Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Publication Opportunity for YOU!

It's been a slow news week for me. Just reading, watching movies, writing...the usual. I did get a story rejected from a magazine this past week. Apparently it wasn't tight enough. I emailed them to ask what that means, in the interest of improving my craft, so we'll see if they get back to me.

I've also been watching a lot of Wishbone. You know, that show on PBS about the bookish dog? It's been fun to catch up with my childhood as I've watched the shows. It's also cool to watch now that I've read the books featured. (By the way, all the episodes are on Youtube. Go nuts.)

Anyway, this will be a short post because I mostly just want to relay some news to you, my readers. I know a number of you are writers and I just became aware of a possible publishing opportunity. My brother's friend is starting an online literary journal at his university and my brother sent me the details. See flyer below:

In case you can't read the email address, it's joseph.whitaker.iii@gmail.com.

In the words of the journal's creator, "Purfle and Gyve is a journal where each issue revolves around contemporary interpretations of a single myth. The first edition will feature works interpreting the myth of Narcissus and Echo. I am looking for short stories, poetry and artwork that depicts this myth with a modern twist."

Well, I love reading and writing retellings, so I'm game. I hope you take advantage of this, not just because it will help my brother's friend out. The deadline for submissions is October 6 of this year, so we all have plenty of time.

Also, for reference, here's the story of Echo and Narcissus. And another one, here.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Book Recommendations for My Cousin

I didn't post yesterday because I read a book I really disliked and didn't want to rant about it. I've done too much of that lately. I will say this, though: the thing I liked least about the book was the way it sounded like the writer set out to "write a book." It followed every popular cliche without much explanation and seemed so...pattern. I mention this because I want to implore you writers out there to write the books you want to write, not the ones you think the people want. The stories that shine to you will shine to readers, I promise.

I want to be positive today, and I have the perfect material. An aunt asked me to recommend some books for her middle grade/YA aged daughter, preferably books that are not silly romances where the girl is willing to do anything for the guy. So I went to the library, took notes, and sent her a list. And I've decided to put that list on here for all of you. Some of these should not surprise you; I talk about them enough. And the list is certainly not comprehensive. But I positively love all of them.

- Anything by E.D. Baker. She writes fairy tale retellings that have love stories but they are not the focus. Characters are great, storytelling is clever, protagonists are smart and strong. Good place to start is The Frog Princess or Fairy Wings.

- Anything by T.A. Barron. Seriously some of the best fantasy for children I've ever read. The Lost Years of Merlin series is a good start, but so is Heartlight or The Merlin Effect. Excellent worldbulding and characterization.

- Ordinary Boy books by William Boniface. About a boy with no superpowers in a town full of them. Goofy, enjoyable, clever take on superhero tropes.

- The Sisters Grimm series. Darker, grittier take on fairy tales with a mystery/detective vibe.

- So You Want to Be A Wizard by Diane Duane. Fantasy mixed with science, deeply thought-provoking and enchanting story about power and good versus evil.

- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. A classic. Science and fantastic elements mixed, intelligent writing that calls for intelligent readers, beautiful message.

- Anything by Nancy Farmer. Wonderful writer with well-researched books. Engaging stories. A good place to start here is The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm (sci-fi) or The Sea of Trolls (fantasy based heavily on Norse culture).

- Anything by Cornelia Funke. Some of the best fantasy I've read. Inkheart is her most famous book, but I also like The Thief Lord and, for a holiday treat, When Santa Fell to Earth.

- Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George. Fantasy with some unique takes on dragons and typical fantasy styles. Writer is LDS and quite cool. Her book Princess of the Midnight Ball is also good.

- Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer by John Grisham. Because it's Grisham. The protagonist is a boy, but the storytelling is great and the law references are as accurate as you get. Thrilling story and good characters.

- Anything by Margaret Peterson Haddix. Extremely clever science fiction writer. I recommend Running Out of Time or Turnabout to start, though her Among the Hidden series is classic. She also does some historical fiction.

