Comments on Craft: Double Duty & Show, Don’t Tell

River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay CoverWhat I’ve read of Guy Gabriel Kay is long and winding (and enjoyable, provided I’m not in the mood for a breakneck thriller). Characters don’t follow a linear plot progression; events unfold. One technique of Kay’s impressed me when I read River of Stars. Although many people tell writers to show, not tell, the advice is sometimes difficult to follow. I find that examples are best. In the following scene, Kay’s character Wengao watches reactions when his friend Chen enters a room.

[E]very man with a connection to the literary or the political world knew Lu Chen–and his current fate. [Wengao] wondered for a moment of the daughter [Shan] would, then he saw the expression on her face.

He felt a flicker of envy, like a long tongue from an old fire. She hadn’t looked at him that way. But he was old, really old. Could barely stand from a chair without wincing. Chen wasn’t a young man–his hair under the black felt hat and his narrow, neat beard were both preying–but he didn’t have knees that made walking an ambitious exercise. He was straight-backed, still a handsome young man, if thinner-faced than he ought to be, and seeming tired now, if you knew him and looked closely.

And he was the man who had written “Lines On the Cold Food Festival” and the “Red Cliff” poems, among others.

This excerpt shows how Shaw reacts to Chen, even though there is very little text dedicated to her. It shows without telling us she is infatuated or even describing her features or reaction (despite common newbie misconceptions, showing doesn’t mean using flowery similes all the time). It shows by giving the reader a view of Wengao’s reaction to Shan’s infatuation. The paragraphs also do triple duty by characterizing Shan and Wengao and describing Chen’s physical appearance and renown as a poet. It also shows Chen’s poems are famous and well received without telling you they are: by listing his poems as a reason why Shan, a well-read woman, would be smitten and by setting them off in a paragraph of their own, Kay skillfully conveys these poems’ cultural weight in his novel.

Comments on Craft is a growing collection of examples of artful and well-constructed writing and storytelling and a discussion of why they work.

Comments on Craft: Awe & Otherworldliness

The Last Unicorn 40th Anniversary CoverI’ve decided to stop reviewing novels on this blog—the reviews aren’t necessarily helpful for writers. Instead, as I read well-crafted and artful fiction, I’ll excerpt passages or highlight techniques I find particularly skillful, beautiful, or useful.

I’ll start this new series, Comments on Craft, with a book my son recently asked me to read to him, even though he’s two years old and it doesn’t have many illustrations. He even sat still through two thirds of the first chapter!

I mention The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle a lot, but I refuse to apologize for the repetition. It has many facets worth emulating, but today I’ll highlight a paragraph from page 1, when Beagle is introducing his unicorn and setting her up as an awe-inspiring and otherworldly entity.

She did not look anything like a horned horse, as unicorns are often pictured, being smaller and cloven-hoofed, and possessing that oldest, wildest grace that horses have never had, that deer have only in a shy, thin imitation and goats in dancing mockery. […] She had pointed ears and thin legs, with feathers of white hair at the ankles; and the long horn above her eyes shone and shivered with its own seashell light even in the deepest midnight. She had killed dragons with it, and healed a king whose poisoned wound would not close, and knocked down ripe chestnuts for bear cubs.

After I read that last line, my son said, “That so nice!” He zeroed in on the part he understood: giving food to baby animals. This final line in the paragraph does more than list things the unicorn does: it both elevates caring for less-capable creatures to the same level as dragon slaying and gives a fairytale texture to the novel. New writers sometimes have a hard time making things feel epic or awe-inspiring and try to accomplish that goal by using grandiose, overly extravagant descriptions. Beagle gives his unicorn’s story an awe-filled tone in many ways, but one is right here. He gives her depth and breadth. By showing grand events like a mythical healing next to an everyday one, it keeps the description from becoming overblown, cliché, or monotonous (a grand tone gets boring if it encounters no variety). Also the fact that, for a unicorn, these three tasks all belong together makes the unicorn seem other-than-human, which she is!

Comments on Craft is a growing collection of examples of artful and well-constructed writing and storytelling and a discussion of why they work.

Recent Fairy-tale Projects

Since I last posted, I completed my master’s degree in English, moved house, worked on dozens of projects, and got a dog and six chickens. But today I’d like to highlight three recent-ish projects that are on the same topic: fairy tales.

Channeling Wonder: Fairy Tales and Television, edited by Pauline Greenhill & Jill Terry Rudy

The first project, Channeling Wonder: Fairy Tales on Television, is a collection of scholarly essays edited by Pauline Greenhill and Jill Rudy and published by Wayne State University Press. I indexed the volume, and it was a pleasure to read (not to mention the fact that it fed into research for my master’s thesis). The topics contained in the book are broad, and the various authors bring unique concerns, interests, and perspectives to the discussion about fairy tales on television. And look at that cover! Isn’t it nice to find an academic press that takes a little pride in the designs as well as the content?

