A Bookshelf of Writing Books

How I Teach Drafting Papers

On the first day of the semester in my University Writing class, I ask my students to generate a research question and to ask as many of their fellow students the question before the class ends. The question can be anything: best place for pizza in town, favorite ice cream flavor, what to watch on Netflix. My question is the same every year: “What’s the hardest part of writing?” And the most frequent answer is, “Getting started.”

It’s hard to write. No one ever said it was easy, but many college students are only presented with perfect, completed pieces of writing. This leads to the feeling that their own writing needs to be perfect after a single draft. And then writing paralysis sets in. Staring at the blank page, unable to come up with any ideas, frustration. Or writing a sentence, erasing it, rewriting the sentence making only minute changes. And two hours later, the student has maybe a page completed.

This doesn’t work. Getting started shouldn’t be that hard.

So I teach a 4 stage drafting process. I heard about this process after observing another college intro writing professor teach this method to her own students. It was created by composition instructor Betty Flowers, after having very similar experiences as my own. Here it is:

4 stages of drafting

1. Madman: The crazy idea draft. Write crazily, write sloppily, and go on tangents. This is a discovery process. You don’t know everything you have to say unless you let yourself explore.
2. Architect: The designer draft. Narrow your ideas into a single focus and then shape your paper by grouping similar ideas together around that focus. This draft seeks to organize your thoughts around one point by choosing what ideas your paper will be about. Not everything can stay. If you’re an outliner, then this is when you’ll outline your paper.
3. Carpenter: The builder draft. Build up the paper by filling in the spaces your architect draft has outlined (with transitions, more evidence, etc.), combining your madman ideas into a logical, cohesive home.
4. Judge: The critic draft. Edits spelling and grammar errors. Edit as a reader instead of as the writer.

Most writers believe revising means editing for grammar. They don’t realize that grammar and mechanics should be one of the last things a writer looks at. That’s because what you’re going to write about has to come before how your sentences work.

In conjunction with teaching this drafting process, I also assign a chapter from Anne Lamott’s fantastic writing how-to book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life — “Shitty First Drafts.” In this chapter, Lamott describes a similar revising process, though she calls the first draft the ‘child’s’ draft, where you let yourself romp and play on the page. Giving students this chapter shows them that ‘shitty first drafts’ is normal. That’s how writing works. And they get to cuss in class.

I also tell students that this is a recursive process. Maybe you start your carpenter draft and realize you need a lot more about a point. Then you can go back to being a madman, and do a freewrite and see where it leads you.

A few students always object to the madman drafts. They like to outline, but what I’ve noticed about the students who love outlining is that their outlines are sprawling, wild things. They essentially work as madman drafts — freewriting ideas, listing points and quotes beneath those ideas, testing out topics. If that’s how the student likes to begin, I usually let them do so. As long as they’re still letting themselves freewrite and explore ideas and concepts, I don’t care what it looks like.

But most students find writing a madman draft freeing. They tell me they finish papers much faster, despite going through multiple drafts. And they like their papers better. That’s because it didn’t hurt to write it. They let themselves ‘play’ on the page, gave themselves permission to be imperfect. And all writers need that permission.

Here are more notes I give concerning these 4 stages:

Strategies for the Madman Draft
• List ideas, start freewriting. No editing sentences as you type.
• Be specific with details, tell stories, think about the stories and write out those thoughts.
• Can be stream-of-consciousness, in response to questions or ideas, and/or full paragraph meanderings.
• Ignore word count at first. If you run out of things to say, move on to another aspect of the topic, or reread without making changes and add to what you’ve written.

Strategies for the Architect Draft
• Reread madman draft, and choose a focus for your paper.
– Write focus in 1-2 sentences. This works as your thesis statement.
• Delete writing that doesn’t relate to focus.
• Organize into paragraphs around similar points.
– Suggestions:
o Make an outline
o Highlight similar ideas in different colors
o Print off a copy and cut out each paragraph and try rearranging it

