The five fatal flaws in fiction writing – NaNoWriMo2016

Hello quibblers! In celebration of this year’s National Novel Writing Month, I’ll be shelving the book reviews and media commentary to focus on the craft of writing. Hopefully, aspiring NaNoWriMo-ers will find this information helpful as they write and, ultimately, rewrite their stories.

In this installment, we’ll be discussing an oft-asked question by writers old and new: what are the flaws that I should avoid when writing?

I did some research, and there are the five flaws in fiction writing that I think writers should be most aware of:

Telling instead of showing

This is a crucial part of all kinds of writing, but especially in fiction. You are the reader’s lone guide through the story you’ve made, and as vivid as it may seem in your own head, that won’t translate to your reader if you continously tell your reader about the story instead of show them what is happening. Let’s say, for example, that you’re writing “Maria had always had a wonderful relationship with her mother, but lately she’d been cold and distant.” Instead, describe a moment where Maria goes to her mother about something and the mom is unenthusiastic and unengaged. Show Maria being heartbroken, feeling that her mother is ignoring her, uninterested in her. That will translate to your readers so much better.

Troping your story to death

Look, there’s a reason why tropes exist, and it’s because they’re familiar. They make sense to us. And it’s fine to use tropes within your story if you feel that it’s what the story needs. What’s not fine is for every character in your story to fit in some kind of trope, and for every storyline to follow the well-worn paths of those before it. If you’re motivated to write a novel (in one month!) then it’s probably because you have a unique story in you that you want to get out. And yeah, maybe it follows the traditions of its genre, but it shouldn’t be an amalgam of everything that tradition has to offer. Think outside the box a little. Throw a wrench in there that’s atypical to the style of stories in that genre. Flip a trope on its head and see what happens. Sometimes, little things like that executed well can make a story stand out from others in the genre.

But! Be extra careful with tropes that are clearly racial or sexist in nature: the Ice Princess, the wise old tribal leader who speaks in cryptic imagery, the nagging housewife, etc.

Uncle doesn't want to read your story about how he gave you tea and told you not to look for material things and it changes your life. Seriously, Uncle is over it.
Uncle doesn’t want to read your story about how he gave you tea and told you not to look for material things and it changes your life. Seriously, Uncle is over it.

Pacing

This is one that I wouldn’t have considered if I was just writing this post off the top of my head, but pacing is actually crucial to a story. In many ways, pacing is your way of manipulating time within your story. In “Writer’s Store,” Gerry Visco advises writers to look at their story scene by scene (so basically, storyboard it) and see how the scenes fit together. Are some scenes to fast, to slow? Does the sequencing need to be changed to make more sense? Is the climax followed by an immediate drop in the action, or is there a more nuanced slow-down in the pace? These are all things you can see better when you take the story apart scene-by-scene.

Remember, too, that a story doesn’t have to move at a break-neck speed to be good. A lot of the advice online about pacing your story discusses speed, but it’s important to give your characters (and your readers!) moments to breath, collect themselves, and get ready for the next adventure.

Inconsistency

There are lots of types of inconsistency in writing, but the ones you really want to watch out for are the kinds that directly impact your characters or your plot. Things like inconsistent characterization (is he a level-headed thinker or an impulsive fire-cracker? Because he can’t be both.) and warped timelines can really throw a wrench in your reader’s concentration. In fact, many authors start their writing with a timeline of events and a character description for each person in their story so that they can stay on track.

One-dimensional characters

This one almost goes without saying, but it’s still worth saying because it happens all the time. Especially with secondary characters, it’s easy to for you to forget about them as your hero trudges on through your story. But every character in your story should serve some purpose, and that purpose will not be truly fulfilled if we only ever see one aspect of them.