- Princess Academy by Shannon Hale. Another LDS writer with powerful writing. She's one who knows how to string the right words in the right order. Strong female characters and great plot. Also recommend her book Goose Girl.

- Anything by Eva Ibbotson. British writer with sensible characters and whimsical fantasy. Great writing. Island of the Aunts is great, but Which Witch may be my favorite (witches compete in a pageant!). Her book Journey to the River Sea is realistic adventure.

- Anything by Ally Carter. Clever writer whose books are just awesome to read. I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You is the first in a series of books about girl spies, and Heist Society is about art thieves. Fun writing and brilliant plotting. Memorable, lovable characters.

- The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett. One of my all-time favorite writers. British humor, sensible characters who do what needs to be done. The hero, Tiffany Aching, is one of my favorite female characters.

- Anything by Diana Wynne Jones. Brilliant writer who understands her genre inside and out. I recommend particularly Fire and Hemlock and Howl's Moving Castle.

- Dealing With Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede. Story about a princess who gets "captured" by dragons and doesn't want to be rescued. Heroic protagonist who is also sensible, great writing, great secondary characters, great use of the genre. Her other books are wonderful too.

- No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman. Fantastic realistic fiction with the best oddball characters and ridiculous plot. So clever, so much fun. Korman also wrote a modern teen retelling of The Great Gatsby called Jake, Reinvented that is worth reading.

- Fablehaven by Brandon Mull. One of my favorite LDS writers. Wonderful wordbuilding and use of mythology and folklore. Great pacing and (I like this) Mull is not afraid to hurt his characters, aka, the stakes are clearly high.

- The Squire's Tale by Gerald Morris. Retelling of Arthurian legend. Brilliant writing, clever characters, informed retelling based on texts and the writer's own logic. Also, real love versus the culture of love shown in most of the books.

- The Giver by Lois Lowry. Never mind the movie coming out, this is a classic. Excellent dystopian novel that everyone should read.

- Archvillain by Barry Lyga. About a kid who sees an alien land (think Superman) who becomes the town superhero. The kid gains powers too and decides to expose the alien by being the town supervillain. Great subversion of the genre and clever characters. Kind of like Dr. Horrible in book form, for kids.

- Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. The book is much better than the movie. Strong-willed, intelligent heroine and wonderful take on the "Cinderella" story. Levine's other books are good reads, but this one's the classic.

- The Cay by Theodore Taylor. Historical survival fiction about a boy blinded in a shipwreck and surviving on an island with an old black man. Classic book and good survival fiction.

- Anything by Rick Riordan. Exciting reimagining of classic mythology. Great characters and dialogue. The Lightning Thief is a good place to start.

- Half Upon a Time by James Riley. Mashed-up fairy tales with a twist. I like these because the writer uses the tales to tell a lager story; it doesn't feel episodic. Great characters, great dialogue, interesting twist.

- The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman. About kids working as pages in a library that stores items from fairy tales. Great characters and premise. Exciting plot.

- The Alcatraz series by Brandon Sanderson. Brilliant LDS writer and my hero. These books are cleverly written, exciting, and silly. Very fun and excellently written.

- The Bartimaeus Sequence. Story about sorcerers and one demon they raise (Bartimaeus). Wonderful 3D characters and excellent use of footnotes in fiction. Worldbuilding is also spectacular.

- Of Giants and Ice by Shelby Bach. Really clever fairy tale retelling: kids are trained to be characters in stories. Likeable characters, exciting plots.

A long list, I know. But it could be longer. I thought of other books and authors since sending the list. Like this: The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy. Very clever fairy tale take, where the Prince Charmings of Cinderella, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White team up as a heroic yet bumbling team of adventurers.

Monday, August 11, 2014

(Storytelling) Questions Raised By "Frozen"

I'm back! After only a week! Great, huh?

First news: apparently, Disney is planning to make a movie adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time. Not to be confused with the 2003 TV movie. I am not sure how I feel about this. I have a number of questions, like: Is it going to be animated? Is it going to be a musical? Will they stay true to the plot or completely warp it like they did the plot of "The Snow Queen"? Will it keep the same title or be called something like "Wrinkled"?

