Month: April 2014

I Strike Thee Quickly with My Light Saber

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Don’t you love when two of your favorite things collide to make one super-awesome thing? Peanut butter and chocolate? Amazing. Rum and Coke? Delicious. Bacon and milkshakes? Well, that might be an acquired taste, but you get the idea. Last year I stumbled upon another exciting marriage of two seemingly opposite things: Shakespeare and Star Wars.

Ian Doescher, who in my opinion should be canonized as a saint, has rewritten the Star Wars films in beautiful iambic pentameter. It is truly a unique way to once again enjoy the saga from a galaxy far, far away.

And I haven’t even mentioned the best part. Doescher has provided an educator’s guide on his website. This is a wonderful way to introduce students to Shakespeare in a new and creative way. Of course you are mixing two nerdy things and that might not fly over so well at first, but the beauty of this lesson is how someone can find deeper meaning, compare themes across genres, and use poetic devices within the text. That covers a couple standards. Even students who are not fans of the holy Trilogy will be impressed at how Doescher transformed one medium by using another.

The Educator’s guide has mini lessons on iambic pentameter, themes, and comparisons between Star Wars and some of Shakespeare’s most famous works (including Henry V, Richard III, Hamlet, Macbeth, and Julius Caesar just to name a few). The guide also includes information on Shakespearean devices and how they are used in context. The educator’s guide legitimately turns a novelty quirky book into an awesome Shakespearean introduction for all students.

From Amora to Zatanna: April

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Welcome back comic fans. This month I decided to crack open my laptop and ransack the Marvel Database for some information on the more obscure superheroes. This month, I decided to look into the spunky blonde X-men member Magik, aka Illyana Raspuntina.Illyana_Rasputina_(Earth-616)_Uncanny_X-Men_vol_3_4_cover

While her background is seriously expansive and fascinating, I will highlight five particularly awesome attributes here. Let’s get started:

1) Illyana is the sister of another mutant of the X-men, Colossus (aka Piotr Nikolaievitch Rasputin): As some might have noticed, Colossus and Magik share a last name. While they have another older brother, who is also a mutant, it is the relationship of these two that the comics illustrate in great, loving detail. The closeness between them is one of the more touching relationships in the Marvel Universe as Magik is infected by the Legacy Virus, which later kills her, and Colossus leaves the X-men to find out how to save his sister, and later how to resurrect her. She returns this love as she coaches her brother, who has become the new Juggernaut, on controlling his need for destruction. The two even become a part of the Phoenix Five and help Cyclops “peacefully” enslave mankind. How sweet! loveit

Author Spotlight: April Wilder

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April Wilder’s short fiction has appeared in several literary journals including Zoetrope and McSweeney’s. She is a former James C. McCreight Fiction Fellow from the Institute for Creative Writing in Madison, WI. She holds a BS in math/actuarial science from UCLA, an MFA in fiction from the University of Montana, and a PhD in literature/creative writing from the University of Utah, where she held a Vice Presidential Fellowship (her doctoral studies focused on “narratives of the absurd”). April lives with her daughter in Salt Lake City.

The Poetics Project: Describe your book in ten words or less.

April Wilder: A collection of tragicomic stories in which people navigate terrains of absurdity.

This Is Not an Accident
Buy the book here:
Amazon
IndieBound

TPP: What inspired you to write This Is Not An Accident?

AW: The inspiration for every story was different. Some stories are me amusing myself (the evaluation form); some are me unpacking an image (Odd stuck in a dollhouse in “Long Dang Life”) or following a character I want to write about. The novella started with a strange walk in the park one day. Usually it’s that I see or overhear something that I can’t shake off, so I try to recycle it (in fiction) instead.

TPP: There’s a fine line between dark humor and depressing. How do you write without crossing that line?

AW: Whether or not a work is “depressing” speaks of a reader’s response, I think, so I don’t have any control over that. Interestingly, readers’ responses (to TINAA) seem to vary a lot depending on age. People under the age of 25 seem much more inclined to find tragedy and hyperbole in the book (and to be upset by it); older folks more comedy and common life.

TPP: What do you want your readers to take away from your book?

AW: I think if I had a deep inner motive for writing the book, it might be the desire to expose what in my experience becomes of modern life and the mad, mad human mind when people go around believing stories about themselves and others. I write stories to shake free of stories.

TPP: What advice would you give aspiring authors? What advice do you wish you would’ve gotten while writing your novel?

AW: The hard part is just showing up and sitting in the chair every day, so find out if you can do that first. I wish, perhaps, that someone would’ve encouraged me in the beginning to hold on to my work more loosely: at the time I would spend hours combing over and “perfecting” what were fundamentally crappy works to begin with. So play a lot and keep the shredder close. You’ll know when you finally have something worth combing over.

TPP: Name three songs that could be included in a soundtrack to your book (can be songs that inspired portions of your writing).