This happens a lot with villains, too, where their only goal is chaos for the sake of chaos, evil for the sake of evil. The villain in your story should have a purpose, something that drives them to do what they’re doing, and that purpose can’t just be “I want everything to go to hell!” Make us understand where they’re coming from, why they’ve chosen this path. The X-Men in particular does a good job with this, where although Magneto’s goals (and his methods for achieving them) are obviously horrific, we can see why he is the way he is. Although the trauma he’s experienced doesn’t justify his actions, it does shed light on his motivations, and gives a logic to his refusal to join the X-Men.

That’s my take on some of the major flaws in fiction writing. What do you guys think of these flaws, and what are some you think writers should avoid? Share in the comments below!

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Link Bank October 2016: Spooky fun facts for Halloween

I’m going to level with you: I’m not a fan of Halloween. The kids are cute, sure, but I never understood why you don’t just buy the candy you want and eat it at home. At least then you’d always get the candy you like!

“Give me the Reese’s! Give them to me or die!”

Clearly, however, the rest of the nation feels very differently. Regardless of whether you love or hate the holiday (is it a holiday if you don’t get the day off?), I guarantee you will be spooked by these fun facts.

25 real facts that make common fears less scary – Cracked

“More people are killed by vending machines than by sharks.”

40 scariest books of the last 200 years – The Lineup

“All of Poe’s poems are scary, but this short story [“The Fall of the House of Usher”] in particular—about a crumbling house whose inhabitants are riddled with anxiety—will give you chills.

(This is true. I read the this story in English class several years ago, and it still haunts me.)

Handy Halloween guide explains how much candy it will take to kill you – The A.V. Club

“You’d probably be throwing up like crazy long before you reach either of those limits, but they still seem weirdly low.”

8 super weird things you didn’t know about Halloween – The Huffington Post

“In some parts of Ireland, people celebrated Halloween by playing romantic fortune-telling games, according to Nicholas Rogers’ “Halloween: From Pagan Ritual To Party Night.” These games allegedly predicted who they’d marry, and when.”

7 weird Halloween facts that will scare the wits out of you – Mirror

“There are all kinds of urban myths about the mean old crone or crazed madman in the tumble-down shack slipping poison or dangerous items into cakes and candy for the unsuspecting cherubs who knock on their door on Halloween. But in reality almost every case of Halloween candy tampering has been performed by a family member.”

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Frustrated? Embrace the potential for creativity

Are you familiar with the “group project” memes that have germinated all over the Internet?

Does this one resonate particularly strongly with you?

Via Tumblr
Via Tumblr

If you answered yes to these two questions, boy do I have good news for you!

In a TEDTalk, “Financial Times” columnist and author Tim Harford put forth the idea that frustration actually improves creativity and problem-solving skills.

Using examples from social psychology, rock n’ roll, and the German opera, Harford shows how disrupting factors – the things that trip you up, ruin your work, and complicate your process – are actually helping you think outside the box and do better.

According to Harford, strategic, predictable step-by-step processes can lead you to a dead end. You can only see what’s already there, and if there’s something wrong with your process, you can end up making the same mistakes over and over again. When you introduce an element of randomness, you’re forced to approach things differently, which makes for an end result that is new and different from what you’ve done before.

This isn’t just a theory. In practice, it’s called “oblique strategies” – a group of index cards list disruptive (and frankly annoying) things you can do to create obstacles in the creative process, and you pick one at random and implement it.

Because this whole idea is so counter-intuitive (making things harder makes them better? What?), our natural instinct is to shy away from it. What kind of masochist wants to make the difficult and often emotionally and physically draining task of making something even more complicated?

This is why, Harford says, when life doesn’t supply the randomness, you have to force yourself to find way to throw a wrench into your own plans.

So the next time you get an A+++ on a group project, you’ll know who to thank:

these-guys

You can find Tim Harford’s books on economics and creativity at the Creative Quibble bookstore.
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The bizarre world of home improvement television

In case it isn’t already incredibly obvious, I watch a lot of television. What can I say? We get some pretty good channels at our place.

