Monthly Archives: August 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Class time

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The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is  Top Ten Books That Would Be On Your Syllabus If You Taught X 101.

There are a lot of different ways you could go with this. In fact, I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone’s lists this week. I think I’m going to host a pretend Creative Writing course this week. Talent can’t be taught, of course, but there are certain books that can provide instruction, inspiration, and guidelines. So these are some books I would share with a writing class were I actually a successful writer myself.

For the first half of the class, some excellent technical and theory books:

Wonderbook_Case_r2.indd1. E. M. Forster- Aspects of the Novel

This slim book has some of the most inspiring writing advice I’ve ever come across.

2. The Elements of Style/The Elements of Grammar

You have to know the rules before you break them. You have to know the rules before you break them. Say it again, as many times as you need to get it through your head. You have to know the rules before you break them. 

3. Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter- What If?: Writing Exercises For Fiction Writers

This is the first prompt/exercise book I was ever exposed to, and it has a ton of great starting points for stories

4. Christopher Booker- The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories

A bit of a heavy academic tome, but once you learn that all stories come from the same place, it kind of takes the pressure off, in a way. Great for general book nerds, too!

5. Jeff Vandermeer- Wonderbook

There is so much going on on every page of this book that it personally gives me a bit of sensory overload. But it’s a great way to kickstart creativity.

For the second half of my class, I would turn to actual fiction. If you want to write good fiction, you should be able to tear it apart and see what makes it tick. Now “good fiction” and “sale-able fiction” can be different things for different people. And obviously each writer brings their own likes and dislikes to the table, and is looking for different things in a class. But shut up, it’s my hypothetical writing class, so I’m going to teach you the fiction I want to teach you.

6. Robert Penn Warren- Short Story Masterpieces

It’s overwhelmingly white and male and midcentury. Read it anyway. Useful for: learning how to craft a short story.

7. The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov

Useful for: drowning in beautiful language, learning to be playful with form.

8. George R. R. Martin- A Game of Thrones (just, and I cannot stress this enough, just book one. My hypothetical class has no time for discussion on bloated series that overstay their welcome.)

Useful for: learning how to juggle multiple narrative perspectives. Who knows what, when do they know it, what does the reader know, and do they really know what they know, or anything at all? Also useful for: creating character and subverting tropes.

9. Jane Austen: Sense and Sensibility

Useful for: writing comedy, character and relationships, turning a small family drama into a centerpiece of action.

10. Daphne du Maurier: Rebecca

Useful for: learning unreliable narrators, creating an atmosphere (in this case one of suspicion and dread), writing some fucking excellent prose.

Because my hypothetical writing class is also endless, and because I’m so very cool, we would also watch the entire runs of Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and Battlestar Galactica, because those three shows taught me new ways to look at stories and storytelling that I’d never even conceived of.

What do you think is essential study for aspiring writers?

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Top Ten Tuesday: Shut Up and Take My Money

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The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is Top Ten Auto-buy Authors.

The only thing that most of these writers have in common is that their books make me happy. Once an author makes my auto-buy list, they’re there until I stop trusting them; I don’t even need plot summaries to plop down the cash. Authors *have* been booted from the list in the past, but these have pretty stable for the past two or three years (Tessa Dare is the newest author that I’ve read and fallen in love with on this list).

1. David Mitchell

2. Tana French

3. N. K. Jemisin

4. Courtney Milan

5. Rainbow Rowell

6. Gillian Flynn

7. Tessa Dare

8. Mary Robinette Kowal

9. Elizabeth Hoyt

10. Karen Russell

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Review: Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

12875258Title: Tell the Wolves I’m Home

Author: Carol Rifka Brunt

Rating: 5 stars

Tell the Wolves I’m Home is, to date, the only book I ever bought on the strength of a single book review. (It’s this one, if you’re curious.)  I bought it, but then it got pushed further and further down my TBR. And then I got sick. And that, I think, almost made me put this book on the shelf indefinitely. Because after six weeks in the hospital and months of feeling weak and pushed to my limits, I did not want to read about anyone sick or dying.