The book spawned another project I worked on: Fairy Tales on Television. I was one of many research assistants and contributors who made the searchable database and functional data visualizations possible. The database is a research tool for researchers and creators whose interests intersect with fairy tales and television. I’ve used it for research of my own, and I might be preparing an infographic summarizing my findings. (So stay tuned for that.)

PersinetteOutside of academia, I also had the opportunity to work with Laura Christensen, a French-to-English translator who translated “Persinette,” a literary French fairy tale similar to “Rapunzel.” Laura translated the tale, wrote a delightful introduction, provided some biographical information on the author, and included introductions to and public-domain translations of the Grimms’ “Rapunzel” (which was published after “Persinette”) and Giambatista Basile’s “Petrosinella” (an Italian tale published before “Persinette”). I copyedited the text (except the public-domain translations) and formatted everything for its upcoming ebook release. Laura lets you know where you can find her collection on her translation website.

New Project: The Folklore Historian, Volume 29

My most recently completed editorial project isn’t technically a Looseleaf project—I’m the temporary managing editor for this one, not a freelancer, exactly—but I wanted to share it anyway. The last project was a novel, but this one was a scholarly journal focusing historical approaches to folklore (or folklore in a historical perspective). I present volume 29 of The Folklore Historian, a member of the American Folklore Society’s family of publications.

Cover of The Folklore Historian, volume 29

I didn’t do all the work on this issue. I took over at the beginning of the semester, so I proofread the final text, managed final revisions with the authors, laid the journal out in InDesign, designed the cover, and took the files to and checked the proofs from the press.

The Familius Christmas Anthology: Just for Kids

Ever wondered how to create some fun family time with your kids around Christmas? Never fear! Last year I worked on the annual Christmas anthology from Familius, and I did it again this year. Packed with Christmas stories, holiday songs and poems, wintery recipes and child-appropriate activities, the anthology this year was a bundle of fun to put together.Familius Christmas Anthology: Just for Kids

The recipes and activities were my realm of creation: Rick Walton gathers the stories and poems and helps me rank the best of them, and I put it all together. This year, instead of grouping all the stories together, all the poems together, and so on, we grouped one item from each category together according to a theme. In theory, you could use these groups to center an entire night around a single theme. Themes range from silly to thoughtful, so you can vary them according to what your little ones can handle on any given day in December.

Right now it looks like the book is only available in its paperback form (which, given the recipe-and-activity nature of the book, I think is a huge step up from the ebook-only run we had last year). You can get it from …

Enjoy the book and tell your friends. I will be posting a giveaway page soon so I can share some of these awesome author copies I have!

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Leaflet Review: Alice in Tumblr-land: And Other Fairy Tales for a New Generation by Tim Manley

Cover of Alice in Tumblr-land by Tim ManleyPeter Pan finally has to grow up and get a job, or at least start paying rent. Cinderella swaps her glass slippers for Crocs. The Tortoise and the Hare Facebook stalk each other. Goldilocks goes gluten free. And Rapunzel gets a buzz cut.

Here are more than one hundred fairy tales, illustrated and reimagined for today. Instead of fairy godmothers, there’s Siri. And rather than big bad wolves, there are creepy dudes on OkCupid. In our brave new world of social networking, YouTube, and texting, fairy tales can once again lead us to “happily every after”—and have us laughing all the way.

In case my earlier discussion of using fairy tale motifs in creative writing didn’t tip you off (or the mention of my folklore-emphasizing master’s degree, etc.), I’m a bit of a fairy- and folktale nut. My most recent read in the realm of fairy-tale retelling is Tim Manley’s Alice in Tumblr-land: And Other Fairy Tales for a New Generation.

First, I should point out that the book is an outgrowth of Manley’s Tumblr blog Fairy Tales for 20-somethings. (As such you can probably guess that this isn’t for your kids—insert language and content warnings here. My warnings for the book are stronger than for the blog: the book is more explicit, includes more sex-involved storylines, etc. Take a glance around the blog, and if that pushes your boundaries, don’t pick up the book.) But the book does some things that are ill-suited to a blog-style project, and I’m going to focus on those things.

The book, like the blog, has a mix of stories with different characters from different fairy tales (with little to no carryover between fairy tales). Each “fairy tale” story ranges from a couple sentences to a few paragraphs long. (Side note: His definition of fairy tale is very broad and inclusive. If it’s a Disney movie, it probably qualifies for Manley as a fairy tale. Aesop is fair game too.) Although there are overarching narratives for several characters (Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Rapunzel, etc.), no character has two consecutive fairy tales if you’re reading the book cover to cover. Technically most of the tales could be read independently, but the most “bookish” parts of the book, the ones toward the end of the volume, normally require the background knowledge of Manley’s interpretation of the characters.

