Book Review – Stars Above by Marissa Meyer

9781250091840_p0_v2_s192x300Where many young adult series are told in one character’s first person perspective, Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles wasn’t. With each novel additional characters were added to the mix and the perspective shifted regularly between them. This meant that where many young adult authors release complementary/supplementary short stories that offer a different character’s take on scenes the audience is already familiar with, her collection of stories, Stars Above, provided a different kind of depth—backstory. Most of the stories in Stars Above are greater explorations of the circumstances surrounding key moments in the series’ central characters’ lives that took place before the readers met them but that were hinted at or referenced briefly within the main books.

Most of the stories function as prequels to the books of the main series: how Scarlet’s grandmother became involved in hiding and healing Cinder as well as how Scarlet came to live with her grandmother in the first place; Cinder’s first days with her adoptive family in New Beijing; how Cress came to find herself in the satellite orbiting Earth; some of Thorne’s earliest schemes; Wolf’s early days as a soldier in Levana’s army; Winter’s perspective of growing up in her step-mother’s palace; Kai’s first impressions of Cinder. There are two stories that break from that pattern, however. The Little Android, while featuring an appearance by Cinder prior to the events of the first novel of the series, stands on its own as a reimagining of The Little Mermaid (the Hans Christian Anderson original more than the Disney version). Finally, the last story in the collection is a happy epilogue/sequel which finds the series’ four couples gathering on Earth for a long-awaited reunion and wedding. Continue reading

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Stubbornly Flexible

“Failed plans should not be interpreted as a failed vision. Visions don’t change, they are only refined. Plans rarely stay the same, and are scrapped or adjusted as needed. Be stubborn about the vision, but flexible with your plan.” — John C. Maxwell

About two years ago now I began writing on a project that I intended to self-publish through a platform like Smashwords. I haven’t worked on it much in the last eighteen months, however, and I haven’t had much time to work on writing flash fiction pieces either. It’s not a project that I’m particularly passionate about or one that I was even sure about how I would ultimately assemble it. An examination of a modern romantic relationship and the dynamics between the two parties, I have abandoned the plans to compile and self-publish it as one unit (at least for the foreseeable future).

But rather than let the handful of completed episodes languish in a folder on my desktop, I have decided I’ll post them here. There was no set order to the episodes (pretty much the only thing I had settled on was that they wouldn’t be presented in chronological order of occurrence). I only have vague ideas for other episodes I intended to include and maybe I will get to them eventually. For now, though, I’m going to be posting these episodes every other Friday to make up for the stunning lack of my own creative fiction in recent months.

So make of them what you will. The working title I had for the piece as a whole is Together.

Book Review – The Settling Earth by Rebecca Burns feat. Shelly Davies

cover57457-mediumEvery once in a while I like to read a collection of short stories to take a break from novels. There are some collections of short stories where the pieces do a fantastic job of working together as a cohesive unit while maintaining their ability to stand solidly at an individual level. The Settling Earth by Rebecca Burns is one such collection. Comprised of eight of Burns’ stories focused on British emigrants’ experiences in colonial New Zealand and one story by Shelly Davies providing a native’s perspective on the new comers, the collection takes care to look at an array of experiences that crosses the lines of both class and gender.

The hopes and dreams that brought individuals from their homes in Great Britain are tested as they face the realities of life in New Zealand. While some crossed for love or marriage, others sought to escape their pasts or otherwise difficult circumstances. What they all have in common is that none of them found the new land quite what they expected, whether to their benefit or detriment. But the emigrants brought more than just themselves, and as they try to transplant their own lives, they also wind up transplanting some of the structures of the society they left behind (the very same that some of them were actively fleeing). Continue reading

The Things We Find When We Clean…

“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” – Joseph Addison

When you’re a book lover and you move, your books provide as much physical exercise as they usually do mental exercise. Between packing up and carrying duffel bags of books to and from the car, up and down the stairs, and then maneuvering, carrying, disassembling (when necessary) the corresponding bookcases, I have to actively look at the process as contributing to my much neglected exercise regimen so that I don’t get too frustrated and rashly decide to give away my library-in-progress. I still have one bookcase to move and resettle (it will join the seven bookcases and one smaller mounted shelf-unit already in place).

The moving process is full of blessings and curses. In addition to the workout/hassle of physically relocating possessions amassed over time, there is the necessary evil of cleaning. And not just the superficial dusting or vacuuming but going through boxes of old things that haven’t seen the light of day in years. Of course, this can lead to unexpected strolls down memory lane and discoveries of days gone by. My niece, for instance, has been having a ball playing with costume jewelry from my own dress-up days and learning about toys I’m not sure they make any more (do they still make Lite-Brite or Wee-Waffles?).