Strategies for the Carpenter Draft
• Reread Architect Draft. Add evidence and details where needed.
• Write or rewrite the Introduction.
– Start specific, not broad.
o An anecdote/memory.
o An elaboration of your specific focus.
o Highlighting your research question and results.
• Write or rewrite the Conclusion.
– Point to broader implications. Why is the focus of this paper important to your audience?
– Propose a course of action, a solution to an issue, or questions for further study.
– If you begin by describing an anecdote or memory, you can end with the same anecdote or memory as proof that your paper is helpful in creating a new understanding
o Avoid saying “To conclude” or “In conclusion”
• Add transitions.
– Bridges between paragraphs
– Go at the beginning of paragraphs and connect the information from the previous paragraph to the new paragraph
– Usually phrases. Avoid 1 word transitions like “Next,” “Finally,” “Secondly,” etc., unless they add to the meaning of the sentence
– Example: “Though I failed my first paper in tenth grade English, I aced the research paper in History class.”

Strategies for the Judge Draft
• Make a list of the paper’s strengths and weaknesses.
• Reread and try to correct weaknesses.
• Read sentence by sentence from the END to the beginning, making spelling and grammar corrections.
• Read aloud, making corrections as you see them.
• Have someone else read it to you, making notes when you hear something off.

If you’re a teacher, feel free to use my notes. And even if you’re not a teacher, I find these methods aid in my own writing. It’s easy to forgot that drafting is a part of writing.

Reading Railroad: March’s Reading

Everything I read in March! 7 books total.

Novels

Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson. Published in 2000. A Caribbean, carnival, multi-dimensional space travel science fiction novel that deals with abuse, rape, marginalization, colonization, and othering. Seem like a lot? It really is. A young Tan-Tan pretends she’s the Robber Queen — a carnival rogue — on a planet colonized by Caribbean immigrants. But when her father, the mayor, is arrested, both of them are forced into exile on a multidimensional ship that takes them to a place very different than the one Tan-Tan knows. I love the dialect and Caribbean culture, and I thoroughly enjoyed the last third or fourth of the novel. But it takes forever for the plot to get going. The first chunk could’ve been half as long. I did really like the end, though. This is my first Nalo Hopkinson, and despite the 3 stars, I will try more of her novels. I haven’t read anything like it before, and that’s reason enough to try out another. 3/5

Speak by Louisa Hall. Published in 2015. Multiple narrative threads rotate around contemplations of memory, love, loss, and the need for human communication and contact. Stephen Chinn writes a memoir about falling in love and building a true AI doll. Transcripts between Gaby and Mary3, an AI, are presented at Stephen’s trial. Ruth and Carl Dettman write letters to one another about memory and Carl’s computer Mary, without ever sending the letters. Ruth reads the diary of Mary, a 17th century US settler, to Mary the computer. Alan Turing writes to his dead best friend Chris’ mother as he struggles with Chris’ death and his own spirituality. Speak is a meditative novel, not one that gives closure to any of the characters. I liked that about it, but I also wanted to delve deeper into each character. Still, I would recommend it to people who enjoy AI and/or science-based novels. 3.5/5

The Wanderers by Meg Howrey. Published March 14th, 2017.  Another science-based novel, this one dealing with space travel. It’s also quite introspective, though I liked this one more than Speak, primarily because it reached a depth of character development I tend to really enjoy. Read my full review here! Definitely recommend. 4/5

 

 

 

Nonfiction

Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay. Published in 2014. A friend and I attempted to read this together, but she kept losing her book, so I read ahead. I just couldn’t leave it unfinished any longer! Obviously, I’m a bad feminist friend. 🙂 We did have a couple of meetups before she lost the book, and you can read our discussions on my Goodreads review. I finished the book mostly thinking about how much I like Roxane Gay. She seems like an awesome person to know, and I would love to be in one of her classes. I don’t always connect with all her pop culture examples (my pop culture knowledge tends to be exclusively SF based), but I love her meandering approach and the things she said even if I didn’t fully understand the context. I could easily apply her thoughts to my own experiences. Definitely a must-read for feminists, or anyone unsure if they’re a feminist. 4/5