It’s these sorts of tales that I’m going to focus on for this review. While the blog constantly puts out standalone tales—whether they be humorous or poignant—that sort of telling is ill-suited to a coherent book that is supposed to be read and remembered as something other than a gag book. (Gag books have their place, make no mistake. But that’s not what Manley is doing here.) In the book Manley has selected posts from the blog, rewritten some of them, and added many, many more tales to give characters overarching narratives with problems, failings, successes, and ultimately, an inner calmness and peace. While the book describes many stereotypes and tropes of the lost, confused, bewildered, or befuddling generation of today’s American twenty-somethings, it is not a book that ends on the note of being lost, confused, bewildered, or befuddled. Every recurring character finds a way to reconcile his or her questions and instability into some form of calm willingness to press on, innovate, and engage with life.

All in all, I think the book does a good job. As with the blog, there are some tales (and some arcs) I consider more successful, humorous, or emotionally impactful than others, and there are some I don’t particularly care for. In that way it is like many anthology-style books that include multiple discrete storylines: some are bound to please more than others. I would even argue that until the book fully engages with being a book—until we start getting the closure that doesn’t sit well in an ongoing blog-style context—it feels a bit weaker than the blog. But in the end, Manley pulls it off. Since each tale is so sort, it really doesn’t take that long to get to the end either, so overall it’s worth a read.

New Project: Unraveled by Michelle C. Eging

I’m pleased to present Looseleaf’s most recently completed book-length project: Unraveled by Michelle C. Eging. It’s an adult fantasy novel, the first in a trilogy.

Threads of Sole: Unraveled by Michelle C. Eging

Michelle was a joy to work with. I completed the interior layout for the print version, the ebook layout, and the cover designs for both the print and electronic versions. (Remember, cover design does not mean the same thing as cover illustration. The lovely illustration is the work of Michelle Wilber.) I also did the final proofreading. Here is the back-cover copy for the novel:

In the aftermath of the War of Awakening, the King and his Council condoned the Purge, methodically executing members of the magically gifted Blessed so no person’s power will threaten Sole again. After years of political negotiation, the Purge has ended, requiring the Blessed to brand their faces and creating a rift that has Sole on the brink of civil war. Enwyck, the daamon half-blood Prince of Sole, Joslynn, a woman whose mask hides her deformed and poisonous spider-silk skin, Windle, a former Godmother now hiding as an old man, and Kasimir, a blind cripple no longer able to transform into a raven, find themselves struggling to preserve the kingdom while confronting the trauma of their pasts and the broken pieces of their present. One false move and everything they fought for will unravel, if it hasn’t already.

If that tickles your fancy, go forth and buy the book here. It’s available in both paperback and electronic forms from Amazon. (If you’re an ebook-reading Amazon Prime member, you’ll also be interested to know that the book is a part of the lending library.) If you have a non-Kindle ereader, touch bases with Michelle here at let her know you’re interested. Sometimes the other distribution channels can take a while to get things up.

2013 Editorial Availability, September–December

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m hard at work on my master’s degree. Once I have it, I will be an even more awesome choice for all your editorial needs. In the meantime, I have a very limited schedule for new projects. Currently I’ve got a pair of large, long-term projects, and between them and a few minor projects, I am booked through the end of the year.

However, if you have projects in the works for which you’ll want an editor, but do not need an editor until next year, feel free to contact me and preschedule. I’ll be in my degree program until June of next year, so until then the schedule will be tight. The earlier we touch bases, the better the chances that I’ll be able to work with you to help you reach your audience with clarity, credibility, and style.

A Brief Update

Brigham Young University Logo

I apologize for the lack of free editorial advice, delightful book reviews, and other bookish content available here in recent months. Obviously the past eight-ish months have not been prime time for my blogging. Book reviews are sparse, because at the moment I’m pursuing my master’s degree at Brigham Young University, so I spend a lot of time reading books that have been published for a while (although the oldest I’ve read for this degree only dates back to the very end of the 1600s), so there are a few hundred years’ worth of people to tell you if it’s any good or not. All my analytical brain cells that could write other sorts of posts are directed toward my seminar papers, my thesis, and the paying projects I’m still plugging away at.

If you miss my blogging, take it up with this face.

I also spend a lot of time tending to the newest member of my family, my now ten-month-old son. I’m quite proud of him: he runs around the apartment, voluntarily submerges his face in swimming pools, and spends a good chunk of every day bringing me books from his bookshelf. (Maybe I should start writing reviews of his books, since they tend to be the most recently published books I read these days.)

