Archive for July, 2019

Foundational Books: The Lord of the Rings

I know this one sounds a little stereotypical, but bear with me, squiders.

Somewhere in my early teens I received a box set of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (and The Hobbit). I still have the books, though not the box. Okay, to be fair, I loaned The Two Towers to a friend in high school, who never gave it back (TODD), but I found an identical copy at a thrift store so it’s fine.

My dad read The Hobbit to me as a child, but I didn’t pick the rest of the books up until I was in late high school, when I was going through some emotional turmoil (my sister and my best friend were dating, and had hidden the relationship from me for some months before I found out, so I was feeling betrayed that they hadn’t told me and lonely because it felt like I’d lost my relationship with both in one fell swoop).

And there was something very comforting in that story at the moment in my life. Maybe it was the way that Sam stuck by Frodo through thick and thin, or Aragorn, or how Legolas and Gimli overcame centuries of racial hate to become the best of friends. Whatever it was, reading through those books, appendices and all, really helped me, and I will be forever grateful, even though re-reading them has never had anywhere near the same impact.

These were not my first foray into epic fantasy (I’d found the Shannara books by Terry Brooks when I was 12), so I didn’t personally run into the whole fact that a lot of epic fantasy is just LOTR rip-offs thing (and by the early 2000s epic fantasy was changing enough that it wasn’t necessarily true).

A few years ago I took an excellent course through Coursera, called Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative, offered through Vanderbilt University. It’s honestly one of the best courses I’ve ever taken. In it, we used the Lord of the Rings to explore differences in narrative between different forms of media. Each week we’d watch part of the movies, read part of the books, and play a section of Lord of the Rings Online (excellent game, little bit addictive, plus you can turn into a chicken and try out a chicken run, which is where you try to get from the Shire to somewhere else without getting eaten by anything). We also read a lot of romantic (the time period, not like, modern romance) poems and stories, which were the start of modern fantasy.

(I almost made it to Rivendell as a chicken once. It was in sight when I was killed by a giant bug.)

So, I appreciate the books for being there when I needed them. I appreciate the characters, who, for the most part, are good people and willing to help their friends and family, no matter what. I appreciate the movies, even though they are very long, and I appreciate the source material for being there to teach me really cool things years later.

Thoughts on the Lord of the Rings, squiders?

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WriYe and Zombies

Still going strong over at WriYe, though I am a little behind on my word count for the year, but not so badly that a couple strong months won’t catch me up.

So on to this month’s blog prompt. Along with the monthly challenges (this month’s genre stretch looks fun–epistolary + Gothic romance), there’s also certain months set aside for certain types of stories. May was mermaids (MerMay) and July is apparently zombies.

(I haven’t done either. May was, well, May, and I am not a zombie person.)

ZombiesĀ are a July tradition here at WriYe. Do you have a writing tradition of your own? How did it come about?

I don’t really have writing traditions. I used to, but as I began to write more regularly I couldn’t be sure of being in the right spot at a particular time, and I’ve learned to be more fluid in my plans.

I used to do Nanowrimo religiously–did it for nine years straight–but with the small, mobile ones in the picture, it’s been harder to devote the time to the challenge. I’ve only committed myself to it once in the past seven years, though I am tempted to try again this year. We’ll have to see how we’re doing/where we are when November rolls around.

And I suppose there were other monthly challenges as well. April Fools in April, though that one has gone defunct. Camp in April and July, though I am less committed to that than a normal Nano. (I also find it’s less helpful in terms of dragging you along in a creative stupor.) But this particular brand of challenge has grown less useful over the years.

Other than that, I don’t think I have any.

Bonus:
Tell us about your favorite non writing traditions!

My family has an Easter tradition known as the Egg War. And I am notoriously terrible at it. I’ve won twice in my life. The small, mobile ones have almost caught up to my record at this point.

The Egg War takes place after all the Easter eggs have been found. These are real eggs, hard-boiled and dyed. The eggs are laid out in open egg cartons, and everyone selects an egg. You then partner up and proceed to smack the eggs together (there is a particular way to hold the egg, and you hit “points” or “butts” together).

Last egg standing wins, and there’s typically prizes for first and second place. We do two rounds every year, and if you win the first round you can’t win the second, though you’re still allowed to play if you would like.

(My problem is that I’ve never figured out how to tell if an egg is structurally sound or not. Shape doesn’t seem to have much to do with it, nor does placement of wax decorations on the shell. If you can find one where the air bubble is on the side rather than one of the edges, you’re on the right track, but I don’t know how you tell that just by looking.)

