Holiday Gift Ideas for Book Lovers and/or Writers (that aren’t books)


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I’ve gathered a random assortment of bookish presents for the bookish people on your holiday gift list. It always helps to have an idea of some authors they like. Next week, I’ll blog about books you can give, though that’s much trickier if they’re a book fiend like me.

Chicozy Housewares pillow cover. For the cat loving readers, $8

 

 

 

Literary Tea Collection. For the tea drinkers, more options with that seller, $12

 

 

Bookish Mugs. Amazon has a bunch, this one is from Awesome Librarians. Usually $10-$20.

 

 

 

Sainted Writer Candles. Yep. Much better than the generic scented candles. $15-$20.

 

 

 

 

Literary Tights. Love these! Many options. $23.

 

 

 

 

Out of Print Tees. $20-$25.

 

 

 

 

 

Hogwarts Door Mats. More options with the seller. $35.

 

 

 

Bookends. Bookriot already put together a huge list of bookends, so I linked to that. Wide variety of prices.

 

 

Jewelry. Faerie Magazine has pretty, fairytale inspired jewelry (I especially like their bracelets), Etsy has plenty, here’s the one from the image. It may help narrow your search on Etsy if you look for specific books and authors you know the person likes.

 

Art can also be a unique gift, and doesn’t have to be expensive. Most of these artists are inspired by fairy tales and fantasy, since that’s what I’m into, and have prints under $30. Julianna Swaney (shown), Isobelle Ouzman, Christian SchloeKelly Louise Judd, C. Welz-Stein.

 

If you’re looking for an expensive gift for a writer, writing workshops can be a great gift. Gotham Writers has online classes for just under $400, The Brainery does as well, though it looks like nothing is open right now. You can also look up writing retreats in their area. Another great idea for writers is to purchase an edit from a published writer or editor. Kat Howard does edits (I really like her fiction), and I have a friend who used Nicole Tone and got some great feedback. There a lot of options out there, so it will take some research.

For readers, book box subscriptions could be a great, expensive gift idea. Book Riot has one, and here’s a list of eleven more.

Happy Holidays!

A Formula for Epic Fantasy


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The Black Gate Closed by Alan Lee
The Black Gate Closed by Alan Lee

Recently, I’ve been mulling over a 3-part formula for epic fantasy. It focuses on broad plotting in fantasy series versus micro plotting. Here’s the formula:

  1. Individual
  2. Community
  3. Globe

Book 1, or the beginning of the fantasy series, focuses on the individual hero(ine) and their conflict. The hero(ine) discovers they’re different, or they’re given a task, or they’re suddenly alone (or all of the above). They must learn something about themselves, be trained, leave the only home they’ve ever known. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo leaves Hobbiton and chooses to be the ring-bearer. In The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, Kvothe discovers he’s a genius, loses his family, and goes to the university to train in magic. In the Valdemar trilogies by Mercedes Lackey, book one often if not always begins with a teenager discovering they have magic, their horse appearing, and leaving home to train in magic. In The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan, Rand leaves home and discovers he’s special; the same happens to both Kaladin and Shallan in The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. I could name many more examples, but that’s probably enough.

Books 2+ explore community conflicts. This isn’t to say individual conflicts are no longer explored, but that by helping communities overcome conflict, the hero(ine) learns something about themselves. In The Two Towers, the hero(in)es face community conflicts in Rohan, Helms Deep, Isengard, and more. I haven’t read The Wise Man’s Fear yet, but I bet Kvothe leaves the university and travels into the wider world, visits communities that are undergoing conflicts, and helps (or fails to help) those communities. In the Valdemar trilogies, book 2 has the newly trained Herald being given an assignment that requires them to travel to outlying communities, and of course everything isn’t as it should be in those communities. These community-level conflicts can take up more than 1 book. The Wheel of Time series, for instance, has many community-level conflicts happening over many books. Words of Radiance is interesting because it focuses on a single area/community of conflict, but Sanderson gives the reader brief glimpses into community conflicts happening around the world, though the main characters are centrally located.