As much as I like seeing my favorite books adapted into movies, I have to say I'm apprehensive about this one, about the same way I am about The Giver adapted into a movie. I'm afraid to see The Giver because, while I'm okay with the actual events of the book changed, the trailers make it look like the whole spirit of the story is altered for the movie, and I'm not okay with that. If they stripped everything that made Lowry's book special out and turned it into another B-grade ripoff of The Hunger Games, I don't want to see it. I love the book too much. Same with A Wrinkle in Time. If Disney removes the depth and power that makes this book more than a touching family tale or a fun space jaunt, I'm not sure I'll see it. If anybody from Disney reads this blog, please, be respectful of the book. Lots of people love it.

Anyway, purpose for the title of this post. My family got into town for a reunion, so I got to watch Frozen with my sister. We analyzed it to death, because that is what we do when we watch movies together. And here I am writing about Frozen yet again, because I, along with the rest of the culture, can't seem to...um, stop talking about it. (Hah! Didn't say it!)

But I'm not here to talk about Frozen's impact on society or its feminism or even its precedence for future movies. I did enough of that in the last post. I'm here to list the questions my sister and I had regarding the movie's storytelling. During our last viewing, we noted a number of things that never got as fully answered as we would have liked. Some are simple, some could spark a whole new movie. Here are our questions:

1. Why aren't the ice-cutting men the least bit protective of little Kristoff as he cuts ice with them? They don't even seem to notice his presence. I realize he has no family at that point, but the adults seem rather unconcerned with the child's welfare.

2. The Troll King asks Elsa's father if she was born with her powers or cursed. WHAT? The casual nature of the question seems to imply that kids in this kingdom are occasionally cursed with magical power. Why is this not talked about in the story? Who else is getting cursed with magic? Who does the cursing? What happens to the kids who are cursed with magic? Are they shunned or even killed? Why is it a curse to have powers? Is there this whole X-Men-esque situation in Arendelle and no one is talking about it? I want to see a whole movie about this!

Has the Troll King had other visitors with similar problems? He seems awfully prepared.

3. If kids do get cursed with magical powers, is that why Elsa's parents are so worried about people finding out about her ice magic?

4. Likewise, if kids are also born with powers (I mean, the Troll King asks it first thing, so I image there's a precedence), wouldn't it be more widely talked about? Are there other kids with magic who have to hide it? Or, are there kids with magic that get it explained to them and are taught how to control it? If so, why didn't the King and Queen try this option?

5. Why couldn't Anna leave the castle her whole life? Wouldn't it actually be easier for her parents to makes sure Anna had friends outside of the family and wouldn't focus so much on the secrets kept from her?

6. Why couldn't Anna learn about Elsa's power when she was old enough?

7. What exactly does Arendelle export that makes them such a valuable trade partner?

8. Why did the sled explode into flames when it hit the ground? What is Kristoff carrying?

9. Why didn't Anna want to tell Olaf the truth about summer? Out of kindness (though he would be safer knowing) or out of fear that he wouldn't help if he knew?

10. Elsa can create life in the form of sentient snowmen. Why is not one talking about this? Can she also impart life to less humanoid snow? Flakes? Drifts?

11. Why was Elsa so surprised that she froze everything? Could she not see the unseasonal snow everywhere from her high-up mountain castle with walls made of clear ice?

11. Why isn't the Hans revelation satisfying? I keep finding foreshadowing and I still don't like that twist as a storytelling move.

12. Why didn't Olaf's lighting the fire count as an act of true love?

And last,

13. Is Kristoff's ice business in danger? I mean, Elsa can summon ice whenever she wants. I'm sure she would hold off to allow her sister's boyfriend to maintain his livelihood, but how long before the citizens of the kingdom realize their queen can make ice and demand it as a free service?

