Marchetta Madness: Guest Post by Elizabeth Fama

Elizabeth Fama is the author of Overboard and the upcoming novel, Monstrous Beauty. Now I have to be honest and admit that I haven’t read either of those two (I’m planning to read them though). But Elizabeth and I have chatted several times about books and I do know that she has excellent taste. When I found out that she’s a Melina Marchetta fan, I told her I’d love to have her on the blog. Please welcome Elizabeth, as she talks about how brilliant our favorite author’s writing is.

Melina Marchetta, From the Perspective of a New Fan

I’m new to Marchetta’s work, but it only took ON THE JELLICOE ROAD to get me hooked and leave me begging Chachic to participate in Marchetta Madness. I’ve loaded up FINNIKIN OF THE ROCK on my Kindle (seriously, Amazon, only $3.49?) and as soon as I finish this post, I’ll be flipping that puppy on with delight. I’ve read dozens of reviews of FINNIKIN, and I’m giddy-excited about it, in the way you get when you know that the book you’re about to read will be magnificent, that you still have the whole journey before you. If you’re reading this you’re probably a book lover, and you understand what I’m talking about.

Since I’m not qualified to discuss Marchetta’s body of work, I’ll tell you instead how it feels for an author to make the discovery of a treasure like her portfolio. It’s a professional find on the order of a tomb full of beautiful artifacts for an archaeologist, except my pharaoh is still producing.

I am on a never-ending quest for brilliance. I admit it’s because I want my own writing to be brilliant. I’m not a casual reader–I can’t afford to be, because my daily reading time is limited. I rarely consume breezy, “popcorn” stories. While they’re fun (and fill an important literary niche), they don’t teach me what I crave. I seek out complicated, layered books. While I read, I’m also researching: studying the voice, plot, characterization, themes, and setting that the author created. In fact, I bought JELLICOE for research: my current manuscript has a first-sex scene in it, and I had been told that Jonah and Taylor’s experience is believably ambiguous in its success, and neither glamorized nor graphic. I’d also heard uncountable reviewers, bloggers, and librarians whom I admire say the book was one of their favorites of all time. That sort of praise can’t be ignored, and dude, they hadn’t even mentioned how smart it is.

A smart book demands, 1. to be read with the reader’s full presence and participation, and 2. to be read again. On your first pass, you sink into the voice, and the plot washes over you but not through you. You’re learning names and places and events, you see the connections but you can’t anticipate them. You don’t mind being confused, because you know you’re in good hands, that the threads will entwine and the result will be oh, so rewarding. I think of it as a gift from the author when I’m dropped into a vivid world, already in progress, rather than told how I got there. Catching up is like landing the TARDIS on an alien planet in another time and using only your wits to navigate the terrain and people. On the second pass through a smart book, you’re free to concentrate on the construction of the connections, on the brush strokes that trick your eyes into seeing reality on a flat canvas.

Marchetta deserves a week of Madness. Debut authors are all the rage right now: publishers and marketers are enamored of them; readers build Goodreads lists around them. And while many authors have stunning debuts (I understand LOOKING FOR ALIBRANDI is pretty great), there’s a disturbing trend toward “hype” that’s unproductive for the craft. Learning to write is a lifelong process, and you need breathing room to cultivate it, not pressure to produce Part Two in less than a year because your first book sold at auction and you’ve contracted for a series. Seasoned authors like Marchetta (and Megan Whalen Turner, and Tobin Anderson, and Philip Pullman, and…) have blessedly had that breathing room. Marchetta has uncovered her voice organically over the years, and she’s clearly telling the stories that wake her up at night, refusing to be ignored. Learning from other writers is one of my greatest joys as an author, and as I launch into the rest of her books, I know Marchetta has a lot to teach.

Thank you, Elizabeth! I love this guest post because it gives us an idea of what writers think when they encounter an amazing work of fiction. πŸ™‚ Also, I can’t wait for Elizabeth to read the rest of Marchetta’s novels.

23 thoughts on “Marchetta Madness: Guest Post by Elizabeth Fama

  1. Such a wonderful post, Elizabeth! I always like knowing what authors think of the books that I love. It’s interesting to me. And I like that you brought up the issue of hyped up debuts. There are some that definitely deserve the hype, but not all… It makes me wonder why great authors with already a couple of books out don’t get that much recognition.
    Anyway, so happy that you loved Jellicoe Road and hope you enjoy the rest of her novels just as much! πŸ™‚

      • My suggestion is to savor them slowly. And buy personal copies, so you can reread the heck out of them whenever you want, underline/highlight/star favorite passages, and make notes in the margins if you are the type of reader who does that. You can’t exactly do that to a library book (though that doesn’t stop some people).
        I know you’ll have a fantastic journey through all of these wonderful books.

      • I am jealous that you’ll get to read her other books for the first time! AND you’ll get to read Saving Francesca and The Piper’s Son together, no need to wait for the latter to be released.

