’ve also been reading, naturally. Somebody was recently telling me large chunks of her life story — you know what I mean — and of course depending on the person that can be a horrifically dull kind of conversation. Not this time! It’s a story filled with major ups and serious whoa-that’s-awful downs and — most important — meaning, which is so often what life stories lack, right? I made a note to lend her one of my favorite books from last year, THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE, by Jandy Nelson. I went so far as to get it off the shelf and bring it upstairs so I won’t forget. Then, of course, I read it again myself. It’s still amazing. But it also made me think about writing style and sort of connected back to the idea of purple prose. Because strained metaphors and stupid similes are sometimes considered to be another hallmark of purple prose, right?

I mean, SHATTER ME, by Tahereh Mafi, had quite a bit of buzz built up, and then I read a review of it by The Book Smugglers (just google it, okay? Remember, major bandwith issues when I post from home) and just decided right there not to read it. And one of things that most bothered Thea and Ana about SHATTER ME was the use of similes and metaphors that didn’t make sense. Like “I catch the rose petals as they fall from my cheeks, as they float around the frame of my body, as they cover me in something that feels like the absence of courage.” and “Hundreds of thousands of seconds pass and I can’t stop dying.”

And that was interesting, that those phrases struck The Book Smugglers as wrong and awkward and ridiculous rather than as, say, poetic. Because it was Ana’s extremely positive review of THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE that made me get that book even though I virtually never read contemporary YA, and there are plenty of metaphors and similes in that book, and they are wonderful. So then yesterday when I was re-reading THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE, I found myself really noticing the incredibly apt similes and metaphors that add so much to this book. Like:

My voice sounds creaky, unused, like bats might fly out of my mouth.

Grief is a house where the chairs have forgotten how to hold us, the mirrors how to reflect us, the walls how to contain us. Grief is a house that disappears every time someone knocks on the door or rings the bell.

When I’m with him, there’s someone with me in my house of grief, someone who knows its architecture as I do.

Dusk splatters pink and orange across the sky, beginning its languorous summer stroll. I hear the river through the trees, sounding like possibility.

I can’t shove the dark out of my way.

I look into his sorrowless eyes and a door in my heart blows open. And when we kiss, I see that on the other side of that door is sky.

Nothing has been like this, nothing has made me feel like I do right now walking up the hill to Joe’s, like I have a window in my chest where sunlight is pouring in.

When Joe plays his horn I fall out of my chair and onto my knees. When he plays all the flowers swap colors and years and decades and centuries of rain pour back into the sky.

Our tongues have fallen madly in love and gotten married and moved to Paris.

Now, some of those are from actual poetry, because the protagonist scatters poetry all through the book. Which is not just an affectation, btw, because those scattered bits of poetry wind up being really important to the plot. But the thing is, every one of those similes and metaphors exactly fits the story and the moment. They are an integral part of the voice of the protagonist. Which is a fabulous voice, because this is a virtually flawless book.

So what makes the similes and metaphors work for THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE and not (remembering that I haven’t read it and am not personally judging its use of language) SHATTER ME?

And I think that connects with the purple prose thing: if you do it well, it sounds like poetry; if you do it wrong, it sounds ridiculous.

And I think what makes it work is aptness. I think you need to have readers notice your simile not because of the poetry in it — or not just because of the poetry in it — but because it is perfectly apt. You want readers to say: “I would never in a million years have put it like that but THAT IS SO PERFECT, that is exactly what it’s really like.”

And that is exactly my response as a reader to THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE.

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