Saturday, September 17, 2011

September Catch-Up

First of all, a new layout/design! The orgiami animals are from a textile I saw in Ikea that I may still go back for. I can't sew (ah, well, I can, but badly), but...I know people who can, and that's what matters! There were other animals, too, including a bison/buffalo.

So, school has started, and I'm now a second-year Fiction student. I submitted the first part ("chapter" would be an overstatement) of a novel to workshop already (was unlucky enough to be up at bat first), and I was really surprised by the positive response to the weird, magical element in those pages, and questions/suggestions of how I could tease that into the other sections. It was hugely encouraging, and one of the reasons why is because the scenes of strangeness were parts I had written on an inspired whim. The rest of it was more or less forced. So it was interesting to see that people definitely responded more to the part where there was more heart and blood going to it, I guess.

Other school news: Teaching two classes is hard. And that's all I have to say on that, haha.

I'm reading Lisel and Po by Lauren Oliver for fun (and for Figment), and Falling Man by Don DeLillo for class.

But I also have The Night Circus and The Shadow of the Wind on my nightstand. Too many books! I think those are next on my reading list, though...or maybe Divergent, which a friend characterized as "Hunger Games-enjoyment level." Which is huge.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Magical (Serialized) Imagination of Kimberly Karalius

I took a Creative Non-Fiction workshop this past semester, and one of our assignments was to interview a writer over spring break. I pretty much turned to Kim immediately. And because I suck if I don’t have a deadline, it’s taken me this long to work up the interview. So without further ado, here it is!

Interview with Kimberly Karalius

When Figment opened to the public last November, it was pretty much immediately flooded with new users uploading their writing. It was pure chance that I found Kimberly Karalius—though I don’t doubt that I would have eventually come across her work. She had made her way onto Figment, and she had uploaded a lone story, a cell phone novel called Birdcage Girl, centered around 18-year-old Ashlyn, a girl who spends most of her days in a wire birdcage, wheeling herself around the house and secretly planning her escape. She now has over 300 readers following her novel, anticipating her updates, and begging for more.

On the surface, her stories seem quiet and regular. They take place in small towns, by the sea, in a bakery. But then we get these magical flourishes. A carousel spins to life. A girl has the ability to tell stories in flour, making her drawings come to life within the confines of a flour-dusted cutting board. There’s a boy, a real live boy, living in a dollhouse. A young mermaid, taking her turn in the age-old tradition of visiting the dry world, sends postcards back to the sea.

These stories seem wholly fantastical, but they’re also grounded in the reality of human relationships, an overprotective mother, lovers’ quarrels, homesickness. The mixture of the magical and the mundane is compelling, to me, because of everything seems to be within the realms of possibility. When I read something by Kim, I get the feeling that this world is within reach, if I just tilted my head and looked at it this way. The worlds she creates are places and pockets of life that I wander through and then settle down in—with some wariness, because there are disquieting suggestions of things gone awry.

Kimberly is a first year MFA fiction student at the University of South Florida. She lives and writes by Disney World, where she has an annual pass.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sweet to the Taste

I'm currently reading The Sweetest Thing by Christina Mandelski. And my friend K of Vitchen Cooking is busily making strawberry muffins while I'm alternately reading and napping on her couch.

The Sweetest Thing (May 10, 2011) is about the life of Sheridan Wells, teenage cake decorator, and how it seems to be imploding around her: her dad just got offered his own cooking show on TV, the most popular guy at school starts paying attention to her while her best friend, Jack, starts growing angry and distant, and she still hasn't found her mom, who ran away years ago.

I'm about halfway through it, and it's weird because I'm rarely so torn over a character. I find myself trying to justify Sheridan's behavior and actions and trying to determine how "realistic"/plausible it is. Which has got me thinking about YA books, and the different dosages of fantasy and relatability in a character. No conclusions drawn about this yet, just musing.

In other news, I recently reviewed Sweet Valley Confidential by Francine Pascal. I am keeping this book because it is the Bible of drinking games. Even just playing by one rule (drink every time Jess says some variation of "I so ____" as in "I so don't need this" or "It so wasn't my fault that the captain was gorgeous and happened to be steering the boat with nothing in front of him but empty sea and my topless body. For hours.") would lay us all out on the floor.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spring Break Reading

I'm back in NYC for Spring Break! And unfortunately, I missed out on most of the Teen Author Festival because my school chose to push back spring break this year. SUPER.

