Friday, May 22, 2015

Books, Books, and More Books!

Editing. That is what I have left for the intense part of the semester. Well and a little writing still. Which I'm going to work on a bit tonight. Basically I need to edit my annotated bibliography, my synopsis, and the last of the actual thesis. And then I'll be done with that part and can move onto the next bit which includes all the good stuff for the residency. I am excited for my class on dystopian world building and I'm really excited to get there and take some amazing classes with the people I've come to know and love. Also I have the best fucking ever wardrobe for this summer. I cannot wait to show it all off! My buddy, E, and I will be chic twins! 

I'm still incredibly sad that Hannah cannot go with me. I had hoped to make it work but financially it just isn't going to happen. But I am going to Skype with her a few times so I can at least introduce her to some of the people there. Especially M. I am very excited to see M. 

Something that's been taking up a great deal of my time lately has been reading. In the past week alone I've read four books. I can't believe it. I'm in a reading kick and I can't eat enough! Including a few more from the week before I've read:

  1. The Sumerians by Elaine Landau - the book was a nice summary of the geography and social structure but severely biased by the author's Christian views.
  2. Lugalbanda by Kathy Henderson - this was a gorgeous story with amazing illustrations and unlike the first book on the list, this one honored the ancient religion and culture that it detailed. Also this is a retelling of the oldest story ever written - over 4,000 years old!
  3. Sexy by Joyce Carol Oates - YA done right. Heartbreaking in some places but in the end it covers everything that a young adult novel is supposed to - including a glimpse of hope.
  4. Rape by Joyce Carol Oates - I adore the use of 2nd person POV in selected chapters and I was really surprised by the direction the novel took. And yet I wasn't surprised because Oates laid all the foundation work to guide me to the perfect and inevitable result. Very satisfying.
  5. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly - this book is a great example of bridging between YA and adult fiction. A sort of Narnia for the modern times. Loved the gay soldier.
  6. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart - figured it out relatively quickly but that didn't diminish my enjoyment of the novel by any means. I adored the poetic flare of Lockhart's narration.
  7. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - I was drawn to this book for two reasons: 1) it was banned and 2) it takes place on the Spokane Indian Reservation and Reardon, WA. I loved knowing the places that the narrator talks about and I also loved the cartoon snippets throughout the text. Great story filled with truths that only a diary style novel can get away with telling and lamenting. 
  8. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe - I really enjoyed this book. It can be a bit infuriating at times but the end makes everything so worth it. In fact, if I'm ever having a bad day and need a pick me up, I'll just read the last ten pages. So worth it. 
None of these books are very long, but even still, I finished them all at record speeds for me. I am usually a slow fuddy-duddy reader. Which is why I'm starting to realize that I'm just not meant for adult fiction. At least not meant for it primarily. I feel a draw toward YA and also when I read YA it not only feels right, but it helps me recall and analyze parts of my childhood that I had forgotten or hadn't really processed. In my heart I'm still about fifteen or sixteen and so these books speak strongly to me. No, I'm not still dealing with high school drama or trying to awkwardly figure out the opposite sex (or the same sex as the case may be) but people are people and they are their most beautiful when they are vulnerable. The coming of age stories in the YA I've been reading have all been marvelous. I definitely feel that my mentor and I made the correct choice in making Death Man much more YA than it had previously been. The next projects I am going to work on will also be YA. I just can't get enough of it! Even today at the library I picked up another YA novel. But I'm not going to let myself start it until I finish with all the editing that needs to be done.

So many books. So little time. I'm happy to have found my place. Which is really what YA is all about.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Final Stretch - I'm Gonna Graduate!

So I got the green light from the second reader - but on the condition that I fix the typos in the manuscript before I send it to my Mentor as the final packet and also before I send it to be bound. I'm experiencing a mixture of panic and relief. I want this to be perfect but, dear gods, I'm so freaking tired. Exhausted mentally and physically. I want a break but I don't want to dissolve into a puddle of goo and disappear either. I want to keep working on these projects and eventually write query letters and synopses and treatments and someday, just someday, get a damn book out there. I've been reading like a hungry creature lately (which hasn't helped me get my writing done but it's been very helpful in getting me into the YA mood). I read Sherman Alexie's 'The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian' and E, Lockhart's 'We Were Liars' and also Connolly's 'Book of Lost Things.' And some more Joyce Carol Oates obviously. Because as it turns out I'm a huge fan girl of hers. 

These books have been incredibly wonderful - even when they aren't necessarily pleasant. I have learned so much about pacing and dialogue (things that I was pretty decent with before but always, always, always striving to be better at) and I am excited to incorporate those things into the upcoming workshop pieces for the residency. So far the only things I have left to do: final comb through to fix typos for the Thesis, read a few things for residency, prepare workshop pieces and critique fellow pieces, rehearse my class a few times, and pack all the pretty dresses! Not too bad I suppose. Oh and I also have to register for classes, secure the hotel, finalize plans with my buddy, and send in evaluations. Okay so I still have a lot to do. But I'll get it done. I'm on the home stretch now! I can do it. I really, really can do it!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

After a few beers I become emotional...