Century of Struggle: The Woman’s Rights Movement in the United States by Eleanor Flexner. First published in 1959. Century of Struggle chronicles the woman’s suffrage movement in the US from pre-Seneca Falls to when women finally won the vote, more than 70 years after the first woman’s suffrage convention at Seneca Falls. Just to illustrate why books like this need to be read, I mentioned Seneca Falls to three or four people who had asked what I was reading, and they had no idea why Seneca Falls was significant. They’d never heard of it. And it’s no surprise. I’ve spent twenty years in the education system and minored in history, but I don’t recall the woman’s suffrage movement being discussed in a single class. While I did know about Seneca Falls before reading this (I learned about it on my own), there was so much about the movement I didn’t know, far more than what I did. I mean, I learned A LOT. The history of how women won the vote in the US is fraught with struggle and amazing women. It’s absolutely fascinating, and people need to know this history! 5/5

Poetry

Black Zodiac: Poems by Charles Wright. Published in 1998. Continuing my poetry reading from February. As with Chickamauga: Poems (the only other collection by him I’ve read), Charles Wright explores connections between spirituality, landscape, and art. He’s a master at the long line; his poems sprawl across the page, full of ellipses and dashes, beginning left and then right, utilizing the entire page. I kind of have to work at his poems, which is a good thing. 4/5

 

 

Short Story Collections

Uncanny Magazine Issue 14. Published in January 2017. I feel like with every issue of Uncanny I begin my review with — Another strong issue — but here it is again: another strong issue. The story that stands out the most is Maria Dahvana Headley’s novelette The Thule Stowaway, a chronicle of the last days of Edgar Allen Poe as told by Mrs. McFarlane, who has a creature trapped in her body. It’s very atmospheric, and there’s also a fantastic interview with the author. The essays also stand out as being quite good, with my favorite being an analysis of the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. You can read my review of all the stories on Goodreads. 4/5

Individual Short Stories

I did read 2 short stories this month — part of Tor.com’s Nevertheless She Persisted series — but I’m going to wait until I’ve read all of them before I give a review. So stay tuned to April’s Reading Railroad!

What did you read in March?

My Book Riot Posts Roundup

I need to catch up on grading this week (it never ends!), so I thought I’d roundup all the posts I’ve done for Book Riot so far, in case you haven’t read them:

How Fantasy Made Me a Feminist

Teaching Students Who Hate Reading

Fairy and Folk Tale Collections that aren’t The Brothers Grimm

8 Books Featuring Endangered, Threatened, or Extinct Animals

Brief Entries:

Tips and Tricks for How to Read More

Peek Over Our Shoulders: What Rioters are Reading

I have plenty more to write! Feel free to let me know if there’s anything specific you want me to write about!

(Edited to include recent additions)

Book Review of The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

Title and Author: The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

Publication Date: March 14th, 2017

Genre: Science Fiction

How I got it: Thanks to Netgalley and PENGUIN GROUP Putnam for providing me an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review

The Wanderers takes place in a very near future. Prime Space — sort of like Elon Musk’s SpaceX — chooses Helen (U.S.), Yoshi (Japan), and Sergei (Russia) to be the first astronauts on Mars. Prime Space believes these three engineers and space exploration veterans have the perfect personalities to pull off this long and potentially fraught trip.

But before the trio can go to Mars, they must undergo a 17-month simulation, a simulation that feels so real that as the months drag on and on, the astronauts — and the reader — begin to question whether it really is a simulation.

What makes The Wanderers different from other space exploration novels is that the entire novel occurs during the simulation. Prime Space needs to make sure that their chosen three can make it to Mars, so they scrutinize their every move during the all too real simulation, fabricating dilemmas at every turn and watching their reactions and analyzing their emotional states. To prove that they’re perfect for the job, Helen, Yoshi, and Sergei perform the ‘perfect astronaut.’ Veterans at this performance, they know exactly the right reactions to have, how to train their facial expressions, and what to say and when to say it. But as months pass in the simulation and the astronauts live exactly as they would in space, reality begins to break down — both their performed realities and their physical reality. It’s a deeply introspective novel.

“Prime is very deep,” Yoshi says. “I have begun to wonder how deep. Everything seems to have been arranged to work with great precision upon our emotions, to cause us to investigate ourselves and root out that which might obstruct our mission.”

