Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Review of Catherynne M. Valente's The Girl who circumnavigated Fairyland in a ship of her own making

I do believe that is the longest title for a post I have ever written. However, I must say the lengthy whimsy of Valene's book title is fitting for the wonderful meandering of the story itself. (Also, any book with a fun word like "circumnavigated" will always draw my attention). The story follows the many (mis)adventures of September, the book's unwitting heroine, who seizes an unexpected opportunity to leave her mundane life behind to visit Fairyland. But when she arrives, September discovers the land has been ruined by the many rules of the tyrannical Marquess, who issues such unreasonable orders as every dragon must chain its wings as such beasts are not authorized for flight.

Here are the 3 top reasons you should read The Girl who circumnavigated Fairyland in a ship of her own making:

1. Quests for the absurd abound. September doesn't set out to oppose the Marquess, merely to take back a witch's spoon. But the consequences of that choice set her on a wild, wondrous journey that risks her life, heart, and shadow.

3. Alice in Wonderland would feel right at home in Valente's Fairyland, which is brimming over with the bizarre. There are herds of living Velocipedes, Marids (djinn) who meet their future children before their spouse, reverse werewolves (who are always wolves except on full moons), and golems made of lovely scented soap scraps.

4. The Marquess is one of the best villains I have encountered on the page in awhile. She is cruel, yes, but the heartbreaking history that made her so is equally cruel. She is not a stereotypical, flat character, for the choices she made out bitterness and hurt are uncomfortably human.

This novel nourished and enriched my imagination like a rick, dark gold maple syrup poured into all the folds of my brain. I can't wait to read the sequels!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Why do you blog?

Over the past week, I've been wondering why I bother. Blogging, that is. What do I want to accomplish with my blog? To be honest, I haven't thought about it that much; I simply started it because I heard that's what writers should do to start building an audience (for their eventual NYT best selling book, of course!). So I've scoured my brain for useful and fun creative writing exercises, interviewed creative friends, featured mini book reviews, bared my soul in digital ink lamentations and micro-epiphanies as I navigated the sea of submissions. But when I started this blog back in 2010, I was also just starting graduate school. Bad timing! My posts have often been few and far between (even post grad school now). I'm not surprised that I only have a few followers at present.

Which brings me back to the question: why blog?

I've decided to approach my blogging like standing at the edge of a beach where the surf curls in, with each post I write becoming a castaway message in a bottle that might reach someone and bring something good to their day, or it might just flounder on the sea of cyberspace and sink unread. But the metaphor changes my mindset; no half-hearted scrawls allowed, I intend each message to bear a bit of beauty.

So here is today's shining strand of syllables by Carmen Sopia Cutler, from BYU's 2011 Inscape.

A Wider Universe Than Yesterday

It was the first time I thought,
“There are, now, worlds coming into being”—
created in the time it takes me
to eat a peach.
What immeasurable options knitting the stars.
alleluia, alleluia
in voices too sweet for sound.
may I have a bit of earth?
because I have been practicing—
balancing books on my perfect princess head

P.S. As an added bonus, I'm sharing my favorite silly joke:

Q. Why were the Middle Ages so dark?

A. Because there were so many knights!


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Say it in Six: Plugging characters into the 6-word Memoir

Today I want to share a writing exercise I learned in graduate school that is designed to help students distill the essence of a novel or character in a brief sentence: the six word memoir! I think this exercise can also help writers to better understand their own stories. Writing a succinct pitch is already hard enough, so why cut the kernel sentence down to just six measly words? Because characters all have conflicting desires that result in different choices, consequences, and outcomes, and confining those truths to just 6 words can lay bare core traits.

For example, here is a pair of 6 word memoirs I made up for Harry Potter and Voldemort:

Friends—loyalty more powerful than magic.

Kill you first to live forever.

Perhaps this is just a fun little exercise, but maybe it can also teach you about what your character is willing to risk, or where the heart of your story lies. The core of several of my novels can be summed up something like this:

True magic is will over wand.

Even fool's courage sparks dragon fire.

Sun shines second star to sisters (accidental alliteration, I swear!).