One of the discoveries I made during this cleaning/moving period is a short story I wrote for class during my sophomore year of high school. Since I’ve removed some of my other pieces for publishing purposes (fingers crossed), I have decided to share this blast from my past entitled “The Price of a Good Time.” It’s nowhere near as dramatic as the title suggests (and keep in mind, this is at least ten years old now).

Here’s a little taste:

Krysten drummed her newly polished nails on her bedside table and sighed. Though the radio was blasting music from her favorite station, Kiss 108, on the other side of the room, all she could hear was the thick silence from the phone she held up to her ear. She shifted position so that her feet were at the head of the bed and her head at its foot. Nervously, she blew on her nails again to make sure there was no chance that they were still wet.

“Com on, Jen. You’re running up my phone bill. Where are you?” she said into the receiver. No answer. She hated call waiting when she was the one stuck waiting. Her foot began tapping against the headboard as she always did when sprawled on the bed in such a manner.

The next instant her friend was back.

“Sorry about that,” Jennifer apologized. Krysten wished Jen could see the look on her face. That would make her really sorry. “My mother is so… she must have asked me a million questions about school and how things are here. I mean, come on. I’m sixteen, I think that I can be at home alone for a few hours and survive. It’s almost like she doesn’t remember the fact that I spend more time baby-sitting for other people than I spend at home. If I can keep four kids under the age of seven out of trouble, I think I’m capable of taking care of myself.”

“Jen,” Krysten cut into her friend’s frustrated monologue. “You were saying something before you put me on hold…

“Oh, yeah. Sorry. Keith, my cousin’s friend Keith, is having a party next Saturday,” her voice was suddenly all business and serious, like a partner giving an update presentation for a Board of Directors. “I can get us in. Can you make it?”

 

Read the full story here.

Heinde’s Sight – A Short Story

“People only see what they are prepared to see.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

This short story was inspired by a dinner conversation my friends and I had where we tried to come up with the most useless super-hero powers imaginable. I struggled to find the right voice and the right words for this story so that it would be entertaining and the concept would be understandable. I’m still not sure that I’m there so please let me know what you think so that I can continue to improve on it.

Claire has unique visions when she falls asleep at night. Her visions of futures that will never come to pass for the individuals around her can make it difficult to fit in but they also allow her a freedom unknown by those same people.

Excerpt from “Heinde’s Sight”

Everyone at the local pizza place knew about Claire Heinde and her odd ways. Well, all the regulars knew about her. They knew that her closest confidante was the crazy homeless guy who collected cans and used the money from returning them to buy aluminum foil, which he would wrap around streetlights, telephone poles, and parking meters to mess with the signals the aliens were beaming to Earth. They knew that Claire had this way of looking at a person that could make them feel like the biggest failure in the universe or with such blatant admiration that they couldn’t help but blush. They knew that while Claire didn’t have regular days, she’d come into the pizza place twice a week, sit at the counter on the stool meant to be a seat for the elderly customers forced to wait in line, and after ordering a slice of cheese-less, toppings-less pizza and a chocolate milkshake, she would open up a black composition book, scribble furiously, tear the page out, rip it up and let the pieces blow out of her hand as she walked away from the Slice of Seventh Heaven Pizza Parlor.

The old timers would talk about how she’d always been a little daft in the head and that it was a shame since her parents had been bright enough. Every once in a while, a new addition to the regular crowd would ask what had happened to Claire that made her act that way. One would swear she’d been dropped on her head as a small child, a complete accident. Another would claim it was that car accident a while back and why was he the only one who remembered how she’d acted normally before but came in the week after getting out of the hospital and started scraping the cheese from her pizza. A third would call the second nuts and remind him she wasn’t even in the car that crashed, wasn’t even in town when it happened; it was abuse that had put poor Claire out of her mind. Perfect family like that had to be hiding something. There were chemicals in the area where she lived that leeched into the Heide’s vegetable garden. She was on a medication for something and it messed with her ability to interact with others. Too much therapy in her formative years. Not enough.

In truth, none of them knew much about Claire and that should have made them uneasy. It would have made them squirm if they had any idea how much she knew about them without even trying to discover anything (in fact, she tried very hard not to know more about them than they could ever know about themselves).

Book Review – Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

Short stories are far more difficult to write and to read because they’re, well, short. There is a distance, a formality to short stories because of their brevity. They’re like the people we wait in line with at the store or who work in the same building as us but for a different company on another floor. You may run into them from time to time on the elevator, but you’re not going to risk running late to wait for them to show before pushing the button.

