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).

Advertisements

My First Novel

I wrote my first “novel”, entitled Absolute, in middle school. It’s 26,000 words and rather obviously based on the Maximum Ride series, featuring a group of kids whose parents are mad scientists engaged in illegal genetic experiments. One day they successfully manage to clone a wooly mammoth calf, on which they will be performing untold hideous experiments. Cue the kids stealing the mammoth and leading their nefarious parents on a wild cross-country chase. At a distance it doesn’t sound half bad, but the illusion ends once you get closer.

Some highlights include:

  • knocking people out with car doors
  • being so bad at driving you’re actually excellent
  • stealing away in cargo planes
  • surprisingly accurate care of a wooly mammoth calf
  • secret passages inside walls
  • children who are good at pick-pocketing
  • a radio star called Gravy Lester
  • the acronym KOES: Kids of Evil Scientists

…and more excellent plot devices by yours truly, age 13. However, I didn’t write this post to bash my middle-school writing. Absolute was a stepping stone to where I am now. And in the grand scheme of things, The Book of the Dead is a stepping stone to where I’ll be in ten more years. It’s important to not be too harsh on where you were as well, as where you are now. Everything is valuable. Everything is improvement. And to be honest, I’m still invested in that cheesy story about genius kids stealing a mammoth. Maybe I’ll take it somewhere someday.

⚔ Victories ⚔

I’m taking a brief break from my YALLFest reflections to report on two recent triumphs: finishing my NaNoWriMo novella and getting a piece published! (Also, apologies for the missed post last Saturday. Was traveling, eating, and binge-playing Pocket Camp.)

My goal for National Novel Writing Month was not, in fact, to write a novel, but a novella. 50,000 words just isn’t feasible with six classes and a thesis, but 500 words a day is. I overshot my goal by about 5,000 words but did manage to wrap the story up by November 30–huzzah! Its narrative quality is not overwhelming, but it’s something to work with.

Some surprises I encountered while writing:

  • I do not know my protag’s backstory past 4 years before the story happens…oops
  • I pulled a deus ex machina at the end by turning a character into an exiled demon prince (It’s not as middle-school-fantasy as it sounds though, because it’s a giant lizard)
  • My protag’s love interest is more bloodthirsty than anticipated
  • And the god is more bashful
  • Aforementioned god still, 20,000 words later, has no name (have been calling him ‘O’ in desperation)
  • It was heck of a lot of fun to write, and 500 words a day is so doable I’m going to keep doing it

Secondly, I’ve been published again!!! It’s my second piece to be published in my university’s literary magazine, a flash fiction piece like the first one. It’s called Descent, and details the strange descent of a submarine crew. I was honored to be asked to read it at the release party last night, and it was a blast, even though I messed up a couple of times.

All of these writing-related victories have left me despondent in the face of exam week, in which I must put aside major creative projects in favor of endless academic writing–which I still enjoy, but not when nine hundred essays are due in the same week.

submarine edit

Pictured above: either the crew of Descent navigating the deep sea or myself navigating through finals week. Both options equally perilous.

 

Just Keep Writing

dory edited

We all experience the high that comes from beginning something…and the drop when you have to finish it. If I had a penny for all the starts in my drafts folder, I’d probably have, like, a dollar. But the show must go on through the murky middle of a novel, and here are a few ways I keep myself excited about the long slog.

  1. Playlists: I can’t listen to music while I write, but I make playlists for the story/characters/relationships to listen to before I start writing in order to refresh my inspiration/motivation.
  2. Looking Back: Often when I feel like I’m walking through a swamp, I’ll pull out my planning notebook, which contains all of my research and plotting and doodling for the current WIP, and flip through it, reminding myself how I got to my current point, and why exactly I should carry on.
  3. Exercise: Go for a run. Go to the gym. Don’t listen to music, don’t listen to anything. I just let my brain float for a while. It deserves it.
  4. A New Cup of Tea: If I’m stalling and my mug is cold and sad, I break for the ten ritual minutes it takes to prepare a cup of tea. Back at the computer, warm mug in hand, I’m rejuvinated.
  5. Just Push Through: It must be done. The bottom line is always that if I don’t finish it, it won’t be finished. Chant it like a mantra. Write it on your ceiling above your bed. You must finish in order to truly begin.

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

Myth-staken

Greek mythology is dead.

Right?

Of course not.

But Greek mythology has been wrung out like an old wash cloth since 900 BCE, and while there is still plenty (plenty) of room for interpretation, there’s a whole world of myth out there just as rich.

In the early stages of The Book of the Dead I knew that, though I was dealing with a pantheon of pantheons, it would not do to lean too heavily on Greek mythology. I use Greek figures as an introduction to the turbulent scene of the Underworld–like the main character, the reader is also brought to Hades (the place, not the god) by Hermes–and from there the narrative diverges into Egyptian, Sumerian, Hopi, and a basketful of other mythscapes. But the character of Hermes serves as a grounding point, a bridge into different mythos. And I’ve never heard of someone who doesn’t like Hermes, whatever piece of literature he’s in. He’s a likeable bridge.

Okay, here’s Hermes. He’s been rehashed one million times, and here’s the next iteration. Now let’s go a little deeper…have you heard of Ereshkigal? 

Hermes_e_Sarpedon edit

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

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.

 

 

More Barn Than House

“When a house is completed it is such a disappointment. No rafters. No mysterious hollowed-out shadow spaces above them. And nothing to hang the hammock onto and swing–which is why we like barns and sheds and find unforgettable that house raised twelve feet in the jungle with a palm-thatch roof and only two walls, open to the forest, complete in its incompleteness. (Maybe that’s what makes a great book, being more barn than house?)”

I just finished I Swear I Saw this–Drawings in Fieldwork Notebooks, Namely My Own by Michael Taussig, in an effort to wrangle some inspiration from someone I deeply admire (and whom I have already written about) for my own fieldwork, which is fast approaching. However, I was unable to completely separate my mental categories for ‘fieldnotes’ and ‘fiction novel’, because about as much effort goes into each one. With a little mental twisting, though, Taussig’s ideas for fieldnotes absolutely apply to the creative process of plotting and writing a novel.

It’s a wonderful little book about those moments when drawing supersedes writing in your fieldnotes–moments of such high intensity beneath which an iceberg of depth lies, a world of meaning in which only a drawing–visceral, corporeal, immediate–can evoke, etching the artist into the moment as writing cannot. Taussig takes a turn towards evaluating the entire fieldwork notebook, weaving together bizarrely disparate examples and people in an enactment of the very subject of his writing–fieldnotes as the halfway products, the undersides, of chance and fate.

“Maybe that’s what makes a great book, being more barn than house?” As I read this wondering in chapter four, I underlined it, then added a star, and then a heart for good measure. Little markers to myself that I had found something truthful on page thirty-three. A novel that is too complete is boring. I have always loved best those with room for interpretation, and been struck by how, if no room is given, I (or others) will make room for interpretation–the growth of fandoms is certainly testament to that.

Completed houses are white painted walls, working plumbing, fresh tile or carpet, and price tags. Barns are lofts, hay bales, little streams running beside them, the smell of animals, a horseshoe nailed above the door. Novels begin by the exchange of a house for a barn–mundanity for adventure.

So I will keep in mind that a good novel has cracks in it. It has squeaky hinges and rickety ladders and places for ambiguity. Places to hang a hammock.