One of the channels we get (which will remain unnamed, lest I anger the Producers That Be) is dedicated to real estate and home renovations. If I had to guess, I’d say that this channel runs around eight different shows at a time. “Different,” however, is a strong word. These shows all run on one of two premises:

  1. A couple are moving to a new city and looking for a home in which to live. Both have very specific requirements for this home which are, more often than not, irreconcilable. A harried real estate agent accomplishes the impossible – finding them a home they both like – by showing them exactly three houses.
  2. An old house, rundown by time and probably weather, having suffered the neglect of man and woman and finally abandoned by the populace, is rescued from obscurity by a kindly, creative couple/siblings/single person determined to give it a new lease on life and on ownership, so that it may once again fulfill its housely destiny as a home for a family of three/five/seven/eleven/etc.

So, eight programs, all based on premise or the other. It is amazing to me that this kind of situation can occur and apparently be very profitable for said channel, although given the fact that there are approximately three separate “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” shows on at any given time, perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised.

And let’s face it, that’s basically what we’re watching, isn’t it? Yes, it’s interesting to see what you can get for your money in Chicago or wherever, or what kind of furniture goes with blue wallpaper, but that’s just a sideshow next to the real entertainment.

Why can't they indeed, Liz Lemon.
Why can’t they indeed, Liz Lemon.

What’s truly entertaining is watching couples bicker about budgets and yard size and “curb appeal,” a term I learned recently. It’s a short window into the relationships, but through it you can glimpse (and snigger) at the power dynamics. You’d think there’s enough conflict on television, but apparently not.

I don't know if these two are married, but they should be.
I don’t know if these two are married, but they should be.

 

Regardless of the whys and hows, it’s obviously a winning formula, because it seems that every time I turn on the television I see an ad for a new show based on the exact same premise. Clearly, this unnamed channel and its army of real estate agents and contractors are raking it in.

It makes you want to get into the real estate industry.

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So much for man’s best friend: A review of “Fifteen Dogs” by Andre Alexis

Several months ago, a very dear friend of mine gave me the book “Fifteen Dogs” as a present. Unforgivably, I did not get around to reading it until fairly recently despite the fact that I was instantly intrigued by the book’s premise.

In “Fifteen Dogs,” Canadian writer Andre Alexis imagines a world where the Greek gods of old walk among us. Two, Apollo and Hermes (the god of music and poetry and the god of transitions and boundaries, respectfully), take an interest in fifteen dogs who have the extreme misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time – a veterinary clinic in Toronto. Apollo bets Hermes that dogs would be miserable if given human intelligence, while Hermes is convinced that at least one will die happy.

It’s a dog eat dog world

You can already guess that this does not go well for the dogs in question, who wake up in the middle of the night at the clinic and decide to escape their lives of servitude to carve out their own destinies. Over the course of the book, the dogs do what we humans did – develop a language, form a societal hierarchy and a culture, and, eventually, get into fights about what the language and culture should entail.

So far, so good. I mean, that’s how our species evolved, and look at us now! Sitting at the top of the food chain, lord of all that we see, unimaginable technology at our fingertips. Granted, we mostly use it to maim and/or kill each other and destroy the very environment from which we derive our needs, but let’s not get to bogged down in the details here.

Fairly quickly conflict arises, as some dogs seek to preserve their inherit “dog-ness” by refusing to acknowledge or develop the intelligence that was thrust upon them, while others want to see how far they can take it. One in particular, Prince, who develops poetry (it’s very nice, and believably doggish), quickly becomes a target of the top dog (hah!) and his allies. They are then forced to pursue alternative paths and find themselves unable to survive without the care of a pack or a human, and at the same time unable to ignore the new instincts that challenge and conflict with the lower status of pets.

I know humans suck, but still…

It’s not surprising that things go downhill so quickly. What is surprising is the way Alexis portrays dogs, even from the beginning, as being suspicious of and even hostile to humans. A few remain loyal to their current owners, and most of them have fond memories and a genuine love for their original owners, the ones they knew as puppies. There’s actually a very heartwarming scene towards the end where Hermes makes up partially for all the trouble he’s caused by rewarding one dog with a vision of the child he’d adored, but it stands in stark contrast to how dogs view humans in the rest of the book. At best, it seems, we are a necessary nuisance to dogs, performing the functions of the “alpha” of their pack, but not inspiring any more love than your average boss or teacher does. At worst we are vicious, cruel, unpredictable creatures who are best avoided.