Because of the limited time we have with them, short stories tend to be very intense. They have a point to make and they can’t waste time politely skirting around an issue. Usually, I spread my short stories out between novels. I finish a novel, read a short story, and move on to another novel. If I read too many short stories in a row, it can be too much to process. It took me a while to get through the short stories of Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, but I found myself more drawn into these stories more than some of the novels I have read and reviewed recently.

Though many of the stories in the collection deal with issues of cultural identity and the impact colonization has had on Indian culture, it isn’t as much the primary focus as one might expect. Most of Lahiri’s stories examine relationships between men and women that, while presented against a culturally defined backdrop, transcend it into a universality that is engaging and leaves the message lingering with the reader.

The only story I was familiar with ahead of time was the titular “Interpreter of Maladies” about a young Indian-American couple and their three children returning India to visit their parents. Told from the perspective of their tour guide, it shows how a distancing can gradually develop between people and a place but also between one person and another. The guide, unsatisfied in his own family life, quickly develops fantasies about the young mother based on his perception of an intimacy she seeks out with him. However, she shows that it is only the kind of intimacy that can be shared briefly by strangers.

Treading the line between stranger and friend creeps up again and again through Lahiri’s stories. At what point does an interaction with a stranger turn into something more? Can two people who at one point thought they knew everything that mattered about one another turn back into strangers? Where are those moments of crossing over from one to the other in our everyday interactions?

My favorite stories were the first and last of the collection. “A Temporary Matter” follows a couple with a shared tragedy as scheduled maintenance requiring power black outs forces them to stop avoiding one another. The darkness allows them to admit things that the electric lights had them hoarding for themselves. “The Third and Final Continent” is more sentimental as it tells the story of a man who, after studying in England for several years, finds a job in America, participating in an arranged marriage before leaving his stranger bride behind to make a home for them in a foreign country. It’s the most predictable of the collection, but it also has my favorite character in his elderly landlady fascinated by man’s journeys into space.

Commonly set in the Boston collegiate area (an area I easily identify with as a lifelong Massachusetts resident), these stories and Lahiri’s style in general are very comfortable, relaxed. That distance that I usually feel with short stories was unexpectedly absent. Instead of trying to build a large story around a small idea, she found larger ideas that expressed themselves in little things, small incidents that are common enough to be recognizable and relatable.

 

Starting the week with the best of intentions and hoping for no delays

“Circumstances may cause interruptions and delays, but never lose sight of your goal.” – Mario Andretti

I have been on the brink of finishing a short story for about a week now. I think I’ve finally figured out how to end it though there are still a few transitions I’m working on. And I had been looking forward to extra writing time the past few days but I didn’t count on not feeling well and watching my writing time turn into passing out on the couch time. Then it turned into why did I volunteer myself to help out with other stuff time.

Answer: I forgot how frustrating it is when you’re that close to finishing this type of personal project and how it always makes me antsy to be done with it already so I can move onto the next project (this is the reason I wind up writing both ways in my notebooks, front to back and then flipping it upside-down and writing from the back pages forwards).

But next week, I promise myself I will be better. With the exception of reading Mockingjay on Tuesday, updating my resume tomorrow, and getting my car inspected either Monday or Wednesday, I plan to focus only on writing for the next few days. I need to finish that short story (and I don’t it will take longer than an hour  if I refuse to let myself get distracted), type it up/edit it, and send it out to a few literary magazines before some August 31st deadlines (as well as  look into which publications are opening their acceptance periods in September).

What happens when you try to bring your past into your present?

“You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present.” – Jan Glidewell

“Second Guessing” is a short story about a young woman wrestling with her past and a relationship that never was.

I wanted to explore the way that memory is anything but solid. Its meaning can change if you try to look at it from another perspective and knowing what comes after that moment can also change the way it looks. Emotions like desire and fear can also affect what we see when we look back. Are we remembering things as they really were, or as we want them to have been?

Excerpt from “Second Guessing”:

A puddle has formed on the floor at my feet as I’ve stood here, holding open my closet door, mentally trying on each dress and throwing them onto the floor in disgust. Maybe the towel is wrapped around my head too tightly. It doesn’t matter what I end up wearing tonight; it won’t accomplish what I want to, need to tonight. Only I can do that.