Finally, the fantasy series explores global-level conflict. Often, the possibility for global conflict has been there the entire time, and the smaller, individual and community conflicts have been a product or leading towards the larger, global conflict. The stakes are much higher in these conflicts. The world might end, humanity be destroyed, evil overtake the world, etc. The hero(ine) faces the ultimate villain(s) that threaten to destroy everything, not just the hero(ine). In The Return of the King, Sauron’s defeated, the ring thrown into the aptly named Fires of Mount Doom. If the heroes had failed, evil would’ve ruled the land. Though unfinished, I’m betting in The Kingkiller Chronicle a threat that imperils everything Kvothe knows and loves and the fabric of magic itself occurs to bring him out of exile (or, he tells about this conflict which then forced him into exile). For Valdemar, in book 3 the country itself is imperiled, and the Herald must save the day or else the entire country be destroyed. I haven’t finished The Wheel of Time series (stopped at book 10 about a decade ago and I don’t want to reread the entire thing to finally finish it), but the global conflict is apparent early on: The Dragon Reborn must face the Dark One, as the prophecy foretells. This is both an individual conflict and a global conflict, as many final books are. Unless the hero(ine) can conquer their inner demons and fears, the world will end, or everything good will be destroyed.

Many epic fantasies follow this formula. A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin moves through the formula slowly, focusing on different hero(in)es at different times, and often the hero(in)es fail at saving a community, which is what makes the series a dark fantasy. And while all these communities face danger, Westeros itself is threatened to be destroyed by the white walkers (global). The Earthsea trilogy by Ursula Le Guin masterfully uses the formula to show that individual, community, and global conflict are all one and the same. N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series moves in and out of all 3 parts simultaneously in both the books published so far — The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate — though it still seems to follow the basic formula, and is also obviously leading to a larger, global conflict. I could go on and on.

The formula is intuitively logical. It plays a part even in the real world, often in education and morality. First, an individual learns how to be a good human being (ideally), then they take their skills and help those around them in the community, and by helping those around them, the world improves. Individual-Community-Globe. The formula also aligns with Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, though more simplified and broader in scope — focusing less on the individual and more on overarching plot structure. But if I were to map out the possible plot points in each of these 3 parts, I bet it would look very similar to Campbell’s hero’s journey.

I can think of several science fiction series that follow this formula as well, but it doesn’t seem as consistent as in epic fantasy. My theory is that global-level conflict can be addressed in fantasy in ways that seem forced or trite in other genres, but individual and community-level conflict is often seen regardless of genre. Also, the idea of ‘training’ seems to hold more importance in fantasy than other genres, though again, I can think of exceptions, especially in science fiction.

And not all fantasy series follow this formula. China Mieville’s Bas-Lag trilogy stands out as an exception. Conflict is thrown upon the characters with no training, the characters are not ‘special’ in any unique way, the city faces conflict but often the hero is a byproduct of the conflict. The world is never imperiled. I’m sure there are other epic fantasies that do not follow the formula.

I may explore this idea more at some point. It seems that fantasy offers a unique way of looking at how individuals can affect the world, but that idea is nothing new to anyone who’s already obsessed with the genre. Nonetheless, I’m always fascinated by how the craft of writing aids in message and theme.

Finding the will to create when everything feels like it’s falling apart


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A lot of people are feeling pain, frustration, and anger right now. And that’s okay. We need to feel these things. While strong emotions sometimes fuel creativity, it can also stunt it. I’ve collected quotes from books lying around my house, quotes about finding hope, rediscovering creativity, and why creativity is needed when things look the bleakest. Feel free to leave quotes, ideas, poems, etc. that help you in the comments.

 

Anne Lamott in the essay “Writer’s Block,” From Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

“The problem is acceptance, which is something we’re taught not to do. We’re taught to improve uncomfortable situations, to change things, alleviate unpleasant feelings. But if you accept the reality that you have been given—that you are not in a productive creative period—you free yourself to begin filling up again.”

Expansion | Bronze with Electricity by Paige Bradley Click on the picture to see her other amazing sculptures
Expansion | Bronze with Electricity by Paige Bradley. Click on the picture to see more of her amazing art.