Anyway, updates shall be sparse. I’m going to be documenting some parts of my thought process and research as I go about writing my master’s thesis, which is about internet narratives on the broad scale, fairy tales on the internet more specifically, and a few examples of internet fairy tales in the most particular. Most of the updates on what my Thesis Neurons are up to will be on my new Tumblr blog: Internet Narrative. If I have spare time to construct blog posts that are particularly useful to writers or readers (I have a few outlines for posts that have been sitting around for eight months), I’ll be putting them here. I’ll also be posting Looseleaf news, like notable newly published projects, my availability, and such. However, these will be few and far between (especially since I’m taking on fewer projects while getting my degree).

So stay tuned to the things that most interest you. Maybe when this whole “master’s degree” thing blows over I’ll be able to get back to regular blogging. I miss it.

Leaflet Review: The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman

The Half-Made World coverThe world is still only half-made. Between the wild shores of uncreation, and the ancient lands of the East lies the vast expanse of the West—young, chaotic, magnificent, war-torn.

Thirty years ago, the Red Republic fought to remake the West—fought gloriously, and failed. The world that now exists has been carved out amid a war between two rival factions: the Line, enslaving the world with industry, and the Gun, a cult of terror and violence. The Republic is now history, and the last of its generals sits forgotten and nameless in a madhouse on the edge of creation. But locked in his memories is a secret that could change the West forever, and the world’s warring powers would do anything to take it from him.

Now Liv Alverhuysen, a doctor of the new science of psychology, travels west, hoping to heal the general’s shattered mind. John Creedmoor, reluctant Agent of the Gun and would-be gentleman of leisure, travels west, too, looking to steal the secret or die trying. And the servants of the Line are on the march.

I can’t remember exactly how I became interested in The Half-Made World, but it’s been a while. I wasn’t quite ready to drop enough money to buy a new hardcover from an author I’d never read though, and that’s why when it came time to find books to populate my Nook, I was ridiculously pleased to see that for some reason, it was on sale for $3.99 (I later discovered that this was a promotional price because the sequel came out last week). It would have been worth paying more than that.

Characters in Conflict

The most interesting aspect of the book, for me, was how every viewpoint character had a strong internal conflict between who they were, what they were doing, and what they wanted to do.

The world of this book feels very magical-wild-West: there are cowboy-like outlaws (the Agents of the Gun), industry-driven railroad men (the men of the Line), the innocents caught in the middle, and the magical Hillfolk that no one fully comprehends. There’s a viewpoint character from every group except the Hillfolk.

John Creedmoor, Agent of the Gun, is ridden by a demon who lives in his revolver. The demon, Marmion, is used to more or less dictating the actions of his host. But Creedmoor delights in defying his master as much as he can, even when it results in demonic torture. Don’t get me wrong: Creedmoor is not a good man, and that point is frequently reiterated through his thoughts and actions. But there is a part of him that knows what good is and that wants someone to do the right thing, even if it isn’t him. John’s internal conflict was, for me, the most compelling conflict of the story.

Lowry is a man of the Line. Men of the Line are supposed to be more or less the same across the board: more or less equally capable, efficient, and unquestioningly loyal to the Engines they worship. His little rebellions are nowhere as brazen as Creedmoor’s, but they wouldn’t fit his character if they were. He is ever so slightly proud of his accomplishments (pride is anathema for Linesmen). He struggles with his desire for glory and his place in a system that doesn’t allow for glory. Especially when he’s put in contrast with Creedmoor, who is a complete glory hog, Lowry is actually an interesting character considering he comes from a group of people who are supposed to be the bland product of assembly lines and cookie-cutter lives. Where he ends up at the end of the book is perfectly fitting (though it felt unfulfilling for a moment and it took me a bit to realize how brilliant it was).

Liv was, for me, the least interesting of the characters. She too is in conflict with herself for most of the book—she struggles with her revulsion and pragmatic acceptance of Creedmoor—but I think she surprised me the least and had the simplest character arc. That said, she is very different, in a good an interesting way, from your typical fantasy heroine. She’s just not, in my opinion, the most interesting person in the book.

Drive to the Sequel

This book’s ending feeds heavily into the sequel. The biggest secret of the book still hasn’t been revealed, new difficulties are introduced, and in general it does a good job of letting you know that if you enjoyed this book, you must pick up the next one as soon as possible. But while I thoroughly enjoyed the setting and I’m emotionally invested in Creedmoor’s character, especially after the events at the end of the book, I’m going to hold off for a bit. Why? Because Liv suddenly became more central (and I already mentioned that she’s not the most interesting for me), and given the back-cover copy of the sequel, I’m not sure that the sequel will end up being what I’d expect. So I’m going to hold off until the price drops to something closer to the price of a mass market paperback. Gilman’s voice and setting are intriguing, and I want to try more; I’m just not quite prepared to pay a premium for it yet.

content warnings: Language (several F-bombs) and allusions to Creedmoor’s liaisons with various women.