Overthinking this, as always. But that's what I do. And I mean it: I want to hear the stories behind the Troll King's question. How many other kids in Arendelle have magic, and how did they get it?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Movie Review and Bad Romance

First off, the campus bookstore here is rearranging everything and NOW I DON'T KNOW WHERE THE BOOKS ARE! It's like coming home and finding out someone redecorated your room while you were gone and you now have to go on an epic quest to find your pajamas.

Second, I saw Guardians of the Galaxy and it was fantastic.

 This guy was particularly awesome.

I don't want to go into too much detail, because I sooo don't want to spoil this one for you. But I will give my opinion. The movie is sufficiently action-packed without filling every little second with explosions. This writer knows when to ease the tension and how to balance serious with comic. It reminded me a little of Firefly. Also, the movie does a great job characterizing without backflashes and long storytelling sessions. They do a lot of work with a few key shots and a few lines of dialogue.

But more impressive, to me, it was a unique film. Not so much that I came out thinking, "Well, that was different," I'll admit, but enough that I was kept guessing. Also the ideas used were so interesting (a space station made of a giant severed head?) that I wondered how much was canon and how much was the writer. Last, the characterization was great. Well-defined characters all around who continue to act like themselves, which is impressive for a film about a bunch of criminals saving the world and essentially acting out of character.

Okay, that's my movie review. This one deserves the hype. Now for the book commentary. This week I reread The Ballad of Sir Dinadan by Gerald Morris. If you haven't read Morris's The Squire's Tale series, please read it. It's clever, well-written, and fun. This book was one of them. These books tend to lampoon the sillier parts of Arthurian legend. In this one, the story skewered is that of Tristram and Iseult (also known as Tristan and Isolde).

It's a brilliant read and reinforces the ideas Morris uses over and over again about what true love is versus what love is thought to be. I agree with Morris a lot about this. So, I finished the book and wondered why stories like Tristan and Isolde and Lancelot and Guinevere are considered such romantic stories.

Think about it. In both cases, the woman is married TO ANOTHER MAN. In one, that man is King Arthur, who I think we can say is a good man. Neither affair ends well. Yet we make and view blockbuster movies about Tristan and Isolde and teenage girls everywhere swoon. Why? What is so appealing about forbidden romances that end in tragedy?

Isn't infidelity romantic?

I'm not against a good romance. I'm not necessarily against a good tragic romance. I like Romeo and Juliet, but I read it not as a romance but as the tale of stupid people doing stupid things and it all blowing up in their faces. But I know a lot of folks don't read it like that.

I don't get it. I really don't. I suppose people are attracted to the passion in stories like this, and I suppose the idea of a soul mate is appealing. But I think this kind of thought, especially glorified in film and story, is dangerous. It substitutes physical passion for the kind of love that is always, quietly there, growing as slowly as a plant but as vital as the sun's light. Passion can fade, but true love does not. In stories like this, the lovers die before this happens, but in real life, life goes on. We grow old and face challenges. Could be disappointing for readers who expect this kind of love.

I belief art can shape thought more than any public service announcement. No matter how many times we launch campaigns warning that violence against women is bad, if it continues to be glorified in our movies, video games, music and television, then the idea that it is acceptable will stick in our culture. By looking at the art of a culture, you see the values. This kind of romance, a selfish romance that consumes itself in a passion that doesn't seem to care about promises, morals, or what kind of collateral damage they leave in their wake, is appearing in our art and could shape our perspectives about what true love is. If it isn't already.

Sorry for the longer blog post. I suppose this is what happens when I don't blog for a while. I meant to review Guardians of the Galaxy and wonder why some romances have these selfish idiot lovers and why people like them so much (insert Fifty Shades of Grey insult here). I didn't mean to comment on our culture. But I think it needs to be said. I wonder how much stories like this have led to unhappiness that wouldn't have been there otherwise. I wonder if romances like this, these passionate, tragic tales, taint our perspectives of what love should be to the point that it damages our healthy relationships.

And, more broadly, I wonder what kind of morals we as storytellers need as we ply our trade. I don't like trying to force morals into a story; it causes bad writing. But if art shapes thought, if it defines our culture, shouldn't we be a little careful with it?