The novel switches perspectives between the three astronauts and their closest family members. Helen, the oldest crew member in her late fifties, lost her husband a few years earlier, and Mireille, her adult actress daughter who can never be her mother, struggles with another parental abandonment as her mother leaves to train for the mission. Yoshi, the youngest member of the crew, must leave his wife Madoka for the mission. While they seemingly have the perfect relationship, Madoka performs the roll of wife and successful business woman without any real sense of living, and Yoshi, ever the romantic, lives in metaphor so much that he fails to understand the physical reality of love. Sergei is undergoing a divorce while his teenaged son Dimitri tries to hide his sexuality, ashamed of being attracted to men and in need of an accepting, present father. While Sergei was my favorite character, there were no characters I didn’t want to read more about.

The Wanderers isn’t a novel about space travel; it’s a novel about the inner workings of the people driven to space, the affects of space travel on their families, and how long space flights can affect perceptions of the past, present, and future. It’s a deeply interior novel, not driven by plot but rather by the subtle opening up of the characters as their many layers to ward off public perception are slowly peeled away to reveal something much more vulnerable and much more human.

I fear the blurb’s analogy to Station Eleven and The Martian is slightly misleading, for it’s only superficially similar to Station Eleven (in that it appeals to all audiences versus only within the SF community), and while I only watched The Martian and didn’t read it, the only relation I see there is that they’re both about space travel. The approach is entirely different.

I highly recommend reading The Wanderers. It’s my first by the author, and I definitely plan to read more by her.

Rating: 4/5

Book Review of The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin

Title and Author: The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin

Publication Date: March 14th, 2017

Genre: Short Stories across the spectrum of genres

How I got it: Thanks to Netgalley and Rebellion Publishing for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review:
“When Allah created man out of clay, Allah also created the djinn out of fire.”–Mahvesh Murad, from the Introduction.

This is a really wonderful short story collection. I’d no idea so many variations of djinn existed — good or evil, mischievous or kind, religious or deviant, and everywhere in between. The sheer variation of interpretation is what makes this a superior collection, as well as, of course, the superior writing. There’s not a single poorly written piece in this collection. They’re all nuanced, well-thought, character driven stories. It’s also a great mix of authors I know and ones I’m unfamiliar with. I’ll be checking out some of the authors that were new to me to see what else they’ve written.

I had three absolute favorites. First up is the opening poem by Hermes, which gave me goosebumps: “A djinn I am. / My fetters may be broke but / still they wrap round wrist and ankle: / every djinn’s possessed.” The poem sets the tone for the anthology, though If there’s one downside to opening with it, it’s that I then expected more poems, but, alas, this is the only one.

Then there’s the wonderfully creepy “REAP” by Sami Shah. It’s going to stick with me. In “REAP,” a group of soldiers spying on a possible terrorist’s home in Afghanistan with the use of a drone see something completely unexpected and super creepy. It’s my first time reading Shah, so I’ll be seeing what else he’s written. Wait…I just looked him up, and he’s a comedian??? There’s nothing funny about this story! That’s weird.

I also love “Somewhere in America” by Neil Gaiman, an excerpt from American Gods. I still remembered it from American Gods, but it remained good. I’m actually not a huge fan of American Gods, yet, this chapter was my favorite from it, and it works perfectly as a short story.

A close runner up to my favorite’s list is the first short story — “The Congregation” by Kamila Shamsie, another author I’m unfamiliar with. This one is steeped in Islamic culture, yet very accessible to me, someone unfamiliar with the culture and religion. In fact, that’s one of the best things about this collection, it’s diversity, accessibility, and variation. Anyone should be able to find stories they like in this collection, no matter your reading taste.

I would definitely recommend this to anyone who loves short stories, particularly if you’re looking to read a diverse collection, and like a bit of magic in your fiction.

Imam Ali Conquers Jinn, unknown artist, Ahsan-ol-Kobar (1568)

Here are my reviews of each story:

Hermes (trans. Robin Moger) — “The Djinn Falls in Love”: Ooo, lovely poem. 5/5

Kamila Shamsie — “The Congregation”: A young man visits his family’s mosque late one night, to find jinn worshiping there instead. One jinn in particular enraptures him. Loved the immersion of this one. 4.5/5

Kuzhali Manickavel — “How We Remember You”: A man remembers how as a teen he and a group of friends did something they’ll regret the rest of their lives, to another friend who’d begun growing wings on his back. 4/5