Granted, that last sentence is a pretty apt description for humanity at large, but it was surprising to see it so clearly articulated from the dogs’ perspective. I expected more of the “man’s best friend” view of dogs, where their loyalty and sweetness is contrasted with our fickle nature. I’m not particularly fond of dogs myself – the small ones are adorable but I’m pretty sure that one day the bigger ones are going to turn on us and decide that fresh meat is better than packaged dog food – but even I was like “geez, I thought you liked us!”

Overall, I really enjoyed “Fifteen Dogs.” It’s well-written, it’s different, and it really makes you think about why we as humans use the gift of intelligence so cruelly. If you have a dog, however, you may find it very disconcerting. At a minimum, you’ll think twice before you ask your dog to roll over again.

Quibble with the world:

The world of stand-up comedy with director Logan Leistikow

Meet documentary film-maker Logan Leistikow. The Los Angeles-based director has been making movies in the comedy circuit for years, and his latest documentary, “Walton,” chronicles the experience of stand-up comedian Walton Jordan.

Logan Leistikow at the American Idol Press Line.
Logan Leistikow at the American Idol Press Line. Logan was the digital producer at American Idol.

I connected with Logan via Twitter, and he was nice enough to answer some of my questions about “Walton” and his work in comedy.

Tell me about your background. How did you get into directing? What drew you to the field?
As a kid, I always wanted to do something creative when I grew up. It morphed from being a cartoonist to painter to musician, etc. I just wanted to be an artist. Eventually, the magic of movies drew me in. Star Wars and high concept productions like it made me want to be a blockbuster director. I loved the idea of making my cinematic vision come to life.
 
I actually moved out to Los Angeles with that intention. However, because I was not born into the entertainment industry, I had to find my own pathway in. It just so happens that my first big break was producing Tom Green Live, a comedic celebrity talk show. After that, I very much stayed in the lane of talk/unscripted shows and comedy, if only because that is where my resume took me.
 
I have to say, though, that I have fallen in love with making documentaries. You can capture and create real emotion, tone, and production value on a shoestring budget and with a small crew. This offers ultimate film-making freedom, as well as the adventure of unpredictability and improvisation.
What was the first thing you ever worked on? What was that experience like for you?
Well, I guess the first thing ever was my high school senior video, which was just a ripoff of jackass.
 
In college, my friends and I made some video sketches that went viral and got me featured on IFC, which was pretty cool. One of those videos was also a part of a Yahoo! contest where celebrity judge Tom Green said “These guys should have their own sketch comedy show!”
 
That eventually led to a job at Tom Green Live once I moved out to LA. Getting that gig was surreal. Having heard Tom’s compliment on the Yahoo! show, I applied to work on his talk show. He personally called me on the phone, invited me to lunch, and then showed me his studio and hired me all in the same day. It was a bit overwhelming, but it was just the beginning of my journey.
Tell me about your new documentary, Walton. How did you meet Walton Jordan? Why did you decide to do a documentary about him? And what was the experience like?
Walton is a good friend I have known for years. We met way back in 2007 at a Comedy Garage show. He’s such a sui generis guy with a magnetic personality, he belongs on stage/screen.

 

Poster for "Walter," courtesy Logan Leistikow. Now available on Amazon Prime.
Poster for “Walter,” courtesy Logan Leistikow. Now available on Amazon Prime.
I also wanted to present a homeless person who breaks the mold of what people expect. A lot of us make assumptions about the homeless. Although Walton actually indicates he IS homeless by choice, you can’t help but root for him…even if you would never do that to yourself. It humanizes the homeless.
 
Shooting the documentary with him was so fun and exciting I’m very likely to make more docs about him.
How do you approach a documentary project? Walk me through your process.
Every project comes together differently, but I always search for fascinating people who have a passion. 
 
