YALLFest Notes: Patrick Ness

Whooboy. Seven hour drive down on Friday, 8 am to 8 pm on the ground on Saturday, and a seven hour drive back today. Am I exhausted? Yes. Subhuman? Also yes. Was it worth it? YES.

YALLFest was perhaps more incredible this year than last year, which is hard to believe! I saw so many author panels, took so many notes, and managed to have composed conversations with two separate authors, which is frankly a miracle. Perhaps one of the best moments of the day was when my friends and I, who had been standing in line for an hour and a half to have donuts with some authors, found out that we had actually been standing in line for that as well as THREE FREE BOOKS and a tote bag. That was when the adrenaline hit, and it never really wore off throughout the day.

I think the person who impacted me the most was Patrick Ness, which is surprising. I went in as a casual fan of his books, and left with the profundity of his wisdom echoing around my body. I didn’t expect to be so impacted by what he had to say, but every other sentence out of his mouth was a pearl. One of the things he stressed was how he doesn’t see a real divide between “fantasy” and “realistic fiction”. Every story is fantastical, with its contrivances, coincidences, and destiny that work to make the story happen. And truth occurs in every story, regardless of genre. “Truth anywhere.”

During the opening keynote Ness said “if you don’t see yourself in a book, you are implicitly harmed”, because the intrinsic message is one of exclusion. He spoke at length about his newest book, Release, and his words really hit home, especially when he spoke about hoping that the book would undo shame in the people who read it, shame that is generated through each instance of exclusion, literary and societal.

Listening to what he had to say really shone a light on what I need to work on in my own practice, and that is honesty. Honesty with my narrative and with myself. I think I have attempted to sanitize my writing too much and distance it from raw, emotional, human experience, and I need to bring that back. I know I had it before–I tend to edit it out a bit more with each draft. I need to focus on being honest with myself about who I am, and honest with my writing about what it is and what I want it to do.

*This is the first post in a series reflecting on what I learned at YALLFest, author by author. Stay tuned for next week.*

 

 

 

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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.

Writing Prompt: Secret Keeper

Here’s a short prompt I filled today in my writing group. It’s from Deep Water Prompts, which contains awesome and strange writing prompts. Anyway I’ve never posted any of my actual creative writing on here before so trying something new.


There was a girl on the corner who could lose something for you forever if you asked nicely and paid cash.  That’s what they say about me, anyway. The whisper that goes from ear to ear, between those eager to be rid of a secret. As if once I abscond with the evidence, I take their guilt as well as their cash. Relief in their eyes, as if I had purge the guilt from their souls. But guilt is tenacious. I bargain with those in the habit of lying to themselves.

I never speak when I make a deal. I wait, and they come to me. Maybe they expect a dark hooded figure, because it always unnerves them to see the tall woman in jeans and heels waiting under the lamppost. I never accept less than a hundred, and I never turn down an item. I’ve been given guns, knives, toys, photographs, phones, keys, laptops, anything you can imagine and more.

They wonder how I do it. She uses black magic, she melts it down, she opens her mouth and eats the evidence. It’s funny, really, when all I do is turn them into art and sell them to the highest bidding demon. I mostly do found object collages, but also sculptures and the odd painting. I live in the south side of town, and the little old lady I rent from is most appreciative of my watercolors.

I can never sell the pieces to anyone of this world, of course, but certain buyers down below pay out the horns for that unique aura my pieces bring to the room. Sultry guilt, greed, embarrassment–a prominent political figure from down there once paid an enormous sum for a multi-media piece fragrant with shame and dark excitement. It took me months of meeting on street corners, attempting to blend the scents just right. The piece contains a hairbrush with several long strands of auburn hair, sixty lottery tickets, an unopened gold locket, and several bloody leather bracelets, among other things.

My clients wouldn’t be happy if they knew what I did with their secrets, but really, they were only deluding themselves in the first place. Is one secret among a collage really so salacious anymore? I never promised them anything, after all. Never spoke a word.

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.)

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“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.

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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. 

Two Recommendations

My extended family is in town today, so I don’t have time to write a very long post–I’ll make up for it next week. My friends are doing some amazing literary things right now, so I thought I’d spread the word. Below are a blog and book recommendation.

  1. The Edwin Project: Zoe Kaplan is reviewing old science fiction stories published in magazines owned by her grandfather, circa 1950s. She is reading through the volumes and deciding which have stood the test of time, and which truly have not. Follow for 50s slang, corporeal ghosts, and mysteries of the universe.
  2. Waters of Salt and Sin: An epic new release by Alisha Klapheke, starring a sea-faring salt witch in a quest to rescue her. The author is awesome, and so is the story. High-stakes sailing, creepy sea wraiths and a unique magic system, and some killer worldbuilding lie within.

I’m off to go play Apples To Apples with my grandparents.

peace edit.jpgpeace out

 

Review: When the Moon Was Ours

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When the Moon was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore, number one on my 2017 must-reads list, has been read! As I have been waiting to read this book since before it was released, I consider this a victory.

The crux of the story is the changing relationship between two strange inhabitants of a small town: Miel, a girl who was found in a water tower, and Sam, the boy who paints moons and hangs them everywhere. It’s a story of identity, love, fear, and family.

The book is incredibly beautiful. The prose is poetic, and the plot moves along gently. I was surprised and pleased at the fairy-tale like quality the story has the moment I opened the book. McLemore did a stellar job with the two transgender characters in the book, which I learned after I finished was due to her experience with her husband, who himself is trans. I’m glad she included this note at the end, because the tone of the book upon reflection took on the aura of a long, carefully crafted love letter.

Beauty and delicate nature aside, I did struggle at times with the passivity of Miel, the main character. Quiescent protagonists have never quite been my cup of tea: the ease with which Miel lets the people around her manipulate her life drove me quite frantic. In addition, at times the drowsiness of the plot left me unmotivated to continue until about half-way through, when the conflict truly started to pick up.

On the whole, however, the book is beautiful and poignant, with excellently represented characters. There was one scene involving a rose and a wrist that to this day, a month later, makes me cringe and hold my own wrist, and if that isn’t a mark of good writing, I don’t know what is. If you’re looking for diverse characters in every respect and beautiful, etherial writing, this book is for you.

Genre Mash-Ups

I’ve read a couple books recently that meld distinct genres in ways I’ve never considered before, and the results have been pretty awesome.

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Rebel of the Sands, by Alwyn Hamilton, is a gunslinger set in the fantasy Middle East, with a sharpshooter protagonist who’s the child of a djinni. There’s dialogue reminiscent of old westerns and several almost-train heists, amid a backdrop of a corrupt sultan and international intrigue. The best word for it would be ‘rollicking’.

Steeplejack, by A. J. Hartley, reads like a victorian mystery happening in a fictional, industrial South Africa-inspired country. It’s rife with intersectional conflict and political espionage, as well as the politics of a post-colonization state, but also strongly Sherlock Holmes-flavored.

I enjoyed both books, but was constantly struck by the contrasts in setting and genre. It made for two very fun reads.