Viktor E. Frankle, From Man’s Search for Meaning

“We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed.”

 

Jean-Paul Sartre, From Existentialism Is a Humanism

“When we say that man chooses himself, not only do we mean that each of us must choose himself, but also that in choosing himself, he is choosing for all men. In fact, in creating the man each of us wills ourselves to be, there is not a single one of our actions that does not at the same time create an image of man as we think he ought to be….What art and morality have in common is creation and invention….This is humanism because we remind man that there is no legislature other than himself and that he must, in his abandoned state, make his own choices, and also because we show that it is not by turning inward, but by constantly seeking a goal outside of himself in the form of liberation, or of some special achievement, that man will realize himself as truly human.”

 

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, From Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

“Stories set the inner life into motion, and this is particularly important where the inner life is frightened, wedged, or cornered. Story greases the hoists and pulleys, it causes adrenaline to surge, shows us the way out, down, or up, and for our trouble, cuts us fine wide doors in previously blank walls, openings that lead to the dreamland, that lead to love and learning, that lead us back to our own real lives as knowing wildish women.”

Passage (2007) by Cornelia Konrads. Again, I've linked to her portfolio.
Passage (2007) by Cornelia Konrads. Again, I’ve linked to her amazing portfolio.

Marina Warner, From From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers

“Storytelling can act to face objects of derision or fear and sometimes—not always—inspire tolerance and even fellow-feeling; it can realign allegiances and remap terrors. Storytellers can also break through the limits of permitted thought to challenge conventions; fairy tales, I have argued in this book, offer a way of putting questions, of testing the structure as well as guaranteeing its safety, of thinking up alternatives as well as living daily reality in an examined way…[The fairy tale] offers magical metamorphoses to the one who opens the door, who passes on what was found there, and to those who hear what the storyteller brings. The faculty of wonder, like curiosity, can make things happen; it is time for wishful thinking to have its due.”

 

Ursula Le Guin in the essay “A War without End,” From The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination

“To me the important thing is not to offer any specific hope of betterment but, by offering an imagined but persuasive alternative to reality, to dislodge my mind, and so the reader’s mind, from the lazy, timorous habit of thinking that the way we live now is the only way people can live. It is the inertia that allows the institutions of injustice to continue unquestioned…We will not know our own injustice if we cannot imagine justice. We will not be free if we do not imagine freedom. We cannot demand that anyone try to attain justice and freedom who has not had a chance to imagine them as attainable.”

 

Mary Oliver, From Why I Wake Early: New Poems

Where Does the Temple Begin, Where Does It End?

There are things you can’t reach. But
You can reach out to them, and all day long.

The wind, the bird flying away. The idea of God.

And it can keep you as busy as anything else, and happier.

The snake slides away; the fish jumps, like a little lily,
Out of the water and back in; the goldfinches sing
from the unreachable top of the tree.

I look; morning to night I am never done with looking.

Looking I mean not just standing around, but standing around
   as though with your arms open.
And thinking: maybe something will come, some
   shining coil of wind,
   or a few leaves from any old tree—
      they are all in this too.
And now I will tell you the truth.
Everything in the world
comes.

At least, closer.

And, cordially.

Like the nibbling, tinsel-eyed fish; the unlooping snake.
Like goldfinches, little dolls of gold
fluttering around the corner of the sky

of God, the blue air.

Andy Goldsworthy.
Andy Goldsworthy. Needs no introduction.

Lao Tzu, From the Tao Te Ching

XI

Thirty spokes
Share one hub.
Adapt the nothing therein to the purpose in hand, and you
will have the use of the cart. Knead clay in order to make a
vessel. Adapt the nothing therein to the purpose in hand,
and you will have the use of the vessel. Cut out doors and
windows in order to make a room. Adapt the nothing
therein to the purpose in hand, and you will have the use
of the room.
Thus what we gain is Something, yet it is by virtue of
Nothing that this can be put to use.