Claire North — “Hurrem and the Djinn”: Davuud is asked to discover what foul djinn Hurrem — the sultan’s favorite wife — consorts with. Things get out of hand. Men can be stupid. 🙂 This novelette is predictable, but well written. I love all these different takes on djinn. They’re so different from tale to tale — in appearance, temperament, powers, etc. 3.5/5

J.Y. Yang — “Glass Lights”: A woman whose grandmother was a djinn struggles in the contemporary world with loneliness. Good writing and character, but lacking in plot. 3/5

Monica Byrne — “Authenticity”: A young woman searches for authentic experiences, and sex is one way to find those experiences. She gets with a young man who is filming a porn movie later. But are either of them what they seem? 3/5

Helene Wecker — “Majnun”: A jinn, once the lover of a beautiful jinn ruler, has a religious crisis and becomes an exorcist. Very interesting story. 4/5

Maria Dahvana Headley — “Black Powder”: A hunter, a kid, a pawnshop owner, and a priest become entwined in a story about a jinn that lives in a rifle. Not sure I exactly understood the end, it felt like a retelling of a story I’m completely unfamiliar with, but the writing and relationships are well done. 4/5

Amal El-Mohtar — “A Tale of Ash in Seven Birds”: Magicians hunt reincarnations of birds. No strong djinn connection, that I can tell. Not a big fan of this, though I usually love El-Mohtar’s fiction. 2/5

James Smythe — “The Sand in the Glass is Right”: A man tries again and again to get his wish right, but what does he lose in the process? I liked the theme of consequences. This is one that would probably be best on a second read. 4/5

Sami Shah — “REAP”: A military unit watches a group of houses in Afghanistan with the use of a drone, and see some pretty disturbing stuff. This story is excellent. It will stay with me for a while. 5/5

Catherine King — “Queen of Sheba”: A twelve-year-old girl celebrates her first Christmas with the adults, but as she’s ironing a tablecloth, she sees visions. Good story, though without a plot. I’m still buzzing from the last story, so that may have affected my read of this one. 3.5/5

E.J. Swift — “The Jinn Hunter’s Apprentice”: A spaceship set for Ganymede has an unexpected hiccup when it becomes infested with djinn. I would think sci-fi and djinn wouldn’t mix well, but this is a solid story. 4/5

K.J. Parker — “Message in a Bottle”: During the Middle Ages, a scholar tries to determine if a previous now dead scholar’s bottle labeled “For the plague” is a cure, or a new strain that will wipe out humanity. Well written, but couldn’t he test it on people in confinement? 3/5

Saad Hossein — “Bring Your Own Spoon”: In a post apocalypse where food is scarce, a man decides to start a restaurant with the help of a djinn. 3.5/5

Neil Gaiman — “Somewhere in America”: An excerpt from American Gods, and one of the few chapters I remember completely. It works really well on its own. A man is sent to America to sell his brother-in-laws cheap nic nacs, and finds an unexpected friend in a cab driver. 4.5/5

Jamal Mahjoub — “Duende 2077”: There’s a murder, and the detective trying to solve the case runs into some complications that herald to his past. I never understood exactly who the murderer was. 3/5

Sophia Al-Maria — “The Righteous Guide of Arabsat”: In the contemporary Middle East, a sexually repressed guy marries what his mother claims to be a ‘good girl.’ But after discovering his new wife knows more about sex than he, he decides she must be possessed by a djinn. Reminds me of Victorian era attitudes toward sex. A disturbing story. 4/5

Kirsty Logan — “The Spite House”: A half djinn/half human woman takes the leftover junk people leave in their yards, but when a woman confronts her about this and makes a wish, she feels a power overtake her. But is she the one with the power? I liked the switch in dynamics here. 4/5

Usman Malik — “Emperors of Jinn”: A group of rich children become obsessed with a spell book that calls djinn. These are some truly evil brats. 3.5/5

Nnedi Okorafor — “History”: A superstar singer prepares for a televised concert, and reflects on a childhood spent in Africa, and the magic she learned there, and the bush baby she caught that lives in her mirror. I really liked this story, but it felt like it was referring to something else — maybe a novel Okorafor has written? Felt like a small part of something much larger. 3.5/5

Rating: 4/5

 

Reading Railroad: February’s Reading


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This may be my slowest reading month ever. Due to my hospital visit in January, I became super behind on work, so I didn’t read as much as I normally do. I did finish 5 books in all; surprisingly, not a single novel.