For the Comedy Garage, I actually attended a show and said to myself “I must make a documentary about this.” It was pure inspiration. I eventually saved up enough money and favors to make it happen. We shot a three camera stand-up show, and interviews leading up to it over a long weekend.
 
Walton, on the other hand, was shot sporadically over a year in our spare time. I edited as we went and I think that really helped the pacing of the piece and told us what shots we had to get next. I also filmed a minidoc called “Trees” that I filmed by myself in one day with no concept until I hit the editing bay.
 
My advice would be to find what you are passionate about and cover that in your own way. Figure out what is logistically practical and use your creativity to make it sing. Do you have a client? Do you have backers? Do you work for a network or news organization? Are you independent? Do you know someone who can help? Everything is a factor, so there is no instruction manual. You have to be dynamic.
Your work seems focused on comedians. Is there a reason for that?
There are two main reasons for this: Comedians have a job of holding a mirror up to society and ultimately that is my goal as well. The comedians I know are the most open and honest people around and that makes for really great interviews.
 
Comedians are also the epitome of freedom of expression and tolerance. Even the squeaky cleanest stand-up comedian you know is exposed to some raunchy humor in their career, whether at open mics or when they open for another comic. They have to tolerate, appreciate, and respect different approaches to humor and different perspectives on endless subjects. The comedy scene in LA is more of a marketplace of ideas than people realize. Its also very diverse.
 
That being said, I also have productions in development that will not be about comedians.
 
What’s your advice to aspiring filmmakers looking for inspiration? What would you say to those looking for backing for their work?
 
When asking for backing, make sure you have your ducks in a row. Be ready for any question, anticipate parts of the pitch that the backer may not like, and pitch for a higher budget while having a plan for a much smaller budget ready. It helps to know your backer personally and appeal to him/her in a personal way. Maybe he/she owns a business that can have product placement in the film. Maybe he/she has a soft spot for animals, so pitch an animal related project. Your creative vision will have to adjust to reality and your planning will have to incorporate what your backer will want.
 
Again, every production comes together differently, but the bottom line is you need to impress your backer with how knowledgeable and prepared you are.
 
Also don’t be afraid to just start working even if no one will back you yet. Remember that films like “Clerks” and “Grey Gardens” had no backers and are now classics. “Walton” also had no backers.
 
As for inspiration: its everywhere. [Ask yourself:] What movie do you want to see that doesn’t exist yet?
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Is writer’s block a real thing?

You ever hear yourself talk about why you can’t do something and get this nagging feeling that maybe you’re just making excuses?

That’s how I feel whenever I hear the phrase “writer’s block.” It feels like the kind of thing you say when you just can’t muster the energy or willpower to work – an adult version of “the dog ate my homework” if you will.

Then again, I do experience what I legitimately believe is a sense of obstruction, a lack of inspiration, a feeling like the words are slipping in and out of your consciousness. A mental constipation. Just when you think you finally need to go,  you’re right back where you started from.

Walls and blocks seem to serve as a metaphor for a lot of bowel-movement-related advertising lately.
Walls and blocks seem to serve as a metaphor for a lot of bowel-movement-related advertising lately.

So is writer’s block a real, proper affliction of the mind? A quick Google search (good ole Google – yes you will one day rule us all with a Big Brother-esque dominance, but you will be a gentle and informative master) assures me that writer’s block is real enough that many trusted resources have dedicated time and space to addressing the issue. Purdue OWL, my go-to dispenser of wisdom for matters of APA comma placement, has several suggestions based on why you have writer’s block – you’re too stressed out, you don’t want to write about the topic assigned, you want to write about something without knowing what that something is (this, I assume, is their euphemistic way of saying ‘lazy.’)

In my experience, writer’s block is more likely to happen when you don’t have a clear vision of what you’re doing or where you’re going. That’s not what causes writer’s block though – I think the cause is probably a combination of mood and a lack of interest in a work or lack of belief in it. Those are the things that prevent you from writing at all, that have you staring at a page, having only been able to come up with “BY [NAME].”