    • Alexa, I agree with what you said about debuts – some deserve all the hype while others not so much. I was telling Elizabeth that I don’t review a lot of debut novels on my blog because I don’t get ARCs from publishers (only galleys through NetGalley). Also, I like talking about older titles.

  2. I just love this post. And you’re completely right there. I was so confused for the first 100 pages the first time I read it, but it’s what made reading it a second time around so rewarding. It was just epic seeing everything falling into place. And yes, i am a big fan too. I so love what you’re doing here Chachic. Keep it up mate! πŸ˜€

    • And I argue that it’s a good kind of confusion, Aly. You’re not bewildered as much as you’re along for the ride with someone else driving. I think the key is those tiny hints at connectedness, which reassure you that your driver is a good one! Within moments of the car-accident opening you read in Taylor’s story that Hannah is writing a novel that has a car accident and children involved. The pieces are related, you just don’t know how yet. But this is why I think smart books require an investment on the part of the reader. If you skim or daydream, you miss the little beginnings of the threads that lengthen and pull together at the end.

      • Elizabeth, I am loving your way with words! This: “You’re not bewildered as much as you’re along for the ride with someone else driving.” is an excellent way of describing Marchetta’s writing. It really is a good kind of confusion, one where you have to trust the author’s ability to steer you in the right direction. And MM does it so well.

  3. Great start to the week! I am also sometimes chagrined to see the massive hype that debuts tend to receive. I am always impressed by a great debut, but it’s the follow-up novels that will convince me of an author’s talent. I love the authors that you mentioned.

    Can’t wait to see what’s coming up tomorrow!

    • Catie, good point about follow-up novels! Like I said in a comment above, I didn’t even realize the hype surrounding debut novels until Elizabeth pointed it out. Probably because I don’t get ARCs from publishers and most of the book blogs that I love still review older titles.

      I’m working on the next post that will go up, I have a feeling you’ll like it. πŸ™‚

    • Catie and Chachic: the issue of hyped-debuts is a topic unto itself, I guess (and only tangential to celebrating Marchetta Madness!). There are indeed extraordinary debuts out there, and also some debuts that are still quite “green” but have a compelling hook. I just think that pushing either of those too hard (which is nebulously worded, granted), in an attempt to manufacture something like a blockbuster, does a disservice to the authors of both kinds of books. But abstracting from what the author may need for his/her voice to grow, I understand the marketing drive behind trying to cultivate big books and series, and I respect that, for the moment at least, publishers think this strategy is working for them. (I obviously want publishers to survive, financially!) I’m watching with interest to see how marketing evolves in the longer run, although we’re pretty long past HARRY POTTER and TWILIGHT and even HUNGER GAMES, and the search for blockbusters is still on. Like Alexa, I think it would be great if authors who have a solid body of work got just a little bit more of that marketing push.

  4. Learning to write is a lifelong process, and you need breathing room to cultivate it, not pressure to produce Part Two in less than a year because your first book sold at auction and you’ve contracted for a series.

    I love this part. πŸ™‚

  5. Thank you Elizabeth. It’s always so flattering to receive feedback from peers. I especially loved what you had to say about a smart book demanding to be read with the reader’s full presence and participation. I’m always amazed that some readers skip the italics in Jellicoe. And every time I sign a new copy, I beg the buyer not to read it if they’re tired.
    M Marchetta

    • I love all this talk about smart books demanding to be read with the reader’s full participation. Makes me feel like I have an active role as a reader. πŸ™‚ And aside from Jellicoe, it also reminds me of Megan Whalen Turner’s books (both Elizabeth and Melina will forgive me for going on about the Queen’s Thief books because i know they’re fans too).

  6. I always love seeing some author love from other authors.:) Everything Elizabeth has written here is spot on – I especially love that she described Jellicoe Road as a smart book that should be read again (and again).:)

    p.s. I’m very intrigued with Monstrous Beauty – I haven’t had the chance to read a lot of mermaid books.:)

    • Thanks, Celina. Authors are readers, so of course we fan-girl about the greats, too! And then we try to learn from them.

      I may be the only person who doesn’t think of Monstrous Beauty as a “mermaid book.” It has alternating historical chapters (with a strong nod to Louis Sachar’s Holes, speaking of learning from other authors), and it’s not primarily about mermaids. It’s really more of a ghost story/ thriller, where mermaids are an important link in the historical chain, and are the key to the present-day character’s unraveling of the curse.

      • I hope you get to read the rest of Melina Marchetta’s books and fan-girl about them too.:)

        Thanks for clarifying on Monstrous Beauty – your description actually sounds even better. Can’t wait for it to come out!

  7. Pingback: Marchetta Madness: Random Facts | Chachic's Book Nook

  8. Pingback: New Releases and Older Titles | Chachic's Book Nook

Comments are like chocolate. :) Maraming salamat / thank you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.