Report from a Literature Symposium

What a day! I spent 9 am to 3 pm at a Children’s Literature Symposium held at my university! In attendance were Heather Bouwman, stupendous author of A Crack in the Sea, Allan Wolf, poet extraordinaire, Alan Gratz, author of The League of Seven, and Donna Washington, world-travelling storyteller. I spent the day absorbing some sweet, sweet knowledge from some amazing teachers. Here are some take-aways from each person:

Heather Bouwman: the heart of a novel is in the story, not the plot. The story is character growth, emotion, and connection to the reader. When you draft, draft the story, not the plot. The way we teach fantasy is not the way we read it–so draft with the reading experience in mind, not analysis and themes. Fantasy allows a temporary escape from which we return stronger and smarter.

Allan Wolf: the importance of interaction with a story, as regards to education (the conference was geared towards educators), and thinking about hard questions through fiction. There are so many ways to engage with fiction.

Alan Gratz: poetry isn’t about reading or writing poetry but rather about seeing the world through a poet’s eyes. See the world as if seeing it for the first time. Once you realize the ordinary is extraordinary, the whole world cracks open for you. Don’t let someone else write your story. And you have to boil a lot of sap to get a little maple syrup.

Donna Washington: story-telling is visual. It is about emotion, expression, voices, and audience participation. To be honest I’m having a hard time putting what I learned from her in words, because I haven’t processed it all yet–it was such a spectacular experience to hear her tell stories.

All in all, it was an amazing day. I have never experienced a story told as amazingly as Donna Washinton told them (she told us three), nor poems recited so enthusiastically as Allan Wolf. It was a privilege to meet H. M. Bouwman, whose book is indescribably beautiful, and I discovered I really need to read Alan Gratz’s books…

The whole day made me more and more excited for the rapidly-approaching Yallfest!

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Plotting?

I’m plotting up a novella for November and remembering how to actually construct a story. One of these days I’ll figure out how to use those story arc diagrams during the process, but I’m secretly afraid of them. So far I’ve had to resist throwing in a random princess which, for some reason, and along the way I’ve actually come to know my protagonist better. She’s pessimistic, missing an eye, and handy with a spear.

I’m using my free NaNoWriMo trial of Scrivener, which I have pretended not to need for years. I have won NaNo several times and felt no need to actually use the 50% off discount I get for the program, and now that I am in the throes of editing The Book of The Dead (my current novel WIP), I have been wishing desperately for it.

My plotting involves writing out plot points in a notebook, doodling characters, becoming frustrated with my own inaccurate portrayals of those characters, and then drafting an outline in a document. Somehow I now have a complete outline that I think will take me to a 15,000 word novella, but we’ll see come November.

Pictured Below: my characters and I agreeing to collaborate for the next month

contract

NaNoWriMo Absurdity

Post is late due to BUSY WEEKEND. Why short weeks due to university breaks some how so much more stressful than normal weeks? Over fall break I failed to do work, hung out with my brother who came to visit (we beat Arkham Horror!), and read.

Anyway, I’ve decided to do NaNoWriMo (aka National Novel Writing Month) this year. I’ve done it many times in the past, and I was musing nostalgically about the rush you get from doing something so literally absurd as writing a 50,000 word novel in one month, sad that I am much too busy to do so at the moment, when I thought…well, you can set your own word count goals. And thus I lured myself into something I will surely regret come mid-November: writing 500 words a day instead of the usual 1,667, and ending the month with a pretty solid novella.

I have a number of just-begun novellas that I’ve never taken the time to devote my attention to, and I’m determined that will change! It’s about time I learned to write something other than novels and flash fiction anyway (I’m a woman of extremes).

The story I’ll be working on literally came to me in a dream one day–it features a god, a disgraced warrior, and a demon army. Two years ago the protag, destined to defeat the demons before they ever reached this realm, absolutely beefed it, allowed the invasion to begin, and abandoned her comrades in disgrace. Now, the war is almost lost, and the god who chose her visits her after years of radio silence, urging her to take up her spear once again.

I’ll probably be posting snippets as we move into November, so stay tuned!

(p.s. my nano profile is evangelinegiaconia should you want to follow the project)

Review: The Ship of the Dead

So on October 3rd I was walking through the bookstore, minding my own business, checking out the new arrivals, when I see Magnus Chase number 3, The Ship of the Dead, staring at me. My whole body went into low-level shock. My hand started shaking. I walked numbly to the cashier with a copy cradled in my arms. I knew it came out in October, but I most certainly did NOT know it came out that very day, October 3rd.

It’s the last book in the Magnus Chase trilogy, which is interesting because it did not feel like a conclusion. For one thing, it’s much shorter than the first two bricks. For another, it lack the energy of the rest of the series. The first two books literally had me glued to my seat, non-stop excitement, and The Ship of the Dead just didn’t have that.

It’s a much more character-driven book than the others as well, but, oddly, it’s not Magnus‘ character. The stars of this book are the side characters: Mallory Keen, Thomas Jefferson Junior, Halfborn Gundeson, Samirah al-Abbas, and Alex Fierro. Magnus is more the vehicle through which we appreciate their development. Plot threads that I thought would play a critical role in the finale, such as Hearthstone’s final return to his brother’s grave or Samirah’s struggle to overcome her father’s influence, felt more like episodic moments.

That said, Alex and Magnus’ relationship had me almost in tears. Perfection. Riordan’s nearly-effortless inclusion of queer characters and relationships while still providing thoughtful and poignant analysis via Magnus is inspiring. For that matter, his handling of all the diversity in Magnus Chase provides a standard we should all aspire to. And he doesn’t beat around the bush about it. Where he could have shied away from highlighting the diversity in this series, he instead embraced it. He didn’t take the easy way out and include romantic moments only when Alex identifies as a girl. There is constant positive discussion of Islam and Samirah’s practice, casual inclusion of nonbinary characters, frequent description of specific ASL signs, lipreading, and interpretation, and pertinent discussion of discrimination throughout the book.

While the conclusion to Magnus Case may not have been as non-stop and downright exceptional as the first two, it was still a hell of a book, if nothing else than for the wonderfully characterized, effortlessly diverse cast, and Riordan’s unflinching engagement with those characters’ identities.