Is anybody still out there?

I have to admit that I’m feeling a bit dizzy. This WordPress dashboard is incredibly familiar, but I haven’t seen it in about eight months. Talk about a déjà vu experience.

This poor blog has been sitting in hopeless neglect, gathering dust, as I’ve gone off on my own merry way, a life trajectory completely different from that which I envisioned for myself at the zenith of my blogging here. And yet here I am, back to a somewhat hauntingly familiar place. In the past hour or so, I have finished reading Andrew Shaffer’s fascinating biographical work Literary Rogues, turned in a miniature research paper on the traditional art of the Haida people, and scrolled through pages and pages of this blog. Just in case anyone is still paying attention, I felt the need to say “Yes, hello? I am still alive, in case I was worrying anybody.”

The last time most–or probably, all–of you heard from me, I was tackling my first ever NaNoWriMo. As far as records show, I dropped off the face of the Internet early on in the month. I never did finish that novel, and I don’t plan to. Frankly, I stopped writing.

What have I been doing with myself, then? I’ve been dabbling in other art forms. I’ve been consuming and analyzing media. I’ve maintained straight A-plus-es in school and something that I suppose one could dub a social life. I decided I wasn’t a writer after all and that I was going to devote my life to the classics. Or medicine, or law. Or archaeology. Linguistics? No, nuclear physics. All right, I admit freely that I don’t know what I want to do with my life. Turning sixteen didn’t bring any clarity to the situation. What it did do was make me start writing poetry predominantly instead of prose. It made me reconsider myself, my beliefs, my preferences, my very identity. I’m nowhere closer to figuring myself out than I’ve ever been, but at least I’m on the path.

Now, at this moment, my interest in writing both prose and poetry is growing stronger. It’s less of a zealous desire to be the next Christopher Paolini as a need to see words produced on paper or screen that I can truly call my own. Five-paragraph essays and structured research papers don’t count. I’ve been maintaining my nightly journal on a four-year streak now, I’ve been trying to write at least one poem per week, and I’m even starting to toy with the idea of–oh, horror of horrors–trying for another novel this summer. I’ll be working a 25-hour week, but I’m pretty sure that if I want to write a novel in my free time, I can.

Reading through my own old posts has brought some truly cringe-worthy moments. Second-hand embarrassment is even worse when your past self is the outside party in question. On the other hand, this foray through my past public writings has made me remember just how fun blogging in this form can be. (I specify “this form” because I have in no way abandoned my beloved microblogging during this unintentional hiatus.) Maybe I’ll get back to it. It’s unlikely that I’d be on this blog specifically, or writing about the same things, but rest assured that I am seriously considering giving my presence here a second chance, after an intense makeover.

That’s more than enough about me, though. Are any of my old friends still in the loop? How have you been, and what major events have I missed? I’m hoping that nothing WWIII-esque has transpired in my absence, but if so, I’ll just have to dig through some archives and get with the times.

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Setting: The Difference Between Oz and Kansas

And once again, the Teens Can Write Too! blog chain rolls around. Since I left TCWT, this is the last time I’ll get the last spot on the chain, if not the last time I’ll ever participate. Hopefully this will live up to any expectations that happen to exist. This month’s prompt was:

“How much does setting affect your novels and stories? What are some of your favorite ways to portray setting?”

As anyone who’s been in a middle or high school English class knows, setting is one of the fundamental structures of literature. But, as we all also know, English classes are famous for destroying everything that is enjoyable about reading and writing. For every writer, setting should be more than something old Mrs. Whatsherface made you write three paragraphs on back in sixth grade. What’s a story without a setting? It’s a narrative floating in air, a conflict with no battleground, featuring characters with no hometown or destination.

Certainly setting has great effect on my novels and stories. Setting helps define my characters–their origins, current locations, where they travel, and where they ultimately want to be. Location always manipulates conflict in some way. One of my novels is based around land feuds between humans and dwarves. Setting doesn’t always have to directly influence the plot, but undoubtedly, it’ll be present in some way, even if it’s just a few hints of local culture sprinkled throughout or a passing mention of the scenery as the protagonist and his buddies drive through town.