Fairytale Syllabus


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This semester I taught my very first fairytale themed college course. I’ve had lots of requests for the reading list, so here it is, all free online if you follow the links. (I’m so thankful places like Surlalune exist, making fairy tales readily accessible. It’s also where I found all the images in this post.) The class is an Intro to the University course, so sometimes I had to base the readings off of guest university speakers, thus it doesn’t follow the typical fairytale class setup, where you read a different tale-type each week. Instead, I grouped stories by relevant themes, with a few tale-type weeks to enforce the idea that there is no single version of a fairy tale. The course also needed to be multicultural, so I intentionally had my students read tales from around the world instead of only Grimm and Perrault, though they still read many of those. My goal for next year is to include even more non-European tales.

Week 1: Introduction

On Fairy-Stories by J.R.R. Tolkien

Gustave Doré

Week 2: Little Red Riding Hood

The Story of Grandmother, Italian

Little Red Riding Hood, Perrault, French

Little Red Cap, Grimms, German

The Company of Wolves by Angela Carter

The Little Girl and the Wolf by James Thurber

Little Red Riding Hood has a Gun by Amelia Hamilton

 

Kay Nielsen
Kay Nielsen

Week 3: Animal Bridegrooms

Beauty and the Beast by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont, French

East of the Sun, West of the Moon by Asbjornsen and Möe, Norwegian

The Monkey Prince collected by Stokes, Indian

 

 

 

 

Edmund Dulac
Edmund Dulac

Week 4: Cinderella

Yeh-hsien, Chinese

Donkeyskin, Perrault, French

Cinderella, or Aschenputtel, Grimms, German

The Poor Turkey Girl, Zuni

Little Burnt Face, Micmac

Introduction to The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettelheim

 

H.J. Ford
H.J. Ford

Week 5: The Necessities

Hansel and Gretel, Grimms, German

Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp, Persian

Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen, Danish

The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde, British

 

 

A.W. Bayes
A.W. Bayes

Week 6: Stress and Sorrow

The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen, Danish

Marwe in the Underworld, Kenyan

The Juniper Tree, Grimms, German

The Bamboo-cutter and the Moon-child collected by Ozaki, Japanese

 

 

Anne Anderson
Anne Anderson

Week 7: Villains

Bluebeard, Perrault, French

Rumpelstiltskin, Grimms, German

Vasilissa the Beautiful, Russian

Handout: “Breaking the Disney Spell” by Jack Zipes.

 

 

Milo Winter
Milo Winter

Week 8: Working Hard for the Money

Six Swans, Grimms, German

Puss in Boots, Perrault, French

The Stonecutter, Japanese

 

 

 

 

Halloween Reading

You can find everything I had them read for Halloween on a previous post.

And that’s what I had them read! I could’ve easily picked double the amount. It was so hard to be choosy, and I’ll definitely make some changes next time I teach it, though it will be hard to cut some of these!

 

Reading Railroad: October’s Reading


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Everything I read in October. I made up for the slow reading in September last month!

Novels

Except the Queen by Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder. Published in 2010. Adult fantasy. Two fae sisters, Meteora and Serana, happen upon the Fairy Queen with a mortal man and their child tucked away safe in the grass. They flee the queen’s wrath, but when one makes a gossipy mistake, the queen finds them and curses them to live apart in the mortal realm as two old women. For those who love fae and fairy. My full review is on Goodreads. 4/5

 

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter. Published in September 2016. YA fantasy. It’s current day Brooklyn, but not quite the same Brooklyn we know, for the nights feel endless and stretch on and on and on, and there’s a convenience store chain called Babs Yagg, if you dare to go in it. Anyone ‘caught’ stealing has their head cut off. Vassa’s not a normal 16-yr-old. She carries with her a secret magical doll, Erg, that her mother gave her. Arriving at the store, Vassa is tricked by Babs Yaggs into working there for 3 nights. She knows she’s doomed to have her head cut off, but maybe with Erg’s help she can make it out. I didn’t quite believe the characters, though it’s a creative idea. My full review is on Goodreads. Thanks to Tor/Forge and Goodreads First Reads for the free copy in exchange for an honest review. 3/5

Faithful by Alice Hoffman. Published in November 2016. Contemporary fiction. It’s release day for this one! You can read my full review on this blog. Thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review. 4/5