Eventually I decided to add it to my TBR Pile Challenge (this is book number eight!) It’s a newer book, but it felt like it had been sitting on my shelf for years, and I felt guilty ignoring such a beautiful book, even if I wasn’t ready for it.

This. Book. Is. Incredible.

I have read some amazing books in 2015. Tell the Wolves I’m Home is probably going to top them all. You should all go read it immediately. It is so, so very good.

It’s 1986, and June Elbus is a weird kid who feels stuck in her brilliant, beautiful older sister’s shadow. She’s average and unremarkable, and the only person who makes her feel special is her uncle, Finn. When Finn dies of AIDS, June embarks on an unconventional friendship with his lover, Toby, and learns things about Finn, her mother, and her sister that change how she views them.

The language of this book is gorgeous. I wanted to wrap myself up in the words and just never leave. And the characters were some of the most fully human people I think I’ve ever read. Everything about June felt like me. Like she was literally me, transposed to a teenager in the 1980s. I haven’t had my heart hurt so much by a character in such a long time, and it was brilliant and beautiful as much as it was painful.

This is a book about death and grief. There’s no sentimental, easy endings. But it’s not a morbid book, or even a particularly depressing one. It’s about growing up, and seeing your parents as human beings, and learning how to communicate and how to love. I am so glad that I finally read it.

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Full Fathom Five Read Along: Week Four

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Well, we’ve come to the end of the road in our Full Fathom Five Read Along. I have to say, I really think this book has been my favorite of the series so far. I just really enjoyed the way everything resolved, the way the characters developed and interacted, and all the cool new bits of worldbuilding.

On to the questions!

1. So Jace was in fact responsible for the rogue Penitent, and for what was happening to the ‘idols’… And my guess last week regarding his reasons (that it was bad for business) wasn’t far off the mark… What did you make of his confrontation with Kai and his justifications?

Jace is out of his mind. It seems fairly obvious that the people who adhere most to the status quo in this world are the most dangerous, and the people who want to destroy everything in revolt are only runners-up in crazy. The whole time in his office with Kai I was like, run girl, run, but even then I didn’t expect him to shove her in a Penitent like that.

Don’t trust the quiet ones.

2. Mako’s involvement in the subsequent events was a bit of a surprise. Or was it? Did you expect the old man to be involved at all, much less the way he was?

Mako’s identity and involvement were a complete mystery to me until the moment they weren’t. I didn’t pay much attention to Mako, really, until there was one little moment in the text where I stopped and was like. “Wait. He isn’t–? Is he–? Oh, duh, OF COURSE HE IS.” It was really well done by Gladstone, I thought, a very natural feeling development that rewarded the reader instead of making them feel dumb.

3. Izza steals a goddess! What are your thoughts on the way her story ends (or begins, as the case may be)?

I really, really loved the way Izza’s story resolved. Really the way all the characters resolved: seeing finally how Cat and Teo fit into the puzzle, how Kai came to terms with things. At first I was dubious with having a teenage MC, but it worked really well with the way she grew up over the course of the book.

4. We leave the story with Kavekana “waiting for the world to come”… Do you think this particular ending is for the best, or would you have preferred to see the island remain apart, and peaceful?

It’s ambiguous and messy and absolutely the right ending. Idylls like Kavekana are all surface and paper-thin, and you can’t sustain that over the long run. It’s not going to be an easy road for their society, but it’s the only road forward. I feel like Gladstone has set up this world where in the very recent past everything was shaped by the gods, and now everything is controlled by commerce/The Deathless Kings/secularism, and in both cases humans get stuck in the middle, and he’s saying that they have to forge their own paths as much as possible.

Thanks to everyone who hosted/joined in on this read along. It was lots of fun! I’m not sure of the next one I’ll be able to participate in, or when I’ll actually be able to get to the next Craft Sequence book, Last First Snow (The TBR. It is so huge. It is crushing me.), but I thoroughly enjoyed this one 😀

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July Round Up

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Over halfway through the year already. Whhhhhhhhhat?