[This, in fairness, is how I start all my writing projects. It’s part narcissism, part ease, part “I forget to put my name on an assignment once and got a zero” paranoia.]

When you know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there, it’s always easier to write. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to know the end, but you know the point. Even if your phrases are stilted and your vocabulary has seemingly shrunk to somehow include only words that would be more suitable for a 40-page treatise on the history of economic theory in Western thought (one of the many pleasant side effects of grad school), you can still write. It may not be particularly good, but it’s there and good can always come later. It’s when you don’t know where you’re going or why you’re writing that even the most creative and original ideas will sit on your page undeveloped and unfulfilled.

What’s a gal to do?

Of course, this is not exactly a breaking development in the understanding of writer’s block – in fact, a book my dad bought me when I was a teenager counselled exactly this: know where you’re going to end up before you start. It’s good advice and one that I should follow more often.

The problem is if you do have a really interesting (I won’t say great since it seems presumptuous, nevertheless feel free to assume it here) idea but you don’t have a vision for where it’s going to go, do you jot it down and then sit on it until you figure it out, or do you work with it to the best of your ability and hope that inspiration strikes eventually? Because when I do the former, I end up with a bunch of promising but unwritten stories, and when I do the latter I get writer’s block.

Writer and author Henneke Duistermaat doesn’t say exactly what I should do in this case, but she does have a lot of advice on how to overcome writer’s block. For her, it’s all about getting out of that routine that can sometimes suck the life out of you. Change where you write, she advises, or even the time of day you sit to write. Switch out your fonts, or hey, even change the color from boring black to intense hot pink. The idea is that change in your surroundings can jumpstart your mind.

James Altucher, who writes some really thought-provoking stuff on LinkedIn, says, “Start with the blood.” Sometimes the most frustrating part about writing is that you know something good is coming up in your plot, but you can’t seem to find your way there yet. So just jump ahead! It’s the kind of thing that would never occur to my linear mind, but it’s genius as far as I’m concerned.

Of course, not all advice is golden, and not all of it will work for everyone. For example, Altucher suggests reading before you start writing, but for me, that just serves to muddle my thoughts and distort my style. I’m a bit of sponge that way. But what I do find helpful is visual inspiration – just scrolling through photos and artwork online can motivate and encourage me. That is what originally motivated me to compile a list of all the websites I go to for inspiration.

So, in conclusion, there exists sufficient evidence to determine that writer’s block is certainly perceived as being very real by many established writers. If nothing else, that should at least comfort those of us who are still amateurs.

What do you do when you have writer’s block? Tell us in the comments!

 

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Artist Geneva Benton shows us a world of color

You might recognize her better as Prinnay on Tumblr or GDBee, but however you know her, artist Geneva Benton makes an impression. I first started following her on Tumblr, drawn immediately to the bright bold colors that are a hallmark of her work. Her characters are nothing short of inspirational, and so I was really excited when she agreed to be featured on The Quibblerview to talk about her background and art style.

When did you first begin to become interested in art and drawing? What sparked that interest?

I started drawing since childhood but didn’t get serious until the late teens. I just really liked drawing, but then played a game called Chrono Cross, which sparked me wanting to draw and inspired me quite a bit more.

Bubble Tea by GDBEE
“Bubble Tea” by Geneva Benton (GDBEE).
As a self-taught artist, what were the resources you depended on to develop your skills?

I have tried watching streams on how other artists work and tutorials that they make. Also just starting and eye balling what makes someone else’s style so great. Doing the occasional study on anatomy, animals, etc is also quite helpful. Quite a bit is experimenting.

One thing that really attracted me to your work is how amazingly colorful it is. How did you develop that style?

Since I was a teenager, I’ve really admired an artist named Benjamin Zhang. His artwork is especially colorful, with hues and shades used so drastically and artfully. For the most part, my style is inspired by his color use.