Maybe just a little bit drunk. Been reading tons lately. I really, really love young adult fiction. I love the pacing, the adventure, the dialogue. All of it. I think I made a mistake not going into YA during my time at Solstice, but if I had done that I might not have met the absolutely amazing fiction writers that I now consider to be my closest of family. I might not have had the mentors I had and would not be writing as I am now (which I do deem to be better than before I joined the program two years ago). I would have still met amazing people and been blessed by their friendship but I feel this was just meant to be in some way. After all, I am the worst horse, (as in the Buddhist proverb worst horse) and I need to do things the hard way, I need to suffer through it, and I need to feel the force of my master's whip through to the marrow of my bones. That way I can know I've truly grown.

Lately I've been reading about Goddesses. I want to find one that I resonate with. I'm on the hunt. I thought it might be Inanna and I'm going to continue my research into her but I am quite taken with the absolute gorgeous compassion of Kuan Yin. She is so selfless and kind - a true goddess to appeal to. Hannah has a Kuan Yin pendant and one time a person tried to tell her it was Buddha. It wasn't. It isn't. It's Kuan Yin. She was a Buddhist nun who turned goddess after she gave her arms and eyes to make her asshole father better from a disease. She grew a thousand arms and a thousand eyes to replace the ones she lost and then became an immortal and perfect presence. I know that the archetypes behind gods and goddesses stem from human traits but Kuan Yin seemed to be better than most humans. Her only hubris was 'disobeying' her father when he gave her unreasonable orders. What a wonderful and kind entity. I need to learn more and more, but for now I'm taking heart in the knowledge that compassion has a name and that is Kuan Yin. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Student Anthology Submission for Your Enjoyment

This past semester, one of the students with my MFA program started an anthology project for all students and alumni to feature short pieces of work including excerpts, poems, flash fiction, and vignettes. Last time I submitted a short scene from my Dust Bowl novel and this time around I am sending in the beginning segment (almost a prologue I guess) to my creative thesis. I thought I would share it here just for fun and because my mentor, who hates prologues, absolutely loved.

The Lesson
Excerpt from The Death Man
By Amanda LaFantasie

“Isn’t one blade enough. Why do we need three?” he asked.
“The same reason a painter needs more than one brush.” The Death Man ran his finger down along the smooth and perfectly chiseled blood groove of the executioner’s sword. “It all depends on your goal. If you just want to kill a man, you use the ax. If you want to dismember him and decorate the stage with his blood, then you use the machete. But if you want to deliver the kiss of death, you swing this sword through his neck and you give him peace.” He lifted the sword, holding it horizontally before the boy.
Beyond the old man’s window the sky was red with a summer sunset and it cast a crimson hue upon the blade, making it look as if it had drawn blood from the air itself.
“The tip’s broken,” the boy said.
“It’s not broken. It was made this way. Blunt and smooth. This sword was never meant for stabbing. It is a work of art. Light enough to wield with grace yet heavy enough to part skin, muscle, and bone with a single flick of the wrist. And it’s sharp. Hold out your arm.”
The boy did as asked. He knew his mentor would cut him, but all fear of pain had been beaten out of him long ago. Sucking in a breath, almost excited by the promise of blood, he waited. His mentor pressed the blade to his flesh and gave a quick slice. The boy felt nothing.
In silence he examined his arm. His eyebrows drew tight in confusion. There didn’t seem to be a cut.
“Wait for it,” said the Death Man.
A moment passed. As if by magic, a thin beaded line of blood appeared and with it came the first touch of pain, a hot concentrated sting. The boy watched in fascination as the beads grew fat and spilled out from the cut leaving red tributaries on his skin. It was deep, much deeper than he’d first thought. He put his hand on the wound, but it did little to stop the blood from squeezing out and dripping all over his mentor’s floor. But the Death Man didn’t seem to care. About anything.
“Take a man’s head with this blade and he will not suffer. It is a blade reserved only for those who deserve a painless death.”
“And who deserves a painless death?” The boy couldn’t take his eyes off the sword.
“Everyone,” the Death Man replied, and in the same breath he amended, “no one.” He returned the sword to its sheath and set it back on the stand. “Only the beloved of the Luminary are granted such a death.”
“But if they are his beloved then why kill them?” The boy knew he shouldn’t ask so many questions but his mentor was the only person he’d met in a long time who was so willing to answer.
            “Sometimes we have to kill the ones we love.” He pulled a wad of gauze from his medicine bag. “Wrap up your arm. The lesson’s just begun.”