Looseleaf Word Nerd T-shirts Launched

I work with storytellers and writers . . . which normally means they’re avid readers too. Last month I put together two t-shirts for my word nerd friends and writerly clients, and today the initial designs launch!

A navy-blue T-shirt with white text that says, "I'm not a grammar Nazi: I'm Captain American English."The first shirt is one I’m particularly proud of. It says, “I’m not a grammar Nazi: I’m Captain American English.” Because when I nitpick over your comma placement, I’d rather see myself as heroic rather than neurotic. The stories we tell ourselves matter, folks.

A black T-shirt decorated with a constellation star chart and the words "Stories tame the stars and make them ours."The second shirt is a constellation star chart (northern hemisphere, Greek & Western constellations) and words celebrating story. Cultures worldwide have tamed the stars with constellations and stories, claiming the distant stars as their own. Storytellers of all stripes—writers, artists, parents of small children—create new ways of seeing our wild universe. They give us narrative maps to navigate by, guidebooks to exploring and expanding ourselves. Our stories have the power to tame the untambeable.

A dark gray T-shirt decorated with the words "mud-luscious & puddle-wonderful" in blue and orange text.The third shirt is the first in what I hope will become a series of shirts spotlighting particularly powerful poetry. I’m leading off with the estimable E. E. Cummings and my favorite phrases from his poem “In Just-.” The poem is equal parts poignant and playful, but in lifting only the springtime descriptors mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful, I focus on the splish-splash joy of April showers.

A white T-shirt decorated with the words "Earth's crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God."Joining the E. E. Cummings shirt is another watercolor poetry tee with a quote from Elizabeth Barrett Browning. It’s perfect for hiking or walking through the everyday divine of nature: “Earth’s crammed with heaven, / And every common bush afire with God.”

All shirts come in both unisex and women-specific styles.

 

Manuscript Evaluation Christmas Cards

Gray Christmas CritiqueAre you struggling to find a perfect holiday gift for the writer(s) in your life? Send a some seriously supportive love to their mailbox this season! For the next month, I’m offering my new 50-page critiques with a special card you can have mailed straight to your literary loved one. You can choose from either a minimalist gray card or a bright, Looseleaf-green card.

Once they have the cards, writers can use the provided codes to schedule a critique whenever it will be most useful for them and their work.Green Christmas Critique

Order a manuscript critique today by visiting Looseleaf’s online store.

 

Promotional Posters for Followed by Frost

Earlier this year Charlie N. Holmberg asked me to put together some promotional pieces she could use prior to the release of her fourth novel, Followed by Frost. For these, she picked out a series of photos from iStockphoto and gave me a list of significant quotes from the book. From there, I paired the best quotes with the best images and combined them. Some of the images needed some minimal manipulation to better match the book, and each piece needed to be in both rectangular and square formats so it could be used well in different social media outlets.

I loved working on these—they were a fun project that got immediate use promoting a delightful novel.

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never-warm-again_2

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beautiful-kindness

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almost

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Comments on Craft: Characters with Conflict

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson CoverThe most interesting characters aren’t necessarily the ones with super-awesome skills or the best backstory. Most times, they’re the ones with the most internal conflict. One example of such a character is Joel from Brandon Sanderson’s The Rithmatist and his co-star, Melody. In this YA novel, magic is restricted to a chosen few, and Joel is not one of them. He is, however, incredibly skilled in every facet of a rithmatist’s skills: geometry and other mathematics, the foundation of the magical system, are Joel’s forte. Melody is a rithmatist but is rubbish at mathematics. Both characters, regardless of any other plot points, are already set in conflict. Conflict is the core of plot, so Sanderson sets himself up for success right out of the gate.

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: 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 if 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 greying—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 Shan reacts to Chen, even though there is very little text dedicated to her. It shows us (without telling) 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 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 the world of 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.