"Taurus" by Geneva Benton.
“Taurus” by Geneva Benton.
Where does your inspiration come from?

Mostly random things. The way paint looks and chips off a wall. A single kiwi. I really have trouble explaining it.

Your art also features a lot of black women. Is that intentional on your part, to broaden the representation of black women in art? Or is it a reflection of you and your community?

Well, it’s what I know. I’m a huge cute stuff and anime fan and also black, so it’s all subconsciously boiled together and out comes the art that I do. I am trying to broaden these horizons but it’s definitely my comfort zone.

"Reach" by Geneva Benton/
“Reach” by Geneva Benton.
What advice would you give to someone looking to become a professional artist or freelance as an artist?

Freelancing is technically working professionally. I would say study on what you need to get started and amass enough savings for a couple of months to cover initial freelancing expenses. And do good work! Do good work and a lot of work will come to you. One of the most challenging things is finding work, but refining your craft always increases the odds.

What’s a project you’re working on now that you’re really excited about?

I was on course for Kickstarting an artbook but it’s been put on hold till next year, for time reasons. Otherwise, I’m just making whatever feels cool at the time, until another idea hits me that is less time consuming than a book.

Geneva Benton will be at Anime Weekend Atlanta from September 29 – October 2, 2016, at the Renaissance Waverly Hotel & Cobb Galleria in Atlanta, Georgia.
Quibble with the world:

Color, magic, love – “Furthermore” by Tahereh Mafi quashes it all

A few months ago I interviewed bestselling writer Tahereh Mafi for The Tempest, so I was really excited when her agent offered me a copy of her new book, “Furthermore,” for review.

I wasn’t completely sure what to make of the book at first. I haven’t done much fantasy reading outside of the Discworld series for a while now, and Furthermore is aimed at middle-school children, not adults. So I approached the book with a sense of trepidation.

A land of spoilers lies past this barrier…

The book follows 12-year-old Alice Queensmeadow and her frenemy Oliver Newbanks as they leave the magical but orderly land of Ferenwood to search for her father, who has been missing for three years. Oliver, who had been assigned to search for him, reveals that her father is trapped in the land of Furthermore, the dark, threatening sister land to Ferenwood.

We spend quite a bit of time in Ferenwood at the start of the book, with Tahereh really taking her time to build a beautiful world of color and magic. In Ferenwood, magic is an inherent characteristic, and the more color you have in your person – blue hair, brown skin, bright eyes – the more magic you have. This is a problem for Alice, who has no color. Of course, you an also purchase magic, but again, this is out of Alice’s reach. Meanwhile, the people around her, particularly Oliver and her father, have impressive powers.

Flowers, light, shiny bangles;  that’s the world we start out in in Ferenwood, and it stands in stark contrast to the much darker and chaotic world of Furthermore that Alice ventures into. As she and Oliver travel from village to village, trying (and often failing) to stay alive and unharmed as they search for her father, Tahereh unravels the inner workings of the preteen psyche.

It’s hard to be a teen

To me, the most poignant issue Alice faces is her insecurity about her relationship with her family. She believes her mother doesn’t love her, and her brothers are so unconnected to her they don’t even warrant names. This is what drives her to find her father – aside from her love for him, their loving relationship is essentially a relic from a happier time, childhood.

It’s a concept that resonates. Perhaps the most difficult thing about the transition from child to adult (i.e. adolescence) is the warping of the parent-child relationship. You want to be your own person, pushing against their definitions and expectations just because it comes from them (something Alice does with her father, but let’s not get into that here). At the same time, you want their approval, their love, their affection, but feel unable to ask for it. The relationship that came so easily and naturally at five, six, seven, eight, seems to disappear almost completely by 11 or 12. Replacing it with something new is probably the biggest challenge child and parent will ever face, and that is exactly what Alice is trying to do in Furthermore. 

This, to me, is where Tahereh really excels. As an adult, I know that despite everything, Alice’s mother does love her, and it’s important, particularly to the book’s intended audience, to really demonstrate that.

