Sweet (on) Polly Oliver

So I just read the book Bloody Jack for no other reason than that it was on my to-read list and I wanted something short and sweet. It ticked of a lot of boxes of what I like to read about, primarily pirates and girls disguising themselves as boys to become pirates/sailors. It was a good book, written in a dialect but done well so that it drew you in instead of disengaging you.

However, it did bring to mind exactly what disappoints me about these narratives so often (these narratives being: girl disguises self as boy to accomplish goals). It’s that every. single. time. her disguise is blown when she falls in love with a boy/a boy falls in love with her and she “has” to reveal herself to prevent serious awkwardness on his part.

Number one, it’s heteronormative and usually comes with the implicit assumption that if the girl doesn’t reveal her “true” gender, and instead lets her love interest believe he’s interested in a guy, she’s the guilty party. If you’re wondering about the name for this post, it’s actually the name of this trope. Find out more here.

Number two, it places potential embarrassment on the part of the boy above an often life-threatening situation for the girl. Who’s the protagonist here, again?

Number three, it messes with her objectives–suddenly keeping her secret is no longer her prime directive, it’s shacking up with the guy. Her goals, which were so important that she disguised herself for (potentially) years, fall by the wayside in a way that breaks my suspension of disbelieve every time.

I’m not wringing Bloody Jack out here specifically–it’s a good book. But it happened to catalyze a lot of my frustration around girl-disguised-as-boy narratives. There’s so many interesting ways to take a plot like that, but inevitably they all end the same. It’s one of my goals to write one of those more interesting ones at some point.

If you know any books that take this trope in more interesting ways, please send them my way in the comments! I’d love to hear them (and, better yet, read them).


✿ Black History Month ✿

Hey all, sorry for not posting last week! Things got desperate in thesis-land for a bit. (Well, they still are.) Anyway, we’re coming up on the end of February, and thus the end of Black History Month. In honor of the occasion, here are some of the works by black artists that I’ve been immersed in this month:

  1. The Inheritance Trilogy by NK Jemison; I finally barreled my way through the third book in the series, Kingdom of Gods, and as a whole this series blew me away like little else has in recent memory. I’m not normally one to get into adult high fantasy, but NK Jemison does it as never before. These books are unspeakably rich in worldbuilding detail, and the storylines are oftentimes deeply tragic, but also hopeful. I actually wrote a post entirely devoted to Jemison’s worldbuilding prowess. Next up: The Broken Earth Trilogy.
  2. Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor; An outstanding  author of many genres, Okorafor is the author of one of my favorite YA books of all time, Akata Witch. I was thrilled to see my library had Zahrah on it’s display for Black History Month, and I grabbed it immediately. It has what made me love Akata Witch so much: deeply evokative, lush, and unique worldbuilding. I haven’t yet finished it (see above thesis crisis), but when I do I plan to keep devouring all of Okorafor’s work.
  3. Black Panther dir. by Ryan Coogler! Of course! I said black artists, not just authors. Highly anticipated and even more highly received, Black Panther is easily one of the best films I’ve ever had the privilege to see. To deepen your understanding of the creation and implications of the film, The Black Panther Challenge provides a list of critical readings for before and after seeing the film. Check it out, then go see the movie.

What do all of these works have in common? For me, it is their worldbuilding: so ebullient that you leave these works with half your heart still behind. In the cases of Zahrah and Black Panther, for me this is partially due to the novel experience of being immersed in fantasy Africa, rather than fantasy Europe. It provides an entirely different set of worldbuilding tools that feel so vivid to me partially because I have experienced them so little in popular books and movies. It is enriching to both the genres themselves and to the audience consuming them.

Black History Month might be ending, but our celebration of black artists doesn’t stop for March. Go read about Afrofuturism from the Black Panther Challenge, see the movie if you have the means, and pick up a book by a black author at your local library. Enrich yourself.


2018 Reading Resolutions

Last year I completed 3/5 of my 2017 Writing Resolutions, which I think is pretty impressive, and 4/5 of my 2017 to-read list. All in all, I’m calling it a success, considering the overall apocalyptic nature of 2017 (good riddance). Without further ado, here are the five books I am DETERMINED to read in 2018! If you can spot the theme of this year’s list and mention it in the comments, you get a prize (hint: it’s not subtle).

  1. Release by Patrick Ness

According to Patrick Ness, by whom I was seriously impacted at YALLFest, this book is a combination of Mrs. Dalloway and Judy Blume’s Forever. For that reason, this reading resolution is actually 3 books in 1, because I will be reading those two to before I read Release. I am very excited for them all.



2. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

I actually have this book, and it was recommended to me by one of my favorite people in the world, a very incredible religious studies professor who enjoys, like me, religion and science fiction in any and all combinations. It looks like a great story with a great cast.




3. Not Your Sidekick by C. B. Lee

I NEED TO READ THIS BOOK SO BADLY. I see it all over tumblr, and have since it came out–it’s been on my “to read asap” list since before it was published. This is the year it happens.





4. The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie

Pacific-Rim-type monsters? Pirate queens?? Monster raising??? All of the above but queer???? Count me in.





5. History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera


So, confession, this is the one from last year’s list that I didn’t manage to read–none of my libraries had it. But I already ordered it and should have it read by the end of the month. I swear! (This time for real!)


Mini Review: Treasure Island

In January I swore to read five books this year no matter what, and despite having read 57 books this year I somehow only managed to read four of the ones on the list…but I consider it a minor miracle I made it through Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson, which was No. 2 on the list. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it’s a real page-turner if you aren’t listening to the $2 audiobook version. Then it’s more like a sleep-inducer, leaving you constantly wondering, “oh, is another person speaking now, I didn’t notice because all the voices are identical” and “that’s the worst parrot impression I have ever heard.”