I usually find telling the reader about the setting in a story tedious, and after all, as writers we’re supposed to “show, not tell.” Local culture fascinates me, and I think it’s the perfect way to give readers a strong sense of setting, and it lends an almost visceral atmosphere of place to any work of fiction. Characters’ ways of speaking, what people eat and do for fun, architecture, and landscape are all important points to hit on when portraying an area. It’s better to mention details about setting bit by bit rather than dropping several descriptive paragraphs on the reader like a ton of bricks. I always try to blend setting, characters, and action into one rich narrative stew. If all goes as hoped for, these separate elements combine into broad brushstrokes of pure fiction.

It’s difficult to look at different elements of literature as individual pieces, seeing as how they constantly react with each other, push and pull and manipulate among themselves. I’m writing this in my Latin notebook in the car, which is traveling north on the highway at dusk. My setting is affecting my action–both of which are changing me as a character at this moment. I’m pressed to finish this, as I’m losing light and will need to type it into WordPress tomorrow morning, yet I’m making slow progress, as I’m distracted by the changing scenery outside and my music. I’m hoping that my future self will leave this perhaps a little strange example in the post–greetings from the past!

Setting–physical, temporal, social–is one of the most important parts of everything I write. It can certainly be troublesome to strike that perfect balance between sparse and heavy-handed when it comes to description of place. If everything goes well, setting works with all the other facets of a story to envelope the reader completely.

Want to follow our blog chain? Here are the participating parties, day by day:

September 5–http://musingsfromnevillesnavel.wordpress.com–Musings From Neville’s Navel

September 6–http://oliviasopinions.wordpress.com–Olivia’s Opinions

September 7–http://miriamjoywrites.wordpress.com–Miriam Joy Writes

September 8–http://kirstenwrites.wordpress.com–Kirsten Writes!

September 9–http://writingbeyondthemoon.blogspot.com–Beyond the Moon

September 10–http://crazyredpen.blogspot.com–Crazy Red Pen

September 11–http://ebonquill.wordpress.com–The Ebony Quill

September 12–http://realityisimaginary.blogspot.com–Reality Is Imaginary

September 13–http://insideliamsbrain.wordpress.com–This Page Intentionally Left Blank

September 14–http://incessantdroningofaboredwriter.wordpress.com–The Incessant Droning of a Bored Writer

September 15–https://allegradavis.wordpress.com–All I Need Is A Keyboard

September 16–http://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com–Teens Can Write, Too! (We will be announcing the topic for next month’s chain)

A Few Plugs, An Announcement, and Related Vaguely Fascinating Miscellany

I’m officially back in school now, and so far, everything is going swimmingly. Unfortunately, I’ve been rather neglectful of my blogging duties, and my ever-deteriorating blogging schedule is in shambles. Suffice it to say that, at the moment, you can reasonably expect one post per week, probably over the weekend.

I have been busy with a few other projects you may be interested in, though. I recently wrote a guest post for Visibility Fiction,  LGBTQ Characters in YA and Why They Matter. I usually don’t blog about my moral views here, but if you’re interested in that, I point you to that article. Visibility Fiction as a whole is a really awesome project that focuses on and supports young adult literature featuring so-called minority characters. They also have a great interest in encouraging young writers. VisFic is an up-and-coming project that deserves every ounce of support it gets.

Over at Teens Can Write Too!, we have a relatively new side blog on good ole Tumblr, so if you’re a Tumblr person, be sure to follow us there. Also, sign-up for the TCWT September blog chain is wide open–you can join here.

I’m afraid that’s about it for now. From this point onward, you can expect longer, well-thought-out posts, just much less often.

 

Another Squandered Summer…Sort Of

Oh, horror of horrors, school starts for me this week. I could have sworn that it was June just a little while ago, but isn’t that always how it goes? It’s easy to lose track of time when you spend most of your time indoors avoiding face-to-face interaction, and frankly, I shouldn’t be surprised that this summer was just a blur of blogging, reading, and writing. It’s all I do with my spare time, and summer is nothing but two and a half months of exactly that.

I’m really not that cut up about returning to school this week. Funnily enough, the less writing time I have, the more writing I actually do, so I’m at my most productive all around during the school year. Maybe it’s because I’m aware of how little time I have, and with that time pressure on the brain, I’m motivated to actually write rather than scroll aimlessly down Twitter and Tumblr. Also, being around other people all the time and learning new things fuels the creative side of the brain–no amount of solitary rumination could replace being out in the world for getting ideas. The ramifications for my writing aside, I’ve always liked school (feel free to throw fruit) so I’m happy to be getting back.