AW: The Jump off (Lil Kim); Tribute (Tenacious D); The People That We Love (Bush)

To learn more about April Wilder, visit her website!

Take Off the Gender-Colored Glasses, and Just Read

If you follow any book-related blog or news site (like BookRiot, BuzzFeed Books, or even this very blog that you’re reading), then the chances are that you’ve come across a few posts with lists of books you should consider reading.

Roxanne Gay recently wrote an article for Slate titled “The Sorry State of ‘Women You Should Be Reading Now’ Lists” about, well, the sorry state of book lists that attempt to diversify the authors readers select. A fellow contributor shared this article with me. It seemed fitting. Although I have never claimed the title “feminist,” I do realize that my view of the world is tinted with those ideals.

“At their best, these lists do reach readers who may not be familiar with writers of a certain demographic,” says Gay. “But if ‘women’ are still a demo in need of PR, these lists, while purporting to help expand reader perspectives and support women writers, often end up having a narrowing effect.”

Before I started to read this article, I had already been opposed to lists of the kind that Gay speaks of—which I realize might come off as a shock to some, being that I am a woman, a writer, and a person with feminist tendencies. But in truth, I don’t, and will never, seek out a book based on the gender of the person who wrote it.

Why? Because I don’t care. To me, books are like any great art form. They’re like children. You create them, but then you send them off into the world. People see them in ways you never did or could. They extend beyond you, becoming so much more and carving out their own identity—one unrelated to the author and especially their gender.

The Year of the Horse and Jackie Robinson

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This post is a little late, but I wanted to give proper praise and recognition to Jackie Robinson. April 15 is not a national holiday, but it is a day of remembrance and a celebrated day across the United States. This is Jackie Robinson Day across all Major League ballparks. It is the day that Jackie Robinson entered Major League Baseball as the first African-American to play in the big leagues. The historical impact has reverberated throughout the ages, and across the spectrum of our culture. This one event in the world of sports has had an impact on everything, including our literary world.

When I was a young boy I was given a copy of the book In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, written by Bette Bao Lord. I was a young baseball fan growing up in Los Angeles, so of course I rooted for the Dodgers. At that age though, I had not been exposed to the history of the franchise; including the monumental event of Robinson breaking the color barrier.

9781842431672_p0_v1_s260x420In this short novel written for grade school aged children, Lord tells the story of Shirley Temple Wong who is a young Chinese girl who has immigrated to America with her family in the same year that Robinson joined the Dodgers. Shirley faces many prejudices at school because she is different and because she doesn’t speak English well. Shirley becomes a follower of Robinson, and through him she finds motivation and courage to pursue happiness in the United States.

This was my first real introduction to the Jackie Robinson tale. Imagine a young Mexican boy (who immigrated to this country at a young age) who can’t put down a book about a young Chinese girl who finds inspiration in the actions of an African-American athlete in America. Although our cultures and ethnicities may differ, there is unity in the human condition. These are elements that transcend race. That is what makes the Jackie Robinson story so meaningful. It is not a civil rights era tale. It took place many years before that. It is not merely a baseball legend, because it goes beyond that. It is America’s history.

Faster isn’t Always Better

Recently, there has been a wave of new apps out there promising to make you a faster reader. One such app, Spritz, makes the promise that it can not only help you read faster, but it will have you reading 300 page novels in about 90 minutes.

Imagine how much faster we could all get our homework done.

I would read this much in a weekend.
I would read this much in a weekend.

Now, I am a reading tutor and an advocate of increasing reading speed, but I know that there is one aspect of reading that trumps speed—and that is comprehension. Spritz makes the promise that, with increased speed, comprehension will increase as well. This is true, to a point.

The brain can comprehend what we read much faster than we realize, so many times, while we read slowly, we lose interest, get bored with the text, lose focus, and end up not comprehending what we’ve read. Increasing speed can help a lot with keeping the mind engaged and focused on the reading, but there’s still more factors than speed that contribute to compression of reading materials which makes Spritz’s claim of increased comprehension questionable.

Literary Paraphernalia: Bookish Quote Tattoos

I love tattoos, especially ones with a literary slant. For this week’s Literary Paraphernalia, I decided to focus on literary tattoos involving text, choosing tattoos with some unique placements.

 

This quote comes from Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. The whole quote is “Busy, busy, busy, is what we Bokononists whisper whenever we think of how complicated and unpredictable the machinery of life really is.”

 

 

Okay so technically this quote isn’t “literary” because it comes from Ludwig Van Beethoven, but since it has been quoted by many other people (including Sex and The City) i’m sure it’s ended up in a book somewhere. In other words, I just felt like putting it here.

 

 

In case you can’t read this, it says “I follow the rabbit.” A nod to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

 

 

This quote comes from Charles Bukowski’s poem “Bluebird.” And while the line is repeated many times throughout the poem, this is my favorite variation: there’s a bluebird in my heart that / wants to get out / but I pour whiskey on him and inhale / cigarette smoke / and the whores and the bartenders / and / the grocery clerks / never know that / he’s / in there.