I tried not to let it impact my overall impression of the book, but that’s a hard thing to ask. That said, the book is foundational to all pirate adventure narratives today, and looking back with some distance from the narration I did enjoy it. Perhaps my favorite moment overall was when Jim’s mother wouldn’t hurry up and leave the inn because she was too honest to take more money than she was actually owed, so she took her sweet time counting out ancient coinage as pirates actively laid siege to their home.

I thought the point of view was much too distant and that it was kind of absurd that so many random people would just declare that Jim was living with them, or sailing to find treasure, and so on, without asking either Jim or his mother. Both of those things are products of the time it was written, which was in 1882. (Ultimately, I really only wanted to read the book so I could re-watch Treasure Planet cognizant of its narrative background.)

Overall thoughts: good book, but either read it or pay $25 for a quality audiobook

Review: Vassa in the Night

“What did I borrow from myself, and how will I ever get it back?”–Sarah Porter, Vassa in the Night

I found this book at McKay’s Used Books, read it in two days, and foisted it onto my roommate the moment I got to school. She read it in one day–something I really should have done, because it does take fairly constant immersion/attention to hold on to all the strands of this story at once.

Vassa in the Night, by Sarah Porter, is an bizarre, whimsical, and [some other word that won’t do it justice] retelling of the Russian folktale Vassilissa the Beautiful. Only it takes place in Brooklyn, and Baba Yaga owns a murderous 24-hour chain store, and it’s one of the weirdest and most beautiful books I’ve ever read.

Any retelling of myths/folktales/fairy tales that haven’t been done a million times in the last few years immediately catch my eye, as does the striking cover. But more attention-grabbing that is the the surreal magical realism that Porter wields as if painting a watercolor.

Contained within this book is an eccentric cast of characters, even more eccentric events that will make you pause to ask if that really just happened, and a protagonist who must discover her ferocity, her history, and her missing piece, or be lost.

Excursion at the Rock ‘N Roll Emporium (and Used Book Store)

We have a very cool shop in Boone, NC called the Rock ‘N Roll Emporium. It hosts, among other things, an impressive collection of used books. Most are absurdly hilarious old sci-fi, high fantasy, and romance novels–and of course about seven shelves full of Start Trek novels. There are two main ways to have fun in such a place: reading each other excerpts from the ridiculous romances, and appreciating the astounding and outlandish cover art of the sci-fi and fantasy. I did both of these with two good friends the other day, and took pictures to boot.

Here are some of the best selections. (If you’ve read any of these books, please comment on their quality and/or hilarity.)


“An all night beer session at the end of the cosmos” is a compelling description if I ever heard one. Even more compelling is my new rabbit/roly poly friend.


This one folded open into this absolutely lovely picture–now this is what I’m talking about.


GREAT TITLE, GREAT COVER. Look at him go, those birds don’t stand a chance at stopping him.


Eric Brighteyes looks like a guy I’d want on my dodgeball team.


Honestly, this cover is beautiful and I want to read this book. The colors, the people…yes. If only it wasn’t the third in the series.


OUTLAW OF MARS. We have a viking-like warrior on the back of a t-rex, on mars (?), facing a majestic mountain + eagle duo. A masterpiece.


This one wins coolest cover. Look at that fire snake. Check out that boob armor.


Not the most sensational cover of all time, but the enticing blurb made it worth it. “The most beautiful and erotic courtesan in the galaxies of tomorrow” sounds like someone I’d want to meet.


My personal favorite, I think. The colors. The style. The horse-dragon’s incredibly proportional legs.

In all honesty, these covers are amazing, and I would love to see the outlandish, saturated style make a comeback. There’s something very honest about it, as if to say, yeah, my protagonist harnesses a bunny-centipede and rides it off into the sunset, and I’m proud of it. 

Literary Influences

I am always thinking about how authors have shaped me, as a person and as a writer. Every so often I write a line of dialogue or use a turn of phrase, look at it, and realize that’s not me, it’s another author speaking through me.

I’ve tried to go for non-obvious options (so not Riordan, Colfer, Rowling, Lewis…) and steer towards subtler influences. I find it endlessly fascinating (and a little upsetting) that something which rocked my world to the core didn’t touch another’s life.

Naturally, most of them are concentrated in my childhood, which is why I personally believe MG and YA to be some of the most important literature out there. In no particular order, and with no discrimination towards genre, here are five authors + books to whom I owe quite a bit.

  1. Diane Duane and the Young Wizards Series: the dregs of Duane’s writing will probably be forever apparent in my own, in both tone and theory. I have met one other physical person who has read these books not of my urging, a beloved religious studies professor and kindred spirit.
  2. Wendy Mass and Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life: the first realistic fiction book that really made me stop and think dang, that was a good book.
  3. Pat Murphy and The Wild Girls. This book had a level of influence on my life and writing that I cannot quite comprehend. I keep finding plot elements of it that I’ve subconsciously incorporated into my writing. It’s a book about a girl learning to write, which can be hard, but it’s also much, much more than that.
  4. Elizabeth Kay and The Divide series: a cooler feat of magical worldbuilding I have yet to find. The ending devastates me to this day, but in a good way.
  5. Francis Hardinge and Fly by Night: this book was my artistic muse as a child. I really do need to re-read it. I am left with the barest memories of geese, musty books, and a claustrophobic city.

I have of course read more books that have profoundly impacted me, and I hope I never stop meeting them along the way. But childhood books are different. They get you while you’re still malleable, and they change you. It’s kind of magical.

✴This has been a queued post, as I am currently in the Amazon with no Wifi.