Fairytale Collections

One Thousand and One Nights: A Retelling by Hanan Al-Shaykh. Published in 2013. In this version of The Arabian Nights, Al-Shaykh both translates from the original while mixing in her own Arabian Nights-esque tales. At least, I think they’re her own variations, as some of the tales aren’t in the two other versions I’ve read (not that I remember, anyway). This is my third Arabian Nights translation, and while the writing is strong, I still prefer the Haddawy translation (The Arabian Nights). Haddawy combines ease of reading with the feel of an oral text, whereas this version feels designed/intentional. But also, because of that, it’s probably the most accessible version I’ve read. Certainly far more than the Burton (One Thousand and One Nights – Complete Arabian Nights Collection). 3.5/5

Poetry Collections

Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann. Published in 2014. This is a collection of YA poems about anorexia, beauty, and sex, using fairy tales as a backdrop. I like that it makes poetry accessible to teenagers using relevant content, but it’s not for me. There’s also photography, which didn’t show up well on my kindle, so I recommend buying this in print. If you have a teen girl, she might enjoy the collection. I just like my poetry a little more abstract, or timeless. I’m really not sure! You can read a poem from the collection on the author’s website. 2.5/5

The Branch Will Not Break by James Wright. Published in 1963. After reading The Delicacy and Strength of Lace: Letters Between Leslie Marmon Silko and James Wright in grad school, I decided I wanted to read James Wright’s poetry (already being a fan of Leslie Marmon Silko). However, it’s been about four years since then, and I’m just now reading one of his collections. That’s what happens when you have hundreds of books picked up in exactly the same way. I can only read so many! I read this collection in a single sitting, and that’s with me reading each poem two or three times (which is how I read poetry). At first, I was a bit disappointed. The poems themselves are superbly crafted, but they just weren’t my kind of poems. They often reference historical figures I know very little about; for instance, there are three poems about U.S. presidents. Even his nature poems — more to my taste — in the beginning had a tendency to be a bit melodramatic. For example, he ends the poem “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota” with the line “I have wasted my life.” That got an eye roll. I guess it’s ‘telling’ too much for me. However, about halfway through there’s a slight switch in tone. More nature poems are scattered throughout, and they’re quieter than the earlier ones. Like this one:

Milkweed

While I stood here, in the open, lost in myself,
I must have looked a long time
Down the corn rows, beyond grass,
The small house,
White walls, animals lumbering toward the barn.
I look down now. It is all changed.
Whatever it was I lost, whatever I wept for
Was a wild, gentle thing, the small dark eyes
Loving me in secret.
It is here. At a touch of my hand,
The air fills with delicate creatures
From the other world.

This isn’t to say that this is a ‘mixed bag’ of poetry. The poems still connect in tone and theme and imagery, and I can see why it receives so many 5 star ratings, and why so many say James Wright is their favorite poet. While he won’t be vying for my favorite’s list, I did enjoy several poems in this collection, and respect his craft. 3.5/5

Short Story Collections

From the Stories of Old: A Collection of Fairy Tale Retellings. Published in 2016. I think people who haven’t read many fairytale short story collections would get more enjoyment out of reading this than those who read a ton of retellings (like myself). They’re fairly straight forward retellings, without many subversions or twists. My absolute favorite was “The Glass Maker” by Mckayla Eaton, a gender inversion of “Cinderella” with some cool world building. I would read more in that setting. I also quite liked “The Bear in the Forest” by Kelsie Engen, a “Snow White and Rose Red” retelling, and “The Goose and His Girl” by Lynden Wade, a unique YA “Goose Girl” short story. You can read my review of each individual short story on Goodreads. 3/5

