Month: March 2013

Break-ing Bad?

Get it? 'Bear' with me?

Get it? ‘Bear’ with me?

Hello all! I’m working a temporary job that is quite intensive; I thought I might be able to keep up a regular blog schedule but I don’t think I will be able to after all. Bear with me for the next two weeks, and after that I promise to get back to a regular blog schedule! Thanks for your patience.

Childhood Inspirations: The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T

I’ve been thinking quite a lot recently about my penchant for fantastical aesthetics and surrealistic landscapes, and what, if any, part my upbringing may have had in inculcating those preferences.

Chris Van Allsburg was one of my favorites.

Chris Van Allsburg was one of my favorites.

I was always a creative child, and that creativity was fostered by my parents sending my to Waldorf School, where art, music and all things creative are inseparable from the instruction of less artistic skills like history and mathematics. I also loved reading, even before I could read on my own–my parents used to read to me before bed every night, lush picture books, C. S. Lewis, and later, the Prydain Chronicles and His Dark Materials. And once I could read on my own, I devoured books. Just to give you an idea of my voracious literary appetite, my sixth grade English teacher challenged my class to read and track 50 books over the course of the school year; imagine her surprise when I turned in my list after barely a month and asked for another sheet on which to keep track of my reading.

Intrigued yet?

Intrigued yet?

But among all the amazing art and fiction I consumed in my childhood, one particular thing stands out as having had a huge impact on my delight in all things phantasmagorical. That thing is a musical film, entitled ‘The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.’ Released in 1953, the movie is created and written by Theodor Seuss Geisel (better known to the world as Dr. Seuss) and is the only live action feature film Dr. Seuss ever created. And did I mention it is a musical? Featuring a bizarre fantasy world right out of one of Seuss’ picture books, the film follows a young boy by the name of Bart Collins, who stumbles into a nightmare world where his strict piano teacher, Dr. Terwilliker, rules with an iron fist.

The Terwilliker Institute.

The Terwilliker Institute.

At the surreal Terwilliker Institute, Dr. Terwilliker is an autocratic madman bent on ruling the world through piano music. The grand hall of the institute features a massive 500 person piano, on which Dr. T intends to force Bart and 499 other boys (hence the 5,000 fingers) to play with no respite. Furthermore, Dr. T has imprisoned all non-piano-playing musicians in a vast subterranean dungeon, where he systematically tortures them for no better reason than they picked the wrong instrument. And worst of all, Dr. T has used his ominous powers to hypnotize Bart’s beautiful mother, Heloise, into being his assistant and bride-to-be!

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Sea Change: How to Revise Out the Bad and Keep the Good

"Is this wheat, or chaff?" "It's cotton, stupid." Image courtesy of Winslow Homer.

“Is this wheat, or chaff?”
“It’s cotton, stupid.”
Image courtesy of Winslow Homer.

I will readily admit that revisions are extremely difficult for me. One of the things I dread most about finishing a project is the prospect of then having to begin revising it. It’s difficult for me to precisely identify what it is about revisions that bothers me so much; some times I feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of imperfect material that I have to slog through, while other times it’s a question of beating down my ego in order to recognize what is wheat and what is chaff, and how to separate the two.

Point is, revisions are not my favorite thing.

These pencils. In my eyes.

These pencils. In my eyes.

More often than not during the revisions process, I find myself staring at my manuscript until the black words marching across the page begin to swirl like ants being flushed down the toilet. I’ll force myself to tinker with a few sentences here and there, rearranging words without much confidence that any one phrase is better than another. And then I’ll give up, shuffling off to stab pencils into my eyes out of pure frustration.

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Review: The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Boys, by
Maggie Stiefvater

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that if she kisses her true love, he will die.

