First of all, thank you to everyone who left a comment with an embarrassing boy-related story as part of The Boy Project giveaway – they all made me cringe vicariously. And the winner is . . . Janelle! Congratulations! I hope you enjoy Kami’s book as much as I did!
And now for today’s Read-n-Feed
, I’m talking about another book written by an author who impressed me at YALLFest
Category: Young Adult
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (2012)
It was like a nightmare, but there was no waking up. When the night began, Nora had two best friends and an embarrassingly storybook one true love. When it ended, she had nothing but blood on her hands and an echoing scream that stopped only when the tranquilizers pierced her veins and left her in the merciful dark.
But the next morning, it was all still true: Chris was dead. His girlfriend Adriane, Nora's best friend, was catatonic. And Max, Nora's sweet, smart, soft-spoken Prince Charming, was gone. He was also—according to the police, according to her parents, according to everyone—a murderer.
Desperate to prove his innocence, Nora follows the trail of blood, no matter where it leads. It ultimately brings her to the ancient streets of Prague, where she is drawn into a dark web of secret societies and shadowy conspirators, all driven by a mad desire to possess something that might not even exist. For buried in a centuries-old manuscript is the secret to ultimate knowledge and communion with the divine; it is said that he who controls the Lumen Dei controls the world. Unbeknownst to her, Nora now holds the crucial key to unlocking its secrets. Her night of blood is just one piece in a puzzle that spans continents and centuries. Solving it may be the only way she can save her own life.
I saw Robin Wasserman speak on both the YA Coffee Shop Collective and History & Mystery panels. She was so quick-witted and funny that I couldn’t wait to read The Book of Blood and Shadow
. It would be easy to say that what I learned as a writer was how to seamlessly mesh history and imagination because Robin is a master at that. It’s especially inspiring when you read on her website
about the actual historical figures – the way Robin tied events from their lives into her story took considerable skill. But as impressive as it is, it’s not a tool I’m likely to add to my toolbox. I’m painfully aware of my shortcomings, and I’m just not patient and diligent enough for the massive amount of research needed to successfully write something so influenced by history.
For me, the thing from her book that really struck me as a writer were two paragraphs:
“That was the strange thing about translation, speaking someone else’s words in a voice that somehow was and wasn’t your own. You could fool yourself into believing you understood the meaning behind the words, but—as my father had explained long before I was old enough to get it—words and meaning were inseparable. Language shapes thought; I speak, therefore I think, therefore I am. In this case, Elizabeth’s letters, written in a language that died centuries before she was born, were already at some remove from her life. Transforming them, word by dictionary-approved word, into modern English meant there would inevitably be a little of me in Elizabeth. It didn’t mean there was any of her in me.” (page 25)
“Latin had always made sense when nothing else did. That was the point of it, for me. Language as mathematical equation, slotting one word in for another, shifting positions, adding, subtracting, substituting, applying one rigorous rule after another, until eventually, from the jumble of letters, a single, true meaning emerged. One meaning, hidden beneath all the mistakes and wrong turns. One puzzle, one solution. Latin was a question that supplied its own answer.” (page 366)
The protagonist Nora is extremely skilled at translating Latin, which not only drives the plot, but also helps define her character. Although I took two years of Latin in high school and a year in college*, it wasn’t Nora’s feelings about translating that grabbed me, but that her thoughts about translating perfectly capture how I feel about writing.
Writing is not just telling your story - it’s finding the right words to tell your story the right way. It’s speaking for your characters in a voice that both is and is not your own. Creating a story is beautiful and freeing, but it’s also messy. The rules of language and writing help control the chaos. Moving and substituting the words like logical pieces in a mathematical equation can turn any ol' story into something special.
I returned to these two paragraphs multiple times, thinking about how they applied to me, and I just hope someday I write passages that speak so directly to a reader that it stops her in her tracks and makes her think.
*Why did I do something so impractical like "waste" my time learning a dead language? Back then, I thought I was going to be a doctor, not because I wanted to be one, but because I thought that’s what students who excelled in school were supposed to do. How could I have ever guessed that learning those Latin words, which are the root of much of our language, would contribute to my journey to becoming a writer by fleshing out my vocabulary and my love of words?
If you’ve read The Book of Blood and Shadow, what did you think? What language did you study in school and did you enjoy translating? Do these passages about translating speak to your experience as a writer?