 

 

Rumpled by Lacey Louwagie. Published in 2014. Fantasy. A quick read — novella-length — that explores an alternate version of Rumpelstiltskin. I’m in a Goodreads book group with Lacey, so I wanted to give her retelling a read. 4/5

 

 

Bohemian Gospel by Dana Chamblee Carpenter. Published in 2015. Historical fiction. Mouse lives in a convent, but she’s not allowed to attend church or to be baptized. People whisper she’s a witch, but her surrogate father Father Lucas assures her she’s a child of God. But she knows she’s different. She can see people’s souls, and when she looks for her own, she sees nothing. She also has unusual healing powers, which come in handy when the young King Ottakar winds up at the abbey after being shot by an arrow. She saves him, and in return he makes her his ward, and takes her with him to Prague. Those who love historical fiction and magic should give this a try. I work with Dana, so I’m so glad I enjoyed this. My full review is on Goodreads. I may post it on this blog at some point. 4/5

Lilith by George MacDonald. Published in 1895. Fantasy. While I was expecting a Christian fantasy, I wasn’t expecting it to be an allegory. Some people may love religious allegories; I’m not a fan. I can definitely see how MacDonald inspired C.S. Lewis. 2/5

 

 

The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury. Published in 1972. MG light horror. Through the eyes of a group of trick-or-treating boys, Bradbury explores the Halloween traditions of several cultures, and the ending is perfect. While written for middle grade readers, it was fun for me to read too. Bradbury’s descriptions of Fall and Halloween are evocative; you can really tell he loved this time of year. This is my favorite Ray Bradbury so far! Perfect Halloween read. 4/5

Short Story Collections

The Rose and The Beast: Fairy Tales Retold by Francesca Lia Block. Published in 2001. YA short stories. While most of these stories are terribly depressing (dealing with sexual violence), they also have a jerky, happy quality — a tone that resembles teenage girl talk. It reminded me a bit of Kate Bernheimer. If you like your fairytale retellings to add details and turn archetypes into 3 dimensional characters, this isn’t a collection you’ll enjoy. But if you like retellings that keep the peculiar flatness of the originals, coupled with a modern setting and disturbing content, then this is right up your alley. I read this in a single sitting, so it’s a fast read. My full review is on Goodreads. 3.5/5

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz. Published in 1989. MG horror stories. I listened to this on youtube the day before Halloween, and remembered almost all of the stories! Brought me right back to childhood. Can you believe that no one in one of my college classes had ever heard of it!? 4/5

 

Nonfiction

Steering the Craft by Ursula Le Guin. Published in 1998. 10 craft exercises in 10 chapters. These craft exercises help break down the elements of writing so the writer is more conscious of these elements as they’re writing. I did all 10 exercises, and feel more conscious of the physicality of my writing than I did before. Another plus to these exercises are that they can be done again and again. While you won’t have a short story ready for submission after reading this, you will have the skills (or improved skills) to write one. My full review is on Goodreads. 4/5

Short Stories

These are all free to read online by clicking on the links.

The Pigeon Summer by Brit Mandelo. Published in May 2016 by Tor.com. J.’s best friend and soulmate has died, and si doesn’t know how to continue. Plus, si believes si’s being haunted. Interesting use of gender-queer pronouns. I liked that about it, and J.’s struggle with grief felt very real. I wish the speculative element had been emphasized more. 3.5/5

 

The Cleverest Daughter by Sarah Marshall. Published in 2016 by One Throne Magazine. A story of abuse combined with a lovely retelling of East of the Sun, West of the Moon. It took a few readings of the beginning for me to figure out who was saying what, but I enjoyed it. 4/5

The Magician and Laplace’s Demon by Tom Crosshill. Published in 2014 by Clarkesworld Magazine. An AI meets its match in a magician, but it’s not going to let a magician outsmart it. Interesting concept and well-written. 4/5

 

 

Wine by Yoon Ha Lee. Published in 2014 by Clarkesworld Magazine. To save their planet a decision is made, but the cost is too much for some. Interesting character development — would like to read more in this world. 4/5

 

 

Happy reading in the month to come!