Reading

I finished 9 books in July. Most of them I wasn’t wild about, although there were a few good reads. One was an audiobook that I took on a long car trip, something I’m still trying to train myself to enjoy.

Reading Diversity

4 of the books I read were written by men, five by women. I think that’s the most even ratio I’ve achieved. One was in translation (The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu–definitely not my style but I’m glad I tried it out), two were nonfiction, and one was for my TBR challenge.

Writing

Working on short stories, racking up rejections, feeling kind of stuck. But I just started a new thing that I’m really excited about. It just feels like it has its own energy. I’m going to shoot for short story because that’s a bit easier to sell, but it might turn into a novella. I think it really wants to be a graphic novel…but I don’t know how to do that. So for now, short story/novella it is.

Movies

Ant Man! Guys, I love Paul Rudd. I’ve loved Paul Rudd since I was 11. I’ve aged; he hasn’t. But anyway, it was cute.

At home I watched Ex Machina (Creepy, well-shot, very good but annoyed me for reasons I shall not get into here) and Begin Again (a cute musical thing that was very low stakes but had Mark Ruffalo and was very sweet).

 

July had a lot of frustrations for me, honestly. Not really related to books/blogging, but just in general. I’m hoping that August will feel like more of a success.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Once Upon a Time…

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The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is Ten Fairytale Retellings I’ve Read/Want To Read (or you could do fairytales I want to be retold or fairytales I love).

There’s a lot to unpack in this topic. Because fairy tales and folk tales are so abundant in popular culture. They’re archetypal, easy to riff on; they show up in obvious places and in ones you don’t expect. So I could easily make this list just the best ten retellings of x fairy tale, or my ten favorite retellings of fairy tales through historical fiction, or my favorite short stories that play with fairy tales, or ten really fucked up fairy tales that need to be reworked right now. (Then you can get down to the nitty gritty of classification: should I include folktales? What about more generalized myth? What about stories from non-Western traditions? What about stories with grounding in religions?)

So what I  settled on in the end is a hodgepodge. These are some of my favorite was fairy tales have been told in popular culture. They aren’t all books. That’s right. We’re going multimedia, today.

180796831. Helen Oyeyemi- Boy, Snow, Bird

I loved this short, utterly transporting novel and the dark character at it’s center.

2. Genevive Valentine- The Girls at the Kingfisher Club

Valentine has an exquisite grasp of language, and while this book sometimes rests on archetypes, it is a fascinating resetting of the 12 Dancing Princesses.

3. Eliza Granville- Gretel and the Dark

A mélange of the more disturbing aspects of fairytales, this two-pronged historical novel doesn’t quite go far enough for me, but it is beautifully written.

4. The Decemberists- The Crane Wife

My favorite Decemberists album ever, The Crane Wife of course does not just contain the titular story, but those songs are the centerpiece and are also perfect. Witness:

5. Marissa Mayer- The Lunar Chronicles

I was dubious when I started reading these sci-fi reworkings of classic fairy tales (to date, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel). There are some sillier elements, but they are on the whole so much fun to read, and the characters are so well developed. There’s a ton of diversity without feeling like tokenism, and the old stories are approached in really interesting ways.

79452956. My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales edited by Kate Bernheimer

This is an anthology of a number of literary authors writing fairy tales inspired by a wide range of traditional stories from across the globe. The design inspires me as much as the stories, honestly.

7. Disney’s The Little Mermaid

Frozen is big, I know, but anyone who thinks it’s a unique phenomenon needs to travel to my house circa 1990, when I was five years old and The Little Mermaid was the greatest thing in the world. Every bookworm wants to be Belle, but in my secret heart I longed to be Ariel. Watching the movie when I’m older I’m able to see it’s problematic aspects (and one of my main takeaways now is, damn, teens are annoying), but it was the kickoff of the Disney animation Renaissance for a reason.

8. Disney’s Sleeping Beauty

My other favorite Disney animated fairy tale is Sleeping Beauty, mainly from a design and animation standpoint, because it is just such a gorgeous film. I haven’t watched Maleficent and I probably won’t, because I don’t want to ruin my experience of the greatest Disney villain of all time with a thinly veiled rape plot.