The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin. Will be published March 14th, 2017. “When Allah created man out of clay, Allah also created the djinn out of fire.” — from the Introduction. This is a really wonderful collection of short stories about djinn. I had no idea there were so many variations of djinn — good or evil, mischievous or kind, religious or deviant, and everywhere in between. The sheer variation of interpretation is what makes this a superior collection, as well as the superior writing, of course. There’s not a single poorly written piece in this collection. They’re all nuanced, well-thought, character driven stories. It’s also a great mix of authors I know and ones I’m unfamiliar with, and I will be checking out some of the authors that were new to me to see what else they’ve written. I will post a full review this month, but needless to say, if you’re a short story reader, you should read this. Thanks to Netgalley and Rebellion Publishing for providing me a free copy in exchange for an honest review. 4/5

Individual Short Stories

“The Key to St. Medusa’s” by Kat Howard. Published in Lightspeed Magazine, October 2016. When Agatha’s parents kick her out of the house for being a witch, she finds a home at St. Medusa’s, a school and refuge for witches in a world that hates them. But when the girls hear word of a man that marries and then murders witches, Agatha and three friends decide something must be done. I really love this “Bluebeard” retelling, and could read more set in this world! If it were a novel I’d eat it up. I did feel like the ending was rushed, which was a bit sad because I was loving it up until then. 4/5

What were your favorite reads in February?

Book Review of The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis


Title and Author:  The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis

Publication Date: June 2016

Genre: Thriller, Post Apocalypse, Western

How I got it: Bought it used at the bookstore I work at

Review:

“This is a world a’ hurt and shit and blood and bullets. This is a world where a strong arm is a’ more value than a strong mind. The Damn Stupid changed up the people a’ this country, changed up coin to mean not much, changed up cities, changed up the law, it made murderers a’ all us what’s left.”

This is a weird thing to say about a book, but The Wolf Road reminds me of a Quentin Tarantino movie.

The novel combines several genres: the western in tone and setting, thriller in plot, and post apocalypse in background. I wonder if it was originally inspired by “Little Red Riding Hood,” because the novel has all the elements of the fairy tale — grandmother, child, wolf — without resembling the plot. It’s not in any way a retelling, but it does have some glimmers here and there of LRRH.

When Elka’s seven, a super storm hits and kills her grandmother. Years earlier her parents left in search of gold, so now Elka’s in the woods alone. A man she calls Trapper adopts her and teaches her wood lore and how to hunt. She loves him, and he seems to love her in his own way. His one rule: never speak of him to anyone else. When Elka’s seventeen, she goes to the closest town to pick up some supplies, and sees a wanted poster with Trapper’s face on it. He’s wanted for multiple murders, and it’s not until then that she realizes he’s a serial killer. When Magistrate Lyon sees Elka’s reaction to the wanted poster, she realizes Elka knows the man.

Elka escapes into the woods on a mission to find her long lost parents, but two hunt her — Magistrate Lyon and Trapper.

It may seem like I’m giving too much away, but you find out about all of this within 10 pages.

The setting and characters are pure western, as is the dialect. Some reviewers complain about the dialect, but for me it made the novel. I can’t imagine it written in any other way.

The thriller aspect is obvious — murder, a chase. But while the plot revolves around these tropes, Lewis twists the typical revenge plot in a unique way by concentrating on Elka’s internalization of memory. The end was intriguing and full of psychological insight.

The apocalyptic past almost seems like an afterthought, but I loved the hints of it here and there. Bombs in the water, a poisoned landscape, giant storms. They call it The Damn Stupid. Could the setting be some kind of alternate history, if the Cold War had turned into nuclear war? That’s hinted at once. I also like the bits about environmental protection: “Figured the land owed me that, but right now, looking at that land, us humans owed the wild so much more.”

Lewis also subverts some common apocalypse genre tropes — mainly cannibalism and rape. It’s a refreshing take after reading some recent, post apocalyptic novels that depend too much on cliché representations, like California and On Such a Full Sea. I also love that Lewis writes women who represent several different character types, but then these types are once again subverted, which I appreciated. Lewis adeptly manages to combine a thrilling plot with layered characters.

I’m giving this a 4 instead of a 5 because sometimes, especially at the beginning, it felt like the trials on Elka’s journey/escape were a bit contrived. I realize that’s kind of a necessity for a thriller, and maybe that’s why I don’t read those that much. Once the story got going, I no longer had those issues.

Oh, and somehow in this review I forgot to mention the wolf. You’ll have to read the novel to find out more about him!

Rating: 4/5