But all is not lost! For one thing, I visited my sister at Princeton and got a lot of writing done in various libraries. I finally made some progress on a new story I'm working on, which I was inspired to write after reading Versailles by Kathryn Davis earlier this year. It was assigned reading in one of my classes during the week we studied idiosyncratic narrators. The voice of Marie Antoinette was definitely distinctive and a joy to read, but what was really memorable to me was just the language in describing the palace. Really beautiful, like light shot through a glass house - but not without substance. So I wanted to see if I could create that kind of quality with this piece. We'll see!

The second thing is, I'm staying with two friends from college, one of whom is working in publishing. And I raid her bookshelf every time I come here. Like, I literally raid it, and I haul a ton of books back home at the end of the week. This time, I packed light and came with a backpack. So far, I've read:

Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn. Effing addictive, I stayed up until 3 AM reading it. Told from the points of view of several different characters, it's heavy on dialogue (maybe a little too much so) and keeps the punches coming with the plot.

Abandon by Meg Cabot (April 26, 2011). I won't say too much about it here because I just wrote a review for it, but the teaser reads: She knows what it's like to die. Now Death wants her back. Sounds morbid? Well, according to the back, it's the myth of Persephone, darkly reimagined. So of course I had to read it. Dark retelling? Check. Greek mythology inspiration? Check.

Falling Under by Gwen Hayes. I just started reading this tonight, and so far, I'm captivated by the narrator's voice (so much is already revealed about her, and I'm on, 7). Not to mention the spectacle of a burning man falling through the sky and crash landing in her yard.

Also, on Saturday I went to Ayza, this chocolate and wine bar near K-town (and got a free glass of sangria for liking their Facebook page!) - SO DELICIOUS. If it hadn't been so dark, I would've taken better pictures of the appetizers. We had: angry chicken lollipops, white truffle pizza, roasted French brie crouton, prosiutto di parma (with figs!) tartine, and twenty-layer crème brûlée cake. I'm going to go again before I leave.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Book I'm Keeping My Eye On: Divergent by Veronica Roth

I think I came across Divergent via Twitter, and I'm glad I did b/c it sounds awesome! What's even more amazing? Veronica Roth is only 22, and Divergent is the first book in a trilogy.

From the back: In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris, and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together, they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes-fascinating, sometimes-exasperating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret: one she’s kept hidden from everyone, because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly-perfect society, she also learns that her secret might be what helps her save those she loves . . . or it might be what destroys her.

Divergent will be released May 3, 2011!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Review: Wither by Lauren DeStefano

From the back: What if you knew exactly when you would die?

Thanks to modern science, every human being has become a ticking genetic time bomb—males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out.

When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden's genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape—to find her twin brother and go home.

But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden's eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limited time she has left.

I read a lot of dystopia fiction in 2010, and Wither by Lauren DeStefano is one of the most memorable books in that genre. So I'm just going to put this out there: Wither blew my mind. This is the book you can't put down, the book you want to linger over even as you're crazily flipping the pages, the book that gets you quietly screaming "AHHHHHHHH" on the inside. The characters and their lives gripped me by the throat and heart.

You can't even begin to imagine how immersive this dystopic world and future is. The novel takes place almost entirely in the mansion, a beautiful, luxurious world that is a prison for Rhine. Rhine and her sister wives, Jenna and Ceceilly, are given everything to entertain themselves, but they're never fully able to forget the reason for their life on the estate. The future they live in is strongly felt, invading even their idyllic garden.

Rhine is one of my favorite heroines, ever. She's clever and manipulative, and her end goal is to get back to her twin brother. Though she grows close to Linden, she never wavers from her desire for freedom. Recognizing the advantages of being the "first wife" (or head wife), Rhine plays the game and quickly becomes Linden's favorite wife...while she grows closer to Gabriel, a servant in the household. I really liked reading about romance between Rhine and Gabriel, but the focus is on Rhine and her relationship with her sister wives. Rhine, Jenna, and Ceceilly are strong in their own ways, and several of my favorite scenes were when it was just the three of them, existing together and struggling to survive or cope.

The book isn't filled with action-packed moments, but everything is fraught with tension - from both the menace of Linden's father, and the inescapable knowledge that their lives are winding down. The writing is beautiful and haunting. Rhine lives in a dying world, and so all the living, mortal things are noticed and treasured. The garden in bloom, the orange grove, the seasons that are so powerfully felt...the writing is poetic. (And I was reminded of Robert Frost's poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay.")

Wither is book one in The Chemical Garden Trilogy, but happily it also stands powerfully on its own. Wither will be published on March 22, 2011.