9. Ludmilla Petrushevskaya- There Once Was a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales

A collection of haunting, disturbing, altogether weird little stories.

10. “The Handless Maiden

This weird fairy tale is one of the more disturbing ones out there, and it’s also my all-time favorite. It’s a morality tale which should be boring; the central figure is entirely without agency as her father tries to sell her, cuts off her hands, and then completely abandons her. She’s so saintly that her pure tears inspire an angel to regrow her hands. At the outset it seems not-very-interesting beyond the initial violence of its premise, yet there’s something about it that haunts me, and calls for riffing and retelling in different forms.

tl; dr: I really, really love me some fairy tales. What are your favorites?

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I wrote a thing.

And somebody published that thing! This week I’m over at Strange Horizons with a story called “Probably Definitely.” Pop on over and check it out; I hope you like it. It’s one I’m pretty proud of.

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Full Fathom Five Read Along: Week Three

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(join the discussion here!)

I’m your host this week. It was an exciting section and I enjoyed coming up with the questions. I hope you all enjoy them, too!

1. Kai and Izza finally meet face-to-face. What do you think about their confrontation? Did it go as you expected, or did they surprise you?

Izza surprised me a bit, because I don’t think I expected her to be as distraught about Margot as she was. I’m still trying to figure out what Margot represents for her. I really liked how the meeting revealed important things about each character, and I loved the bit where Izza revealed their secret temple.

2. Poor Margot. Do you trust that Claude just did a stupid thing and didn’t believe Kai when he needed to, or do you think he has a bigger role in the conspiracy? And who is behind the mysterious murdering Penitent?

I do not trust Claude at all. If he’s ‘innocent’, then he’s much too bland of a character for Gladstone’s history. We still don’t know what really happened between him and Kai, and yes, Kai has her own demons, but I get some skeevy vibes from Claude nonetheless. I think he at least knows more than he is saying, if he is not being directed totally by the priests (who I think are behind the whole conspiracy, whatever it may turn out to be.)

3. Kai and Teo’s conversation about evolution and creation myths, science vs. belief, was really striking. Which side of the philosophical argument would you lean towards?

This section really resonated with me, because even though this is a fictional world, I feel very much like Kai does. The way she talked about creation myths were very close to my actual beliefs in this world. Which was kind of fun, to be honest. I study myth and religious books as literature, and I think they give important context to the human story that can go much deeper than science. And I just really, really loved the line “And here, we became human.”

It is fascinating to me that in a world where gods and magic are known entities they are treated as mundane things, so I think Kai’s approach to metaphor almost brings a little bit of holiness back into the equation.

4. So we know now that all of the idols and Izza’s gods are different facets of a single goddess. How do you think this development might affect the different characters, and Kavekanan society as a whole?

I loved this development. It seems like the people of Kavekana have either been willfully ignoring or actively trying to hide that their idols evolved into this goddess. It puts the idols much more firmly on the side of the gods rather than the Craftspeople, and it destroys the neutrality of the idol system. I think Kavekana is going to end up going back to gods worship–perhaps with this new figure taking the place of Makawe?–and I don’t have a clue what will happen to their economy.

5. Why do you think Teo threw her bracelet into the pool?

I have no clue, but maybe she’s some sort of secret agent working on behalf of Two Serpents who knew about the goddess in the pool the whole time?

6. Uh, oh, Jace. All signs are starting to point to Jace being the architect of this conspiracy. Signs can be wrong, of course. But where do you think we’ll go from his surprise appearance? If he did know about the goddess in the pool all along, why do you think he would have covered it up?

Going back to what I said about Claude: the quiet ones aren’t to be trusted. It seems pretty clear to me that Jace has been the one tracking Kai, and maybe he’s behind Mara’s disappearance and the set-up. Who knows? I think he’s a status quo kind of guy, and he’s probably been hiding the goddess for a long time.

Of course, knowing my track record with these stories, I am also, probably, wrong.

 

Bonus (silly) question: what possible reason could a skeleton Craftsman have for poolside tanning?

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