Anyway, I love the Egg War even though I am godawful at it. And I appreciate it because it’s one of the few traditions that we still do from my childhood with my extended family.

Do you have writing or otherwise awesome traditions, squiders? I’d love to hear them!

Worry Pets

As you know, squiders (har har), I keep a Pinterest board with various craft project ideas on it (it’s here, for the curious) and occasionally, the small, mobile ones and I do some of them.

This week we made worry pets.

Aren’t they adorable? From left to right, we have WorWor, Wor, and Hans. (We’re still working on naming.)

They were really easy–we got all three done in an hour, even with “help,” and the small, mobile ones could do a lot of them by themselves (putting on the eyes, pouring in the pellets, handsewing the closure).

And they’re pretty great in general, very soft, pleasing weight to them, excellent for calming. (One of the small, mobile ones is on the spectrum, which is why we made them in the first place, but I’m finding mine to work for me as well.)

So, hey, if you’re looking for a quick, fun project that gives you something that’s actually useful, I’d recommend this one. The tutorial is here.

I’m pondering making everyone capes for the fall. Everyone likes capes, right?

First Class is Up!

Happy Tuesday, squiders! I hope you’re all having a lovely day! (I am because I just got a short story acceptance, hooray!)

We’ve been gone on a road trip (but thank you for all the lovely likes and comments on the foundational book posts I set up before I left–and I did want you to know that I found Alien Secrets yesterday. It was on a different bookcase than expected, but other than that it was pretty dang obvious. Whoops.) but I’m back now.

(We went on another National Park tour, this time hitting Mesa Verde, Petrified Forest, Sunset Crater National Monument, Sequoia, King’s Canyon, and Yosemite. Lovely trees, sequoias. I’ve had a fold-out of one from National Geographic on the wall next to my computer for years, and now I’ve seen that particular tree in person.)

Right before we left, though, I put my nose to the grindstone and got my SkillShare class done.

I know we were all skeptical, but it happened.

I have a membership to a chain gym called the Row House (I rowed in college and have occasionally rowed with the local adult team, but like many other things in life, having small, mobile ones makes things more difficult) and for some ungodly reason they got rid of the 6:30 am class (perfect timing! I go while the spouse is still home and then he can go to work immediately after I return) and so now my choices are 5:15 (butt early, though about the time you’d be on the water if you were actually rowing) or 7:00 (done too late for spouse to get to work). Or, in theory, later in the morning, but then I am responsible for the small, mobile ones and have to put them somewhere.

Alas, the 5:15 normally wins.

(I am hoping they bring back the 6:30 once school starts but am starting to give up hope.)

The good thing about working out at 5:15 is that I am home by 6:15, and the small, mobile ones don’t normally roll out of bed until about 7:30.

Perfect time for filming, it turns out, except that it’s still a little dark out so lighting is a little problematic.

Long story short (too late), I had a lot of early mornings to myself right before we left, so I got everything recorded and/or filmed, and got the class uploaded the morning we left.

So, I wanted to share it with you! I’ve got two links–the first will let you watch the class for free. I’d love it if you do–I won’t get paid for it, but more eyes on the class will help it become more visible in searches, which will be helpful overall.

The second link will offer you a free month of SkillShare Premium (very nice, I did it back in November, and you can do any class you’d like, as many at a time as you’d like, and not hard at all to cancel before they charge you) and get you to the class. I get paid for the class this way, you get free classes for a month, but I understand that commitment is difficult and not everyone is up for it.

The class is called Story Writing: Premise vs. Plot, and explores what premise and plot are, how they’re used, and what the differences are between them.

Free link

Paid link

I’m starting to work on the next class, which will be on tracking story ideas so you can find them later. I think the next couple will probably focus on story ideas, since that will be the first book released.

Almost done with the submission nonfiction book now, so a reminder that if you want to beta any of them (and/or their associated workbooks), just let me know!

Anyway, good to be back! Please look at my class! I’d love feedback so I can improve things for the next class.

(Although I need to buy a new or fix my microphone because it fell apart in the middle of recording and I had to duct tape it back together, which is working with varying levels of success.)

Foundational Books: Winnie the Pooh

This one works somewhat backwards from normal because I, like many people in my generation, came into Winnie the Pooh through the Disney movies/TV shows. We had a VHS of the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh that I watched to destruction, and I was a great fan of the New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh television series.

(Seriously, it was a fantastic show and I wish they would re-release it in some form so I could show it to the small, mobile ones.)

I loved the characters, the way they’re all willing to help and go on adventures in their own ways. I liked that they’re so rarely going against each other as a source of conflict, and I liked how each character is given the opportunity to push beyond whatever their core element is, to grow as the situation demanded.