 

Conflict: It’s What Makes a Story Interesting

Jack and Jill went up the hill and got some water. The trip was pretty uneventful. I know you think they should fall down and break their crowns, but that really didn’t happen. They just went home and had water.

I know that wasn’t a very interesting story – why? Because there was no conflict. To make matters even more frustrating, I took a common rhyme most readers would be familiar with and I changed the expected conflict to nothing.

Stories need conflict – without some sort of obstacle to overcome or some kind of action to take place, why tell a story in the first place?

There are five basic conflicts most stories use. Think back to your favorite books, movies, television shows, etc., and I bet you’ll find that at its core was one of these types of conflict.

Man Vs. Man

This conflict is pretty straightforward – one person opposes another person. A good example of this type of conflict would be any book from the Harry Potter series.

Jack went up the hill, but Jill didn’t want water. Oh no, Jill wanted blood. Jack’s blood. And she would have it by the time he came down the hill.

Overwhelmed at the Festival of Books

A few weeks ago, I went to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Although I have always been a bibliophile, I have never had a chance to visit this event. Something always got in the way. Not this year though. I was lucky enough to attend day one of the festival with my wife and my infant son.

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The festival of books took place on the campus of the University of Southern California on the weekend of April 12 and 13. This was the 19th year of the event and the second year in a row that USC has hosted. More than 150,000 people of all ages attended the festival making it “the largest and most prestigious literary event in North America,” according to the LA Times.

Let me begin by saying that it was great to see such a large turn out for a festival whose main focus was literature. It kind of restored some hope for humanity in my mind. I mean, to be honest, I knew people still read, but I didn’t think they really cared about literature. I hate crowded places, but it was pleasant to share the day with thousands of book lovers.

Author Spotlight: Philip Siegel

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Philip Siegel grew up in New Jersey, which he insists is much nicer than certain TV shows would have you believe. He graduated from Northwestern University and promptly moved out to Los Angeles, where he became an NBC Page (proof below). He likes to think that the character of Kenneth on 30 Rock is loosely based on his life rights. Currently, he lives in Chicago and does his best writing sandwiched in between colorful characters on the El.

The Poetics Project: Describe your book in ten words or less.

Philip Siegel: Girl runs a business breaking up couples at her school.

101713-The-Break-Up-Artist-9780373211159_FC
Buy the book here:
Amazon
IndieBound

TPP: What inspired you to write The Break-Up Artist?

PS: A few things. I’d also been interested in a character who breaks up couples, since I was very much a cynic growing up. One of my favorite movies is My Best Friend’s Wedding, and I love the Julia Roberts character – the self-proclaimed “bad guy” who seeks to break up the titular ceremony. The movie had interesting things to say about love and friendship and romance, and it always stuck with me. So all that had been percolating in my mind, and then we come to the final thing. I had a few friends in terrible relationships, but in those situations, it’s hard to say anything. You have to bite your tongue or risk ruining that friendship. Wouldn’t it be so much easier to hire someone to end that relationship?

TPP: Your novel is filled with humor. How do you go about balancing that with the other themes that run throughout the story?

PS: I’m terrible at being serious. I can’t help injecting humor. (Never invite me to a funeral.) When writing, I make sure that humor comes out naturally in the situation, rather than engineering a situation to be funny. If you write a scene or a line just to be funny without moving the story along, your reader won’t be laughing. So while I LOVED coming up with all the witty one-liners these characters say, I never let that take over the plot or characters arcs.

TPP: What do you want readers to take away from you book?

PS: That love does exist, but it’s not meant to be some fairytale. Any meaningful friendship or relationship will be frustrating and boring and confusing at times, but ultimately rewarding. As Becca tells someone, it can’t always be first kisses and warm gooey centers. And that’s okay.

TPP: What advice can you give aspiring authors? What advice do you wish you would’ve been given?

PS: I’m going to answer both of your questions with 3 words: Writing is work. Many aspiring writers think of writing as fun, as a hobby. But it’s not fun. It’s hard. Writing first drafts can be a slog, and revising can be worse. Collecting coins is a hobby; writing is work. Think of writing like exercise. The more you do it, the better you get at it. I hate exercising, but I love having exercised. I had always believed writing should be fun, so the moment it got difficult, I would get discouraged and throw it in a drawer. The brilliant ideas in my head never came out right on the page. Now I’ve realized that that’s normal.

TPP: If your book was made into a movie, who would you cast to play Becca?

PS: If I had a time machine, I would go back five or so years and cast Emma Stone. She would kill it as Becca. But looking at teen stars today, I would go with Morgan Saylor. She played Brody’s daughter on Homeland. Even though I couldn’t stand her character on the show, I think Morgan has the look and attitude to make a great Becca.

To learn more about Philip Siegel, visit his website!