Still, this summer wasn’t my most productive. I can look back at it with a good measure of regret. I would never call it a wasted summer, though: I’ve accepted that I’m officially through my sword-and-sorcery phase and that multiple rewrites of my novel of that ilk wrung my enthusiasm for it dry. Writing had turned into a chore. I’ve decided to put that novel aside for the moment and concentrate on some fresh, new works, all of which I’m very excited about and will be working on throughout the school year.

Overall, I’m poised and ready to take on the rest of 2012 and beyond. For those of you who are still students, how does school interfere with your writing? For everyone, what are your end-of-summer reflections?

The Business of Gods and Kings

It’s time for the Teens Can Write Too blog chain! This month, we were asked to write a retelling of a fairy tale, myth, or legend. I chose the story of the fatal flight of Icarus. I wanted to explore the idea of the gods being much more selfish and manipulative of mortals than usually portrayed–I also questioned the true motives of Icarus and his father, Daedalus, throughout the story. I had planned to extend this retelling to include the death of Perdix as well, but I quickly went over the word count limit.

“You are a despicable creature.”

That was the last thing Minos said to me before my son and I were dragged away. Minos had informed his advisors and the public that he was having me, the great Daedalus, locked away to prevent information of my labyrinth from spreading. The truth was that nary a thought of secrecy had crossed the king’s mind before he figured for himself that I’d been the one who had created the Minotaur. The only rightful person to blame for it all was Minos himself. But of course the oh-so-just-and-mighty king would be looking for a scapegoat, so it all fell on me. Poor old Daedalus—I’m an inventor. I should never have to deal with the business of gods and kings. It’s funny how they never seem to be able to figure things out for themselves.

As punishment for my perceived crime, Minos ordered my son Icarus and I locked away in a tower for the rest of our days. Icarus was angry at me—he believed the word of Minos. When the tower doors slammed with the finality of the Underworld, he turned on me.

“You stupid old meddler!” he shouted. “What did you think you were doing?  What do you ever think you’re doing? You aren’t a god. You’re a man.”

I slapped the boy for his insolence. “Shut your mouth,” I ordered. “You know nothing.”

“You just took away my life!” Icarus howled. “I could have gotten myself out of your shadow! I could have gotten a girl! Now I’m going to rot in this blasted tower with you.”

“No, you’re not,” I said. “Be quiet. You were correct in one thing—I’m not a god. But I’m not a man either. You know I’m the son of Athena.”

Icarus glared.

For days we didn’t speak.

My mother spoke to me in the night, appearing in my dreams in the form of an owl. She told me that I must escape.

“Daedalus,” she said, in that voice so distant and divine, “save yourself and your son. Such ingenuity is wasted locked away, and I cannot abide by it.”

I tried to reply, but as always, I found myself paralyzed and mute. The vision ended and faded into normal, jumbled dreams.

The next day, upon awakening, I returned to the type of inventive thought that I had abandoned. Athena wished us to be free, and I could not defy her. I sat down and stared at the sea for hours while Icarus looked on curiously. I was observing the flight patterns of some seagoing birds when inspiration took hold of me: wings. I could construct wings, and my son and I could fly across the sea away from this wretched place.

Icarus told me I was mad when I explained my plans to him. “It’s impossible,” he scoffed. “Men stay out of the sky for a reason. It shouldn’t be done.”

“Hush, boy,” I said. “Do you want to escape or not?”

Icarus pouted. “I want to get out of here.”

“Then do as I say. We need to gather hundreds of feathers—we’d best start immediately.”

One balmy evening, I began threading feathers together for a pair of wings. Suddenly, I was overcome with drowsiness and fell fast asleep at my work. I immediately began dreaming. I was confronted by a powerful figure—a god whom I immediately recognized as Poseidon. This was not the first time I had encountered him in my visions.

“What you have done warrants me to kill you where you lie,” the god rumbled. His eyes flashed from beneath his wild, seaweed-laden hair.

I tried to speak, but, as always, found myself paralyzed. My spirit quaked. I had always feared Poseidon, an enemy of my mother, above all other deities.

“Need I remind you of how I have spared you so far?” Poseidon said. “You have defied me repeatedly in these past months—supporting Minos and Pasiphae, and now imprisoning my Minotaur. I demand repayment.”