Because Blue is the only non-seer in a family of clairvoyants, all of whom agree on this one basic fact. But true love–and kissing, for that matter–seem like far-off eventualities for Blue, until the fateful night when she accompanies her aunt to the graveyard on St. Mark’s Eve and sees her first ever ghost. Except he’s not dead, at least not yet. He has a name: Gansey. And the only reason Blue can see him is because he’s either her true love….or she killed him.

And soon after, Blue’s world collides with the living Gansey and his tight-knit group of Aglionby Prep School friends, nicknamed Raven Boys for the mascot stitched onto their blazers. Despite her usual aversion to Raven Boys, Blue is immediately drawn to the four friends; disturbed, angry Ronan, whose difficult relationship with his brother drives him to drink and violence; Adam, the smart scholarship student who fears going home at night because his father beats him; quiet Noah, who watches everything but never says much; and rich, handsome Gansey, whose mysterious quest for a sleeping king and a prophecy binds his friends together like glue despite their differences.

Is one of these boys Blue’s true love, destined to die if she kisses him? And what is her role in the resurrection of Glendower, the sleeping Welsh king of legend? And most importantly, can she keep Gansey from dying, possibly by her own hand?

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Hybrid Vigor



As I was wasting time on the internet last night, one thing led to another (as so often happens when the interwebz is involved) and I found myself google image searching ‘weird animals.’ And let me tell you, I highly recommend it. Go ahead, I know you want to. I’ll wait.

What entertained me so much about this motley collection of weird animal pictures, you ask? I’ll tell you. Interspersed among the usual plethora of star-nosed moles and abyssal sea cucumbers are all these photoshopped pictures of hybrid animals not actually seen in nature. Squeagles. Duckodiles. Labrangutans. I have no idea who created these images, but they are amazing.

And after I was done laughing my head off over these absurd creations, I started thinking about hybrids in mythology, folklore and literature. Representations of both human and non-human hybrids have existed since the Late Stone Age, and deities and beasts in Assyrian, Egyptian and Greek mythologies were often portrayed as having both human and zoomorphic traits. The Sphinx, with a face of a woman and the body of a lion. The gods Anubis and Horus had the heads of a jackal and a falcon, respectively. Pagan religions also often depicted their gods and goddesses as either being part animal or having animalistic affiliations. And in our modern genre culture, werewolves, other were-creatures, and shape-shifters are nearly as popular as the omnipresent vampire.

Cernunnos, the Horned God. Relief from the Gundestrup Cauldron

Cernunnos, the Horned God.
Relief from the Gundestrup Cauldron

The list of human and non-human hybrids in mythology, folklore and pop culture is nearly endless. But what does it say about the human experience that these hybrid creatures are so ubiquitous in our lore? What universal theme in the collective imaginary is represented by these creatures that are part human and part beast?

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A Million Bad Words

You better get a-clickety-clacking.

You better get a-clickety-clacking.
Image via

This week, as I prepare to dig deep in order to revise my recently completed novel, I’ve been thinking a lot about craft. A writer’s craft, to be precise. I’ve read so many books and blogs and articles that all essentially say the same thing: to become a better writer, you must simply write. And write. And write some more.

The iterations on this conventional wisdom are endless. They say (whoever ‘they’ are) that all writers have one million bads words inside them, and only once they’ve all been written can true quality pour forth. In his book On Writing Stephen King states that ‘Writing equals ass in chair.’ Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers famously posits that everyone must spend ten thousand hours in practice of any given skill before they can reach excellence. But is that all it takes? Time and practice?

Like this...but not this. Image via Bill Watterson.

Like this…but not this.
Image via Bill Watterson.

Yes, I think that to be a writer, one must write. And write. And write. But I’m not sure that just setting down mediocre words on paper in the hopes that they will eventually transform into words of beauty is necessarily enough. Without the intention and the desire to improve, that metamorphosis will never happen. Our words are not caterpillars, destined to magically transmogrify into beautiful butterflies. No–as writers we must not only write, and practice, but also envision the change within ourselves, and manifest it in our actions.