How dark is dark enough?

Aside from this underlying theme, I found Furthermore to be compellingly dark and yet somehow not completely satisfying. There’s so much buildup in the sense of danger that Tahereh builds. There’s the cannibalistic nature of Furthermore’s residents, the very real threat of imprisonment, the murky and mysterious “Elders” that seem to playing with the fates of Alice, Oliver, and possibly her father.

And yet, it doesn’t really pay off. As much danger as Alice and Oliver face, there’s never any question that they will find her father. At least not for me. For the story to have any emotional resonance, they have to find her father, otherwise why are we even here? I don’t know if this is just me and my expectations of plot development, but for me the question is never whether Alice will find her father, the question is whether or not they’ll be able to get out. In the end, though, that turns out to be incredibly easy. Frankly, a little too easy. Apparently no one in Furthermore has heard of the concept of prison guards, and those elders aren’t in as much control as certain mysterious creatures would like you to believe.

Ultimately, as much as I enjoyed Alice’s journey, I ended up finding myself more interested in Oliver and his first trip to Furthermore, or even that of Alice’s father when he was a kid. I get the sense that where the prospect of actual death never really looms over Alice and Oliver (in comparison to say, the final showdown between Harry Potter and Tom Riddle in Chamber of Secrets, as an age-appropriate example), it may have certainly loomed over a young boy entering a dangerous world for the first time with no supervision or help. Tahereh is clearly setting up for a sequel (rightly so, since I believe Furthermore will quickly become a bestseller), but what I’d really like to see is a prequel. Perhaps that’s something she’ll consider down the line as she further expands on the origins of her magical worlds.

Overall, I’m excited to see where Furthermore ends up, and I think that Tahereh has a winning formula here. It’s the kind of book that you can buy for your niece, read yourself, and then have some really interesting discussions about.

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Link Bank: August 2016 – What’s new in Fall 2016

It’s time for a new season, and when it comes to television, Fall is all about premieres. This August, we look at what’s new in TV, movies, and books:

New MacGyver Trailer Reunites Hero and Paperclip” – Entertainment Weekly

There’s a new reboot of MacGyver coming out on September 23, 2016. I’ve watched a couple episodes of the original series and I’m actually kind of excited to see this newer version.

Here’s Why Netflix ‘Gilmore Girls’ Will Release All Four Specials at Once” – ScreenCrush

After months of buildup, the Gilmore Girls revival is finally here! The four-part special will be available on Netflix, that savior of cult classics, November 25, 2016.

TBS will marathon Search Party, announces premiere date for People Of Earth” – The A.V. Club

I don’t know about you guys, but nothing gets my attention like the phrase “murder mystery comedy.” That’s how Alia Shawkat’s new TBS show Search Party has been described, and I for one can’t wait to watch it when it premieres November 21, 2016.

Meet the Women of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” – Nerdist.com

The film adaptation of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, directed by the kind of weird Tim Burton, releases September 30, 2016, and promises to be utterly bizarre if the trailer is anything to go by.

Ava DuVernay’s Netflix Documentary ‘The 13th’ Will Open 54th New York Film Festival” – IndieWire

The 13th, a documentary by Ava DuVernay about the prison system in the United States, releases October 7, 2016, in theaters and on Netflix.

Read the first chapter of A Torch Against the Night, the sequel to An Ember in the Ashes” – Entertainment Weekly

Good new for fans of writer Sabaa Tahir – the sequel to her book An Ember in the Ashes, A Torch Against the Night, comes out today, August 30, 2016.

Fantastic Beasts’ Sequel in the Works, Release Date Set – The Hollywood Reporter

After the buzz surrounding Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling’s magical world is the star of the show in the movie adaptation of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, one of the most anticipated releases for this fall. The movie premieres November 18, 2016.

Last but definitely not least (technically not last, either), Tahereh Mafi’s new book Furthermore comes out August 30, 2016. Come back on Friday for my review!

What are you looking forward to this fall? Share your favorites in the comments below!
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