“Now you seek to travel across my sea,” he continued. “You presume to venture into my realm. I will not let you pass without a sacrifice. Give me one of your lives—you or your son—and the other shall fly safely. Do this or your tower will crumble into the sea and you will both die, child of Athena.”

I woke, still trembling. Of course I took the threat seriously—what else could I do? I had no choice but to obey the orders of my mother and fly into the clutches of the god who hated me, who would see me and my son both dead.

Icarus was standing at the window, gazing out at the sea. He was a lanky youth, really only a boy, and he was my son. How could I let him fall into Poseidon’s hands? It had to be me. I had to be the one to die. I would set Icarus off flying, and then jump into the sea. I nodded to myself. It would be done. Hands shaking slightly, I returned to my work.

“Icarus,” I called, “come help me. I need you to hand me feathers as I string them together. And get the wax, will you? I’ll need it later on.”

The boy sighed and sat next to me. He wasn’t foolish—he understood what I was doing, and gathered the largest feathers from the pile, handing them to me without my prompting. He was easily distracted, and fiddled with the feathers and wax.

That night, Athena spoke to me again. “I have been informed of Poseidon’s bargain with you, and I have no way of stopping it, but I cannot let your genius die. Give him your son.”

Now the gods had told me exactly what I had to do. Icarus and I had to try and escape, and I had to let him die. I woke at dawn the next morning and saw my son sleeping on his pallet. His mouth was slightly agape, and his eyelids flickered. A lump grew in my throat at the thought of sending him to his death. But I had no choice—I was completely and irrevocably trapped. I just had one last, desperate attempt to make: beg.

I got out of bed and shuffled carefully past Icarus, then ascended the ladder to the open top of our tower. The sun was just peeking over the horizon, painting the sky red. I could hear the crash of waves against the rocky cliff face, and the cool, salty air stung my eyes. “Poseidon!” I called boldly, although my hands were shaking. “I would have a word.”

“I do not mean to disrespect you,” I continued, “but I wish to strike a bargain.”

“You don’t bargain with gods, Daedalus.”

I whirled to see Athena, not Poseidon, standing behind me. “Mother,” I said, and quickly knelt.

“I am sorry that Poseidon is forcing you to compensate him for the imprisonment of the Minotaur, but there is nothing either of us can do,” Athena said. “I simply will not allow you to kill yourself. Your son must die.”

My eyes filled with tears. I was temporarily blinded, and by the time I managed to blink away my tears, Athena had disappeared.  When I moved to go back down the ladder, I saw Icarus dart away. I froze. He must have heard it all.

When the wings were ready, I said nothing regarding the sacrifice we had to make. I knew that Icarus was aware of it, but I had settled that I would not kill him with my own hands under any circumstances. If Poseidon wanted my son, he’d have to take him.

The wings worked perfectly, as I knew they would. None of my inventions have ever failed. We did not rejoice in our freedom, for we knew that only one of us would make it to our destination. We flew for hours, and nothing came to knock Icarus out of the sky. My son pulled back to fly beside me.

“He must be waiting for us to do it of our own accord!” Icarus shouted over the wind, the first time he had spoken of the sacrifice we had to make.

“No!” I said. “I will not have it.”

“Father, I’m sorry!” Icarus cried, his face full of anguish. “But I cannot let us fall even farther out of favor with the gods.”

With that, he shot up into the sky. I moved to pursue him, but couldn’t fly fast or hard enough. I watched in horror as my son ripped off his own wings. He seemed suspended for a moment, then, screaming, he plunged towards the waves below.

“Icarus!” I shouted.

There were two splashes in quick succession below as my son and his wings were swallowed by the ocean.

I kept flying.