Still, looking my best won’t hurt, or make my job harder. I grab a few dresses on hangers. Whoops, not going to wear that one. I put the red spaghetti strap dress back in the closet. I refuse to wear the dress I wore to my senior banquet again for my ten-year reunion (even though it fits better now than it did then; probably because my boobs finally grew in and I don’t have to pad to keep the neckline symmetrical and in the right place). I don’t want to be one of them, those tacky probably-ex-cheerleaders who have had a few kids but think they have the same figure they had before they popped them out.

I think I’ll go with one of the blue ones. They go best with my skin tone since it’s too cold out for the sun to be allowed an opportunity for changing that. The halter dress is a little uncomfortable and frankly, makes me look like I should be standing at a street corner in the red light district, even before I apply makeup.

Honing my rewriting skills

“I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.” – James Michener

Now that my thesis is officially and completely done, I’ll be posting some of the short stories that were included in the collection (and will be posting about the progress of trying to get some of the others published). Actually, the name of this blog, Nightmares, Day Dreams, and Imagined Conversations, was the title I gave my thesis project.

The first story from that collection, “A Mother’s Love”, I originally wrote in high school. My friends and I wanted to spend a summer making a movie and needed a story to start the process. I wrote it with the intention of adapting it to a screenplay but we never managed to coordinate and we didn’t have the right equipment anyway (as it turns out, having a camera that works with the computer so that filming and editing can actually happen are key components to the filmmaking process). The story was written for a small cast and the descriptions of place and objects are based on the intended filming environment, my parents’ house.

I have rewritten it a few times now, most recently for the inclusion in my honors program thesis project. Because of the length of the story, I haven’t had success with it on the literary journal circuit. It was published in my high school’s literary magazine my senior year (though my position as secretary probably didn’t hurt).

Excerpt from “A Mother’s Love”:

Lavinia opened the door and got out of the car. She allowed her mother to take her arm and lead her to the house. Her father took her things out of the trunk. He opened the door with the third key on the ring and held the door open for the other two. No one said anything to the others. Lavinia’s small bag was placed beside the door as they encouraged her to look around the house and reacquaint herself with everything.

There were framed photos along the wall leading up the stairs to the second floor bedrooms. Lavinia pointed to a young girl in one of the photos. “Is that me?”

Her mother nodded and smiled broadly towards her husband. He nodded and smiled meekly back. They remained silent.

Lavinia walked closer to the photograph behind the glass, set in the gilded frame. The girl was sitting between her parents at a professional photographer‘s studio, smiling with her hair pulled away from her face. She didn’t even recognize her own picture. Did she really look like that only a few years ago? How much her face had changed during those pivitol years of adolescence. “I don’t remember,” she declared, never taking her eyes from the girl’s face. The smiles disappeared from her parents’ faces but they continued to encourage her. She gauged their reactions from what she could see reflected in the mounted photo.

“It’ll come back to you. It’ll just take some time, but it will all come back,” her father said. It was like an order for her mind. Her mother walked over and placed a hand on her shoulder. Lavinia shrank back from the woman’s touch. The mother’s face couldn’t hide the pain. She quietly excused herself and left the room with tears in her eyes.

Lavinia sighed when she realized it was her fault. “I’m… I’m sorry. I want to remember, but… I don’t know how to make it come back.” Lavinia continued to gaze at the girl.

Are you a big schmuck or a little schmuck?

“A scout troop consists of twelve little kids dressed like schmucks following a big schmuck dressed like a kid.” – Jack Benny

“Always Be Prepared” was written as an assignment for one of my high school classes. It was meant to follow the flood archetype or something like that. It was about five years ago now so I don’t remember the exact wording of the assignment.

Excerpt from “Always Be Prepared”:

“Are you sure that you’ve got everything? Extra Band-aids? What about bug spray?” Flitting around from cooler to back pack to the bathroom’s already emptied medicine cabinet, Tracey Austen rechecked everything. Her husband, Bill, sighed and shook his head but let her continue with her self-reassurance.

Their nine-year-old son poked his head in the front door to the house to check on their progress. “Dad, how much longer?”

Buzzing as fast as I can

“A bee is never as busy as it seems; it’s just that it can’t buzz any slower.” – Kin Hubbard

Well, it seems like it would be a good idea to kick off the blog with a short story. “Bees” was an exercise. I asked my roommate one day to give me something to write about and she said “bees” so this is what I came up with. I’m still figuring out how to link everything together the right way so if it doesn’t work right away, let me know and try again later.

Excerpt from “Bees”:

They’re everywhere. I have welts all over my body. I’m surprised I’m not dead. My cousin fell but he had too many stings and it overwhelmed the epinephrine we were able to give him, so he was lost to anaphylaxis. We’re all huddled inside the house suffering from a different kind of shock.