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Review: Carnival of Souls, by Melissa Marr

Carnival of Souls, by Melissa Marr

Carnival of Souls, by
Melissa Marr

What would you sacrifice to change your destiny? And how many people would you kill?

Parallel to our own human world lies a City inhabited by daimons, powerful beings who can shape-shift into vicious canine forms. The City is highly stratified into castes, and at its center lies the Carnival of Souls, where both assassins and courtesans offer their servies. Once in a generation, the leader of the City, Marchosias, hosts a deadly competition where daimons fight tooth and nail in order to secure a place amongst the ruling caste. But only one daimon can win.

Kaleb, a street urchin with zero social standing, longs to win the competition so he can gain power and prestige in order to protect his packmate, Zevi. Aya fights because as a ruling caste female she is required to breed in order to live, and she has a dark secret she must hide at all costs. The competition offers both of them a way to change their destinies, but who is the better fighter?

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Wherefore Vampires?

Who’s ready to sink their teeth into a little vampire discussion? (Pun totally intended.)

"Why yes, I do use my cheekbones to cut glass."

“Why yes, I do use my cheekbones
to cut glass.”

I recently read an interview with James Marsters, who played Spike in ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer,’ in which he discussed what it meant to him to play a vampire and how the representation of vampires in the media has changed since ‘Buffy’ aired.

“In the world of ‘Buffy’, vampires were supposed to be ugly and very quickly dead,” Marsters commented. “Joss [Whedon]…didn’t want vampires to be romantic. That’s why in Buffy when we bite people we become hideously ugly. Because in ‘Buffy’ vampires are a metaphor for all the problems you face in adolescence. So, the vampires of today are very different.”

I thought this was a really interesting take on vampires, especially coming from someone who played one on TV for years. And it’s true: although vampires have been around since at least Victorian times, in the past few years, the plethora of books, movies, and TV shows about vampires tend to present vampires in a much sexier, romantic way than they used to. So why the change? And why, at the end of the day, are vampires so damn fascinating?

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White on Rice: Race in Literature

I recently read a blog post by a fellow avid reader who complained that the young adult genre is overwhelmed by white female heterosexual heroes, to the exclusion of all other races, genders and sexual orientations. The post was well written and thoughtful, and it inspired me to discuss some of my own thoughts on the question of race in the young adult genre as well as race in literature as a whole.

Katniss, Hunger Games competitor and white girl.

Katniss, Hunger Games competitor
and white girl.

When you look at the big name young adult bestsellers in the past ten years, it is almost shocking to see how many of the heroines physically resemble each other. Bella Swan, Katniss Everdeen, Lena Duchannes–all pretty, caucasian brunettes. Even heroines like Clary Fray and Tris Prior differ only in hair color or eye color. While these teenaged heroines may have friends–and in rare cases love interests– who inhabit a different racial profile, the diversity is entirely limited to characters other than the protagonist. You hear a lot of talk about diversity in the young adult publishing industry, yet in most of the high profile bestsellers, there is exactly zero racial variation. Why is this happening?

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Review: The Cat’s Table, by Michael Ondaatje

The Cat's Table, by Michael Ondaatje

The Cat’s Table, by
Michael Ondaatje

In the early 1950’s, a young boy raised in Sri Lanka boards a massive ocean liner bound for London–a ‘castle that was to cross the sea.’ At mealtimes, Michael is placed at the dining table farthest from the captain’s, nicknamed ‘the Cat’s Table’ by the eccentric group of adults he dines with. Michael soon builds friendships on the Oronsay with two other young boys; weak, philosophical Ramadhin, and tough, betel-chewing Cassius. Although initially wary of each other, the boys soon band into a gang, roaming unsupervised around the liner, slipping in and out of strange and dangerous situations, ‘bursting all over the place like freed mercury.’ As the ship makes its way across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal, and onwards towards Europe, the boys find themselves entangled in the eclectic lives of the grownups they observe from their vantage points of youthful invisibility.

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