August 4 – http://musingsfromnevillesnavel.wordpress.com – Musings From Neville’s Navel

August 5 – http://crazyredpen.blogspot.com/ – Crazy Red Pen

August 6 – http://lilyjenness.blogspot.com – Lily’s Notes in the Margins

August 7 –http://oliviasopinions.wordpress.com/– Olivia’s Opinions

August 8 – http://snippetsandslicesandscenes.blogspot.ca/ –Snippets, Slices, and Scenes

August 9 – http://markobrienwrites.blogspot.com – Mark O’Brien Writes

August 10 – http://onelifeglory.blogspot.ca/ – One Life Glory

August 11 – http://www.astoryofadreamer.blogspot.com/ – A Story of a Dreamer

August 12 – http://weirdalocity.wordpress.com/ – Life, Among Other Things

August 13 – http://maybeteenauthor.blogspot.com – Blog of a (Maybe) Teen Author

August 14 – http://theteenagewriter.wordpress.com/ – The Teenage Writer

August 15 –http://scribblingbeyondthemargins.wordpress.com – Scribbling Beyond the Margins

August 16 – http://otherrandomthings.wordpress.com – Dragons, Unicorns, and Other Random Things

August 17 – http://kirstenwrites.wordpress.com/ – Kirsten Writes!

August 18 – http://laughablog.wordpress.com –The Zebra Clan

August 19 – http://miriamjoywrites.wordpress.com – Miriam Joy Writes

August 20– https://allegradavis.wordpress.com – All I Need Is A Keyboard

August 21 –http://incessantdroningofaboredwriter.wordpress.com–The Incessant Droning of a Bored Writer

August 22 – http://teenscanwritetoo.wordpress.com Teens Can Write Too! (We will be announcing the topic for next month’s chain)

 

NaNoWriMo: I Don’t Know What I’m Doing

It’s official: I’ll be participating in NaNoWriMo this year. I’m thoroughly convinced I made the right decision. Thinking about a different story with new characters and settings has been like a breath of fresh air in my writing life. I’m already chomping at the bit to start writing, and it’s only August! Luckily, time goes by fast, and November will be here before I know it.

I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m not quite comprehending what I’m getting into, though. In order to complete a 50,000 word novel in just one month, I’ll have to write about 1,666 words a day–that’s about the size of one of my short stories, or three long blog posts. That’s a good chunk of writing, but it doesn’t seem hugely unmanageable. That view will probably change on November 1st, when undoubtedly I’ll feel like I’ve been writing for ages then look down to see the word counter hovering somewhere around 937 (a completely arbitrary number, by the way.) Seasoned NaNo-ers, please tell me about your experience with the event. I know it’s going to be tough, and I feel I’m prepared, but just how prepared do I have to be?

Well, whether I’m really up to the challenge or not, I’m going to take it on. I’ve signed up at the NaNoWriMo website; if you’d like, you can add me as a buddy–I’m hopelesscrowmantic. I have some ideas for my novel, and more are cropping up every day. My characters are already starting to get away from me, and I haven’t even written anything about them yet. Is this a good sign? I hope so.

Do you have any advice or warnings to offer? Or is it better for me to take a tumbleweed approach?

Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

June 2011, Quirk Publishing

Young Adult fantasy

A mysterious island.

An abandoned orphanage.

A strange collection of very curious photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

In all honesty, to summarize this review before I begin, this is the best book I’ve read all year. I only wish that I’d read it as soon as it came out so that the story could remain with me for the longest possible amount of time. This is an incredibly rich novel–the characters are well-balanced and three-dimensional, the settings are skillfully portrayed, and Riggs has put enough logic behind the magic of this fictional world to make it temporarily believable.

I only had to read the first two or three pages for this story to capture my imagination. I cared about Jacob almost instantly, and I wanted him to have the sort of adventure that he sought as a young child and to become a hero in his own right. The vintage photography sprinkled throughout the novel blends perfectly with the prose and makes the story all the more engrossing. Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is a dark and haunting novel that will surely be relished by lovers of the macabre, although its more morbid touches are not overdone, and the book will still prove enjoyable if the reader isn’t particularly fascinated by such things. The characters alone are enough to draw any sort of reader in.

From the narrator himself to the smallest players in the story, every one is at least reasonably well-developed and believable. Their various styles of speaking are easy to distinguish, their traits are balanced, and their personalities certainly match their photographic depictions. The less important side characters almost become part of the setting, contributing to the overall feel of the story scene by scene. The narrative seemed to change slightly along with the scenery as Jacob went from Florida to Wales. Simply put, the settings are remarkably vivid.

The only minor critique I have of this story is that the foreshadowing seemed a bit heavy-handed in places. Earlier plot points were fairly easy to predict, but it didn’t detract from the story as a whole. Later on, Riggs throws in some excellent plot twists, keeping readers on their toes.

This book is a YA must-read that will make you think, make you shiver and, above all, make you keep reading.

Rating: 5 stars