(Tigger has been and shall always be my favorite, but I am also fond of everyone else. Rabbit’s probably my second favorite.)

When I was 15, my grandmother, who knew of my great love for Tigger (I have never been subtle in my preferences, and at the time had several t-shirts and stuffed toys of the character, and we’d been to Disney World the year before and I’d managed to find Tigger for a picture), gave me a lovely hardback edition that’s a combination of Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner. It’s fabric-bound and has golden bees engraved on the cover.

I still have it. And the small, mobile ones and I are into The House at Pooh Corner now.

The original stories are refreshing, each chapter a standalone adventure that never gets too scary or sad, peppered with little bits of silliness and a sense of love and friendship, especially between Christopher Robin and Pooh, or Pooh and Piglet.

It’s a nice thing to share with my family.

I know A.A. Milne came to resent the Pooh books, and Christopher Milne was never comfortable with the fame that came along with them, which gets into the argument about creation vs. creator that we see a lot, but the stories themselves are sweet, and I appreciate that they show that it’s okay to love your friends and to help them when you can.

(Also, if you’ve not read A.A. Milne’s The Red House Mystery, I highly recommend it. Apparently the only mystery he ever wrote, which is too bad.)

Read the Winnie the Pooh books, squiders? Thoughts on the books versus the animated versions? Favorite A.A. Milne book/play?

Foundational Books: Everything by Louis Sachar

I was originally just going to talk about the Wayside School series, but here we are.

Did you guys read those? They’re each a collection of short stories that take place at Wayside school, a school that, instead of being 30 classrooms next to each other on the ground, is 30 stories tall, one classroom on each floor.

(There is no 19th floor.)

(Except when there is.)

The stories themselves are vaguely horror, with evil teachers doing crazy things and weird kids with weirder traits. They mostly take place on the 30th floor, with the same class, so you get to know the kids and their quirks and there’s continuity throughout the series.

And there were a couple of books in the series about weird math, which I may or may not have enjoyed a dangerous amount.

The Wayside School books are an interesting mix of clever and weird, so when Holes came out, I remember being surprised that it was by the same author. I think I read some of Louis Sachar’s non-Wayside books previously, but they didn’t make much of an impact.

Holes, however, is brilliant and I love it a lot. And apparently so did everybody else since it won the Newberry and the National Book Award.

I remember being deeply invested in Stanley as a character, and being impressed with how interconnected each character was to each other, either in the present, or in the past. I think it’s probably the first book I read that had so many levels of story present.

It’s also not a terribly depressing book, despite some of its subject matter. I almost feel like that’s more effective, that if you make everything dark and gritty and horrible it just puts people off and makes it harder to see the lessons the story is trying to teach.

What do you think, squiders? Did you read the Wayside School series or Holes? Or was there another Louis Sachar book that fit your interests better?

Foundational Books: Alien Secrets by Annette Curtis Klause

Woo, squiders, it took me a while to figure out what this book was. I mean, I remembered the book itself–I read it probably a dozen times as a kid. I remembered the main character’s name.

I did not, apparently, remember the title of the book properly, nor could I find it in my basement stash (which is where the books I took from home ended up). Hooray for the Internet, I guess.

(But where did the book end up, then? Questions, questions.)

Alien Secrets is a 1993 children’s science fiction novel by Annette Curtis Klause.

This was probably one of the first science fiction books I read that was really, truly science fiction. (That wasn’t related to Star Trek, at least.) A lot of the books we read when I was a kid was your standard collection of Caldecotts and Newberry winners–things like Maniac McGee, Number the Stars, Caddie Woodlawn, Bridge to Terabithia, Where the Red Fern Grows–all wonderful books in their own rights, of course.

The closest thing I think I’d read before was A Wrinkle in Time, which is arguably science fiction, but it’s not mainstream science fiction, with spaceships and aliens and all that jazz.

At this point it’s been a long time, and I don’t remember the story too well (and with my copy currently MIA, I couldn’t flip back through it to remind myself). The main character Puck (not her real name, never is) makes friends with an alien on her way to meet up with her parents, who are on another planet. Said alien has had an important artifact stolen from him, so there’s a degree of mystery to the story.

Now that I’ve looked the book up on the Internet, I can see that there’s wildly varying views on it (Publisher’s Weekly, for example, did not care for the book’s pacing), but, for me, this was an important book, and helped cement my love of science fiction.

Read Alien Secrets, squiders? What book do you feel got you into science fiction and/or your favorite genre when you were a kid?